British Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to call a referendum on whether his nation should remain in the European Union (EU) was a cowardly act that will have far-reaching consequences for his nation and the world at large.
Instead of dealing with long-simmering socio-economic problems in his country, Cameron took the easy route, no doubt confident that no Briton in his or her right mind would want to break from the EU. It did not turn out that way and now it is time for recriminations.
For one thing, millions of Britons woke up Friday morning with a bad hangover, no doubt after going to bed convinced, like their prime minister, that the “Remain” vote would win and the “Leave” supporters were only casting a protest vote. Within 24 hours of the result, there were growing signs that millions want a second referendum or want Parliament to block the decision to embrace isolationism, both of which are high unlikely to happen.
It is true that almost from the creation of the European Union in 1992, membership has been a sore point for many Britons who saw it as an unacceptable surrender of sovereignty. This dissatisfaction rose to a crescendo as the referendum, popularly known as Brexit — short for British exit -drew nearer. It was mirrored in the call to “take our country back.”
But it seems clear that the bigger under- lying factors that led to the “Leave” victory was widespread dissatisfaction with the country’s governance. Cameron, who served his first term as head of a coalition government and is now in his second term, did little to endear himself to ordinary Britons and a lot to alienate them, especially with regards to economic insecurity among ordinary people.
This was admittedly compounded by the free labor movement policy of the EU that saw millions of continental Europeans relocate to Britain and putting a squeeze on the labor market. It was no surprise that members of the Labour Party were among the strongest supporters of the “Leave” camp, defying their leader Jeremy Corbyn, who is now under tremendous pressure to join Cameron in resigning.
It is simplistic to think that the “Leave” win provides electoral comfort for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump. There are, of course, similarities in the British voters who wanted to opt out of the EU and those who support Trump. These include older white people, especially men, who are chafing under the reality of today’s diverse world and sincerely feel they are facing an existential threat. Seemingly unchecked immigration is also a concern. In Britain, it is the flood of other Europeans into the labor force, not so much refugees from the Middle East, as is the case with the continent. Here, thanks to Trump, Mexicans are seen as the threat – along, of course, with something called “radical Islamic terrorists.”
And there is no denying the common undertone of widespread dissatisfaction with how “government” has responded to the economic challenges that many Americans are facing.
But we do not have an external boogey- man to exorcise. We do not have a Brussels – the EU’s capital – to adorn our poster of things wrong. What we have is a democracy which, by its very nature, allows for situations where things sometimes do not seem to make sense, such as a highly dysfunctional Congress that has done nothing to address the concerns of suffering Americans.
That inability or unwillingness to govern explains the disconnect between Trump and his supporters, on the one hand, and Republican leaders of their own party, on the other hand, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan and party leader Reince Priebus. With the Republican leadership and Congress frustrating the initiatives of President Barack Obama and the Democratic congressional minority at every turn, without even bothering to come up with their own plans, it may sound funny but, in a real sense, Trump and his people are in fact trying to “take back our country” from themselves.
This confused politics is probably making life easier for the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, but it will be a mistake if she allows herself to be lured into focusing on Trump the man, however tempting that is. Clinton has to convince the American people that her plan as president will address the issues that they confront as part of daily life. There is a hardcore of Trump supporters that she will never be able to win over but she still has time to meticulously take apart Trump’s highly inarticulate vision of America under his leadership and lay out her own in exact detail.
But make no mistake about it. Even then, Trump could still very well win the election if not enough Americans clearly see what the stakes are, especially African Americans and other “minorities,” who, unlike what happened with Brexit, could hold the keys to the White House.
If they do not, as happened with many Brits and their Brexit, they could wake up on November 9 with a very bad case of buyer’s remorse.
Mohamed Hamaludin is a retired executive editor of South Florida Times who also served as an editor with The Miami Times and The Miami Herald.