So the post-Brexit number-crunching is over and it turns out that the decisive support for Britain’s leaving the EU came not from right-wing nationalists but from working-class Labour voters. This offers some lessons for British and European politicians — and for us in America, too.
Much of Britain’s prosperity in recent years has centered on London, which has done very well and become very pleased with itself. As Peter Mandler writes in Dissent, this turned out to be a problem. London occupies a huge place in British society — as if Washington, D.C., New York, Hollywood, and perhaps Silicon Valley were all in the same place. But that leaves the rest of the country feeling somewhat left out, and deeply suspicious of the people running things, especially as the people running things seem to hold the rest of the country in contempt, openly mocking the traditional, the middle-class, the non-Metropolitan.[Links in original throughout].
But will leaders learn the lesson? It seems doubtful. As Bloomberg’s Megan McArdle observed about the post-Brexit reaction, they mostly seemed to double down.
“The inability of those elites to grapple with the rich world’s populist moment has been on full display on social media. Journalists and academics seemed to feel that they had not made it sufficiently clear that people who oppose open borders are a bunch of racist rubes who couldn’t count to 20 with their shoes on, and hence will believe any daft thing they’re told. Given how badly this strategy had just failed, this seemed a strange time to be doubling down. . . . Or perhaps they were just unable to grasp what I noted in a column last week: that nationalism and place still matter, and that elites forget this at their peril. A lot people do not view their country the way some elites do: as though the nation were something like a rental apartment — a nice place to live, but if there are problems, or you just fancy a change, you’ll happily swap it for a new one. In many ways, members of the global professional class have started to identify more with each other than they have with the fellow residents of their own countries. Witness the emotional meltdown many American journalists have been having over Brexit."Reynolds concludes:
America, too, is experiencing a populist upheaval, of which Donald Trump’s candidacy is more of a symptom than a cause. It seems unlikely that the political elites of Britain and the EU will take the Brexit vote as encouragement to raise their game. Will America’s political class do better? I hope so, but I’m not optimistic.Emphases added, I hope it won't get Reynold into trouble if I note that this exactly what I said in the early post-Brexit hours of Thursday morning.