A number of thoughts come to mind in the wake of the British referendum on leaving the European Union as well as events in this year's US Presidential elections.
Central to those conflicts, large and small, is the perceived sense of self-worth of the self-described elites; the folks whose opinion should matter just a little more than the hoi polloi. The suggestion is that the world would be better off if we let those elites offer a bit firmer guidance in the affairs of state.
This perspective is shockingly highlighted by the usually progressive....more accurately socialist leaning....Rolling Stone magazine. Matt Taibbi's article suggests that the reaction to Brexit justifies why Brexit became an issue in the first place.
The overall message in every case is the same: Let us handle things.
But whatever, let's assume that the Brexit voters, like Trump voters, are wrong, ignorant, dangerous and unjustified.
Even stipulating to that, the reaction to both Brexit and Trump reveals a problem potentially more serious than either Brexit or the Trump campaign. It's become perilously fashionable all over the Western world to reach for non-democratic solutions whenever society drifts in a direction people don't like. Here in America the problem is snowballing on both the right and the left.
Even the quote from Mr. Taibbi illustrates the sort of non-self-aware perspective that pervades the leftist perspective. It is most certainly undeniable that Mr. Trump has used indelicate language on the subject of race on mulitple occasions; specifically in commenting on American immigration policies.. It is equally undeniable that blatantly racist individuals and groups have come out of the proverbial woodwork in support of Mr. Trump. Similarly, there were racists supporting the Brexit initiative.
Mr. Taibbi fails, as do many critics of Mr. Trump, when he conflates the small but vocal racist component with the respective larger movements.
Permit me to pause here to note that I didn't have any position on Brexit...that is for British citizens to decide....and I am 99+% certain to vote for Gary Johnson in the U.S. Presidential election this fall. Back to the issue at hand.....
What Mr. Taibbi and those critics fail to understand is that the U.S. government has the authority and the responsibility to determine who gets to immigrate into our country. There is nothing racist with expecting that immigrants obey our immigration laws. There is nothing racist with the expectation that potential new citizens abandon the governmental traditions of their home nations in favor of the governmental traditions expressed by the Constitution of the United States.
I possess a passion for the US Constitution. It describes a limited scope of authority for the federal government and presents an expansive view of individual liberty. American liberals have generally been successful on those issues that can be properly framed as pursuing the interest of individual liberty. American conservatives have similarly been successful on issues that are framed by the Constitution's limits on the size and scope of government.
The Constitution is the rhetorical DNA of the American political system. America succeeds when the plain language of the Constitution succeeds. We falter when that same language is subverted.
A similar perspective applies in the case of Brexit where an unelected and largely unconstrained government in Brussels perceives itself to be superior to the founding documents of the British commonwealth. The British people have the reasonable expectation that they will be governed in a manner consistent with which they have previously given their consent.
Michael Totten, an author I hold in high esteem, offered his perspective on Brexit.
If I lived in the United Kingdom, I would have voted to Remain in the EU, but it’s not hard to see why the majority voted to Leave. I wouldn’t want the United States to join the EU for the same reasons the Brexiters want out of it.
The EU is a brilliant idea. Unite splendidly diverse yet like-minded nations into a powerful bloc that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Provide minimum standards and guidelines for countries that aren’t as advanced (such as Greece and Romania). Pull down trade barriers and do business in a common market. Open up job opportunities and leg-stretching room for all. (I wouldn’t want to be confined to a place as cramped as Belgium for the rest of my life, but I’m one of those cosmopolitan "elites" everyone likes to complain about nowadays.)
The actually existing EU, though, isn’t so brilliant. It includes all the good stuff, yet it’s crushed by a staggering amount of centralized regulatory bureaucracy and a disregard for the wishes of its individual member states. It’s hardly a gulag empire, but it’s autocratic enough that Europe’s democracy deficit has its own Wikipedia page.
Mr. Totten is what I consider to be liberal of the old-school variety; open-minded and tolerant. While I suspect that we would disagree on some of the particulars that describe an appropriate level of government, we most definitely agree on the basic instrument of the role of the people in establishing and maintaining that government.
It is regrettable to note that the "elites" have little interest in analyzing where they went wrong. Instead they work for another referendum, another election, another opportunity to get an answer of which they approve. If only we can give them enough time, they will develop a system of mathematics that will let two plus two equal five.
In their minds, the only election that matters is the one they win.
I do have to offer some appreciation for former President Bill Clinton in his response to the 1994 elections that saw both houses of the US Congress to the Republicans. Rather than dig in his heels, he eventually modified his agenda to work with the Congress. The Republicans did the same. It wasn't perfect, as illustrated by the government shut-down. But Mr. Clinton did demonstrate an appreciation for the fact that ALL elections matter; not just the one that he won.
In contrast, American leftists only seem to care about Mr. Obama's election. Mr. Obama himself has demonstrated little interest in working with Congress to achieve whatever might be possible within two very different philosophical agendas. Hence the his lack of success when compared with Mr. Clinton.
While I would certainly disagree with the average Briton about what constitutes an appropriate level of government, I wholeheartedly agree that the perspective of the average voter ought to influence the actions of government. When a government undermines the legitimate objectives of all people to freely pursue a satisfying life, those same people have the right to change their government, or institute a new one, in a manner that to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
When the elites in government lose the tangible supports of the average citizen, it is incumbent upon those elites to undertake serious self-evaluation and reflection on their actions and whether or not they have been good stewards of the public interest. Their first step should not be to change the rules of the game so as to ensure a different (electoral) result. Their purpose should be to respond in a manner that is above the brown-shirts attacking people peaceably attending political rallies in California. It shouldn't be to join them.
*modestly edited 6/29/2016