Brexit is such an awful mess it’s hard to know where to begin.
It may mark the beginning of the end of the EU, which until recently has stood as our strongest example of humanity’s potential to transcend the intrinsic pettiness of national borders.
Compounding the tragedy is the multifaceted irony that “Leave” voters were motivated by factors that will now be magnified, not reduced, by their vote. As many have already observed, the Brexit massively undermines the average English person’s economic self-interest.
Yet the tragic ironies go so much deeper.
Economic inequality was one of the main driving factors: Leave voters tended to be lower-income than Remain-ers. Yet economic inequality is intractable in large part because the super-rich and corporations stash money in low-tax countries, beyond the reach of redistributive policies in their home countries, as the Panama Papers dramatically revealed. The only solution is a global tax system, as German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, economist Thomas Piketty, and the Vatican have called for. This requires unification, not hiding behind tribal borders.
A jingoistic desire to deter immigration, too, as reprehensible as this motive is, might also be better served by the expansion of the EU model than by its dissolution. Desperate people will always do everything they can to relieve their desperation, including moving, even as refugees, as many of our own families have done. This puts pressure on the periphery of desirable destinations like the EU and the US. The only real way to relieve this pressure is to expand the “inside” to include everyone. Yes, everyone. Then both the social safety net (to whatever extent we maintain one), and human rights, backed fully by the rule of law, cover people where they already are, reducing the pressure to move.
But perhaps the most tragic ironies are historic. England rose to power by colonizing the world, yet now retreats from immigration. England / Great Britain might well have been crushed by Hitler were it not for the world community coming to its rescue. A few of the Brexit voters, who skewed older than EU supporters, might have remembered that.
Most important is the history still ahead of us. The world is growing more interconnected, not less, and our biggest challenges, such as climate change, are global and respect no borders.
The right response to today’s challenges is the courage to unify, not the tribal instinct to divide.
In the face of growing tribal / separatist pressure, we urgently need a new, progressive story that stakes out a clear, uplifting goal that will concretely make everyone’s lives better.
What could be more inclusive, fair, and inspiring than One Global Democracy?