Pushed Around and Left Out. The Frightening US Parallels to Brexit

Pushed Around and Left Out. The Frightening US Parallels to Brexit

REUTERS/Kevin Coombs

Hillary Clinton looks across the pond, and must loathe what she sees. Average English people have acted out, voting for Brexit like naughty children pulling a prank on the school principal. Despite apocalyptic warnings from business and political elites, they decided to leave the EU.   

UK’s leaders were punished for neglecting middle class wages and hopes and instead pursuing grander ambitions – tighter bonds with Europe. Hillary must wonder, will we be next? Will Americans blame stagnant incomes on President Obama who was so busy "fundamentally transforming the United States of America” that he forgot about the people who elected him? 

Related: Why Brexit Fears Are Far from Over for Investors 

The parallels are significant. In both countries there is anger about immigration and lingering fury about the financial crisis. Voters see that the fortunes of the one percent have soared, while theirs have soured, and they blame the “Establishment.” The plunging stock market and pound sterling weakness that followed Brexit moved the “leave” crowd not at all. As one 59-year-old Guinness-drinking bloke remarked to a reporter, “I don’t have any money in the stock market, so what’s it to me?” 

The economic fortunes of the British and of Americans have been undermined by decades of automation and globalization. For Brits, leaving the EU may worsen their prospects instead of make them better. But the EU became a symbol of the UK’s loss of power and sovereignty, and proved an attractive target for voter frustration.  

EU leaders didn’t help -- spraying regulations across the UK while pressing unification in the face of grievous union shortcomings. They finally got the message. 

Meeting just a day after the Brexit votes were tallied, the ministers of the six original founding countries issued a statement suggesting they understood the varying “levels of ambition amongst Member States when it comes to the project of European integration.” More important, they promised to “focus our common efforts on those challenges which can only be addressed by common European answers, while leaving other tasks to national or regional levels.”   

Related: How the Brexit Affects Your Retirement 

Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, admitted to fellow political elites last month, “Obsessed with the idea of instant and total integration, we failed to notice that ordinary people, the citizens of Europe, do not share our euro-enthusiasm.”   

The International New York Times, an editorial bemoaning the uprising of the populist sentiment driving the Brexit vote, and warning of its ominous spread, noted the difficulties of England untangling from the EU, especially since “A large proportion of Britain’s internal regulations are based on EU rules and will need to be revised.” Exactly. 

It’s not as though the EU has been such a spectacular success. Like Hillary Clinton promising four more years of Barack Obama’s decidedly mediocre economy, those arguing the “remain” case could hardly hold up EU growth as aspirational. Instead, echoing Hillary’s prediction of life under Donald Trump, they pitched the chaos and loss of jobs that might follow should Britain exit the EU.   

Since the vote, they have backtracked on their dire forecasts, partly to reassure markets, but also because the prospect of the EU punishing the UK seems absurd. Since Britain is Germany’s third-largest export market, it’s doubtful Angela Merkel will really take a hard line with the UK. 

Related: What the Brexit Vote Means for the US Economy 

In building the union, Eurocrats overreached, creating an unwieldy behemoth of political micro-management and interference. EU officials aspired to dictate everything from cellphone fees to cheese names. The 33,000 staff members of the European Commission in Brussels (and that doesn’t include numerous agencies operating out of the UK and elsewhere) meddled in an ever-widening list of activities. At the same time, the leadership proved incapable of addressing the most important underpinnings of the union, such as what to do about struggling nations like Greece. 

In the U.S., the federal government continues to expand its dominance over matters large and small, while failing to protect our borders or revitalize our education system. While the White House dictates bathroom policies, Americans see our infrastructure crumbling, our tax system sending businesses overseas, Obamacare premiums soaring, and lobbyists thriving. In the face of widespread discontent on the right and the left, will Mrs. Clinton turn out voters by campaigning for the status quo?  

The final blow for English voters was the Syrian refugee crisis. More than one million refugees, mainly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, entered Europe in 2015 and the flow continues today.   

While Germany welcomed the greatest number, Hungary took in more refugees relative to its local population, at 1,799 per 100,000 inhabitants. The UK, by that measure, was towards the bottom of the list, settling only 60 migrants against an EU average of 260 for every 100,000 citizens. Nonetheless, as violence attributed to the presence of Middle Eastern refugees increased on the continent, English resistance to admitting more immigrants from outside the EU built. 

Related: Meet Boris Johnson, the Man Who Led the Brexit -- and May Lead the UK 

Last fall, the seeds of Brexit were sewn as European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, peeved at the resistance of some member countries, announced that quotas for accepting asylum seekers from Syria would be “compulsory” for EU members. Ukip leader Nigel Farage jumped on this dictate, and began warning of a flood of refugees of “biblical” proportion.  The die was cast. 

The admittance of refugees is a hot topic in the U.S. as well. In spite of ongoing terror attacks, President Obama continues to argue for opening our doors to those displaced by the conflict in Syria. Presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump has proposed banning Muslims from war-torn regions. Many Americans, alarmed by the events in San Bernardino and Orlando, agree with Trump. 

English disenchantment with the EU parallels attitudes in the U.S. about the federal government. In a recent poll, 78 percent of Americans said they were “dissatisfied” or “angry” with the “way the federal government is working.” It was a remarkable sounding, given that 64 percent said they were satisfied or happy with their personal financial situation. 

Whether Americans will act out like the English and elect a candidate in November who is scorned by business and political elites is anybody’s guess. But it is hard to imagine the country embracing four more years of the status quo. One thing seems certain: voters are skeptical of advice from their leaders, and not afraid of disruption.