It feels as if the fabric of the world is unraveling. Britain has voted to leave the European Union and nobody can foretell what this will mean to the rest of us. Even the New York Times concedes with unaccustomed humility:
No one really knows what happens now.
Whatever awaits, it is sure to be bad news for a lot of people. Obviously, the reckless gesture was prompted by raw emotion, not by rational thought. The Times warns that:
Most broadly, the vote is likely to resonate as a sign that major democracies are increasingly vulnerable to the influence of populist political movements that curry favor by demonizing immigrants and external forces…
Does that remind you of a certain American presidential candidate? Doesn’t it seem a lot like the Trump phenomenon?
And doesn’t it show how susceptible the masses can be to wild-eyed demagoguery? Even in Britain?
This is not the Britain I learned about as a schoolboy in Jamaica. In those days, Jamaica was a British colony and we were taught that Britain was the benchmark for stability, integrity and all-around good sense.
We cut our teeth on Kipling.
If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you and make allowance for their doubting, too…
And we were advised to look for the “Made in England” label on anything we bought. Then, we were assured, we would be sure to get the best value and reliability for our money.
In those days, the sun never set on the British Empire, and raw materials from around the globe were shipped to England to be processed and shipped back as manufactured or processed merchandise. That way, we were taught, consumers reaped the benefits of mass production.
But all of that was a long, long time ago. For better or for worse, the colonies grew up and claimed their independence. The face of Britain changed as immigrants from the colonies swelled the population.
Britain grew ever more cosmopolitan, more sophisticated, more global in its outlook. The economy became more complex, and, for a lot of Britons, less prosperous.
There was a Socialist experiment that failed. And a conservative “austerity” experiment that failed. Meanwhile, Britons surrendered their cherished insularity and embraced their neighbors across the Channel. That experiment, too, is ending badly.
Capitalizing on the uncomfortable side effects of change, opportunistic demagogues whipped up a nationalistic backlash,which has overwhelmed traditional British prudence.
And as the New York Times acknowledges, no one really knows what happens now.