Stephen Saideman – Instant Hottakes on Brexit

This post was originally published on June 24th, 2016 on Saideman’s Semi-Spew:

We will have much, much time to ponder and study what happened yesterday… whether it was the weather that made the difference in London, why Cameron was such an idiot, and on and on. I have a few quick reactions guided by and due to my faith in confirmation bias!

  1. While I am kind of surprised by the results, I should not be as I co-authored a book that argued that individuals and leaders will often embrace xenophobia for its short term allure despite the great costs to the country. That is why we named the book: For Kin or Country: Xenophobia, Nationalism, and War (now available in an updated 2015 paperback version!). That Brexit did well in England but not in Scotland or Northern Ireland (Wales confuses me as it always does–not enough vowels) is not surprising, AND neither does the fact that most of the polls indicated that the relationship between fear of immigrants and support of Brexit. The strange thing, of course, is that the UK was not part of the Schengen system so it still had much more control of its borders and of immigration than the rest of the EU. So, leaving the EU does not really “fix” the “problem” of too much immigration.
  2. Events like these have huge ramifications for those inside that country, including potentially more separatism, but not so much elsewhere. In short, direct effects matter a lot [update: see statement by Scottish National Party leader], but indirect lesson learning does not. Why? For the former, the exit will directly affect the interests (incomes!) and power of those inside the UK, leading to stronger interests on the part of the Scots to leave (although it may not be as instant as some might have thought). For the latter, the problem is that there are multiple lessons to learn. For those who want to leave the EU or separate from their current country, they can look at Brexit and say: they did it, we can do it too, taking away the positive lessons. For those who don’t want to leave the EU or secede from wherever, they can observe the economic shocks and other painful consequences and learn that this would be awful for them. Let confirmation bias be your guide, I always say. Again, multiple lessons to learn, so which lessons will people take away? The only common lesson will be that David Cameron will go down in history as one of the worst Prime Ministers of all time.
  3. Already folks are worrying what this says about Trump–that if the wave of populist nationalism can break the UK, then shouldn’t we worry about Trump getting more votes than we expect? Um, no. Why not? First, the electoral college means that the US election is not a pure referendum where mobilizing the cranky can lead to a win. Trump would have to do very well across a number of states, including some very diverse ones. Second, while whites are a majority in the US, white men are not. I don’t know what the gender breakdown of Brexit was, but in the US, Trump has been quite successful at alienating not just non-whites but women. Third, there is a huge imbalance in the American election in terms of organization, skill, discipline, resources and resources and resources–Hillary Clinton and the Democrats have a huge lead here that Trump will not be able to surmount, especially as potential donors ponder whether Trump is using the campaign contributions to win the election or to save his failing businesses. I have no idea what the balance was in the UK. Fourth, the GOP is divided, with vulnerable Senators running away from Trump as fast as they can. Yes, the Dems are currently divided with Sanders still not dropping out (oy!), but eventually he will. That HRC is ahead despite Sanders sticking around is a testament either to her strength, revulsion for Trump or both.
  4. Most importantly, Lindsay Lohan is relevant again!

Alas, she seems to have deleted all of her anti-Brexit tweets.

Anyhow, for those outside of the UK, we don’t need to panic much. For those inside, I am so sorry for your loss.

Stephen Saideman is a Fellow and the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, and the Paterson Chair in International Affairs at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs

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