On June 23, the citizens of the U.K. voted, by a margin of 52% to 48%, to leave the European Union. Immediately following the vote, global markets plunged—with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling by 611 points and the NASDAQ having its worst day since 2011—and international politicians and media scrambling to interpret Brexit and its implications for the U.K. and other nations.
Proponents of “Brexit,” as Britain’s exit has been nicknamed, were elated. Nigel Faragee, head of the U.K. Independence Party, compared Brexit to a new day dawning. Opponents were devastated. Keith Vaz of the Labour Party said, “This is a crushing decision; this is a terrible day for Britain and a terrible day for Europe. In 1,000 years, I would never have believed that the British people would vote for this.”
Although American evangelicals might think Brexit has little or no significance for them, the opposite is true: the U.K.’s decision to exit is something that affects Americans and to which we should pay close attention. Here are three reasons we should care about Brexit:
- The Brexit Situation is Similar to our American Situation
The factors surrounding the Brexit decision are complex and multi-layered, but at the heart of them is a wrestling match between two competing visions for the U.K.: on the one hand, there are proponents of a sort of global cosmopolitanism who wish to stay in the EU and who often stress the benefits of global trade and multiculturalism. On the other hand, there are proponents of a populist nationalism who want the U.K. to go it alone, and who emphasize the cultural identity and social needs of their own nation.
While leaders of both visions focused on a number of factors, it was anxiety about immigration that tipped the balance. The UK Independence Party—who led the movement to have a referendum on leaving the EU—repeatedly warned British citizens that the EU forces its member countries to allow free movement and labor within its bloc, meaning that millions of immigrants from Africa and the Middle East would continue to pour into Britain, taking their jobs and changing their culture. Unfortunately, Brexit politicians and proponents sometimes used rhetoric that is xenophobic and borderline racist.
Perceptive commentators have immediately drawn a comparison between Brexit and American populism. If nothing else, the 2016 election cycle has forced an inconvenient reality out into the open: many Americans sense that our cosmopolitan political leaders and multi-national corporations are not very concerned for their welfare. In fact, the campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders rode on the back of lower-class and lower-middle-class citizens for whom globalization, free trade, and immigration are economic stressors and cultural negatives.
- Brexit is Affecting our Presidential Race Already
Brexit has made an immediate impact on the 2016 election cycle; Donald Trump applauded the Brexit decision as an instance in which a nation was guarding its borders and taking its country back. “Come November,” he said, “the American people will have the chance to re-declare their independence. Americans will have a chance to vote for trade, immigration and foreign politics that put our citizens first. They will have the chance to reject today’s rule by the global elite.”
In response, Hillary Clinton argued that Trump’s applause is yet another piece of evidence that he is unfit for the Presidency. She pointed out that Trump made his comments about Brexit while enjoying the grand opening of one of his luxury properties; in other words, while Trump purports to care for the lower and middle-classes, he cares only about himself.
- We Must Respond to the “Make American Great Again” and “Feel the Bern” Movements
It is no secret that the surprises of the 2016 election cycle are caused in no small part by concerns about globalization, free trade, and immigration. These concerns, voiced by ordinary Americans, are the main reason so many Americans want to “Feel the Bern” or “Make America Great Again.”
When Trump and Sanders began to rise in the polls, many of us didn’t take their supporters seriously. We thought that this was early-election-season-silliness which would soon dissipate. Or, we were taken aback by the crudity and ugliness that sometimes was displayed. So we made light of it or even made fun of it.
But we should not combat this sort of populism by mocking and demeaning it; instead, we should address the problems it has brought to light. Globalization, trade, and new technologies have contributed to the economic stress and cultural dislocation that many of our fellow citizens are experiencing. While we may benefit from globalization, they do not. We get inexpensive landscaping, cheap labor (economic benefits), and great take-out food (cultural bonus), while they get job competition (economic stress) and neighbors who do not speak English (cultural dislocation).
Those are very real concerns, and it will not bode well for American citizens or politicians to ignore the concerns. We must address the economic stress and cultural dislocation. We must find a middle way between isolationist nationalism (perceived as “building walls to keep out Asian, African, Mexican, and South American immigrants, in order to make ourselves wealthy by keeping them poor”) and global cosmopolitanism (perceived as “allowing the upper class to benefit from immigration and globalization while the lower and lower-middle classes to get little or nothing”).
Together we must find a way to mitigate the negative effects of globalization and trade on those who do not benefit. If we do not, we will be pouring gasoline on the fire of populist anger and resentment and, more importantly, passing up an evangelical opportunity to love our (populist) neighbor by helping find solutions to his very real problems.