Are the U.K. & U.S. Unspooling Together?


What do America’s 2016 presidential campaign and the upcoming, June 23rd, United Kingdom referendum on remaining in the European Union (EU) have in common?


And this is not a good sign for democracy.

I recently returned from a short visit to London. While there I conducted an admittedly informal poll with, perhaps, the world’s smallest sample size to gauge sentiment on these two looming political watersheds. Several London cabbies and a pocketful of bespoke suit clad businessmen enjoying their early evening pints were my unwitting participants. I volleyed the conversations back and forth between Clinton versus Trump and the EU question, or Brexit as the “stay” or “leave” referendum is cleverly called in Great Britain.

Both topics produced stunningly parallel responses.

Scratch the surface of the lorry drivers psyches and a stream of anger, fear and xenophobia quickly flows. Immigration concerns are at the heart of these emotions. The current European Union, codified in 1993, allows travel free zones between the member nations and this freedom of movement terrifies a fairly significant segment of England’s population. Ironically, most of our cab drivers who expressed these fears were obviously recently immigrants themselves. These men who were definitely in the “leave” camp on the EU referendum also were huge Donald Trump supporters. With only one exception, the cabbies showed no concern, only enthusiasm, for Trump’s “build a wall” and ending Muslim immigration stances for America. They felt the U.S. has become weaker under Obama. One declared, “Every time I see Obama on TV he is apologizing to someone.”

This fear of foreigners, this call for isolationism, is fueled by the notoriously sensational nature of London’s tabloid newspapers which run headlines warning that staying in the EU would cause England to lose control of its own coast and even lead to a merger with France!

Of course in the United States a large portion of Trump’s supporters are described as alienated, angry white lower middle to low income males whose amicus is fueled by conservative talk radio and Fox News pundits spouting apocalyptic scenarios if Clinton is elected.

On the other hand the London business people, men and women, sipping their ales, porters and stouts hold a different point of view from my cabbie acquaintances. More so than the drivers, they admit to being so preoccupied with the EU question that they have given only cursory attention to our Trump/Clinton option. Most of these folks in the financial segment feel confident that the “stay” option will prevail. While they have some serious concerns about certain aspects of how the EU’s workings affects their country they feel the alternative is far too dangerous. This certainly mirrors how many people in America will vote for Clinton despite their deep distrust of her past actions and motivations. One Briton even evoked the old “…devil you know..” cliche to justify his vote.

Sadly, and most troublingly, beneath all my simplistic prodding and the answers it produced I sense a seething, rancid cleaving of the bound fabric which help create both these nations. Allies, who together defeated our common enemies in two major world wars, the United Kingdom and the United States have long been seen as beacons of hope and opportunity.

Perhaps, I myself have been unaware or too insular and these cultural divides within each country have long existed, but I fear the arc of normal disagreement and debate has escalated to disastrous levels. Levels where, unlike the past, no compromises are possible and discord becomes the constant, dominant state.

This unspooling of the threads of common decency, understanding and compassion would be heartbreakingly catastrophic for future generations. It is time for a national reassessment of how we approach each other as we carry out the obligations of citizenry.

Perhaps the London cabbies, the London financiers, the feeling neglected American middle class and the U.S.’s 1%ers should all meet together for a pint, or a draft, of their favorite brew and talk to each other.

It beats the alternative.

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