Now I’m not British, and I don’t mean to opine about things that are none of my business; that don’t affect my life. Especially something monumental that is so raw – an election that was like a divorce really (and in a divorce you never want to take sides). There’s always winners and losers in elections, the nasty side of our winner take all systems. The upside is that most elections don’t really affect our lives. Who occupies a house a thousand miles away. Who we have to see on the news every night. Changes most often happen slowly. Oh, sure they mark the destinies of foreign wars in faraway places – but those places are, well, faraway. Home, work, the mall – the movies, the bar. That’s the radius that matters most to me; to all of us. The elites forget that – expanding their radius, drinking at restaurants on the Champs Elysee while abandoning the local bar, ignoring the farmers markets. It’s more fun, talking about Paris and Prague – than it is to talk about Manchester. Alas, they should condescend to visit occasionally, drink a pint at the end of the day at the local pub and buy a gallon of milk at the store; lest they forget what people’s lives are like and what they worry about and miss a #BREXIT. But I digress.
This time what was decided upon was breathtaking. Epic. Existential for so many people. I found myself thinking about the British citizens who have properties in Spain, who established companies in Germany; who live and work across the channel. British diplomats working in EU missions. Businesses from abroad that set up in London to service Europe. The workers from so many countries who have moved to England – from Germany and Spain and Austria and beyond. What about the folks in Gibraltar? For all these, this decision was existential. What will happen to them? I guess nobody really knows.
Nostalgia. I have my roots in Europe too – well I guess not Europe anymore, but England. Coming from America, I’ve always seen those as the same – a distinction without a difference – which I suppose was the problem in the first place. And who of us doesn’t love Europe? If they say they don’t, they are lying. Castles, quaint French villages overflowing with wine and cheese. Whitewashed Spanish villages perched on arid hills overlooking the Mediterranean: the smell of fresh-baked bread and strong coffee in the morning and calamari fried in olive oil at night. Tapas, wiener schnitzel, black olives and blood pudding; wine and beer and the great open spaces dotted with relics of 2000 years of history – history of the ‘west’, my history too. Throwing this open to itself, then to the world? Ending the wars through shared interests? It was a grand vision – ironically inflicted mortal wounds by sawdust bureaucrats with no faces.
I do, however, understand the decision to #BREXIT. Like I said before I am not British, at least not anymore. My ancestors left that Island to seek opportunity in America in the 1850s; but I still have England’s common law reverberating through my consciousness – the Magna Carta still dominates my imagination. Self-determination, the gift of Saxon England to the world; trial by jury, the shire charters; ideas of consent of the governed, of limited government under the supervision of common people, landowners all – of private property buttressed by a strong currency that made England the envy of Europe for a millennium. The British are fiercely protective of all this against any attempt to undermine these values: the Norman invasion the first; the interminable attempts to contain their grasping monarchs; the fight against the Pope in Rome; the wars, ending in the ‘war to end all wars’, and then the war after that – and the cold war after that. They could have seen this coming, should have seen this coming – the technocrats in Brussels and their clients in London. But they didn’t care, or didn’t care to understand. Parochial, they called it – EU is not about protecting those values, but instead replacing them with others broader and more universal, not rooted in the hills and valleys and villages – in the stories of individual people and their struggles. But that is impossible.
They might should have visited the pubs occasionally – the technocrats and elites and politicians. And maybe they should start having vino and tapas in the alley behind an imposing, ancient cathedral; or visit a bierhaus in the Black Forest; or have a steaming bowl of pasta by a quiet piazza. Maybe they should remember the Europe they say they were trying to protect, lest it continue to shatter under their feet.