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“No man is an island”: Some thoughts on Brexit and the American tea party

It’s with some trepidation that I write a blog post about Brexit. I mean, I live almost 5,000 miles away from the UK, and most of what I know about Britain’s vote to leave the European Union comes from Twitter, newspapers, and magazines. I’m hardly in a position to provide any new observations.

What I can offer, however, is speculation about how something like Brexit might go down in the US.

I was really struck by the rhetoric and empty* promises of the Leave campaign , particularly by the pledge–splashed on posters, websites, and even on a massive bus–that the 350 million pounds the UK sent to the EU every week could instead be spent on the National Health Service.

brexit bus

I marvel that Brexit, the most fiscally irresponsible, blunder-headed, ill-conceived political campaign in decades nevertheless promised to shore up the social safety net.

Many have compared Brexit to the American tea party, but I just can’t imagine politicians like Ted Cruz or Paul Ryan (darlings, at various times, of the tea party) making a promise like that. I can’t envision them pledging that kind of money to health care, or schools, or even to infrastructure like roads and bridges.

No, tea partiers, I think, would promise that the money would go back in the taxpayer’s pocket.

I wouldn’t be so bold as to speculate what that means about the character of UK politics, but I certainly can say that it highlights the toxic individualism that seems to be taking over American political discourse, especially when it comes to guns and health care.

In my community in Southern Oregon, voters have repeatedly turned down funding for libraries and public safety.  I have seen many letters to the local paper that read, basically, “I’ve got my own books and I’ve got my own gun—why should I pay for yours?” It’s a weird sort of invincibility that ignores the horrifying truth: ours is a community in crisis. Our local social safety next isn’t just frayed around the edges, it has great, gaping holes. And it’s the most vulnerable—children, the elderly, the ill—who are likely to fall through.

I wondered what an analogous movement locally might look like, but it’s hard to find something similar when taking geographical scale into account. Oregon (98,466 square miles) is roughly the size of the UK (95,058 square miles). We do have a longstanding (since the 1940s) proposal to have sections of Southern Oregon and Northern California join together into a separate state called Jefferson, but that’s more of a secession than an exit.

I guess I’m still parsing out how I feel about all of this, but I do feel deeply envious of the assurances citizens of other countries have: health care, reasonable gun control, a secure physical infrastructure. And, despite the names that occasionally get hurled at me on Twitter for these opinions, I refuse to believe that wanting those things makes me a Communist.

I’ll just keep coming back to John Donne’s Meditation XVII:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.

 

*Nigel Farage, for example, immediately walked back the pledge to send the 350 million pounds to the NHS within hours of the referendum

**Edited to add:

I’ve mentioned the funding crisis in Josephine County umpteen times on this blog. This FB exchange with my eloquent friend Kriston Eller sort of explains why:

KE:  Every time I read that you have no funding for libraries and public safety, I get 1st surprised all over again, even though I have read it many, many times; 2nd confused that this is even a thing that can happen in our country; 3rd disgusted that people can be so wrongheaded and selfish; and 4th angry that you have to tolerate that.

me: YES! And while I feel kind of silly for repeating it again and again and again (and again), I feel like I have to help keep it from being normalized (the whole “frog in the boiling water” thing).

KE: Oh, for sure. I really do think I go into a sort of denial about it because it’s just too stupid to be believed.

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