By Clay Waters ~
Some of the endless Brexit-result bashing from the New York Times on Saturday got personal. In her “reporter’s notebook,” European culture correspondent Rachel Donadio didn’t hide her contempt for the “open xenophobia” of the Leave side. Also, White House reporters Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Mark Landler sadly revealed just how much the voters of Britain have disappointed President Obama.
Donadio wrote from Paris:
…. the news stung. For me and others of my generation, this vote was about more than Britain’s relationship with Europe. It signaled the definitive end of the era of transnational optimism in which I came of age: the ’90s. Back then, we believed that interconnectedness was a strength. People wanted to study human rights law. Nationalism was out of fashion — at least in Western Europe — and weaponized Twitter didn’t yet exist to galvanize political change. (Or rather, to take down institutions, not build them.)
For Donadio, it wasn’t national sovereignty, distrust of unelected bureaucrats, or any abstract idea of freedom that had spurred British citizens to vote Leave, but “open xenophobia.” When she does acknowledge some of the EU’s flaws, it seems the European Union’s real woe boils down to a PR problem: It hadn’t explained itself simply enough to the local dopes. Keep in mind this “xenophobia” charges is wnot contained in an Opinion-section piece, but in an article from a Times reporter in the news section of the paper:
This week, it wasn’t Greece that was kicked out. It was Britain that voted to leave, after a campaign of open xenophobia. Leaving the euro isn’t the same as leaving the European Union, but the differences are too technical for many people to parse. That’s the problem.
The European Union hasn’t done a good job of explaining its purpose — it’s too opaque, too bureaucratic, too confusing — and its slow handling of the debt crisis, especially in Greece, where it acted fast so French and German banks could cut their losses, but left Greece asphyxiated, had devastating consequences for all. Decisions made for short-term financial stability have led to long-term political instability.
I’m struck by how the critiques of Europe from the right and left wind up converging. The Democracy in Europe movement, begun this year by the leftist Yanis Varoufakis, a polarizing former Greek finance minister, hits some of the same notes as Nigel Farage’s right-wing U.K. Independence Party, criticizing Europe as antidemocratic and less than transparent.
Still, the right appeals to nationalism and the left does not. The right sells a nostalgic version of national identity that resonates viscerally but doesn’t reflect reality, especially not for young people born into a Europe of Erasmus scholarships that let them study across borders, and EasyJet, which lets them travel around on the cheap.
Also on Saturday, White House reporters Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Mark Landler sadly revealed just how much the voters of Britain have disappointed President Obama, who previously pettily threatened Britain with trade consequences if it didn’t fall in line and stay in the EU (it didn’t work). The Times painted Leave voters as insular and narrow-minded, in contrast to Obama’s sunny cosmopolitanism, in “Obama Acknowledges Loss but Says ‘Special Relationship’ Will Continue.”
The “Brexit” vote runs counter to Mr. Obama’s vision of open, interconnected societies, and it illustrates the frustrating cycle of his engagement with the world: “America’s first Pacific president,” as Mr. Obama has called himself, who tried to pull the United States out of the Middle East, now finds himself, near the end of his presidency, confronting a crisis in Europe fueled in part by the refugees attempting to flee the Middle East.
The Times liked Obama’s smug summary so much that it repeated it in the text box: “A vote that jars with the president’s vision of open societies.”
Mr. Obama acknowledged that much of the upheaval gripping American voters — an angst that is propelling the campaign of Donald J. Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee — is driven by fear of technology-driven globalization and anger at job losses prompted by automation. Mr. Trump has exploited such fears, Mr. Obama told National Public Radio in December, calling them “justified, but just misdirected.”
On Friday, even as he held a Google-sponsored virtual conference with entrepreneurs in Britain, Iraq, South Korea and Mexico, the president conceded that interconnectivity still makes many people uncomfortable.
“We are better off in a world in which we are trading, and networking, and communicating and sharing ideas,” Mr. Obama said before a panel discussion with Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder, on Friday.
Besides the unelected, unaccountable bureaucracy in Brussels, it was the reams of regulations, the flood of refugees and the accompanying threat of social and sexual unrest that were making the British people uncomfortable, not some troglodyte technophobe fear of the modern world’s “interconnectivity.”