Back in high school, I knew a kid named Merrick. He was geeky to an extreme, awkward. Not bad looking, but in his junior year in high school he got his first girlfriend with a girl who (also not bad looking) had not yet had a boyfriend. He left the state for college, and we lost touch. We ran into each other in a very chance encounter, and he had transformed into someone completely different. Gone was the awkward arrogance of the geek, in was the confidence of someone who had made it in the financial world of London with a gorgeous wife and a polished demeanor.

Merrick had some sharp words about the Brexit. He voted against it for largely cultural reasons, though he said it would be economically disastrous as well. There is not much unusual in his analysis except for the personal aspect. This is not what he wanted, but it’s not the end of the world for him. He has skills and education. He is not rooted in Britain and if they hang out an unwelcome sign, he can do his thing in New York or Dublin or anywhere else. If Britain decides it doesn’t want him, he has no need of it.

His readiness and willingness is a perfectly fair response. And it’s fortunate that he has the opportunity to pick up and go. There’s a decent chance I would, too.

There are two ways of looking at it.

I look at it as (potentially) London’s loss and Britain’s. Merrick and his ilk are law-abiding, educated money-generators. Any sane country should want as many of them as possible. If he leaves London I hope it’s to return to the states. I want as many Merricks as we can find, regardless of their country of origin. I’m not in favor of open borders, but there aren’t that many of his caliber and if we took them all in, it would be almost all upside. Okay, okay, when it comes to Merrick I may be a bit biased, but you get the idea. I look at Merrick and people like him as a gain for any economy and culture that would have them, and I would similarly view their departure as a loss.

That’s not the only way of looking at it, however. Now, most uncharitably the other way of looking at it is looking at Merrick and noticing that he’s not white. He’s not not-white, either, exactly. He has olive skin, black hair, and a Scottish name. I suspect that as far as the census bureau is concerned, he’s white, but if a climate of hate were to take over Britain, he could very well be a target. In any event, no matter how good his accent, one thing he isn’t is English. He is as American as American can be, and most importantly he is a foreigner. Though he isn’t Jewish and doesn’t use the latter word, he’s a rootless cosmopolitan. Living in London.

All of these things are potentially important. In 2013, Alex Massie wrote a foreshadowing piece on the relationship between London and England, and it is pretty fraught. The internationalization and wealth of London has separated it from the rest of the country in a way that isn’t healthy. There was a predictable urban/rural divide, but notably England’s second largest city voted to leave. And despite Britain being an urban country, Leave won more votes.

The rest of the country doesn’t feel like it’s in it with London, and the response after the vote actually sort of confirmed that fact. “You want to leave the EU? Fine! We’ll leave you!” and something about inquiring whether apples were enjoyable. From afar, it looked a fair bit like the Remain’s motto could be boiled down to “London is who we are.” This sold better in London than outside of London. Which was lost due to the fact that everyone involved seemed to be from London.

As, of course, is Merrick. Which makes Merrick emblematic of three causes of resentment: He’s an immigrant, he’s based in London, and he’s in the money, both making good money and involved in the financial sector. As such, it’s really quite possible that the rest of England might not miss him as much as they should.

The debate that has erupted elsewhere is whether or not the Leave campaign was racist. Some observers are looking at other explanations, such as much of the above about London and inequality and the like. Others just don’t understand why we can’t call racism racism. It’s racist. It’s racist. It’s racist.

Which much of it is. Maybe most of it or maybe just some. It depends on how we define the term. But somewhere north of 0% of it is racism, and somewhere south of 100% of it is racism. Advocates of Leave like to argue it’s not racism because racism is unseemly and they themselves are not racist so what gives? Organizers, though, know that they have the racist vote and have done little to dissuade the votes that they need. Advocates of Remain, however, like the theory because it means that they can ignore the other side. If it’s racism it’s wrong. QED. But what do you do when you define something as racist, and 52% of the country is on the wrong side of that line that you drew? Saying racist isn’t enough. Even if we grant your moral and intellectual superiority, what do you do with a morally inferior electorate?

We often view these things as “local” problems. In the US, people are talking about what the GOP did to invite Trump, and of course Trump himself for what he is and isn’t doing. In Britain folks are blaming the Leavers and Cameron for giving the public a say. But there is something in the water, because it’s happening “locally” in a lot of places all at once. No matter how much Matthew Yglesias argues that Obama’s approval numbers suggest it’s a narrow phenomenon, 43% of the Democrats voted for a self-described socialist, 45% of Republicans voted for a megalomaniacal buffoon under a white ethnocentric banner, Labour voters remain firmly behind Jeremy Corbyn, the National Front is ascendant, AfD is ascendant, both the Golden Dawn and the Greek leftists are ascendant, and the mainstream parties in Austria combined for 23% of the vote in the last presidential election, leaving a runoff between the Greens and the far-right Freedom Party.

The consensus is breaking down. The historical tactic of dismissing the fringe as the fringe isn’t working anymore. Cosmopolis vs Hinterlandia has become an international phenomenon, and the fringe is closing in.

Merrick doesn’t need Britain. Britain, it increasingly believes, doesn’t need Merrick.

Category: Statehouse

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2 Responses to The Siege of London

  1. Oscar Gordon says:

    Yay! Political revolution!

    This doesn’t surprise me. Once you get into the habit of finding a single bad thing with which to discount an entire body of opinion as extremist fringe, it’s too easy to extend that to more and more bodies of opinion, until you’ve basically labelled anything that doesn’t largely hew to your worldview as fringe.

    Of course, then you suddenly find yourself in a minority wondering why no one agrees with you except all your friends & cohorts.

  2. mike shupp says:

    Good post. I wish I had something profound to say in response, but alas, I’m just going to go on mumbling to myself.

    Somebody’s going to write a really fabulous history of the 21st century someday. That I can say. In another couple of centuries, and maybe in some language not many of us speak today, in some country not yet born or admitted to the UN. Can I hope there’ll be a Broadway show version for Old Timers like me? And a Disney-fied animated film for the Young’ns or whatever future folk call their offspring? None of this is going to hurt, after all. In another couple of centuries.

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