There’s the apocryphal story that a young Jesus, accompanied by Joseph of Arimathea, a tin merchant, traveled to what is now England and visited Glastonbury during Jesus’ unknown years – and there’s the Book of Revelation (3:12 and 21:2) describing a Second Coming, where Jesus establishes a New Jerusalem. The Christian church in general, and the English Church in particular, often uses Jerusalem as a metaphor for Heaven, a place of universal love and peace – and all of that led to William Blake’s short 1804 poem now called Jerusalem:
And did those feet in ancient time / Walk upon England’s mountains green? / And was the holy Lamb of God / On England’s pleasant pastures seen?
And did the Countenance Divine / Shine forth upon our clouded hills? / And was Jerusalem builded here / Among these dark Satanic Mills?
Maybe, or maybe not, but that didn’t matter to Blake:
Bring me my bow of burning gold! / Bring me my arrows of desire! / Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold! / Bring me my chariot of fire!
I will not cease from mental fight, / Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand, / Till we have built Jerusalem / In England’s green and pleasant land.
There you have it. The English are going to build a place of universal love and peace which will be England itself – the New Jerusalem. That’s the great task and Blake’s short poem finally caught on – the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom, Robert Bridges, republished it in 1916, when the Great War wasn’t going well, and then asked Sir Hubert Parry to put it to music. King George V then said that he preferred “Jerusalem” to “God Save the Queen” and that’s how we know it today. It’s sung every year by the audience at the end of the Last Night of the Proms in the Royal Albert Hall and across the country where that’s simulcast, and since 2004 it’s been the anthem of the England cricket team. Every politician has used it. The suffragettes used it. It was used in the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London and “Bring me my Chariot of fire” gave us the title of that heroic and idealistic 1981 film Chariots of Fire – and it was used ironically in the 1962 film The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner – the mills were still pretty dark and satanic in that one. Either way, Blake’s “Jerusalem” had become that nation’s unofficial national anthem. Early this year there was one more dust-up about whether it should become the official one. Some said no. What the hell was Blake imagining anyway, a white Christian paradise with a wall around it? Blake was now sounding a bit like Donald Trump.
All of this may seem a minor matter, but Blake has a lot to answer for, because he tapped into a deep vein of heroic and idealistic and inadvertently exclusionary nationalism. Everyone in England, and in the larger Great Britain, and the even larger United Kingdom, knows his words by heart. Sooner or later they would act on them in an unfortunate way, and they just did:
Britain’s startling decision to pull out of the European Union set off a cascade of aftershocks on Friday, costing Prime Minister David Cameron his job, plunging the financial markets into turmoil and leaving the country’s future in doubt.
The decisive win by the “Leave” campaign exposed deep divides: young versus old, urban versus rural, Scotland versus England. The recriminations flew fast, not least at Mr. Cameron, who had made the decision to call the referendum on membership in the bloc to manage a rebellion in his own Conservative Party, only to have it destroy his government and tarnish his legacy.
The result of the so-called Brexit vote presented another stiff challenge to the leaders of the other leading European powers as they confront spreading populist anger. It was seized on by far-right and anti-Brussels parties across Europe, with Marine Le Pen of the National Front in France calling for a “Frexit” referendum and Geert Wilders of the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands calling for a “Nexit.”
Everyone wants to build their own Jerusalem in their own green and pleasant land, and so things fall apart:
European officials met in Brussels to begin discussing a response and to emphasize their commitment to strengthening and improving the bloc, which will have 27 members after Britain’s departure.
“At stake is the breakup, pure and simple, of the union,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls of France said, adding, “Now is the time to invent another Europe.”
Germany urged calm. “Today marks a turning point for Europe,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said. “It is a turning point for the European unification process.”
No one was happy with this:
Financial markets swooned as it became apparent that the Leave forces would prevail, with the British pound and global stock prices plummeting in value as the vote tally showed the Remain camp falling further behind.
All the markets crashed, around the world, and may drop day after day from here on out, putting the world in a long deep recession, because things won’t be resolved quickly and cannot be resolved well:
The process of withdrawal is likely to play out slowly, perhaps taking years. It will mean pulling out of the world’s largest trading zone, with 508 million residents, including the 65 million people of Britain, and abandoning a commitment to the free movement of labor, capital, goods and services. It has profound implications for Britain’s legal system, which incorporates a large body of regulations that cover everything from product safety to digital privacy, and for Britain’s economy.
The main ways in which the change will be felt are on trade – Britain will lose automatic access to the European single market – and on immigration, with Britain no longer bound to allow any European Union citizen to live and work in the country. Britain will have to try to negotiate new deals covering those issues.
This is bad, or good, depending on your point of view:
To those in Britain who supported remaining in Europe, the result of Thursday’s in-or-out referendum was a painful rejection, leaving the country exposed to a possible economic downturn and signaling a step away from the multiculturalism that they say has made Britain among Europe’s most vibrant societies.
To backers of leaving, the outcome was vindication of their belief that Britain could pursue an independent course in the world, free of the Brussels bureaucracy and able to control the flow of immigrants into the country.
And there’s this:
The economy aside, the United Kingdom itself now faces a threat to its survival. Scotland voted by 62 percent to 38 percent to remain in the European Union, and the Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said Friday that it was “democratically unacceptable” for Scotland to be dragged out of it against its will. Another independence referendum, she said, “is now highly likely.”
Appearing before reporters in front of the flags of Scotland and the European Union, Ms. Sturgeon, who leads the dominant Scottish National Party, said, “It is a statement of the obvious that the option of a second referendum must be on the table, and it is on the table.”
The threat is real, but any new vote will not come soon, because it is only two years since the last one, which the Scottish nationalists lost, and the price of oil, on which the Scottish economy largely depends, has dropped.
Northern Ireland, too, voted for Remain, although Protestants and Roman Catholics, as usual, were split. But the prospect of an open border with Ireland now becoming a hard border between the European Union and the United Kingdom will change matters and require checks of passports and goods, putting strain on the Good Friday peace agreement.
That’s the broad outline of things, but there are specifics. There’s Lauren Razavi, a feature writer specializing in business, technology and innovation, with this from Norwich:
Today has been a day of bitterness, resentment and betrayal for British millennials like me. Overnight my generation has lost the right to call ourselves Europeans, as well as the right to live, love and work in the 27 other countries of the European Union. Among the many divisions the referendum has revealed in the U.K., the chasm between generations is becoming the most pronounced. While the Leave campaign achieved a two-point victory in the referendum, 75 percent of voters between 18 and 24 wanted to remain.
This was just one more battle with the old farts:
For all intents and purposes, the referendum result is just the latest in a series of attacks on my generation’s future. First came the financial crisis, caused by poor decision-making on the part of baby boomers across the world. Soon after came austerity measures that disproportionately affected young people in favor of protecting British pensions. Now we are being forced from the European Union – against the wishes of the vast majority of young people – in an attack from a generation that will live to see very little of its consequences.
They just don’t get it:
The last time Britain had a referendum on its EU membership, back in 1973, the parents of my generation weren’t even old enough to vote. Being European has always been a given for us; most people my age had never questioned or doubted the future of UK-EU relations until this referendum campaign began. And why would we? Most of us recognize that we have more in common with young people in Spain or the Netherlands than we do with the older folks who share our British nationality.
There’s a natural divide between generations around the world: There are those of us who grew up with the Internet and those whose lives go largely unaffected by anything digital or global in nature. We’ve grown up believing in a future that transcends national borders because we experience that world in our work, interests and social lives online. Today, the future we imagined was stolen from us.
Over the course of a single night, baby boomers have rejected expert opinion and torn apart my generation’s future. Why? Because a vague notion of making our country “great again,” combined with an infectious hysteria about immigration, was enough to convince them that things have to change. They were so convinced, in fact, that they were happy to vote for Leave without any definition of what “great” looks like, and no road map to actually achieving it.
She’s not happy:
Decades of uncertainty and political chaos have been unleashed by a generation of voters that barely possesses the digital literacy to use a USB stick correctly. As a result, our Parliament will spend years ignoring the tangible problems of ordinary people while they renegotiate long-held treaties that simply don’t need fixing. The vital resources that could deliver opportunity and prosperity for my generation will now be spent grasping for the little negotiating power the UK has left. The hope? That these crumbs of power can be used in a desperate battle for rapid agreement on new trade deals.
Google has reported a dramatic increase in searches for Irish passport applications since the Leave result became clear this morning. If the conversations I’ve had today are anything to go by, the next big decision for baby boomers will be how to pay for their pensions when my generation packs up their bags to abandon the sinking ship that the UK has just become.
And the old farts say fine, just leave. Who needs you anyway? Get off my (green and pleasant) lawn! The words of William Blake echo in their minds, or maybe it’s the words of Donald Trump. The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson reports on how he plays into this:
As Donald Trump stood in front of the Trump Turnberry golf resort, in Scotland, the morning after the vote for Brexit, he was asked to contemplate his own place in the world, and his power over the minds of the British. “Do you think anything you said in the United States influenced voters here in Britain when it comes to leaving the EU?” a reporter asked, as a bagpiper stood watch. “Good question,” Trump replied, squinting from under a white “Make America Great Again” baseball cap. “If I said yes, total influence, you’d all say, ‘That’s terrible, his ego is terrible,’ right? So I will never say that, Tom. I’d like to give you that one, but I can’t say that.” Donald Trump, once again silenced by his own humility, would answer Brexit questions for a good half hour, in the course of which he did allow that he’d heard talk of “a big parallel” to his own campaign: “People want to take their country back,” he said. “They want to take their borders back. They want to take their monetary back. They want to take a lot of things back.” Most of all, perhaps, “they don’t necessarily want people pouring into their country.”
They want to take their monetary back? What? Never mind:
Although Trump would later muse that “people like to see borders,” his only real priority at first, it seemed, was to insist that they see the suites at the Turnberry, which were the most luxurious one could imagine. The sprinkler system was now at “the highest level,” as was the course design itself. “Even people who truly hate me are saying it’s the best they’ve ever seen,” he said. The catalogue of Turnberry treats went on for several minutes, leaving many wondering what they were watching – wasn’t this the Presidential candidate for a major American party? Didn’t he know that a continent was in crisis? Would this finally expose him as unacceptably unserious? In some of his tweets, he seemed not to acknowledge that the sentiment in Scotland was for Remain – did he understand the political structure of the United Kingdom? Given the gravity of the moment, he appeared, at that juncture, absurd, just as Nigel Farage, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, and Boris Johnson, the Tory former mayor of London, often do. During the Leave campaign, Johnson played Paul Ryan to Farage’s Trump – the more socially acceptable peddler of destructive ideas. There was a flotilla on the Thames; it was laughable. But they won. After Trump began taking questions, a reporter asked about Prime Minister David Cameron’s criticism of his policies, such as his proposed ban on non-citizen Muslims entering the United States. Cameron had shunned Trump, the reporter suggested. Trump interrupted him.
“Excuse me, where is David Cameron right now?” Trump said. Cameron had been at the front of the campaign for Remain; early that morning, he’d announced that he would be stepping down. “Right now, I don’t think David Cameron wants to meet anybody,” Trump said.
It was vintage Trump, both aggressive and a bit absurd:
Speaking of fears of immigration in Europe, he cited some German friends of his who were members of his Mar-a-Lago Club, in Palm Beach. They were, he said, “very proud Germans, to a level that you wouldn’t believe.” (The British, thinking about extreme German nationalism, probably had no trouble believing.) “They would be bragging about their country, they would be talking about their country as though there was no other place” – and yet, because of all the immigrants they saw coming in, they were thinking of leaving Germany. Trump shook his head in sympathy. He seemed indifferent to the effect all this might have on markets: the Fed didn’t know anything, and neither did foreign-policy experts. Everyone was just going to have to wait to see what happened to the pound, whose crash, he believed, might be “a positive” for Britain: “They’re going to do more business. You know, when the pound goes down, more people are coming to Turnberry, frankly.”
But only the right kind of people, it seemed. “You’re going to let people that you want into your country. And people that you don’t want, or people that you don’t think are going to be appropriate for your country or good for your country, you’re not going to have to take,” Trump said.
That sort of thing worries Davidson:
The Brexit results are a strong warning for anyone complacent about Donald Trump. Brexit didn’t happen because people in Europe listened to him; but he is a voice in a call-and-response chorus that is not going to simply dissipate… there are structural economic issues that have left both Leave sympathizers and Trump voters with real grievances, and it will be disastrous if bigoted nationalists are the only ones who engage them. The political institutions are very different: we don’t worry so much here about the labyrinthine regulations put out by Brussels bureaucrats; they don’t quite have SuperPACs. But the word “rigged,” or its local variations, is probably the key one on both sides of the Atlantic. Both Trump and Farage and his allies have made openly racist and ethnic appeals. The European Union is a great idealistic project, and it is a tragedy that it might be torn down now. A lesson for Americans is that fortified idealistic structures can be torn down, by means of some of the same wrecking tools Trump has been willing to deploy, even if those who are considered the serious people, in a country that reminds us of our own, warn against doing so. One pattern seen in the Brexit results was a disconnect between party leaders – in all of the major parties – and their bases. Sneering is not going to save the republic.
So we got this:
“And the beautiful, beautiful, beautiful thing is your people have taken the country back,” Trump said toward the end of his press conference. “There’s something very, very nice about that. And they voted, and it’s been peaceful.” (This ignored the assassination, last week, of Jo Cox, a pro-Remain MP) “And it was strong and very contentious, and in many respects – I watched last night -it was a little bit ugly. But it’s been an amazing process to watch. It’s been a big move.”
That’s a warning:
That move is one thing that British voters can’t take back, at least in the short run. If Trump wins, our country might have a hard time taking that back, too.
That’s a worry, and Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns dig into the parallels:
Driving the “Brexit” vote were many of the same impulses that have animated American politics in this turbulent election year: anger at distant elites, anxiety about a perceived loss of national sovereignty and, perhaps most of all, resentment toward migrants and refugees.
These are the themes Donald J. Trump harnessed during the Republican presidential primaries to explosive effect, and that he aims to wield to his advantage again in his race against Hillary Clinton.
That’s why Trump said what he said in Scotland, for good reason:
Veteran Republican and Democratic strategists say that Mr. Trump, and to a lesser extent, Senator Bernie Sanders in the Democratic contest, represent an American echo of the inward-looking politics that have swept across Europe in recent years.
“There’s a fundamental issue that all developed economies have to confront, which is that globalization and technological changes have meant millions of people have seen their jobs marginalized and wages decline,” said David Axelrod, a former strategist for President Obama and an adviser to Britain’s Labour Party in last year’s general election.
“And so lots of folks want to turn the clock back and make America, or their country, great again.”
Sure, turn back the clock to when Jesus and Joseph of Arimathea were strolling around Glastonbury, or Akron, then get out your bow of burning gold and make it so again. Good luck with that. Still, Trump is in the right place at the right time:
The highly educated, younger voters around London who voted to remain in the European Union, for example, share some commonalities with the American urbanites that were the pillars of Mr. Obama’s coalition. And Mr. Trump has triumphed with the American counterparts of the British “Leave” voters: older whites who lack university degrees and live in less prosperous regions of the English countryside.
The old farts could win here too, but maybe not:
In the United States, there is no recent history of electing nationalist presidents hostile to immigration, and even recent Republican presidents have celebrated new arrivals as integral to American prosperity and identity.
American presidential elections are largely decided by a diverse and upscale electorate, anchored in America’s cities and suburbs. These communities more closely resemble London than Lincolnshire. Minorities made up more than a quarter of the electorate in the last presidential campaign.
And while Britain decided to leave the European Union through a popular vote, the White House race will be determined by the Electoral College, which is tilted toward the Democrats. Some large states with significant nonwhite populations have been out of reach for Republican candidates for much of the last three decades; California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and Pennsylvania have voted for every Democratic nominee since 1992. Mr. Obama also won Florida twice and Mrs. Clinton has a lead there now in part because Mr. Trump is unpopular with Hispanics.
Together those six states offer 166 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.
And there’s more:
Mr. Trump is at an even greater disadvantage than other recent Republican presidential nominees because of his dismal standing with nonwhite, college-educated and female voters. Unless he can reverse the deeply negative views such voters have of him, he is unlikely to capture the voter-rich communities around Philadelphia, Denver, Miami, and Washington that are crucial to winning the White House.
Joe Trippi, a Democratic political strategist who was a consultant for former Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, said he expected the Brexit vote to embolden American conservatives. But their excitement, Mr. Trippi said, would be largely “a false read” of the results.
“There are some very similar things – a polarized electorate, nativism, nationalism, were clearly big factors and Trump exemplifies them here,” Mr. Trippi said.
“But there is a difference in the multiculturalism and diversity of the United States, versus nowhere near the same factors in the UK.”
Despite high levels of concern about immigration and foreign trade, polls show that most Americans have so far recoiled from Mr. Trump’s specific policy proposals, such as deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Another way to put that is that America just isn’t as white as the UK – 62 percent non-Hispanic white to their 87 percent white – and we don’t have enough angry old farts to overcome that. And then add this:
The vote in Britain was a referendum on a European entity that was easy to rally against, while the presidential vote here is increasingly becoming a referendum on a single, polarizing individual.
“Americans will be asked to vote for or against a person: Trump,” said Tony Fratto, a former press secretary for George W. Bush.
“And that’s a higher hurdle. If you want to express yourself with a protest vote, you’ll have to vote for Trump, and he is singularly unattractive and even offensive to a large majority of Americans.”
And there’s that other person:
Mrs. Clinton responded with restraint, issuing a statement offering “respect” for the decision made by a close ally and offering assurances about “America’s steadfast commitment to the special relationship with Britain.”
She’s careful. People like careful. More people like careful than like Trump, even if they don’t like Hillary Clinton all that much. And Josh Marshall adds this:
Put simply, Trumpism and the greater arc of rightist politics in the US in recent years seems to follow this pattern. A declining but still very large fraction of the population which feels that it is losing power, wealth, and something between ethnic familiarity and dominance, to rising segments of the society. To map this on to the specifics of US society this pits a one group that is both older and whiter against another that is generally younger and less white.
Two points are worth recognizing about this deep social and political cleavage. First, this rebellion on the right is based not on strength but on weakness, the loss of power, control, demographic dominance, privilege. Second, in key respects it is an accurate perception of the change overtaking America.
Often you’ll hear febrile talk about the “our culture” being overrun, whites becoming the most ‘oppressed’ minority in the country and various other nonsense. But in relative terms whites are becoming less powerful. This is obvious. It is nothing more than a restatement, from another vantage point, of the erosion of white privilege. It is accentuated by and to a major degree driven by the relative decline of the white population vis a vis Hispanics, Blacks, East Asians, South Asians and various other groups. This is not a fantasy. It is a reality. And a lot of people don’t like it.
That’s the problem:
What makes me dissent from the economic nationalism, distrust of elites, right wing populism viewpoint is that these views are highly concentrated in segment of the population. The young, non-whites and the more elusive category of whites who don’t identify largely in ethnic or racial terms tend to view the future with optimism. This then is the big picture: a period of great transformation in which a declining but very large segment of the population feels it is losing critically important things to which it is entitled and does not want to lose and, in response, is throwing up an escalating range of tactics and obstacles to bring the change to a halt.
But consider the UK data:
HOW AGES VOTED
18-24: 75% Remain
25-49: 56% Remain
50-64: 44% Remain
65+: 39% Remain
The future electorate of the UK wanted to remain in Europe. That’s what Marshall sees, and if Martin and Burns are right, over here, the future is now. Over there they’re still singing that William Blake song. O clouds, unfold! Bring me my chariot of fire! That chariot of fire is probably a twenty-year-old Morris Minor. And no one is building Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land. No one really wants to.