Brexit: Unicorn-Sniffing Naifs Deprived of Their Future

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As you surely know, Britain voted to Brexit the European Union yesterday, confounding predictions and setting off a great deal of uncertainty.

One detail people are focusing most closely on is the age differential shown in a YouGov exit poll. It showed that voters 18-24 voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU. “The younger generation has lost the right to live and work in 27 other countries,” a widely linked FT comment laid out. “We will never know the full extent of the lost opportunities, friendships, marriages and experiences we will be denied.”

That Millennial sentiment, and the overwhelming support for Remain, has been celebrated as wise by the punditocracy — and it probably is.

But the same people celebrating this Millennial view — one that embraced tolerance and opportunity — often as not attacked the overwhelming support by American Millennials for Bernie Sanders. That disproportionate support, coming from a much smaller part of the electorate but by very similar margins, was deemed a naive belief in empty promises (promises, of course, that largely resembled adopting the policies that the EU used to and in some places still represents).

I suspect the reality is that, on top of a real cosmopolitanism among younger people, both votes were just a vote for perceived self-interest, no more or less wise than the votes of their older, less cosmopolitan parents.

Still, those celebrating the UK’s Millennials for their wisdom might give some consideration as to why the underlying cosmopolitanism and interest in European style social policies of the young would be the perceived self-interest of the young on both sides of the pond.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

20 replies
  1. Alan says:

    It wasn’t just the younger voters that were against Brexit. Every single region is Scotland voted against Brexit and there was a 62% vote for remain. The First Minister of Scotland has already initiated moves for what is likely to be a second Scottish independence referendum. See Nicola Sturgeon prepares for second Scottish independence poll. She’s very pointedly standing with a European flag on one side and the Scottish flag on the other. The Scottish vote isn’t surprising the SNP which has been opposed to austerity and inequality. As such they have been a democratic outlet for Scottish voters than English voters didn’t have. Europe, whatever its faults, is also seen as a choke chain by Scots on the corrupt neoliberal elite that runs Westminster. It should also be noted that despite strong voter support nearly the entire mainstream UK media has been deeply opposed to the SNP and its social democratic political agenda.

    Northern Ireland also voted against Brexit for obvious economic reasons. Sinn Féin have called for a border poll. What this means is anyone’s guess. Northern Ireland is complicated. Brexit may destabilize the peace.

    Londoners are also not happy.

    It wasn’t just a vote for a European exit it was a vote that will break apart the UK.

  2. scribe says:

    It’s easy for the US punditocracy to praise the wisdom of the youthful voters of Britain, voting for the Sanders-ish policies of the EU while simultaneously condemning the same leanings of US Millennials who voted for Sanders. It costs the US pundits (and their wealthy patrons here) nothing for there to be all those social benefits in Europe, while it stands to cost them a hell of a lot of money if those sorts of benefits were to be mandated here.
    .
    Duh.
    .
    Or, as the bumpersticker I recently saw read:

    “Bernie”
    “Because Fuck This Shit”

  3. Jonathan Lane says:

    The idealism (self-interested or not) of youth on both sides of the pond is not the only strong parallel – to this Yank, it would appear that pro-Brexit sentiment was promoted and spread by appealing to and misdirecting the same nativism, fear of others, and fear of social change that has fueled the pro-Trump sentiment in the US.

    This appears to be a short-sighted and at least in the near-term, a disastrously wrong decision that’s been made.

    On the UK-US “Special Relationship:” We make it hard to love us sometimes, so I guess it’s Britain’s turn. We still love y’all though.

  4. Les says:

    I suspect it’s primarily because UK college students will have to pay much higher tuition fees to study on the continent.

    • J R Tomlin says:

      You are mistaken. The university fees in England and Wales are very high. The fees to study in Europe and in Scotland are not that much higher than they are at home.

      The author wasn’t following the polling if he thinks the results were that much of a surprise, All of the psephologists including the renowned John Curtice said it was too close to call the day before the vote. The reasons for it going the way it did are far more complex than the author seems to understand and certainly not everyone who voted Leave was naif.

      The results are likely to shock people in the US. The UK has been in an almost constant state of constitutional crisis since the Troubles began and this will tip it back over the edge, I just hope not back into violence.

      • emptywheel says:

        I’m in no way saying the Exit vote was naive. Not actually saying anything about the Exit vote at all, but rather the response to the Remain vote.

  5. bloopie2 says:

    “Still, those celebrating the UK’s Millennials for their wisdom might give some consideration as to why the underlying cosmopolitanism and interest in European style social policies of the young would be the perceived self-interest of the young on both sides of the pond.” Two comments. First. Does anyone know anyone (young or old) who votes (or has voted) against perceived self-interest, either in Brexit or US? Second. Does anyone know anyone who sees the future with certainty and who thus knows the “right” way to vote when not voting for perceived self-interest? Not I. As William Goldman said, “Nobody knows anything.”
    .
    I just wish I were a trade regulation specialist over there; MY future would be set.

  6. Denis says:

    Did the dream of a borderless Europe just go “pppfffft (sp?)”?
    .
    Interesting thoughts on generational perceptions. The old presumption
    that young people are more likely to be motivated by idealism may
    be bunk, at least today. The 60’s/70’s are just a distant memory, and
    not even that for the dopers. Millennials are more driven by financial
    self-interest. I thought so. Lesson: idealistic people don’t raise idealistic
    kids.
    .
    On Jun22 CBC had an interview with a very articulate elderly Welsh
    sheep-breeder (no . . . seriously) who was agitating against exit. He ended
    the interview by saying: “I am a European first, and an Englishman second.”
    And I thought “Whoa, dude” b/c most of the interview was about all the
    free money he would lose in European farm supports if Britain left EU.
    And so maybe voting financial self-interest is not just a Millennial thing
    after all. (Wales voted to exit, btw.)
    .
    Regarding that yellow bar-graph, it would look the same if the title was
    “Percentage of Brits who remember the Battle of Britain, by age” and the
    X-axis was reversed.
    .
    Some more thoughts, revised replay of post to MoA:
    .
    1. The Brits had the prescience not to give up the Pound. They were
    always “not-so-in.”
    .
    2. This is the end of Merkle’s reign as the queen of Europe and the end of
    the New German Empire
    .
    3. The EU flag will now be a ring of stars with an “X” through one of them.
    At least one for now, but the “X’s” will accumulate.
    .
    4. I never understood the tax structure of the EU. Do people pay taxes to
    run their own countries and more taxes on top of that to the EU directly
    or indirectly, so you have two levels of politicians feeding at the trough, like
    in the states?
    .
    5. The really dumb thing was, if you’re going to have open borders, you need
    to have a single welfare system so all the gypsies don’t go to the country
    with the most liberal benefits and suck the blood out of it, which is what
    the Brits had enough of. If you have ever seen any of the DailyMail photo
    articles of the gypsy caravans taking over public parks and green-spaces –
    and often private land – for months or years, you’d know how frustrating
    Brits in rural areas must have been. Of course, b/c of the European charter
    of rights or whatever, the cops were not permitted merely to evict the
    squatters by force. So . . . do all those gypsies in England now get packed
    off back to Romania . . . “or wherever the hell they came from” (copyright,
    Helen Thomas 2010)?
    .
    6. Without a single, uniform tax and benefits structure, the EU was going
    to split sooner or later. Dishonest governments survive forever; dumb ones
    have a much shorter shelf-life.

    • emptywheel says:

      I believe what gets called “gypsies” in the UK are “travelers” and closely related movements. Both have existed (gypsies on the continent, travelers in the UK) for decades, long before the EU. And while it is true that intra-European immigrants do obtain welfare benefits, not all immigrants have that easy a time.

      Remember too that a lot of the immigration in England precedes the EU and stems from Commonwealth laws.

      • Denis says:

        Gypsies or travelers, and, if travelers, then “travelers” or “travellers.”
        I mean, I don’t remember Cher singing about “travelers, tramps, and
        thieves,” although the alliteration would have been spot on. And are
        you saying My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding was actually My Big Fat Traveler
        Wedding? Doesn’t sound right, so I checked some things.
        .
        I don’t see any sources that support your view that “travelers” are
        restricted to UK and gypsies to the Continent. If that is true, we need
        to advise The British Gypsy Council that they don’t have any constituents.
        The term “travellers” in the UK sources I checked does seem to connote
        more the Irish Travellers, to distinguish them from British (Roma) Gypsies,
        but some sources use the terms completely interchangeably, even in the
        same paragraph. In both “traveller” and “gypsy” upper and lower cases are
        found, but there are some PC pricks out there complaining about the lower.
        .
        In 2004 there was a wave of Romanian Gypsies into the UK and my comment
        on the discontent of Brits with “gypsy caravans” was drawn from UK sources
        such as this article from the Telegraph.
        .
        http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/11676045/Gypsy-caravans-in-England-increase-by-a-third-in-10-years.html%5D
        .
        The title is “Gypsy Caravans in England Increase by a Third in 10 Years.”
        But the sub-title is “Official statistics show that the total number of traveller
        caravans in England has dramatically increased by 28 per cent since 2006.”
        (Note the interchange of “Gypsy” and “traveller” and the lower case “t”.)
        .
        That is just about the sum-total of everything I know about travellers except,
        as every American school kid knows, “Traveller” was the name of the favorite
        horse of America’s most deadly traitor, Robert E. Lee. I always thought it
        odd so many Americans — even the Northern ones — can cite that historical
        fact at the blink of an eye, and even tell you the horse was grey. But ask
        them the name of Grant’s horse and all you get is a dumb, stare. I thought
        the victor got to write the history books. Here’s to “Cincinnati.”

      • Evangelista says:

        Marcie (and Denis),

        “Travelers”? “Travellers” (in Britain, Candida and Oz)? I remember when we were “Transients”. I guess some of us stigmatized the word “Transient”, so it had to be ‘euphemized’. And back before, we were “Tramps”. Maybe Mark Twain ‘respectablized’ (‘respecablises’) that word, and with “Hobos” being a cultural component (as “Gypsies” also), and with salesmen being “Travellers” then, and with the advent of the automobile becoming a dominant specie, and independent truckers and loggers sub-culturing in to become “Gypsies” (and “Gypo”), all that was left was “Transients”.

        And so evolves evolution, except for those who fly small airplanes: They still get to be “Transients”, at least when away from home, and have their own “homeless airplane” “Transient Parking”, and, some places, even signs directing them to those.

        As for the poor kiddies in Britain, pulled off the Euro-teat and just-like-that put on hard-foods, I suggest they read up on something called “The EEA Agreement”. Also called the European Economic Area Agreement. It spells out how to live as an independent, like Switzerland and Iceland. They should also read up on the case carried against Iceland over the International Icelandic Banks, when Britain, and Holland, both EU States then, bankrupted them, and then, using EU rules (and with [illegal] EU participation, attempted to dump the consequences on the people of Iceland. The fiscal manipulators would have done it, could have done it, too, were ii not for the EEA Agreement not permitting that sort of assault against the sovereignty of EEA member nations.

        From here on I suspect we may see Britain becoming, will or nill, a Pied Piper, with a train of ship-jumping Euro-rat nations trailing her off the EU incarnation of Hitler’s Common Europe dream. I always wondered why the EU nations all joined up, after having fought first kaiser Wilhelm and then Reichskansellor Hitler to a stand-still to prevent Germany realizing first the kaiser’s, then Hitler’s dream, and when the EEA model provided the economic benefits without the cedure of sovereignties.

        Strange beings, Politicians. they have all the brains of human beings, whose dearth, as a specie, makes lemmings look a whole lot brighter (except through human eyes, who give lemmings human behaviours, like rushing off of cliffs without thinking [lemmings watch the human-made movie and wonder where the hell Disney ever got that information?]).

  7. robert dresdner says:

    EU membership was probably on balance a good sticking plaster [bandaid] economically [for the lower income folks?] in poorer nations like Spain and Greece while that lasted, but Germany etc couldnt keep them on life support forever.

    Small is Beautiful. Democracy doesnt happen in things like the EU. Perhaps thats why Wales bagged it?

  8. bevin says:

    The vote, which in most of England was close to being a landslide, was a vote against neo-liberalism, nor foreigners. I imagine that substantial majorities in visible minority communities voted against the EU.

    These people are not fools. They recollect a much fairer, more responsive society before the EU. And they realise that any efforts on their part to use the ballot box to bring back the best features of that society- a viable NHS; Full Employment; Free Education from cradle to grave; utilities providing cheap energy, transport etc at cost; a legal system open to all, through legal aid; a welfare system which meant that there were no beggars; a public housing provision that meant that there were no homeless.
    They realise that EU rules, buttressed by the TTIP, will make such a society, in which corporate profit is subordinated to the public welfare, financed by a progressive taxation system, impossible.

    The generation that produced Graham Nash, John Lennon, Joe Cocker et al felt that it had a duty to allow the young a chance to govern themselves and they voted, sensibly, decently and honourably not against Europe or foreigners but in favour of democracy-which is sadly lacking in the EU.
    This is a great day for us all. To mistake the self serving political class and the Blairites of all parties for the liberal minded people of Britain is a grave error.

    The EU is doomed because it is not democratic. It serves not the interests of the people but those of the financial elites and their subordinates. There is a lesson to be learned here and it isn’t that English people are stupid or racist. It is that they reject neo-liberalism and its authoritarian governance.

    They have set an example, worth following. But sneer at it if you must and rejoice that you have Obamacare and Congress to go with it; not to mention a choice between Hillary and The Donald, coming soon.

    • P J Evans says:

      The vote, which in most of England was close to being a landslide, was a vote against neo-liberalism, nor foreigners.

      [citation needed]
      Given that the biggest supporters were also quite loudly racist, you need to back up that claim. (Along with all the others you’re making. All the comments I’ve seen from people in the still-UK are ‘WTF, dudes!’)

      • bevin says:

        “…the biggest supporters were also quite loudly racist…”
        This is simply untrue. The Remain people made a game out of calling every argument against the EU racist. You should know what racism means, if you live in the USA.
        As it happens a majority of black Britons voted for Brexit. Why? Because they are poor and have suffered from the EU, they know all about racism and hate it.

        • bevin says:

          I should add that I don’t dispute this:

          “All the comments I’ve seen from people in the still-UK are ‘WTF, dudes!’”

          I suspect that most of the people with whom you communicate are young, highly educated/leveraged and invested in the EU/Imperial project.
          There are always those who are inclined to insist “this ship isn’t sinking. I work here.”

  9. jo6pac says:

    Yep, on Monday the layoffs will begin. The first will be in the public services for the serfs and then? Yes, let the beating continue until the serfs admit their foolish mistake. Oh they’ll promise everything will return to normal but the new normal.

    I was wondering since the serfs in once Great Britain are no longer going to fallow the path of the liberal neo-conns when is the New Amerika going bomb and invade?

    http://www.moonofalabama.org/2016/06/the-reversebrexit-campaign-began.html

    This song reminds me of what a waits the citizens of GB

  10. bloopie2 says:

    Headline in the Guardian: “The English have placed a bomb under the Irish peace process”. If so, then how are the two Irelands (1) civilized, or (2) different from the Sunni/Shia? Maybe the English were right to distance themselves from these people.

  11. jonf says:

    I heard on the tv today that both the Labour and Conservative parties supported remain, even the millennials. But the folks out in the shire gave them all a giant finger and FU. Could it be they were ignored? What does that say about our politics? Careful Hillary.

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