Thursday, October 13, 2016

Be careful what you wish for, `Mr. Brexit' -- Oct. 13, 2016 column


“She accused me of being an American!” the man from Ottawa said in mock horror.

It was early evening in a candlelit church in London and we were waiting for a classical music concert. I’d mistaken his Canadian accent for ours. Oh for the days when Canadians abroad conspicuously wore red maple leaf lapel pins.      

Exchanging pleasantries, we talked about where we were from, how long we’d be on vacation, what we’d seen, the unusually fine weather. Then, out of the blue, he said:

“I guess you’re glad to be away from the politics.”

Well, yes, absolutely. For nearly two weeks, I visited old friends, played tourist, avoided TV news and did not check Facebook or email for the latest indignities from the campaign trail.

I loved riding shotgun on the left as my friends drove us around beautiful Devon on country lanes so narrow that when cars meet, one has to back up. The motorist who finally moves forward waves in thanks. It’s a friendly, civilized and slow way to travel. 

There’s nothing like walking around Grimspound, prehistoric ruins of 24 stone round houses inside a stone wall dating to the Late Bronze Age, 1450 to 700 B.C., in Dartmoor National Park, to put America’s political screeching into perspective. The ugly presidential campaign could and would go on without me.

My hosts in Britain warned that people there would give me grief about Donald Trump, but that didn’t happen. The common reaction upon learning I was from Washington was pity.

People elsewhere treat Americans the way you would an acquaintance who’s gotten a bad medical diagnosis: gently concerned, sympathetic and not quite sure what to say. 

Even British pop music queen Adele told an audience in Washington the other night she’s embarrassed for Americans because of our election.

We don’t much like being pitied by people whose economy is suffering because they voted to “Make Britain Great Again” by leaving the European Union -- but it’s hard to say so until we see how Nov. 8 turns out.

How, the owner of our B&B in London asked, shaking his head sadly, had the American election come to a choice between two people as unpopular as Hillary Clinton and Trump? Naturally, like everyone else, he had a theory.

Trump never expected to get this far in his campaign. Running for president was just a way for the bored billionaire to boost his brand. As for Clinton, she’s been around too long and people are tired of her, the man said.

“Your people want change – just like here,” he said.

Be careful what you wish for, I thought.

The vote to leave the EU stemmed from the same kind of discontent that fueled Trump’s rise – a sense of loss of control and identity, a distrust of globalism and a desire to take the country back to some imaginary glory days.

Britons are just beginning to feel the bad effects of Brexit. The pound has dropped against the dollar to levels not seen since the1980s. A leaked U.K. Treasury report predicted a post-Brexit drop in the country’s Gross Domestic Product of perhaps 9.5 percent per year and tax revenue losses reaching 66 billion pounds per year.    

Trump calls himself “Mr. Brexit” and claims he will surprise everyone by winning on Election Day.

“This is like Brexit, folks,” Trump said in Pennsylvania the other day. “We want our independence back. We want our borders strong. We don’t want people coming in from Syria that we have no idea who the hell they are.”

Polls in Britain were close before the June vote, but it was thought Britain would remain in the EU. Almost three-quarters of eligible voters turned out, and 52 percent voted to leave and 48 percent to remain.

Clinton’s lead on Trump has widened nationally and in key swing states, polls show. Some analysts are calling the race over. It’s not. Polls usually tighten in the waning days of presidential campaigns. Plus the “unshackled” Trump is attacking Clinton in hopes of suppressing her vote.

As for me, I’d rather visit Britain than visit Brexit-like punishment on the United States. How about you?

©2016 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.


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