I was wrong, and I’m thrilled about it.
As I explained earlier this week, I am always wrong about my political predictions. I am as shocked at everyone else that Great Britain chose to leave the European Union and take back its nation. And today I raise a cheer for democracy.
The word “democracy” hails from the Greek root demos, meaning “people.” That is what’s so great about national referenda like the one that occurred in Britain on Thursday. The people, not the politicos, get to decide.
Here in California, on every Election Day you can count on a series of referenda (known locally as “propositions”) will be on the ballot. Everything from term limits to new taxes to environmental measures is put to the will of the people. We rarely, if ever, see this on a national basis, however (due largely to the federalist compromises made by our Founding Fathers in the Constitution). Instead, in the U.S. our government operates on a system of representative democracy. We choose our members of Congress and our president and we place our trust in them to do our will. That’s supposed to be the price of our votes. Of course, it often doesn’t work out that way, if for no other reason than any legislator, even the one whom you most ardently support, will have a contrary view to your own on something.
That’s why referenda are so refreshing. It is as if our representatives are saying “you tell us what you want to do about this and we will make it happen.” Instead of the representative democracy to which we are so accustomed, this moves down the spectrum toward the New England town meeting, perhaps the ultimate form of direct democracy. You count up the votes and majority rules.
The problem, of course, is that this is a tough gig for the losers, particularly when the vote is more or less split down the middle, as it was in Britain on Thursday. It is a far cry from the consensus so prized by the Japanese. But sometimes it makes sense to acknowledge that there simply is no consensus. (The first issue this brings to mind is abortion in the United States.) Opponents of direct democracy point out that there is little gained by alienating nearly half the electorate in such cases. And yet, short of kindergarten-style sharing (we’ll do it my way today and your way tomorrow), it seems like the fairest way to run a society.
Of course, once the populace votes on an issue, you’re stuck with the outcome. There are times when the decision made by the people is not so irretrievable that it’s possible to put it up for a vote again later to determine whether public opinion has changed (which it may if the decision fails to yield the desired results). There are often opportunities for the people to rethink the situation, back up and change their minds. Many times, however, you’re really stuck with your decision. In some circumstances, there is no going back. The Brexit appears to be one of these, and I put it to you that this is a good thing. Britons must accept the consequences of their decision, which involves both good and bad. I believe that the former far outweighs the latter.
By the way, the “fear” campaign waged by the Remain faction did not help matters. Many Britons saw the scare tactics for what they were.
So now there’s a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking going on. The “leave” camp won due to the voting power of the working class. The vote to leave the E.U. was all about England, as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland wanted no part of it. Not enough young people, who treasure the ability to roam throughout Europe free of border controls, showed up at the polls. It was a rainy day with flash floods so many potential voters stayed home. There’s no end to the second guessing.
The bottom line, however, is that now the people of Great Britain can cut the apron strings to Mother Europe and forge their own destiny. Their money is better spent at home rather than being forcibly sent out to 27 other member nations. Britain is a proud nation that will once again be able to make its own rules. Britain has declared its independence of Europe, much as the American colonies once declared their independence of Britain. ‘Tis a wondrous day, indeed.
As for those who persist in gloom and doom, dwelling on the crash of the pound and the steep drop in stock markets worldwide, I say to you: Get over it. It takes a while for markets to correct and for people to get used to new realities. I have no doubt that there will be sacrifices to be made, but they seem a small price for the sweet taste of self-rule. I just hope it won’t be long until the will of the people is consummated by Britain’s invocation of Article 50 of the E.U. compact. Now that the people have spoken, let’s do this thing.
Thank you, Great Britain, for going to the ballot boxes in droves to let your voices be heard. Thank you, Great Britain, for standing up for what you believe in. And most of all, thank you for giving the entire world a lesson in democracy.