Note: I have no position on Brexit. As an American, I don’t see it as my place to tell the British what to do. I write today simply to respond to an ignorant argument that is being created / repeated on this side of the Atlantic.
I wish I could say the coverage of Brexit has risen above the news media’s standard hysteria, rank partisanship, and hate-mongering, but I know better.
The most offensive argument goes like this: Supporting Brexit is opposing globalization. Opposing globalization is xenophobia. Therefore, supporting Brexit is xenophobic.
This is, of course, a logical fallacy. It is a face validity issue. Objecting to all globalization might be xenophobia, but Brexit is NOT an objection to all globalization. It is an objection to one small manifestation of globalization – the EU. The United States and numerous other countries manage to embrace globalization without being in the EU because the EU is just one way to embrace globalization.
Are there some xenophobic ideas in the heads of some Brexit supporters? Sure, but you can’t judge a political movement by the motivations of some individual supporters. Is the Democratic Party responsible for the bigotry of Donald Sterling? What about the anti-Semitism among its rank and file? Is any political party responsible if a murderer or rapist decides to support it?
What we are really seeing is the increasing desire of political movements to ascribe bad motivations (usually with ugly words ending in “ism” and “phobia”) to literally any political disagreement. Criticize the IRS? Racist. Think Hillary Clinton is a criminal? Sexist. Support social security but not welfare? Racist. I could go on. Townhall has a great list here. And that’s only the claims coming from “respected” journalists and elected officials. I don’t have the time or stomach to read or write every allegation of racism coming out of social justice warrior communities on college campuses. Let’s just say that when you’re invoking racism to get better cafeteria food, you’ve jumped the shark.
Using racism and xenophobia as a Trump card (pun intended) to fight every policy agenda item starts to diminish the power of that allegation resulting in… well, Trump. But that’s a column for another day.
Back to Brexit, the howls (mostly from the left) that Brexit is xenophobic for opposing free trade and immigration are ironic. The left has long played footsie with anti-free trade (and anti-immigration) crowds they now condemn as bigoted. That’s not an old phenomenon. Our current president fought against a free trade deal with Colombia while in the Senate before reversing and supporting it as President. He made the same flip on immigration reform. He has threatened to send the UK “to the back of the queue” of trade with America as punishment for jeopardizing free trade with Europe. Talk about irony! Bernie Sanders made opposing free trade a core component of his campaign. That’s something the UK can only do via the Brexit. Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats in Congress held up free trade deals with South Korea and Panama (as well as the aforementioned Colombia deal) for years and would have indefinitely if a Democrat president had not twisted their arms. The Democrat rank and file fought President Obama on the TPP and forced Hillary Clinton to change her position on the subject. The point is that the Democrat party is not a pro-free trade, and is questionable on immigration reform.
If opposing some free trade is xenophobic, then what is the Democrat party or the progressive movement?
But, you might say, opposing Brexit is xenophobic because it cuts immigration, not free trade. This is problematic on a number of levels.
First, immigration and free trade are inextricably connected. How is it logical to object to “jobs being shipped to Mexico and China” while being perfectly fine with importing people from Mexico and China to “take” the same jobs? Unless you are India and facing massive overpopulation, they are really the same thing. The only difference is where the taxes are paid. That’s a good question a journalist might ask Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton next time they call controlled borders xenophobic. They might also ask Sanders why he always invokes China or Mexico but not our other large trade partners such as Canada or the EU. (hm…)
Second, some nations have always been more generous than others. But over time, the most generous nations on earth when it comes to accepting immigrants are the United Kingdom and former English colonies such as the United States, Australia, and Canada. Even South Africa is more generous than other African countries. Take a look at the UN’s map. If an invading alien force were to look at recent history, it might conclude that globalization and mass immigration were a British invention. They would have a pretty strong case.
Finally, we must acknowledge that governments have a right to secure their borders and choose whom they let in or out. Believing that is not xenophobic, it is common sense. If you don’t believe that, then you don’t believe in the concept of countries. We have yet to see any definitive evidence that Britain will stop all immigration, though the way it handles immigration might change. Can anyone prove that is definitively a bad thing?
How Globalization Succeeds
Globalization advocates (and I am one) must acknowledge that globalization will only succeed if it is organized and controlled. Through globalization, the western world has brought hundreds of millions worldwide out of poverty, but frankly, we have done so through our values. Our respect for human rights, private property, and equality are not incidental to our success, they are the cause of it.
Immigrants can and do bring great diversity and new ideas into the western world, but there are some things that we cannot compromise. We cannot compromise our belief in women’s rights or in property rights. There is no middle ground that can be achieved between the United States and Arab nations on freedom of religion or whether we should execute people for being gay. In those cases, we simply are right, and they simply are wrong. As noted left-wing comedian Bill Maher puts it, “Liberal western culture is not just different, it’s better.” He is right.
Our goal as a society should be to invite people in as long as we can assimilate them over time into our core cultural values of equality, tolerance, and property rights. The questions of how many and from where are then political decisions where different people will have different valid perspectives. Stereotyping anyone who disagrees as xenophobic is far closer to the definition of bigotry than anything else in this discussion.