One of the more common phrases you hear on social media and in political debates today is "elections have consequences." And that's true for the most part, as candidates and parties that win elections usually get more power and freedom to impose their favored policies. But it would be a lot nicer if elections had more than just consequences. It would be better if elections taught lessons, especially to those who lose the elections. But that's not what's happening right now in Britain as the overwhelming response to the Brexit vote proves the losers aren't learning any lessons; In fact they're doubling down on the mistakes that led them to lose in the first place. Oh and by the way, the same kind of tone deaf clinging to losing strategies and beliefs is very evident in our presidential election right now.
Forget most of what you've read about what motivated the British "Leave" voters to vote the way they did. A definitive post-referendum poll confirms the truth that the #1 issue in the minds of the Leave voters was the right of Great Britain to make its own laws. All the supposed experts told us the only real motivation was fears over immigration, but it turns out concerns about British sovereignty out-polled immigration by a withering 53 percent to 34 percent. That's right, a fundamental concern based in political theory and the enduring issue of liberty and political accountability is what tipped the scales for this historic vote result. The objective numbers are all there for everyone to see, if they want to see them.
Most of the British news media and the leaders of the "Remain" camp clearly don't want to see them. The overwhelming response on their side has been to smear the Leave side as racists, xenophobes, selfish senior citizens, and don't forget the top slur: "uneducated idiots." This crisis level elitist and ageist hypocrisy is astounding. In fact, there isn't even any shame on behalf of most of the British political, financial, and media establishment as these ugly responses are showing no signs of subsiding.
And don't forget the most tragically clueless response of all: the push to have the entire referendum conducted again, you know, when all the "dumb" British voters finally figure out the consequences of their impertinent actions. It's amazing that in response to a result driven mostly by concerns about the right of the people to vote the way they see fit, the primary response from the losing side is to confirm those concerns by moving to negate the results of a democratic election. This is like betting on a losing horse after the trainer has taken it out back and shot it. Who's the "stupid" side now?
But this response isn't just ugly, angry, and politically stupid for stoking the attitudes that motivated the Leave side in the first place. It sadly represents the elitist belief that university-educated younger people were simply better than their less formally educated countrymen, better than their older fellow Britons who supposedly weren't enlightened enough to favor open borders and the stamping out of nationalist culture, and better than factory workers and others who work with their hands instead of the supposedly fabulous sharp minds of the City. It's the classic "establishment vs. the common people" story that played out clearly in the minds of all the British voters, especially when the leaders of the two major political parties suddenly decided to put their sharp differences aside to support the Remain side that most resembled their own personal social and financial class. It sure looked like the "haves" were joining forces, and that understandably makes the "have nots" a bit nervous.
I sure hope this sounds familiar to American readers. Because the small but vocal number of Republican establishment figures still trying to block Donald Trump from the GOP presidential nomination are doubling down on the same bad strategy that fueled Trump's unprecedented success in the primaries. Acting just like the "establishment elites" Trump's supporters believe them to be, they're pushing for some kind of undemocratic coup at the convention next month. Any objective observer can see this will only embolden and mobilize the Trump voters even more. And this foolishness extends beyond the convention. When the ultimate Wall Street and GOP insider in former Goldman Sachs CEO and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson crossed party lines and endorsed Hillary Clinton last week, did anyone not realize how much that helps Trump's anti-establishment and anti-Wall Street campaign? It's not fair to Paulson, but a lot voters will look at his endorsement as if it were from Angelo Mozilo or even Ivan Boesky.
And the elitist anti-Trump sentiment is also running high. Ask anyone who opposes Trump what he or she thinks of his supporters. Their response is very likely to sound a lot like what the sore loser Brexit Remainers are saying about the Leave voters right now. But think about it: does demonizing Trump's supporters as being a bunch of ignorant racists sound like a winning strategy to you? Couldn't it simply backfire and embolden his supporters even more? And might that kind of attitude about the people who don't think like you be something that served as the cause for his campaign in the first place? If you're brushing off all these questions, you need to take a close look at what's just happened in Britain and stop underestimating the Trump movement and/or doing the things that make it stronger.
A better strategy is not to mention or focus on his supporters at all. The Clinton campaign scores better points when it says Trump himself is personally scary or inexperienced, not the Trump voters. And the Clinton campaign and supporters would do itself the most good if it brought a lot more humility to the table and admit that Democrats haven't really done much better than Republicans recently when it comes to improving the lives of America's "have nots." Someone needs to show empathy for the Trump voters, not disdain.
It's probably a stretch to expect our voters to change their attitudes ahead of an election. After all, too many politicians, journalists, and voters in Britain still haven't changed a bit even after the election results. It's those people who refuse to learn and adapt who get hurt the most by a free political process. Because after all, elections have consequences.