Brexit: A failure of the democratic ideal

Jon Riker, Contributing Writer

In terms of human-made disasters, Brexit is something special. It far surpasses the Hindenburg’s impetuous crash in its scope, duration, and cinematic charm. The Titanic rivals Brexit, to be sure, but the unsinkable ship notably did not sail straight into the iceberg on purpose, and then deliberate for a couple of years on whether they should recognize the iceberg lodged in their hull. In my search for an apt comparison, I stumbled across the hit 2015 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson film “San Andreas,” in which the infamous San Andreas fault finally gives way, triggering a magnitude nine earthquake throughout much of California. But our protagonist (perhaps anti-hero, the “love to hate” aspect is replaced with just “hate”),  British Prime Minister Theresa May, fuming in 10 Downing Street, possesses not an inch of the strength of American hero “The Rock,” not necessarily in terms of physical prowess, but rather comparing their respective spines. “The Rock,” upstanding citizen as he is, has shown himself to be of respectable will and character, whereas May is a spineless worm who not only displays verbal and political incompetence on an almost daily basis, but who also readily and enthusiastically refuses to acknowledge her constituents in favor of an outdated, nationalistic ideal born of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage’s capitalization of a rise in white nationalism, expected low voter turnout (especially from young people), and an uneducated populace.  


It was foolish to put something as monumental as a British exit from the European Union to a referendum in the first place, but we cannot pretend as though David Cameron, the buffoon that he is, put it forward on a whim. He promised in 2012 that he supported a referendum, and during his reelection campaign in 2015, he reiterated that promise and fulfilled it. Whether he actually expected “the people” to make such a radical decision or not, the United Kingdom’s place in the European Union is far too complicated to put to a simple “yes” or “no” vote.  


In contrast, May has stuck her head in the sand, choosing to let her political career choke and die rather than listen to what the people actually have to say. Calls for a second referendum have blazed now that the public is more informed and better understanding of the gravity of the situation (which was not properly explained by either side until close to the referendum or even after). The recent petition which calls for a second referendum has surpassed six million signatures and counting. May is also unable to communicate with her own party, which shoots her down in every attempt that she makes to negotiate a deal. As a last ditch effort, she desperately promised to resign if her deal got through.


As much as my spite would love to watch her resign, any deal she makes is undemocratic and cannot be allowed to be enacted – not necessarily because I think that it is bad for the United Kingdom, but more because the original referendum was manipulative, selfish, inappropriate, and stupid, and it should be considered invalid.


When looking at the data from the vote, it becomes far easier to see how the Brits got themselves tangled up in this chaos. Only about 60 percent of eligible voters between 18-24 voted in the referendum, and the clear majority voted to remain; 88 percent of eligible voters 65+ voted, and they overwhelmingly voted to remain. Brexiteer politicians are not stupid, even if they are quite annoying. They are making political calculations in order to maximize their power, and they were smart enough to know that voter turnout increases drastically between younger voting demographics and older voting demographics. This is not a foreign problem. We face the same issue in the United States, but we are only lucky enough to not have monumental issues put to a people’s vote.


Brexit illustrates a continual problem in public opinion and elucidates an often overlooked responsibility of a public servant. How does a politician balance what a vocal group of their constituents want versus what is best for the country? If we were those constituents, we would want our representative to properly represent us, but oftentimes our chosen leaders understand issues with more nuance than the average person. In a democratic ideal, the public is informed and responsible, and our representatives make moral and political decisions based both on their personal experience and on the wishes of their constituents. But with growing polarization and negative feedback loops for certain demographics’ opinions, it seems almost impossible to achieve, if politicians even want to achieve that anymore, or if their lust for power and legacy has clouded their morality and judgment to an irredeemable point.


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