Britons narrowly voted to leave the European Union and since then I’ve heard that racism and xenophobia are to blame. Concerns over the free flow of labor (non-British people) into the UK was certainly a driving force and to ignore the Trump-ish theme of anti-immigration would be irresponsible. But simply labeling the Brits racists–as many liberals in the U.S. have done–lets liberals (I’m one of them) off the hook too easy and thats precisely what they’d like. Whether the topic is Brexit, gay marriage or immigration reform, liberals in the U.S. excel at emphasizing social issues to avoid admitting we lack answers to the economic crises families are facing. Racism very well may have ultimately driven Brexit but it wouldn’t have been possible if not for unaddressed economic strains on families. It’s just easier to point to racism than admit you can’t fix the latter.
Unemployment in the UK decreased to 5% in the last few months, a ten year low. More Britons are working than ever but:
- The rate of “absolute poverty” after housing costs has actually gone up the last decade
- In the early 2000’s 40% of “absolutely poor” people lived in “working” households but now over half of the poor do
- The number of Brits living in working-poor households has grown by more than 2 million
- Before the recession 1/40 seeking full-time work worked part-time but now the number is 1/25
Much like in the United States, productivity seems to be up on the surface in the UK but poverty is expanding and masses of working people are being left behind. At the same time, the foreign-born population in the UK since joining the European Union had grown from 3.8 million to 8.3 million, much of it from poorer nations. It is in this context that frustrated Brits went to the polls and lashed out and of course, immigrants are always the scapegoat. It doesn’t make it right but it also doesn’t mean anyone was providing real solutions to the problem of economic security, either. The same is true in the U.S. as we wrestle with the Trump phenomenon, also fueled by xenophobia and economic insecurity. It’s politically expedient to shout racism at Brexit and Trump voters but the Left does so, in part, because they have no solution or commitment to solving underlying economic woes.
So here we are in the U.S. with the Trump xenophobic message on one side and a push for immigration on the other. We are not much better than the Brits, truth be told. Talk to working class whites in the rust belt about their views on immigration or blacks in Los Angeles on their sentiments on Mexicans and you might be surprised. Xenophobia by its very nature is irrational and in no way tolerable. But the fact that families in America have been losing ground for decades is intolerable, also.
Rather than vigorously attacking that problem, it would seem that the Left is much more active on the social front. Issues like transgender bathroom usage, marriage equality, access to contraception and yes, immigration, have been championed much more. The political heavyweights on the Left have not shown a serious commitment to radically altering inequality and worker insecurity, so much so that Bernie Sanders seemed almost alien during his primary run. In this context, how is the average working family expected to readily embrace immigration? Where would the energy come from?
Not only does the Left largely lack solutions to our economic woes, indeed we have been complicit in creating them. Outsourcing of jobs and the expansion of corporate power over all has been a bipartisan project. As our manufacturing base has dwindled and families are struggling to make ends meet, the Left has no real answer or discernible commitment to changing these realities. Where is the radical commitment to jobs, affordable housing and education? It exists on the Left nominally, at best. At some point, the Left will seek to push immigration reform once more but sadly, they will not have the energy from working people that they need and they’ll pretend to not understand why. No one is happy about new neighbors when they themselves are struggling.