- - Sunday, June 26, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The elites across the world had a dreadful weekend. Britain’s historic goodbye to Europe — and it was indeed historic — reverberated in capitals on every continent. The elites, the people who run things (or think they do and who certainly think they should) were told, in language plain and unsparing: “You stink!”

People who run things, whether a government, a business, or a bureaucracy, as in Brussels, are not accustomed to hearing sentiment like that, and it not only stings but hurts. The smartest folk among them may learn something. Democracies are watered by blood, sometimes the real thing but most of the time the metaphorical stuff will suffice.

The elites in the governments and in the media fell over themselves and each other over the weekend reaching for analogies and comparisons to explain what happened. One hysteric even likened it to the French revolution. One pundit at London’s Daily Telegraph, the bible of the English establishment, says it’s impossible to overstate how remarkable the result actually is. Sometimes hyperbole hits the mark.

Two decades ago, skepticism and mistrust of “the new Europe,” where centuries of mistrust and ethnic jealousies were to be washed away in a cleansing rain of love, beauty, goodwill and happy thoughts, was a cult of the old fogies who had fought and won a war and who now had to learn to love a new consensus forged at the expense of the Britain of Churchill and Maggie Thatcher. But it didn’t happen quite so simply. “Slowly,” writes Tim Stanley in The Telegraph, “the establishment consensus came to resemble not just a conspiracy, but worse, a confederacy of dunces.”

A consensus, as we have learned to our sorrow in America, is deadlier than a conspiracy. A conspiracy can be broken, but a consensus, when the nice people agree and agree not to question what they agree on, is the most dangerous mindset of all.

The prospects for a British exit from the European Union, conveniently called “Brexit” for headline purposes, were not bright only a year or two ago, which is why Prime Minister David Cameron finally agreed to call a referendum. Britain would surely vote to stay, as it had voted to stay in the European Common Market in 1975, and that would settle it for another generation or two, and probably forever.

The global establishment, that vast syndicate with a yen to run everything, was against Brexit. So were the financial wizards, the International Monetary Fund, even the president of the United States. How could they be wrong? Weren’t they the smartest people anywhere? They certainly thought so. Then the third world decided to move north and soon vast unwashed multitudes arrived, many with no intention of becoming Englishmen but bringing with them the makings of the misery they were fleeing.

Even on the eve of the voting the elites reassured themselves that there was nothing to worry about. The momentum was with the nice people and the campaign called “Remain.” The public-opinion polls said the vote was too close to call, and the bookies — bookmaking is legal in Britain — said a good result was in the bag. And then the deluge, which only the willfully blind could not see coming. From the Labor strongholds in the northeast, up against the Scottish border, to the Tory towns in the southeast of Mrs. Miniver and roast beef on Sunday, English voters gave the verdict told in the snappy slang of the London tabloid Sun: “See EU later!” Scotland, Northern Ireland and London voted to stay put, but the vote in England and Wales was more than sufficient.

In the wake of the 52 percent to 48 percent vote to leave, not a landslide but decisive enough, some of the 2.2 million Londoners who voted to stay now say they’re dreaming of declaring their own independence to stay with Europe.

On the morning after, in the ruins and litter of defeat, many foolish things are imagined and some of them are actually said. But cooler heads will pick through the debris of a campaign and a new consensus will emerge. Stock markets that fell will rise again. Money that left will return. The elites will get over their pout, perhaps having learned a lesson. Their world that was turned upside down will be set aright, but it will be a different world. They might as well get used to it. That’s the lesson of Brexit.

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