Despondent over the Republican convention? Cowboy up. You could be Queen Elizabeth II.
The 90-year-old monarch, England’s longest reigning, is the human bookend presiding over the demise of an empire that began than more than four centuries ago with Queen Elizabeth I.
Last month —
thanks to just the sort of buffoonery on display at the Republican convention — Queen Elizabeth II’s pretend subjects dealt her, and the storied nation she pretends to rule, a final, ignominious blow with Brexit. It promises to make England an even less powerful, more economically stagnant and more inconsequential island on the world stage.
Queens nowadays aren’t allowed to publicly say what they think. But this woman has been around long enough to grasp the self-punishing, and globally destabilizing, consequences of the British decision to strike a blow against the European Union (EU). Russia’s Putin, for one, surely loves it.
The Brits had a good run. Nobody’s empire was bigger nor lasted longer, not even Rome’s. The British lorded over 20 percent of the Earth’s population and 25 percent of its geography, spreading their language, culture and values worldwide. In the 100 years preceding World War I, they were the world’s superpower.
When empires became unfashionable and the Brits’ global pre-eminence diminished, a reassuring song, “There Will Always be an England,” became popular. It helped sustain British spirits during Hitler’s bombings of London. But later it evolved into a comic punch line alluding to dotty British behavior.
Then came the most astonishing dottiness yet: Brexit.
The EU was conceived to end the horrific bloodshed among the quarrelsome Europeans. But many British voters apparently missed that part. After the election, Google reported that it was being swamped with British queries wanting to know what the EU is and what will happen if Britain leaves it.
Why we care
But why should we care what Europeans do to themselves?
For at least 345,000 reasons. That’s roughly the number of American combatants who died during World War I and World War II, both started by Europeans. Not to mention the many more Americans wounded, nor the billions in treasure expended to save Europeans from themselves. Yes, it served America’s self interest — as does non-equivocating NATO membership today. The United States has made immense investments in blood and treasure to secure Europe’s peaceable future, and for good reason.
London is the world’s financial capital, but that’s not likely to continue. Nor are economically favorable EU trade terms, nor the EU payments to Britain for various social purposes. (The impoverished district that has gotten the most EU financial assistance reportedly was the among those voting most overwhelmingly to leave.)
Brits can move, and work freely, within the EU countries, but that won’t continue either — unless Britain agrees to the free movement of foreigners across its own borders. But movement of foreigners into Britain is exactly what fueled much of the sentiment to leave the EU.
Even given the many seriously lamentable — but fixable — imperfections in the implementation of the ideals of the European Union, Brexit seems an unthinkable folly. How could this have happened?
Short answer: Jaw-dropping political incompetence married to voter ignorance. A potent combination. As we are learning. Again.
Brexit could be a chapter in Barbara Tuchman’s classic, The March of Folly, which recounts world-altering moments in history caused by nations perversely choosing to act against their self interests. One of her examples: Britain’s arrogant insistence that Americans be taxed without political representation. Had wiser heads prevailed, today we likely would be speaking English with a British accent.
The underlying architect of the needless Brexit folly was the feckless Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, who was abetted by a witless claque of former fellow university frat boys. In an apparent piece of careless political horse-trading, Cameron promised a vote on Brexit but campaigned against leaving.
Cameron resigned after the vote with an astonishing display of cluelessness — happily humming a little ditty as he left his brief press conference, nearly skipping back in through the door of 10 Downing Street, where he then was overheard to chirp: “Right!” Not his mess to clean up. Hugh Grant could not have played this revealing scene more devastatingly.
Playing the fool
Other politicians who led the “Leave” campaign also washed their hands of the consequences of their idiotic handiwork, sort of admitting they … ummm … lied, actually, about what Brexit would do to England and that they had no idea what to do now.
Like Donald Trump, Johnson relishes playing the fool. He campaigned to be prime minister until his campaign manager, another Brexit leader, declared Johnson unfit and said he himself wanted the job. (Who could make this stuff up?)
The mop and broom was handed to former Home Secretary Theresa May, the new Conservative prime minister. She will wrestle Germany’s Andrea Merkel for favorable EU divorce terms; good luck with that. May assigned the spectacularly undiplomatic Johnson to be Britain’s top diplomat, rubbing his nose in the mess he’s made.
Rays of hope: Johnson’s replacement as London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, is an actual grown-up — and a Muslim.
And in what promises to be another welcome break from misrule by frat boy folly, Britain, Germany and the United States for the first time may soon simultaneously be led by three battle-hardened women.
Bring it on.
Solveig Torvik lives in Winthrop.