Last week, British voters sent a chandelier crashing down on their political elites. A majority of them voted to leave the European Union—so-called “Brexit”—over the objections of almost every one of their politicians.
The media reacted to the referendum like a scorned banshee, screeching hideously and pulling out its own hair while misfiring spells in every direction. In Britain, the papers are full of florid jeremiads warning of secular end times. In America, pundits who two weeks ago couldn’t have told you the difference between Boris Johnson and Boris from Goldeneye suddenly discovered they were experts on British politics, and opined accordingly.
It was a unified rage that snowballed over the weekend into something unprecedented in modern times. I’ve been covering politics for a decade now, and I’ve never seen the media behave so badly.
Their lapse into all-out authoritarianism has been stunning. So quick to invoke democracy when it means empowering favored identity groups, they’re now obsessed with finding a way to stamp it out, seemingly unacquainted with any of the 17.4 million Brits who voted Leave. It calls to mind Pauline Kael’s (frequently butchered) quote: “I know only one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know.”
So cue the logroll of lies and mischaracterizations. The referendum is said to be indecisive, even though more Brits opted for Brexit than have ever voted for anything in the history of the United Kingdom. Leave voters are portrayed as regretting their decisions, even though polling finds they’re perfectly happy, thank you very much.
A petition to hold a second referendum is touted, despite its having been hacked by 4chan and larded with fraudulent signatures from outside Britain. Smug demands that pro-Remain London secede from the UK are given credence, notwithstanding the zero percent chance of that ever happening.
The United Kingdom, the media panics, is freshly soluble. Scotland leaving has become inevitable, even though the Scots already voted that down in a referendum last year and the plunged price of oil has made them economically reliant on British union. Northern Ireland is also said to be on the cusp of secession. To hold independence referenda, both would need the consent of English-majority Parliament, which considers these to be settled issues.
It’s impossible, we’re told, for Britain to weather the economic tremors of Brexit, even though its GDP is the fastest growing in Europe. Its economy, we’re informed, shrank past that of France the morning after the referendum—utter nonsense, say the calculators. Alarms are rung about a looming recession, as the head of Moody’s rules out long-term economic damage and the British stock market recoups all its post-Brexit losses.
And then into the cultural realm. Brexit is a mortifying aberration! But polls show fewer than 50 percent of French and Swedes would vote to remain in the EU. Brexit is Britain’s Donald Trump! It takes a special kind of stupid to equate leaving a political union with electing to the presidency a reality TV star.
Finally, all this screeching crescendoed into the media’s despairing conclusion that Britain had been transformed overnight into a xenophobic country. They embraced that argument above all others because it let them pin Brexit on one of their default scapegoats: white bigotry. Simple as that: no need to peer beyond their ideological blinders—or even at the latest polling, which finds only a third of Leave voters were motivated primarily by immigration concerns.
The real catalyst behind Brexit, identified by half its supporters in that same poll, was this: “the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK.” (Sovereign democratic nations—what will these right-wing extremists come up with next?)
The word “sovereignty” may as well be another language for many political elites. They long ago threw overboard any sort of principle in favor of empirical utilitarianism, using calculations and charts to make economic decisions that more often fail than don’t (Exhibit A: the euro). Indeed, the main argument made by the Remain campaign was that Brexit would leave the national pocketbook worse off—by exactly 4,300 pounds per household, according to Britain’s apparently psychic finance minister.
The British people rejected this alchemy in favor of the clarifying idea that they should be ruled from home. So let the media spew its contempt. Brexit wasn’t ugly or cynical; it was a beautiful exertion of democratic will.