For the past six weeks I’ve been studying abroad in Tours, France, a quaint little town just an hour outside of Paris. Since arriving I have been fully immersed in delicious food, french language, and a beautiful culture far far away from all the chaos of US politics.
Yet, despite being thousands of miles away I have never been more aware or attuned to the complexities of our country’s current politics. At the Institute I attend I have met students from all over the US and the world. There are students from Paraguay, Jordan, Korea, Japan, Sweden, Italy, Germany, China, and the UK. In my conversations with them I have learned more about the beauty of uniting over difference, than I have in any of the “diversity is good” lectures I’ve been given. It has given me invaluable insight into the delicate reality of our world.
But just over a week ago I was visiting the UK and as evident by the “Brexit” vote, ‘unification’ was amiss. While the world is still grappling with the aftermath of such a vote, it has become increasingly more evident the severe consequences this decision will have. To me, this vote represents a chiasmic shift away from an era of global unification and the return to an era of xenophobic nationalism.
I cannot claim to know too much about the history or the nature of UK politics and EU relations, but it is clear the “Brexit” vote is about more than just independence from a bureaucratic agency. It is construed on ideas of commerce and national identity. It utilizes, however, strikingly similar rhetoric used by one Donald Trump. This is not to say that there is a distinct parallel between the leave campaign and Trump’s, but both coalesce extremely strong messages of nationalism. And both unwaveringly site terrorism and immigration as the two pillars of a nation’s “destruction”.
While, nationalism in itself is not a bad thing, it can be dangerous when elevated by fear and intolerance. The motivation behind the vote in Britain is rooted in a fear of mass immigration suffocating the UK’s resources and economy, bolstered by entrenched racism and xenophobia. It is the same kind of fear that is brewing within the US.
It is what fosters the belief that terrorism and immigration are synonymous with Islam and thievery. It is what continues to dismiss the thousands of hundreds of lives that are dedicated to the productivity of our economy, our national identity, and our culture. And it is what will ultimately lead the US down a dangerous path of more borders, more walls, and further prejudice.
I fear for what will come in November. The US people will have a difficult choice to make. I know it all depends on perspective. But for me the choice is simple. We are choosing between setting a path towards progress or one that ejects us back to the early 20th century.
It is a choice between beginning an era where we work to secure our nation’s borders without dehumanizing, penalizing, and/or targeting religious and ethnic groups. An era that represents inclusivity and tolerance that celebrates the unique diversity that America has. Or it can be the return to an era that reflects singularity. One that signifies hate and intolerance, and that is frighteningly similar to the same kind of fascist ideology that led to the creation of the EU in the first place.
If we allow xenophobic rhetoric to become the norm, if we solve our problems with walls, and if we permit a level of nationalistic animosity to become the standard for foreign policy, then we have forgotten the triumphs, the losses, and the lives that have fought to get us to where we are today.
History has taught us that there is a difference between freedom and isolation. I have been living in a country that has recently faced horrific tragedy, yet am still surrounded by people who know the difference and see strength in unity. While it may be (or may not be??) too late for Britain, it is not too late for the US. Let’s hope that in November we’ve learned from history and that we do not make the same mistakes.