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What the Brexit failure reveals about our current morass

On Tuesday night, British Prime Minister Theresa May's plan to usher her country out of the European Union -...

Posted: Jan 15, 2019 10:42 PM
Updated: Jan 15, 2019 10:43 PM

On Tuesday night, British Prime Minister Theresa May's plan to usher her country out of the European Union -- a move forced by the Brexit vote of 2016 -- was crushingly rejected in Parliament.

The decision left the British government in total chaos, with just 73 days to go before the country is supposed to leave the EU. Critiques -- of May, of the original Brexit vote, of Parliament -- were legion. Solutions were significantly more scarce.

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Sound at all familiar?

Look. Comparisons between two countries' governments and relative political circumstances always have to be taken cum grano salis. It's overly facile to say that the failure of May's Brexit plan and the current US government shutdown are even close to the same thing. So, to be clear: I am not doing that.

But there is, without question, a similar seed in both these crises: The populace's desire for simple solutions to complex problems.

Brexit was the result of concerns about, among other things, Britain losing its own identity within the broader European continent and a sense that the EU was simply not in the best economic interests of the country. Worries surrounding immigration and globalization were mixed in.

The solution seemed simple: A referendum allowing Britain to cut ties with the EU and seek its own destiny.

Head across the pond to America, where in June 2016, presidential candidate Donald Trump compares his campaign to the British movement, and later tweets "They will soon be calling me MR. BREXIT!" referring to his prediction that he would upset Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential race.

Throughout his campaign, Trump capitalized on concerns -- particularly among the Republican base -- that illegal immigration is not only undermining the rule of law but also changing the face of America in negative ways.

Trump's wall captures the imagination because, well, it's simple. Walls work. They keep people out.

Neither easy solution has proven so easy. May's attempts to provide a workable exit based on the Brexit vote have never gained any momentum -- and now appear dead. Here in the United States, we are in the 25th day of the longest government shutdown ever, because Trump wants money for the wall and Democrats in Congress refuse to provide it.

The Point: Faced with an increasingly complex world, we tend to seek out the simplest of solutions. Unfortunately, those simple solutions often turn out to be inadequate to deal with the problem at hand -- leaving governments at a loss even as they butt up against (or miss) must-not-miss deadlines.

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