Very few saw it coming. We were in France when it happened. We had spoken to a number of Brits from multiple generations before the day of the referendum, and they were unanimously in favor of #remaINing in the European Union. So it was as much a surprise to us as to anyone that Brexit became a reality. It reminded me of the Trump phenomenon in the States -- I don't actually know anyone who voted for him in the primaries, but someone obviously did. It would be mistaken and simplistic to point to one single motive behind the results in favor of Brexit; ever since there was such a thing as Britain, there has been a prevalent island mentality. (The word "insular" comes from the same word as "island".) Great Britain opted out in 1992 of adopting the euro as its national currency, even though it was a part of the newly formed European Union. There has always been a sometimes comfortable / sometimes uncomfortable distance between the UK and the European mainland, in spite of the fact that the 31 miles between Dover and Calais has not changed recently.
But there was more at play here. The working class north of England, as well as Wales, has apparently been feeling disenfranchised and unheard. But the wave of migrants flooding the European continent, already in progress before the Syrian war even broke out, then overflowing because of said war, has certainly played a role in this 52% to 48% vote. There is concern, some of it understandable, about migrants taking British jobs. (This has been going on for some time -- in my experience, chances are very good that your order in any British pub or cafe will be taken by a foreign national from another EU country.)
Combine this situation with a rising tide of nationalism -- not only in the UK, but in many European countries -- and you have a volatile mix. There is a circle-the-wagons mindset taking hold across the continent. Not unanimous by any means, but significant. The day after the Brexit vote, the Dutch anti-immigration leader called for a similar referendum in the Netherlands. Greece has long had a major chip on its shoulder vis-a-vis the EU, as my wife and I heard first hand during our recent time there.
It's anyone's guess exactly how Brexit will play itself out, and some of our distraught British friends may decide in the future that they over-reacted on June 24, 2016. I don't pretend to be an economist or an expert on international affairs; but I am concerned about the growing resistance to anything foreign, whether in the US or Europe. It is a little too easy to take legitimate concerns about jobs and terrorists too far and turn them into irrational, fear-driven conclusions.
With all the anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from both sides of the Atlantic, I can't help wondering what the Native American community must be thinking. Do they laugh or cry to hear white-dominated Americans deciding who can and who cannot land on these shores?
On this Independence Day 2016, may we realize our DEpendence as well. Our interdependence. In the 21st century, there is no more such a thing as a pure American than there is a pure Briton or a pure Frenchman. Not that we can't celebrate our national identity as we do today; but we must not forget that our strength is not in our sameness, but in our diversity.