Listen Up! To our detriment, isolationism is creeping into many parts of our society

Hugh Mackenzie Huntsville Doppler

Hugh Mackenzie
Huntsville Doppler

Slam the Door and Lock and Latch It!

The week past saw yet another horrendous murder that made international headlines, this time in England. Jo Cox, a rising star in British politics and a Member of Parliament, was shot down in front of her Constituency office, apparently by some far right nut bar opposed to Great Britain remaining in the European Union. “Britain first,” he is reported to have shouted as he ended this young and fruitful life. This is a tragic symptom of isolationism that seems to be creeping into many parts of our society.

In Britain, this trend toward isolationism is reflected in the Brexit Referendum that is to be held this week to decide whether Great Britain will stay within the European Union. It is too close to call. Those who want to leave the EU resent imposed policies from Brussels, most particularly as they relate to immigration and climate change. Those who want to remain in the EU believe Britain’s economy will collapse if they leave, with trade opportunities greatly diminished and the British pound devalued. A bright young friend of mine who lives in Sweden believes that an exit vote by Britain will eventually lead to the collapse of the entire European Union. The economic consequences of this would be extremely serious and spread well beyond Europe.

Jo Cox was a strong supporter of keeping Britain in the EU, as are many other Labour and Conservative politicians including Prime Minister David Cameron. It may well be that her murder will swing the referendum in that direction. One way or the other, however, it will be a close call and it clearly reflects that many in that country are willing to close their doors and damn the consequences.

Isolationism has also reared its head in the United States, primarily in the persona of Donald Trump. He will ‘make America great again’ by building a wall on the U.S./Mexican border, banning Muslim immigrants, at least for now, repealing international trade agreements, and pulling back military support from some of our allies. In a recent interview, former Mexican President Vincente Fox warned that Canada will be next on Trump’s hit list.

Although his poll numbers are in decline, Trump still has a good chance of becoming President. Many people shake their head and wonder how this can possibly happen but the truth is that too many people in the States are sick and tired of dysfunctional governments failing to come to grips with life-altering issues within their country. They are fed up and when that happens people tend to grab at rings they would otherwise avoid. ‘Go away and leave us alone’ is a mantra that could well propel Donald Trump into the Presidency of the United States.

The problem is that in the long run isolationism doesn’t work. Our world, indeed our countries, are smaller today because of new technology. We simply cannot do without each other. The United States, Britain and Canada are trading nations. That is how we survive. To close our doors is to turn our backs on our economy. And to open our doors only on our terms and without a level playing field for everyone will lead to certain failure.

Isolationism also fosters racism and racism fosters hate. We have seen it too often and it changes the world we live in. Canadians have no right to be smug about this. We may be more subtle about it but we have seen it here. We have seen it in aboriginal issues. We have seen it in linguistic issues and we have seen it in gender issues. We can be incredibly intolerant of other people’s points of view and that not only isolates us, it makes it practically impossible to accomplish anything for the public good.

The more open we are as a society, both internally and externally, the more we can accomplish. Sticking our collective heads in the sand and ignoring world problems as well as world opportunities simply guarantees that eventually we will be bitten on our collective rear ends. If we close our doors to others, we will eventually close them on ourselves.

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  1. Paul Clayson on

    Hugh. As far as Britain is concerned, your comments are far too simplistic. If the vote is to stay in the EU, not only will immigrants swamp Britain, but Brussels will be given carte blanche to interfere even more in the legal framework, an EU army will seriously undermine Britain’s armed forces, and much more. And for Brussels read Germany & France. I thought we had defeated Germany in the second world war!
    As far as the economy is concerned, Cameron and those of his followers in the Conservative party (and the Conservative party is split down the middle on the issue) have repeatedly told outright lies about the impact a leave vote would have on Britain’s economy. I am ashamed to say that a Canadian, the Governor of the Bank of England, has been a party to these scaremongering tactics. I can only hope the vote on Thursday leads to Britain taking back her sovereignty.

  2. Dale Peacock on

    I agree Hugh. No good can come of latching the doors and hunkering down. The ‘island fortress’ mentality has no place in the modern world: not in Britain – which at least IS an island – and not in the U.S., which Trump is trying to covert to one.

    BTW…good call on not mentioning the name of Jo Cox’s murderer. I wish the media could come to a consensus about never showing the faces of those who commit despicable acts and instead focus only on the worthy life that was lost.

  3. I’ll add my comments to Paul’s and Dale’s, although I am not an expert.
    I agree with Paul. I think the British have taken stock of the direction their island nation has headed and the changes they have experienced since joining the EU and have decided they don’t want any more galloping changes to their society, customs, laws and in general their way of life.
    Yes evolution is to be expected (even welcomed) but not at the pace they have experienced and which threatens to continue and even speed up.
    The British public are tired of having the Europeans impose their Eurocentric ways in laws and customs upon their unique British way of life.
    I think they are well aware of both sides of the argument and many have come to the conclusion that they are willing to take the risks allegedly involved in leaving.
    I think also that people believe that there will/can be a negotiation with the Europeans which would see Britain retain her legal framework and control over immigration, work arrangements etc while participating in the trade association with Europe.
    There is widespread resentment, which is perfectly natural, with the way things have gone to date and I am not surprised that the sides in the debate are so close.
    My guess is that if the Brits had their choice, free from political correctness and the other constraints of speech and even thought we all face today they would choose a commercial association with Europe, strongly embrace NATO, and retake their total control over the social aspects of their society.
    I could be wrong but I don’t think so.

    With respect to not mentioning the name of murderous terrorists in order to deny them notoriety I can agree with that. But in doing so I would not endorse any notion of hiding the social identity of the terrorist/murderer as we need to know who our enemies are and where threats may reside.

    A final thought. Many British rightly resented President Obama’s intervention in their domestic affairs when he, on their soil, said so much about his opinions on Brexit.
    Interesting that he felt so empowered to make suggestions for the British to govern themselves by when he would never tolerate a visiting foreign leader making such comments standing on the White House lawn. Typical.

    I hope Britain gets what she wants and that a new relationship that allows her citizens to remain British (as defined by them) is negotiated with Europe.

  4. Appreciate the thoughtful call against isolationist sentiment generally. But, as other commenters have noted, the Brexit vote Thursday is far more complex than a trade/economy and immigration choice. In particular I think it is difficult for those outside the U.K. to fully recognize that regional viewpoints within the U.K. vary widely. Scotland and Wales receive far more vital infrastructure and cultural funding from Brussels than Westminster (albeit in part funded by U.K. E.U. contributions). And there are significant separatist sentiments in both, real if nascent consideration for looking long-term at joining the EU with Ireland, as some sort of “Celtic collective,” if you will.

    As for the immigration issue, there is also a massive diaspora of Britons abroad. As someone who is eligible to hold an EU passport, it is actually easier for U.K. citizens married to foreign nationals to return to residency via Europe (with 2 weeks to fill the paperwork) rather than directly to the U.K. due to changes in national immigration laws and silly loopholes. Also enormous number of British pensioners who reside in the E.U.’s warmer climes at least part of year, with access to full, direct pension payments and NHS health services. Equally, remains to be see if they will get out to vote, but a large number of “millennial” voters displeased with the status quo have never known anything but large-scale EU membership, so for them it is not so much a question of isolation but “change”. And while there has certainly been a rise in the extreme right, as across much of rest of Europe, most citizens are more concerned about economic versus refugee migrants.

    I’ll stop with the details except to note that these situations are seldom as simple as the stay/go, party leaders, media headlines etc. imply. Terribly sorry about Jo Cox. In general continue to hope residents of western democracies continue to exercise their vote in these contentious times, and that we move to building more bridges than walls.

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