2020年1月31日 星期五

The Interpreter: Brexit day

I Brexit, You Brexit, It Brexits...

Welcome to The Interpreter newsletter, by Max Fisher and Amanda Taub, who write a column by the same name.

On our minds: Brexit day is here.

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Brexit, Not With a Bang but a Whimper

Newspapers and souvenirs on sale near Parliament Square in London.Simon Dawson/Reuters

It’s finally happening. Today is Brexit day, the day that Britain will officially begin the process of leaving the European Union.

It is arguably one of the most consequential dates in modern British history. Walk the streets in London, though, and there is little sign that there is anything remarkable about today at all. Remainers aren’t mourning in all-black clothing or defiantly wearing E.U. pins; Leavers aren’t waving Union Jacks or singing nationalist anthems. Everyone seems to be doing the same things they always do on a Friday morning. Taking their children to school. Commuting to work. Looking forward to dusk, when they will usher in the weekend with a happy-hour special in the local pub.

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Today, most of those people woke up as citizens of the European Union whose passports would unlock borders and jobs throughout an entire continent. Tomorrow, they will wake up citizens of a small island nation, whose economic prospects may be fine but are more uncertain than before, and may become even smaller if Scotland and Northern Ireland make good on their threats to leave the United Kingdom.

Those are huge changes. But they are the kinds of change and uncertainty — economic growth that may falter, limitations on work and travel that haven’t had any concrete impact yet, new constraints on budgets for schools and transit that have not yet affected who can be hired or what can be repaired — that don’t feel salient to everyday life. It is easy to understand, in the abstract, why they matter. But it is hard to feel when they actually do.

It was different when there was a narrative to follow. When parliamentary votes on Brexit plans were contentious, dramatic and televised like sports matches, the public tuned in to see whether their side would win or lose. When Prime Minister Boris Johnson raised the stakes by threatening to kick Conservative politicians out of the party if they failed to support his Brexit bill, the nation reached for its popcorn. And when the general election campaign was being fought, using Brexit as a proxy for the country’s values and the direction of its future, everyone had an opinion.

But then Mr. Johnson’s party won a commanding majority in Parliament. So when the final Brexit bill came for a vote, there was little doubt it would pass. It contained many of the same provisions that had led to such vicious battles just a few months earlier. But without uncertainty, there was no reason for politicians to make dramatic, career-altering stands to try to stop it. Without drama, there was no narrative. And without narrative, there was little public attention.

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The decisions that Britain’s leaders make during the yearslong process of extricating itself from Europe will shape the future of the country. But it is those decisions’ potential (or lack thereof) for narrative drama and political salience that will determine whether that extrication is accomplished with a bang or a whimper.

What We’re Reading

  • We’ve long thought that partisan polarization is a kind of secret decoder ring for many of today’s bizarre, seemingly inexplicable political events. “Why We’re Polarized,” a new book by our former colleague Ezra Klein, is a deep dive into that very issue, written with insight and substance.
  • Women’s Liberation: What’s in it for Men?” Drawing on historical data from the United States and Britain, the authors find that “men face a trade-off between the rights they want for their own wives (namely none) and the rights of other women in the economy. Men prefer other men’s wives to have rights because men care about their own daughters and because an expansion of women’s rights increases educational investments in children.” (Thanks to Alice Evans for the link.)
  • Why urban myths always supposedly happened to “a friend of a friend.”

How are we doing?

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