On Thursday, June 23rd, I had the honor and privilege of attending the inaugural lecture of the John Hume and Thomas P. O’Neill Jr. Chair in Peace at the Ulster University-Magee in Derry, Northern Ireland. The keynote speaker, Dr. Arun Gandhi – the grandson of India’s legendary leader – delivered the inaugural lecture, which was entitled “Building a Culture of Peace: Lessons from My Grandfather.” His message was a valuable reminder of the peace and prosperity prevalent throughout Northern Ireland today – and how many dedicated people and years of hard work it has taken to guide the peacebuilding process to this point.
The following morning, I woke up in Derry to the distressing news that approximately 52 percent of voters in the United Kingdom had voiced their support for a “Brexit,” choosing to withdraw from the European Union. I immediately began to consider what this could mean for the peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom, as a whole. Both Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain in the European Union, causing Sinn Fein to call for an increase in border security.
The Brexit referendum garnered a 72 percent voter turnout – an unprecedented number that illustrates constituents’ overwhelming desire to voice an opinion about their country’s future. The Leave campaign declared victory with 52 percent of the vote, echoing the growing support that the populist movement in the UK has gained in recent years.
At present, there is no way to comprehend the full effect of Brexit on the United Kingdom, the European Union or the world. One outcome is clear, however. Brexit is a cautionary tale of what could happen in the United States come November, if American voters don’t fully appreciate the consequences that our election will have on our country’s future and that of the world.
In just a few short weeks, the Republican Party will convene in Cleveland to name Donald Trump as its presidential candidate. Throughout his unorthodox campaign, Trump has tapped into some of the same populist concerns and frustrations in the United States as the Leave campaign wildly leveraged to market the Brexit referendum in the UK. Those among us still longing for America’s promise will require thoughtful solutions from the next President, not bluster and discord.
My good friend and professional pollster David Paleologos released a poll today, part of which illustrates that 68 percent of Americans do not view Brexit as an isolated referendum, but rather as an expression of anger and dissatisfaction towards the UK government. Many Americans have echoed similar sentiments of frustration with where our country is headed and have rallied behind Trump as a result. Although a plurality of those polled did not believe that Brexit would positively impact Trump’s candidacy, we must keep in mind that a Trump presidency – like Brexit – has serious implications not only for the United States’ economy and foreign policy, but for the entire world.
On November 8, 2016, we only get one vote and there are no do-overs.