The harder you try to make sense of the disastrous Brexit vote in the U.K. and Northern Ireland, the harder it becomes.
Some say the day was carried by anti-immigrant racism, some say it was deep public anger at faraway bureaucrats in Brussels, some say it was the faithless old imposing their sour world view on the innocent young, while some say that it was the forgotten country people taking revenge on the privileged city.
Unarguably, all of these elements were contributing factors, but there was more to it. Brexit voters were aware of the significant dangers of voting to leave the EU and yet they still went ahead and hit the reset button anyway, sending their economy into free fall and almost assuredly into recession.
What this tells us is how bone deep the political alienation of the average English voter is now. It tells us that so many voters now feel so powerless, so marginalized and unseen, that their only means of pushback is a self-destructive protest vote that damages everyone's future, including their own. It's the voting equivalent of a suicide bomb.
How did it come to this, ask the young professionals in London, who voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU? What were the older people and the people out there in the provinces thinking?
The sharp disconnect between town and country, between rich and poor, between England, Scotland and Northern Ireland has now been revealed for the whole world to see. It's the Disunited Kingdom and it will never be the same now.
Prime Minister David Cameron's disastrous gamble to quell a far right insurrection within his own Conservative Party backfired spectacularly. Instead of settling the immigration and sovereignty issues that had destabilized his leadership, he inflamed what he planned to contain.
Worse, the contagion has spilled over into the mainstream, meaning that an angry debate among fringe elements has now set the national agenda in a way that is almost without precedent in modern English history.
Let's review for a moment what Brexit has cost the U.K. just this week. On Friday as the result was announced the Leave side's claims that they would now have about £350 million extra cash to spend on public services like the National Health Service had unraveled.
Then the Leave side confirmed they would not end the free movement of labor (meaning they would not curb immigrants, their signature campaign promise). Nothing they had vowed was materializing.
The truth is Brexit cost investors $2 trillion, the worst one day drop in history. Meanwhile, London’s financial center, known as the City, will almost certainly lose the right to clear euro trades, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The potential economic hit is staggering, which is why Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.K.'s credit rating on Monday.
Like a small asteroid strike to the heart of Europe, there was jeering UKIP leader Nigel Farage at the EU Parliament on Tuesday, utterly contemptuous in victory, not conciliatory. He was met with loud boos and turned backs from a fellow member of the European Parliament.
“Isn't it funny? When I came here 17 years ago and I said that I wanted to lead a campaign go get Britain out of the European Union, you all laughed at me,” Farage scoffed. “Well, I have to say, you're not laughing now, are you?”
His moment of personal vengeance was clearly worth more to him than the fate of England. There's a dire warning for America in this: elect a blowhard and face being ostracized.
During his confrontational speech Jean-Claude Juncker the president of the European Commission turned to Farage and announced he was surprised to see him there.
“That's the last time you are applauding here,” he said. “You were fighting for the exit, the British people voted in favor of the exit. Why are you here?”
It's a good question. It seems unarguable now that even the most ardent Brexit leaders didn't have a cohesive plan for what to do if they actually won, which explains why Farage initially conceded before going to bed on the night of the vote.
It explains the funeral atmosphere that attended the press conferences given by the victorious Conservative leaders Boris Johnson and Michael Gove the morning after. They called it a day of national celebration, but they looked like pallbearers at the death of a monarch.
Worst of all, it is now clear the Leave vote did not have a plan for Scotland or Northern Ireland, revealing in the process just how unimportant their national destinies actually are to the Little Englanders. Never in modern times have so few set the agenda for so many.