So... the English just voted for a political Party that has inflicted years of austerity upon them, led by a man who is openly racist, sexist, classist, and who has pledged to separate them from their primary trading partners. (Notice I did not say “The United Kingdom voted...” because the Scottish voted completely differently, and we will certainly see another campaign for Scottish independence.)
So years more misery, and the possible breakup of their Union. Why? For the same reason so many Americans support Conservatism in the United States: The present is a scary place, and people would much prefer visions of nostalgia. While Progressives are talking about the challenges of the present/future Conservatives consistently pitch a very narrow version of the 1950’s - where one couldn’t see protests or immigrants or homelessness from the comfort of ones own lawn in the suburbs, where climate change just meant a change of seasons, where a good job was the result of hard work, where the cop on the corner was an unquestioned sign of safety, where the boss was your friend, where women knew their place and were happy with it, and where national Might was always Right.
None of this was true, but compared to the challenging vision we all see today it is very comforting. And very attractive.
In the United States some also have the added nostalgia for a more distant time - before the Civil War. These folks have an even more romanticized vision of the past, one filled with porticoed porches and carriage rides, of hoop skirted women and chivalrous, dashing men, and where Blacks knew there place, and accepted it.
Most of the people who fantasize about this period would be despised by those men and women, and the smell of open wounds, the cries children torn from their mothers, the wail of those under the whip, the cries of the raped, the seething anger of the enslaved, and the constant smell of death are not part of the fantasy. But they are the truth of history.
But again living in a country where, in addition to the existential challenges facing all of us, these people have been bombarded from birth with the message that the most important, defining, and unendingly under assault attribute they have is a racial superiority, an untrue vision of a time when people of their skin tone held dominion of other tones is much more attractive than living in a nation where their self- worth is dependent upon their own skills, knowledge, and ethics.
The English have a different, older pre-1950’s nostalgia - The Empire before the First World War. Again, this is a fantasy of power. England had spent a century and a half undermining and conquering civilizations around the globe, but besides losing the American War of Independence and being part of the coalition that defeated Napoleon they really weren’t fighting enemies that possessed modern weaponry to any large scale. They were brutally punching down, but convincing themselves their victories were somehow victories of Englishness.
But for the past half century - faced with having to rely on themselves rather than on the labor and resources they were stealing from their colonies - the English have had to struggle with living in a tiny, cold country that doesn’t really make much anyone wants to buy, but which has a oligarchical class and useless monarchical system. Left over from the time their nation was important.
So they, too, are subject to those Conservatives who paint shining images of bygone but attainable times when England stood dominant, when there flag flew around the globe, when they trample savage cultures underfoot.
As with the case of the Americans those working-class folks who fall for this nostalgia would not have been the beneficiaries of any of this. They would have been cannon fodder, or have been toiling in the mills, or dying in the workhouses. But they are being sold the idea the being English is the most important, best thing in the world, and that any idea of diluting that with immigration, or Europeanism is a threat to the very existence of each and every one of them. Any political, economic, social idea that dies not have at its core the supremacy of the English of a foreign heresy, and must be rejected.
And so we have two of the historically most influential nations holding desperately onto fanciful versions of their pasts, fighting against their presents, and hurtling towards unprepared for futures as their entrenched oligarchs feed nostalgia to a terrified populous which is looking for comfort in extremely uncertain times.
(Yes, this is what I woke up thinking about on my birthday.)