There is something fundamentally paradoxical about this Brexit business. First, much has been said about how surprising it was, that the markets did not factor in the actual prospect that it might actually win and got flat footed when it did happen. Then, for past few days, there has been much talk about how all the UK politicians are backsliding and are dithering on the question of actually executing the Brexit. The conventional wisdom, at the moment, seems to be that Brexit will not happen as the big wigs will somehow talk themselves into a solution.
But this is a dangerously naive belief, I think. First, the expectation that the vote for Brexit was not “serious” after all feeds the complacency of the politicians, that they can just muddle through without doing anything. EU leaders will offer nothing and the UK leaders will simply try to duck the issue. They would rather go pretending that nothing has happened. The problem is that, while the Brexit vote might not have been cast on the expectation of any solid and well-defined policy outcome, it is nevertheless grounded on very serious and very real discontent with the status quo and, perhaps more important, the fear of what the future holds combined with the broad distrust of the institutional and political status quo. The pro-Brexit voters may not know what they do want exactly, but they certainly know what they don’t, in other words.
The UK and EU politicians, in some sense, have a great opportunity in their hands. Potentially, there are many paths that they can take in varying directions. Whatever it is, they can do something useful and they will get some credit for doing something, unless it is a total failure, which I think is not very likely under almost any reasonable circumstance–if they act promptly enough. In absence of a direction that they can agree on, however, they will almost certainly wind up trying to preserve the status quo, under the mistaken assumption that, since the voters did not clearly want anything specific, they can be goaded into accepting the status quo, too. This is a mistake: many voters were clear on one thing: they did not like the status quo. Even if they are open to any number of disparate proposals, they will not take the status quo lying down. Unfortunately, the further they dither along, the more likely it is that the voters will become impatient enough to accept even a lunatic and harebrained proposal over the status quo.
The situation in United States resembles the UK situation. Between Trump and Sanders, there are many voters, perhaps a majority, who do not want to preserve the status quo, even if they are confused about what it is that they really want. They are distinct enough in their political orientations, and as far as we can see now, Trump is too problematic a candidate, that they can unify behind a single anti-status quo candidate. Yet, foisting the status quo on them just because they cannot articulate what it is that they really want is the absolutely the worst thing that is possible. This is where the “leadership” comes in: to find out what can be done, given the political balance of power, that does not retain the status quo. This, unfortunately, is a singularly lacking commodity in politics today, here and elsewhere, and the formulaic wonkish thinking that has become vogue everywhere is reinforcing this tendency.
There are some interesting times ahead.