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Britain's warning sign

By ALEX RODRIGUEZ Chicago Tribune

This article was published June 27, 2016 at 2:33 a.m.

Britain has Brexited, choosing populism over pragmatism, insularity over inclusion--and leaving the world transformed and deeply worried.

The rising tide against immigration has Trumped integration. It's a script that Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, easily could have penned were it not for the UK's own version of nationalistic bombast and one of the standard bearers for Brexit, former London Mayor Boris Johnson. Johnson and other Brexit leaders hawked the idea of an anti-immigration, walled-off Britain, and Britons bought it.

The cascading fallout has already started. The pound has tumbled. World and U.S. markets are getting walloped as well. Prime Minister David Cameron, who backed Britain's continued membership in the European Union, is already a casualty.

For America, Brexit should serve as a potent warning sign.

It will embolden Trump, who has already co-opted Brexit as validation of the populist themes buttressing his own campaign. "I love to see people take their country back," Trump said at a news conference at a golf course he owns in Scotland. "People want borders. They don't necessarily want people pouring into their country that they don't know who they are and where they come from."

But it's also the clearest indication yet of the power and toxicity of today's tidal wave of populism. It's not just grist for talk show monologues, not just a crazy quirk in one of most unusual presidential campaigns this country has ever seen. It can decimate currencies, upheave stock exchanges, wreck political careers and ultimately, change the world order.

With Brexit, the U.S.-UK relationship will suffer. President Barack Obama was quick to reassure, saying "the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom is enduring, and the United Kingdom's membership in NATO remains a vital cornerstone of U.S. foreign, security and economic policy."

But a Britain outside the EU is a weaker Britain, politically and economically. Its geopolitical clout likely will diminish now. Economically, it faces a whole lot of turbulence and uncertainty. It will have to negotiate divorce terms with the EU, a betrayed body that isn't likely to be amenable any time soon. And when it trades with the rest of the world, it will be on its own, without the political and economic heft that the EU brings to the table.

Brexit and the Trump phenomenon have exposed something else: A growing part of the world no longer sees strength in inclusiveness. Instead, it sees that as a threat. Brexit gave us a lot to mull, but maybe that's what should have us most worried.

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Alex Rodriguez, a veteran foreign correspondent, is a member of the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board.

Editorial on 06/27/2016

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