Pro-European Union protestors gather in Trafalgar Square in London on Tuesday. REUTERS/Paul Hackett

By Colleen O’Connor

If you nodded off or went fishing for the last several days, you missed some of the best real-time history in more than a century.

The U.K. voted to leave the European Union Or, in Trump-ese, “they took their country back.”

Almost the entire chattering/polling/news and betting “experts” missed the biggest revolt—according to one business analyst—since the Magna Carta of 1215.

Other, equally as stirring claims of the British vote range from temper tantrums to the “end of Europe as we know it.”

To keep the revolt going, Iceland, on Sunday, elected a political novice—a history professor—as president.

And Spain, with an unemployment rate over 26 percent, voted for the second time in six months, spurred on by their own populist revolt, but still mired in gridlock.

All challenges to the status quo.

I guarantee there is more topsy-turvy reality coming soon to a theater near you.

While Donald Trump was on the golf course in Scotland, supporting the Brexit, Hillary Clinton opened up a 12-14 point lead in the U.S. Yes. 12-14 points!

Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders returned to the U.S. Senate, not as a conquering hero, but as a caricature of what he dislikes most—a politician arriving in a caravan of lights-flashing Secret Service vehicles costing taxpayers $36,000 a day.

It was an “awkward return.” As one colleague commented, it is just the “same old Bernie.” Who, thus far, has lost more than he has won in the Democratic Platform fight.

If you slept in you missed it all. Democracy is on fire!

And not just political and social upheavals. Economic houses are also aflame.

Billionaires lost over $125 billion in the single day after the Brexit vote.

The loss to investors on this “Black Friday” was $2 trillion”—the worst one-day drop ever.

Stock markets cratered, liquidity dried up, and safe haven bonds reached historic negative interest rates.

All these “shocks” occurred in a matter of days.

Why did almost no one in authority see it coming?

World leaders, celebrities and journalists from President Barack Obama to Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling, warned against “leave the E.U.” campaign. Obama’s remarks—tone deaf to an echo from the Civil Rights era—suggested that the U.K. would be sent to the “back of the queue” on trade deals.

Little did he realize the opposition to the global trade deals was paramount on many “leave” voters’ minds. According to extensive exit polling, “The top reason for a Leave vote was a desire for greater national sovereignty:”

Others who warned of “Armageddon” and cried “chaos” also lost. The threats and insults backfired.

The result—a return spit in the eye. One woman’s bumper sticker remark captured it all: “If you’ve got money, you vote in…If you haven’t got money, you vote out.”

The U.K. voted out. Now others want out, too. The backlash is growing.

Historians are warned to wait at least 20 years to begin to analyze events. I am jumping in with less than 20 days to suggest the obvious.

This is a new era. And it is not just globalism vs. nationalism; rich vs. middle class and poor; immigration; racism; never-ending wars; or a slogan like “everything is rigged.”

This revolt is much more nuance and has been decades in the making. Trust in institutions is gone. Politicians, who have used ridicule and condescension to disparage those constituents they fail to understand, are now pariahs.

Those spit upon have spit back. They had nothing to lose. No one was listening to them.

In fact, the current revolt resembles those of a previous century once dominated by multiple revolutions disrupting everything at once –the agrarian society vs. industrial revolution, the Robber Barons, vs. workers reduced to cogs in a machine, and the upheaval of most existing social norms.

Today is the fourth great revolution—away from steam (1784), mass production (1870), electronics and automation (1969), to “cyber-physical systems” (in process).

This disruption is faster and more extreme than the human heart or head can comprehend.

And it is coming here faster and more ferocious than any revolution before.

So wake up. The world is passing you by.

Or, as England’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who led the British through the dark days of World War II, put it: “If you are going through hell, keep going.”

Or go fishing.


Colleen O’Connor is a retired college history professor. 

Show comments