What American Group has Most to Learn from Brexit Vote?

So now come the recriminations. Millions have hit the streets and airwaves calling for a Re-Brexit (Shakespeare must be spinning in his grave). Terminology aside, it seems clear that  of the many miscalculations made, including Prime Minister Cameron’s colossal one of putting the vote to referendum at all, one the biggest was that Brexit was a simple issue. Stay or go. How complex could that be? Guess it was–and is. Today millions of people are scratching their heads and saying, “I didn’t know that!”  “The result could do what?” Immediately there was “buyer’s remorse.” One woman interviewed by BBC said she came from a family of 7, they all voted “leave” and within 24 hours all 7 wished they could change their vote. Sorry, doesn’t work that way. There are no do-overs in voting–except maybe in Chicago…

Democracy is a messy process. Sometimes you get what you vote for, sometimes you don’t. The lesson here maybe for many democracies and certainly for ours is that voting is important. And knowing what one is voting about doesn’t hurt either. In some cases ignorance is not bliss, it is disaster. Ultimately, you don’t vote, you don’t get to complain about the decisions made by those who did. There is crying in voting. It just does’t get you anything.

I’m at odds with many about this “you get what you deserve” philosophy of demracy. Here’s an example. I took a group of folks from different parts of the country to visit with a Senator to “share views.” It’s called lobbying… I was early and had some time so I leaned up against a wall that was attached to an open door that led into a conference room of then Senator Stom Thurmond of South Carolina. The venerable Senator, recently re-elected by a hefty majority, was the oldest sitting Senator. He was I believe 90; he looked 312. I found myself a fly on the wall as his staff prepared for the Senator’s meeting with the home-staters. The conversation went something like this:
“We bring the Senator in five minutes before we let the group in. We seat him behind the desk and position the bolsters so he can’t fall out of the chair. Just before the group comes in we tell him who he is meeting and place a paper in front of him with the same information. He gives them 10 minutes saying nothing but nodding his head. At the end of 10 minutes one of us prompts him to say thank you and goodbye. Usher the group out and then we help him back inside.”

You see Thurmond couldn’t walk by himself. He was frail and if he fell every bone in his body might break. He was mostly deaf and pretty close to out of it. The question of course was should this man be voting on pieces of legislation at all, no less ones critical to the health, welfare, and safety of the nation. I say yes. If he’s what the folks in South Carolina wanted, then he’s what they should get. They saw him during the campaign. They knew what the papers were saying. If they wanted to reward the ole guy another 6 year prize for longevity, so be it. That’s democracy.

This country has the lowest voting percentage of any democracy in the world. I was recently stunned to learn that in Peru it is against the law not to vote. You don’t vote, you pay a fine. That’s fine by me. In this electronic age our archaic voting process is ridiculous. Last election I went to 3 different polling places until i got to the right one. I easily could have said….well, I easily could have gone home.

There was a terrible irony in the Brexit vote. By far the strongest “stay” sentiment was among younger voters. It was 75% pro. That group had by far the lowest vote turn out than any other demographic! The highest anti-votes were the elderly, the people on the lower ends of the economic scale, and with the least education. The people in the electorate who from an educational stand-point were most able to understand the complexity of the issues, the people who would have to live the longest with the results were the people who voted the least.

And the next day they screamed bloody murder. Cries rang out for putting an age cap on voting. Young people yelled, “Who the hell are these old people to determine our future?!?” And the answer is? They’re the ones who picked themselves up off their lazy bottoms, got themselves to the polls, and voted, that’s who.

The patterns are the same in America. The youngest quadrant of voters is the least likely to vote. In fact, from 1964 to 2014 those between 18-25 who voted dropped from a 50% voting rate to 32%! Maybe this should be no surprise given the answers we hear in on the street interview questions posed by late night talk show hosts. When it comes to politics and government there are a lot of abysmally ignorant young people out there. Hey, maybe it’s good that they don’t vote… No it isn’t; it’s bad for the system and bad for democracy. And what people understand the least is that the election closest to you is the one that will impact your life the most. No city council-person or county commissioner is going to get the world blown up, but they will make decisions that impact your everyday life everyday–taxes, zoning, development, filling potholes. And if you are looking for stunning non-participation voting rates look at participation in local elections.

The lesson for younger American voters is simply this: Vote dummy–or some other dummy will make decisions for you.

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