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Brexit and the worldwide ‘integration’ movement

Lee A. Daniels

It might at first seem impossible to logically connect — with a single word, no less — three striking political developments that occurred on the same day in the U.S. and Great Britain two weeks ago.

The two developments in the U.S. are the Supreme Court’s 5-to-3 ruling of June 23 upholding the use of affirmative action in college admissions, on the one hand; and a second ruling which resulted in a 4-4 tie, and thus let stand a lower federal court ruling striking down President Obama’s executive order that would have protected as many as five million undocumented immigrants from deportation and allowed them to legally work in the U.S.

Of course, what happened in Great Britain was the electorate’s stunning vote that very day to withdraw the United Kingdom from the European Union. The so-called Brexit (British Exit) vote immediately plunged the country into an unprecedented political and economic turmoil.

Albeit the innumerable complexities that separately make each issue so contentious, one word that sums up the root issue connecting them. That word is: integration.

Yes, that “old” word that had such explosive power in America for most of the twentieth century, when it stood for the effort of black Americans’ struggle to destroy the racist laws, policies and customs that made them second-class citizens.

The word still retains its enormous power. For example, the continuing resistance of some to affirmative action is — no matter how much it’s cloaked in glib rhetoric about “color-blindness” and “fairness” — really just opposition to advancing racial integration beyond token numbers.

But the crisis of undocumented immigration that’s been boiling here for nearly a decade and the immigration crisis that’s exploded in recent years in Britain and other Western European countries have raised a stark question that harks back to America’s black-and-white racial crisis: Can the majority-white democracies of the West fully practice the tolerance the very idea of democracy preaches?

In fact, the controversy about “integration” now roiling America and Europe has a far broader context than did the twentieth-century American civil rights struggle — precisely because it’s provoked by a powerful worldwide integration movement.

That worldwide movement today is usually called by another name: globalization. And it’s overwhelmingly discussed as an economic force having to do with trade among nations, multinational companies’ business dealings in all corners of the globe and the movement of money on the world’s financial markets.

But the “integration” economists, politicians and pundits speak of when they refer to the world’s “integrated markets” is not just a matter of jobs and consumer and industrial goods and playing the money market. It also involves a world’s worth of individuals and peoples, too, whose ability and desire and, for millions, dire need — provoked by the fact or the threat of war or terroristic violence — to leave their native country is also a product of the push and pull of globalization.

In other words, just as the American Civil Rights Movement produced a more inclusive society, so globalization has led to both a far greater freedom of movement and forced movement among the world’s peoples than ever before.

For example, the creation of the European Union a half-century ago made it easier (and more profitable) for its member countries’ businesses to reach across national boundaries — and gave those countries’ citizens the freedom to move and work in another member country without restriction.

Globalization has unquestionably been both unavoidable and a success by any measure. But it also has levied certain political, social and economic costs as the world transits from the old order to the new.

Three of those costs are a ferocious income inequality that has made the term “the 1 percent” a political epithet; the destruction of “old” jobs in many blue-collar and some white-collar fields; and an increased competition for jobs and a sense of economic and social instability among millions of people.

Those three factors have made it easy for charlatans and power-hungry politicians — such as Donald Trump in the U.S and some of the pro-Brexit politicians in Britain — to use the universal language of bigotry to persuade voters to give in to their worst impulses. They’ve fooled some into thinking that if they can just get rid of immigrants, put the “colored” in their place and impose the old whites-come-first regime on their corner of the world, they’ll be okay.

That’s a fool’s errand. But, unfortunately, you can fool some of the people all of the time.

Lee A. Daniels, a longtime journalist, is a keynote speaker and author. He is writing a book on the Obama years and the 2016 election. He can be reached at