240 years ago, this week, representatives from across the thirteen British Colonies in the Americas gathered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Their goal was to move those colonies to separate from the Kingdom of Great Britain. One such representative, Thomas Jefferson, was asked to draft a declaration, which stated:
“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
These were the words that started the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America. From that moment, we defended our Independence in a Revolutionary War that secured our freedom and liberty and own destiny as one nation. The thirteen Colonies felt a greater connection to each other than they did to the British Crown. From then, this prideful feeling of geographic nationalism, born through revolution, would spread worldwide, shaping many borders we now know today. In South American and East Asia, nations gained its independence from the Spanish Empire. And in Europe, with France first freeing itself from its monarchy and then from the Empires of Napoleon, geographic nationalism continued to spread across the continent. By the turn of the 20th Century, the rise in nationalism would spread to eastern and southern Europe and the Balkan states. This would inspire, one nationalist, whose goal was to unite a Serbian nation, to assassinate the heir to Austro-Hungarian Empire, Franz Ferdinand. This would be the cause of the First World War, a war that would lead to the death of over 15 million people. When the war was ended, to prevent such a conflict from happening again, the Allies divided the German Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire and Ottoman Empire, redrew national borders and created the League of Nation whose expressed goal was to prevent future conflicts by a “collective security” agreed upon by multiple nations.
Unfortunately, the results of World War I was the precipice on which caused the outbreak of World War II. This time, instead of a Serbian nationalist seeking to unite a Serbian nation, it was German nationalist seeking to unite a German nation with German people who felt they were unfairly divided at the end of World War I. The German nationalist, of course, was Adolf Hitler and the German nationalism he used was Nazism. And this brand of ethnic nationalism lead to the death of over 65 million people worldwide, the most destructive conflict in the Earth’s history. By its end, a twice-devastated Europe knew it’s survival depended on cooperation of all their nations to have a vested interested in the well-being of each other. It was said the antidote to the extreme nationalism that lead to these destructive conflicts was to be cultural and ethnic integration. This initially lead to increased economic integration, which created the European Economic Community, which itself, when combined with a monetary union, culminated in what is commonly known today as the European Union. A Federation of nearly 30 nations across Europe who have combined to facilitate the free movement of people, goods, services and capital across all of Europe for the benefit of all of Europe. The hope was to increase familiarity and human connection to recognize the humanity in each of us for the good of all of us.
Last week saw the end of a political movement in the United Kingdom where the British voted on whether or not they should remain in the European Union or leave. The United Kingdom European Union Memeberahip Referendum or “Brexit” was a close but extremely contested vote. In England, those who voted to leave won, a decision which was completely unexpected to some but absolutely welcomed by others. The reasoning for the Brexit was to have increased control of economic and undoubtedly social borders, which supporters felt was taken from them and given to another entity without their best interest in mind. The “Leave Campaign” touted slogans such as “Britain First”, which meant that the British should consider what’s good for Britain before they consider what’s good for Europe. This was a campaign that depended upon geographic and cultural nationalism as much as socioeconomic integration. It was the same nationalism that Europe feared, which caused the creation of the E.U., would also inspire forces within England to vote to leave the E.U. Ironically, they joined out of fear of nationalism and left by embracing. Amid the upheaval of the Brexit, a British Memeber of Parliament, Joanne Cox was brutally murdered by a man with ties to British Nationalist and Neo-Nazi groups. As he attacked Cox, witnesses heard him shout “Britain first!” the same slogan used by those wishing to separate the United Kingdom from the European Union.
When these events happened over the last week, it caused a panic across the world and within the United States, many of us could only speculate on the reverberations of what was decided in England and how their decision would affect us nationally. Many see the same sort of nationalism that pushed the Brexit is the craft of nationalism that is currently being witnessed in our presidential campaign explaining the popularity of Donald Trump’s candidacy. Not to mention, going back to our declaration of our Independence, many have also drawn similar parallels to England’s pho “declaration of indepence” as noted by Brexit advocate Nigel Farage, who is the leader of the UK Independence Party.(Which coincidentally also happens to be the political party with the largest representation of members in the E.U.’s own Parliament.)
What we saw in England, we fear could be reflected here in America. What we don’t realize is, that no matter the similarities, what happened there will have an extremely harder time being replicated here. For one, the United Kingdom’s population is 87% non-hispanic white, while in the United States that same demographic is 64%. Electorally speaking, the majorities of white male voters that breeds the sort of nationalism that these campaigns thrived on has been an ever decreasing number for nearly 30 years now. Simply put, there are not enough white voters for that to be a dependable voting block to sway an election any longer. More than that, imagine the circumstance if an alleged white nationalist shot and killed a Memeber of Congress shouting “Make America great again” a week before the November election. Would this be a country that would then have a Donald Trump as president and embolden such a sentiment by giving it electoral validity?
When the United States declared their Independence in 1776, the world was a different place. Geographic and cultural bands that once group us gave us an identity, which was hard to break considering how unconnected the world was. These geographic and cultural differences often lead to conflict due to a lack of understanding of how others live and what they value. These conflicts continued and we’ve witnessed the power to destroy entire nations. But now, information and technology has connected us in a way our Founding Fathers could only dream. The European Union was created with the purpose of preventing conflict that is born of nationalism gone unchecked by increased cooperation. American Historian, Carter G. Woodson once said that increasing social and professional contacts among different races could reduce racism. Racism is the natural and inevitable extension of nationalism being unchecked. Wanting to control the social progression of your nation is something all independent governments would want. But when it comes at the expense of making the world smaller and less inclusive, that will only breed more fear, more ignorance and more hate. Those bonds of information are threatened when other cultures and ethnicities are excluded from yours. When Donald Trump says “make America great again”, talking about barring Muslims and Latinos from entering the United States, that only makes it harder for us to learn from other cultures that are not our own. He professes to build a wall to keep out unwanted persons, however England has shown him a way of building that wall without brick or mortar. Withdrawing from the European Union puts up the kind of barrier that will not only hurt England but such an action has been shown to repeatedly be the kind of action that can threaten the entire world. Dangerous decisions like the E.U. Referendum will certainly have a negative impct on the United Kingdom. It already has. But the entire point of the United States of America was to be a single nation made for immigrants by immigrants. Fact of the matter was, it was Great Britain’s obstruction and discouragement of immigration to the Colonies that became one of the primary grievances that inspired our Declaration. That is not who we are. That is not who we ever were. We are a better nation because of our ethnic and cultural integration. More pointedly, we ARE a nation because of our integration. That is who we are.