Editors' Notebook

Stunned at Brexit

Greg D Horstmeier
By  Greg D Horstmeier , DTN Editor-in-Chief
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Stunned. It's the only word that really fit as I watched the BBC's coverage of the Brexit vote Thursday night and into the dawn hours of Friday in the United Kingdom. I was watching and listening as our analysts Darin Newsom and Todd Hultman burned the midnight oil tracking how world markets responded to the news.

Their commentary, and news stories from Chris Clayton and others through the day, chronicled the world's reaction.

I think we were all simply stunned at the outcome.

Others had another word: Angry. "There's a lot of anger," a BBC commentator said while attempting to make sense of the growing "Leave" numbers overnight.

"The people are angry," said Donald Trump when asked about the outcome as he inspected his new Scottish golf course.

Many a pundit has linked the call for the Brexit referendum -- and its outcome -- to the rise in the U.S. of the nationalistic, some say isolationist, rhetoric embodied in said presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

The anger is understandable. The drop in real wages for the middle class, the loss of traditional jobs to foreign countries, to technology, and to immigrants, is something felt not just in the U.S. but worldwide. The frustration of bringing others inside already stressed economies is real. The issues of terrorism are real.

It's a pure coincidence that while all this talk of xenophobia and nationalism is going on I'm literally in the middle of tracking down some of my long-lost relatives in northern Germany. My wife Dolores, a genealogy buff and tenacious researcher, has a steady stream of ships' rosters, census reports and other bits of historical data flowing across her computer screen. Just last week she tracked down one Heinrich Horstmeier, whose family made it on board the Bremen ship Adler, steaming to America in October 1865. Most of my immigrant ancestors, farmers nearly all, were fleeing conscription to various European battlefields, religious persecution, poverty, or all the above.

The more things change...

As a short aside, I'd ask you to look again at that date. Grandpa Henry, as later U.S. census forms referred to him, was about to drop into a new country that was still bleeding and hate-filled from its ugliest war to date. That staying put in Germany was worse for my ancestor astounds me.

That he was allowed to come in, at that time in U.S. history, astounds me more.

His story is not the least bit unique, of course. Tens of millions of families have a similar tale to tell. It's never been easier to tell those stories, by the way, thanks to the Internet, DNA tests, and companies such as Ancestry.com.

Looked at through a personal prism, though, especially when combined with stories my grandmother shared about the trials and tribulations of her grandparents struggling to make their way to the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers and start anew, those otherwise unremarkable factoids ring against my temples given some of the rhetoric I'm hearing today.

Television networks carry ever-more-popular programming about families uncovering their stories. The irony that those programs are so popular while at the same time our national anger grows at those hoping to make their own new stories is hopefully not lost on us.

The world must now deal with the U.K.'s exit. It also will learn to deal with the independence of Scotland from the U.K. should that happen. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already said a second independence referendum "is on the table."

Those dice may be cast. But that doesn't mean others need to compound this growing global trend to nationalism. In agriculture, where so much of our livelihood depends on global trade, and where in so many areas the workforce depends on would-be new Americans, the downside risks are real.

The status quo is a mess, to be sure. We have scores of social and safety issues to work on if we're to continue growing in a global economy.

But I'd argue engaging national debate to answer those issues is a better use of time than arguing over who gets in our borders and when.

Wars, civil unrest and famine are what drive widespread migration and economic upheaval. Always have. Nationalism and walls won't fix it. Never have.

Greg Horstmeier



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