A Brief Note on American Parochialism

The United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union—more on that soon. American news outlets have noticed the existence of British politics for the first time that I can remember, and European politics for the first time since the peak of last summer’s refugee crisis.

The coverage, sadly but predictably, has been embarrassing in its narcissism. Rather than “How could this affect the post-war organization of the West?” or “Will the world’s largest and most successful integration project unravel?”, many American writers and journalists want to know how this impacts or reflects our own politics.

There are, indeed, plenty of parallels—reactions to immigration, deindustrialization/urban decay, and the growth of xenophobia, racism, and white nationalism—between the campaign to sever Britain’s ties with by far its largest trading partner, on the eastern side of the Atlantic, and the campaign run by the head of the Miss Universe pageant for control of the world’s second-largest nuclear arsenal, on the western side. However, these parallels are not, and should not be, the primary prism through which this news is covered. Brexit will have second-order effects on the United States and American politics (some lower growth, for a start), but why should this European question be turned into one that is about us?

It isn’t about us. It’s about Britain, and about Europe, and the media coverage needs to reflect that truth. Americans are woefully ill-informed about the world, and turning questions of international affairs into matters of our own domestic politics only reinforces our parochialism at the expense of broader knowledge.

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