Looking for the ‘reset’ button

Brexit vote raises questions about U.S. election

The so-called Brexit vote in Great Britain has caused a lot of concern and comment worldwide, and in some quarters it has been analogized to the American presidential primaries recently ended. In both cases, public officials, party leaders and even voters who have voted in favor of the winning side have expressed the desire to do it all again, looking for the “reset” button.

In Great Britain, many voters claimed not to have understood the ramifications of a “yes” vote to leave the European Union. Indeed, even leaders of the effort to leave indicated after the vote that promised results, including decreased immigration and increased funds available for national health care, probably were false promises. There was talk in Scotland of trying to stay in the EU as well as talk there and in Northern Ireland of leaving the United Kingdom as a result of the outcome of the referendum. 

Prime Minister David Cameron, who called the referendum on the assumption that it would fail and as a campaign ploy to retain his position, may have made one of the most historic and colossal blunders ever in electoral politics anywhere. 

Notwithstanding all of this, however, calls in Parliament and elsewhere for a second vote to rectify the first one were rejected by Cameron, at least at this writing, although many were still talking about how to avoid the result.

It is not hard to envision reasons why such a revote would be justifiable, given the admissions of misleading campaign promises, but if falsity of campaign information were the basis to hold new votes, no election ever would be final. 

In the United States, many Republican leaders and ordinary voters desperately wish to find the reset button so that the primary process can start again, assumedly with different results. Democrats are faced with a candidate, although broadly supported by the party leadership, who has record negative ratings, exceeded only by her Republican rival’s. It is understandable why American voters might wish to start again, but that is not going to happen. 

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, appearing on late-night television, commented on the situation both in Great Britain and the United States by noting that mere dissatisfaction with the status quo and general unease among middle-class voters is no reason to endorse a promise that things will change without knowing the ramifications, either in the case of Britain by leaving the EU or in the case of the U.S. by nominating Donald Trump.

Blair stated that merely saying things would be “great again, great again, great again,” without more, is not a platform or program rational people would support. 

Nevertheless, polls announced the end of June, indicate that the American presidential race is close and, given the analogy to the EU, Mr. Trump, while trailing, should not be ignored or taken lightly by those who assume he cannot be elected.

Remember, the British assumed that a “no” vote on the Brexit referendum would close the door on that discussion once and for all. 

They were wrong and surprised. 

Unfortunately, no matter how hard British or American voters look or wish, there is no reset button. This is a reminder to everyone that each voter should vote only after thinking through the ramifications of the vote carefully. 

Fortunately, after writing the above, I had an appointment at UNH in Durham and got to drive there on a beautiful summer day the week before July 4th.

As I drove into the UNH campus, seeing various tours of transfer and newly admitted students, athletic camp participants, and other groups, it occurred to me that it was the week before the Fourth of July in 1966 that I went to Durham for a three-day summer orientation to what would become my alma mater.

Anyone doing the math will quickly note that was fifty years ago exactly. Walking around the campus, which has expanded significantly in a half century, seeing the construction of new athletic facilities, renovation of classic buildings like Hamilton Smith Hall (the original UNH library), and noting the bright, enthusiastic young people about to have their version of the great UNH college experience prior generations of students have enjoyed, gave hope and optimism. A lot has changed in its educational offerings in the last fifty years, as well as physically on campus. 

Leaving campus, I thought for a minute of how much fun it would be to join the new students on their journey. But I could not find that “reset button” either.

Brad Cook, a shareholder in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green, heads its government relations and estate planning groups. 

Categories: Cook on Concord