I’ve been talking about this lack of a resilient sense of self for years.
There is a subset of people, the core of Brexit-supporting Britain, who have been left bereft of a sense of autonomy, and have lashed out at Europe, when the problems they have are much closer to home. If your sense of autonomy is derived from the reflected glory of your nation, your ethnicity, your race, or your religion, then when any of these is “attacked”, you are afraid of a loss of self. But it’s worse than that, because these people that make up this core frequently have these three or four identities in a monolithic whole, they can’t sacrifice one, or even loosen its definition, in order to be inclusive. This core is English, not British; yet also of White British ethnicity; European (in the racial sense, i.e. white), and; Anglican or Protestant, not merely Christian.
People who identify as English, not British, overwhelmingly voted to leave. As did people who had no passport… and were probably angered by the Remain arguments that Brexit would make trans-European travel more difficult. Anglicans was the only religious group that voted overwhelmingly to leave — all others were either heavily in favour of remain or roughly evenly split. And we know about the spike in racially motivated crime straight after the referendum.
I am not saying that all of those that voted Leave are bigots, or Little Englanders, or religious zealots, but I am saying that a core group define themselves by two or three of these things — primarily their whiteness and Englishness — and they accrete around them people who define themselves by one or two of these things, and these people in turn attract people who are sympathetic to these views, whilst not having them as a central identity. And this last group of people — those that are sympathetic to the views, but do not have them as self-defining — is unaware that they are one degree of separation from, and ultimately supporting, the bigoted little Englanders that they are rightly appalled about being called.
This problem of a monolithic identity — White, English, nominally Christian — is why the bigots can’t cope with brown and black people being called British and Christian, so they retreat to being English, pretend that to be English is to be white and Christian, and that’s the patch of ground they’ll die on. Anything that attacks this, is a personal attack, as can be seen by the vehement response, by some, to brown people of the Muslim faith being called British.
For example, I have spoken with supporters of Tommy Robinson who are rightly appalled by the predominantly Pakistani/Muslim rape-gangs that have been in the news so much, and that have caused Robinson to be in the news. But when I point out that despite the awfulness of these gangs it is white men that are disproportionately represented in the rape statistics (c. 90% despite being around 80% of the population), they have nothing to say, and they certainly aren’t picketing each and every rape trial of a white offender to highlight this.
The sad thing is, these people are right to have voted Brexit. They have been let down by the government, their schooling, jobs programs, and even their parents (albeit that they, too, were let down). So, as a protest vote, it worked. Now, having the spotlight, they should be pushing for the support from central government that has been so sorely lacking. And so should everyone else. What they should not be doing is doubling down on Brexit, as this will only worsen the plight they were bringing to national attention. Many of these communities were in fact benefitting disproportionately from EU funding, the loss of which will be catastrophic.
You can, of course, replace the above with “Patriotic” American as distinct from the unpatriotic ones; White; European (in the racial sense, i.e. white), and; Evangelical, or at least Protestant. And this is the recipe for Trump… and everything else I said can be more or less applied in the same way (e.g. replace EU with Democrat or Bernie, depending upon how much you believe that Democrats are like Republicans).
Empowering people’s ability to define themselves by their own successes (and indeed their own magnificent failures) is key. Relying on belonging to single external sources of that definition leads to what we now have.