I heard about yesterday's British referendum in a village called Liscannor, in the western Irish hinterlands, hard by the Atlantic Ocean. It's a place that makes me appreciate the European Union and worry about all the possible consequences of the British vote to leave it.
My wife and I had breakfast in a little bakery and coffee shop called Sea Salt on Liscannor's main road. The shop seemed to symbolize all the benefits that have come to Ireland as a result of the EU.
That's one of the staff members, a baker named Charlie Moraghan, in the picture above. But Charlie was the only native-born Irishman we encountered in Sea Salt. One of the waitresses was from Denmark. The other was from France. The owner was named Fabiola, and although she was too busy to tell me where she came from, I doubt that it was Ireland.
Some might say that these migrants have taken jobs that might have gone to the Irish, but I doubt it. I think that the influx of European influences into Ireland, of which the Sea Salt is a small example, has created jobs that would not otherwise exist.
Certainly, when I first visited Ireland in the pre-EU days, I didn't eat in any places like Sea Salt. Ireland was a no-go for foodies. You felt lucky if you could get a "mixed grill"--a plate of overcooked meats--and a Guinness for supper in some dreary pub. In Sea Salt, there was an attractive and eclectic array of baked goods for sale. I had a blueberry scone and Ann had a brioche. There were tarts and little cakes and other delicacies. The decor was bright and imaginative, with one window decorated with old millstones that bakers once used to grind flour.
When you see the results of immigration on a personal level, as in Sea Salt, it's easy to appreciate the benefits that come from the cross-pollination of European cultures. It's easy to see immigrants as hard-working, aspiring people who make a big contribution to their adopted countries.
It's when people contemplate immigration from an impersonal distance that they start to worry about dark hordes engulfing their countries. That kind of fear apparently drove the Brexit vote, and I know it's behind the Donald Trump phenomenon in the United States.
I can understand this fear. I am by no means opposed to immigration, and I am contemptuous of Trump's scheme to build a wall along the Mexican border and his ridiculous boast that he'll get Mexico to pay for it. But I do think the United States has to get a better handle on how many immigrants get into the country in a given year and regulate that number with an eye toward improving employment prospects for our own citizens.
The problem is that when people are afraid, and their fears are exacerbated by demagogues like Trump, they can vote against their own interests.
That's what I'm afraid happened with the Brexit vote. I hope that more level-headed Brits control the separation process and can somehow salvage some of the benefits that came with the EU. I hope that Britain's exit does not, as it now seems likely to do, lead to the breakup of the United Kingdom, with Scotland exiting. I hope it doesn't lead to the further dissolution of the EU. And I hope that if there are any level heads among Trump supporters, what happened in Britain yesterday causes them to think twice about the dangers of what they're doing.