Britain's vote to leave the European Union is best described as a howl of rage from its working class. True, it was also the vote of the old versus that of the young, but decisive has been the anger of millions who feel modern Britain is leaving them behind.
In this sense, the referendum was not about the EU, but was rather a lightning rod for accumulated grievances that had no outlet in general elections and a stodgy political system that large swathes of the population now ignore – and feel ignored by.
And while unrestricted immigration from the EU was Leave voters’ primary concern, in very few parts of the country does it actually touch their lives. Rural areas with miniscule or even zero immigration were among the strongest Outers, while the one place utterly transformed by foreign workers – London – voted to remain. Again, immigration was a lightning rod for other grievances.
Nonetheless, it should never have come to this. Part of the blame must be laid on a Remain campaign that trotted out so many unbelievable, apocalyptic forecasts that the genuine warnings – notably the fact that a Leave vote would not end free movement of labour – were also dismissed.
The other obvious lesson is that referenda are an absurd way to decide issues as complex as the pros and cons of EU membership. Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer.
American readers may be drawing worrying parallels between Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump; indeed, the shock felt by many on Friday could be likened to falling asleep on election night with Hilary Clinton a dead cert, and waking to an orange future.
Like Brexiteers, Trump also draws on the insecurities wrought by globalization, and just as it seems strange that blue-collar Americans would choose a billionaire as their champion, working-class Brits have sided with right-wing ideologues mostly committed to dismantling safety nets for the poor.
However, one chink of light may be that, unlike Trump, Brexit proponents don’t fully believe their own story. Boris Johnson, the odds-on prime minister-in-waiting, vacillated before committing to the Leave campaign, and post-result wore the ashen-faced look of a man receiving a 10-metre stone phallus he drunkenly ebay-ed the night before.
The Brexit gun has been loaded, but it is hard to imagine him pulling the trigger.