IN CRISIS

The US and UK have let xenophobia bring them to the brink

Fair question.
Fair question.
Image: AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
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Just how much are the UK and the US ready to sacrifice in order to keep their neighbors out? Both countries are ending another tense week of trying to answer this question.

In the UK, prime minister Theresa May barely survived a no-confidence vote, and the country still has no Brexit deal—nor any clarity on whether it should continue with the process. So far, that process has contributed to the economy suffering a 2.1% contraction, and a no-deal Brexit could make the situation worse than it was in 2008.

Meanwhile, the US is enduring the longest-ever government shutdown, which has left 800,000 federal workers without pay and could cost the economy more than $6 billion, as the president holds the budget hostage over his campaign promise of a “big, beautiful wall” on the southern border. Eventually, a prolonged shutdown could help push the US into a recession (paywall) as well.

Brexit, the border wall, the federal shutdown: These all stem from the same political pursuit to keep immigrants out. The issue has been sold as economic—people worried for their jobs, their savings, their welfare. But given the losses that supporters of Brexit and the border wall are willing to accept, it’s increasingly clear that xenophobia is at the core of their efforts.

Xenophobia is a composite of two words from ancient Greek, one (φόβος) meaning “fear” and the other (ξένος) “stranger” or “enemy” (or even “guest,” which can also be a way to describe an immigrant). But as we watch these two nations bend over backwards in order to keep out a relatively small number of foreigners, even if it harms their own people’s well-being, “fear” does not seem to be the right word.

“Hatred” does. A hatred of the foreigner portrayed as dangerous, ill-intentioned, and undeserving. And not just any foreigner: the poor, the jobless, the non-white. Also the non-Christian: Trump recently tweeted about “prayer rugs” allegedly found at the border—the ultimate sign of its dangerousness.

All that is ironic, given what these governments are hanging themselves up for: a hatred that’s quietly growing so large it’s destroying their stability from within, all for fear of someone coming from the outside to do the same.

A version of this post was originally published in the weekend edition of the Quartz Daily Brief. Sign up for it here.