USA TODAY US Edition
LOOKING BACK AT THE KEY TIPPING POINTS
Call me stupid, but I still think great journalism helps solve problems
— Everyone who voted for Brexit was stupid. All 17.4 million of them. And now we'll have to suffer because we were smart and they were not.
That knee-jerk reaction, heard around the world since last week's British referendum to leave the European Union is, well, even more ridiculous. The inability to see the other side of a political argument is not a British or American trait, but as old as human nature itself. It transcends every major social debate. Political parties, taxes, abortion, guns, even sports allegiances. It has become more acute in the last decade, fed by inequality, terrorism and perilous economic times, in ways that threaten the fabrics of our democracies. It has become more dangerous as well. OLDER BLOWBACK A look at the Brexit voting map spelled it out plainly. Outside of Scotland and Northern Ireland, only London really voted to stay. The rest of England and most of Wales chose to leave. The leave vote was overwhelmingly older, another clue into who was behind the "stupid" blowback. What could those older folks, many of whom can remember the painful years after World War II if not the war itself, possibly have to teach the young?
Those who remember when Britain stood alone against Hitler's conquered Europe for five devastating years — and without meaningful U.S. support — must be wrong about Europe this time. Stupid.
I am part of a seemingly dying breed of globalists, who believe a cooperative world will spell better economic and social conditions for all. The folks who are on the run these days in votes across Europe and polls in the U.S.
After four wonderful years as Editor-in-Chief at USA TODAY, I'm leaving today to move to New York and take a role as chief executive of The Street, a digital financial company with businesses in the U.S., the U.K. and India. In our challenged media world today, I see opportunity in working across cultures and different economies. Not just for business, but to promote understanding of each other's cultures, lives and dreams.
I lived in London years ago, and would have voted to remain, for all the benefits and opportunities a more united Europe offered. But I see the point of the leaves. They are not stupid. They simply had not been awarded those benefits over their lifetimes. They didn't see anything changing unless they took a stand. They see their cause as noble. It may be that now that they led global markets to the brink, a more sensible solution will be found. Big bureaucracies like the EU sometimes need a good fright before they respond.
Our own, excruciating gun rights debate here in the U.S., is also seen as noble by both sides. Protection of American constitutional rights vs. common sense safety regulations. Each side clings to its point. Meanwhile, the rest of the world, and those here who care to look, just see cold, devastating facts. DEADLY REPETITION After the Orlando shooting, I asked our data editor to look up how many mass killings we've had in the U.S. since I became editor in July 2012. Aurora, Newtown, San Bernardino, Orlando come to mind. In fact there have been 80 (defined as four or more deaths). Almost 500 dead in mass killings — almost all shootings and almost all by men — at an average rate of one every few weeks.
Does it really matter who is stupid here? That's not how the world looks at us each time an active shooting hits the news wires. Or how the families of innocent victims, hundreds of them, look at it. They look with great despair, as we might look at Britain this week. Two cultures, among the greatest the world has known, divided and frozen in deadly dispute over vital and solvable social challenges.
Tipping points are only recognized in hindsight. Maybe Brexit for the EU project? Maybe Orlando for guns? Probably not.
They are also only recognized through dogged and courageous reporting and commentary by dedicated journalists such as my colleagues at USA TODAY and others in our craft.
Call me stupid, but I still think great journalism will help solve these problems.
With day-to-day headlines, it's hard to see history taking shape. Without them, it's impossible.
David Callaway is leaving as editor in chief of USA TODAY to be chief executive of The Street. His opinions are his own and are separate from those of the Editorial Board.