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"This is what happens when you try and fix a faulty watch with a hammer."

J.K. Rowling, tweeting her reaction to Thursday's "Brexit" vote

A hopeful union of nations, formed out of the ashes of what was then only the most recent of Europe's ruinous wars, is falling apart due to a global wave of fear, insularity and xenophobia.

It is a phenomenon clearly and sadly helped along by decades of the supposedly wise elites too often forgetting to keep the interests, the desires and, yes, even the prejudices of the people in mind as they labored to save the world by making it more open, accommodating and free.

Thursday's shocking, and foolish, vote by the people of the United Kingdom to give up their membership in the European Union matters, not just there, but in the United States, and in Utah.

Prime Minister David Cameron's bet that he could only solidify Britain's EU links by putting them to a vote fell to the same global virus of wall-building jingoism that has empowered a thuggish pitchman to all but destroy the Party of Lincoln and come close to the White House.

It is the same fear of the other that has frustrated needed immigration reform in Congress, leaving the Supreme Court to block, as executive overreach, President Obama's wise and humane attempts to do what the Senate and House have refused to even consider.

It is the same paranoia that moves Utah politicians to habitually push back against the federal government, deny their constituents the benefits of real health care reform, build a wall around Utah's educational system and move to seize millions of acres of land that clearly belong to the nation and its people.

It is the same way of thinking — in its most frustrated, extreme form — that justifies such actions as training arms on federal officials in the performance of their duties, occupying public lands, even attempting to bomb the offices of public agencies.

It is all a pathetic fantasy that our problems — many imagined, some very real — could be solved by returning to a time and a way of life that, if it ever existed at all, depended on brute force and clannish loyalties.

The globalized, digitized economy that has arisen in the last generation has indeed left many people behind. Our institutions, public and private, have far too often failed the challenge of helping those who have devoted their lives to working in rapidly obsolescent industries to adapt to, and benefit from, all these changes.

But a rising cohort of better educated, more cosmopolitan and open-minded people is adapting, often thriving, in a world where the best and brightest can follow their talents and ambitions to such places as Silicon Valley. Or to Utah's Silicon Slopes. Or, until now, to London, Oxford and Cambridge.

People who know that immigration, trade and global cooperation are good for the economies of developed and of developing nations have not had to explain that to many younger people, such as those who voted in the U.K. to remain in the EU. And they have failed to reach their frightened elders, who voted to leave.

This same grumpy, frightened and irrationally nostalgic constituency has made its voice heard in many other places, including this year's Republican presidential primaries in the United States.

Only when it is seen for what it is can we hope to overcome it.