The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Keep calm and what the hell just happened?

Keep calm, and PANIC. (Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)

Dang it, Britain, we thought you had things under control.

We were supposed to be the place where everything was on fire. You were supposed to keep calm and carry on. Were all of those posters a lie?

Torching the place for literally no reason other than to send a message about voter anger, we thought, was our special prerogative. In the Jane Austen novel of international life, we were supposed to be Marianne, the one with all the feelings. You were supposed to be Elinor, the sensible one. (DANG IT, WE READ ALL THESE BOOKS OF YOURS ABOUT PEOPLE IN THE COUNTRYSIDE DRINKING TEA FOR HOURS ON END BECAUSE WE THOUGHT YOU KNEW BETTER THAN WE DID!)

For anyone who was not paying attention to the Brexit, like most of us until Thursday night when it actually happened, it is the term for Britain leaving the European Union and throwing world markets into chaos. We had just assumed that Britain had things under control. David Cameron, the British prime minister — not to be confused with James Cameron, the guy who directed that big ship to sink, although I guess their résumés are roughly the same now — promised to call for a referendum on remaining in Europe and then actually had to go through with it when his Conservative party won such a large share of Parliament that they could not pretend to have forgotten about this bad idea. He has now promised to resign. The pound has dropped to its lowest value since 1985 — or possibly lower, let me Google this quickly! — and world stock indexes are in free fall, the only kind of fall you can afford if your money was in pounds.

Put more simply, the Brexit is like when Zayn left One Direction, but way, way worse. It is like when Chris Martin consciously uncoupled from Gwyneth Paltrow, but with actual consequences.

After months of campaigning, the "Leave" camp has won and Britain will leave the E.U. The Post's Adam Taylor talks about what that means for the U.K. and Europe (Video: Adam Taylor, Jason Aldag/The Washington Post)

There were other reasons for leaving the E.U. than simply the trade-off set up by Nigel Farage, head of the U.K. Independence Party, (whose last name comes from “farrago,” a confused mixture, the term that describes his speeches and ideas) but he and his party seized hold of the idea and made it a referendum on accepting free movement from the European Union as the price of free trade. He gave a totally not-creepy-at-all victory speech proclaiming this a victory for “the real people, the ordinary people, the decent people.” Other people who voted for it include the people who always want a socialist revolution and like to vote for anything that is likely to make capitalism suddenly collapse, and the usual People Who Don’t Realize This Actually Can Happen (the majority of voters these days). The people who were in favor of remaining were Basically All Experts (the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the International Monetary Fund, the Economist, the Financial Times), the parts of the world markets that fluctuate wildly when they think you are making a bad call, and Every Prime Minister of Britain Who Is Still Alive, but what do these establishment types know? Nothing! (Also in opposition, oddly enough, was Lindsay Lohan, who was frantically tweeting on Thursday night that “THIS IMPACT WILL CONTROL ALL MARGINS.“)

Follow Alexandra Petri's opinionsFollow

Stop-gap measures were tried. French people handed out croissants begging Britain not to go — and even that was not enough. Knowing that nothing makes a British person’s smart idea sound foolish like repeating it back to him in an American accent, Donald Trump loudly announced that he thought leaving the E.U. was probably a good idea, and even that didn’t work. If you hear Trump say a thing and is still sounds like a good idea to you, that is on you. Or on E.U., as the case may be.

Then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump spoke about Britain leaving the European Union in Turnberry, Scotland on June 24, 2016. (Video: Reuters)

Now people are frantically trying to buy gold, which is the market’s euphemistic way of saying that chaos and apocalypse are upon us. Gold is what you buy when you assume that soon the basis for currency will no longer be weighted, calculated strings of ones and zeroes but rather “What physical object is the shiniest?” Gold offers the added advantage of being something you can stare at in the dank caves of the post-apocalypse as you tell your grandchildren about how experts and multi-national conglomerates were the real villains.

All of this has come about thanks to a world that is increasingly suspicious of experts. Please, can we choose another category of people to be suspicious of other than experts, which is just another word for “people who have spent their entire lives trying to learn more about complex subjects than the average person, so that they can give us informed advice”? How about “non-experts”? How about “people who know less than we do but assure us that things will probably be fine”?

Look, I understand that experts are sometimes wrong, and sometimes they are in the pocket of big something, but do we honestly think our odds are better getting advice from people who explicitly don’t know what they’re talking about? This isn’t the Protestant Reformation, for crying out loud. It’s not like we can all stare at the same text and draw our own conclusions, Martin Luther-style, and decide that grace alone is sufficient. That’s not how you run the IMF.

I also understand being suspicious of the world economy, which as far as I can tell is a murky web of constantly fluctuating numbers (I also think this about baseball) and to prevail in it you have to be played by Christian Bale in a movie and run around in suspenders shouting for cocaine. For decades I thought that short-selling was something J. Crew did. But this is not a sign that the world market is rigged. It is a sign that I don’t know what I’m talking about.

The good news, I guess, is that this decision makes the dollar more valuable compared to the pound and has made Americans look smarter and more stable than we have in a long time, just as when your rational, put-together sister suddenly gets a face tattoo and joins a cult, you look better by comparison. But this is small compensation. If you are suddenly going to be the messy, loud one, this leaves no role for us. We are supposed to be the shambles, not you. If everyone is Bertie and no one is Jeeves, the world collapses.

We thought you were smarter than this. But you were just pulling the wool over our eyes all this time with the accents. When British people on TV try and fail to find love with the wrong people in a big house, it’s prestigious Sunday night viewing and we call it “Downton Abbey.” When we do it here, it’s called “The Bachelorette,” and it’s trash.

Similarly, sending a message that you are angry by voting against immigration and trade and sending your currency into a downward spiral in the U.K. is called the “Brexit,” whereas in America it is called “electing President Trump.”

And that, at least, has not happened yet. So, for now, we are the Elinor in this equation. Accents aside, we are the ones with our act together, and you are the chaotic shambles.

But check back in November.