Why the Brexit movement is like Trump's coalition

25 June 2016 2:55 pm

So does the Brexit vote tell us that Donald Trump will be the next president?

Writing in Ha’aretz,Chemi Shalev says the Brexit vote which defied opinion polls, bookmakers and politicians has made the election of Trump a distinct possibility.

“Like the recent elections in Israel, the shock British results showed that experts and analysts suffer from groupthink, that purported opinion-makers are anything but, that polls increasingly fail to detect underwater currents that surface just in time to determine outcomes and that in politics, at least, yesterday’s unthinkable is today’s breaking news,’’ Shalev writes. “If conservative Great Britain can ignore universal warnings and launch a process that most of the world considers catastrophic, than daredevil America can certainly follow in its footsteps, and more so…Perhaps this is the essence of the fear that has gripped much of the world in the wake of the shock British vote: that we are once again caught in a chain reaction that could lead, among other things, to the election of an eminently unqualified candidate that many consider to be a dangerous demagogue as leader of the free world. And that it’s too late for anyone to stop.”

There’s a reason for this. The truth is Trump’s coalition looks a lot like Brexit voters.

On a superficial level, Trump and U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage are using racism for political ends. Trump has presented visions of America overrun by Mexican felons and Muslim terrorists. UKIP printed up campaign posters showing thousands of dark-colored refugees lining up to enter Slovenia, which is part of the E.U., next to the words “BREAKING POINT: The EU has failed us all.”

But then, racism have been around forever as have demagogues who have exploited it. The similarities between the two camps go a lot deeper than that. Brexit and Trump are about a total rejection of globalisation.

Both camps are fuelled by older, working-class whites spurred by nationalism and nostalgia for a bygone era. Their economic prospects have diminished in an era of globalization, and they feel that immigration is damaging their pocketbooks and their cultural identity. And they think the elites aren't listening.

"They're frighteningly close," Mary Nugent, a doctoral candidate who teaches U.K. politics at Rutgers University told Bloomberg. "The demographic breakdown is also similar in that overwhelmingly lower-educated and lower-income people voted for Brexit.That's true of Trump supporters as well. It's an expression of disaffected, mostly white voters and an expression of the feeling of not being heard."

Their slogans evoke the same sense of nostalgia. Trump would "Make America Great Again." The Leave campaign vowed to "Take Back Control."

“They look back on a past where they were an economically significant part of the economy,’’ Sunderland said. “Pittsburgh has a lot of nostalgia for its former role in making steel. That's similar to Sunderland and its shipbuilding community."


As John Cassidy writes in the New Yorker, the link between Trump and Brexit voters run deep.

He points out that in the United States, it is no coincidence that Trump is doing well in the Rust Belt and other deindustrialized areas. A one-two punch of automation and offshoring has battered these regions, leaving many of their residents ill-equipped to prosper in today’s economy. Similarly, it is not an accident that UKIP is popular in the former mill towns of northern England, in the engineering belt of the West Midlands, and in working-class exurbs of London.

Cassidy writes: “Lacking grounds for optimism, and feeling remote from the levers of power, the disappointed nurse their grievances—until along come politicians who tell them that they are right to be angry, that their resentments are justified, and that they should be mad not just at the winners but at immigrants, too. Trump and Farage are the latest and most successful of these political opportunists. Sadly, they are unlikely to be the last.”