Brexit and the Trump Phenomenon
I think it is finally time to write about American politics. Living abroad for two years in Africa I was not able to follow US politics or even geopolitics for that matter, so I needed time to observe and acclimate myself to the political climate and issues shaping the country. Now that I am two months back state-side I feel I have enough understanding to give my opinion on the state of politics. Specifically and not surprisingly I want to discuss the main development over the past year- the Trump phenomenon. The rise of Trump to me is a mystery and its origins opaque but his popularity and Republican nomination are startling, shocking, scary and significant. Especially after the surprise decision by the majority of UK citizens to leave the European Union, which shares similar characteristics to America’s own political upheaval, I believe now is the perfect time to voice my opinion on the polarizing celebrity.
On June 23rd, the United Kingdom surprisingly voted for a referendum to leave the European Union (EU) known as Brexit that shocked not only Britain but the entire World. Few believed it would happen, including the leaders in favor of the separation, and now they are scrambling to cope with the decision. Immediately after the votes came official with 52% in favor of leaving and 48% wishing to remain the stock markets tanked, Britain’s debt devalued, and the Pound Sterling (Britain’s currency) fell to its lowest value in over 30 years. This was not the economic outcome many supporters of the referendum were hoping for. People who voted for the referendum to leave the UK were doing so for three reasons- economic, political, and immigration control. By leaving the European Union, supporters believed they were unburdening themselves of bureaucratic red-tape that would save them money and increase trade and sell of British goods. Turns out this promise was greatly exaggerated if not a blatant lie. In fact leaving the Union will hurt British exports (as new and potentially none-free trade deals will have to be written) and no money is being saved to be used for the National Health Services (NHS) as promised. Political autonomy also was not achieved either- yes they no longer are a part of the European Union but they still have to negotiate with the geopolitical body and will still have to follow some of their governing decisions. Actually leaving the Union might hurt Britain politically as they will no longer have a strong voice in future EU policy. Finally, Brexit will not stabilize or stop immigration into Britain that many supporters believed would happen. Britain still has to follow its own immigration laws and almost all new trade deals with other countries and the EU will also have statues and rules governing immigration and migrant workers (an aspect I believe few supporters knew about). Thus, the main reasons for leaving the EU are erroneous and actually hurt Britain’s economy showed by the immediate aftermaths of the decision.
So if the decision now appears illogical why would the majority of citizens vote against themselves? Here is where we start to see and draw comparisons to America’s own political situation. First supporters of Brexit were hoodwinked. Politicians used false data and figures to promote their special interest. Now politicians lying are nothing new, but they were able to deceive their constituents by using sentimental crowd controlling rhetoric that touches voters’ primary fears and anxieties. Leaders of Brexit used racism, nativism, xenophobia and nostalgia to elicit strong negative emotions toward the European Union. These emotions allowed people to either ignore the facts or believe in the fallacy of leaving. By touching on peoples primal fears by using propaganda similar to Nazi Germany, Brexit leaders were able to distort the facts and underlying issues to have an educated public. Instead supporters believed immigrants were flooding their country to a breaking point and destroying the economy by taking over jobs and lowering wages. Politicians for Brexit went even further taping into citizens’ fear of safety insinuating many of these immigrants were violent or even terrorists. They then tapped into citizens’ nativism and nostalgia for the past, pronouncing Britain was great and powerful but is no longer due to the massive influx of immigrants that don’t share the same values, have the same skills and profit of the Islands limited resources. The longing for the past- where everything was safer, easier, simpler, and whiter- is classic demagogue rhetoric used by fascists and dictators like Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot to manipulate the masses to do their will; and sadly this tactic is now being used in Britain and in America.
In America, Donald Trump is a modern day demagogue. He like the Brexit leaders is spewing hateful rhetoric masked as policy. He incites racism and xenophobia when discussing immigrants crossing the border into America, declaring most as criminals (sex traffickers, drug mules, etc.) that a destroying American culture and economy by taking jobs, lowering wages, and making America unsafe. He is racist when he describes them as essentially wetbacks who are lazy, poor and dirty and who refuse to understand English or American culture. Well Trump which one is it? These immigrants cannot be lazy criminals yet are still taking American jobs. That is oxymoronic and illogical. Unless he is saying white Americans are even more lazy and dangerous (which statistically maybe correct). His illogical solution is to build a wall that is going to be “big and beautiful”. Trump the opportunists knows how to manipulate people’s emotions to make the illogical seem logical. Trump’s campaign slogan of “Make America Great Again” is deliberate nostalgic rhetoric that obviously has worked, though Trump declines to say when and what made America great leaving it up to supporters to make their own historical romanticism. So Trump is using the same tactics as Brexit politicians; which until last Thursday was widely believed couldn’t win at any national level. Well the results of Brexit should awaken the populace that the rise of Trump is real and a real danger.
Now most Trump supporters have probably already stopped reading because I have said they are accepting of racist and nationalistic vitriol, if not racists themselves; however I wish to point out what I believe this the main reason supporters rally around Trump and the main reason for Trump’s success (as well as Brexit). Simply put the majority of citizens in the US and UK are tired of the system. People hate politics and politicians so much they want anything but. And frankly I cannot blame them either. People, myself included, feel so disenfranchised by the system that they want nothing to do with it. They feel ignored and used- their vote doesn’t count, their voice doesn’t matter, and no-one is representing them- and they are right. Wages have stagnated- the average income adjusted for inflation is less than it was in the 1970s and the standard of living has declined (for the first time in US history the next generation will be worse off than their parents). Employment opportunities have shrunk and good jobs have been outsourced while personal debt is crippling most citizens. At the same time, income inequality is at an all-time high with the top one-tenth of 1 percent own as much wealth as the bottom 90%, and 99% of the economic gains since the recession have gone to the top 1 percent. Clearly the system is not working for the average person. Add all this up to a political system funded by elites where Congress- which is less favorable than a colonoscopy- refuses to do its job, large scale corruption is the norm, the executive office continues to increase its power and scope, and you get a large majority of citizens angry to the core. This anger will turn to the antithesis of the status quo; specifically to someone who is resolutely an anti-politician and shares a similar sentiment. Trump. This point is lost on most politicians and political pundits as their passion and careers rely on the current system.
I saw this first hand when I attended a Trump political rally in Spokane. Most people there were older (45+ years) and from lower-income classes but all were there to have a good time and listen to Trump bash politics, politicians and the press. It felt more like a rodeo or comedy show than a campaign rally. Trump rambled unscripted incomplete sentences for more than an hour insulting anyone of the establishment much to the glee of the crowd. He knew how to win the crowd and if he said something the supporters did not agree with (like the Iraq War being a total mistake) he would immediately restate a slogan or sentiment that triggered this pent up rage and anxiety. After talking to people at the rally most were angry at the same issues the only difference being how to solve these problems. Really the rally was a way for everyone to vent their frustration and Trump the celebrity opportunist did a masterful job tapping into this anger. For myself the show was hysterical, I could not stop laughing and the same could be said for most people, everyone was enjoying themselves.
This anger of the political system in America is the same anger Britain’s felt toward their own, and this anger lead the majority of Britain’s to give their elites and politicians the middle finger by voting to leave the UK. The majority of politicians pleaded for Britain to stay so the majority of citizens said go. Brexit should warn people in America that the threat of Trump is real, very real. Unfortunately the alternative to Trump is going to be Hillary Clinton perhaps the most symbolic figure of the current political system. And when deciding between a “Douche and a Turd Sandwich” Americans are likely to vote for something they haven’t seen, a celebrity rather than a politician. Personally neither is very appetizing, though Hillary would at least probably not cause another recession. So what can the American public do?
Well if the vote in Britain can give us any clues there are two things that need to be done. First the Democrats, following Bernie’s lead need to run a populace campaign against the establishment. They need to focus their efforts in significantly reducing income inequality and returning the government back to a democratic system instead to the plutocracy or corpocracy we have today ( like reversing Citizens United). Secondly as the voting demographics of Brexit shows American youths need to come out in mass to vote. Adults 44 to 18 actually voted for remaining in the EU, unfortunately an overwhelming majority of adults over 65 voted to leave (which makes the decision even sadder as the people most affected by leaving are young adults). If the young voters went out in mass to vote, Britain would likely still be a part of the EU. Thus, if Americans want a different result than young adults need a gigantic voting turnout to accurately reflect America’s values and ideas. Only a movement of the masses who hold America’s future can stop the phenomenon of Donald Trump.
Let us not be angered and hoodwinked into an uncertain future and rally our voices as one so finally we can be heard.
(A few other pundits and politicians also share the same viewpoint of the phenomenon that is happening not just in America but all across the globe. Actually as I was writing this post two people, Bernie Sanders and Trevor Noah whom I think very highly of, had similar opinions on Brexit and Trump. In fact their analysis is probably superior because they are very articulate and skilled orators. Here is a link to Bernie’s op-ed in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/29/opinion/campaign-stops/bernie-sanders-democrats-need-to-wake-up.html?ref=opinion&_r=0. And below I attached the segment on Brexit and Trump by Trevor on the Daily Show.
The Daily Show clip: http://www.cc.com/video-clips/o1zbpc/the-daily-show-with-trevor-noah-brexit-breakdown)