by Janice Van Cleve -
Special to the SGN
As soon as the results of the British referendum to leave the European Union became known, the media fell all over themselves trying to draw connections between that vote and Donald Trump. CNN headlined, 'Does Brexit mean Donald Trump will win U.S. election?' and Last Week Tonight host John Oliver warned that the disaster of Brexit in England could happen in America if people voted for Trump.
Trump, of course, had his own take on Brexit. He arrived in Scotland to open his new golf course and gave an impromptu press conference at which he said, 'People are taking their country back. What happened here is happening around the world - it's happening in the United States.' He also congratulated himself for being right and claimed that Brexit could be good for business - his business. He said Brexit was the will of the people. When asked what he would do about it as president, he said, 'Let it play itself out.' He criticized Obama and Clinton for poking their noses in British affairs.
Liberals, of course, plunged right in to nitpick Trump's statements, calling them 'bizarre' (The Washington Post) and 'intellectually lazy' (CNN). They gasped at his ignorance even as they quoted him - as if his ignorance were obvious. The problem is, his ignorance is only obvious to liberals. Remember the 2000 election? Liberals made the same assumption about the ignorant George W. Bush, yet Bush won. Now Brexit has won, and if we are not careful, Trump could win.
The fact is, Trump is tapping into a strong undercurrent that seems to be worldwide. Many people are feeling a loss of control over their own destinies. The global economy, the World Bank, Wall Street, the European Union, big trade deals, big governments, the World Trade Organization - all feel like they are running people's lives and there is nothing we can do about it. Cleverly hidden behind all these fronts are global corporations and the one percent who have left the 99 percent behind.
People are reacting and social media carries their feelings more widely and more quickly than ever before. Scotland nearly voted to leave the United Kingdom in 2014 and may try again in order to stay in the E.U. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Czechoslovakia broke in two in 1993. Yugoslavia disintegrated by 2000. Libya, Sudan, and Ethiopia lost pieces of themselves. The Kurds, Chechens, Uighurs, Palestinians, Basques, and Catalans all want their own countries. These movements are not about isolationism. These people still want to trade and travel and participate in the larger world, but they want self-determination at home.
Self-determination often meshes with ethnic identity. One of the strongest motives for Brexit was opposition to immigration, a sentiment mainly aimed at Eastern Europeans but also at Syrians, Iraqis, and Afghans fleeing war zones. The same anti-immigration motive caused Hungary, Macedonia, Austria, and Poland to build fences and increase border security to keep out refugees from the Middle East. A growing number of French, Germans, Dutch, and Swedes fear that the influx of so many non-Europeans will dilute their cultural heritage and their ethnic identity.
It is important, I believe, not to confuse ethnic identity with racism. They are two entirely different things - although, granted, the former can morph into the latter. Racism demeans others while ethnic identity proclaims oneself. Brexit's anti-immigration motive was largely ethnic and those who voted to leave saw the European Union as the vehicle that was holding the door open for this immigration. Trump's anti-immigration proposal for a wall along the Mexican border is largely economic in principle, but he uses it to play on the fears of his target audience, some of whom are clearly racist.
And this is the answer to what the connection is between Brexit and Trump: There isn't one. Brexit was a popular vote motivated by a population that wants more say in their future and which fears the loss of their ethnic and cultural identity. Trump, by contrast, already charts his own future and breaks all the rules doing so. His supporters like that about him and want it for themselves. Whatever elements of self-determination, ethnic identity, religious conviction, business acumen, or political ambition Trump possesses, they are all overshadowed by his own self-promotion. He is in the game for his own ego and in the process is overturning the Establishment to the delight of his followers.
Brexit will not break Europe, nor will it break the world economy. After the initial shock, the Dow roared up 269 points on Tuesday. Stock markets in Britain, France, and Germany all recovered ground as well. Even the euro and the British pound regained a bit. Markets will continue to fluctuate, of course, but this rebound happened only five days after the vote.
A vote for president of the United States, on the other hand, will impact the world for a minimum of four years - and with the power to appoint Supreme Court justices, a vote for president could impact the United States for much longer.
Janice Van Cleve is a political activist in Seattle.
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