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What The Brexit Means For The U.S. Presidential Election

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What The Brexit Means For The U.S. Presidential Election

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks following a news conference, at his Turnberry golf course, in Turnberry, Scotland, Britain June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

As the world still reels in shock at Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, many are saying that the success of the “Leave” campaign represents a dangerous sign of hope for Donald Trump.

Not unlike Bernie Sanders’ campaign in the Democratic primaries, Trump has framed his candidacy as a grassroots movement that went against establishment politics and the dominance of political elites.

And as the Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum wrote, the Brexit debate transcended the policy debates typical in the UK’s elections, instead focusing on polarizing topics like immigration and nationalism:

“Identity politics trumped economics; arguments about “independence” and “sovereignty” defeated arguments about British influence and importance. The advice of once-trusted institutions was ignored. Elected leaders were swept aside. If that kind of transformation can take place in the U.K., then it can happen in the United States, too. We have been warned.”

This parallel was not lost on Trump himself either, who compared the “Leave” campaign to his own candidacy for president at a press conference in Scotland on Friday.

“People want to take their country back, and they want to have independence in a sense,” he said. “They took their country back, just like we will take America back.”

For once, he may be right. The xenophobic, nationalist impulse so inextricable from his campaign was the same sort of reasoning that fueled the success of the Brexit. In some sense, plans for a ban on Muslim immigration and a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border are no different than Britons’ fears regarding an influx of Syrian refugees through Turkey.

Perhaps most importantly, though, it’s worth noting that support for both Trump and Leave first came into being because a mainstream, right-wing political party was overtaken by fringe conservatism.

Kim Soffen, also of The Washington Post, accurately notes that the British electorate is much more homogenous than the U.S. population — which made it easier for anti-immigrant impulse to catch on — and that Leave’s success rested more on high turnout rather than lots of support.

Still, the numerous interviews with voters who acted “in protest” (or failed to turn out entirely) and didn’t truthfully believe that a Brexit would win should serve as a stark reminder of the consequences of this kind of political activity.

While polls and pundits alike are pointing to the improbability of a Trump victory in November, a win for the Leave campaign points in the opposite direction. If anything, the success of the Brexit means that fringe, anti-establishment politics cannot be written off so quickly.


Photo: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks following a news conference, at his Turnberry golf course, in Turnberry, Scotland, Britain June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne



  1. Dominick Vila June 24, 2016

    I disagree with the notion that the main reason for Great Britain to leave the EU is opposition to immigration or multi-culturalism. There are many reasons for the dissatisfaction of so many Britons including resentment with having to comply with policies established and enforced by politicians in Brussels that were not elected by them, or anyone else for that matter. They disagreed with EU austerity measures that have been impacting their social programs, way of life, and employment opportunities. They resented having to bail out weaker EU economies. Immigration, or more accurately, acceptance of tens of thousands of Muslim refugees, contributed to this decision, but there was a lot more to it than just that.
    Fear of foreign influences was not one of them. A cursory look at the history of Great Britain, focused on imperialism and multi-culturalism, would reveal that social changes was probably the least important factor for this decision. When they talk about sovereignty, they are talking about officials in Brussels making decisions that affect their lives, not the fact that ethnic minorities are taking over their country, or may threaten their security.

    1. JPHALL June 24, 2016

      Still refusing to acknowledge that many in the UK are racist and have been for centuries I see. And this refusal flies in the face of the many anti-immigrant statements made by the leave forces.

      1. Dominick Vila June 25, 2016

        I am sure there are as many racist people in the UK, as there are in most countries. However, based on personal experience, I would not characterize the British people as racist.
        Our media, and the special interests that own it, are focusing on immigration and Syrian refugees, most of the European media is highlighting the disgust that so many Britons felt at having Brussels dictate what was best for them, including the obligation to bail out failed states, and implementing austerity measures that were inconsistent with their preferences. The loss of sovereignty was more important for most of those who voted for Brexit, than immigration, which is a concern for many, but not for the majority of the British people.
        What those who are incensed by the presence of foreigners in their homeland are ignoring is that what they have seen during the past several decades is the direct result of colonialism and imperialism. They are ripping the fruits of the Commonwealth, the British Mandate, and so many other foreign adventures.

        1. JPHALL June 27, 2016

          Things in both the UK and the USA are so much better than past years. However, those attitudes still remain strong in a surprisingly large number of people in both countries. My relatives in the UK remind me that appearances are often not the reality. People still mumble things under their breath when they pass and Indians and Pakistanis face worst discrimination than Blacks now.
          Subject: Re: Comment on What The Brexit Means For The U.S. Presidential Election

          1. Dominick Vila June 28, 2016

            We have close relatives in England, Sweden, France, Spain, and Venezuela.
            Considering that the largest influx of people into the UK comes from India, Pakistan, and Poland, the Brexit will only affect the latter. According to an interview I heard yesterday on NPR, about half of the Poles living and working in the UK plan to leave as soon as the terms of the “divorce” are finalized.
            Getting rid of former British Commonwealth citizens is more difficult than it seems and, again, the Brexit is irrelevant in that case.
            I wonder what the tens of thousands of Brits (what they call ex-pats) living and/or working in EU countries are going to do, now that they are about to become foreigners without entry and residence visas or work permits.
            The UK will probably pursue an arrangement similar to the one that Norway has with the EU, whether or not the EU accepts it remains to be seen. I think a lot of people are beginning to realize that they made a horrible mistake. Unfortunately, national and personal pride will now keep them from having another referendum and doing a U-turn.


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