Back in June presidential candidate Donald Trump likened the UK’s decision to leave the European Union to his bid to be US president. In some ways he’s not far off the mark. The same emotions that led the British public to vote 52 to 48 per cent in favour of leaving the EU, are the very same ones that have helped propel Trump to where he is today.
In short, it’s a disgruntled electorate, concerned about immigration and the loss of national pride who feel increasingly isolated from their ruling elite. On both sides of the Atlantic, the sentiment amongst certain parts of the population is the same: they feel lost and unrepresented.
Trump, like the Brexit camp, has built his campaign on the idea of making things better again, returning the nation to its good old ways, and blaming the influx of migrants for the deterioration of the country. Speaking back in June, Trump said: “come November, the American people will have the chance to re-declare their independence. Americans will have a chance to vote for trade, immigration and foreign policies that put our citizens first. They will have the chance to reject today’s rule by the global elite, and to embrace real change that delivers a government of, by and for the people.”
Speaking before the EU referendum, Brexit campaigner and Member of Parliament Michael Gove said the UK’s membership of the EU “prevents us from being able to change huge swathes of law and stops us being able to choose who makes critical decisions which affect all our lives. Laws which govern citizens in this country are decided by politicians from other nations who we never elected and can’t throw out.”
In reality, both campaigns lack any concrete details as to how the complex problems facing both nations could be solved and fail to grasp the consequences of their assertions. After all, much of the downward pressure on wages that in the past aggrieved many blue-collar workers is now impacting white-collar workers. It is also responsible for increasing our quality of life, allowing the proliferation of low-cost goods from jeans, to TVs and mobile phones, and in turn moving jobs to foreign locations and increasing the profits of large multinationals. The question facing these nationalist tendencies is whether the same people who voted for Brexit and are supporting Trump would be happy with a reduction in the quality of life from its present levels?
While Trump and the Brexit campaigners drastically simplified the issues, talking up the rise in immigration, painting a picture of migrants taking jobs and placing a drain on public services without paying their way, the reality is far more complex. The benefits of being part of trading groups such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the EU are often misunderstood, with cheap holidays, increased GDP and higher tax revenues all being among them. Understanding what the reality will be once both Brexit and the US election are behind us is incredibly complex and the likely repercussions of the non-intended consequences are more art than science.
What happens in the US on November 8th remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that the circumstances and opinions around both of the elections have revealed shortcomings in how we as nations look after society. People need to feel that they have some control, that their opinions are heard and that their leaders represent them. Without that they feel lost.