More than 200 attendees filled the seats at the Ulmer Planetarium at Lock Haven University Friday night to hear Nigel Farage, a member of the European Parliament and leader of the Brexit Party, give a speech on the rise of populism.
Farage, twice the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party and sometimes known as “the godfather of Brexit,” opened by recounting a series of remarkable political events from recent years — including the vote for Britain to leave the European Union known as “Brexit,” the election of Donald Trump in the United States and the Five Star movement in Italy — as evidence of what he said was the rise of global populism.
He said the modern populism we’re experiencing now stemmed from the breakdown of the “notion of nation states” after World War II.
“Populism, the Brexit vote, the Trump election, the new government in Italy are all now reactions against that post-1945 settlement, which has effectively left many of us feeling we’re not living in democratic nation states,” Farage said, calling himself “the only person alive on earth who has a stake in all three of those things.”
He talked about the failure of British Prime Minister Theresa May’s leadership in executing Brexit by the original March deadline, the criticism that condemns him as a racist, his support for President Trump and even the Mueller report as an example of “the swamp” refusing to accept the populist changes happening in politics.
“And indeed, in states like these, if the little people were prepared to stand up and fight against the big vested interests, against the big money, against the big politics — in our case, it was Brussels; or, in Trump’s case, it was Washington — then perhaps, a surprise victory could happen here, too,” he said.
Seven Surack, a field representative with Turning Point USA, helped organize the event, along with Lock Haven University’s Young Americans Liberty chapter and the Young America’s Foundation. He thinks events like Brexit and the Trump presidency bring a different point of view in politics.
“I think that in many ways, they can be seen as part of a larger global populist movement, where people sort of get together and they say, ‘We’ve had our wishes ignored by the politicians for how many decades now? We’re sick of it. We want someone who’s going to give us what we ask for.’ I think that’s the connection there,” Surack said.
Sarah Snyder, a senior in sociology and criminal justice at Lock Haven University, said she was “really surprised” that Farage was coming to her school and wanted to learn about how Brexit and other current events impact day-to-day lives.
Snyder said, it’s good to hear some conservative speakers, “with a lot of the college level students nowadays being more liberal and more Democratic.”
Some students and faculty members opposed Farage’s appearance on campus. They countered the event by inviting Tameka Hatcher with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission to speak on campus on Thursday about the strength of diversity.