Is Brexit a harbinger of Trumpism?

    People gather around the car of British MP Boris Johnson

    People gather around the car of British MP Boris Johnson

    With apologies to the climactic song in “Les Miserables,” here are the self-destructive Brits who voted yesterday to exit the European Union. Cue the music!

    Do you hear the people sing Singing the song of angry men We will crash the British pound Against the dollar and the yen, When the pounding in our brains Echoes the poison in our guts That is when the world will know That we’re going nuts.

    That’s what happens when voters surrender to their basest, stupidest instincts. This morning, one “Brexit” voter, identified only as Adam, told the BBC, “I’m shocked and worried. I voted Leave but … I never thought it would actually happen.” A like-minded voter said on TV, “This morning I woke up and the reality did actually hit me, if I had the opportunity to vote again, it would be to stay.”

    Too late, fools! You voted for xenophobic nationalism. You voted to wall off your country from the rest of the EU and spark massive turmoil in the global markets. You’ve lit the flame of recession at home and abroad. You voted to imperil the ties that bind Europe’s anti-terrorism intelligence agencies. You have in fact triggered a crisis that will likely destabilize the EU and embolden Vladimir Putin. And, oh, by the way, you have messed with the health of Americans’ 401(k)s.

    The latter item is probably the only aspect of this story that most Americans will care about. Generally, we pay minimal attention to foreign events unless Americans happen to be getting killed. But everything today is interconnected, and I suggest we pay close attention to what is transpiring — and unraveling — in Britain right now, because, if nothing else, it is a warning shot across our bow. It is a harbinger of what could happen here if we surrender to our basest instincts and elect Donald Trump.

    The voters of what’s called “Little England” — a rough parallel to what we call “middle America” — hoisted a middle finger to immigration and globalization, to the very concept of multiculturalism, to the government “establishment” in London and Brussels. Dire warnings about the consequences of exiting the EU — reasoned arguments about the strong risks of recession, of spiraling trade deficits caused by a precipitious drop in the value of the British pound, and much more — failed to penetrate the intellect because these people were bent on voting with their gut.

    Swayed by the xenophobic demagoguery of Mini Me Trump agitators like Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, they convinced themselves that they were Making Britain Great Again. We’ll see how that goes when international financial institutions start pulling out of London. Farage spent years on the fringes of British politics, but caught fire with his repeated claim that immigration has made traditional Britain “unrecognizable,” and that open borders with the EU have turned the “white working class” into “an underclass. And that, I think, is a disaster for our society.” (Who does that sound like?)

    By the way, Farage and the “Leave” campaign sold the voters snake oil (who does that sound like?), promising that if Britain left the EU, it would free up lots of extra money for the national health program — in American dollars, roughly $500 million a week. But when asked on TV this morning whether he can guarantee that promise, he said: “No I can’t … It was one of the mistakes I think the Leave campaign made.”

    Yep, that pledge was just pap for the saps, and they bought it.

    Indeed, during the campaign, Trumpy rhetoric was everywhere; Boris Johnson, a former London mayor, joined in. After President Obama wrote a guest column in a London newspaper, urging the British to stay in the EU, Johnson publicly attacked him as “part-Kenyan.” One of the biggest pro-Brexit groups even produced a racist video that featured words of wisdom from Trump. Some members of Parliament denounced the video and said, “Depicting whole nationalities negatively to a Donald Trump voice-over — a man whose immigration policy is to ‘build a wall’ — is surely beneath us all.”

    Turns out, it was not beneath them. And now the markets are tanking, and the average person’s portfolio – yours — is poised to take a shellacking.

    And now comes Trump himself, seeking to take advantage. (Two weeks ago he had no idea what Brexit was — “Huh?” — and he struggled to talk about it, but like a shark who smells blood, he’s on the move now.) In Scotland this morning, after praising the greatness of his golf course, right down to the plumbing, he said of the Brits:

    “They have declared their independence from the European Union and have voted to reassert control over their own politics, borders and economy. 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. I hope America is watching, it will soon be time to believe in America again.”

    There it was, his autumn campaign pitch. To follow our misguided British cousins into the abyss, all we need do is to stay home on election day, to cede the future to the forces of Trumpism.

    At the end of “Les Miserables,” the people sang “There is a life about to start when tomorrow comes.” It’s coming soon. How do we want to live it?

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

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