Brexit-Trump Comparisons Miss Key Points
"Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful."
-- George Orwell, author of "1984."
The election of Donald Trump as U.S. president, upending projections of pollsters and pundits that predicted his defeat, has triggered comparisons with Brexit, the vote earlier this summer where British citizens voted to leave the European Union, also catching the pollsters and pundits by surprise.
And yes, the campaigns for Brexit and the Trump presidency each employed similarities. Each campaign utilized ‘make our country great again’ slogans.
Further, each campaign also targeted immigrants as the source of deep-seated societal problems, particularly in the employment arena. Trump targeted Mexican immigrants while Brexit targeted Eastern European immigrants in Britain, primarily those coming from Poland as well as Muslims and blacks.
Despite accurately citing some similarities, too many of the news media comparisons of Brexit and Trump on both sides of ‘The Pond’ have been simplistic, infused with failures to sufficiently contextualize the array of forces entangled in those stunning votes.
Comparisons on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, for example, have downplayed the upsurge in racist attacks, primarily targeting blacks and Muslims during the immediate aftermaths of both the Brexit and Trump victories.
In the weeks after the June Brexit vote, police in Britain received reports of more than 5,000 racist assaults, verbal abuse (in-person and online) and xenophobic graffiti. Surveys in Britain of white Brexit supporters found negative sentiments about multiculturalism and social liberalism in excess of 80 percent. Meanwhile, here in the US nearly 50 percent of Trump supporters who participated in a February 2016 poll disapproved of the end of slavery for blacks.
Far too many of the examinations into the Brexit and Trump victories logged across America’s ideological spectrum –- right to left –- have sought to minimize the role of racism in those electoral victories.
Veteran British anti-racist activist Lee Jasper made an observation about the Brexit vote that is applicable to the Trump victory in America.
“The fact that large parts of the British working class were so easily convinced that immigrants were the cause of their woes, not the bankers, is a result of the reservoir of latent racism in Britain, left unaddressed and festering under the poisonous weight of austerity,” Jasper wrote a few days after the Brexit vote.