To varying degrees both the Donald J. Trump and Brexit electoral victories were based on scapegoating minorities considered to be a threat to the Western natural order. For Trump, Mexicans and Muslims were the villains of the piece in his “Make America Great Again” campaign for the Presidency of the United States of America. For British Brexiters, scapegoating was encapsulated in the slogan of “Take Back Control”. This slogan was largely aimed at the bureaucrats in Brussels who mythically had taken control of Britain and the east European migrants who have legally arrived recently in the U.K. As others have pointed out there were similarities in the two campaigns with both rooted in the new (mostly right-wing) populism sweeping some western nations.
Another similarity was the violence the two campaigns unleashed. Admittedly the tensions at Trump rallies were successfully contained and never reached the level of the British Brexit campaign were a British legislator or Member of Parliament, Jo Cox, was brutally murdered with the assailant yelling “Britain First” and “keep Britain independent” (slogans popular with extreme right) as he shot and knifed his victim 15 times.
This is where the similarities end because as can be seen by the voter turnout there was greater enthusiasm for Brexit in the UK than for Trump in the United States. In the American elections voter turnout at 55% was below the turnout for Obama’s election victory in 2008 and not much at variance with other recent American election turnouts. On the other hand, in the U.K general election of 2015, 66% turned out, for the 2010 election it was 65% but Brexit manged to draw a 72.2% voter turnout clearly indicating the British public were more passionate about Brexit than Americans were about Trump. Indeed, if the American elections were decided in the manner of the Brexit campaign (by popular vote) then Trump would have lost his bid to be President.
The first immediate casualty of the Brexit victory was then British Prime Minister’s David Cameron resignation. This assured in Theresa May as the new Prime Minister on 11th July less than a month after the Brexit vote. Since assuming office, she has continuously reminded everyone that “Brexit means Brexit”. Three days before Trumps’ inauguration, while outlining the UK’s strategy for the coming Brexit negotiations she admitted that immigration was the major factor in the successful Brexit campaign:
“the message from the public and during the referendum was clear: Brexit must mean control of the number of people who come to Britain from Europe.”
However, the Prime Minister also cast to spin the meaning of the Brexit vote as Britain somewhat rejecting the straitjacket and containment of being part of the European Union. For May, Brexit also means the United Kingdom ‘embracing the world’ and the date the Brexit vote was cast, June 23rd 2016, was hailed as “the moment we [U.K.] chose to build a truly Global Britain”.
We are clearly and seriously invited to suspend belief to acknowledge that Her Majesty’s Subjects in England’s hinterlands such as Stoke, Sunderland, Lincoln, etc. etc. rejected the EU in order to embrace the commerce and the people of the up and coming countries of India, China, Brazil and the Gulf States. In effect, a new internationalist spirit has supposedly taken hold of the United Kingdom, which the EU had hitherto held back.
May further claimed that “Britain’s history and culture is profoundly internationalist”. This is in clear contrast to Donald Trump who in his inauguration address simply desires to put “America First”. Whereas, both Brexit Britain and Trump’s America were partly brought into existence by the same demographic in their respective countries, it is clear from May’s speech that the new ‘Brexit Britain’ will also aim to expand its international interests or as she says to “rediscover its role as a great, global, trading nation.”
But even with these differences in mind it was no surprise that Theresa May became the first foreign leader to meet the new President in late January. She reciprocated by inviting Trump to a state visit in the United Kingdom later in the year.
No sooner had the invitation been extended to visit Britain than other schisms between the two political trends began to appear. Anti-Trump Americans had began demonstrating against the controversial Executive Order banning people from seven Muslim majority countries from entering the United States. There was also the Women’s March held in the United States a day after his inauguration against the President’s misogynistic pronouncements during his campaign. These concerns by anti-Trump activists in the United States have been embraced by segments in the British establishment. These organic American concerns and opposition to Trump’s policies and pronouncements were quickly appropriated by influential segments in British society.
And so rather than demonstrating against Brexit and the exclusion and insularity it represents, activists in the UK have already demonstrated against the aforementioned Executive Order and intend to organise demonstrations against his proposed state visit.
Therefore, opposition and disapproval to Trump will allow Brexit Britain to draw a line between itself and Trump’s America. The Speaker of one of the Houses of Parliament, John Bercow, has declared that Trump’s sexism and racism should disallow him the opportunity to address Parliament. While a leading spokesperson for the anti-war movement, Lindsey German, claims that Trump’s “scapegoating of migrants and Muslims” should bring together the “broadest possible unity” in “street movements” to oppose Trump. No doubt, these “street movements” should help to heal any socio-cultural divisions caused by the Brexit campaign.
As British Imperialism now looks to enter a new phase, repackaged as ‘Global Britain’ anti-Trumpism, which is in effect usurping liberal America’s own criticism of Trump, will be sanctimoniously employed by the British establishment to whitewash and detox Brexit. By flipping the script, Brexit Britain, especially in this transitional period, comes to domestically define itself as anti-Trump rather than Trump’s more unhinged and more bigoted, little brother. Whether the establishment pulls it off is another issue altogether.