Brexit Yesterday, Trump Tomorrow?

If London and Washington do not manage to understand the necessity of protecting the people from the deadly effects of globalization, then it will be open season for the populist currents sweeping their nations.

On June 23, the same day that the British people voted in favor of Brexit by approximately 52 percent, the United States Supreme Court overruled executive action taken by President Obama to legalize the situation of 5 million illegal immigrants, the vast majority of whom are of Hispanic origin. Obama had sought legalization for parents of children born on American soil who had never been subject to criminal proceedings.

Although on the surface these two events appear far apart, both share a surprising resonance. Immigration, which seems to be inherent to globalization, is becoming the Achilles’ heel of these two democracies, a subject from which leaders and the elite are removed, unlike ordinary people and their concerns.

Resounding Defeat of Liberalism

If London, the most advanced liberal capital on the European continent, and Washington, which dictates economic philosophy to the rest of the world, cannot manage to understand the need to protect people from the deadly effects of globalization, then it will be open season for the populist currents sweeping their nations. Loud complaints will only extinguish the softer voices of rightward-thinking people.

Is it possible that the deciding voters, flanked by experts who dissect, almost word by word, the smallest electoral movement, are wrong in this matter? While the bulk of comments about Brexit shows a disturbing failure looming on the horizon, liberalism and its arrogance, embodied by London’s certainty, has suffered a stinging defeat. On June 23, the British rejected immigration, confirming the old saying that during a referendum, voters do not come out to cast their vote merely in response to the question asked of them. This is what the populists of all nations have perfectly orchestrated and achieved.

The “market” reassures nobody; we cannot put good wishes against collective anguish; the moral comfort of the elite does not create happiness for ordinary people. Let us listen to a practitioner of the cold shower school of thought, Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern, whose country was on the verge of catastrophe little more than a month ago. “The line of conflict in the debate is no longer defined by social issues but by cultural identities,” he said.*

Fighting Against Populism

The issue now moves to America. After the Supreme Court decision, which puts an end to Obama’s last big emblematic project, he abandoned it. “We’re a nation of immigrants… immigration is not something to fear,” Obama said. This is exactly the kind of statement that Donald Trump capitalizes on with a dispossessed white electorate, disoriented by the absence of hope for the future.

Fortunately, Obama also declared, with a far more optimistic attitude than the current situation could realistically allow, “In November, Americans are going to have to make a decision about what we care about and who we are.” This is indeed true; but Hillary Clinton reacted to the Supreme Court’s decision by referring to poverty across the world as if she was at a charity fundraiser gala, without saying a word about the “poor little white people.”

In order for the United States to avoid the path followed by its closest ally in Europe, the Democratic candidate must remember it is not just about kind words. The U.S. must avoid the trap of “good intentions” and shed the habits of the New York elite. Populism is not fought with anti-racist speeches, for the perfectly good reason that popular feeling toward those abroad is profoundly irrational, as it is made up of collective fears. As proof of this, on May 5, the United Kingdom nobly celebrated the election of a man of Pakistani origin as mayor of London, the largest city in Europe. This was seven weeks before Brexit.

*Editor’s note: Although accurately translated, the source of this quote, which may have been originally in German, could not be independently verified.

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