Xenophobia won it for BREXIT. As an American facing the reality of Donald Trump, that terrifies me
At least for now, Britain is my home. I care about this country, and it’s devastating to see it pummelled with such turmoil. This could have been avoided – and in the USA, it still can be
Well, the unthinkable happened. After a remarkably divisive campaign, Leave pulled out ahead of Remain during the June 23rd referendum, clinching a victory for BREXIT. Bye Bye, EU. Britain doesn’t want its mother hen anymore. Shortly afterward, David Cameron resigned as PM, the pound plummeted, Scotland announced a second independence referendum, social media exploded and in general all hell broke loose.
What a time to be an American living in London.
I could try the easy route: detach from the drama. Just sit back and enjoy the show. Forget that the repercussions of BREXIT will send shockwaves across the entire world, rattling the economy and making the immigration debate an even dodgier tripwire than it is already. I’m an American. All I should be worried about is where I’ll be purchasing sandwiches for my 4th of July picnic, right?
Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. …..
Widespread shock fell over Britain like a fog when the results were announced. Sentiments echoed throughout the office, the newsroom, the tube: “I really didn’t think this would happen”, “I just can’t believe it’s real”, “This is going to change everything”. Of course, this is supplemented with jokes (or real threats, who knows?) about moving to Canada, France, Scotland, Australia, and so on. But underlying all this chatter is a real sense that something has shattered in Britain. Something has broken.
Just look at the faces of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove as they “celebrated” the Leave campaign’s victory Friday morning. They looked solemn; chastised; a bit like children shuffling away from the “time out” zone. Sure, there are many happy people who backed the Leave campaign – but even they can’t deny the way Britain feels like it’s cracked in two.
I’ve been desperately digging for silver linings since the BREXIT announcement. As the eternal optimist in my family, that’s my role. But all I can come up with is this: America, you better be paying attention.
There’s a lot the USA can learn from this referendum. The States are facing their own political turmoil at the moment, as Clinton and Trump sprint for the presidential finish line, running on campaigns more different than night and day. And the electorate is facing many of the same questions Britain debated throughout the BREXIT process: How do we address immigration? How much control should the government (or any other entity) have over our finances? How can we protect ourselves from terrorism? How are workers’ rights guaranteed? Women’s rights? The rights of marginalised communities? How can we protect our economy, our currency? What do the experts say? How do we make Britain/America great again?
It feels almost conspiratorial that, on the morning of the BREXIT announcement, Donald Trump landed in Scotland. He was one of the only American leaders to back the BREXIT campaign (that should tell you something), and his arrival in the UK on Friday is too perfect. I’d laugh if it didn’t terrify me. Because for months, both Democrats and Republicans have been saying Trump’s campaign would never make it as far as it has. He could never get a following based on a message of isolationism, scare-mongering, extreme nationalism, xenophobia, racism – the works. Surely the American people – surely the Republicans, of which there are many rational and kind-hearted voters – would never let that happen.
Yet here we are.
And still I hear: “There’s no way he’ll get the White House. Trump just isn’t presidential.” Both Trump and Clinton have the worst favourable ratings of any nominee in decades, and yet they somehow became our candidates. It isn’t a far cry from what happened here in Britain: every major expert, from the Governor of the Bank of England to Stephen Hawking, thought Remain was the best decision, but? No dice. We still got BREXIT.
So, America, I’m here to tell you. The unexpected can happen. Watch what’s occurring across the ocean, because if you aren’t careful, you might be looking into a crystal ball.
It’s now clearer than ever that Americans need to stand up against Trump if they have any hope of avoiding an aftershock like the one following BREXIT. That means more young people need to vote; a YouGov poll says the majority of young voters in Britain backed Remain, but not enough of them turned up to the ballot box. That means minorities need to keep on getting their voice out there. That means doing exactly what Bernie Sanders did on Friday: giving all we can to the best option we have (in Sanders’ case, endorsing Hillary Clinton).
And – perhaps this is the hardest part – it means getting people to listen. It means sitting down with people who disagree with you and talking this through with them. Show them the evidence. Show them why Trump is the wrong choice – morally, ethically, politically, economically. It’s amazing how that worked with some people in Britain; I read a report earlier of a young man who swayed his father’s vote over to Remain at the last minute. It can happen. But it takes communication.
At least for now, Britain is my home. I care about this country, and it’s devastating to see it pummelled with such turmoil. This could have been avoided – and, hopefully, it will be in the future. Britain will brave the storm.
But America still has an election ahead. If it wants to avoid a victory from BREXIT-like politics, it better keep its eyes wide open.