Opinion: Brexit and Trump are the result of not listening and not learning

Daniel Beach, a third year English student, compares the triumph of Brexit and the popularity of Donald Trump in the United States.

Photo: Matt Johnson/flickr

Billionaire and reality TV star Donald Trump has shocked commentators by gaining popular support as Republican presidential candidate. Photo: Matt Johnson/flickr

Brexiteers are racist, Trump supporters are bigoted. It’s an allegation I’ve heard batted around a lot lately.

The comparisons between the UK’s EU referendum and America’s upcoming presidential election are irrefutable.

In fact, just a few months ago, our very own Nigel Farage was seen giving his all-too-familiar anti-immigration spiel at a Donald Trump rally. So, dismiss these people as a bunch a self-congratulatory racists and go about your business, right? Wrong.

Perhaps it’s the desperate optimist in me, but I find it difficult to believe that half the citizens of both the UK and USA woke up one morning and thought: “Oh, I’m going to be a racist now.” Perhaps unfoundedly, I have more faith in humanity than that.

I am a Labour party supporter, I wanted to remain in the EU, and I would prefer America to be ruled by a group of extra-terrestrials than by Donald Trump. However, that doesn’t stop me, nor should it stop anyone else, from being able to view the situation holistically.

Simply labelling the 52 per cent of UK voters who opted for Brexit, along with the prospective Trump voters, as clueless racists without considering the reasons behind why they voted in that way is not only unhelpful for the debate, it also further divides the ever widening gap between the two sides of this argument.

Seeing Nigel Farage in America shows the Republican party are willing to learn from the success of the right-wing politics in the UK’s EU referendum. So why are the Democrats so reluctant to learn from the mistakes of the left?

Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes the remain campaign made was to label Brexiteers who opposed uncontrolled immigration as “racists”, rather than countering their arguments with legitimate ideas.

Clearly Hillary Clinton is making this mistake, calling the Trump electorate a “basket of deplorables”. She’s playing right into the hands of the political right’s anti-establishment message of which Clinton is the absolute epitome.

Farage was the first to peddle this message, calling Brexit an ‘anti-establishment victory’. Whether or not, like me, you vehemently dislike Nigel himself you’ve got to admit that this is a pretty nifty electoral trick.

The UK voted to leave the European Union on June 23 by 52/48 per cent Photo: threefishsleeping/flickr

The UK voted to leave the European Union on June 23 by 52/48 per cent. Photo: threefishsleeping/flickr

Each time a person who wants to leave the EU, or as is the situation now, wants to vote for Donald Trump gets called a racist, it further cements their beliefs because the person giving them that label is seen as the ‘establishment’.

What Clinton said aboutTrump supporters is not only incorrect, it is also bad politics. She has played perfectly into the hands of the anti-establishment narrative, and she has likely haemorrhaged votes from both wings of US politics.

Considering the reasons why people would support this anti-establishment message would make an enormous difference to the nature of the debate. The dismissive approach shown thus far has allowed people who are genuinely racist to shift the narrative of the debate to immigration, which has the effect of targeting the most vulnerable in society.

Statistics show a clear correlation: the lower the income of a voter, the more likely they were to have voted for Brexit.

Boston was the UK’s biggest Brexit enthusiasts with a staggering 75.6% of voters electing to leave the EU. Not coincidentally, according to the Financial Times’ austerity checker, between 2010 and 2014 Boston’s local government budget was reduced by £13.7 million and getting worse.

To put that into perspective, it is one of the hardest-hit constituencies in the UK. This inevitably leads to higher unemployment rates, reductions in welfare, over-sized classrooms, and a myriad of other consequences. This pattern is blatant across the whole country: the harsher the cuts, and the less affluent an area, the more likely the constituents are to have voted for Brexit.

While the David Cameron government worked on its extremely ‘long-term economic plan’, Farage seized his opportunity to divert anger from its rightful target, austerity, and shifted the narrative onto the backs of immigrants.

Rather than engaging in debate, the remain campaign either ignored concerns about immigration or dismissed those who had these concerns as xenophobic, which, in turn, allowed it to flourish.

The exact same pattern is emerging on an even grander scale in the US. According to some election polls, Michigan is seriously considering voting for the Republican party for the first time since 1988.

It also had its largest city, Detroit, declare bankruptcy in 2013 after its automobile industry was progressively outsourced and reduced to its knees.

Trump’s rhetoric appeals to these voters and to the rest of the abandoned voices in America simply because he is addressing them, giving them something false to blame, and then claiming that he is the solution.

It’s the job of Clinton and her electorate to convince them that this is not the case, instead of simply labelling them as thoughtless racists.