Plenty of Americans are unsettled about Britain’s vote to exit the European Union. And a lot of what unsettles them is Donald Trump’s claim that the Brexit vote sets the stage for a similar reaction against elite political and economic arrangements in the United States.
Trump’s a blowhard, and an opportunist. But the angst and agitation about the Brexit vote, and about Trump’s statements regarding it, are appropriate. Britain’s 52-48 vote for the Brexit option confirms that millions of voters in Western democracies are so frustrated with politics as usual that they are ready to embrace extreme options. Some of them are responding to crude xenophobia and racism. But the voting patterns in Britain, like the polls from battleground states in America, suggest that there are other factors in play. One of these factors is a deep frustration on the part of working-class voters with economic globalization schemes. And Trump is speaking to them when he criticizes trade deals and outsourcing—even if his language is that of a frequently cynical and absurdly inconsistent “billionaire populist.”
Any answer to Trump should include a pushback against the lies he tells, which are strikingly similar to the lies that the more nefarious of the Leave campaigners told before the Brexit vote last Thursday. Hillary Clinton’s campaign is using Trump’s unsettlingly bizarre response to the vote—made as he was celebrating snack-bar options at his golf resort in Scotland—to stir further doubts about the faux populism of a man who has never been on the same side of any issue for long.
But it has to go beyond that. The Leave campaigners in the UK succeeded because there are millions of working-class voters—many of them in the left-leaning “Labour heartlands” of northern England—who know that globalization has not worked for them. Well, there are millions of Americans in battleground states such as Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina who know that globalization has not worked for them.