In the U.K., citizens are currently dealing with the fallout from a massive political victory for right-wing populism, the single most dangerous oxymoron in the world.
A country that simultaneously boasts of its civilizing influence and solid traditions while sweeping under the rug such telling historical tidbits of racisim and injustice including punitive famines in Ireland and India, and a nasty habit of making “freed” members of the Empire continue to swear an oath to the usurping Hanoverian house of Windsor, the U.K and its 87% white population have widened their thin-lipped smile and given us a peek of the ugliness inside.
As Scotland and Northern Ireland both voted to remain in the European Union, England and Wales carried the narrow majority that brought a Britain for Brits mentality out of pubs and UKIP meetings and into the official policy of the United Kingdom.
Britain will no longer be a part of the European Union, leaving the rest of its continent to its own devices, and there are those who would drum up a panic on this side of the pond that a similar right-wing populist agenda could find an electoral home in the U.S. come November. The U.K. is being looked at as a political barometer moving to indicate an ill wind—but is this a false equivalency?
The short answer is yes. The less short answer is yes because thankfully this is not England. But the long answer is, “Almost certainly, because we couldn’t possibly be that stupid, right?”
First of all, Trump’s xenophobic and exclusionist rhetoric is directed at an outside entity—Mexicans, Muslims or other “others” are blamed for a problem and the solution becomes getting rid of them. In Britain, however, voters were saying the opposite. “We are outsiders,” their xenophobia and isolationism compelled them to say, “and for that reason we won’t bow to a parliament located in a foreign country.
With Brussels to blame for its troubles just as Henry VIII had Rome to blame for his, the British right was able to seize the idea of “Britishness,” whatever nebulous mix of thin-lipped condescension, piggish attitudes towards non-Anglo-Saxon ideals and general hatred for wogs and pakis that might mean to the UK Independence Party and its ilk.
Trump no doubt wishes he had a foreign capital to which the U.S. is beholden so that he could inspire an even greater racist fury in his mob, but as it stands Trump’s major governmental whipping post is the President of the United States, a target more Americans have respect for than English folks can be expected to have for a Belgian diplomat.
Where Johnson and Farage were able to couch their racist bullshit in a campaign that claimed life would be better for Britons—to the tune of hundreds of million dollars toward health care, which Farage admitted the day after the vote was an outright lie to—Trump is forced to simply spew his racism at more or less face value and hope his ravenous mob of future blackshirts won’t drop him for it. His hard core will remain, but overall his campaign is covered by a much less impressive facade than the “leave” campaign’s was.
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Furthermore, the British people had the benefit of forging their own mental image of what a Britain outside the EU would look like. It involved more than 300 million pounds for the NHS, better living standards in Britain and other things promised by campaigners for an issue. But Trump’s campaign is decidedly not issue-based. In fact, when issues come into play he’s willing to say anything as long as people still think he’s popular. In Britain, they had ideas to vote for when they fucked up their country for the foreseeable future. If America were to do that, it would be not for an issue but for a man—a racist, misogynist slumlord and all around ridiculous man with tiny hands.
I want to say I’m certain Brexit isn’t a bad omen, that Americans are better than this shit and we won’t be fooled. I want to say I’m certain Americans won’t be frantically googling “What does it mean to vote for Trump” on the first Wednesday in November. But if I’ve learned anything from 2016, it’s that you can’t be certain of a goddamned thing.