If I read my Twitter feed correctly, the lesson that Americans should take from Brexit is not that the European project has been turned on its head — I mean, who cares about old Europe? — but that the American project could be next.
The message is at least twofold:
One: We should take Donald Trump’s anti-establishment, anti-globalization, anti-elite, anti-immigrant campaign very seriously. Xenophobia has clearly won the day in Britain, just as it did in the Republican presidential primary. Why not in November?
Two: It is impossible to take anything about Donald Trump seriously. And this, I fear, may be the more dangerous message.
Trump didn’t know what Brexit was a few weeks ago. Yet as the dawn breaks upon a new world, he is in Scotland, not to celebrate the movement to which he has attached himself, but to cut ribbons at two golf courses he has purchased. In the middle of a chaotic presidential campaign, Trump took time out for a business trip. And if that’s never happened before, get used to it. A lot of things are happening that have never happened before.
If you think Trump should put his business interests in some sort of trust, as presidential candidates tend to do, you might as well ask him to erase the name “Trump” emblazoned across his helicopter. Trump is his business interests.
“Basically, they took back their country,” Trump said of the Brexit vote from the ninth hole of venerable Turnberry golf course — that traditional news-conference destination — where there were several bagpipers there to greet him. “That’s a good thing.”
Asked why people voted for Brexit, he said, “People are angry. All over the world they’re angry … They are angry over borders, they are angry over people coming into the country and taking over and nobody even noticing. They are angry about many, many things.”
When asked where the anger is greatest, he said, “U.K. U.S. There’s lots of other places. This will not be the last.”
He’s right, sort of. The anger is everywhere.
Working class people are getting the shaft in a globalized world, making the market just right for a politician/demagogue to come along selling anger and fear. Or rather, in the case of the Donald, selling a venerable golf course and its formerly run-down hotel — which, he explained, the Trump family has gone to great expense to restore to its former grandeur. Making Britain’s golf courses great again.
When asked about the pound’s plunge as the financial markets have really taken the Brexit vote seriously, Trump came right to the point: “When the pound goes down, more people are coming to Turnberry, frankly.”
Yes, he did.
He thus made the pivot from a brief statement about Brexit to a discourse on Turnberry’s new watering system and renovations. He didn’t mention that, though the watering system is improved, Scotland overwhelmingly voted to stay in the European Union and may now move toward another vote to leave the United Kingdom.
It wasn’t just Scotland that voted to stay. Northern Ireland voted to stay. Young people voted to stay. Londoners voted to stay. As the “remain” people had put it, Great Britain could go back to being Little England.
Nobody really knows what will come of Brexit. The move from the EU will go slowly and may not be nearly as dramatic as the vote itself. Members of Parliament are largely in the “stay” camp and are likely, if Europe goes along, to want to keep ties as close as possible. But it could also mean other EU countries line up to leave. What we know is that things are different now. The economists pretty much uniformly predicted economic disaster for Britain if it voted to leave. The majority of voters either didn’t believe the experts or didn’t care.
Voting against the experts — you know, like the ones who believe the sea levels might rise sufficiently to damage Trump’s Scottish investments — is Trump’s recommended course of action, no matter what impact it has, say, on your retirement account.
Trump’s campaign may be in disarray. His poll numbers may have plummeted. The risk that the British economy might tank could put the Trump project at risk. And yet he scoffed at the idea that he needed advisers to help him work through the ramifications of Brexit. When asked by reporters if members of his foreign policy team were traveling with him, he said, according to the Washington Post, that “there’s nothing to talk about.”
Of course, people can talk of little else. The Supreme Court non-decision on Barack Obama’s immigration reform plan ensured that immigration would be at the heart of the presidential campaign. The fact that Britain went all Tom Tancredo on immigration can hardly be ignored. It is more important even than the tanking of stock markets. The fact that the British “leave” campaign was based in racism is more important than Trump’s made-for-SNL-mockery business trip.
In a statement before his news conference, Trump wrote this: “Come November, the American people will have the chance to re-declare their independence. Americans will have a chance to vote for trade, immigration and foreign policies that put our citizens first. They will have the chance to reject today’s rule by the global elite, and to embrace real change that delivers a government of, by, and for the people. I hope America is watching, it will soon be time to believe in America again.”
He hopes America is watching.
You should hope so, too.
Photo credit: Trump Documentary TV, Creative Commons, Google Images