In the aftermath of the "Brexit" vote, I was watching a panel discussion of analysts talking about that there should be concern among Democrats in the U.S. for how this protest vote had similarities to support here for Donald Trump.
It was a thoughtful discussion. And yes, I think anything and everything should make Democrats wary, and treat Donald Trump as a serious candidate, and not take the slightest thing for granted, since he has shown pundits to be very wrong who dismissed.
But what would have been even more thoughtful is if just one person on the panel would have had said, "Yes, Democrats should be concerned and wary by similarities. But not necessarily. And probably not."
That no one on the panel even seemed to consider the possibility that the connections between the British vote and the American presidential race were, while real, far more tenuous on most levels than appeared at first cursory glance, seems a pretty empty bit of analysis.
Let's take a step back and a deep breath and take a closer look.
For starters, even the British themselves aren't quite sure what they voted for. It was reported that the day after the vote to leave the European Union, the second-most searched for phrase on Google was, "What is the EU?" A lot of people didn't even seem to know what in the world they were voting about. Moreover, there have been quite a few reports that people who voted "Leave," were saying -- the very next day -- that they wished they could change their vote. There is now a petition, as well, with over 2.5 million signatures already to have a do-over vote. There appears to be great bewilderment in the UK about exactly what this vote was about and its ramifications. Yes, there was a campaign, but like all British political campaigns, the time frame was quite contained, over a period of months. Contrast that to the U.S. presidential campaign which, by the time Election Day rolls around, it will have been going on for about a year-and-a-half. People here in the U.S. know quite well what is at stake and who is running and that a vote for a candidate means they want that person to become President of the United States.
I'll go a step further, and ask an odd question -- about what impact the simple name itself played? Let me explain. British voters had to decide whether to Remain or Leave, which became known as "Brexit." Which, of course, stood for British Exit. So, there was a daily pounding of this on the electorate. Brexit, Brexit, Brexit, Brexit throughout every single day, repeatedly. Might there possibly have been a difference if it had been referred to instead as, say, "Bremain"? And every day voters heard Bremain, Bremain, Bremain, Bremain. I don't know, maybe not, or maybe not much. But in a vote of four points difference, "not much" is not insignificant. "Not much" was need to shift the result. Particularly, since, after all, as we've seen, British voters don't seem to have been completely sure what they were actually voting for. But voting for "Hillary" or "Trump," that is absolutely clear.
Secondly, in the U.K. vote, there wasn't a face to put to the decision. It was an amorphous issue. There was a "Brexit" at stake. It was about a thing called the EU -- which as we've seen many people didn't know precisely what it exactly was. So, the whole vote was about something you couldn't really focus on what was at stake. On the other hand, there are two very pronounced human beings who voters in the U.S. can put faces to -- and have already, and will continue to ratchet up for the next five months, as images of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are plastered everything. Americans know exactly what's at stake.
Similarly, without a face in the U.K. there wasn't anyone at issue who could affect opinions by screwing up or inspiring on a weekly basis -- let alone daily. It was just what it was, the EU wasn't going to change, and you were either for or against it. Polls made it a close toss-up. But with a Donald Trump, you have the potential of daily gaffs, if not multiple ones in the same paragraph, as in fact we've already seen, which has already driven his polls number plummeting. Whereas only a month ago polls had Secretary Clinton ahead by 3-4 points, a just-released Reuters poll has Hillary Clinton now up by 13 points. An AP-Washington Post poll has her up 12 points. And again that's with five full months left for Donald Trump to keep revealing his unqualified, empty, egomaniacal, racist self in the glaring public eye and wear out his welcome by the day.
Also, while some analysts have pointed out the similarity in the "Take my country back" theme with Brexit and the Trump campaign, that theme isn't even remotely as similar as it looks on the surface and at first glance. Indeed, at that first glance, the themes seem 100% identical because they are word-for-word exactly the same. Except that they're not. In the Trump case, the words "Take my country back" mean his supporters longing wistfully for a better time in the distant past when the world wasn't confusing, and black people knew their place, and there weren't so many Mexicans, and womenfolk stayed in the kitchen. In the case of British voters supporting Brexit, though, it meant literally returning actual, full governmental authority to Parliament. "Take my country back" in the U.K. meant getting back literal, total sovereignty of the Crown, rather than ceding control to a body of unelected officials running the European Union. Those are two totally different things.
And another critical thing to consider -- this vote wasn't a last-minute whim of unhappiness with the EU by voters frustrated at not getting their way with government, as is the case with Trump far-right supporters. The British have never fully embraced the European Union. Consider, for instance, that while the rest of the EU uses the Euro as their monetary system, the U.K. still uses the Pound Sterling. Moreover, they've already had one referendum previous to this about whether to remain in the EU or leave.
Moreover, these aren't two cases of similar voters all simply fed up with "Politics as Usual." Never mind that in the U.S. such a reaction also helped bring about (in part) Bernie Sanders -- two utterly different fish. Far more to the point, in the U.K. most reaction doesn't appear to be people upset with politicians because they didn't get their way, but unhappy with being part of the amorphous European Union.
In fact, there's really only one similarity between the two sides of the pond, and that's the question of immigration, which was at the center of the British vote. Yet even there -- even in this one similarity -- it's has differences. On two levels.
The first difference in this one similarity is that, in the U.K. vote, the concern wasn't about immigrants from "outside" crossing illegally into the borders, decreasing security. It was about citizens of other member-EU countries being allowed to travel freely for work, and entering England to which made the country crowded and impacted jobs. Immigration was an "intra-EU" issue (not completely unlike if people from Nebraska wanted to immigrate into Kansas, and Kansas was unhappy about it, as well they should be), not an external one of people from outside. Yes, there was some overlap in issues, but again, remember, this is supposed to be the one similarity, and yet it's largely not all that similar.
And second, the issue of "foreigners" is a very different concept in Europe than in the U.S. In England, people are pretty much historically English. In France, the citizens have been French for centuries. In Italy, they're been Italians since before Julius Caesar. In Spain, Germany, Switzerland and Denmark, their citizens have almost exclusively been Spanish, German, Swiss and Danish. And...okay, you get the point. In the U.S. -- as xenophobic as many are, and as racist as sadly too many are -- at heart, America is a polyglot nation, a melting pot. There are very few Americans who can trace their lineage to the Mayflower in 1620, let alone back just a mere century. (Even Donald Trump's own Scottish mother didn't immigrate to the U.S. until 1930, and all four of his grandparents were foreign born, from Scotland and Germany.) The United States is a nation made up of immigrants from England, Spain, Ireland, Canada, Russia, Germany, Mexico, Italy, Iran, China, India, Japan, Cambodia, Afghanistan and on and on. So, as much as "immigration" is definitely an issue in the Trump campaign -- and a huge one -- the concept of immigrants here is very different from that in England. And again, for all the similarities that do exist on the "immigration issue"...the fact that there are so many differences is profound considering that this issue is the one "similarity" between Brexit and the Trump campaign. Yet even there, in the one similarity between the two situations, even there it's not actually really all that similar.
And for all that, for all these differences that many analysts are overlooking, I think the differences between the U.S. presidential race and the amorphous vote in the U.K. on whether or not to leave the EU can be summed up most simply by Donald Trump himself. By simply looking at how he himself responded to the Brexit vote.
There was Donald Trump (R-Trump Towers) at a press conference on his golf course. The day that the U.K. cast a vote that brought world financial markets to turmoil and several trillion dollars lost in world stock markets. When international security was put at risk. When the British Prime Minister resigned. When there was discussion of Scotland declaring independence and of Northern Ireland uniting with the Republic of Ireland, all of which would mean the break-up of the United Kingdom. And there was Donald Trump, the Republican nominee to be President of the United States, leader of the free world, command-in-chief of American armed forces, saying --
Saying that he felt the vote was actually a good thing because it meant that more people could travel and come to his golf course at Turnberry.
Saying it was great that "the country here" was going wild about leaving the EU -- except that the country he was in was Scotland, which actually voted to stay. And the entity that voted to leave was the United Kingdom which is not actually a "country" at all.
And saying on this most momentous, tumultuous, concerning day that his golf course had remodeled the old lighthouse "and we made it something really special," and it was now so beautiful but more than that "inside the lighthouse it has incredible sweets, and it's called the Halfway House because this is the ninth tee," and it has the most delicious sweets, you should really try to sweets, "they're the most beautiful sweets you'll ever see" and so wonderful.
That's the difference.
And who knows, maybe the sweets are as delicious as the taco bowl you get in Trump Tower?!
That's what Americans are being asked to vote for. Not an amorphous concept of staying or leaving a quasi-governmental entity that so many don't understand, but -- a human being who is a clueless, insensitive, racist, misogynistic, egomaniacal, insecure bully. Who has been on the presidential stage for a year, is revealing his horrific self by the day, and still has five months more to melt down even more.
And yes, Democrats should absolutely still be wary about the similarities between the Brexit vote and supporters of Donald Trump.
But mainly, Republicans should be far more worried about all the great many differences.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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