On November 8th I went to bed feeling cautiously optimistic. Surely the American public can’t really elect someone like Donald Trump, I thought. The polls were putting Hilary Clinton in the lead. I awoke the next morning and listened to the news in shocked disbelief. It was a feeling I remembered from June when, on the day of the EU referendum I also went to bed with the same optimism that surely everything would be OK, surely we wouldn’t really vote to turn our backs on the organisation that had protected me and safeguarded me all of my adult life, and I also woke to the devastating news of a terrifying unknown future.
That feeling of sickening dread and disbelief was so similar to how I felt the morning after the EU referendum that it got me thinking about other ways in which the two events were alike.
- The Polls. All through the EU referendum campaign the polls put Remain ahead. Sometimes Leave managed to close the gap a little but they were always far enough behind to make a victory for Leave look unlikely . Likewise during the US election campaign, although at times Trump managed to inch forwards in the polls he never got close enough to make a Republican win seem at all likely .
- The Lies. There were so many lies told by the leave campaigners that I wrote a blog post on the subject which you can read here. Trump’s campaign also did not let the truth get in the way of success. Trump said that Hilary Clinton wanted to let anyone come into the USA without doing anything about it. Trump also claimed that Obama founded ISIS and Hilary Clinton was the co-founder. I could go on but Trump’s lies would need a blog post all to themselves.
- The Slogans. Some of the slogans used by the Leave campaigners were remarkably similar to Trump’s slogans. “Let’s take back our country!” “Make America /Britain great again!” These slogans are actually completely meaningless but I can see how they might sound appealing if you don’t think too deeply about their lack of meaning.
- Targeting immigrants. With Trump it was Mexicans. With Brexit it was EU migrants and also, rather strangely, Turks, who are not even in the EU. Outlandish claims abounded about how many would arrive and what they would do .
- Hate crime. Perhaps partly as a result of number 4 above, hate crimes against foreigners increased after the referendum result and now sadly the same thing is happening in the USA. Trump’s appeal to the perpetrators to “stop it” is perhaps one of the most insincere things I’ve ever heard him say. I don’t think people suddenly started hating foreigners when before they hadn’t, but they believed that the vote legitimised their hatred. Whereas before they kept their hateful opinions to themselves, now they feel they have the right to act on them.
It has been said many times that the popularity of Trump and of Brexit are due to the fact that politicians are not listening to ordinary people. These are protest votes by people wanting change. But is this really the sort of change we want? By all means let’s protest and demand change but not like this. We are better than this.