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From Brexit to Trump

Giving the Elites a Hard Kick


By Douglas Murray

The two big electoral events of 2016Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as the next
U.S. presidentwere seemingly conjoined from the moment the United Kingdom voted to
leave the European Union. That historic day in June was a sign that American voters might
also choose, once given the chance, to give their ruling elites as hard a kick as possible, for
as many reasons as possible. And just as the European Commission, a symbol of elitism,
became the target for the British public, so too did Democratic presidential candidate
Hillary Clinton become a target for the American public on election day.

The two political upheavals are united in that both societies include a class of people whose
job prospects have been wrecked by the outsourcing of labor, people for whom
globalization is a problem rather than an opportunity. Perhaps the most important
similarity, at least in the long term, will be that both events raise the possibility of a new
left-right hybrid in domestic politics: one that learns from the years of lax immigration and
the years of lax economics. This hybrid acknowledges the failures of right-wing free-
market economics, favoring forms of protectionism over internationalism in trade policies;
it also ignores some of the restraining shibboleths of left and right in recent years, instead
recognizing legitimate fears of economic competition from abroad and the social concerns
that immigration can bring.

Any adaptation to this reality from the political mainstream will not come easily. In both the
United States and the United Kingdom, traditional politicians of the left and right have
been struggling to speak to their own constituencies, let alone across the aisle. It proved as
hard for Clinton to reach left-wing voters in rust-belt Michigan as it did for former British
Prime Minister David Cameron to appeal to traditional right-wing voters in Sunderland, a
car manufacturing hub in the United Kingdom. Both nodded at the gravity of such
constituents concerns, but both failed to recognize the true severity of those fears.

Meanwhile, as compromised centrists, Clinton and Cameron were unable to speak to the
flaws within their own political party or really lay into the failures of their opponents
parties. Both gave unsatisfactory answers to growing suspicions that their respective
countrys current economic policies favor the few over the many. Nor did either sufficiently
address the fact that voters have not been moving to the political left in any large
numbersnot least because in the United Kingdom and the United States, the left loathes
talking about the identity and immigration concerns of the public and prefers to lecture on
why the public is wrong to feel the way it does.

Social liberals have spent years scolding and lecturing conservatives without listening to
what the other side has had to say. Rarely did they consider the possibility that the public
did not need to be corrected, because the public was not necessarily wrong. Recognizing
the existence of the people who have been left behind is not the same as doing something
to help them. Finding them work may prove difficult. But castigating them for racism and
other assorted bigotries is rubbing salt in their wounds.

It is true that Trump used inflammatory language against minorities and women, but
liberals should not have attacked his supporters by portraying them as racist, misogynist,
and homophobic fascists. Supporting border control or conservative values should not
automatically earn one such a violent label. The correct response would have been to
acknowledge the legitimacy of concerns over the free market and immigration. The
incorrect response was to name call, which Clinton resorted to when she said that many of
Trumps supporters belonged to a basket of deplorables.

In her concession speech, Clinton emphasized how important tolerance is in politics.


True, the Trump campaign displayed a level of intolerance to contrary views, but it was not
alone. Similarly, anyone voting Leave in the United Kingdom was portrayed as racist: but
this attempt to shut down debate simply constituted an attempt by the Remain campaign to
hold its opponents below the waterline. After all, the main Leave campaign in the United
Kingdoms referendum conspicuously veered away from putting forth a blatant anti-
immigration platform, even if such sentiments drove some but certainly not all voters to the
polls. The campaign centered on a sunny, optimistic vision of a United Kingdom, still a
prominent global player, but merely unshackled from the restraints of Brussels.

In such a situation, it would be wrong to blame the public for choosing a rather drastic way
to signal its massive discontent. Would it have stood any chance of being heard if Clinton
had won, or for that matter, Marco Rubio? No. The public sensed that bothperhaps
Rubio in particularwould, as the favored candidates of their respective parties, simply
give a nod to its concerns but, once in office, do little or nothing to address them. To have
voted for such a person would not have been a way to make the publics message heard,
any more than a narrow Remain vote would have made the undeniably concerned voices of
British voters heard in the corridors of Brussels. When it seems that nothing at all can get
through to the elites, pushing the emergency button becomes not only a legitimate but also
possibly the only responsible thing to do.