Pulse of the Peninsula: Trump hailing Brexit a harbinger

Karen Rubin

Protest votes have consequences, as many of the British “leavers” have discovered. It is most interesting that the day after the vote — a shocking outcome for most — the most frequently googled searches in Britain were “What is the EU” and “What happens if we leave the EU.”

The vote triggered a worldwide meltdown in financial markets — trillions of dollars in assets wiped out. 

While Donald Trump hailed this as a good result for his Turnberry golf course in Scotland (where residents actually voted overwhelmingly to stay in the European Union and now may seek to secede from Britain again), it impacted the retirement and pensions of millions of Americans, businesses depending on British trade (New York City, for example, gets 1 million visitors a year from Britain, who now have the value of pound slashed against the dollar). 

It has made US exports more expensive which will impact investment and jobs here in the U.S.

But the way people are looking at it — the way Donald Trump cast it — as somehow Obama’s fault, or at least a “mistake.” 

And some are seeing in the Brexit, echoes of Trump’s nationalistic populism, and fear it is a harbinger of November’s election.

But while there surely are similarities in the fear-mongering rhetoric behind the Brexit vote and Trump’s anti-immigrant, anti-trade, xenophobic populist rhetoric, the situations are quite different.

In the first place, Britain’s “independence” from the European Union is nothing like Trump’s call to “take back America” or “Make America Great Again.” 

Britain’s resentment against “open borders” were really open borders from other European Union members. The United States does not have “open borders” with anybody, including its partners in the North American Fair Trade Agreement, Mexico and Canada. We are not receiving hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria and Iraq. 

We are not even receiving refugees fleeing Central America violence (we round them up and send them back). 

We have not even accepted the refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq whose lives are imperiled because they helped the U.S. military.

Indeed, the net migration from Mexico is negative — not even zero.

Our immigration problem is because we have no policy or program in place to process the immigrants who are here — by some counts 11 million. 

President Obama’s DACA, for those who were brought here as children, and the program that the Supreme Court just deadlocked on, which would have provided a path to legalization (not citizenship) for some four million parents of American citizens and legal residents, would both have gone a long way to giving legal status to the majority of the 11 million, so they could come out from the shadows, work legally, pay taxes, and not be exploited, which depresses wages for everyone else.

In fact, nothing much changes for Britain in a positive way. It will still have to abide by European Union rules on trade, though it will likely have more stringent rules so not to take business away from EU member nations.

Indeed, the fallout for this show of “Britain independence” is that Britain will likely have to abide by more stringent demands of the European Union without having the ability as a member to make changes to correct the problems that they were so upset about. 

And in the process, Britain has lost its ability to act as a major world power. 

The United States will be looking to ally more closely with a nation that actually holds sway in the European Union.

What is ironic in this campaign for British identity is what no one has bothered to mention: Britain used to “rule the seas,” the “sun never set on the British Empire.” 

An abusive colonial power (as we recall every July 4th), Britain was accustomed to different races and cultures — except in context of dominating them. Is that the equivalent of “Make America Great Again”?

What, in fact, does Trump mean by “Make America Great Again?” 

Right now, our economy is the strongest in the world. The United States is the unquestioned political leader — in organizing sanctions against Russia when it invaded Crimea, the Paris Climate Agreement and the Iran nuclear agreement. We have the strongest military in the history of mankind.

What does “Take America Back” mean?” 

For Britain, it meant re-establishing sovereignty from the European Union’s control. 

What would that mean for America? 

Back from who? An African-American (who is actually half white, his family going back to some of the earliest European settlers in America)? 

From Democrats, when both houses of Congress are controlled by Republicans who have effectively neutered the Presidency and the Supreme Court? 

Back to what? A time when white men were in control and could discriminate against women and minorities with impunity? When lynching was legal? 

Would it mean pulling out of the United Nations or abandoning NATO?

This could have been avoided: the powers that were failed to properly explain what the European Union was, the consequences of leaving. 

The European Union should have addressed the concerns that people had — to be more transparent and democratic rather than authoritarian. They showed their arrogance in taking for granted that they would win the election.

This is a cautionary tale for the United States in terms of the Trans Pacific Partnership where the greatest concern is that the U.S., states and localities will lose their sovereignty to corporate interests.

The closest comparison between Britain and the US would be in how working people feel exploited and abused by “the elites” — the big banks and “establishment” political interests. 

Never mind that Americans, who vote at ridiculously low rates, have abdicated their responsibility as citizens through apathy. 

But while the slogans and rhetoric, the underlying anger and frustration of the alienated, exploited and suffering working classes might have parallels to Brexit, Donald Trump must be considered on his own merit, or rather, flaws.

Donald Trump actually is offering nothing that would improve the problems he taps into. In fact, his prescriptions — tax cuts for the rich, defaulting on American bonds, canceling treaties and repealing actions on climate, gun safety and his rejection of a minimum wage, pay equity, paid family leave — would exacerbate the inequality in income and political power that is fueling the anger, frustration.

If anything, Bernie Sanders ‘ campaign rhetoric — calling to break up the big banks, reject trade agreements and revolt against the political establishment – is closer.

Indeed, if there is a lesson in the Brexit vote, it should be that protest votes have grave consequences.

And instead of Brexit portending the success of populist overthrow of the establishment here in the U.S., Americans may also take heed of the flim-flam that Brits just experienced. 

They are waking up to the fact that while their pensions and Britain’s bond rating have been slashed and there is grave insecurity of people who now live in Britain under the EU rules, the “Leavers” are fairly powerless to curtail immigration, to end the regulations on imports, to shift the hyper-inflated 350 million pounds weekly from the EU into the National Health System (no intention to do that).

In fact, Britain is left with all the problems of being in the EU — and then some — with none of the rewards or the ability to actually change the most irksome policies. 

Now Britain will have to accept the terms that the European Union demands, which will likely be less favorable in order to give preference to their members.

Buyers remorse has set in and there are even calls for a new vote.

Americans, take heed. Elections have consequences.

Of course, Donald Trump hoped to capitalize on the Brexit Vote, delivering a speech bashing America’s trade policies.

“The middle class has collapsed because of the failed policies from Washington, D.C. that benefit the politicians, but not the American people. 

The all talk, no action politicians have promoted globalization at the expense of American workers. Mr. Trump will fight to put the country and its workers first in order to Make America Great Again.” 

He delivered a speech titled, “Declaring American Economic Independence“ (https://assets.donaldjtrump.com/DJT_DeclaringAmericanEconomicIndependence.pdf)

But, as the Hillary Clinton campaign noted, Trump is the biggest hypocrite, has personally profited by millions of dollars by outsourcing jobs for the creation of everything he puts his name to.

“There was nothing that Trump outsourced that couldn’t be made in America if he was committed to that,” International President of the United Steelworkers Leo Gerard, said in a press call.  “He’s a hypocrite.”

“Trade agreements make Trump rich,” Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio said. “He was glad to cash the checks. He made a lot of money on these trade agreements.”

Instead, Clinton offered her own cogent analysis of what is needed for fair trade agreements and what she would do to make sure that trade agreements (which are essential and inevitable, especially since 95% of the world market is outside the U.S.), would not harm U.S. jobs or environment.

“We will defend American jobs and American workers by saying ‘no’ to bad trade deals, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and unfair trade practices, like when China dumps cheap steel in our markets or uses weak ‘rules of origin’ to undercut our car makers,” Clinton said in Cincinnati. “I’m going to appoint a trade prosecutor who will report to the President, so we are going to end the abuse of our market, our workers, our people.

“And you know what?  We’re going to compete and win in the global economy by not letting anybody take advantage of our workers.  

Not China, not Wall Street, not anyone.  And we’re going to defend and strengthen the tough rules to rein in Wall Street that were put in place after the crash.  

When corporations pay fines for breaking the law, those fines should cut into executives’ bonuses. And if laws are violated, individuals, not just corporations, should be held accountable.”

About the author

Karen Rubin

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