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The US Election And The Ghost Of Brexit

07/11/2016 11:39

The ghost of Brexit hangs over the US election as it nears its close. Political pundits, newspaper columnists, even entertainers like the TV chef Anthony Bourdain regularly bring it up.
A New York Times columnist John Cassidy wrote recently that in Britain the 'Leave' campaign put virtually nothing into the box on their side, leaving it occupied only by the Union Jack and voters' fantasies. Brexit voters didn't feel they were voting for specific people or policies. America's saving grace may be, he argues, that people are voting not just to make America great again or for the flag, but also for Donald J Trump.

In the same paper, an insightful essay "Behind 2016's Turmoil, a Crisis of White Identity" by Amanda Taub put the Brexit vote, like Trump's popularity, down to a loss of status for white natives. The main predictor of voting for 'Leave' was, she notes, a low level of education rather than of income and this tends to be true too of Donald Trump's supporters.
She links both movements to a decline in status and opportunities for the skilled working class in both countries. And on immigration, she argues that rather than the degree of ethnic mix within an area, which in many 'Leave' areas of the UK was low, it is the pace of change that causes concern.

Alan Dershowitz, author of "Electile Dysfunction: A Guide for the Unaroused Voter" told CNN audiences this week that like Brexit, Trump's populism meant his vote is likely to be underestimated by the polls. Clinton's lead, he warned, could be narrower than predicted. Trump agrees, promising Tuesday will be "Brexit times ten".

The Washington Post found a resonance between Trump's warnings of electoral fraud and similar claims made by the "Leave" campaign - Brexit voters, warned to bring pens instead of pencils in case their votes were rubbed out and changed, on occasion apparently lobbed them at the civic-minded senior citizens who staff Britain's polling stations.
Filmmaker Michael Moore unveiled a new film, Micahel Moore in TrumpLand shot in front of a live audience in Wilmington in October, a rather rambling paem of praise to Hillary Clinton in which he confesses to being a little in love with her. He mocks Donald Trump, and has Mexican audience members penned in behind a cardboard wall. One of the biggest laughs from the audience is for Moore's lines on Brexit. He casts the vote in terms of the angry voters seeing a chance to get back 'at the establishment'. But now, he roars, as the audience chortles with Schadenfreude, they find that "if you vote to leave Europe you actually have to to leave Europe". "And four million of them have signed a petition calling for another referendum."

Favorite Sunday night viewing here is the traveling chef Anthony Bourdain. He is a silver-haired bohemian with an easy charm and an ability to eat or drink pretty much everything that is put in front of him with every evidence of delight. Each episode features a shaky-camera montage of him getting drunk with his hosts in different parts of the globe, sometimes for days.

His show from a trip to London just after the Brexit vote first aired in mid-October. In a trailer for it, which I saw on CNN several times, where Bourdain is interviewed by the network's other silver-haired charmer Anderson Cooper, Bourdain is asked if London greeted the Brexit vote with "a stiff upper lip.' He shakes his head: "No, it was ankle-deep in tears and vomit".

The Brexit vote, he explains at the start of the show, was swung by "the rubes, the country people... the people who felt out of step with an increasingly non-white London". In between meals of bone marrow, pig's trotters and fish and chips, Bourdain sinks a few pints with musician Jamie Hince who says of the Brexit vote: "It almost makes me not believe in democracy any more. They go on about a central government in Brussels and say we don't have anything in common with people from Bulgaria or Romania. Well I don't have anything in common with people from Sunderland or Wales." He suggests as an extension of the referendum principle getting old people in one part of the UK to take care of the budget and in another to sort out foreign policy.

NIgella Lawson cooks Bourdain a hangover breakfast and chef Margot Henderson wails of Brexit; "It's so selfish." She doesn't blame the people, she adds, who have been lied to.
At the close of the show, in a clear appeal to voters heading to the polls in the US to be warned by the UK's experience, Bourdain sums up. "These are frightening times for many. The world is changing and there is no stopping those changes. But in such times there are always two ways to go. We can run and hide, build walls, cower in fear, point the finger at our neighbours, and look, as frightened people often do, for someone to blame.

"Or we can stand up and try, at least try to build a better world. Instead of looking for a man on a horse to save us or for walls to keep us apart, we can look to our better angels."

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