Mere days before the U.S. presidential election—one that will decide which rich, arrogant white person voters really don’t seem to like gets to be our next Commander-in-Chief—I can’t help but think about another recent vote overseas which garnered a lot of attention. Like with the anticipated margin of victory/defeat in the American general election, the results of this referendum vote were nail-bitingly close. And as is distinctly possible with our choices in the ol’ U-S-of-A, a majority of the participating constituents, as slim as that majority may have been, made a very dumb decision.
By now, you probably realize I am alluding to the so-called Brexit referendum vote in the United Kingdom, in which voters, deceived into believing false promises made by the party about steering 350 million pounds a week to the UK’s National Health Service, or otherwise exploited for their concerns about greater control over the country’s economy and borders, opted for Britain to leave the European Union. The exact mechanics of the United Kingdom’s jettisoning itself from the EU are still being discussed/litigated, in particular, when exactly the change occurs. The extent of the damage, as it likely will bear out, is also up in the air. When the news broke, one specific aspect of the Brexit vote and its immediate aftermath was striking to me. No, not that Boris Johnson looks like the human version of a Muppet, or that Nigel Farage is a weasel-faced liar, though both are indeed applicable.
What struck me is that a good number of UK voters did not seem to appreciate the seriousness of the circumstances behind the referendum vote, or otherwise failed to comprehend exactly what was at stake. In the wake of the bombshell news that the United Kingdom opted to Leave rather than Remain, as this Vox piece by Katie Hicks encapsulates, there was, for many, a quick turn to regret, especially among those who voted to Leave as a sort of “protest vote” while thinking all the while that the Remain side would prevail. The natural response of many hearing this was, “Um, are you f**king kidding me?” Of course, a number of these armchair detractors may not have even voted, so take this criticism for what it’s worth. Perhaps even more confounding, though, after polls had closed following the Brexit vote, Google searches for “What is the EU?” spiked precipitously. The natural response of many was to curl into the fetal position, rock gently back and forth, and weep trying to remember a time when their fellow man or countryman could be trusted to do a lick of research before voting. In these Internet surfers’ defense, I realize the average person’s hours are at a premium, and that many people do not have much time to look things up alongside working and trying to raise a family or whatnot. BUT SERIOUSLY, IF YOU WERE VOTING TO LEAVE THE EU, YOU SHOULD HAVE SOME IDEA OF WHAT THE F**K IT IS. JUST A BIT.
As Samantha Bee quipped about the relationship between Brexit and the state of American politics shortly after the UK’s fateful decision, the parallels between the rise of nationalism in Britain and Trump’s ascendancy to the Republican Party presidential nomination are so obvious a “brain-damaged baboon” could see them. Indeed, the comparisons to be made herein are pretty stark. The Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza—decidedly smarter than a brain-damaged baboon, mind you—plotted the similarities between the Brexit movement and a Trumpian undercurrent that has been building largely within white America for some time now. In fact, the strength of Donald Trump’s “anti-establishment” support is such that the undercurrent has since risen to the level of full-on current. Disaffected prospective voters are chanting “Lock her up!” at the mention of “Crooked Hillary” Clinton’s political scandals, alongside the white supremacists feeling perfectly comfortable in, say, punching black protestors at Trump rallies, or burning historically black churches and writing “Vote Trump” on them. You stay classy, racists of Mississippi.
So, what parallels does Cillizza identify? Broadly speaking, he points to three areas of similitude:
Immigration is “out of control”
Obviously, xenophobic sentiment in the United Kingdom has little to do with worry about Mexicans crossing illegally across the border. Such is a uniquely American concern. That said, with migrants from over 20 European Union nations able to move freely across borders, there is at least superficial reason to understand why Team Leave was able to pull off the upset win, as some might see it. It’s the fear of outsiders. The fear of loss of cultural and national identity. The fear something could be taken away. Those same feelings of fear and worry about loss are pervasive among Donald Trump’s supporters, who express genuine enthusiasm about the concept of building a wall at the country’s southern border or favor a ban on Muslims under the vague notion this will keep us safe. Make America Great Again. “Take back control.” Either way, the idea is about going back to a better, more prosperous, simpler time. Such a time may not actually exist, mind you, or at least not as those looking through rose-colored glasses may see things, but you can’t fault voters too much for latching onto a candidate who not only professes to know what is truly ailing the United States, but exactly how to fix it.
Political leaders are “clueless and corrupt”
As Chris Cillizza explains, Brits have had a long-standing issue with rules and standards being dictated to them from European Union headquarters based in Brussels, Belgium. Add to that flagging confidence in pre-Brexit-vote UK prime minister David Cameron, and it’s no wonder the Leave vote had the kind of support it did on this dimension. In the United States, meanwhile, faith in institutions has declined in recent years pretty much across the board, and Congress, for one, is no exception to this rule. Unfortunately, Donald Trump has been given a lot of ammunition in this regard, including but not limited to his political rival, Hillary Clinton, whose various political scandals have dogged her throughout her campaign. It’s worth saying that Trump himself has proven woefully clueless at points in the past year, and umpteen reports have hinted at his own malfeasances. The difference is “the Donald” seems more capable of shrugging off accusations of impropriety, while Hillary’s wrongdoing has stuck to her like glue. This disparity might just be enough to sway the election, at that.
Consequences are “overrated”
Just how bad could a Brexit prove? Even in advance of the referendum vote, as Cillizza notes, experts were warning a break with the EU could not only send the UK into recession, but it could lead to further secession from the European Union, as well as Scotland to just say, “The f**k with ye!” and secede in its own right from the United Kingdom (Scotland, for its part, overwhelmingly voted to Remain, which Donald Trump somewhat infamously failed to recognize after the smoke had cleared). And yet, a majority of voting Brits opted to Leave anyway. Recession, shmecession, am I right?
In terms of Donald Trump’s intended policies—as poorly-defined as they are—his supporters have also damned the potential fallout from his winning the presidency and exacting such measures, defying the predictions of many, myself included. After Trump’s whopper of a speech announcing his intentions to run for President of these United States, I imagined he would find some way to torpedo his campaign, if this didn’t manage to achieve that effect to begin with. Seeing the frustration with establishment politics from the progressive angle, meanwhile, I admittedly underestimated initially just how fed up everyday Americans are with “politics as usual” and the state of affairs in the country today. Chris Cillizza closes his piece on the Brexit-Trump with these thoughts, which sound like a warning more than anything:
We are in the midst of a worldwide sea change regarding how people view themselves, their government and their countries. The Brexit vote and the rise of Trump — while separated by thousands of miles and an ocean — are both manifestations of that change. There will be more.
“There will be more.” Sounds ominous. Like, “there will be blood.” Only Donald Trump is Daniel Plainview. And he’s about to drink all our milkshakes.
Like I said, I, at first, underestimated just how afraid and angry average Americans are, and how they might be willing to look past what many of Donald Trump’s critics see as detestable incompetence. Not to mention dude’s a first-rate asshole. He lies. He deceives. He cheats. He lies some more. And he belittles, bullies or sues anyone who runs afoul of him—which is not hard to do either because the man’s got the emotional maturity of a second-grader. Yet for all his shortcomings, those who intend to vote for him see a greater danger in letting Hillary Clinton get to the White House. I think an essential element of this is that with Trump, there is at least the perception that what you see is what you get. It may not be true, but by saying so much crazy shit over the past year and change, people get the sense he is being forthright with you—even when he’s off-color or off the mark completely.
With Clinton, though, the name of the game is secrecy, built on a mistrust of the press and a fundamental misunderstanding of the electorate. True, she possesses a vague feminist appeal in that she would become the first female POTUS (her suffragette white pantsuit has also played to female voters), as well as the notion she appears to genuinely care about the rights of women and children in particular. She also has received the support of progressive figures like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Michael Moore and Robert Reich, who have tried to make it seem as though Hillary is the greatest political candidate to ever grace a ballot—if for no other reason than she would be a vastly more rational leader than Donald J. Trump. If not connecting with voters based on a sense of historical achievement or pragmatism, though, she’s pretty much swinging and missing on an emotional front. Trump at least makes his supporters feel like he cares about the average Joe. With Hillary Clinton, however? She is so far removed emotionally from John and Jane Q. Public it’s scary—and I think the Democrats, in general, are too. To a certain extent, so are establishment Republicans. Going back to the Cillizza article, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio were cited as figures who believed Americans would “come to their senses” eventually. They were right, but not in the way they meant it. Americans are coming to their senses—but in the form of realization than neither of the major parties really get why so many of us are pissed off. Especially for Hillary’s and the Democrats’ sake, who have been celebrating her likely inauguration before she started running, it might just take a loss to Donald Trump for that aforementioned “sea change” in global politics to sink in and for the party to make meaningful changes.
The question is, then: what are the odds Trump could actually pull off his own Brexit-like reversal of expectations? As it always seems to be the case, the mainstream media and liberal news publications highlight favorable national polling numbers for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump, albeit less favorable than they were, say, a month ago. As we know, though, this is not how presidential elections are decided in this country—electoral votes are tallied on a state-by-state basis with the winner needing to get to 270 votes. And the most recent updates are not exactly good for the would-be Madam President. Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight indicates Trump is polling well in key swing states. Moreover, CNN’s most recent electoral map projection puts Clinton two electoral votes short of the necessary 270, with 66 votes up for grab in “battleground” states and blue-leaning states like Colorado, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin anything but sure bets. Of course, Hillary Clinton is yet the odds-on favorite to win on November 8, but, to borrow a phrase you will likely hear quite often this coming Tuesday, the race is still “too close to call.”
In other words, Donald Trump could conceivably win this whole g-d thing. Bringing back the conversation full circle, much as people voting Leave in the Brexit referendum vote may have regretted their choice, believing Remain would carry the day, if you’re voting Trump but really thinking Clinton will win, don’t. Just don’t. Also, much in the way people were mystifyingly Googling “What is the EU?” after voting, you need to understand what it as stake if Donald Trump wins. Mark Kleiman, public policy professor at NYU Marron Institute of Public Management, enumerated the “damage” a Trump presidency could entail, either with the stroke of a pen or with the sanction of a Republican-led Congress. Read it. The whole list. If you’re still riding the Trump Train after all these points, that’s fine. But if you don’t understand the scope of who or what you’re voting for prior to casting your ballot, you probably shouldn’t even be voting.
I am likely preaching to the choir with a lot of my sentiments in this piece and in this closing. I realize that. Still, it deserves to be said, and as such, I’ll make my own final plea: don’t vote for Donald Trump. Again, just don’t. This is not an endorsement of Hillary Clinton. Far from it. I’m not voting for her, after all. But I’m not voting for Trump either, because he is clearly the wrong choice. Sure, it’s a free country, and you can vote for whomever you want. Just remember, however, that all votes are final, and that lasting consequences may result whichever way you choose.