If Donald Trump’s campaign slogan is “Make America Great Again,” a majority of Britons can be said to have voted for “Make Britain Great Again.” Those who supported the Leave campaign were people nostalgic for a return to a pre-eminent Great Britain, if not a return to the Empire. Polls indicated that those over 45 years of age and many retirees, white males, and those with only high school diplomas who were in favor of Brexit have similar profiles to Trump supporters.
Trump has also called for the United States to go it alone. Forget NAFTA and other encumbering alliances that drag America away from its destined place to lead. Return to those moments after World War II and the Cold War when the United States was the lone superpower, a modern day version of empire today called a hegemon.
“People want to take their country back; they want to have independence,” he said during a recent trip to Scotland, getting down to his real business of business. “You’re going to have many other cases where people want to take their borders back, they want to take their monetary back, they want to take a lot of things back, they want to be able to have a country again,” he added.
In a world of growing interdependence, there is something tragic about those who want to turn the clocks back to earlier glory. The nostalgia for a politics of place wherein independent countries vied for domination is technologically outdated. Absolute sovereignty is a thing of the past, but emotionally is very much alive. The era of national if not local politics has returned as globalization continues its inevitable march forward.
Was the nationalistic backlash against globalization inevitable? What could have been done differently? At the current European football championships, there is an overwhelming feeling of nationalism, with flags whirling and national anthems ringing from the stands. There is no team from the European Union.
And that’s the point. The European Union, like all supranational organizations, appeals to a rational, multinational logic that leaves out any emotional attachment.
Whereas the EU has successfully united a continent that was ravaged by two world wars, it has been unable to capture a sense of belonging among its 500 million citizens. There is no anthem to sing, there is no soccer team to cheer for.
Emotional politics is not an oxymoron. If you ask people why they vote for this or that, they will undoubtedly respond with a belief in either a certain person or a certain slogan. Rarely are there logical responses backed by concrete facts. The more complex the world becomes, the more simple answers are appealing. In Britain, it was either Leave or Remain; there was no in-between.
The citizens of Great Britain have spoken. The citizens of Scotland and Northern Ireland may also speak about their belonging to the United Kingdom. We have entered an era of secession and very local politics. Brexit and Trump appeal to that emotion. The citizens of the United States will not have a similar vote, but the emotions will be the same on November 8.
Will there be a different result?