Brexit, Trump, and Globalization’s Have-Nots

CAMBRIDGE – Two political events that are attracting global attention these days – the vote in the United Kingdom to leave the European Union and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in the United States – have much in common. Just over half of UK voters chose “Brexit,” a result that has cast a long shadow over their country’s political system and economic prospects. Perhaps understanding the parallels between the two campaigns will help US voters avoid taking a similar path in November.

One parallel is that both campaigns were thoroughly underestimated, especially by experts and establishment figures. Just as the possibility of Brexit was initially dismissed, few political elites, Republican and Democratic alike, took seriously Trump’s bid for the Republican nomination.

Another similarity is that both campaigns have been based largely on implausible, even absurd, promises. In the UK, “Leave” campaigners assured voters that the UK could maintain access to the single market after withdrawing from the EU, while limiting the entry of European workers to the UK. They also declared that the £350 million ($465 million) supposedly sent to the EU each week would be reallocated to the cash-strapped National Health Service.

Within hours of the referendum result, the “Leave” campaign’s leaders began to backtrack, spurring anger among many voters, particularly those whose support for Brexit had been driven by the desire to cut immigration. Yet Trump’s own implausible promises – including his pledges to construct a wall between the US and Mexico and bring back manufacturing jobs from overseas – still seem credible to many voters.