Months af­ter Brexit, English res­i­dents find Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal di­vide ‘ap­palling’

Maryland Independent - - News - By MINA HAQ Cap­i­tal News Ser­vice

LON­DON — Brodie Hunter moved from Scot- land to Lon­don 40 years ago, but has al­ways loved Amer­ica.

He’s never been to the United States, yet finds the coun­try fas­ci­nat­ing, he said. But the di­vi­sion ex­posed dur­ing this election cy­cle has dis­il­lu­sioned the Brom­ley res­i­dent.

“Amer­ica, it’s dis­ap­point­ing be­cause it was sort of a bea­con to the world,” he said. “Peo­ple looked up to Amer­ica. They don’t in the same way, be­cause you’ve got so di­vided. It’s worse even than in Britain, and it’s bad in Britain, too.”

The United States and the United King­dom are both en­dur­ing po­lit­i­cally tu­mul­tuous times that in some ways have fol­lowed par­al­lel tracks.

Di­vi­sions in both na- tions have sprung from anti-es­tab­lish­ment sen­ti­ments in ru­ral and eco­nom­i­cally dis­tressed ar­eas that felt ne­glected and eco­nom­i­cally over- looked by the po­lit­i­cal elite, ex­ac­er­bated by wor- ries about glob­al­iza­tion and im­mi­gra­tion.

As Amer­i­can vot­ers on Tues­day chose be­tween two of the most his­tori- cally dis­liked pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, Eng­land still is reel­ing from its vot­ers’ June de­ci­sion to leave the Euro­pean Union, a deci- sion known as Brexit.

Po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns in both na­tions even fea­tured sim­i­larly vague slo­gans, said Robyn Munro, a se­nior re­searcher with the In­sti­tute for Gov­ern- ment, an in­de­pen­dent char­ity in Lon­don that an- alyzes gov­ern­ment ef­fec- tive­ness. The U.K. In­de­pen­dent Party promised to “take back con­trol,” while Repub­li­can presi- den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump claimed he alone could “make Amer­ica great again.”

The U.K. In­de­pen­dent Party fu­eled the rise of Brexit as a sin­gle-is­sue party cen­tered around leav­ing the Euro­pean Union, Munro said, add- ing that the party has suc­ceeded in in­clud­ing dif­fer­ent griev­ances that fall un­der the “um­brella of Brexit.” Im­mi­gra­tion’s strain on so­cial ser­vices was one of them.

Trump made immi- gra­tion a cen­tral is­sue in his cam­paign, promis- ing to build a wall along the Mex­ico-U.S. bor­der to keep out im­mi­grants who he said were bring- ing drugs, crime and “rapists” into the United States. He also pro­posed a ban on all Mus­lim immi- gra­tion.

“I think it’s this anti-es- tab­lish­ment move­ment ... which he’s been go­ing for and that’s what the Brexit cam­paign rep­re­sented,” said Caro­line Tranter, a Lon­don res­i­dent who works at a de­fense re­search or­ga­ni­za­tion. She was watch­ing election re­turns at the United States Em­bassy’s election night watch party in cen­tral Lon­don.

Munro said a key dis- tinc­tion be­tween the two coun­tries’ im­mi­gra­tion de­bates is that U.K. cit- izens are pri­mar­ily con­cerned with the in­flux of im­mi­grants in a short pe­riod of time, such as Pol- ish cit­i­zens who gained the right to go to the Unit- ed King­dom when Poland joined the Euro­pean Union. The ar­eas where In­de­pen­dent Party sup- port is strong­est is where the rate of im­mi­gra­tion in­crease has jumped, she said.

“It’s not that im­mi­gra­tion per se is bad, it’s more that the U.K is not deal­ing with it in an ap­pro­pri­ate way,” she said. “Whereas, my im­pres- sion of the U.S. is there seems to be a lot more rhetoric around immi- grants be­ing bad peo­ple.”

Munro said be­fore the Brexit ref­er­en­dum there wasn’t a racial el­e­ment to the anti-im­mi­gra­tion sen­ti­ment in the United King­dom. Since the vote, how­ever, there have been re­ported rises in hate crime, she said.

“There is a per­cep­tion that the act of vot­ing for Brexit al­most made it OK to be more overt- ly anti-those im­mi­grant groups,” she said.

Sim­i­lar signs have ap­peared across the At­lan- tic.

In De­cem­ber 2015, six months af­ter Trump be­gan his cam­paign, an- ti-Mus­lim at­tacks in the United States surged, ac- cord­ing to a re­port pub­lished by Ge­orge­town Univer­sity’s Cen­ter for Mus­lim-Chris­tian Un- der­stand­ing. Of the 53 to­tal at­tacks, 17 tar­geted mosques and five tar­get- ed Mus­lim homes.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama has said that polit- ical rhetoric against Mus­lim Amer­i­cans “has no place in our coun­try,” and be­cause of that rhetoric it’s “no sur­prise then that threats and ha­rass­ment of Mus­lim Amer­i­cans have surged.”

Lon­don res­i­dent Abul Hasanath, a Mus­lim, is shocked Amer­i­cans let Trump get this far.

“Be­ing a Mus­lim ... I think he cre­ates ha­tred and fear fac­tor, which I don’t like,” he said. “… I just can’t be­lieve Amer­ica would elect him or even think of elect­ing him.”

Hasanath voted to re­main in the Euro­pean Union, and rec­og­nizes both coun­tries are fac­ing ques­tions about reg­u­lat- ing im­mi­gra­tion.

“There is peo­ple out there who come in and waste a lot of money com- ing in and putting a bur- den to the coun­try,” he said, “but there are peo­ple com­ing in bring­ing re­sources and val­ues.”

Adel Mab­ham, who is from Cairo, Egypt, was vis­it­ing Lon­don. He thinks Brexit was a “bad de­ci­sion.” He said we are liv­ing in a global world, and votes like Brexit and de­cid­ing the next U.S. pres­i­dent af­fect the rest of the world.

“Election in the states will af­fect us [in Egypt], the whole world,” he said. “So get­ting some­one like Trump will not de­stroy the [United] States only, [it] will de­stroy … the whole in­ter­na­tional poli- cy.”

Trump’s rise and polls show­ing dis­trust of Clin- ton are largely at­trib­uted to ex­haus­tion with the Wash­ing­ton elite, and the anti-es­tab­lish­ment sen- ti­ments in the two coun- tries have been al­most iden­ti­cal, Munro said.

Both Trump and U.K. In­de­pen­dent Party leader Nigel Farage, per­haps Brexit’s strong­est ad­vo­cate, are “quite priv­i­leged in­di­vid­u­als,” and have con­nected with groups who feel ne­glected by party lead­ers, Munro said.

“[Farage and Trump] have been, I think, very suc­cess­ful pre­sent­ing them­selves as bash­ing Wash­ing­ton, bash­ing West­min­ster — they want to fight for the lit­tle guy, and elites don’t un- der­stand the pres­sures that nor­mal fam­i­lies face, these guys do and ‘we should vote for them be­cause they’re go­ing to tell it how it re­ally is,’” she said.

Farage has been a vo­cal sup­porter of Trump, even go­ing so far as to at­tend the Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion in Cleve­land.

Tranter said she did not know whether all of those sup­port­ing the U.K. In- de­pen­dent Party would agree with Farage’s alli- ance with Trump, “and I cer­tainly don’t think all ‘leave’ peo­ple would agree with Don­ald Trump, but there are ob­vi­ous paral- lels that you can draw.”

Hunter, who voted to re­main in the Euro­pean Union, thinks the simi- lar­i­ties have been exag- ger­ated but agrees there are over­laps. He said the po­lit­i­cal di­vide be­tween east coast cities and ru­ral mid­west­ern towns in Amer­ica has been build- ing for a long time.

“It’s ap­palling the way work­ing class peo­ple [in the United States] have been ne­glected, and that’s why Trump has tapped into that,” he said. “Of course, it is a bit daft that you get a bil­lion­aire property man that’s sup­pos­edly rep­re­sen­ta­tive of mainly poorer whites.”

Ac­cord­ing to an Oc­to­ber Cap­i­tal News Ser­vice ar­ti­cle, the ar­eas in Demo­cratic-lean­ing Mary­land where Trump’s sup­port is at its high­est are ru­ral ar­eas along the East­ern Shore.

Lon­don res­i­dent Pe­lumi Owaseja thinks both coun­tries’ cit­i­zens are “scape­goat­ing” cer­tain groups for their re­spec­tive prob­lems. She said she has no­ticed peo­ple in the U.K. blam­ing refugees and im­mi­grants for the coun­try’s prob­lems, which “shouldn’t be what we stand for as a coun­try.”

“There’s been a lot of seg­re­ga­tion, a lot of xeno­pho­bia,” she said, “which is just com­pletely ridicu­lous.”

Owaseja voted to stay in the Euro­pean Union, and went to bed early the night of the ref­er­en­dum be­cause she thought the “stay” cam­paign was do­ing well. She woke up at 5 a.m. com­pletely shocked to see the re­sults.

She still thinks the U.S. election is the “cra­zi­est thing I’ve ever seen.”

“Ob­vi­ously Trump should not be pres­i­dent at all, but at the same time there’s so much con­tro­versy with Hil­lary [Clin­ton] as well, so I’m sort of in the mid­dle,” Owaseja said. “Isn’t there any way we could get some sort of last-minute can­di­date to just jump in?”

Munro said lead­ers in both coun­tries must an­swer the ques­tion of how to re-en­gage with groups that they “took for granted”: the work­ing class of north­ern Eng­land who felt ne­glected by the La­bor Party, and Trump sup­port­ers who grew tired of main­stream Repub­li­cans and Democrats.

“Those con­cerns won’t just go away even if Hil­lary wins or even if we de­cide to stay in the EU,” she said. “There’s this kind of beast that’s wo­ken up.”

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