Populism gives rise to U.S., U.K. impasses
LONDON — In Parliament, lawmakers are mired in gridlock over Britain’s departure from the European Union. In Washington, President Donald Trump stormed out of a meeting with congressional leaders who oppose his border wall, hardening a standoff that has shut down much of the government.
Two governments paralyzed. Two populist projects stalled. Two venerable democracies in crisis.
Rarely have British and U.S. politics seemed quite so synchronized as they do in the chilly dawn of 2019, three years after the victories of Brexit and Trump upended the two nations’ political establishments. The countries seem subject to a single ideological weather system — one that pits pro-globalization elites against a left-behind hinterland.
The similarities abound: Brexiteers love to compare their cause to the United States’ war for independence. At a recent right-wing rally, one man marched with a scale model of the Liberty Bell. Trump has backed Brexit, while his friend, the Brexit godfather Nigel Farage, appears on Fox News, invoking Europe’s migrant crisis as a reason to back Trump’s wall.
“It’s stunning how parallel this is,” said Steve Bannon, who was an architect of Trump’s immigration policy as his former chief strategist and is an ally of Farage. “If you’re going to challenge the system, the system is going to fight back.”
Trump and the Brexiteers have ridden a nationalist tide in their countries as well, using a potent anti-immigration message to appeal to mostly white voters who yearn for a simpler, more homogeneous society that no longer exists.
In Britain, immigration has provided an electric current to conservative politics since at least 1968, when lawmaker Enoch Powell delivered a speech calling for immigrants to be repatriated. Opposition to immigration spiked during the past two decades as Britain was hit with terrorist attacks by Islamist militants and watched as migrants from Syria, Libya and other war-torn countries flooded across Europe.
In the United States, immigration surged as an issue because of the changes wrought by globalization. Manufacturing jobs moved overseas, where labor was cheaper, while immigrants took both unskilled and high-tech jobs previously held by Americans.
Local politicians in California and elsewhere shot to stardom by introducing anti-immigrant ordinances.
The tea party movement emerged, with core issues similar to those of Farage’s pro-Brexit UK Independence Party.