I am certain that 2016 will go down in the history books, and not necessarily for good reasons.
Two of the biggest political controversies of the year have to be ‘Brexit’ and the American election. I have been fortunate, or should that be unfortunate enough, to experience both first hand. Despite being separated by oceans, tens of thousands of miles, and centuries of tradition, these two events contain countless similarities.
Firstly they have both been surrounded by strong feelings of nationalism and patriotism. Some argue this was an inevitable backlash to the increased diversity, immigration, and refugee crisis’s which both countries currently face. The desperate need to reclaim a country’s heritage and independence is sometimes translated as conservative, selfish, and even racist. Whilst some patriots appear to wear these labels with pride, others fight back and argue that this in itself is a form of prejudice by the liberal media.
Another parallel that we can draw between ‘Brexit’ and the US election is the widespread use of a protest vote. Many UK voters in the EU referendum proudly admitted that they used their vote to express their misgivings towards the Government; their policies, and the quality of life many are facing, arguably as a result. Despite knowing little about the European Union, trade deals, or official numbers of immigrants, many leave voters did know that the Government’s official line was that they wanted to remain in the EU; and that was enough.
In a similar light Donald Trump has captured the anger, injustice and mistrust felt by many Americans towards their Government and the current democratic system. Fuelling the fear of a broken economy, terrorism, and the loss of America’s identity, he offered himself as an alternative to the system which has existed for generations. The rhetoric he uses of ‘crooked politicians’, ‘draining the swamp’ in Washington, and fighting for the ‘everyday god fearing American’ reinforces the belief of something valuable having been lost, and the need for drastic action to be taken to regain it.
Many opponents to these views, including myself, have been quick to condone the use of protest votes, as reckless, senseless and potentially dangerous. However, there comes a point when we will have to look at the level of dissatisfaction and anger directed towards politics as a whole, which leads people to makes these decisions. We have a responsibility to address this, whether or not we believe it is being dealt with in the right way.
The final comparison I would like to draw between the political forecasts of the United Kingdom and America throughout 2016, is the lack of precedent, the loss of credibility, and the overall disbelief felt by many. In the run up to the EU referendum every single one of my friends believed we should remain, and somewhat took for granted that we would. My social media accounts were littered with articles, messages and opinions supporting the UK’s place in the EU; and so I settled into the naive assumption that the remainder of the population felt the same way. I was wrong.
Just as many Americans ask how Donald Trump ever reached the stage he has, and dismiss any vote for him as ‘insane’, many in the UK underestimated the power of an angry and motivated group of people, desperate to readdress the status quo. However ridiculous, however unlikely, however unprecedented these two events, and their potential outcomes may be, the fact is they have happened for a reason. If the EU referendum has taught me anything it is not to take anything for granted, and I urge Americans to do the same this November.