Columns

Vilsan ’19: Observations from across the pond: globalization of fear

By
staff columnist
Tuesday, September 13, 2016

While my American counterparts spent the summer reeling over Donald Trump’s latest tirade, Europeans like myself were preoccupied with our own political phenomenon. The European Union, founded in 1993, has been a symbol of shared European values for decades, allowing EU citizens to travel and work with ease in other member states, among other functions. It is therefore no surprise that this June, millions of jaws dropped when the U.K. national vote contradicted the predictions of countless political experts. As an international student watching the political frenzies in both the United States and the United Kingdom from afar, I couldn’t help but wonder: Is any of this really that surprising?

National politics across the world have become increasingly difficult for foreign observers to decipher. Now that anti-establishment movements have achieved prominence across national borders, it is time to cease questioning their very existence and start interrogating their commonalities.

Shortly after the historic Brexit vote determined that, in the following three years, the United Kingdom will withdraw from the European Union, therefore declaring its independence from the organization’s legal and monetary frameworks, Republican nominee Donald Trump paid Scotland a visit. Though the Scottish population voted overwhelmingly to “remain,” Trump roared that the Scottish people had made the right choice when “they took back their country” — an action that he promised would be followed by America’s own political transformation. While European media focused its coverage on Trump’s misunderstanding of the Brexit vote when speaking in Scotland, his claim of political parallels wasn’t farfetched. Two symbols of the Western world, of democracy and liberal values, are clearly steering toward a more nationalistic, exclusive rhetoric, particularly on the issue of immigration.

In the words of Alexander Betts, professor of refugee studies and forced migration at Oxford University, the voting population in recent elections seems to be divided between those who embrace globalization and those who reject it. It can seem shocking to Brown students that such substantial portions of British and American populations are eager to support candidates and campaigns aimed at alienating foreigners and crippling relationships with other nations. While Brown and various other liberal institutions encourage global perspectives and the acceptance of cultural globalization, many are brought up to believe that globalization will eradicate national identity and lead to fewer financial opportunities for locals.

An interesting pattern emerges when comparing the demographic data for the Brexit vote and that of Trump’s supporters. Statistically, Trump’s support base largely consists of white, male voters making below $50,000 per year, and he is polling at approximately 5 percent with voters between the ages of 18 and 24. Similarly, the Brexit demographic data demonstrate that citizens who chose to leave the European Union were generally born and raised in the U.K., earning below £30,000 per year, and were more likely to be above 40 years old. When asked why they had voted to leave the European Union, British citizens said the related issues of immigration and sovereignty were the main factors in their decisions — like Trump’s supporters, they perceived a need to take back control over their lives. Many feel that current politicians do not represent their best interests. Meanwhile, Trump has infamously risen to power with his ambitious promise to “make America great again,” put his foot down when it comes to illegal immigration and demand payment from organizations such as NATO before committing to upholding treaties. The parallels between the demographics and campaign platforms in the two regions are hard to ignore.

And in both cases, the younger population tends to favor more inclusive, pro-globalization campaigns. But in the case of Brexit, the youth will have to adapt to stricter immigration and labor policies as a result of the opinions of many who no longer contribute to the workforce or have any intention of relocating. Who knows what American millennials would have to adapt to under a Trump administration?

These patterns are not limited to the United Kingdom and United States — similar growths in nationalism and resentment against the political establishment can be observed in Viktor Orban’s rise in Hungary and Marine Le Pen’s success in France. Ironically, the anti-establishment, anti-globalization mindset is increasingly globalized. So maybe we shouldn’t act so surprised.

Fabiana Vilsan ’19 can be reached at fabiana_vilsan@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.