Nostalgic ties that bind Trump's approach and Brexit

By Nicola Lamb comment

US President Donald Trump. Photo / AP
US President Donald Trump. Photo / AP

COMMENT

Ever since Donald Trump shook the world by winning the US presidential election, his rise and Britain's Brexit surprise have been joined at the hip.

Initially the link seemed mostly about the electoral jolts of two modern-day peasants' revolts. The Trump and Brexit campaigns were notably howls of protest from the economically marginalised - with other groups along for the ride.

Elites were faced with radical political change in the US and Europe. There was wider discussion of right-wing populist movements and their threat to democratic institutions. Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage turned up in the US as a Trump booster. The then President-elect expressed support for Brexit and populist movements in Europe.

But another factor linking the two events has lately gained more attention - cultural and nationalistic nostalgia.

Brexiteers, who polls show are mostly older - 45 plus - than Remainers, are nostalgic for the 'good old days'.

In Britain, a YouGov poll asked 2000 respondents what they would like to see brought back with Brexit. More than half of those who favour Brexit wanted the return of the death penalty. Also popular: Caning in schools, old-style lightbulbs, selling goods in pounds and ounces and a return to dark blue passports.

And just days after the formal start of Brexit, the British conservative press has been talking up war with Spain over Gibraltar. Today the Gibraltar Government said a Spanish patrol ship had entered its territorial waters without permission.

Former Conservative Party leader Michael Howard suggested that Prime Minister Theresa May would defend Gibraltar as Margaret Thatcher did with the Falklands if there was any attempt to grab the territory through the Brexit talks.

The Daily Telegraph ran an article with the intro: "Britain's Royal Navy is substantially weaker than it was during the Falklands War but could still "cripple" Spain, military experts have said."

Guardian columnist Marina Hyde noted: "Brexit's like one of those 70s US university psychology experiments that had to be stopped after descending swiftly into brutality."

The New Republic's Jeet Heer tweeted: "Britain is like an old prize fighter, long since gone to seed which picks fights with other old guys in bars to prove it still has something."

The Sun's cover yesterday - 'Up yours Senors!' - is a reminder of the paper's November 1, 1990 Eurosceptic declaration 'Up yours Delors'.

The old heading was aimed at former European Commission president Jacques Delors and his attempts at European integration and a common currency.

Over in the US, Trump's Administration feels like a time-slide back to the 1950s with his Cabinet being the most white and male in decades.

Trump has had high profile stumbles with immigration and healthcare but he is also overturning Obama-era policies and regulations in a range of areas such as on trade, climate change, internet privacy, and family planning. Turning back the clock.

For instance, Trump's new changes on energy included a nostalgic bid to help the coal industry, where jobs held by white working-class voters have been in decline for 30 years. There are almost four times as many solar jobs as coal jobs. But Trump is making a point of working for his supporters.


According to a New York Times review last month of November's election data, "large numbers of white, working-class voters shifted from the Democrats to Mr Trump. Over all, almost one in four of President Obama's 2012 white working-class supporters defected from the Democrats in 2016, either supporting Mr Trump or voting for a third-party candidate".

White House photos of a meeting last month featured a cast of white Republican men, discussing cutting healthcare for women. In January, Trump signed an abortion order surrounded by men.

New York Times opinion writer Jill Filipovic wrote that these could be intentional messages to right-wing supporters.

"President Trump ran a campaign of aggrieved masculinity, appealing to men who felt their rightful place in society has been taken from them by a stream of immigrants stealing their jobs, women who don't need husbands to support them, and members of minority groups who don't work as hard but still get special treatment."

She added: "Trump promised he would make America great again, a slogan that included the implicit pledge to return white men to their place of historic supremacy. And that is precisely what these photos show."


Vice-President Mike Pence's marriage got attention after an item in a Washington Post profile: "In 2002, Mike Pence told the Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won't attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side, either."

Washington Post opinion writer Paul Waldman wrote: "Trump very much got elected on the grievance of men who feel as though they've lost their place atop the social hierarchy. That's the most compelling explanation of why Trump did so spectacularly well among evangelical Christians despite his libertine lifestyle and lack of religiosity: He promised a return to a patriarchal social order in which the supremacy of men was unquestioned. Others thrilled to his willingness to offend and insult; at last, a politician was telling them that they didn't have to mind their manners anymore."

Both Trump's election and Brexit have a lot to do with people who would prefer to go back rather than forward, and their idea of the past rather than a scary future.

- NZ Herald

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