I’m reading a great book called Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain that I picked up in the airport and thought it had a really great perspective to view the election of Trump from.
The part that resonates with me most is his explanation of how the dynamic that lead to Brexit was simultaneously a deep sense of grievance AND a deep sense of superiority. For England, according to him, it was some set of grievances around losing their empire and now being one of many states subjugated to a central authority, in comparison to their previous status pre WWII as a world power, combined with a general sense of pride in all things British. The pride in being English, not one of many Europeans.
He points to many instances since the 70s of quotes around “Hitler having succeeded by economics if not by force,” superiority of the “British” way, an attitude of “they should be thankful for having us,” regarding the E.U, and most notably, proposals to strengthen ties to the commonwealth, the English speaking trading partners that are more obviously white and evoke their past as head of an empire.
He makes the case that to some extent, the British felt victimized, their economic growth actually stagnated post WWII when they arguably were the most important fighter against Fascism. Even their former foes had greater economic growth than them. They joined the EU because they kind of had to and there was no better alternative, not because they were thrilled, and so viewed themselves as the victim.
As more and more immigrants migrated to the country, a convenient scapegoat for this grievance gained a new face.
And eventually a sense of being taken advantage of too long coupled with the sense that their birthright entitled them to better boiled over into what amounted to a “Britain First” policy similar to Trump’s “America First.”
Or so he says, I can’t claim to be an expert on Brexit.
The dichotomy of the deep sense of grievance and the deep sense of superiority is what stood out to me most – it reminded me of a lot of Trump voters.
There are many people with deep grievances in the U.S., but I’d venture a guess that the ones who voted Trump also had a deep sense of superiority. Perhaps some of that was pure racism and sexism – they were superior because they were straight, white and male. THEY didn’t deserve this. Their situation clashed too strongly with what they had been told growing up, a conditioning of privilege that may not have been blatant but was reinforced throughout their lives.
If they were superior and had these grievances, it must be the system.