Much has been said about the global rise of populism and the extent to which this resurgent movement underlies both Brexit and MAGA. While globalism has across the board been a large advantage in the developed world, a price has been paid and largely by unskilled workers. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that between 2001 and 2013 the United States lost 3.2 million manufacturing jobs. Of the jobs that remained, wages fell. EPI estimates that trade with less well-developed countries reduced American workers’ wages by 5.5% among those without a college education. These farmers, furniture makers and manufacturing workers incubated a growing resentment of having been left behind and largely ignored by the political system. The time was ripe for the “forgotten man” on both sides of the Atlantic to flex his muscles and fuel the growing movements brought Pres. Donald Trump and Prime Minister Boris Johnson to power.
Nationalism rose as globalism was repudiated; calls for “America First” and “Leave” arose on either side of the Atlantic. The times of seemingly endless American engagement in foreign wars and unfair trade that preyed on the American worker were over; the dictates of bureaucrats from Brussels and erosion of national sovereignty in England were no longer acceptable. In this moment both countries decided to go it alone.
It is not surprising that this new uprising largely went along generational lines. Millennials had not experienced decades of stagnant wages and political neglect. They had no memory of the power, persuasion and prosperity the people knew under Pres. Ronald Reagan or Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The MAGA and Brexit movements have been largely populated by older, largely white and middle-class voters in both the United States and England.
Perhaps no two figures quite typified the emergent supremacy of this global elite than Pres. Obama, who swept to power on a coalition of unprecedented minority turnout and a platform of global reparations––an image so powerfully intoxicating to European liberals that Obama was awarded the Noble Peace Prize less than a year into his administration and with no fundamental foreign policy or diplomatic achievements. In Britain, the unlikely pairing between a beautiful American actress, who happens to also be, like Obama, the product of a bi-racial union, and Britain’s most cherished tribal identity––the Royal Family––raised another conundrum.
To many young people, Obama’s presidency and Meghan Markle’s ascendance to within striking distance of the British monarchy were powerful symbols of change. Each represented the pinnacle of an optimistic promise upon which many––including the Obamas and the Sussex’s––had been raised. That is, we could achieve a ‘post-racial’ society in which even those who had formerly been treated as slaves and second-class citizens could rise to the pinnacles of power, prestige and influence; that a British Royal could defy tradition and marry an American ‘commoner’––who also just happened to be Black––and no one would bat an eye. Or perhaps they would bat an eye; if eye-batting were the new hipster language of approval.
But alas this was not to be so. If both Brexit and MAGA were said to be reactions to globalism, Trump’s ascendance as a singular historical figure was rooted in a reaction to Obama’s transcendence from mere politician to savior of the American left. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose personality and politics draw many comparisons to Trump, stands in stark contrast to the youthful hipness of the duke and duchess of Sussex.