I woke up this morning with an uncomfortable blend of dread and curiosity brewing in the pit of my stomach; the sort of feeling that consumes you when approaching the scene of a car crash. Is this about to be the start of something ‘uge? Will this date be etched in the history books for generations to come? It all feels a bit too… familiar.
And so, as an import to the land of unusually white teeth and ample portions, I wanted to reassure you, America; I know the feeling.
I remember the day of the Brexit vote like it was yesterday, but I remember it with a different lens. It wasn’t a real threat you see. Yeah it could happen, but it wasn’t actually going to. Being at the end of the world here in San Francisco, it was the middle of the day for me when the votes were being counted. I remember carrying on with my day like any other – watching the news updates trickle through while I was at a fitness boot camp, and again an hour later when I ruined it all with a pizza – the results ebbing and flowing like the changing of the tide. I remember feeling nonchalant about the whole thing, interested to track the margin of victory for the ‘Remain’ campaign, but not particularly worried about the result. I was convinced it couldn’t happen, right up to the very end when the BBC called it. They must’ve got it wrong, I thought. It couldn’t be true.
But it was. So, this time around I am watching my (adopted) nation flirt with huge political upheaval with my eyes wide open. With a knowledge that it might happen. Preparing myself for a repeat of the devastation I felt on waking up to realize that my Motherland wanted a divorce. So, I’m nervous, even as an outsider who can leave whenever she wants to. I’m nervous not only because of the wide-reaching influence US politics has on the international stage, of my love for this nation and its people, but because this might actually happen!
I’m not saying that Trump and Brexit are the same thing. No. They are a million miles apart in so many ways. My point is one of caution, that the certainty many feel on how the election will go tomorrow is the very same certainty I felt on June 22nd of this year.
There are also similarities in the way the political battle has played out, especially when it comes to the divisive rhetoric used on both sides, and the manner in which the left has underestimated those with an appetite for change.
During the lead-up to Brexit, the polarized ‘us’ and ‘them’ sentiment across the country was pushed to a new extreme, as it has been here in the US. Calling Trump supporters ‘stupid’, ‘bigoted’, and ‘deplorable’ and failing to even try to understand why a reasonable person might want to vote for him, hasn’t done anything to help the left’s campaign. Like in the UK, the hyperbole created by this name calling has convinced the targets that those hurling the insults must be completely out of touch with the world they inhabit; that they are the political elite, looking down on them from their ivory towers. Just as the left-wing media in the UK accused the ‘Leave’ campaign voters of being ‘uneducated racists’, Trump-shaming in the US has simply served to add fuel to the fire, strengthening the resolve of those already pledged to Trump to the point of evangelism, by turning insults into recruitment slogans (‘I’m a Deplorable’ Tee ).
For many Trump supporters, Hillary is simply more of the same – ‘great’, some might say; there has been a shed load of social progress over the last decade – but, as in the UK, many Americans do not feel they are being served by the status quo, so the right to vote turns into an act of rebellion. Just as many Brits claimed that Nigel Farage ‘told it like it was’, Trumps’ ridiculous, and factually spurious sound bites make him more accessible and relatable – rightly or wrongly – than the polished verbose that comes from the (outstanding) human being who has been governing them for the last two terms. Trump is the maverick underdog, and this is exciting for people who demand change. But change isn’t necessarily a good thing, especially when it grabs you by the pussy.
But, can he really do it? Can he achieve his ‘Brexit times ten’? Well, it depends on who shows up to vote today. If more white, male, over 64, degree-less voters turn up to put their cross in the box than the pollsters predict, he might just do it. However, one thing that will stay with me from my Brexit experience, is that the race is far from over. We cannot be sure of the results until the votes are counted.