Most Americans were only loosely aware of Thursday's vote on a referendum that would allow Britain to formally exit the European Union, a campaign better know by its short-hand name Brexit.
That general lack of interest isn't surprising. A majority of Americans are only loosely aware of what is happening in our own politics. So a vote across the Atlantic about Britain leaving a little-understood organization isn't the sort of thing that is going to draw Americans' collective attention.
But the stunning decision by Britons to exit the E.U. — and the underlying sentiments that led to this shocking result — are the stuff that Americans should not only pay attention to but should also understand as motivated by the same emotions that have fueled the equally remarkable rise of presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump in our own political system.
Trump, for his part, clearly sees the similarities and is seeking to capitalize on them. He tweeted this — from a trip to Scotland — this morning:
Just arrived in Scotland. Place is going wild over the vote. They took their country back, just like we will take America back. No games!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 24, 2016
(Worth noting: Scotland was the epicenter of the "remain" vote. Just saying.)
While Trump's open embrace of the Brexit decision is a calculated one — he struggled to answer a question on his views on the referendum a few weeks back — he's not wrong. Consider the number of similarities between the "leave" vote and Trump's own message.
* Immigration is out of control. At the heart of the "leave" campaign — particularly in the final days leading up to the vote — was an emphasis on the idea that the E.U., which is based in Brussels, had okayed massive levels of migration into Britain. That mass migration had, according to "leave" backers, fundamentally altered the identity of Britain in ways that were almost uniformly negative.
Sound familiar? Trump has built his entire campaign on the idea that the country's porous borders have not only upended the rule of law but transformed the United States — and not in a good way. Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan is deeply rooted in the notion that things in the United States were once good but aren't anymore, a change due, in no small part, to how the makeup of the country has been altered by who we let in. It's not an accident that Trump referenced his campaign slogan in his tweet on Brexit above.
* Political leaders and institutions are clueless and corrupt. Being governed by rules dictated by a nameless, faceless government entity in Brussels — the home of the E.U. — didn't sit well with lots and lots of "leave" backers. Neither did the idea that British Prime Minister David Cameron was the chief proponent of the "remain" effort. (Cameron announced his intention to resign Friday morning in the wake of the Brexit results.) People — whether they are Britons or Americans — now carry a fundamental distrust for any large-scale institution or high profile politician who promises to "know what's best" for them.
Trump has put that distrust and disdain for politicians and their institutions at the heart of his campaign. These people are dumb and don't know what they're doing, he tells his supporters. These institutions are either poorly run or fundamentally corrupt. The idea that anyone is looking out for you is a fallacy. They are doing what's good for them — and it often comes at your expense. I will look out for you. I will Make America Great Again.
* Consequences are overrated. This paragraph stood out to me in WaPo's news story on Brexit:
For months, Britain’s political and economic elite had looked on with growing apprehension as the country flirted with a choice — popularly known as Brexit — that experts had warned could lead to global recession and a rip in the Western alliance. The vote could also lead to Scottish secession and raised the stakes for a possible broader E.U. unraveling.
For almost the entirety of the Republican primary campaign, supporters of people like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio insisted that "voters would come to their senses soon" as it related to Trump. He was too brash, too thin on policy. Voters would eventually see that nominating someone like him could have potentially disastrous consequences both for the GOP and the country.
That idea ran particularly hot in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino in late 2015. Trump quickly proposed a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States, a move that many party elites rolled their eyes at, dismissing it as both impractical and carrying a wide variety of unintended consequences — very few of which were good.
They were wrong. Voters didn't care about how Trump's Muslim ban played on the world stage or the warnings from many elected leaders and national security experts that it could help spur recruiting from the very groups aiming to do us harm.
Ditto British voters who were inundated with warnings about economic damage and other alarms a separation from the E.U. might set off. The idea of dire consequences for a "leave" vote paled in comparison to their view of the current state of affairs and why it needed to change.
Make no mistake: This was a damn-the-torpedoes vote in Britain. And that's the same sort of how-can-it-be-worse-than-what-we've-got thinking that has spurred Trump to the verge of formally claiming the Republican presidential nomination next month in Cleveland.
We are in the midst of a worldwide sea change regarding how people view themselves, their government and their countries. The Brexit vote and the rise of Trump — while separated by thousands of miles and an ocean — are both manifestations of that change. There will be more.