What Does The Rest Of The World Think About The U.S. Election?
By Establishment Staff
Like many political elections, the one for U.S. president has fostered a kind of insularity: As Americans choosing among Americans to lead America, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that there is, in fact, an entire world out there. But this narrow view is dangerous in a few crucial ways.
For one, we forget how much this election means internationally, particularly in places that will be directly affected by U.S. policies surrounding issues like asylum for refugees, immigration, trade, climate change, and war, but also because of the symbolism of such a powerful country openly embracing fear-mongering and hate. For another, we ignore how much we can learn from other countries, some of which have grappled with their own Donald Trump-like figures ascending to great power in recent years, and racist demagoguery finding surprising support among the populace (Brexit, anyone?).
And so, on this critical day for the future of America, we asked 11 writers currently based in various countries around the world — in Latin America, Europe, Asia, North America, the Middle East, and Africa — what they’re seeing and hearing in the country in which they live, how the common narrative there differs from how they personally feel, and what parallels they’ve observed.
Insularity will get us nowhere. Listen up.
Martha Pskowski, Mexico
It was Tuesday night, August 30, and a Whatsapp alert lit up my cell phone. An editor was writing me from Miami.
“Donald Trump is going to be in Mexico City tomorrow.”
Unfortunately, it wasn’t a prank. By 9 a.m. the next morning I was at the Angel of Independence on Avenida Reforma, snapping photos of the protesters gathering to demonstrate against Trump’s visit with President Enrique Peña Nieto. “Why would he invite Trump, who has so viciously attacked us and our country?” was the common refrain.
Trump proceeded to lie his way through the visit, and Peña Nieto fumbled to control the damage. Two weeks later, on Mexican Independence Day, thousands marched through the capital calling for the president’s resignation.
It’s a toss-up whether Trump or Peña Nieto is the most unpopular person in Mexico these days.
Trump’s visit shook me out of the complacency I had entered once I mailed in my absentee ballot for Bernie in the Maryland primary. Trump’s incendiary rhetoric was far removed from reality, but Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy in Latin America was hardly a vision I or my Mexican friends could get behind. As is the case for many U.S. voters, particularly people of color and low-income people, Mexicans have little reason to be excited about either candidate.
My days were filled reporting on issues that neither candidate seemed to take seriously. I interviewed Central American woman and children crossing to the U.S., who Hillary had said should be sent back when they sought asylum. I met in coffee fields with farmers who have struggled to market their harvest since Mexico signed a litany of free trade agreements in the 1990s. I listened to the parents of the Ayotzinapa students denounce the state’s role in their disappearance in September 2014, and turned around to see President Obama endorse Mexico’s progress on human rights.
But the election’s significance in Mexico is undeniable. Trump’s rise has driven the Mexican peso’s inflation to new heights, and his election could precipitate an economic downturn. Families who receive remittance dollars from the U.S. worry what would happen if he follows through on his promise to deport millions of undocumented immigrants. As the peso devalues and wages stagnate, millions struggle to buy food staples and medicine and keep up on bills.
I have been impressed and humbled this year, by people like my roommate who religiously followed the debates, and my hairdresser who grilled me on the details of the U.S. electoral system. These are Mexican citizens who can’t vote in the U.S. election, but who know full well their lives will be tied up in the outcome.
I have tweeted my love for taco trucks, and sent in my absentee ballot. Now we wait.
No matter the outcome, on November 9 in Mexico City, there will still be tacos al pastor, street protests against neoliberal reforms, and the daily hustle. And hopefully a country to the north that averted electing a racist, sexual assault apologist for president.
Anne Theriault, Canada
If you ask a Canadian what our national identity is — that is to say, what unifying beliefs or truths make us a nation rather than a collection of individual towns and cities — you’re more likely than not to get the half-serious response that what it means to be Canadian is to be Not-American.
Like any good joke, there are several layers of analysis that can be applied to this. The first touches on our complicated relationship with our neighbours to the south, who have been our best frienemies ever since white people arrived on this continent and, as part of their settler-colonial process, decided to sort existing Indigenous territories into states, provinces, and finally countries. Canadians have had a love-hate relationship with America ever since, and while it mostly tips over to the “love” side of the equation, we did once burn down the White House.
In terms of how we relate to America, being Canadian is a bit like living on the other side of a two-way mirror. We can see everything that happens in America; indeed, our media is saturated with it. But when Americans look north, often all they seem to see is a vague reflection of themselves: people who look like them and sound like them and enjoy almost all the same things as them, even if they are a bit weird about guns and maple syrup. That is, if they ever look north at all. Sometimes being Canadian is like being this lonely high school girl who worries about what her crush thinks of her — Did he notice her new haircut? Does he think she raises her hand too often in math class? Was there a certain affection and warmth in the quick “excuse me” that he muttered when he brushed by her in the hallway? — only to learn that her crush never even thinks of her at all.
At the heart of the joke about Canadian identity lies that inescapable Canadian sense of insecurity — the one that can’t manage to tell you exactly what Canada is and can only define the country by what it’s not. But twinned with that sense of insecurity is another, seemingly contrary, feeling: smugness. Because to be not-American also means not having any of the negative traits we associate with America — the toxic fallout of American exceptionalism, the militarization and war-mongering, the lack of a social safety net for the most vulnerable citizens, including and especially a universal health-care system. It’s the smugness of that same lonely high school kid who comforts herself by saying that it doesn’t matter if anyone notices her or likes her, because at the end of the day, she’s a better person than them.
It’s the smugness of a country that would never elect Donald Trump.
But that smugness is to our detriment, not just in general but particularly when applied to the upcoming American election. It wasn’t so long ago that Toronto, our biggest city and one that loudly declares itself to be world-class, voted in a mayor whose platform and behavior eerily paralleled Trump’s own. Like Trump, Rob Ford claimed that he was there to fight for the rights of the little guy; he ran on campaign slogans like “Stop the Gravy Train” and “Respect for Taxpayers.” Like Trump, Ford tapped into a sense of deep disenfranchisement among low-income voters. Like Trump, Ford was overtly racist and misogynist, but — like Trump — those who voted for him didn’t care about those traits as long as he made good on his promises to disempower what they saw as the downtown elite. While Ford never explicitly said he was here to make Toronto great again, he might as well have.
So before we Canadians roll our eyes at the shit show that is the 2016 election and self-righteously tell ourselves that it could never happen here, let’s remember that it actually did just over six years ago. Keeping that in mind, let’s approach our American friends not with condescension or pompous pity, but with empathy and kindness for a difficult and highly stressful situation that the great majority of them never asked for.
And hey, if we play our cards right, maybe come spring they’ll ask us to the prom.
Leigh Schulman, Argentina
Argentines talk about U.S. politics only slightly more than people in the U.S. talk about Argentine politics. Which is to say, not much at all. But those who do talk seem to have firmly held beliefs about the U.S.’s GOP candidate. “Donald Trump, el es un hombre malo,” they usually say.
The irony, of course, is palpable. Only 6% of Argentines want Trump to win in a country that, according to the last census, is 97% white and Catholic.
Then we go on to discuss how Mauricio Macri has changed everything since he took office as president last December. Some people love him; he’s removed travel and import restrictions, opening the borders to workers, immigrants, and travelers. But opponents argue that Macri’s efforts benefit extrañeros — that is, non-Argentines.
It’s not all that different than what’s happening in the U.S., sans the painfully vitriolic language. Bad hombres. Mexicans are rapists. Muslims are murderers. The rhetoric in the United States seeks to divide, stoke anger, and scare people into voting. Here, almost 8,000 kilometers away, reaching over continents and oceans, I can still feel the fear.
Argentines worry about the future in a less definite way than people in the U.S. With an economy that has regularly crashed and revived, and a history that moves from civil war to military dictatorship to government for the people to socialism, Argentines don’t pin their future expectations and belief on government. They shrug their shoulders as if to say vamos a ver — we’ll see what happens.
When Argentines look to the future and say they don’t know what to expect, it’s no different than any other year. When Estadounidenses fear the unknown, it’s because we’ve always believed so strongly in the stability and continuity of a strong, central leadership. It terrifies us to realize that everything is falling apart.
Is it falling apart? Who knows? Is this sudden and new? Probably not. But the U.S. certainly exudes a sheen of organization. “Everything works there!” is the battle cry.
Except, not really.
I suspect Argentines take vicarious pleasure at seeing a big, organized, put-together, and rich country like the Estados Unidos in such a mess. It feels like a bit of well-earned schadenfruede, perhaps, after years of the United States making travel and work in the United States almost an impossibility for most Argentines, even as Argentina has long welcomed extrañeros like me into their country to make it home.
Kirsten Han, Singapore
In Singapore, the election campaigning period is too short — it’s a 10-day hurtle toward the polling booth, leaving us with little time to really get into any substantive discussion of the issues, or to properly scrutinize the candidates running for Parliament.
I see the U.S. has the opposite problem.
From where I sit in Singapore — and probably for most people around the world — this election seems to have gone on forever. I don’t even have that much of a stake in it, but I’m exhausted and thoroughly over this entire circus. When Trump first announced his candidacy, it was a great joke to share with friends over social media, before going back to face-palming over the stupidity of comments made by other Republican hopefuls like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. I don’t think we ever thought we would get to a point where Trump would dominate media headlines, and we wished we could have the other candidates back.
A poll conducted for the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong newspaper, found that 84% of the Singaporeans surveyed are crossing their fingers for a Clinton win, with 48% reporting a “very unfavourable” view of Trump.
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That said, some of the pain points that have contributed to the rise of Trump and his horrific rhetoric can also be found in Singapore. In a city that has often been described as a playground for the rich, inequality continues to be a major problem. A reliance on migrant workers as a source of cheap labor has depressed the wages of lower-income Singaporeans, creating stress, frustration, and resentment.
We also have our share of xenophobic rhetoric in Singapore. Some candidates played on anti-immigrant sentiment during the general election last year, and though they thankfully failed to win significant support, the problems that prompted the increase of such rhetoric continue to fester.
And that’s what scares me the most about this election: It doesn’t end on November 8. No matter who wins, the damage has been done. Horrifically racist, misogynistic, and fascist rhetoric has been legitimized and mainstreamed, turned ordinary by their constant repetition in the mass media.
I think the U.S. will be dealing with the fallout for a very long time to come.
Ruchi Kumar, Afghanistan
It’s no secret that Afghanistan-U.S. relations remain fraught. On one hand, the United States’ invasion of the country overthrew the notorious Taliban regime and brought democracy to the war-torn land; on the other, continued U.S. presence has, to an extent, destabilized economics, security, and development in the region.
Just last week, airstrikes by U.S. forces killed nearly 30 civilians, mostly women and children, in the Kunduz province. About a year ago, the U.S. bombed a trauma hospital run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in the same province, killing as many as 42 people, mostly patients and hospital staff.
Matters are further complicated by the fact that, over the past year, a large number of U.S. troops have withdrawn from Afghanistan, leaving Afghans vulnerable to the resurgent Taliban forces that now control large areas of the country.
Needless to say, not too many Afghans are pleased with U.S. activities in their country.
But despite their opinions, Afghans, a very informed people, have been keeping a close eye on the ongoing discussions around the U.S. elections — perhaps because their own fate and the future of peace in their country remains closely tied to that of the person who will lead one of the world’s oldest democracies.
Not many, perhaps none, are enthusiastic about a future with Donald Trump at the reins. And many Afghans, especially the women, are extremely excited about a woman — Hillary Clinton — taking charge of the U.S. and its foreign policy. They are, I assume, hopeful that a woman leader will involve Afghan women and women’s issues in U.S. foreign relations in Kabul, especially in the much-awaited peace talks with insurgent groups such as the Taliban.
Another concern of many Afghans, the majority of whom are Muslim, is Trump’s narrative of Islamophobia, which has especially targeted refugees who are escaping war. Afghanistan continues to produce the second-largest number of refugees in the world today, and as an increasing number of countries are shutting their borders to refugees from Afghanistan, referring to them as economic migrants, Afghans are finding themselves confronting increased political prejudice. The results of the U.S. election will determine which narrative sustains as a popular opinion, and help define the course of the global refugee crisis.
This is starkly different from my home country — India — where Trump is being hailed by several right-wing groups as something of a hero for his strong Islamophobia — a sentiment these groups subscribe to. While a large number of Indians do back and hope for Clinton in the White House, Trump will still be able to find many supporters in India, who are praying, literally, for his win.
Personally, I think the events of the past year around the U.S. elections has helped empower bigoted voices around the world, including in India. Trump’s victory would help ensure that these voices grow louder and turn into a culture, an idea that I find extremely distressing. With Trump in power, such groups in India would import this hatred to fuel an already burning fire of intolerance in the country — when, in fact, with the right kind of leadership, India can be an exporter of values of non-violence and diversity to the world.
Elnathan John, Nigeria
“Were Nigerians To Meet To Discuss The Election . . .”
If there was a meeting called, if there was a way you could all sit — all of you aspirants to the ever-elusive Nigerian middle class — there might be, but for a few daring exceptions, a consensus. Yes, there would have been hands flung in the air, delirious, begging to differ because a Nigerian meeting is not complete without that, even if all a person wants to do is restate a point they claim to disagree with. But in the end, self interest would prevail. You would all agree that Mr. Trump is bad for business and even though as evangelicals and believers, good Muslims and good Christians, you would lynch anyone in your own country with the liberal stance of Mrs. Clinton, Trump would severely interfere with your middle class luxuries: flying in and out of the U.S. to enjoy summer, or to see your relatives in Houston or Atlanta, or to visit that hospital without which you would have been dead a long time ago.
Yes, you would cyber-pelt with e-stones anyone who wants the gay marriage or abortion Mrs. Clinton now supports only because, being cultured and all, you are not one to engage in real violence. You would call a Nigerian trans person disgusting and abnormal and depraved but then, it is only Clinton who hasn’t said anything to threaten your shopping experience. And you will not let a little thing like ungodly liberal politics stand in the way of a good summer vacation.
If someone stood up at the meeting to mention that actually, Trump is closer to your values than Clinton is, you would ask them to shut up, clutching the iPad you got the last time your office sent you to a conference in New York. You would tell them to respect themselves and stop talking rubbish if they pointed out that Nigeria was becoming more conservative, more religious, more hateful. You would tell them not to compare Nigeria to America if this individual said that Nigerian male politicians and leaders treated women quite like Trump, only that in Nigeria, many like them younger, much younger. If this person said, at least Trump waits for them to grow up, it would infuriate you. And if they ventured to mention that the Nigerian parliament is generally of the opinion that gender equality is against our cultural and religious values, you would rise to your feet in shoes you got in L.A., and remind this silly individual why you are all gathered. This is about who will let us into America and not Nigerian men marrying children. Everyone would applaud you and ask him to stick to the damn issues.
You will get bored toward the end of the meeting, right after you have reached consensus and sneak onto Twitter. You will see Nigerians raining curses on a young gender non-conformist for wearing makeup and lashes and female clothing even though at birth, the doctors declared “him” male. Shameless, you will think. Not the mob; the gender non-conformist. Then you will scroll down and retweet a moving video by the Hillary Clinton campaign. And hope to god that disgusting Trump does not win.
Karissa Chen, Taiwan
Earlier this year, I was in the mountains of Taiwan, visiting a small aboriginal tribe of about 200 people. My friends and I had just finished watching a performance put on by the village for tourists, and afterwards, we had lingered to chat with the head, a soft-spoken man with light brown eyes. The conversation moved from our questions about the village (which operates on a shared communal system) to thoughts about global warming (as folks living off the land, they’ve seen it in action). Finally, out of the blue he asked, “What is going on with the election?” Then more carefully, he added, “What are your thoughts on Trump?”
I don’t really remember what I answered with. Maybe I just made a face, which is my knee-jerk reaction whenever anyone brings up the GOP candidate’s name. Maybe I stayed neutral, not knowing what the man’s own opinions were. He followed that question up with, “You know, we pay a lot of attention to America’s election. What happens there affects all of us.”
In the months since, I’ve been asked, by strangers, friends, teachers, even my bartender, about the news coming out of America. “What do your people see in Trump?” they ask, or “What is going on with all the mass shootings?” or “Why do police kill so many black men?” or “Is America really going to ban Muslims?” These questions are asked with a hushed curiosity, a confused incredulousness. When I struggle to explain something I’m even at pains to believe — about how Trump stokes the fear and anger of a certain segment of America, about how prejudice and racism still run through our society — they shake their heads, almost unbelieving. “America seems like such a wonderful place though,” I hear over and over again. “I thought America was better than this.” I did too, I want to say.
Taiwan isn’t a stranger to political tension. Although the country is a young democracy — their first elections were held in the ’90s after a period of martial law — they take their democratic rights seriously. The two major parties here have dividing lines defined largely by identity and how one believes the country should manage its relationship with China. There has been a history of corruption among some of its former presidents, and protests against the last cabinet’s policies erupted in the form of the student-run Sunflower Movement in 2014. And then this January, the country elected its first female president, an unmarried woman of aboriginal and Hakka descent, to the excitement of progressives throughout the country.
At the time, I wondered if America would finally follow suit with a first female president of our own.
It was strange to be someone on the outside, watching the political machinations of a country I’m in but not a citizen of. It allowed me to observe more, unimpeded by my own biases or personal investments. Watching Taiwan’s election coverage, I wondered what I might think of America’s elections if I were not American. Would the GOP’s platform seem more or less absurd? Was I simply blinded by my political partisanship?
But from my experience, the Taiwanese are genuinely confused by Trump’s candidacy. He seems antithetical to what many of them assume about America — that it’s a place welcoming of diversity, a place where opportunities are open to all those who are willing to work for their dreams. I wonder, too, how many of them are alarmed for the same reasons that aboriginal leader mentioned — because like it or not, the America presidency affects the international community, and Trump’s irresponsible international policies make everyone else less safe.
I want to assure the folks who ask me that America is just hitting a rough patch. That we’re on a rocky road to becoming that place that both they and I believe America can be. That at the end of the day, the will of the American people won’t be synonymous with hate, obscenity, and intolerance, but one synonymous with broken glass ceilings and a willingness to change for the better.
I know many people in Taiwan will be watching on this coming Wednesday morning, to see whom the American people elect. For all of our sakes, I hope we make the right choice.
Reza Khodamehri, Iran
In one recent study, 1,600 people were chosen from all over Iran randomly and asked how much they followed the U.S. election. According to this research, just 9% said they follow the election news very seriously, 11% said they follow it sometimes, and 79% said they follow it rarely.
And when you ask Iranians “which U.S. candidate do you think would be better for the future of Iran?” most of them say none; in their eyes, each candidate would lead to a different kind of trouble.
Hillary Clinton is seen as more militant than Barack Obama. Everybody in Iran knows her role in the country’s sanctions, and people have never forgotten her rude rhetoric in 2008, when she said, “I want Iranians to know, if I become the president, we attack Iran . . . we would be able to totally obliterate them [to retaliate for an attack on Israel].”
On the other side, Donald Trump seems scary and weird to Iranians, especially when he talks about global issues, like immigration and terrorism. They believe that his harsh statements; his reckless, fearful, and insulting remarks to Muslims, Latinos, refugees, and women; and his unwise policies toward European countries reveal a lack of the character needed to hold office. Then again, in light of Iran-Saudi Arabian tensions, Trump’s recent speech about not supporting Saudi Arabia was embraced by some Iranians.
Despite all these disparate opinions, though, one point is being made with some consistency: By pitting Lady Sanction against Mr. Unpredictable, the U.S. is losing its trustworthiness.
Nilanjana Bhowmick, India
Like pretty much every other Indian, I am obsessing over November 8 (and when I say every other Indian, I of course mean those who have the privilege to do so). Indeed, this is only the second U.S. presidential election to have inspired such passionate reactions in India, following similar responses when Barack Obama first won.
But there is a crucial difference between that election and this one. Back then, India was united in its support for Obama; as the first non-White U.S. president, he represented an underclass that the once-colonially-repressed India could identify with.
This time, conversely, India is deeply polarized.
In India, the narrative surrounding the 2016 U.S. elections has often been reflective of the global discourse — that is, many Indians are also outraged by Trump’s anti-immigrant, sexist, and racist comments. Early in his campaign, when Trump said Indians are taking away jobs in America, he also managed to piss off a whole generation of Indian techies — diligently working their way toward a green card — and their aspiring parents.
At the same time, in Trump, supporters of the extreme right see a global reflection of their rabid bigotry. A fringe right-wing group called the Hindu Sena (the Hindu warriors) has called him a savior who will wipe out Islamic terror from the world. They’ve gone so far as to celebrate his 70th birthday and organize ritual prayers to pray for his victory. And they’ve urged Indian-Americans to vote for him and donate to his campaign.
For Indian liberals, meanwhile, Trump’s rhetoric recalls the ascent of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party to power two years ago. The current prime minister, Narendra Modi, is a polarizing figure, much like Trump. His ideologies have been shaped by the far-right Hindu group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, better known as the RSS, which envisions India as a Hindu state. Under Mr. Modi’s prime ministership, India has witnessed increasing communal discord, rising intolerance, unhindered rise of militant Hindu groups, a clampdown on the media and freedom of speech, and a general sense of insecurity among minorities.
(That said, Bobby Ghosh, an Indian-American and former international editor of TIME Magazine, now editor-in-chief of Hindustan Times in India, calls Trump a “dangerous demagogue, and a cynical careerist,” but says there’s no parallel between Modi and Trump, as “Modi won national office after a long political career that included experience in holding public office and succeeded with a centrist platform that appealed to a broad base of Indian voters.”)
In India, many are also gleeful that a politically incorrect and divisive personality like Trump has come this far in the U.S. elections, representing everything that “big brother” U.S. has criticized in other countries at some point in time.
And as for Clinton? Overall, India seems to clearly favor her, possibly riding on the adage that a known devil is better than an unknown one. There is a paternalistic element to this support, as well: Clinton is the woman “who stood beside her man in a crisis” (read: Monica Lewinsky). This matters in India, which insists on evaluating a woman through the prism of a man.
Still, there is an awareness of the fallacies in Clinton’s policies, too.
In the end, many Indians have ended up feeling a certain empathy for American voters, who they feel are trapped — having to decide on the best among the worst, just as India did during its elections in 2014.
Nicole Froio, United Kingdom
I am a Latina immigrant living in post-Brexit United Kingdom. One similar narrative that has been going around in the U.K. is to be gentle to the working class for voting for Brexit and believing the lies that the far-right has spread about immigrants and people of color simultaneously stealing jobs and sponging off the state.
I can sympathize with the economic grievances of the working class, but to imply that racism and xenophobia are excusable in this situation in particular is a sure path to fascism. We cannot prioritize the economic grievances of the white working class over the humanization of immigrants and people of color. The scapegoating of minorities when speaking about a bad economy is a tactic Adolf Hitler used to manipulate the masses. It must be stopped at every level.
Avoiding the terms “racist,” “racism,” and “xenophobia” when speaking to the white working class does nothing for their economic grievances. It doesn’t solve them, and it doesn’t provide a solution to their problems. The passivity entrenched in avoiding a conversation about race contributes to a system that oppresses the working-class poor, people of color, and immigrants simultaneously, by pitting these groups against each other. It becomes a cycle of blame with no solutions. And this is without even starting to consider that immigrants and people of color are often also working class — so do they deserve the oppression perpetuated by their own class?
There is a process, aided by the far-right, that jumbles up economic grievances, racism, and xenophobia. This process is further pushed forward by a society that teaches internalized bias to its people. We must separate these two issues. We must ask: How can we help the working class thrive? How can we talk about racism and hatred in productive — not gentle — ways?
In the U.S., there have been similar narratives emerging about the supporters of the fascist cheeto with a wig, most notably by Bernie Sanders, who earlier this week tweeted:
“I do not believe that most of the people who are thinking about voting for Mr. Trump are racist or sexist. Some are, but I think most are people who are hurting, they’re worried about their kids, they’re working longer hours for lower wages. Our job is to reach out to Trump voters to tell them that we’re going to create an economy that works for all of us, not just a few.”
To imply that racism is on the rise because of economic hardship is to ignore that we live in a racist society. We, as a human race, have been racist for centuries. Economic hardship and desperation might potentialize these feelings (and actions based upon these feelings), but I must disagree with Mr Sanders: Our job is to talk about an economy that works for everyone, yes, but to also talk about racism with the intention to eradicate it. Hopefully, this can work toward an election cycle never being this exhausting and triggering ever again.
Margaret Corvid, United Kingdom
I went to visit a friend in a Cornish seaside village, and he asked me what I thought would happen in the U.S. presidential election. I told him about the New York Times probability counter, which had been consistently giving Hillary over 80% chances. Standing in his kitchen, his dog whining, he shook his head. He didn’t trust the polls because polls had lied to him before — not about a race across a huge ocean, but about a life-changing referendum this past June, here in the United Kingdom. In that referendum, a small majority of the British people voted to leave the European Union, and many of us woke up the next morning shocked and baffled.
During the spring campaigning, the polarization between Leave and Remain voters, which focused largely on the freedom of movement for immigrants that the European Union guarantees, ominously echoed the American election campaign across the water. Since the victory of Leave in June, hate crimes have spiked across the country. A few weeks after the result, the garden shed of a Polish resident in my city of Plymouth was burned down, and the arsonist slipped a threatening note through his front door. In America, meanwhile, newspapers reported on the Mississippi burning of a black church, with “Vote Trump” sprayed across it in menacing letters. In the UK, we read these reports and shook our heads.
And now, the people on the street, on the bus, at the sandwich counter ask me, with fear in their eyes, what I think will happen in the election. They ask because they hear my American accent, and they say, with puzzlement, that they can’t understand how anyone could vote for Trump. But they said the same thing in June, when they woke up to the surprise Leave vote. Here, just as in the States, neighbors wonder how their neighbors could vote for separation, xenophobia, fear. And no matter what the poll numbers tell them, they can’t believe them anymore.
The parallels don’t end there. A fierce woman went to court over the Leave vote, saying that the country couldn’t invoke Article 50 — the formal notice, according to law, that the U.K. is leaving the EU — without the consent of Parliament, and three High Court judges ruled that she was right. Immediately, supporters of Leave called the judges “enemies of the people,” and right-wing media dug for dirt on them.
Is there a commonality of ideas between these angry people calling for judges to resign and U.S. militia members training for insurrection when a defeated Trump impugns the legitimacy of the vote? Both groups in both places feel powerless; both rally to anti-establishment banners, and both are fed with lies. Boris Johnson, now our Leave-loving foreign minister, promised that leaving Europe would free up £350 million per week for our National Health Service; that promise has since been abandoned. And Trump leads his troops into a state of mind where lies don’t even matter; fact check after fact check has not weakened his implacable base.
The polities are fractured, divided, perhaps permanently. Or, maybe, there never were truly United States, and there never was a truly United Kingdom. Both were built upon slavery, racism, and brutal class warfare, and for both, the polling booth is like Schrodinger’s box, holding uncertainty and fear and little hope, until Wednesday morning, when the waveform collapses.