And then there were 27
In 1973, the United Kingdom (UK) joined what would become the European Union (EU). Among other things, Parliament, the UK equivalent to the U.S. Congress, agreed to pay a membership fee—this fee totaled $15 billion in 2014—and it agreed to enforce EU law when it is in conflict with national law or constitutional law (within limits). Currently, there are twenty-eight countries that are members of the European Union.
June 23, 2016, was a date that will be talked about in UK history classes. It was the day that then-Prime Minister David Cameron had called for a referendum to allow the public to decide if the UK should still be a member of the EU. The choices were to “Remain” or “Leave.” Even up until the day of the referendum, the polls showed the “Remain” camp with a lead. The next day, the world was shocked with 52% of the public voting to leave the European Union—this is also known as “Brexit” (British Exit).
Some people said that UK citizens wanted to retake control of their country from the EU, and others were saying that the public did not want the EU to force them to take in hundreds of thousands of Syrian immigrants. Whatever the reason may be, the UK will now be disconnected from the European Union in an increasingly inter-connected world.
Germany, France, Italy, and Austria have all seen a similar rise in power of nationalist political parties that promise to take their respective countries out of the European Union. All of these parties point to Brexit to increase the credibility of their strong stance against integration of the European continent.
Make America Great Again
Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy for President of the United States on April 12, 2015. For the next year and a half, much of the media, voters, and the world expected her to become the first woman to hold the position. But we were all shocked in the early hours of November 9, 2016, as news networks were naming Donald Trump the next President of the United States and leader of the free world.
Trump started his campaign with a press conference on June 16, 2015. He captured the media’s attention by describing all Mexican immigrants as criminals and drug-users, and this harsh, insensitive, and occasionally uninformed rhetoric foreshadowed the tone of Trump’s entire campaign: He mocked a disabled reporter; he was slow and reluctant to disavow the support of David Dukes, a former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan; he described the problems of all black people as an inner city problem; when a video was released of him bragging about sexual assault, he tried to minimize his actions by bringing up the misdeeds of Bill Clinton.
Despite Trump’s character flaws and inexperience, he was able to exploit Hillary Clinton’s trust issues with voters to swing traditionally Democratic states into Republican territory and pull an upset win. Many American people who felt ignored by Congress and left behind by the Obama administration voted for Donald Trump hoping that he would “drain the swamp” and eschew business as usual in Washington.
The Warning Shots
Brexit in the United Kingdom and the election of Donald Trump in the United States have striking similarities. Former Prime Minister David Cameron staked his career on the Brexit vote—he lost the vote and promptly resigned. Democratic President Barack Obama staked his legacy on Hillary Clinton—she lost the election, and Obama is now handing his legacy to a Republican President and a Republican Congress.
In both situations, the government, the media, and the polls were consistently predicting the opposite of what actually happened. In both situations, nationalism (advocacy for political independence and a strong sense of patriotism) played a large role: in the UK, taking back national sovereignty from the EU was the message of many “Leave” groups, and in the U.S., Trump’s campaign slogan was “Make America Great Again.”
Lastly, the working and middle class families in both situations voted the way they did largely because they wanted something different. They were tired of not feeling like things were getting better and did what no one expected to happen. If the politicians in Parliament and Congress don’t truly connect with their constituencies soon, they will be out of a job. The warning shots have been fired.
I’m still optimistic
So 2016 may not have met my expectations. And that’s okay because I still have hope. I see our new leaders at all levels of government and the fresh ideas they bring. I see that people are willing to do what is right because it is right thing to do. I see that God is still in control.
As with every year, I begin 2017 with the highest expectations…