‘The Establishment Left Them to Rot’: Views From the U.K.

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

The morning after the U.S. presidential election, my colleague Krishnadev touched on the “striking parallels” between Trump’s victory and Brexit:

The polls tightened in the last few days before the vote. The establishment dismissed that as an aberration. While some citizens complained about being forgotten, about increased immigration, and a lack of meaningful jobs, elected officials spoke of the benefits of globalization and trade. [...] Although the political establishment and the chattering classes may have dismissed Trump’s chances, [he] had consistently predicted that he was “going to do something so special.” It will, he said, be “Brexit plus, plus, plus.” He was right.

We made a callout for non-American Atlantic readers who live outside the U.S. to share their reactions to the gobsmacking results of Election Day. (Use hello@theatlantic.com to share your own from abroad.) Here’s Martin with “a view from the U.K.”:

The reasons for Trump’s victory and for Brexit are rather similar: the revolt of the white provincial working class marooned in regions that were once the heavy industrial heartlands and where, for a century, communities shared a common culture and felt proud of their lives. Technology and globalisation destroyed these communities and the establishment parties who didn’t speak their language, didn’t hear them, and left them to rot.

Donald Trump shakes hands with Member of the European Parliament Nigel Farage at a campaign rally in Jackson, Mississippi, on August 24, 2016. (Carlo Allegri / Reuters)

The phenomenon of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn is the revolt of a different group—leftish graduates and intellectuals. But there is one similarity with the Trump/Brexit movement: Both the Rust Belt and the Ivory Tower felt that the national conversation was not touching on what they, their friends, and their colleagues at work felt were the big issues.

In the case of British graduates, it’s the lack of affordable housing, the privatisation and monetisation of public services coupled with no consideration of the ethics, values, and purpose of these services. The establishment parties reduced the language to generic “political speak,” degraded the autonomy and judgement of professionals, and replaced them with management consultants’ reports, guidelines, and box ticking, leading to failure despite financial investment. This graduate revolt is also rooted in the everyday experience of those working in the frontline of public service.

Once Bernie and Corby voiced these concerns, the graduates turned up to town-hall meetings and turned up to vote. However, what Bernie-style politicians have failed to do is to find a language that connects with the Rust Belt communities. Unless they can find a way of doing this, Trump will last a long time and many more Trumps will spring up—even in Europe.

Are you British and want to share your personalized U.K.-centric view of Trump/Brexit, or of the U.S. election more generally? Drop us a note and we’ll include. (Other countries to come.)

Another reader flags a viral video from British comedian Tom Walker, seen below. Walker plays a news reporter named Jonathan Pie, who unleashes an impressive NSFW rant about his lack of surprise that Trump won: It’s a result of overreach by the far left in America, he insists. The annoying camerawork in the video and Pie’s overheated affect is a bit much, but those aspects might just be a satirical skewing of the Glenn Becks and YouTube ranters of the world. Check it out for yourself. He touches on Brexit and covers a lot of the points raised by the Trump voters and anti-Trump voters we’ve been hearing from in Notes:

Update from James, “a Canadian living in my adopted city London, where EU arrogant elites got slaughtered by the same heartland vote that propelled Trump to victory last week”:

Thanks to the EU, I barely recognise the London I originally came to live in, marry, etc. Elites have flushed out much if not most of the happy, mentally healthy British people who used to live/work/play here—replaced by a soul destroying METROPOLIS type society that’s too expensive to live; too depressing to play; but boy oh boy if work is all you live for, this is a form of heaven.

Similarly the EU has banned so many consumer products, replaced by EU standardised second-rate ones, that you get the distinct feeling you’re being set up to become a globalist servant. There’s literally nothing in it for everyday Brits but the destruction of their excellent culture, while getting denigrated constantly by the media.

Then to top it off, the Westminster government has been reduced to servant status itself, since the EU courts decide everything these days. No one even wants to be the prime minister here since Brexit. It’s one big shambles.

That said, I love the Brits, and if history shows us anything, they will come out of this as hilariously awesome as ever.