Like identical twins raised in different homes, the Trump and Brexit projects have ended up remarkably similar. They were similar in their advertising in 2016 and are now similar in the way they actually work — even if the advertising isn’t similar to the way they work.
Both have broken down over the issue of a hard border with a neighbouring country. Both are flirting with a trade war. Neither looks able to pass any more legislation.
It’s common to lump all contemporary populisms together. But Anglo-American populism is a unique variant: a mixture of wronged superpower vengeance plus buccaneering capitalism. Here is the Trump-Brexit governing philosophy, as revealed in power:
- Destroying the status quo might be better than the status quo. You never know until you try.
- The revolution will recreate the glorious past. So there’s no need to waste time planning for coming developments, such as climate change or artificial intelligence. The future of our countries is the older people who backed the revolution.
- People who opposed the revolution, as well as disloyal parts of the country (London, Scotland, Puerto Rico, California, sanctuary cities) should be ignored or punished.
- Ignore all critics, except fellow revolutionaries who accuse you of betraying the revolution, such as Jacob Rees-Mogg or Ann Coulter.
- Cabinet ministers do not need experience or expertise. So it’s fine if you’re on your third Brexit secretary in seven months, or if you have caretakers running the US’s defence, justice and interior departments, plus the Environmental Protection Agency. Don’t let anyone kid you that making a revolution is complicated.
- Don’t worry if government departments aren’t doing their everyday work. It probably wasn’t important anyway.
- There’s no need for friends abroad. (Trump and Brexit haven’t even made friends with each other.) Military alliances will only weaken you.
- Weakling neighbours that we bullied in the glorious past — Mexico and Ireland — will bow down again if shouted at hard enough.
- The great revolutionary project is renegotiating trade deals, even though these typically do little for services, which make up about 80 per cent of the US and British economies. You don’t need to have ever negotiated a trade deal to know exactly how to do it. An inspired dealmaker can overcome any inconvenient facts on the ground.
- Even while undoing existing business arrangements, the revolution’s leaders must always look after their own pocketbooks and profit from those arrangements where necessary. Hence Trump’s use of undocumented immigrant workers, his daughter Ivanka’s Chinese trademarks, the Ireland-based investment funds of Rees-Mogg’s SCM and John Redwood’s advice to investors to shun Britain.
- No matter how long the leaders of the revolution run the country, how much money they have or how expensive their schooling was, they can never become the elite. Journalists, academics and opposition politicians are the elite.
- The people are simple and should be addressed accordingly. Always repeat the same three-word slogans — “Brexit means Brexit”, “Build the wall”, “Take back control” — or people may get confused.
- The short-term health of the people is worth sacrificing in pursuit of the revolution. Left-behind Americans do not need health insurance or action on opioids. The benefits of a no-deal Brexit will outweigh any tiresome medical shortages.
- If some people don’t have food — after a no-deal, or because they haven’t been paid during a government shutdown — they can always get some if they just put their minds to it. After all, the leaders of the revolution manage. Grocery stores will “work along” with penniless Americans, says Trump; Sammy Wilson of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party advises anyone hit by Brexit-induced food shortages to “go to the chippy”.
- The revolution knows better than business people what’s best for business, even if the revolutionaries never worked in business or went bankrupt six times when they did. If the head of Airbus says that no-deal will hurt his company, he obviously doesn’t understand the aerospace industry. Similarly, Japanese carmakers seem strangely blind to the opportunities that Brexit is opening up. And American business will eventually realise that what it really needed was a trade war with China.
- Proof of the revolution’s rightness is that the economic growth that continued all through the pre-revolutionary government is continuing, so far (even if it has slowed a bit in the UK, but what are you — some kind of accountant?).
- There was nothing dubious about the votes that brought the revolution to power and, anyway, it all happened long ago, so anyone who bores on about it is just trying to subvert the will of the people.
- Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and all those faceless people in Brussels who work for Germany are ungrateful whiners who owe us a favour. They are about to go pop and disappear.
- If you ever have to choose between changing the world or changing your world view, always change the world. The revolution never compromises, not even with reality.
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