CCTV business correspondent Owen Fairclough has witnessed two insurgent populist movements cause global shock waves this year and thinks it’s time to join the dots on historic changes.
It was the moment Donald Trump won Florida – a crucial swing state – that I began saying it.
Heading back into the CCTV America office to recharge batteries after multiple Facebook live hits on the streets of Washington, I spotted the anxious faces of my U.S. colleagues who were beginning to absorb the shock that Donald Trump was about to become President.
“I can’t believe this is happening” is the polite summation of most reactions; it is a newsroom, after all.
Suddenly I was insensitively replying over and over: “Been there done that – I was in the U.K. for Brexit.”
I was among those who didn’t hang around for the result but went to bed after the first exit polls emerged on June 23 when we Brits voted on leaving or remaining in the European Union.
I complacently assumed it was business as usual and this ultimately meaningless vote would ultimately become a quaint historical footnote.
Trump’s victory has proved beyond any doubt we are in the midst of an historic reordering – certainly of the leading Anglo Saxon powers – driven by far-right populism. It may have been given a fresh baptism in the Brexit movement, but the emotions and trends that forged it have much deeper roots in the kind of slowly widening income inequality we’re beginning to understand.
But many Brits at least seem unable to join the dots. I was surprised by the stream of texts and emails from friends back home stunned that Trump could become U.S. President less than six months after the UK opted to leave the EU.
True, Trump’s misogyny and xenophobic comments might arguably have been more explicit than those of the Brexit figurehead Nigel Farage (who campaigned for Trump), but their ideology is driven by the same anti-immigrant, anti-globalisation and anti-establishment impulses.
So why the surprise? While hopping around downtown Washington last night to talk to Trump and Hillary Clinton supporters, I thought back to the 1930s and how few observers joined the dots around Europe as fascism and then Nazism took root from Italy, to Spain to Germany. By the time it was obvious to the masses, it was too late to stop a world war.
No, I’m not suggesting we’re back to that – though both Trump and Farage have displayed fascistic strategies to shape their populism. But we’re undeniably at a tipping point now.
This movement will flourish as France prepares for presidential elections next year. Far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen congratulated Trump on his victory an hour before he was declared victor. She, too, has carved out a populist ideology that closely mirrors Brexit and Trump. And she’s joining the dots for supporters who feel they are part of something bigger than them.