How the UK perceives the US in the Trump era
Some Europeans see the U.S. through their own window of societal tension and unpredictability about the future
U.S. President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May pictured during the G20 Nations Summit on July 7, 2017 in Hamburg, Germany. Photo source: PA Images Stefan Rousseau via Getty Images embed
Mirror images for better and for worse; United States and Britain being shaped by the same political and social forces
Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series based on interviews conducted with business, political and education leaders by Atty. Joe Richardson during a recent excursion to Europe.
Recently, I spent some time in London, the largest city in the U.K. I was interested in talking to people in the country about how they see the U.S., now, particularly, in the Donald Trump era.
My discussions with British citizens in the education, government, and business sectors resulted in several emerging themes. Most notably, as Britain, and even Europe, looks at us, they are looking in a mirror; they are dealing with many of the same political and social forces that we are.
Specifically, there is a never-ending tension between the old and the new; and with “change;” specifically, how change is defined and whether it is truly desirable. Some parts of society feel as if they are losing ground when they should not be, or have not historically, and this has them embracing leaders that press buttons that remind them of better times. Related, and dangerously, these same politicians use fear, and even hate, to arouse the worst in people which, in turn, causes them to make their decisions based on fear of differences, and not based on the ideals of a shared future.
A bit of current history helps to describe the “window” the U.K. sees us through.
In an unexpected development in 2015, the U.K. voted to withdraw from the European Union (EU), which has been a block of 28 countries that ultimately functioned as a single market with one currency, the Euro. The withdrawal is to take place in March 2019. The prospect of withdrawal came to be known as “Brexit.” The move was influenced in significant part by right-wing conservatives, most notably Nigel Farage, nicknamed “Mr. Brexit.” Similarly to the Trump election a year later, pro-Brexit forces cited immigration, among other things, as reason for generational economic stagnation and signalled a drastic change. In this case, a withdrawal from the EU, said pro-Brexit forces, would benefit those that feel left behind.
After the surprise vote to withdraw by the U.K. (51.9 percent in favor), the then prime minister resigned and was replaced by Theresa May, leader of the Conservative Party. Though she was against Brexit during the referendum, now sensing an edge and hoping to grow conservatives in Parliament, May announced an early general election in June 2017. Largely led by Official Opposition and Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, younger voters mobilized and turned enough parliament seats for the Conservative Party to lose their majority. May then formed an alliance with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in Northern Ireland to support her minority government.
As with many things, the devil is in the details, which are being worked out as we speak, and will be for some time. The U.K. and EU negotiating teams meet face-to-face for one week each month to hash out details. Among those details are exit fees; the U.K. will likely have to pay tens of millions of dollars for walking away from the EU. Another detail is how the U.K.’s trade situation will take shape; recently, the EU. has been in the throes of striking a trade deal with Canada that the U.K. will not be a part of assuming it completes its .U. exit.
It is important to understand that, while some in Europe see different things when they see America (which explains the pro-Brexit vote followed by the conservatives losing their majority), they are all looking at the U.S. through their own window of societal tension and unpredictability about the future.
Let’s try anything else
I took the opportunity to speak with Wayhd Vannoni, who teaches at Hult Business School in London and is the founder of the communications consulting firm Mediacodex Ltd. He confirmed his thought that when America elected Barack Obama president, it was monumental and made many in his country think, “look what America can do!”
On the other hand, there was abject shock in many European quarters when President Trump was elected. While they are stunned, Brits see some similarities between Brexit and what is happening in the U.S. Vannoni said, “In each case, those that wanted change sold the sentiment that ‘this is not working for us, and ‘let’s try anything else.”
As to Brexit, Vannoni marvels at the work many in Britain are doing to sell something that many still don’t understand the ramifications of buying. As Vannoni stated extensively, and pointed out in an article he penned, “Brexit, the U.K.’s version of ‘repeal and replace,’ the “anything else” part has yet to be worked out.
To some, this may be a familiar tune. We have just gone through an entire year of a new administration that stumbled to articulate through legislation what the new path forward, i.e. the “change,” would actually be. While President Trump has done much to undo many things that his predecessor did, including regulations related to environmental and other safeguards, this has created the impression that “undoing Obama” was the primary goal. This manifested in repeated failures to pass substantial legislation, until the recent tax overhaul. While it may be that the tax bill gains popularity as people see extra money on their paychecks, we will not know for some time whether the bill will fuel the economic growth that thwarts an estimated additional $1.5 trillion to the federal debt.
President Trump has made much of his desire to get the U.S. “better deals” on trade and made this one of his selling points during the election. Since the election, he has pulled the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and struck separate deals with several countries. Dealing with similar unease in the U.K., the prime minister seeks to negotiate trade deals with the EU. at the same time, it withdraws from it.
While pro-Brexit forces have cited the desire for better trade deals while selling EU separation, this notion is not without its challenges and inconsistencies. Vannoni confirms that Prime Minister May has quite a conundrum on her hands.
“If the U.S. matters, what does the U.K. replace it with?” Vannoni asks.
In this vein, the U.S. President’s unpredictability and tendency to be fine with “going it alone,” creates some worry for Britain.
NEXT WEEK: Britons wonder “How Did Hillary Lose?”