CRF Blog

The End of the Anglo-American Order

by Bill Hayes

In The End of the Anglo-American Order for New York Times Magazine, Ian Buruma argues that Brexit and the election of Donald Trump mark the end of the rules-based liberal international order.

One of the strangest episodes in Donald Trump’s very weird campaign was the appearance of an Englishman looking rather pleased with himself at a rally on Aug. 24 in Jackson, Miss. The Englishman was Nigel Farage, introduced by Trump as “the Man Behind Brexit.” Most people in the crowd probably didn’t have a clue who Farage — the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party — actually was. Yet there he stood, grinning and hollering about “our independence day” and the “real people,” the “decent people,” the “ordinary people” who took on the banks, the liberal media and the political establishment. Trump pulled his face into a crocodile smile, clapped his hands and promised, “Brexit plus plus plus!”

Brexit itself — the decision to withdraw Britain from the European Union, notwithstanding the almost universal opposition from British banking, business, political and intellectual elites — was not the main point here. In his rasping delivery, Trump roared about Farage’s great victory, “despite horrible name-calling, despite all obstacles.” Quite what name-calling he had in mind was fuzzy, but the message was clear. His own victory would be like that of the Brexiteers, only more so. He even called himself Mr. Brexit.

Many friends and experts I spoke to in Britain resisted the comparison between Trumpism and Brexit. In London, the distinguished conservative historian Noel Malcolm told me that his heart sank when I compared the two. Brexit, he said, was all about sovereignty. British democracy, in his view, would be undermined if the British had to abide by laws passed by foreigners they didn’t vote for. (He was referring to the European Union.) The Brexit vote, he maintained, had little to do with globalization or immigration or working-class people feeling left behind by the elites. It was primarily a matter of democratic principle.

Malcolm seemed to think that Brexit voters, including former industrial workers in Britain’s rust-belt cities, were moved by the same high-minded principles that had made him a convinced Brexiteer. I had my doubts. Resentment about Polish, Romanian and other European Union citizens coming to Britain to work harder for less money played an important part. As did the desire to poke the eye of an unpopular elite, held responsible for the economic stagnation in busted industrial cities. And the simple dislike of foreigners in Britain should never be underestimated. [more]