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In Trump, Brexit supporters, a shared anger and grievances

MoneyWatch Headlines for June 24, 2016
Global fallout from Brexit vote, and other MoneyWatch headlines 01:11

As Donald Trump presses the attack in cruising toward the Republican presidential nomination, millions of British voters headed to the polls Thursday to decide on whether to wrench the United Kingdom out of the European Union.

Yet while these political insurgencies may be separated by an ocean, they are rooted in the same ideological soil. As Trump vows to "Make America Great Again," advocates of a so-called Brexit echo his slogan with their own battle cry: "Take back our country."

That twinned sentiment highlights the parallels between the Trump and Brexit campaigns. Experts say the movements emerge from similar grievances, while their respective remedies aim to rip up existing orders.

"Both groups are completely disillusioned with the political establishment and the status quo they support," said Ian Bremmer, CEO of Eurasia Group, a political risk consulting firm. "They don't see themselves as benefiting at all from the recent economic rebound. They're generally opposed to globalization and free trade. They're strongly concerned about the changing identity of their respective nations, and oppose immigration accordingly."

Similar profile

If the movements' slogans speak to the sense of something lost, that's not by accident. Although hardly uniform in their constituencies, Trump and Brexit supporters are generally older, whiter and, well, maler, than backers of other parties. A Washington Post-ABC poll found that 43 percent of Trump supporters feel that whites are losing out to others, for example.

Why "Brexit" Matters 01:21

"The demographics of Brexit voters are remarkably similar to the demographics of Trump voters, as are their most obviously powerful emotional drivers," said Anatole Kaletsky, author of "Capitalism 4.0" and co-chairman of Gavekal Research. "Those are, 'We're unhappy with the way our countries have been run by so-called elites, experts and politicians, and the thing we're most unhappy about is the foreign influence of one kind or another in our native land.'"

Heather Conley, Europe director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, puts the fear over immigration at the epicenter of both movements.

The U.K's. refusal to adopt the Schengen Agreement that governs other EU countries allows it to better protect internal borders. But the U.K.'s membership in the EU makes it virtually impossible for the British to fully control their own immigration policy. As a result, many Brexit supporters blame their woes on the influx of immigrants in the U.K. in recent years and on the EU policies that require "freedom of movement" among member states.

In the U.S., meanwhile, Trump's statements about Mexicans and Muslims have been denounced in many quarters as racist, including by presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. However, according to a CBS poll, 53 percent of those who back a Muslim ban say it does not conflict with America's founding principles.

These inflammatory statements regarding identity ripple across the Atlantic as well. Opponents of Nigel Farage, a leader of the "Leave" camp, have described his campaign as xenophobic and hateful. Meanwhile, board member Arabella Arkwright recently resigned from her position after retweeting anti-Muslim rhetoric on social media

"If you're afraid of something, and you see immigrants coming in and you feel like you're sharing a smaller piece of the services, or you're not getting access to the services because you see your community is changing right before your eyes, then you want that to stop," Conley said. "And you want to send a message to make it stop."

Down with experts

How could Brexit impact global economy? 04:14

Robert Shapiro, a fellow with the Center for Business and Public Policy at Georgetown's McDonough School of Business and formerly Under Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs in the Bill Clinton administration, goes a step further in linking the Trump and Brexit campaigns.

"Fundamentally, they are both appeals to nationalism, and to a nationalism defined in racial or ethnic terms by specifying which ethnicities do not belong to the nation," said Shapiro, who is also chairman of the economics and security advisory firm Sonecon. "For Trump that's Hispanics or Muslims, and for the Brexit advocates it's Europeans and Muslims again."

The overlap doesn't end there. Another attitude commonly found among Trump and Brexit supporters is a deep-seated lack of trust in political leaders and official institutions, Conley said.

U.K. Justice Minister and Brexit proponent Michael Gove articulated this view recently in saying that "people in this country have had enough of experts." That echoes a sentiment shared by many Trump supporters who say they prefer a political outsider unafraid to "tell like it is."

In a recent CBS focus group moderated by Republican strategist Frank Luntz, for instance, two Trump advocates aired their grievances with the Republican establishment. One woman said, "They haven't been listening to us." While one man responded, "The party has left us! I'm voting for a man or woman that wants to change this country."

Wrong answer

In part, that's because of a widespread conviction that mainstream political parties have failed to provide solutions for the kind of economic hardships caused by globalization and worsened by the 2008 financial crisis. Trump and Brexit backers both condemn their respective leaders for, in their views, failing to adequately respond to issues such as stagnant wages and slowing economic growth.

What happens if Britain leaves the European Union? 03:11

And behind that perceived failure in political leadership? A doctrinaire embrace of the kind of free market absolutism that has eroded the financial security and economic prospects of millions of people across most Western democracies.

Although political leaders are eager to address such problems, "Their only only answer is that this was inevitable, that these are market forces and nothing can be done, that the market is a force of nature and all you can do is find ways of adapting," Kaletsky said.

"The tragic and very dangerous irony of both the Trump and Brexit movements is that the people who have been hurt, or whose interests have been most seriously damaged by free market forces over the last 30 years, are supporters of Trump and Brexit," he added. "They're turning to political movements that have no other answer than let's have more markets."

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