Britain & US Analysis: Brexit, Trump, and The World’s “Ins” v. “Outs”

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PHOTO: “The World’s ‘Outs” — Brexit campaigners George Galloway and Nigel Farage


Lucy Marcus — a CEO, Professor of Leadership and Governance, Board Director, and commentator for the BBC — writes for Project Syndicate:


As the United Kingdom’s debate about whether to withdraw from the European Union has heated up, “in” and “out” have come to define the stark choice facing voters in next week’s “Brexit” referendum.

The British are not alone: the world is increasingly divided between the mentalities underpinning support for the “Leave” and “Remain” campaigns. Do citizens and their leaders want to work with others toward greater security and prosperity, or do they think that they are better served by isolating themselves behind real or virtual walls?

Those with an “out” mindset view the world through a Hobbesian lens, seeing everywhere the danger of people with unregulated passions, driven to do them harm. Only an omnipotent Leviathan can ensure order and security.

See also Britain Opinion: Brexit, The “Enemy Within”, & Killing of Jo Cox

This is essentially the worldview – gradations of extremism notwithstanding – of Austria’s Freedom Party, Greece’s Golden Dawn, the UK Independence Party, Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party, and similar forces throughout Europe and the West, not to mention the world’s autocracies and outright dictatorships. Theirs is a politics of fear and dog-whistle incitement of the extremist forces that exist in every society.

And, as we’ve seen in both the UK’s Brexit debate and the United States’ Presidential election campaign, neither facts nor reason will dissuade voters with an “out” mindset. As the Nobel laureate economist Daniel Kahneman recently observed of Britain’s Leave camp, “The arguments look odd: they look short-term and based on irritation and anger.” And yet they work.

See Britain and Europe Analysis: “Brexit” Attacks President Obama…and Avoids the Issues

In the US presidential election, the choice between Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, and her Republican counterpart, Donald Trump, reflects an unambiguous battle between “in” and “out.” In response to the recent mass shooting at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Trump boasted that he had been right all along about the threat posed by “radical Islamic terrorism.” Clinton, by contrast, offered words of support – in English and Spanish – to the victims, and focused on the community and on the need for gun control.

With his xenophobic rhetoric and fondness for despots like Russian President Vladimir Putin (a demagogue who bullies the neighbors he doesn’t invade), Trump epitomizes the “out” mindset: hyperbolic, malicious, pompous, and hostile to all who defy or disagree with him (be it the press, which he berates and tries to block, or judges who preside over his lawsuits).

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