How Bernie Sanders Traces Brexit Vote To Economic Despair & Xenophobia In The U.S.

The United Kingdom, along with the rest of the world, was shaken by the June 23 referendum in which 51.9 percent of voters opted for Britain to leave the European Union. On Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders published an op-ed in The New York Times in response. Sanders said that economic despair underlies the Brexit vote, and that this despair was co-opted by xenophobic rhetoric, just as it is in the United States by Donald Trump.

The victory of the "Leave" campaign was fueled by anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiment, as frustrated Britons latched onto the idea that people from other countries are taking their jobs, putting them in danger, and threatening to destroy their cultural identity. Sanders began his Brexit diagnosis:

Workers in Britain, many of whom have seen a decline in their standard of living while the very rich in their country have become much richer, have turned their backs on the European Union and a globalized economy that is failing them and their children.

After discussing the problem of economic inequality more broadly and on a global scale, Sanders warned that, while change is needed, we're moving toward the wrong kind of change:

The global economy is not working for the majority of people in our country and the world ... We need real change. But we do not need change based on the demagogy, bigotry and anti-immigrant sentiment that punctuated so much of the Leave campaign’s rhetoric — and is central to Donald J. Trump’s message.
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Sanders traced the root of both the Leave movement and support for Trump to a very reasonable and widespread frustration with economic injustice, and pointed out how this frustration is susceptible to manipulation. When people are angry, they want something or someone to blame, and people like Trump and Leave movement proponent Nigel Farage are eager to step in and give the people someone to blame: those from other countries.

The real culprit, Sanders said, is not immigrants or refugees. Rather, the molders of the global economy, who shape the system for their own profit, are responsible for so many people struggling. Sanders gave the U.S. free trade agreements as an example of economic policy that needs to go:

We need to fundamentally reject our “free trade” policies and move to fair trade. Americans should not have to compete against workers in low-wage counties who earn pennies an hour. We must defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership. We must help poor countries develop sustainable economic models.
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People are hurting, and they're angry. Trump and the Leave campaign are giving them an answer, but it's the wrong one. Sanders is calling on the Democratic Party to wake up, to show the people what is really the reason behind their suffering, and to commit to making substantial changes that effectively address the economic despair that is being co-opted in a dangerous, divisive direction.