President Barack Obama sees some similarities between the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union and the populist anger in America that’s fueled Donald Trump’s rise.
In an interview with NPR released on Tuesday, Obama noted the parallels between the populist movements in Europe, including the so-called “Brexit” vote, and the groundswell of support for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s candidacy.
While Obama argued that America’s swifter economic recovery eased many financial concerns still felt in Europe, the president acknowledged that immigration and a perceived loss of national identity was motivating some people on both sides of the Atlantic to grow suspicious of foreign influence.
“There’s a xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment that’s flashing up not just in Great Britain, but throughout Europe that has some parallels to what Mr. Trump is trying to stir up here,” Obama said.
The president added: “The differences are greater than the similarities. But the ability to tap into a fear that people may have about losing control, and to offer some sort of vague nostalgic feelings about how we will make Britain great again or make America great again, and the subtext for that is somehow that a bunch of foreigners and funny looking people are coming in here and changing the basic character of the nation, I think that some of that is out there both in Europe and the United States,” Obama said.
Still, Obama argued that fears about the breakup of the alliance between different European countries and the US were overblown, touting strong relationships with countries like Norway that are in Europe but not a part of the EU.
“There’s been a little bit of hysteria post Brexit vote as if somehow NATO’s gone, and the transatlantic alliance is dissolving, and every country is rushing off to its own corner. That’s not what’s happening,” Obama said. “What’s happening is that you had a European project that was probably moving faster and without as much consensus as it should have.”
Obama also sought to downplay Trump’s assertion that he’s a representative voice of working class people in the US and Europe.
“It’s important to remember that Mr. Trump embodies global elites and has taken advantage of it his entire life, so he’s hardly a legitimate spokesperson for a populist surge from working class people on either side of the Atlantic,” Obama said.
For his part, Trump also saw “big parallel” between his own presidential bid and the Brexit vote.
“People want to take their country back,” Trump said. “They want to have independence in a sense. And you see it with Europe, all over Europe. You’re going to have more than just what happened last night. You’re going to have, I think, many other cases where they want to take their borders back, they want to take their monetary back, they want to take a lot of things back.”