Isolationist thinking behind Trump and Vote Leave

UKMA did not takes sides in the EU referendum campaign – the UK would have to do business with a world that is predominantly metric whatever the outcome. However, one of our regular contributors, Ronnie Cohen, detects a theme of isolationism in pronouncements by both Trump and Vote Leave. Here is his personal viewpoint.

A common theme supported by the winning sides in the US presidential election and the EU membership referendum is an isolationist world view. It is a mindset of a “them and us”. You only have to look at the policies of Donald Trump and the Vote Leave to see that.

For example, Donald Trump’s declared policies during US Presidential election campaign included:

  • Reducing the USA’s contribution to NATO.
  • Withdrawing from international trade agreements.
  • Abandoning the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which have not yet been ratified.
  • Building a wall along the Mexican border.
  • Leaving the World Trade Organisation.
  • Imposing tariffs of 45% on imports from China and 35% on Mexico.
  • Withdrawal or disengagement from non-proliferation policy on nuclear weapons in Iran and Asia.
  • Cancelling the Paris Climate Agreement and reversing the climate change regulations introduced by President Obama.
  • Making America energy independent. This appeared under the heading, “An America First energy plan” on Trump’s website.
  • Redirecting government spending on American infrastructure and away from global commitments.
  • Giving preference to American steel on US infrastructure projects.

Brexiteers generally support the following measures, many of which were promoted by the Leave campaigners in the referendum:

  • Ditching EU regulations.
  • “Taking back control of our borders”. It remains to be seen whether it will be necessary to build a wall on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
  • Implement other measures hinted by the slogan “Take back control”.
  • Attempt to make our own trade deals rather than have the EU negotiate them on our behalf as part of a bloc of 28 countries.
  • Avoidance of common EU obligations while trying to keep all the benefits of membership (e.g. reduced financial contribution*, no euro, no Schengen, social chapter opt-out, David Cameron’s renegotiation, etc.). This includes EU measurement directives.

There is now a debate within Government of the desirability of “soft Brexit” versus “hard Brexit” (i.e. pull out of the European single market and customs union, remove requirement to observe EU laws and regulations, end to EU membership contributions and end free movement of people).

It remains to be seen how many of these promises, made by Trump and Leave campaigners, will be put into practice. However, one common theme is isolation – disengaging from the modern world in one case and the EU in the other. While the issue of metrication was hardly mentioned in the US presidential election or the EU membership referendum, it can be assumed that some hostility to the full adoption of the world measurement system (i.e. the metric system) will continue.

There is a perhaps an attitude among some of those that supported Trump or the Vote Leave campaign that the metric system is strange and foreign, imposed by others, not invented or belonging here, and so on. The old or customary measurement units, on the other hand, are seen as part of a cultural heritage, traditional, timeless, immutable and something of ours. It would seem that many in the UK are ignorant about the foreign origins of most of these units. They are, of course, a mixture of Roman, continental European and Anglo-Saxon units. Americans, one suspects, are also quite happy to forget that their customary measurement units originate from a colonial past.

* This is taken from a leaflet issued by the official Leave campaign:
‘Our money, our priorities. We send over £350 million to the EU every week – enough to build a modern hospital every week of the year. If we vote to remain in the EU we will keep sending this money to Brussels each week. If we vote leave, we can spend our money on our priorities like the NHS, schools and housing.”

9 thoughts on “Isolationist thinking behind Trump and Vote Leave”

  1. Off topic, but it should be said that Clinton was the ‘continue as before’ candidate. Trump promised change. Continue as before was unattractive to many people, not only in the rust belt, but also those who felt ignored in the ‘flyover states’. It meant static or declining living standards, continuing loss of jobs, neglected infrastructure and so on.
    The US is now the least metric country in the world. It can hardly become less so – metric usage is often unavoidable, as in scientific research and in the auto industry with its worldwide supply chain. Even the soft drink manufacturers will resist a return to customary units. So if there is to be change in the US, and this was unlikely to occur under Clinton, then it will, imho, be in the direction of more metric, not less.


  2. My son has recently taken up a post in civvy street after a number of years as an officer in the armed forces. He has been reminded that when as an army officer, he gave the order “Jump”, the response was “How high sir?”. In civvy street the response might well be “Do I have to?”. He was also reminded that in civvy street, it is not permitted to use an AK-47 to persuade people to follow your instructions.

    Similarly, whatever Trump promised the electorate, he will almost certainly find that being President is a very different job to being the CEO of a big company. For example, as CEO he could fire executives who displeased him, as President he cannot fire congressmen or senators who displease him. So let’s wait and see who tames whom.


  3. Both the US & UK lived off of other people’s money, commonly known as inward investment. There was good reason why the UK could never join the euro. In order for much of the EU that depends on manufacturing, exporting, tourism, etc, the euro had to be medium weak. When the euro was strong, it devastated the EU economies, but it would have at the time caused a boom in the UK which is dependent on financial services which depends on a strong currency. But strategic policies and actions by the German government allowed for the euro to fall in value giving the EU economy a boost. With a strong pound, the financial services (at the expense of industry) England flourished as well. But now with the prospect of Brexit, the UK risks losing its economy if the pound can’t hold its former value and the strong pound long ago forced industry to leave. If England is to survive it will have to repatriate its industries and export, which will be impossible if England refuses to complete metrication or allows the vocal resistance the opportunity to ralley against the metric system.

    The US depends more on the financial services (living off of other nations money) to keep its economy afloat. If Trump does any thing to interfere and isolate the US from the world economy then the economic system that has benefited the US from the days of Breton Woods through the years of the perol-dollar will come crashing down and the US will indeed suffer horrible aftershocks.

    No country will invest or place their money in a country that is unstable and Trump’s anti-world attitude is exactly the catalyst that will cause every nation around the world to look elsewhere to store their wealth and the US which depended on that investment will sink into a huge depression which will take more than one life time to reverse.

    The metric world will have no choice but to come together in order to maintain order and to prevent the UK/US contagion from spreading. The Chinese and Germans are destined to become the next leaders of the world economy spreading the gospel of the social market economy and pointing to the US & England as examples of why capitalism failed.

    When they are no longer the leaders, the rest of the world will have the opportunity to cleanse itself of any remnant vestiges of USC and imperial. I hope to live long enough to witness it.


  4. “Isolationist thinking behind Trump and Vote Leave”
    Another reason to “hate it and leave it”.
    Jack, the Japan Alps Brit


  5. Our PM is at pains to point out that Britain is “open for business” to the world economy.

    The challenge for proponents of UK metrication is to point out to the UK government it needs to include full adoption of the international measurement system as part of its strategy to fulfil the above stated aim.

    It is too early to tell which way the Trump administration will jump, but as pointed out by ‘Ramsden’ above there are reasons to suppose it wont back track on US metrication if they recognise the business case.


  6. An article in today’s Times (2016-11-21) notes that China’s leader, President Xi, has vowed to open up China’s economy to the world and become world economic leader if Trump becomes as isolationist as he has promised. Xi would do this by replacing the stalled Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) with a new initiative, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

    The Prime Ministers of both Australia and New Zealand have welcomed this idea, noting that China will almost certainly step into the free trade void if the USA withdraws. This would absolutely seal the use of metric units throughout this part of the world (as if that is not already the case anyway, but would make such use even more prevalent). Some in the UK have already been making noises about opting into NAFTA in the post-Brexit world. Perhaps paying more attention to RCEP might be a better strategy.


  7. There may be a glimmer of hope even with Philip Hammond. In the Andrew Marr show clip (not ‘footage’ please note!) shown on TV news, talking on the new road expansion, he said something like ” … If we are to trade openly we need to fully engage with the rest of the world …”. Now given this man picks his words carefully one could read something into that, he has changed spots before.
    I agree with others that Trump the business man may well be better for metrication than any politician. For any of his faults, he is a man that gets the job done even if that means hiring his former adversaries.


  8. John Frewen-Lord,

    I was kind of surprised recently when I read that the TTP would fall apart without American participation. I thought why can’t it continue just without the US. So, I see now that it will, just under a different title. Keeping the US out of world trade pacts can be a great thing for metrication and to prove to the world they really don’t need the US. It means that there will be no reason to continue to placate USC in order to get Americans to trade. Once the world realises it doesn’t need the US to sell to, it can continue to by-pass it at the expense of the US and finally establish SI alone world-wide.

    The US may try to go it alone, but it will fail. The US also wants to get rid of NAFTA, not bring in more countries. The US has made it clear to England it has no interest it doing business with it. Isolation means isolation.

    The US will find out the hard way that they cannot support 350 000 000 people by themselves. They need the world. When they are finally forced to end their isolation, they will rejoin the world, but the world will demand full metrication before they open the doors. As for the UK, it will be tougher. Isolation won’t be an option and any talk of returning to imperial will be met with strong resistance from the businesses and factories. The Luddites don’t speak for them.


  9. The latest push by the “ditch metric” crowd in the UK thanks to Brexit (plus the fact that the USA now has Trump as its Leader in Chief) is, I believe, doomed to fail. The PM may try to hurry up a bilateral trade deal with the USA to shore up its position post-Brexit, but she will also be pushing hard for bilateral agreements with other countries as well, such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, and very likely China as well.

    In all those other deals the UK government (as well as UK businesses) will quickly see that metric specs and labeling will be required with no room for or need of Imperial.

    The bottom line is that without the USA still being stuck in our version of Imperial there would be no hope or reason for the UK to hold up full metrication after Brexit. However, even with the current sad state of affairs on this side of The Pond, I doubt that the drag that we create on UK metrication will be enough to counter the push towards full metrication that will come from bilateral trade deals with all those other countries.

    (Of course we will see what actually happens only in the fullness of time. 🙂


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