MAYBOLE, Scotland — At the heart of the campaign that led Britain to vote to leave the European Union was a desire to regain independence lost amid a globalized world. It’s the same kind of feeling that Donald Trump rode to become the presumptive Republican nominee in the U.S., where he campaigns to put “America first” and “make America great again.”
“I love to see people take their country back. And that’s really what’s happening in the United States,” Trump told reporters this weekend during a visit to his golf resort in western Scotland.
The anxiety that drove the stunning “Brexit” decision has been brewing for at least a decade in the United Kingdom, as waves of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe arrived as the global economy plunged into recession. In the years since, right-leaning leaders have stoked populist concerns about their impact on wages, as well as fears about the loss of ethnic identity, which runs deep in parts of largely white rural England and Wales.
“There’s a real feeling things have changed and they’ve changed too fast,” said Muriel MacGregor, filling up her car at a BP station on her way to work as a clerk at a hotel in Aberdeen, Scotland.
MacGregor, 52, said that, unlike many of her friends, she proudly voted for “leave.” ”This isn’t the country I remember from growing up. I don’t know exactly what happens next. I don’t think anybody does. But I really feel like we needed something different, because this isn’t working,” she said.
Britain’s vote shattered the stability of continental unity forged after World War II and sent markets across the globe tumbling. But the move to divorce the U.K. from the 28-nation bloc and its government in Brussels was celebrated by those who felt the changing country has lost its way since linking up with the rest of Europe.
“Absolutely wonderful, best news ever. We want England – or Great Britain – to come back how it was years ago, and it’s going the way that we want it to go,” said Allen Laurence, 65, a vendor at the Billingsgate Fish Market in East London. “I am pleased, very pleased, for the country overall.”
Their voices echo the millions of American voters who have flocked to support Trump. The billionaire businessman has tapped into the same concerns about a too-quickly-changing country that has left too many behind, and he’s pledged to halt illegal immigration and bring back manufacturing jobs lost to factories overseas.
Many see his “Make America Great Again” slogan as a vow to return the country to a time when they believe America was the undisputed world leader. In President Barack Obama, they see an American leader too quick to apologize for his country.
“I want us to take America back,” Shirley Sharpe, a Trump supporter from Greensboro, North Carolina, said this month. Sharpe, 61, who works as a caregiver to her elderly father-in-law, said that she’s been dismayed by the country’s direction under Obama.
“We have all been just wiping up the dirt. And it’s like – we need to take our country back for us,” she said. “We’ve got to take care of ourselves before we take care of immigrants or somebody else. We’ve got to take care of our own.”
For Chad Benson of Dallas, Georgia, it’s time for America to reassert its greatness.
“I think what separates Donald Trump from the other candidates is this: He is pro-American,” said Benson, 40, who works in the power industry. “He’s proud to be an American. He wants Americans to be proud to be Americans again.”
Benson complained that Obama “seems to put other countries before the American people.”
Of particular resonance in the U.S. has been Trump’s approach to immigration. Voters across the country frequently cite Trump’s plan to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico and his pledged to deport all of the estimated 11 million people living in the country illegally as the reasons why they were first drawn to the candidate.
For Jose Portillo, 55, of Los Lunas, New Mexico, Trump’s immigration plan is central to his appeal. A union member who works in the freight business, Portillo was a lifelong Democrat until he changed his registration this year to vote for Trump. He said he’s fed up with people who are in the country illegally, and argues that they take advantage of the system as he works hard to play by the rules.
“There’s too many deadbeats living off the system,” said Portillo, who works an overnight shift. “I wish I could start building a broom with steel bristles so he could start cleaning house.”
Lanhee Chen, who served as a policy adviser to 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, said there were undeniable similarities between the sentiments in both countries, including deep concerns about the impact of foreign workers. But he cautioned that key differences remain.
“The U.K. election was ultimately a referendum on policy and on that sentiment,” he said. The U.S. election is a personality contest right now.”
For Trump, however, the parallels are clear.
“People want to take their country back,” he 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, in my opinion, more than just what happened last night.”
Colvin reported from New York, North Carolina, New Mexico and Georgia. Associated Press videojournalist Mstislav Chernov in London contributed to this report.