Donald Trump was acting a little in awe, bashful even.
What a public date night it was. He stood a few feet away from the British man spouting his cheery command to America to rise up and liberate itself from the big banks—this from a former City of London trader at a rally for a proudly rapacious capitalist—and just beamed.
It turned out Nigel Farage, the former leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and one of the pilots of the successful “Brexit” campaign, wouldn’t be Trump’s warm-up act in Jackson, Mississippi, to 15,000 devoted supporters. Trump would be his.
Trump has said he wants to be known here as “Mr. Brexit,” so who to call from his gold-plated Bat phone but the original?
Farage—that odd moustache or rogue lip-caterpillar he recently spouted had sadly vanished—had led the campaign to have Britain eject itself from the European Union.
The popular vote passed 52 to 48 percent. Despite some rabble-rousing on the night, and a weird trip to Brussels to crow about it afterward, Farage has been mostly silent since calling time on his own political career.
Now without a power perch in Britain, Farage has come to America, where Trump can sell him as an architect of freedom and revolution, a leader, and just hope nobody will use Google to find out how quickly Farage has fallen off the political map.
Trump’s worship on Wednesday night knew no bounds. He would stand and be Farage’s Cheshire Cat-smiling No. 2 as Farage regaled Mississippi with his own weaselly, nasal boasts of how he had led Britons to embrace their independence, and “smash” the establishment—even though, like Trump, he is no stranger to private wealth and public influence himself.
Like Trump, Farage occupies his own hall of political and personal mirrors: rosy visions of a past-that-never-was set in stone as definitive history, and fears of nonexistent invasion of peoples-out-there to rouse the basest of emotions. Farage wanted Britain out of Europe but claimed it could still play a part in the economy and culture of it, whereas Trump’s exit is still unknown—his extrapolation of “Brexit” seems to imply an American exit from the world stage, or world affairs, on his terms.
Just as Trump recasts American reality for his own ideological ends, he did so for Farage, who, like his fellow Brexiteers Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, scuttled off the public stage sharpish after the Brexit vote was won and Britain plunged into a period of political, economic, and cultural uncertainty.
Indeed, Gove and Johnson themselves publicly recoiled from Farage’s extremism, even if it won their shared cause votes.
None of these men stood firm to see their vision through. That has been left to new Prime Minister Theresa May, and—one imagines—legions of economic and legal experts. Of course, Farage and Trump hate experts. They’re part of “the establishment” too—as the circle of imagined, elite ghouls are sold relentlessly to the public.
In Trump’s reading, this bumptious Mr. Toad, denounced in Britain for his cowardly disappearing act after his victory and condemned for stoking racism and bigotry in the course of the campaign, is the tops, the bees’ knees, and the Brexit campaign a political model to aspire to, because it trades on the same anti-establishment storyline, crafted by two members of the establishment and spun to voters.
In Farage and Trump’s retelling, everything was against Brexit, especially the media. Except that’s a lie. The widely read right-wing populist British tabloids were pro-Brexit, and they were filled with a daily diet of fearmongering and thinly disguised racism.
Farage himself was widely condemned after posing in front of a poster with the legend “Breaking Point: The EU Has Failed Us All” beside a snaking queue of mainly non-white migrants.
Given his modus operandi in the Brexit campaign, it was more than a little surprising to hear Farage tell the assembled in Jackson that he had “a message of hope and a message of optimism.” Like Trump, those words are the gilding of a far more putrid lily.
Farage, as he has in Britain, recited his invocation of “little people, real people, ordinary, decent people” as his supporters, as if anyone who didn’t agree with his isolationism and anti-immigrant stance could be none of those things.
He recast the Brexit movement as a fight against “the big banks, the multinationals,” when he and others argued that the British economy would be more potent with the country out of Europe. (And this from a man who had made his own fortune in the City. Like Trump, you have to admire the shamelessness of the recasting of personal reality.)
June 23 was British “Independence Day,” Farage said, “when we smashed the establishment.” Currently, that date is not seen in popular terms as that, and the British establishment is far from smashed. After all the key political players left the stage after the vote, Farage included, and it has been left to others to make sense of the vote and its implications.
But Farage did not dwell on his abdication of public duty. Instead, chest puffed out, like Trump he sells himself. Like Trump, he is a straight Liberace: pouting lips, fingers flying, dramatic pauses, implausible rhetorical leaps. Like Trump, Farage is the little guy. He’s Rocky on the ropes. He’s the one guy set against “everybody,” “the experts”—those dolts with all their useless, practical, intellectual knowledge of the world.
He also slagged off the “bunch of unelected old men in Brussels,” which even Mississippi audibly balked at. “Yeah well, it’s OK, they don’t really like me either, so it doesn’t really matter, does it?” Farage said.
And there it was: The friendly bonhomie gone in an unplanned sentence. The ugly sneer was loud and clear. Never mind—he didn’t tell Jackson this—that Farage was perfectly happy to be elected to the European Parliament, alongside those old men, and draw a wage from it, in 1999, 2004, 2009, and 2014. He is still a member of the European Parliament.
Farage recited what critics had said Brexit may mean: “They told us the economy would fall off a cliff, there would be mass unemployment, that investment would leave our country.”
Interestingly, he could not say “they were wrong,” because it is far too early to judge the effects of Brexit.
The Guardian, while noting not all is doom and gloom, did note late last month, a month after the Brexit vote, that the pound was down 13 percent, and it apparently has become the world’s worst performing currency in 2016. The British economy was contracting at its fastest rate since 2009.
Farage and Trump acknowledged none of this: Instead ex-Prime Minister David Cameron was scorned, as was the “commentariat” and polling industry. The pro-Brexit campaign had “reached those people who have never voted in their lives,” by voting for Brexit had taken “back control of their country, of their borders, and get back their pride and self-respect.”
Note the sanitized non-mention of immigration, which was UKIP’s dog whistle, just as it is, louder and cruder, for Trump.
Farage then elected to insultingly mispronounce Barack Obama’s first name as “barrack.” He claimed the president had come to Britain to “talk down” to the country, calmly stating his belief in Britain remaining within the EU. Even if you disagree with President Obama, he did not “talk down” to Britons.
Farage’s creepy bonhomie returned when he said that even though he had criticized and condemned Obama, he could not possibly tell Americans how to vote. The audience bellowed their own intentions.
Farage beamed, and said, “I will say this. If I was an American citizen, I wouldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton if you paid me. In fact, I wouldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton if she paid me.” Oddly, his flat delivery killed the gag, which wasn’t exactly buffed to shining, stone dead.
Farage hammered the polemical and thematic parallels between Brexit and Trumpism home: millions of Americans having “a bad time,” who feel the political class in Washington are “detached” from them, their political representatives part of the “liberal media elite.”
These voters should go out, just like the Brexiteers’ “people’s army,” and inspire others to “vote for change.”
“Remember,” Farage concluded, “anything is possible if enough decent people are prepared to stand up against the establishment.”
An idolizing tweet followed.
It was instructive to hear—and for Trump it must be incredibly heartening—the charged vagaries of Farage, which did earn him that Brexit-winning support. It suited him, as it does Trump, to make the media his nemesis, even as they faithfully reported his every word. It suited him to play Braveheart, when, just like Trump, he has parlayed both power and influence. Like Liberace, both men know about camouflage and glitter, and how to audaciously work an audience.
At the end, Trump shook Farage’s hands. Beaming still, would he ask him for a dance? Would the lights dim? Had Jackson, Mississippi, supplied a mirror ball?
No, Farage is still British, knows his place, and politely left the stage.
“Wow, thank you, Nigel. What a job he did against all the odds. Everybody said it couldn’t be done,” said a theatrically awestruck Trump, as if coming out of a fever dream.
On the contrary, many said it could be done, and now it has.
“And, by the way, it’s looking like a very wise decision right now by the voters,” Trump added—but that again is untrue. The effects of “Brexit” are unknown. “Brexit” hasn’t officially been enacted yet—and may not be for some time; all that can be measured are the ripples of the vote on the markets, sterling, and business generally.
A few moments later, Trump was rounding on “illegal immigrants” again. Backstage, Farage may have reddened slightly, remembering the public revulsion over that UKIP migrants’ poster. But no, dammit, he might also have thought, no time for shame tonight: He was among friends.