What can US charities learn from our Brexit vote?


Steve Clapperton


This article originally appeared on Charities Aid Foundation’s Giving Thought blog, on the 9th November 2016. The original article can be found here.

The United States Presidential election will shortly be in the history books – once the last few votes have been counted – and Donald Trump has defied all expectations to become the President elect. Recent polling woes that we’ve seen in the UK have been replicated across the Atlantic, where pollsters were confidently predicting a victory for Hillary Clinton.

However, despite piling up strong numbers in a number of safe states, she was outperformed in key swing states including the ‘big three’ of Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania. Comparisons have been made to Brexit in the UK, which also saw a populist grassroots movement winning against the odds, with ‘hidden voters’ and increased turnout generating insurgencies against the establishment.

Clinton, Trump pick up big wins

Of course it’s still very early days, and until Trump takes office in January we won’t have an accurate idea about which of the policies he put forward on the campaign trail will make it into law. However, it’s also true to say that he will take office with a very strong starting point, including with the ability to make nominations to the Supreme Court and with a supportive legislature, subject to internal disagreements within the Republican Party.

The challenge for the US is to put the election campaign in the past and move forward. This will be difficult, given that Trump v Clinton was one of the most divisive US election campaigns of all time. Healing divides is an issue that Trump directly spoke about in his first comments since being announced as the victor, but it will be actions that are necessary to try and repair the damage that the words spoken on the campaign trial have caused.

As we explored in the aftermath of Brexit, there is undoubtedly a key role for civil society organisations to play in helping to heal tensions and bring people back together. This is particularly important for people who feel that they may be targets of discrimination abuse, especially since those same people may be less likely to report concerns or incidents to government institutions that they remain sceptical of. Charities are at the heart of communities and their ability to unite people and also warn of threats to community tension should not be overlooked.


The White House

Charities can also be agents for social change. If recent politics has taught us anything, it’s that trust in traditional political parties and the so-called establishment is diminishing. Instead, many people are turning to other organisations such as charities to seek the political change and influence that they desire. But while the political establishment is facing pressure, charities still enjoy enormous support and are seen by people as strong advocates for their interests. Charities that advocate on behalf of their beneficiaries empower people and give them a stake in political debate, and it is essential that charities retain the freedom to play their integral part in the democratic process.

There is also an important role for charities in helping the US maintain positive international relations. Whether some of Trump’s isolationist and protectionist rhetoric on the campaign trial will be manifested when he takes office remains to be seen, but global civil society is essential to development across the world and charities and donors need to be kept a core part of it.

The global trends of increased division and inflamed rhetoric have created consequences that need to be addressed. At a time when politicians repeatedly use language that increases division and tension, civil society needs to offer solutions based around the kind of shared values that underpin liberal democracies. Much as charities in the UK are seeking to build strong communities in the wake of our Brexit vote, charities working in the US will undoubtedly be exploring how they can be part of the solution that their country faces in.

Steve Clapperton is campaign manager at Charities Aid Foundation.

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