Calm down America: Brexit doesn't mean Trump

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Story highlights

  • Crilly: Trump's ugly brand of politics may have taken him further than anyone predicted
  • But to make the leap from Brexit to a Trump White House is to ignore an ocean of context

Rob Crilly is a British journalist living in New York. He was the Telegraph's Afghanistan and Pakistan correspondent and was previously the East Africa correspondent for the Times. The opinions in this article are those of the author.

(CNN)This election has provided excellent sport for a certain type of pompous Englishman in New York.

When Liberals worried aloud about the rise of Donald Trump during the sort of echo-chamber dinner parties that cried out for mischief, it was always too tempting to lean forward in my chair, mutter something about the Kardashians, reality TV and how the political rise of a loud-mouthed show-off seemed the most natural thing in the world.
    For good measure I would add that for British voters, the description "presidential" remained a put-down of a certain, gleaming-toothed style of politics.
    The tables were turned in June, when the UK voted for its own brash populist, Nigel Farage. If the liberal, educated classes of New York hadn't seen Trump coming, then they also failed to see Brexit looming (which is why a friend had to get out of bed and race to the office at 3 a.m. to start shuffling money through the markets).
    I was inundated with sympathy. At least from those who had avoided me at dinner parties.
    And then came the overcompensation from hot-take columnists. If they had missed the rise of one right-wing populist movement, then they sure as hell weren't going to be wrong twice. Perhaps Trump was no political long-shot, but could upset the polls and win, ran the logic.
    It was a trend: the year of the political outsider. Propelled by the anger of a forgotten underclass and a desire to turn back the clock, could the US be about to follow the UK in reaching an equally unlikely result?
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    The most Brit-literate commentators even threw in the example of lowly Leicester City winning the kick-ball series as additional proof that history was no longer a guide to the future.
    All of which is tempting to believe but proof of nothing.
    Of course there are parallels -- polarised electorates, concern about immigration and growing disdain for experts -- but the US isn't Britain, which lost its manufacturing base long before cheap Chinese imports and gave up its role as the world's policeman a century ago. British exceptionalism isn't what it was.
    And Donald Trump isn't Boris Johnson, with his establishment credentials, or even Nigel Farage, who, despite his basing of the well-monied political elite, has sat in the European Parliament since 1999.
    "Editor's note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims -- 1.6 billion members of an entire religion -- from entering the US."
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    Republican royalty such as the Bushes have refused to endorse the candidate, and a slew of conservative papers have begun coming out for Hillary Clinton. Trumpism's racism, misogyny and Islamophobia, they say, is an ugly aberration.
    In contrast, Brexit has been a long-standing article of faith for politicians on both the Left and Right in British politics. The two big parties have been split on Europe ever since Britain joined the European Economic Community in 1973. A club for capitalists or socialism by stealth, depending on your view.
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    Euroscepticism suffuses life in the UK. Every time we buy a pint of bitter in a pub or ask for a pound of bananas (straight or otherwise) in a greengrocer's, we are sticking one to those Europeans and their newfangled metric system. And we pay in sterling rather than euros.
    Sure, Brexit may not have been predicted by the polls, but any cause that wins the backing of The Daily Telegraph, The Sun and The Daily Mail -- as well as my mum's university-educated, affluent neighbours in Kent -- was never a no-hoper.
    In contrast, Trump's ugly brand of politics may have taken him further than anyone predicted. But to make the leap from Brexit to a Trump White House is to ignore an ocean of context between the US and UK.