In 2016, the twin shocks of the Brexit referendum and the U.S. presidential election lay open the fissure between the neoliberal elites and the despised working class they pretend to represent. The center-left British and American media have tried to attribute this phenomenon to mindless xenophobia, in their usual patronizing manner. In doing so, they betray the democratic principle that the people are the best judges of their own interests. The alternative would be to recognize the failures of neoliberal government.

In both cases, we see an overreaching of economic neoliberalism, which began as a series of multilateral trade agreements allowing free transfer of commodities and capital. Extending this further to the free movement of workers across national borders, without a concurrent improvement in labor rights, makes the race to the bottom for cheap labor even easier.

In the 1970s there was a similar increase in immigration, but there was no public backlash since the labor market could accommodate this. After decades of racing to the bottom, pursuing cheaper labor in the Third World, the neoliberals perform the final insult of allowing the cheap labor to migrate to the First World. It does not require any racial animus toward immigrants to see this. It is absurd to pretend that people are more racist now than 40 years ago. The difference is that there is no longer a strong labor market from the workers’ perspective. Even the more educated find they must compete with students and graduates from around the globe who come to Western universities.

From management’s perspective, the labor market is great: an oversupply of qualified candidates willing to work for relatively lower salaries (in uninflated terms). It is obvious that the cheerleading political and cultural elites generally take the side of management on this issue, all their socialist platitudes notwithstanding. This is why it was utterly shocking and irrational to them why the masses would vote for change when everything was going so well.

The media are so invested in the status quo, that they lost sight that there was ever a productive economy before neoliberalism. Various pundits proclaimed that the U.K. economy would collapse outside the European Union, which has only existed in its present form since 1992. Not only do much smaller economies than the U.K. manage to thrive outside such a union, but a free trade compact does not necessarily have to involve free immigration.

At any rate, the predictions were false, and all interpretations of facts have shown elitist confirmation bias. First, it was suggested that instances of Googling “what is the EU” proved that people voted out of ignorance, as if children don’t use the Internet. Second, they thought to confirm their own wisdom when the pound went down, though currency markets are a poor measure of economic strength. Currency trading is completely unregulated speculation based on purely subjective assessment of value. Here the market simply reflected the panicked atmosphere, and even that only briefly, since the Euro, lest it be forgotten, has not done much better. A year later, the U.K. economy has not collapsed or even done especially poorly, but this failed prediction has been ignored.

The failings of the European Union are already well documented. In brief, the Union over-expanded to countries that could not be reasonably held to the same rigid monetary policy. Further, it was over-ambitious in extending the nature of the Union from a common market to a politically sovereign institution. This ignored substantial differences of national interest and culture among Europeans. The free migration of peoples, innocuous when it was limited to the affluent European nations, proved disastrous in terms of economics and security when it was extended to Eastern Europe. Now all of Europe was at the mercy of the countries with the most lax immigration policies.

Anyone who raised these concerns was dismissed as an isolationist or a xenophobe. People were forced to pretend, absurdly, that Muslims have no greater propensity to terrorism than other groups, or to ignore that too rapid admittance of immigrants hampers cultural assimilation. Economic concerns were dismissed by pointing at overall economic indicators, promoting the “rising tide lifts all boats” myth usually confined to conservatives. While claiming to deplore inequality, neoliberals actively promoted the relative pauperization of their countrymen, forcing them to join the Third World race to the bottom.

In the United States, the non-ideological nature of this discontent was made clear by the spread of support to the self-described socialist Bernie Sanders and the inscrutably non-ideological Donald Trump. The first was thwarted in part by the bias of the Democratic Party, which had decided from the outset to anoint Hillary Clinton. She would have run virtually unopposed had not the independent Sanders decided to run as a Democrat. Even then, the Democratic National Committee favored Clinton with its human resources, its media influence, and its disciplinary authority, as proved by leaked DNC emails.  We should not be surprised that the media considers the leak of the e-mails to be a greater affront to democracy than their content.

Trump was successful not only because of his ability and energy as a campaigner (shown by his brutal travel schedule), but because the Republican primary was much more open and divided. This was perceived early, but attempts by some of the mainstream candidates to combine their constituencies proved of no avail. In fact, the more clear it became that the Trump candidacy was opposed by the party, the greater his appeal became. Here at last was someone who might refuse to take his cues from the globalist free trade crowd.

More so than Sanders, Trump appealed to nationalist sentiment, which was hardly unique, but he did so in a way that refused to apologize for preferring one’s countrymen over all others. This was timely considering the sense of disenfranchisement that prevailed. On specifics, he seemed to be out of sync with reality, repeating canards he had used for decades. His complaints about illegal Mexican immigration ignored the fact that net migration from Mexico is now negative; most of the “damage” has already been done. Concerns about foreign-born terrorists were more appropriate for Europe than the U.S. Although his specific facts were often wrong, he played the right theme. Anyone who knew anything about business understood the cost of globalization and which people were hurt most by it, “rising tide” or not. The difference is that this businessman actually seemed to care about this predicament, and would listen to those who had stories that didn’t comport with neoliberal theory.

On foreign policy, the enigmatic Trump at first seemed to be an anti-interventionist, with his criticisms of the debacles in Iraq, Syria, and Libya, and of the needless provocations of Russia. Perhaps we might have the first non-imperialist president since Hoover. It would be a mistake, however, to look for a coherent foreign policy from Trump, who is guided more by instinct than ideology. Consistent with his aggressive style, he soon turned toward calls for “carpet bombing,” fell in line with Zionism, and promised absurd increases in military spending. This militarist trajectory would continue into his early presidency.

I did not expect Trump to win the election, agreeing with most pundits that the electoral math made this exceedingly unlikely. Basically, he would have to sweep the key battleground states and steal some traditionally Democratic states. Faltering in even one of these states would assure a Clinton victory. Instead, he made a clean sweep of the key battlegrounds, and stunningly picked up historically Democratic Michigan and Wisconsin, completing a sweep of the Rust Belt with Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. These are areas that Hillary Clinton infamously took for granted and under-campaigned. Yet mere canvassing would be ineffective unless accompanied by a substantive agenda addressing the devastation these areas have experienced due to neoliberal globalization of trade and immigration. Anyone who has visited coal country, as I have recently, finding Confederate flags (in the North) and Trump banners in dilapidated, semi-deserted towns, making “white privilege” an absurdly ignorant epithet, should not wonder why they voted for Trump. Instead, we should be amazed that they have not stormed the cities in armed revolt against those who have sold out their country.