Chapter 6 Contesting international economic governance: the ‘people’ and trade in the Trump and Brexit rhetoric
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The victories of Brexit and Trump in 2016 were seen as interconnected expressions of the rise of populism and its negative impact on global governance. Yet they did not point to the same direction policy-wise. In trade, while Trump was favoring protectionism, most Brexiteers supported free trade. This raises the question of how different domestic patterns of contestation of the international order affect change globally. To address this question, this chapter conceptualizes populism as a representational claim of the ‘people’ against policymaking processes perceived to be beyond the reach of popular control. Using this understanding of populism to explore the tropes of the trade discourses of Trump and Brexiteers, the chapter shows how populism in different contexts can challenge the institutions and processes of the international order even when its policy content varies. The argument also helps explain why populist trade rhetoric is often popular with constituencies who stand to lose materially from trade reorientations.

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