“Events, dear boy, events.” That’s how former British Prime Min­ister Harold Macmillan once described the dif­ference between success or failure for his ministry. 

Four years ago, voter backlash against the political estab­lishment and glob­alism brought about two stunning political upsets. British voters chose to “Take Back Control” by skipping town on the European Union. And Amer­icans decided to “Make America Great Again” with Donald Trump. Both revolts were fueled by frus­tration and a desire to alter the course of their respective countries.

Then came the “events” that Macmillan warned of a half century ago. Instead of “Make America Great Again” or “Take Back Control,” the caption for 2020 is “Every­thing is Out of Control.” The Brexit-Trump phe­nomenon is dead, and COVID-19 killed it.

One year ago, Trump and the pro-Brexit crowd appeared des­tined for a pro­longed hold on power. Last December, the U.K.’s Con­ser­v­ative Party and Prime Min­ister Boris Johnson won a land­slide victory in the general elec­tions in the United Kingdom. And in early March, The Economist’s election forecast gave Trump a 53% shot of reelection. The Vegas odd­s­makers gave Trump a better-than-60% shot of winning a second term.

Then the coro­n­avirus hit the U.S. and U.K. Amid panic and con­fusion, gov­ern­ments tried to slow the spread with lock­downs and quar­an­tining, which brought fear, con­fusion, and frus­tration with leaders in Wash­ington, D.C., and London. In par­ticular, the unsat­is­factory responses from both the Trump admin­is­tration and Johnson min­istry undercut the public trust. While Amer­icans only make up 4% of the global pop­u­lation, the United States has accounted for 20.4% of all COVID-19 cases, according to Google. The Journal of the American Medical Asso­ci­ation reported that death rates in the U.S. are more than 20% higher than the rest of the world and 85% higher per capita than developed nations, including Germany and Israel. And the American people have noticed. A recent survey by NBC News revealed 65% of American adults say they are worried that someone in their family will be exposed to the virus. Another survey by Reuters revealed only 37% of American adults approved of Trump’s han­dling of the pan­demic, with 59% disapproving. 

The United Kingdom’s response tells only a slightly better story. Despite con­sti­tuting only 0.85% of the global pop­u­lation, the U.K. is respon­sible for 3.9% of coro­n­avirus-related casu­alties, according to Google. And Prime Min­ister Johnson’s net approval rating has plunged nearly 50% since the beginning of the crisis, according to Wikipedia

People feel scared in the United States and United Kingdom. To them, every­thing seems out of control. The frus­tration and disgust with the estab­lishment they once felt have been replaced by fear and help­lessness; lost adrift at sea without a com­petent captain. 

At least back in 2016, someone was in control; even if it was not them. 

The coro­n­avirus pan­demic ended the anti-estab­lishment wave. Only one year ago, the British and American pop­u­laces were still riding the wave of this backlash. But the events of 2020 tested and ulti­mately broke the momentum of Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, and their respective move­ments. The com­bi­nation of the cir­cum­stances of COVID-19 and their failure to ade­quately restrain the spread of both the virus and public dis­trust spelled the doom of the Trump presidency. 

“Events, dear boy” are indeed what deter­mines the course of pol­itics and the fate of world leaders. The events came and the leaders fal­tered. And the Trump pres­i­dency and Brexit fervor are now both offi­cially casu­alties of COVID-19.


Matt Fisher is a senior studying politics.