Skip to Content

Brexit’s Long Shadow Over American Politics

US-POLITICS-OBAMAUS-POLITICS-OBAMA
President Barack Obama speaks at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California on June 24, 2016MANDEL NGAN—AFP/Getty Images

With the eyes of the world focused on the Brexit fallout, President Obama turned up at Stanford University on Friday to talk about boosting diversity in the tech industry. The event — a panel discussion followed by a Q&A with Facebook’s (FB) Mark Zuckerberg to close out the 7th Global Entrepreneurship Summit — was just the kind of soft initiative designed to pad the schedule of an outgoing president in the dog days of his last summer in office. In the context of the global aftershock from the British vote, it arguably took on a deeper resonance.

Zuckerberg himself has cautiously embraced a more political posture this year. On Friday, he told the young entrepreneurs such an approach is to key to succeeding, since those who build thriving companies “care fundamentally about the change they’re trying to create in the world.” And he’s cast Facebook’s connectivity mission as a challenge to the isolationism and anti-immigration hardline driving Donald Trump’s candidacy, making waves in an April speech calling out “fearful voices talking about building walls.” He could just as easily have been talkng about the British vote. Zuckerberg hasn’t endorsed in the presidential race, but when Hillary Clinton this week rolled out a list of 56 business executives backing her, fully a third hailed from the tech world, including Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.

The sector faces particular exposure in the mess across the pond. But what it shares with other industries in rooting against Brexit it also shares with Obama and his would-be Democratic successor: An investment in preserving and strengthening the institutions promoting global economic integration.

Trump scored easy points in the Republican primary by demagoguing trade deals — a critique Clinton insincerely adopted in her own contest. Yet the candidates split on Brexit. Trump embraced the British vote, framing the rejection of “rule by the global elite” as a sign of his impending victory in November.

The stateside wages of the decision for everyone from tech executives to retirees could recast the general election debate about just how disconnected American voters want the world to be.

This essay originally appeared in Fortune’s CEO Daily Newsletter. Sign up here.