Leaders who fan the flames of xenophobia so that their followers lash out are evil. Leaders who structure their systems such that a large portion of the population are on the edge of lashing out are fools. Trump and his ilk are bad people. But we are fools for letting it come to the point where there are enough people who feel pushed to lash out that the xenophobes can take advantage of the situation.
There is quite a bit of commentary that tries to either dismiss or attack the Leave vote on Brexit as largely deriving from xenophobia and racism. The problem isn't that such commentary is strictly wrong, but that it is misguided. Every country in the world has xenophobia. Every county in the world has racism. It is well established that older people voted for Leave much more than younger people. But this causes an analytical problem for those who want to protect their worldview with a dismissive 'racism' analysis. Those same people 10 and 20 years ago got along much better with the idea of the EU. So either a huge percentage of the population mysteriously got more racist, a huge percentage of the population let their racism become more important than other concerns, or racism isn't the key factor we outght to be analyzing.
I believe that some people are hard core racists in the sense of never wanting to give outsiders a break. That isn't 40-50% of the UK population. Something else is going on.
Politics has a large tribal component. You give people on 'your side' a lot more leeway, and are suspicious of people not on 'your side'. This is a well known psychological component of human beings. So much so that when studying it, you often don't have to prep people any more than randomly assigning them to a team and then telling about their assignment to the team. So the diagnosis of "people are xenophobic" or the stronger "those people are racist" isn't useful in this context because they aren't the incorrigible racists who won't ever give an outsider a break. Until very recently they were going along with the European project of the EU. A bit reluctantly from time to time, but going along. Something changed in the last few years.
The numbers of immigrants went up significantly, but to levels that would seem like a blip to a place like California. The problem is that a significant number of people went from thinking that the EU represented their tribe to believing that it didn't. I would trace that to the EU reaction to the global financial crisis. In broad terms, the EU reacted by saving the banks and abandoning the general population. That was followed by Merckel's reaction to the later Greek crisis. Again the banks were bailed out, and the populace forced to accept a heavily deflationary economic environment. The general voter received the message that the rich would be watched out for, and if they were poor they would not only have to fend for themselves but might have the EU side with the rich against them. This meant that if you felt you were at risk of being poor, you were no longer just fighting for economic success, but were at risk of losing the protective status of being in your tribe. That mindset is ripe for xenophobia to come to the fore.
So noticing that there was a strong xenophobic component to the Leave campaign is true, but not helpful unless you analyze why all these people who were doing relatively fine with the EU before, suddenly 'became' racist.
The next type of analysis which is likely to lead us astray is getting too bogged down in policy details. Policy details are for in-tribe discussions. When you start to believe that a powerful group is against you, you either despair or lash out. I would suggest that there was despair for the last few years, and lashing out now. Lashing out isn't conducive to policy analysis. Lashing out means attacking people who aren't of your tribe, and clinging to those you perceive to be of your tribe even if they are unsavory. This is a situation that political opportunists love, because if they signal that they are part of the tribe they are trying to appeal to, they can get away with almost anything else. They stoke the lashing out because they know that it means they won't ever have to be accountable. It is a very effective political technique when a large portion of the population is open to it, which is why it a large part of the work of a civilized society to make sure that most people feel enough a part of the big tribe that they won't react in that way.
We have failed to avoid that situation. The Donald Trumps of the world are evil for manipulating those who feel abandoned by the tribe, but our leaders need to realize their fault for abandoning too many people. The consensus Western approach is failing too many people, and that is why we are here.