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U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted on Saturday that he had just gotten off the telephone with Chinese President Xi Jinping and that they had “just had a long and very good call." The subject was the current trade talks between the two economic superpowers – talks that will boil down to whether the two countries can reach a deal by March 1. If not, the tariff skirmishes started by Mr. Trump this year and escalated by Mr. Xi could boil over into a full-scale trade war.

Also in March: Britain is scheduled to walk out of the European Union on the 29th. At this point it seems destined to do so cold turkey, with no transitional deal in place to mitigate the economic fallout.

In no small way, the month of March will be a culminating moment in an era that began in 2016 – the year of Mr. Trump’s unexpected election as President, and of the equally unanticipated referendum result that saw British citizens vote, by the smallest of margins, to leave the EU.

Both events were the result of sudden bursts of populism rooted in a frustration with the political status quo, anger over the unequal benefits of globalization and discomfort or outright xenophobia in response to immigration.

Mr. Trump came to power promising to tear up the North American free-trade deal and ban Muslims from entering the United States. He also promised to build a wall along the entire length of the U.S.-Mexico border and somehow get the Mexican government to pay for it.

In Britain, pro-Leave campaigners told voters that exiting the EU would save taxpayers hundreds of millions of British pounds a week, while keeping unwanted immigrants out. The likely negatives raised by the Remain side – the loss of the right to work on the continent, the possible end of an open and peaceful Irish border, an interruption in the massive trade that crosses the English Channel in both directions every day – were dismissed as fearmongering.

A little more than two years later, and both countries live in a constant state of crisis. The Trump administration is in turmoil, with cabinet members and staffers exiting at a rapid clip. A number of Mr. Trump’s associates have been indicted on various charges, and the President faces the real possibility of impeachment at the hands of a House of Representatives, now controlled by the Democrats.

The U.S. economy, while strong, has been roiled by Mr. Trump’s unprecedented attacks on the Federal Reserve, and by worries about deteriorating trade relations with China. His fantastical border wall, meanwhile, has devolved into something no more concrete than a political metaphor for Republican nativism. That hasn’t stopped Mr. Trump from shutting down the federal government over it.

Meanwhile in Britain, citizens face the prospect of leaving the EU as a person without a parachute might exit an airplane flying at 30,000 feet.

If there is no deal before March 29, economists predict a freefall into all sorts of disruptions: a sudden reduction in the trade across the English Channel; trucks backed up for 40 kilometres as new customs procedures kick in at either end; food and drug shortages; a breakdown in the supply chain that serves British car manufacturers; air-travel interruptions; the collapse of the pound; a five-per-cent drop in GDP; rising inflation; Brits living on the continent forced to get work permits or return home…

Polls show that if a second referendum were held now, a majority of Brits would vote against Brexit. And yet in the rancour of this populist era, the country’s politicians can’t even agree to accept the exit deal negotiated with the EU, a deal that would mitigate the worst of the fallout.

In the United States, people are counting on an unpredictable President who is under political siege in Congress, not to mention threatened by the Mueller investigation into collusion with Russian election interference, to get them a new deal with China by March 1. Without that, there could be the pain of a new round of tariffs and further economic turbulence.

In both countries, people are getting what they voted for: disruption, economic pain and a lot of uncertainty. March will be a month to watch. Will it bring the fulfillment of the populist dreams promised by Mr. Trump and the promoters of Brexit, or will it confirm the valid concern that isolationism, protectionism and nativism are always poor choices for a democracy?

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