2018 Election, Brexit, Trump

Crass Self-Delusion…

          “Crass self-delusion is when you start with an ideological premise that you believe to be true even though it isn’t and then draw apparently reasonable conclusions from it.”

Columnist Fintan O’Toole in The Irish Times

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One of the most remarkable, that is to say shocking, aspects of our current politics is the enormous degree of self-delusion that inflicts so many politicians and so many citizens. It seems to be an epidemic, or even a pandemic of ignorance that takes over minds and sickens them in the same way the great flu pandemic one hundred years ago infected so many millions world wide.

Theresa May: Going down with Britannia?

British Prime Minister Theresa May, for example, is hanging on by her fingernails, continuing to maintain the unalloyed fiction that the United Kingdom leaving the European Union will somehow be good for the British economy. The Brits call it Brexit and May and her self-delusional fellow Conservatives – and more than a few in the Labour Party – have been fussing for months over the terms of the exit from the European common market.

It is obvious now – as it was obvious when the U.K. voted to leave the EU – that accomplishing the trick of separating from Europe and still maintaining all the advantages of staying in Europe would simply be impossible. Yet, the delusion continues, while May’s government comes apart at the seams. It reminds me of one of the old silent film comedies produced by the legendary Mack Sennett – a bunch of clueless Keystone Cops running into walls, jumping through windows, generally making no sense whatsoever, while acting like they have it all under control.

Keystone Kops or pro-Brexit British pols?

As Feargus O’Sullivan writes at CityLab about May’s latest proposal: “If the deal scrapes through, it’s far from the brave new dawn that Brexit’s advocates insisted was just around the corner. It will still bind the country into accepting most E.U. rules (including a customs union) for the foreseeable future, while removing Britain’s ability to influence those rules as a union member.”

That is rather like your mother insisting you eat your peas and promising that you will have absolutely nothing to say about it the next time peas are served.

The brilliant Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole, who possesses an Irishman’s unique ability to poke holes in what passes for logic among the British ruling class, says the backers of the delusional Brexit  scheme fall into three different categories of what he calls sheer ignorance. The first category is “deliberate unknowing,” a situation where “you are fully aware of something but then choose to suppress that consciousness.”

The smarter British politicians, May included, knew Brexit was a farce, but went along with the farce to maintain power … or something. The same type of delusion is rampant in Donald Trump’s America, particularly prevalent in the deep delusion infecting the Republican ruling class in Washington, D.C.

Republican politician after Republican politician labeled Trump unfit, a clown, a con man, a disaster, an ignorant buffoon and now – I’m thinking of you Lindsey Graham – they can’t get enough of their joker-in-chief. Trump hasn’t changed. “Deliberate unknowing” has, however, become the GOP’s SOP.

Case in point: On the evening of the recent mid-term elections Trump took to his favorite chalkboard, Twitter, to proclaim the election a great victory for Republicans. He doubled down the next day during a White House news conference saying, “To be honest — I’ll be honest, I thought it was a — I thought it was a very close to complete victory.”

Right. Some kind of victory.

Democrats won 35-plus seats in the House of Representatives, taking control of that body. They held off what might have been a blood bath, while defending a slew of vulnerable seats in Senate. And they repaired much of the Midwest damage the party suffered in 2016 by winning a number of governor’s races. Oh, yes, Democrats picked up two Republican held Senate seats, including one in Arizona that has been in GOP hands since 1995, and now Democrats hold every congressional seat in Orange County, California.

John Wayne is spinning somewhere. But, it was “very close to complete victory” or, put another way, acknowledging that was not “very close to complete victory” is the very definition of “deliberate unknowing.”

That Trump news conference was, of course, where the president created the pretense to strip a CNN  reporter of his White House credentials. A silly, self-delusional move by Trump and a White House staff ever more unmoored from reality.

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           “We’re working on many things. Criminal justice reform we’re working on very hard. We have a meeting today, do you know about that? We have a meeting today.” Donald J. Trump in an interview with The Daily Caller

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O’Toole’s second category of ignorance is the “crass self-delusion” mentioned at the head of this piece: the ability to convince yourself that a long-held ideological position is correct in the face of vast evidence to the contrary.

Our national political delusion in this category could be something like, oh, the huge Trump-GOP tax cut. The tax cut was, or course, promised as a amazing boon to the middle class and a launching pad for vast economic growth that would “pay for itself.” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell actually proclaimed, ““I’m totally convinced this is a revenue-neutral bill.” It wasn’t. Now – big surprise – McConnell says we’ll need to cut Medicare and Social Security to address the deficit created by the tax cut that was going to pay for itself.

The Republican ideology of tax cutting is certainly the stuff of true belief, the premise that tax cuts  overwhelmingly working to the benefit of the wealthiest are good for all of us is a myth, easily refuted.  The outcome of the entire tax cut charade has been to grow the deficit and threaten the broader economy. As the New York Times noted recently: “the fiscal health of the United States is deteriorating fast, as revenues have declined sharply. The federal budget deficit — the gap between what the government collects in revenues and what it spends — rose to $779 billion in the 2018 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. That was a 17 percent increase from the prior year.”

Oh, well, in the age of Crass Delusion, with a president who lies with reckless abandon about absolutely everything, it may seem more comfortable to cling to the ideologically certain end of the ignorance continuum rather than grapple with messy old facts.

By the way, the Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale has done us a big favor. He’s actually been tracking Trump’s lies since Day One. It’s a big job, taking a mild-mannered Canadian – they really are our best friends – to keep track of the American president’s delusions, er, lies. Dale calculates “3,749 false claims” since Trump’s inauguration, the job of tracking the lies made easier by the frequency of repetition.

“On his fifth day in office, Trump baselessly alleged widespread voter fraud,” Dale wrote recently. “He did the same thing this past week. In his third month in office, Trump falsely claimed that the United States has a $500 billion trade deficit with China. He has said the same thing more than 80 times since.

“Listen to this president long enough, and you can almost sense when a lie is coming. If Trump tells a story in which an unnamed person calls him “sir,” it’s probably invented. If Trump claims he has set a record, he probably hasn’t. If Trump cites any number at all, the real number is usually smaller.”

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          “The Democrats want to invite caravan after caravan of illegal aliens into our country. And they want to sign them up for free health care, free welfare, free education, and for the right to vote.” – Donald J. Trump just before the mid-term elections

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The final O’Toolean category of delusion is what he calls plain old “pig ignorance” as in “the genuine hallmarked, unadulterated, slack-jawed, open-mouthed, village idiot variety.”  In Trumpworld where to begin?

How about we send several thousand U.S. soldiers to the Mexican border at tremendous cost and at no small disruption to their personal lives. Let’s succeed in politicizing the military as part of a pre-election stunt in an effort to stop a “dangerous caravan” of displaced persons – poor, tired, desperate people – who pose absolutely no threat to the United States.

Political Hack…Attorney General

Or, how about this for pig ignorance? Appoint a grifting hot tub entrepreneur to run the U.S. Justice Department and somehow think that is either proper or a good idea. Trump might well succeed in getting his new acting attorney general, Matthew G. Whitaker, to fire special counsel Robert Mueller in hopes of heading off the continuing investigation into Russian interference with our elections and potential Trump campaign involvement in that interference. But do any but the most delusional among us think that Mueller can’t outfox a guy who once tried to raise money using bitcoin to finance research into time travel – this is true, by the way – and seems pretty sure Bigfoot is a thing (also true)?

I’ll put my bitcoin on the former FBI director and decorated Marine combat veteran. And I’d take double or nothing that Whitaker is gone in about three Mooches.

Or, we could demonstrate our real grasp of reality by uniquely blaming the massive and deadly California wildfires on a lack of proper forest management rather than the real culprits – extended drought and the effects of ever worsening climate change. Trump actually suggested “raking and cleaning things” would  eliminate the causes of the massive fires. No, really, he did say that.

And we could make those claims even as the administration’s own budget proposal for the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management actually calls for reduced funding for approaches that might help mitigate some of the effects of wildfire.

“Pig ignorance” is living your entire adult life in a gilded enclave in Manhattan, never getting out of a bubble made of your own self-delusion and faking that you could tell a fire line from buffet line.

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         “The Sunday Times reported Britain’s army had been ordered to step up contingency plans to help police maintain public order in case of food and medicine shortages after a ‘no deal’ Brexit, citing an unnamed ‘well-placed army source.’”

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Trump visits California fie victims, calls for more “raking”

In all their ignorance the Brexit hardliners may well succeed in destroying the U.K. economy and crippling European unity at the very moment dystopian nationalism is on the rise on the continent and in Trump’s own fevered imagination. O’Toole reminds us of how wacky the language of the pro-Brexit crowd has been and Trump’s rantings aren’t that far removed.

“Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this [unifying Europe], and it ends tragically,” the loathsome Boris Johnson said just before Brits voted to drive themselves off a cliff. He was suggesting that the European Union was attempting this dastardly Hitlerian deed of unity “by different methods” than the Nazi’s or Napoleon used, but that the effect on the U.K. would be just the same as Trafalgar and the Blitz of 1940. This entire business is a paranoid fantasy, a political psychosis, which sounds much like the daily news feed out of the White House.

No doubt we are stuck with Trump and all his delusions and ignorance for some time to come. His GOP enablers appear to be ready to double down on a strategy of hanging with him while he hangs them out. The mid-terms may have put up a political speed bump on the highway of craziness, but the deliberate unknowing, crass self-delusion and pig ignorance seems sure to continue. One entire political party has embraced nonsense.

Which is not to say that we can’t stop any time we want from buying into wacko conspiracy theories and  easily proven fallacies and we can stop listening to raving, ignorant people. Maybe the Brits will yet come to their senses. Perhaps we will, too.

Thomas Jefferson actually wrote something about this into the Declaration of Independence. “Let facts be submitted to a candid world,” ol’ Tom wrote. Good lord, let’s get on with that idea. Pig ignorance is just so stupid.

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2016 Election, Brexit, Britain, Churchill, Great Britain, Trump

Stop, Think and Ask “What If…”

 

According to the Financial Times, Michael Gove, a champion of Britain’s exit from the European Union and now a candidate for prime minister, refused during the recent Brexit campaign to name any economists who back exit from the European Union, saying that “people in this country have had enough of experts.” 

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It can be difficult, when watching politics unfold in real time, to identify and see clearly the larger currents and fault lines that define where we are and where we might be headed. This reality – not always being able to comprehend the present – is why history matters and why, regrettably, so many Americans – and Brits apparently – have forgotten lessons from the past.

Americans face an obesity crisis and a epidemic of gun violence, but perhaps just as seriously we face the plague of historical amnesia. Increasingly we cannot connect the dots of the past with the issues of the moment. That can be a fatal disease in a democracy.

Photo Credit: Theophilos Papadopoulos
Photo Credit: Theophilos Papadopoulos

The recent decision by voters in the United Kingdom to abandon more than 40 years of increasing interconnection with Europe, and in the process turning their backs on the last century of European history, and the Republican presidential candidacy of Donald Trump illustrate how we forget our history at our peril. Two striking examples make my case.

Europe in 1940…

Imagine the world, and particularly Europe, in the spring of 1940. Nazi armies have overrun Poland and Norway, invaded the Low Countries and are pressing toward Paris. Hitler’s Panzers and Stuka dive-bombers have terrorized Warsaw, Krakow, Brussels and Antwerp. The Wehrmacht – perhaps the greatest offensive army the world had ever seen – was routing the French army, thought at the time to be the best fighting force in the world, and guns booming on the front lines could be heard at the Eiffel Tower. Would France fight on, resist the awful weight of invasion or would defeatists in the French government and military surrender?

A German tank in France in 1940
A German tank in France in 1940

The new British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, a Francophile who loved Champagne and the ships of the French Navy among other things, was desperate to keep France in the war – and the French Navy out of German hands – and he embraced an audacious plan to buck up the faltering and besieged government in Paris.

At the suggestion of several French diplomats serving in London – among the group was Jean Monnet, considered the founding father of the European Union, and the junior French General Charles De Gaulle – Churchill pitched to the French Premier Paul Reynaud a “declaration of indissoluble union.

The formal proposal declared, “The two governments declare France and Great Britain shall no longer be two nations but one Franco-British Union…every citizen of France will enjoy immediately citizenship of Great Britain and every British subject will become a citizen of France.” Once united the two countries would have a formal association of Parliaments, joint management of defense and finance and a single war cabinet to direct the defense of western Europe. “Its all embracing character,”as one historian has written, “went further than anything before in the history of war-time alliances. Even in the subsequent history of European unity, no Government ever proposed a more radical and far-reaching plan for supernatural integration.”

Astounding.

Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill

Great Britain and France would, symbolically and practically, become one and fight on against Hitler’s armies. We know how the story turned out. Reynaud could not sell the idea to his government, most members of whom had already indicated a willingness to throw in the towel and surrender. The World War I hero Marshall Henri Petain, who went on to collaborate with the Nazis and was later found guilty of treason, rejected Churchill’s proposal out of hand saying it would be better to become “a Nazi colony” than to unite with Britain. Reynaud resigned as prime minister without a formal vote on the British proposal and later said the failure of Churchill’s idea was the greatest disappointment of his political career.

As for becoming a Nazi colony, France certainly did, to the enduring shame of many who advocated capitulation rather than embrace new and radical thinking. The name of Petain is forever stained, while De Gaulle is celebrated as the greatest Frenchman of the 20th Century.

I’ll leave it to you to arrive at your own Brexit takeaway from this little historic tableau from 75 years ago, but one lesson seems clear: when faced with the greatest threat in modern times Winston Churchill was prepared to join his nation’s fate in the most fundamental ways with France, indeed with all of Europe. His imagination was equal to the moment.

Reed Smoot is Smiling…

The presumptive nominee of the Republican for the presidency is, on the other hand, beyond imagination. Donald Trump spent the week, with a few Trumpian deviations, outlining his remarkable views on trade. Reed Smoot must be smiling.

Utah Senator Reed Smoot on the cover of Time
Utah Senator Reed Smoot on the cover of Time

To the extent that Smoot, an austere apostle of the Mormon Church and a Republican senator from Utah, is remembered at all today it is for being the architect of the 1930 tariff legislation that bears his name. The Smoot-Hawley tariff – Hawley was Willis Hawley, an Oregon lawyer and educator who became chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee – dramatically increased tariffs, led to a stifling of American exports just as the Great Depression took hold and sparked an international trade war against the United States.

As historian Douglas A. Irwin points out in his history of the tariff legislation, Canada, the largest U.S. trading partner in 1930, immediately retaliated with its own trade sanctions, while other countries formed “preferential trading blocs that discriminated against the United States” shifting world trade away from the U.S.

Saddled with the political, not to mention financial cost of protectionist trade policies after Smoot-Hawley, Republicans generally became “free-traders,” adopting a fundamentally conservative view that goods and services should move freely in the global economy, largely unhindered by artificial controls. Trade wars were to be avoided, exports encouraged and imports not feared. Trump’s approach – a trade war with China and mostly incoherent, but clearly protectionist measures regarding U.S. imports – as much as any policy he proposes, upends long-established Republican orthodoxy and flies in the face of historical experience.

Smoot-Hawley was largely designed to protect American farmers. It didn’t and many voices, including hundreds of economists, warned against its passage. The widely respected columnist Walter Lippmann called the protectionist legislation “a wretched and mischievous product of stupidity and greed.” You wonder if he knew Trump? And one advisor to the Republican president who signed the controversial legislation said, “I almost went down on my knees to beg Herbert Hoover to veto the asinine Hawley-Smoot Tariff. That Act intensified nationalism all over the world.”

America in the Great Depression
America in the Great Depression

Donald Trump’s rhetoric about trade, in addition to doing violence to a deeply held Republican tradition dating to the Great Depression, would almost certainly cost rather than protect American jobs. Other nations would surely retaliate. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce pointed out this reality in what amounted to a stunning rebuke by American business of the GOP nominee. Even some of those who developed the economic analysis Trump relies upon for his position on trade repudiate his approach. Experts, of course, are so out of fashion, just like facts and history.

Meanwhile, across the pond, after more than 40 years spent embracing European integration the United Kingdom is certain to discover in the days ahead that the cost of isolation from Europe will be great and painful. In both cases – Brexit and Trump – opportunistic politicians, feeding on the fears of worried citizens, peddle fanciful ideas that simply can’t withstand careful evaluation. But, unfortunately our collective historical amnesia leaves us susceptible to the crude charms of charlatans.

Historical analogies are never perfect, of course, but history can help illuminate enduring truths, one being that simple answers to complex problems are almost always wrong.

Another lesson taught by history is simply to stop, think and ask “what if”? What if the French government in 1940 had had more courage and imagination? What if Herbert Hoover would have listened to his advisers? What if?

 

2016 Election, Brexit, Britain, Trump, World War I

Brexit and America

   

       “We have fought against the multinationals, we have fought against the big merchant banks, we have fought against big politics, we have fought against lies, corruption and deceit.”

Nigel Farage, advocate of the UK exit from the European Union

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It will be remembered as one of the great unforced errors in modern political history. In the language of soccer – this is Britain after all – soon to be former British Prime Minister David Cameron scored an “own goal,” kicking the ball into his own net. In one crazy act of political suicide Cameron threw a referendum bone to his political opponents. They ate the bone and then consumed him for good measure.

Prime Minister David Cameron
Prime Minister David Cameron

The Brits may have become the first people in the history of the world to vote for a recession. For sure they have voted for months – maybe years – of financial turmoil, economic and political isolation and very likely an independent Scotland. Brits also voted to validate the ugly kind of nationalism that is seeping across Europe. When the Brexit outcome is applauded by France’s ultra-right Marine Le Pen, the Kremlin and Donald Trump you instinctively know you are on the wrong side of history.

The Self-Inflicted Wound…

Cameron, a nominally successful politician before Brexit, will now be remembered for crashing his Conservative Party and speeding the disunion of Europe at the very moment the region needs even greater unity to deal with everything from trade to terrorism. Comparisons to Neville Chamberlain are inevitable. Meanwhile, the chief opposition party, Labour, is also in disarray and it seems inevitable that the party’s far left leader will have to go.

Why? Why reduce the United Kingdom’s long-term future to a plebiscite? Why risk it all on a one-off election with the highest of high stakes? The answer, of course, is political and here we begin to see the real relevance for the United States in 2016 of what has so dramatically happened in Britain.

Cameron set off these falling dominos of destruction in 2014 when in order to win an outright Conservative majority in the British parliament he attempted to placate radicals in his own party and in the uber-nationalist rightwing UK Independence Party (UKIP) with an up or down, in or out vote on the EU. Rather than fight the 2015 election over staying in Europe, Cameron tried to have it both ways even saying at one point that he might led the effort to leave the EU after he was re-elected. It was rank political opportunism from the guy one British Labour Party member recently dubbed “Dodgy Dave.”

Cameron compounded the dangers of his risky EU gamble by presiding during the recent campaign over a shambling Conservative Party that spoke with many discordant voices. Several of Cameron’s own cabinet ministers campaigned against him and remaining in the EU. Chaos follows chaos.

Donald Trump and Boris Johnson - more in common than a bad hair day
Donald Trump and Boris Johnson – more in common than a bad hair day

The “leave” campaign was led by another artful dodger, albeit one more colorful than Cameron, the former mayor of London Boris Johnson, a New York born gasbag with Churchillian ambitions who now maneuvers to replace Cameron. Leave it to an Irishman, the Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole, to correctly sum up BoJo, as Johnson is nicknamed: “He has a streak of Churchill’s brilliant opportunism and reckless charm, but he does not have behind him the national consensus that an existential struggle created behind Churchill and he is, in everything but girth, a lightweight.”

The U.S. Plays This Cynical Game Too…

None of this so much compares to Churchill-type politics as to the cynicism and recklessness of Congressional Republicans in the United States like Senator Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan (not to mention all of Ryan many predecessors, one of whom just reported to federal prison). This is why the British action looms so very large across the American political landscape.

The vote to leave the EU doubtless has its roots in a variety of toxic soil – anti-immigration, fears of globalization, misunderstandings about free trade, hatred of the “privileged elites,” long simmering class resentments and totally valid concerns about growing income inequality. Johnson and UKIP’s leader Nigel Farage, Britain’s Donald Trump with a better haircut, are ironically both men of wealth and privilege who played on the fears of many Brits, concocted fanciful stories about the benefits of leaving and now inherit a diminished UK more badly divided than ever. Sound familiar?

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage
UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage

Writing in The Guardian Zoe Williams condemned Farage’s hateful rhetoric after the referendum, language that sounds remarkably like Trump’s “knock the crap out of ’em” talk. “But for poor taste and ugly triumph,” Williams wrote, “nothing matched [Farage’s] assertion that [the Leave vote] had happened ‘without having to fight, without a single bullet being fired.’”

A ridiculous comment, of course, since a pro-EU Member of Parliament was murdered days before the voting, the first MP lost to an “act of terror since the darkest days of the IRA and, leaving Ireland aside, the first since 1812. His words seemed to carry a tang of regret – echoing his dark mutterings of some weeks ago, when he predicted violence on the streets and sounded exhilarated by it.”

This is not the political talk or action of a western democracy, but something much more sinister, something to be condemned and defeated. It is the politics of cynicism, hatred and despair, of yesterday not tomorrow.

For most of the last eight years Congressional Republicans have done something similar by promising their mostly white, older base that obstructing political action on everything from immigration reform to climate change was the American way. They have mostly refused to condemn the fevered claims of white supremacists and talk radio that a duly elected president of the United States is somehow not one of us. They set out not merely to merely disagree with Barack Obama, but as McConnell infamously said, to “make him a one term president.”

Refusing to Set Expectations with Your Voters…

Republicans refused to really engage on big issues from health care to Syria, even voting no on a sensible economic stimulus and an essential auto bailout in the wake of The Great Recession knowing all the while that they could gin up the base with Barack bashing and yet one more promise to repeal Obamacare.

Now their presidential candidate tweets regularly about what “Obama has done with the debt,” while never acknowledging – or probably knowing – that no president spends money that has not been authorized and appropriated by the Republican Congress. Trump’s own claims to eliminate the debt are as unrealistic as the claims made by Britain’s anti-Europe crowd and just as widely discredited.

Yet simple lessons in civics and finance eludes not only the candidate, but his followers. Facts be damned. Even if a claim is pure poppycock, shot down by an “expert” who knows something, so what? it still makes a good message in 140 characters.

Failing to deliver for their base on undeliverable promises the GOP leadership now finds itself roughly where Dodgy Dave Cameron sits – on the outs with one-time supporters who feel conned, left trying to explain how a phony billionaire “populist” who traffics in insults and conspiracy theories has hijacked their party.

The Farage-Trump analogy even works to the level of both men’s penchant for the sleazy insult. Farage once told a former Belgian prime minister and top EU official to his face that he had “the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk.” At least Farage’s insults are more original than Trump’s.

Chaos leads to chaos
Chaos leads to chaos

This stunning turn of events in both the UK and the U.S. is evidence of an appalling lack of political leadership, leadership willing to acknowledge that moderation in the pursuit of progress is actually a virtue.

It should also be said that the American left hardly has clean hands at this moment of upheaval. Bernie Sanders continues to stoke too many of his supporters into a populist lather with a message that, while more optimistic and forward looking than what is coming from the populist right still often ignores political reality. The hardest thing to do in politics is to say no to your supporters and the second most difficult is to temper their expectations. We are seeing this populist revolt in no small part because of a failure to do either.

Cameron likely could have shutdown the EU debate in 2015 by forcefully making the conservative case for the UK staying in Europe – British conservatives led the country into the EU in the first place in 1973 – but he gambled the country on his own election and now he has lost it all.

Finding the Center Again…

McConnell and Company have embraced a similar level of political opportunism, shunning any obligation to negotiate with Obama and displaying no willingness to instruct their base voters in the finer points of how democracy works. On the immigration issue alone Republicans might have found a sensible middle ground with Obama years ago. Some of them, including Marco Rubio, came close in 2013 to a political solution only to cave to the rampant xenophobia among the Tea Party faithful that now powers Trump’s campaign. The resulting division, exacerbated even more by an evenly split Supreme Court unable to rule in a recent critical case – again McConnell’s doing – has created racial tensions not seen in the country since the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair

Writing from his own political exile brought on by his reckless embrace of George W. Bush’s Iraq policy, former British prime minister Tony Blair nevertheless made an essential point in a post-Brexit op-ed in the New York Times. With Britain and the U.S. clearly in mind, Blair wrote, “It was already clear before the Brexit vote that modern populist movements could take control of political parties. What wasn’t clear was whether they could take over a country like Britain. Now we know they can.”

Blair might have noted that Brexit and Trump have completed the transition of the once principled right of center conservative parties in Britain and the United States into collections of angry, aggrieved nationalists whose real currency is neither the pound or the dollar, but rather fear and hatred.

Remembering History, Acting Responsibly…

“The center must regain its political traction,” Tony Blair says, “rediscover its capacity to analyze the problems we all face and find solutions that rise above the populist anger. If we do not succeed in beating back the far left and far right before they take the nations of Europe on this reckless experiment, it will end the way such rash action always does in history: at best, in disillusion; at worst, in rancorous division. The center must hold.”

Battle of the Somme , 1916
Battle of the Somme, 1916

Next Sunday – July 1st – marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, the worst battle on the western front in The Great War. A million Europeans and most of a generation of Britain’s finest perished in one of the worst battles in human history all in order to prevent Europe from descending into a new dark age. The peace following The Great War lasted barely twenty years before an even more destructive war ravaged Europe. From that wreckage, barely seventy years ago, Europe began to come together in a genuine union – some wanted to call it a United States of Europe – with the belief that economic connections and open borders were the keys to security and peace, that cooperation was vastly more productive than national rivalry. All that idealism, all that reality stands torn and tattered now and the future is, at best, uncertain.

Winston Churchill, considered by the EU as one of the movement’s founders, once quoted a French politician as saying, “Without Britain there can be no Europe.” Churchill immediately added, “This is entirely true. But our friends on the Continent need have no misgivings. Britain is an integral part of Europe, and we mean to play our part in the revival of her prosperity and greatness.”

That is what political leadership sounds like.

These are not the times for opportunists and demagogues who peddle simple answers for the problems of a complex, rapidly changing and profoundly interconnected world. Send the populists of all stripes packing. They are the sowers of discord, the merchants of chaos. Britain has sent us a signal. It would be wise to pay attention.