Saturday, September 7, 2019

Essay: The Parallel Transatlantic Crises

“I’ve so far resisted these comparisons, but now Britain’s political crisis [i.e., Boris Johnson 'proroguing' Parliament for more than a month, in an unprecedented move to short-circuit discussion of his 'no-deal' Brexit] really does resemble the parallel crisis in the United States. A ruthless executive is pushing the outer bounds of what is constitutionally possible in order to achieve unpopular outcomes. A ruling party that is afraid for its own electoral future is shamefacedly supporting him. A divided opposition seeks to block him but doesn’t have a popular leader itself. A conservative party is using populist slogans that undermine national institutions. Old precedents and customs are being abandoned at great speed, leaving only a vacuum in their wake.”—Anne Applebaum, Washington Post, Aug. 29, 2019

There are even more parallels not mentioned by Ms. Applebaum between Boris Johnson and Donald Trump

*Both are tonsorially challenged clowns with neither executive ability nor respect for truth, perpetrating breakdowns in their country’s essential legislative function.

*Both Trump and Johnson lead a base worried by deteriorating order and challenges to traditional values, despite these "populists" own extremely untidy personal lives.

*Both came to power by emerging from the socioeconomic flotsam of the 2007-09 Global Financial Crisis, exploiting the fears of foreigners left in its wake.

*Both found their causes aided by trolls and bots associated with Russia (yes, the British are investigating how Putin propaganda aided the Brexit campaign, according to this NPR interview with Jane Mayer; as for Trump, not one of the President’s most raucous defenders can explain the extraordinary coincidence of Russia releasing the Wikileaks files on Hillary Clinton less than 24 hours after The Donald urged it to do so).

*Both are calling for stronger trade ties between their countries, as a seeming counter-move against the Economic Union (EU)--a strategy that plays into Putin's hopes of undermining economic and military alliances. 

*Both the Trump and Brexit campaigns used Steve Bannon as their scurvy strategist.

*Both leaders have created a ruckus over border security: Trump, by squawking about a wall with Mexico (and even transferring Defense Dept. money for other projects to try to speed its construction); Johnson, by ignoring concerns that lack of a EU “backstop” would doom the fragile tranquility prevailing in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday Agreement two decades ago.

*Both have crashed through unwritten rules of law and conduct that restrained predecessors in their countries’ highest office.

*Both have a penchant for insult: Johnson derided opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn as “you great big girl's blouse," while Trump has insulted someone on Twitter pretty close to every day.

*Both now pose a fundamental threat not just to the economy and governance of their countries, but to the faith that other nations place in the U.K. and U.S. as birthplaces of liberty.

So far, only one major difference exists in the ascent to power of Trump and Johnson: In the latter’s first week in office, a coalition of 21 Conservative Party Members of Parliament—including former Cabinet ministers—allied with the opposition to force him to make a Brexit deal or request another extension till early 2020. No such public, principled cohort has emerged to restrain Trump. 

Over the years, I have been critical of much British governmental policy (including its misbegotten colonial legacy), but this week, I have to tip my hat to a legislature that, unlike ours, has enough members who refuse to be bullied into meekly abdicating their time-honored responsibilities.

(Photo of Boris Johnson taken as an MP, July 27, 2016.)

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