Thanks to American Airlines delaying my Thursday evening flight home by 6 hours, I pulled an all-nighter and was able to follow the Brexit returns and morning-after impacts from London in real-time. I immediately dashed off a piece for US News. It went live this weekend. Given the history-in-the-making nature of this vote – and its impact on all the issues on which I write and teach – I wanted to share it with you right away.
Below is an expurgated version for quicker reading; to read the complete version, The End of Democracy as We Know It, click here.
Many observers are interpreting Britain’s vote to leave the European Union in much the same terms as Donald Trump. “Basically, they took back their country. That’s a great thing,” Trump said. In a written statement, he went on that the British “have voted to reassert control over their own politics, borders and economy.”
The British vote indeed may be a good leading indicator of where elections are headed in the U.S. later this year and in Europe the next – but what it indicates for the longer term is probably exactly the opposite of what these commentaries, and insurgents like Trump, Marine Le Pen in France, and the Brexiteers, represent.
Britain has taken the first step in tearing apart one of the world’s major transnational organizations. It’s clear that others will soon follow and that the “Leave” vote in Britain was driven by the same anti-globalization, anti-immigration anger that has swept over not only the whole of Europe but also our own country. So, at first blush, these would appear to be – as Trump and others have heralded it – the first waves of reasserting national sovereignty and the firmness of borders (not to mention border walls).
Think again. The waves are cracking and demolishing all walls, not building them up.
The immediate effects of the Brexit vote include not only calls for further nation-state exits from the EU, but also resurgent sub-national claims to exit from their nation-states. The Scots – who voted overwhelmingly to Remain – almost tore Britain apart two years ago and are now almost certain to do so by 2018. They are not alone.
In sum, the nationalist resurgence of 2016 is not the new normal. It is but a way station on the road to the larger crack-up.
The U.S. itself is not immune. That should be the clearest lesson of the U.K. vote. That vote was very segregated: London as well as Britain’s historically more European-oriented satellite states strongly supported the “Remain” position; other parts of the country – those not enjoying the benefits of global trade, finance and elite educations – overwhelmingly wanted to leave. The different tribes of Britain – defined now more by their opportunities and, thus, their, global connectedness than by historic ethnicities – are going their separate ways.
The same is true here. This country is deeply divided into two ideologically homogenous but wholly incompatible blocs. These blocs are also almost entirely geographically independent. Given the snarling animosities of this year’s campaign, it is highly likely that talk of actual separation will rise after November. Since Obama’s election, conservative enclaves and states have increasingly raised the specter of seceding; lefties – which increasingly means the globally-connected urban, coastal elite – increasingly will be willing to let them. As borders and territory everywhere come to matter less and less to the economic and political elite, but more and more to the Left Behind, it is unlikely that the U.S. will be spared this phenomenon.
That means not just the end of nations as we know them, but also of democracy as we know it. I don’t mean that I expect totalitarianism to wipe away democracies everywhere. Instead, the choices that matter will be those between such entities, not within them. People will “vote” with their feet, their markets or their clicks. The old science of politics will be a thing of the past.
The “End of History” is so over. This is the beginning of a whole new chapter.
As always, I welcome your comments below.
The major event of the last two weeks, of course, has been the horrific shooting in Orlando. We all are saddened by the senseless loss of life, but the incident predictably turned almost immediately into a political football over the issues of terrorism and firearms. These are important issues, of course – but a lot of the commentary around them glossed over the underlying theme of the Donald Trump/Republican reaction, and of the year’s politics more generally: that the greatest threat facing the country is “political correctness.”
Facially, the “political correctness” argument of the Right suggests that the US has grown weak both abroad and at home because of liberal-induced unwillingness to deal with – or even utter – so-called hard truths, generally critical of people of color. But, as I wrote in my new piece, ‘Political Correctness’ Isn’t the Problem, in US News & World Report yesterday, the real point such polemicists as Trump and Rush Limbaugh want to make is that the militancy of their anger is really the fault of their opponents:
The spread of intolerant liberalism, which ought to be an oxymoron, however, unfortunately gives the Right in this country – which historically embraces the suppression of speech with which it disagrees – a fig-leaf with which to dress itself up as the defenders of the First Amendment.
So, sure, “political correctness” is a problem. But it’s not what’s stoking Islamic fundamentalism.
Rather, it’s become simply an excuse. An excuse to blame one’s opponent for one’s own venality. An excuse to say even more stupid things, and to elect a fundamentally unhinged man as president, just because doing so is politically incorrect.
This is the big problem of 2016. Last week in US News, I tried to address another aspect of it – the attempt to blame all this anger on immigrants, and what can be done to counter that. In How Clinton Can Win Over Trump Voters, I drew on another meeting from my recent Scandinavian trip in which I discussed immigration policy with analysts from the Swedish Social Democrats. As I wrote there,
[T]he angry working class is right to be angry about jobs and wages: Their jobs have been – and continue to be – threatened. But it’s not because a bunch of immigrants have come over here and taken those high-paying manufacturing jobs. It’s because those jobs, to the extent they still exist, have been shipped overseas. Yes, U.S. jobs are threatened by lower-paid foreigners, but abroad, not in the U.S.
I argued that “American workers deserve a platform that combats the real problems” – and tried in the remainder of the piece to sketch one. The other day, the Aspen Institute asked me to lay out a longer and more detailed version of this argument. Look for it in September!
In between, my trip to Sweden and Estonia produced another piece that I didn’t do much to circulate because it came out right before the Orlando shootings. But in Less Government, More Socialism, I returned to several of my favorite themes on the future of government (basically, “it’s complicated”) and the deficiencies in our current political debate (it’s not complicated enough):
In short, our domestic political debate is grossly impoverished by our dichotomy between the competing utopianisms of a country without government and one dominated by it. We in fact are headed toward a world with a lot less government – and a lot more “socialism.”
And that’s the big problem of the future…. I’ll be discussing it a lot more in articles and posts to come.
As always, I welcome your comments below.
I hope the unofficial arrival of summer has been good where you are. This year, May was an unusually busy, but interesting, month for me. I’m just back from two weeks in Estonia, Denmark, and Sweden on business travel I mentioned in a previous post.
I’ll be reporting on these in a series of articles over the next several weeks — the first of which just appeared yesterday.
Politics Are Not Recession-Proof provides the Cliff Notes version of my presentation at the annual conference of European political consultants in Copenhagen:
[T]he upheaval today – not just in the US, but across the globe – has to be understood as a direct result of the Great Recession and its aftermath. Up until 2008, there was a widely understood social compact: … The Great Recession shattered that consensus for good, destroying the idea that the elites earned their disparate control of the world’s wealth and power…. The aftermath laid bare that the elites not only weren’t all-knowing: They also didn’t have our welfare in mind at all….
In fairness to the clueless elites, today’s dislocations actually are ripples on the surface caused by deeper underlying issues reflected in the technology-driven collapsing of borders, the nation-state, and governments as we know them: These predate the global financial crisis and, while manifested in current upheavals over the economy and immigration, extend far beyond the immediate issues and will be shaping our politics for the next twenty to thirty years.
Just before my trip, I had two other pieces published. How a Third-Party Candidate Can Win surveyed the many bizarre scenarios under the Constitution under which “Republicans determined to stop Trump don’t need to run a national third-party campaign – they just need to run a one-state campaign. Maybe not even that.” My favorite:
In such a crazy environment, the House could actually deadlock in selecting a new president. What would happen then? … The Senate would decide – choosing between … Trump’s and Clinton’s designated running mates…. What if Clinton’s is a centrist senator – Tim Kaine or Mark Warner? What if Trump chooses … someone of potential breakthrough appeal like, say, Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada? Members of Congress across chambers and party aisles might agree the Republic is better served by one of them heading a government of national unity and the House, intentionally, just never reaching agreement.
On a more serious note, the Aspen Institute asked me to address the role of think tanks in American politics. Here’s the nub of the piece:
[T]he reality is that liberal think tanks have done nowhere near as much to move the debate as their conservative models. In large part, this is because Democrats viewed their challenge after each disastrous defeat as figuring out how to adjust their positions better to comport with a more conservative political climate; conservatives, in contrast, have viewed the challenge as changing public attitudes to comport with their agenda – and have largely succeeded. Looking at the current presidential campaign, there has been no real attempt by Democrats to challenge, for example, anti-tax “orthodoxy”….
As always, I would love to know your thoughts. Feel free to comment below!