After three and a bit years of watching the UK take a nation-sized gap year finding yourself experience, finally, some sort of conclusion to Brexit. Or at least, a definitive that can be pointed at. Obviously, there’s the negotiations to start on the ‘future relationship’ as it’s being termed. And no country is an island, metaphorically speaking, even if it is an actual island.
At 11pm on 31st January (almost two hours ago as I write), the UK officially left the EU. Which means we finally have an answer about why they got into Europe in the first place. To get out again. Or maybe they were never in, and the last 47 years were just a very long drawn out argument about it. Like when you go somewhere and bring your mates, only to realise one of them hates the place and the other two just want a quiet life and keep dropping hints about getting home early because they can’t stand the moaning, so eventually you decide to leave, which is a relief because at least everyone might shut up about it.
But they won’t, will they? There’s no real escape from Brexit, it’s going to rumble on, affecting our lives, travel, trade, jobs, futures. I don’t even live there, just nearby. Close enough to feel the consequences though, and that’s the real reason I can’t just switch it off.
Gloriously alone at last, they say in parts of the UK. If only. No, we’re not going to hear the end of this one for a while yet I’m afraid.
In an 1888 lecture, James Russell Lowell, a founder of this magazine, challenged the happy assumption that the Constitution was a “machine that would go of itself.” Lowell was right. Checks and balances is a metaphor, not a mechanism.
Everything imagined above—and everything described below—is possible only if many people other than Donald Trump agree to permit it. It can all be stopped, if individual citizens and public officials make the right choices. The story told here, like that told by Charles Dickens’s Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, is a story not of things that will be, but of things that may be. Other paths remain open. It is up to Americans to decide which one the country will follow.
No society, not even one as rich and fortunate as the United States has been, is guaranteed a successful future. When early Americans wrote things like “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” they did not do so to provide bromides for future bumper stickers. They lived in a world in which authoritarian rule was the norm, in which rulers habitually claimed the powers and assets of the state as their own personal property.
While (obviously) focused on Trump’s America, this stuff applies to any nation anywhere. And Frum lists Hungary, Poland and others where it’s potentially happening (Hungary in particular, is worrying). At the end of the day, it’s down to the citizens to defend their democracy. It can’t defend itself.
Those citizens who fantasize about defying tyranny from within fortified compounds have never understood how liberty is actually threatened in a modern bureaucratic state: not by diktat and violence, but by the slow, demoralizing process of corruption and deceit. And the way that liberty must be defended is not with amateur firearms, but with an unwearying insistence upon the honesty, integrity, and professionalism of American institutions and those who lead them. We are living through the most dangerous challenge to the free government of the United States that anyone alive has encountered. What happens next is up to you and me. Don’t be afraid. This moment of danger can also be your finest hour as a citizen and an American.
Toying around with ideas of what Scotland could do to stay in the EU, while also wondering what will happen to Northern Ireland which also voted to ‘remain’, a friend and I ended up considering if the twitter favourite ‘Union of Craic’ would actually work.
The idea is that Scotland goes ahead and runs a second indyref, and wins it. The issue then is how does Scotland get into the EU? Spain will be almost guaranteed to veto any quick join options, if Madrid doesn’t veto the application altogether. This is to avoid the Catalan problem. So, searching for another option, my friend reminded me that there is another more interesting precedent – East Germany.
The two Germany’s unified and stayed in the EU. So, how about a union, or more likely a loose federation of the Republic of Ireland and Scotland. By joining Ireland, Scotland could stay in the EU under our membership. It’d make sense for Northern Ireland to join in too, it would get to stay in the EU and the border would stay down.
The price would be NI and Scotland joining the Euro, and I’m sure there’s a lot more hurdles. But as a daydream, it’s a fun idea to consider.
Asks David Runciman in the LRB. Can the modern, democratic state survive the assent of someone like Trump? Some have said that the US needs someone who ‘tells it like it is’ (which is doublespeak for ‘tells it the way I think it is’), who’ll make changes, a ‘strong man’. A ‘disruptor’.
The heart of Thiel’s case for Trump was that America has become a risk-averse society, frightened of the radical change necessary for its survival. It needs disruption. But Trump is not a disruptor: he is a spiteful mischief-maker. The people who voted for him did not believe they were taking a huge gamble; they simply wished to rebuke a system on which they still rely for their basic security. That is what the vote for Trump has in common with Brexit. By choosing to quit the European Union, the majority of British voters may have looked as if they were behaving with extraordinary recklessness. But in reality their behaviour too reflected their basic trust in the political system with which they were ostensibly so disgusted, because they believed that it was still capable of protecting them from the consequences of their choice. It is sometimes said that Trump appeals to his supporters because he represents the authoritarian father figure who they want to shield them from all the bad people out there making their lives hell. That can’t be right: Trump is a child, the most childish politician I have encountered in my lifetime. The parent in this relationship is the American state itself, which allows the voters to throw a tantrum and join forces with the worst behaved kid in the class, safe in the knowledge that the grown-ups will always be there to pick up the pieces.
There’s only so much the ‘parent-state’ can do. At some point, it’ll throw in the towel. Strong men tend to suit themselves, they’ll always protect themselves and those closest to them before all others, even their own supporters. The state becomes a tool to that end once they can bend it to their will. And to do that all they need is some popular support. It’s unnerving to watch.
When I could get no really substantive on-the-record statements from the tech leaders, I pinged investor Chris Sacca, because I knew he would not let me down.
“It’s funny, in every tech deal I’ve ever done, the photo op comes after you’ve signed the papers,” he said. “If Trump publicly commits to embrace science, stops threatening censorship of the internet, rejects fake news and denounces hate against our diverse employees, only then it would make sense for tech leaders to visit Trump Tower.”
He added: “Short of that, they are being used to legitimize a fascist.”
The fascist line is vintage Sacca, who always likes to kick up a shitstorm. But thank god someone is willing to do it, because that is what I thought Silicon Valley was all about.
Yvette Cooper has written a strong article in the HuffPo pointing out the dangers of the current atmosphere in the UK stemming from the ruling that the UK parliament must ass a law to execute Brexit, and that it’s not at the gift of the executive to go it alone. The judges have been called Enemies of the People, and the plaintiffs in the case have been vilified over it (I’m not linking to the Sun). All they did was win a ruling that stated that the Westminster Parliament is indeed sovereign in this matter. But hysteria has been whipped up about it being an attempt to ‘block the will of the people’ or at least the will of Rupert Murdoch.
Yvette rightly calls out the dangers of such fuss:
The reason some Government Ministers are complaining so loudly about a vote on Article 50 is not because they fear they would lose it but because they want to keep Parliament out of the picture altogether. They want to hide the fact they don’t know what they are doing. And they want to make complex decisions behind closed doors keeping power in the hands of a small group with no scope for debate, scrutiny or amendment. That’s not democratic or sustainable.
The reason that some Ukippers are making such a fuss is worse. They want to sustain a sense of grievance. That’s how they get support. For years they have demonised the EU for supposedly frustrating the will of the British people. Now we are leaving the EU, they need a new enemy. So they are targeting Judges and Parliament instead.
Far from trying to strengthen British democracy as we leave the EU, they are trying to undermine it. So the two most important democratic institutions we have – democratically elected lawmakers and the independent judges charged with upholding the rule of law – are caricatured as “enemies of the people”. Instead of treating democracy as the peaceful way to express and implement the popular will, the far right are starting to treat democracy as the subversion of it.
And here’s where the real danger lies. People are being encouraged to think that the popular will can only be executed through the unfettered power of the executive. Or that if they don’t like any decision made by judges or MPs then they can denounce them as enemies. Or that it is OK to target someone like Gina Miller, because they disagree with her, with appalling racist and violent threats.