Archive for June, 2016
Given the rhetoric one would expect the mood in Great Britain to be defiant and joyous; they have thrown off the yoke of the EU! But that is not the case, the mood is anxious and regretful, leading yet another new term: Bregret – regret about the Brexit vote.
Once the full implications of leaving the EU started to dawn on the British people, many who voted “leave” or just didn’t vote suddenly voiced regret. Many voted as a protest, others claimed they didn’t realize just what this meant. Given the narrow 3.8% margin of victory, a petition demanding a re-vote has reached 3 million signatures. Only 100,000 are needed to spark the House of Commons to consider the issue, creating hope that maybe Brexit won’t happen after all. It was a vote driven by emotion and nationalism, not economic rationality.
On the other hand, the vote did happen. The margin of victory was slim, but still decisive. Dismissing that and voting again would anger many of the majority who fought hard and won this campaign. So is Brexit a done deal?
To leave the EU Prime Minister David Cameron must inform the European Council (made up of the heads of government of the member states) that Great Britain is invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. The Council then meets to discuss their terms of departure, followed by negotiations with Great Britain to form a final agreement. If no agreement is reached within two years, Great Britain exits anyway – but with no special considerations. Once invoked there is no mechanism to “undo” Article 50 – so once that’s officially proclaimed, it appears the only way back is for Great Britain to someday renegotiate ascension.
Article 50 is not yet invoked. Until it is, anything can happen. The referendum was non-binding. Cameron and the parliament could have made it binding (have the referendum result automatically trigger Article 50), but choose not to. So how might Bregret actually lead to no Brexit?
If this were another state, the preponderance of elite and parliamentary opposition to leaving would mean Article 50 would have no chance. The referendum was “advisory” after all, and given the reaction they could find cover in saying it wasn’t a real reflection of the public will.
But that’s not so easy to do in the UK, thanks to the importance of tradition. Parliament has complete power; no act of parliament can be declared unconstitutional. There are no checks and balances like those in the US. The Prime Minister is both chief executive and head of the legislature. Tradition and doing the right thing are entrenched norms, serving to do for the UK what ‘checks and balances’ accomplishes in the US. The act of defying a referendum risks creating the precedent that parliament disregards tradition and public expectations. This makes it virtually impossible to ignore the referendum.
Still, there are scenarios where Brexit doesn’t happen. If the petition drive and public sentiment builds against leaving, Cameron, whose political career appears to be over anyway, could lay out the argument for a second referendum, trying to root it in British concern for tradition and not to let on errant emotional vote fundamentally harm the state. I see this as the least likely, given what I noted above, but if the clamor for reconsideration grows across the spectrum, Cameron might go for it.
Another scenario builds on the disorder in the parties. Jeremy Corbyn, head of the Labour party, is dealing with a revolt against his leadership. Cameron already says he’ll be out in a few months. Boris Johnson, who campaigned for “leave,” is his likely replacement, but with so many MP’s (members of parliament) pro-EU, he might not be able to garner a majority of conservatives. This could lead to new elections. The Prime Minister can call elections at any point within five years from the last election. To do so he needs a majority vote to dissolve the House of Commons, and the campaign would be short – about four weeks. If a party runs on a clear, “no to Brexit” platform and wins, then it could claim an electoral mandate to ignore the referendum or at least have a re-vote. This is the most likely scenario to avoid Brexit, though it’s still a long shot.
Even more unlikely, but possible, is a route created by powers Parliament has given local legislatures in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Theoretically, any application of EU law to these parts of the UK needs local approval, including the invocation of Article 50. Voters in Northern Ireland and Scotland rejected Brexit, and their parliaments might vote to essentially veto Brexit. If that happened, the House of Commons could either override that veto (alter the powers given to the local parliaments) or use it as an excuse NOT to invoke Article 50. This route would be the trickiest on both legal and political grounds – can Northern Ireland or Scotland veto the will of the English and Welsh?
By delaying the invocation of Article 50, Cameron is allowing the political backlash to gain strength and thus creates a distinct possibility that Brexit can be avoided. If Bregret grows, pressure mounts on the government to find a way to stay in the EU. So is it a done deal? No. The odds are still very high that Brexit will happen, but we’re in uncharted territory.
Perhaps the most telling article about Great Britain’s vote to leave the EU notes the generational divide the vote entailed. The youth enjoy being able to work in any of 28 countries, with opportunities that are European wide rather than limited to a small island that once was a great power. The older folk want to harken back to some glorious past when Great Britain was a major power, and believe that on it’s own it can be that again. It can’t. This vote represents a nostalgic backlash from those who want a world that exists no more. It is driven by the same forces that propel Donald Trump and right wing nationalists everywhere – a distaste for the world globalization and the information revolution has given us. The focus is often fear of foreigners or Islamophobia, but the root cause is a desire to escape the reality of a changing world.
So what does this vote mean? What comes next? First, some background. Great Britain originally stayed out of the European Coal and Steel Community (1952) and European Economic Community (1958) because it believed it’s status a leader of the Commonwealth – an organization of former British colonies – put it’s interests outside continental Europe. By 1963 as increased trade and cooperation propelled the European economies forward while Britain languished, they realized they were wrong.
Alas, in both 1963 and 1967 their application to joint the then six nation European Community was vetoed by French President Charles De Gaulle. De Gaulle felt the British were a “Trojan horse” for American influence, and that their weak agricultural sector made them a poor fit. Britain’s relative decline continued until in 1973 they finally gained ascension to the EC, along with Ireland and Denmark.
That started a process of integrating their economy with that of the rest of Europe, but the relationship has always been rocky. De Gaulle was right about the impact of the weak agricultural sector, which forced Britain to pay a lot more into the EC than they got back. That was remedied by a “rebate” system put in place in 1984. But as Europe moved to a single currency and deeper integration – a kind of loose federalism — the British resisted. They were able to opt out of the currency, and it has been common for Britain to secure an opt out or to water down EU proposals over the years. Many times pro-EU folk have thought they might be better off without Britain in, though others (including myself) believe that the British exercised a positive role in making sure change was not too fast.
(A note on acronyms – the EEC became the EC in 1967 when they achieved a customs union, and then the EU in 1994 when the Treaty of European Union, which created the common currency implemented from 1999-2002, went into effect. The now EU started with six members in 1958, 9 in 1973, 10 in 1980, 12 in 1986, 15 in 1995, and now has 28 member states – soon to be 27).
But the British wariness of giving too much authority to the continent remained. Still, most thought that given the interests of London banks and British business, the UK would adopt the Euro eventually. The Euroskeptics were always loud with their silly conspiracy theories about Germany and the like, but no one thought they’d accomplish this. Nonetheless Britain has always been a reluctant member of the EU, seduced by its imperial past and island isolation.
So what does this mean? It could mean the breakup of the United Kingdom. While England and Wales voted to leave, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted overwhelmingly to remain. Scotland is likely to pursue independence in order to rejoin, while it is possible (though not likely) that Northern Ireland will try to unify Ireland to stay in the EU. It also means that the UK is likely to endure some economic difficulties. Many businesses will move to the continent so they can be in the union (which makes trade, investment, and the like much easier), and the British will learn that they really can’t go it alone – their economic well being is intertwined with Europe.
It is unlikely that this will be replicated elsewhere in Europe. The benefits and idea of Europe is too entrenched, and while anti-EU parties sometimes get protest support, they never have had close to the kind of appeal of the British Euroskeptics – and even they just barely won. More likely the EU will use this as an impetus to reform its own practices to make subsidiarity real (more power to regions and localities, less emphasis on centralization) and there may be less willingness to bring in refugees, given the xenophobic backlash that’s caused.
In the long run, however, Brexit will demonstrate that the world has indeed changed. Sovereignty is obsolete, states are so linked and intertwined that no one can go it alone. In Europe, care will be taken to make sure that Britain doesn’t suffer too much, and that British markets remain open to European goods. I suspect that within a decade Britain will rejoin, though the EU will take away their ability to opt out of the Euro and other regulations. The economic necessity of being “in” will be clear; the emotional nationalism of the vote to leave will be seen as a momentary lapse of reason.
It may have been necessary though. It’s hard for people to let go of a way of thinking that has defined the past few centuries – the fading era of “nation states.” The information revolution, new technology and globalization have already erased much of the power of borders and national laws. It is in people’s interest to build cooperative institutions that transcend the state.
But therein lies a lesson. Replacing the sovereign state with a more powerful bigger bureaucratic state is not the solution. If the EU is to survive, it must recognize that this same technological revolution empowers localities, regions and individuals. Power should be decentralized rather than centralized. Yes, monetary policy, banking regulations and many aspects of the economy need supranational oversight. But much of what states have done can now be localized. Decentralization has to be more pronounced than centralization. If the EU can do that – move to a Europe of regions, with stronger communities and a sense of local control – it could be a model for the kind of political organization that can work in this brave new world of globalization and technological change.
When I was 22 I wrote a poem, “Now Lasts Forever.”
I used to write poems a lot. They weren’t very good, but they represented my effort to try to figure out what life is all about. Why are we here, what is the point, and how should I approach this thing called life? Another poem was called “One Day Closer to Death,” in which I worked through the fact that mortality is liberating – if we know we someday will die, then doesn’t that make it exceedingly important to try to get the most out of life, and truly life the life we want to live?
As quixotic as that endeavor was – I was never destined to become a poet – I think the introspection that brought helped me develop an attitude that works in life. To have perspective, to recognize the power of thinking positively, and not letting the crap that happens in this world cause me to forget the beauty and opportunity. Introspection is essential if one wants a happy life, in my opinion.
So now over thirty years later I want to re-consider this poem and what it means to me now. Now…funny, when I wrote it it was “now” as well!
You look back, what do you see
A dull and fading memory
Happier times when you felt free?
Times lost for eternity?
I began imagining someone older than myself at the time looking back on life and feeling like something was lost. In a sense, I was grappling with how I would handle getting old and having the opportunities of youth pass. Would I sit in front of the TV (didn’t have internet then) and mourn?
Everything is changing so fast
You don’t notice as future becomes past
Just a moment that will not last
Changes in scenery, changes in cast
I add to that an observation – life changes quickly! I wrote this just after I graduated college, ready to start my MA program in Bologna, Italy. While thinking of that future, I also realized that a stage of my life was ending. I was leaving Sioux Falls and my college years. From where I sit now that was a tiny, distant portion of my life. At the time it was a quarter of my life since age 6! I was confronting the reality that life is full of change.
But it’s NOW, here and NOW
And that won’t change
It is NOW
No matter how things rearrange
Isn’t it strange
NOW lasts forever
Through all the change
NOW lasts forever
Through all the pain
It’s always now
Long and awkward, I think I imagined this as song lyrics with a tune. But I do recall being fascinated with the notion that now is the only time I ever experience. I remember the past, I anticipate the future, things change – but it’s always now. I know there have been books written about living in the present or embracing the now, but 22 year old Scott had never read any of those. To me this was a fascinating concept I wanted to explore in my head (and via words).
Screaming in the dark
Time won’t set you free
No escape, the door is barred
A prison called eternity
Trapped and never free
Lost in your memories
Much too afraid to see
That’s not how it has to be
Here I imagine a future, or a person, who is older, thinks their best years have passed, and wanting to spend time remembering. Part of it was me remembering my time at Augustana College.
I had an amazing four years there. I was MC of Frosh Varieties (the freshman talent show), I lost my virginity, I was engaged for the first time, I got a job with a law firm, I made really good friends, I drank a lot of beer, I had a 3.89 GPA, I went to the Republican National Convention in Detroit that nominated Ronald Reagan (though by the time I graduated I was already moving away from the GOP), I traveled with a friend to New York City, President of Pi Sigma Alpha (Poli-Sci honor society), and I met young Congressman Tom Daschle, as well as politicians George McGovern, Jim Abdnor and even Gerald Ford.
I loved living on campus, doing runs to Taco John’s. I’d offer to drive and people would give me their orders. After awhile the Taco John’s people started throwing in extra tacos for me (the orders were for 10 – 15 people sometimes). Bowling in the student center, going out, it was a great time. And it was ending. I didn’t now what was next. I could imagine missing those years immensely.
Because it’s NOW
Your chance to take control
Your chance to change it all
Create your life, create yourself
There’s no blaming anyone else
It’s all true, it’s up to you
Because it’s NOW
People say it’s important to take responsibility for your life, your choices, and your actions – even ones you aren’t proud of. That notion of not blaming others for ones’ own situation is good advice, but for me it was a natural consequence of the fact it’s always now. That’s what I learned writing this poem, I think.
If it was now when I went to college, if it was going to be “now” when I flew to live a year in Italy, if “now” would be my future, even decades later in rural Maine, a place I would have never imagined back then, then I always am in position to act – to create my life, and create myself. Nothing lasts forever except “now”!
I internalized that idea; I still try to focus on being “here and now” rather than losing myself in the past or future. And as I think about my life, the things that have went wrong and the things that have gone right, I feel like it’s simply a work of art I am still in the process of constructing. But it’s my work of art, my creation. I am responsible.
I know that I am part of a larger web of people and social scenery. Deep down I believe that all of that is really part of a larger whole, a one-ness that our space-time consciousness cannot fathom. I know I needed help along the way, and had to overcome unhealthy relationships and habits. People have been unfair, and they have been kind. I don’t discount that; still, it is now. I choose. I am responsible. Life is beautiful, a grand opportunity.
Of course, what about the pain, the exploitation, and injustices of the world? Is life really beautiful, or am I just lucky? That of course is a more difficult issue to confront!
With Clinton’s victories in New Jersey, California, South Dakota and New Mexico, Hillary Clinton handily beat Bernie Sanders for the Democratic Presidential nomination, winning the most pledged delegates and having a sizable lead in virtually every measurable variable. Only if the s0-called super delegates turned against Clinton and defied the voters would Sanders have a chance.
Meanwhile on the Republican side, despite controversies about his remark that an Indiana born judge of Mexican ancestry was ‘biased’ against Trump and thus couldn’t make a fair judgement – a claim Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan called text book racist – Donald Trump keeps amassing delegates on a sure path to his nomination.
It will be Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton in the fall.
But that doesn’t stop those who oppose each from engaging in a wild orgy of speculative conspiracy theories, fanciful scenarios and ultimately a kind of reality-defying wishful thinking.
OK, I get wishful thinking. The Minnesota Twins are 18-40 this year, last in the AL Central. Yet I still harbor dreams about a couple of long winning streaks, a come back, and hope that despite this horrific first third of the season they can make the playoffs. That’s not rational, but when one is a fan, wishful thinking takes over.
But wishful thinking of this sort has a kind of normal run, much like the stages of grief identified by Elizabeth Kubler Ross in her study of death and dying.
1. Denial. Today many Sanders supporters are claiming there are massive amounts of uncounted votes in California that would give Bernie the victory. Others assert other bizarre theories to make the claim that Hillary really didn’t win – it was some conspiracy by big media in cahoots with the Clinton cabal.
Denial was earlier in the Trump campaign. Even as it was clear Ted Cruz had no chance, many were convinced that Cruz would sweep remaining GOP primaries and deny Trump the nomination. As long as it’s in the realm of possibility, denial is a powerful psychological force.
2. Anger. The second stage in anger. “Hillary that corrupt demon-woman has somehow cheated the good Bernie Sanders out of his nomination!” Or “Trump that faux-conservative immoral con man has somehow usurped the Republican party and threatens true conservatism!” The anger leads to the “Never Trump” and “Never Hillary” movements. This is not the reality that should be! The more idealistic the person, the more intense the anger – the world is wrong, and we must not accept it! Alas, reality bites and for most people, anger fades.
3. Bargaining. Maybe there’s a way to avoid this result! On the Trump side it was the hope that some independent, a cause championed by that almost always wrong pundit William Kristol, could rise and save the party and the country. Sanders people hoped the super delegates – once the scourge of democracy – would now “see the light” and choose Bernie due to his better poll numbers against Trump. Maybe Bernie can run as an independent! Perhaps a write in campaign? The bargaining goes on until it becomes clear it leads nowhere.
4. Depression. The Sanders people for the most part are not at this stage yet, but many of the “Never Trump” folks on the right are. They see GOP leaders fall in behind the new party standard bearer and they proclaim the end of the Republican party. Trump, maybe in cahoots with Hillary, has found a way to decapitate conservatism. Let it burn, all we can hope for is complete destruction and then maybe the way will be clear for the politics we prefer. Some Sanders people are there as well, down and depressed, in disbelief that their holy cause has yielded failure. “Let it burn” is the cry of the depressed – the world is pointless, who cares if it goes on?
5. Acceptance. “OK, it’s Hillary.” Sanders supporters grimly accept the inevitable and find silver linings. Yes, she won, but we have a movement. That movement cannot be ignored. We’ll go to the convention, support Hillary, but continue to fight for our ideals. We are still changing the party, we are still making a difference…even if a President Sanders would have been optimal.
On the right it’s similar. “Trump is crude, liberal on many issues, and certainly not a paragon of virtue, but if he’s President he’ll name Supreme Court justices, he won’t veto bills passed by Congress, he’ll undo the bureaucratic rules that President Obama implemented in the last few years. He can undermine Obamacare from within. With Trump we can move forward on our agenda…even if he’s not someone we like.”
And so it goes. It happened in 2008. Hillary supporters, stun by losing to Obama, formed “PUMA” (Party Unity my ass!) and vowed never to support “Barry.” They came around. Even when Ronald Reagan took his 1976 fight all the way to convention floor he and his followers ultimately voted for President Ford, who lost by an extremely narrow margin.
It will take awhile. It took months for Clinton supporters to shift to Obama. In a campaign it’s natural to have negative views of the opponent, with strong emotions in a close fight. But time grants perspective, whether one faces death or simply a losing political campaign.
So for now we get to watch as activists whose candidate lost go through their stages of grief over the result. Then, as the campaign heats up and the ‘other side’ looks like a scarier option, people will coalesce around each party’s standard bearer.
The campaign is on!
Neo-conservatives and “movement” conservatives look to be the biggest losers in the case of a Trump Presidency. That is why they make up the core of the “never Trump” brigade.
It is no surprise that William Kristol, one of the intellectual leaders of the neo-conservative alliance, is doing everything he can to find a person to run as an independent. A Trump victory would be debilitating to neo-conservatives, already on the ropes for having been wrong about Iraq. Neo-conservatives believe that the US should have an activist foreign policy with a willingness to use force. The Iraq war wasn’t wrong, they argue, just not executed properly. They yearn for another military hawk in the White House who will make common cause with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to threaten rather than negotiate with Iran, and to aggressively reshape the Mideast.
Trump early on proclaimed the Iraq war “a mistake” that he “never supported,” and his foreign policy statements have veered towards a kind of neo-isolationism, with the US using it’s economic clout to get “better deals.” If Trump wins, the Republican party will cease being a primarily hawkish party and the neo-con dream may be dead.
If they remain in the opposition against Hillary they can still push their critiques with force; if they are countering a Republican then they’ll be rendered virtually impotent. For them a President Trump is a worst case scenario.
The other losers are “movement conservatives,” especially those of the religious right. Take a look at redstate.com or Erick Erickson’s website “The Resurgent.” These are the activist Republicans who have demanded a rightward shift of the party, criticized moderate Republicans as “Rinos” and were only lukewarm supporters of Romney and McCain, who they considered too “establishment.”
Now they have been pleading for Romney to run again, and have been as aggressive as Kristol in rejecting Trump and all he stands for. They recognize that a Trump led Republican party would likely mean the end of the “culture wars” started back in the 1980s when many of these movement conservatives became politically aware. Their big issues are abortion, God, and public morality. They earn to turn back the clock to a more traditional cultural epoch. They’ve had a rough go of things under Obama, but felt a Cruz Presidency might turn it around.
Anyone who knows Trump’s past knows he’s neither religious nor particularly conservative, at least in terms of social mores. He may throw soundbites to the religious right about abortion or the Supreme Court, but once in office all signs are that he’s going to shift to the center, and that his heart is definitely not in pursuing the ideological goals of the movement conservatives.
In short, two groups who have vied for leadership of the GOP will find themselves irrelevant and impotent if Trump becomes President – so much so that they may never recover.
Ironically, if Trump wins and actually tones down his rhetoric and has a successful Presidency (not something we can assume), the big winner may be the GOP. Arguably the activist groups pushing the GOP to avoid compromise and punishing those who dare even say something nice about Democrats have been hurting the Republican brand. Republican voters in 2008 and 2012 chose nominees the activists didn’t like; these activists don’t represent the party.
If Trump wins and those powerful activist groups are rendered irrelevant, the GOP can build a conservatism that fits with the social reality of the 21st Century. The Cold War is over, a militarist foreign policy isn’t feasible, and the 1980s are a long time ago. Trump may not be the one to reshape the party, but by showing the inadequacies of the groups that have been dominating the debate, he may open things up for a stronger GOP in the future.
Of course, that’s assuming he’ll be able to govern reasonably well. That’s not an assumption I’d bet money on.