Britain’s current political woes resemble our own

Boris Johnson speaks after being announced as Britain's next Prime Minister July 23, 2019, at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London. Johnson defeated rival Jeremy Hunt, winning two-thirds of the votes in a ballot of about 160,000 Conservative members. (CNS photo/Toby Melville, Reuters)

If you are bored with endless news reports about the sundry dysfunctions of American politics, one option is to tune into the BBC and hear all about the political wreck of the good ship Britain. As you may have heard, in a national referendum held in 2016, a majority of the British electorate expressed their desire for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, the supranational political and economic system that has been the cornerstone of the post-war European consensus.

Two years and three prime ministers later, Britain is set to leave the union on Oct. 31—“no ifs or buts about it,” said the current prime minister, Boris Johnson, this week. The trouble is that there are quite a few “ifs” and “buts.” The British political establishment is divided among three factions: those who want Britain to remain in the European Union; those who wish to leave it—but with certain political and economic safeguards—a so-called deal; and those who want to exit come hell or high water, even if it means a risky no-deal departure.

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The factions do not neatly align with the major British parties, and they are represented across the partisan lines of the House of Commons. The result is a looming constitutional crisis. William Hague, the former British foreign secretary and former leader of the Conservative Party, writing in The Telegraph on Sept. 2, put it this way: “The root cause” of the crisis “is not the actions of any one individual or party, but the historically unprecedented inability of a Parliament to agree on, let alone implement, any course of action at all.”

If that sounds familiar, it is because those words could well describe the U.S. Congress. According to a study conducted last year by ProPublica and The Washington Post, the tradition of “forging compromises on the biggest issues of the day while asserting its authority to declare war, spend taxpayer money and keep the presidency in check”—which for centuries characterized the work of the U.S. Congress—“is effectively dead.” It has been replaced, say the study’s authors, “by a weakened legislative branch in which debate is strictly curtailed, party leaders dictate the agenda, most elected representatives rarely get a say and government shutdowns are a regular threat.”

The fact that the national legislatures of both the United States and the United Kingdom are unable to govern properly cannot be a mere coincidence. As for the United States, the ProPublica study concluded that a “transformation has occurred relatively fast—sparked by the hyperpolarized climate that has enveloped politics since the 2008 election.” During that time, the study says, “as the political center has largely evaporated, party leaders have adhered to the demands of their bases, while rules and traditions that long encouraged deliberative deal making have given way to partisan gridlock.”

The fact that the national legislatures of both the United States and the United Kingdom are unable to govern properly cannot be a mere coincidence.

That seems like an accurate description—as far as it goes. The better question is what are the larger forces that are driving our politics throughout the West? Nationalism is surely one of several factors. In this issue, Bill McCormick, S.J., rightly identifies nationalism, and specifically the project of the Bannon-esque right, as a “spiritual sickness” that pervades European politics, even and perhaps especially in those countries, like the United Kingdom, which seek to distance themselves from the continent.

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But this sickness also clearly afflicts the U.S. body politic as well; and its principal symptom, as I have mentioned before in this column, is the insidious influence of ideological partisanship. As Father McCormick notes, “political ideologies designate in-groups and out-groups for the benefit of ‘us versus them’ politics. In the United States, the language of exclusion often involves race and ethnicity. For European populism, identity has more often been about religion, and especially an opposition to Islam.”

The institutions that are the safeguard of Western democracy are failing us. Can they be saved? And if not, what might take their place?

In both cases, the national politics, then, is defined by who we are not, rather than who we are in light of a shared set of values. This phenomenon, which involves both the left and the right, is a mortally dangerous one, for it enables the rise of factions, which transform the “one” in e pluribus unum, into a “many.” It is not a coincidence that our founding fathers repeatedly warned us about this phenomenon, which they viewed as the fatal mistake of all democracies, whether republican or parliamentary.

What will happen in London and Washington is anyone’s guess, but the notion that we are simply mired in a protracted fight to the death about this or that public policy ignores the deeper, more disturbing truth: The institutions that are the safeguard of Western democracy are failing us. Can they be saved? And if not, what might take their place?

J Cosgrove
1 week 2 days ago

Western civilization is over (obviously an opinion but widely held). It is just a question of the end game which won’t be pretty. In 1865 the only difference between someone from the hills of western Tennessee and the hills of western Pennsylvania was attitudes about slavery. Otherwise their aspirations and ideology was identical. Now the person living next door could have completely different attitudes from each other on many things but especially ideology. Just read the articles and comments published here.

Michael Bindner
1 week 2 days ago

Ideology serves partisanship in both politics and religion. Of late, people select partisan ties in forming communities. There really is a Red Blue divide. Negative partisanship (political tribalism) has achieved a fever pitch under Trump. Even before close races, the Blue Wall is 278 electoral votes. The best way to expand it is to tell the truth about how Roe is not going away (see below) and finding an exciting rather than a safe candidate. As a Catholic lawyer, Biden would be the ideal voice to explain Roe in terms of law rather than either pluralism or feminism.

Michael Bindner
1 week 2 days ago

Both parties now put the horse race above ideology. It is the nature of two-party duopoly. If Pence did what I suggest below, the GOP will follow him as surely as it embraced Trump's selling the store to Putin.

J Cosgrove
1 week 1 day ago

Foe an update on what’s happening in th UK, read https://thefederalist.com/2019/09/06/guide-crazy-things-happened-week-brexit/

J Cosgrove
1 week ago

As far as the United States current problems they are all coming from one side, the side the Jesuits endorse. Trump only represents push back. Here is an article written by Jonah Goldberg 7 years ago titled “The Never-Ending War” https://www.nationalreview.com/2012/02/never-ending-war-jonah-goldberg/

J Cosgrove
1 week ago

A quote from it “What they object to isn’t so much the government imposing its values on people — heck, they love that. They see nothing wrong with imposing their views about diet, exercise, sex, race, and the environment on Americans. What outrages them is resistance or even non-compliance with their agenda. ‘Why are you making such a scene?’ progressives complain. ‘Just do what we want, and there will be no fuss.’ One side is for freedom, the other side if for authoritarian rule by elites.

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 week 2 days ago

This is a very odd article: it never mentions the word “globalization”. While the problems it discusses are correctly identified ,the source of those problems is ignored.
For my part I see much of which has been identified as a break down of our politics as being a reaction to / counter reaction to efforts to homogenize laws, rules and directives controlling our lives from increasingly distant sources: In Europe it is Brussels ...in the United States it is Washington with both Washington and Brussels exchanging ideas
People have come to expecte cures for every problem to emanate from a central authority which is in turn has become increasingly remote.
When these “cures” are identified as flawed or inadequate by significant numbers of people their reaction is countered by an aggressive “counter reaction “ . This government counter reaction includes a defensive sense of superior knowledge and intellectual entitlement which engenders yet a wider round of counter reaction......this escalation is further fueled by increasingly polarizing language and frustration.

Globalization was the great panacea which promised to generate wide spread improvement in lives. Instead it has generated a feeling that one’s life is being directed and controlled with out significant benefit .Farmers do not want to be told what crops they can grow. Urban dwellers do not want to be told they must use public transportation. Doctors do not want to be told what services they can and cannot provide. Etc etc. it is not that any one of these restrictions are per se wrong, it’s that the cumulative total of them has simply become unacceptably intrusive. Somehow or another Globalism became international communism in everything but name; complete with international planning, quotas and allocation of centers for agriculture, manufacturing and se4vices. These forces in charge of our “globalization ” will not easily surrender such power and the multiple struggles we see today are derided as “ nationalist interests” attempting to undue the international globalist status quo.
Hon Kong is a perfect example of this tension between central authority and the people .....and the chaotic escalating result of resistance. At its heart this is just another great wave in the ongoing struggle between the types of governance that provide the greatest individual freedom vs those which would be responsible for every aspect of our economic welfare without choice.

Michael Bindner
1 week 2 days ago

Globalization and Immigration are endemic to Capitalism. Spawning popular hate for migrants and trade are endemic to reactionaries who defend capitalism. If reaction is not countered with reform (something to react to), the result is the Cult of Personality. Welcome to the world of Trump and Boris.

Michael Bindner
1 week 2 days ago

The solution is a pro-life cooperative reform on a global level. Call it Catholic Marxism or Global Distributism. I describe it below. If Pence were to dump Trump and run on it, he might breach the Blue Wall.

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 week 2 days ago

Michael
You have your economic systems world view exactly backwards.
Capitalism seeks only economic benefit world wide whereas Socialism seeks both economic and political world wide control. It is not for nothing that that the anthem of the communist party is The International”!!
Capitalism is content with seeking profits whereas socialism seeks uniformity of economics and thought.
I believe that it was socialism which historically sustained itself on becoming the global world order and where ever it is established proceeded as its first order of business “the socialization Of it’s neighbors”
Co-Ops are suitable only for relatively small enterprises where the cohesive attributes of its members are multiple. The concept of a global Co-Op is an oxymoron ....unless of course you speak of a CoOp held together by force such as that illustrated by Communism

Michael Bindner
1 week 2 days ago

The ultimate capitalism is the CEO cult. If their taxes are low enough, the seek rent from their workers. Shareholders always receive a normal profit, meaning their dividends and capital gains must be on par with similar investments. The CEO and his cronies get the rest.

Michael Bindner
1 week 2 days ago

My comments are at https://t.co/AFIrRnhK7s. They refer to this blog on Civility. https://t.co/R8UBAM9LDw
Trump will be gone faster than Boris. It is time for the Queen to intervene to stop dismemberment of her Realm (and Trump will still be gone faster).

Michael Bindner
1 week 2 days ago

Johnson thinks he can get a better deal. The Greens think that they can win a national election to stop Brexit. Trump thinks he is a better negotiator than the professionals. Delusion abounds. And people think me crazy for thinking I can do better?

The problem with the UK is that it has no written constitution. This results in majority tyranny if it works. No wonder Parliament is a shouting match. As for a referendum, it is an EU feature. They need a constitution too, rather than a treaty and confederation. These don't work well.

Brexit may leave Wales, Scotland and Ulster in the EU with their own exit. Johnson should count the votes and see if their Ukxit would end his majority. Her Majesty needs to save him from himself and fire him. No monarchy that lets the realm be dismembered is worthy of the title.

Civility could get a Brexit deal passed. I am writing a blog entry on how this could happen and how Pence could win in 2020 by spending the pro-Birth movement and pushing for a high enough child tax credit to stop abortion. The GOP likes winning and will do anything to do so. So does Boris. The jury is out on whether cynicism is good government (both civil and ecclesiastic). I hope it is not, but it does not look that way at the moment.

As for Trump, he will likely be gone before Boris. Cynicism may be his undoing once Nadler really gets going. McConnell and Pence will pull the plug.

Michael Bindner
1 week 2 days ago

Civility
Brexit

Split the EU Deal into sections and meet with Labor. Both will privately decide which provisions are accepted, which must be amended but can pass and which must be renegotiated, then vote on each. Consult with EuCom on amended provisions to see if amendments ares acceptable. Decide if Brexit can go forward before open items are finished or more time is required.

Trump

Remember that when official segregation was repealed, any Southern Whites were relieved. It is likely the same thing with the GOP and support for Trump and; MAGA. Pence can then invoke the 25th Amendment and McConnell can get Trump to resign (although if the primaries are short circuited, that would make Pence de facto nominee.

Pence 2020

Pence must repudiate the pro-life Standard Operating Procedure to breach the Blue Wall. The wall is at 278 because Trump is hated. The SOP links presidential voting to Roe repeal. It does not exist and if the Democrats inoculate Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania by stating so early, they win. If the Court wanted to repeal Roe, they would have ignored Rule 10 and heard the Indiana case protecting Down's children. The option Pence could pursue instead is to enact larger Child Tax Credit aka Negative Income Tax for each child in families making under $500,000 and agree to $15 minimum wage with indexing, both of which are essential Right to Life measures if repeal is impossible. If he does not, the Democrats will trounce him. Unlike Ford in 1976, it won't be close. Think 1974 instead.

Tax Reform

Most people vote on taxes rather than abortion. A promise to repeal tax filing for all individuals making under $100K will get their attention. This should also be the individual Social Security cap (to lower benefits for the rich). An Invoice Value Added Tax of 19 % would replace both the employer payroll tax and income tax filing for most families. To help poorer retirees and the disabled, recompute payments to the bottom 90% of beneficiaries assuming that employer payroll taxes are equally credited.

A Subtraction VAT fund will fund the Child Credit as offset to the tax. Food Stamps and Welfare would be ended. Another offset would be personal retirement accounts holding employer voting stock (it will fail otherwise. It will include an insurance fund of 34% to go up as Employer FICA and the I-VAT goes down. The tax should also support for education, including parochial schools, and all medical entitlements, which could be offset with direct funding of care or insurance for workers and retirees.

An Asset VAT at 22.5% on dividend, gains and rental income with no tax for ESOP sales and zero credit at gift or inheritance. The death tax would be repealed and cash transfers would be free (because the Invoice VAT would be paid when they are spent.

For high income workers would pay a surtax 17% for salaries under 200K and 34% over that amount. The tax would pay down the debt, starting with the Social Security trust fund and fund net interest, military and sea deployments and the conquest of Mars.

Michael Bindner
1 week 2 days ago

In other words, the Church's support of the pro-birth movement has validated the GOP cause for Trump. He turned race into a partisan issue and we all took the bait.

Michael Bindner
1 week 2 days ago

Private to Fr. Matt. Byline?

Michael Bindner
1 week 2 days ago

I promise at least one complaint about me to Rome every month.

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 week 2 days ago

Michael
What are you imbibing?......your comments read like those written by a college kid on “speed”

Chuck Kotlarz
1 week 2 days ago

Did throwing “one person, one vote” under the “one dollar, one vote” bus leave us with dysfunctional government? Conservatives often say, “tax it and you’ll have less of it.” Tax “one dollar, one vote” and perhaps we will have less of it. A 90% tax rate on the .01% may be the cost to ensure survival of government of ”We the people".

For background, the Koch organization 2016 election budget nearly made the billion-dollar mark. In 2012, the entire RNC spent about $400 million.

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 week 1 day ago

Chuck
Run your scenario out a couple of times ...a 90% tax on the .01%ers.......after a couple of 90% Tax iterations there will be no no .01%ers left so move on down the line all the way to to the top 10%ers......congratulations you have now eliminated those who pay @70% of total US Federal taxes. (See Tax Foundation) You can’t eat the Golden Goose , even in small bites , without creating eventual starvation for yourself. But at least you will feel righteous in your starvation!

Chuck Kotlarz
1 week ago

Stuart, living wages and non-living wages have been around for years. Why not a living golden goose and a non-living golden goose?

Golden goose taxes went up in 2013 to 39%, a long way from the 90% scenario. Meanwhile, rising household income has entered its sixth year.

Stuart Meisenzahl
6 days 20 hours ago

Chuck
You keep changing the parameters of your own argument.
Taxes are a result of government requirements for expenditures. Your arguments never address the validity those requirement but simply assume such validity.
Taxes are not designed to transfer wealth and income. When 50% of the electorate are paying no income tax the transfer of wealth becomes the de facto major purpose of taxation. Please do not bother to respond with the fact that “SS payroll taxes and Medicare taxes” should count in this equation....both of those “taxes” were sold to the electorate as government Insurance premiums

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