Britain is reclaiming its agency as a self-governing nation. Its example will reverberate throughout Europe.
Because European Union business runs on Brussels time, the United Kingdom will be leaving the EU at precisely 11 p.m. GMT Friday. (If you’re in New York and want to tip your glass to our newly sovereign friends, that’s 6 p.m. EST.) In my own, perhaps peculiar view, Brexit is the most important moment for democracy since 1989.
If the European Union were merely the European Market, Brexit would be foolish: The United Kingdom has enjoyed a kind of privileged access to the Common Market because it retains its own powerful currency rather than the Euro, which in reality is managed on behalf of Germany and against the interests of Southern Europe. But the European Union is not just a market but a political project, really a kind of institutionalized utopian project.
European Council president Donald Tusk said, “I fear Brexit could be the beginning of the destruction of not only the EU but also Western political civilization in its entirety.” It’s easy to point and laugh at such an extravagant statement, but Tusk was verbalizing the incredible challenge Brexit presents to a certain kind of European mind, a mind conditioned to the idea that democracy inheres not in popular sovereignty — democratic peoples governing themselves — but in the elite administration of human rights, insulated from democratic passions and prejudices.
It is this worldview that has shaped the construction of the European Union. The EU is governed by an unelected Commission and an unelected Court, both joined to an elected Parliament with no real legislative power. Can you impeach a European commissioner? Can you vote for one? Or vote to remove one? No, non, nein!
The European project that the Commission promotes and protects is guided by a spirit of ever-closer union, not the laws and treaties it makes. The European Union does not respect votes that go against that spirit, such as Ireland’s vote against the Lisbon treaty; instead, it forces reruns. It does not respect its own commitments, either: Angela Merkel’s welcome to 1 million refugees and migrants in 2015 totally blew apart the supposedly solemn Dublin Accords. It plays favorites: The pro-EU Emmanuel Macron is allowed to temporarily blow through the budgeting and debt requirements imposed on member states, but those same requirements are enforced with fervor against populists such as Italy’s Matteo Salvini. And it has no qualms about interfering in the politics of its member states: During the Euro crisis, recalcitrant national governments in Italy and Greece were replaced by a combination of pressure from above in the form of the Commission and the European Central Bank, and from sideways in the form of captured native interests.
In short, untethered from real democratic input, the EU at once suffocates European life with regulation and unmoors it with lawless caprice.
The response of the European Union to Brexit isn’t rebuke and repentance, a newfound willingness to accede to the wishes of the democratic peoples within it. No, it’s doubling down. MEP Guy Verhofstadt has said that Brexit has underscored the need to “make it into a real Union, a Union without opt-in, without opt-outs, without rebates, without exceptions. Only then we can defend our interests and defend our values.”
Lest you dismiss his words as empty, it is Verhofstadt who has been chosen to lead the next Conference on the Future of Europe, which is already preparing to recommend removing the last true badges of sovereign and democratic control from national parliaments: their freedom to tax and appropriate money as they see fit. Doing this is likely necessary to save the Euro. But the price is the loss of self-government on the continent where self-government was born into this world. Having bought off almost every party save for nationalists and populists, the European Union is, ironically, guaranteeing the very thing it was created to stop: the ascendance of nationalist parties to domination of Europe.
Brexit is not just a way to preserve British democracy by restoring independence and sovereignty to the United Kingdom’s Parliament. It is a way of recovering the very things a democratic constitution enables: the conciliation of diverse interests and the political moderation of the people that comes with it.
Our friends are escaping the Brussels nomenklatura. They are demystifying the supposed “arc” of history, a bit of superstition used to rob democratic peoples of real agency. There are many dangers Britain may yet face, but it will be all the better for facing them as a free, independent, and self-governing nation.
Column: Iowa's holding a caucus—and nobody cares
The Fox News website highlights “hot topics” at the top of the page. As I write, the topics are: “Kobe Bryant dead,” “Trump impeachment,” and “Coronavirus.” Compelling—and in the last case terrifying—stories. But something is missing: the Democratic primary.
The Iowa caucus will be held in a matter of days. New Hampshire votes a week after that. Twelve Democrats are stillin the race. Nobody cares.
Maybe that’s harsh. No doubt the candidates’ mothers are paying attention. Yet in two decades of serious observation of politics I have not seen a presidential primary that exerts less of a hold on the nation’s attention than this one. Why?
The obvious answer is impeachment. It is all Washington cares about. The trial of President Trump hasn’t just overshadowed the campaign. It’s stopped it. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Klobuchar, who are in the game in Iowa, as well as Michael Bennet, who is not, have been strapped to their chairs. Think of all the selfies Warren has missed out on. She must be despondent.
Because the television camera in the Senate chamber is pointed at the rostrum, Warren and Sanders can’t even communicate to their supporters through hand gestures. Nor have Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg capitalized on the opportunity of having Iowa to themselves. They can’t break through wall-to-wall coverage of senators’ questions and legal maneuvers, of John Bolton’s book, of Mitch McConnell’s quest to end the trial as soon as possible.
True, impeachment has kept Biden’s name in the news. But not in a way he would like. Trump’s defense has drawn further attention to Hunter Biden’s questionable position on the board of Ukrainian gas giant Burisma. What was Hunter being paid for? Relationship advice? His dad doesn’t have a good answer. Whether he likes it or not, impeachment reinforces the impression that Joe Biden is a lifelong D.C. politician whose family benefits from his connections.
Look at the numbers. Prior to Nancy Pelosi’s announcement of the impeachment inquiry on September 24, Biden was at 44 percent favorable, 49 percent unfavorable. Last week he was 41 percent favorable, 53 percent unfavorable. That isn’t progress.
President Trump’s job approval rating hasn’t budged. It was 45-52 in the Real Clear Politics average then and now. And Trump has improved in head-to-head matchups. In the late October ABC News / Washington Post poll, Biden held a 15-point advantage over Trump. As of last week’s poll, his lead had been cut to four points.
If Nancy Pelosi thought impeachment would help the Democratic frontrunner, she was mistaken. That’s not strategy. It’s what Will Ferrell, portraying George W. Bush, once called “strategery.” (Of course, Pelosi’s objective may have been simply to insulate herself from a left-wing rebellion.)
Biden’s troubles suggest another reason for the lack of excitement. The candidates are weak and uninteresting. Biden is barely comprehensible. Buttigieg has all the pizzazz of a PowerPoint. Warren reminds you of your least favorite professor.
Sanders and his surrogate-successor Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez draw crowds. But so did the Jacobins. The democratic socialists are exciting, sure. They are also terrifying.
How can you tell the rest of the Democratic field is uninspired? Two billionaires have bought support through supremacy of the airwaves. It’s not Mike Bloomberg’s personality that has contributed to his rise. It’s his checkbook.
Worse than the dullness of the contestants is the plodding horserace. Biden has floated above his rivals since the beginning. The one major change in the dynamic has been Warren’s rise and fall. The two exciting moments came when Kamala Harris ambushed Biden in the first debate and Tulsi Gabbard sideswiped Harris in the second. Months passed without any incident. The most recent controversy is whether Sanders told Warren a woman can’t be president. Surely they can do better than that.
Sanders victories in Iowa and New Hampshire would liven things up. For a while. The fundamental problem is the Democratic primary is a sideshow.
For four-and-a-half years the main event in American politics has been Donald Trump. Policy isn’t the issue. He is the issue. Everything revolves around him. “Our political solar system, in short, has been characterized not by two equally competing suns,” wrote the political scientist Samuel Lubell, “but by a sun and a moon. It is within the majority party that the issues of any particular period are fought out; while the minority party shines in reflected radiance of the heat thus generated.”
The party system Lubell described no longer exists. The parties are shells. The incumbent has changed parties five times. He settled on the GOP four years before winning the presidency. Bernie Sanders is running for the nomination of a party he has never joined and doesn’t trust.
What matters today are individual brands. And no brand is more prominent, more polarizing, more overpowering than Donald J. Trump’s.
If and when the race narrows to the strongest candidate in each ‘lane,’ Democrats will be forced to focus on the only questions that really matter to them.
Sure, anything can happen, and pundit predictions are hardly worth the pixels that deliver them. But if I were phoning my bets overseas to PaddyPower, I’d buy Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden and short Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg. The four-person race looks set to become a two-person race in the near future, and I think the dynamic will be self-reinforcing. Biden vs. Bernie: a race for the ages — and the aged.
Biden has basically stayed at the top of the heap since he entered this race. He’s done so despite substandard fundraising and no cheering section in the media. Many Democrats detest the fact that he is leading. They worry about his verbal slip-ups and his politically incorrect statements. They don’t want the Democratic standard-bearer in 2020 to be a man old enough to remember doing deals with segregationists, much less one who seems proud of that history. They fear that he would become the party’s Bob Dole, a past-his-prime senator who got the nod through sheer seniority, unable to take on the energetic, if sleazy, incumbent. Yet while he’s been attacked by younger, hungrier, more diverse candidates, Biden has maintained his dominant position among African-American voters and kept a healthy plurality of the older Democrats who turn out in primary elections. And front-runners have a tendency to sweep through divided fields.
Standing in his way is Bernie, who is surging two weeks before Iowa, in striking distance of the lead there and, according to one reliable poll, holding a decent lead in New Hampshire. Part of his national surge is his increased performance among non-white voters.
I’d bet on the field to narrow to these two for two reasons.
First, there’s a tendency for the top-polling candidates going into Iowa to overperform in the final results, because the caucusing process ultimately forces supporters of low-performing candidates to cast their votes for stronger ones. Second, the possibility of Bernie’s winning may drive a stampede toward Biden or vice versa.
The emergence of a head-to-head race between Biden and Sanders would immediately clarify the choices for Democrats.
One septuagenarian — Sanders — has recently suffered a heart attack. The other septuagenarian — Biden — frequently seems to have senior moments in the middle of his sentences. A race between these two could eliminate age as a relevant dynamic, leaving clear questions of electability and ideology on the table.
And what then? On one side there is Biden, the more moderate Democrat who scares nobody by design — he’s framed his entire campaign as a return to normalcy — but doesn’t excite progressive activists. On the other side there is Sanders, whose has argued in recent debates that he is electable because he has the backing of a large, young, grassroots movement whose enthusiasm will become contagious. The viability of one could drive the viability of the other.
After many pointless hours debating the ins and outs of Platonic health-care reforms that will never be implemented and many pointless minutes worrying about personality, a Biden–Sanders clash would focus the race on the only questions that really matter to Democrats: Should the party move to the left or to the center? Do the necessary voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin want a major revision to the American economic model, or do they merely want a Democratic candidate who connects with them on the gut level, who won’t call them deplorable?
Those are debates worth having, and Democrats may have them sooner than you’d think.
Watchdog launches probe after state officials admit adding 574 noncitizens to voter rolls
A watchdog group has requested records from the Illinois State Board of Elections after 574 noncitizens were added to its voter rolls, allowing some of them to vote illegally in the 2018 midterm elections.
The Public Interest Legal Foundation, an election integrity law firm, made the request on Thursday after the board admitted the error. The individuals in question were improperly invited onto the rolls through a glitch in the state’s automatic voter registration system while applying for a driver’s license or state identification.
The watchdog says Democratic politicians are pushing automatic voter registration at the expense of election integrity. The issues in Illinois with automatic voter registration, which has been implemented in 18 states and the District of Columbia, contribute to an already widespread trend of noncitizens making their way onto voter rolls nationwide.
“States have no business experimenting with automatic voter registration until they can zero out the risk of ineligible noncitizens passing through traditional Motor Voter,” said Logan Churchwell, communications director at PILF.
PILF is attempting to find out if all of the self-reported noncitizens were registered through DMV transactions and if the state is undertaking any efforts to identify remaining registered noncitizens. The 574 noncitizens were self-identified and more could potentially remain on the voter rolls. The state found 19 who cast ballots in 2018, but the total number of illegal votes remains unknown. The group is also seeking information on whether any noncitizens self-reported prior to the new cases or if any noncitizens voted in elections that could have been decided by their participation.
“This is not a new problem for Illinois. That state’s Motor Voter system made national news in 2017 well before policymakers foolishly installed automatic voter registration,” Churchwell said. “States like Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, California, Georgia, Florida, and more have demonstrated how foreign nationals can and do enter voter registries through the Motor Voter process, regardless of automation.”
PILF previously uncovered 232 cases of noncitizens who registered to vote in Chicago. The individuals later self-reported their illegal registrations in hopes of becoming naturalized U.S. citizens.
“The Foundation fully expects there are more foreign nationals still registered to vote in Illinois—and some of them voted in 2018,” Churchwell said. “We just don’t know who they are yet since they haven’t felt the need to self-report—but their time will come.”
Illinois’s State Board of Elections did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
Column: Thank his opponents
President Trump ends 2019 in a better position than when he started. The year began with the swearing in of Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House. The Mueller probe dragged on. The legislative agenda of Trump’s first two years in office had petered out. The Democratic frontrunner, Joe Biden, was beating him by double digits in the polls. A little more than halfway through the year, bond prices signaled recession.
Look where things stand now. Pelosi’s decision to impeach Trump already has cost her a seat and stands zero chance of resulting in a Senate conviction. Not only has Mueller shuffled off the stage, but Michael Horowitz’s report on FBI malfeasance also raises serious doubts about the credibility of the government and media elites who spent years arguing that Trump and his associates were Russian agents. Mitch McConnell blocks liberal bills from the House while confirming additional conservative judges. Biden is damaged and the problems of his candidacy manifest as he sleepwalks toward his party’s nomination. The economy is gangbusters.
Nothing the Democratic majority has done has hurt Trump’s approval rating. At this time last year, he stood at 42 percent approval and 52 percent disapproval in the RealClearPolitics average of polls. As I write, the RCP average of Trump’s approval rating is 45 percent and disapproval is 52 percent. Trump’s numbers are remarkably stable and closely track President Obama’s at this point in his presidency. Biden began the year with big leads over Trump. Since then his margin has dwindled to 4 percent. And that’s before Trump drops $1 billion in negative social media on him (or whoever the nominee is) next year.
Of course, Trump cannot say that he has been consistently popular. The opposite is true. And a 4-point victory for Biden still would be a victory—though not necessarily under the rules of the Electoral College. What Trump can say is that efforts to remove him from office have failed, or are about to fail, and have not prevented him from delivering the disruptive change that his supporters desire. Trump’s destiny is not to be a broadly popular president, if that is even possible anymore. He has been a consequential president. And may well be a reelected one.
Trump’s opponents have contributed to his success ever since he became the focal point of our national life in 2015. He fashioned himself into a political bulldozer and rolled over decades-old dynasties, demolished Republican shibboleths, ground into dust codes of presidential behavior, and plowed through entrenched obstacles to conservative policymaking in the bureaucracy and courts. Throughout it all, he has benefited from the contrast between his policies and results on one hand and the possibility of the “bold, structural change” desired by woke Democrats on the other. He also has made the most of his adversaries’ weaknesses: not just the character traits he turns into nicknames but the zealotry that manifests itself in overreach and radicalism.
The hinge point of Trump’s good year was Friday, March 22, when the Justice Department acknowledged receipt of the Mueller report into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Two days later, Attorney General William Barr released his summary of the report’s contents. The full report was made available to the public on April 18. It was clear by then that despite all of the time, energy, resources, and indictments and convictions, Mueller had not uncovered a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia and was not willing to assert that the president obstructed justice. Mueller’s testimony before Congress on July 24 was a flop. The Russia investigation that had begun in the summer of 2016 and consumed the media since it was made public the following year ended in a whimper.
It was shortly after Mueller’s appearance on Capitol Hill that Trump had his “perfect” call with President Zelensky of Ukraine. The whistleblower complaint that was filed with the intelligence community inspector general afterward, and made public on September 26, set into motion the president’s impeachment, culminating in Wednesday’s House vote. No president wants to be impeached, and no president ought to be impeached in the absence of compelling and damning evidence, but there is an argument to be made that in some ways impeachment has benefited Trump.
For one thing, impeachment has focused Trump’s attention. In between the end of the Mueller investigation and the beginning of the impeachment inquiry, President Trump engaged in a series of incendiary battles with left-wing Democrats, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and the late Elijah Cummings. While Ocasio-Cortez and Omar are unpopular, the controversies nevertheless stirred up issues of race and gender that make suburbanites extremely uncomfortable.
Absent impeachment, these last few months might have been spent in endless social media flame wars with celebrities, progressives, wayward Republicans, and whoever else wandered into the crossfire. Instead, President Trump and the GOP have been “on message” against the whistleblower, Adam Schiff, and Nancy Pelosi to a degree that is nothing short of remarkable. Think about what they might accomplish if Republicans were similarly focused on the state of the economy.
Impeachment crowded out all else. This made freshmen Democrats from districts Trump won in 2016 anxious. Pelosi had to give them something in return for impeachment that they could take back to their districts. That something was the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement—which just happens to be a top priority of the president’s. At the end of this process, Trump will have kept his job through at least January 2021 and pocketed a significant diplomatic accomplishment and campaign promise. No small feat.
Impeachment also distracted from the Democratic primary. There are six weeks until the Iowa caucuses and hardly anybody besides the candidates and their immediate families seem to care. The Ukraine scandal involves the Democratic frontrunner but in an unusual way. Trump’s desire that President Zelensky look into the energy company Burisma, where Hunter Biden sat on the board, confirmed Joe Biden’s status as the preeminent threat to Trump. But it also reminded people that over the years members of the Biden family have benefited from Joe’s high office. And Biden’s clumsy response to allegations of unseemly profit-seeking was another reminder of his weaknesses as a candidate. This flawed frontrunner, already defined by his son’s influence peddling, maintains his lead in the polls because Democratic primary voters see his 14 rivals as too radical or unelectable.
President Trump heads to Mar-a-Lago impeached but defiant, with a new NAFTA and a “Phase One” China deal, Space Force, 185 federal judges, the lowest unemployment in half a century, a stock market that has increased by 50 percent since Election Day 2016, a unified party, and an opposition barreling toward a confusing and bruising primary. Trump won 2019, but this is the preseason. The real game begins in 2020.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s threat to withhold impeachment articles from the Senate upended the procedures spelled out in the Constitution and threw Capitol Hill into deeper partisan turmoil Thursday.
Republicans balked that the speaker was “afraid” of a Senate trial that is all but assured to acquit President Trump and potentially discredit the House’s party-line impeachment vote.
The day after Mrs. Pelosi’s Democrats impeached Mr. Trump on two counts — the first impeachment in U.S. history to have no bipartisan support — she cut off reporters’ impeachment questions at her weekly press conference.
“No one is above the law and the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. No one is above the law and this president has been held accountable,” the California Democrat said.
She then explained that she did not know when the House would take the next steps in the process of sending the two impeachment articles to the Senate, where the Constitution dictates the impeached president will stand trial and face removal from office.
The Constitution requires that the Senate “shall have the sole power to try all impeachments.”
And yet Mrs. Pelosi said the House would not name the impeachment managers who argue the case in the Senate or send the articles over until she was satisfied that the Republican-run upper chamber would conduct what she called “a fair trial.”
Asked about Republican complaints that she was “playing games” with impeachment, Mrs. Pelosibecome adamant.
“I was not prepared to put the managers in that bill yet because we don’t know the arena that we are in. Frankly, I don’t care what the Republicans say,” she told the gathering of reporters before refusing any further impeachment questions.
Other House Democrats, including members of the leadership team, said they were prepared to delay indefinitely the articles of impeachment until Mr. McConnell provided the assurances they want on the trial.
“We would be crazy to walk in there knowing he set up a kangaroo court,” House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat, told CNN.
Claire Finkelstein, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, suggested the House could continue to gather evidence while withholding the articles.
House Democrats could use the time to keep pursuing court action to force testimony from White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, former National Security Advisor John Bolton and former White House Counsel Don McGahn, she said.
However, the Justice Department immediately filed a court brief arguing that Democrats’ legal battle to compel testimony from Mr. McGahn should be tossed out now that Mr. Trump has been impeached.
“The committee’s primary asserted need for subpoenaing McGahn — his potential testimony related to an obstruction-of-justice impeachment charge — appears to be moot,” Justice Department lawyers wrote.
“They said impeachment was so urgent that it could not even wait for due process but now they’re content to sit on their hands. It is comical,” he said on the chamber floor.
Mr. Trump weighed in by saying Mrs. Pelosi’s gamesmanship was bad for the country.
“Pelosi feels her phony impeachment HOAX is so pathetic she is afraid to present it to the Senate, which can set a date and put this whole SCAM into default if they refuse to show up! The Do Nothings are so bad for our Country!” the president tweeted.
The House impeached Mr. Trump on two counts, abuse of power and obstructing Congress.
The impeachment stemmed from Mr. Trump asking Ukraine for “a favor” in investigating former Vice President Joseph R. Biden and his son Hunter, who is linked to Ukraine energy company in that graft-riddled country.
Mr. Trump is accused of withholding $391 million in military aid from Ukraine and a prized White House visit for the Ukrainian president as leverage to get the investigation announced.
It was unclear how, or even whether, a delay would pressure the Senate to adopt Democrat-friendly procedures for a trial. The move also appeared to run afoul of the Constitution, effectively nullifying the House impeachment vote.
Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, welcomed Mrs. Pelosi’s delay tactic.
“Her threat to the Senate is: Do exactly what I want or I’m not going to impeach the president, I’m not going to send over the impeachment articles,” he told Fox News. “My attitude is, ‘OK, throw us in that brier patch. Don’t send them. That’s all right. We actually have work to do.’”
Mr. McConnell said the Democrat-run House produced a “shoddy” impeachment work product, rushed through a 12-week impeachment inquiry and refused to go to court to enforce subpoenas for White House documents and testimony by administration officials.
He noted that the impeachment investigations into President Richard Nixon and President Bill Clinton both lasted more than a year.
“Democrats’ own actions concede that their allegations are unproven,” he said.
Mr. McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, met Thursday to begin negotiating the rules and procedures for the hearing. They were not expected to nail down the details beyond setting a possible start date, but the two men did not get that far and remain at an impasse.
Mr. Schumer has demanded live testimony from witnesses during the trial, saying more evidence should be presented. Republicans refused, saying the standard set in the impeachment trial against Mr. Clinton should be applied to Mr. Trump.
In 1998, the two sides agreed to hear from the House impeachment managers and then from the president’s legal team before deciding whether to call witnesses. Mr. McConnell said the process worked for the Democrats back then, and it should work for Mr. Trump, too.
Josh Blackman, a professor at South Texas College of Law, said there is no requirement as to when the House must transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate.
“There is no obligation to actually transmit the articles. She would do this to indefinitely wound Trump, and avoid a trial the [Democrats] will lose,” Mr. Blackman said.
Despite polls going in that showed the race was tight, Boris Johnson and the Tories won a smashing victory in Thursday’s U.K. election. The biggest win for the right since Mrs. Thatcher.
Why they did will be hotly debated—here and there—for some time to come.
Some attribute the outcome to Johnson’s successful mobilization of Brexiteers in both the Conservative and Labour parties. Frustrated after three years of parliamentary inaction following passage of the June 2016 referendum to pull the U.K. out of the EU, they wanted change. But that doesn’t explain everything.
The British elites spent the interregnum between the referendum and the Thursday’s election telling everyone the original result, influenced heavily by disinformation from the pro-Leave side, was a fluke. They predicted confidently a second referendum, if one were held, would show this to be true and end differently.
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They were wrong. Thursday’s election was a referendum on Brexit. Johnson made it one. It passed again, with turnout between 70 and 80 percent in many constituencies, making it hard to argue the first vote was a fluke. The Remainers are a spent political force—and may always have been so.
The outcome, as I wrote here last week, should encourage those who feared the people’s will is eclipsed by a tyranny of experts, elites and bureaucrats. This does not argue for populism—Edmund Burke correctly warned officeholders that sacrificing their judgment to the opinion of the people they represent would betray them—but it is a welcome reminder that votes count for something. The efforts of the political, economic, academic and media elites to put their thumb on the scale to block Brexit finally appear to have been thwarted.
As to the counter-narrative popular today in the United States, that Labour’s radicalism led to the party’s worst showing since the 1930s, it’s not clear that’s so. According to Lord Ashcroft’s post-election poll, 72 percent of those who voted Conservative said the need to “get Brexit done” was their primary reason for voting as they did. Only 25 percent said they were motivated by a desire for “the right leadership.”
This helps explain the tremendous inroads the Tories made in Labour strongholds in the North of England. Johnson breached the “red wall” by tapping into the strong pro-Leave sentiment evident in there during the referendum. Jeremy Corbyn’s promise to nationalize broadband, rail and postal services, as well as expand spending on the National Health Service (which the Conservatives also promised, though by not as much), was not enough to keep some of his most loyal voters inside his coalition.
This suggests the lesson for U.S. politicians looking ahead to 2020 is not what the instant analysis suggests. Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic frontrunner for his party’s nomination, argued strongly Friday Labour moved too far to the left to be electable. That, he said, argues for a more moderate candidate to be named standard-bearer next year, one who would not abandon the middle, as Corbyn is said to have done.
Perhaps. But Lord Ashcroft found “Labour won more than half the vote among those turning out aged 18-24 (57 percent) and 25-34 (55 percent), with the Conservatives second in both groups. The Conservatives were ahead among those aged 45-54 (with 43 percent), 55-64 (with 49 percent) and 65+ (with 62 percent).” Corbyn’s radical manifesto helped cost him the election—being more popular perhaps with the rich around London than among the nation’s working class—but it was a winner with younger voters.
For Biden, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and the others who want their party’s nomination, it suggests a quandary. Stay to the left to win the nomination with appeals to the activist base, split up among state delegations because “winner take all” contests have been abolished? Or moderate to appeal to older voters, who, surveys tell us, are more likely to vote in the general election?
The answer is not clear, especially since the so-called “superdelegates,” the sober-minded party solons who typically play an outsized role in picking the Democratic nominee, are unable to participate in the first-round balloting at the convention in Milwaukee. All too often, arguments about electability prevail over ideology only when made to experienced pols with cooler heads than those voting first.
Corbyn’s Labour Party was too extreme for modern Britain. He’s stepping down, but not without trying first to lead the post-election autopsy to prevent his message from being discredited. There may be those in Labour who long for the return of the days of Tony Blair, whose constituency, incidentally, went Conservative in the election, but they don’t hold the reins of power. The opposition response to the initiatives coming out of Downing Street will come from the radical left, not the center, giving the prime minister more room to accomplish more than Brexit. And on Thursday, he got the votes to do it.
The first House Judiciary hearing featured three professors in favor of Trump impeachment, one against. The three anti-Trump witnesses elaborated their definitions of “high crimes and misdemeanors” and all came to the conclusion that Mr. Trump was guilty as charged of the three principal charges advocated by the House Intelligence Committee report on its “investigation”, namely, bribery, obstruction of justice, and abuse of power.
Jonathan Turley, the lone expert opposed to impeachment, advocated caution and against proceeding with the current case because it has no solid evidentiary basis and no bipartisan consensus of wrongdoing – hallmarks of the previous two modern cases of impeachment. As expected, the questioning was conducted along partisan lines.
My own analysis of the testimony is as follows: while the definitions of impeachable offenses and the historical context offered by the pro-impeachment scholars were impressive, their facile acceptance of the hearsay testimony provided by the witnesses in the Intel Committee was alarmingly biased. There was no appreciation of the due process violations or the lack of any first-hand testimony to the President’s alleged behavior.
The argument that the President’s refusal to allow administration officials who had such knowledge to testify in the one-sided Committee setting constitutes obstruction of justice and, by implication, an admission of guilt is a meaningless and circular argument.
As Turley pointed out, conflicts between the two branches of government – in this case the extent of Executive Privilege – are traditionally settled by the third branch of government, the Courts. The Democrats’ reason for not pursuing this course is that it would take too long – so what’s the hurry? The coming election, of course. Another circular argument. Turley’s underlying argument, that this entire episode is the product of rage rather than reason, could not be more accurate.
If there is no direct evidence of the President’s intentions available, that leaves the transcript of the conversation with the Ukrainian President as the chief exhibit. That conversation does indeed contain the American President’s request of the Ukrainian President that he look into the Biden affair of 2014. The issue therefore is how to understand the context of that request.
Given the fact that the military funding for Ukraine had been held up by the administration pending the outcome of their elections, the Dems are claiming that Trump’s “request” was in fact a threat to continue that delay unless the Ukrainian agreed to initiate the Biden investigation. It has been established that the President Zelensky was not aware of this delay at the time of the call. Nor did such an investigation ever take place. And the grant was authorized and took place less than two months later.
The fact that several lower level diplomats didn’t agree with this tactic and were not informed about its goals –and further made up their own unflattering rationale to explain it — does not constitute evidence.
The alternative context for President Trump’s request is that he was aware of the substantial opposition of the previous Ukrainian government toward his election and the involvement of Ukrainian technology in the whole Hillary Clinton episode of the missing 30,000 emails. He apparently felt that this new reform government could possibly uncover some useful information about that issue. The Biden affair was widely reported at the time (2014) and apparently connected to the corruption of the previous Ukrainian government in Trump’s mind.
This interpretation seems more consistent with known facts than the State Department’s “presumption”. However, a fair and balanced investigation might prove otherwise, as Professor Turley asserted. Unfortunately, the Dems don’t have time for that.
Stay tuned while this sad story continues to unfold.
Amid apparently lagging interest in the whole impeachment drama on Capitol Hill, the Democrats leave Washington for the Thanksgiving recess with a serious question to ponder. They have to decide whether to pursue their impeachment strategy toward what looks like a bitter end, or to construct an alternate strategy. It looks increasingly like the practical politicians versus the true believers.
As this column has pointed out, the stakes are very high: almost certainly the control of the House in 2020 and probably the presidency as well. The House is currently split with 233 Democrat seats versus 197 Republican seats (+4 vacancies).
The Republicans need to gain a net 18 seats to resume control. Their prospects seem to depend on re-gaining the 31 so-called “Trump districts”, i.e. seats that Democrats won in 2018 that had voted for Trump in 2016. Historical trends are against the Republicans, since control of the House has flipped during a presidential election only twice (1948 and 1952) since 1900.
The Republicans’ best hope of regaining the House thus focuses on the Trump districts. The trends reported by the current polls seem to indicate that the more the public learns about the Dems’ impeachment efforts, the less popular it is becoming.
This is, of course, contrary to the assumptions made by the leadership that the country, especially the independent voters on whom electoral success depends, would welcome this action and believe the ruinous assaults on the President’s reputation. The desired result was to so discredit him as to render him unelectable in 2020. Success of this strategy would defeat his election with the by-product of guaranteeing the election of the Trump district Democrats.
Instead, it appears that this strategy is turning those critical independents against the Dems. And that leaves the House leadership with a fateful decision to make. But what are their alternatives?
They can’t simply drop the whole idea; they have come too far for that. The only way they can back off with some credibility would seem to be an announcement that their “inquiry” was truly honest and concluded that the offense revealed did not prove any “high crimes or misdemeanors” and then come up with a censure motion instead. (Talk about “a silk purse from a sow’s ear”!) Such a solution sounds like an admission that they were victims of bad judgement from the beginning – even worse than the original approach.
So, there does not seems to be any way to gracefully retreat from the current strategy. Therefore, an impeachment vote seems inevitable. But how will the 31 vote? Remember, they were elected on the promise to work with the President and the Republicans to do great things including international trade deals with Mexico, Canada, China, Britain and Europe, as well as FY2021 budget, infrastructure, prescription drugs, increase manufacturing jobs, etc.
Instead, they will face their constituents with their failure to get Republican support for their agenda because they were spending their time trying to overthrow the President and adding immeasurably to the political division which they promised to try to reduce.In the shadow of that story to the voters, it is possible that the Dems might lose the vote to impeach – or at least more seriously cloud their integrity even further. Not a good choice either.
So stay tuned.
It is a puzzlement whether the cottage industry of international election observers populating the American commentariat really understand what is at stake in the upcoming British parliamentary election. It should be more widely discussed than it is. And analyses should focus on what is motivating voters, rather than whether the Tories or Labor are more likely, according to the polls, to come out ahead.
In reality, the future of representative democracy may be on the line, at least as far as the idea the people deserve to get what they voted for. It has been more than three years since 51.9 percent of those participating in a referendum on whether Britain should remain in the European Union took the position it should not. Yet, after three different prime ministers and one general election, the U.K. is still in the EU.
The why is easy to understand. The elites, including what has proved to be a majority of Parliament, think the people made the wrong decision and have done all they can to block Brexit from moving forward. But is that really appropriate?
Boris Johnson, the current prime minister, is a confirmed Brexiteer. He joined and later resigned from the government of his immediate predecessor when it became clear she had bollixed up the whole business. And he has pushed for this election in order to replace the anti-Brexit members of his own party with those who support his position and will vote with him to withdraw from Europe.
This is not a new issue. It has perplexed governments going back to Margaret Thatcher’s. Indeed, there are those who still believe her opposition to Britain joining the EU was the principal reason members of her Cabinet eventually plotted her overthrow. But the British elites—leaders in the permanent government, as well as the financial community, media, academia and foreign policy establishment—wanted in and, for their sins, they got their way.
The people were a different matter. Until the June 2016 referendum, it was conventional wisdom that it was only the cranky, fringe elements in U.K. politics who objected to EU membership on the grounds that British sovereignty was being impinged upon and for other reasons, those who populate the corridors of power found silly or unworthy of attention.
The referendum smashed that conception. To the shock of all the elites, a majority of the country ratified the “U.K. out the EU” position, believing they were setting out on a course to regain the nation’s independence. Yet the people’s choice has been thwarted, time and again.
First came the effort to discredit the vote, blaming it on anti-immigrant racism and fears of job loss in areas already economically depressed. That proved to be untrue. A survey of 12,369 voters in the United Kingdom conducted the day of the referendum found the No. 1 issue propelling people to vote to leave was their belief that the U.K. should remain a self-governing entity not responsible to some supranational body writing rules and regulations about the economy and other matters. Once that failed, the machinations began in Parliament and elsewhere to prevent the withdrawal agreement from ever being approved, which brings things to where they are now.
The election analysts who are part of America’s own elites have been strangely silent about all this. It may they are distracted by the ongoing congressional foofaraw over President Donald Trump’s interaction with the president of Ukraine to notice the global significance of events in the U.K. It’s not wrong to point out the similarities between Johnson’s effort to get a deal done and Trump’s effort to bring the American government to heel. Here, too, there seems to be considerable confusion, as Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman inadvertently confirmed to the House Intelligence Committee considering the impeachment of the president, about who makes policy and just who’s in charge.
In the end, if it is affirmed the people are in charge and that they exercise their authority by delegating it to their elected representatives, up to and including the president of the United States, then things will work out fine. The American writer H.L. Mencken, a friend reminds, once described democracy as being “the theory that the people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.”
Here in the U.S. and in Britain, there are those with power who believe it’s their job to keep the people from making what they regard as a mistake. If the battle over Brexit, which is one of those “mistakes,” goes the way they want, then all the small “d” democrats around the world have some serious soul-searching to do before we can regain the power we’ve apparently lost.
Column: A weak and unstable China is also more dangerous
You see it in the maps. In 2015, 1.4 million Hong Kongers voted in elections in which pro-Beijing candidates swept the city’s 18 district councils. Last week, 2.9 million Hong Kongers voted and pro-democracy candidates won every district but one. That is an increase in turnout of more than 100 percent and a stunning rebuke both of Beijing and of chief executive Carrie Lam, who has failed to respond adequately to the demands of the pro-democracy movement that has disrupted Hong Kong for the past six months. Maps of the city once shaded pro-mainland blue are now pro-liberty yellow.
Yes, the vote was symbolic. The councils have little say in the operations of government. But symbols matter. For Hong Kongers to express discontent with their rulers through one of the last vehicles for accountability is no trifle. Beijing was surprised. It had counted on a supposed “silent majority” of voters tired of the upheaval and violence to legitimize the mainland’s authority. That was a mistake. The prefabricated copy that Communist propagandists had been ready to spread was abandoned. “The problem is that under the increasingly paranoid regime of Xi Jinping, even these internal reports have become much more geared toward what the leadership wants to hear,” writes James Palmer, who a decade ago worked for the pro-China Global Times.
Hong Kong is the most visible reminder of the tenuous nature of Communist rule. The city has become a postmodern battleground where masked protesters wield social media and lasers to avoid armor-clad police and facial recognition technology powered by artificial intelligence. When one looks at Hong Kong one sees a possible future where champions of freedom the world over employ desperate measures against the overwhelming resources of a mechanized Leviathan. One also sees the brittleness, confusion, and embarrassment of despotism when challenged by subjects assumed to be grateful for growth and security and immune to the will to freedom.
What is happening in Hong Kong is not isolated. The China model of authoritarian development is damaged and scarred. What seemed as sturdy and invulnerable as a Borg Cube looks more like a fragile and wobbly mobile by Alexander Calder. The regime of Xi Jinping is under economic and political and diplomatic pressure that it is not handling well. This beleaguered combatant in an era of great power competition is more dangerous to the United States than before.
What legitimacy the Communist Party possessed was based on the decades of economic growth inaugurated by Deng Xiaoping in 1978. But growth has slowed to its lowest level in decades as the Chinese workforce ages, low-hanging investment opportunities disappear, and the trade war with the United States reduces manufacturing output and sends supply lines to Vietnam and Mexico. Capital is fleeing China at a record pace as the bourgeoisie hedge against stagnation and turmoil.
For all of the Chinese government’s much publicized investments in research and development and defense, and despite the size of its economy, per capita gross domestic product is $10,000, slightly less than that of the Russia Federation ($11,000) and a fraction of that of the United States ($65,000). Recent weeks have brought an uptick in bank runs. The government’s response to slowdown has been to tighten state control. “Between 2012 and 2018, assets of state companies grew at more than 15 percent annually, well over twice the pace of expansion of China’s GDP and double the pace of growth of gross domestic capital formation,” writesNicholas R. Lardy of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. This is not state capitalism. It’s statism.
The Chinese authorities use mechanisms of repression to maintain control over what can only be described as an internal empire. The New York Times recently published a horrifying and damning trove of documents relating the extent of Beijing’s efforts to detain, imprison, intimidate, and reeducate Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other minorities in western Xinjiang Province. China wants to override the Dalai Lama’s choice of successor in its continuing efforts to police Tibetan Buddhism and aspirations to sovereignty. China leads the world in the number of political prisoners, its Great Firewall has become more difficult to penetrate, and its influence operations in Taiwan, Australia, and other democracies more sophisticated. Defector Wang Liqiang has told Australian officials of his personal involvement in the disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers who had the temerity to advocate democracy.
These are not the moves of a regime confident in its ability to win the allegiance of a multi-ethnic population of 1.4 billion people. They are the policies of an insular and jittery faction whose uncertainty toward a changing economic and demographic landscape has made it suspicious of and opposed to even the slightest hints of liberal democracy. The ambitions of Chairman Xi for a Eurasia integrated under the Belt and Road Initiative, where the preponderance of the latest equipment in key sectors is manufactured, are both grand and mismatched for a nation whose leaders are concerned most with the operation of the surveillance state that keeps them in power.
The resistance to Beijing is both domestic and foreign. Lost in all the predictions of Chinese dominance were the voices of China’s neighbors in the Pacific. Neither Japan, nor Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, nor Australia want to live in a Chinese lake. Most extraordinary has been the response of the United States. Within four years, the American elite has swapped its belief in China’s “peaceful rise” for the recognition that it may be in the opening phase of a Second Cold War whose outcome will determine the ideological character of the 21st century. While Tariff Man wages his trade war, opposing Chinese theft of intellectual property and arguing for structural changes to China’s state owned enterprises, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper speak of the political and security challenges presented by Chinese authoritarians who become more willing to lash out as they lose their grip.
Senator Josh Hawley spoke for the emerging consensus when he wrote in the November 24 Wall Street Journal: “And everywhere, in every region, we must ask whether our actions are contributing to the great task of this era, resisting hegemony in the Asia-Pacific.” A few days before Hawley’s op-ed, Congress passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019. Though the president already may possess the authorities to sanction Chinese officials granted him by Congress, the bill remains both a powerful statement of American support for the principles of liberty and democracy and a sign of American resolution before the specter of autocracy.
Good for President Trump to have signed the Democracy Act—and better still if he would link human rights to trade and refrain from speaking of his “friend,” the “incredible guy” who seeks nothing less than the defeat and displacement of the United States.
A lot of people are dunking on Michael Moore for declaring that he now represents the center of the Democratic party, and they’re enjoying it, and they ought to. But he might not be completely wrong in that self-assessment, and it’s both a statement about him and a statement about the Democratic party.
Put aside everything you can’t stand about Michael Moore for a moment. (I know, it’s a lot.) But Moore’s political vision has always had a strong populist streak that aligns a lot with elements of the 2016 Donald Trump campaign. His 1989 documentary, Roger and Me was all about Moore’s anger that General Motors was ending production of automotive parts in factories in Flint, Mich., while increasing production of parts in Mexico. Moore sees America’s corporate class as a bunch of selfish, greedy snobs who show little or no appreciation for the workers that enable their profits or the country that gave them their opportunities. That leftist view of 1989 feels pretty mainstream three decades later — and not just in the Democratic party.
In July 2016, Michael Moore shocked many of his allies by predicting that Donald Trump would win the presidential election. Moore’s assessment is eerily prescient, warning his political allies that working-class voters in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin felt “abandoned by Democrats who still try to talk a good line but are really just looking forward to [vulgar euphemism] with a lobbyist from Goldman Sachs who’ll write them nice big check before leaving the room. What happened in the UK with Brexit is going to happen here.”
He also warned about Hillary, whom he said he personally believed had gotten a bad rap, but “nearly 70 percent of all voters think she is untrustworthy and dishonest. She represents the old way of politics, not really believing in anything other than what can get you elected. That’s why she fights against gays getting married one moment, and the next she’s officiating a gay marriage.” Finally, he reminded people about the unexpected victory of independent Jesse Ventura in 1998: “Minnesota is one of the smartest states in the country. It is also filled with people who have a dark sense of humor — and voting for Ventura was their version of a good practical joke on a sick political system. This is going to happen again with Trump.”
Moore’s a progressive through and through, but he periodically reveals a seething disdain for the hypocrisies and phoniness of the Democratic party’s elite leadership class. And you get the feeling that while Moore isn’t opposed to woke culture and the various crusades that rile up the Twitter Left, he would prefer a Democratic party much more focused on improving the quality of life for America’s working class. He’ll never make a film about how “Latinx” should replace the term “Latinos.”
Meanwhile, certain kinds of Democrats are nearly extinct — pro-life Democrats (other than Louisiana Governor Jon Bel Edwards) pro-gun Democrats, the kinds of reformers who used to make up the old Democratic Leadership Council. Democrats to the right of Michael Moore are fewer, and Democrats to the Left of him are more numerous. He stood still; the party moved around him.