Category Archive 'Cities versus Country'

20 Sep 2019

The Irrepressible Conflict

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John Steuart Curry, Tragic Prelude, 1937-1942, Kansas State Capitol.

Richard Fernandez gloomily forsees the fight between the Establishment Left and the Populist Right as an inevitably escalating conflict that will be fought to the finish.

The last time that happened, 1861-1865, it cost the lives of 2 1/2% of the entire population of the United States.

If anyone thought the status quo would fold up after the hammer blows of the 2016 populist revolt they were wrong. Ben Rhodes noted the effects of unremitting resistance with approval. “Bibi backsliding. Boris flailing. … Fight back. It will work.” Victor Davis Hanson conceded the crushing weight of the establishment riposte. “After nearly four years of ceaseless attacks by Democrats and the press, the strange thing is not that Trump can be occasionally wearisome, but that he is even still breathing.”

The tone of the fight was set by Greta Thunberg’s declaration to a crowd of environmental supporters, “we can’t save the world by playing by the rules because the rules have to change.” It was a ringing call to victory over the Deplorables, victory by any means necessary. It was as if the old legalisms themselves had become too restrictive to allow the truly good guys to win. As Hillary Clinton told an audience at George Washington University: “You can run the best campaign and have the best plans and get the nomination and win the popular vote and you can lose the Electoral College and therefore the election.”

    “This is one of those moments we stand at a crossroads of our own a crisis in democracy. Racists and white supremacist views are lifted up in the media and the White House. Hard fought for civil rights are stripped back. Rule of law is being undermined, our norms and institutions … are under assault, and that includes the single most important fight of our times…the fight to protect the right to vote.”

She deserved to win but the rules betrayed her. If you can’t win the old way, change the rules. To avoid another setback to history Elizabeth Warren proposes to abolish the Electoral College. “Every vote matters, and the way we can make that happen is that we can have national voting, and that means get rid of the Electoral College,” Ms. Warren said. If that doesn’t work keep getting rid of stuff until it does.

The sentiment is not confined to America. David Cameron told CNN that some people “will never forgive me for holding a referendum.” Rules which let Brexit to advance have also stirred the outrage of the British ruling class. “Remainers were alarmed to realize that no-deal Brexit … would automatically become reality on March 29, 2019, unless something could be done to stop it. It was surprising how much could be done to stop it.”

    They had an infinity of tools, and they were no longer scared of the voters. No one wanted to be so contemptuous as to repeal Brexit, but Parliament could put a “no-deal Brexit” on hold, which it did. … Some of the most extraordinary moments of these winter debates involved the interventions of the Speaker of the House, John Bercow. Elected as a Conservative, he had, in David Souter-esque fashion, discovered once in power that he actually opposed Conservative policies on most things, very much including Brexit. … Anti-Brexiteers used their control of debate to pass the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019, which ordered Theresa May to seek an extension of Brexit from the European Union. And that began the process that led to postponing the Brexit deadline until October 31.

Oct 31 and they may delay it yet again. Boris Johnson “says Britain must leave the EU at the end of next month with or without a divorce deal. But many UK lawmakers believe a no-deal Brexit would be economically devastating and socially destabilizing, and are determined to thwart him. Lawyer David Pannick, who represents one of the campaigners challenging the government, told 11 Supreme Court judges that Johnson had improperly suspended the legislature ‘to silence Parliament'”.

Such extraordinary measures are justified on grounds that the danger of populism is too great to be held back by mere punctilio. “We just can’t sit on our asses and leave the political process to neanderthals who don’t want to believe in the future,” former US secretary of state John Kerry told an audience in Melbourne. The future must be saved and in that quest nothing must be allowed to stand in its way. …

nothing is off limits. But the downside of this militance is it engenders its mirror image. As Megan McArdle pointed out, in a zero sum game there are no points for second place. “Democrats who think court packing is justified by Garland forget that [Whispers] Garland was justified by Bork. In this game, you don’t move last.” When one side attacks the other must counterattack. The first side to falter loses. That fear, as Victor Davis Hanson notes, is what keeps the weary populists together. They will stand fast because for them the alternative to Trump is the abyss.


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