I almost made it to David Cameron’s resignation speech. I fell asleep on my couch while watching the cat on the steps of Number 10.
Trans-Atlantic commentator or not, I would’ve watched the vote. Many Americans did, and not just pundits, polls, and investors. Our reputation for not knowing much about the world outside our borders is exaggerated, and we have a thing for declaring independence. Despite the media coverage, many of us are excited for the UK.
Susannah Black of Radio Free Thulcandra summed up American sentiment rather diplomatically last week, “There are arguments to be made on both sides, but as I wake up this morning England is suddenly more brightly coloured. The voters simply didn’t allow themselves to be bullied or cowed by a rather dull collection of pompous technocrats in the name of Progress.” It was nice to see principles win for a change.
Being Americans, some quickly tried to make Brexit about us, often by claiming a tighter parallel between Donald Trump’s candidacy and Brexit than exists. “The UK voted to Leave so get ready for President Trump!” Or so the theory goes.
This is click bait nonsense. Trump and Brexit have one common element: they are both expressions of frustration with the governing elite. This is a global trend of realignment throughout the West, and Brexit is more significant in this regard that Trump. Our elite, however, prefer their confirmation biases. They want to see common details, like bigotry or racism, not common trends like desire for self-rule. Soon enough, they will be surprised again.
There is another significant difference. Trump’s candidacy has roots in despair. He rose after American’s faith in our government died.
I realised this in the waiting hours between Nigel Farage’s lament that Remain had eked out the win and the Sunderland announcement of Leave’s supra-majority there. The pessimism that had clouded my week intensified. The referendum had represented hope, but now the final verdict was coming and feeling worse was possible. Watching US events, I had forgotten that more pessimism was possible.
A few months ago, Professor Randy Barnett, discussed a theory about why Trump rose. He believes, and the more I ponder it, the more I agree with him, that the United States Supreme Court decision in NFIB v. Sebelius was the tipping point, the final hope that failed:
For two years, the nation was transfixed by the legal challenge to Obamacare. A genuine popular constitutionalist uprising had set the stage for a renewal of our Republican constitution. Tea Party activists – and just plain old Republicans – looked to the Supreme Court to uphold a limit on the growth of federal power…. Listen again to the words of John Roberts to the Tea Party activists who were counting on him: “it is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.” What else did that mean to them if not: “it is not our job to uphold the limits on federal power”? Go away from the court house. Go away from the judges. Go away from the Constitution itself and fight this out among yourselves.
And so we did. It is not going well. And the week’s Supreme Court decisions have only confirmed the Court’s capitulation. (I take issue with the tense of Davidson’s premise that we are losing confidence in the Court. “Have lost” is more accurate.)
Happily for the UK, the referendum worked, even as the powers that be pulled out all the stops for their preference. Ineffective politicians are stepping aside and the UK moved further along in its political realignment than the US. (The Right and Left have changed in both countries, although neither pollsters nor politicians have figured out the details yet.)
Defiant politicians might be playing games with the result but only because games are their remaining option. As for the media, it is still so determined to supply dramatic conflict to compete for an audience, that few noticed the significance of the founding members statement to the press released last weekend.
As Geopolitical Futures, an online publication dedicated to examining and forecasting the course of global events, explained in ‘The EU Capitulates,’ “This was a landmark capitulation by the major European powers, accepting the idea that uniformity across the bloc is impossible and nations can choose the terms of membership.”
While leaders bluster and media blasts mic-drop speeches so we can watch the fray, the EU is shifting back into a free trade zone. And the global political re-alignment continues, almost seeming to wait for its next moment to pop around the corner and shock the elite.