Tag Archives: Brexit

Whither Brexit

Answer… it’s ongoing.

Hard to believe two years have passed since the first big shock result of 2016. Especially since little seems to have happened, in this case.

The main reason I feel like revisiting this topic is its useful lessons for national plebiscites, a concept which has been on my mind lately.

It’s increasingly tempting to believe that America’s national politics might benefit from some element of direct democracy. The reasons are mostly variations on the theme of current practices not working very well…

Comparing surveys on issues, and the outcome of votes for elected officials, it seems like there is definitely a disparity, and seems to me like people are less bad at choosing broad policies than they are at choosing leaders to empower. Both my own observations and some studies suggest that contests for elected office have devolved into mindless seesaws of partisan intensity, whereas facts and argument have at least some chance in initiative and referendum campaigns. On certain issues, meanwhile, ideas seem to have hardened and yet there is no apparent hope of settling e.g. the issue of abortion, because on this issue there is no real overlap between the two parties between which government is, over time, divided in America.

I believe that there are issues in which resort to a nationwide plebiscite would offer some hope of an America that is less ungovernable.

Mainly because, at this point, national politics are basically a kind of bastardized pseudo-direct-democracy anyway. In practice, we elect people to make decisions… in reality, ideological party “sorting” is now substantial, and elections are at least as much arguments about known issues as they are about trying to select wise and honorable people to deal with undefined “new business.” At some point, it seems like we need either a better mechanism for resolving long-term disputes… or else we need to admit that we’re in a civil war and respond accordingly.

Plebiscites seem like a possible solution. Yet even setting aside the inevitable constitutional roadblock, just for discussion’s sake, there are reasons for concern. I think the story of Brexit demonstrates some interesting ones besides the obvious.

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Brexit

I was not expecting this result. I’m just stunned.

cover1Congratulations to everyone who made principled, positive arguments for this choice. (No, that isn’t sarcasm, though I’m aware that many people think I’ve just described a null set.) To those who made other arguments, well, you’ve won also; perhaps make more of an effort at inclusion if only to be good sports?

The Anglophone left and discipline through -isms

I imagine that politics is nearly always a convoluted mess of fractal coalitions, and ruthless undercutting of enemies and “allies” alike. Perhaps it gets more noticeable as one gets older, though.

This week, I’ve been thinking about one or two more relatively bizarre examples. It may in part be a product of spending so much time immersed in the politics of #Brexit, and getting them conflated with American matters. But then plenty of participants on either side of the Atlantic have promoted the idea that there are common dynamics at work, so I suppose it’s fair game for me.

In any event I feel more and more like the establishment-left coalitions, both here and in the UK, are wielding certain topics as disciplinary cudgels as ruthlessly as any right-wing strategist has ever done. The Brexit debate has seen plentiful slime on all sides, certainly, but presuming that Remain is about to win [edit: oops!] I wonder if their success is partly achieved by more aggressively denigrating their opponents. It seems as though anyone who favored Leave, for any reason, was immediately condemned for being xenophobic, Islamophobic, “simply crazy” and indifferent to the poor.* Call me biased if you will, but I have a difficult time coming up with a comparable list for the other side; plenty of people for Leave have said vile things but I just haven’t perceived an equivalent unified execration of the people who favored Remain, themselves.

In any event, considering this got me thinking about how much of the American left uses similar tactics for policing dissent, and that led me to one particularly novel illustration. It seems like at present—having as they do all too many real examples to hand just like in Britain—liberal America’s elites and their followers readily charge opponents with Islamophobia and take for granted that this is simply indefensible. Personally I think it basically is, and I don’t feel like America’s left is actually being over-broad in applying the label, to date. What gets me, though, is that much of this same establishment-left will not tolerate criticism of the Israeli government. So if you suggest that (the predominantly Muslim) Palestinians are victims of abuse… the same coalition that regards Islamophobia as unequivocally unforgivable will unite against you, and warn darkly of antisemitism.

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Brexit Referendum, Two Weeks Out

Here we are again. Britain stands upon the brink of a wrenching political realignment, as I watch in fascination. Less than a year ago, it was Scotland voting on whether or not to quit the UK; in another two weeks the (still) whole country will vote on whether or not to quit the European Union.

Fascinating, fascinating. Twitter hashtag #Brexit has become a substantial part of what gets me through the day lately.

I’m not sure what to add, beyond that. One of the things which has struck me is a limited parallel with the civil war inside the Democratic Party. In that context, just as in both British referendums, it seems like the biggest question for me is (or would be) essentially the same. Is trying to reform an existing political institution from within a more promising path to larger societal reforms, or is being part of that institution more of an obstacle?

I don’t think that there is a universal answer. But I’m coming around to think that in the case of the European Union, the existing institution is more of an obstacle.

Full disclosure, I don’t have a vote here, shouldn’t have a vote here, and have not done the fuller research I would regard as necessary if I were voting. (Twitter is for entertainment, everyone knows that, right?) But based on the arguments I have read for and against, I feel increasingly confident that when it comes to the European Union, tearing it down and starting over looks like a more promising route.

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