In 2019 I released 2 posts that had no direct relevance to this web site:
(1) ‘Save our democracy!’ (20.08.19). This raged against the way that Prime Minister Johnson tried to prorogue Parliament in order to force through the result of the disgracefully-run Brexit Referendum. I expressed my disgust at his flagrant attempt to bypass Parliament. On 11.09.19, immediately following the ruling by Scotland’s Court of Session that the PM had acted unlawfully, I added a note that made clear that I was seriously displeased by the PM’s behaviour.
(2) ‘Time to move on’ (01.10.19) came after the decision on 24.09.19 by the UK Supreme Court to confirm that the PM’s decision to suspend Parliament had been unlawful. At the time it was not clear what would happen with Brexit and it was not known whether or not the PM would put his case to The People in another referendum or a General Election. My post gave some background to the EU and expressed a hope that the issue of Brexit would be resolved through a second but this time properly-held referendum, to be held separately from a General Election.
I made these posts because they related to issues that were important to me and this site was the main way I had to vent my frustrations. A lot has happened since then and I wish to update my comments. I use this post to do so but, to reduce the overall ‘political footprint’ in the site, I have removed those earlier 2 posts and set this as the Home Page Post for One day only.
A. BREXIT AND REFERENDUMS
A General Election was held on 12.12.19. That election produced a clear result and left the Conservative Party, which was controlled by Brexiteers, with a clear majority in Parliament. I do not believe that the result arose mainly because most people wanted Brexit. I believe that it came from a combination of factors, one of the most important of which was that the main opposition party was led by someone (Jeremy Corbyn) who was not acceptable to many of that party’s own supporters let alone to anyone else. Nevertheless, it was a properly held Election so that was that. Brexit was enacted without a second referendum. We had to endure a year or so of tortuous negotiation & posturing by the UK and the EU that led to a deal that is likely to prove very difficult for the UK and not good for the EU.
** I have long disliked elections where a portfolio of policies are offered & adopted on a take-it-all or leave-it-all basis, enabling governments to claim that they had approval for everything mentioned in it even when that was clearly not the case. I long believed that referendums offered a way to improve Democracy by giving The People an opportunity to consider important issues case by case. However, following the appalling Brexit Referendum on 23.06.2016, which had followed the badly-run Scottish Independence Referendum on 18.09.14, my hopes for referendums have been sorely dashed. Anything of major long-term significance & consequence should not be left open to such mismanagement & abuse. I really cannot understand why, in a world where so many matters are given detailed scrutiny, such an important issue as the holding of referendums has not received much greater attention.
** I supported Remain not because I thought that the EU was a great institution but because I saw it as a great step away from centuries of dangerous petty nationalism towards a gradual coming-together of Mankind. When I first thought seriously about European Co-operation, back in the 1960s, I thought it would take many decades to come to fruition in any significant way. Later on, I became frustrated by the way that some European politicians were so keen to make a name for themselves that they pushed it all forward far too quickly. We were late to join the movement so we did not stop EU from being lumbered with the Common Agricultural Policy, leaving which provides one of the few benefits of Brexit. When the UK next applies to rejoin the EU, which will surely happen unless some more global form of (con)federation becomes meaningful (neither of which is likely to be in my lifetime), we will be negotiating from a position of weakness simply because we will then be just one country seeking to join many others. Oh dear.
B. DEMOCRACY AND TRUMP
As you may surmise from the above, I am a strong supporter of the concept of Democracy but not of the way that it is often enacted. I hesitate to write much about a foreign generally-friendly country but, given that that country has often held itself to be the main exponent & supporter of Democracy in the world, I cannot stop myself from commenting on some of the things that have happened in the USA over the last few years.
We humans are sadly 2-dimensional in our thinking with many people taking the view that other people are With-Us or Against-Us, Completely Right or Completely Wrong. That 2D thinking leads to many democracies ending up being dominated by 2 parties that alternate in power and disparage each other. It leads to strange coalitions between different types of people, often with the only thing they have in common being that they dislike the other party. That really is not conducive to good order let alone to good government. It certainly makes politics difficult in the USA.
** Democracies work well only when minorities accept that they are being treated fairly by the majority. When many people feel than an election was not fairly held and indeed it was not, that is one thing. When many people feel than an election was not fairly held but it had been, with verification done in such a way that it was crazy (or duped by Fake News) to think otherwise, that is another thing. In many countries around the world there are justifiable complaints about the way that their elections are held. When millions of people in a country such as the USA make unjustified complaints (that were formally judged & overwelmingly rejected), they weaken the whole concept of Democracy.
** I could write pages about Fake News, its potential for manipulation (particularly of the under-educated) and its inevitable lead to unhappy & dangerous consequences. However, I bite my tongue on that other than to say that, around the world, the rise of Fake News has severely dented the prospects of corrupt or misguided politicians & oligarchs being held to account. Its effects can be seen not just in countries like Russia, China & USA. We Brits have also lost faith in much of our mass media. I do worry about the way we all live in Bubbles and in the way that that enables others to exploit us.
It amazed me and many others that 74 million people voted for Trump. Had there not been a major backlash against him, he would have had a second term as President. I can understand that many of those who voted for him were hardcore anti-Democrats, perhaps because they were strongly against what they think of as ‘Big Government’. However, that must leave tens of millions who voted for him for some other reason.
** It seems that many of Trump’s hard-core supporters had emotionally committed themselves to him a few years earlier. That they strongly supported such a person as Trump shows how desperate they were for change and how poor the alternative political leaders must have seemed to them. However, the choice of Donald Trump to lead that movement was barely credible the first time (it seems that many people thought it good that Trump was not a normal politician) but to choose him a second time was incredible. There were few positives from his time in office.
– It was indeed time that the West stood up to China but his support for autocrats around the world made it clear that his reasons for doing so were wholly economic.
– His regressive tax cuts gave a short-term boost to the economy but whether or not it was ‘a good thing’ longer-term has been clouded by the pandemic. The economy was already going well when Obama left. Historically, barriers to Trade have disadvantaged all connected economies. The USA is no exception to that. Its trade deficit worsened under Trump.
– Cutting back on unnecessary bureaucracy & regulation is always worth considering. Perhaps Trump had some success with that, I’m not sure. However, the steps that grabbed attention worldwide were clearly negative, not least in holding back the battle against climate change.
– It seems that he supported some good (bipartisan) changes to the criminal justice system (with the First Step Act) but his approach to protests (think of Charlottesville and George Floyd) were inconsistent to say the very least. Conservatives applauded his appointment of conservative judges but, as indicated below, that is not something I view as a good thing.
– He did not start any wars overseas but he did not finish off any either and, of course, he unsettled his own country almost to the point of open civil war.
– Any claims that he stood against covid are easily disproved. The pandemic was, for him, an unwelcome intrusion by Reality into his world in which Facts are not important. They really are!
** A wish to ‘drain The Swamp’ was clearly popular. Although not originally part of The Swamp himself, Trump took advantage of his position to exploit it. As a polluter in all sorts of ways, more interested in himself than in anyone or anything else, Trump was incapable of developing the type of consensus needed to make long-term positive changes to the political culture of his nation. [It is always easier to complain or destroy than to create.] Sympathy for those who disliked the state of his nation is restrained by the fact that many of them were conspiracy theorists, anarchists, white supremacists & racists, weapon-obsessed fanatics, religious extremists, climate change sceptics, vaccine deniers, Fake News propagators and other hiders from & of reality. Could there really have been tens of millions of them? I doubt that. This raises the thought that many were caught out by Fake News.
It appears that the invasion of Capitol Hill on 05.01.21 shocked many Americans. I do not know why that was so because the invasion had been widely expected. What was shocking was that:
– It was allowed to happen by Police & Guards who had meted out very different treatment to a Black Lives Matter protest not long before. The application of double standards could hardly have been starker.
– Many (mainly Republican) political leaders in the USA appear to have become concerned about certain forms of extremism in the USA only when it led to them personally being at risk either physically (such as in that invasion) or in terms of their career (when it became clear to most people that Trump had ‘gone too far’). That stank of a lack of personal integrity. That many (mainly Democratic) political leaders had not railed against the looting & vandalism that sadly accompanied some of the earlier (much more justified) Black Lives Matter protests shows that they were no better.
I have long found it astonishing that, so it seems, amongst the most important roles of an American President is the appointment of Judges, particularly those of the Supreme Court. It appears that Supreme Court judges normally adopt an approach to their decisions that follows the political views of the Party of the President who appointed them. This makes it difficult to view that Court as an impartial Protector of The Rule of Law. It is worse than that. It appears that the US Supreme Court is given a role in setting The Rule of Law that does not arise in most other democracies. That is because the USA is lumbered by a Constitution that is over 250 years old and can be updated only when there is clear consensus on the need for change, something that is sadly rare nowadays. The consequence of this is that many legal issues are left to be decided not by elected politicians (who can be held to account) but by politically appointed judges (who are difficult to get rid of). Here in the UK we sometimes suffer from the lack of a formal unified Constitution which leaves little to restrain rash politicians. However, that is surely better than the US system that allows (for example) politicians to affect elections by gerrymandering election districts & making it difficult for some of their opponents to vote, businesses & narrow-interest groups to influence politicians through excessive lobbying & donations, and civilians to buy & carry around deadly weapons. Oh dear.
The reputation of the USA has been severely damaged over the last 4 years simply by having Trump as its President with many political leaders not standing-up to him in the way that they really should have. Many around the world sighed with relief when Trump left office without having started a nuclear war. The episode will never be forgotten. It has damaged the whole concept of Democracy and, in the eyes of many, belittled America rather than ‘made it great’. [This has happened at a time when China seems to have raised many millions of its people above a level of poverty that still exists in many democratic countries. That sounds brilliant and could even be argued to evidence support of the advantages that meritocracies hold over democracies. However, China’s politics remain wholly unacceptable as it continues with aggressive repression of Free Speech.] The USA’s experiment with low-grade populism has empowered autocrats around the world. Oh dear.
Notwithstanding the above, arguably the most important thing to have happened in the world since my ‘political posts’ in 2019, even more important in the short-term than Climate Change (though, of course, not as important in the long-term), has been the Covid-19 pandemic. One of the few good things to come out of that was seeing how many medics & scientists around the world co-operated in a way that put most politicians to shame. We do need politicians simply because no society can operate without them. [I like the ancient Greek idea of politicians being selected not from those who want power but from those who do not want it.] I find it interesting that the most popular & effective politicians are often those who remove problems caused by earlier politicians and not those who try to do new things themselves. That is not meant to imply that politicians should do little, for there is much need to co-ordinate & protect Society’s activities (not least the development of infrastructures) and to control & regulate those who would exploit the weaknesses of others (especially at a time of great change through invention & innovation), but it is meant to put politicians ‘in their place’. Nevertheless, I applaud those who become politicians not for personal vainglory but ‘to do their bit’ for Society.
D. FINAL COMMENTS
(a) I value character over personality. I am only human so, of course, I can be influenced by a strong personality and accept that others can be also. However, I value Integrity very highly and that is associated much more with character than it is with personality. I could perhaps like Boris Johnson but I could never trust him. I could never like let alone trust Donald Trump and cannot understand why, other than through desperation, so many seem to have done so.
(b) Whilst Identity Issues are clearly hugely important to most people, they can be very dangerous. Whilst loyalty to one’s tribe runs deep in us all, and was hugely important when we lived in primitive times, it is surely something that we have to rise above when it is appropriate to do so if we are to live in a modern connected world as something significantly more than primitives. I really do not like either tribalism or petty nationalism. To be more than primitives, we have to accept that our own little bubbles are unlikely to be the best of what can be. Beware of Bubbles!
(c) I do not claim any higher moral ground than anyone else. Indeed, I abhor those who claim to act on behalf of a higher authority, whether that be their God (is that not blasphemy under their religion?) or their Political Party, for that suggests that they accept no boundaries to their personal behaviour as long as they keep to their own rules. That is not acceptable. Like me, they are only human.
Oops! This has gone on much longer than I had intended. I do apologise for that – but it has been written and “The moving finger writes; and, having writ, moves on: nor all thy piety nor wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line, nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.” Publish and be damned!