By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
December 27, 2019
I was in London in 2016 when the United Kingdom (UK) voted to leave the European Union (EU). I expected that the British would remain in the EU because international cooperation is better than nationalist posturing. I was wrong. The British people voted to leave the EU by a small margin.
I was wrong again in November 2016 when thousands of Wellesley College alumna and well-wishers gathered at their alma mater to celebrate what we thought was the breaking of that glass ceiling. Hillary Clinton, an alumna of the College, would bask in the glory of being the first woman US president. Donald Trump defeated Clinton at the Electoral College even though she received more votes than the former.
Thereafter my British friends and I, mostly academics, promised to do what we could to ensure that the next UK leader would come from the Labour Party. We also were in agreement that Trump would be such a horrible leader that he would be a one-term president.
On December 11 the Labor Party, under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, received a sound whipping from Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party at the first serious election after Brexit. Corbyn won a snap election against Theresa May but that was only a holding action.
The December 11 election was the real thing. The Conservative Party won 365 seats of the 650-member Parliament even though they received 45 percent of the votes cast. Johnson ran as a nationalist and a populist, “offering not only Brexit, but also a spending surge for cops, nurses, schools and elder care.” After his victory, Johnson declared: “Getting Brexit done is now the irrefutable, irresistible, and unarguable decision of the British people” (Washington Post, December 12).
On Wednesday the US Congress impeached Trump. Many people believe a Republican Senate will not vote to remove him from office. In spite of his political blemishes, Trump may be reelected as the president of the US in November next year. I do not relish this result but it is not outside the realm of possibility.
A populist surge has been growing and picking up steam over the last few years. Gideon Rachman has observed: “The Brexit vote in 2016 saw liberal internationalism—championed by the EU and the Obama administration—take a double blow, first, the Brexit vote, followed shortly afterwards by the election of Donald Trump as US president” (Irish Times, December 16.)
The nationalist tide is also gaining prominence outside the West. Rachman says: “President Xi Jinping’s promise of a ‘great rejuvenation’ of the Chinese people is his version of Mr. Trump’s pledge to ‘Make America Great Again.’ In Russia, Vladimir Putin’s presidential rhetoric is all about making Russia great again; and it is the same in India, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi promises cultural and national revival.”
Trump’s retreat from the progressive current of world events has been remarkable. His first act was to withdraw from the 12-nation Trans- Pacific Partnership that was brokered by President Obama, and then to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord. Thereafter he scuttled the Iran Nuclear Deal, opened the American Embassy in Jerusalem, and recognized Israeli control over Golan Heights. These actions are contrary to United Nations resolutions. His use of tariffs and arbitrary embargoes against friends and foes alike made international agreements difficult to sustain or negotiate.
One is not sure how much Trump’s withdrawal from world affairs and his impeachment will hurt him in the next election. His capacity for lies and exaggeration knows no bounds. He said in his letter to Nancy Pelosi regarding his impeachment: “You [the Democratic Party] cannot defend your extreme policies—open borders, mass migration, high crime, crippling taxes, socialized healthcare, destruction of American energy, late—term taxpayer-funded abortion, elimination of the Second Amendment, radical far-left theories of law and justice, constant partisan obstruction of both common sense and common good” (New York Times, December 17).
Corbyn failed because he did not tell the British people how he would relate to the EU. He couldn’t tell them unequivocally whether he wished to stay within the EU or not. He also offered an economic program (mostly socialist) that scared ordinary people away from his party.
As we look at the forthcoming US presidential election there is every reason to believe that many Americans may respond to the proposals presented by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in the similar way that the English responded to Corbyn’s proposals. Many observers, President Obama included, believe a majority of Americans may not be willing to place their faith in a complete makeover of the American economic system. It is possible that Joe Biden and Stacey Abrams may offer a more realistic alternative to Trump.
The Democratic Party may be making a mistake. After telling the American people how important it was to impeach Trump and remove him from office, Pelosi indicated that she may not send the articles of impeachment to the Senate until she receives assurances that Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, will conduct a fair and impartial trial.
Such a strategy is likely to confuse voters in the same way English voters were confused by Corbyn’s vacillation on Brexit. People understand simple formulations. Do you want to leave or stay within the EU? Do you want to remove Trump from office or not?
Demagogues are not concerned with truth or decorum. Winning is the only thing that matters. The Democrats should keep this in mind as they conduct their political maneuvering. McConnell has carved out his position: “Frankly, I’m not anxious to have the trial.” He has indicated that he supports Trump fully.