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Saturday, July 2, 2016

Brexit and the New Political Reality--2

In my last entry, I argued that Brexit is a tragedy especially as it preludes a return to 19th and early 20th century nationalism. In my estimation, the British voters chose the wrong thing for the wrong reasons, although for some of the right ones too. Wrong to fear and blame EU, immigrants, technology, globalization, changing attitudes towards women, gays, and gods; but right to affirm economic interests, cultural traditions, and social dignity which have been left out of the process.

Again my purpose is not to blame or shame, but to learn. As a person of hope, I look for the opportunities even in this wrong-headed move, the catharsis in the tragedy. I gather five lessons that I would submit to Americans who will be holding their own referendum this November by their choice of the Donald or Hillary.

Lesson 1: Globalization. The problem is not globalization, but the shape of it. Like Reagonomics or Kochonomics, the question is not whether the liberal economy works. Of course it does. But who for? How do we make sure that the smaller boats are raised along with all the yachts in the rising tide? Because they are not now.

Lesson 2: Establishment. Mediating institutions (agencies, parties, bureaus, rules) are necessary to a progressive republican economic polity. But they also need to be continuously reformed. Attack the establishment when it is obstructionist and certainly when it is supporting unfair results; but we can't do without it. Bureaucracy with all its drag is a part of our human condition.

Lesson 3: Austerity. After the big borrowing bubble that enriched many investors and left many people behind, there was a general call for austerity. For sure there needs to be a balance between revenues and expenditures. But on whose backs should so-called austerity be placed? The denial of government spending to produce income for workers has reinforced a vicious cycle. No wonder workers get angry and especially if they are not organized with seats at the negotiating tables.

Lesson 4: Complexity. That's life! Purity of resolve, doctrine, viewpoint, and principle, is overrated and, in fact, downright perverse. Human behavior is a balance of economic interests, cultural values, and social affiliations--each with its own institutions that need to be accommodated and distinguished.

Lesson 5: Populism. Populism is the relationship of many to one. It is single-issued, wants simple answers, demonizes enemies, and is embodied in a savior--usually a strong man. Democratic republicanism is the relationship of one to many. It is interacting publics, voluntary associations and civil society.


When we find ourselves in a populist situation where it is simply right against wrong or left against right, we are denying our human condition--its ambiguity, its transience, its uncertainty. And we have given up thinking which I consider our most important guide to action. We become true believers that choose sides of the angels or the demons.

I know thoughtful people who see themselves on the right because they advocate for individual persons advancing themselves and want to reward innovation and creativity. They know that a successful social order is made up of such individuals.

I know thoughtful people who call themselves progressive or on the left because they know that persons cannot be successful without others' interactions from the moment of birth throughout all of life. They advocate for social assistance as a matter of justice not just charity.

I know of conservatives and progressives who try to hold these ideas of the innovative individual and of public responsibility together through what they call "compassionate conservatism," "progressive
republicanism," and "democratic socialism." These folks can work with one another, make deals, and advance a social order that creates more freedom and justice for all. But that has not been the state of US politics which, since the Tea Party insurrection, likes to play out the politics of obstruction in opposing camps.


Some say that the forces that led to the Brexit revolution are the same behind the populist uprising of Trumpism: The brakes applied to government spending on infrastructure and other job creating programs. The growing inequality between propertied persons and those with less wealth. The fear of counter terror movements in the Middle East. The betrayal of old values like the place of men and women, the traditional family, European or white supremacy, and the Judeo-Christian ethos. But above all the feeling of being disrespected by fast talking experts, liberal media, and university people.

These have led to anti-immigrant, anti-government, anti-establishment, anti-globalization sentiments now being fanned by far right wing parties led by charismatic leaders, e.g. Farage in England, Le Pen in France, Vought in Germany, Bossi in Italy, and Trump in the US.

Perhaps that is so, but I also believe that we are having a crisis in federalism. Though the progression has not been uniform or homogeneous, humanity has moved in history from multi-tribalism to imperial civilization to landed feudalism to national statism towards world federation. This has accompanied a progression in economy from hunting-gathering, to agriculture, to mercantilism, to industrialization, to information.

The way to greater power and prosperity has been increasing federalism among publics. But federalism is a tough sell as the history of the US has demonstrated. To gain power, a public has to give up or, better, share its sovereignty--e.g. states rights or provincial dominion or departmental rule as in most federal nation-states. To some extent this is taking place in military or police action alliances, international trade agreements, and the United Nations.

But the role being played by the transnational corporations and the people who control them and their ownership is problematic to weaker states and to the working poor in all states. It is leading to greater production and consumption but also greater inequities and to a depletion of the earth's vital resources. It is leading not to a federation of publics and shared sovereignty but to a new kind of domination by a relatively few and populist reactions. The pitchforks are coming!


So what is to be done? Yes, we need to counter far right or far left populism and their authoritarian leaders. But we need to do so much more in order to undermine their appeal to the weak and the wronged.

1. All treaties and trade agreements should have full employment and guaranteed income for all as an objective. Not all persons need to be equal in financial or monatary wealth; nor do they want to be. And those who want to pursue greater wealth beyond what is necessary to live dignified lives should be free to do so. But every person should have what is necessary to live well and so have the ability to choose options as to where they can be innovative and contribute to humanity whether it pays well or not.

2. Multi-culturalism that denies none of free choice of their styles of life; and make that the only limit and regulation on those choices. Your choice of style cannot infringe on my choice of style and when it does, we need to have mechanisms to negotiate those disagreements. This means clear restrictions against any activities that inhibit persons' choices because of their race, religion, morality, orientation, preferences--except insofar as they restrict others in their choices.

3. The development of workplace, home-place, and interest-based inclusive publics. The US and other republics have rich traditions of voluntary associations by which people build and reform their institutions to help themselves and each other. These associations are often chartered as non-profit or non-governmental organizations and create a fabric of civil society. They become counter-productive when they are exclusive or are organized "against" because of fear or threat instead of "for" because of hope or possibility.

I am of course advocating economic socialism, cultural libertarianism, and political republicanism. In doing so I realize that there are limits within and among each of these spheres that need to be negotiated for as long as humans remain human. My own hope is that through greater federation of publics acting for cultural pluralism and economic sufficiency, we will transcend the xenophobic nationalism which is arising in our nation and that of other nations as evidence by the ascendency of populism, far right parties, and nationalism.


Finally I have some more immediate lessons of Brexit and Trumpism for our next general election.

1. Vote: Get the vote out especially from the left-behinds, the young, the minorities, and the educated. Brexit happened because many were complacent and did not vote. Do everything we can to stop practices that make it more difficult to vote or that encourage the sense of futility and resignation.

2.  Don't get hooked on scare tactics, the politics of fear. The more we use it the more it is used against us. Yes, we need good analysis and to be educated in the politics of fear. But the politics of hope is much more powerful.

3. Take responsibility. Leadership is a shared commodity as is power. It should be distinguished from authority or force or command. And we need to take responsibility locally in developing our own work, home, interest based publics. Nationally and internationally by truly educating ourselves through a diversity of opinions which are evidence based and providing personal resources in treasure and time. Speaking out and and contributing ideas to friends, family, and connections.


Neither pitchforks, nor populism will do it. They call for a revolution. But that implies a sweeping away of all that exists. Rather we need a rebellion to transform while building on what exists in our nature, our institutions, and our accomplishments. Rebellion, as Albert Camus said, is an ongoing effort—a means to regenerate and transcend. Action from hope and love, not fear and hate.

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