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The U.S. and the U.K. seem to be competing to see which country can screw things up worse

President Donald Trump speaking with Prime Minister Theresa May during the opening of the G20 leaders summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on November 30, 2018.
REUTERS/Sergio Moraes
President Donald Trump speaking with Prime Minister Theresa May during the opening of the G20 leaders summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on November 30, 2018.

President Trump’s visit to Britain next week will include ceremonies marking the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, a reminder of common values and shared sacrifices that showed the two countries at their best.

In other ways, it will be a very weird visit. A deeply unpopular prime minister who will soon be out the door will meet a U.S. president two out of three Brits dislike and many clearly loathe. In an age of widespread public discontent, it invites a comparison between these two venerable — and struggling — democracies: To be blunt about it, which is screwing up worse?

So far, the Brits seem narrowly ahead in this race to the bottom. Setting aside the actual merits of leaving the European Union, the Brexit process (if you can call it a process, and if it eventually does lead to a Brexit of some sort) risks breaking up the country itself. And Americans have the constitutionally mandated chance of a do-over less than 18 months from now.

It’s true that there is more at stake for the world in the United States. Britain’s deep ambivalence about the EU is a big test for the alliance, an example of the stresses pulling at one of the world’s premier economic and diplomatic powers. The EU has more people and a GDP slightly smaller than the U.S., but it doesn’t match the muscle the U.S. can apply all around the globe. And for all of her failings, you don’t see British Prime Minister Theresa May openly pandering to racists and xenophobes, coddling dictators, threatening war or making policy via Twitter.


Unfortunately for Brits, the Conservative Party might well replace May with a version of Trump — albeit one with government experience. It’s still early, but the leading candidate appears to be Boris Johnson, a gaffe-prone self-promoter who also served as mayor of London and — without distinction — as foreign secretary.

The Conservatives were embarrassed by Nigel Farage’s new hardline Brexit Party in just-concluded elections for the European parliament. The results, according to BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg, were historically dreadful … not just a little embarrassment or hiccup.”

Typically, few really care about elections to the European parliament — and Britain only participated this time because it hadn’t yet figured out how to extract itself from the EU. So the vote turned into a referendum of sorts on Brexit. Farage’s quit-at-any-cost party got 32 percent of the vote; the Conservatives less than 10 percent.

Another way to read the results is that overall, parties that support remaining in the EU did better than pro-Brexit parties. That won’t matter much to the Tories, though. Most of those who’ve already announced they want to replace May are staunchly pro-Brexit, and the party will try to outflank Farage. Who better to lead the charge than Johnson, who made the bogus claim Brexit would save Britain 350 million pounds a week that it could spend on health care?

One of the biggest stumbling blocks in May’s efforts to negotiate a Brexit deal was Northern Ireland — specifically how to regulate trade across the border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K., and EU member Ireland. The future of staunchly pro-EU Scotland is an even bigger issue.

Scots narrowly voted against independence in 2014, but gave 62 percent of their vote in the Euro parliament elections to pro-EU parties. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says the British political establishment has treated Scotland with “utter contempt” in the Brexit debate, and her bid for a second referendum is picking up urgency.

On a visit Monday to Ireland, she confirmed her government would publish draft legislation for a referendum later this week, and said that it should be held in the second half of next year. A poll released last month showed support for independence was edging up. Sturgeon predicted that a second referendum would pass.

Much of Britain’s future depends on future elections: Whether to have a second vote on Brexit. Whether Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn can force an early general election. Whether Scotland gets to vote again on independence.

In the United States, it’s reasonable to fear that gerrymandering, organized efforts to disenfranchise voters, misinformation and distortions caused by institutions such as the Electoral College will thwart the will of voters. But the election of Trump in 2016 was the result of a perfect storm. This is not to argue that he can’t win again, but as the 2018 election showed, the U.S. system still can deliver a pretty decisive message.


Unlike in Britain, Americans outraged at the current state of affairs can at least be sure that they will get another vote relatively soon. If Britain’s Conservatives have their way, they will face neither a second referendum on Brexit nor a general election for another three years — by which time, even with their stumbling approach, it’s hard to imagine the Brexit question not being settled (and, perhaps, Scotland’s future, as well).

Both countries already have hurt themselves, and you can’t count Trump out in this kind of race. Congress is paralyzed by partisanship and a constitutional crisis is looming. Corruption is hiding in plain sight. And, oh yeah, we’re one miscalculation away from armed conflict with Iran.

But the country is holding together — so far — and another election is coming.  

Comments (14)

  1. Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 05/28/2019 - 11:18 am.

    I would argue that the West, embracing monopoly in service to imperialism, embracing the free flow of capital at the expense of the economic stability of average citizens, embracing a debt based/consumer economic model that is basically ecocide, embracing regime-change foreign policy connected to a privatized military/total surveillance infrastructure, screwed up a long time ago, and the meager attempts to make it right are ill-advised and floundering.

    But I guess the desire to go back and make it like it used to be is not reserved just for Trump fans, but for neoliberals and neoconservatives as well?

  2. Submitted by joe smith on 05/28/2019 - 12:42 pm.

    The EU and it’s policies have brought down Great Britain. That is why the British people just voted (again) to get out of the EU. Putting your country first is a smart move, only Globalists object to that. The objective for a President or Prime Minister, is not to loved by other countries, it is to make sure YOUR country and YOUR people thrive. After Bush 1,,Clinton, Bush 2 and Obama (almost 3 decades of Globalists) the USA was ready for an America First President. Same goes for not only the Great Britain but most of Europe, as their latest election shows.
    If you believe a job in China is the same as a job in Chisholm MN, you are a globalist, I for one am not.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 05/28/2019 - 03:59 pm.

      Actually, leaving the EU is going to cripple the British economy. We are already seeing the effects. Cutting yourself off from the global economy isn’t putting your country first. Its just punching yourself in the face.

      • Submitted by joe smith on 05/28/2019 - 06:46 pm.

        Completely false, 93% of British companies don’t do business outside the U.K. The British send 10’s of billions to the EU to help out poorer countries, no benefit for British citizens. Once a refugee sets foot in Greece or any other EU country, they have free travel to all EU countries. They have lost sovereignty, money and who they are as a country. That is why they voted out, twice now, from the EU. I’m always surprised when folks say they know better than the voters.

        • Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 05/29/2019 - 11:02 am.

          For once I agree almost entirely with you, Joe Smith. The EU is run by unelected technocrats who care nothing for the sovereignty of individual nations or their citizens.

          I only wish you would hold the same attitude toward foreign corporations polluting and plundering northern Minnesota, which according to global trade rules in the spirit of EU unity, we don’t really have any choice about, because as long as those foreign corporations do their due diligence legally, if Minnesota says no they can very likely sue for lost profits.

          Letting a foreign corporation mine in a way that pretty much guarantees to pollute, with most of the resource and the profits whisked away to foreign lands and distant investors, who care not about the long term economy or ecology of northern Minnesota. I find it unconscionable; and it puts the lie to MAGA, if that is supposed to be about empowering Americans.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 05/29/2019 - 05:24 pm.

          Every word of that is complete nonsense. And people educated in, say, economics, do know more than voters. You have to remember a lot of Americans think Donald Trump is a successful businessman, and not someone who has failed in nearly every business he ever ran and who would be worth many times what he claims to be worth (no one knows what he is really worth) had he simply put his inherited wealth into average-performing mutual funds. Voters elected a game show host.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 05/29/2019 - 05:34 pm.

          And the 93 percent figure, even if true, is irrelevant. Most business are small local business, so the number of business doing business overseas doesn’t measure anything. The British economy as a whole, however, is hugely connected to the EU. The problem is that so many voters are economically illiterate that they can’t make the distinction between meaningful economic information and meaningless numbers. And that is going to tank the British economy.

          • Submitted by joe smith on 05/30/2019 - 08:53 am.

            I will take the word of a small businessman over “people informed on economics” any day. If you have never ran a business, then everything you have learned is theory, which means very little in the real world. If the EU was such a great Union, folks not only in Great Britain but all over Europe would not be voting to get out of it. The tired old mantra of “people are too stupid to know what’s good for them” is so demeaning and played out.

            Globalists always feel they know better than average folks. I find they very seldom do. Remember the Obama Administration economists said GDP growth couldn’t be over 2% because the economy had changed….. None of those folks were right and none ran businesses, all theory no experience. Remember also that manufacturing jobs couldn’t come back either, 400% increase in manufacturing jobs from Obama’s last 2 years to Trumps first 2… Wrong again. Disregarding 93% of businesses not doing business outside of the EU shows a lack of understanding that small businesses drive the economy.

            • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/30/2019 - 09:09 am.

              “Remember also that manufacturing jobs couldn’t come back either, 400% increase in manufacturing jobs from Obama’s last 2 years to Trumps first 2… ”

              Again with that figure. One last time: it is not true. The rate of increase has gone up by 400%, but the number of manufacturing jobs has not increased by 400%.

              This is called being informed on basic arithmetic.

              • Submitted by joe smith on 05/30/2019 - 09:42 am.

                RB, your wrong. Look at the numbers of Obama’s last 21 months and Trumps first 21 months.

                • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/30/2019 - 12:08 pm.

                  I did. Here’s what the Bureau of Labor Statistics has to say:

                  In January 2016, there were 12,368,000 manufacturing employees in the United States. In September 2017 (Trump’s 21st month in office), there were 12,467,000 manufacturing employees.

                  To see you call that a “400% increase in manufacturing jobs” defies even my capacity for sarcasm.

  3. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 05/28/2019 - 11:31 pm.

    You should be worried that the stable genius is coming to visit the UK because he will no doubt get into your business and tell you how to fix everything. Keep in mind he has failed at fixing anything in the US.

  4. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 05/31/2019 - 10:16 am.

    I know a Brexit advocate personally. He lived in the U.S. for many years and retired to his hometown in England a couple of years ago.

    When I asked him about his reasons for supporting Brexit, he mentioned things like having to use the metric system and fox hunting being banned, i.e. a very narrow viewpoint, without regard for how Brexit will affect the country as a whole.

    From other friends, I have learned that the UK and US seem to be taking cruelty and pig-headedness lessons from each other.

    Consider the “Windrush generation.” Windrush was the name of the ship that brought the first Jamaican immigrants to Britain in 1947. These people were imported to ease a labor shortage after World War II, and the men who could work construction or industrial jobs were granted instant British citizenship. Their minor children were not granted citizenship, but nobody noticed or made a fuss until a couple of years ago, when the Conservative government decided that the “children,” now in their seventies and eighties, retired from mostly blameless lives in Britain, were receiving government pensions and other benefits illegally and should be deported. A few individuals were actually deported to a country they couldn’t remember before a public outcry forced the government to stop this.

    They also cut clearly disabled people off disability benefits, threw people out of public housing for having “too many” rooms for the size of their households, and have been cutting bus service to small towns.

    In anticipation of Brexit, the many foreign-born doctors and nurses who staff the NHS are leaving, This of course, furthers the Conservative goal of killing the NHS by the death of a thousand cuts and will undoubtedly serve as “proof” that the NHS “doesn’t work.”

    But that’s just Conservative policy at work.

    What should be more worrisome to a Conservative is that major financial institutions are moving more of their operations overseas.

    The UK has never been part of the Schengen Agreement, by which visitors go through Immigration and Customs at their first stop in Europe and move freely among the treaty countries. However, they did allow open border travel between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

    Brexit could end up pulling the UK apart, with Catholics in Northern Ireland more eager than ever to unite with the Republic and Scotland, which voted heavily for Remain, deciding to vote for independence after all.

    By the way, the 2016 referendum which started the whole process was billed as a non-binding referendum, and the participation rate was low. Even so, the Conservative government has since treated Brexit as “the will of the people” and moved ahead, despite mass demonstrations for Remain in major cities.

    In the recent city council elections, the Conservatives, who are staunchly pro-Brexit, and Labour, which is wishy-washy on the subject, lost eats. The Conservatives lost 1,330 seats and Labour 74. The Liberal Democrats and the Greens, both of which are staunchly anti-Brexit, gained surprising numbers of seats. The “Lib-Dems” doubled their representation, and the Greens, while still a small party, tripled the number of seats they held.

    “A fine mess you’ve gotten us into,” as the American half of a famous comedy team used to say.

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/01/2019 - 11:28 am.

    Yes, whenever I need a little respite from my disgust with the current situation if the US I treat myself to an article about Brexit.

    The Brexit vote was a stupid idea in the first place, and it’s yielded predictable results. However almost every analysis I’ve seen completely misses the point. The problem is that our consensus media cannot place “populism” its proper context for a variety of reasons. Populism is routinely characterized as a debased impulse of some kind rather than a response to failing governments.

    In a nutshell, the problem in Europe, England, and the US is that we’ve all ended up one way or another with status quo/bipartisan/centrist/whatever governments that are increasingly paralyzed by their inability to see or budge beyond a status quo that serves the elite. From trade deals, to globalization, to “austerity” measures neoliberal governments are failing hundreds of millions of their citizens in a variety of ways, and in the end, democracy itself has eroded.

    Take for instance the recent EU elections; most of the consensus media tried to portray the outcome as some kind surge of “populism” when in fact the dominant feature was actually a rejection of the status quo.

    The primary feature of Brexit beyond it’s stupidity, is the fact that when given the task of governing, the British government simply cannot accomplish THAT task. A government should be able to implement a policy, even if it’s a bad policy, but our governments have degraded to the point where they simply cannot govern when governing requires changing the status quo in any significant way.

    We have the exact same problem in the US, and even in MN. We just had a legislative session that barely met the minimum requirement of keeping the government open, and it’s being hailed and celebrated as a tremendous accomplishment. I suspect Walz is far far far more satisfied with this miracle than are the voters of MN.

    You can brag about Obamacare if you want, but in many ways the US attempts to resolve our health care crises look very similar to the Brit’s attempts at implementing Brexit. Yeah, Obamacare was big and complicated but it failed in major ways. The Republican attempt to repeal and replace looks EXACTLY like Brexit.

    The Brits ended up with Brexit and we ended up with Obamacare and Trump because our governments were simply incapable of delivering anything other than failed compromises that primarily serve the elite. If the Brits and the American’s had been able to address the grievances and crises afflicting their citizens like any normal government, “populist” revolts would not arise in the first place. Instead, we’re told for decades that failure is the best can get out of our governments and we’re supposed to be OK with that. Well, we’re not OK with perpetual failure, and we’re not OK with a status quo that serves and increasingly narrow and affluent elite at our expense.

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