A Very Hard Brexit

Should you ever despair about the state of America’s politics, as we so often do, console yourselves that it’s even worse elsewhere. At the moment, even the United Kingdom finds itself in a very sticky wicket over its “Brexit” from the European Union.

We’re avid Anglophiles in our literary tastes and cherish America’s longstanding “special relationship” with Great Britain, so we try to keep up with the news from across the pond. Lately it’s all been bad news, as the messy business of “Brexit” plays out. The traditionally Tory Prime Minister Theresa May had to resign as a result of her failure to find a solution, and untraditionally Tory successor Boris Johnson doesn’t seem to be doing any better.</div<

The controversy all started back in 2016 when the British people narrowly approved a referendum to withdraw seem from the European Union. There were all sorts of reasonable arguments for doing so, as the European Union imposes all sorts of rules and regulations about immigration and how to measure the weight of bananas, and although the United Kingdom wisely didn’t abandon the Pound Sterling for the one-size-fits-all Euro that keeps creating problems there were many persuasive arguments for British sovereignty.
All along the counter-argument was that the UK’s alliance with the EU gave it un-tariffed access to the European economies that collectively comprise the third-largest market in the world, and that was also compelling. Should Britain take a “hard Brexit”from the EU its economy will direly suffer, and if it doesn’t the government will defy the narrowly expressed will of its people. Which makes for a complicated mess, and this Johnson fellow doesn’t seem to be up to it.
Johnson is a “Britain First” kind of guy, often compared to to American President Donald Trump, and he has an arguably even uglier head of hair, and so far he’s been flailing. He tried to suspend Parliament, which is arguably even crazier than Trump suspending Congress, as it’s a more longstanding institution. Even Johnson’s better-coiffed brother has resigned from the government, there’s talk of special elections, creepy left-wing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn awaits in the wings, and as much as we love the Brits they seem in yet another very bad spot.
The Brits have been through plenty of those over the last few centuries, on the other hand, and we we hold out hope they muddle through this one as well.

— Bud Norman

“BoJo,” “Brexit,” and Trump

Over the past many decades there have often been intriguing similarities between America’s presidents and the United Kingdom’s prime ministers.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill was a conservative Tory and President Franklin Roosevelt a liberal Democrat, but both men came from aristocratic backgrounds and excellent educations and they shared an instinctive abhorrence of Nazism, and Churchill came to share the Cold War stage with President Dwight Eisenhower. Prime Minister Margaret “Iron Lady” Thatcher was an iconoclastic conservative Tory whose election paved the way for President Ronald Reagan’s equally iron-willed and controversial conservative Republicanism. Reagan was succeeded by the more cautiously conservative President George H.W. Bush at about the same time that was followed by Prime Minister John Major, a cautiously conservative tory with the same sort of establishment pedigree as his American counterpart. President Bill Clinton ended 12 years of Republican presidencies by promising a centrist “third way,” and he was soon joined by Prime Minister Tony Blair, who ended a long run of Tory residence at Number 10 Downing Street on a similar centrist platform.
Since then Republican presidents have sometimes had to get along with Labour Prime Ministers and Democrats have overlapped with Tories, but for the most part the Special Relationship persisted. Putatively Republican President Donald Trump often clashed with Tory Prime Minister Theresa May, who had a more refined style and didn’t share his nationalist instincts, but she’s lately been forced to resign, and will now be replaced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is about as close a copy of Trump as the United Kingdom can find.
Johnson has a longstanding reputation for making up facts that suit him and bluntly insulting anyone who disputes his version of the truth, he’s a Britain-first nationalist who shares Trump’s distrust of international alliances and institutions, he was born in New York City to a wealthy family, and he arguably has an even more ridiculous hair style than the American president. Trump had signaled he would have preferred the even more anti-European Union politician Nigel Farage, who campaigned for Trump during his presidential race, but we expect that he and Johnson will get along quite well at the upcoming economic summits.
Johnson first gained notice in Britain as a journalist, which is a marked contrast from Trump, but we think Trump would have liked his style. He was an anti-European Union crusader at a time when Britain’s entry into the economic alliance was a hotly debated issue. There were plenty of good reasons for Britain to retain its independence, including nosy regulations and open border policies and one-size-fits-all currency, but Johnson wasn’t satisfied with that and invented all sorts of fanciful tales about condom size regulations and other outrages, getting fired from the Times of London for falsifying a quote but later finding a home at the Tory-leaning Telegraph. He parlayed his popularity into eight controversial but not at all catastrophic years as Mayor of London, and then somehow wound in May’s cabinet as Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.
Britain’s limited involvement in the European Union remained a controversial issue, with the country eventually voting by a slim margin in a referendum to “Brexit” from the agreement. Negotiating the terms of the divorce proved difficult, however, and eventually brought an end to May’s prime ministership. The United Kingdom had wisely followed Thatcher’s advice to retain its Pound Sterling currency rather than accept the Euro that the poorer country’s were using to rack up ruinous debt and require huge bailouts, but it had agreed to accept some very stupid immigration rules and other annoying violations of its sovereignty, so there was ample reason to cut ties with the continent, but on the other hand EU membership also offered very lucrative free trade with the world’s third biggest economy. The EU naturally used that leverage to demand concessions that Johnson and Farage and Trump and other “hard Brexit” advocates resented, and May wound up resigning in frustration with her failure to please anyone.
Perhaps Johnson will have better luck with the negotiations, but the conventional wisdom of American and Fleet Street media is that he’ll have the same problems as May. His Conservative Party and the “Brexit” are both unpopular, Britain’s economy needs the EU more than the EU needs Britain, the country has lately been having its oil tankers seized and harassed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, a problem that will require North Atlantic Treaty Organization assistance, and much like Trump he’s widely regarded by the establishment types as a rank amateur who’s in over his ill-coiffed head. The anti-EU Trump has said he’ll reward Britain with a sweetheart trade deal if it makes a “Brexit,” but no matter how sweet it probably won’t be worth as much as free access to the far closer and nearly as large EU economy, and Johnson and Trump have some disagreements on matters ranging from the Iran nuclear deal to the importance of the NATO alliance.
Still, we wish “BoJo” and Trump the best of luck working it all out, as America and the United Kingdom have helped one another do ever since that unpleasantness back in 1812. In a couple of years there might a crazy left Democratic president and a crazy left Labourite prime minister who find themselves simpatico, and if so we’ll hold out work that doesn’t end badly.

— Bud Norman

How to Be All Diplomatic and Stuff

The main problem with with President Donald Trump’s diplomacy, according to our analysis, is that he’s the most temperamentally undiplomatic person in the entire world. His latest trip abroad has provided supporting evidence for our theory at a rate of every 15 minutes or so.
Even before Trump embarked on a visit to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Belgium and then a less-than-state-visit to Great Britain and today’s summit with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin in Finland he couldn’t resist “tweeting” insults about America’s allies and telling the television cameras as he embarked Air Force One that he expected the meeting with Putin would be the easiest part. He started off the NATO meeting by complaining over breakfast a televised breakfast about a natural gas pipeline deal that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had made with Russia, and spent the rest of the time publicly and privately chiding the heads of the other member nations about their deadbeat ways.
Our president left Belgium bragging that NATO was stronger than ever thanks to the defense spending commitments he’d strong-armed the deadbeats into, but French President Emmanuel Macron other NATO leaders told the world press that they’d only reaffirmed a pervious agreement about 2 percent of gross domestic product spending on defense by the next decade, and nobody believed that Europe had acceded to Trump’s extortionist demand for 4 percent spending starting right now. Trump left talking tough about his commitment to NATO, but he’d been conspicuously late to a meeting with the Eastern European nations most nervous about Russian revanchist ambitions, and the rest of the allied leaders and the international press that informs their voters left less sure of America’s commitment to its longstanding treaty obligations.
Trump didn’t demolish Stonehenge, ala Chevy Chase in “National Lampoon’s European Vacation,” but his visit to Britain was similarly undiplomatic. On the way to the United Kingdom he granted a interview a London tabloid called The Sun and took the opportunity to harshly criticize his hostess Prime Minister Theresa May for ignoring his advice about leaving the European Union and saying it had torpedoed the free trade agreement that May had hoped to negotiate when she offered Trump the visit. The itinerary May had generously scheduled kept Trump away from London, whose Mayor Trump has been feuding with over “Twitter” and where tens of thousands of angry protestors and a giant blimp of a diaper-clad Trump clutching a cell phone were packing Trafalgar Square, and instead included a stroll with the Queen at the secluded and well-secured castle where Winston Churchill was born in front the military pageantry that Trump so enjoys, but even there he breached royal protocol ways that were bound to offend the refined sensibilities of the Fleet Street press.
There was no avoiding a joint press conference with May, so when faced with the inevitable questions about the interview with The Sun he dismissed it as “fake news” and talked instead about all the fulsome praise for May that they’d left out. Our guess is that he’d granted the interview to a tabloid with only a slightly better reputation that Trump’s favorite American tabloid The National Enquirer, rather than the Daily Scotsman or The Times of London or another of Britain’s eminently respectable broadsheets of record is that The Sun is owned by Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who also owns Trump’s beloved Fox News Network in the United States, but he still threatened to unleash his own audio recording of the interview to expose them as “fake news.” He’s yet to make good on the threat, but even The Sun also makes audio recordings of the interview and what they’ve released verifies every word of what they printed, and although the fans back home might love it even the Murdoch-owned Sun readers in Great Britain were left the clear impression that the President of the United States is not only one of those very rude Americans who impose their presence on them but also a liar.
We don’t see any great trade deals coming out of the visit, even though Trump insisted that the “Special Relationship” is more special than ever, but at least Trump got some American and British taxpayer-paid recreation time and much-needed publicity for at one of his still-wholly owned golf resorts in Scotland. A few protestors and that diaper-clad Trump blimp got close enough to Trump’s round that he might have heard the roar or made out blip the blimp, and a paraglider from the far-left Green Peace party penetrated the airspace with a critical slogan waving behind, but we expect Trump still enjoyed the round. It’s the same course where the great Tom Watson beat the even great Jack Nicklaus by on stroke in the legendary “Duel in the Sun” at the 1977 British Open — or more simply “The Open” as the British insist — and we’re sure that with help from his caddie and the mulligans and gimmes generously allowed by his playing from his laying partners Trump surely set the course record.
Trump gets especially loquacious during these international trips, and his many interviews yielded enough diplomatic faux pas and outright falsehoods to provide an entire world of late night television comics with a week’s worth of material. He congratulated the England team in the World Cup soccer tournament on what turned out to a fourth-place finish, and wondered why people say “Britain” instead of “England” even as he was heading to Scotland, which is also a part of Britain, and at another point he seemed to believe that Ireland is still a part of the United Kingdom. During a rare interview with the Columbia Broadcast System’s “Face the Nation” described the European Union as a “foe” before mention China’s economic challenges and Russian revanchism, which he described as merely “competitors,” which is fine by the fans back home but raised plenty of eyebrows overseas.
Trump also boasted that he had better approval ratings among Republicans at this point in her first administration than President Abraham Lincoln, even though public opinion polling wasn’t invented until the 1930s, and surely ranks higher at the moment than Trump. Trump even claimed that he had “doubled and tripled” America’s gross domestic product in a mere 17 months, an obvious absurdity which is only off by $40 trillion dollars or so. If Trump truly had tripled the GDP in his short term, even such skeptics as ourselves would forgive everything else and put him a notch above that gangly guy who saved the Union.
Today Trump will have a very private meeting that Russian dictator, which he’d predicted would be the easiest of them all, and he might yet pull off a diplomatic masterstroke that will wow us and the the rest of the press. He’s assured a rally crowd where he led a chorus of boos against dying Republican Senator and bona fide war hero John McCain that “Putin’s fine, he’s people,” and after “tweeting” that a special counsel’s indictments of yet another 12 Russian officials for meddling in America’s past presidential campaign is still a “witch hunt,” and we don’t see him getting any great deals from Putin.
Stonehenge still stands, though, and we hold out some hope for the rest of our longstanding civilization.

— Bud Norman

“Tweeting” Away a Tax Bill

President Donald Trump took to the road Wednesday to rally popular support for the congressional Republicans’ attempts to pass a tax bill, which so far are widely unpopular, but as is his wont he first undermined the effort with a street of outrageous “tweets.” His even busier-than-usual thumbs “re-tweeted” some links to anti-Muslim videos, expressed the usual complaints about the “fake news,” gloated about the firing of a network news anchor for alleged sexual improprieties, and seemed to suggest that another of one of media critics might be guilty of murder.
The outbursts not only gave all the media plenty to talk about other Trump’s sales pitch for whatever tax bill the Republicans might come up, they also made those arguments harder to believe.
Those anti-Muslim videos that Trump “re-tweeted” came from a fringe group calling itself Britain First, which the British government blames for a recent spate of hate crimes against its Muslim citizens, so some controversy ensued. The leader of the the fringe group and former Ku Klux Klan leeader David Duke both “tweeted” their appreciation for the “re-tweet” to to Trump’s millions of “Twitter followers,” but British Prime Minister Theresa May “tweeted” her own opinion that “It is wrong for the president to have done this,” and that seemed more in line with the mainstream media’s reaction.
Then the government of the Netherlands “tweeted” its objection that the video purporting to show a handicapped Dutch youth being savagely beaten by a Muslim immigrant was misleading, because although the depicted attack did occur the crime was not committed by a Muslim immigrant, and that assaulters has since been severely punished by Dutch law. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders would not vouch for the authenticity of any of the videos, and was reduced to defending their “re-tweeting” by insisting the president was making a valid point by arguing that mass Muslim immigration has resulted in problems for Europe.
That is indeed a valid point, and there is plenty of valid evidence for it, and it doesn’t need to be couched in hateful terms, so we would have to hear Huckabee-Sanders why Trump chose to cite some phony-baloney videos from a far-away fringe hate group that’s lately become a problem for a key American ally, and wind up annoying another American ally in the process.
Another big story of the day was the National Broadcasting Company firing longtime “Today Show” host Matt Lauer after a co-worker accused him of sexual harassment and assault, so of course Trump couldn’t resist the chance to insert himself in the middle of that. Even though Trump also stands credibly accused of similar charges, and is championing a Republican Senate candidate down in Alabama who stands credibly accused of even worse, and had just been called out by the Dutch for disseminating inaccurate informations, Trump gloated about Lauer’s firing and wondered “when will the top executives at NBC & Comcast be fired for putting out so much fake news” and urged his followers to “check out” the past of the news division’s chief for some unspecified dirt.
Then he took aim at the NBC-affiliated MSNBC network’s Joe Scarborough, host of the “Morning Joe” program and a frequent target of of Trump’s ad hominem criticism, writing “And will they terminate low ratings Joe Scarborough based on the ‘unsolved mystery’ that took place in Florida years ago. Investigate!” So far as any one can tell, Trump was referring to the 2001 death of a 28-year-old employee who died in Scarborough home district office when he was Florida congressman.
Of course the incident was thoroughly investigated by both the local authorities and the local press, with the local medical examiner concluding the the poor woman had died when an abnormal heart rhythm caused to her to lose consciousness and strike her head on a desk, and the local reporter who’s know a journalism professor at Duke University recalls he could find no evidence of foul play, and for the past 16 years only the kookiest conspiracy theory web sites have suggested that Scarborough had anything to with it.
Trump’s “tweets” don’t offer any reason to suspect Scarborough, either, so it looks an awful like Trump’s suggestion that one time political rival Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s father had something to do with the Kennedy assassination. Which is hardly how to begin a speech making all sorts of dubious claims whatever tax bill the Republicans might come up.
Trump’s oration before a mid-sized crowd of adoring fans in St. Charles, Missouri, was largely devoted to bragging about his overwhelming electoral victory and how he’s since been making America great again even more rapidly than even he expected, but for the most part he focused on how America would be even greater after he signs whatever tax bill the Republicans might come up with. He touched on all the venerable Republican arguments about tax cuts freeing up money for investments that spur economic growth and thus winds up helping everybody, rightly noted that America’s corporate tax rate is the highest in the industrialized word and thus hinders American competitiveness and create perverse incentives for doing business elsewhere, and all things considered we expected worse.
We’re old enough to remember when President Ronald Reagan was making those arguments, though, so we hoped for better. Back when good ol’ Ronnie Ray-Gun was making the pitch for a Republican tax bill the economic circumstances were starkly different, he thoroughly understood the complicated theories underlying the legislation that had been carefully crafted through hotly-debated hearings and thorough analysis by various nonpartisan agencies, and he had the sunny disposition and a sufficient command of the English language to persuade quite a few Democratic congressmen and a sufficient majority of the American to go along without resorting to any bald-faced lies. This is a different time, though, and Trump is a different president.
One of the obvious reasons that whatever tax bill the Republicans might come up with is so polling so horribly is because it is perceived as giving a massive tax cut to the richest Americans, which is inconveniently but undeniably true according to every analysis we’ve seen by any credible nonpartisan agency or think-tank or business publication on either the left or the right margins of the reasonable middle. Rather than winsomely explaining the complicated theories about why that’s actually a good idea for everyone, as Reagan did back when it was undeniably true of his plan, which worked out well enough for everyone, Trump prefers to deny it.
Trump assures the public that such a famously and fabulously wealthy person as himself is going to take a real hit with whatever tax bill the Republicans might come up with, and he mimics the slightly Jewish-sounding exasperation of his accountant at what he’s doing, and he brags about all the rich friends he has who are angry at him. He then adds his catchphrase “Believe me.” He tells the fans in St. Charles and elsewhere that he doesn’t mind losing all that money or any of those phony rich friends because he’s got the love of all the pipe fitters and coal miners and construction workers out there in the real America, and says “believe me” twice.
We’ll have to take his word for it, of course, because Trump hasn’t released his tax returns or given a full public accounting of the complex world-wide business he continues to hold, and there’s no telling what all those rich friends of his might be up to. All of the credible nonpartisan agencies and think-tanks and business publications are saying that Trump and his dues-paying pals at Mar-a-Lago will come fine, though, and at this point they seem more credible than the guys who’s often “re-tweeting” fake news from all sorts of kooky conspiracy theory internet sites. Most of the analysis from the serious sources we’ve seen suggest that the sorts of lower-income workers who voted in large numbers for Trump are going to take a hit, but we can’t say for sure if that’s fake news, so we’ll leave it to lower-income Trump voters to decide.
Back when Reagan was around the top tax rates were truly exorbitant and the economy was deep into an era of stagflation, while today the top rates are still halved and Trump can’t stop talking about how great the stock market and everything else is going just because he’s there, but there’s still an honest argument to be made for Republican economics. Perhaps Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell or House Speaker Paul Ryan will stun us by persuasively making that case, but Trump’s obviously dishonest arguments are unlikely to nudge those awful poll numbers upwards, and his “tweets” about “Chuck and Nancy” and the rest of the congressional Democrats are even more unlikely to win any of their much-needed votes.

— Bud Norman

On “Tweeting” and Terrorism

The good people of Great Britain suffered another horrific terror attack by radical Muslims over the weekend, the third in as many months, and the best thing America could do about it was to offer our sympathy and full support and try to discern whatever lessons might be learned. For at least a respectful moment or two, it was probably best advised to avoid any disrespectful “tweets” about it.
President Donald Trump did “tweet” to the British people his sympathy and promise of our country’s full support, with his apparent sincerity emphasized by many capital letters, but that came in the midst of a “Twitter” storm that wound up needlessly antagonizing many of them. He made some good points, too, but he didn’t make the complicated arguments very well in his allotted 140 characters. All in all, it was another argument for someone in the “deep state” to revoke the presidential “Twitter” account.
Which is a shame, because for all his faults Trump does seem to be one of the rare world leaders who somehow grasps some of the more obvious lessons to be learned from Britain’s heartbreaking situation. All of the recent attacks were clearly motivated by an Islamic ideology that has been a persistent if not always dominant force in the Muslim world for the past 1500 years so, and would not have occurred if Britain hadn’t unwisely decided to start allowing mass immigration from the Muslim world some 60 years ago, and there’s no compelling reason that America should repeat the mistake. Britain has also clearly erred by not insisting that its Muslim citizens and residents adhere to established western values and find some peaceable and productive role among it, and say what you will about Trump at least he also doesn’t fall for that multi-cultural and morally-relativist blather. Had Trump merely “tweeted” his sympathy and support, and otherwise stayed out of the way while the rest of the world absorbed the obvious lessons, he might have won a rare news cycle.
Instead, Trump “tweeted” some invitations to losing arguments. He renewed a long-standing “Twitter” feud with the Mayor of London, a fellow with the telling name of Sadiq Kahn, charging that “At 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed!” London’s Mayor is usually one of those multi-cultural and morally-relativist blatherers, as far as we’re concerned, but in this case he’d called all the local constabulary’s literal big guns in response to the situation, and that was what he was actually telling his fellow Londoners to not be alarmed about. Most Londoners, if not most Americans, scored that a win for the multi-cultural and morally-relativist weenie. Trump hasn’t yet gotten around to getting an ambassador to the United Kingdom confirmed in the Republican-controlled congress, so even the Obama-holdover acting ambassador wound up siding with the Mayor, which is probably just as well for Anglo-American relations.
Trump’s reasonable resistance to mass Muslim immigration included an arguably unreasonable campaign promise to ban any Muslim whatsoever from entering the country, which for the coming months has his arguably reasonable restriction on travel from six certain countries all tied up in court, so of course he “tweeted” about that. None of the perpetrators of any of the recent British terror attacks would have been affected by Trump’s proposed travel restrictions, of course, and have no no bearing on the legal merits of the case, and Trump probably should have let his lawyers make the arguments.
Trump also injected the domestic gun rights debate into the issue, noting that the attacks were carried out with cars and knives, but we wish he hadn’t. We’re staunch advocates of gun rights, and in the context of our domestic politics we well understand the argument that killers won’t be deterred by the lack of handgun, and that their potential victims should be free to defend themselves by any means, but Trump simply handed the gun-grabbers the argument that the terrorists wouldn’t have been more lethal if they had access to the weapons that Britain’s extraordinarily restrictive laws seem to effectively ban. A well-armed citizenry might have limited the carnage of firearm-bearing terrorists, but an efficient police and a stiff-upper-lip citizenry that retaliated against the knife-weilding terrorists with nearby beer bottles also limited the carnage, so it’s an inopportune time to bring all that up.
There’s a British parliamentary election coming up that will also choose a new Prime Minister and cabinet, but we’re pleased Trump seems to have somehow not weighed directly in that. From our prospective from across the pond and another half-continent away, we’re rooting for the Tory incumbent Prime Minister Theresa May, who seems to have absorbed all the obvious lessons, and we expect that despite their awkward relationship Trump has the same preference. Trump is not very popular in Great Britain, though, and probably less so after his latest “tweet” storm, so we expect she appreciates the silence.
Trump’s supporters should hope for some more of it, too.

— Bud Norman