If someone threatened to “prorogue” you, that probably wouldn’t go down too well. No friend would do that to you.
But that’s what’s happening to the British Parliament. The new prime minister, Boris Johnson, is suspending Parliament in order to rough up opponents of his plan to leave the European Union by shortening the time they have to debate its terms.
Johnson’s move, by a new leader who was installed by a few leaders of the Conservative Party, sounds very familiar. Johnson wants to rouse his base. It sounds eerily similar to the practices of the U.S. president to continue his campaign for “the Wall” when everyone else thinks it’s a lost cause, long over.
Both politicians — Johnson in Parliament and Donald Trump in the White House, believe if they continue to rouse their backers at screeching rallies, they’ll be OK eventually, though neither has the apparent votes to win the next election in the U.K. or the U.S.
We are watching a new electoral trend in play. A leader attracts a devoted base that rejoices at whatever he says. The issues are just the means to the goal of getting the base fired up.
Nobody knows what will happen, or how either leader can cobble together an electoral majority out of a motivated but minority base. But both Johnson and Trump are apparently tossing it to the wind, convinced they will eventually get their way and can then blame opponents if they don’t.
In neither case is the policy itself much discussed. No one in the U.S. really knows what results the Wall is supposed to bring, and no economist can predict Johnson’s promise of what will happen if the U.K. leaves, or is tossed out, of the European Union without an exit plan.
Both results are based on high risks by a rare form of character who believes he will survive in the end.
Brexit came out of a belief, anchored mostly in nationalism in the U.K., that Britain had given up too much of its governing powers to Brussels, where the European Union is headquartered. At a June 2016 referendum, “Brexit” won 51.9 percent of the vote. The deadline was finally set as Oct. 31. Johnson’s threat to “crash out” of the EU without an agreement is a huge risk which could put Britain in recession. It also leaves open a gaping question of what happens to the border between Ireland (not in the EU) and Northern Ireland (an EU member), which has long existed in a fragile peace.
Trump enjoys stumping for reelection by staging rallies for his faithful at which they cheer at most anything their leader says. Johnson, in the UK, enjoys the same among his backers in the Conservative Party.
Johnson recently became prime minister when his predecessor, Theresa May, quit the post after her final Brexit plan bombed in Parliament, 432-202.
The British population may have already tired of Brexit. If another referendum were held today, several polls suggest that the “Remain” movement would win, as the economic dangers of Brexit have become increasingly clear. British Prime Minister David Cameron originally agreed to a referendum to quiet Brexiteers. He didn’t support it, didn’t expect it to win, and quit to make way for Ms. May when it did.
Britain entered the EU in 1973 under a Conservative prime minister.
Trump is still campaigning for a wall which is, to most, a non-issue. He backs a trade policy with an uncertain outcome, but with retaliation a certainty. Trump insists the Wall is being built (parts are being fixed), but Trump will elicit a huge round of cheers at whatever he says — as will Johnson, an Oxford-educated Brit with a gift for drama.
Elections loom in both nations. A general election must be held in the UK at least once every five years, where the leader of the majority party becomes prime minister. The Brits have the unique ability to force a vote of “no confidence” and a new election — which some are threatening over Johnson’s fiddling with a parliamentary term. U.S. voters will speak in 14 months.
Threats are a curious weapon with an enormous defect. They sound wonderful and are meant to force surrender. But the open secret about a threat is that it loses all power if it’s carried out — much as a boat loses its ability to steer when its engine is cut. Threats work best when they remain threats. They are spent once invoked.
Johnson insists it won’t matter if the U.K. crashes out of Brexit because no one has time to do his homework. Trump’s brand of politics is much more personal, though his chief threats require an opponent with a nickname.
Both leaders are gambling their nations to save themselves. They may get boxed in or forced out when they realize they can’t afford to carry out their threats.
Both leaders on either side of the pond are fond of saying “we’ll see” when questioned about the future. Each trusts a charismatic personality. When they realize the threats don’t work, they may be forced out of office. It’s left to the rest of us to clean up the mess. The lessons are short-lived and usually repeated.
Load, rinse, wash, spin and what? You expect us to repeat that again?