No Island is an Island

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.

– John Donne, Meditation XVII, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions (1624)

The next Sift is on a Tuesday. I’m going to try something new, and adjust to the July 4th holiday by putting the Sift out on Tuesday the 5th. It’s an experiment.

This week’s featured post is “What’s Up With Congressional Democrats?

This week everybody was talking about Brexit

I confess to not giving Brexit the attention it merited, because I just didn’t believe it would happen. Like a lot of people, I expected a replay of the Scottish independence vote of 2014: a lot of angst, followed by, “Well, never mind then.”

But they really did it: Thursday the UK voted to leave the EU. Prime Minister David Cameron had staked his government on the outcome, so Friday morning he announced his resignation, to take effect before the Conservative Party conference in October that will choose his successor. (The British prime minister is sort of a cross between president and speaker of the house. As when Paul Ryan replaced John Boehner as speaker, Conservatives can choose a new prime minister without consulting the voters, because they hold 330 of the 650 seats in Parliament. Elections happen every five years, with the next one set for 2020. One could happen sooner if a vote of no confidence succeeded in Parliament, but that isn’t currently in the works.)

Legally, the Brexit vote was an advisory referendum, so the government has the option to ignore it, though Cameron has said: “for a Prime Minister to ignore the express will of the British people to leave the EU would not just be wrong, it would be undemocratic.”

Officially, nothing happens until the UK informs the EU that it is invoking Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon. That sets a two-year clock running: Either the two parties negotiate an official exit agreement or the UK’s membership dissolves automatically when the clock runs out.

Cameron apparently has decided he doesn’t want to be the PM who starts that clock, leaving the Article 50 notification to his still-to-be-chosen successor. So we’re probably looking at an exit date of October, 2018 or later.

Or maybe even never, if this analysis holds: Maybe nobody who promises to invoke Article 50 can replace Cameron as prime minister. Your guess on that is as good as mine.

English Brexit supporters may not have thought they were voting to disunite the United Kingdom. But as we saw in Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, disintegration has its own momentum: If you don’t want to be a regional minority in a larger superstate, what makes you think the regional minorities in your smaller state will be content to stay?

So other dominoes are starting to fall. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, fairly large majorities voted against the referendum. And now many are wondering if the England-for-the-English movement behind Brexit is going to create a country that the Scots and Irish want to stay in. Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called a new independence referendum “highly likely”.

Then we get to Northern Ireland, where things really get messy. Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said:

All of us who believe in Europe and want to be part of Europe will be deeply disappointed that, effectively, English votes have dragged us out of Europe. … I think that our case for a border poll [i.e., a vote to leave the UK and rejoin Ireland] has also strengthened by the outcome of this vote.

McGuinness represents Sinn Féin, the party that wants to unite with Ireland, i.e., the largely Catholic party that used to have links with the IRA. The other major party in Northern Ireland is the largely Protestant Unionists, which First Minister Arlene Foster belongs to. They want to stay in the UK and strongly oppose joining Ireland. She says: “I don’t believe [a border poll] will happen.”

It’s important to remember that people were killing each other over this issue until less than 20 years ago. Fintan O’Toole writes in The Guardian about all the ways Brexit screws up the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace.

I never imagined then that I would ever feel bitter about England again. But I do feel bitter now, because England has done a very bad day’s work for Ireland. It is dragging Irish history along in its triumphal wake, like tin cans tied to a wedding car.

All but a few diehards had learned to live with the partition of the island of Ireland. Why? Because the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic had become so soft as to be barely noticeable. If you crossed it, you had to change currencies, and if you were driving you had to remember that the speed limits were changing from kilometres per hour to miles. But these are just banal details. They do not impinge on the simple, ordinary experience of people sharing an island without having to be deeply conscious of division.

But if the whole point of Brexit is for the UK to control immigration, then the Ireland/Northern Ireland border has to harden, and other provisions of the peace agreement become more tenuous as well.

Northern Ireland desperately needed a generation of relative political boredom, in which ordinary issues such as taxation and the health service – rather than the unanswerable questions of national identity – could become the stuff of partisan debate. Brexit has made that impossible.

Things may get complicated in Gibraltar as well, where Brexit threatens two major local industries with a largely EU customer base: tourism and financial services.

London’s role as a world financial capital is also threatened. That, together with a cosmopolitan culture and a comparatively large non-white population has motivated 100,000 people to sign a petition calling for London’s independence. That seems extremely unlikely, but is a measure of the general upset. London voted against Brexit, about 60%-40%.

Joseph Harker, deputy opinion editor of The Guardian describes how this looks to Britain’s ethnic minorities. The explicit target of the Leave campaign may have been the low-wage workers coming in from poorer EU countries like Poland and Bulgaria, but the implications are larger.

This morning, knowing these despicable tactics have won over the nation, it feels like a “First they came for the Poles” moment. It seems only a matter of time before the intolerance that has been unleashed, reinforced and normalised, looks for the old, easy targets of people who look different. People like me.

“I want my country back,” the leavers said. Right now, I don’t feel part of that country.

and what it implies for American politics

Too many people to list have made the connection between the pro-Brexit voters in the UK and the Trump voters in the US. One of them was Trump. In an email to supporters (I suppose I should tell them I’m not one) he wrote:

Voters in the United Kingdom chose to leave the flawed and failing European Union and reassert control over their borders, politics and economy, taking a brave stand for freedom and independence. … These voters stood up for their nation – they put the United Kingdom first, and they took their country back.  With your help, we’re going to do the exact same thing on Election Day 2016 here in the United States of America.

The comparison works in some ways but not others. Obviously, Trump and Brexit both appeal to the same kind of nativist, anti-globalist, anti-immigrant sentiment. On his MSNBC show Friday, Chris Hayes expressed another parallel: the sense among non-supporters that this just couldn’t happen.

I think a lot of people felt like there was some kind of guard rail on the road. … And the realization was: There’s no guard rail, there’s just the outcome of the election. People say to me at barbecues, “He can’t really win.” No, he could! If he gets enough votes he will be the president.

The main way the Brexit/Trump analogy doesn’t work is that the UK has a much whiter electorate than the US. Also, the mistake a lot of us made about Brexit was ignoring polls that said the referendum was a toss-up. (Republicans made a similar mistake about Trump in the primaries; they were slow to take him seriously even though he led in the polls.) By contrast, the current RCP polling average has Clinton with a solid-but-not-overwhelming 6.8% lead. Republicans would do well to watch their own this-can’t-happen thinking: A new poll has Clinton winning Arizona by 4 points.

While the Brexit vote might inspire Trump supporters, the subsequent chaos might cut the other way: The pound immediately dropped by 9% and stock markets around the world started falling like stones. (That fall has continued this morning.) The uncertainty around Brexit might tip Europe into a recession. I can easily imagine Clinton supporters in October saying, “Don’t do to America what Brexit did to the British.”

A lot of 50-something potential Trump voters just took a big loss in their IRAs while listening to Trump (from his revamped Scottish golf course) tell them what a great thing that was, and how much money he is going to make from the fall of the pound. I doubt that went over well. Politics is all fun and games until you have to start delaying your retirement.

You know which other presidential candidate was thrilled by the Brexit vote? Jill Stein. Her motivation is that the EU is pro-corporate, but to me she seems way too sanguine about making common cause with bigots.

Best response to Trump’s Scotland trip. @DavidStroup tweeted: “We should probably not let Trump back to the U.S. until we figure out what’s going on.”

and the Supreme Court

Every year, the end of the term in June produces a flurry of decisions. This year the Court faced the additional complication of having an empty chair: The Senate has refused to take any action on President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to replace Justice Scalia. That created some 4-4 ties, which makes for weird law: The decision of the lower court stands, and serves as a precedent for any court further down its ladder, but is not a precedent for the country as a whole. So if, say, an appeals court in a different circuit ruled the opposite way, that ruling might stand also, and a law might just mean different things in different parts of the country.

Affirmative action. The Court upheld the University of Texas’ affirmative action program. Justice Kagan didn’t vote, but Justice Kennedy joined the other three liberals for a 4-3 decision. Kennedy wrote for the majority, with Alito penning a dissent about twice as long.

The gist of the argument seems to be that Alito thought he had set a perfect trap for UT, and Kennedy let them out. The Court had previously sent the case back to a lower court to be considered under “strict scrutiny”, in which the good faith of UT could not be assumed. (In other words, this affirmative action plan might be a sinister plot to discriminate against whites, rather than an attempt to create a more diverse educational environment for everyone, as UT claimed.)

Alito’s interpretation of strict scrutiny meant that UT had to quantify just how much diversity its educational environment needs, and how this plan achieves it with as little anti-white discrimination as possible. Of course, that would basically be a quota, which is also illegal. Kennedy brushed off the quantification demand, which is probably the just outcome, though I’m not sure it’s correct legally.

Immigration. Here we see the impact of the Senate’s refusal to consider Merrick Garland. As to whether President Obama’s executive orders allowing about four million undocumented immigrants to stop worrying about deportation are or are not within his constitutional power, the Court said only this:

The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court.

In other words, the appellate court’s decision blocking Obama’s order stands, because the Supreme Court can’t agree. Slate‘s Walter Dellinger responded:

Seldom have so many hopes been crushed by so few words.

If a lawsuit gets filed in a different part of the country and gets a different result from a different appellate court, then we really go down the rabbit hole.

Anyway, let’s recap: The Senate passed an immigration reform bill, which the House refused to vote on. President Obama tried to step in and solve part of the problem without new legislation, and the Senate’s refusal to vote on Garland’s nomination means that the Supreme Court deadlocked on the legality of Obama’s action.

So everybody agrees we have an immigration problem, but no action can be taken on it. Conservatives love to invoke the Founders, so let me do the same now: I’m sure this kind of dysfunction isn’t what they had in mind.

and the House sit-in for gun control

I cover this in “What’s Up With Congressional Democrats?

If you want to jump ahead of the current gun-control debate and consider what changes we should hope for, I recommend this Guardian article. It points out that “the gun problem” is actually several different problems — gang violence, domestic violence, suicide, and mass shootings — that require their own solutions.

As long as we’re in the nothing-can-be-done mood, though, this kind of thinking can be counter-productive, because whatever you propose in one area can be criticized for doing little to help in the other areas. “See? This doesn’t address the real problem.”

and the Trump campaign’s finances

The June report the Trump campaign filed with the FEC showed two interesting things: First, the campaign did very little fund-raising in May and entered June with only $1.3 million in the bank, which is a ridiculously low number compared to either the McCain and Romney campaigns or the Clinton campaign, which had over $42 million (similar to what Obama had in 2008).

But the more interesting story was deeper in the FEC report: The whole campaign looked oddly like a money-making scheme. AP reported:

Through the end of May, his campaign had plowed about $6 million back into Trump corporate products and services, a review of federal filings shows. That’s nearly 10 percent of his expenditures.

Trump’s “self financing” had consisted mainly of loaning money to his campaign rather than giving it, opening up the possibility that new donations could go mainly to Trump, both to pay back the loans and for new payments to his companies. The pressure from this story forced Trump to announce that he would forgive $50 million worth of loans to his campaign, effectively donating $50 million that he previously had reserved the right to get back.

I know this sounds cynical, but we’ll have to check the July FEC report to see if he actually did forgive the loans.

In other Trump news, he has found Jesus — just in time to justify Evangelical Christians voting for him. The Lord works in mysterious ways.

and you may also be interested in

I’m becoming more optimistic that there will ultimately be Democratic unity. While I think too much was made of Bernie Sanders’ statement about voting for Clinton “in all likelihood”, which wasn’t anything like an endorsement, the statement he made about the draft Democratic platform, while critical, sounded to me like the kind of targeted, substantive criticism that people make when they want to see a process work. I would be more worried if he were continuing to make general criticisms about the Party not representing working people, rather than pointing to a few specific issues like a moratorium on fracking.

One of the joys of YouTube is that you can be a fly on the wall for conversations you never would have been involved in otherwise. Here, George Will discusses authoritarianism and libertarianism with two guys from Reason magazine. This happened back in March, when Trump’s nomination seemed likely but not inevitable yet. I’m never going to be a fan of either Will or Reason, but I feel like I understand them both better now.

and let’s close with John Oliver

Every international disaster is more enjoyable when John Oliver covers it.

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  • Deborah McP  On June 27, 2016 at 1:07 pm

    With all respect, Doug, I do not think the British PM can invoke Article 50 without a motion first being passed by Parliament. It’s not something the PM can do on his or her own initiative. And it is up in the air whether Parliament would pass the motion. As you note, it was a non-binding referendum. Cameron himself felt bound by it, so when his Remain campaign failed by a hair, he resigned. But Parliament is not bound. Brexit is not a done deal just yet.

    And I believe any MP can put the motion to invoke Article 50 to Parliament, it does not have to be the PM.

    • weeklysift  On June 27, 2016 at 1:18 pm

      That sounds more sensible, but everything I’m reading just refers to the PM. (Like this.) I don’t know English law, so I can’t say why. Do you have a reference that explains the situation the way you see it?

    • weeklysift  On June 27, 2016 at 1:23 pm

      Here’s another reference: “9. Parliament has no formal say over whether or when Article 50 is invoked, as this lies within the royal prerogative powers that are exercised by government. Government’s powers in matters of foreign policy are very extensive, and parliament has veto rights only in respect of treaties. If parliament were to pass a motion calling on the Prime Minister not to invoke Article 50, we might nevertheless expect him (or perhaps, by then, her) to respect that. But the Prime Minister could claim the authority of the popular vote to justify ignoring such pressure.”

      • Deborah McPhee  On June 27, 2016 at 11:21 pm

        Clearly there are people, including Cameron, who think this is something the government can do by royal prerogative.


        If it were true that Article 50 could be invoked by royal prerogative then it could be done by the government without even holding a referendum, and that is very hard to digest. Constitutional lawyers in Britain argue that unless the government is authorized by a statute passed by Parliament to invoke Article 50, such notification would be void of any legal basis in Britain.

        Royal prerogative may not be used to render an existing statute nugatory. This is well established in British constitutional law.

        There IS an existing statute by which Britain became a member of the EU and the EU’s treaties became part of domestic law. It is called the European Communities Act and it was passed in 1972. If royal prerogative may not be used, because invoking Article 50 cuts across the whole purpose of this statute, then the government has to be authorized to send notification of intent to the EU by Parliament.

        The referendum was non-binding and the article linked to above goes on to discuss numerous options Parliament has.

        That’s my two bits.

      • weeklysift  On June 29, 2016 at 12:04 pm

        Thanks for that reference. You’ve convinced me that this issue is murkier than most articles make it appear. As your reference says: “Far from being a straightforward and streamlined process of exit, the Article 50 process raises very complicated legal and political issues and is pregnant with risk (additional to those inherent in existing outside the EU). These complexities are compounded by the murky ambiguities of our unwritten constitution.”

  • lsnrchrd1  On June 27, 2016 at 1:17 pm

    That platform draft is a reflection of extreme disconnect with progressives and their desires; a firm commitment to continuation of loathsome and demonstrably failed neoliberal austerity policies; if implemented will be an endorsement of an economic status quo presently rejected by perhaps half the electorate and increasing steadily within the remainder — if not rapidly gaining momentum; and quite likely might result in progressives not only voting Green or Sanders write-in instead of for Hillary, but worse may result in fewer down ballot votes for Democrats.

    If the national DP brain trust is too thick to understand why the TPP and its European counterpart (TTiP?) are poison to democracy, a fact progressives are only too well aware of, the Democratic Party may lose thirty to fifty percent of its membership to the Green Party, which would mean implementation of everything GOP (Koch/Christian Right) beginning in ’17, with Supreme and federal courts appointments to codify same for decades. This insane platform proposal is fraught with peril.

  • Renee Fraser  On June 27, 2016 at 1:19 pm

    “…but to me she seems way too sanguine about making common cause with bigots.” Really? Jill Stein a nationalist bigot? I assumed you knew something about the Green Party’s platform. Lumping together the left with the far right nationalists is something I expect from cold warriors of the 50s, not from a thoughtful person. Being opposed to eliminating regulations on globalizing financial capital does not make one a bigot.

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