Bernie Sanders’s Biggest Problem Isn’t Socialism

It’s his disdain for his country. That’s the lesson Democrats should draw from Corbyn’s catastrophe.

With America’s Democrats on the cusp of nominating Bernie Sanders, they have one last chance to look across the Atlantic for a glimpse of how this could end up.

The warning comes via the British Labour Party’s historic defeat in December’s general election. Under Jeremy Corbyn, a leader uncannily similar to Mr. Sanders in ideology, affect and career trajectory, Labour suffered its worst drubbing since 1935. This despite Mr. Corbyn’s adroitness at rallying a youthful and fervent-to-the-point-of-derangement base, the likes of which British politics has rarely if ever witnessed. Ahem.

The conventional interpretation is that it’s Mr. Corbyn’s socialism what done it. He promised a wholesale re-nationalization of the British economy—utilities, transportation, even the internet. He promised an outsize expansion of the state, and outsize tax hikes to pay for it. Those taxes, voters soon noticed, would fall heavily on the middle class, not only the rich.

All that played a role in Labour’s drubbing, but economics may not have been decisive. Polling by YouGov before the election found voters trusting Labour more than the Conservatives on health policy and education, less on taxation, and roughly the same on unemployment.

This angle needn’t worry Mr. Sanders much. Unlike Americans, British voters had labored under the yoke of democratic socialism within living memory. It wasn’t a positive experience for them, and it prompted their turn to Margaret Thatcher and free-market reform in 1979. Mr. Corbyn pledged to take the U.K. back to a past Britons would rather forget.

Mr. Sanders has the luxury of campaigning for socialism in a country that has never tried it. He can present his program as a door to a fabulous new future. U.S. voters still frustrated with the economy for various reasons might be tempted to knock on that door, not understanding what lurks on the other side.

The Corbyn warning for Democrats takes a different form. What British voters really, really didn’t like about Mr. Corbyn wasn’t his economics. It was his culture.

To a remarkable extent the December election wasn’t a vote on Brexit or socialism or Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s economic “leveling up” of poorer regions. It was a referendum on Mr. Corbyn’s Britishness: Does he have enough of it, yea or nay?

Nay, said voters in Labour’s traditional heartlands. Michael Ashcroft, a former Conservative deputy chairman and veteran pollster, this month released a postmortem on Labour’s campaign. His surveys and focus groups with former Labour voters who defected in 2019 are devastating. “He is not patriotic,” one participant said of Mr. Corbyn. “He meets all those terrorist parties. You want someone with good old values.” Quoth another: “He said he would never press the [nuclear] button. We need protection. He should have said he would, even if he didn’t mean it.”

Among those who voted Labour in 2017 but not in 2019, the most common reason for switching allegiance, cited by 53%, was that they didn’t want Mr. Corbyn to be prime minister. That sentiment outranked Brexit as a motivation even among voters who defected to Mr. Johnson’s get-Brexit-done Conservatives by 75% to 73% (respondents could choose more than one option). These voters decided the election.

Mr. Corbyn had given them ample reason for doubt: There was his tendency to pal around with terrorists who killed Britons or their allies. His indulgence of anti-Semitism in Labour’s ranks, which offended working-class Britons’ sense of decency. His disdain for alliances such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and military programs such as the Trident nuclear deterrent, which give the U.K. its esteemed place in the world.

Mr. Sanders faces the same problem. No one who shares Middle America’s core values of freedom, democracy and entrepreneurship would choose to honeymoon in the Soviet Union. No one who values American achievements in science, the arts or education would heap praise on Cuba’s schools.

Every other Democratic candidate on a debate stage with Mr. Sanders has been able to communicate even the most fantastical policy ideas with an undertone of patriotism. Mr. Sanders alone sounds as if he wants to replace America rather than transform it.

And if he wins the Democratic nomination he’ll be running against Donald Trump, whose only consistent mode is American greatness. Mr. Corbyn ran aground against a candidate in Boris Johnson and a policy in Brexit that spoke directly to British patriotism.

British voters concluded that the danger of a leader who didn’t share their values was greater than the risk even of Brexit. Labour now faces years in the political wilderness as it tries to rebuild the trust of those who came to doubt whether it’s truly a British party. Democrats still have a chance, barely, to spare themselves that misery.

Donald Trump Too Tame for You? Meet Britain’s Boris Johnson

The bombastic and narcissistic former mayor of London and foreign secretary is the favorite to become the next prime minister. Brexit here we come.

The front-runner to become Britain’s next prime minister is a portly white man with unkempt blond hair, an adoring base of supporters, disdain for Europe, a dodgy private life and a loose relationship with truth and principle. There are also differences between Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, but the similarities have been much noted in some European circles, with no small misgivings.

The biggest difference is that Mr. Johnson, who is 55, has been around politics all his life, as a journalist, member of Parliament, mayor of London and foreign secretary. His forte has not been conservative conviction, major achievement or great vision, but one of the sharpest tongues in British politics.

Like Mr. Trump with his tweets and rants, Mr. Johnson delights his followers with outrageous statements that they take as straight talk — even when he has gone so far as to describe Africans as “piccaninnies” or to ascribe President Barack Obama’s opposition to Brexit to an “ancestral dislike” of Britain as the son of a Kenyan.

His most commonly quoted quip these days is the one summing up his position on Brexit as having one’s cake and eating it. Curiously, Mr. Johnson was initially unsure of his position on leaving or remaining in the European Union — an unpublished article he wrote days before he came out in favor of leaving made a strong argument in favor of staying. Mr. Johnson says he was simply sorting out his thoughts.

Once he did that, Mr. Johnson swiftly became a premier campaigner for “Vote Leave,” touring Britain in a double-decker bus emblazoned with the claim that Britain pays 350 million pounds a week into the E.U.’s collective budget. That the claim was false did not trouble Mr. Johnson. He was fired from an early job in journalism for making up a quote, and one of his journalism colleagues once wrote of him, “Boris told such dreadful lies / It made one gasp and stretch one’s eyes.”

All that has made for great political theater and has positioned Mr. Johnson as likely to defeat Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt when the roughly 160,000 Conservative Party members — 70 percent men, 97 percent white, average age 57 — vote for their new leader, who then becomes prime minister because the Conservatives control the largest number of seats in Parliament. The winner will be announced on July 23, shortly before Parliament goes into recess.

Mr. Johnson could still founder — his standing dropped after a well-publicized recent altercation with his partner, Carrie Symonds, that prompted neighbors to call the police. But the more likely scenario is that Mr. Johnson will become prime minister with three months left before the current Oct. 31 deadline to reach a separation agreement with the European Union and avoid a chaotic no-deal Brexit.

And so, once again, a question mark hovers over Britain. Campaigning for Conservative votes, which are largely pro-Brexit, Mr. Johnson has spoken of renegotiating Prime Minister Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, which Parliament rejected three times, while pledging that no matter what, Britain will leave the E.U. on Oct. 31. “Being ready to do so,” he wrote in an open letter to Mr. Hunt on Tuesday, challenging his rival to take the same position, “is the best way to convince our European friends that we are serious in these negotiations and to get a better deal.”

It strains credulity that the European Union would reopen the agreement or that any wholly new set of terms for leaving the union would pass Parliament — or that the E.U. would show any sympathy and patience for Mr. Johnson, whom the French newspaper Le Monde called a “small-scale Trump.” Whether Mr. Hunt, who has campaigned as the responsible adult, could do better is another open question.

The answer will not be long in coming. But if the chaotic history of Britain’s Brexit debate is any guide, whatever it is will only bring on the next vexing questions.

The old tea party may be over, but the new one is at peak power

Pompeo’s ascent underscores just how many politicians who came to prominence with the tea party — including Vice President Pence, United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and White House budget director Mick Mulvaney — now occupy powerful positions in Trump’s administration. Depending on how far Trump goes to try to remake the GOP in his image, tea party alumni may form the core of a new Republican establishment.

.. The grievances that animated the movement and fed Trump’s presidential candidacy live on. The tea party’s insurgent impulses have fused with his erratic populism to become one of the three contending forces in the Republican Party — the other two being establishment Republicanism and ideological conservatism. Tillerson’s fall is a prime example of how traditional Republicans are becoming yesterday’s men and women in the Trumpified GOP. Tomorrow, will it be the ideological conservatives like House Speaker Paul Ryan?

.. The Washington Post reported that Trump disdained Tillerson, the pro-big-business former ExxonMobil CEO, for being “too establishment” in his thinking, by which the president seems to have meant Tillerson’s prudence (at least in relation to Trump), adherence to traditional diplomatic protocols, and unwillingness to rip up trade agreements and the Iran nuclear deal.
Pompeo, on the other hand, first won election to Congress in 2010 as a tea party favorite, in a race where some of his supporters urged Kansans to “Vote American ” to defeat his Indian American opponent.
.. party leaders were uneasily aware that the tea party stood apart from the Republican Party and in some ways defined itself in angry opposition to the GOP establishment. (The divide plagued the speakership of John Boehner and ultimately helped lead to his resignation.)
.. Republican and Democratic leaders came across to tea party activists as equally uninterested in their worries about immigration, the loss of jobs and industry to global economic competition, and a social agenda of “political correctness” pushed by academia and the media. Trump built his movement by championing these issues both parties seemed to ignore and projecting a willingness to fight to the death rather than surrender.
.. In the long view of history, the tea party was one more episode in a series of right-wing populist revolts that marked the development of the modern conservative movement.
  • .. President Dwight Eisenhower, for example, squelchedSen. Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist crusade, while the conservative intellectual champion
  • William F. Buckley Jr. expelled the conspiracy-mongering John Birch Society from the respectable right. At other times, leaders like
  • Ronald Reagan brought conservative activists into the mainstream of the GOP without permitting them to engage in intra-party fratricide.

.. When the conservative supporters of Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona came together in the early 1960s, for example, they took over many state and local party organizations and threw out anyone they deemed insufficiently committed to the cause.

.. As for Burch, after Goldwater’s massive defeat, he repented and told the RNC that “this party needs two wings, two wings and a center, or I fear it may never fly again.”

.. The grievances of most tea party supporters didn’t fade with time but were inflamed by Trump’s campaign, which strengthened the movement’s tendency to view opponents as illegitimate and un-American, and compromise as treason.

.. Despite the tea party’s provenance as a conservative movement, there was little about past political patterns and practices that it wanted to conserve. Activists hoped not only to “throw the bums out” but also to get rid of anything that passed for the status quo.

.. The affinity of tea party veterans for Trump is based in part on their common interest in disruption. Ryan may soon be in trouble because his authority and his orthodox conservatism have become another establishment to be overthrown

 

Trump’s ‘Sh**hole’ Comments Double Down on Identity Politics

Once again expressing hostility toward entire groups of immigrants, he further damages American political culture.

.. The president of the United States should not, by word or deed, communicate that he is hostile to or disdainful of entire classes of the American population. It doesn’t matter if such divisive rhetoric helps him win elections, nor if the reaction of his opponents is often overblown. As president, his obligation remains the same: Make your case without demonizing whole groups of people.

This shouldn’t be difficult for conservatives to understand. It’s an argument they’ve been making against Democrats for the better part of a decade. It’s the argument against identity politics. 

Virtually every engaged conservative knows the term “bitter clinger.” When Barack Obama spoke at a San Francisco fundraiser in 2008 and offered his amateur sociological assessment that some Americans become “bitter” about social change and “cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them,” conservatives didn’t hear dispassionate analysis. They heard contempt.

.. Among the terrible effects of negative polarization is the widespread perception — often created by presidents and presidential candidates themselves — that a president governs for the benefit of his constituents alone.

.. Indeed, in the aftermath of Hillary Clinton’s “deplorable” comment and her declaration that Republicans were her “enemies,” millions of conservatives were motivated to go to the polls. (Remember “charge the cockpit or die”?)

.. First, if you’re spending your time defending the notion that some countries are truly bad places to live, you’re missing the point entirely. Of course some countries are worse places to live than others. But Trump wasn’t talking about which countries he’d most like to visit or retire to. He was talking about which countries’ immigrants should be most and least welcomed by the United States.

.. Second, these comments must be understood in the context of Trump’s relatively short history as the country’s most visible political figure. From the opening moments of his presidential campaign, Trump has made sweeping, negative remarks about immigrants from third-world nations.

.. Even when he qualifies those remarks (“They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people”) the qualification is weak.

.. As my colleague Ramesh Ponnuru pointed out this morning, the president’s businesses have been credibly accused of racial discrimination, he claimed that an American judge couldn’t do his job fairly because of the judge’s Mexican heritage, he delayed condemning David Duke as long as he possibly could, and after the dreadful alt-right rally and terrorist attack in Charlottesville, he went out of his way to declare that there were “very fine people” on both sides. One doesn’t even have to delve too deeply into Trump’s alleged comparison of Norway with the “sh**holes” of Africa to understand why a reasonable observer would believe that he has problems with entire classes of Americans, immigrants, and citizens of other nations.

.. But it’s just as ridiculous for conservatives to pretend that the outrage over Trump’s comments truly centers around his assessment of Haiti and Africa when it clearly centers around his assessment of Haitians and Africans.

At this point I simply can’t see how a conservative could look a concerned third-world immigrant (or descendent of a third-world immigrant) in the eye and assert that this president judges them fairly and without bias. The intellectual and rhetorical gymnastics necessary to justify not just Trump’s alleged comments yesterday but his entire history and record of transparent hostility to certain immigrants are getting embarrassing to watch. Some of his comments may “work” politically — divisive comments often do — but that doesn’t make them any less damaging to American political culture as a whole.

If This Is America

recall perhaps the words of Hannah Arendt, “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e. the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e. the standards of thought) no longer exist”

.. you know where militarism and nationalism and disdain for intellectuals and artists, and the cultivation of enemies and scapegoats, and contempt for a free press can lead

.. It must be itself, a certain idea of liberty and democracy and openness, or it is nothing, just a squalid, oversized, greedy place past the zenith of its greatness.

Republicans Despise the Working Class

You can always count on Republicans to do two things: try to cut taxes for the rich and try to weaken the safety net for the poor and the middle class.

.. G.O.P. legislative proposals show not a hint of the populism Trump espoused on the campaign trail.

.. their bill — on which we don’t have full details, but whose shape is clear — hugely privileges owners, whether of businesses or of financial assets, over those who simply work for a living.

.. Republicans exalt “job creators,” that is, people who own businesses directly or indirectly via their stockholdings. Meanwhile, they show implicit contempt for mere employees.

.. the consensus among tax economists is that most of the break will accrue to shareholders as opposed to workers. So it’s mainly a tax cut for investors, not people who work for a living.

.. The bill would reduce taxes on business owners, on average, about three times as much as it would reduce taxes on those whose primary source of income is wages or salaries. For highly paid workers, the gap would be even wider, as much as 10 to one.
..  a real estate development firm might get a far bigger tax cut than a surgeon employed by a hospital, even though their income is the same.”
(Yes, a lot of the bill looks as if it were specifically designed to benefit the Trump family.)
.. We’re pitting hastily devised legislation, drafted without hearings over the course of just a few days, against the cleverest lawyers and accountants money can buy. Which side do you think will win?
.. it’s a good guess that the bill will increase the budget deficit far more than currently projected.
.. Cutting corporate taxes is hugely unpopular; even Republicans are almost as likely to say they should be raised as to say they should be lowered.
.. Their disdain for ordinary working Americans as opposed to investors, heirs, and business owners runs so deep that they can’t contain it.
.. in 2012, when Eric Cantor — then the House majority leader — tried to celebrate Labor Day. He put out a tweet for the occasion that somehow failed to mention workers at all, instead praising those who have “built a business and earned their own success.”
.. Cantor, a creature of the G.O.P. establishment if ever there was one, had so little respect for working Americans that he forgot to include them in a Labor Day message.
And now that disdain has been translated into legislation, in the form of a bill that treats anyone who works for someone else — that is, the vast majority of Americans — as a second-class citizen.

Sinister figures lurk around our careless president

With eyes wide open, Mike Pence eagerly auditioned for the role as Donald Trump’s poodle. Now comfortably leashed, he deserves the degradations that he seems too sycophantic to recognize as such. He did Trump’s adolescent bidding with last Sunday’s preplanned virtue pageant of scripted indignation — his flight from the predictable sight of players kneeling during the national anthem

.. No unblinkered observer can still cling to the hope that Pence has the inclination, never mind the capacity, to restrain, never mind educate, the man who elevated him to his current glory.

.. no one can have sustained transactions with Trump without becoming too soiled for subsequent scrubbing.

.. Hell is truth seen too late

.. instinct to pander to those who adore him as much as he does

.. they are impervious to the Everest of evidence that he disdains them as a basket of gullibles.

.. He gives his gullibles not governance by tantrum, but tantrum as governance.

.. The faux nationalists of the “alt-right” and their fellow travelers such as Stephen K. Bannon, although fixated on protecting the United States from imported goods, have imported the blood-and-soil ethno-tribalism that stains the continental European right.

.. Trump’s election has brought back to the public stage ideas that a post-Lincoln America had slowly but determinedly expunged.

.. the alt-right sees society as inevitably “a zero-sum contest among fundamentally competing identity groups.” Hence the alt-right is explicitly an alternative to Lincoln’s affirmation of the Founders’ vision. They saw America as cohesive because of a shared creed.