The US and the UK, the twin bastions of Western stability, are now political basket cases


Americans and Britons once saw political uprisings, misrule and self-defeating mistakes as eruptions of unstable countries and immature political systems.

not anymore And China and Russia couldn’t be happier.

The humiliating resignation of British Prime Minister Liz Truss on Thursday after just 45 days in office was the latest government fiasco to rock the two great democracies on either side of the Atlantic.

Britain has lurched from crisis to crisis in recent years as its self-immolation stunned allies who once held the country up as a model of good governance. This has happened while the United States, the global anchor of democracy and capitalism, has gone through its paroxysms, including an insurgency, and increasing attacks on free elections.

The two nations that saved the world for democracy in World War II were left reeling by embattled leaders who often disregarded truth and facts and built power bases by fueling resentment from the wastes of inequality created by globalization. These leaders scoffed at experts, declared blood feuds with government establishments and civil service officials, and created a mythic vision of past glories, vowing to make their nations great again.

In the United States, the political rise of Donald Trump has alienated his country from within, turned the world’s most vital democracy against its allies, and left a democratic decline where Joe Biden’s presidency may be nothing more than an interregnum. In the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson’s Brexit vote to leave the European Union left the country unmoored and poorer than before, ushering in an era of political madness that is about to produce a fourth prime minister in about three years.

Despite poisoned legacies and chaotic administrations riddled with lies, both Trump and Johnson are mulling comebacks, showing that this wild era of rule-breaking and personality-driven populism is far from over and that more conventional leaders are failing to satisfy voters and restore faith. in effective government.

The chaos in London and Washington has dangerous consequences. The health of Britain and the United States is central to the whole way of life in the West.

The self-destruction of Western democracy comes at a time when it is under intense challenge from powerful enemies. Russian President Vladimir Putin entered the 2016 US election in an effort to undermine the prestige of the Western political model. While the war in Ukraine has disastrously exposed its leadership, Russia can only benefit from the attacks on the US electoral system and the incoherence of the UK government which is damaging the brand of democracy.

There is also a crisis of confidence in the two major English-speaking democracies as an increasingly powerful and aggressive China seeks to challenge the post-World War II global order led by the West. With President Xi Jinping expected to lock in an unprecedented third term in the coming days, Beijing is increasingly touting its brand of one-party capitalism as an alternative model to the West’s open, democratic market economy.

Here is the most extraordinary feature of Truss’ tenure at 10 Downing Street: he decided that a kingdom was in danger of unraveling, facing a winter of inflation and an energy crisis caused by a European war and a once-in-a-century pandemic, and he had just lost the only monarch most of his people knew, he did not need a period of stability.

His sudden new budget included huge tax cuts for the rich, with no plan to pay them back, which rattled markets, crashed the pound, nearly destroyed the pensions industry and left homeowners facing huge increases in their mortgage payments.

The move, possibly Britain’s most disastrous political gamble since the Suez crisis of the 1950s, dented London’s reputation for sound financial management and sound governance and earned a rebuke from the International Monetary Fund. It cemented a startling new image of Britain as a nation locked in a repetitive cycle of self-harm.

Truss was forced to withdraw the scheme, eventually resigning after several days in government but not in power. Conservative MPs – fearful of calling the country’s much-needed general election, fearing it would be wiped out – must now select two more prime ministerial candidates to join the party, a small British bloc on the right. most of their countrymen. It’s a farcical spectacle that has now been exposed as a completely undemocratic way to elect a prime minister who can change the direction of the nation, or on a 10 pence piece.

In a way, the Conservative Party prime minister’s struggle to govern mirrors some of the political dynamics in the US. Just as the Republican Party is held hostage by a radical far-right base that has eroded its reputation for reasonable government, conservative leaders have tended to appease the far-right radicals, and their visceral hostility to the European Union in particular.

At one time, the British used to see Italy – with its unstable politics, economic crises and revolving door of prime ministers. But now their country’s ungovernable and factional politics is ridiculed. There is considerable concern among allies disturbed by years of uneventful attacks by the government in London on its partners.

French President Emmanuel Macron, weeks after Truss questioned whether he was Britain’s friend or foe, said he had a wish for political bloodshed across the English Channel.

“Personally, I’m always sad to see a colleague leave, but what I want is for that stability to return as soon as possible,” Macron told reporters on Thursday.

Ireland raised concerns about how the disruption could affect its prospects after Truss threatened to start a trade war with Europe by tearing up the post-Brexit deal on Northern Ireland negotiated by the Conservative government under Johnson.

“What’s important is that as Britain’s closest neighbor – we have an important economic relationship and we have many other relationships with the UK – I think stability is very important,” said Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin.

It was often said that Truss faced the most difficult succession of British prime ministers since Winston Churchill. His successor, who will be installed next week, will fare even worse for the mess he led to in what will be the shortest tenure for a prime minister in British history.

The question now is whether this new leader will be able to stabilize the country amid a grim winter of rising heating costs, rampant inflation and widespread industrial strikes. Or the fanaticism and cronyism that will subject a troubled country to yet more political carnage that tore apart the Conservative Party, whose long spells in power saw it as the world’s most successful political party.

Biden’s response to Truss’s resignation was a brief statement, having only met the eventual prime minister once officially, who showed little respect for his governing style and his ancestral hostility to Ireland, and is now preparing for Britain’s third leader. of his presidency.

“The United States and the United Kingdom are strong allies and steadfast friends, and that fact will never change,” Biden said in a statement.

While Trump was pushing for Brexit and London was happy with its tussle with the EU under the Conservatives, the Biden and Obama White Houses viewed the political frenzy engulfing the UK – and the consequent reduction in the global diplomatic clout of America’s special relationship partner – with some dismay. . Obama sparked controversy during his visit to London when he warned that the UK would go to the “back of the queue” for a trade deal with the US if it leaves the EU. His comments angered Brexiteers, but he was accurate.

When asked who the US calls when it wants to talk to Europe (perhaps an apocryphal comment often attributed to former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger), the answer is that 10 Downing Street is not at the top of the White House’s speed dial. While the US and the UK could hardly be closer in military and intelligence matters, Washington – at least when Trump was out of the Oval Office – looked to former German Chancellor Angela Merkel as the most important European leader. Now retired, Macron is the main contact. Biden sent an invitation to his first state dinner in an unmistakable sign of the newly re-elected French leader’s rising global role.

Both leaders have publicly warned of the threat to global and Western democracies. Macron overcame a challenge from far-right leader Marine Le Pen to win re-election this year, but his party’s influence is growing. Macron told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an interview last month: “I think we have a big crisis of democracies, what I would call liberal democracies.” Asked if he worried about American democracy, he said: “I worry about all of us.”

When Biden took office after Trump interrupted an unprecedented peaceful transfer of power in the Capitol, still scarred by the former president’s mob clearance, he put saving global democracy at the center of his mandate.

He returned to the topic last month outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia, where the American experiment was born. He tacitly admitted that while he warned the world of the danger to democracy abroad, he could not guarantee its survival at home either.

But he told Americans, “It’s up to us, it’s up to us, yours and mine, to stop the assault on American democracy.”

He added, “I think America is at a turning point, one of those moments that determine the shape of everything that comes after.”

However, these midterm elections have only underscored the danger ahead. Scores of 2020 election deniers are running as Republican candidates. The former president’s lies have convinced millions that the country’s elections are corrupt. The “Make America Great Again” movement is more wedded than ever to its leader’s cult of authoritarian personality, as Trump contemplates a run for a new presidential term that would erode the foundation of democratic governance even more than his first.

While it’s possible to argue that British democracy worked to quickly dispatch a failed leader in Truss, Trump has been impeached twice, faces multiple legal challenges and is still a viable political figure with a real chance of returning to power. That’s why when Biden tells foreign leaders that “America is back,” many of them openly wonder for how long.

While leaders rise and fall, the enduring strength of the US and UK political systems has been their stability, orderly transfers of power, and ability to foster the conditions for capitalism to thrive and people’s incomes to rise.

On both sides of the Atlantic, that foundation is now in doubt.