Great Britain

Democrats are in danger of learning the wrong lessons from the UK's election results

Based on their tendency to catastrophize, Democrats will likely overreact to the recent UK election results by reading too much into circumstances which have no US analog. I think it’s safe to conclude that no major Democratic presidential candidate is as disliked on a personal basis as Jeremy Corbyn — and multiple polls bear this out.

US politics, as disorienting and ahistorical as they are, do not pivot around a single galvanizing issue like Brexit. And with no possibility of forcing an out-of-cycle election, US voters can’t afford to vote as tactically as UK voters can do with the confidence that they can back out of their political commitments if they go too far awry.

They are also susceptible to the predictable outpourings of the pundit class — “don’t move too far left,” “real liberals are unelectable,” “what about the swing voters,” and so on.  Democrats are stuck in a worldview rut in which every event that occurs gets filtered through a very old and unexamined lens, and slotted into its self-confirming cupboard.

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What worries me about the Democrats, liberals and all good people everywhere is that they will miss the systemic issue underlying the global move to the right — of which Boris Johnson’s victory is a not even particularly notable event in an unfortunate and accelerating series of them. The real issue is that good people everywhere are fatigued from the very taxing efforts necessary to sustain democracies and communities and the types of families that don’t double as organized criminal enterprises.

It takes more energy to sustain and improve than to tear down, and the well-supported right — albeit a minority overall — is being vectored and resourced by a laser-focused ecosystem bent on tearing down western liberal democracies. The US and western democracies are especially susceptible to these efforts because they are fatigued, and because they have a lot of social and other forms of capital that require protecting and can be easily torn down.  In other words, liberal and western democracies are constantly playing defense right now, and they’re wearing themselves out in the process.

In fact, liberals’ failure to act as damaging things were being set in place — such as the gerrymandering that was public for all to see — stems from this same fatigue. We simply watched as K Street came to dominate policy, white supremacists arose in our midst, war heroes and their families were berated by a draft-dodger, and the Second Amendment became more important than every American value put together. 

Is there reason for hope, or is liberalism the victim of an irreversible vicious cycle? I think both history and current events — if we look hard enough — show us that there is a way to turn things around. Churchill’s leadership during the Second World War rallied a weary, constantly hungry, nearly bankrupt nation that was far less well-off than the US is today. Is today’s world too cynical to pull off that kind of thing?

Greta Thunberg is rallying a powerful global force around an existential issue, making the rest of us look like under-achievers. What she and Churchill have in common is courage, and based on it the ability to inspire others to get outside of themselves and contribute to a cause greater than themselves.

Democrats would do well to heed these examples and to choose candidates that possess great courage, not those who spend all day positioning themselves, rewriting their histories and seeking some mythical “center” of America. Courage is inspiring and energizing. Temporizing exhausts and repels people.

This is the lesson we should have learned from Hillary Clinton’s loss. She spent her whole life positioning herself and in the end that didn’t inspire enough people — or inspire people enough — to get off the couch and vote.

Voters must show courage, too. In a two-party democracy, sometimes you have to vote for the least worst option — while at the same time working diligently to ensure future generations have better options.     

Paul Nailer is a pseudonym, as the writer currently works in US intelligence

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