World

Finding Things Out

Megha Rajagopalan (Oslo Freedom Forum)

Megha Rajagopalan is one of my favorite foreign correspondents. She grew up in Maryland and now works for BuzzFeed News. I’ve done a Q&A podcast with her, here.

She is newly in the Middle East, but she worked in China for years. China is the main topic of our podcast. I ask, “What’s it like to work as a correspondent there?” Interesting answers.

Megha knows a lot about Xinjiang Province, or East Turkestan, where the Uyghurs live, and die. The Chinese government has launched a major, horrifying assault on them. I quoted Megha in a piece I did about the issue last year.

She has spoken on this topic at the Oslo Freedom Forum. Here is one video: “The Police State of the Future Is Already Here.” And here is another: “Inside China’s Digital Authoritarianism.”

In our podcast, she talks of backpacking around Xinjiang in 2009 or 2010 — this was when she was a student. It was no paradise, no democracy, but it was not an Orwellian hellscape. When she returned as a reporter in 2017, everything was different.

I will paraphrase her: “There’s a city called Kashgar in the West. This is the cultural heart of the Uyghur people. Kashgar is an ancient city. It sat on the Silk Road, and generations of traders have gone through it. Because of that, Kashgar is very multicultural, and there are lots of colorful things: night markets, vendors selling pomegranate juice, street life, music …

“When I visited in 2017, all of that was gone. Storefronts had bars on them. When you walk through the historic part of the city, people are literally not speaking. You can feel how tense they are. There’s no music playing, which is very strange for China, because Chinese cities are vibrant, with lots of music all the time.

“All sorts of weird things now happen. You see ‘spontaneous patriotic parades,’ as bands of Uyghur people are led through the streets by Party officials, holding Chinese flags and singing patriotic songs.”

Then there is the surveillance state — pervasive, 1984-like — “visible to the naked eye,” says Megha.

She has seen a lot and learned a lot in a still-young career. Toward the end of our podcast, I ask her what drew her to journalism in the first place. A big part of the answer is: She likes to find things out. Again, our Q&A is here.

Religion

The Ultimate Question of Life’s Origins

No intellectually challenging idea has attracted more uninformed criticism than intelligent design. That includes smart people like National Review’s Kevin D. Williamson, who’s made a habit of it. Here he is commenting on “The Politics of Snobbery, and Its Inverse” (my emphasis):

The Republicans, for their part, have devolved from the holier-than-thou party of the Moral Majority to the prolier-than-thou party of Donald Trump, the party that talks about the “Real America” in accents purporting to be Texan but native to no part of the Lone Star State, the party of Duck Dynasty and bad FM country music, the party of such daft rube-bait as “intelligent design,” and the party that sneers at many of the most successful parts of this country — Wall Street, Silicon Valley, the Ivy League, Hollywood — as cultural sewers.

The Democrats have become the party of snobbery. Consider those endless fights over the treatment of evolution in high-school textbooks. Nobody seriously believes that if a high-school science teacher in Muleshoe, Texas, is legally permitted to mention heterodox views of evolution, in 20 years’ time Stanford and MIT will be intellectual backwaters. Those fights aren’t about science — do you hear progressives hounding the Washington Post about its horoscopes or lamenting Obamacare’s blessing of sundry New Age quackeries? — they’re about the loathing of those people.

There’s some truth here. Loathing the “downscale” deplorables, the kind whose communities “deserve to die” (as Kevin has written), is certainly a driver of liberalism today. That does represent a shift. What about the idea that skepticism regarding Darwinism, or sympathy for intelligent design, that “daft rube-bait,” also represents a shift? Or the notion that worrying about how evolution is taught in public schools is, but for the social opprobrium, on a level with “horoscopes” or “New Age quackery”?

From this and previous comments of his, I’m pretty sure that Williamson has little or no idea how advocates of intelligent design make their case, identifying scientific evidence of a guiding purpose at work in biology and cosmology, as against Darwinism’s insistence on blind processes alone.

Williamson and I are alike in idolizing NR’s founder, William F. Buckley Jr., and Kevin has written movingly about his interactions with WFB. I am surprised that he doesn’t seem to know that many of the great figures of the conservative intellectual past, including Buckley, tended toward skepticism on Darwinism or sympathy for design — in no particular order, Richard John Neuhaus, Irving Kristol and Gertrude Himmelfarb, Tom Wolfe, Richard Weaver. In Witness, Whittaker Chambers beautifully described awaking from the spell of Communism upon contemplating the “immense design” of his little daughter’s ear. Buckley hosted a Firing Line debate on intelligent design, which he argued for alongside his fellow debaters, mathematician David Berlinski, biochemist Michael Behe, and U.C. Berkeley law professor Phillip Johnson, all affiliated with Discovery Institute. Commentary published Berlinski’s great series of attacks on Darwinian orthodoxy. And so on.

Of course citing the fathers of conservatism on a scientific problem doesn’t settle anything, other than urging us that laymen are allowed to wrestle for themselves with this ultimate question of life’s origins. If they’re allowed, then, given the obvious importance of the issue, I would say they are also obliged.

I was the layman who happened to be the literary editor on duty at NR in 1996 when Michael Behe’s first book, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, was published. The book launched the modern ID movement, which has historical roots in the thinking of the co-discoverer of the theory of natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace, who broke with Darwin over what Wesley Smith calls “human exceptionalism.”

I assigned it to University of Chicago microbiologist James A. Shapiro. His review, while rejecting the book’s positive case for design, was sufficiently laudatory to supply a blurb for the paperback, praising Behe for a “valuable critique of an all-too-often unchallenged orthodoxy.”

The science has evolved since then but not in a way favorable to standard evolutionary thinking. Shapiro and other skeptics have gone on to join forces as the “Third Way” on evolution — rejecting intelligent design, yes, but seeking an alternative to Darwinism. They gathered at a significant 2016 conference of the Royal Society in London, where Isaac Newton once presided, recognizing that the old standby, natural selection operating on random mutation, is not equipped to produce the wonders of biology.

A bunch of rubes, you say? If you want to judge for yourself, two recent books to consider are Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt. Behe’s forthcoming book, Darwin Devolves, extends his argument for design. You could also do worse than to start with a 20-minute video from Discovery Institute that I wrote, “The Information Enigma.”

Politics & Policy

Can Democratic Politicians Still Be Pro-Life?

Dan Lipinski (campaign image via Facebook)

Tomorrow’s rally at the March for Life in Washington, D.C., will feature at least a little bit of bipartisanship, thanks to Democratic congressman Dan Lipinski.

Less than one year ago, Lipinski faced an intense primary challenge from a progressive candidate, Marie Newman, in Illinois’ third congressional district. Her desire to unseat him stemmed almost entirely from one thing: His opposition to abortion. A Blue Dog Democrat, Lipinski has been pro-life his entire career — and unlike the vast majority of his Democratic colleagues who claim to be “personally pro-life,” he votes like he means it.

He is one of just a tiny handful of Democratic politicians left in Washington willing to vote for legislation such as the popular Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which prohibits abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, or the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, which requires that physicians provide medical care to infants born alive after a botched abortion procedure.

This drew the attention of abortion-rights lobbying groups such as Planned Parenthood and NARAL, both of which backed Newman’s campaign. She also received vocal support from progressive politicians such as Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) and socialist Vermont senator Bernie Sanders.

Lipinski survived the primary, but only narrowly — by a margin of fewer than 3,000 votes. Despite Newman’s challenge and the powerful left-wing interest groups teamed against him, the Democratic representative refused to soften his pro-life position even a bit.

Although his willingness to vote against abortion attracted progressive opposition in the first place, Lipinski likely owed his eventual win in large part to his pro-life supporters. Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life lobbying group, organized a last-minute get-out-the-vote effort in the third congressional district, recruiting local students to knock on doors and talk to voters about the differences between Lipinski and Newman’s stances on abortion.

Now, almost exactly ten months after he pulled off that narrow win, he’ll be speaking at the March for Life. At a time when the Democratic party becomes increasingly radical on abortion — going so far as to embrace a platform that opposes the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits taxpayer money from directly funding abortion procedures — that small display of bipartisan collaboration for the pro-life cause is something to be celebrated.

World

May Survives: Now What?

Prime Minister Theresa May makes a statement outside 10 Downing Street following winning a confidence vote, January 16, 2019. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

Theresa May’s government has won the confidence vote 325 to 306. Relative to the catastrophic defeat of May’s Brexit deal yesterday, this result must be a welcome respite for the government. The question, as always, is: Now what?

May won the confidence vote, yes, but she now has the impossible task of forging cross-party cooperation in the Commons. The fact that May’s Withdrawal Agreement was defeated 432-to-202 margin on Tuesday signifies that the deal in its current form is completely unworkable. It was dead, to begin with. So what are the living alternatives?

A different deal?

To be able to approach the EU and get a new deal, May would have to appeal to the EU’s interests since they hold all the negotiating power. In other words: May would have to try for an even softer Brexit. However, without at least the removal of the backstop clause, Parliament is almost certain to reject such a deal. Something — not least someone — has got to budge.

 An extension of Article 50 followed by a second referendum?

May opposes tampering with Article 50 on principle — as she should — since it is a betrayal of the 2016 referendum result. Nevertheless, Labour MPs are fighting hard to force Corbyn to endorse a second referendum which polls suggest the majority of Labour Party members now favor. This would require asking the EU to extend Article 50 (the piece of legislation that mandates that Britain will leave on March 29), which they would probably grant since it heightens the chance of no Brexit. Indeed, the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, said as much when he implied that best course of action at this point would be to cancel Brexit altogether.

But even if he got his wish, a second referendum would not be an easy fix. For instance, what choices would be presented on the ballot a second time around: Remain or a detailed description of how exactly Britain would leave? Given that two years of negotiations have not produced the latter, it seems unlikely that the government could provide it in a matter of weeks; the “voters will be more informed this time” does not convince. Moreover, how would the British people interpret their being asked to vote on the same question again? And what would happen if Britain voted to leave a second time?

No deal?

A default Brexit on March 29th is where Britain is headed according to current law.

But the argument against no deal is in part a political one. There is such feverish terror in the Commons at the prospect of no deal that it could prompt some anti-Brexit Tories to vote against the government in a subsequent confidence vote. May is trying to avoid this at all costs.

A new leader?

It’s safe to assume by this point that there is no humiliation too great to force May to consider resigning. Unlike the Conservative Party, Jeremy Corbyn can trigger multiple confidence votes. He can strike again. The thing — and a big part of the reason he lost this time — is that Corbyn doesn’t actually have any solutions to the Brexit conundrum. Polls suggest he is even less popular than May. (Quite an achievement.)

Now what? indeed.

 

Law & the Courts

Bullying Barr

William Barr testifies at his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, January 15, 2019 (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Andrew Cohen writes at Slate that Bill Barr probably won’t make good on his pledge to “stand up to Trump” if necessary as attorney general.

There is far more evidence, from Barr’s decades of public and private work, that tells us he’ll be largely deferential to Trump’s whims and caprices. It’s clear to all that Barr is deeply entrenched as a conservative Republican in the political and legal establishment of Washington, and he acknowledged that he has seen part of his role in the past as supporting the Republican agenda. This despite his pledge, during questioning by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, in which Barr said: “I will not be bullied.”

I didn’t catch much of the hearing. But all I’m getting from this passage is that Barr is a conservative Republican who believes that as attorney general he will be pursuing the Trump administration’s policies within the limits of the law and ethics. He will not allow the president to bully him into disregarding those limits. This tension is theoretically possible for any appointee in any administration, and may be especially likely for an attorney general in this one. But there is no contradiction in what Barr said, and no reason to say that his promise not to let himself be bullied came “despite” his being a Republican.

Otherwise we would have to conclude that being a conservative Republican is a disqualification for serving in a high level in a Republican administration. That conclusion would probably be gratifying to a lot of Slate readers, but doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

U.S.

Donald Trump, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the Power of Lovability Over Likability

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at a rally against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in Boston, Mass., October 1, 2018 (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

After a few dreary days of the Elizabeth Warren likability debate, it’s worth noting that we may be moving into an era where the entire concept of mere likability is — to quote a great scene in the first Men in Black movie — is “old and busted.” The “new hotness” is lovability. It’s forming such an intense bond with your supporters that they give you all the grace of someone they love, not just a person they like. That’s the real rarefied air, and not many politicians can get there. Barack Obama got there with his base, Trump is definitely there with his core supporters, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has become truly adored with remarkable political speed.

Not everyone can be lovable. Heck, legions of politicians struggle even with basic likability. It takes a special combination of factors to put you in the pantheon of politicians who are truly loved. Here’s how to be lovable in three nearly-impossible steps:

First, the lovable politician has to have a special charisma. There has to be something about their personae or biography that’s particularly appealing to the target audience. Trump has a natural gift for entertainment that’s been honed by countless thousands of hours of media attention and reality television. Moreover, his particular blunt, tough-guy approach (which is not to everyone’s taste, of course) was tailor-made for a Republican base that had felt kicked around by the media and pop culture for at least a generation.

Ocasio-Cortez has her own specific charms. She’s a gifted communicator, she’s mastered the kind and style of social-media communication that appeals to progressive millennials, and she comes across as extremely sincere — even when she says things that are factually wrong. The success of her viral social media moments — like her dancing videos — aren’t a message that politicians should try more dancing (we’re talking to you Kamala Harris), but rather that it uniquely fits her.  Other politicians can try to replicate her tactics. They can’t replicate her personality.

Second, it’s vital to have the “nobody believes in us” story. History is littered with the political carcasses of charismatic politicians, but if you really want to bond yourself to your people, nothing does it quite like an “against all odds” surprise win. This was Trump times two. He was mocked and dismissed throughout the GOP primary, even while he steamrolled. Then, he got the nomination and was mocked and dismissed throughout the general election. The deplorables comment sealed it — Trump and his people were in this together, everyone counted them out, and yet they won. Nobody should underestimate the immense psychological effect of the move from despair to triumph — for Team Trump, this was an athletic representation of election night 2016:

Ocasia-Cortez doesn’t have a moment of that magnitude, but she shocked one of the leading Democrats in the House, and she did so barely a year removed from bartending. It’s intoxicating to be an early adapter in an upset win, and then it’s even more intoxicating to ride that train to national prominence.

Third, you need the right enemies. Democrats still don’t understand what they did by nominating Hillary Clinton. They presented Republicans with the likelihood of a loss to a corrupt politician they’d been fighting against — and largely losing to — for a quarter-century. There was immense latent frustration with the notion that the Clintons were going to win again, in spite of all their scandals. There was immense frustration with the idea that the media would always and forever cover for the Clintons while putting every Republican under the microscope. Against Hillary (as history proved) there was essentially infinite tolerance for Trump’s scandals.

Moreover, no one hates the Republican establishment more than grassroots, talk-radio Republicans. And when Trump attacked Jeb Bush and John McCain with both barrels (carefully-chosen first targets, by the way), he built an immediate bond with angry, frustrated conservatives who believed that the GOP had internalized a polite, defeatist mentality (an odd view, considering that the GOP was on a historic, national winning streak when the GOP primary opened.)

And don’t get me started on the media. Certain outlets — like CNN — are so hated that even the most truthful, well-sourced negative report will cause Trump’s base to circle the wagons in defense even of the indefensible.

As for Ocasia-Cortez, the fact that she’s a favorite subject of the pop-culture, Fox News right (even if some of the alleged right-wing hate is exaggerated) acts as jet fuel for her progressive popularity. As my friend and colleague Jonah Goldberg has pointed out, in a time of negative polarization, even when politicians are wrong, when the right enemy attacks, the politician wins. He’s undoubtedly correct. Each news cycle builds her brand — so long as it’s the conservative media calling her out for her mistakes.

By the way, none of this is all that good for our nation, but it’s deeply and undeniably human. The heart wants what it wants, as the saying goes, and it stands to reason that in a time when politics is becoming so deeply personal that political attachments will grow extraordinarily intense. Real love is the charismatic politician’s true reward.

Immigration

Situational Racism, Part CXVII

The prototypes for President Donald Trump’s border wall stand behind the border fence between Mexico and the United States, in Tijuana, Mexico, January 7, 2019. (Jorge Duenes/REUTERS)

Democratic opposition to construction of a border wall is ostensibly based on three primary contentions: a border wall (1) is immoral, (2) doesn’t work, and (3) is racist.

The first two contentions are utterly nonsensical for a host of reasons, not the least of which is that they can’t both be true. If a wall is immoral because it keeps out desperate migrants, then it must work.

The accusation of “racist,” progressives’ default epithet for nearly everything they oppose, is similarly incoherent. It’s true that there would be a disparate impact on “people of color” if a wall were built on the southern border. But to paraphrase Willie Sutton, that’s where the illegal immigrants are. A wall is colorblind.

The Left habitually conflates facially neutral policies that have racially disparate results with racism. That’s because more than half a century after passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, instances of disparate treatment and intentional racial discrimination are increasingly difficult to find. Disparate impact is a far easier standard to meet. As my colleague Gail Heriot says, there’s not a standard, test, or policy that doesn’t have disparate impacts between different groups.  Invoking disparate impact provides the Left with almost unlimited opportunities to engage in racial and social engineering to “correct” the disparities.

The same progressives who maintain that a wall is racist are utterly silent about the adverse impact of illegal immigration on black Americans. More than any other group in America, blacks are harmed by the influx of illegal immigrants. Numerous studies outline the economic impact of illegal immigration on black employment and wages. Hundreds of thousands of black workers have been displaced due to competition from low-skilled illegal immigrants, particularly in the service, hospitality, construction, and agricultural sectors of the economy. Yet not one protest from members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who have anointed themselves the guardians of black interests, nothing from the Democratic party that takes black votes for granted, nothing from members of news media who breathlessly broadcast any racial disparity under some version of the headline “World Ends; Women and Minorities Hardest Hit.”

In contrast to neutral policies that have an unintentional racial impact, however, the failure to secure our borders happens with knowledge of, but indifference to, the fact that blacks are particularly harmed by illegal immigration.

Blacks simply can’t compete with progressives’ hatred of Trump and desire to enhance their electoral prospects.

White House

One-and-a-Half Cheers for Pelosi

I’m with Ramesh as I have long disliked the spectacle of the State of the Union address (as have quite a few NR folks) and would be glad to see it go, or at least diminished. But I think that Nancy Pelosi’s stated reasons — “security concerns” due to the strain on resources because of the shut down — are kind of lame.  Politically — and philosophically — it would have been better if she gave no excuse or explanation at all, beyond perhaps saying it would be inappropriate during a shutdown.

Indeed, from my vantage point it’s counter-productive because she’s conceding that the SOTU is some grand spectacle requiring massive federal security arrangements and coordination. Congress is the supreme branch of government. The State of the Union is a progress report to the bosses. Let the bosses act that way.

Law & the Courts

‘When Did It Become the FBI’s Job to Act as a Check and Balance to the President?’

I respond to David French’s reply to my FBI column from the other day here. Needless to say, I’m not persuaded that it was “prudent” or “proper” for the FBI to investigate the president of the United States as a national security threat.

 

Elections

Is Beto Doing OK?

This Medium post is truly bizarre (or would have been prior to the new era of constant over-sharing by political figures thinking of running for president) and includes this passage:

Have been stuck lately. In and out of a funk. My last day of work was January 2nd. It’s been more than twenty years since I was last not working. Maybe if I get moving, on the road, meet people, learn about what’s going on where they live, have some adventure, go where I don’t know and I’m not known, it’ll clear my head, reset, I’ll think new thoughts, break out of the loops I’ve been stuck in.

 

Politics & Policy

Trump’s Opponents Can Attack Constitutional Norms, Too

Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D., Texas), candidate for Senate, speaks to supporters at a campaign rally in Austin, Texas, November 4, 2018. (Mike Segar/REUTERS)

To add to Kyle Smith’s points about the recent Washington Post profile of Beto O’Rourke, I think it’s worth looking at the specific language O’Rourke uses in musing about the potential exhaustion of the U.S. Constitution:

“I think that’s the question of the moment: Does this still work?” O’Rourke said. “Can an empire like ours with military presence in over 170 countries around the globe, with trading relationships . . . and security agreements in every continent, can it still be managed by the same principles that were set down 230-plus years ago?”

While O’Rourke did not explicitly call for junking the Constitution, he did suggest that a range of trading relationships and security agreements could render obsolete the founding constitutional principles of the United States. Securing America’s place in the 21st-century world, according to O’Rourke, may require evolving past the arrangements of 1787.

Commentary across America burns with denunciations of President Trump as threatening public norms, but many of the president’s staunchest critics have themselves attacked some of the prevailing norms of American life. On the left, calls to abolish the Senate or pack the Supreme Court have gained new currency. Advocates of such a transformative strategy often assume the elimination of the legislative filibuster through the nuclear option as a precondition for a more sweeping agenda. These efforts would almost certainly drastically worsen political polarization and undermine the norms of public consensus, and attempts to craft a wholesale revision of the Constitution would likely open Pandora’s box.

Some observers have focused on President Trump as the primary cause of political disruption, but it seems equally (if not even more) persuasive to say that his disruptive administration occurs within a deeper crisis of public norms and political responsibility. Many in the Beltway have fomented a sense of ceaseless political urgency that encourages a politics of emergency, in which the crisis is so severe that immediate action needs to be taken, no matter the cost. Of course, history shows that emergency measures purportedly taken to save a republic often end up digging its grave.

O’Rourke calls the United States an “empire,” but — for Rome and France — the crucial distinction between republic and empire was the loss of deliberative self-governance. While Washington is increasingly dysfunctional and while partisan polarization has chipped away at moderating norms, the United States has not lost the legacy of checks and balances bequeathed to it by the Founders. But sustaining that legacy might require reinforcing some conventionally republican virtues, such as modesty, sobriety, personal virtue, and an orientation toward the common good. It might also demand that politicians think about how to work within a system that encourages compromise (that is, the Constitution) rather than crave a winner-take-all utopia.

Politics & Policy

State of the Shutdown

My sense of it is that the parties have moved further apart during the shutdown, and so that in a sense, its end is further away than ever. A Democratic member of the House said this morning in my presence that he expected the shutdown to end with congressional passage of legislation including some “targeted” funding for border security, and further expected the president to “lie” in order to call it a great victory for himself. But I  think that kind of deal is getting less acceptable to either side: Too many Republicans, and too many Democrats, would call it a sellout.

White House

Shutting Down the State of the Union

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is rescinding her invitation to President Trump to give the State of the Union address on January 29. She says he should not give it until the shutdown is over, or should deliver it in writing. The president can give the same speech if he wants to — but he will have to give it in a less traditional venue.

The House Republicans’ campaign committee has sent out an email grouping Pelosi’s decision with other Democrats’ expressions of hostility to the Senate, the Electoral College, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But the Senate and the Electoral College are part of our Constitution, and ICE is necessary to carry out an important government function. An annual presidential speech to Congress is neither. If the shutdown results in the end of this tradition begun by Woodrow Wilson, something good will have come of it.

Politics & Policy

On the Steve King Controversy

The New York Times ran a timeline purporting to document Rep. King’s long “history of denigrating racial minorities.” The first thing I noticed about that timeline is that some of the items on it don’t involve any denigration of racial minorities. I expand on that point, and make two more observations about King’s track record, at Bloomberg Opinion.

World

Ten Thoughts on Theresa May’s Brexit-Deal Defeat

British Prime Minister Theresa May arrives at the European Union summit in Brussels, Belgium, June 22. (Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters)

1. Theresa May’s defeat by the unexpectedly large margin of 230 votes last night was indeed “historic,” as every bore in journalism and punditry wrote — but only because of its size: It was the largest defeat for a government on a major issue in parliamentary history. Some of the earlier defeats turned out to be historic in a more substantial sense — Neville Chamberlain’s loss of Tory support in the 1940 Norway debate, leading to the appointment of Winston Churchill as prime minister, is the best example (though Chamberlain was not actually defeated but won the vote). Other such votes were less important because they didn’t lead to much, such as the vote of no confidence in the 1924 Labour government, which led to Stanley Baldwin’s lackluster “Safety First” Tory government, which in turn lost the following election — which, come to think of it, may not be a bad forecast of the unexciting May regime.

2. Don’t trust any of the predictions that as a result of this vote, some particular next-step “option” is now off the agenda because it lacks parliamentary support. That’s because no single option for Brexit or Remain currently enjoys a parliamentary majority. All, however, have some prospect of succeeding in eventually amassing such a majority. That even includes a No Deal Brexit, since that’s what will happen unless a majority of MPs gradually gather around another option. Most media people either don’t know that or don’t want you to know that because they disapprove of No Deal and of the kind of voters who support it.

3. It’s always interesting to compare the expected effects of a surprise upset with the actual effects. For most of the last year, press commentary treated the Tory Brexiteers as the main opposition to the soft-as-putty Brexit that became May’s Withdrawal Agreement. Yet when its defeat was announced, the large pro-Remain crowd outside Parliament cheered lustily. It was important to them that the Brexiteers should not enjoy a victory. So they claimed it as their own in the hope of ensuring that they do actually benefit. Similarly, pre-vote there had been dire media predictions that a defeat for May would mean a fall in the pound. It was the predictions that collapsed, however, when May’s defeat led to a rise in the pound. It was swiftly explained by the financial pundits that it was the very size of May’s defeat that caused the pound to rise rather than fall, because it might mean we would now get an even softer Brexit than before. Hmmnnn. I’m not sure that would convince me if I’d lost money following their first advice.

4. Another factor at play here is the confusion that May herself causes by constantly reiterating her absolute determination to achieve Brexit and fulfill the instruction given by the voters in the referendum. That doesn’t deceive the Westminster village, but it has persuaded others that she is a symbol of Brexit at any price. In reality, she is a symbol of subordinating Brexit to the wishes of a Remain establishment and cabinet without seeming to do so. She is thus a cause of confusion and an obstacle to any fruitful change of government and/or Tory policy in response to last night’s defeat. Her rhetoric will probably remain strong, but she will likely be as weak towards the Labour and Tory Remain Ultras like Dominic Grieve as she has been towards the EU negotiators and the establishment. Unless she undergoes a Damascene conversion, she will now open negotiations with Opposition parties and her own Remainer rebels on the next Plan B while ramping up her Brexit language to keep Brexiteers happy and Boris at bay. This kicking the can down the road works until you run out of road, which in this case will be the 29th of March — and that means on present form that she will try to get the EU to agree to a postponement of Brexit. That would keep open a Pandora’s Box of competing alternatives to Brexit that the fixed date was intend to close firmly.

5. Tory MPs should therefore tell the Whips that their support can’t be relied on in tomorrow’s vote of no confidence and, in effect, force her resignation. That looks very unlikely at present — though a Daily Telegraph editorial urges her to go voluntarily in a quiet way — but it’s absolutely vital. If she goes, the options for the government get more and better under a new leader — if only because May and her cabal would no longer control the levers of power, the party machine, and the writing of the next Tory manifesto (which may be needed sooner than we now think).  If she stays, the government will gradually lose control of the Brexit agenda to Labour and the Tories’ own Remain Ultras. Nothing good can be done while she’s PM.

6. That’s not such a scary or dramatic action. Under the rules of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, a defeat on a vote of no confidence no longer necessarily requires an election. Its first effect is a two-week hiatus while everyone wonders what to do next. Owing to the folly of not ditching her in December, the time is not ideal for a Tory leadership election. But in addition to being vital to avoid a slow catastrophe, a leadership election would also allow the debate about Brexit’s next stage to be held inside the Tory party rather than thrown into the chaos of a debate controlled not by the experienced party managers on both sides but by a speaker, John Bercow, who has made little secret of his intention to tilt the parliamentary rules in favor of Remain.

7. As I wrote above the media, the establishment, and an unstable Remain majority of MPs want to avoid a No Deal Brexit — or in ordinary English, Brexit — at almost all costs. Their difficulties are that all the other options have major and perhaps even disabling flaws. For instance, an actual reversal of Brexit would require the passage of legislation to reverse the legislation that was passed by an immemse majority a year ago. That’s embarrassing, of course, and also open to effective obstruction and delay by those MPs who still support Brexit. That would almost certainly take it past the 29th of March, making it somewhat pointless. Also, it’s perhaps true that MPs might change the law if they could do so without being seen and held to account. But what if they had to go on record repealing Brexit openly? That might be a different matter, especially when (as now) an election might occur at any time. Similarly, it’s occurred to proponents of a Second Referendum that it might actually produce a second majority for Brexit. Oh, calamity. So they are playing with some all-too-original ideas. Stephen Kinnock, son of the former Labour leader and now a rising moderate star, came up with one: hold a referendum that did not offer the voters a choice between Remain and No Deal Brexit because he thinks a No Deal Brexit would be too bad for the U.K. economy. That looks too much like arrogance on stilts to be really popular even with MPs.   

8. All these parliamentary maneuvers by Remainers, moreover, are being proposed and discussed under the shadow of the fact that public support for Brexit refuses to change more than marginally despite an astonishing barrage of Remain propaganda of the most exaggerated and silliest kind. (Its silliness may help explain why the voters have not been more influenced by it; it’s treating them as fools in the most patronizing way.) As a result MPs are uneasily aware that they may get an unwelcome reaction if they go too far in reversing their earlier professions of support for the referendum result. A re-reversal — or what Churchill once called a re-rat — is more likely than you may think. If Leavers tell their MPs (in no uncertain terms) that they’ll organize, finance, and vote against them, we may all be surprised to see how quickly they get the religion of democracy.

9. Nor are the latest polls very encouraging for the Opposition in partisan terms. A new poll of who would be the best prime minister has Corbyn down to 20 percent and May at 38 percent. Only 46 percent of 2017 Labour voters picked Corbyn. More Remain voters pick May over Corbyn — not unfairly because he has kept Labour from taking a more pro-Remain position. And the most interesting (and reassuring) result of all: The lead that Corbyn enjoyed with 18–24s is down to only 4 percent. We should now start looking at how Corbyn would compare against Boris, David Davis, and Dominic Raab (the leading Brexiteers), since their cabinet rivals who backed the May Deal very obviously misread the signs.

10. And that brings me to my final point: I cannot resist the temptation to say: “I told you so.” If you go back to my Brexit analyses of this time last year, you will find that my firmest argument was that Theresa May was being maneuvered, maybe with her own connivance, by a cabal of Downing Street aides and Remain-minded cabinet ministers into adopting a Brexit policy that would take her into a conflict with the majority of her own party that would not end well. The latest fruit of that policy fell on her head last night like 230 over-ripe tomatoes.

And it hasn’t ended yet either.

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