People who read the blog are likely concerned about the health of U.S. democracy. The extraordinary, even bizarre, contortions British democracy is going through over Brexit may have some relevance to thinking about our condition.
I'm not going to try to dig into Brexit here; that's beyond me. The simplest narrative is that in a referendum in 2016 a small majority (52-48) of British voters opted to pull the country out of its over-40 year participation in the customs arrangements and governing structures of the European Union. Most Leave voters were older, white, rural, and traditionally English; most Remain voters were younger, urban, came from Scotland, Northern Ireland, or cosmopolitan London, and many were non-white. One way of looking at the referendum is that Britain's past voted against its future. Seem familiar? Britain has still not actually departed the EU; implementing Brexit has snarled British politics in previously unimaginable tangles ever since the vote. This may (or may not) be resolved in the upcoming election on December 12. Meanwhile the EU is frustrated and getting impatient.
Watching the Brexit mess and reading commentators, I've found myself pondering the concept of "Losers' Consent." This political science concept (outlined in a 2005 book) means what it says: democracy only works when losers accept the legitimacy of electoral defeats. This lament from a 2016 Remain voter who plans to vote this time around for a pro-Brexit party catches its essence:
He's sticking up for democracy in his own way.
The current British election is being contested amid violent threats that are shocking in what believed itself to be a more restrained political polity. During the 2016 campaign, a young rising star Labour Party parliamentarian, Jo Cox, who stood against Brexit and for inclusion of immigrants, was knifed on the street in her district. Fears linger. Richard Wyn Jones of Cardiff University has found surprising levels of approval for political violence. He opines:
Again, sound familiar amid our present U.S. situation?
Contemporary norms of democratic fairness -- an expectation that the candidate with the most votes wins -- have been violated, repeatedly. The shrinking old, white, rural base of the contemporary Republican Party can't win by attracting raw numbers -- more and more they have can only win through stratagems that disempower the voting strength of their opponents, that undermine popular electoral democracy.
And so we are living with an impeachment drama well described by scholar Danielle Allen in a recent oped.
She's accurate of course; hardly anyone is in the condition of mind and heart to offer losers' consent to those with whom they differ.
And that "we" who demand a democratic right to consent is an ever larger fraction of the people of this land; there were a lot of "non-people" around in 1776 and 1787 -- women, native people, enslaved people, non-Christian people, and others with no property. Now we all want and expect to be insiders in our democracy, not just spectators. Hence rage and #Resistance.
This observation points to the necessary target of the grand democratic mobilization that will be the 2020 election. There are still a few people who are disengaged from contemporary politics -- and who don't want participate in the general rage. Their desire for social harmony is a healthy contribution the wider polity, even if infuriating to those of us feeling an existential threat to ourselves and our country's possibilities. There aren't many, but they can be won, but only if we organize ourselves to talk with them rather than just yell louder.
The LA Times interviewed such a voter. Christie Black is a 35-year-old stay-at-home mom who abandoned the GOP and voted independent in 2016 rather than support Trump. Now she might be open to voting for a Democrat.
That's not how I think, but the winner of the 2020 election needs to reach the Christies. To the annoyance and even fury of many, they may be what keeps this listing democratic vessel on an even keel.