Lessons from Abroad

As we strain to navigate our own national crisis in the U.S., it can be easy to forget that we are just a part (albeit a critical part) of a much broader international struggle: autocracy versus democracy; virulent racism versus progressive multi-culturalism; dangerous, antagonistic nationalism versus globalism, cooperation and a thriving liberal world order.

It’s important to remind ourselves, constantly, that so long as the President of the United States and his GOP Enablers have cast their lot with the bad guys, that international struggle is a dire, uphill fight.

All of that said, over the past few days it was nice to see the good guys notch a few small, likely fleeting, but nevertheless instructive victories.

In the U.K., of course, conservative lawmakers dramatically broke from their chosen Prime Minister, crossing the aisle to prevent constitutional overreach, force his hand and take steps to avoid a disastrous no-deal Brexit.

In Hong Kong, after months of inspiring, massive protests, Hong Kong’s leader withdrew the controversial extradition bill – a power grab by Beijing aimed at stifling dissidents – that prompted the protests.

And over the past few days, in Italy, two historically opposing political parties – one conservative, the other liberal – surprisingly joined forces to thwart the rise of a dangerous far-right ideologue.

Now, to be clear, every one of these “victories” could prove short-lived: the Brexit disaster is far from over, and “no deal” is still a distinct possibility; the protestors in Hong Kong responded to the revocation of the extradition bill with “too little, too late,” and further violent crackdowns seem likely; and the new governing coalition in Italy appears inherently unsteady.

Moreover, I’m far from an expert on international affairs, and I fully recognize that there are dynamics and undercurrents at play in all of these circumstances (and especially in the bizarre world of Italian politics!) that I know nothing about.

But from a 30,000 foot view – reading the Cliff Notes/CNN International version of these three stories – there is a lot that Americans can learn from each, as we try to both save ourselves, and do our part to address this international crisis.

For starters, we’ve learned by now that hoping for an American approximation of recent events in Italy – a left/right coalition of elected governmental officials, expressly formed to put a lid on a dangerous, power hungry ideologue – is hopelessly naïve.

We know all too well that we can’t rely on our present elected officials to stop Trumpism, that it’s going to have to happen at the ballot box in 2020.

But if that’s the case, we have to recognize that our best hope of definitively defeating Trumpism in 2020 – and it will need to be definitive, because the GOP will cheat in ways we can’t imagine – is to build a massive, inclusive coalition.

For those of us who are firmly on team Dem, that means ensuring maximum participation from our ranks, and vigorously rejecting any suggestion – whether from moderates caterwauling about “socialism,” or from leftists playing destructive purity politics – that not getting your preferred 2020 nominee is a permission slip to sit this one out.

And building a massive, inclusive, winning coalition means finding common cause with the squishy middle, and with as many disillusioned Republicans as we can rally. Not watering down our liberal policy priorities, per se, but identifying, campaigning on, and coalescing around the countless facets of Trumpism that we all agree need to be thoroughly defeated.

That’s the nice thing about fraught moments like these: if we can set aside our bullshit, they lend themselves well to this kind of coalition-building. Believe it or not, we can agree to disagree about, say, Medicare for All, because if we don’t rescue our crumbling democracy, that heady debate is going to be meaningless.

I am not so naïve as to think that the new governing coalition in Italy wasn’t built, in part, around some craven political calculations. But it was founded on a mutual recognition – by two historically-warring political factions – of an existential threat to Italy within its government, and on a mutual agreement that thwarting that threat supersedes the partisan considerations of normal times.

We would do well to tap into those same instincts.

Brits Protest

One way that we can start to build that broad coalition, meanwhile, is by taking a page from the Brits’ actions these past few days, and reclaiming, for the Resistance, our American values and our Constitution.

The mutiny against P.M. Boris Johnson came about because Johnson severely overstepped his bounds, and sought to suspend Parliament for two full months – a dramatic departure from the UK’s constitutional principles – so that he could force-feed Britain a “no deal Brexit.”

To be clear, from a democracy perspective, Brexit has been a disaster from the get-go. The Brexit resolution narrowly passed in 2016 on the backs of a litany of bald-faced lies, propped up by the same racial fear-mongering, and Russian interference, that helped Donald Trump limp to a victory later that same year.

When the scope of those lies became increasingly obvious in the aftermath of the vote – when it became clear that, no matter what, Brexit would be very bad for the UK – resistance bubbled up all over Britain, and everyone kept waiting for Britain’s institutions to save the day. But in the face of endless mendacity and shamelessness, those institutions proved wholly not up to the task. Sound familiar?

All of which made it delightful, and a little shocking, when it became clear that Johnson’s shameless flouting of Britain’s constitutional principles over the past week was simply a bridge too far.

Londoners flooded the streets to protest the P.M., the British media crackled with righteous outrage, and 21 members of the P.M.’s own party openly and dramatically bucked him.

The result, as of right now, is that Parliament has roundly rejected a disastrous “no deal Brexit,” a new election seems likely, a welcome extension of negotiations with the EU seems possible, and there is even realistic talk of a national do-over on the Brexit vote.

Granting that it could all turn quite sour in a matter of days, this nevertheless is progress, and it came about because the Prime Minister went too far in defiling Britain’s democracy, and Brits stood up against him.

We’ll never see 21 Republicans cross the aisle to buck Donald Trump, but we can try to muster a similar response when the President – as the sonofabitch is wont to do – defiles our Constitution.

Indeed, if we want to build a coalition, if we want to galvanize our institutions to reject Trumpism, I believe that our best bet is to take a page from the Brits, and demand that *gasp* the President treat the Constitution with the respect it deserves. The Brits’ democratic pride was a previously untapped resource, and we can, and should, learn from that.

Not a day should go by when we let our friends and neighbors forget that the singular feature of Trumpism is its leader’s willingness to trample the Constitution, to shred American values, all for petty, personal gain.

We’ve dropped the ball on this over the past few years more times than I can count, but the “good” news, I suppose, is that we’re going to have plenty of opportunities over the next 14 months to make up for that.

All of which brings us to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong III.jpg

The images from the past few months – millions of people in the streets, as much as a quarter of the entire population – are both inspiring and instructive.

It took months of sustained passion and energy; from millions of protestors from every walk of life; in the face of disinformation, repression and violent government backlash; just to achieve the concession announced this week. But the stakes were so high – the assault on Hong Kong’s sense of independence so severe – that its people persisted.

hong-kong-protests violence.jpg

In America, we had a flurry of inspirational protests in 2017 – massive marches for women’s rights and against the Muslim Ban; organized rage aimed at efforts to gut the Affordable Care Act – but we allowed that passion and energy to fade.

We clung to false hope and lifted up flawed heroes (our institutions, the deep state, Mueller, Pelosi…), and let ourselves get buried and exhausted by the daily deluge of Trumpism.

The people of Hong Kong have stopped relying on institutions, and have taken the future of their nation in their own hands; we have so far, regrettably, shied away from that responsibility. But it’s never too late to step up to the plate.

The 2020 election is already upon us, and while we should be hopeful, we have to remind ourselves that our institutions – including every aspect of our elections – have never faced a threat like Trumpism.

Over the next 14 months, we’re likely to see unthinkable political violence, encouraged by the President. We’re going to see baldly unlawful executive action, unhinged attacks on Congress, rank abuse of the courts, and the entire federal government repurposed to serve the political goals of the President.

We need to prepare ourselves for third-world lunacy – refusals to debate, jailed opponents, massive power outages, even postponed elections – all while never losing sight of the reality that we truly can’t fathom how low these people are willing to go.

We should be hopeful for 2020; we should be ready to support and donate and make calls and knock doors for whomever our nominee is.

But we also need to recognize the likelihood that the next 14 months will not in any way be politics as usual, that elections can be corrupted, that once-proud democracies, without utmost vigilance, can be cowed.

When our institutions inevitably falter under the weight of a President who knows no bottom, we need to remember that our best hope may well be to protest – to yell, scream, take to the streets – to make sure the world hears, and feels, the depth of our resistance.

The good news? The people of Hong Kong are showing us how its done.


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