Brexit

The news around the world today is Brexit. The headlines are about Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to delay a scheduled parliament vote on her proposal for the UK’s departure from the EU. Without the delay, the deal would have ended in defeat. It still probably will.

The whole thing is a catastrophe, to put it mildly. And by “whole thing” I don’t mean the vote itself. I mean the politics that have erupted ever since, beginning with former Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to call the vote and then resign immediately after the votes came in. By shirking responsibility for an outcome that he invited, Cameron set the tone for what was to come.

In the two years since, Theresa May, another conservative politician — and one who personally voted against Brexit — has had the impossible task of negotiating an exit with the EU that would fulfill the grandiose promises of the politicians who campaigned to Leave. A vote to Leave, they said, would result in instant British sovereignty, increased social services, and on and on.

The deal that May struck will create UK independence, but it will take time. It’s a gradual transition, with certain agreements staying in place for a bit to prevent total disruption. From my understanding, in about three years the UK would be close to fully on its own again.

The conservative politicians who made this happen have vociferously argued against this deal because of this delay. “Unacceptable!” they charge. But really they’re hammering the deal because the politics of opposing it are good — nobody is happy with where this has ended up — and the politics of supporting it require more courage than any of these people have. So rather than do what they can to practically implement the events that they set into motion, they’re accusing May of betrayal. It’s mostly about a delay in implementation. But how important are three years, really?

The short-sightedness is beyond me. These are massive, fundamental changes and the people in charge are mucking around with the politics of the moment, with winning the day’s headlines, and pwning each other on social media rather than taking responsibility for what’s happening. To call it childish would be an insult to actual children.

Through all of this Theresa May has steadfastly tried to get the job done. She’s taken on repeated, challenging negotiations with the EU. She’s endured multiple of her cabinet ministers making dramatic resignations at critical moments to damage her. Today members of her party suddenly launched a no confidence vote to try to remove her form power. And yet she keeps on, the one adult in the room. My respect for her grows.

As I watch her ordeal I keep thinking about a study that found that women and minorities tend to be made CEOs when companies are failing. Men don’t want to be the captain when the ship goes down, so they choose to give “diversity” a try and watch as that person takes the fall. That’s exactly what’s happening here.

To my eyes, the failure of Brexit is not the original vote. The failure is in what has come after. The inability of the political class to look beyond their own immediate self-interest even for one second. In a moment that’s about the future of Britain, these men can only think of their little egos and the politics of now. It is small and it is shameful.

The Brexit longview

As for Brexit itself, the whole thing is a distraction from much more important challenges. But still, I'm of the opinion that in the long run it's not a bad idea. Detaching from and decentralizing the global economy is something more countries may have to do in the future.

To be clear, there is no universe where that divorce will be a smooth, orderly thing where nothing is lost. There’s too much that has to change and too many unknowns for that to be the case. Yet this is what the conservatives who oppose May are demanding. A pony would be nice, too.

If Brexit happens, we should assume that the next five to ten years will be quite rough for Britain. Many unknowns to sort through and many opportunities to make even worse decisions. But some of these decisions are things we may all have to face.

Think about where we are now, with the terrifying climate change reports, mass migration due to war and famine (which will only get worse thanks to climate change), and the increasing dependency on large corporations and their proprietary products and opaque algorithms. These challenges — not the next three years of local British politics —  are the real stakes.

Does it still makes sense, I wonder, for us to keep sending carbon-emitting planes, trucks, and ships around the world every second of every day to deliver avocados to Dubai and uni to London and iPhones to Tennessee? How sustainable is that, really?

What’s wrong, I wonder, with a country producing all of its own goods? I think about Japan, a country where essentially everything is produced in-house, where everyone has a job supporting the furthering of Japanese society, where self-sufficiency is the goal. In a world that needs to change its behavior to limit the devastation of climate change, is that not what we’ll all ultimately need to do?

Economists might say well, Japan is a low growth economy. To which I say: exactly. That might need to be what we all become if we want our societies and life itself to survive.

The story of the past three decades is that globalized growth is the cure to all our ills. But that story does not appear to be sustainable. Both for reasons of climate and resources and because of the local politics it flares up (see: Brexit, Trump, Italy, and now France).

The seeming naturalness of the path we’ve been on in recent history is beginning to diverge into a new path. Which is normal. Our current path hasn’t been here forever. The EU is only a generation old. It’s not the basis on which all life rests.

The question we need to be asking is: ten years from now where do we need to be? Scientists say that by 2030, we will cross critical thresholds where climate change will get much more severe. What does it mean to be ready for that? What needs to change?

For starters, we need to be self-sustaining. We need to learn to be more resourceful. We need to learn to fix and repair things, not buy new things. We need to learn that we can’t outsource everything — that every job is up to us to do. We’re not on the doorstep of a post-work world. We’re on the doorstep of needing to do real work for the first time in a couple of generations.

I applaud this. It’s time we face up to what has to change. We can’t keep hiding from it. Brexit is a dramatic way to get there. This whole fracas and the mess it will continue to create in the next decade will be discouraging. But ten years from now? I suspect we may see benefits, though for different reasons than what inspired people to vote for it in the first place.

Checking in on Trump

A lot has happened since we last spoke about the President. His lawyer, his campaign manager, his national security advisor, and other members of his campaign have plead guilty for lying to the FBI and/or Congress about their contacts with members of the Russian government and intelligence agencies. The Washington Post points out that we already know about 14 different Trump campaign officials who had contact with the Russians during the campaign. This after Trump repeatedly denied any connection or communication whatsoever.

As Marcy Wheeler, who blogs as the absolutely essential EmptyWheel, has written, 126 pages of Mueller’s report have already been made public in the form of extensive background information that’s come with each of these plea deals. It’s her belief that the anticipated “Mueller Report” is being written right in front of our eyes.

The information in these filings strongly suggests that the special counsel will prove that Donald Trump collaborated with Vladimir Putin and the Russian government to swing the election in his favor. It is my belief that this will be proven with clear-cut evidence. But to go back to an earlier email on Trump and the OJ defense, will this matter?

With a Democratic House being sworn in, impeachment proceedings will begin next year. Mueller’s findings combined with a Democratic majority in the House means that Trump will be impeached. You can count on it.

But, as you may recall, this won’t actually remove him from office. All it does is officially censure him in a way that shames the President. But this President, as we know, is beyond shame.

When Trump is impeached his case will then go to the US Senate, where Trump will almost certainly not receive the needed 2/3rds votes to remove him from office. That would take more than 20 Republican Senators turning on their party leader. It’s hard to see that happening.

Which means that the likely outcome of all of this will be an impeached but still standing President Trump running for reelection against pick your choice of Democratic and potentially Republican challengers. And in that fight, despite Trump’s unpopularity and Democrats getting millions more votes than Republicans in the midterm elections last month, I would still put my money on Trump.

The electoral map will be in his favor. The Democratic presidential candidate has gotten the majority of votes in six out of the last seven Presidential elections (Bush vs Kerry in 2004 being the one exception), but Democrats have lost nearly half of those campaigns because of the electoral college system. Think about that: more Democratic votes in six out of the last seven elections, and only two presidents to show for it.

What happens if we learn Trump was in bed with Russia, rigged the election, gets impeached for it, and gets reelected anyway? God help us. I can picture the Peggy Noonan Wall Street Journal editorial about how F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote America is about second chances and Trump is getting his second chance. But if that’s where we end up, it may truly be the end of America as we know it.

There remains a universe where Republicans turn on him. This would happen if a) public opinion on the right turns against Trump (89% favorable rating among Republicans, the highest since his inauguration) and b) Fox News turns against Trump. There's a chicken and egg there.

Trump’s crimes might be so bad and blatant that this might happen. But it’s far from a given. There’s been enough dust kicked up already about the “witch hunt” investigation that all facts are ignorable. A lot of people have heavily invested their identities in the success of Trump. That’s a hard thing for anyone to let go of.

In a universe where Republicans do turn on Trump, don’t expect much vindication. The new narrative on the right will be, well, you know Trump was never a real conservative. He was a secret Democrat all along. This is exactly how Republicans turned on George W. Bush after seven years of strident support. In the conservative history of American politics, the Trump catastrophe will somehow be a failure of liberals. It’s the American way.

Music

I really enjoy the music of Kurt Vile. He’s a master of crunching, monotonous grooves. His music is sophisticated and kind of stupid. He has good taste but doesn’t do anything fancy or complicated with it. He’s chill, man.

I wasn’t crazy about his new album, Bottle It In, but I made an alternative version of the record that I think is my favorite thing he’s ever done. My goal was to make something like Can’s Future Days, just a long groove from start to finish. My version — called Let It Out — only includes the grooves. Twice in the past month I’ve gone to Joshua Tree for writing retreats and both times listened to nothing but this on repeat. Listen here on Spotify. Highly recommended.

The book

The book is nearly done! I have two more chapters to write and the road ahead is clear. By year’s end I hope to be wrapped up, then spend January and part of February revising with my editor. I’m very pleased with how it’s turned out and can’t wait for all of you to read it. More on that soon.

Peace and love and thinking of you.