Of all the things I have read in the last few hours about the Trump victory in the US Presidential election, the one observation that resonated most with me was about the role of commentators. Commentators will “try to normalise” the result.
This, of course, is precisely what happened after the referendum in the UK. The people had spoken. Only bad losers with no regard for democracy would point out that 17 million people out of a nation of 65 million had spoken. That 37% of voters chose ‘Leave’. That the referendum was ‘advisory’, not binding, in a representative democracy. And so it was that the commentators washed away the wishes of the other half of the country (or the 34% + the 29%), saying that we had to ‘come together’, to ‘make Brexit work’, and that no one would seriously obstruct the will of the people as expressed in the vote. The new reality was to be accepted as a done deal.
At least a US presidential election gives the electorate there the chance to reconsider in four years time, and even an electorally successful Trump cannot serve more than two terms. But right now he’s talking the language of national unity, of healing divisions, of praising his opponent, and all the expected courtesies of a President-Elect.
All this is about starting the normalisation process.
But these are not normal times.
Trump will be president, because he won the election. That is the only ‘normal’ thing about the here and now. Perhaps he will govern with more pragmatism and restraint than his rhetoric thus far suggests. But it is hard to see how, when he also has a party – The Republicans – in control of both Houses of Congress, and awash with fruitcakes high on lobby money. To normalise this situation is wrong. Especially when there are also decisions to be made on who sits on the Supreme Court bench. This would be a situation in which there would be very weak separations between the three branches of government. That effectively jeopardises the Constitution. That cannot, and should not, be ‘normalised’.
Brexit Britain is even less ‘normal’, even with our famously ‘flexible’ constitution.
Look at the facts.
The referendum was called for no good reason, other than the presumed convenience of the former Prime Minister (that worked out well, Dave).
The normal safeguards around a referendum proposing far-reaching constitutional change were not instituted (thresholds for turnout, and for the required majority for change).
The eligible electorate was too narrowly prescribed, given the nature of the change proposed, disenfranchising many Britons living abroad, and also young people with the strongest stake in the future.
We now have a PM who was elected by nobody, leading a government with a programme which was not part of the party manifesto just one year ago. It’s a Brexit coup, in effect.
Five months after the vote, we still have no idea of what Brexit might look like.
And yet, everywhere the contradictory, and triumphalist, and pettily populist (blue passports, royal yachts?) are being normalised by the media, and by even those politicians who actually do know better. Everybody stick your fingers in your ears and shout “Brexit, Brexit, Brexit!’ at anybody with the effrontery to be a whinging ‘remoaner’. That’s how to govern in the national interest.
Well, it isn’t.
Those who fear for US politics need to remain vigilant, critical, and ready to shine a light on every single liberty stolen, every single policy failure, every single bit of economic bad news, every single foreign policy cock-up, and to point the finger of blame at those responsible. At least they get another election in four years.
And in Brexit Britain we, who remain in possession of our faculties, have to maintain and sharpen our implacable opposition to leaving the European Union.
We often point out that those who voted to leave the EU voted for lots of disparate, often incompatible reasons, many of which had nothing whatsoever to do with the EU. But we Remain voters also voted for something that goes way beyond membership of a very flawed union of 28 countries. We were affirming our values – tolerance, co-operation, internationalism, human rights, decency, a clean and safe environment. The idea that we should shut up about these values is ludicrous and oppressive.
But unlike the USA, we have no constitutional right to vote again, and to take a different decision next time.
That is why we must not normalise Brexit, we must not ‘accept’ the result of the vote, and we must – absolutely – fight to prevent Brexit, and, if necessary, to reverse it. It is our democratic duty to have another referendum.