Another future is still possible

Timothy Garton Ash writes: Be it the madness of the man on one side of the Atlantic or the madness of the thing [Brexit] on the other, some of the symptoms are similar – as are some of the causes. The level of verbal vitriolage is almost unprecedented. Both Washington and London, capitals generally known for reasonably stable and efficient government, are now witnessing an extraordinary confusion.

Most senior positions in the state department, for example, are still unfilled. Scaramucci just effectively accused Trump’s chief of staff of leaking. British cabinet ministers publicly contradict each other. On the Thames as on the Potomac river, there are more leaks, gaffes and sudden reversals than in any theatrical farce.

Small wonder the German chancellor says continental Europeans can no longer rely on their traditional cross-Channel and transatlantic allies. Russia and China were laughing all the way to the G20 meeting in Hamburg, in advance of which China Daily had a front page declaring that “amid concerns about US protectionism and Brexit, China and Germany are expected to lead the charge for globalisation and free trade”.

So is this the end of the west? Or at least, of the Anglo-Saxon west? I first heard the argument that the conjunction of Trump and Brexit marks a secular decline of the Anglo-Saxons from a former Finnish prime minister, and have heard it from several other observers since.

The 19th century belonged to Britain, the 20th century (at least post-1945) to the United States. The neoliberalism which exercised a kind of global ideological dominance between the end of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the financial crisis of 2008 was a characteristic Anglo-Saxon product. It is itself the root cause of the genuine, widespread discontents which populists have exploited to gain power in both Britain and the United States. So the argument goes, not without some schadenfreude – especially in France.

But be careful, chers amis, what you wish for. You may envisage a post-Anglo-Saxon 21st-century gloriously illuminated by the enlightened policies of Macron and Justin Trudeau. Yet the Fortinbras who commands the stage after the self-destruction of the Anglo-Saxon Hamlet is more likely to have the face of a Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin or Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Anyway, this is a clear case of POI (premature overdramatic interpretation), colloquially known as pundit’s disease. Another future is still possible. Last summer, when I asked a distinguished American political scientist how he would react to a Trump presidency, he said it would be a very interesting test of the American political system. When we resumed the conversation on the Stanford University campus last week, we agreed that thus far the constitutional checks and balances seemed to be working. [Continue reading…]

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