Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Is Theresa May Britain’s Mitt Romney?

With the abrupt departure of Andrea Leadsom from the Conservative Party leadership contest, Theresa May has cruised into number 10 as Britain’s new PM. To many, it appears that the Tory establishment has reasserted control over the Conservative Party. But I’m not convinced this is true–when Mitt Romney won the 2012 Republican primary, many people assumed that this meant the Republican establishment was in firm control, but within just four years Donald Trump had run Romney and the rest of the establishment Republicans off the Tarpeian Rock. Indeed, a close look at the data reveals that just as the 2012 result concealed deep weaknesses within the Republican establishment, the Tory establishment remains extremely vulnerable. May owes her victory to the incompetence and disorganization of her rivals, and she will need to be extraordinarily careful to preserve it.

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Brexit is the Right Nationalist Response to Austerity

Like many people, I initially responded to Brexit with outrage at the terrible consequences of the result for the British people. Among other things, they may lose crucial worker, consumer, and environmental protections, they may lose access to the European market, they may lose the opportunity to work with other European countries on climate change and tax avoidance, and they may even lose Scotland. It is critical that the British Parliament assert its sovereignty and decline to implement the results of the non-binding advisory referendum, which was a mistake to hold in the first place. After all, by asserting UK sovereignty, Brexiteers are asserting the sovereignty of Parliament, so if Parliament declines to invoke Article 50 and chooses to stay in the EU it is merely exercising the very powers the Brexiteers wished to assert for it. But today I want to take a step back and look at the big picture–why the vote went the way it did and what that says about where we’re at. Many people have been happy to chalk the Leave win up to bigotry and leave it at that, but this response is too reductive and doesn’t give us enough to work with. If bigotry is the problem, why is bigotry the problem now? There have been bigoted people in Britain and in the EU and all over the world forever, but Brexit didn’t happen in 1996 or 2006, it happened in 2016. What’s different about now? Brexit is not the result of some culture war between the nice people and the nasty people, it is a consequence of economic stagnation and inequality and of a voting public that is unable to correctly identify the causes of that stagnation and inequality or confront them with meaningful and effective policy.

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Britain Must Refuse to Honor the Results of the Brexit Referendum

In a shockingly stupid decision, the British public have voted 52% to 48% to leave the European Union. In the short term this means an economic disruption that will blight people’s lives. In the long term this means that unless it is permitted to remain in the European Economic Area, Britain will no longer have EU regulations to protect its workers, consumers, and environment. Even if it stays in the EEA (and the EU has every reason to refuse to permit it to do so to deter other countries from leaving the EU), it will no longer be able to play a part in solving collective action problems like tax avoidance and climate change, and its non-involvement will undermine the solutions proposed by others in Europe. Brexit will also aid and abet other Euroskeptic movements throughout Europe and dump gasoline on the right nationalist fire that grips so much of the world today. Many people in Britain and elsewhere throughout the world will be harmed, some now, some later, many irretrievably so. No political outcome can be legitimate if it permanently and irretrievably harms so many people with no substantive advantages. For these reasons the next British government must refuse to invoke Article 50. Parliament is sovereign, and its sovereignty cannot be abrogated by a referendum. This is a controversial view–refusing to honor the referendum would make a lot of people very angry. But the long term harms of Brexit to Britain’s young people are too great for any government to morally justify invoking Article 50, irrespective of public opinion.

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Brexiteers are European Confederates

The murder of British MP Jo Cox at the hands of a Brexiteer has me thinking about my own country’s long and storied history of political violence. Most famously, my country ripped itself apart in a civil war over slavery. Of course, that’s not the way the supporters of the Confederate States of America (CSA) framed the conflict in their own minds. To them the civil war was a question of sovereignty. It’s easy to forget, especially if you’re from overseas, but the United States has always had a strong anti-federalist current which views the individual US states as genuinely sovereign entities, each participating in the federation on a voluntary, and ultimately revocable basis. This surfaces even today–during the 2014 midterm elections, US senate candidate Joni Ernst made open appeals to the concept of “nullification”, which holds that because the US states are sovereign they can invalidate federal law:

You know we have talked about this at the state legislature before, nullification. But, bottom line is, as U.S. Senator why should we be passing laws that the states are considering nullifying? Bottom line: our legislators at the federal level should not be passing those laws. We’re right…we’ve gone 200-plus years of federal legislators going against the Tenth Amendment’s states’ rights. We are way overstepping bounds as federal legislators. So, bottom line, no we should not be passing laws as federal legislators—as senators or congressman—that the states would even consider nullifying. Bottom line.

Ernst won that election by 9 points–she is a sitting US senator. US Presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee made similar appeals during the Republican primaries, alleging that the states could nullify the Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling. Increasingly the arguments we’re seeing for Brexit look an awful lot like American state sovereignty arguments. It may sound like an extreme comparison, but the parallels are remarkably strong.

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Is Trump Being Racist About Judge Curiel?

Over the past week, Donald Trump has been repeatedly attacking Judge Gonzalo Curiel, claiming he is unfit to handle the Trump University case because he is a “Trump hater” and that he is a Trump hater because he is Mexican. This looks straightforwardly racist, and many people from both parties have accused Trump of racism. But two days ago Trump did not appear ready to back down, instead instructing his people to intensify their criticism of the judge and members of the media who go after Trump on the issue. Then yesterday his campaign seemed to do a U-turn–it issued a statement alleging that Curiel is biased because of his professional associations rather than because he is Mexican, and announced that Trump does not intend to comment on the case any further. This implies that Trump really did think there was a way to make some sort of political gain here, but now at the very least has determined that he has nothing further to gain by talking about it. What did Trump think he was going to get out of this? For the past couple days I’ve been trying to figure this out, and I have a theory of what has been going on in his head.

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