US And UK Both Suffer From Lack Of Leadership

Conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic, in the US and the UK, have a real problem. They have elected leaders who are both unwilling and incapable of actually leading. Instead, those leaders reflect their party’s mentality of permanent election mode, desperately trying to ensure that they remain in power while trying to enact the worst parts of their agenda by stealth.

Trump is, thankfully in a way, sui generis. But he reflects the position his party has taken ever since President Obama was elected. The sole aim is to make sure Democrats can accomplish nothing while positioning the party by both legal and illegal means for the next election. Republicans and Trump managed to create winning election slogans but those slogans disintegrate into nothing when they are actually translated into policy. And because the actual policies are largely unpopular, the leaders spend most of their time trying fulfill campaign “promises” without being held responsible.

This was clearly illustrated with the GOP pledge to “repeal and replace” Obamacare. Trump and his administration never even put forward a plan to accomplish this, nor did the President ever really get out and try to “sell” repeal to the American public. Paul Ryan eventually passed a bill primarily by telling his Republican caucus that the real problems would be “fixed” in the Senate. He essentially passed the buck to Mitch McConnell in the belief that McConnell would be able to keep his caucus unified as he had done throughout Obama’s presidency. It wasn’t to be. None of them, Trump, Ryan, or McConnell looked like they really wanted to be responsible for taking health insurance away from over 20 million Americans. But that had to look like they were trying in order to keep the base happy for the next election.

The cruel and inhuman decision regarding DACA today is reflective of the same pattern. Trump once again felt compelled to fulfill a campaign slogan but didn’t want to be held responsible. So he had his in-house racist, Jeff Sessions, go out and announce the termination of the program and then refuse to answer questions. And even so, Trump is passing the buck to Congress, giving them six months to potentially make DACA legal and permanent. Otherwise, we will see those nearly 1 million DREAMers deported as ICE already has their contact information. Whether this is using nearly a million Americans as hostages for funding Trump’s border wall remains to be seen. And whether Paul Ryan and the Republicans in Congress will even act on Trump’s DACA decision is also unclear. What is clear is that this was yet another attempt by Trump to shore up his base without taking responsibility for the consequences.

Over in the UK, we have seen a similar situation play out over the last decade as well, although with far less avoidance of responsibility. David Cameron and George Osborne used the financial crisis as an excuse to implement the longed-for Conservative austerity program and roll back social services. The pledge for a vote on Scottish independence was just a tactic to split the Labour party and help Cameron get re-elected, as was the promise on Brexit. The tactic worked with Scotland but utterly failed with Brexit, leaving the UK facing years of lower economic growth and disruption.

Similarly, Theresa May has been adrift ever since she took over for Cameron. As the clock ticks down on the two year deadline to reach a Brexit agreement, May just keeps on spewing the same old campaign rhetoric and seems incapable of making the tough decisions that will be needed to actually forge an agreement. And just like Trump and the Republicans have begun feuding, Conservatives in Parliament apparently recognize that May will eventually have to be removed as leader.

Incredible as it may seem, conservatives have complete control in both the US and the UK. But a total lack of leadership has rendered both countries unable to move forward on the major issues confronting them. In both cases, the leaders are weak and boxed in by the unpopularity of the slogans that got them there.

Originally published at on September 5, 2017.

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