It seemed as if the populist mania that has dominated Britain over the last four years had finally devoured itself and its authors. But the truth is more complicated than that: Populism here has set events in motion that now have a life of their own and cannot be stopped simply by a change of personnel.
For years, Cummings’s relationship to Johnson was like that of Stephen Miller toward President Trump — or, during 2016 and 2017, like Stephen K. Bannon toward Trump. He was the man behind the throne, trying to give ideological shape to what is ultimately just a jumble of instincts and prejudices.
Like Bannon, Cummings’s chief contribution to political debate was to replace empirical reality with tribalism. When he ran the Vote Leave operation during the Brexit vote, he actively traded in known falsehoods such as a much-publicized ad campaign about inflated British financial contributions to Brussels, or racially tinged fearmongering about impending Turkish membership of the European Union.
And like Trump’s team, Cummings split the population into “the people” and “the elite”: The people were pure, virtuous and composed entirely of supportive voters, while anything that went against them was the result of shadowy conspiratorial forces. He attacked journalists, think tanks, economic institutes and public bodies whose output contradicted Cummings’s agenda as out-of-touch metropolitans. Institutional restraints on the executive — for instance, the courts, the news media or international organizations — were “undemocratic.” Politics was reinterpreted as a form of warfare over identity instead of a trade-off between competing interests.
That approach clinched the Brexit vote for Leave in 2016, triggering a fundamental shift in the cultural assumptions of British politics. When Johnson became prime minister in 2019, he brought Cummings into the heart of government as his chief adviser, making that shift an organizational reality. During the ensuing general election, the Tories deployed this “us against them” worldview to shattering effect.
By making politics about cultural values rather than traditional political ideas, the Conservative Party was able to bank its traditional supporters while reaching out to former Labour voters in northern towns who held instinctively conservative social views. The result was a huge 80-seat majority.
But despite those similarities, there is a key difference between Johnson and Trump: The outgoing American president has some consistency in his views, wrongheaded as they are. For decades, he has held an infantile understanding of international trade as a zero-sum game and an instinctive dislike of immigration and diversity. Johnson, on the other hand, is far more intelligent than Trump, but he has a much less consistent set of political beliefs.
As London mayor, he adopted a liberal, inclusive image to attract the capital’s metropolitan voters. Then during the Brexit referendum, he warped into a nativist, anti-immigrant, anti-European populist. There is ultimately no political consistency to him whatsoever. He is simply whatever he feels he needs to be to succeed in the current moment. Johnson does not feel nativism in his bones, as Trump does. He simply impersonates it.
After winning the election at Christmas, Johnson set Cummings loose. He immediately started wars with the European Union, the BBC, the Electoral Commission, the civil service, Public Health England, critical journalists and other government departments. Very quickly, it became easier to count those organizations Downing Street was not at war with rather than those it was.
It was all intensely noisy, but also profoundly ineffective. Once the coronavirus hit, it became clear that the government had no idea how to manage the pandemic. It could not function — it could only shout. Over 50,000 people have now died of the virus, and Johnson almost became one of them. Britain has the largest total death toll in Europe, and one of the worst per capita death tolls of industrialized nations.
In the end, Cummings’s warlike personality got the better of him. The attacks turned from liberals and Remainers to Conservatives themselves. He bitterly briefed against Conservative members of Parliament, other government departments and, eventually, even the prime minister’s partner, Carrie Symonds. He made many enemies and precious few friends. Finally, in an explosion of frustration, he handed in his resignation.
It was a moment of supremely enjoyable catharsis for British liberals, who were still luxuriating over the defeat of Trump the week before: After four years of watching populists win each political battle, it felt like the tide was turning.
Now British political circles have been full of chatter about whether Johnson is about to revert to a more inclusive, moderate figure. But there is an obstacle to the return of a liberal Boris Johnson. That obstacle is Brexit.
Brexit is a structural event — a complete severing of Britain’s diplomatic, legal and trading status. You can’t just wash your hands of it and get on as before. It is a choice that lasts a generation.
In six weeks, the transition period ends, and Britain leaves the European Union’s trading orbit. That involves the reintroduction of border controls to a system that was based on removing them. Goods moving to and fro will need customs declarations, safety and security documentation, regulatory checks and proof that they comply with the complex processes to be installed in Northern Ireland. The poetry of national sovereignty sold by the Brexit campaign — of a dynamic national destiny unchained from the continent — will change into the grim remorseless prose of regulatory and customs compliance.
Johnson will be unable to blame himself or the Brexit he backed for this incoming disaster. So he will instead have to blame the Other: dastardly Europeans abroad, traitorous Remainers or ill-prepared businesses at home. And in doing so, he will be replicating the same tactic Cummings taught him — to take objective reality and urge voters to ignore it on the basis of their tribal allegiance.
He also has a problem with the broader non-Brexit culture war. Electorally, he is trapped in the nativist straitjacket Cummings designed for him. The Conservative members of Parliament elected in northern pre-Brexit seats know that their only chance for reelection is to keep the focus on identity issues over economic ones so they can hold the former Labour voters they won in 2019. This will entail a continuation of attacks on BBC, “woke” politics and symbols of perceived political correctness.
But there is one way in which Britain’s experiment with populism might truly be coming to an end. It is not political, but strategic: Johnson is now set on his course without the man who was most committed and competent at delivering it. For all of Cummings’s failings, he was genuinely convinced of the culture war, eager to deploy it at every opportunity and effective at pursuing it. Johnson has none of that instinct. So now the government is trapped in an unenviable position: deploying a political program that it has lost the ability to articulate.
And that, in the end, will provide more of the confusion, contradiction and inadequacy that has typified Johnson’s time in power so far. He is trapped in a prison of his own making. And the jailer has walked off with the key.
Paul Quassa quits Nunavut legislature after 40 years in politics – CBC.ca
Nunavut Speaker Paul Quassa has resigned from his role as MLA for Aggu.
The news was first reported by Nunatsiaq News. Quassa confirmed his resignation to the CBC and said he is done with politics. He said he’s been thinking about the decision since the spring.
“I really cherish the time that I spent [in] my life here at the Legislative Assembly,” Quassa said.
“I knew that I could do at least two terms. And once … that term is up, I think it’s high time that we see somebody else there. And I have great confidence in in the next person that’s going to be elected.”
Quassa was elected as the Nunavut premier in 2017, but was ousted in 2018, though he continued in his role as MLA for Aggu.
He said he stayed on because he made a commitment to represent his community.
“No matter what happens, you just continue, keep going because you were elected … you’re representing your community. You cannot just stop there just because the other MLAs don’t agree with you,” he said.
His resignation, which will be effective as of Aug. 13, comes just shy of the end of his term, with Nunavut’s general upcoming election scheduled for Oct. 25.
Quassa said he wanted to give others the chance to be in leadership, and in particular, he encouraged young people to step forward and consider the opportunity of running for MLA.
“I thought this would be the right timing after talking with my family and my constituents, that it would be only right for me to step down and give other opportunities,” he said.
“I believe that our young people should really go for it, because again, we have to remember that at least 60 per cent of our population is under 25. So, you know, that’s a big population to represent. And I think it is high time that we start getting new ideas, new challenges, and then young people can make that difference.”
Though he didn’t say specifically what he plans to do next, Quassa hinted it might be something in the public sphere.
“I’m looking forward to do something else where I can speak my mind on behalf of Inuit and Nunavut,” he said.
N.W.T. Métis activist remembered as unfiltered politician, caring friend – CBC.ca
A leading figure in the Northwest Territories Métis community has died.
Clem Paul passed away on July 30. He was 64.
During his entire adult life, Paul was a champion of Métis rights in the Northwest Territories, specifically in the North Slave region. He is a former president of the old Yellowknife Métis Council and one of the founding leaders and a former president of the North Slave Métis Alliance, which was formed when three Métis groups in the North Slave region merged.
Trevor Teed was a friend of Paul’s since they were Grade 1 students in Yellowknife.
“Quite often in life you’ll hear somebody say in times of trouble, ‘I sure wish I had a friend to lean on’ or ‘I sure wish I had a shoulder to cry on’ — something like that,” said Teed. “That’s an experience I have never felt … because I always had a friend, Clem. He was always there for me.”
In 1991 Paul was awarded the Governor General’s medal of bravery for hauling Teed out of the frigid waters of Harding Lake. Teed and another man, who perished in the accident, had gone through the ice on their snowmobile. Paul used his gun case to paddle his sled out across 30 meters of open water, pulled Teed in, and paddled back to solid ice.
Teed said Paul was someone who spoke his mind, regardless of the effect his words had on those they were directed at.
“Clem was involved in politics but he wasn’t really a politician because he was point blank,” said Teed. “He often told people things they did not want to hear. If you were working with Clem on a project he was engaged in and weren’t putting in the effort he thought was warranted, he’d let you know about it.”
Taking time for strangers
Paul’s softer side was evident one of the first times I met him. On a paddling trip about 20 years ago, I stopped into an area on Great Slave Lake known as Old Fort Rae or Mountain Island, once a thriving community. My paddling partner and I were surprised to find a group of men building cabins there in the sweltering August heat.
They were led by Paul. He stopped his work and explained to us that they were revitalizing the community to re-establish it as a base for Métis in the region. Paul then told us about the history of the place, how it was an ideal location for a settlement because you could dock on either side of the peninsula, depending on which way the wind was blowing.
Paul spent the next hour giving us a tour of the remnants of the community and talking about the history of Métis in the area. He showed us where those who lived in the community were buried and talked about his plans for the place. He was obviously very busy, but took the time to show around two strangers.
Youngest certified journeyman welder in N.W.T.
Alongside his political activities, Paul initiated several high-profile court cases aimed at asserting and protecting Métis rights in the region, but his sister, Kathy Paul-Drover, said he was also very much a working man.
When he was 18, she said, he became the youngest person in the N.W.T. to be certified as a journeyman welder. He helped found Paul Brothers Welding, a longstanding Yellowknife business.
Paul-Drover said her brother got his work ethic and strong-willed nature from their mother, the late Theresa Paul.
One of Clem’s first political experiences was seeing his mother fight off an attempt by the City of Yellowknife to evict their family and others in a small Métis community that had settled in the School Draw Avenue area. The attempt happened in the mid-60s, shortly after Yellowknife was named the capital of the N.W.T.
“We had a fairly big Métis community here in the School Draw and she was the only one that maintained title to her land,” said Paul-Drover of her mother.
A difficult year
Paul-Drover said the past year has been difficult for her brother. He had fought off an earlier bout of cancer, but it returned.
“He was in and out of hospital for months, and with all of the restrictions with COVID he wasn’t able to see his grandchildren or children,” said Paul-Drover. “That was very difficult for him. That’s why he and his wife decided he should go home from the hospital despite not being able to take food or water. He was home for two days and he passed.”
A service will be held at the Yellowknife River on Thursday starting at 2 p.m. with a final viewing held shortly before. The gathering will then move to Lakeview Cemetery for the burial. Then it will return to the Yellowknife River for a celebration of life.
How politics is tearing families apart | Cupp – Chicago Sun-Times
The year was 2004, and a month after Barack Obama would make his national debut at the Democratic National Convention, another Democrat made news — at the Republican National Convention in New York City.
Georgia Democrat Zell Miller — a former governor who won with the help of longtime Democratic adviser James Carville, who had addressed the 1992 DNC waxing nostalgic for FDR, Truman, Kennedy and Carter, who endorsed Bill Clinton and opposed George H.W. Bush — was now standing at the podium at the Republican National Convention, about to endorse George W. Bush.
“Since I last stood in this spot, a whole new generation of the Miller family has been born,” he said. “They are my and Shirley’s most precious possessions.”
As he explained it, “My family is more important than my party.”
It was a powerful moment, and one that seems nearly impossible to imagine today, when bitter partisanship and party loyalty threatens to supersede our not only our commitment to our country, but to our families.
Nowhere is this corrosive effect more acute than inside right-wing politics, where loyalty to party and, more specifically, to Donald Trump, have managed to corrupt so many important democratic institutions — our elections, for one — but worse, institutions as fundamental as the family, what Pope John XXIII called “the first essential cell of human society.”
Under the presidency and post-presidency of Donald Trump, families have found themselves more divided, disaffected, even estranged, in some startling — and in some cases, very public — ways.
This weekend, three siblings of Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar penned a pointed op-ed at NBCnews.com slamming their brother for a history of political abominations, from birtherism to anti-Semitism, and from downplaying COVID-19 to inciting an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. They got personal.
“Maybe your lifelong, insecure need for the approval of others caused you to sacrifice your common decency and integrity to satisfy Trump and his followers in order to keep your seat,” they wrote.
They’ve long been publicly critical of their brother, even pushing for his expulsion from Congress.
Gosar has previously responded to their laments without much affection, telling CNN in 2018, “These disgruntled Hillary supporters are related by blood to me but like leftists everywhere, they put political ideology before family. Lenin, Mao and Kim Jung Un (sic) would be proud.”
The Gosars are hardly alone.
The Conways, matriarch and former Trump adviser Kellyanne, patriarch and Never-Trumper George, and teenage anti-Trump activist and “American Idol” contestant Claudia have been embroiled in a very public, hard-to-watch family conflict for the past two years. Recently Claudia has said her relationship with her parents has improved, thankfully.
Planning for the Gaetz-Luckey wedding might be difficult, as the future sister-in-law of Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz has taken to social media to slam his “weird and creepy” behavior with women in the wake of allegations of sex crimes. Gaetz’s fiancée has clapped back, “My estranged sister is mentally unwell.”
What once might have been kept behind closed doors is now being aired out for all to see, perhaps even in the hopes that public shaming will have some kind of behavior-changing effect.
But more tragic than these public figures’ public spats are the stories of average American families devastated by politics, conspiracy theories, and extremism. They’re not hard to find.
One NPR report recounts a sub-Reddit group called “Q Casualties,” made up of users who could no longer communicate with their QAnon family members — people like “Tyler,” who was despondent when he learned his dad had gone to the Capitol on Jan. 6 with loaded guns in his camper.
In another story, a woman going by “Caroline” told an Iowa news outlet that she was “married to a QAnon believer and lived in fear.” “QAnon has destroyed my life,” she said. “I live with someone who hates me.”
There’s the story of Rosanne Boyland, whose family was worried by her increasingly conspiratorial political ideas. She was one of five people who died at the Capitol insurrection, effectively giving her life for a false cause despite, according to her family, never even voting before 2020.
COVID-19 has brought another kind of political estrangement — over masking and vaxxing. There’s the story of two Chicago sisters whose mother stopped speaking to them after they defied her wishes not to get vaccinated.
There are countless more stories of families torn apart by politics in the last few years — by the politics of Trump, the cults of conspiracy groups like QAnon, the extremism of groups like the Proud Boys and The Oath Keepers, and the new politics of masks and vaccines.
What these destructive elements have done to divide our country and turn American against American is well-documented and horrific. But even worse is what it has done, and is still doing, to our families, isolating us further and further from the things that matter most. If we don’t correct this soon, we’re in for a very dark and lonely future.
S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN.
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