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The architect of Britain’s political culture war is gone. The culture war will go on. – The Washington Post

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Dominic Cummings, the mastermind behind Brexit and Boris Johnson’s 2019 election victory, handed in his resignation Friday and left through the front door of 10 Downing Street, holding a cardboard box with his belongings.

For over a year, the campaigners behind Vote Leave — the group that won the referendum on Britain quitting the European Union — had held near-total control of the government. And then suddenly, in a chaotic week of factional rivalry, power-politics and frenzied counter-briefings, it all fell apart.

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.

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Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante releases graphic novel detailing political journey – CKPGToday.ca

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“For me the graphic novel format was always what I wanted,” she said in a recent interview at her publisher’s offices.

“I think it’s accessible, it can be fun, and I love graphic novels myself.”

The book is based on Plante’s own sketches and anecdotes she began jotting down in 2013, during her first run for a seat on city council. Four years later, she became the first woman elected mayor of Montreal after her surprise defeat of experienced incumbent Denis Coderre.

While the writing and drawings were initially a form of self-care to help her “stay balanced,” she said she eventually came to see that her story might inspire others, especially young girls.

“I wanted to show, and maybe tell, people it’s OK not to have all the keys and codes to do something you think would be a good thing to do or you believe in,” she said.

“Just go for it.”

She began working with Cote-Lacroix on evenings and weekends, taking about two years to finalize the story and illustrations.

Plante said that, much like her character in the book, she had been looking for a new challenge before her entry into politics. Then she received a phone call from left-wing municipal party Projet Montreal, which was looking to diversify its slate of candidates.

In the book, Plante doesn’t shy away from the challenges faced by women who put themselves in the public eye. At one point, one of her character’s posters is defaced by sexist graffiti. In another, her character’s husband gets effusive praise for helping to care for the couple’s children — something the book points out is a given for female political spouses. 

While the book “won’t change sexism,” Plante said she hopes it will help highlight the double standards women face.

Three years into her mandate, Plante has had a bumpy year, marked by a global pandemic that has devastated the city’s economy and criticism over her administration’s failure to implement its big visions for affordable housing and transportation. She has also faced anger over what some have described as an anti-car agenda, which includes building bike lanes, eliminating parking spots and temporarily closing some streets to vehicle traffic to create “sanitary corridors.” 

At times, that criticism has escalated to the level of death threats.

While some criticism is to be expected, Plante attributes much of the public anger directed her way to the anxiety wrought by the pandemic.

“Not to minimize their actions of being very aggressive, violent or doing death threats, but I like to hope in the future, when people are less stressed and in a better position, things will calm down,” she said.

She also faced criticism earlier this year over her novel itself, with some high-profile commentators questioning her decision to “draw cartoons” as the city was embroiled in the COVID-19 crisis.

Plante dismissed this as unfounded, especially since she says the writing process wrapped up in late 2019.

“People were just kind of trashing the book (without) even reading it, which I thought was sad, because it wasn’t about the content, it was about criticizing the author,” she said. However, she did push back the book’s publication for a few months when the pandemic’s second wave began.

Plante said she would still recommend politics to young people who want to make a difference, even as she acknowledges it’s a “tough” career that comes with unusual levels of public exposure. 

“But hopefully people see in the book, the love that you get from your volunteers, it’s a community, it’s people working together,” she said.

“It’s worth it.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 28, 2020.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

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Joe Biden’s Catholic faith has shaped his life and approach to politics. How will it shape his presidency? – The Boston Globe

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President-elect Joe Biden left St. Joseph on the Brandywine church in Wilmington, Del., on Nov. 8.ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — On the morning of one of the most consequential days in his life, and maybe the nation’s history, too, Joe Biden attended Mass at the unassuming Roman Catholic church near his Delaware home.

The trip wasn’t a photo-op, just part of the normal routine for a man who will become only the second Catholic ever to be US president.

Biden always carries a rosary in his pocket and laces speeches with scripture. On the campaign trail, he was known to stop for a moment of quiet prayer, sometimes alone, sometimes with someone he had just met. Throughout his political career, it was not uncommon for Biden to attend a Saturday morning event with churchgoers and still make an evening service, his longtime friends and staffers say.

Indeed, his central pitch to voters as he paved his path to the White House this year carried a religious overtone: Americans were in “a battle for the soul of the nation.”

“I don’t think you go to Mass on Election Day to make a political statement,” said Margaret McGuinness, a professor of religion at La Salle University in Philadelphia. “We don’t have a tradition of that in this country. I think you go because you care and it means a lot to you.”

Despite breaking with Catholic doctrine on key issues such as abortion, Biden is expected to draw on a branch of his faith that is strongly rooted in social justice and reform for his governing philosophy. Rather than being in conflict, religious observers say these beliefs complement his worldview and permeate his deal-making approach to politics — a strength, supporters say, as he attempts to unify a splintered country.

But much like the rest of America, Catholics are polarized. Biden will have to build trust and bridge divides as he seeks to bring people of faith into the Democratic fold, despite those who see his desire for compromise and calls for unity as belonging to a bygone era.

“Anytime you see the good in people, you get called naive, and Joe has seen a lot of good in people,” said Sister Carol Keehan, the former president of the Catholic Health Association, a ministry of the Roman Catholic Church that encompasses hundreds of hospitals and health care facilities.

Biden’s comfort with his faith — and his willingness to talk about it — contrasts with most presidents and certainly the current one, historians said.

McGuinness often starts her lessons on John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic president, by noting that his wife, Jacqueline, once called him “a bad Catholic.” Kennedy, who won the White House after years of anti-Catholic sentiment, was so self-conscious about appearing to be influenced by the pope that he gave a speech during the 1960 campaign before a group of Protestant ministers pledging to resign should he ever be forced to “either violate my conscience or violate the national interest.”

President Trump has spoken little of his own faith, rarely goes to church, and is seen by many as morally flawed, even among his most ardent Christian followers. He was roundly criticized last summer after law enforcement officers forcibly cleared mostly peaceful racial justice protesters near the White House so he could stage a photo-op with a Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church.

Biden, meanwhile, has long threaded his religious beliefs with his politics and could be more explicit still in how he blends those principles with his governing priorities, historians said.

In that vein, Biden is like Jimmy Carter, who saw his deep Baptist faith as enriching his presidency, not interfering with it, said Thomas H. Groome, professor in theology and religious education at Boston College.

Biden’s “whole life is permeated with the values and especially the social values of his faith,” Groome said. And yet, “he also knows he can’t impose the moral teachings of his faith unless people are willing to embrace them.”

In a 2015 interview with late-night TV host Stephen Colbert, Biden described his brand of Irish Catholicism, cultivated through his family and Catholic grade school education, not so much as a practice or a system of beliefs but as “a place you can go” and that brings “just an enormous sense of solace.”

“Some of that relates to ritual, some of that relates to this comfort of what you’ve done your whole life,” Biden said, whether by saying a rosary or being alone with your thoughts in a crowded Mass. “All the good things that have happened have happened around the culture of my religion and theology of learning.”

Not that he hadn’t grappled with doubt. “The faith doesn’t always stick with you,” he said, nodding to members of the audience, who like himself, had experienced tragedy.

Delaware Senator Chris Coons, who first met Biden as a young lawyer more than 30 years ago, remembers when Biden was not so open about his faith or his personal losses. Coons said Biden rarely spoke of the car crash that took the lives of his first wife, Neilia, and his infant daughter, Naomi, near Christmas in 1972.

Another tragedy — the death of his son Beau, from brain cancer in 2015 — changed that, Coons said.

“When something shattering happens to you, you either turn away from God or you turn toward God, and Joe, after Beau’s death, has demonstrably turned toward God,” Coons said.

Like others close to Biden, Coons has seen the president-elect in his most pensive moments grasp the rosary beads that once belonged to Beau. Biden still carries a small rosary in his pocket, which theologians such as Groome describe as “a very concrete way that Catholics have of taking their faith out of their heads and bringing it into their hands.”

In recent months, Biden’s motorcade has remained a regular sight at St. Joseph’s on the Brandywine, an unadorned church in Greenville, Del., with walls of pale yellow stucco, white trimming and silver steeple. Neilia, Naomi, and Beau are buried in the church’s cemetery.

Like many Irish Catholics, Biden’s faith is more grounded in family and local parishes than in strict adherence to the hierarchies of the Roman Catholic Church. He attended Catholic schools in his hometown of Scranton, Pa., and in Wilmington, Del., where his family moved when he was 10. Nuns and priests were a constant presence in Scranton, where he would roam the streets with friends while on weekend visits with his grandparents. It was there where his grandfather taught him to pray the rosary and “church always felt like an extension of home,” Biden wrote in his 2007 memoir, “Promises to Keep.”

He briefly considered entering the seminary to become a priest. His religious studies were steeped in Catholic social teaching, a doctrine that emerged in the 1890s and evolved into 10 principles centered on social justice and the common good, the most central being that all people are created with inherent dignity.

Under these guiding rules, it is not enough to feed the hungry, theologians said, but to also address the cause of their hunger. Biden spoke of this in an interview with the Christian Science Monitor in 2007.

“The animating principle of my faith, as taught to me by church and home, was that the cardinal sin was abuse of power,” he said. “It was not only required as a good Catholic to abhor and avoid abuse of power, but to do something to end that abuse.”

Still, Biden, like other Democratic Catholic politicians, has been scrutinized for his stances on issues such as abortion, LGBTQ rights, and so-called religious freedom. Breaking from traditional Catholic teaching, Biden in 2012 became the first national leader to support same-sex marriage and has said he believes “reproductive rights are a constitutional right” that should be accessible to every woman. Last summer, he reversed his decades-long support for a measure barring federal funding for most abortions after facing intense pressure from Democratic rivals.

For a hardening faction of conservative Catholics and evangelicals, there has been a growing sense of perceived persecution. This has come as Pope Francis — the first pontiff to hail from the Americas — steers the church in a more liberal direction on issues such climate change, poverty, and the enduring impact of colonization on marginalized people. Historically, there has been a divide among Catholics between those who believe in strict accordance with Catholic doctrine and those who want the church to use the teachings of Jesus Christ to put the needs of the poor and oppressed first.

“In the end, it is a difference of opinion on what we will be judged on when the time comes,” McGuinness said. “It is a difference of opinion on what it means to be a good Catholic.”

In the US, more than half of Catholics now believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to the Pew Research Center. But their views diverge sharply along political lines: Some 55 percent of Catholic Republicans say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, while 64 percent of Catholic Democrats believe the opposite, the Pew research has found.

Biden has long grappled with this evolution. During negotiations over the Affordable Care Act, where the Obama administration had committed to not letting federal funds be used for abortion, Biden pushed to ensure that pregnant women had access to complete prenatal coverage to care for their babies after their birth. It was this sort of understanding of human dignity, Keehan said, that Biden often brought to legislative work to aid the poor, low-income workers, and even middle-class families.

“You can’t say everyone should have good health care, good nutrition, and not do anything about it, particularly when you have the kind of power and influence he held,” she said.

Biden sought to imbue the same principles into his presidential campaign. He and his running mate, Kamala Harris — a Black Baptist from a Hindu family who is married to a Jewish man — made direct appeals to people of faith centered on common good values.

“Faith was integrated across the campaign, not just siloed into one outreach department,” said Josh Dickson, the Biden campaign’s national faith engagement director.

“What stands out to me is … how his authenticity in his faith was just so clear,” Dickson said.

For Catholics such as Nichole Flores, motivated to volunteer for Biden after the Trump administration split apart migrant families at the border, it was the first time they felt their faith was truly seen by the Democratic Party. She still doesn’t agree with the party’s stance on abortion, but said she appreciates Biden’s Catholic approach to so many other issues, including immigration and wealth distribution.

“One thing I think he brings to the conversation is a model for the diverse ways that Catholics live out our values in public life,” said Flores, an assistant professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia.

Another Biden volunteer, Grant Tabler, 22, said he came to see his vote for Trump in 2016 as likely “the greatest regret of his life,” one that now compels him to “fight for some sense of equality for all.”

He first heard of Biden in a critical way — when friends and family would argue the former vice president should not receive Holy Communion. But he soon realized that Biden “is pro-life, pro-protecting the migrant, pro-protecting the poor,” Tabler said.

Catholics make up about a fifth of US adults, and exit polls showed they split almost evenly between Biden and Trump; the Republican retained support from conservative evangelical Christian leaders and Catholics for his positions on defending religious freedom and opposing abortion, and for packing the courts with conservative judges.

Some lamented that Biden did not do more to appeal to voters of faith beyond the key battleground states, such as in Texas. “If he came and talked to Latinos about his faith …shared his passion and plans for his future, he would have won” the Rio Grande Valley, said Antonio Arellano, the interim executive director of Jolt, the largest Latino progressive organization in the state.

The political divide among Catholics was clear this month when Biden received a congratulatory call from Pope Francis while Trump was still refusing to concede. Days later, Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez, head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, announced a working group to analyze Biden’s support for abortion rights, and experts said this effort could also consider whether to deny him communion.

Biden isn’t likely to be deterred in his calls for unity. In his victory speech on Nov. 7, he turned to the Christian hymn “On Eagle’s Wings,” calling for “faith in America and in each other, with a love of country — and a thirst for justice” in the quest to be a better nation.

“So I remember, as my grandpa said when I walked out of his home when I was a kid up in Scranton, he said: ‘Joey, keep the faith,’” Biden said. “And our grandmother, when she was alive, she yelled: ‘No, Joey, spread it.’ Spread the faith.”


Reach Jazmine Ulloa at jazmine.ulloa@globe.com or on Twitter: @jazmineulloa.

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Week In Politics: Trump Acknowledges Transition Of Power, But Stops Short Of Conceding – NPR

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We look at what a concession from the Trump White House might look like, and what the president might be able to get done in his remaining days.



SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Trump signaled this week he would accept the results of the election once the Electoral College declares Joe Biden the winner after weeks of mounting failed legal challenges and making unfounded allegations of voter fraud. But after that moment of lucidity on Thursday, the president returned to calling the elections, quote, a “massive fraud” and a “big scam.” He tweeted more of the same yesterday.

NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving joins us. Ron, good morning.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: Is this as close as we might come to hearing a concession, if not the word?

ELVING: You know, it’s all over, perhaps, but for the tongue-lashing the president’s lawyers keep getting in the courts. Yesterday, it was a federal appeals court in Pennsylvania saying that, quote, “calling an election unfair does not make it so.” This in the same week the president called in to a Republican event – it was in Gettysburg, as it happens – and he then ranted about how he just needed to get, quote, “some judge” to listen to him.

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, the recount the Trump campaign sought and paid for is actually enlarging Biden’s lead, at least in the largest county. So as states continue to certify results, we’re moving toward a vote on the Electoral College in two weeks and two days. That will set up the situation the president said would cause him to leave the building.

So we can expect the president and his most devoted course of supporters will continue to deny it not necessarily because they think they can stop the train, but because there are other reasons to resist the inevitable.

SIMON: And those reasons are?

ELVING: Well, the president has always been interested in controlling the narrative, and he’s not eager to be cast with those other one-term presidents, like the first George Bush, Jimmy Carter, Herbert Hoover. He’s not willing to be one of the losers. So even in defense – even in defeat, he may want to remain in denial. And he can do that. He just needs friendly media venues where he’s a victim of injustice.

SIMON: Earlier this week, we saw the implications of an expanded conservative majority that President Trump put on the Supreme Court when they delivered the decision upholding challenges to pandemic restrictions on the size of crowds gathered for worship at religious services. Those restrictions had already been lifted. Does this decision look like what amounts to President Trump’s legacy?

ELVING: You’re right to say this decision was of limited effect in an immediate sense in New York or elsewhere, but it was clearly a signal that the court has a new majority, five justices willing to vote to the right of Chief Justice John Roberts, five justices eager to be seen as champions of religious liberty and willing to defend that principle even in the face of public health advisories. Three of these five are Trump appointees. So, yes, this is indeed a singular achievement for the president and a salient feature of Donald Trump’s legacy.

SIMON: President pardoned Michael Flynn this week, which may not have been so surprising. But what else do you believe the president can do between now and January 20, when Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are sworn into office?

ELVING: There is a great deal the president can do. The question is how much of it can be undone and what permanent effect will be left after January 20. We’re also seeing a flurry of orders from Cabinet members governing their various jurisdictions. Some of those are draconian and may be swiftly reversed, and others may remain on the books for some time.

As for pardons, that is a presidential power with very few restraints. And the pardons he grants for federal offenses are permanent and not reviewable.

SIMON: And we must ask this weekend, what about prospects for military action? It was reported that the president was quite recently talked out of bombing an Iranian nuclear facility. And, of course, he has recently ordered the withdrawal of more U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

ELVING: There’s real concern about what Trump could do as commander in chief, anxiety about him deciding to make a mark on his way out the door. So when we see a key figure assassinated in Iran, we wonder whether that shows the hand of the U.S. in any way.

But right now, it seems the president is preoccupied with projects closer to home, things that have always interested him more than foreign affairs, including his challenges to the election and pardons for former associates in criminal difficulty and measures he may take to insulate himself or his family against legal or financial consequences down the road.

SIMON: Ron Elving, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott.

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

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