Boris Shows How It’s Done

This is getting tiresome. The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi and John Wagner report on the spat of the day:

President Trump says he wants to change the channel on Fox News, the cable network that helped make his political career and whose hosts have consistently defended his administration.

Trump lashed out at Fox on Wednesday morning, accusing the network in tweets of “heavily promoting the Democrats,” and adding, “The New @FoxNews is letting millions of GREAT people down! We have to start looking for a new News Outlet. Fox isn’t working for us anymore!”

Perhaps he should not have said that, but there can be some disagreement on that last spasm of anger. His base, and perhaps most Republicans now, might argue that Fox News should do all it can to support the president, as a matter of patriotism – and so should CNN and CBS and ABC and NBC and MSNBC and CNBC and all the rest. The job of the press is to make the president look good, and thus make the country look good, and thus make all of us safer and more prosperous. Negativity can ruin a nation. Others might take the more traditional view – the job of the press is to let the nation know what’s really going on, good or bad, because only an informed electorate can make reasonable decisions about who should run the place and what they should do. But that’s so very negative! But that’s the truth! But that’s a never-ending argument. Donald Trump, however, was pointing out the obvious. Fox News had worked for him, and he might be right to call them out for suddenly going all newsy and objective on him. He had thought that argument was over. He had thought, for good reason, that they were his:

The tweets were the latest, and perhaps the bluntest, criticisms of Fox that Trump has broadcast to his nearly 64 million Twitter followers, despite unwavering support from Fox’s top-rated opinion programs. In the past, the symbiosis between Fox and the Trump administration has been so close that critics have called the network “state TV,” effectively branding it a propaganda organ.

Trump has been fine with that, they were working for him, but then they weren’t:

Trump’s morning fusillade followed Fox anchor Sandra Smith’s interview of Xochitl Hinojosa, the communications director for the Democratic National Committee, in which she discussed next month’s Democratic presidential debate, among other things.

The president’s blast at Fox wasn’t new – he has attacked Fox anchor Shepard Smith and newly hired contributor Donna Brazile, the former chair of the Democratic National Committee, among others at the network in recent months.

It seems they had decided to start reporting on what was actually happening, so this had to happen sooner or later:

There are two potential interpretations of Trump’s comment that “Fox isn’t working for us anymore.” One is that the president is generally disdainful of the network; the other suggests Trump believes Fox is an arm of his administration and reelection campaign. The latter notion is one that people at Fox reject.

Brit Hume, a longtime Fox analyst and host, responded to Trump on Twitter, writing, “Fox News isn’t supposed to work for you.”

Trump’s comments were also consistent with past critiques: He has railed against any criticism uttered by commentators appearing on Fox, including by Brazile and Juan Williams, the network’s left-leaning pundit. He has also attacked its polling, claiming that it is biased in favor of Democrats.

Throughout, Fox has remained officially silent. Its spokespeople have not offered a rebuttal to the president’s criticism. A spokesperson once again declined to comment on Wednesday.

They’re not going to get into an argument with him. There no point in that. They’re going to be a bit more newsy and objective, and if Donald Trump has a problem with that, well, that’s his problem, not theirs. But it is easy to see why Trump was angry:

Starting in 2011, Fox gave Trump a regular slot on “Fox & Friends,” its daily morning program, in which Trump promoted his political ideas, including his discredited “birther” conspiracy theory against President Barack Obama, in preparation for his presidential campaign in 2015.

Several former Fox commentators and personalities, such as national security adviser John Bolton and former State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, joined Trump’s administration directly from the network. Bill Shine, a former Fox executive, was briefly Trump’s communications director.

Trump has given many interviews to Fox, including to its biggest star, Sean Hannity, who has campaigned on Trump’s behalf and frequently offers him private advice.

Last week, Fox hired former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders to be an on-air commentator.

But now they’re chatting with actual living Democrats, live, in their Manhattan studios, so of course Trump lost it:

“HOPELESS & CLUELESS!” he thundered on Twitter Wednesday. “They should go all the way LEFT – and I will still find a way to WIN.”

And he has a plan:

Earlier this month, in a tweet trashing CNN (“Fake News”) and Shepard Smith, Trump said he turns to One America News Network (OAN) as an alternative. OAN, based in San Diego and founded in 2013, is consistently pro-Trump, but it is far smaller and less influential among Trump supporters than Fox. The privately owned network said in June that it reaches 35 million homes, mostly via DirecTV and Verizon FiOS, a fraction of the 90 million or so homes that can access Fox.

When he is angry with something, which he often is, or always is, he does suggest absurd alternatives that just won’t work – using nuclear weapons on hurricanes or having the entire nation turn to the One America News Network, not available in most of the nation, as its sole source for “real” (not “fake”) news. And he’s not going to shut down Fox News – or CNN or anyone else for that matter. That too is absurd. He was just blowing off steam. That’s what his staff will tell the media and Congress and his donors, a bit later. And sooner or later he’ll actually believe that he was just blowing off steam and this was nothing at all and everyone should just shut up about all of this. Everyone should have known he was just kidding in the first place. And then everyone will forget all of this.

The Chinese used to have a term for this. He’s a paper tiger. He’s not going to DO anything. He makes threats. He blusters. The nation now knows better. The nation yawns.

Donald Trump is not Boris Johnson, the British Donald Trump. They both want to keep immigrants out, they both want out of all previous deals on Trade – Trump wanted out of NAFTA and the TPP and wanted to redo all the trade rules with China, or just stop doing business with them – “We don’t need China” – and Johnson wants Britain to cut all ties with the European Union and all of their rules and regulations. Each of them makes arguments about sovereignty. Cooperation with other nations ends your nation. Make America Great Again! Make Britain Great Again! Get out of all agreements. Close the borders. Stand alone and proud. Take care of your own people. Screw the world.

But then Donald Trump is not Boris Johnson. Trump is in a trade war with China, imposing massive tariffs on them to cause them massive pain and to humiliate them, so they give Trump every single thing Trump wants – and they refuse to be humiliated. That’s going nowhere. The markets are howling. Farmers are howling. Banks are howling. Corporations are howling. Most Republicans are hiding – and Trump is out of options. He rants. He tweets. He fumes. But there’s not much else he can do. He’s the paper tiger.

Johnson is the real tiger. He’s tired of all the talk. He simply shut down Parliament:

Prime Minister Boris Johnson turned to Britain’s queen on Wednesday to limit Parliament’s ability to challenge his plan to take the country out of the European Union in nine weeks, with or without a deal.

Mr. Johnson asked Queen Elizabeth II to suspend Parliament in September, a move that will cut the already dwindling number of days lawmakers have to find an alternative path ahead of the looming Brexit deadline on Oct. 31.

Queen Elizabeth did that. Her role is not political. She did what he suggested. He’s the Prime Minister. But this didn’t sit well with a few people:

The startling maneuver, Mr. Johnson’s boldest move since taking office a month ago, was immediately denounced by the opposition as undemocratic and possibly unconstitutional, and even a former prime minister in Mr. Johnson’s own Conservative party said the decision could be challenged in the courts.

The speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, called Mr. Johnson’s decision a “constitutional outrage.” Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, denounced it as “reckless,” while the party’s finance policy spokesman, John McDonnell, called it a “very British coup.”

It’s not American. Here, the head of state, the president, cannot dissolve Congress and make them go away. Trump cannot suspend Congress because they’ve been too pesky and do the country’s business himself, by himself, because Congress is useless. But that’s what happened over there:

Normally, in times of national crisis, British leaders have convened Parliament. But as the country confronts its biggest crisis in many decades, Mr. Johnson’s decision to do the opposite and initiate a confrontation with lawmakers follows a long standoff over Brexit between the Conservative government and a divided Parliament.

Three times Mr. Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, brought a deal to Parliament she had negotiated with the European Union over the terms of Britain’s withdrawal, which the country’s voters had called for in a 2016 referendum. Three times the deal was rejected, leading Mrs. May to resign and Mr. Johnson to replace her.

Parliament couldn’t get a damned thing done. He’ll do it himself. Trump can only dream of suddenly seizing such power, but there’s this:

Johnson’s ploy is risky – just how risky became clear Wednesday evening with reports that the widely admired Conservative leader in Scotland, Ruth Davidson – unable to defend Mr. Johnson’s Brexit policies – was on the verge of resigning.

John Major, the Conservative prime minister who succeeded Margaret Thatcher in 1990, said in a statement to the BBC on Wednesday that he was seeking legal advice.

“I have no doubt that the prime minister’s motive in seeking prorogation is to bypass a sovereign Parliament that opposes his policy,” he said.

Perhaps so, but Johnson may be giving Trump ideas, although there’s this:

An online petition on a government website, demanding that Parliament not be suspended while a Brexit deadline looms, had collected more than one million signatures by Wednesday evening – far more than the 100,000 needed to require Parliament to consider holding a debate on the issue.

They may “consider” that but the New York Time’s Benjamin Mueller notes what they are up against:

Boris Johnson hurtled to the top of British politics with an air of charm and disarrayed befuddlement. He slipped into Latin and Greek, changed sides when it suited his ambitions and oozed a mischievous bravado, as when he put his foot on a table at the French president’s palace last week.

But Mr. Johnson’s decision on Wednesday to cut short a session of Parliament revealed another side: the ruthless tactician who took office as prime minister this summer. With Brexit hanging in the balance, Mr. Johnson marshaled all the power of Downing Street to cut out the legs of a wobbly opposition, risking a constitutional crisis to get what he has promised.

Donald Trump is not a ruthless tactician, or even a tactician, but he wishes he were:

Suddenly the man affectionately known as “BoJo” was being rebranded by some opponents a “tin-pot dictator.” And President Trump, known for his own norm-smashing maneuvers, applauded Mr. Johnson, calling him on Twitter “exactly what the UK has been looking for.”

And of course the two face parallel disasters and pretend they don’t:

Mr. Johnson’s opponents argue that his policies could result in a disastrous no-deal Brexit with the potential to tear apart the United Kingdom, cripple British agriculture and some manufacturing sectors and throw the economy into a recession, while producing shortages of food and medicines.

But those warnings have been filed away under “Project Fear” by Mr. Johnson and his supporters.

And our tariffs on everything don’t hurt our economy at all, but writing from London, Martha Gill suggests another parallel:

This is, of course, extraordinary – a minority government deliberately preventing MP’s from scrutinizing one of the country’s biggest decisions in memory – and steers close to authoritarianism. There is no conceivable democratic mandate for crashing out of Europe without a deal. Indeed, various members of the 2016 campaign to leave the European Union frequently ruled out this possibility. Mr. Johnson himself said a few months ago that the odds of no deal were “a million to one against.” Forecasters predict crashing out will do the country great harm.

Yet this is the strange place in which Britain finds itself.

Yes, something has gone wrong:

Where does all this leave British democracy? Our current prime minister has learned from his predecessor’s mistakes: She was hamstrung by the rules. But the country is now presented with a prime minister elected by a tiny percentage of the population – his mandate is from Conservative Party MP’s and members – not the country – deliberately skirting Parliamentary scrutiny to push through a policy that was never voted on.

Upholding democracy is the rallying cry of those who wish to see Brexit done. But Brits must start to question whether their island is floating away from the concept altogether.

Damn, that sounds familiar, and Anne Applebaum adds this:

You could call it a constitutional crisis, and many are doing so. The speaker of the House of Commons has used the expression “constitutional outrage,” and some are going further: #stopthecoup is trending on British Twitter. Alternatively, you could dismiss it as nothing more than a bit of unattractive “parliamentary chicanery,” as a Brexiteer friend of mine just did over the phone. But however this saga ends – with Brexit or no Brexit, an election or no election – the British prime minister’s unusual and unprecedented five-week suspension of Parliament, announced Wednesday, will end by helping to discredit Parliament, and to discredit democracy, in one of the oldest democracies in the world.

The idea is to bypass democracy from here on out:

Johnson’s team is playing down this decision, but there can be no pretense: He has called this suspension, which will begin Sept. 11, to avoid a parliamentary vote. His predecessor, Theresa May, was unable to get a Brexit treaty through Parliament – mostly because Brexiteers themselves could not face the ugly realities, so much worse than the paradise they had promised. Johnson probably can’t get May’s Brexit treaty through Parliament, either, and he hasn’t got very far in negotiating a new one.

Johnson (perhaps like Trump) cannot figure out how to “work” a democracy and won’t learn how to get thing done that way, so he’ll do it his way, because he has to:

There could be democratic solutions to this dilemma. One of them would be a new referendum. Johnson doesn’t want that, however, because most polls show the public would probably not back Brexit a second time.

He’s stuck, and Applebaum cannot avoid the obvious parallel:

I’ve so far resisted these comparisons, but now Britain’s political crisis really does resemble the parallel crisis in the United States. A ruthless executive is pushing the outer bounds of what is constitutionally possible in order to achieve unpopular outcomes. A ruling party that is afraid for its own electoral future is shamefacedly supporting him. A divided opposition seeks to block him but doesn’t have a popular leader itself. A conservative party is using populist slogans that undermine national institutions. Old precedents and customs are being abandoned at great speed, leaving only a vacuum in their wake.

It is, if you like, the ultimate irony. Brexit, allegedly, was meant to return “sovereignty” to the British Parliament. Instead, Brexit might end up discrediting the British Parliament, and British politicians, well into the future – just like their American cousins.

The only difference here is that Boris Johnson is quite good at these things and Donald Trump rage-tweets at Fox News and may have turned them against him. If he were as smart and ruthless as Boris Johnson our democracy would be ending too. But he’s not. So let him feud with Fox. That will keep him busy. That nonsense may save us all.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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