A most hearty congratulations to The Right Honorable Boris Johnson who succeeded Theresa May yesterday, July 24, as the UK’s new Prime Minister. May certainly gave it her best shot but was never able to figure out the flaming dumpster wreck that was Brexit and so off into the sunset she rides. So long and thanks for all the fish, Mrs. May! You will most likely in the annals of history be neither missed nor remembered.
As for the current incoming PM, The Right Honorable Boris Johnson… oh man, this is going to be good.
I will confess something now, which is only fair: I was initially very much opposed to both the Donald Trump presidency here in the US as well as the Brexit referendum in 2016. From everything that I’d read online, it’d seemed to me that all of the experts and professionals who’d studied politics, economics, sociology, etc, for a living were all making dire predictions about what both a Trump presidency and a Brexit would entail. All of the political, academic, and economic elites –people with Nobel Prizes, Pulitzers, MacArthur Fellowships, etc– were all shouting from the rooftops grave warnings about what would happen if we continued down these two populist paths.
But we’re now nearly three years into the Trump presidency here in the US (and in this time, Brexit has yet still to happen) and I think I’ve changed my tune. The person who convinced me most was Michael Lewis, actually. Recently, I finished reading The Fifth Risk which was a remarkable book about the US government and just how many unsung heroes work tirelessly in civil service to serve us average Americans. Yet, despite all their efforts, the public servants in US government continue to occupy an incredibly despised and ungrateful quarter in the collective public imagination. As Lewis writes, “Big Government” continues to be repeatedly used as a pejorative term by many American citizens, especially in many conservative and rural areas. It is consistently unappreciated, derided, and mocked. On one hand, while many Americans happily accept social services provided by Big Government (the interstate highway system, Social Security, Medicare), they merrily/happily/ignorantly give Big Government the finger with their other hand. It’s really quite a sad situation. If I worked in government at all, I’d be extremely depressed. How to do you continue to dedicating your life to helping people who hate you?
While I’m not as well-versed in the whole Brexit drama that’s been unfolding across the pond, my impression of that fiasco is that it’s a similar situation. Countless Britons are resentful/upset/unhappy about having to cede taxes or control or something to the EU. And they feel they’d be much better striking off on their own. Over the past three years, I’ve tried to keep an open mind, and as I’ve followed events, I’ve changed my mind. I’m now a huge proponent of both a second term for Donald Trump (or three or four more terms; however many more he’s able to win) as well as a speedy execution of Brexit. My general feeling is that as time passes, on the order of years and decades, it’s easy for humans to become spoiled and forget. It’s easy for short-term memory to kick in when you’ve never had to survive the Dust Bowl or the Great Depression, it’s –in all fairness– more difficult for people to appreciate the myriad number of services, help, and goodwill that government provides. And it’s really only in a crisis, during a war or a natural disaster, that you can really see with your own two eyes the merits of government and why it exists.
Likewise, I think it’s generally good for the proletariat –us, the working class people– to be somewhat skeptical and weary of the so-called “ruling elite.” Sure, they’re bright folks who are usually right. But sometimes, like with LTCM, they’re not. They all hail from fancy schools with fancy degrees or have fancy credentials– but really smart and experienced people are also fallible. They may not deliberately mean to be misleading, but if we always followed what was “safe or prudent” then it’s always possible we may miss a fork in the road, somewhere along the way that could’ve possibly led to greener pastures. Maybe President Trump is able to cut a bunch of bloat in the federal budget without any negative effects. Maybe leaving the EU will help the UK begin anew a resplendent “Golden Age.” If you’re cynical about these things, you could also make an argument that many political/academic/economic elites possess a vested interest in preserving the status quo power structure and so they may deliberately promote fear mongering or “worst-case-scenario-thinking.” I personally don’t much believe this line of thought, but I do acknowledge its possibility and so we should always be aware of it.
In closing: I consider myself to be an empiricist. It feels very American to me to always be trying new things. As Winston Churchill once supposedly memorably remarked, “Americans will always do the right thing– after exhausting all the alternatives.” I feel this description is apt and I proudly wear it as a badge of honor. In America, we respect tradition but we’re not glued to it. If we never try new things, we’ll never know if a better world is possible. And if we do try new things and fail –like another Three Mile Island happening– then that catastrophe, as awful as it would be, would also be a tragedy that served an important functional purpose: To remind Americans that government is important and that we all pay taxes for a reason.