In political deference to the protectionist delusions of the populists Sanders and Trump, candidate Clinton has, as you know, turned on the TPP as a flawed trade agreement in need of vigorous renegotiation. I suspect President Clinton will take the agreement in hand, shift a comma, insert a semi-colon, and declare it vigorously perfected. These punctuation adjustments will be sold by the Clinton administration as heroic, visionary adventures in U.S. leadership. This necessary scam, successfully completed, will then pass into history (although populist, protectionist pols will of course blame every American job lost on the monstrous TPP).
The British-European parallel to Clinton's political sorcery was envisioned two months ago by one Andrew Moravcsik. Moravcsik, a Princeton politics professor, predicted that "under no circumstances will Britain leave Europe, regardless of the result of the referendum." Assuming that "Brexit" succeeds at the polls, he wrote, Britain would simply "negotiate a new agreement, nearly identical to the old one, disguise it in opaque language and ratify it." The future alternative — domestic economic devastation — would leave Britain's leaders with no choice.
Clinton's ineluctable manipulation still awaits us, since our national "referendum" still awaits us. But it appears that Moravcsik's prediction is already playing out, for "Britons are already worse off," notes political economist Philippe Legrain in a NYT op-ed. The pound is in free-fall, the stock market is in turmoil, property prices are at risk, business uncertainty prevails and thus business investments are on hold, Britain's political leadership is in doubt, and the United Kingdom itself may break up.
"Experts are, of course, known to make mistakes," writes Legrain. "But in this case, the people who voted for Brexit will pay a big price for ignoring economic expertise. The harmful effects of this vote are both immediate and lasting."
See: Moravcsik. There remains a way out. As the NY Times reports, "some supporters of Brexit are backpedaling on bold pronouncements they made just a few days earlier." They're backpedaling because their "misinformation and even deception" are now plain to see. The National Health Service will not, after all, receive a superabundance of funding that would otherwise go to the E.U., and immigration — if Britain intends to trade at all with the continent — will see no decline. "Brexit" was a true protectionist racket, engineered by lies. And yet the lies were exposed repeatedly by the Remainers.
Which brings us to the deeper subject of this post, a subject inaugurated by E.J. Dionne this morning: "Don’t trash democracy or the voters. Where complicated choices are involved — and Brexit defines complexity — leaders in representative democracies need the guts to make hard calls and submit themselves to voters afterward. They should not use referendums purely to evade responsibility."
I never thought I'd find myself defending the Tory David Cameron, but his promise to stage a Brexit referendum was, in retrospect, a gutsy call. Stupid, as we now know, but to some extent gutsy. Prime Minister Cameron no doubt foresaw the "misinformation and even deception" the Brexiteers would deploy, but he put his faith in the wisdom of democracy, of voters — who were being unscrupulously converted, by populists, to populists. Was Cameron's a "hard call"? It seemed a rather easy one at the time, yet unquestionably he submitted himself to voters, just as Dionne urges. Hence it doesn't appear that Cameron "used" the referendum "purely to evade responsibility" as a leader. He mistakenly believed that democracy would affirm his leadership. Dionne, however, appears to let the voters off the hook.
Voters are not of much democratic use, though, if the majority of them are so easily swayed by demagogues — which is synonymous with "populist leaders." And therein lies a debate that will never end, because it is fundamentally, decisively unanswerable: Who is to blame when democracy implodes? — the voters or the pied pipers?
Having trashed referendums, Dionne further urges that "real democrats should demand a second referendum on the terms of an exit deal." There I agree. And the "deal" is likely to unfold much as Professor Moravcsik predicted it would — now that voters are bothering to inform themselves.