As much as Americans like to brag about their wonderful constitutional system of government — federalism, separation of powers, etc., — the fact is that, as democracy has grown around the world over the past 100 years or so, not many free nations have been moved to copy us.
Even the governments set up by the United States as they conquered and then, quite nobly, left nations such as Germany and Japan are more in the British mold. Parliamentary systems, where there is no separation between the executive and the legislature, are the standard, from New Zealand to Canada to Israel to Iceland.
Voters officially vote for their local member of Parliament, the Diet or the Bundestag. But, contra Tip O’Neill, all politics is anything but local. Voters in those democracies mostly choose candidates based on party, as the party that wins the most seats in the legislative assembly also becomes the administration — or, as they usually put it, the government.
While the American political mind may recoil at a system without checks and balances, the European habit prefers a structure where there is no doubt who is responsible for successes and failures, where the people have a clear view to keep governments they like and toss out those they don’t.
Maybe at the next scheduled election. Maybe at an extra, “snap” election that happens when, despite everything, there is a political impasse, or a monumental screw-up.
Speaking of which.
This week in the Mother of Parliaments, Westminster Palace, an oafish prime minister who was carried to power on a wave of lies, xenophobia and Russian bots (sound familiar?) is seeing his government crumble before his eyes.
This is happening because just enough members of the British Conservative Party see that bolting for the exit from the European Union with no arrangement for travel, trade, customs and all that other pesky, dull stuff that nations do has the potential to be an economic disaster not seen since 1929.
The other day one Conservative member of Parliament copied other great British leaders, including Winston Churchill (who did it twice), by silently but purposely crossing the floor and taking a seat with the Liberal Democrats, the most firmly anti-Brexit party in the House. Another 21 Conservative MPs voted against Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s drive to eject from the EU without a parachute, and were immediately booted from the party.
They are probably aware of the fact that, even if they agree that the Gnomes of Brussels are a major pain in the bum when it comes to trade and regulation, Brexit’s major accomplishment will be to weaken Europe as an economic and democratic force in the world, just as dictatorships such as Russia and China seek to rise over the bones of the post-World War II order.
Of course, that’s not how things are done around here. We relish the gridlock that comes from one party controlling the presidency and another running all or part of Congress. It provides a ready and inexhaustible excuse for why nothing ever gets done. Our governments don’t resign in contrition or fall due to scandal.
We fear a system where the chief executive is not firmly in charge of the national security apparatus because, whether the perceived threat is Napoleon or Nikita Khrushchev, we think a president’s hold on power must be secure, lest our enemies take advantage.
The democracy is always smarter on the other side of the pond. We look across from time to time to see true patriots in London put country above party. Or, as they are more likely to put it, stand with the ideals that first drew them to that party over the temporary ogre in charge.
It’s always kind of messy. But, right now, the vision of real Republicans, like, oh, I don’t know, Mitt Romney and John Curtis, telling their putative leader to sod off has a great appeal.
George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, is building a case that the fact that his great-great-grandmother was named Robertson qualifies him for Scottish residency.