Right-wing populists are still in power after Brexit and Trump, but they are unable to govern.

Right-wing populists are still in power after Brexit and Trump, but they are unable to govern.

This week, the US right put on a clown show that got leftists in that nation and elsewhere to pull up a chair and get the popcorn ready. Watching the Republicans who took control of the House of Representatives struggle to perform the most elementary task—the election of a speaker—has been satisfying on a karmic level, but it has also been instructive for everyone—not just Americans. Because it has proven that rightwing populist politics, which delights in what it calls disruption, has a dirty little secret: it always results in acrimonious factional bickering, turmoil, and paralysis. Since Brexit has gone the same way here in Britain, we should be aware.

Starting with the karma that caused House Republicans to come together two years to the day after they attempted to obstruct the peaceful transfer of power from one party to another, it is important to remember that just hours after rioters stormed the US Capitol, a majority of Republican House members voted to do exactly what the rioters had demanded and annul the results of the 2020 presidential election. This action was a direct response to their actions. The peaceful transition of power from one party to another had been thwarted, but here they were on January 6, 2023, the same House Republicans doing it to their own party.

Ministers could immediately stop our patients from passing away in NHS hospital hallways.

It ought to have been simple. In November, Republicans earned a slim majority in the House, giving them the power to elect one of their own to the position of speaker. While the majority supported Kevin McCarthy, there were roughly 20 rebels who did not. By Thursday night, they had conducted the most rounds of voting (11), dating back to the time of the American Civil War, without McCarthy or any other candidate getting a majority. The outcome: a deadlock.

It was a case study of ineptitude. When a party begs the electorate for power, the electorate grants it; yet, the party immediately freezes, unwilling to even begin the process of wielding the power. The impasse’s political logic is obscure. The rebels support Donald Trump, but McCarthy is a fervent Trump supporter who pleaded for and received the orange one’s support. The previous president referred to McCarthy as “my Kevin.” The pro-Trump rebels are split: one criticized Trump for staying with McCarthy, while another voted for Trump to take the speaker’s gavel.

The rebels’ requests for rule changes or committee membership, which would give them more authority, are procedural rather than policy-related. They can’t fully express themselves if they don’t. Despite their desire to start looking into Democrats, including Joe Biden’s son Hunter, they only succeeded in taking the metal detectors out of the entry to the chamber, allowing anyone to enter the House floor with weapons.
For the upcoming political year in the US, all of this matters. For one thing, it provides further proof of Trump’s waning support among Republican leaders, if not yet among party members. For another, how will Republicans be able to make the difficult but forthcoming decisions, like approving the spending and debt needed to keep the US government running, if they are unable to make such a relatively simple choice?

But its significance is much broader. Because a political virus that has infected many democracies, including our own, has been on show this week in particularly florid form. Its primary trait is its joy in systemic upheaval and promise of change. Trump and Brexit were two movements that gained traction in 2016. Whether in Washington, DC, or Brussels, both made the promise to sweep aside the elites, the professionals, and the dogma. Despite being nascent movements, they drew on strong foundations. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher both portrayed themselves as radicals who dared to throw off the government’s iron fist four decades ago.

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Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that individuals who shouted against the government should perform so poorly. Disruption is exactly what they predicted, and they have delivered. In the US, it was Trump’s own anarchy, and now there is a House of mini-Trumps that is incapable of tying its own shoelaces. In the UK, it appears differently because Rishi Sunak, our prime minister, runs on a platform of technocratic competence. But two things shouldn’t be hidden by that.

First off, McCarthy and company this week’s legislative chaos and party division were on par with what the post-2016 Tory party provided. Brexit-era Conservatism has shown to be as bit as unstable as Trump-era Republicanism, whether it was the deadlock in the Commons during the two years leading up to the 2019 election or the psychodrama over the three years that followed. In comparison to an expert arsonist like Liz Truss, the most extreme members of the Republican Party are mere amateurs when it comes to burning everything down in politics. Simply put, the US and UK are in different stages of the cycle.
Second, the Tory movement in the post-Brexit era is just as paralyzed as its sister movement in the US, despite having Sunak in command and being depicted in less striking hues. The PM’s five-point plan did not really equate to a political agenda; instead, it focused mostly on the fundamentals of state management, such as expanding the economy and controlling inflation.

And the main reason for that is because his party, like the Republicans, cannot agree on anything. Think about how much Sunak was forced to give up by various rebels. Sunak has been forced to withdraw from projects that are crucial for the well-being of the nation, whether it was the reform of the planning system, the manifesto goal to build 300,000 new homes annually, or the steadfast promise to grip the nettle of social care. He has, in fact, avoided the absurd events that took place this week on Capitol Hill, but only because he has chosen to maintain the appearance of unity rather than impose a host of problems. As a result, the prime minister is only able to suggest additional math courses for fear of alienating the fractured, uneasy alliance that holds him in power.

All of this is not an accident. It is inherent to the right-wing populist project in the UK, the US, and everywhere else. The mission of Brexit serves as an example; it was extremely effective as a campaign and a slogan, but it was never intended to be a means of governing. Instead of organizing life or even admitting the trade-offs necessary to organize it, the goal was to disrupt it. Instead of competent literature, it delivered the poetry of devastation.

The Conservatives have advanced along this path more than the Republicans have, probably as a result of their continuous hold on power. However, the change is evident in these instances as well as others. Right-wing political parties once considered themselves to be the obvious stewards of governmental power. They now enjoy raising their fists in the direction of individuals they believe to be in actual authority. They are evolving into the obvious oppositional force.

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