Michael Barone / Sep. 6, 2019

Elites Abandon Norms and Show Contempt for Voters on Both Sides of the Atlantic

Wars by the elites on the people are flaring in English-speaking nations on both sides of the Atlantic.

Wars by the elites on the people are flaring in English-speaking nations on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s being waged fiercely in the Palace of Westminster House of Commons and in the House of Lords. And in the newsrooms and greenrooms of American journalism.

There’s much that can be said about it. You could argue it’s the subject, open or veiled, or almost all recent British and American opinion journalism. But what I find most interesting is that the same elites who proclaim themselves the guardian of accepted mores and norms of civility have been freely, and self-righteously, abandoning those mores and norms without a hint of embarrassment.

Consider what’s been happening in Westminster. Some 21 MPs elected as Conservatives voted against Prime Minister Boris Johnson and effectively placed control of the agenda in the hands of the leftist, anti-Semitic Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn. That goes against the long-established norm of voting with your party.

They were able to do so only because the House speaker, John Bercow, has abandoned longstanding precedent to allow such a vote, making it clear he did so to undermine Johnson’s policy on Brexit. That goes against the long-established norm that the British speaker (unlike the speaker here) is politically neutral and follows precedent whatever the political effect.

The issue that divides Johnson and the large majority of Conservative MPs from the party rebels and the speaker (who was originally elected to Parliament as a Conservative) is, of course, Brexit.

British voters in June 2016, more than three years ago, voted to Leave rather than Remain in the European Union. Turnout was huge; discussion was thorough and dominated by the pro-Remain leaders of all parties and the pro-Remain BBC. Nonetheless, some 52 percent of British voters voted for Leave — a larger number than has ever voted for any party in the nation’s history.

Yet Britain hasn’t left yet, for reasons set out by Christopher Caldwell in the Claremont Review of Books. Johnson’s feckless predecessor, Theresa May, made unilateral concessions to EU negotiators, guided by pro-Remain career civil servants. The Commons rejected her agreements three times by nearly 2-1 margins. She effectively abandoned the alternative that Britain would Leave without a deal, reverting to World Trade Organization trade rules.

Johnson has said he’ll negotiate with the EU but, absent an agreement, will Leave on the Oct. 31 date Parliament voted for and revise the parliamentary schedule to facilitate that.

Remainers in Parliament and the press attacked his determination to carry out voters’ solemn verdict as “undemocratic.” Some called for a “unity” government, as if a position rejected by voters could forge unity. They routinely dismissed Leave voters as ignorant, bigoted or manipulated by campaign trickery. The two lead editorials in the pro-Remain Economist lament voters’ cynicism and urge overturning voters’ Brexit verdict.

Contempt for voters as ignorant and bigoted unites English-speaking elites on both sides of the Atlantic. Here it is apparent, or lightly disguised, in New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet’s remarks at a newsroom meeting of reporters and editors last month.

The precipitating event seems to have been a Times headline reading, “Trump Urges Unity Vs. Racism.” This accurate description of a presidential speech inspired Twitter rage from readers and Democratic politicians and was dropped for one with an anti-Trump hit, “Assailing Hate but Not Guns.” So much for the norm of journalistic objectivity.

Baquet also reflected on The Times’ coverage of the Trump presidency. He said, according to Slate: “Chapter 1 of the story of Donald Trump, not only for our newsroom but, frankly, for our readers, was: Did Donald Trump have untoward relationships with the Russians, and was there obstruction of justice?” But then he went on to say, “The day Bob Mueller walked off that witness stand, two things happened. Our readers who want Donald Trump to go away suddenly thought, ‘Holy (expletive), Bob Mueller is not going to do it.’”

One of the hallmarks of a great journalist is an instinct for stories that are going to pan out. By his own account, Baquet and The Times lacked it for two years. So what’s the paper’s new No. 1 story? “(T)o write more deeply about the country, race, and other divisions,” Baquet says, according to Slate. Hence The Times’ 1619 Project. The news hook is the arrival of slaves in Virginia 400 years ago, with articles repeatedly asserting the centrality of racism in America ever since, in everything from the lack of universal health care, to the routes of the freeways in Atlanta.

In other words, having failed to oust Trump on Russia, The Times will try to discredit the elected president, his policies and his voters as racists. Contempt.

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