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A messy march of folly to Brexit - and beyond

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Barbara Tuchman published her masterpiece, “The March of Folly,” in 1984. It explored what the American writer and historian called “one of the most compelling paradoxes of history: the pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interests.” Today she might have explored the march of folly by “the people” as well as governments in pursuing those harmful policies.

In the United States, the checks and balances included by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to protect against despotism did not prevent the voters and the Electoral College from choosing as their president and commander-in-chief a shameless demagogue boasting of his contempt for the constitutional principles of rule of law and the separation of powers, praising Russian President Vladimir Putin to beat Hillary Clinton - the same Putin that U.S. intelligence agencies blame for cyber attacks on her private email to damage her candidacy.

In the United Kingdom, a foolishly devised referendum on whether to remain in the European Union has split the nation and its political parties. It has split south from north, haves and have-nots, and has encouraged Celtic separatism in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Under Prime Minister Theresa May, a weak and divided government is pursuing policies contrary to the interests of its citizens. British influence in Europe has drained away. The UK is disunited, its economy is shrinking, and investment is moving abroad.

In mainland Europe populist revolts, fueled by mass migration, public insecurity, Islamist terrorism, racism and xenophobia, further threaten the future of the European Union. Its member states are unable to muster support for a common strategy to reform its dysfunctional institutions. These anti-elitist uprisings undermine respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

What happened in the United States election last November reminds us that a written constitution is no panacea. It must be buttressed by a culture of respect and it must be interpreted and applied wisely by politicians and the courts.

The justices of the American Supreme Court are chosen on political grounds and are deeply divided. The conservative majority on the Court pays no heed to international law. Its judgments have little influence abroad. The Court’s Citizens United ruling on campaign finance enables the rich and powerful to dominate federal elections in the name of free expression. It permits states to operate election procedures to obstruct the voting rights of black Americans. With one seat on the bench already vacant and three justices aged over 75, it seems likely that President Donald Trump eventually will be able to appoint several younger new judges, justices who will entrench that ideology for decades.

I used to regard the American Constitution as a model for the free world. Sadly, I no longer do so.

The UK’s system is different: parliamentary not presidential. It has a politically independent judiciary appointed on merit, enlightened in its interpretation of the unwritten British constitution, and........

© Japan Today