Partisan rows in US and Britain have global repercussions

January 23, 2019 18:10
The crisis in Washington has turned into a grudge fight between the Republicans and the Dems that is driven purely by partisanship and political animosity, while public interests have taken a backseat. Photo: Reuters

The partial shutdown of the US federal government has persisted for about a month now, the longest on record.

Unfortunately, it seems there is still no end in sight for the political stalemate between President Donald Trump and the Democrats.

Worse still, things are getting increasingly ugly, as the crisis has already turned into a grudge fight between the Republicans and the Dems that is driven purely by partisanship and political animosity, while public interests have taken a backseat.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently wrote to Trump urging him to postpone or release a written format of his annual State of the Union address, which is scheduled to be delivered before Congress on Jan. 29.

The reason is that, as Pelosi pointed out in her letter, there are potential risks for the president’s personal safety since the Secret Service of the White House is running out of funding as a result of the partial government shutdown, and can no longer carry out its duties properly.

As far as Trump is concerned, the request made by Pelosi that he should either postpone the State of the Union address, or deliver it in written form instead, is tantamount to a slap in his face, as the annual address is one the most important political events for a sitting president.

In retaliation, Trump immediately ordered Pentagon to deny Pelosi and the US Congressional delegation the use of military aircraft for a scheduled overseas visit to Afghanistan and Belgium on the grounds that he would like the House speaker to stay in Washington to discuss solutions to the government shutdown.

Trump even went on to mock Pelosi and the other lawmaker over their trip, saying that they should consider taking a commercial flight instead because their visit is nothing more than a publicity stunt.

As we can see, the fact that Trump and Pelosi were seeking to cancel each other’s planned events amid the partisan gridlock in Washington indicates that they have lost both the temperament and decency expected of popularly elected state leaders.

On the other side of the Atlantic, partisan gridlock has also taken a heavy toll on the national interests of Britain, the birthplace of the modern democratic system.

As the British people voted to leave the European Union in a 2016 referendum, what the British government and MPs should do is to make every effort to facilitate a smooth transition towards Brexit to minimize the concomitant social and political turbulence. 

Sadly, as it turns out, political parties including the ruling Conservative Party and the opposition Labour Party appear to have focused on serving their own political interests and capitalizing on the ongoing political turmoil rather than ensuring a smooth and successful Brexit.

It might not be such a big deal if the partisan gridlocks and political paralysis that are going on in Washington and London were taking place in some small countries.

However, since both the US and Britain are influential global powers, the implications of their domestic political deadlocks for the rest of the world simply cannot be underestimated.

For example, both Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May along with their respective delegations have canceled their trips to the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this week, thereby greatly undermining the significance of the summit.

Given the grim global economic outlook this year, there is definitely an urgent need for world leaders to cooperate with one another and make concerted efforts to deal with the various threats and risks posed by economic uncertainties and volatilities.

But since both the US and Britain have their hands full with political problems at home, and apparently don’t have any time or energy to spare for foreign issues, the rest of the world might not be able to respond quickly and decisively to any sudden and unexpected international crisis in the coming days.

Besides, since both the US and Britain have long been regarded as the standard bearers of democracy and universal values, the fierce partisan fights now underway in Washington and London at the expense of public and national interests would inevitably further fuel the growing disillusionment with democracy of the general public in some emerging powers.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 19

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal