What is an Anglo-Saxon government

Anglo-Saxon democracies in crisis

If you follow the events in the USA and Great Britain on a split screen these days, you can see an amazing parallelism of developments. Social peace is at stake on both sides of the Atlantic. The British are threatening to fall apart over Brexit, the Americans over Donald Trump.

Both systems of government are proving to be incapable of dealing with the enormous polarization in their societies. Politics as the art of the possible or the ability to compromise seem to have been completely lost.

The British Parliament has vividly demonstrated the problem over the past few weeks. It rejected the government's negotiated Brexit deal three times, while Theresa Mays signaled that she would not let parliament dictate any alternative. In a matter of days, Britain saw one of its most furious protests by Brexit supporters who feel betrayed and the largest demonstration in the country's history by Brexit opponents who are no less bitter. If there is no breakthrough this week, the British will stare into an abyss of uncertainty.

In the United States, the use of Robert Mueller's report illustrates the toxic status quo. Instead of accepting the mixed verdict of the special investigator with humility, the president vows retaliation and once again declares the media and democrats to be enemies. They don't believe Trump's attorney general, William Barr, and demand to see all of Mueller's results. The government, divided between the White House and Congress, guarantees that nothing will move in the US until the 2020 elections.

Brexit and Trump are both the result of populist anger against a political establishment that has historically shown little sensitivity to the felt and actual losers of globalization. The Anglo-Saxon democracies were the fastest pushers of privatization, the most radical destruction of social networks, and the privilege of education and health for the better off, while preaching to everyone else to tighten their belts.

The conservatives Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan turned out to be soul mates, as did the centrists Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. There is still a lot to be said about the common genesis of the Anglo-Saxon crisis, and the arrogance with which critics of the unleashed markets and skeptics of the digital revolution had to be constantly instructed.

The majority systems are the problem

As the irony would have it, continental Europeans now seem to be better equipped to deal with the upheavals of globalization. While the Anglo-Saxons are experiencing a political stress test with an uncertain outcome. That calls for an explanation, especially since other western countries are grappling with similar challenges and the Anglo-Saxon democracies have proven to be exemplary stable in the past.

The problem is the majority systems that no longer work in the changed communication world of social media. The echo chambers of Twitter, Facebook and Co intensify the polarization through the ritual of principles, gravitation to the margins and the loss of mutual respect in the political debate. In comparison, the parliamentary systems with their proportional representation and coalitions are more likely to find a consensus. There is hardly any other way.

In the USA, the overweighting of the poorly populated rural states in the Senate and electoral college as well as the partisan trimming of constituencies (called “gerrymandering”) in Congress come as a special feature. This almost guarantees that the tail will wag the dog.

The result in the US and UK is the increasing tribalization of society. Once politically dissenters now face each other like tribal warriors. These produce a type of leader with amazing things in common. Narcissistic simplifiers with a disturbed relationship to truth and pronounced selfishness.

The awareness of the common good falls by the wayside. Every pothole becomes a matter of principle, major problems such as national debt, health care and education are not solved. Instead, opposites are played up. That reason prevails in the end in such a climate can no longer be taken as a given. Therefore, a no-deal Brexit must be expected as well as a re-election of Trump.