Biden, Brexit, and the politics of process

24th November 2020

Process is the friend of President-elect Joseph Biden.

As long as the States duly certify their votes, and the Electoral College then duly votes in accordance with those certifications, and Congress then duly accepts the Electoral College result, there is little Biden really needs to do so as to become President of the United States on 20 January 2021.

Unless something extraordinary happens, Donald Trump will cease to become President on 20th January 2021 by automatic operation of the Constitution of the United States.

Process is his friend.

There is, of course, still litigation and political pressure from the Trump campaign.

(And it is testament to the lack of confidence many have in the integrity and independence of the currently composed Supreme Court of the United States that many can easily imagine at least two or three of the Justices voting in favour of the side of Trump in any election case before that court, regardless of the merits of that case.)

None of the current litigation, however, really adds up.

Indeed, the lawyering in some of the cases brought by the Trump campaign has been unimpressive.

And even if each of these cases are taken at their highest, it is not conceivable that it would ‘flip’ the result in a single State, let alone the entire presidential election.

Understandably, many are still anxious as to whether Trump will really go, and are concerned that some grand litigation trick may keep him in the White House after 20 January 2021.

After all, many strange things have happened in the United States (and the United Kingdom) since 2016.

But here it looks like process will prevail.


Process is the enemy – the negation – of the disruptive approach to politics of Trump and Bannon in the United States and of Johnson and Cummings in the United Kingdom.

That approach to politics prioritises mobilising a political base so as to enable those in political power to govern without checks and balances.

And as such, both politics and policy becomes a sequence of gestures, expediences and contrivances.

Process is an alien concept to this approach of constant disruption.


Take, for example, Brexit.

In approaching the negotiations of the exit agreement and then of the subsequent relationship on trade, the European Union has been dull, methodical, and relentless.

The United Kingdom, on the other hand, has constantly sought to rely on bluster and bullying, but at each stage has been at a disadvantage.

Johnson and others prioritised playing to their political and media constituencies over engaging properly in a structured negotiation process.

They have received claps and cheers, but those claps and cheers have quickly faded and are becoming less loud and enthusiastic each time.

Process has been the friend of the European Union over Brexit, just as process is now the friend of Biden in the United States.

This is not to say that process was always going to favour the European Union (even though the Article 50 procedure is rigged against the departing Member State).

The United Kingdom can also be rather good at the politics of process, when its political leaders take process seriously.

But throughout Brexit, a distrust of ‘Remoaner’ expertise and experience meant that United Kingdom did not have the benefit of those who were the match to the procedural politicians of the European Union.

Think of Ivan Rogers, among many others.


The populist nationalist authoritarian politics of Trump and Johnson, and of Bannon and Cummings, has shaken many liberals and constitutionalists.

Disapproval and tuttery has no effect; conventions are disregarded; inconvenient laws are circumvented and even sometimes broken.

It is akin to a wild animal loose in a village.

The unpredictability and noise and damage is unwelcome.

But, just as there are advantages for those who promote this destabilising approach to politics, there are also weaknesses.

And one of those weaknesses is that it cannot easily deal with process, if that process survives the attempts to disrupt it.


The scary thing is when populist nationalist authoritarians master the political arts of process, rather than the lesser political arts of disruption.

We are (relatively) fortunate: Trump will soon no longer be in office; Bannon and Cummings are both no longer in central political positions; and Johnson now seems politically weak.

The next wave of populist nationalist authoritarianism in the United States and the United Kingdom may be harder to dislodge.


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8 thoughts on “Biden, Brexit, and the politics of process”

  1. Play up and play the game no longer carries any weight in political circles, there is no honour, there are only thieves. Very sad for a country that gave the world some of it’s finest codified games enjoyed to this day by millions, now rules are merely there to be circumvented, to be broken, to be ignored if inconvenient. There was a time when a batsman, having nicked a delivery to first slip, a nick missed by the umpire, would, on appeal by the other team have walked back to the pavilion applauded by his opponents for his sportsmanship.

    Nowadays we require some of the most ingenious and intricate technology to do what people used to do out of fairness and in the spirit of the game. Fortunately, we have such technology, offsides are ruled out by mm, goals are disallowed by similar or even finer margins.

    Tis a shame that we don’t have the political equivalent of this, some sort of instant lie detector, some technological fraud indicator, perhaps a bluster counter would come in handy. And it is hopeless to suggest the 4th estate is our saviour’s in this respect. They do their best to counter fake, fake news allegations, to fact check politicians claims, but it is readily evident that despite all this human endeavour, the intended recipients – us – will believe whatever is most convenient to our current world view and to hell with truth and falsity, with rules and procedures.

    Lord somebody once famously and correctly claimed that rules were made for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men. Sadly, he had nothing to say about the guidance of fools, for most of them are too stupid to understand that sometimes the rules are there for the greater good and that breaking them is a grievous act because of the example that it sets to other fools.

    How’s that? ”That” is whatever I decide it is. The game will not continue indefinitely, cannot continue indefinitely, with that approach to playing it – you have been warned.

  2. The Anglo-American high opinion of themselves vis-à-vis the Japanese, Germans or Russians (of the early part of the 20th Century) is no longer fully justified.

    If this pessimistic comment turns into reality, then that high self regard will be fully inadmissible.

    Anyhow, these said peoples may possibly now have a better understanding of the dynamics in those societies at that time and may now be less judgemental in their approach.

  3. Just think how much worse things could be if Trump and his entourage were not only populist authoritarians, but also hard-working and competent, and not quite so sure of their own ineffable brilliance. Such a person or team may exist.

    Trump has achieved much of what he set out to do (or rather said he would do – I doubt he really cares much about any of it, except as a vehicle to generate wealth and power for himself). He got his tax package through, the US economy was doing well (with or without his help) until this year, there are hundreds of miles of new barrier infrastructure on the Mexico border, and he is the first president since Nixon to get three justices on the Supreme Court in their first term (Reagan did three in his second term – Obama, Bush2 and Clinton each did two in eight years). Admittedly there is much he screwed up, such as ignoring climate change, cozying up to authoritarians around the world (harming the legitimacy of the US), withdrawing the US from international organisations that cemented its soft power around the world (the TPP being a key example that has enabled China to supplant the US with its own model of economic cooperation), the lack of an effective response to coronavirus, and the slow erosion of civic norms and civil society in the US. The damage Trump has caused could take a generation to fix, if that is even possible now.

    The risk for the UK is that Johnson appears to be on a similar path. I doubt he really believes in much of it either.

    The history books are not going to be kind to either of them.

  4. The very apt quotation in the first comment above is attributed to either Douglas Bader or Harry Day (a WWI flying ace).

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