Judd Gregg: Sauntering into anarchy

Judd Gregg: Sauntering into anarchy

Democracies are having some serious issues with governance these days, especially the two strongest and most vibrant ones: the United States and the United Kingdom.

The United Kingdom last week saw its parliament reject its government.

This is especially unusual and disorderly since the British government and parliament are inextricably linked.


Unlike our system, the majority party in Britain’s main legislature, the House of Commons, is firmly in charge. In practice — at least in modern times — the prime minister ascends to the position in the first place because she or he leads the largest party in the Commons.

But, on perhaps the most important vote in two decades, the Commons rejected the position of the prime minister, Theresa May, by a stunning vote of 432 to 202.

This vote was taken on the issue of how to resolve the decision by Britain to leave the European Union (EU).

The story of how May and her ruling Conservative Party came to such a startling place and extraordinary defeat goes back to the decision made a few years ago to turn over the issue of whether Britain should separate itself from the EU to a referendum.

The 2016 nationwide referendum result was close but clear: a 52-48 percent vote to leave the European political and economic structure.

For two years, the politicians have been trying to figure out how to undertake such a divorce. The exercise has not been pretty nor successful — nor even remotely orderly.

The nation has devolved into leaderless confusion as to how to manage a self-inflicted chaos. The chaos has its roots in asking the people to govern, rather than having the people’s elected representatives govern.

In the United States, about one-quarter of our government has been closed for a month.

There is little light at the end of the tunnel.

President TrumpDonald TrumpSanders calls out Manchin, Sinema ahead of filibuster showdown Laura Ingraham 'not saying' if she'd support Trump in 2024 The Hill's 12:30 Report: Djokovic may not compete in French Open over vaccine requirement MORE, with his enthusiastic commitment to his populist base, has said there will be no government until there is a wall.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi suggests filibuster supporters 'dishonor' MLK's legacy on voting rights The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats see victory in a voting rights defeat GOP senator knocks Biden for 'spreading things that are untrue' in voting rights speech MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerKelly takes under-the-radar approach in Arizona Senate race Hundreds attend mass funeral for victims of Bronx apartment building fire Romney: I never got a call from White House to discuss voting rights MORE (D-N.Y.), cowering to the calls of their base, have proclaimed there will be no money for this wall. They seek the defeat of the president; his unconditional surrender is their base’s demand.

Three elements of our vaunted separate powers of government — the president, the House and the Senate — have unapologetically decided to ride off into their own self-created box canyon.

None of them has a way out if they are to live up to the demands of their populist supporters from the left and the right.

This is leadership by following — riding to the aid of those who cry out the loudest yet have the least interest in governing.

Not unlike our British friends, we find ourselves with a government that is dysfunctional.

Our leaders are not leading, but rather are being led by populist enthusiasm. It is chaotic and incomprehensible.

The idea of governing through popular referenda or the populace generally was quite strongly rejected by our founding fathers.

James Madison made it clear that what was designed in Philadelphia in 1789 was not a pure democracy, but a republic.

The government embodied in our constitution does not expect people to govern en masse; it requires that the people elect representatives to govern. 

British and American leaders alike seem to have missed this point: they are supposed to lead not follow.


Populist movements are not responsible because they can simply make demands without shouldering the burden of carrying those demands out.

They simply shout from the corners of the political arena. They only make progress if they choose as leaders those with the sophistication and strength to achieve results.

In the British situation, this would involve an orderly disengagement from the European Union. In our case, it would involve an orderly resolution of the issue of immigration that does not involve closing large, critical portions of the government.

None of this is occurring, however.

We appear to be on the cusp of self-inflicted anarchy, which, as history should have taught us — presuming anyone is taught history any longer —  is not a good thing.

How did these two great democracies get here?

The answer is fairly simply: lack of leadership.

Unbridled populism fails unless it is given direction, order and coherence from good leadership.

Without such leadership, both our nations appear destined to continue their saunter towards this form of government by self-inflicted anarchy, a truly unfortunate state.

It does not bode well for the rest of the world that the two beacons of democratic government cannot solve their problems in even a minimally orderly manner.

It leaves many people across our globe, who might desire to free themselves of the yoke of oppressive rule or regressive socialist systems, without a good example of a better option.

The good news, however, is that what we have here is not a structural failure. Neither the British system nor our own is inherently broken. Rather, what we have is a lapse in leadership.

Our nations are naturally resilient and the great, good news is that in our democracies there is a fix: it is called the next election.

Judd Gregg (R) is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations subcommittee.