Eventually, these two crises will be resolved. But even when the stalemates in Washington and London come to an end, this moment should not be forgotten. The collapse of any motivating ideas on the center-right in the two great anglophone powers will have broader consequences. By losing the ability to think and act in the name of national interest, British Tories and American Republicans have also lost the ability to think internationally. For Europeans accustomed to thinking of Anglo-American politicians as pragmatic and outward-looking, it has come as a shock to learn just how little British Tories actually know about Europe and about trade, just how little Republicans really care about far-flung allies, and just how much conservative politics in both countries has given way to self-dealing and self-interest. All that talk about “opportunity” and “entrepreneurship” sounds different in a world where Jacob Rees-Mogg, one of the louder Brexiteers, has moved his own investment funds to Dublin to escape the effects of Brexit, or where the U.S. president has lied about the business deals he pursued with Moscow all the way through his election campaign.
Their language sounds hollow because they don’t believe it themselves anymore, either. Like the Communist parties of Eastern Europe in the 1980s, they are going through the motions, acting out their roles, without any faith in what they are doing. I don’t believe that May honestly thinks her Brexit deal is any good, just as I don’t believe that McConnell thinks his tax cut benefited anyone except wealthy friends and donors. These are nihilists who have abandoned one set of values and failed to acquire any others.