It’s less than a week since the US Presidential Inauguration and how does it feel? Metaphors and images come readily to mind, mostly involving cliff edges and falling off them. In the Oval Office, we see daily pictures of the Trump-creature (I can’t bring myself to see him as human) signing executive order after executive order. It’s like all my worst nightmares rolled into one awful horror story. The dominant image is of the USA in freefall.
The American Clifftop
All countries have their national myths: they are part of the glue that binds nations together. A powerful and enduring US myth is of the “shining beacon on the hill”: America as leader of the free world. American setting an example in terms of freedom of speech, equality before the law, peaceful handover of power following a free and fair election. To a considerable degree, all of these things are true. America’s clifftop is all of these things, a moral high ground of sorts. There have been a few landslides and rockfalls, mainly, in recent times, during the Richard Nixon and George W Bush eras. But the cliff is still there, discernible.
At the foot of the cliff, I see horror: a moral cesspit. There appears to be no moral compass to any of Trump’s decisions. All you see is personal self-interest, projected into a twisted notion of national self-interest. And right now, I see a country just starting its freefall from the moral clifftop to the cesspit. Most Americans don’t seem to appreciate the degree of resentment and hatred there is around the world against the USA. 9/11 was a sharp reminder of the most extreme example of such hatred. It may take months, it may take years, but the collapse in the US’s moral standing will have consequences, sooner or later.
The British Clifftop
At the risk of trying to stretch the “falling off a cliff” analogy too far, Britain has two clifftops to consider, one economic and one of social policy and ethics. We haven’t jumped off the economic cliff yet: we’re still arguing over the size of the cliff and what’s at the bottom. So far, Theresa May’s comments suggest see sees quite a high cliff and a hard landing. But all this will be the subject of acrimonious debate over the next two years.
We’ve already jumped off the ethical cliff by the referendum result last June. Despite the other EU members granting the UK a number of concessions and opt-out deals over the years, a small majority of voters still said we’d had enough and to hell with the lot of them. I must have been naïve to think that we British now considered ourselves quite European in our outlook on the main social issues. But we’ve always been the most Atlanticist in our values, and that’s got nothing to do with our geographical position. Our moral standing in the EU and the rest of the world has taken a great fall, except perhaps in the eyes of a sociopath like Donald J Trump.
May’s Visit to Trump
Which brings us to Theresa May’s impending visit to Washington. I squirmed with embarrassment and disgust when I read published extracts from a speech May plans to deliver to a Republican gathering today. It contains the usual British delusion of the “special relationship”: nothing new there. But, worryingly, she also speaks of “shared values” and “common interests”. I hope May’s shared values don’t include support for torture, undermining NATO and the UN and disdain for basic women’s rights such as abortion. There’s not too much evidence of common interests, on free trade in particular.
As to a bilateral trade agreement, Trump’s idea of a deal is one in which he wins hands down and his “opponent” is crushed and humiliated. And one of Trump’s sidekicks spoke of the meeting for the UK in its “time of need”. The new US administration clearly sees us as subservient, a supplicant. That’s another reason why it is stupid for Britain the leave the relative protection of the EU.
May also spoke of the opportunity for the USA and UK to “lead together, again”. To lead where, exactly? It would scare me witless to think of May leading the UK in any direction that Trump wanted to go.
I spoke at the beginning about the USA being in moral freefall. If May is planning to try to hold Trump’s hand, metaphorically speaking, as he drags his country down, we’re truly in for a Plummet Meeting.