Saturday, February 4, 2017

Guest post, from London

An international reader sends along a commentary on Donald Trump:
"There is a cost to all this: when we recover our disbelief we don’t recover our trust in the words we are hearing. It is hard to imagine that anyone now takes the President, or his spin doctors, at their word."
President Trump: The First 14 Days - as seen from London
The Trump administration’s stream of executive orders has certainly dominated the news cycles in London. That may be because the media here is controlled by a metropolitan elite out of touch with the real concerns of the British heartlands. Or it may be because we are witnessing the kind of unbridled executive action unseen in Europe since, well, our own King Charles the First.
King Charles I after original by van Dyck.jpg

And we all know how that ended.
So what sticks in the mind after the first 14 days?  It is the gap between theatre and reality. We are learning that much of what we see and hear is political theatre – reality TV brought into the Oval Office, yes, but the reality itself is to be found, as always in Washington, in the interplay between the Presidency, Congress and the Supreme Court.  
We all know that, but we suspend disbelief for a few moments while the Presidential pen reverses yet another of the previous administration’s policies. And there’s a nasty, lurking fear that behind some of the bluster lies a real misunderstanding about how the world actually works.
Take that wall. Here in Europe, we tend to think walls – think Hadrian, think Berlin – are pretty silly: difficult to patrol, easy to go over or under. But the really startling idea is to make the Mexicans pay for it by imposing tariffs on Mexican products coming into the US. Exactly how does making American citizens pay more for Mexican avocados constitute making the Mexicans pay?
Or take immigration. The 90 day ban on entry from seven countries made terrific – albeit controversial theatre.  But as it started to unravel in the face of reality, it looked like – in the BBC’s words – amateur hour in the White House.  
It also played into one of the enduring myths of the US as a welcoming sanctuary for refugees. So you resettled some 13,000 Syrian refugees last year? Big deal: try telling that to the Germans, who took over 300,000. 
It’s really not clear what problem the entry ban is trying to solve.  Those responsible for terrorist acts on US soil from 9-11 onwards have been either home grown, or from countries other than those covered by the ban.
There is a cost to all this: when we recover our disbelief we don’t recover our trust in the words we are hearing.  It is hard to imagine that anyone now takes the President, or his spin doctors, at their word.
Teresa May extracted a US commitment to support NATO, but she will have to wait and see if that actually happens. Malcolm Turnbull was hung up on by the President, but relations between the US and Australia will probably carry on as normal. We doubt if the Chinese, the Koreans or the Iranians are losing a lot of sleep over the various threats that have been issued. 
The President may have the best words, but they are still just words.
Seen from here, none of this is working well for the new administration.  Arguably sensible policies (tax reform, infrastructure spending, lowering health care costs, deregulation) are being crowded out of the airwaves. But who are we to criticize, this side of the Atlantic? 

Much of Europe is going to hell in a handcart thanks to policies made by an unaccountable elite in Brussels, and the response of the Eurocrats is more federalism, not less.  There are elections looming across Europe this year and even if the federalists get their comeuppance it will be at the hands of some pretty unpleasant political parties.  So don’t look to us for lessons in democracy.

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