Monday, March 20, 2017

A London correspondent weighs in on Trump

I'd posted this guest post last month, and offer have another commentary from across the pond 
File:Flag of the United Kingdom.svg
for readers today:

On the whole it does look to us that what’s coming out of the White House chimney is largely smoke without fire.  The problem remains: how will we tell when there really is a fire?
Halfway through the first hundred days of a new US President is no time to draw conclusions about a Presidency. But plenty of Presidential rhetoric has been launched across the Atlantic in our direction over the last few weeks. So at least we should ask: is there any fire behind the smoke?
No Go Areas in European cities?
At first sight this is just another flight of fancy - part of a dystopian image of European civilization, crumbling in the face of mass migration from the Islamic world. For sure, that’s exaggerated: there’s no part of any city here in the UK where police would be reluctant to enter. There are a few areas where single people would feel uncomfortable walking home late at night, but a good deal less uncomfortable than they would feel in parts of Washington, Baltimore, Chicago or Milwaukee.
Look a little more carefully, though, and a more complex picture emerges.  For here in Europe we certainly do have, shamefully, large pockets of unassimilated immigrants. 
For decades, they have retained not only their language and culture, but also – particularly in France and Belgium - their economic and educational disadvantages. This was the result of the well-meaning but disastrously flawed policy of multiculturalism – which inhibited the kind of speedy immersion into the mainstream that characterized immigration to the US in the first half of the twentieth century.  So what began as respect for migrant culture has resulted in deprivation and poverty: badly performing schools, high unemployment, poor prospects – and a fertile breeding ground for those who preach radicalism.
So, yes, these are no go areas in Europe. Not perhaps in the sense in which the President meant it, but in an equally meaningful way. We have failed to go in with an insistence on our values, our language or even our laws. In the UK we have permitted communities where women are not respected, where even UK-born pupils are being taught in Urdu-speaking schools, where local Sharia courts are allowed to operate.
The suggestion that the media here in Europe turns a blind eye to acts of terrorism is, frankly, a bit more of a puzzle.  It seems to us obvious that a wildly competitive news reporting industry falls like ravenous wolves on every atrocity.  But perhaps our media is a little more careful about jumping to conclusions.  To us, the US media seems sometimes rather too eager to cry terrorism in order to big up their ratings (a recent episode of Homeland convincingly nailed that).  
Anyway it doesn’t seem terribly likely that this blind eye theory would play well in the US industrial heartlands to which the President is generally talking. So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the White House has quietly dropped this line of argument.  It certainly wasn’t revived in the aftermath of the incident at Orly airport on 18 March – which headlined the news bulletins across Europe, even though the only person to die was the terrorist himself.
There’s a very different attitude to terrorism on the two sides of the Atlantic.  It derives from your experience of one history-defining attack as against our experience of atrocities spread over decades.
You say: never again. We say: whatever they do, they will never win. So far, we have both been right – 9/11 was not repeated, the IRA laid down their arms. But deep in the psyche, you still say: this must not happen because it’s unbearable, whereas we say: we are determined not be moved, however much it happens. Maybe that explains why President Trump would like to suggest that there is more of it over here than, in fact, there is.
Did British intelligence bug Trump Tower? It has been vehemently denied by our agencies, and it too seems highly unlikely – why would we? – but it’s hard to prove a negative. And, as the President himself reminded us yesterday, US intelligence did indeed bug Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone. More striking to European ears than the allegation itself was the use of the President’s official spokesman, on the record, to give credibility to an unsourced TV report.  
Instead of telling us what the President believed, he told us what the President wants us to believe. Over here, that would soon diminish the attention given by the press to official spokesmen. But in Washington there seems to be no limit to the fascination of the press corps with White House briefings.

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