When President Trump was elected, to the surprise and shock of the prevailing wisdom of the Washington elite and New York media, I thought that he had a glancing opportunity to do something meaningful. I wrote at the time that he should focus his energy on getting something done such as an infrastructure bill which would have cross party and national support rather than become subsumed in the Washington political morass. He hasn’t become subsumed, he is drowning. Unfortunately for our friends across the sea, and in fact the rest of the world, he is proving to be completely inadequate on every level. While we could suggest that the world is a more stable place because Trump will more readily project US power than did Obama there is growing nervousness about his personal capacity to exercise good judgement. The events of this week in respect of the race row are especially troubling.
We must be cautious ourselves in the UK about being too vocal on the subject given we have our own significant domestic race issues to contend with. The resignation of a shadow minister this week because she vocalised widely held concerns about the exploitation and grooming of young girls by a very specific racial segment is an example of our own inability to confront tensions within. The United States though continues to struggle to come to terms with it’s own heritage. Racism is never far below the surface wherever you travel. Once, while working for a Mid Western company of some size, I asked a board member why we didn’t employ any black people. “Not here,” was the simple and straight reply.
The President though, should stand above these arguments. He, like our Queen, represents all citizens. That Trump has failed to put a stake in the high moral ground in this regard has probably damaged him beyond repair. I would not be surprised to see a new president in office by the end of the year. Any president who is seen or perceived to be on one or other side of the racial divide in the United States is holed below the waterline. A pity he did not action his earlier rhetoric to bring safe streets to the worst of America’s inner cities such as Chicago. He has now blown what little credibilty that has survived serial screw-ups over the past eight months.
A friend reminded me with a Facebook post of what is expected of an American president. In 1989 a reporter asked President H W Bush, who was only a month into his presidency, “What does the party do about David Duke?” the former Klu Klux Klan leader who was standing for state office in Louisiana. (It is usually regarded as highly improper for a president to cross the line and involve himself in State politics). Bush senior said,
"Maybe there was some feeling in Metairie, Louisiana, that the president of the United States involving himself in a state legislative election was improper or overkill. I've read that, and I can't deny that. But what I can affirm is: I did what I did because of principle.”
Later, in 1991 he was asked if he regretted his actions. This was his reply,
"When someone asserts that the Holocaust never took place, then I don't believe that person ever deserves one iota of public trust. And when someone has so recently endorsed nazism, it is inconceivable that such a person can legitimately aspire to leadership — in a leadership role in a free society. And when someone has a long record, an ugly record, of racism and of bigotry, that record simply cannot be erased by the glib rhetoric of a political campaign. So, I believe that David Duke is an insincere charlatan. I believe he is attempting to hoodwink the voters of Louisiana, and I believe that he should be rejected for what he is and what he stands for.”
Encouraging voters to vote against his own party was a stand-out, stand-up thing to do. Duke lost and Democrat Edwin Edwards was elected. The stand did not later help Bush senior’s re-election bid with voters in that area but he would have slept more easily. Some issues are more important than party politics. A lesson the current incumbent would do well to absorb.
Trump could have been the Messiah to cauterise the economic wounds wrought on ordinary decent Americans over the past ten years and he could, should have been the person to bring their nation closer together. That the opposite is happening is nothing short of criminally tragic. What we are looking at though is a mirror. We have many of the same issues at hand in this country and our own politicians, of every hue, are equally ill equipped to confront them. There is, I am afraid, an absence of moral courage and leadership on the international stage the like of which has probably never been seen before in our history. It is all really rather a worry.