Trump’s Travel Ban is a Revolution in Action (so what do we do?)

(photocredit: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

 

President Trump’s travel ban is clearly controversial – but I would argue it is also revolutionary. Here’s why.

The ban is a triumph of belief over fact.  The seven “proscribed” countries omit those which have harboured or generated the most murderous of foreign nationals to have assaulted the US and its citizens – like Saudi Arabia.

If we look to the stated aim of keeping America safe, the greatest threat to US citizens in the US is not any foreign national but their own fellow citizens – Over 1000 deaths due to home-grown gun crime for each life lost to terrorism.

And the blanket ban on all refugees is a strikingly obdurate, almost paranoid act against some of the most vulnerable people on the planet, which has unsurprisingly been termed “un-American.”   It may only be 90 days (initially) but that is absolute purgatory if your life is hanging by a thread on a day-to-day basis.

Hang on though – we might not like it but to “dump Trump” is to overturn democracy. Right?

Wrong.  It is easy to see how the office and person of the President is being confused with the policies of his administration.  There certainly should be a distinction between the two.  But the personal responsibility and accountability that Mr Trump has taken for the leadership of his administration makes it difficult to disentangle this.  Nevertheless, if he suddenly comes to his senses and changes tack,   I would happily welcome him round for a cup of tea. (I’ve not put the kettle on just yet though).

“Ok,” you say, “even  if it is legitimate to “dump Trump”, all he is doing is honouring an election pledge?”

I would make two points here: First, what you say to gain power is not what you do to keep power.  Thank you Machiavelli for distilling that universal truth. Second, whatever you may want to do, in the US there is the small matter of the Constitution.

And this is where it gets even more disturbing.  The Attorney General, arguably the  most senior, learned and respected custodian of constitutional wisdom outside of the US Supreme Court, says “Hold on – really not sure about this.”  And the President sacks her.  And the White House describes her act as one of “betrayal”.   Breitbart really has got its feet under the Presidential table, hasn’t it? Disagreement will be not tolerated and vilified.

Three concluding points:  Where is all this going to go? What has all this got to do with us in the UK? And what on earth do we do about it?

The President’s apparent desire to not just “drain the swamp” but to throw every baby in reach out with the bathwater is unlikely to deliver what his supporters want – jobs and security. The instability that his administration is both reacting to and furthering   is not constructive.

So Trump may not see out his term.  Then we have Vice-President Pence.  The US has a history of conservative VPs becoming progressive part-term Presidents (step forward LBJ).  But Pence’s election statements are just as worrying, in many ways, as his boss’s.  It doesn’t look good, but Congressional elections in 2018 will be an early indicator either way.

What’s it to do with us?  Well it’s a global world.  We didn’t have a vote, but the US administration affects us all deeply.  We have a right to say clearly “Not in our name” and “No state visit”. And we certainly need to choose our friends and trading partners with great care as we plan for Brexit Britain. As the Observer said last weekend on a possible US-UK deal last weekend – Trump doesn’t want free trade, he wants a free ride.  Disturbingly it sounds like some senior UK ministers would be happy to accommodate him.

And then finally, what on earth to we – as honest, decent, caring compassionate, democratic civilised British citizens?

We have a great challenge in our own country, the encouragement of intolerance and the schisms in society pre-date Trump’s inauguration.  The “serenity prayer” (non-religious version)  is never far from my mind. There are many things we cannot control, but some things we surely can:  How we chose to live our lives, the values we display as we go about our daily business. Courtesy, respect, compassion. Being inclusive, treating others as we wold wish to be treated.  These are not platitudes or homilies but the defining characteristics of progressive human society underpinned by one factor: Hope.

A better society starts, as it always has, with us as individuals. I’d say it’s just our human instinct to search and find those “sunlit uplands”  and you can’t change that.

To outgoing US Attorney General Sally Yates we say “thank you”

 

Good News Fightback?

Thank heavens for that. How many times this year have we woken up, checked the news and wished we hadn’t ? So thank you Sarah Olney for breaking that pattern this morning.

And  you know,  I wonder if we are experiencing, in a small way,  a sort of Good News Fightback? Love, peace and goodwill now seems to be cool – and it’s nothing to do with the looming festivities.

It feels like  “I’m a Celeb” is fresh and new and streets ahead of a tired and tawdry “X Factor”, with contestants enjoying each other’s company,  displaying  generousity of spirit and deed, rather than combative dog-eat-dog gotta-get-to-top-of-the-pile.

But this isn’t a one-off. Look at “Bake Off” and “Strictly”. And look at the distaste when GBBO was sold – both from the public and many of those who made the show so popular.

In he acceptance speech last night,  Olney said “Well, today we have said no. We will defend the Britain we love. We will stand up for the open, tolerant, united Britain we believe in.

The reassertion  of these values, and their endorsement  either in TV votes and by-elections is truly to be welcomed – but let us not get too carried away.

These are  rarefied environments.  Richmond is a very well off constituency.  The participants are largely self-selecting.  Politicians – especially LibDems – do not have particularly high public credibility,  and those TV programmes are made to entertain. This has still been the year of the rant, the bile, the untimely sometimes murderous deaths.

And yet…..whatever the limitations on  the spread of a Good News Fightback,  these events give us something that often has felt in short supply of late: Hope.

Reasons to be Cheerful

 

 

There are none. This is the omnishambles of all omnishambles, as Malcolm Tucker would say. The Brexit result  had my teenage daughter  wailing “They’ve F*cked my Future” over her breakfast,  and  my son  is scurrying  around trying to  establish  whether my wife’s Irish forebears entitle him to  a passport.

It’s dismal alright. And it’s unknown. And it seems no good can come of it.  The demographics are striking – a grand coalition of the old, less well educated, less well off has delivered a momentous result.  Whoever thought it was a good idea not to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote (Clue:  it was the man who has just announced his resignation).

But in all the fog, upset and bitterness we have to have hope. We are entitled to search for some solace. Here’s where I think it can be found;

First, this is going to be a long process, with multiple chances to intervene and mollify the eventual outcome. Patrick Wintour’s summary of what now happens in practice is an excellent overview.

Second, the Conservatives are split – irreparably in my view. Even their hard-wired instinct for power will not be enough to paper over the cracks. Given part of the divide is over style and attitude; there are opportunities for some new alliances and to push the case for an alternative government.

Third, this seismic political shock should act as a catharsis over some issues the left has grappled with for years. The practical as well as ethical argument for votes at 16  is surely made.  Our current campaign tools seem to have proved ineffective – again. So we need to examine how we communicate.

And we need to recognise that the UK is fractured even more than the Conservative Party, and have a response to that.

In my view this response  needs to  be  a federal UK –  well actually more a federal England given  I expect  Scotland  be  independent in 5 years and back in the EU  in 10,  and  Wales and Northern Ireland already have devolved assemblies. My blueprint for a post referendum settlement is here.

Fourth, we have to re-orientate our political thinking to a more UK-centric view. We can see what will come in terms of a “Brexit” recession and budget.  We need to build and sustain the narrative now on an alternative, inclusive tax and investment policy as opposed to the default of more cuts signalled by George Osborne days before the vote.  We need to turn attention to the realities of trade with the rest of Europe from outside the EU.

Fifth and probably most importantly, irrespective of the misplaced anger a majority of voters seemed to direct against the EU, we must remember the words and deeds of Jo Cox.  “We have more in common than that which divides us”.  There is much we cannot change, but   we do have control over our thoughts and actions.  This is a time for emphasising our common humanity.

I am sure that many voted Leave with honourable intentions. But the campaign   was hijacked by the nasty brigade who played the oldest trick in the political book – “you’ve got problems and they are all the fault of people who are not like you.”

So we pick ourselves up, we dust ourselves down. We make sense of the new reality as best we can.  And we stick to our values and redouble our efforts. There has never been a more important time for decency, determination and hope, and these are all things we can deliver, irrespective of the Brexit vote. “You got to have hope” is a good maxim.

Why I’m Voting Remain

Just  so  you know, I’m voting Remain in the EU  referendum. But I recognise the sincerity and the views of many who want a Brexit.

Let’s face it, many – very many – people in our country have urgent pressing issues that need sorting out immediately if not sooner.  Few decent jobs,  even  less  social or affordable housing,  industries changed  beyond recognition from  privatisation of Royal Mail  to  the  strangulation  of the UK fishing  sector, (although the suggestion that Michael Gove’s family business was wrecked by the EU  has been shown to be “codswallop“),  the uncertainty brought about  by changes in population.  It is wrong to dismiss these as unimportant or imagined, and blaming EU membership for failings mostly in domestic politics is worryingly attractive.

I’m voting Remain on the basis that progressive voices are louder as part of the EU than outside it,  that the social dimension to economic and industrial  policies remains stronger on the continent than here in the UK, that unrestrained by  the EU  the Tories will be even more destructive than they  are at present.

There is also that the EU will still be there if we leave and we can exert more influence from inside than out. And finally,  something  not spoken of enough – it is a much better  way  to  regulate international affairs than  the military carnage mainland Europe suffered in the  hundred years  that preceded the original Treaties of Rome.

I get that decent people with sincere beliefs will sway towards voting Brexit. But just look at the company that you would be in – some Conservatives have already switched sides because of the fantasists and xenophobes who dominate the Leave campaign.

I will name just two – Boris and Michael. Mr Johnson has been publically condemned for putting his Prime Ministerial ambitions ahead of any dignity or integrity.  And Mr Gove’s dog-whistle, fear –fuelled, deliberately disingenuous tactics belie the intelligence he reportedly has – and demeans the high offices of state he has occupied.

Yes, I know the Remain camp has a few characters of its own you might not want to spend time with – Michael O’Leary for one – but they do seem to be a minority.

But we don’t have to look very  far  to see where the isolationist, chauvinistic nationalism can lead us – Look at the rise of Donald Trump in the US and his response to the “Pulse” mass-murder which surely plumbs new depths.

But controversial and complex  as the EU debate undoubtedly is,  I think  there is a  another reason   why the debate has become some bitter and fraught. It is simply that our country is not at ease with itself.  The “haves” have too too much.  Too many survive rather than live. Politics seems remote, cut-off, insulated from too many. Politicians are seen as part of a self-serving establishment that includes mainstream media.  Political debate ping-pongs between the sterile and the toxic. The blame-game is everywhere and tribalism is rampant. Is it a surprise so many  are turned off?

Even if our politics is as grey and stormy as this month’s weather, this does not have to be a given. We can change things and there is an alternative. “No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.”  For “kindness” read humanity, tenacity, integrity, cooperation-not-conflict, for-the-many-not-the-few.

Whilst all those around us may lose their decency, we must never use that as a justification for abandoning our own. I believe  the EU referendum  is a defining moment for us – but what  happens after the vote (whichever way it goes)  will be even more important.