Who does Donald Trump think he is?
Whoever that may be, he has that rare and most unblessed of political gifts – an uncanny ability to unite enemies (think Iran and North Korea forming an informal nuclear alliance), and divide and alienate friends. Now it is again the turn of America’s staunchest ally, Britain, who he seems to think is some sort of Jihadist sewer in a civil war with Islamic State.
The President of the United States took to twitter to declare: “Just out report: ‘United Kingdom crime rises 13 per cent annually amid spread of Radical Islamic terror.’ Not good, we must keep America safe!”
He has better things to do, surely, than to take such an unusual interest in the crime figures of a foreign country; what a shame his facility for statistics is not correspondingly keen (as was graphically displayed before when he picked on Sweden for some abuse).
Official figures show a 13 per cent increase in violent crime in England and Wales. The figures have, of course, been mostly been attributed to an increase in sex and knife crimes, possibly with higher incidence of the reporting of certain offences. It is not down to terror, as common sense would tell anyone who cared to engage their brain before they got to work on an instant Tweet. “Must keep America safe” says Trump. “Keep”? False news, you might say. If only. For it is already an extremely unsafe place.
Maybe it’s a pity that Trump’s not had his state visit and tea with the Queen yet, for if he had ventured across the Atlantic to spend some more quality time in the UK he might see for himself a tolerant, decent country that makes a virtue of keeping calm and carrying on. Those aren’t virtues conspicuously on show in the Trump administration.
Nor is any sense of perspective or self-awareness on his part about how “safe” America actually is. Something more than 100,000 Americans are routinely killed or injured by guns in some form or other each year. A rate of about 10 firearm related deaths per 100,000 inhabitants in the US has to be set against a rate of 0.24 per 100,000 inhabitants in Britain. Britain is still an unarmed, civilised, relatively safe society. We are not Syria or Somalia. What is he talking about? Annual deaths from terror attacks run into mere dozens (and are lower than they were during the Northern Irish Troubles). A single “spree” by some deranged American with a carbine in a shopping mall or school would easily exceed all those who lost their lives to Islamist extremism this year.
But say Trump was right. Would that still make it OK for him to lecture another nation about its policies or lifestyle, or the competence of its police and spies? Of course not. Who does it help? Only our mutual enemies, enjoying the disarray.
There’s a question here of attitudes and reciprocity, on a military, security and simply human level. When the world was rightly appalled and horrified by the events of 9/11, murders of innocent Americans and others that retain all of their emotional power, the response of the British government was to immediately join with the US in attacking al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. We didn’t issue a statement from Downing Street announcing that the CIA, FBI and the US Air Force had bungled and allowed the terrorists to get through.
Later, more controversially, the British shed blood in a joint enterprise, again with European, Nato and other allies, in Iraq. Before that there was obviously the shared sacrifice in two world wars and Korea in the 1950s, support for, for example, the American bombing of Libya in 1986 from US bases in the UK, and countless other acts of diplomatic and armed co-operation. Contrast the warmth of the Cold War relationship between Ronald Regan and Margaret Thatcher, and its spectacular victorious results, to what we have today between Donald Trump and Theresa May. Which was the better model for both countries?
Britain has not always agreed with America’s struggles, and vice versa, but at least when we had differences the relationship was still warm and respectful, if not always so special. Now, thanks entirely to Donald Trump, it is none of those things.
Does America need Britain? Certainly not as much as the British sometimes think. As the then Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Tony Blair over Iraq, America can go it alone pretty much as it pleases. That is not the point, however. The point is that the British ask no more and no less than to be treated with the respect they deserve as a small but devoted ally, with shared values and interests across the world. The British, respectfully, do not want to be criticised or ridiculed after the deaths of people in London or Manchester. Not much to ask.
Imagine if Theresa May tweeted some line about how “dumb” Americans must be to allow their citizenry to buy combat rifles and powerful machine guns that can kill dozens in seconds, as they did in Las Vegas so recently, all in the name of some “sad” old document from the eighteenth century that, arguably, was intended to let them have a musket or something.
Imagine if Mayor Sadiq Khan of London sent out a message telling the Americans that have every reason to be alarmed about the far right, racism and bigotry seen on such an historic scale in the South and elsewhere. Or that President Trump’s attempts at moral equivalence between civil rights protesters and a fascist terrorist was a “pathetic excuse” for statesmanship and leadership.
For the British, like so many Americans, Trump is turning from an embarrassment and source of innocent amusement into a clear and present danger to America’s internal and external security. In an unprecedented episode, both his immediate predecessors have said as much. Barack Obama and George W Bush have made coded but precise criticisms of the damage this man is doing. It is not difficult to believe that the other surviving presidents – Jimmy Carter, George HW Bush and Bill Clinton share those deep concerns. In fact every president since the War of 1812 would be astonished by Trump’s anti-British insults.
So America’s friends and allies across the world are feeling let down, to say the least, while its enemies are actually getting the better of the West. From Japan and South Korea to the UK and Germany, alliances are being strained by Trump’s boorishness (you recall the massive personal disrespect he showed to Angela Merkel when the German chancellor visited Washington, refusing to shake her hand. Or the even greater pain to the Japanese premier when he nearly dislocated his wrist). They do not think they can rely on Donald Trump for anything. We cannot even rely on him not to insult or patronise us as we mourn our dead (something we share with the families of fallen American heroes, it seems).
How bad can things get before he has to leave office? How long do we have to endure the Trump nightmare? Who will he insult next?