There still exists among Britain’s politicians a popular disdain for Neville Chamberlain’s Hitler-appeasing, obsequious proclamation of “Peace in our time.” Yet when the “official government position” remains respectful of Donald Trump, in contradiction to the clear-sighted assessment of its ambassador to the United States, specifically that Trump and his administration are “clumsy and inept,” they try, as politicians so often do, to have it both ways. I refuse to let them.
Kim Darroch, the offending ambassador of record, was speaking aloud what every British parliamentarian knows in the quiet isolation of his or her own thoughts and without needing to be asked: Donald Trump is a malign fool, an inimical coward, a scum across the political landscape. The “official British government position,” that he is otherwise, is as useless and meaningless as that kind of self-serving hagiography ever is. It’s pablum for the masses, a public acknowledgment that fools vote, an admission of the absolute failure of courage in an age when courage once again is desperately needed and exasperatingly absent. Somewhere, one would be forgiven for suspecting, Neville Chamberlain is laughing.
There isn’t a single politician out there who doesn’t recognize political capital when he or she sees it. From Boris Johnson to Theresa May to Jeremy Hunt, they have each had their turn at bat (that would be a cricket bat, mind) to use Trump the way Machiavelli advised his Princes to use advantage. In short, they know perfectly well what an asshole Trump is, and they don’t care, just so long as he remains their asshole.
Okay, so how come? Why? Because the United States of America is Britain’s great and good friend? Because we have a long-standing tradition of peace and mutual cooperation? I’ve a bridge into Westminster for you if you believe that. Would politicians ready to sell Britain down the river by pulling the plug on Europe and leaving the European Union without so much as a backward glance and a trade deal (i.e. a “hard Brexit”) care one way or the other about America? By itself, no. They pretend to care because of the advantage that the pretence of caring gives them in the eyes of the voters. Right now a hard Brexit makes them invincible in the eyes of some of the voters, so a hard Brexit it is. That it will be ruinous to Britain they couldn’t care less. It’s good for them is all that matters.
As a side note, if you think this kind of cynical political posturing is unique to Britain, think again. Every Democratic presidential candidate lining up for a shot at 2020 begins at zero with me and they should with you, too. Nobody who goes after the biggest job on earth does so with pure motives. How pure remains to be proven, with Barack Obama as a standard.
In the final analysis, politicians will care about, for the most part, what we make them care about. Getting rid of Trump, needed reform to combat global warming, the rights of women, the rights of people of color and people in the LGBQT community, the rights of refugees to seek political asylum without persecution, these need to be our priorities if they are going to be theirs. We need to make alignment with Trump as ugly and as disadvantageous to anyone seeking political office as we should have made alignment with Hitler ugly and disadvantageous in Neville Chamberlain’s time. It worked then and it can work again. Let’s hope this time we don’t need another world war for motivation.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.