The responsibility of office is doing little to change Donald Trump, writes Ella Crine
For many, the realisation that Donald Trump would be the next president of the United States represented the dawning of a new age.
But in the election’s aftermath, analysts gave into wishful thinking about what it all meant: whether his presidency could really be as bad as his campaign or whether he would be tempered by those around him.
Even if Trump were all bluster, much of the damage to US society, through the legitimisation of barbaric views, has already been done. A colleague from the Clinton for America campaign told me that on 9 November he had visited a gay bar, where drag queens performed throughout the evening. In the middle of a busy bar he had sat and silently cried, because it had dawned on him then that under an administration led by Trump and Mike Pence, he no longer felt accepted by his own society.
Worse, he has already proven that he is not all talk. He is very serious. The picture of Trump, surrounded by white men, signing away the funding for any global organisation which gives information about – let alone performs – abortions reveals an insight into his team and their priorities. Back in the US, too, Trump is looking at entrenching laws which prevent the use of federal funds for abortions, meaning women seeking them will rely on state laws for accessibility, which are variable and, in some cases, restrictive in the extreme. And if we were hoping that those around him would moderate his extremes, we need only look at who he has employed and what they believe.
He has pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, restored the Dakota Access pipeline, started to repeal Obamacare, and announced restrictions to immigration from countries ‘prone to terrorism’ (read: Muslim). He has already begun work on that wall.
He has a Republican-dominated congress behind him and a constitution which people only want to protect when it concerns their right to bear arms. He has announced an inquiry into unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, but will do nothing to tackle the prohibitively long queues I saw at polling locations in African-American and Latino areas that locked people out of voting. In North Carolina, the state officials oversaw the closure of many of the early voting stations which had been so crucial in ensuring that lower income communities, with large black populations, were able to vote. If North Carolina was a nation state itself, the Electoral Integrity Project says its democratic process would rank among countries like Sierra Leone or Cuba.
It is time to stop deluding ourselves that this is going to be fine.
The challenge for progressives is maintain the strength to stand up for our values. The US may have long been a beacon of freedom and democracy, and a crucial and close western ally, but that does not make it immune to criticism when it strays from its own liberal standards.
Unless we speak out where we disagree, we are giving our implicit consent. When Angela Merkel said, in the wake of Trump’s victory, that she would work with America on the basis of their shared values, she put conditions on their cooperation. She suggested she would work with the US only where it continues to uphold the values it was created for. It is a reasonable expectation, but a remarkable statement from the German chancellor. Britain should follow her lead. The US, at least for the next four years, is no longer the gatekeeper of the values of liberal democracy.
It appears Trump’s concern for international affairs will align with his domestic policy: ‘America First’. We have to discard the belief that somehow we in the United Kingdom will benefit from a close relationship with Trump’s US. Although he claimed in his Times interview with Michael Gove that he will do a deal with the UK, his abandonment of TPP and promise to renegotiate the North America Free Trade Agreement, as well as his pledge to make things for America, in America, suggests a new era of protectionism that does not bode well for Theresa May’s hopes of a generous trade deal.
When he does look beyond his own borders, his foreign policy may jar with our values. If May can turn a blind eye to his domestic policy when she negotiates with Trump, she cannot ignore what he does internationally. His statement that torture ‘works’ is terrifying, and threatens Britain’s future cooperation with the US in certain ways – according to international law, as well as our moral values. It is embarrassing for our prime minister to declare her excitement at cooperation with the US the same day Trump declares his belief in the use of waterboarding.
Trump’s generosity towards Vladimir Putin provides an unnerving context to his presidency. As his isolationist intentions become clearer, it is plain that we can no longer rely on the US to be on the right side of – let alone lead – the arguments on foreign aid or humanitarian intervention. The UK cannot take up the burden of responsibility alone, but we must continue to speak up for our values. Not doing so avoids Britain’s role in shaping this new age.
Ella Crine worked on the Hillary for America campaign in Pennsylvania
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