Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

The Last Word: Confusion reigns

Acting against tyranny is easier said than done, writes Robert Philpot 

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the outrage directed this week at Donald Trump’s repulsive policy of separating immigrant children from their families is that anyone was shocked that the president might adopt such an approach.

That the president should have spent the last month holding children hostage as he sought to extort money from Congress for his ‘big beautiful border wall’ is precisely what might be expected from an admirer of murderous maniacs like Kim Jong Un and war criminals like Vladimir Putin.

Thus, were he to read the newspapers (and, in the light of his alleged aversion even to reading his morning intelligence briefing, this seems inplausible), it is unlikely that Trump would have been at all disturbed to see pediatriatric specialists describing his administration’s policies in the same breath as the brutal state orphanages which existed under the Ceausescu regime.

Trump would probably, in fact, have viewed the murderous Romanian dictator as simply another ‘smart guy’ who ‘loves his country very much’.

Nor is it probable that, given his views on the ‘fine people’ who chanted anti-semitic and racist slogans in Charlottesville last summer, Trump would lose much sleep about the fact that his attorney general had been rejecting comparisons with Nazi Germany by suggesting: ‘Well, it’s a real exaggeration, of course. In Nazi Germany, they were keeping the Jews from leaving the country.’ Still, this novel defence made a change from Jeff Sessions’ previous use of Biblical passages once cited by defenders of slavery and apartheid.

And do not expect a man who apparently believes that lightbulbs are linked to cancer, wind farms are unhealthy, and vaccines cause autism to have been bothered by what the experts say about the long-term effects on children’s mental health of his ‘tender age’ shelters.

Indeed, only Trump could respond to the sound of young children crying for their parents by launching a Twitter tirade against immigrants who seek to ‘pour in and infest our country’.

Even the president’s u-turn on Wednesday fits a pattern. Given his dogged aversion to the truth, the president’s lies about his own responsibility for the ‘zero-tolerance’ policy – his suggestion, almost to the moment that he signed one, that an executive order could not stop children being torn from their families – are par for the course.

So too is the cynicism of an administration that clearly calculated that there were electoral gains to be made in what senior aides to the president term ‘constructive controversy’ which, by eliciting liberal outrage, shores up support among Trump’s conservative base. That, together with the fact that they are engaged in a deliberate strategy to dehumanise immigrants, surely can be the only explanation for why the president’s acolytes appeared to be positively revelling in their cruelty.

There can be no greater irony than these supposed guardians of ‘family values’ cheerleading for a policy whose legacy, one former US immigration chief has warned, is that some parents may never again find their children.

Theresa May’s initial reticence in speaking out against Trump is also unsurprising. It may, though, have been less the result of her habitual cowardice when it comes to confronting the president than fear of being called a hypocrite. As home secretary, our church-going prime minister knew a thing or two about peddling anti-immigrant myths. Moreover, it was only a few short weeks ago, that, as a result of her ‘hostile environment’ policy, the government was denying treatment to those suffering cancer; deporting pensioners; and preventing people from attending their parents’ funerals.

Some on the left also need to be a little careful about attempting to clamber onto the moral high ground. No doubt their abhorrence at Trump’s approach to migrant childcare is genuine. It is just a shame that, when they had the chance to act against Bashar al-Assad gassing children in Syria, many Labour members of parliament simply lowered their voices and averted their eyes.

It is apparently far easier to vent your fury at the president of the United States on Twitter than face the threats of deselection which now routinely accompany casting difficult votes in parliament. Now there’s a surprise.

U-turn if you like 

Labour MP and Brexit supporter Frank Field wants to abolish the House of Lords. Adopting the language of Paul Dacre’s Daily Mail, he has branded its attempt to amend the government’s European Union withdrawal bill ‘an act of insurrection’. Field’s aversion to the unelected chamber is new-found. In 2012, he rebelled against the whip, and joined with the Democratic Unionist Party and the Tory right in attempting to scupper the coalition government’s proposals to move towards a democratic upper house. Five years previously, he similarly opposed reform efforts. The Brexiteers’ love of democracy and respect for parliamentary sovereignty, it appears, is just as tenuous as their grasp of economics.

Hot N Cold

If you are understandably struggling to keep up with the on-again, off-again Tory rebellions over the Brexit withdrawal bill and the status of various ‘meaningful vote’ amendments to it, then this clarification from the House of Lords clerk should help to set things straight: ‘message from the Commons that they agree to certain amendments made by the Lords in lieu of amendments made by the Lords to the European Union Withdrawal Bill to which they disagreed. They agree to the amendment made by the Lords to their amendment made in lieu of an amendment made by the Lords to which they disagreed. And they agreed to the amendments made by the Lords to their amendments made in lieu of the amendment made by the Lords to which they disagreed with amendments to which they desire the agreement of your Lordships.’

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Robert Philpot is a contributing editor to Progress, and writes the weekly Last Word column. He tweets at @Robert_Philpot

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Photo: by Gage Skidmore, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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Robert Philpot

is a contributing editor to Progress magazine and former director of Progress

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