View of the Swamp from Across the Pond

As the U.K. barrels toward Brexit, Trump provides Britain with another bizarre spectacle.

Jane Miller March 24, 2017

Theresa May and Donald Trump walk at the White House on January 27. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Almost every BBC tele­vi­sion news bul­letin starts these days with a pic­ture of your pres­i­dent sign­ing his name on an exec­u­tive order. One gets the impres­sion of a man con­tin­u­al­ly — and with a flour­ish — sign­ing Don­ald J. Trump,” over and over again, and per­haps nev­er hav­ing time to write or read or do any­thing else. He casts a long shad­ow, but, of course, we have oth­er things on our minds here, too. 

Donald Trump appeals to people in many parts of Europe because he isn’t a politician, because he is a nationalist and because he is taking draconian actions against immigrants.

Here in Eng­land, we have just had two by-elec­tions. Labour man­aged to pull off a win in Stoke but lost deci­sive­ly to the Tories in Copeland. Nei­ther con­stituen­cy has a large immi­grant pop­u­la­tion, yet immi­gra­tion was seen as a vital issue in both races. We have a Prime Min­is­ter, There­sa May, who lit­er­al­ly held hands with Trump and invit­ed him to Buck­ing­ham Palace much ear­li­er in his reign than she need­ed to. Her ver­sion of Brex­it pri­ori­tis­es con­trol of immi­gra­tion over the health of the econ­o­my and dis­pens­es with pos­si­bil­i­ties of coop­er­a­tion with oth­er Euro­pean countries.

Worst of all, we have no con­cert­ed oppo­si­tion to this mad­ness in Par­lia­ment. Labour Leader Jere­my Corbyn’s insis­tence on Labour MPs vot­ing with the gov­ern­ment on trig­ger­ing Arti­cle 50 and com­mit­ting us irrev­o­ca­bly to Brex­it has lost him my sup­port and the sup­port of a good many oth­ers. His behav­iour is as hard to explain as it is to excuse, but the result of the Brex­it ref­er­en­dum is seen by Cor­byn and some oth­er MPs as sacro­sanct, even when they and their own con­stituents vot­ed to stay in Europe.

How­ev­er, 47 Labour MPs defied Cor­byn, includ­ing mem­bers whose votes oblig­ed them to resign from his demon­stra­tions, par­tic­u­lar­ly the main these days with a pic­ture of shad­ow cab­i­net. They joined the 50 Scot­tish Nation­al­ists, sev­en Lib­er­al Democ­rats and the sin­gle (and now effort­less­ly hero­ic) Con­ser­v­a­tive, Ken Clarke. There is talk of coali­tions and of pacts between can­di­dates of dif­fer­ent par­ties, at least in by-elections. 

But the gen­er­al air of bit­ter­ness and dis­trust is so strong that not much has come of it. Nor are we cheered by the pos­si­bil­i­ty that nation­al­ist can­di­dates will car­ry the day in France and Germany.

Extra­or­di­nar­i­ly for some of us, Don­ald Trump appeals to peo­ple in many parts of Europe because he isn’t a politi­cian, because he is a nation­al­ist and because he is tak­ing dra­con­ian actions against immi­grants. Some of the same peo­ple, I pre­sume, may sym­pa­thise with his misog­y­ny and his con­tempt for feminism.

Is there, can there be, a sil­ver lin­ing? Small glim­mer­ings, per­haps. Some kind of back­lash is bound to hap­pen, though I may not live to see it. The demon­stra­tions, par­tic­u­lar­ly the main one that coin­cid­ed with the women’s march on Wash­ing­ton, and those ask­ing that There­sa May’s invi­ta­tion to Trump be with­drawn, have been huge­ly suc­cess­ful. Near­ly two mil­lion peo­ple signed a peti­tion to with­draw the Trump invi­ta­tion, and though May has stuck to her guns, the issue will have to be debat­ed in Par­lia­ment. A great many young peo­ple have dis­cov­ered the plea­sures of sol­i­dar­i­ty. They’ve also dis­cov­ered, if they hadn’t already, that pol­i­tics, and even for­eign pol­i­tics, can be intense­ly inter­est­ing as well as impor­tant and rel­e­vant to them. And we’re all learn­ing how the bal­ances between the leg­isla­tive and the judi­cial arms of gov­ern­ment, whether in the U.S. or the U.K., work in real­i­ty. The Speak­er of the House of Com­mons, John Bercow, a Con­ser­v­a­tive, has said that Trump should not be hon­oured” with an invi­ta­tion to speak to Par­lia­ment if he comes here. Giv­en that the Speaker’s role is specif­i­cal­ly neu­tral, it will be inter­est­ing to see whether he is sacked for this or allowed to have his way, as he is on most such questions.

But it’s Trump and his extra­or­di­nary exec­u­tive orders we wait for. We rel­ish his verb­less tweets cast­ing asper­sions on the legit­i­ma­cy of judges and the hon­esty of jour­nal­ists, his strange vocab­u­lary, his pout­ing lit­tle mouth and, of course, his hair. Car­toon­ist Steve Bell of The Guardian mim­ics the Geor­gian satirist James Gill­ray, and has bril­liant­ly turned Trump’s coif­fure into a toi­let seat. If he has become a fig­ure of fun, he is a ter­ri­fy­ing one, a masked fig­ure out of the com­me­dia dell’arte.

Jane Miller lives in Lon­don, and is the author, most recent­ly, of In My Own Time: Thoughts and After­thoughts (2016), a col­lec­tion of her In These Times columns and interviews.
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