God Save the Queen, from Donald Trump. The petition against a state visit to the UK by the new President of the United States is cleverly worded, with the emphasis put on not inflicting on Her Majesty a Trump trip to Buck House. People who have never shown much affection for the Queen, or any regard for her glorious lifetime of service, are now appalled by the thought of her Royal personage being affronted. In reality, she’s seen a lot worse. That’s not the point, however. What is significant is that Anti-Trumpists on the liberal left are looking to make common cause with others, which is interesting.
This smart pivot, a piece of coalition building by the anti-Trump protesters in the UK, is early evidence of the emergence of a global “dump Trump” movement that will be primarily American, but with support from other countries. Over the weekend there were plenty of US military veterans and non-radical demonstrators joining the crowds protesting the travel ban from seven Muslim countries. It is not pre-ordained that all the surprises in our rapidly changing politics will come from the right. Indeed, the populist right has grown over-confident, having had so much fun in recent years and assuming that their opponents are incapabale of adapting. Quite possibly wrong.
It is true that protest and marching rarely works. For every civil rights success there are a thousand annoying demos held by virtue-signalling wastrels keen to force the rest of us to listen to their whining. Most voters would never go on a march and look askance at people that do.
In the US, many of the voters who put Trump in the White House will also regard the ban as perfectly legitimate. Trump is signalling that he will keep his promises, no matter how mad. One group in the US that may not agree are evangelicals who voted for Trump. They take a very positive view of helping refugees and quite often volunteer to help.
The bigger problem for Trump on Main Street is that the ban was so poorly written and unclear that he is now open to charges of woeful incompetence. The botching seems to have been a product of key adviser Steve Bannon (self-styled Thomas Cromwell to Trump’s Henry VIII) wanting to disrupt Washington at every opportunity and being too cocky by half.
It is reported that the controversial Trump Executive Order on entry to the US was not run past government lawyers properly, a deliberate oversight that is usually a mistake in America.
This left officials and officers on the ground having to implement a badly drafted policy that created days of chaos and hardship at airports, with law-abiding people impounded for hours. There was confusion over the status of Green Card holders, people with a legal right to entry and residence. America is a country of lawyers and constitutional law. The events this weekend will be litigated for months in the US courts by vast teams of lawyers.
Bannon’s supporters will of course say this chaos is all deliberate. Bannon’s a wicked genius, surely, using game theory and creating distractions, satisfying the Trump base and putting the entire Establishment on notice that anything can happen. The far-right, both moderate far-right and full-blown far-right, throughout history always does a good line in self-delusion. (Of course the Fuhrer knows what he’s doing. Those Russian tanks on the outskirts of Berlin are all part of the plan. The Fuhrer will unleash his secret weapons soon, you’ll see.)
Are the Bannon fans ascribing him abilities he lacks? There is zero reason Bannon would instantly be any good at government. He’s a former hack/propagandist, a military anorak and a Goldman animal. Far better people than him from outside politics have thought government is an easy business and fallen on their arses, as we say in Britain.
I wonder if Bannon is running a little too far ahead of his boss. It happens in revolutions. Revolutionaries get over-excited and sometimes find themselves expendable. In seeing Trump as the tool – his creature – to deliver his nativist revolution Bannon may be forgetting that only one thing really matters always with Donald Trump. And that is Donald Trump and the reputation of Donald Trump.
The mogul turned President lives to be loved and cannot abide criticism. This means he responds to everything as though it must weighed for evidence of a personal snub. In the election campaign pitting himself against the tired Establishment he could rail at everyone letting down America. Now as President he is head of state and it is his closest aides and himself who made America look careless, vindictive and incompetent rather than great.
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The President’s statement rushed out over the weekend clarifying the ban contained the usual tilt at the media, but it was markedly different in tone to previous communications. This is not a Muslim ban, he said, and the US welcomes immigrants. The statement had the whiff of injured pride and bewilderment. Trump’s the great salesman, supposedly, so why aren’t more people buying the narrative of his so great, so great, honestly so great, popularity?
Of course Trump is not going to become instantly reasonable. But the Trump team is a medieval court, crossed with a reality TV show, involving a struggle for supremacy. Bannon’s abrasive style made his boss look like a blundering buffoon this weekend. How will Ivanka Trump view this development? Or other moderate figures in the White House and departments railroaded by Bannon?
We’re only at day 10 day of the Trump presidency. So much has happened already. Yet I do not think it is too early envisage the possibility of Trump saying to Bannon: “Steve, you’re fired.”