Trump’s failed promises, and imperialist fantasies around Brexit

The news that Trump plans to use trade talks with the UK to force the NHS to pay more for drugs should surpise no-one. But the fact that people thought he would do anything else exposes the fantasy of Britain as an imperial power at the heart of the appeal of Brexit.

From Daily Express 14 November 2016

This week a story re-appeared about Trump wanting to force the NHS to pay more for drugs, as part of a possible trade deal between the UK and the US.

His argument seems to be that putting “America first” means stopping foreigners “freeloading”. The actual point is that the NHS (via NICE) operates as a single payer, and so has more muscle than the fragmented US system, where payments are made by individual health insurance companies.

That is in stark contrast with Nigel Farage’s attempts to claim that Trump would be a president who would take the UK “to the front of the queue”.

Farage being wrong is hardly news-worthy. But this calls to mind some perceptive comments in the first chapter of Nick Clegg’s How to stop Brexit, where he points up the string of things which have led to the imagination of Britain being an exception — not least the fantasy that we alone won the Second World War (which ignores the fact that we were in deep trouble until the Americans joined in). Continue reading “Trump’s failed promises, and imperialist fantasies around Brexit”

Rex Tillerson: a veiled attack on Trump, and a cultural problem

Speaking at the Virginia Military Academy commencement, former Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson’s comments on truth have been heard as a not-so veiled criticism of Donald Trump’s questionable grip on truth and the corrosive effects of that on democracy. Tillerson is right, but he also highlights a very Western approach, which is becoming a big part of the problem.

Rex Tillerson, former US Secretary of State

Tillerson’s words

come across as wise and measured. He speaks of technology, of the need for truth, and for the protection of freedom of speech. He also speaks of globalisation and the changes it is bringing.

The crux of his comments on truth is the much-quoted phrase “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”. But that quote comes from St John’s gospel. It is both a statement on freedom, and something deeply rooted in the Christian heritage of the West.

Tillerson goes on to talk about “allies who share our values” and others. Inadvertently, he highlights one of the key anxieties of globalisation. Freedom and truth are good things. Christianity is also the bedrock of Western society. But, despite the West’s now-complex relationship with its Christian heritage, religion is part of a “double inscription”: on the one hand, it shapes the way we view the world, and our experience of the world shapes our religion. It is extremely hard to step outside this. Even Westerners who reject Christianity tend to get up in the Christianity they are rejecting (or its mirror image).

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Brexit: a callous attack on those least able to bear it

The collision of stories in the last few days sends a shiver down the spine. At Christmas, there are grinding stories of real poverty, and of the super rich who donated to the Leave campaign complaining at HMRC asking them to pay their taxes.

Early last autumn I blogged about Brexit as a new class war — already by then it was seeming like a cynical attempt of a wealthy minority to mobilise the frustrations of the most disadvantaged to vote in a way that helped the wealthy minority. I hesitate to lay that at the door of the Conservatives because that is a deep betrayal of the “one nation conservatism”, which deserves respect, and took us into the EU, displaced by something far nastier.

Just before Christmas there was the story of a grandmother dependent on donated food and unable to give presents. That could be claimed to be a one-off, as each individual story of poverty is unique. But there do seem to be rather a lot of these stories.

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European defence possibilities

One of the ironies of the referendum campaign was the (unsubstantiated) claim that the EU is about to create a European Army. Yet as anti-federalists get jumpy about the tone of Guy Verhofstadt’s comments on closer co-operation on defence, Trump pushes for something similar. Has closer co-operation on defence just become a really good idea, and essential for the UK to be part of?

The sequence of events feels almost surreal. During the referendum campaign several former generals, including Lord Guthrie, came out in favour of Brexit, supposedly over fears that the EU is about to create an EU army. In the swirl of half-stories it was not clear what was actually being said: there has been shared policy on security and defence for a long time, which became the Common Security and Defence Policy in the Lisbon Treaty. Crucially, anyone with a grip on the different stories of EU member states would be aware that this is very complicated — particularly because of the anxieties in Germany about armed forces serving a purpose that’s anything other than defensive. A move as big as creating a fully-fledged European Army would also need treaty changes, which require the agreement of all the member states, so there is no chance of it happening without the agreement of the UK as long as we are in the EU.

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Trump’s election: a bigger picture

In the closing stages of the US presidential election, Trump was describing his advance as “like Brexit but more”. That catches my sense of shock when it happened — though I wouldn’t want to take the parallel as far as he does. Shocked messages from friends in the US sound uncomfortably familiar.

donald-trump-pic

Perhaps the system will right itself. Perhaps he won’t be as bad as I fear. Perhaps he will be as bad as I fear, and be forced from office (the civil case for rape that should have been heard in December was withdrawn shortly before the election, with the claimant citing threats against her). As I write this, attempts are in progress to persuade the Electoral College not to chose him.

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