Wednesday, 8 February 2017

In resisting an autocrat, does good taste really matter?

“An address by a foreign leader to both houses of Parliament is not an automatic right, it is an earned honour,” House of Commons speaker John Bercow told fellow MPs. “Before the imposition of the migrant ban, I would myself have been strongly opposed to an address by President Trump in Westminster Hall. After the imposition of the migrant ban by President Trump, I am even more strongly opposed to an address b President Trump in Westminster Hall.”

As far as the House of Commons is concerned, claimed Bercow, “I feel very strongly that our opposition to racism and sexism and our support for equality before the law and an independent judiciary are hugely important considerations.”

Pretty blunt. Especially as such values as equality before the law and an independent judiciary are fundamental to the United States Constitution itself. He seemed to be accusing Trump of denying not just international political and moral principles but those on which his own country is founded.

That accusation was made still more harshly elsewhere. This week, the generally sober German weekly Der Spiegelhit even harder, with a cover that has raised an outcry even among people who don’t see themselves as allies of Trump’s. They feel it’s over the top to depict Trump with a knife in one hand and the head of the Statue of Liberty, dripping blood, in the other, over the caption ‘America First’.
A picture that lacks charm, perhaps,
but does it lack accuracy?
Critics view the drawing as tasteless, which it certainly is. But, I’d ask, is Trump a champion of good taste himself? At one end of his violent range, he rails at opponents in abusive tweets; at the other, he tries to exclude from the US people who have already been through severe vetting and issued with a visa.

Surely a visa is a commitment to allow someone to enter? Suddenly revoking it sounds like the breach of a promise. Now that’s tasteless. And those who live by the sword, die by the sword.

This strikes me as a good time to remember words that sum up the promise to the world the US once made, a promise that embodies much that’s best in the country.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

A land of liberty welcoming the oppressed of any other country straining for freedom.

It’s a vision of the US that makes many Americans proud. Not Trump or his supporters, though, one imagines. Unless they don’t see the contradiction between the words and the travel ban, which is is possible: their mental gymnastic ability is often breathtaking.

Of course, you know where the words most famously appear: on the plinth of the Statue of Liberty.

Could Der Spiegel be on to something?

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