Sunday, 17 September 2017

The funny thing about Trump and Brexit

As a student, I had the pleasure of attending the legendary London jazz club Ronnie Scott’s at a time when Ronnie Scott himself was still around to do his act during an interval in the music. One of the lines that has stuck in my mind was his dead pan reassurance to us all that, while we might not be the best audience in the world, we were certainly the worst.

There’s something about the Trump presidency that brings that back to mind. Whatever else he’s done, and to be honest he’s done precious little, he’s assured himself a place in the history books. Or at least, he will if there are still history books being written, and Trump doesn’t contrive to end civilisation (such as it is) in a conflagration followed by a nuclear winter triggered by his inability to find a peaceful way out of his confrontation with North Korea.

What is particularly outstanding about his presidency so far is that he’s clearly uncertain which party he belongs to. The leadership of the Republican Party was never happy with his candidacy, and aren’t particularly enamoured of his performance since entering the White House either. But just recently he seems, in his confusion, to have started to think he was a Democrat. Certainly, twice in two weeks he’s come to something like a deal with the Democratic leadership in Congress – Chuck Schumer, minority leader of the Senate, and Nancy Pelosi, his opposite number in the House of Representatives.

Err... that's the Democratic leadership
You're supposed to be a Republican, Donald
Except that perhaps he hasn’t. That’s how exciting the Trump presidency’s proving. His tweets seemed to suggest at first that he hadn’t made a deal on steps concerning unauthorised immigrants who were brought to the US as children, later that he add. So who knows? Did he or didn’t he? We may discover in time.

The one thing certain is that he had Pelosi and Shumer around and not Paul Ryan from the House or Mitch McConnell from the Senate, the actual majority leaders, from the Republican party he ostensible represents. But does he really? See what I mean about exciting?

He may be suffering from a little confusion too. Making a deal with the minority party in Congress may sound like smart work, but that word “minority” isn’t without significance. To get things through Congress and into law requires a majority. For something to happen, it isn’t enough for Trump to decide that it should, even if he gets agreement from congenial company around honey sesame crispy beef.

The people you really have to sympathise with in all this chaos are the left-behind voters, mostly poor, who backed Trump as a way out of their desperate misfortune as well as a means of kicking the establishment that was letting them down. Whatever they were hoping for, Trump hasn’t provided it. If he’s now reaching out to the Democrats, then he’s working with the people who most excited their wrath.

Something similar is happening in Britain, where the government is in chaos over Brexit. As realisation grows of the damage likely to be inflicted on the economy by leaving the European Union, ministers are beginning to look for ways to soften the blow. Why, the Chancellor of the Exchequer (our Finance Minister) is even talking about a transitional period which would be indistinguishable from the status quo.

Now that’s not an approach likely to attract the many leave voters who chose Brexit, like Trump supporters, to give the establishment a kicking. They’ve found a spokesman in the form of Boris Johnson, a man whose main claim to celebrity has been principally based on an assiduously cultivated image as a buffoon. He is, however, currently moonlighting as Foreign Secretary. That’s an office to which he has brought the special gift of his buffoonery, to the amusement and sometimes anxiety of his opposite numbers in other countries.

To the surprise of his cabinet colleagues, he has chosen to sing the praises of Britain outside the EU, and the glorious future that awaits it. Why, he even repeated the claim, made during the referendum campaign, that Brexit would free up £350m a week that could be spent on the NHS. That particular piece of propaganda has been entirely discredited since, but that didn’t stop Johnson repeating it. Using it not just as part of his pro-Brexit campaign, but in support of the much important one that he hopes will take him to the Conservative leadership and number 10 in replacement of Theresa May. 

Sir David Norgrove, the head of the UK statistics authority, denounced the claim as "a clear misuse of official statistics".

We, like the Americans, seem to be living in a looking-glass world in which principle, consistency and certainly the truth, count for little. Britain and American seem to have reached a similar state, in response to the same frustration of the left-behind. But if Trump and Brexit have much in common, there is one big difference.

Americans need only wait until 2020 to get rid of Trump.

Britain will need a generation to realise what a mess it has made by leaving the EU and applying to join again.

Though, of course, if Trump manages to handle matters with North Korea as badly as he has so far, none of that may matter very much.

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