14 January 2021
No Way To Say Goodbye
by J.R. Thomas
So, farewell, Donald. If Mr Trump thought he was guaranteed an honoured place in history, he has blown it now. We do not usually run this column on American events two weeks running, but last week’s was rapidly outpaced by events on publication eve, so the editor has sighed, resettled his green eyeshade, snapped another dozen pencils, and snarled “Send it in then” down his wind-up telephone.
The events of last Wednesday were horrific and unacceptable in any polity, let alone the world’s greatest democracy, and that that they were encouraged, at least initially, by the incumbent President is a real stain on Mr Trump. His insistence that he had in truth won was absurd, his attempts to manipulate the Electoral College system outrageous, and whilst there is no doubt that there is some small scale fraud in the voting system, it is not relevant to Mr Biden’s seven million popular majority. Mr Trump had been goaded beyond measure by his opponents, but presidents must never submit to that. By the evening of the fateful day he knew what he had done and realised that his encouragement of the mob to march on the Capitol was no way for a president to speak, as he urged them to go home in peace; and later, he promised President-elect Biden a peaceful transition. But the damage was done.
This column has from time to time over the last four years (and earlier, in our coverage of the nomination and electoral campaigns) been accused of being a Trump fan. Well, it isn’t, and wasn’t (nor is it a Biden fan), but never thought him quite the demon his opponents painted. American politics, as in many democracies, is desperately short of honest competent politicians who are prepared to share their principles and dreams; we are, you might say, not getting the politicians we deserve, though arguably we are. Our intolerance of our leaders’ human weaknesses, our lack of engagement in political processes, our over-emotional brisk responses, and most of all, our failure to contemplate and to think (step forward Twitter and hang your electronic head in utter shame, you are wrecking the world which gave you birth), have been major factors in bringing us here.
And the media… During the Congressional occupation, the ITV news, having announced that appalling events were devastating the USA, switched to their American correspondent who dolefully pronounced that in the United States’s 250 years of democratic history its institutions had not faced such dangers. What? Really? Not even 1861 to 1865 when there was a small matter of a Civil War (circa seven hundred thousand dead). Or 1812 as the Brits burned down the White House? A small matter, but so representative of emotionalism trumping (sorry) knowledge, reason and calm reporting. The media has to carry significant blame for its standards and style of political reporting over many years. Journalists and editors no longer dispassionately comment and consider but have become over-emotional, quick to comment and judge, seemingly unable to analyse and reflect. Too many folks are turning into social mobsters, few stopping to reflect and pause for thought. And twice in the last six months a social mob has put its metaphorical hand-gun in its pocket and gone off to riot.
The Shaw Sheet sees its role as bringing deeper reflection on the news, drawing readers’ attention to things unnoticed or ideas overlooked. As for example, when reporting periodically on the Trump administration and American politics over the last few years. In particular we argued, and do argue, that Mr Trump was perhaps a better president than the howling mob outside the gates would ever admit. Not much of a politician for sure, not a Republican or a Democratic or anything else, but an individual who saw things he wanted to do and got on with doing at least some of them. The Donald is probably not a man you would want weekending in your house, or even joining you for lunch, but he was a competent operator and had a constituency whose voice he understood. Two constituencies in fact, one the reluctant traditional Republicans who fundamentally did not trust or like him, but saw a vote winner; and one noisily and loyally enthusiastic in those numbers of Americans who feel increasingly left behind by the direction in which the world is going, and don’t like it.
One of the tragedies of our times is that the Democratic Party forgot those core supporters and became the vehicle of hip middle class socialistic sympathisers; abandoning that coalition with the aspiring poor which had formed its bedrock for so long. If Joe Biden reflects on what is happening in America, and what led to recent events, if he has really thought through what brought the Union to this place, then, like Keir Starmer in the UK, he must see that it is his urgent priority to bring his great and historic party back to its roots. He is likely to be a one term president; given that he is beholden to no one for his future, he can fight that fight. He has one hell of a job ahead of him; he must calm things down, deprecate vengeance, be a great conciliator, both in Washington and in the country at large. Events even now suggest this will not be easy. Can he do that? Yes, he probably can, he has the character and personal history for the job. Will he? Possibly, but he will need to be a brave man if he can show that he does understand the cares and concerns of what his predecessor as presidential candidate called the “deplorables”.
If anything showed how far the Democrats had lost touch with deep America, it was Hillary’s use of that expression. And if anything could symbolically show that Joe will take up the good cause, it will be in sacking Nancy Pelosi, or at least procuring her removal, as House Speaker. Ms Pelosi is entitled to hate Donald, as she has for his entire term, but her childish and excitable behaviour, no better than the president, over the whole period of the Trump presidency makes her unsuitable for the job she holds, which should set an example to her country and help heal the rifts which threaten to damage the constitution and the democratic process yet further. It would be a bold move to get rid of her, but nothing would demonstrate more clearly President Biden’s intent to heal the country. If Starmer can do it, then so can Biden. The second move probably ought to be to pardon Mr Trump, but that might be an olive branch too far.
The Republicans, needless to say, must accomplish just one task. To purge themselves of Mr Trump, his family, and Trumpism. Barbara Bush famously said in 2016 that America didn’t need any more Bush’s. But that is exactly what America does need. Maybe not from the Bush family, but decent tolerant educated patient politicians who believe in liberty and enterprise, but also understand that for some of the population those are factors not readily available, that government must provide them sometimes, that freedom can only flourish in a society with a caring heart. The GOP needs to find an inspirational candidate who can redraw the American dream and rebuild a kinder form of Republicanism.
Mr Trump’s presidency will be probably more highly regarded than it is today, but, alas, it will be his leaving office that will now always define him. But with luck, also mark the beginning of a new and gentler time in American politics.