Author: Jamie Wiggan
So far diplomacy has not proven to be a strength for President Trump. This should not come as a surprise given his blueprint for diplomacy derives from his self-acclaimed command in aggressive deal-making. Nevertheless, since taking office less than a month ago the President has already managed to antagonize Beijing by muddling in its sensitive relation to Taiwan, and upset Australia’s Prime Minister in what appears to have been a thoroughly unproductive, shortened exchange. Similarly his first telephone conversation with Mexico’s President was cut short amidst inflammatory discussion over his proposed wall. These are just the highlights.
For good or ill, the United States of America brings a lot of leverage to the world-table due to the sheer reach of its power, wealth and influence. Despite this, Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel has shown that she has the courage to hold President Trump accountable to his international and humanitarian responsibilities—in this particular case those set out by the Geneva Convention. Others too have shown similar commitment to conscience.
Seemingly fearing the growing tensions and divisions that dampen the global climate, other leaders would rather court the President’s favor, playing down the implications of his positions. Amidst an uncertain exit from the European Union, UK Prime Minister Theresa May appears to be heavily invested in this strategy, despite perhaps her best judgement: “sometimes opposites attract”—she quipped as she boarded a plane to D.C., deflecting further scrutiny from her opinions on President Trump.
Before departing Washington, May presented the President with the offer of a royal state visit. Not to be confused with a regular diplomatic trip, a state visit is a cordial invitation to stay with the Queen, usually at Buckingham Palace. It is a gesture never received by many former US Presidents, and in Trump’s case the invitation was extended unprecedentedly early on in his first presidential term. As reported by the BBC “[state visits] have political purpose and are used by the government of the day to further what it sees as Britain’s national interests”—May knows that the fastest route to Trump’s heart is through flattery.
In addition to the comforts of royal hospitality, state visits usually also honor the guest with an opportunity to make an address to Parliament. Conservative House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow, who holds an effective veto to this portion of the visit, has however stated his intent to refuse Trump this privilege. In defence of his decision Bercow told an applauding Parliament, “I feel very strongly that our opposition to racism and to sexism, and our support for equality before the law and an independent judiciary are hugely important considerations in the House of Commons.” Following this move, backbench MPs from Bercow’s own party are seeking to launch a vote of no confidence against him. Readers, yours is not the only government in pieces.
As an international Chatham student whose citizenship is British, I have been both angered and disappointed by the British Government’s recent acts of calculated diplomacy. It turns out that I am not alone here. Following May’s announcement of Trump’s royal invitation, an online petition was quickly drafted to the attention of Parliament. It reads:
“Donald Trump should be allowed to enter the UK in his capacity as head of the US Government, but he should not be invited to make an official State Visit because it would cause embarrassment to Her Majesty the Princess.”
While not in my view optimally worded, I added my signature alongside the 1.85 million others because I think this politically-motivated effort to co-opt Trump’s benevolence is an inappropriate gesture for a man who has advocated torture, boasted about groping women and incited fear and prejudice by instilling false accounts of immigrant populations—Muslim and Mexican. Ultimately, his attempt to enact legislation in accordance with these illusory claims is a step that I feel cannot be overlooked by leaders around the world.
Since, in accordance with UK parliament’s rules, this petition has garnered over 100,000 signatories, it qualifies for debate in the House of Commons. February 20th has accordingly been set aside for this debate, yet with Theresa May’s Conservative Party holding a majority in the House of Commons a motion to overturn Trump’s visit would be a highly provocative outcome—not to be counted on.
In the hope of channelling some of my disappointment into positive action, I penned a quick letter to my Parliamentary representative that outlines my reasons for supporting the petition. I have copied in an excerpt below to share a story with you that I feel profoundly illustrates the value that can come when those without a direct stake in evil’s consequences nevertheless choose to share in them by making the right choices for humanity.
. . . I understand the tricky predicament our government finds itself in as the ensuing transition out of the EU impresses a need to court friends and trade allies around the globe. But there are times when taking a moral stand is necessary. . . In 1862, a group of textile workers met just a few miles from the boundaries of your constituency, in Manchester’s Free-Trade hall. They were there to show support for Mr. Lincoln’s request for sanctions on the cotton-dependent Confederacy. Despite the clear cost that this would inflict upon the workers, a class intimate with hardship even when business was good, they chose overwhelmingly to bypass imports from the American South in order to take a stand against slavery. History has shown they were on the right side.
While I have admittedly devoted most of this article to critiquing the character and conduct of world leaders (and thereby presumably disqualified my opinions on the grounds of fake news) I would like to also slip in a growing conviction of mine that has arisen as I have followed the Trump campaign and presidency, in the media and in dialogue: the need for responding with measured hostility, and, where possible, cooperation. My letter continues:
As much as I recognize the legitimacy of [Trump’s] presidency through the US electoral institutions, many of his views are far out of keeping with basic democratic values and pose a threat to global peace and stability. We must call him out where it is right to do so, just as we must also work with him when it is right to do so.
I hope I have already made my case that the world should not flatter a maniac, but the lack of bipartisanship and political branding that now constitutes much of civil discourse is ultimately what shovelled out a large enough hole in American politics for a brash, tempered maniac to waltz into its highest office. We must look beyond these dysfunctional attitudes and dialogues if we want to fill it with something better.