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Harold Evans on the damage done by Donald Trump

Also in his diary: New York’s East Side in UN season, and a tribute to top cop William Bratton

10 September 2016

9:00 AM

10 September 2016

9:00 AM

At weekends in our summerhouse at Quogue on Long Island, we go out to buy the newspapers and paper-cup coffee at the busy 7-Eleven in Westhampton. Several brisk young Hispanic women serve the long line of customers. Nobody mentions Donald Trump, though his latest vomit about deporting everyone like them is often on the front pages of the papers they hand us. The hurt and angst it must inflict may be mitigated somewhat in New York by the moral clarity of the city’s Daily News editorials blasting Trump as ‘un-American’, and the music video ‘Amnesty Don’, a spoof western mocking his talk of ‘going soft on immigration’. To the rage of Trumpkins, it’s gone viral:

From the west rode a soft and flaccid man with fear in his eyes and a burnt orange tan… He said he’d deport Mexicans before they raped our wives and ban a million Muslims before they took white lives.

The other evening we were invited to a drinks party for alarmed Democrats to hear from Frank Luntz, a Republican hawk and Fox News pollster. Most of us were worried about the xenophobic scare campaign Trump has let loose. But just as bad is the damage to the political system he’s exploited. The man who lives only to win has primed a time bomb for when he loses, saying the election is ‘rigged’. The extremist Tea Party Republicans in Congress, denied the White House again, will continue to block every Democratic proposal to get the country moving.

New York after Labor Day is one long echo of Bob Mankoff’s unforgettable cartoon in the New Yorker. Exasperated man on phone fixing a date: ‘No, Thursday’s out. How about never — is never good for you?’ Everyone is already double-booked. But nothing can match the frenzy that will seize the city starting next Tuesday, when the great and the good arrive for the 71st UN General Assembly on the East Side. Streets are closed, police seize bags, and everything freezes until the next procession of SUVs heads smugly up an empty street. The consolation this time is that they’re devoting a whole day to the disunited nations’ treatment of refugees.

Our apartment off Sutton Place is just down the street from the UN, so we could be accused of adding to the impending stresses by holding a reception this week on Thursday. In our defence, it is for New Yorkers who want to say farewell and thanks a million to Bill Bratton, their police commissioner (and his wife Rikki Klieman, a former criminal defence lawyer who’s now a glamorous television legal analyst). Bratton’s great asset is a Clint Eastwood-like low-boil temperament that has allowed him not just to face down crime but to live on the front page for decades without breaking a sweat. He first held the job of New York police commissioner from 1994 to 1996. The city had begun a slow ascent from the pits, but large parts of it were war zones. Drug dealers were busy at 15,000 locations, and 2,000 or more people were murdered every year, 5,000 people shot. Cops had abandoned whole neighbourhoods. Bratton brought from Boston a ‘quality of life’ theory of policing, which argued that you’d not get crime down if you turned a blind eye to fare-dodgers, drunks and aggressive beggars. I was president of Random House then, so I pursued him to write a book about his fight to take the city back. His boss, New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, was notoriously jumpy about publicity. So to anyone who asked, when I went down to police headquarters at dawn, I was ‘a computer specialist’.

There I watched the revolutionary crime-fighting operation invented by a Bratton appointment, Jack Maple. A hundred top cops sat in front of a battery of 8ft by 8ft computer screens that showed, precinct by precinct, exactly where a mugging, a robbery, a shooting had occurred. I watched those precinct captains go ashen as their crime numbers came up. But someone leaked that the ‘computer specialist’ was a publisher and then Time magazine put Bratton on the cover. It was too much limelight for Rudy, who fired him. Bratton went off to tackle gang warfare as police commissioner in Los Angeles, until three years ago, when Bill de Blasio brought him back. At de Blasio’s formal announcement, Bratton arrived with a copy of his favourite children’s book, Your Police, and read a passage aloud: ‘We must always remember that whenever we see a policeman, he is your friend. He is there to protect you.’ He can close his own book with the verdict of the Brennan Center for Justice that, of 30 large cities, New York is the safest — and stop-and-frisk searches were down to 22,939 last year. As someone who was mugged at gunpoint in the bad old days, I’ll drink to that.

Harold Evans is editor at large of Reuters. He edited the Sunday Times from 1967 to 1981; his books include My Paper Chase.

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