For 18 months, Donald Trump was amazingly useful to British politicians. Whatever their party, he provided them with the most magnificent means with which to polish their liberal credentials. In January, when the British Parliament spent three hours debating a public petition to ban Trump from entering the country, we learned from Labour’s Rupa Huq that he was ‘racist, homophobic, misogynist’, from the Conservative Marcus Fysh that he was ‘the orange prince of American self-publicity’ and from the SNP’s Gavin Newlands that he was not only ‘racist, sexist and bigoted’, but ‘an idiot’.
So perhaps now that the giggling has subsided, we can get down to a more realistic assessment of the man and his views. Some unsavoury personal moments aside, the accusation that Trump was a misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic racist simply constituted the liberal press’s best effort at holing his campaign below the waterline. In reality, Trump is a man who holds liberal New York opinions and would be unable to set about ‘rolling back’ liberal rights even if he wanted to.
The other accusations against him have been equally cynical. For months there has been a hysterical insistence, by everyone from Democrat peaceniks to Cold War nostalgists, that a Trump presidency would fundamentally undermine and even end Nato — the centrepiece of the UK’s defence capability. The basis for this claim lies solely in Trump’s complaint during his campaign that America should not be bailing out its Nato allies if they are not willing to pay a fair share for their own defence. Though it was expressed more forcefully than is usually the case, there was nothing so surprising about this. For decades, US presidents have implored their European partners to fulfil the minimal 2 per cent spending requirements that membership of Nato should require. There is nothing immoral or unstrategic about asking European powers to demonstrate a commitment to their own security. Rather than ‘weakening’ Nato, such a stance is likely to underpin and strengthen it.
Then there are the fears about American trade protectionism. But these would have pertained whoever won the White House. Pulled to the left by the Bernie Sanders insurgency within her own party, President Hillary Clinton would have been at least as protectionist as Trump will prove to be. The European-American trade deal, TTIP, was floundering long before this week, with experts on both sides of the Atlantic considering the differences irreconcilable. When it comes to trade, Britain is — in reality — in the best possible position with President Trump. Had our elected politicians not been so undiplomatic in recent months, this country might have been in a better position still. Everything Trump has ever said suggests that he is exceptionally well disposed towards the country where his mother was born. In recent times such an attitude could not be taken for granted. Lest we forget, Barack Obama — the most acclaimed ‘liberal’ president of modern times — thought so little of US-UK relations that he ignored all present and historic bonds of affection and threatened to send us ‘to the back of the queue’ if we disagreed with his stance on the EU. By contrast, Trump has repeatedly insisted that post-Brexit Britain will be at the front of the queue in trade deals with the US. Under him the special relationship that was allowed to flounder under Obama could flourish once again.
‘What about the nativism and the racism?’ people will ask. But putting aside the occasional rhetorical ugliness, all this seems to refer to is Trump’s desire that America erect meaningful borders after a generation of Republican and Democratic incumbents made them semi-permeable at best. Throughout this campaign, there was no greater demonstration of the disconnect between the liberal elite and the public at large than the insistence that someone who had ‘insulted’ minorities could not make it to the White House in a ‘changing’ America. Strengthening and even building borders is not ‘racism’ or ‘nativism’. It is what normal, successful states have done throughout history, and what states across Europe — after a few years of dangerous utopian fantasy — are now doing again.
Then there is the nuclear question. Isn’t Donald Trump going to start a third world war? So far as anyone can tell, his foreign policy instincts are far less provocative than a second President Clinton’s would have been. He certainly seems to favour bold and decisive action against terrorist groups such as Isis, but he is significantly less likely to start a conflagration than his Democratic opponent.
The subject of Russia and Putin was also used throughout this election as a shorthand way to malign the Trump campaign. But this was not based on anything more than a couple of complimentary phrases about President Putin. And though the commentariat likes to use Putin (like ‘progressive’ rights) as a way to demonstrate a candidate’s unfitness for office, there is nothing very clever about a stance of unbridled hostility, aggression and antagonism towards Moscow. In recent months there has been a dramatic warming of hostilities in the virtual war against Russia. If a Trump presidency can lower the temperature of such exchanges, then it should be welcomed rather than lamented.
In a last-minute pre-election plea, the talkshow host Bill Maher insisted that Trump was different. That although Maher and other leftists had claimed that Mitt Romney and John McCain were sexist, homophobic racists as well, they had in fact been lying. Maher admitted that he and other leftists ‘cried wolf’ with them, whereas Trump really was all of these things, and also a fascist to boot. And the thing about fascists, Maher insisted, is that once they get power they don’t give it up. One hates to remind people of this, but they said the same thing about George W. Bush. In 2008 there was no executive order for Bush to remain in office in perpetuity. That too dissolved into the tide of American hyperbole. As will the excesses of Trump and his critics.