The centre-right mainstream will be frantically galloping this morning to put as much distance as possible between itself and Donald Trump. Conservative MPs, publications and activists will condemn the President, suggest that they’ve never had any time for him, and hint that were they Americans they would have voted for Joe Biden instead.
It is necessary for the record to point out that this is far from being the whole story. Tory MPs were backward in coming forward before the election to give a view. But the quotes that we can find are mixed. Philip Davies said that “it is in the UK’s best interests if Trump wins”. Sajid Javid was one of the few Parliamentarians who took an advance position – writing emphatically in favour of Biden.
Over half our panel of Party members opted for Trump, and it would be surprising if a fair slice of Conservative MPs and peers did not quietly share their view. We endorsed neither candidate, but wrote that “the case for the President turns out to be stronger than you may think” – a view based on Britain’s strategic, economic and diplomatic interest, as we saw it.
Where that interest truly lies can be argued back and forth, but that it is indispensible to a British view of American politics should not be. We must live in the world as it is, not as we would prefer it to be. And no responsible Government can afford to thumb its nose at what remains the most powerful country in the world, a long-time ally, an economic player, our main security partner, and a cultural cousin.
That meant minding our ps and qs with Trump, and appreciating that the “Love Actually” moment, in which a Prime Minister tells a President where to get off, wins cheers precisely because audiences know that, outside fiction, it wouldn’t and shouldn’t happen. In any event, our governments have fawned over worse men than Trump: the red carpet has been rolled out for Xi Jinping, for example.
It would be easy to carry on writing in this prevaricatory vein – pointing out, for example, that one of the reasons why the President won a record number of votes for a losing candidate was voter fear of left-wing and mob violence, on vivid display recently in Portland and other cities.
We could add that British media coverage of America is thin and partial. Its rickety voting system in presidential elections has a long record of provoking protests from the losing party, best remembered here for the Democrats’ agitation over the result in 2000, when George W.Bush defeated Al Gore.
And we could rightly point out that a left-wing extremist came very close to winning a general election here in 2017. The man who would have been Jeremy Corbyn’s Chancellor, John McDonnell, amplified a call to lynch a woman Conservative MP. The wretched Corbyn fed on a social media culture of left-wing ignorance, self-righteousness, hysteria and paranoia.
That disposition has a mirror image on the right. If you doubt it, look no further than the rabble that stormed Congress yesterday. That it does not seem to have been very large, and should have been constrained by the authorities, is beside the point – which is that this rampage cost lives, was an attempt by a rioting mob to overthrow democratic order, and has terrifying implications.
It is surprising that no well-resourced right-wing publication has done a number on the Presidential result, given the ricktiness of America’s election system (as explored here by the Guardian). But the sum of the matter is that the states, represented sometimes by members of Trump’s own party, and the courts, presided over sometimes by judges who he himself appointed, believe his complaints have no merit.
The supreme theatre of this modern culture of grievance, self-pity and bullshit is reality TV. And Trump, as Andrew Gimson says in his book on American presidents, is not so much a liar as “a bullshitter, uninterested in whether his stream of boastfulness [bears] any relation to the truth”.
Whether the President is now incapable of distinguishing fact from fiction, or whether he simply isn’t a big enough man to lose, is a judgement best left to psychiatrists. The conclusion that others as well as they should draw this morning is: the sooner he is sent packing from the White House, the better.
To claims that it’s exaggerated to call what Trump attempted yesterday a coup invites the response: what would you call it, then? It is significant that Mike Pence, and what is left of this administration’s operation, appeared to take control of government yesterday – a necessity, but one which raises further questions about America’s governability.
First past the post and our relative constitutional stability tend to force hard right protest outside the main party of the centre-right, the Conservatives, and into fringe parties. Furthermore, there is very limited scope for democratic accountability, to put it mildly, with the structures and organisation of the Tory party itself.
That gives it insulation from the kind of upheaval that can bring a Tea Party or a Trump to the Republicans. But that shortage of members’ rights brings its own problems and perils. And let no-one claim either that the conservative movement, of which the centre-right is only a part, doesn’t feel the power of American culture – and the shock-jockery, coat-trailing, and oppositional mindset that comes with it.
Tim Montgomerie once complained of “the right-wing entertainment industry” – that’s to say, a race to the bottom powered by a strange mix of auto-rant, conspiracy theory and the loss of any sense of proportion. Whether we avoid all that here at ConservativeHome only our readers can judge.
But you know the symptoms when you see them. In the anti-lockdown maniacs who claim that Covid doesn’t exist at all. In the climate change obsessives who rail not at government policy but at scientific fact. In the tax cutters who are silent on spending control. In the conspiracists who babble on about Davos and Common Purpose, and from whom the Brexit project was rescued by Vote Leave.
We are critical of the Prime Minister fairly often ourselves, so it’s important to point out again that this enthusiast for net zero, quiet implementer of a relaxed immigration policy, and upholder of European orthodoxies on Iran and foreign policy has, so far, succeeded in yoking anti-establishment passions to a conventional political party – and thereby taming them.
He knows that going all QAnon would be to take the way that Republican candidates, thanks to the President, have gone in Georgia. The last words are Mitch McConnell’s from yesterday. “We cannot keep drifting apart into two separate tribes with a seperate set of facts and seperate realities with nothing in common but mistust in each other and in the few national institutions that we all still share.”