The US president’s descent into lunacy and fascistic violence holds a lesson for the UK.
It was not so hard to predict that Donald Trump’s rage at having lost the US election would lead inexorably to violence, and I was one of several to do so a few weeks ago.
The story is not over yet and, while Trump remains Commander in Chief of US armed forces, I continue to believe that there is a very real danger of him starting a foreign war – as a last desperate throw of the dice. This might provide cover for ‘emergency measures’ against those he perceives as his enemies in the US, or it might be done out of sheer spite, aiming to leave Joe Biden with the worst possible mess on his hands when he moves into the White House in a couple of weeks’ time.
Olivia Troye, former national security advisor to Vice President Mike Pence, warned of this possibility in a Radio Four interview this morning, saying: “The reality is that the president is dangerous … he has shown that he will invoke violence … It would not surprise me if he engaged in international warfare again … I do have concerns about Iran.”
Iran is certainly the most likely candidate on which Trump’s loser’s rage might be vented, not least because Israel’s president Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi ruler Mohammed bin Salman have been spoiling for a US-backed war with Iran before Biden gets to the White House. Many in the US have been urging Congress to invoke the 25th Amendment of the US Constitution, which allows Congress to declare the president unfit to discharge his duties, for precisely this reason.
Whatever transpires between now and the inauguration, Trump’s descent into outright derangement has sent shock waves around the world. And there will be lasting reverberations in the UK, where Boris Johnson’s government and the Conservative Party mirror Trump’s administration and the US Republican Party in several significant ways.
It has been painful to behold the contortions of Johnson, Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and other ministers as they have tried to condemn the attack on democracy in Washington without condemning the man who incited it. While other European leaders, including Angela Merkel, have been forthright and explicit, comments by Johnson and his cabinet have studiously avoided naming the man who christened the UK prime minister “Britain Trump”.
The links between Trump and Brexit – twin far-right nationalist movements on either side of the Atlantic – are indeed numerous and deep, and Johnson himself has frequently drawn parallels. Speaking to Tory activists in 2018 – a year after Trump had defended a mob of US neo-Nazis at Charlottesville, one of whom murdered a counter-protester – Johnson said: “I am increasingly admiring of Donald Trump. I have become more and more convinced that there is method in his madness.”
“Imagine Trump doing Brexit,” Johnson enthused. “He’d go in bloody hard … there’d be all sorts of breakdowns, all sorts of chaos. Everyone would think he’d gone mad. But actually you might get somewhere. It’s a very, very good thought.” After becoming PM the following year. Johnson was able to put this hypothesis to the test, with predictably dire results.
Steve Bannon, the far-right propagandist who was at one time Trump’s chief strategist and is now indicted on serious fraud charges, was an important conduit between Team Trump and the Vote Leave cabal that came to dominate the Conservative Party. Bannon claims to have advised Boris Johnson on key speeches he made as he was campaigning for the Tory Party leadership, including the one in which he compared Muslim women wearing the burka to “letter-boxes”.
And in 2017 it was revealed that Jacob Rees-Mogg had met with Bannon to discuss “how we move forward with winning for the conservative movements on both sides of the pond, how you build movements, on the ground and digitally, and what Steve’s brand of economic nationalism – which puts the interests of ordinary people first – can do in the US and United Kingdom”. The meeting was arranged by Nigel Farage’s aide Raheem Kassam, who commented: “Brexit and the election of President Trump were inextricably linked.” Unusually for Kassam, he was telling the truth.
Rees-Mogg has said he would “almost certainly” vote for Trump if he were an American. And as the newly appointed Leader of the House in 2019 he was a key figure in Boris Johnson’s scheme to suspend parliamentary democracy in the UK by proroguing Parliament – an unprecedented move that was only stopped by the intervention of the Supreme Court.
Then there is Michael Gove, who was (after Nigel Farage) the second British politician to visit Trump soon after his election in 2016. Gove conducted a fawning, obsequious interview with the Conman in Chief at his gilded apartment in Trump Tower before posing with him like a salivating fanboy meeting his idol.
Shahmir Sanni worked for Michael Gove at Vote Leave before becoming a whistleblower in order to reveal the illegality at the heart of the official Brexit campaign. Earlier today, he tweeted: “The same people that bankrolled Trump bankrolled Brexit. The same strategy that Trump has used, Vote Leave has used. Except we had irrefutable proof that the latter broke the law. Our political system was just too broken to hold them to account – instead, we gave them more power.”
For people like me who campaigned against Brexit for several years, it was hard not to see the violent mob that attacked the heart of democracy in the US yesterday as close cousins to a variety of Brexiter we have often encountered, both online and in the real world.
They are motivated by the same lies, delusions and conspiracy theories. They chant the same slogans (“Take Our Country Back”). Many of them harbour the same fear and hatred of people of other races and nationalities. And a few weeks ago people of this sort cheered Nigel Farage as he stood next to Donald Trump at a rally in Arizona and praised the criminal conman they idolise.
Of course, many people who voted for Brexit are not like this at all. But it’s time to recognise that Brexit has empowered and emboldened such extremists, and that Boris Johnson and other leading Conservative politicians have, like their Republican counterparts, pandered to them.
Such people are a clear and present danger to democracy, both in the US and the UK. And it is past time to call them what they so evidently are: fascists.