Trump's tweets have dangerously promoted fascists and Theresa May's weak response exposes the nature of the special relationship with the US argues Shabbir Lakha
All best friends have occasional Twitter beef right? I imagine this is the question Theresa May is asking herself after Trump’s tweet rebuking her last night. Taylor Swift has Twitter feuds with her friends all the time, it can’t be that bad.
The problem for May is that her government is in a huge crisis and she seems to be digging herself deeper in a hole with every passing day. Donald Trump seems keen to provide her with more shovels.
Yesterday morning he retweeted three anti-Muslim videos from Britain First’s Deputy Leader Jayda Fransen, who was last year convicted of racially aggravated harassment and is currently facing charges of inciting racial hatred. Unsurprisingly Britain First is filled with glee at the glowing endorsement from the President of the United States. Jayda Fransen said she was delighted and has now appealed to Donald Trump to help her in her plight of facing jail in the “sharia-compliant” UK for anti-Muslim hate crimes.
Britain First has been at the forefront of spreading Islamophobic bile and attacking Muslims around the country. Last year when far right terrorist Thomas Mair murdered British MP Jo Cox, he shouted “Britain First”. This is the group that Donald Trump has given a platform to, promoting their message to his 44 million followers. Brendan Cox said: “Even with the low bar that this President has already set, I think that this is a new level” and explained that given his track record of retweeting far right activists in the US and sharing their racist and antisemitic content, this is no accident.
And Trump made that abundantly clear when he responded to Theresa May’s weak “condemnation” by saying “don’t focus on me, focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom. We are doing just fine!” He said this despite none of the three videos he shared being about the UK.
Undoubtedly, Trump’s social media antics give legitimacy to fascists and embolden far right extremists in perpetrating hate crimes. After his election there was a spike in hate crimes in the UK, and his promotion of Britain First has surely put the lives of Muslims in the UK in further jeopardy. Despite this, Theresa May weakly said that he was “wrong” yesterday, while assuring the public that plans for his state visit (which had supposedly been downgraded to a ‘working visit’ earlier this year) were still in place. Today Amber Rudd told the Commons to “look at the bigger picture” of UK-US relations. It doesn’t get weaker than that.
The Special Relationship
From the moment Theresa May dashed across the pond to be the first world leader to meet President Trump and hold hands with him, it was clear to all of us that she had trapped herself in a corner. In contrast with Obama who was a smooth operator in giving a liberal front to the warmongering exploits of the Anglo-American relationship and who called May up on the night of June’s general election to provide some miscalculated reassurance, May’s relationship with Trump has largely been about him saying and doing stupid things and her having to find a way to not condemn him.
In the age of social media, Trump has no filter. Obama holds the record for the amount of undocumented migrants he deported during his Presidency and instigated a record amount of foreign military interventions during his Presidency. Theresa May as Home Secretary sent vans around the country telling immigrants to “go home”, went to Court to allow her to start mass deportations of Afghan refugees and was instrumental in Britain pulling out of international-law-mandated search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean – a legacy she’s carried on as Prime Minister. But on face value, both Obama and May have been able to use politically correct buzzwords to keep liberals onside for the most part.
But Trump has no such ability. From the start of his campaign he used explicitly racist and Islamophobic rhetoric, and his inauguration as President was followed swiftly by a barrage of Executive Orders of the most unpopular and damaging kind – including the Muslim Ban that even many Republicans and Tories found difficult to get behind.
This is not new. It’s been the story throughout 2017. Why is it a big deal for Theresa May? Because of the so-called special relationship that May has attempted to use to hedge her many crises and because Trump’s unpopularity has brought a lot of underlying issues to the fore.
As is demonstrated aptly by the recent announcement that the settlement in the Brexit divorce bill has risen to £57bn, Theresa May’s hand in the Brexit negotiations is extremely weak and the EU know it – and are milking it. This only increases Theresa May’s reliance on the US to provide some kind of trade deal that will prevent or at least mitigate the impending market apocalypse.
And it’s not just about trade. The US-UK special relationship has always been defined by mutually beneficial military cooperation to maintain Western hegemony. Britain’s foreign policy has for a long time been decided in Washington. Theresa May is keen to support any new war Trump is gearing towards, including a potential nuclear confrontation with North Korea and backing the Saudi-Israel alliance in their drive for war in the Middle East.
That’s why the undermining of the special relationship is so detrimental for May. The opposition to Trump is entirely interlinked with the growing discontent with the Tories. Along with being the “Queen of U-turns”, she is “Theresa the Appeaser (of Trump)”. And where she gets it wrong with not being able to distance herself from Trump, Jeremy Corbyn gets it right.
There is no point in mincing words about what Britain First are as Boris and the Tories have done, and there is little point in getting angry at Trump’s tweets without putting the special relationship at the centre of it. Trump and May both know that if and when he visits there will be mass protests across the UK, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep reminding them – nor organise both in preparation for it and around the wider issues involved.
Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.
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