Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Labour has faced its demons, but the Tories are still ruled by theirs (Guardian)

Ed Miliband spent the past year laying building blocks for his policies, while the Conservatives wallowed in their old nastiness, writes Polly Toynbee.

2. Obama fails to correct Egyptian mistake (Financial Times)

The president did not undermine implicit US support for the military, writes Ian Bremmer.

3. Ignore the (other) advice, Ed. Be your own man (Times)

The Labour leader should argue for his egalitarian vision and policies that close the gap between rich and poor, says Philip Collins.

4. Forget the nostalgia for British Rail – our trains are better than ever (Guardian)

Passengers may be grumbling about the planned fare increases, but on balance rail privatisation has been a huge success, writes Ian Birrell.

5. How the wealthy keep themselves on top (Financial Times)

The more unequal a society, the greater the incentive for the rich to pull up the ladder behind them, writes Tim Harford.

6. The west must finally see Egypt as it is, not as we would like it to be (Independent)

The western world cannot afford an Egypt mired in protracted disorder, but the unpredictability of its neighbourhood excludes the usual treatment, writes Mary Dejevsky. 

7. Promote women, but not the wrong ones (Daily Telegraph)

David Cameron’s target of a third of his ministers being female risks a 'tokenism’ reshuffle, says Isabel Hardman. 

8. A German ally in the war against Brussels (Daily Mail)

How inconvenient it must be for the Prime Minister's opponents that he can now point to the support of the most influential country in mainland Europe, says a Daily Mail editorial. 

9. Is Ed Miliband's Labour Party prepared to do or say anything at all? (Independent)

Maybe the shadow cabinet have converted to a branch of Buddhism, writes Mark Steel. The only time they've tried to appear decisive was when they got into an argument with Unite.

10. François Hollande should have joined les grands départs (Times)

In a country devoted to its August holiday shutdown, the stay-at-home President has attracted only ridicule, writes Charles Bremner.

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Leader: Trump and an age of disorder

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions.

The US presidency has not always been held by men of distinction and honour, but Donald Trump is by some distance its least qualified occupant. The leader of the world’s sole superpower has no record of political or military service and is ignorant of foreign affairs. Throughout his campaign, he repeatedly showed himself to be a racist, a misogynist, a braggart and a narcissist.

The naive hope that Mr Trump’s victory would herald a great moderation was dispelled by his conduct during the transition. He compared his country’s intelligence services to those of Nazi Germany and repeatedly denied Russian interference in the election. He derided Nato as “obsolete” and predicted the demise of the European Union. He reaffirmed his commitment to dismantling Obamacare and to overturning Roe v Wade. He doled out jobs to white nationalists, protectionists and family members. He denounced US citizens for demonstrating against him. Asked whether he regretted any part of his vulgar campaign, he replied: “No, I won.”

Of all his predilections, Mr Trump’s affection for Vladimir Putin is perhaps the most troubling. When the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, warned that Russia was the “number one geopolitical foe” of the US, he was mocked by Barack Obama. Yet his remark proved prescient. Rather than regarding Mr Putin as a foe, however, Mr Trump fetes him as a friend. The Russian president aims to use the US president’s goodwill to secure the removal of American sanctions, recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and respect for the murderous reign of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. He has a worryingly high chance of success.

Whether or not Mr Trump has personal motives for his fealty (as a lurid security dossier alleges), he and Mr Putin share a political outlook. Both men desire a world in which “strongmen” are free to abuse their citizens’ human rights without fear of external rebuke. Mr Trump’s refusal to commit to Nato’s principle of collective defence provides Mr Putin with every incentive to pursue his expansionist desires. The historic achievement of peace and stability in eastern Europe is in danger.

As he seeks reconciliation with Russia, Mr Trump is simultaneously pursuing conflict with China. He broke with precedent by speaking on the telephone with the Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, and used Twitter to berate the Chinese government. Rex Tillerson, Mr Trump’s secretary of state nominee, has threatened an American blockade of the South China Sea islands.

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions. The US constitution, with its separation of powers, was designed to restrain autocrats such as the new president. Yet, in addition to the White House, the Republicans also control Congress and two-thirds of governorships and state houses. Mr Trump’s first Supreme Court appointment will ensure a conservative judicial majority. The decline of established print titles and the growth of “fake news” weaken another source of accountability.

In these circumstances, there is a heightened responsibility on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, Mr Trump. Angela Merkel’s warning that co-operation was conditional on his respect for liberal and democratic values was a model of the former. Michael Gove’s obsequious interview with Mr Trump was a dismal example of the latter.

Theresa May has rightly rebuked the president for his treatment of women and has toughened Britain’s stance against Russian revanchism. Yet, although the UK must maintain working relations with the US, she should not allow the prospect of a future trade deal to skew her attitude towards Mr Trump. Any agreement is years away and the president’s protectionist proclivities could yet thwart British hopes of a beneficial outcome.

The diplomatic and political conventions embodied by the “special relationship” have endured for more than seven decades. However, Mr Trump’s election may necessitate their demise. It was the belief that the UK must stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the US that led Tony Blair into the ruinous Iraq War. In this new age of disorder, Western leaders must avoid being willing accomplices to Mr Trump’s agenda. Intense scepticism, rather than sycophancy, should define their response.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era