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31 January 2017

The government believes they have nothing to lose in buttering up Donald Trump. They’re wrong

Tony Blair suffered damage from his association with George Bush. May is no Blair, and Trump is an entirely different creature to Bush. 

By Stephen Bush

We are living through the most dangerous challenge to the free government of the United States that anyone alive has encountered,” David Frum declares in the new edition of the Atlantic.

The fallout from Donald Trump’s executive order banning citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States and indefinitely banning Syrian refugees from coming to America for an indefinite period continues to rumble on.  Overnight, Sally Yates, the acting attorney general, has been sacked after instructing lawyers at the Department of Justice not to defend his executive order, as in her view, the order is unconstitutional.

Dana Boente, her replacement is a career lawyer and longtime DOJ official. (He’s also a he, just in case you want to lord it over non-Morning Callsubscribers in your office)  But that Boente was not next in line suggests that Trump may have been shopping around until he found a DOJ official willing to uphold his executive order.

The President’s ability to fire not just his own attorney-general but the 93 federal attorneys and the head of the DOJ’s criminal justice division is one of the constitutional vulnerabilities that Frum identifies. It may be that the overreach and chaos of Trump’s first 10 days in office break the back of his presidency and we all endure four chaotic years before Kirsten Gillibrand takes over. But it may also be that we look back on this as the start of the process by which Trump began to dismantle the edifices of American democracy.

Over here, thousands have taken to the streets to protest Donald Trump’s ban and Theresa May’s decision to offer a state visit to the President, while that petition to cancel the state visit stands at 1.6m and continues to climb.

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And it’s not just the people who are irked by the whole thing. The Palace is too, the Times reveals. Buckingham Palace didn’t take kindly to the state visit being offered to Trump at a press conference as if it were a bauble to be handed out by the sitting Prime Minister – they regard it as a gift to be extended by the Queen, from head of state to another. That the Sunday Times carried stories about concerns that Prince Charles would ruin the whole thing by bothering Trump about the petty matter of man-made climate change has added to the Palace’s irritation. “Trump visit will hurt the Queen, May is told” is the Times’ splash. 

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To add to May’s embarrassment, the leaders of both America’s immediate neighbours, Canada and Mexico, have been vocal in their disagreement with Trump, as have Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande.

But the terrifying truth is that even if we are witnessing the end of American democracy, the end of American hegemony is still some way off.

Unfortunately for the PM, the message that Britain isn’t strong enough to stand up and tell Trump he’s wrong is not going to play well pretty much anywhere in the UK. And as the polls – and indeed a close look at where the petition-signers live – will tell you, distaste at Trump and our close relationship with him is not confined to the London left by any means.

Most will still believe that, while Labour are led by Jeremy Corbyn and riven by Brexit, it doesn’t much matter if May is at odds with public opinion as far as the American president is concerned. People said something similar about Tony Blair and George W Bush of course. And as far as the 2005 election was concerned, that was true, though Labour did shed close to 50 seats, and crucially, it made the electoral battleground significantly more favourable to a revitalized Conservative party led by David Cameron. It was also a pretty good night for the third party, all told.

Although the Tories don’t have a landslide majority in the Commons, they have a landslide position as far as individual seats are concerned, as I’ve explained before. If the last 10 days has taught us anything, it should be that you can’t honestly speak of Trump and Bush in the same breath. No-one should bet against his ability to do greater damage to May than Bush did to Blair.