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16 January 2019

First Thoughts: Why lefties should be raising their glasses to Donald Trump

America is undeniably becoming weaker under Trump’s presidency – isn’t that what we’ve always wanted?

By Peter Wilby

In northern Europe, before significant quantities of food were imported, April, May and June were known as “the hungry months”. Stockpiles from the previous year had run out and few of the new season’s crops were ready for harvesting. I wonder if Theresa May thought of that when she triggered Article 50 so that Britain would leave the EU, possibly without a deal, on 29 March.

Our ancestors could make do with a few mashed-up potatoes and carrots. Our requirements are more wide-ranging. Some worried Brits, it is reported, are hoarding olives, coconut milk, pasta, chickpeas and Mars bars. Some papers have suggested that, with imported purification chemicals delayed, water supplies may be cut off. And being British, we are particularly concerned about toilet rolls – which, in my local shops, already seem in short supply – and pet food.

I shall remain calm. Even in the unlikely event of no deal, Brussels has no interest in creating mass starvation, rampant disease and unwiped bottoms a few miles offshore. In the short term, at least, supplies will flow freely back and forth. Besides, we can always eat lamb – abandoning the plan, reported by the Observer, to slaughter a third of our sheep because of blocked exports – and, if the water’s polluted, drink beer as our ancestors did. As for toilet rolls, the only things I’m stockpiling are issues of Brexit-supporting newspapers.

Making America weak again

Should we lefties raise our glasses to Donald Trump and pray that the Democrats don’t impeach him? For years, we deplored “American imperialism”. We argued that America had no business acting as the world’s policeman, poking its nose into other nations’ affairs. We thought it scandalous that the US had troops stationed in more than 150 countries. In particular, we argued that the American military should keep out of countries such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. We also deplored trading alliances which, in our view, allowed American capital to dominate economic activity and impose neoliberal ideas across the globe.

Now Trump is pulling troops out of Syria and winding down the US presence in Afghanistan. According to a recent Wall Street Journal report, he restrained his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and his national security adviser, John Bolton, from military strikes against Iran. He dismantled the Trans-Pacific Partnership, explicitly designed to establish “American leadership” in the region and remove obstacles to “American entrepreneurs” making money. He has, at least temporarily, shut down Washington, the imperial centre of US power.

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There are ample reasons to deplore Trump’s presence in the White House and to hope for his resounding defeat in 2020. Yet America is undeniably becoming weaker under his presidency. Isn’t that a cause for celebration and for hope of a better world order after he leaves office? Moreover, thanks to Trump, the “Third Way” politics of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair has at last run out of road, and Democrats are infused with more intellectual energy than they have had for decades. Isn’t that also something to cheer?

Teenage ticks (and tocks)

Scientists say teenagers’ biological rhythms make them more sleepy in the mornings and their educational performance would benefit from a later start to the school day. The French have just accepted this advice, pushing the first lessons for Parisian 15-to 18-year-olds back by an hour. I sympathise. I found getting out of bed much before 9am sheer agony until well into my twenties. Thereafter, I happily rose most mornings at 6.30, though in my seventies I find my teenage habits mysteriously returning.

One of the few benefits of Brexit would be the removal of pressure to align our clocks with Berlin, hundreds of miles to the east. Perhaps, once we have left the EU and Brexiteers secure their promised deals with the US, we shall switch to Washington time. Then our teenagers can stay in bed until the sun is high in the sky and we shall shoot to the top of international league tables for pupil achievement.

Two Andrew Neils

Even if viewers could work out what was going on amid all the shouting, I doubt that Owen Jones’s abuse of Andrew Neil on BBC One’s This Week did the presenter much harm. Jones, a Guardian columnist, suggested that Neil, who also hosts the daily Politics Live on BBC Two, should be disqualified as a BBC current affairs presenter because he is chairman of the Spectator, which, Jones alleged, runs hard-right, Islamophobic articles and even some defending neo-Nazis. Neil insisted he had no responsibility for the magazine’s content and his BBC and Spectator roles were entirely separate.

Yet Neil announced on Twitter that, after Jones’s “absurd” claim that the magazine was “a fascist rag”, it signed record numbers of subscribers. Neil regularly tweets and re-tweets Spectator articles. He thus promotes the magazine to 839,000 followers, an audience that is surely derived almost entirely from his prominence on BBC television.

Our favourite age

To the cinema to see The Favourite, portraying a lesbian love triangle of dubious historical authenticity involving Queen Anne and two of her attendants. Some critics see, in the political background, an early-18th-century version of our arguments over Brexit. Great Britain, newly created by the 1707 Acts of Union, was involved in continental alliances through the War of the Spanish Succession. Parliament was bitterly divided over whether Britain should make peace or continue with such entanglements. The queen, about to declare her European policy to the squabbling factions, loses her nerve and pretends to faint.

The film suggests, however, that 18th-century arguments had little to do with fixed principle. Politics was purely about economic self-interest, petty jealousies and personal advancement. In the 21st century, we are better than that. Aren’t we?

This article appears in the 16 Jan 2019 issue of the New Statesman, How Brexit trapped Britain