Hurricane Irma shows Donald Trump isn’t America’s only problem

“Prayer should always be a first resort,” said Florida's Republican governor Rick Scott.

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As Hurricane Irma hit Florida, the state’s Republican governor, Rick Scott, led from the front. “The most important thing is to pray for us,” he said. “I don’t see prayer as a last resort. It should always be a first resort.”

No politician in Britain, not even Jacob Rees-Mogg, would dream of saying such a thing in such circumstances. But Scott, whose parents “introduced” him to Jesus Christ, uses taxpayers’ dollars to fund an annual “faith symposium”, in defiance of the US constitution.

Scott does not deny the existence of human-influenced global warming. Pleading that he’s “not a scientist”, he just refuses to mention it and discourages state employees from doing so.

Presumably Floridians were supposed to implore the Almighty to suspend the laws of physics. Scott has done little else to protect Florida against rising sea levels. He dismantled its energy and climate commission when he took office in 2011. Public works to improve defences against floods and high winds have been left largely to local municipalities.

Scott’s leadership in Florida shows that Donald Trump isn’t America’s only problem, or even its biggest.

Bombarded by Brexit

A manufacturer gets state support for a new aircraft that will be built partly in a Belfast factory. Brussels is expected to rule that this is unfair and impose fines. The future of the factory, which employs 4,500 people, is threatened.

Another reason to leave the EU? No, because I’ve made a tiny change to the story: the expected ruling, against the Canadian firm Bombardier after a complaint by its American rival Boeing, won’t come from Brussels but from the US International Trade Commission in Washington, DC. Brexiteers should learn two lessons. First, it’s not just the EU that imposes pesky rules on how international trade is conducted. Second, Donald Trump won’t do us any post-Brexit favours. Boeing was likely prompted to complain by his “America first” rhetoric. Theresa May’s plaintive phone calls to the White House asking the president to give us a break – and doesn’t he know her government’s survival depends on the DUP? – will almost certainly fail.

Paranoid style

For many in the West, Aung San Suu Kyi ticked all the boxes: beautiful, clever, selfless, patient, dedicated to democracy and non-violence, and a devout Buddhist. Now that she is implicated in Myanmar’s ethnic cleansing of its Muslim minority, the Rohingya, Westerners react with pained bemusement. What happened to the woman whom the Commons Speaker, John Bercow, hailed as “a heroine for humanity”?

The clue is in the Buddhism. All that meditation, chanting and vegetarianism may attract some sections of the British middle classes but it is still a religion. Every religion believes that adherents of other faiths are in grievous error and that life on Earth is a transient thing, subservient to some larger purpose. (And, yes, Marxism meets those criteria, too.) Religions also incline to paranoia. They see rival faiths, equally convinced that theirs is the one true way, as existential threats.

It is often claimed that Islam is a uniquely violent religion. But Sri Lanka’s Buddhists brutally suppressed the island’s largely Hindu minority, the Tamils. Like Myanmar, the Buddhist Thailand persecutes its Muslim minority. Many Buddhists backed the Japanese military imperialism that led to the Second World War. Tibetan Buddhists – whose leader, the Dalai Lama, has become a cult figure in the West – dance in celebration of the murder of a ninth-century emperor. All religions are prone to supporting violence when confronted by assertive rivals.

Desmond’s heirs

The middle classes used to moan about the servant problem, but my worry just now is the boss problem. If you’re a news­paper journalist, you can’t get decent owners these days. The press barons of the past – Lord Beaverbrook at the Express, Lord Rothermere at the Mail, Lord Camrose and later Conrad Black at the Telegraph – were greedy both for profits and political influence. Yet at least they were engaged with journalism and, in their peculiar ways, cared about its quality.

Today, only the 86-year-old Rupert Murdoch and the Rothermere who still owns the Mail care a fig about their papers’ contents. The Express titles, it is reported, will soon be sold by Richard Desmond to Trinity Mirror. After nearly 17 years of Desmond, they are shadows of their former selves, taken seriously by nobody and with only a third of the circulations they had in 2000. Desmond has made at least £330m from the papers while cutting editorial staff by two-fifths.

However, few Express hacks will welcome Trinity Mirror, a publishing corporation that owns 240 thinly staffed regional papers – some free, others bought mainly by elderly folk who have forgotten to cancel their deliveries – as well as the national Mirror papers. It is ruled by accountants who try to make their shareholders a bob or two while managing decline. Journalists will find it similar to working for Desmond but without the swear words.

The only way is Loughton

Living quietly and unfashionably in Loughton, Essex, I expect people to look down their noses when they hear my address, associating me with the tasteless bling and vulgarities of ITV’s reality soap opera The Only Way Is Essex. But times are changing. Until recently, Loughton had three nightclubs that were apparently magnets for the Towie crowd. Now, after residents’ protests about late-night noise, they have all been closed and replaced by two gastropubs and one fairly classy Italian restaurant.

Moreover, the Guardian recently devoted a whole page to a sympathetic interview with Gemma Collins, a Towie star. With this seal of approval from a liberal, middle-class paper, stuffed with Oxbridge graduates, the series is surely doomed. 

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article appears in the 14 September 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The German problem

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