Is Donald Trump (and Brexit ) the Archduke Ferdinand moment of our time?

by georgehep

Is this an Archduke Ferdinand moment?  Will the election of Donald Trump be seen in history as the point that the world started to fall apart?

No one would have believed  at the time that the assassination of a minor royal  in an obscure  European town would lead to 17 million deaths in a terrible war and the overthrow  of  the Czar by a little known group of fanatics or that the eventual peace settlement would bring about an even greater world war triggered by a demagogue who killed six million Jews in the Holocaust.

In a speculative essay  that takes the long view of history, Tobias Stone (huffingtonpost.com) makes the case that we are  entering a new cycle of bad times and depicts a scenario in which more populist leaders will rise to power, American will retreat, NATO be wound down, the European Union fall apart and Russia over run Eastern Europe. Is this far fetched?

Boris Johnson says that we should give the man a chance and get over our “whingaramas”. Others say that Donald Trump will moderate his views once his takes office. Personally, I take no comfort in his conciliatory statements in the last few days. A demagogue knows how to change his tone to suit the occasion and I cannot conceive that Trump has bullied and lied his way into the White House to go all soft and cuddly now.

It is a time to reaffirm our  values as Angela Merkel has brilliantly done by making her welcome to Donald Trump conditional on his respecting  democracy, freedom, and tolerance. We should follow her example.

It is a time to make a stand. Despite what others may say, I like Dipu Ahad’s audacious suggestion that someone who abuses women, threatens minorities and expels immigrants should not be welcome in Newcastle. If Newcastle took a lead, others would follow.

Even if you put to one side that  the man is an obnoxious pussy grabber who doesn’t pay his taxes, Donald Trump’s  isolationist and protectionist  policies which will change the world order. He will wreck the Paris climate accord on global warming which he calls a “total and very expensive hoax” . He will tear up the deal with Iran on nuclear weapons.  He will bring a trigger happy bravado to the oval office which will make the world a far more unstable place.

The more sober political analysts point out that power in the United States normally changes hands every eight years and that it is now the Republican’s turn. They remind us that we survived the Reagan and Bush presidencies. But Donald Trump really does break the mould and has unleashed a  hysteria that will be hard to contain. Do not be reassured. Do not appease him. This could really be the start of the bad times.

And in our own backyard….

Do not overlook our own Archduke moment on 23rd June. The hysteria that lead Trump supporters to shout “lock her up” is mounting here too.  Gina Miller, who successfully challenged the government over Section 50, is under police protection after a number of threats on her life. Nigel Farage urges us to march on the High Court and the Daily Mail derides the judiciary in a manner that reminds me of the way that Chairman Mao cast out his opponents. One judge goes to the wall for being openly gay and another for being a chum of Tony Blair. It is even more worrying that neither the Lord Chancellor not the Prime Minister steps in to stop the nonsense. Silence only allows greater abuse.

A forceful letter to The Journal last week ( “They shouldn’t remain as MPs”)  adds to the clamour by telling  honourable members  to knuckle down and accept the will of the people as expressed in the referendum or face deselection by their party or defeat at the polls. There is no room for debate.

It is not so clear cut to my mind. Edmund Burke believed that MPs should do their best to respect the wishes of their constituents  but should ultimately  form their own judgement and follow their conscience. He was also sceptical about whether the common man had the knowledge and intelligence to take big political decisions, feared that their anger and passion could be whipped up by demagogues and likely to tyrannise unpopular minorities. Times have surely moved on in the last 250 years.

Where does this leave the up and coming Keir Starmer, Labour’s shadow Brexit Minister? He argues that Labour must campaign for acceptable terms before triggering Article 50. If the opposition benches are unsuccessful, will they vote against leaving? On the Today programme, Mr Starmer would not be drawn.

Where does it leave my own MP, the decent and hard working Guy Opperman?  He campaigned eloquently to stay but Northumberland voted 55% to leave. Should he respect the wishes of his constituents, be loyal to his party or  true to his beliefs?

The withdrawal of American influence in Europe and the prospect of a Le Pen Presidency in France put a further complexion on the decision to leave Europe to its own devices.  In a parliamentary democracy we have a right to change our mind and an expectation that our politicians will make their best reasoned judgement when it comes to the vote.  The momentum of Archduke moments can only be turned by such brave actions.

Published in Newcastle Journal 15th November 2016

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