I’d hoped to avoid writing about politics, but with Brexit and Trump in the ascendant, it’s impossible for me not to.
Last week, my more right-wing friends were delighted. Teresa May, in their view, gave a forthright and ballsy speech on Brexit at the annual gathering of the global plutocracy at Davos, and Trump articulated a bold vision the future of America in his inauguration speech.
Bollocks. May’s negotiating strategy is no more than a reflection of the simple reality that the EU, as the much larger, nastier and more experienced party to Britain’s exit negotiations, will set the terms of those negotiations, and the terms are and always have been that the EU is not going to abandon any of its core principles. Forget about the UK’s position; the position that matters is the EU’s. and that position is hard exit or no exit. The only surprise is that it took May so long to realize, or perhaps publically acknowledge, this harsh reality.
As to Trump, both his inauguration speech and the press conference last week were most notable not for what they contained, but for what they lacked: the how. Sure, he’s going to repeal and replace Obamacare – but with what? Sure, he’s going to attract companies to the rust-belt – but how? Subsidies? Tax breaks? Other than a few vague Trumpisms – “great guy, did a fantastic job / wonderful things” – neither his first press conference nor his inauguration answered these questions.
In short, other than the repeal of everything Obama ever did, there appears to be no legislative agenda. But building infrastructure, attracting businesses back to the rust belt, and excluding non-whites, non-Christians, non-males and non-Republicans from political life all require legislation. The executive branch of the government has very limited power – because the constitution is written that way – and there’s not a hint of what concrete steps President Trump has in mind to achieve that ambitious agenda.
Nor does Trump seem to be giving himself the foot soldiers he needs to create that legislative agenda. Of the 690 officials that the President appoints, Trump has managed a mere 28 where most presidents are up to a hundred by the time of their inauguration. Trump, on the day of his inauguration, sacked all ambassadors appointed by Obama, leaving him with no ambassadorial representation in 80 posts including the UK, Germany, Canada, China, India, Japan and Saudi Arabia.
The current most likely outcome is a shambles, both in domestic and foreign policy.
Thatcher and Reagan swept to power on the back of clear and clearly articulated visions of where they wanted to take their respective countries. May was never elected by popular vote, but was merely the least incompetent choice in a party leadership election of unsurpassed ugliness. Her vision was not even her own – as she opposed Brexit – but was forced upon her. Trump lost the popular vote by 3 million, and, although making America great is a catchy phrase, “great” entails competence, and there’s little sign of that as things stand.
The comparison of May and Trump with the Iron Lady and the Great Communicator holds no water. Barring a convenient and popular war, May will get the EU’s hard exit and Trump’s administration will collapse under its own incompetence and hubris. The danger is that the Tin Lady and the Great Confusicator become so embattled that, to survive, they create that war.