Trump tweets: new low for US-UK "special relationship"

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Ever since the last ballot was counted, proclaiming the United Kingdom sovereign, Prime Minister Theresa May spared no time in developing a close relationship with the President of the United States Donald Trump. Theresa May went as far as to proclaim the relationship between the two countries as "special". However, what the Prime Minister failed to consider is that President Trump is in a hot seat and whoever gets too close will eventually burn with him—or burn their "special relationship".

When Jayda Fransen, deputy leader of British far-right party Britain First, tweeted a series of inflammatory anti-Muslim videos, the Islamophobic overtone of the tweet was not lost on the Twitter community. What occurred shortly thereafter was one of those not again moments: American President Donald Trump retweeted Ms. Fransen’s Islamophobic tweet, and with it, not only added to his extensive personal repertoire of incendiary twitter battles, but backed Islamophobia, white supremacy, and racism all in a span of 280 characters. It has been more than seventy years since the last time a world leader spewed such unchecked poisonous bigotry. Why can't we learn from history?

“Trigger fingers turn to twitter fingers”, raps Drake in Back to Back, a seemingly cautionary reminder of the power of misused and misdirected words. This premonition seems to have been shunned on more than one occasion by President Trump, whose chronic case of twitter fingers is aggravated by his powerful political position and has a real shot at becoming a case of trigger fingers.

President Trump’s Twitter handle has taken the semblance of an official communication medium, as the rapid replacements of his communication directors this year have discredited the White House’s official communication department. Trump’s shift into the world of Twitter was met by those who voted for him as yet another example of his status as an outsider and anti-establishment. Yet, Trump somehow managed to turn his moniker as anti-establishment into more than just a brand—it became his strategy.

Taking anti-establishment to the next level, Trump’s twitter fingers have triggered the disdain of many international world leaders, who were forced to stand idle when Trump called Mexicans rapists; banned Muslims from entering the United States; retweeted anti-Semitic propaganda aimed at Hillary Clinton; failed to castigate far-right white supremacy fanatics in North Carolina; and triggered a social media war with one of the most unstable dictators in the world, North Korean Kim Jong-un.

Now, in a seemingly international attempt to instigate division with the United States greatest historical ally, the United Kingdom, President Trump has aligned himself—overtly knowingly and purposefully—with the British white supremacist and Islamophobic far-right, known for its inflaming rhetoric against immigrants. Trump’s strategy is predictable: he picks up extreme Islamophobic rhetoric and then justifies it by stating that his intention is to protect American freedom and fight extremism. Yet, by retweeting an extreme Islamophobic and hateful position, he is undermining his credibility as a world leader who claims to fight extremism, vis-a-vis ISIS, because he simultaneously aligns with it.

Unfortunately for President Trump, the British have a modicum of respect and whereas in the United States niche racist, Islamophobic, discriminating opinions have turned socially acceptable—especially if the leader of the free world backs them—in the United Kingdom, it is still socially unacceptable to voice these positions.

Many British political leaders have released statements—through Twitter and traditional media outlets—denouncing Trump’s behaviour. David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham tweeted, “Trump sharing Britain First. Let that sink in. The President of the United States is promoting a fascist, racist, extremist hate group whose leaders have been arrested and convicted. He is no ally or friend of ours. @realDonaldTrump you are not welcome in my country and my city”—referring to those defending Trump’s tweets that this will not impact foreign relations between the U.S. and the U.K., longstanding allies.

The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan released a statement, suggesting that Prime Minister Theresa May revoke the invitation extended to President Trump until he apologizes for these tweets, as his presence in the “great, diverse city that is London” will not be welcomed. Sadiq Khan has been targeted by Trump before, following the London Bridge terrorist attacks. The Mayor of London has been in the eye of the hurricane before because he justly did not take part in the wave of Islamophobia that rose following the attack, and instead invited Londoners to form a united front against all type of extremism.

The message was and still is clear: unity is stronger than division—yet another precaution President Trump seems to be overlooking.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman released a statement criticizing Trump, saying “it was wrong for the President to do this”, referring to the retweet. The Prime Minister is in Jordan, as part of her Middle Eastern tour, and has recently visited Saudi Arabia and Iraq—the first prime minister to do so in the last ten years. President Trump hit back, calling May to not “focus on me, focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom.”

The Prime Minister’s response might seem to come from a place of respect of the longstanding alliance between these two great powers, but in reality it is a soft cry from the ring corner. In a post-Brexit world, the United Kingdom's negotiating power has weakened, and on the horizon the only prospect of redemption is an economic alliance with the United States. Yet, without fail, as the U.K. inches closer to the U.S., the latter entertains its inkling of flirting with autocracies—namely China and Saudi Arabia.

When political leaders fail to set the example, we must find examples elsewhere. Case in point: Brendan Cox. Brendan Cox’ wife, former Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered by a far-right extremist because of her proposed inclusive policies and humanitarian work with Syrian refugees. Her attacker shouted “Britain first!” before murdering her—a clear reference to the far-right party that President Trump has so lightly retweeted.

The British widower of former Labour MP Jo Cox wrote a poignant piece for the Guardian. In it, he exalts the values that unite Brits and people everywhere alike. A society based on tolerance, decency, mutual respect, and inclusion must be on the forefront of political agendas everywhere. And if Brendan Cox can envision it, what’s our excuse?

 

Maria Julia Pieraccioni

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