How thin-skinned and pompous the British media class is. On the airwaves, Twitter, and elsewhere, the reaction to Donald Trump’s tweet about London Mayor Sadiq Khan has been apoplexy bordering on hysteria. Trump has deeply insulted our nation, it is said, and harmed the Special Relationship. Susan Minton Beddoes, the editor of the Economist, told American TV Trump’s tweet was ‘really damaging’. Countless others are now calling on Theresa May to give Trump a piece of their minds. I can’t help thinking May’s time could be better spent — addressing the terror problem, say — than getting into a war of words with the President of the United States. Besides, what do we want May to do? Hop on Twitter and ‘own’ him with some keep-calm-carry-on zinger about how allies ought to behave? If we think the problem is Trump’s juvenile approach to international relations, do we think our Prime Minister should respond in kind?
Trump is a chump — everybody knows that. The world would be better (or less thrillingly offended) if the leader of the free world did not tweet his plonking thoughts while watching TV. It’s not worthy of his office etc. Moreover, his critique of Khan, as almost everybody has noted, was based on a quote stripped of context.
Khan was urging the public to be calm about the intensified police presence, not the rising terror death toll. I wonder, however, if behind the very British anger at Trump’s interjection lies a fear that he is right. Like so many of Trump’s remarks, the Khan tweet was inappropriate, silly, offensive, and on a basic level also true. Perhaps that’s the most shocking thing about it.
Even in context, Khan’s reassurances are hollow. The facts are alarming, as Trump suggests. The fact that we are frequently deploying additional armed forces on our streets; the fact that Londoners are familiar with living in what is increasingly a security state; the fact that short of banning road travel and cooking you can’t stop a small but determined number of fanatics from killing us with cars and knifes. Politicians should stop talking to the public as if we are stupid, frightened sheep, and start admitting that they are failing to protect us from violent Islamists, and they don’t know what to do about it. That would not be as easy as saying Trump’s remarks are unacceptable, but it might be less futile.