Theresa May must be on the right side of history

by Shaun Liew

Unlike marriages, governments do not accept each other’s differences because they love each other; they do so because have something the other wants.

This week Theresa May courted Donald Trump in her attempts to build a “special relationship” between the UK and US, following her muddling a post-Brexit strategy.

This week also, Donald Trump’s administration has signed executive orders to build a wall in Mexico using a silly 20 per cent import tax, build two oil pipelines that will endanger the livelihoods of indigenous tribes, and ban abortion organizations from receiving federal funding.

He also admitted that torture through waterboarding is “okay”, and repressed the free speech of the Environmental Protection Agency and journalists. But the worst so far is the banning of  seven Muslim countries’ citizens from travelling to the US.

Two observations can be made. First is that doing so much in so little time is intentional. Politics involves strategies such as creating proxies to fight wars, and creating rumours to spread fear among business circles in order to dictate where capital flows.

This week reveals something fresh: overwhelming a nation with so much news at once saturates the feeling of negativity, with each additional news story creating less and less marginal shock. Normalising Trump is a risk.

Secondly, history repeats itself. In Britain, citizens and parliament members across the spectrum are dissatisfied with Theresa May because Trump is not someone they support. It is not the first time a leader with strong moral codes is willing to look past them for closer co-operation with a foreign leader without those codes.

When the Nazi threat loomed large, the UK and US allied with the Soviet Union (now Russia) in order to defeat Nazi Germany in 1940. The Russian leader Joseph Stalin had been known for many heinous activities. By then, he had already expanded concentration camps, hunted down political opponents, and caused a widespread famine in Ukraine resulting in 7 million deaths because peasants sought independence from his rule.

Public opposition was apparent then. But both American and British governments made a concerted effort to bolster public opinion of Stalin. Propaganda machines pumped out a likeable nickname: Uncle Jo. Also, Hollywood produced conspiracy films that deliberately painted the Soviets in a good light. And Churchill and Roosevelt, the respective British and American leaders then, consistently talked positively of Uncle Jo.

Why then is Theresa May getting closer to Trump despite his disregard for liberty? There was a common interest then: the cost of losing the war to Nazi Germany was too large, when compared to being friends with a dictator.

Now, Britain needs trade deals to compensate the loss of exiting the EU. Knowing that 44 per cent of the UK’s exports went to the EU, Theresa May is desperate to hammer together a plan for Brexit after being repeatedly snubbed by European Union leaders. Negotiations with EU countries cannot begin too, since Article 50 has not been triggered.

America is open to the idea. But May will find it difficult to deregulate food hygiene, agriculture, and financial services ― something the Republican administration will likely want in return. And if Brexiters think they have the upper hand to negotiate with smaller countries, then they should realise they are the smaller, weaker country.

Brexit poses two types of weaknesses. First is the extra trouble of forming relationships with separate EU countries, whereas previously one could do it all at once. Second is that May is left with no choice but to halfheartedly support Trump. This is more than trade. It is about the morality of Trump’s decisions.

Small government and low taxes cannot be on the same page as a ban on Muslims travelling to the US. As Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan put it: it is not conservatism. And interestingly, Muslim countries where Trump had a stake in businesses were excluded.

As leader of the Conservatives, Theresa May must not accept Trump’s hateful policies for it will slow down the fight against IS! and provoke and further radicalise those who are already bitter about Western aggression in their own homes in the Middle East before and after 9/11. Iran has imposed a similar ban on Americans already. What makes Trump think others cannot retaliate and make America hurt too?

How will supporting Trump affect the UK? George Orwell wrote,”These people [in the government and press] don’t see that if you encourage totalitarian methods, the time may come when they will be used against you instead of for you.” The Investigative Powers Act, a newly passed law in the UK, is a new addition to the government’s’ obsession with surveillance powers, and it may not be long before another Edward Snowden surfaces.

So when May urges Trump not to retreat from NATO, arguing for a special relationship with the US, there are things that she needs to reject. She has openly rejected waterboarding as an interrogation tool. But now she must denounce Trump’s appointment of a political propagandist in the National Security Council, in replacement of qualified intelligence officers. Such a council is there in the first place to give expert advice. What might Steve Bannon do with that power?

We live in interesting times, but fascism is only interesting to those who survive it. It may be lazy to compare Trump with Hitler, because Hitler did not benefit from a sprawling network of business interests from politics. Trump may.

But Trump could be the Hitler people never saw coming. Britain should not give it the slightest chance of a repeat of fascism. Must she rely on a dictator for trade and NATO’s legitimacy? Political survival dictates she will not give in to the European Union and admit that Brexit’s root problems aren’t actually in Britain’s immigrants, but a disregard of the welfare state.

Although she may never do that, doing so could be the better option if Trump’s administration grows increasingly authoritarian. That involves breaking up with a traditional ally, and risking a worse relationship with the EU than before. But at least, she will be on the right side of history, even if America is not.

Because the right side of history Is not ridding those who are part of creating it.

**First published on Malay Mail Online (1 February 2017)

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