The ubiquitous caveat of the Twitter era – “retweets are not endorsements” – may finally have demonstrated its worth, after President Trump retweeted three anti-Muslim videos Wednesday that had been posted by the leader of a far-right British group.
Lacking the famous caveat, the president’s retweeting caused a transatlantic incident and now threatens the U.S. relationship with Britain, our closest ally, we are told.
It’s so bad that the president’s working trip to Britain – planned for January to formally open the new American embassy in London – has now been postponed indefinitely, according to a report and there are calls for a more formal state visit to be cancelled.
Well, I sure hope the visit is off. But not for the reason you might think.
The right response to President Trump’s retweets – clearly an impulsive mistake by the president rather than some calculated strategy – would have been for all concerned to try and lower the temperature, not raise it.
Let’s look first at the immediate trigger for this week’s Anglo-American spat. Surely, all reasonable people would agree that endorsing extremism – or even giving the appearance of endorsing, extremism of any kind – is a bad idea. Not just wrong in principle, but unhelpful from a practical point of view.
We are in a generations-long war against Islamist extremism. It doesn’t help us win that fight to blur the distinction between the Muslim faith as practiced by its many millions of law-abiding adherents and the brutal, backward and barbaric ideology that emerged from it.
The terrorists have spread death and destruction around the globe, helped in no small measure by our “friends” the Saudis.
The right response to President Trump’s retweets – clearly an impulsive mistake by the president rather than some calculated strategy – would have been for all concerned to try and lower the temperature, not raise it. To move on, rather than digging in. But that’s not the world we live in, alas.
So, fittingly enough for the holiday season, we see a familiar pantomime acted out: “Trump is a fascist” (Boo, hiss!); and “Theresa’s soft on terror” (Oh yes she is!).
In line with previous occasions where the current occupant of the Oval Office has caused offense in the United Kingdom, there were calls – led by London Mayor Sadiq Khan of the Labour Party – to cancel President Trump’s planned state visit.
And here’s where something positively useful could emerge from this latest dispute.
If President Trump has any sense, he himself should pull out of the visit. Absolutely no good will come of it. Those who hate him in the U.K. (a sizeable majority) are already planning what they describe as the biggest protest in British history.
President Trump shouldn’t give them that satisfaction. Stay at home and save American taxpayers the money that would be spent on the airfare and security (not forgetting the random pointless gifts that are required on these occasions). But do one more thing as well.
The British people who most hate Donald Trump are the ones who hate Brexit too. If you really want to annoy them, Mr. President, don’t just rain on their hate parade by not showing up for it. Give the British a “big, beautiful trade deal” (to coin a phrase), thus helping make Brexit a success.
And if you really want to rub your opponents’ noses in it, threaten to throw up some trade barriers against the rest of the European Union unless the EU nations promise a clean and generous Brexit process. Such a threat from America would definitely cause offense – but of exactly the right kind.