Diary

ConHome Diary: Washington in Denial, Theresa May Shows Her Balls & The Fantasies of Trump Supporters

21 Jan 2017 at 14:42

I think it’s called the Law of Sod. Having booked our flights to Washington DC to cover the Trump inaugural, within a matter of minutes it is announced that Theresa May’s big Brexit speech would be on Tuesday. At more or less exactly the time our plane is due to take off from Heathrow. Bugger. So picture the scene. My producer, Jagruti and I, are in our seats when Mrs May starts speaking – each of us with an earpiece in one ear, watching her on the Sky News App, but each of us waiting for a flight attendant to tell us to stop because the plane is about to take off. She a Remainer, I a Leaver. Me cheering from time to time, her grimacing. The plane starts to taxi to the runway. Still no instruction from the trolly dollies (female or male!). We roar down the runway, and we’re still listening to the PM waxing lyrical. We climb into the skies. And just as Mrs May ends her speech, the connection is lost. Serendipity.
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In many ways, Theresa May is proving to be a revelation as prime minister. Her Brexit speech contained far more ‘meat’ than most commentators would have expected, and showed real leadership. Even if you don’t agree with her, it’s impossible to deny that she has shown balls – big fat hairy ones. Excuse the image. She’s thrown down the gauntlet to her opponents and challenged them to provide a realistic alternative. The Labour Party is all over the place with its Shadow Brexit Secretary saying thing, its Shadow Foreign Secretary another and its leader a third. As I write this, we hear that Labour is now considering voting against triggering Article 50, even though its deputy leader said recently it would do no such thing. At least the LibDems, bless them, have been consistent in their denial of what the majority actually voted for. It’s principle of sorts, I suppose. However, in some ways, announcing we’re leaving the single market and also probably the customs union is merely a public recognition of the inevitable. If border control is the most important thing for the government – and it’s been a consistent message that it is – then how could we stay within the single market? And if we’re to negotiate our own trade agreements then leaving the customs union is also inevitable. This has all been clear for some time for those who bother to analyse these things properly, but again, no one in our liberal ‘remain’ establishment seemed able to join the dots. Well they have done so now, and they’re horrified. It’s quite amusing really.
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Much like the Remainers in Britain, it doesn’t take us long to work out that Washington is a city in denial. It’s the most liberal part of the United States and virtually everyone we talk to is clearly horrified at the prospect of a Trump White House. The inauguration is days away but it’s as if the city has stuck its collective fingers in its ears and is shouting ‘la la la, I can’t hear you’. A sort of grieving process is taking place. Trump keeps saying it’s all going to be beautiful, but Washington is closing its ears to him. This is a city where thousands of people rely on an incoming administration to give them a job as Assistant Secretary of State for this or that. Many lifetime Republicans cannot bring themselves to serve Trump, although there are exceptions. Some time ago, 50 leading Republicans signed a letter calling for Anyone but Trump. Since his win, 47 of them have put career over principle and accepted jobs in his administration. Three have held out. At the more junior levels, though expediency may not be winning the day. People who’ve lived in Washington for twenty or thirty years are now considering moving back home and taking up alternative careers. Washington remains a city in shock.
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On Wednesday evening I took my producer, who has never been to the States before, on a little tour of some of the memorials. Sadly my favourite, the Lincoln Memorial was closed as they were building a state at the front of it for the inauguration, so we drove on to the Jefferson Memorial. For those of you who have been there you will know what a majestic feel it has to it. She was bowled over. On our way out we encountered a group of Trump supporting Alabamans, most of whom were in their twenties. Out came our microphone and I did some vox pops with them, and very entertaining it was too. However, once you got past the soundbites of ‘making America great again’ and it’s all going to be ‘beautiful’, you could tell that voting Trump was an instinctive reaction against the way the country has been governed for not just the last eight years but much longer than that. They really think Trump will be different because he’s beholden to no one. It didn’t seem to occur to them that in order to enact change he’ll need Congress on side. Trump’s big problem is that there are now three parties in the US political game now – Democrats, Republicans and Trumpists. Trump is not really a Republican in any conventional sense, and I suspect that before his first 100 days are up, people will have come to realise this.
As I finished my chat with my new friends from Alabama one of the younger ones asked which soccer team I support. When I told him it was West Ham he immediately launched into a riff about the evils of Dimitri Payet’s recent behaviour. If I didn’t know what globalisation meant before, that exchange really brought it home to me.
As they wandered off into the night one of the younger ones turned around and shouted: “Remember, Jesus loves you.” As if I could forget…
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As I write this, we’re 22 hours away from the inauguration. Washington is about to go into lock down as streets are cut off and barriers erected. The whole public transport system will shut down. Getting around the city will be a nightmare. Having said that, despite what the President-Elect seems to believe the crowds expected for the events of tomorrow are likely to be much smaller than usual. It’s a day when America will take a sharp turn, but time will tell whether it’s a turn for the better or worse. Even though I cannot stand Trump, it does make me smile at the completely OTT reactions of Trump’s opponents. In the words of the Dimitri Payet song, “I just don’t think they understand.”
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I fly back to London on Saturday evening, arriving early Sunday morning. It’s going to be a rather morose journey, I suspect as my mind turns from President Trump, to my father Garry Dale. As some of you know, my Dad died just before Christmas, and on Monday it’s his funeral. I did the eulogy at my mother’s funeral four years ago, but this time I’m doing a reading of poem I discovered on the internet called ‘They Buried a Farmer Today’. I had to rewrite several lines to make it more appropriate, but I think the congregation will appreciate it. And I think my Dad would have done so too.

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