William Hague is just the latest media personality to use Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy as an opportunity for virtue-signalling, rhetorical target practice
William Hague is getting rusty.
The former Conservative Party leader has already shredded his reputation among real conservatives through his shameful support of David Cameron and the Remain campaign. And now, added to that, his latest column on the US presidential election is written with all of the insight of someone who has been paying no attention to the American political scene for years, and is basing their hastily-written column on all of the most tired generalisations from a British television news report.
Whatever happened to the sparklingly witty and intellectually nimble political personality who could keep the House of Commons spellbound (or laughing uncontrollably) with his skills as a raconteur? Perhaps that side of William Hague is curled up in the foetal position, rocking backwards and forwards in shame and incredulity at what the europhile side is up to.
Two characteristics make Trump fundamentally unfit to be president: his attitude to women and the way he treats rivals. The first of these, including crude and offensive remarks about female interviewers and candidates, shows deeply patronising instincts.
This isn’t just foul manners. It really matters because the way to liberate the greatest quantity of untapped talent in the 21st century is to achieve the full social, political and economic empowerment of women. Having a leader of the world’s most powerful country who shows no recognition of that cannot be a good idea.
His insulting response to rivals is another disastrous weakness in a potential global leader. The belittling of political opponents – “Lying Ted”, “Little Marco” and so on – shows no grasp of the fact that any president must work with them in Congress the minute he or she is elected. Even worse, Trump’s bullying attitude to other countries – telling Mexico it will have to pay for a wall along its border – would be utterly counterproductive and diminish the power of the USA by destroying its moral authority and crucial ability to persuade others to act.
Of all the things that Hague could have picked as Donald Trump’s disqualifying features, he chooses to virtue-signal and cite Trump’s view of women – as though Trump’s public attitude to women is any worse than, say, JFK’s attitude and behaviour were in private. Of all the things about Trump that Hague can think of, his frequent obnoxiousness is deemed the most serious.
Nothing to do with Trump having no functional knowledge of trade or foreign policy. That’s fine, according to Hague – President Trump can pick all of that stuff up on the fly. But God forbid that the next occupant of the Oval Office says off-colour, crass things about people (despite claiming to have “the best words”).
Hague even goes on to specifically mention some of Trump’s more outlandish statements on foreign and defence policy, so it is not as though he is unaware of them:
When Trump says that South Korea and Japan should have their own nuclear weapons, rather than rely on America, and that the US should stop funding Nato, what he is advocating is the collapse of the entire security architecture of the western world. But the people voting for him and such policies are telling us that they are fed up with paying for the defence of other countries who do very little to look after themselves.
[..] Trump’s other main policy with an impact on all of us is trade protectionism: he wants to impose swingeing tariffs on imports from China and Mexico, and withdraw from new trade agreements. This would be another disastrous act. It would result in widespread retaliation against American products, higher prices for consumers, and lower growth for the world. For Britain, the ninth largest exporter in the world, such policies would be very bad news indeed.
But apparently itching to provoke a trade war and undermining the security structure which has protected the West since the Cold War – with no clear plan for its replacement – is less of a disqualifying factor than Trump’s ongoing feud with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly.
Hague’s broader point – that by supporting Donald Trump, his voters are sending an important message about longstanding, unresolved problems with the American economy – is a fair observation, though it is one which has been made by many other commentators (including this blog) for some time now and so hardly counts as original.
The awkward truth, of course, is that one of the primary drivers of the rise of populists like Donald Trump is the way that mainstream politicians have comported themselves, behaved in power and failed to govern on the platforms on which they ran for office. It is unsurprising that William Hague makes no mention of his, because he is a prime example of the kind of politician who pushes voters toward populists.
William Hague built a career and a reputation out of eurosceptic posturing. Yes, those who paid attention a little more closely could discern that Hague’s euroscepticism was not of the same nature or intensity of that of, say, Iain Duncan Smith. But Hague was nonetheless happy to hoover up eurosceptic support by making the right noises against Brussels and in favour of British sovereignty – right up until his stunning betrayal of the Brexit movement.
Similarly, the establishment Republicans now shunned and held in derision by Trump supporters also have a record of campaigning and posing one way, but acting in quite another. GOP voters have been let down in turn by cynical politicians cosying up to evangelical Christians and promising them the world, but then failing to prevent the enormous recent social changes in America. They have also been let down by the GOP’s brand of faux fiscal conservatism, which preaches the necessity of belt-tightening and cuts but often succeeds only in cutting taxes for higher-earners and exploding budget deficits.
Meanwhile, the Rick Santorum-esque wing of the Republican Party have either pretended that every American is a job-creating millionaire in waiting or talked about solidarity with the American worker while watching the American middle class getting squeezed and then decimated by the forces of globalisation without enacting a single proposal to help them make the adjustment to the new economy.
William Hague is right when he says “my experience of 30 years of elections is that when you think voters might have gone mad, they are actually trying to tell you something”. Unfortunately, what Trump voters are saying is that they are heartily sick of being lied to and peddled shiny promises of a New America which never come true.
Hague can focus on Trump’s abrasive and sometimes obnoxious personality all he wants, but it will not assauge his guilty conscience nor change the fact that his decision to support the Remain campaign in Britain’s EU referendum means that he himself has become just another flip-flopping politician of the type which feeds, not dampens, populist insurgencies like that of Donald Trump.
Top Image: The Spectator
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