Earlier this month Gerald Warner explained on the Reaction website why Joe Biden’s candidacy for the US presidency was, in his view, a bad thing. In a sense it’s refreshing to hear from a British pundit who is so very open about his support for Donald Trump, as polls have consistently indicated that the current president is very unpopular in this country.
It is to Reaction’s credit that they choose to publish articles such as Warner’s, as it reveals that, despite what some Brits might think, there are some outside of America who think that the US and indeed British interests would be served best by a Biden defeat this Autumn.
Warner is right to say that there are “hysterics” on social media who aren’t at all interested in considering the arguments put forward by Trump defenders, but who prefer the angry warmth of pile-ons and cancellations (indeed, that type of opposition plays right into Trump’s hands). For those who oppose Trump, like myself, it’s essential that we engage calmly with the things Trump and his supporters, like Warner, are actually saying, before countering with argument and evidence. It’s an old-fashioned method, granted, but still the one that we should adopt. You might even say that it’s our only hope.
Warner writes that Biden “lacks confidence on the question of whether he has had his lunch,” by which he means that the former Vice-President has exhibited signs of senility. This has been one of the standard Trumpist attack lines for Biden going back years now, and it is certainly true to say that Biden moves about and talks like a 77-year-old man (which happens to be exactly what he is).
But I’d urge Warner to watch Biden’s 16th September press conference on the Covid-19 vaccine; he’ll find that the Democratic nominee simply isn’t the gibbering wreck he perhaps thinks he is. Far from it: Biden’s understanding of the complex, serious issues at hand – and remember that the virus has now claimed over two hundred thousand American lives – is clearly apparent.
When set against Trump’s Covid ramblings – he suggested injecting disinfectant as treatment – Biden’s words seem almost profound (which isn’t to say that they are particularly special). In a sense there really is no comparison: there’s a deeply ignorant, vacuous television celebrity on one hand, and a man who has known firsthand the seriousness of politics for half a century on the other. But we’re in the business of comparing the two men, that’s all that matters, and with that in mind it is remarkable to me that Trump defenders can keep their faces straight whilst accusing Biden of being somehow mentally deficient.
Warner also says that Biden exposed his radical tendencies when he said told “African-Americans that if they don’t vote Democrat (i.e. Biden), “you ain’t black””. This was certainly a stupid thing to say on Biden’s part, but what followed? An immediate apology. A public acceptance that he’d made another gaffe, an expression of regret. And he explained in that very apology why it was wrong to say what he did.
That just isn’t how a closet radical behaves. He misspoke. He said sorry. When Trump told four liberal congresswomen of colour – all but one of whom were born in the United States – that they should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came”, was there a subsequent mea culpa for this racially charged outburst? No, there wasn’t. That wasn’t even closet radicalism. It revealed so much about the man. If you find yourself appalled by Biden’s comments and yet unconcerned by Trump’s, then I’d suggest that you’re not assessing the merits of the candidates in a particularly objective manner.
Similarly, Warner is appalled by those “on the Democratic left [who] have gone so far as to suggest that only by voting for Biden can Americans secure peace”, as if the current President’s public statements on the question of law and order have been measured and conciliatory. (They haven’t been.) Warner suggests, rightly, that there are those on the fringes of the American left who aren’t in the least democratic in their actions. But those people hate Joe Biden. They really do. On the other side, what’s Trump attitude towards the conspiratorial, Antisemitic, violent extreme elements on the right? Did he denounce the QAnon movement – who the FBI have identified as a potential terrorist threat – when given the opportunity to do so? No, he didn’t. The very best you can say about his response was that it was, to use Warner’s words, “laissez-faire”: “I don’t know much about the movement other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate”.
There’s an asymmetry here, clear and obvious. If Biden is a radical, then by the very same standard by which that judgement has been made, Trump is far, far worse. His period in office has brought about much soul-searching within parts of the right in the US but around the world too. Lifelong conservatives have found themselves questioning the meaning and purpose of conservatism. If conservative leaders won’t condemn terrorists, and indeed appear to accept their support gratefully, what can be said of the conservative movement in 2020? Not very much good, it would seem.
What does Warner make of Trump refusing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election? Or his consistent opposition to NATO? As the former George Bush speechwriter David Frum said recently: “What are the odds the United States would not defend a NATO member? They used to be zero. Now they’re not zero.”
This is heartbreaking stuff for anyone who values the role the US has played in the world in the past century, but surely, more than anyone else, it’s conservatives, who know about history, about Churchill, about Thatcher and Reagan, who understand how important it was that there was a strong western alliance in the face of Nazism and then Communism, surely it’s they who are most disgusted, most appalled by Trump’s vision of the world.
Perhaps this is idealism. But I thought that on some level the UK had chosen to align itself with the US because there existed between the two countries some sense of a shared understanding about human existence and freedom. An understanding that wasn’t shared by Hitler’s Germany or by the Soviet Union. A fundamental belief that the peaceful, democratic way is the only way to conduct politics at home. Does Trump think these things? He doesn’t. And Warner knows this, I’m sure he does, but says nonetheless that, “We need to embrace realism and its political expression, Realpolitik”. But surely this is a new cynicism, to talk of the US-UK alliance in the same terms as we might our relations with Saudia Arabia, or China i.e. purely in terms of strategy and without a moral centre.
Trump has done this to us. His own transactional outlook has filtered into the mainstream, and is now how millions of conservatives see the world and politics. I have conservative-minded friends who still, after all this time, find the President funny, and aren’t overly concerned with the things that he says. I do wonder sometimes if this is how liberal democracy slowly dies: privileged cynics smirking, and Trump smirking back whilst he goes about his dismantling, the moral ideas of conservatism bankrupted beyond all recognition.
Conservative critics like Douglas Murray and Tim Montgomerie (and, I’d imagine, Warner) have spent the last five years warning of the dangers of a Corbyn-led government here in the UK. But when confronted with right-wing instead of left-wing populism, with Trump’s admiration for murderous dictators, with Trump’s disparaginging of NATO, they’re peculiarly quiet. (Montgomerie even praised Viktor Orban, the anti-democratic Hungarian leader, for his “interesting early thinking” on “the limits of liberalism”.) I suspect that Warner was no fan of Corbyn, but he should know that Trump’s worldview is just as riddled with ridiculous conspiracy theories as the former Labour leader’s.
I have nightmares that Trump is going to call his supporters out onto the streets with their guns to contest the result of what he is already describing as a rigged election. Perhaps you think I’m crazy. But if it happened, what should we, Brits, think about that? What should we say? Is it still in our interest, from a strategic point of view, to have Trump in the White House, even if his behaviour is so explicity fascistic? And if we think that it is, what does that say about our vision of the west in the twenty-first century?
If anything, it’s a rather depressing post-modern sort of outlook: there is no such thing as moral standing, just all the countries of the world doing things their own way, and who are we to judge? Everything is relative. Jeremy Corbyn would be proud…