The charitable way of looking at Donald Trump retweeting three anti-Muslim videos originally posted by the deputy leader of Britain First is to suggest he is simply ignorant of what that group stands for. It would also be a cop-out, because in fact his motivations were surely more sinister.
Let’s begin with the first, most obvious question. What was going on in Trump’s head that he thought recycling hate-mongering clips originally posted by Jayda Fransen was more important than discussing, say, the fast-approaching tax-cutting vote in the US Senate or the threat posed by North Korea’s new intercontinental missile able potentially to reach the Eastern Seaboard?
If only it was merely a case of scattered-brain syndrome, although there might be a bit of that. He also got distracted on Wednesday morning by the latest churn of the sexual-abuse scandals, which admittedly had drawn the attention of the entire country – the firing of veteran anchor Matt Lauer by NBC. For millions of Americans, mornings without Lauer will be like cornflakes without milk.
But there is far more purpose than that to Trump’s love of Twitter. He grabs for it like a rubber ring in a tempest, equally to attack his foes and bolster his own agenda. Thus the demise of Lauer over alleged sexual misconduct gave him the chance to lash out at the anchor’s employers. It was they who should be “fired for putting out so much Fake News,” he said.
Fake, fake, fake. No single word in the lexicon has served Trump better. He is even, we now hear, trying to attach it to the Access Hollywood tape that almost sank him last year; the one that had him boasting that his celebrity status allowed him to “grab” women “by the pussy”. He acknowledged spewing those words at the time but now suggests the tape was doctored. Or faked. Moi?
So how dare he give credence to the three clips originally sent spinning into the twittersphere by Fransen, convicted in Britain of religiously aggravated harassment? Who’s to say if they are genuine or staged? Where is the context for them? What are the sources for them? Who is the darker-skinned youth kicking the lighter-skinned youth on crutches? Was he even Muslim? Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House spokesperson, admitted the President didn’t care about the provenance of the videos. “Whether it’s a real video, the threat is real and that is what the President is talking about,” she said. Jaws dropped in our newsroom at that one.
But again, the hypocrisy over who is the biggest faker – Trump or CNN, Trump or The Washington Post – is a minor concern. Instead, we should focus on what really motivates him when discussing the tumble dryer of religious faiths that most Western societies have become. He doesn’t care for it. In his mind, religious tolerance, cultural assimilation, the peaceful coexistence of faiths in our cultures – if not actually bad things – are mythical, rose-tinted things.
In other words, he doesn’t just see the posts by Fransen and think, let’s retweet those because they are useful to me politically. Certainly, he hopes that by sharing them, he is somehow strengthening his case for building the wall along the US-Mexico border, his crackdown on refugee numbers entering the US and the travel ban on some Muslim-majority countries.
He does it because he precisely understands what Britain First stands for and it appeals to him, if not as a human being – again, we can at least try to be charitable – then certainly as a politician and a very successful one at that. The notion that Britain’s “indigenous culture”, whatever that may be, has been sacrificed to liberal instincts of political correctness and, more specifically, to years of open-border policies, precisely mirrors the messaging of his campaign last year. Britain First... America First. Fransen believes she is making Britain Great Again.
This is the same Trump whose first instinct in the aftermath of Charlottesville in August was to suggest that both those participating in a white supremacist rally in the city and those gathered there to protest against it were equally to blame for the violence that ensued. The only decent response was to condemn the former group in the clearest terms possible. Even setting aside the detail that the one fatality was a woman counter-protester, mown down by a car driven by a white supremacist sympathiser, the far-right agitators who converged on Charlottesville bring shame on America, a land founded on the principles of tolerance and equality of opportunity.
Under pressure from his own advisers, Trump moderated his tone a day later, but his original thought process was clear: he would not take what he saw as the “politically correct” course and condemn only the hate group that had incited the violence in the first place. In that way, he seemed also to be dropping the hint that in his mind the alt-right or white supremacists, however you prefer to label them, have a point. And he did so in the full knowledge that one constituency in America would applaud him for it – his base. He is doing precisely the same favour for Britain First: they have a point when they try to sabotage, multicultural, multi-faith Britain.
No wonder Fransen was so ecstatic in seeing the Trump retweets. All-capital-letters ecstatic. “TRUMP HIMSELF HAS RETWEETED THESE VIDEOS AND HAS AROUND 44 MILLION FOLLOWERS! GOD BLESS YOU TRUMP! GOD BLESS AMERICA!” she declared.
So let’s be clear. Trump knows exactly what he is doing when he uses Twitter to flatter Britain First. And we should be clear in return. It is a disgrace that should mar his legacy for ever.
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