After today, the damage Trump has done to the US is permanent – there is no going back from this

It’s often said that Trump is only temporary, Brexit is a permanent, irrevocable decision. But that observation is too simple

Tom Peck
Political Sketch Writer
Friday 15 February 2019 17:06 GMT
Donald Trump declares national emergency to release funds for border wall

It is an intriguing essay question. Which country’s politics is currently more fundamentally broken: Britain or America?

In the United States, the president is setting fire both to the US constitution and to his own oath to preserve and protect it, in order to fulfil a campaign promise.

Over here, our parliamentary democracy is falling apart because it just cannot find a way to enact a decision it would frankly never have given to the British people if it had suspected for a second they would come back with the wrong answer.

It’s often said that Trump is only temporary, Brexit is a permanent, irrevocable decision. But that observation is too simple. Donald Trump has declared a state of “national emergency” in America, in order to extract billions of dollars of public money to pay for a wall on the Mexican border.

In recent times, US presidents have declared states of emergency just twice. Barack Obama did so in 2009 to deal with an outbreak of foot and mouth disease that threatened the country’s livestock. Prior to that, George W Bush did so in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

Donald Trump has done so because Democrats in congress will not release the funds he is demanding to build a wall on the southern border. Their refusal to do so is because the central aspect of his campaign promise to build the wall was that Mexico, and not the American people, would pay for it.

His voting base doesn’t appear to care that, two years later, it will be them, rather than Mexico that will be expecting to foot the bill. That in itself is a terrifying aspect of what feels like post-truth, cult-based politics. Trump himself sees it as necessary to meet his campaign promise. What he is in fact doing is breaking his campaign promise, and landing the American people with a $5bn (£4bn) cheque that somebody else was meant to pay.

If he succeeds however, the damage will be in the precedent that is set. Already Democrat speaker Nancy Pelosi has made clear that future Democrat presidents could declare a state of emergency to extract funds or change laws relating to gun control. Whatever one’s views on the virtues of doing so, it would divide America every bit as badly as anything managed by Donald Trump.

The question is no longer whether there are two more years or six more years of Trump to go, but whether Trumpian politics might leave America permanently disfigured.

As for Brexit, we simply do not know. It is long been argued that one of the reasons the United Kingdom did not succumb to the same fate as so many other European countries in the 1930s is because of the robustness of its parliamentary democracy. Democratic systems of government are currently under threat the world over, chiefly from sophisticated operators in a misinformation war.

It should be a cause for great concern that at the moment of maximum exposure to such forces, the UK temporarily suspended its defence from them, and chose to make such a momentous decision by direct democracy. Parliamentary democracy is back now, but the Burmese python simply cannot cope with the alligator it has swallowed.

Both main parties are ready to break. Both are manoeuvring to makes sure the other carries the can for the economic consequences of Brexit, for which the public voted but will certainly not blame itself.

There is a forlorn hope that rationality will prevail. That because one side doesn’t want something and neither does the other, therefore it cannot happen. To which you only need to draw reference to the immense suffering heaped upon all sides in war, yet they still happen with regularity.

America voted for Trump, and many of those voters don’t seem to mind that he is burning down the constitution. For the rest of that country’s political apparatus, a damage limitation operation is well underway. As of today, one Republican candidate, a former Massachusetts governor called Bill Weld, will run against him.

Britain voted for Brexit, by a narrow margin. Its long term consequences for our politics are as yet entirely unknowable. But its short term consequences have been devastating, and we haven’t even got to the difficult stages yet.

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