Published in March 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
In February, the Speaker of the House of Commons, did something that Speakers never do: he spoke up. With a flourish that recalled Hugh Grant’s Downing Street outburst against a bullying American president in Love Actually, John Bercow seethed against Donald Trump. Cue cheers on the opposition benches, and resentful frowns on the Conservative side, where there is gnawing unease about Theresa May’s post-Brexit impulse to hug the president close.
Mr Speaker rashly dispensed with his office’s traditional “above the fray” dignity. There could be serious consequences for the role of the Speaker and for him personally—but he was past caring. After just a few weeks in office, Trump has disregarded so many ground rules—honesty, respect for human rights and due process—as to lend some substance to Bercow’s insistence that inviting him to Westminster Hall was incompatible with MPs’ “support for equality before the law, and an independent judiciary.” That charge hit a nerve in a Britain uncertain about where it is heading as it rethinks its place in the world.
Sam Tanenhaus explains how the Trumpian blend of threats and untruths is goading American newspapers—which, like British Speakers, always prided themselves on “Olympian” neutrality—into a shrill, campaigning mode. At best, everyone is becoming a partisan, and the common ground where divergent opinions used to engage on the strength of agreed facts is being crowded out. But how much deeper could the damage go?