Foreword: March 2017—From post-truth to post-freedom

February 16, 2017
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?

If the real Trump is the man that nominated the extremely but conventionally conservative judge, Neil Gorsuch, there will be severe social implications, potentially including abortion (see Dahlia Lithwick) but basic political processes should eventually emerge unscathed. If, on the other hand, the real Trump turns out to be the author of the scarcely disguised “Muslim ban,” whose effects Ismail Einashe describes first-hand, we’re looking at the worst case. His enthusiasm for “torture as an instrument of policy," his disdain for “so-called” judges, and indeed for the professional autonomy even of America’s own spies all discourage the breezy assumption of an early return to politics as usual. There is less ambiguity about economics. True to his rhetoric, Trump has made a few fast, nationalist moves which are sending shockwaves through an already-frail world trading system.

So what to do? Some liberals hanker for impeachment, but—suggests Ursula Hackett—there is scant chance of that. It might seem a time to hold fast to friends far from Washington. That isn’t as easy as it might have been before the Brexit vote, but it’s not quite impossible either, argues Jolyon Maugham as he sets out his plan to allow room for a rethink. His arguments will infuriate as many as they thrill. But they have more purchase than they would have done before we found ourselves living on Planet Trump.