The Blog

Trump: My Hopes, Fears, Prayers And Reflections

The immediate consequences of the US election result have been chilling. In Moscow, Beijing and Pyongyang, as well as among Islamic extremists and Burma's Buddhist nationalists, and in almost every authoritarian regime in the world, there have been celebrations. May President-elect Trump prove us all wrong...
Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton showed extraordinary graciousness, dignity, generosity and stature in their response to Donald Trump's surprising victory, and it is to their credit. President-elect Trump - words I find difficult to write - also showed surprising, uncharacteristic magnanimity in his victory speech and his meeting with President Obama at the White House, appealing for unity and speaking respectfully, for the first time, of the incumbent. I hope this lasts.

It may be that Trump's vulgarity, rudeness and threatening behaviour during the campaign - well described by Margaret Beckett - was all just an act, a show put on by a reality TV host playing to the gallery, or at least to his base. Let's hope so. For his behaviour during the campaign was among the most unbecoming for an incoming President.

Michelle Obama's line - "When they go low, we go high" - rings in my ears and stays in my mind. Boy, did they go low, and wow how amazing it was that the Obamas stayed high, even in defeat. I hope and pray that it is the case that the low levels to which Trump sank were simply a show, and that now he has won he will behave with the dignity and generosity of spirit his new office behoves.

There are, however, three things urgently needed right now.

First, no matter how much many of us may dislike it, we must accept the result - as we did with Brexit - and make it work. We must minimise the damage and seize whatever positive opportunities there might be.

Second, as with Brexit, it is imperative that the President-elect rein in his demons, especially his more extreme supporters. He must unequivocally condemn the wave of racist attacks, violence and hate speech which have occurred in recent days - the swastikers, the verbal abuse of racial minorities, the violent assaults on gay people. He must especially disown the Ku Klux Klan and their ilk - something he patently refused to do in the campaign. If he is not the racist that his opponents believe he is, he must act quickly to demonstrate that. He unleashed a lot of demons during the campaign which could tear the fabric of the United States apart if he does not act demonstrably and responsibly to bring the country together.

And third, those of us who do not understand how people could vote for a man like Trump need very urgently to listen and learn. When people are angry, they sometimes do stupid things - but that is not a reason to ignore the causes of their anger. Clearly, a significant proportion in the United States are very angry - angry at the establishment which they feel does not represent them, angry at their stagnant economic circumstances, angry that for too long they have not been heard by the political elite. The same is true in Britain, and that anger led to Brexit. The same could be true in France, Germany, the Netherlands and across Europe, with consequences that could be horrific.

Those of us, on the centre-right or the centre-left of politics, who believe in liberal democracy, open society and an internationalist outlook should be alarmed at rising populism in various forms around the world. From Modi in India and Duterte in the Philippines, to militant Buddhist nationalism in Burma and UKIP in Britain, to Putin and Trump, populism, nationalism and in some cases extreme racism and religious intolerance are all peas from the same pod. All these are varying shades of the same phenomenon, and they have their far left equivalents too. All play on fears, tap into anger and preach hatred.

But we should not just be alarmed. We should listen, learn and then act. We need to develop a vision that is true to the values of liberal democracy, one that celebrates diversity, promotes basic human rights and freedoms, protects the vulnerable, respects human dignity, liberates and empowers people and provides hope. A vision that is rooted and grounded in the realities of life, in an understanding of how hard the daily grind is for many ordinary decent working people, and is not consumed with lofty words and false promises, yet at the same time still lifts the spirits beyond the politics of anger and hate. A vision that offers real solutions.

Yet while our political leaders must focus on addressing the needs of their angry populations at home, they must not slip into a politics of parochialism. For many years, millions of people in countries ruled by dictators or torn apart by terrorists and religious extremists have looked to western democracies, especially the United States and the United Kingdom, to be their voice. We must not fail them.

Dissidents jailed and tortured in China or Russia, activists beginning to build a very fragile new democracy in Burma with the old military regime still powerful and still breathing down their necks, religious minorities across the Middle East, Pakistan and Indonesia, look to us to speak out for the basic human rights that we enjoy and which they have for so long been denied.

Over the past year or so hundreds of human rights lawyers in China have been arrested and detained, booksellers from Hong Kong have been abducted by Chinese agents, and Hong Kong's freedoms are being shredded. In North Korea, at least 100,000 people languish in political prison camps in dire conditions. In Eritrea, prisoners of conscience are locked up in metal shipping containers. In Burma, Muslims are facing a campaign of hatred which some experts say amounts to ethnic cleansing and may be a warning sign of genocide, while in Syria and Iraq Christians and Yazidis face what many believe is already a genocide.

In addition to the millions whose human rights are denied, millions more are in dire poverty, caused by war, natural disaster or bad governance. Humanitarian aid, development and efforts to tackle corruption - as well as to end the scourge of human trafficking or modern-day slavery - are challenges which the United States, Britain and the west cannot shirk.

In other words, we cannot and must not retreat either into isolation, protectionism or appeasement. As countries that still enjoy wealth and freedom, we must not pull up the drawbridge and disregard our responsibilities to others less fortunate than ourselves. We must reinforce free trade. And we must not coddle dictators.

Those thoughts are addressed most directly to President-elect Trump, a man who dismissed the Tiananman massacre as simply a "riot" and appeared to show admiration for the way the brutal butchers of Beijing quelled it. In particular, Mr Trump's friendliness towards Russia's Vladimir Putin is a source of deep concern. Putin is a bully, and we should speak the only language bullies understand: we should stand up to him.

My preferred choice for US President was Marco Rubio, as I wrote on these pages earlier this year, because he is consistent in speaking out on international human rights. There are many in the US Congress who continue to champion freedom around the world, in particular Congressman Chris Smith, and I hope they will keep a very watchful eye on Trump's foreign policy.

A key test will be who President-elect Trump appoints as Secretary of State. There are rumours that it could be Newt Gingrich. I have not studied Mr Gingrich closely, but one of my favourite films is Nine Days That Changed the World, a documentary he made about Pope St John Paul II's visit to Warsaw which sparked the Solidarity movement in Poland, leading eventually to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War and the liberation of eastern Europe. If the messages within that film suggests that Mr Gingrich might share St John Paul II's passion for human rights and freedom and put them into his foreign policy, given the chance, that would be very welcome.

Similarly, while not without controversy, Vice-President-elect Mike Pence is known to have shown an interest in international religious freedom and human rights when he served in Congress. I may be clutching at straws, but if foreign policy is largely guided by Mr Gingrich and Mr Pence, things may not be as bad as we fear. As long as Sarah Palin is not let anywhere near a foreign policy or security role, please God.

The immediate consequences of the US election result have been chilling. In Moscow, Beijing and Pyongyang, as well as among Islamic extremists and Burma's Buddhist nationalists, and in almost every authoritarian regime in the world, there have been celebrations. May President-elect Trump prove us all wrong, may those celebrations be short-lived and may America take its place once again in the world as a decent and bold champion of universal freedoms and human dignity and as a nation we can all look up to. That is my prayer tonight and every night until Inauguration Day - and into his presidency.

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