The threat from Donald Trump’s unprincipled actions reaches from London to every American city: Brent Larkin

August 2, 2018

The threat from Donald Trump’s unprincipled actions reaches from London to every American city: Brent Larkin

LONDON  - They despise him here.

Not us.

Just him.

Just President Donald Trump.

Londoners aren’t always representative of the rest of England. They recognized the deceitful nature of the Brexit campaign and the harm that leaving the European Union would cause to the British economy, for instance. So they voted against it in overwhelming numbers.

So while polls show President Trump to be wildly unpopular throughout the United Kingdom, my three days speaking with people here left no doubt it’s even worse in London.

Judging from the more than two dozen people from different walks of life I’ve met and talked to, including a number from other parts of the United Kingdom, it’s fair to say that most in this city view Trump as an uncouth monster. 

Many feel he behaves like a Russian asset, not like a U.S. president, and that his positions disdainful of European leaders and dismissive of institutions like NATO threaten the political stability of the entire planet, and especially that of Europe.

Shakespeare’s Head is a large, nicely appointed pub in the city’s West End, near both Covent Garden and the theater district. It took me nearly 40 minutes of casually polling customers to find two Trump fans.

Those two dock workers, on holiday from Liverpool, parroted the “great businessman” fallacy, unpersuaded by reminders of numerous bankruptcies and underhanded business tactics.

Trump’s brief visit to London last month hardened with locals the stereotype of a boorish bully who may be even less popular here than he is with the people who know him best -- those in his hometown of New York City.

In the 2016 election, Trump received 22 percent of the vote in Queens, the New York borough where he grew up, and just 10 percent in Manhattan, where he’s lived and worked most of his adult life.

A YouGov/ITV Tonight poll taken just prior to Trump’s trip to London found 77 percent of the British population had an unfavorable view of Trump.

With good reason.

This is a president who embraces countries that wish us harm, while treating our oldest and dearest allies like enemies.

Many Trump supporters scoff at the notion we should care what others think about us. They’re fine with walling us off from the world, leaving the global economy to operate everywhere but in the United States.

The upcoming Nov. 6 election must be a referendum on those views, as well as on the president’s disdain for truth, the rule of law and freedom of the press. No midterm election in the lifetime of anyone reading this will be as impactful as this one. 

And no presidential election since 1860 will be as critical to the nation’s future as 2020, when democracy as as we know it may hang in the balance.

But there is something almost as frightening as continuing to allow all those Republican cowards in Congress to continue turning a blind eye to Trump’s trampling of constitutional norms: It is relying on Democrats to craft a winning strategy and message that stops them.

Few minds are as insightful on how to develop policies that reinvent a political party than the 81-year old one belonging to former Democratic Colorado Sen. Gary Hart.  

I reached out to Hart after reading of his lament over the Democratic Party’s failure to define a vision for the future in a June 30 story in The New York Times.

Articulating a single vision is extremely difficult, Hart explained to me in a phone interview, because the Democratic Party is a coalition party, one where “an amalgamation of a whole lot of different people and issues get lumped together.”

That diversity represents the party’s strength. But the difficulty in crafting a one-size-fits-all message often undermines its mission.

“It’s very much more complicated for Democrats,” Hart told me. “I think it is incumbent upon Democrats to occasionally develop a statement of principles that bring all these disparate groups together.

“Each generation must be told who we are, what we stand for that makes us different, and what has sustained us over decades as a party of equality, justice and inclusiveness.”

For the party, and the country, the stakes are enormous.

In her frightening new book, “The Death of Truth,” former New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani revisits George Washington’s Farewell Address of 1796 that warned of the threat posed by “cunning, ambitious and unprincipled men.”

Such “corrupted or deluded” men, Washington worried, might “betray or sacrifice” the country they are empowered to serve.

Our first president saw it coming.

Now, with the 45th, it’s here.

Brent Larkin was The Plain Dealer’s editorial director from 1991 until his retirement in 2009.

To reach Brent Larkin: blarkin@cleveland.com

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