I just watched the opening statements of British PM Teresa May and Trump at a join press conference in the UK. Trump’ statement didn’t surprise me, full of self-congratulations and lies, while never mentioning the political bombs that he had dropped, including a broadside against May, since his arrival a day ago.
But what did was May’s groveling remarks that made no mention of Trump’s intervention into the national politics of the UK as well as his dismissive putdown of her. Instead, she acted like a supplicant, paying homage to Trump, papering over the differences that arose in the past week between Trump and European leaders, and failing to defend herself and her country from Trump’s outrageous threats and interference in its national affairs.
I know it wasn’t a performance that is comparable to Neviile Chamberlain’s in Munich, Germany in 1938. Chamberlain back then proudly declared on the heels of signing (with France as well Germany) a “peace” agreement that sanctioned the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia and the transfer of its Sudeten region to an increasingly aggressive, Nazi war machine, “I believe it is peace for our time”. Four months later war broke out across Europe as Hitler invaded Poland and then France.
But May’s performance was cowardly nonetheless. It was an attempt to appease and mollify Trump, to find common ground. Trump, however, isn’t about to be appeased or mollified. He doesn’t care about common ground, old understandings, and past arrangements. His overarching disposition is to bully, to dominate, to rule unchallenged, to run roughshod over democratic norms, values, and institutions. His contempt for democracy — even the post WW II social and economic order — is writ large in his actions and behavior.
Moreover, he is assisted by the Republican Party dominated as it is by right wing extremists. At the same time, Trump is increasingly aligned with a loose network of right wing strongmen worldwide, Putin being one of them. While Trump’s policies heavily favor capitalists in many ways, large and small, he also operates more autonomously than presidents in recent memory from them.
But to get back to May. She wasn’t up to the task today — and I guess no one should be surprised by her abject behavior — but the British people will have their say too as they crowd the streets of London at this very moment. And, unlike May, they will surely call out the imperial and imperious bully from across the pond in no uncertain terms. For they know (as we know) that the only fitting response to an authoritarian leader is resistance, not appeasement, struggle, not capitulation.