Donald Trump can hold grudges. This week’s antagonist is London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who has gotten under Trump’s skin since 2015.
Two weeks ago, as he landed in the UK, Trump opened his State visit by tweeting that Khan — who had challenged Trump’s rhetoric and policies in a newspaper editorial — is a “Stone Cold Loser”. And last weekend, he took the vitriol to a new level, with the help of Katie Hopkins, the alt-right racist, homophobe, and Muslim-phobe.
LONDON needs a new mayor ASAP. Khan is a disaster – will only get worse! https://t.co/n7qKI3BbD2
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 15, 2019
Trump followed up a few hours later, “He is a national disgrace who is destroying the City of London!”
Khan’s office said he was not going to “waste his time” responding to the tweet. However, many figures came to his defense. Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour Party to which Khan belongs, said it was “absolutely awful to see [Trump] using the tragedy of people being murdered to attack the mayor”.
Guy Verhofstadt, the EU Brexit co-ordinator tweeted:
— Guy Verhofstadt (@guyverhofstadt) June 17, 2019
But amid these condemnations, there was an odd silence from the UK’s Conservative Party — especially from the men who want to be the next Prime Minister.
Not one single comment came from Jeremy Hunt, Sajid Javid, Rory Stewart, Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab and Michael Gove. They expressed no unease that a US President could share the opinions of a woman who once called for a “final solution” in dealing with terrorists following the Manchester attack in 2017. (She later changed the term “final solution” to “true solution”, describing the earlier version as a “mis-type”.) They did not speak of a Hopkins who she would not employ fat people because they look lazy and who attacked a gay couple for having a child via surrogacy: “With Amazon Prime Now they get free next day delivery”.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid finally spoke on Monday, condemning the comments made by the US President as “unbecoming of a leader of such a great state”. Javid — reportedly not invited to the Queen’s banquet from Trump because he is Muslim and of Pakistani descent — said Trump should stop “interfering in another country’s domestic politics”.
Dominic Raab said that the US leader’s actions were not “helpful, savoury or constructive” and that he was “proud” to have a Muslim mayor of London. “I’m proud to come to have grown up in the suburbs of London, to have lived in London, which is a multi-identity city, I’m proud that this country is a melting pot,” he added.
But while Rory Stewart criticized Hopkins — “I 100% disagree with both the language and the sentiment of the last sentence of this tweet. Can all candidates please confirm the same” — he did not mention Trump’s retweet and added remarks.
Similarly, Michael Gove said: “I think it is always a mistake to retweet anything Katie Hopkins tweets.”
Still, avoidance of Trump was not as outlandish as the utterance of Britain’s top diplomat, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt. Having sided with Trump over the “Stone Cold Loser” insult of Khan — and earned a mention from the visiting US President, alongside outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May, in response — Hunt said on Sunday:
President Trump has his own style and I wouldn’t use those words myself. But the sentiment is enormous disappointment that we have a Mayor of London who has completely failed to tackle knife crime and spent more time on politics than the actual business of making Londoners safer.
And in that, I 150% agree with the President.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman tried to hide from the furor: “The mayor of London has issued his own response in relation to that. As the mayor rightly said this morning, violent crime has no place in London or anywhere else in this country.”
Pressed on whether there was any response to the content of Trump’s tweets, the spokesman said: “It’s a matter for the US in terms of what events they comment upon. Politicians in the UK comment upon events in the US.”
A Free Pass for Muslim-Phobia?
The Muslim Council of Britain, the country’s largest Muslim umbrella organisation, commented on the silence and then mixed reaction from the Conservatives:
When facing Islamophobia, many Muslims are most hurt when others stand by and do nothing.
Trump’s endorsement of a bigot has nothing to do with the rising knife crime that we all are concerned about and everything to do with his divisive agenda. For Downing Street to refuse to comment and our Foreign Secretary and potentially future Prime Minister to agree with the “sentiment” of this known Islamophobe without condemning the clear bigoted intent behind it, is shocking.
It is still further proof that Islamophobia is given a free pass at the highest echelons of the Conservative Party.
Quite rightly the Labour Party has been scrutinized internally and externally over its problem with anti-Semitism, yet many Conservative politicians refuse to accept there is Islamophobia within their ranks.
The MCB’s Miqdaad Versi has documented “hundreds of cases” on the scale of Islamophobia in Tory quarters. Last week the MCB submitted more than 20 pages of evidence to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, urging investigators to launch an official probe.
A rare example of action within the Conservatives has been the activism of former Party co-chair Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, who has raised the problem with three of her successors and the Prime Minister. She says the leadership are “turning a blind eye to this – they have just simply hoped it would go away”.
I cannot fight this fight alone 😢
I have written to Sir Mick Davis Chief Executive and Treasurer @Conservatives to stand by me and show leadership where @BrandonLewis @theresa_may have failed.#askingforallies
— Sayeeda Warsi (@SayeedaWarsi) March 5, 2019
She emphasized, “Burying your head in the sand is not going to make problems go away.”
But with a frontrunner in Boris Johnson — who has advisors in common with the Trump camp and who once compared women who wear the burqa as “letter boxes” — and with other leadership hopefuls seeing a right-wing crowd as a possible electoral base, the choice is clear.
Risk alienating supporters by criticizing Trump — or accepting, and even encouraging, the misrepresentation not only of Islam and Muslims but also the LGBTQ community, migrants, refugees, and women activists.
That choice is sheltered by some of the UK media. The Daily Telegraph headlined, “Sadiq Khan Urged to Get a Grip on Violent Crime After Donald Trump Accuses Him of Being a ‘Disaster’, but never mentioned Trump’s endorsement of Hopkins. Sky News blared, “He’s a Disaster: Trump Attacks Khan After Three Killed in London”. Even the Daily Mirror, more sympathetic to the Labour Party, ran with “Donald Trump Calls Sadiq Khan a ‘Disgrace'”.
Not one outlet summarized, “US President Shares Tweet of Far-Right White Supremacist”.
Nor did the media narrative mention some basics such as a higher knife-related murder rate in the US than in the UK, or a comparison of London’s homicide level of 1.5 per 100,000 people compared to US cities from 55.7 per 100,000 in Baltimore to 3.3 per 100,000 in New York.
Hatred is a Vote-Winner
Muslim-phobia is acceptable becames it wins votes. For the Conservatives, that is magnified by the fear of Nigel Farage and his Brexit Party taking away their supporters.
It took former Labour leader Ed Miliband to offer the necessary response:
What is it about @SadiqKhan and what he stands for that leads the President of the United States to be tweeting rubbish about him? Oh yes, Trump’s a racist bigot, who tried to ban Muslims from America and hates anyone who stands up to him. https://t.co/2i6oIjv2og
— Ed Miliband (@Ed_Miliband) June 16, 2019
Donald Trump is a racist pandering to what he perceives is his core vote for re-election in 2020. Katie Hopkins is a racist and a homophobe: a combination given ironic publicity as she had tea with two Muslim men in Birmingham — because they were leading protests outside a Birmingham school introducing lessons covering LGBT relationships.
Normalizing hate is the first step towards authoritarianism. Normalizing, as in the pursuit of votes and clicks, until even those who get short-term benefit can’t hold back the tide.