How often must we hear the lazy argument that Britain must tolerate Donald Trump and endure his presence during a state visit because the US is the most important country in the world and our closest ally?
Let’s assume both assertions are right – even though China would contest the first and opponents of the Iraq War would strongly challenge the second – because an even more dangerous argument lurks beneath these “post-fact” claims. It’s an unspoken assumption that “might is right” which underpins the arguments of many Brexiteers, supporters of Prime Minister Theresa May and admirers of Trump, but it’s rarely challenged or even exposed by the media.
No wonder. The same unconditional and unhealthy admiration of naked power lies at the heart of the modern British state and it’s bolstered by every aspect of our “Special Relationship” with the deeply unequal US. Now, there’s no denying Trump won the presidential election (within a flawed electoral system in which his Democratic challenger won the popular vote), and May’s party won an absolute and legal right to govern (despite being backing by just 25 per cent of the electorate).
Of course, if democratic might was right, and both countries had proportional systems, the situation would be very different today. But no matter.
It’s the unthinking acceptance of power, money, business interests and population size as automatic indicators of strength, wisdom and sustainability that most urgently needs to be tackled.
Yet it’s not clear most protesters have that wider battle in their sights – yet.
Of course, there are close emotional, familial, linguistic and business ties with America. Europe has reason to be grateful for Marshall Aid after the Second World War (though Finland flourished the hard way without it) and Scots like Robert Burns (venerated by Abraham Lincoln) and Adam Smith (misquoted so frequently on the importance of society) have had a profound influence in both countries. And Dunfermline lad Andrew Carnegie made a private fortune across the Pond, then spent much of it bolstering the public realm back here.
But are these selective and fairly ancient transatlantic ties blinding us to the downsides of an undue and un-examined American influence on policy and society in Scotland today?
When I was a member of the Scottish Prisons Commission, there was a determination to study the Red Hook community justice centre in New York.
It’s an innovative, compassionate and efficient court system which nonetheless operates in a country where one in three black men can expect to be imprisoned during his lifetime. What is there to learn from any single scheme – however successful – that must operate within such a toxic, punitive and institutionally racist environment?
There are other approaches to power than uncritical kowtowing. Menie Estate resident Michael Forbes refused to be bullied into moving out when an infuriated Trump built a golf course around him in 2011.
Forbes and his neighbours stood their ground, even when their homes were surrounded by ten feet high piles of soil and their water supply was cut off. Alex Salmond at first fell for the bluster but the Scottish public didn’t.
Forbes’s admirable thrawnness was recognised in 2012 when he won Scot of the Year at the Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Awards.
He had no hesitation in deciding might was not right. His stand inspired Anthony Baxter, whose documentary You’ve Been Trumped won 12 awards on the festival circuit and was named Best Documentary by Mark Kermode in his alternative Oscars – even though The Donald described Baxter as “a stupid fool”, a “loser” and a “moron”. His film inspired singer-songwriter Karine Polwart to write the song Cover Your Eyes – a powerful indictment of the idea that any man can dictate terms to nature, especially on shifting sands.
Just by the by, 2016 figures show that Menie, together with Trump’s Turnberry course, lost £2 million over the financial year, created just 95 of the 6,000 jobs promised (most of them low-paid and temporary) and there is no hotel, nor a single new house.
So, was might really right? Was Baxter’s documentary really “a failed documentary” or in fact a clever way to showcase the different social values at work within Scottish culture – values we share with social democracies across Europe.
Last week, Sweden became the first country to position itself against Trump when the deputy prime minister posted a picture of herself signing a new Climate Change Act surrounded by female ministers – taking the mickey out of Trump’s much-circulated photograph of him signing an anti-abortion executive order surrounded by men.
Isabella Lovin said the Swedish government is “the first feminist government in the world” and urged European countries to take over the climate change challenge as “the US is not there anymore to lead”.
Brave stuff. Of course, Sweden has traditionally taken a totally different path to the US, with a peaceful redistribution of political power and income during the 1930s that created the “People’s Home” – the world’s most generous, effective and enduring welfare state.
For this, the Swedes were openly criticised by successive American presidents – indeed, Dwight D Eisenhower’s envy-tinged remark about Sweden being a hotbed of “sin, suicide, socialism and smorgasbord” was largely responsible for creating the unsubstantiated belief that Scandinavians are somehow morbid and depressed.
All because the Swedish “middle way” of caring capitalism was producing a higher post-war GDP than the US. But under fire, the Swedes held firm. Half a century later, they are doing the same.
Today Sweden accepts more refugees pro rata than any European country, including Germany.
They do have problems with integration, because few refugees arrive speaking Swedish in the way most arrive in Britain speaking some English ,and because the Swedish regulated, high wage, high skills economy makes it hard for un-skilled immigrants to get a job. But the Swedes are still committed to trying.
Which raises some interesting questions for Scotland.
Without trying to blindly copy anyone, which foreign power would we really rather emulate or choose as an ally – Trump’s protectionist, merciless, powerful America or Lovin’s feminist, climate change-fighting Sweden?
And at what price do we remain part of a United Kingdom whose Prime Minister is happy to issue a blank cheque of unquestioning allegiance to Trump’s US? It’s time to tell the truth to o’erweaning power and Scotland knows it.