The British media is obsessed with American politics, but we could learn more from our continental neighbours, says ANDREW ADONIS.
I stayed up to watch the State of the Union speech on Tuesday night. Awesome theatre. Nancy Pelosi ripping up Donald Trump’s speech, while sitting right behind him, is one of the best moments of this presidency.
It was set to be followed by the even more theatrical acquittal of Trump by the Republican majority in the senate in his impeachment ‘trial’, although a judicial process less concerned with establishing facts and guilt it would be impossible to imagine.
This all reflects a degree of polarisation in American politics unprecedented in modern times. There is now an 82 percentage point gap in approval ratings for Trump between Democrats and Republicans. Some 89% of Republicans approve but only 7% of Democrats.
All this is highly alarming for the future of the ‘United’ States. The mistake, however, is to think that it reflects a universal democratic trend towards disintegration. Here in Europe the position is very different; and since this is our continent, maybe we should be paying more attention to the state of the union on our doorstep.
In Britain we are fixated by US politics but virtually ignore Europe. Yet voting irregularities in this week’s Iowa caucuses are far less important to us than the arch populist Matteo Salvini’s decisive defeat in Emilia-Romagna last week or the surge for Sinn Fein in the Irish election campaign.
The media have a lot to answer for. They are all, including the BBC, obsessed by the US but barely report Europe. It is far more exciting for journalists to swan around Washington than Warsaw and it doesn’t involve any of those horrible foreign languages.
For the right-wing media, there is an overt ideological and commercial agenda. Nigel Farage and Piers Morgan fancy themselves as transatlantic impresarios, and do very nicely out of it. For them and their paymasters, the more Trump the better. It sells. And a Trumpite Britain is their dream. The rest of us should watch out.
So here is the ‘state of the union’ in Europe. Yes, Britain has left, but the effect of this English nationalist surge has been to bind the rest of Europe closer together. The EU has never been more popular among the other 27. It is deeply revealing that the populists Le Pen, Salvini and Orban are competing with each other to disown Frexit, It-exit and Hung-exit (yes I made up those last two: they never existed to start with).
As for the European centre-left and centre-right, they are alive and well and winning elections. The Spanish social democrats just formed a government at the fourth attempt. Macron is heading towards re-election. He faces demonstrations every month, but hey when was that not true in Paris?
As for Germany, the heart of Europe, the ultra centrist Angela Merkel has just entered her 15th year of power in Berlin. And the main challenger for her succession when she finally retires? Not the far-right AfD but Merkel’s CDU and the Greens, an essentially pragmatic modernising party which is successfully running some of Germany’s state governments in coalition with the CDU, although you would never know about this, or their policies, from the UK media.
As for Europe’s Washington, Brussels is in good shape too. The new team running the Commission and the Council of Ministers are doing fine. British prime ministers come and go while Michel Barnier reigns supreme in the Brexit negotiations with the 27 member states behind him.
The union in real jeopardy is the one closest to home: the United Kingdom. Brexit, and the English nationalist version of Boris Johnson who sold it, are an Exocet to the future of the UK. The only question in Scotland is when ‘Indyref2’ is going to be held and whether independence can be resisted this time. Particularly with the EU so welcoming.
The election of most significance to us is the upcoming Irish poll, coming soon after power-sharing was restored to a Northern Ireland which is in effect staying in the EU, under last year’s Varadkar-Johnson deal.
What would a Sinn Féin-led Irish government mean? I have no idea. The BBC has done nothing whatever to inform us. I only discovered the revolution taking place in Dublin by reading the Irish Times.