Donald Trump and Enoch Powell

by Mark English

Contributors to The Electric Agora have – not surprisingly – been giving their reactions to the result of US election. The other contributors are US citizens, so my perspective is different. No call for introspection or soul-searching. Certainly no cri de coeur. If I say, “He’s not my President,” it’s just a simple statement of fact.

Moreover (and this is probably more significant), I do not identify with the Left or with progressivism, as most contributors and commenters here seem to do. On the ideological front, I see myself more as a skeptical conservative than as a progressive (as the term is generally understood), but my skepticism extends to political labels. Any label is provisional and potentially misleading. If you want to know someone’s political orientation you need to know where they stand on this and that particular question – if they stand anywhere at all. Speaking for myself, there are many important issues on which I have no strong views. (It is an unfortunate feature of the present political and social climate that uncertainty or agnosticism on certain issues is seen as tantamount to heresy.)

Two essays I wrote in the lead-up to the election were very critical of Hillary Clinton’s neoconservative foreign policy orientation. [1,2] We’ll never know now whether those fears and predictions about what a Hillary Clinton presidency would entail were justified or on target. They will not be empirically tested. (Thank goodness, I say.)

It remains to be seen, of course, whether Donald Trump succumbs to those same – still-powerful – neoconservative forces. But, even if he does to some extent, his heart will never be in the imperialist and interventionist camp to the extent that Hillary Clinton’s apparently was. I take comfort from this, if only because I see the neoconservative position as being ideological to the core and consequently blind to important empirical realities.

Enoch Powell [1912-1998] was a prominent and controversial figure in post-World War 2 British politics. During that period, geopolitical questions inevitably involved the issue of Communism. Nonetheless, the general thrust of this passage from a speech Powell gave in 1967 criticizing Britain’s attempt to maintain its global reach and role beyond a time when that was appropriate applies equally to the United States today, in my opinion:

In our imagination the vanishing last vestiges… of Britain’s once vast Indian Empire have transformed themselves into a peacekeeping role on which the sun never sets. Under God’s good providence and in partnership with the United States, we keep the peace of the world and rush hither and thither containing Communism, putting out brush fires and coping with subversion. It is difficult to describe, without using terms derived from psychiatry, a notion having so few points of contact with reality. [3]

The recent election result was not really a surprise to me. In a post published five months ago, I noted that my take on Donald Trump was very much in line with that of Scott Adams, who saw Trump as a master communicator. [4] I concurred then with Adams’s prediction that Trump would win the presidential election.

Given that my main concerns were related to geopolitics and to what I saw as the dangers of neoconservative policies, I was naturally much more relaxed about the prospect of a Trump victory than a Clinton victory. I cited Marc Faber – a well-credentialed, Thailand-based economist and investor not known for understatement – who earlier this year said that Trump may destroy America, but Clinton would destroy the world.

Politics, one might say, is an unfortunate necessity. Really, it’s just about – or should be about – the boring business of organizing an institutional and legislative framework which allows large numbers of people to live together in a reasonably cooperative way. But it’s also a very human thing, being utterly dependent on basic human attitudes, especially trust: trust in one another and trust in the powers that be.

Recent events have amply demonstrated that both the US establishment and the EU establishment have lost the trust of (a majority of) the people. Add to that social divisions – the result of economic hardship and cultural changes (arguably compounded in some jurisdictions by large-scale immigration) – and you have a recipe for trouble.

I know the immigration issue is a sensitive one, and there is a lot of xenophobia about, but it is wrong to accuse everyone who questions the wisdom of large-scale immigration of bigotry or racism. As others here have pointed out, this knee-jerk reaction is part of the problem.

In this respect, salutary lessons can be drawn from the career and opinions of Enoch Powell. He was as unlike Donald Trump in terms of his personal style and accomplishments as you could imagine: a brilliant classical scholar, distinguished soldier, writer and orator. But there appears to be more than a little overlap in terms of the policy views of the two men.

There is also a tenuous personal connection in that Donald Trump’s most prominent English friend and supporter, Nigel Farage, knew Powell personally. In fact, Powell was his political hero from an early age. Their first meeting occurred when the ever-ebullient Farage was a teenager. As Farage put it in his autobiography, he was “dazzled … for once into an awestruck silence” by the politician. [5] (Was Trump ever so dazzled by anybody, I wonder? I suspect not.)

In the late 1960s, Powell was sacked from a Shadow Cabinet position for a speech warning of the social consequences of large-scale immigration. Though a very clever man and a charismatic figure, he never again held a senior political post. The subject of the possible negative consequences of mass immigration was taboo and it still is in certain circles (largely because it often involves or is seen to involve “racial” questions).

As is evident from the passage from the speech I quoted above, Powell also had controversial ideas on defense and foreign affairs. As a classical scholar he was acutely aware of the perils of empire. The so-called Powell doctrine of the mid-1960s involved what in retrospect can be seen as a sensible winding back of Britain’s role in Africa and “east of Suez.” The Americans were concerned. And well they might have been, because arguably it was due in part to Powell’s influence that the United Kingdom did not send troops to Vietnam.

I don’t agree with everything Powell said on immigration and race, but his views on imperial overreach I unreservedly endorse.

LINKS

  1. https://theelectricagora.com/2016/09/26/dangerous-times-thoughts-on-the-us-presidential-election/
  2. https://theelectricagora.com/2016/10/26/american-foreign-policy-in-a-changing-world/
  3. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enoch_Powell
  4. https://plus.google.com/109863037531320005450/posts/9wHj7vEw7GQ
  5. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/ukip/11291050/Nigel-Farage-and-Enoch-Powell-the-full-story-of-Ukips-links-with-the-Rivers-of-Blood-politician.html

14 Comments »

  1. Hi Mark, this was certainly information I didn’t know (the only Powell I could say I know about is Colin Powell), and even manages to put a different face on Brexit… though I currently still it was not a good decision.

    Given Trump’s use of Farage and connections drawn between his campaign and Brexit, maybe it is possible that Powell’s policy ideas will be ascendant and we can see how they play on the modern world stage.

    Right now the top two names for Secretary of State under Trump are Newt Gingrich and John Bolton. I hope he surprises everyone with someone else entirely. Of those two I would prefer Gingrich, particularly as I take Bolton to be a neo-con. If Bolton is picked I think that will be a very bad sign, regardless if he was neo-con or other. Even if we manage to keep peace, it will be a belligerent, bullying, ugly American peace.

    Do you have any thoughts on those particular options?

    Like

  2. And apparently, Frank Gaffney is on board, now, too.

    Seems like Trump is filling up with neocons. Not even sure whether he knows the difference between a neocon and a Realist.

    Mark, do you think you may have put too much stock in the things Trump said during the campaign? He probably didn’t mean a word of any of it.

    Like

  3. Worse than he “didn’t mean a word.” Remember – this is a real estate mogul. You close the deal, and then you renegotiate. That is starting right now with his assault on ethical conventions regarding conflict of interest and nepotism. The man has no sense of value except as it regards personal power – in the form of wealth or adulatory cheers.

    Of course, that simplifies certain foreign policy considerations. If you want to avoid war, just let him build a resort in your capitol.

    As for Trump being a “master communicator”: the proper characterization is “incendiary braggart.” When the press responded by decrying his obvious unfitness for office, Trump spun the “persecuted savior” story line. The fog of his irrational declarations prevented any meaningful discussion of policy. This is where the press really fell down in this campaign – they should have stuck to policy issues, rather than an analysis of Trump’s character.

    And if they had, Mr. English might have something contemporary to draw upon in analyzing Clinton’s foreign policy objectives.

    Like

  4. dbholmes

    I’m interested in the EU and its history. It began as – and was sold to the public as – a common market but there was this political agenda implicit in it from the beginning. In fact I think the Americans were from the very start actively involved in this attempt to create a United States of Europe. Enoch Powell was deeply opposed to Britain’s membership. An interesting story but of limited interest to the readership here, I suspect.

    I too would prefer Gingrich to Bolton, but I don’t have a very good knowledge of the backgrounds of many of those whose names are being tossed around.

    Like

  5. Mark,
    I don’t think Powell is a good comparison to make here. Powell’s anti-imperialist stance seems inextricably bound up with his ethnocentrism/ethnophobia (note, I did not say racism). England ended WWII as a a reasonably homogeneous culture with a collapsing empire supporting it. As the empire transitioned to the Commonwealth, thinkers like Powell grew alarmed at the access this gave to immigration by formerly colonized peoples.

    America, however, has never been culturally or ethnically homogeneous, no matter how white or Christian supremacists insist it was. And American ‘client-state’ neo-colonialism, while developed in the vacuum created by the collapse of the UK, is a different beast from the straight-out colonialism of the old British Empire. American exceptionalism is a different kind of arrogance from the class-derived hubris of the British. Our immigrant problem is quite different from that of Britain’s. (The fact that England is a small island and America covers a third of a continent has much to do with these differences.)

    So while I think you have a case to make against American imperialism, beginning that case with reference to Powell just strikes me as odd.

    Like

  6. Dan

    I just said I would prefer him to Bolton.

    This is from 2013:

    ““I am a neoconservative,” Gingrich told the Washington Times… “But at some point, even if you are a neoconservative, you need to take a deep breath to ask if our strategies in the Middle East have succeeded.””

    On Trump, yes, I may have set too much store by what he said – but that’s pretty much all we had to go on. And whether or not he uses the terms, there’s no doubt that the views which he has spontaneously expressed over quite a long period of time fit (more or less) the standard definition of realism and were clearly not neoconservative. The neocons buy into a myth about America’s global role, its imperial destiny. Trump never showed any signs of being interested in this way of seeing things. The neoconservative establishment may get to him however. He may even be convinced by their arguments. But if he does appoint neoconservatives to key positions I think it will be a pragmatic political decision on his part. I certainly hope it doesn’t happen.

    One neocon at least got rebuffed (Eliot Cohen). Tensions are clearly running high.

    From Bloomberg…

    “As the transition considers its selections, Republicans who had been vocal critics of Trump during the campaign are now weighing whether to accept an administration job. One of those critics, Eliot Cohen, a former State Department official under Bush, indicated he hadn’t changed his mind, tweeting Tuesday, “After exchange w Trump transition team, changed my recommendation: stay away. They’re angry, arrogant, screaming ‘you LOST!’ Will be ugly.””

    And don’t imagine that I think that Trump is great or something, or that he has clear or coherent foreign policy ideas. I would say that he has the *instincts* of a realist.

    Like

  7. Brian Balke

    “Remember – this is a real estate mogul. You close the deal, and then you renegotiate. That is starting right now with his assault on ethical conventions regarding conflict of interest and nepotism.”

    I think the Clintons are well ahead of Mr Trump in the conflict of interest stakes.

    “The man has no sense of value except as it regards personal power – in the form of wealth or adulatory cheers.”

    You know him personally?

    “As for Trump being a “master communicator”: the proper characterization is “incendiary braggart.”

    I’ll ask the editors to make the correction.

    “The press … should have stuck to policy issues, rather than an analysis of Trump’s character. And if they had, Mr. English might have something contemporary to draw upon in analyzing Clinton’s foreign policy objectives.”

    You’re not cutting me a lot of slack, are you? But thanks for coming in and brightening up the thread. 🙂

    Like

  8. ejwinner

    “I don’t think Powell is a good comparison to make here.”

    I’m not making any grand claims. And given the much-discussed links between the Brexit vote and this election; and given that Nigel Farage (who made his name as leader of Ukip, one of the more significant anti-EU parties in Europe) was inspired by Powell; and given that Farage played an active role in Trump’s campaign – I would think that Powell might warrant a few paragraphs in the present context.

    Also it’s interesting to look at the responses of other European political figures to Trump’s victory. (Negative from those committed to the EU and the failing euro, positive from the new or newly resurgent populist parties). Every country is different but there are lots of parallels in other Western countries to what has been happening in America.

    “Powell’s anti-imperialist stance seems inextricably bound up with his ethnocentrism/ethnophobia (note, I did not say racism).”

    I don’t have a clear picture of the nature of Powell’s supposed ‘racialism’. No doubt he had certain prejudices which were characteristic of his time. But I don’t think he made crude judgments on individuals based on their ethnic background or crude judgments about one race being intrinsically superior to another.

    “England ended WWII as a a reasonably homogeneous culture with a collapsing empire supporting it.”

    “Supporting it”? I don’t think so. Not in the mid-20th century, anyway. There was trade, of course. England – like the rest of Europe – was in dire straits economically at that time.

    “As the empire transitioned to the Commonwealth, thinkers like Powell grew alarmed at the access this gave to immigration by formerly colonized peoples.”

    This access was regulated by particular laws. I think he saw what was happening in his constituency of Wolverhampton and made certain extrapolations and predictions that proved to be fairly accurate. It’s not a simple story. There was the Old Commonwealth and the New Commonwealth and believe it or not there was a lot of good feeling and good things happening in the post-War period. My dad was involved in some of those things (Duke of Edinburgh Awards (a sort of outdoor education thing), the British Empire and Commonwealth Games, various education programs associated with Africa and Ceylon (Sri Lanka)). In more recent years some of my own students were supported by various Commonwealth education schemes. Good things were done. Bad things too, mostly military, and mostly in the immediate post-War period. Powell originally supported but then opposed military interventions.

    I see Powell’s views on Empire and his views on the European Community as being related to his old-style Tory nationalism (not exactly my cup of tea, but it is a nuanced position). He was perhaps a flawed man and he belonged to a bygone era. But he had intelligence and integrity and he was widely loved and admired. (He even supported the Labour Party at one point, to his political cost.)

    “America, however, has never been culturally or ethnically homogeneous, no matter how white or Christian supremacists insist it was.”

    Granted.

    “American exceptionalism is a different kind of arrogance from the class-derived hubris of the British.”

    “Class-derived hubris”? It was often the British middle and especially lower-middle class who were the worst racists. But I agree with you the American sense of superiority had a different quality. In more recent years, however, under the aegis of a supposed ‘special relationship’, British and US views have converged. British neocons seem to be *very* like their US counterparts.

    “Our immigrant problem is quite different from that of Britain’s.”

    Of course. But, as I said, I think there are interesting parallels.

    Like

  9. Hi Brian,

    “Of course, that simplifies certain foreign policy considerations. If you want to avoid war, just let him build a resort in your capitol.”

    This is one thing that I sort of agree with, and thought that reduced issues like his engaging in nuclear war due to some rage. The guy is motivated by greed (money, power, women, etc). Apocalyptic and/or non-profitable wars seem incongruous to that. Whether this means other nations get the better of the US due to private “negotiations” with Trump is a possibility, but nothing new.

    “As for Trump being a “master communicator”: the proper characterization is “incendiary braggart.””

    I also agree with him being an incendiary braggart, but this is a bit unfair to Mark’s point. He is referring to Adams’s discussion of Trump’s ability to manipulate people using communication/persuasion techniques. Here is a clip where Adams goes into detail about some of Trump’s techniques (and so why he predicted Trump would win, very early on):

    Note Adams calls him a “master wizard” but clearly he is discussing Trump’s skill in control through communication.

    “… in analyzing Clinton’s foreign policy objectives”

    Did you mean Trump? In previous pieces Mark has described Clinton’s policy using recent analyses and points to one in his essay.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Hi Mark,

    “…a common market but there was this political agenda implicit in it from the beginning. In fact I think the Americans were from the very start actively involved in this attempt to create a United States of Europe.”

    I agree with this. And it was sad for me to watch a nation I liked become culturally and legally “homogenized” in an attempt to “fit in” with its neighbors, by which I mean the ideal held of what its neighbors should become too… which was the US.

    Like

  11. Hi Mark, in the continuing saga of Trump trying to get his administration together, it appears lt. gen. Mike Flynn is in as national security advisor, and a new name being floated for sec of state is Nikki Haley (an Indian woman who actually criticized Trump up through the election).

    I would certainly prefer Haley to Gingrich and Bolton. At least she does not seem ideological and she has been critical of angry voices in gov’t. Oddly, she was seen going to meet Trump along with… ugh… Kissinger.

    That ties into the next strange item, with Obama counselling him not to use “realpolitik” with respect to Russia. Not sure if that extends to the more broad political realism, but leaves open the possibility Obama is recommending (or at least not dismissing) neo-con approaches.

    In the good news category Trump met with a foreign leader people were thinking he’d have to have problems with (given his aggressive rhetoric toward that nation) but it seems he and the Japanese government may get along quite well.

    Like

  12. dbholmes

    Yes, on the foreign affairs front the early signs are vaguely reassuring.

    “”Shinzo Abe said Donald Trump was a trustworthy leader in comments after his first meeting with the U.S. President-elect, whose statements on trade and security have sparked concern in Japan.

    “Abe told reporters in New York on Thursday night that he had frank discussions in a “warm atmosphere” at Trump Tower. He said he explained his views on a range of issues, but declined to comment on the substance of the talks in a meeting that lasted more than an hour…

    ““He made time for me, even though he is busy with personnel matters,” Abe said after the meeting. “I am convinced that President-elect Trump is a leader we can trust.” The pair agreed to meet again for broader and deeper talks when their schedules allow, he said…

    “Trump’s daughter Ivanka — touted by some Japanese tabloids as a potential ambassador to Tokyo — was at her father’s residence to greet Abe. Also present was retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, a key military surrogate throughout his campaign, whom Trump is said to have offered the job of national security adviser…

    “Abe had sought to turn on the charm ahead of the appointment, referring to Trump’s “extraordinary talents” in a congratulatory message, and telling reporters as he left Tokyo that it was a “tremendous honor” to be holding talks with Trump ahead of other world leaders.””(Bloomberg)

    And, as Nirpal Dhaliwal argued in a recent Telegraph piece, Trump promises an *actual* pivot to Asia. He has a genuine love of – and affinity for – India (as did Enoch Powell apparently) and his “charm-offensive towards China is already underway, as footage from February has gone viral of his adorable five-year-old grand-daughter, Arabella Kushner, reciting poetry in Mandarin to welcome Chinese New Year. Ivanka Trump’s choice of a Chinese nanny for Arabella may have done more for Sino-American relations that any diplomatic summit could.”

    On Flynn. He has said some tough things about Russia in the past. This may be no bad thing, so long as he is open to working constructively with them (as more recent statements suggest that he is).

    Like