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. 
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.  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.  (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.