It is 12:43 in London, and we’ve just been attacked. Stabbed in the back might be more accurate, as we see the death of our special relationship, and with it the end of traditional diplomacy.
Another day, another Twitter bomb from the President of the United States. Donald Trump has told UK Prime Minister Theresa May, “don’t focus on me, focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom. We are doing just fine!” While the UK is not the first country to be hit by such an attack, it does mark an interesting venture for the President into attacking those he is closely allied with. It perhaps even marks the end of that ‘special relationship’ that has existed (at least in our own minds) since Churchill coined the phrase many moons ago. But perhaps more importantly it is the final nail in the coffin of traditional international diplomacy.
Trump has become notorious for his Twitter fingers, flying into a rage with everyone from the press, his previous opponent Hillary Clinton, and foreign leaders Kim Jong-un and more. He has transformed the role of Twitter for an American President, making it more important than the press office itself. While immediacy in this day and age should be heralded and supported, this still carries with it an obligation to think things through first. The rise of Twitter diplomacy means that longer press releases are reduced to the length of sound bites, that the point is no longer nuanced but must be clear and forthright. While diplomacy provides responses that constructively try to emphasise your thoughts in a tactful and convincing way, Twiplomacy does not. The structure of Twitter impairs the ability of the diplomat, and if it is the active mouthpiece for leaders of the free world, it marks the Death of the Diplomat.
Beyond Twitter’s own structural problems is Trump’s unwillingness to bog himself down with such tedious traditions. He makes an active effort to go above and beyond Twitter’s format issues, and add some of his own. He has consistently insulted other world leaders, calling North Korean leader Kim Jong-un “short and fat” by inference (FYI Donald, adding “I would never” before something doesn’t nullify it). Another example, closer to our hearts perhaps, is his attack on the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan. Trump called Khan “pathetic” for his response to the terror attack in London earlier this year, after misrepresenting Khan’s words in an attempt to inflame in a time of crisis. It was perhaps inevitable considering that Khan is Muslim, and Trump seems to have a problem with people of this religion (the so-called ‘Muslim ban’ being just one example of this). But now we see the apparently close relationship between May and Trump crumbling, with his actions finally provoking a response from her.
While May has consistently failed to condemn Trump for previous political faux pas (such as his response to right wing violence in Charlottesville that led to a woman’s death, and his ban on refugees), Trump has finally sent the tweet that broke the camel’s back.
Yesterday, Trump retweeted three anti-Muslim propaganda videos from our very own home-grown far-right hate group Britain First’s deputy leader Jayda Fransen. While the videos themselves have been questioned for their authenticity, the inflammatory nature of the videos did not give Trump pause for thought before sharing them. And, finally, May’s office responded by saying “It is wrong for the president to have done this“.
This was not met with calm introspection by Trump. He tweeted his response, not only telling the UK Prime Minister essentially to sod off, but also accusing the country of harbouring Islamic Terrorism. He even addressed it to the wrong Twitter account! Even the superficial ability to tag the right person on Twitter is beyond the President. He directed his vitriol to @theresamay (a woman called Theresa Scrivener who has 6 followers on her private account), instead of the Prime Minister @theresa_may. He subsequently deleted and rewrote his tweet to the right account (the original is pictured above). This carelessness is a reflection of Trump’s approach to diplomacy.
There are so many problems with Trump’s response that signals the death of diplomacy, and the rise of a new blunter form of hashtag diplomacy. Even then, May should not give in and tweet Trump where to stick it. Because isn’t the self-discipline not to sink to his level the true art of diplomacy?
Image: Courtesy of Joshua Stringfellow, taken before its deletion by Mr. Trump.