If Donald Trump worked at my university in the UK, he would likely be fired for retweeting the Islamophobic posts of a far-right British group.
If Donald Trump was at a teacher at the school that my children attended – alongside Muslims, Christian, Sikhs, Hindus, and Jews – he might be dismissed.
If Donald Trump continued this behaviour, he would likely be under scrutiny by British authorities for possible incitement to hatred and violence – just as Britain First’s Jayda Fransen, whose tweets he circulated – has been convicted of religiously-aggravated harassment.
As Donald Trump is not in the UK but is US President, at least for the near-future, he will not face such consequences. He will not apologize. And he will not restrain himself, as he made clear to UK Prime Minister Theresa May.
When May said through a spokesperson: “British people overwhelmingly reject the prejudiced rhetoric of the far right which is the antithesis of the values this country represents, decency, tolerance and respect” Trump doubled down on his anti-Muslim provocation: “@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.”
What can Britain actually do in the face of this? At one level, the official response will be to maintain good, working relations with US officials and those around Trump, while hoping he can be shoved into a social media corner.
UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd appealed to MPs on Thursday to see the “bigger picture” of “the importance of the relationship between our countries, the unparalleled sharing of intelligence between our countries”.
But we are now beyond invocations of a “special relationship” to sweep away the damage.
With his retweeting of Britain First, Donald Trump offered a platform of millions of supporters to a fringe, extremist group that can muster only a few dozen supporters for its marches. He made himself an accomplice to their efforts at division and hatred. Brendan Cox, whose wife Jo Cox MP was murdered in June 2016 by a man shouting “Britain First”, summarized:
“Trump has legitimised the far right in his own country, now he’s trying to do it in ours. Spreading hatred has consequences & the President should be ashamed of himself.”
And this is not just a matter for the UK. Let us be clear: Donald Trump has sent a message to his followers that he supports Islamophobia, that he is in accord with the prejudices, accusations, and false information that have are no longer in far-right darkness but seeking the spotlight of recognition.
He has gone beyond his false balance of “many sides” over white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia in August: he has continued to side with one group, whatever violence it may promote.
He is trying to set Americans against Americans, including more than three million who profess the Islamic faith.
To this challenge, I believe that we must respond not in kind with anger and hostility – that will only further the division sought by Britain First and by Trump. Instead, we must seek the very values which have been pointedly rejected in the President’s tweets: dialogue, respect, and tolerance. With those, we can turn the damage of one unsettled man – a man who would be unfit for public service in our schools, our hospitals and our offices – into a way forward for all the rest of us.
For one day he will no longer be tweeting as President of the United States.