John Dickson: UK ambassador had Trump pegged


PITTSFIELD — Donald Trump does it again. And again. Just when you think he has reached a new low in dragging the presidency and, along with it, the country down, he surpasses it yet again. So many times, in fact, that we are left wondering if there will ever come a moment when he has just gone too far.

It's just plain hard to keep up. I started out writing a piece about the resignation of Kim Darroch, the British ambassador to the U.S., for his comments in leaked cables back to his capital. Having drafted and cleared and read this kind of analysis prepared by U.S. Embassies around the world, I was struck by how normal the ambassador's remarks sounded. First, they dealt with topics that he should have been writing about, ones in which the UK had direct interests at stake: Iran, climate change, NATO, Syria, a possible post-Brexit trade deal. Second, in describing the manner in which decision-making occurs in the current White House, the ambassador was repeating what a flood of reporters, authors, former staff have all already said: "dysfunctional," "unpredictable," "faction rived" and "diplomatically clumsy and inept."


In service in foreign capitals, my colleagues and I enjoyed exceptional access to leaders across government, if only because we represented the United States, People answered our phone calls, met us on request, and offered insights into both the substance and manner of decision-making on issues of importance to the U.S. A Canadian government official once told me that he wished that for just one day he could exercise the same influence that his American counterparts wielded overseas. I wondered how any foreign embassy official could do the same in Washington, to try to make sense of the shifting centers of power in Washington, between Congress, the president, the cabinet departments, the lobby groups, the media on any given issue. The normal state of affairs in our capital seems, on a good day, fluid and mysterious. The current president, as the former British ambassador remarked, has moved a complicated environment to a chaotic one.

One of the more remarkable aspects of the whole affair was the fact that this was Britain, arguably our closest ally in the world, at one time anyway. And, how did our leader express his disappointment? Through an insult-ridden, bullying tweet, as if to prove the Ambassador's point: clumsy, inept. It was not the first time Trump has managed to offend any of a handful of our closest allies — Canada, Australia, France, Germany, the UK.

As much as I wanted to continue writing about the British Ambassador's departure, I had to put that aside because of what happened at church this past Sunday. The gospel reading for this day was the parable of the Good Samaritan, one of the more widely known stories Jesus tells. A traveler from Samaria helps a badly beaten, unclothed man on the side of a road after two others, including a priest, had crossed to the other side of the road to avoid helping the half-dead man.

I was not the only person in the pews at St. Charles who made the connection of that parable to the mass deportations that Trump ordered to begin on the same day. Our priest boldly referred to it in his homily. Most striking was the fact that the gospel reading for July 14 was actually selected years ago, as it falls in "Year C" of the rotating lectionary. So, while many around the country were re-learning the lesson of the Good Samaritan (and while our president was most likely gearing up for his latest round of golf at taxpayer expense), ICE agents fanned out around the country to un-learn that very lesson.

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It probably wouldn't have mattered if the deportations took place on Sunday. You could almost pick any Sunday in the past 2 1/2 years and find the contradictions in the White House to the lesson of the parable.

Still, before I could write about the connection between the Good Samaritan and the deportations, the president outdid even that. He called for four congresswomen to go back to the "totally broken and crime infested places from which they came." This was not the loud-mouth on a stool at the far end of the bar, but the president of the United States. Not only was Trump wrong, but he was so impetuous that he couldn't even wait to make sure he got the facts straight: three of the four congresswomen he insulted were born in the U.S.


This latest outrage spawned a review of all the incidents over the past few years when Donald Trump stepped over the line of decency and, despite his denials, into racism. The "fine people" at Charlottesville, the Mexican "rapists" invading our country, the "s---hole countries," the travel ban, the refusal to admit that President Obama was born in the U.S. And that's just the racism list; there are other lists as well — misogyny, corruption, incompetence, lying. Any single one of these would have cost a politician or journalist his or her job. Ask Billy Bush, or Michael Cohen or Ryan Zinke or Paul Manafort.

Because there are so many transgressions, and because it is so hard to keep up with the outrage he spawns, he seems to get away with all of them. The rest of us are playing catch-up on last week's outrage that the rest of the world seems to have already forgotten.

Try to imagine the cable from the British embassy this week. They could probably just pull out quotes from Kim Darroch's old missives and save themselves a little time.

John Dickson is a retired U.S. diplomat and member of the Peace Corps Community for Refugees.


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