I would love to undertake a behavioural experiment in which a cohort of the public were asked to watch Donald Trump reading out the Gettysburg Address and asked to make comments. I can guess what would happen. There would be an overwhelming negative response. Those who listened would use words like ‘outrageous’, ‘disgraceful’. They would accuse him of ‘slurs’, describe him as ‘demented, as well as throwing in the charge of ‘racist’ for good measure.
How can I be so sure? Because of the British reaction to Trump’s speech to the National Rifle Association last week in which he described a London hospital being like in a ‘war zone’, so high are the number of stabbing victims being treated there. There was immediate outrage. The Guardian suggested he might have got the idea out of the Daily Mail. Labour MP Sarah Jones, who chairs the all-party Parliamentary group on knife crime called Trump a disgrace. Conservative MP for Sutton and Cheam Paul Scully accused the US President of ‘scaremongering’. Professor Karim Brohi, trauma surgeon at The Royal London Hospital and Director of London’s major trauma system, rushed out a statement – which was widely reported as describing Trump’s comparison as ‘ridiculous’.
Yet Donald Trump’s remarks had been lifted not from the Daily Mail but from an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme in April in which one of Brohi’s colleagues at the Royal London Hospital, Martin Griffiths, had indeed likened his hospital to one in a war zone. Colleagues who had worked in Camp Bastion in Afghanistan, he said, had made the comparison – on the basis that they found themselves treating children with knife wounds on a daily basis.
Funny enough, I don’t recall Griffiths being bombarded with accusations of sensationalising the problem of knife crime. On the contrary, his words were quoted with approval by many, not least by people accusing the government of allowing an explosion in knife crime thanks to police cuts.
Professor Brohi, of course, knows full well what his colleague said on the Today Programme, which is why he was careful not to attack Trump’s ‘war zone’ comments, specifically, as ridiculous. What his statement actually said was that ‘to suggest guns are part of the solution is ridiculous.’ On that I agree. US gun laws would not make us safer, as the vast disparity between US and British homicide attests. On the contrary, what would be bound to happen is that London youths would exchange their knives for guns with even more carnage.
But those who accuse Trump of sensationalising the problem of London knife crime, when they were quite happy for a NHS trauma surgeon to make the same point, using the same language, demonstrate the prejudice with which much of the world listens to Donald Trump. He has become, in popular opinion, little more than an ogre – a standard against which good liberal folk must define themselves. Whatever he says and however he says it will be attacked, put beyond the pale by people who have not even listened properly. No wonder he enjoys stirring us up so much.