The American Ambassador to Germany has been making news. His appointment as America’s representative in Berlin came at exactly the moment that President Trump withdrew the US from the P5+1 nuclear deal. So in his first hours in the job Richard Grenell sent out a tweet advising German companies to wind down their business with Iran. Some observers felt this was a breach of protocol, preferring that an Ambassador either say nothing of import or pretend that it will remain possible to trade with Iran and America (when in reality in the coming months countries like Germany are going to have to make a choice on that one).
Then last weekend Grenell gave an interview to the website Breitbart. He said, among other things:
‘There are a lot of conservatives throughout Europe who have contacted me to say they are feeling there is a resurgence going on.
‘I absolutely want to empower other conservatives throughout Europe, other leaders. I think there is a groundswell of conservative policies that are taking hold because of the failed policies of the left.
‘There’s no question about that and it’s an exciting time for me. I look across the landscape and we’ve got a lot of work to do but I think the election of Donald Trump has empowered individuals and people to say that they can’t just allow the political class to determine before an election takes place, who’s going to win and who should run.’
He said ‘conservatives’ in that sentence. But that didn’t stop various media outlets deliberately representing his remarks in a different light. The Guardian, for instance, editorialised that, Grenell had ‘said he wanted to “empower” anti-establishment rightwing forces throughout Europe.’ [https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jun/04/new-us-ambassador-to-germany-under-fire-for-rightwing-support] NPR also decided to turn the sentence into ‘pro-right remarks’. [https://www.npr.org/2018/06/07/617799840/german-lawmakers-call-for-u-s-ambassador-to-be-replaced] Others went further. For instance the UK’s Pink News chose to run the story of Grenell’s interview under the headline:
‘Trump’s only out Ambassador Richard Grenell under fire after vow to “empower” Europe’s far-right.’ [https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2018/06/05/trump-ambassador-richard-grenell-under-fire-after-vow-to-empower-far-right/]
Grenell is indeed gay. Ordinarily that would cause gay publications such as Pink News to celebrate. But it appears that a gay ambassador is expected to think a particular way. Or as the European news website ‘The Local’ put it: ‘The openly gay, but staunchly conservative ambassador…’. That ‘but’ appears to be doing a lot of presuming there.
Anyway, the media were not the only ones happy to imply that Grenell had gone full fascist. Martin Schulz, the former president of the European Parliament, was among the politicians to denounce the ambassador. In fact Schulz went so far as to pronounce that [https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/06/opinion/trump-richard-grenell-ambassador-germany.html] Grennel was behaving ‘not like a diplomat, but like a far-right colonial officer.’
From all of which one might have the impression that Grenell had backed Hungary’s Jobbik or Greece’s Golden Dawn. In fact the political leader in Europe that Grenell expressed himself a ‘fan’ of was Sebastian Kurz, the young Chancellor of Austria, and a man of the political conservative mainstream. Yet such is the level of ignorance and presumption about politics across the continent that various publications seized on this as yet more evidence of Grenell’s extremism. For the Austrian Chancellor is in a coalition with that country’s ‘Freedom Party’ which is frequently described as ‘far-right’. And therefore to meet with Kurz is to meet with someone who meets with the wrong people. Meaning that any meeting with him is itself suspect.
Perhaps after the Guardian, Pink News, NPR etc have worked out the difference between a conservative and a fascist they could also perform another public service. Which would be to identify which politicians across Europe an ambassador is allowed to meet with these days?