Hopes for peaceful transition of power

Wetherby MP writes from Washington about the Presidential inauguration and the reaction to the 45th President Donald Trump.

Wednesday, 25th January 2017, 12:17 pm
Updated Wednesday, 25th January 2017, 12:22 pm

Over the inauguration weekend I was in Washington DC for meetings of the Nato Defence & Security Committee, on which I sit as a UK representative.

During seminars with US Congressman it was evident that support or criticism of President Trump split more-or-less down partisan lines, but what was perhaps more interesting to observe was the collective sense of quiet trepidation that descended on inauguration day itself.

Despite the new president’s team trying their best to spin otherwise, it was evident that public turnout was nowhere near the level authorities had prepared for. Crowd control facilities erected in the days before were massively underwhelmed.

Despite a polarising election campaign and massing anti-Trump protests across the States, on the eve of inauguration day Washington was awash with a sense of national pride. Evidently the presidential inauguration ceremony itself is a pillar of democracy that the American people remain proud of, even though they don’t all like their new President. Hotels, shops and street kiosks were cashing in on bumper sales from memorabilia and the atmosphere among crowds was more akin to a major Royal event in London.

My overwhelming observation of the short time I spent in Washington ahead of the Nato committee meeting is that the United States should be admired for its smooth transition of power.

Rarely has the policies of an incoming president been so far apart from the incumbent Commander-in-Chief, and yet the act of inauguration stands above all animosity and political rivalry, including that between former candidates, as a well-rehearsed and centuries old process is observed.

The importance of the peaceful transition of power, as established by the founding fathers, is perhaps why there appeared to be far more animosity after the swearing-in ceremony than before. In the hours after the inauguration the number of protests, angry banners and political chants suddenly surpassed the number of merchandise sellers.

It was as if even those deeply opposed to President Trump stepped back during the swearing-in ceremony and allowed the beacon of American democracy to take place peacefully. Once successfully carried out the act of protest began.

There is no getting away from the fact that President Trump has political enemies, indeed his inauguration speech to the nation did little to heal divisions within the country, or to settle apprehensions abroad.

I remain no fan of the new president and I have little time for his style of politics. One of my greatest concerns is that his rhetoric is never backed up with any comprehensive planning. This was highlighted as a case-in-point during the election campaign when Donald Trump put several question marks over US support for the Nato military alliance.

Military leaders from across the North Atlantic work closely with Nato chiefs and those of us on the Nato parliamentary assembly to assess geo-political situations.

The conclusion remains that increases in military hardware must be focussed on enhancing support and resources in the current arenas of conflict.

The United States must remain a key partner in those plans, it remains in the US national interest to do so and in the interests of global security too.

Scheduling the Defence & Security Committee to coincide with the inauguration meant that those of us representing member states could make early representations to Republican Congressman asking them to lobby the new president to take a considered approach to President Putin.

We must now hope that President Trump can work to thaw relationships between Russia and the West, but in doing so neither should we overlook the actions of Russia in Crimea, East Ukraine and Syria.

Whether we like it or not, Donald Trump is President of the United States of America and we must now work with his administration as a Nato ally.

World leaders will need to use diplomatic channels to make it clear that issues of global security cannot be solved in 140 characters on Twitter.