Why I wish the US had a leader like UK Prime Minister Theresa May

Photo: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The leader of the UK, Theresa May, is a fearsome figure. She has a number of hateful opinions. But she also appears to be capable of logical reasoning, which makes it possible to understand her positions and argue with her. That’s not possible with the incoherent and contradictory positions that our own leader has here in the U.S.

Theresa May has called an election to strengthen or repudiate her role leading the UK out of the EU and her terrorism policies, among other positions. On Thursday, we’ll learn if the UK supports or opposes her leadership. If we had that in America, Donald Trump would be gone by now.

Theresa May makes a logical set of points

Let’s take a look at May’s statement in the wake of this weekend’s terror attacks in London. Here it is with commentary:

Last night, our country fell victim to a brutal terrorist attack once again. As a result I have just chaired a meeting of the Government’s emergency committee and I want to update you with the latest information about the attack.

Shortly before ten past ten yesterday evening, the Metropolitan Police received reports that a white van had struck pedestrians on London Bridge. It continued to drive from London Bridge to Borough Market, where three terrorists left the van and attacked innocent and unarmed civilians with blades and knives. All three were wearing what appeared to be explosive vests, but the police have established that this clothing was fake and worn only to spread panic and fear.

Commentary: Start with facts.

As so often in such serious situations, the police responded with great courage and great speed. Armed officers from the Metropolitan Police and the City of London Police arrived at Borough Market within moments, and shot and killed the three suspects. The terrorists were confronted and shot by armed officers within eight minutes of the police receiving the first emergency call.

Seven people have died as a result of the attack, in addition to the three suspects shot dead by the police. 48 people are being treated in several hospitals across London. Many have life threatening conditions.

On behalf of the people of London, and on behalf of the whole country, I want to thank and pay tribute to the professionalism and bravery of the police and the emergency services – and the courage of members of the public who defended themselves and others from the attackers. And our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and with their friends, families and loved ones.

Commentary: Praise people who put themselves at risk to protect the public.

This is, as we all know, the third terrorist attack Britain has experienced in the last three months. In March, a similar attack took place, just around the corner on Westminster Bridge. Two weeks ago, the Manchester Arena was attacked by a suicide bomber. And now London has been struck once more.

And at the same time, the security and intelligence agencies have disrupted five credible plots since the Westminster attack in March.

In terms of their planning and execution, the recent attacks are not connected. But we believe we are experiencing a new trend in the threat we face, as terrorism breeds terrorism, and perpetrators are inspired to attack not only on the basis of carefully-constructed plots after years of planning and training – and not even as lone attackers radicalised online – but by copying one another and often using the crudest of means of attack.

Commentary: Can you imagine America’s president admitting that “in terms of their planning and execution, the recent attacks are not connected”? May draws the connection of ideology without creating a paranoid fantasy of a carefully planned series of plots. In my opinion, this is an accurate statement of the problem.

We cannot and must not pretend that things can continue as they are. Things need to change, and they need to change in four important ways.

Commentary: A clear explanation needs signposts and is logically connected. After this, you know what you’re going to get next: a prescription for change.

First, while the recent attacks are not connected by common networks, they are connected in one important sense. They are bound together by the single, evil ideology of Islamist extremism that preaches hatred, sows division, and promotes sectarianism. It is an ideology that claims our Western values of freedom, democracy and human rights are incompatible with the religion of Islam. It is an ideology that is a perversion of Islam and a perversion of the truth.

Defeating this ideology is one of the great challenges of our time. But it cannot be defeated through military intervention alone. It will not be defeated through the maintenance of a permanent, defensive counter-terrorism operation, however skilful its leaders and practitioners. It will only be defeated when we turn people’s minds away from this violence – and make them understand that our values – pluralistic, British values – are superior to anything offered by the preachers and supporters of hate.

Commentary: Muslims make up 4.4% of UK residents, but only 1% of US citizens. May cannot demonize Muslims, but she can cite an ideology of hate. This is a clearer statement of the problem, but the reason that “it cannot be defeated through military intervention alone” is stated in the (very British) passive voice is that May does not know how to defeat it. Making Islamist extremists understand pluralistic British values seem unrealistic.

Second, we cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed. Yet that is precisely what the internet – and the big companies that provide internet-based services – provide. We need to work with allied, democratic governments to reach international agreements that regulate cyberspace to prevent the spread of extremism and terrorist planning. And we need to do everything we can at home to reduce the risks of extremism online.

Commentary: Another clear statement. But the internet is not the problem. Regulating the internet will simply drive these extremists into secret and encrypted spaces.

Third, while we need to deprive the extremists of their safe spaces online, we must not forget about the safe spaces that continue to exist in the real world. Yes, that means taking military action to destroy ISIS in Iraq and Syria. But it also means taking action here at home. While we have made significant progress in recent years, there is – to be frank – far too much tolerance of extremism in our country. So we need to become far more robust in identifying it and stamping it out – across the public sector and across society. That will require some difficult and often embarrassing conversations, but the whole of our country needs to come together to take on this extremism – and we need to live our lives not in a series of separated, segregated communities but as one truly United Kingdom.

Commentary: This is some sort of dog-whistle about disrupting Islamic parts of London and other cities.

Fourth, we have a robust counter-terrorism strategy that has proved successful over many years. But as the nature of the threat we face becomes more complex, more fragmented, more hidden, especially online, the strategy needs to keep up. So in light of what we are learning about the changing threat, we need to review Britain’s counter-terrorism strategy to make sure the police and security services have all the powers they need. And if we need to increase the length of custodial sentences for terrorism-related offences, even apparently less serious offences, that is what we will do.

Commentary: Vague and threatening. What are these “terrorism-related offenses” that are less serious?

Since the emergence of the threat from Islamist-inspired terrorism, our country has made significant progress in disrupting plots and protecting the public. But it is time to say enough is enough. Everybody needs to go about their lives as they normally would. Our society should continue to function in accordance with our values. But when it comes to taking on extremism and terrorism, things need to change.

Commentary: Time to crank out the cliches: “Enough is enough” and “Our society should continue to function in accordance with our values.” Meaningless.

As a mark of respect the two political parties have suspended our national campaigns for today. But violence can never be allowed to disrupt the democratic process. So those campaigns will resume in full tomorrow. And the general election will go ahead as planned on Thursday.

As a country, our response must be as it has always been when we have been confronted by violence. We must come together, we must pull together, and united we will take on and defeat our enemies.

Commentary: Go UK.

I’m jealous

Here’s why this statement makes me long for the British system.

  • Even the conservative makes it a point to embrace pluralism and diversity.
  • There is no blaming.
  • There is no mention of opposition parties, except to note that they all have suspended campaigning.
  • The language is logical and clear without an overabundance of weasel words.
  • There is a clear plan, which you can then evaluate and defend or oppose.
  • If you don’t like what you hear you can vote the leader out.

This makes me hopeful that the British can actually make progress on solving this problem, regardless of whether May or someone else wins the election. Regulating the internet is a terrifying prospect, but at least it’s out in the open where we can discuss it.

A terrorist attack like this is coming in America. It’s inevitable. Our debate about it will not be nearly this clear, and out leader will be acting on emotion rather than planning carefully. Trump’s tweets in the wake of the UK attack make that clear.

In fact, Trump’s incoherent and emotional response to all things Muslim inflames cultural conflict. Terrorists get what they want: to sow fear and generate a narrative of a clash of ideologies. There is no talk of pluralism here.

So I’m praying for leadership that we can actually argue with.

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  1. As you pray for leadership that we can actually argue with, I encourage you to recall that one of the several reasons we have the “leader” we currently have is that his supporters thought that they couldn’t argue with our most recent leader. Illogical and weak though that reason might be, in my opinion, many hold that “liberal naziism” behaviors kept them unable to express their opinions – perhaps the irony of them feeling that “the man was keeping them down” is a belly-laugher, but it is how they felt/feel.

  2. Hi, Josh, I recently subscribed and, even, bought your book. I think you are a wise and insightful person. But I am not interested in your personal views about the President of the United States — which, it seems, you are imposing on your readers at an increasingly brisk pace. Can you leave out what is extraneous to your subject at hand without doing an injustice to your blog? If not, I have neither the time nor the interest to wade through writing that borders on the polemic. If you want an audience that thinks just like you do, fine, just say so and I’m outta here, but if you want a broader group whose politics differ from yours, you may have to try a bit harder to stay away from the easy and glib ad hominem. Let us know.

  3. Thank you for following your Iron Imperative. I can usually tell from your subject line if your blog-for-the- day is going to be another political rant, and I politely delete it and don’t waste another ten seconds of my valuable time. Thank you for sharing your knowledge of writing which is helpful in the development of my ability to express my thoughts clearly without embellishing my message with bullshit. I’ve read your new book which is a well-organized and informative handbook and worth more than the price I paid. My plan is to read a couple of pages of the book on the days I refuse to waste my time on political opinions.
    Maybe, your blog would be a more concise, factual, and meaningful document without all the politically snide bullshit.
    Cliché: “I am praying for….”

    Stan Key

  4. Shlomo and Stanley if you are aspiring to be good writers you are going to have to understand different perspectives from your own and you only can do that by reading and listening. Your comments are unbelievably silly. This post is about argument and reason. It is not about politics. Democracies have discourse and although we have unavoidable personal biases we need to listen to both sides (noting that Theresa May is a Conservative, which is equivalent to a Republican).

  5. Tim, your failure to understand my reply and, maybe, Stanley’s, is due to your noticeable lack of information. I read and listen daily to perspectives that differ from mine. But that doesn’t mean that when I’m at my grocery check-out , I have to tolerate the cashier’s whining over climate change. If she wishes to rant and rave, then no matter how much she connects her arguments to the produce I purchase, I will buy my tomatoes elsewhere. Your advice about my aspirations, however well-meaning, is, therefore, misplaced. Your two-word characterization of my ‘comments’ deserves no response. I hope that Josh practices what he preaches and treats my time as more valuable than his.

  6. Hey Josh, hope you’re well. Looks like when you choose political figures as your subject matter, the blog becomes a little bit of a lightning rod. An accurate reflection of the state of things I suppose. What triggered me to respond to this one was that I noticed you letting your own bias slip in on occasion. When you use phrases like “Even the conservative…”, you’re playing into the stereotypes that catalyze emotional responses. In that one statement, you seemingly imply that all conservatives are xenophobic, or at the very least, are against any diversity – perhaps even racist? Since I know you personally, I know that’s not what you intended, but I suspect slips like this are going to erode your real message and cause people to miss the point. Keep up the great work!