The news that the British Parliament will debate whether Donald Trump should be banned from the United Kingdom brings back memories of a similar British banishment of American talk-radio star Michael Savage.
In 2009 Savage was placed on a list of individuals banned from the U.K. for his having said that the Quran was a book of hate, among other comments. Since then he has been barred from entering the U.K. for allegedly "seeking to provoke others to serious criminal acts and fostering hatred."
As a graduate of England's Cambridge University, I was shocked at the time to learn that Savage had been lumped in with some truly dangerous characters who indeed posed a potential threat to Britain. What so bothered me then was that a nation built on concepts of free thought and intellectual debate would so dismissively punish someone from another nation who was simply expressing his own views. That Savage apparently remains banned even today is a travesty and an indirect attack on our own nation's already imperiled freedom of speech.
Although Savage is one of the nation's most listened-to talk-show hosts, he himself would certainly point out that he is not seeking the position as the world's most powerful person. Trump is. And Parliament, to great fanfare, will apparently debate putting Trump on the same list of banned international visitors that Savage is on. The reason? Trump's call for a temporary travel ban on Muslims entering the U.S.
Should it prove successful, this banishment effort could have unhappy consequences, and for more than just Trump. Moreover, I am guessing that the movement to ban Trump is designed to do its damage even if never acted upon. The idea that the British government might seriously consider a ban on Trump's entry into the U.K. because of his concerns about domestic terrorism in the U.S. would be a major weapon in the hands of Trump's presidential opponents. Arguing that Trump as president would be barred from visiting what is arguably this nation's closest and most important ally could become a central theme of his GOP rivals now and perhaps Hillary Clinton in the general election.
This would be most ironic, given that the Obama administration in the president's first days in office began to conspicuously discount the importance of the U.S.-Britain relationship. For example, former Prime Minister Tony Blair loaned former President George W. Bush a bust of Winston Churchill in 2001, which was on display in the White House for the duration of Bush's two terms. Great Britain offered to extend the loan after Bush left office, but the Obama administration rejected Britain's offer and returned the bust.
But the irony -- and the potential diplomatic damage -- might not end there.
Should Trump face Hillary Clinton in a November contest, his banishment from Britain would be used to illustrate his "inability" to conduct foreign policy. In short, this could have a peculiar chill on free speech in Britain that could, in turn, influence a U.S. election in the direction of President Obama's preferred candidate.
Many observers of the Obama administration believe that the president has purposely imperiled the long-touted "special relationship" between Britain and the U.S. Whether that is true, and for what reasons, it is almost certainly true the U.S.-Britain alliance is shakier than it has been in a long time, perhaps since before World War II.
Beyond that, most observers of this nation-to-nation relationship doubtless believe that a Democratic (i.e., Hillary Clinton) presidential administration would be more likely to continue the current U.S. policy of cold-shouldering Britain, while a Republican administration might be more inclined to thaw this big chill and get things back to where they have been.
So this dubious discussion of banning from Britain the law-abiding American citizen Donald Trump is negatively compounded by the fact that by such an action Britain might do its own country harm in the international arena. To put it another way, a banning of Trump would be both unfair and unwise. Too much is at stake to allow overly delicate political sensibilities in Britain to obstruct free speech in the United States.
These revelations -- that a government as important as Britain's would first ban an innocuous American talk-show host and now is playing presidential politics in a parliamentary fashion -- serve only to demean that nation's leaders and its great heritage. There are much more important actions that need to be taken to ensure the safety and security of Britain and indeed the free world.