Evening Standard comment: America needs a strong alternative to Donald Trump; Shoot for Mars now

EVENING STANDARD COMMENT

The greatest horror is that he actually wants us to be horrified. The crowd which chanted “Send her back! Send her back!” at a rally in North Carolina last night as President Trump goaded it on was vile, frightening and stupid.

We could pour out words of condemnation at this new debasement of an already debased political culture, as many Americans, including Republicans, and people around the world will, but really that is just what the President wants.

It is obvious that, to the extent that Mr Trump has a strategy, it is to force division in his country to extremes, stand loudly on one side of it and make the other side look just as extreme.

He’ll do it on race, he’ll do it by calling opponents socialists, he’ll do it using anything that can create fear. He’ll do it on Twitter, he’ll do it on television and he will keep on doing it right the way up to election day next year. And we should never stop being shocked by it or calling it wrong.

Maybe it will even work, although remember that the last time the United States went to the polls, in the midterms in 2018, the Democrats gained 41 seats and their vote share went up by almost nine percentage points.

Just because Mr Trump makes the most noise, we shouldn’t think he is necessarily the most popular President.

The United States remains one of the most solid democracies in the world. Its constitutional balances are still working.

A lot of what happens in the country has nothing to do with Mr Trump. Congress has clout at the federal level.

States such as California are major world economies in their own right, with independent policies on things such as climate change, and the technologies developed there may make more difference to the planet in the next quarter century than anything one loudmouth TV President may do, if he can be persuaded not to start a war with Iran.

Even with Brexit, the Conservative Right and Jeremy Corbyn, social and political divisions in our country are less extreme than in the US. We need to take care not to slide into something like them.

Our constitution is less defined than it is in the US, which has encouraged dangerous talk of bypassing Parliament by suspending it if it will not agree to a no-deal Brexit.

But just as Mr Trump’s opponents in the US need to hold their nerve and make their case, so those many people in Britain who are not part of the extreme need to realise that they are stronger than those they fear.

A few thousand people at a rally are not more powerful than many millions at an election. But they need good leaders with good causes to vote for — and providing that is much more important than denouncing Mr Trump or rising to the bait that he offers.


Shoot for Mars now

Three men were allowed to sleep in for an extra hour, 50 years ago today — three men in a precarious vessel in the depths of space somewhere between Earth and the moon.

Of all the astonishing images and memories of Apollo 11’s great adventure, it’s the human touches such as these which still hit home.

Things such as the family photograph left by a later crew, which still sits on the moon’s surface, or the shot of an exhausted astronaut back in the landing module, covered in grey lunar dust like a workman. Because what makes the Apollo missions different is not the research they did, or the moon rock that they brought back home, but the fact that they involved people rather than machines.

It was people, too, on Earth who watched, prayed and still remember every moment — a shared collective human experience of a kind which had never happened before and may never happen again.

Close-Earth orbit space travel has become routine: it may soon even be on sale to tourists.

But no one has been to the moon since Apollo. Just repeating that voyage would be as pointless as a Hollywood remake.

The amazing challenge ahead is to get to Mars and back. Let’s hope some of us live to see it and remember it too.