United Kingdom

PIERS MORGAN: Mr President, listen to Meghan Markle and stop dividing a country crying out in pain

A year ago, I interviewed President Trump in the Churchill War Rooms in London.

To mark the occasion, I presented him with a replica black Lock & Co hat of the type Churchill loved to wear.

Trump was delighted, and immediately tried the hat on.

Then he said perhaps the only self-deprecating remark he's ever uttered: 'I think Winston looked much better in it..'

Trump's press secretary Kayleigh McEnany compared his ludicrous march from the White House to nearby historic St John's Church to Britain's greatest Prime Minister visiting London neighbourhoods hit by German bomber planes during the World War II Blitz

Trump was flanked by security as he walked to St John's Episcopal Church 

Trump didn't have to wade through rubble on his way to inspect St John's Church as Winston Churchill (pictured) did when he inspected damaged neighborhoods. Instead, American police forces and National Guard troops used tear gas, flash grenades and rubber bullets to clear away fellow Americans, including clergy, from an American president's path so he could make his walk flanked by secret service agents

I thought of this yesterday when Trump's press secretary Kayleigh McEnany compared his ludicrous march from the White House to nearby historic St John's Church, where people protesting about the murder of George Floyd had set off a small fire damaging the basement, to Britain's greatest Prime Minister visiting London neighbourhoods hit by German bomber planes during the World War II Blitz.

'Through all of time,' said McEnany, 'we've seen presidents and leaders across the world who have had leadership moments and very powerful symbols that were important for our nation to see at any given time to show a message of resilience and determination. Like Churchill, we saw him inspecting the bombing damage and it sent a very powerful message of leadership to the British people.'

Sorry, WHAT?

It's perfectly true that we've seen presidents and leaders across the world have leadership moments and very powerful symbols to show a message of resilience and determination.

It's also entirely correct that Churchill regularly inspected bombing damage during WWII and that sent a very powerful message of leadership to the British people.

But neither of these things have any relevance to the pathetic and frankly offensive stunt President Trump pulled the other day outside St John's Church.

First, it hadn't been bombed by foreign enemy planes attacking the United States. In fact, it hadn't been bombed at all.

Second, Trump didn't have to wade through rubble to get there. Instead, American police forces and National Guard troops used tear gas, flash grenades and rubber bullets to clear away fellow Americans, including clergy, from an American president's path so he could make his walk flanked by secret service agents.

Third, when Trump got to the church, he stood in front of it and brandished a copy of the Bible like he was conferring God's support on himself to justify his outrageous 'where there's looting, there's shooting' warning to the protestors.

None of this was a 'leadership moment' showing us 'resilience and determination', not least because the only reason Trump did it was because he'd been embarrassed by the leaked revelation that he'd been hidden in a secret bunker under the White House to protect him from protestors.

Nor was his use of the Bible a 'powerful symbol' as he later claimed.

It was more a moment of shameful desecration that appalled religious leaders.

When Trump got to the church, he stood in front of it and brandished a copy of the Bible like he was conferring God's support on himself to justify his outrageous 'where there's looting, there's shooting' warning to the protestors

Trump's press secretary Kayleigh McEnany compared the president's march to St John's Church, where people protesting about the murder of George Floyd had set off a small fire damaging the basement, to Winston Churchill inspecting damage caused by bombs during WWII

'He used violent means to ask to be escorted across the park into the courtyard of the church,' Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington told NPR. 'He held up his Bible after speaking [an] inflammatory militarized approach to the wounds of our nation. He did not pray. He did not offer a word of balm or condolence to those who are grieving. He did not seek to unify the country, but rather he used our symbols and our sacred space as a way to reinforce a message that is antithetical to everything that the person of Jesus, whom we follow, and the gospel texts that we strive to emulate ... represent. I was outraged that he felt that he had the license to do that, and that he would abuse our sacred symbols and our sacred space in that way. Everything he has said and done is to inflame violence. We need moral leadership, and he's done everything to divide us.'

Bishop Budde was joined in that withering assessment by Trump's former defense secretary General Jim 'Mad Dog' Mattis who wrote in The Atlantic that 'Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people - does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us.'

Saying he was 'angry and appalled,' Mattis defended the protestors' right to fight for 'equal justice under law' and raged: 'Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens - much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.'

Demonstrators sing 'Lean on Me' near the White House during a peaceful protest against police brutality and the death of George Floyd

A protester raises a fist near a fire during a demonstration outside the White House over the death of George Floyd

Police officers advance on protesters after they set three cars on fire during a demonstration over the death of George Floyd

Mattis then used his own WWII analogy: 'Instructions given by the military departments to our troops before the Normandy invasion reminded soldiers that the Nazi slogan for destroying us … was 'Divide and Conquer.' Our American answer is 'In Union there is Strength.' We must summon that unity to surmount this crisis - confident that we are better than our politics.'

Trump, with tedious predictability, reacted by mocking and abusing Mattis, branding him 'the world's most overrated General and saying 'his primary strength was not military, but rather personal public relations…I didn't like his 'leadership' style or much else about him, and many others agree. Glad he is gone!'

Trump even claimed to have given the General his 'Mad Dog' nickname but that's a lie; he was dubbed it by the media in recognition, and admiration, of his often very strident rhetoric to would-be enemies of America.

At this point, it's worth remembering that Jim Mattis is one of the most respected and highly decorated war heroes in American history.

So, when it comes to assessing military strength and leadership, I'd probably veer to the 4-star General who led thousands of troops in numerous wars – rather than a man who dodged the Vietnam war because his doctor signed him off with bone spurs in his heels.

Trump's former defense secretary General Jim 'Mad Dog' Mattis, saying he was 'angry and appalled,' defended the protestors' right to fight for 'equal justice under law'

It's disgusting to see the President of the United States publicly denigrate a US war hero like Mattis.

Just as it was disgusting to see the same President of the United States use a Bible outside a church as some kind of self-aggrandising weapon to virtually declare war on American citizens.

But what's most disgusting is that the President of the United States has to be told to unify the country in its darkest hour.

I love America; I've lived and worked in the U.S. on and off for much of the past 15 years and it's a magnificent country full of wonderful people.

But right now, it's suffering like I've never seen it before.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought the world's No1 superpower to its knees, killing over 100,000 people, tanking the economy into a depression, decimating 40 million jobs, and leaving much of the country fearful for their lives and livelihoods.

Now, since the shameful murder of George Floyd by a loathsome racist white policeman, it's descended into near blazing anarchy.

When Britain faced its darkest hour, as Hitler's Nazis seemed inevitably destined to win the war, our leader Sir Winston Churchill rose up defiantly and almost single-handedly rallied us to believe we could defeat them.

He calmed us, he consoled us, he wept for us, he wrapped his cigar-stained hands around us and vowed we would prevail.

Yet now, as America faces one of the darkest hours in its history, President Trump's done nothing but pour fuel onto the fires, stoke division not unity, and make things immeasurably worse with his shocking complacency over coronavirus and his equally shocking 'when the looting starts, the shooting starts' escalation of tensions during the George Floyd crisis.

Meghan Markle hit the perfect tone in her comments about George Floyd, telling students in a video message about her own painful memories of witnessing the 1992 riots in Los Angeles after the brutal beating of Rodney King, and quoting her old teacher Ms Pollia who would tell her: 'Always remember to put others' needs above your own fears'

It comes to something when it falls to Meghan Markle to give the President a lesson in how to show leadership at a time like this.

I've not been the Duchess of Sussex's biggest fan, to put it mildly, but I actually thought she hit the perfect tone in her comments about George Floyd today, telling students in a video message about her own painful memories of witnessing the 1992 riots in Los Angeles after the brutal beating of Rodney King, and quoting her old teacher Ms Pollia who would tell her: 'Always remember to put others' needs above your own fears'.

Meghan said: 'You're going to have empathy for those who don't see the world through the same lens that you do.'

There, right there, is what President Trump desperately needs to understand.

The American people are hurting.

They're hurting very badly.

Many of them may not be people who see the world through the same lens Trump does, and I'm sure he now has very real fears this may all cost him re-election in November.

But his primary duty as their president is to offer all Americans empathy and compassion and put their needs above his fears.

I honestly don't know if Trump has it in him to do this; he's certainly shown very little evidence of it since becoming President.

But he has to try.

As Meghan Markle also said: 'I wasn't sure what I could say to you. I wanted to say the right thing and I was really nervous that it would get picked apart. And I realised the only wrong thing to say is to say nothing.'

Whatever Trump says now will be criticised and picked apart.

But America urgently needs its president to stop dividing and start uniting, address the people from the Oval Office, and be a damn leader.

At the moment there's a Mad Dog in the White House running around causing chaos, and it's a guy that bears no relation to Winston Churchill.

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