Protesting for Protest's Sake? Trump in the UK
Earlier this month, Donald Trump arrived in the UK for his first visit since winning the election in 2016. He attracted crowds of over 250,000 protesters holding signs calling to ‘dump Trump’ and labelling him as a ‘super callous fragile racist sexist Nazi potus’ clearly showing the views of a proportion of the British public. This anti-Trump sentiment is not new- evidenced by the 90,000 protesters at the Women’s March in January, 1.8 million people signing a petition to wholly cancel his visit and ‘Project Trump Baby’ flying overhead. This astonishing show of opposition is unprecedented in the UK for a visit by an American President, as although previously they have amassed protest it has never been to this extent.
The question is: why was Trump’s visit protested and to this extent? The protesters say he’s inflammatory and divisive and thus resent the (supposed) 30 million pounds spent on his security. However, ‘worse’ people (those with dubious human rights records) have been granted State Visits; among this list is President Xi Jingping. As General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, he rules a one-party state with heavy censorship and sponsored state violence. Furthermore, the controversial Chinese rule over Tibet went unnoticed with Cameron even treating Jinping to a pint of beer at a local pub. In addition, in 2007, the King of Saudi Arabia, one of the most repressive leaders on earth, was also granted a state visit. So why are a quarter of a million people protesting Trump working visit when in the past these leaders have been given a full state visit with less protest?
Many argue that having a special relationship with the US means that they should be held to a higher standard than the Saudi King or Xi Jingping. This Anglo-American partnership dates back to Churchill’s premiership after WW2 and has featured some of the most globally influential power-couples of modern history, from Churchill and Roosevelt to Thatcher and Reagan. Nevertheless, since the era of Bush and Blair this alliance has been riddled with controversy despite our “shared values” and Trump describing the relationship as ‘the highest level of special’ at Chequers.
One could argue, the British public do not demand more just because they’re our greatest and most historic ally, but on account of the actions of their current leader. The US embassy in London issued a statement warning Americans to be careful in the vicinity of the protests, but they needn’t have bothered. The protests stand in solidarity with the US people who have battled with Donald Trump. In his one year and 192 days in office he has campaigned to ban Muslims entering America, locked up children in cages and challenged the DACA programme. He has even pulled out of the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal. Last May, he even went so far as to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Trump also continues to mindlessly attack the UK, both in speech and through his outlandish Twitter account. He launched attacks on London Mayor, Sadiq Khan and manipulated the tragedy of the Manchester Bombing to assert his own agenda on immigration. He recently attacked the NHS describing a London hospitals as a ‘warzone’; ironic seeing as the NHS ranked first compared to the US’ last on the list of health systems by the Commonwealth Fund, a US think tank. Thus, the protesters call on May to stop the sycophancy towards Trump, particularly in light of his criticism of her Brexit strategies and unseemly praise of ex-minister Johnson – ‘Well, I'm not pitting one against the other, I'm just saying I think (Johnson) would be a great prime minister. I think he's got what it takes and I think he has got the right attitude to be a great prime minister.’
However, these protests have never just been about this one man and the country he leads. These protests represent the need to stand up against the increasing normalisation of far-right bigotry and hate. These protests are particularly important as those with xenophobic views utilise the public’s fears, stemming from the war on terror, as a platform to gain following.
Trump showcases this trend when he used his Twitter account to retweet islamophobic tweets from Britain First- the group responsible for radicalising the killer of Jo Cox. Although Trump apologised due to public pressure, he still propagates such beliefs, particularly in the wake of the Muslim ban. In Europe, support for populist radical-right parties is higher than it’s been at any time over the past 30 years. Le Pen and the National Front in France gained 33.3% of the vote in the 2017 Presidential election. In Poland, the nationalist, social-conservative and eurosceptic Law and Justice party have targeted political opponents, human rights groups and free speech through media censorship since being elected. In America, the converse is the issue, free speech is not restrained but pushed to its limits with the resurgence of white supremacy. Most notably shown by the infamous 2017 ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville.
Although Britain has recently dealt with its own moral predicaments, including the Windrush scandal, I believe it uses them to bring about positive change. In today’s increasingly globalised world the events and actions being taken in one country, particularly the US, can have far reaching consequences; yet people still question why there are protests at all. I believe that protests are needed when human rights are endangered, this cannot be a time for complacency. Mass demonstrations represent solidarity and shows the power of the people to make a difference and hold to account those in power.
So - in response to why Donald Trump’s visit has amassed this scale of protest. The British people want to use the focus placed on them to show the world that Britain will not stay quiet when the values we hold dear are under threat. If we don’t show that we reject the politics of fear and hatred now, they will continue to grow. One might even ask are we currently hearing the echoes of history?