To Ban or Not to Ban? Toxic Trump Has Theresa Trapped
Why is anyone surprised that this president of the United States retweets misleading videos purporting to show Muslim violence against white Westerners?
This is a president who has attacked London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, while London was still under terrorist threat; he has drawn equivalence between alt-right, white supremacist protesters and those protesting against them; one of his central election pledges was a ban on travel into the United States from Muslim countries and he has proposed a US register of Muslims residents.
He has talked about sexual harrassing women. He has defended an alleged sexual predator who is standing for the US Senate. He, and his presidential campaign, is under investigation for crimes that might amount to treason.
This is our single most important ally. He is supporting a group that is not just extremist but fascistic, and allying himself with an individual convicted of hate crimes.
It is less than two years since Joe Cox MP was murdered by a terrorist who cried “Britain First!” as he killed her. That the group retweeted Trump’s tweets shows the power of what he has done. A far-right group can now claim the endorsement of the supposed leader of the free world.
The bigotry of Trump’s tweets cannot be legitimised
The reaction has been near universal condemnation of Trump. MPs from all parties have spoken out against his tweets. Both the prime minister and the leader of the opposition have condemned his retweets. Bloomberg reported Downing Street’s statement as a “rare rebuke from America’s closest ally”.
Even his own press secretary was unable to defend him. Sarah Sanders could not speak about the videos’ truthfulness but spoke about the broader point her boss was attempting to make.
So, to be clear, the only way Trump, the head of the most powerful democracy in the world, can sell his message is by relying on dishonesty.
Alongside calls for a retraction or condemnation, some have gone further. Chuka Umunna has stated that the government should withdraw the invitation of a state visit; Chris Bryant has gone further, saying that President Trump should be banned from the United Kingdom. Both are former Labour frontbenchers. Neither are part of the traditional awkward squad who make easy interventions. They are not alone.
Yet as the Irishman once said when asked for directions: “Well, I would not start from here.”
Twitter Warriors should be careful. Their impulse is understandable. The bigotry of Trump’s tweets cannot be legitimised. Withdrawing an invitation of an official visit or even banning Trump, as we ban hate preachers, would send a powerful signal that Britain is an open and tolerant society. Post-Brexit - as most of the world sees a once engaged nation turning in on itself - it could be a important message.
It would also show that Britain is not resigned to becoming a satellite state, chlorinated chicken and bigotry included.
May should never have offered a state visit to the new president, then barely a week in office. It was an embarrassing blunder. There was no need for such debasement. Since the invitation, the details have been rolled back and will be further. Any visit from Trump will not be a state visit; John Bercow has made it clear that he opposes giving Trump the opportunity to address both Parliament in Westminster Hall.
As far as Trump is concerned, Britain would struggle to go any further than dining with a very long spoon or at a separate table. Our foreign and security policies are too enmeshed. To call for Trump to be banned is morally satisfying when typed in 140 characters, or shouted from the opposition benches. It is harder when one also considers British troops abroad, terrorist threats or broader diplomatic interests that Britain has long held with the United States. The Anglo-American alliance, however imperfect, has had an institutional relevance to British diplomacy that extends beyond the relationship itself.
It is easy to condemn hostile states such as Russia or North Korea. It is inconvenient to chastise Trump
This is an unprecedented situation. A major ally is propagating values that are alien to our own; he dances with a repugnant ideology that brought war and genocide to Europe.
Principles only mean something if ones sticks to them when they are inconvenient. Realpolitik often dictates that principles are deposed of quickly when they become irksome. It is easy to condemn hostile states such as Russia or North Korea. It is inconvenient to chastise Trump.
The question is, are we prepared to accept the consequences? If morality dictates that a line needs to be drawn, are we happy that our principles might inflict harm on us?
The dilemma for the British government might be easier were the country not in the process of cutting itself off from its nearest allies. Brexiters might protest they are not turning their backs on Europe, but the process of leaving inherently creates division.
In recent years, Ireland has become one of Britain strongest allies. It is now forced to defend its interests against Britain.
Isolated, Britain no longer has a foreign policy. As such, May is trapped. Yes, we should not allow this fascist apologist to visit Britain. However, we cannot ban him.
As a country, there are no simple answers here. As individuals, our choices are easier. That there is a stark divide between the two should tell us something.
About the author
Educated at Durham University and UCL, Graham is Disclaimer's editor and a regular contributor. He has written for numerous publications including Tribune, Out Magazine and Vice. He has also contributed to two books of political counterfactuals for Biteback Media, Prime Minister Boris (2011) and Prime Minister Corbyn (2016).
A democratic republican lefty, he struggles daily with the conflict between his ingrained senses of idealism and pragmatism.
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