At the time of publishing, a UK government and parliament petition calling upon the UK’s home office to impose a future entry-ban upon controversial US presidential candidate Donald Trump has been signed by nearly 300,000 people. The petition states:
The signatories believe Donald J Trump should be banned from UK entry.
The UK has banned entry to many individuals for hate speech. The same principles should apply to everyone who wishes to enter the UK.
If the United Kingdom is to continue applying the ‘unacceptable behaviour’ criteria to those who wish to enter its borders, it must be fairly applied to the rich as well as poor, and the weak as well as powerful.
The UK parliament will now be considering this motion as it is duty-bound to consider all such petitions in receipt of over 100,000 signatures.
Trump is, no doubt, a mysoginistic and xenophobic bigot who stirs within the American electorate a fear of “outsiders” and a loathing for so-called “losers” through spreading misinformation and prejudice. He exploits the resulting tension – by portraying himself as a sort of saviour-figure who can “make America great again” – to boost his popularity.
Jeet Heer outlined Trump’s modus operandi in the following terms:
Trump plays to the anxiety of those who fear that their status is being challenged by people they regard as their social inferiors. That’s why the word “loser” is such a big part of his vocabulary.
Less-affluent or blue-collar rural conservative white voters who feel aggrieved, disenfranchised and left behind by America’s political elite are particularly vulnerable to his charms. Trump, of course, disingenuously and implausibly presents himself as being extraneous or almost foreign to that privileged upper-class on account of a business background outside of explicit party politics.
His trusty campaign baseball cap and choice of eschewing a formal white-collar tie, with top-button left undone, for those selected promotional speeches in front of more-humble audiences enhance this notional sense of separation from the American elite and simulate a grass-roots connection with the blue-collar “little guy”.
This is all in spite of Trump possessing a background clearly – to anyone who wishes to even cursorily glance beyond the recurring façade – steeped in elite (self-identified-)WASP privilege. He is far from the “self-made” man he purports to be and cannot credibly profess independence from the framework of the American establishment that private-schooled him and helped him, as well his tycoon father, from whom he inherited so much, make their millions. He may claim not to be a politician, but he self-evidently is; he is running for president of the USA, after all.
What is different between Trump and other politicians is perhaps that he cannot be “bought off”. Many of his supporters see this as a positive attribute. The reality, however, is that Trump is so wealthy that he’s not merely immune to finding himself drawn towards the pockets of others, he has the financial clout and capability to actually pull strings himself.
Admittedly then, it may be to fair to say he is not be corruptible. Rather, he is what one might call a corrupter; he is a tycoon with disproportionate power, or at least potential, to push and influence others in lofty positions so that his own narrow interests become integral to the main agenda effecting millions. His personal financial clout alone isn’t healthy for democracy, never mind the prospect of conferring further political power upon him.
I need not go into much detail with regard to the specifics of his unsavoury and objectionable brand of right-wing “populist” politics; the Huffington Post recently published a neat summary of some of his ideas:
1) His enthusiasm for creating a database of all Muslims in the United States.
2) His ongoing lies about Muslims in New Jersey celebrating 9/11.
3) His status as birther-in-chief, cynically sowing doubt about President Obama’s legitimacy as the duly elected President of the United States.
4) His misogyny — here’s just one HuffPost piece on this, but there’s no shortage of these.
5) His xenophobia and scapegoating of immigrants, including his lies about Mexican immigrants and his ardent desire to deport millions of undocumented immigrants.
6) His unmistakable passion for bullying. Again, there’s no shortage of examples, but you could start with his defense of supporters who roughed up a protester at one of his rallies or his ridiculing of a disabled New York Times reporter.
Indeed, just last Monday, Trump issued a statement in immediate response to the mass shooting in San Bernardino advocating “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our representatives can figure out what’s going on”.
As to why Trump’s demonisation of American Muslims in particular is so repugnant and wildly off-the-mark, Holly Yan’s piece, ‘The Truth About Muslims in America’, for CNN, of all outlets, is worth reading, although Glenn Greenwald has outlined that such ideas, worryingly, really are not a “radical aberration”; Trump is “essentially the American id, simply channeling pervasive sentiments unadorned with the typical diplomatic and PR niceties designed to prettify the prevailing mentality”.
It would appear that Trump is being condemned for his advocacy of a US-ban on Muslims by many within the US establishment on account of being Trump the (purported) “anti-establishmentarian” outsider who poses a threat to the positions of some of those fellow elites within that establishment rather than because he might be Trump the holder of the type of Islamophobic views with which many of those in the mainstream disagree; the views on Muslims of many within the mainstream aren’t actually that far removed from Trump’s.
However, Trump’s forthrightness, where other elites utilise insidious subtlety and double-speak to conceal the repellent nature and potential detrimental effects of their ideas and proposed policies upon minorities and the poor, is what differentiates him from his socio-economic peers; this presents them with an opportunity – indeed, a hypocritical one – to round upon and condemn a political opponent.
Whilst those in the UK petitioning the country’s home office to ban Trump may well have a point in terms of a perceived inconsistent application of the “unacceptable behaviour” criteria – they sense one principle, a generous one, for the rich or powerful (or establishment-friendly) and another more ruthless one being applied to the poor or weak (although the criteria are vague, malleable and prone to manipulation anyway, whichever way one wishes to apply them; didn’t the UK parliament itself only last week, after a lengthy discussion, vote in support of “violence in furtherance of particular beliefs” that will have the effect of “foster[ing] hatred which might lead to inter-community violence in the UK”?) – the knee-jerk idea of banning Trump from entering the UK because a significant number of people deem his views “unacceptable” is distinctly illiberal and not too dissimilar from the ludicrous policy that he himself has proposed – the proposal that appears to have been the proximate stimulus for the actual petition – with regard to blanket-banning Muslims from entering the US.
Trump wants to ban Muslims from entering the US for the very reason that he disagrees with or is suspicious of what he perceives to be “their attitude”, common perspective and motivations. He sees “them” as a threat to his view as to the “proper order” of things in the US.
Of course, Muslims are a diverse, non-monolithic group – a minority in the US equating to approximately one per cent of the population there – and Trump sweepingly generalises in his attempts to stigmatise, but those behind the petition and supporting it could do with reflecting on the unwitting similarity they are sharing with Trump when they advocate the exclusion from the UK of people they deem “unacceptable”.
Censoring people and their voice is not the way to deal with objectionable opinions; indeed, it only offers such views added undesirable exposure, à la “the Streisand effect”, and serves to create free-speech martyrs out of bigots. That is completely counter-productive.
The way to deal with objectionable opinions and those who hold them is by letting them expose themselves and tackling them head on if necessary; by challenging them with facts and debunking the rotten, suspect foundations upon which they are built. As Toula Drimonis suggests: “Bad ideas are countered by better ideas.”
If people are going to advocate excluding people for expressing or publishing unpopular thoughts or thoughts deemed “unacceptable” by some, where is the line to be drawn? Remember American hip-hop artist Tyler, the Creator was denied entry to the UK last August on account of aggressive lyrics he had penned in 2009 (despite the fact he had been in the UK just 8 weeks prior to the denied entry-attempt)?
Is censoring anyone who is perceived to be an outsider, dissident or unacceptable – regardless of whether they are powerful or weak – really the type of closed, insular and mono-narrative society the people of the UK wish to espouse and help blossom?
A better, less-hypocritical petition motion might have read: Stop banning people from entry to the UK for expressing their views. If the actual petition had championed free speech rather than singling out Trump for exclusion, however, would it have gone viral to receive anywhere near 300,000 (and counting) signatures of support? That is certainly questionable.
Update as of the 12th of December, 2015: I have written a follow-up piece here discussing some points that were raised to me post-publication as to the perceived nature of the petition and whether it was actually advocating censorship or whether it was simply making a subversive point.