“That’s what these protests against Trump’s visit are for; they’re to make sure we do not forget that there is something deeply troubling about how these administrations are treating the people they are meant to protect.” On the eve of widespread protests against Donald Trump’s UK visit, Sulamaan Rahim, OULC member and BAME Officer, explains why we should join the protests.
As a queer, brown person, Trump hates everything about me. So does Theresa May. She doesn’t tweet about it at 3am or express it so coarsely, but it’s there nonetheless. In allowing Trump to visit the UK, May has shown us, concretely and unsurprisingly, that this government is unfit to protect the most vulnerable in our society. From Trump’s distressing comments regarding ‘shithole countries’ and his Muslim ban to Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’ and callous handling of the Windrush scandal, both Trump and the Tories have distressing records when it comes to rights of people of colour (POC) and LGBT rights. On Friday 13th July, we must take to the streets and protest to let the government know that we do not agree with their tacit approval of Trump’s administration and what it represents.
A quick glance at those highest up in Trump’s administration speaks volumes. Mike Pence, his Vice President, is a notorious homophobe who has at various points in his career supported conversion therapy, implied that gay couples are an indicator of ‘societal collapse’, and opposed allowing trans individuals to use their preferred bathrooms. Such appointments, as well as policies like banning trans individuals from serving in the military, shows that Trump has never cared about the LGBT community. In particular, they highlight the Right’s disturbing crusade to vilify trans people; they portray the granting of basic human rights to trans people as a threat to all that we hold dear. Spoiler alert: it’s not. Such policies create a hysterical climate of fear around people who are simply trying to live their lives and contributes to an increasingly negative discourse around the LGBT community.
It’s not, however, just the LGBT community that Trump revels in vilifying. Trump, like the UK Home Office, has also endeavoured to create as ‘hostile’ an environment (shout out to big T May) for POC as he can. Take his claims that many of those attending the white-supremacist Charlottesville rally were ‘very fine people’ and that there was ‘violence on many sides’. Let’s be very clear: Trump here was defending people at a rally who flew Confederate and Nazi flags and chanted racist and anti-Semitic slogans. What this does is normalise extreme white-supremacist views; in the context of a ‘Unite the Right’ rally, it allows individuals to think of such behaviour as an acceptable part of right-wing politics. This serves to shift the whole political discourse rightwards and give credibility to what were once rightfully derided racist views.
His equivocation of the violence committed at the rally serves to reinforce a narrative of the oppressed oppressor. What this means is that anti-racist activism which may inconvenience oppressors (either materially, such as in clashes with racist organisations, or mentally, such as calling out racism when you see it) is somehow as bad as the racist oppression they are fighting against. This allows those in power to maintain the status quo; pushes for equality are seen as violent agitations equivalent to oppression and so are equally illegitimate and unworthy. This makes it much harder for these movements to reach critical mass in terms of public support and massively hinders progress. It also inflames racial tensions and creates a fear of communities of colour by characterising their struggle for equality as one of violence – something compounded by racist media tropes of violent POC (particularly black men).
We may think of Trump as an anomaly – someone whose actions would be deemed unacceptable in the UK. However, not only is this not the case, it can be shown that the Tories are creating a similar climate. It is more insidious, though – the methods are surreptitious and the change gradual. Our discourse and the norms of acceptability are shifting. This is exacerbated by the fact that the US sets a precedent for what is acceptable discourse in other, supposedly liberal, Western nations. As someone who is not a US citizen, I cannot use the democratic process to express my disdain at Trump’s policies, but I can highlight their absurdity and bigotry. It is imperative we do not normalise Trump’s views or allow him to shift the standards of acceptability. We cannot allow the UK to slide into similar patterns of ideology; something we can only do by continually scrutinising the government.
Turning our attention to the Tories, we can see some distressing ideological parallels with the Trump administration. It seems clear to me that there has been a significant rightward shift in the Party. In navigating the implementation of Brexit and having to secure a parliamentary majority via an alliance with the DUP, formerly minor backbenchers now have far more clout and power in decision-making, with backbenchers forcing Theresa May to shift rightwards lest they revolt. Such an instance of this is that the Victorian figure of Jacob Rees-Mogg, who has said that he opposes same-sex marriage, is now a cult figure amongst many Conservative Party members and is even touted to become the party leader at some point in the future. His popularity and cultural influence highlight how, in trying to implement Brexit without a parliamentary majority, Theresa May has allowed such far-right backbenchers to weasel their way into the political narrative.
We are thus seeing such ultra-conservative positions deemed non-extreme – something which has the compounding effect of portraying progressive views as the ones that are extreme and leading to their being delegitimised. This is strikingly similar to the narrative created by Trump through his Charlottesville comments and has clear material consequences for LGBT individuals. The clearest instances of these consequences are in Northern Ireland, where nothing in the government’s LGBT Action Plan aims to introduce same-sex marriage there or to change the discriminatory blood donation deferral period for men who have sex with men to be in line with the rest of the UK.
The Tories are no stranger to delegitimising the concerns of minority groups; we simply need to observe the callousness with which complaints by the residents of Grenfell were handled in the time leading up to the tragic fire (please continue to support #Justice4Grenfell) or look at their coldness when dealing with the wrongful deportation and detainment of Windrush migrants. If that’s not enough evidence, former chairwoman Lady Warsi has called for an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Tory party. Warsi has claimed that the party has previously had the attitude ‘fuck the Muslims’ – something perhaps indicative of the Tories’ wider attitude towards minority groups. It’s unsurprising therefore that Ipsos MORI found that, in the 2017 General Election, 73% of BME voters voted Labour compared to only 19% for the Tories.
The problem runs deeper than simple carelessness and ignorance, though. It is not often I will quote a Lib Dem, but Vince Cable put it brilliantly when he said, referring to Brexit, that “too many were driven by a nostalgia for a world where passports were blue, faces were white, and the map was coloured imperial pink.” The Tories now embody this harkening to the past and this safeguarding of ‘traditional’ values, values which stratify society and place vulnerable minorities like POC and LGBT individuals at the bottom of the heap. This problem is becoming embedded in the country’s psyche and being normalised by the continual shift rightwards of political discourse.
There are many ideological similarities between the Tories and Trump’s administration which are worrying; we cannot allow this to go unnoticed and unchecked. We must make some noise. That’s what these protests against Trump’s visit are for; they’re to make sure we do not forget that there is something deeply troubling about how these administrations are treating the people they are meant to protect. And that is why I urge you all to get out there and protest. We cannot stand by and allow this insidious rightwards shift of our political landscape; it can only worsen the material conditions for those most vulnerable in our society.