By Joe Banfield
In this little Durham world, there is not much Trump can do. There is still less we can do about him.
I have never joined a protest before, but on the night of the last Monday of January, I found myself one of over a thousand people demonstrating in Newcastle.
Perhaps you believe that a protest halfway around the world from where Trump’s ban on refugees operates is pointless. It may be laughable to think he would genuinely withdraw his ban on refugees or his 7-country immigration suspension because of some angry English crowds, especially since he fired his own attorney general for raising her concerns.
I understand this alone won’t change his mind.
What’s more, I also understand that for Theresa May, pragmatism must trump principles. We have declared that we will leave the single market, which will require serious economic realignment. Where better for her to look than the USA, the newly-confident biggest economy in the world, and the big partner in our so-called ‘special’ relationship?
I can almost forgive May for being the first to visit Trump, for walking hand in hand with him, and taking so long to condemn the refugee ban. Making a success out of Brexit must be top of her agenda; it is what will determine her legacy. Hence hard Brexit; hence a general firmness.
Arguably, it is in my personal economic interest to support her in her dealings with Donald. I am a middle-class, privately-educated, straight, white male at a top university in one of the world’s wealthiest countries. I will not personally be harmed by Donald Trump, his ban, or, in all probability, any of his other actions.
But banning refugees? Banning refugees for ‘national security’?
Banning refugees on the pretext that they might be terrorists is unjust, illiberal, foolish, stigmatising, and illegal. It is unjust because refugees are the most desperate, damaged, and deserving people on earth. It is illiberal because it arbitrarily denies people freedom to enter one of the most liberal countries on earth. It is foolish because all the evidence demonstrates no causal link (or even correlation) between refugees and terror attacks in the US ( See The Independent 24th October 2016).
It is stigmatising, because when the most powerful man in the world bans refugees, his ideas catch, and an example is set. And it is illegal because it breaks the Geneva convention.
Above all a leader has a moral responsibility to the people and sets the tone of popular discourse. In Donald Trump’s case, the tone is set not just for the people of the USA, but for the whole world.
I will not conform to his morally vacuous influence, whether it has any personal outcome or not. I feel compelled to protest the election of a man who not only spews harsh words, but now physically spreads cruelty. He builds walls, boasts in the lewdest terms of sexual assault, removes the rights of women, and bans refugees. It may all seem far off from Durham, but Trump is the so-called Leader of the Free World.
Countless times during the election campaign I have been insulted and taken aback, but refrained from active protest. Countless times I have harboured strong feelings – but now that I have seen the man in action, I have found my moral resolve. My feelings have hardened into a voice.
I joined the Newcastle protest because the Donald Trump question is above all a moral one. For each human, there is – or at least, I hope there is – a limit to how much moral laxity one can excuse for the sake of expediency. My limit has been reached. There is courage in the fact that tens of thousands across the UK felt the same way – and made their voices heard.
Photograph by Joe Banfield