By Matt Jolley
For many people, the only thought normally conjured up by the idea of a US state visit is Hugh Grant giving an inspiring speech concerning Shakespeare and David Beckham in Love Actually.
However, the upcoming visit of Donald Trump to the UK, which this week has been announced for 3rd to 5th June to coincide with D-Day commemorations, has unsurprisingly garnered more attention. The same protesters who last July sent blimps into the skies have again vowed to give vocal opposition to the US president. Yet demonstrating as a way of objecting to Trump’s UK visit strikes me as an unsatisfactory response.
Demonstrating as a way of objecting to Trump’s UK visit strikes me as an unsatisfactory response
Obviously, simply welcoming Trump with open arms as we would have welcomed Obama in May 2011 is not an option. He has dangerous views on just about every issue imaginable – just recently London saw huge shutdown from climate change protesters, a problem which Trump himself questions the existence of.
I am also sceptical of two arguments put forward to support the visit of Trump: namely that we must respect the office of the president above the incumbent, and that the ‘special’ nature of the UK’s relationship to the US requires protection. Trump himself does not respect the office of the president, shown clearly through his flagrant disregard for the media, and a pattern of hiring and firing people that belongs more on ‘The Apprentice’ rather than in a government (not to mention the numerous lawsuits currently against him).
The special nature of the relationship is also not sufficient
The special nature of the relationship is also not sufficient cause for welcome
Let us briefly return to Love Actually. Hugh Grant stands up to the US president, claiming that “a friend who bullies us is no longer a friend”. Trump is a bully, and so May (in her last days in office) should be careful whether she wants to call him a friend.
Having said that, I don’t believe demonstrations are the answer to expressing resistance to Trump. Last July, 250,000 people protested his arrival in the UK (and that wasn’t even a state visit), and what did it change? Approximately nothing. The US president probably didn’t see them, at any rate didn’t care, and continues to lambast anyone who dares challenge him, taking the US in treacherous political directions.
Since he originally ran in the Republican primaries, Trump’s opponents have tried to bring him down by criticising his character, and inevitably stooping to his level of mud-slinging and accusations. It doesn’t, and won’t, work.
Trump conducts his presidential communications by chucking Twitter grenades towards anyone – Democrats, the media, Mueller – who opposes him. This reduces nuanced disagreement to accusatory smears of 140 characters or less. Demonstrations respond in kind, themselves reducing complex arguments to slogans short enough to fit on a placard, and chants rarely loud enough to get beyond an echo chamber.
The way to oppose someone who craves attention is to starve them of it.
Instead, when we protest Trump’s arrival, I would advocate doing so in a more constructive manner, that works by dialogue not demonstration.
Trump craves attention, whether positive or negative, as either way it gives him ammunition to fire at his enemies. So, the way to oppose someone who craves attention is to starve them of it. Instead of filling the Mall with thousands of angry protesters, leave it entirely empty, completely ignoring Trump, refusing to stoop to his level. Demonstrations are great to start a conversation where one is not taking place – such was the aim of Extinction Rebellion in creating action on climate change.
However, with Trump, the only problem we don’t have is having a conversation about him. The difficulty is instead managing to have a conversation with him, entering into meaningful dialogue where his views and policies can be exposed as mistaken.
When Trump meets with May and other ministers, this is their responsibility. Frank discussion that pulls no punches could humble the president, showing him to be wrong. I only hope
Image by Alisdare Hickson via Flickr