It’s now common knowledge that mass rallies are planned against Donald Trump’s upcoming visit to the UK. While it would be easy to dismiss these plans as the infantile tantrums of an activist left so long dissociated from power that it’s reverted to an interminable adolescence, the level of energy which characterises the British ‘progressive’ animus against Trump still surprises me.
We have in recent years been witness to recurrent bouts of liberal petulance. As the left has gradually lost any influence on the actual governing of western nations, we have also seen the rise of loud, usually emotive outpourings of left-wing angst in the form of various marches.
Protests against Brexit, which were originally able to swamp the streets of London with tens of thousands of mobilised metropolitans, have now dwindled to a kernel of aggrieved, largely middle-aged middle-class Guardian readers waving a few lonely EU flags outside Westminster Palace.
But the anger directed against Donald Trump is unprecedented in recent memory. The protesters are undoubtedly a small minority of the country as a whole, but they will nevertheless have considerable influence on the shape and extent of the Special Relationship in the coming years. On every stage of Donald Trump’s visit protests are scheduled; from London to Oxfordshire to Scotland there will be marches. Demonstrators intend the pressure to be so relentless and so public that either the visit will be cancelled or any diplomatic gains which might have emerged from it will be negated. At a time when Britain needs to vitally reconnect with America as we leave the EU, our foreign policy is being dictated by a hyper vocal and organised left-wing coalition spanning trade unions, environmentalists, and the Labour Party.
But it’s not just the short sighted sanctimony of the British left which presumes to speak for the entire nation in its opposition to Trump that is so grating. It’s the hypocrisy of liberals, who while energetically chastising the ‘xenophobes’, ‘racists’ and ‘hateful knuckle draggers’ (ad infinitum) in the West remain steadfastly indifferent to the real human rights abuses of non-western powers. It is now accepted as a fact of foreign policy that our government should unctuously cosy up to tyrants from Riyadh to Beijing. Indeed David Cameron was so keen on placating the PRC’s sensibilities regarding the supposed non-existence of Tibet, that the British police willingly removed Tibetan independence campaigners from the sights of the Chinese procession during Xi Jingping’s state visit in 2015. But liberal opposition to the Chinese government (which engages in the genuinely racist ethnic sinicisation of its peripheral territories) was practically non-existent. Crown Prince Mohamad Bin Salman, who has been personally instrumental in driving Saudi Arabia’s foreign intervention in Yemen (which has helped produce a famine in that beleaguered war-torn nation) met with little large scale opposition during his three-day visit to the UK this year. Other instances of double standards abound. Mexico’s President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, hailed as a ‘left wing nationalist’ by the Guardian has proposed the formation of a southern border force which would be responsible for the forced removal of central American illegal immigrants. I wait with eager anticipation the picketing of the Mexican embassy in London.
If you live in London, particularly if you study there, it’s likely that you will have met someone who has expressed an interest in protesting Trump’s visit. One can always find people who have the spare time to engage in protests against foreign dignitaries; but what is missing is a distinct lack of interest when those foreign dignitaries hail from governments which aren’t western. Why is this the case? In the strange world of left-wing victimology, the identity of the oppressor seems to matter more than the identity of the victim when assessing the moral gravity of a particular policy. The Trump government’s main crime (according to the left) is that it has deported Latin American illegal immigrants back to their countries of origin. The current American administration’s commitment to enforcing the rule of law supposedly constitutes a humanitarian crisis.
However the Guatemalan and Mexican illegals who cross the US border are not victims of an aggressive foreign policy, nor are they an oppressed minority of the colonial hinterlands of a great empire. These are people who have of their own volition knowingly infiltrated another nation’s sovereign territory. Many of these people come from semi-functional states, but states where they are not in immediate danger of death. And indeed the US has already accommodated eleven million illegal immigrants, who have had access to public facilities such as schools and welfare payments for many decades now. By any objective standard the US response to the dissolution of its southern border has been relatively tame, while those who have been responsible for its repeated violation have been met with a generosity of spirit which would be unthinkable in any other part of the world.
But this does not matter for the left. Trump is the leader of a western country, and in enforcing a meaningful legal distinction between non-westerner and westerner he has committed the gravest sin; that of discrimination. For the ultra-humanitarian progressive anything short of total civilizational self-negation is a crime because ‘humans are humans’ and the supposed human right to immigrate supersedes the rights of western nations to protect their cultural integrity. It is the west which is sinful and yet redemptive, which has been tasked with creating the first post-national societies. On the other hand non-westerners don’t matter very much as long as they cannot be somehow fitted into this story of self-abasement and redemption.
Who cares whether China oppresses Uighurs and Tibetans? The idea that nationalism and colonialism (in forms much more aggressive than those which exist in the contemporary west) exist abroad is an uncomfortable fact for western internationalists because it poses a direct challenge to their own narratives of exceptional moral guilt. And this is why the moral ‘courageousness’ of left-wingers will be limited to the soft targets of Victor Orban, Donald Trump and Binyamin Netanhyahu.
Rather than being directed against genuine tyrants, figures responsible for the suffering of millions, the emotional energies and faux-humanitarianism of the Guardian-reading left will be directed at moderately conservative nationalist governments. To the liberal imagination, it’s the borders that westerners erect to preserve their nations and their safety that will stand as the greatest atrocities of the 21st century, not the more banal genocides which so frequently occur beyond our shores.