Earlier this year, a parliamentary e-petition calling to ‘block Donald J Trump from UK entry’ gathered more than 580,000 signatories, triggering a debate in Parliament. But to fight Trump’s reactionary ideas and understand his impact, it is important to explain where his support comes from: the fears of workers in an epoch of crises.
Earlier this year, a parliamentary e-petition calling to ‘block Donald J Trump from UK entry’ gathered more than 580,000 signatories – far more than the 100,000 required to trigger a debate in Parliament. As a result, on 18th January 2016, MPs held a debate over the possibility of refusing the Republican presidential frontrunner entry into the UK.
The petition was started following Trump’s racist and Islamophobic remarks made late last year, with the billionaire Republican candidate telling supporters that he “is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”
Previously, meanwhile, Trump had told the press, “We have places in London…that are so radicalised that the police are afraid for their own lives. We have to be very smart and very vigilant.”
These inflammatory comments were made in the wake of a shooting spree in California that killed 14 people. This was carried out by two Muslims, said by the FBI to have been radicalised, and was labelled a terrorist attack. This atrocity, in turn, followed only weeks after the barbaric acts of terrorism in Paris.
Turbulence and uncertainty
The fact that this parliamentary petition gathered over half-a-million signatures – more than similar petitions calling for votes of no confidence in Jeremy Hunt, the hated health secretary (328,000 signatures), and David Cameron himself (199,000 signatures) – is a reflection of the immense anger that exists towards Trump and his reactionary ideas throughout British society. Indeed, the petition was signed by more people than any other in this parliament.
The debate was purely symbolic, of course, as there is no vote at the end, and the deciding power lies with Theresa May. Only the Home Secretary has powers to exclude or deport non-UK citizens on the grounds that their presence in the UK is not conducive to the public good.
Nevertheless, the clamour to prevent Trump from spreading his views on British soil shows that ordinary workers and youth are rightly disgusted by his bigotry and prejudice, despite being on the receiving end of constant attempts by the ruling class and their servants in the Tory press to divide the working class who promote similar such ideas themselves.
Meanwhile, however, although the parliamentary e-petition with the highest number of signatures is currently that demanding a banning of Donald Trump, second to this, at over 463,000 signatures, is a call to, “Stop all immigration and close the UK borders until ISIS is defeated”, closely followed by a petition with 450,000 asking the government to, “Accept more asylum seekers and increase support for refugee migrants in the UK.”
Although not a scientific measure of the mood in society, such figures do demonstrate the contradictory political polarisation taking place amidst the increasing global turbulence of wars and crises, as all the old certainties turn to dust and all that is solid melts into air.
The Tory government was quick to condemn Trump’s remarks, with David Cameron calling them “divisive, stupid and wrong”. Nevertheless, the Prime Minister asserted that he did not support a ban.
Conservative MP Adam Holloway, meanwhile, said that “this motion is actually embarrassing to the UK and makes us look intolerant and totalitarian. I feel we should almost apologise to the people of the United States. It is for them to decide on Mr Trump’s views, not us.”
The hypocrisy of these Tory politicians is quite astounding. On the one hand, we have David Cameron – who is responsible for carrying out a brutal programme of austerity against the 99% in defence of the 1% of bankers and bosses – telling us that he opposes Trump’s comments for being “divisive” and “stupid”. Meanwhile, it is Cameron’s government that has consistently pandered to and promoted all manner of divisive and racist ideas and laws, scapegoating migrants and Muslims for the problems of capitalism and demanding that schools teach children “British values”.
On the other hand, we have a member of the Conservative government – which, through its imperialist adventures, has systematically sought to decide the destiny of countries such as Syria, Iraq, and Libya – stating without a hint of irony that it is “for them [the American people] to decide” about who they elect.
Freedom of speech
The debate has also brought the question of free speech into focus, with many of the contributions in Parliament stating that they opposed banning Donald Trump from the UK on the grounds that, whilst his remarks are deplorable, we must ultimately protect “freedom of speech”.
Marxists also defend democratic rights such as that of freedom of speech. At the same time, however, we must also point out the rank hypocrisy when such hand wringing is seen on the part of bourgeois politicians. As Lenin noted, such democratic rights, “although a great historical advance in comparison with medievalism, always remain, and under capitalism are bound to remain, restricted, truncated, false and hypocritical, a paradise for the rich and a snare and deception for the exploited, for the poor.”
These ladies and gentlemen in Parliament, in the final analysis, defend such an oppressive and exploitative system, which prevents the vast majority from having any access to the means of communication and expression. We should be clear that, under capitalism, where the front page is determined by Murdoch and the other capitalist press-barons, free speech on any meaningful scale is far from available to anyone and everyone. Capitalism controls the media and, with it, exerts heavy influence over popular opinion. Multi-billionaires like Donald Trump, meanwhile, will have no problem gaining a platform for their reactionary ideas.
Genuine freedom of speech in reality exists only for the ruling class who, through the capitalist media, will always seek to divide the working class and distract them at a time of capitalist crisis and in the face of worsening austerity.
Typically, this kind of discussion would not take place in Parliament, as Trump is ultimately cut from the same capitalist cloth as the bourgeois politicians who walk the halls of Westminster. It is only because these politicians are under immense pressure from below that such a debate has been held in order to appear sensibly representative of the ‘national interest’. In reality, however, there is no such thing as the ‘national interest’ – but only class interests; the only ‘national interest’ that the Tories understand is the interests of British capitalism.
Fertile ground of capitalist crisis
Although the hypocrisy of not banning Donald Trump from the UK on the grounds of free speech is clear, we must also stress that to do so would not be useful to the workers and youth of Britain, or any other country. Trump is not the cause of racist and reactionary ideas, but merely a preacher of them. Rather than just denouncing his provocative and divisive remarks, as liberal commentators do, we should seek to understand the material conditions of global instability and insecurity that have provided the fertile ground for right-wing demagoguery such as that of Donald Trump – not to mention similar figures such as Marine Le Pen in France or Nigel Farage in Britain.
Paul Flynn, a Labour MP who opened the debate, correctly stated that banning Trump would give him a “halo of victimhood”. The “best plan was not to give him the accolade of martyrdom and we may already be in error in giving him far too much attention.”
While Donald Trump may certainly be responsible for inflaming racial tensions across the world, these fears and tensions already existed, and it is these pre-existing fears that have allowed for him to come into prominence.
The reason for these fears and tensions, meanwhile, lies in many places: on the one hand, in the efforts of western imperialism, whose foreign policy has done nothing but destabilise the Middle East, create a floodtide of refugees, and provide a breeding ground for terrorism. The migrant crisis and terrorist atrocities, in turn, provide useful scapegoats and distractions for the ruling class, with the jihadi terrorist, the refugee from the Middle East, and the EU migrant all seemingly merged into one omnipotent and ominous threat to “British” society and – once again – the “national interest”.
The capitalist media, meanwhile, provide a faithful mouthpiece for the ruling class as they attempt to divide workers along lines of race, gender, and nationality. For example, in November last year, The Sun published an article entitled, “1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadis”, essentially implying 20% of British Muslims feel sympathy towards the reactionary ideas and aims ISIS. However, the actual question was asking British Muslims if they had any sympathy for young Muslims who leave the UK to join fighters in Syria, many of whom, in fact, are going to fight against ISIS in Syria.
Above all, it is the years of economic crisis and decades of insecurity and attacks that the working class worldwide has had to endure which create a sense of uncertainty and worry about the future. Faced with a deepening global economic crisis and a new world slump on the horizon, and with years of austerity still to come, conditions can only further deteriorate for workers, as capitalism parasitically eats away at the gains of the past and cuts to the very flesh and bones of society.
Afraid, not racist
Most importantly, it must be emphasised that whilst it is Trump’s more xenophobic and misogynistic remarks that attract the most attention in the mainstream media, it is not this language that is necessarily what American workers who are supporting Trump are most interested in. Rather, it is his anti-establishment image that most appeals.
It is the liberal media and intelligentsia, trapped in their own bubble and far removed from the real mood amongst the working class, who are ultimately responsible for painting a picture of Trump and his supporters as being nothing more than an unruly mob of bigots.
As an extended analysis in the Guardian notes, Trump’s popularity is far more a result of blue-collar insecurity in the face of the rat race of globalisation and competition than a reflection of any rabid racism and prejudice amongst the working class. Indeed, for the same reasons, it has been reported that the second-choice for many Trump supporters is not another Republican candidate, but Bernie Sanders, the self-proclaimed socialist who calls for a “political revolution against the billionaire class.”
“Here is the most salient supporting fact: when people talk to white, working-class Trump supporters, instead of simply imagining what they might say, they find that what most concerns these people is the economy and their place in it…
“Support for Donald Trump…ran strong among these people, even among self-identified Democrats, but not because they are all pining for a racist in the White House. Their favourite aspect of Trump was his ‘attitude’, the blunt and forthright way he talks. As far as issues are concerned, ‘immigration’ placed third among the matters such voters care about, far behind their number one concern: ‘good jobs / the economy’.
“‘People are much more frightened than they are bigoted,’ is how the findings were described to me by Karen Nussbaum, the executive director of Working America. The survey ‘confirmed what we heard all the time: people are fed up, people are hurting, they are very distressed about the fact that their kids don’t have a future’ and that ‘there still hasn’t been a recovery from the recession, that every family still suffers from it in one way or another.’
“Tom Lewandowski, the president of the Northeast Indiana Central Labor Council in Fort Wayne, puts it even more bluntly when I asked him about working-class Trump fans. ‘These people aren’t racist, not any more than anybody else is,’ he says of Trump supporters he knows. ‘When Trump talks about trade, we think about the Clinton administration, first with Nafta and then with [Permanent Normal Trade Relations] China, and here in Northeast Indiana, we hemorrhaged jobs.’
“‘They look at that, and here’s Trump talking about trade, in a ham-handed way, but at least he’s representing emotionally. We’ve had all the political establishment standing behind every trade deal, and we endorsed some of these people, and then we’ve had to fight them to get them to represent us.’
“Now, let us stop and smell the perversity. Left parties the world over were founded to advance the fortunes of working people. But our left party in America – one of our two monopoly parties – chose long ago to turn its back on these people’s concerns, making itself instead into the tribune of the enlightened professional class, a ‘creative class’ that makes innovative things like derivative securities and smartphone apps. The working people that the party used to care about, Democrats figured, had nowhere else to go, in the famous Clinton-era expression. The party just didn’t need to listen to them any longer.
“What Lewandowski and Nussbaum are saying, then, should be obvious to anyone who’s dipped a toe outside the prosperous enclaves on the two coasts. Ill-considered trade deals and generous bank bailouts and guaranteed profits for insurance companies but no recovery for average people, ever – these policies have taken their toll. As Trump says, ‘we have rebuilt China and yet our country is falling apart. Our infrastructure is falling apart…Our airports are, like, Third World.’
“Trump’s words articulate the populist backlash against liberalism that has been building slowly for decades and may very well occupy the White House itself, whereupon the entire world will be required to take seriously its demented ideas.” (Millions of ordinary Americans support Donald Trump. Here’s why., The Guardian, 7th March 2016)
In the absence of such an analysis and explanation, liberal attempts to ban or censor Trump will simply arouse the support and sympathy that he does have, both in the US and indeed in the UK, adding fuel to the fire of the anti-establishment image that he has cultivated for himself. Trump is a product of the crisis of capitalism, and only an end to capitalism can bring an end to Trump and his kin.
Trump, with his Islamophobic and divisive rhetoric, not to mention – most importantly – his own big business background, is no friend of the working class. The desire of half-a-million people to ban Donald Trump from entering the UK positively demonstrates that many people are unwilling to stomach a public figure as vocally bigoted as Trump. Ultimately, however, as long as the capitalist system endures, it will manufacture men like Trump.
Across the world, the working classes of every race, religion, gender and colour are oppressed by a capitalist system that necessitates inequality and social disharmony. Only with the overthrow of capitalism can we begin to build a free and equal society. Only in a socialist society, free of imperialist wars and capitalist competition, where every individual feels part of a genuine wider community, can we begin to eradicate the tensions, insecurity, and uncertainty that exists currently and have a united working class, free from the prejudice sponsored by the ruling class.