Huge anti-Trump protests but no room for complacency

By Savi Hensman
July 25, 2018

A visit by the US president, Donald Trump, on 13 July 2018, sparked huge protests in the UK. He spoke insultingly about the prime minister, Theresa May, aligned himself with far-right politicians in Europe and called the European Union a "foe". His remarks when he met the Russian president further damaged his reputation.

Numerous people here strongly reject his attitudes to women and minorities, divisive brand of politics and imperial style, threatening governments which do not obey his commands. His breathtaking lack of concern about protecting the environment to preserve life on earth has caused widespread dismay.

But a smaller number of extremists hostile to migrants and Muslims rallied in his support. And a disturbing survey indicates that, if the UK political situation becomes yet more unstable, many people may follow this dangerous lead.

The Sun, slogans and flip-flopping on Russian interference

The visit of Donald Trump to the UK was controversial from the start – and his behaviour stoked this further. Soon after he arrived on Thursday 12 July 2018, the Sun published an extraordinary interview with him, which was quickly picked up by other media

He condemned the UK prime minister Theresa May’s ‘soft’ Brexit deal, threatening that it might “kill” a US-UK trade deal. "I would have done it much differently. I actually told Theresa May how to do it but she didn't agree, she didn't listen to me." (She later revealed that he had urged her to sue the European Union, rather than negotiate.

He praised Boris Johnson, who had resigned over Brexit, saying that he would make a "great prime minister." And he aligned himself with the racist agenda of the European far right: “allowing the immigration to take place in Europe is a shame. I think it changed the fabric of Europe… I think you're losing your culture."

The following day there were huge, colourful and noisy protests in central London. Over 100,000 took part, though it was a working day; indeed estimates go up to almost a quarter of a million.

I took part and jotted down a few of the slogans on placards, such ‘Dump Trump’, ‘No to climate death’, ‘Trumpelstiltskin steals children’ and (in a reference to a TV programme) ‘Trump & Johnson – 2 idiots on Self-Love Island’.

Equality was a theme, as in this reference to the US Constitution: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident that all genders, faiths, sexualities, races are created equal’. Some referred to Trump’s alleged links with Russia and encouragement of the extreme right, for instance ‘UK will be judged by company it keeps. Trump’s Kremlin agenda of chaos not welcome here. Nor his racism, sexism and general ghastliness.’

The following day a smaller group gathered to counter a far-right rally in praise of Trump and Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, better known as Tommy Robinson. Sam Brownback, the US Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, had reportedly lobbied the UK ambassador in Washington on behalf of this hard-right activist, jailed after he almost derailed a trial linked with child abuse, which would have prolonged the suffering of the victims.

Police were out in large numbers as about 3,000 anti-fascists (including me) marched a short distance and gathered on one side of the Cenotaph, while perhaps 6,000 anti-Muslim and anti-immigration protesters held a rally on the other. Speakers included Gerard Batten of UKIP and various far-right figures from Europe, Australia and the USA.

Meanwhile speakers in favour of a democratic and diverse UK included trade unionists, David Lammy MP and Steven Saxby, a London priest.

Survey results: far right in with a chance

When Trump flew to a summit with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, his international standing fell further, as he changed his answers on alleged interference in US elections. In the words of a headline from the Express, far from a left-wing paper, ‘Donald Trump says he ‘MISSPOKE’ during Putin conference as Russia row descends into FARCE’

But on 22 July, a Sunday Times-YouGov poll revealed that, though some UK voters had turned to the left, about 38 per cent would vote for a new pro-Brexit party on the right while 24 per cent were prepared to support an explicitly far-right anti-immigrant, anti-Islam party. And former Trump strategist Steve Bannon revealed plans to create a populist right-wing mass movement.

At a time when politics is especially volatile, there are risks that a stance similar to Trump’s on social issues, or even more extreme, could gain mass support in the UK. This could threaten respect for diversity, care of the planet and democratic values and practices. Despite Trump’s unimpressive performance, there is no room for complacency.

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© Savitri Hensman is an Ekklesia associate and respected commentator on welfare and other issues. She is author of the book Sexuality, struggle and saintliness: same-sex love and the church (Ekklesia, 2016): http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/22613 and has been involved in seeking greater inclusion. She wrote on ‘Health or Wealth?’ in Feast or Famine? (http://dltbooks.com/titles/2195-9780232532616-feast-or-famine)

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