Opinion: Trump, May, and the Peril of the Liberal Order

In the brief interlude between Donald Trump’s election victory in November 2016 and his inauguration in January 2017 the world held its breath. The transitional months between the outgoing Obama administration and the incoming Trump administration proved to be above all, reflective. Questions were raised by the dumbfounded asking both how as well as the rather more soul-searching why.

Many simply acquiesced to the new reality usually ending up with something like: ‘hey, its only four years, how much damage could this orange skin-sack really do?’ As January 20 loomed, the hysterical and existential questions-‘would you really trust that man with his finger on the button?’- gave way to the more practical considerations of what a Trump presidency would actually look like.

Trump’s presidential campaign had proved highly incendiary. Targeting the discontented and declining white middle class he made outlandish promises that would have otherwise sunk a political career let alone any hope for an election victory for president of the United States. ‘Build the wall’ and ‘lock her up’ became the xenophobic and anti-establishment campaign slogans that his supporters bought into as a means of remonstrating their economic and political hardships. The most pertinent question was whether Trump would make good on his promises.

The opening days of President Trump’s administration proved to have been as remarkable as they had been barbarous and morally repulsive. Promising to put ‘America first’ in his inauguration speech, Trump moved to isolate the US politically and economically.  His speech heralded the death of the neoliberal era and the establishment of a xenophobic, protectionist and isolationist utopia. The speed at which Trump’s regime has moved in its birthing weeks is testament at least to his anti-establishment convictions he displayed while campaigning for the presidency. He has to-date repealed President Obama’s flagship trade deal the TTIP, alienated the Native Americans and climate activists by allowing the construction of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL oil pipelines and moved ahead with plans to build a wall on the Mexican border; all of this through executive order.

Trump’s most controversial order, and undoubtedly detecting the ugly hand of his chief political strategist Steven K. Bannon, has been the issuing of a travel ban that would deny entry to the United States refuges and immigrants from certain countries of Muslim-majority. While prompting immediate chaos and confusion the arbitrary and prejudicial ban has been met with an unprecedented backlash both domestically and within the international community. The travel ban has since been temporarily blocked by US district judge James Robart on the grounds of it being unconstitutional, a move that has been upheld by the US appeals court.  

The policy has been roundly and routinely denounced by world leaders. President Hollande of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany have been highly critical, and while the Prime Minister Theresa May has given a lacklustre denunciation of it, her foreign secretary Boris Johnson has labelled the ban offensive and wrong.

If the Prime Minister has been found reluctant to stand in defence of the liberal values that her office enshrines, the public (I would like to add here ‘who put her there in the first place’ but Mrs May was of course and remains unelected) have not been found to have been of the same disposition. The travel ban provoked demonstrations in London as well as her sister cities in the British Isles, Edinburgh and Cardiff. On January 30th approximately 10,000 people were thought to have marched on Downing Street while thousands more marched in Manchester and Birmingham as well as in Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee.

Together with the popular demonstrations, the outrage following the travel ban has also been channelled into more archaic forms of protest. A petition to Parliament was quickly established and disseminated online that sought to ‘prevent Donald Trump from making a state visit to the United Kingdom’ on account that it would embarrass Britain’s favourite fetish, the Queen. This petition gained approximately two million signatures, far beyond the required 100,000 required to warrant a debate in Parliament. There was in turn, and opposed to this, a counter-petition that in the name of free speech argued for the visit to go-ahead. While this second petition also reached the required 100,000 it has since been dismissed by Parliament. 

The prime minister’s stance has not however been met with a general disapproval. While being unceremoniously dubbed ‘Theresa Appeaser’ by the popular historian Simon Schama and later emblazoned on the placards in the UK demonstrations, Mrs May appears to have remained unscathed and has easily weathered the storm. She is currently some 20 points clear in the polls. While much of this is due to the appalling Labour opposition party, we cannot persist in allowing the liberal values that our democracy is founded upon be trodden underfoot by May. She has already succeeded in passing the Investigatory Powers Bill-an assassin that is arguably the greatest threat that our democracy has ever faced-in 2016 with scarce a sign of protest. She will also it seems go unpunished for embracing Trump. When will we stand up to this prime minister and defend our liberties that are as never before so endangered?


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