Donald Trump is coming to Scotland. He claims a special link to this country due to his Lewiswoman mother, Mary Anne Macleod. How should we respond to his visit – is it really an unacceptable violation of our liberal democratic culture for this American President to visit the UK and Scotland in particular? Is it right to think we should protest against him?
Trump is a unique figure among – modern at any rate – US Presidents. He pays no lip-service whatsoever to the norms of civility, respect, presidential communications and policy-making that have generally been accepted by holders of the office in living (and earlier) memory. He is a man with a reputation for dubious moral conduct, shoddy business practices and multiple bankruptcies. In setting up ‘Trump University’ he was guilty of outright fraud, for which he was required to pay a $25 million legal settlement.
During Trump’s presidential campaign and since his election he has displayed fairly obvious willingness to denigrate and disregard minorities for no better reason than to be able to boast of ‘great numbers’ in his electoral and approval ratings.
As is surely their right, the American people voted for a narcissist and a crook (albeit through a system that converted a popular minority into a representational majority – but we cannot point to that beam for the mote in our own electoral eye that is First Post the Post.) Until the American people reject him electorally (or via an impeachment process) I don’t see a justification for public protest on the foregoing grounds. A statement of solidarity with the minority victims of his oppression by word and deed is perhaps all we can do.
After all, the US system prior to Trump’s ascendancy gave plenty of justification for protest to an apparently status quo ‘liberal’ politician such as Hillary Clinton. For a long time the US has been a dysfunctional plutocracy with a tendency to act as an arrogant bully on the international stage. On the other hand, there is very strong evidence (including from his own mouth) that Donald Trump, has become a threat to free speech, democracy and liberal tolerance outside his own country. This is not a result of any ideological beliefs of Trump’s, but as a consequence of his personal indifference to anything outside his own immediate gratification and as a result of his obligations to (and desire to join) a network of actors who combine material wealth with political power – particularly Vladimir Putin and his cronies and the Gulf State rulers. Trump’s petulant and disruptive behaviour at this week’s NATO Summit should be seen as part of that pattern.
This is Trump’s true threat. Americans will have to sort out for themselves both how their country became so fractured that a near majority voted a mendacious and corrupt wrecking-ball into their highest political office, and why their system of checks and balances has not yet called him to account. But we have a right to protest in the most vociferous terms against the figurehead of a calculated campaign to offer up tolerant liberal democracy (whatever the failure of much of its promise – frittered away on the neoliberal project) for the gain of a tiny number of kleptocrats and their would-be emulators in Europe. This will affect us all, and whilst the American people have a major responsibility for addressing and ending it – which will involve addressing the culture and socioeconomic conditions of their own country that gave rise to it – we need to make clear our disgust at Trump’s role in disrupting our own attempts to build a happier, more liveable and more sustainable world.
Mary Macleod is reported to have said in a different context: ‘What kind of son have I created?’ It’s difficult to imagine this daughter of Tong crofters – who themselves protested against plutocratic oppression in the early 1920s – feeling anything but shame for Trump’s behaviour since he became president. If nothing else we should express that shame on her behalf.