Ever since the launch of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in June 2015, he has dominated the headlines in both the USA and the world at large. For a man whose commercial empire has been built upon publicity, Trump must be thrilled – exposure, both good and bad, can only aid his campaign as more and more Americans become familiar with his position. Indeed, he has been lauded for saying what the disillusioned Republican voters of the United States ‘truly feel’, and he is certainly providing a vivid alternative to his Democrat opposition; in Britain, on the other hand, a petition has arisen with the signatures of over half a million people to have him banned.
With his erratic mannerisms and boisterous rallies, it’s all too easy to dismiss Trump as the obligatory eccentric of the presidential race – and yet with the latest polls putting him 20 points ahead of his closest rival, Tea Party advocate Ted Cruz, it seems like Trump is having the last laugh. His polemics against Muslims and the least privileged in US society are no longer simply retweeted with rage or scrolled through absent-mindedly on timelines; with the media’s appetite whetted for his ‘straight-talking’ delivery, Trump is on our television screens and storming silently towards office. Every word spoken is another opportunity to further his already dominant media presence; allowing him the same opportunity beyond the USA’s borders would be a capitulation to his whim before he has even opened his mouth.
His claims, while bewildering and practically impossible, have roused the Republican nomination competition into an exhilarating race rather than the lethargic battle it would otherwise have been. With so many names in the Republican hat, it can surely be attributed to media presence alone that Trump has stormed ahead, and Britain will only contribute to this if he is allowed to speak here. Britain is a tolerant country which should be proud of its human rights record; it is because of this, and not in spite of it as some have claimed, that we must consider carefully Trump’s position. Recent terrorist attacks and conflict with the EU have risked setting alight the growing sparks of xenophobia – a better solution to this would surely be conciliation within the communities where racial violence is all too common, not the populist preaching of a man whose only qualifications for president are money and influence.
The alarming truth is that Donald Trump will almost certainly be the Republican candidate for president – and while Hillary Clinton is firm favourite for the Democrat nomination, her heavyweight reputation may not be as powerful a force against Trump’s rabid populism as one could hope. With this in mind, we are forced to consider not simply the next ten months of campaigning on both sides, but the four years that will ensue; showering Trump with tolerance might satisfy our concerns for free speech in the present, but they will weaken our position considerably in the event of negotiating with the White House on the tough issues to come.
Truly, those who argue that Trump should be allowed to speak in the UK on the basis of tolerance ought to listen more closely to the content of his speeches: as though their racist foundations were not obvious enough, they contain sinister undercurrents of budding oppression which promise anything but tolerance in the potential Trump presidency.
Donald Trump would in fact be the latest name on a long list of banned white extremists; for all the media hyperbole about the liberty with which Islamic radicals enter and leave the UK, the Home Office has seemingly made a concentrated effort under Cameron to crack down on all kinds of hate speech. Former KKK members and founders of the Westboro Baptist Church, along with dozens of infamous extremists with similar credentials, are all barred – while a ban would perhaps be unprecedented for a man of Trump’s media stature, it is not so radical a move as it has been portrayed in the media.
Refusing a politician the right to speak in a proudly democratic country is a controversial measure – and indeed, given the practical difficulties of implementing such a ban, the MPs who spoke in Parliament to propose it were surely speaking in hypothetical terms only – but Donald Trump is an extraordinary figure. It is arguable that protecting our long legacy of liberty would entail giving everyone a platform to put forward their case, regardless of their views; from this perspective, Trump should be allowed his moment to do so, and then promptly proven wrong by the British public and sent back to the USA. However, this is a dangerous ideal which perhaps underestimates his crowd-pleasing capacity, and it is not enough to substantiate the claim that Trump deserves a British pedestal from which to spill his vitriol.
Freedom of speech is fundamental to the British way of life – so too is the right of every individual to live an unimpeded existence, no matter where they came from or what they believe in. To ban a speaker is certainly an extreme measure, but it is perhaps not so unorthodox as to warrant the onslaught of criticism it has received from those who argue that freedom of speech is the greatest ideal to which we can aspire. If anyone has taken advantage of the mass clamour for freedom of speech over the past months, it has been Donald Trump, and it is time for both the British government and its citizens to seriously consider if such freedom is worth the consequences.
No – Alex Lupsaiu:
On January 18 the British parliament debated the proposition of banning Donald Trump from entering the U.K. after a petition to keep Mr. Trump out of Britain received approximately 600,000 signatures. The proposed ban is an effort to protest the infamous Republican presidential candidate’s recent call to prevent Muslims from entering the United States, which has understandably drawn the ire of both the British government and public. However, while such xenophobic proposals should be rejected, along with numerous other policies that he champions, banning him from Britain would be a mistake.
Let’s briefly rehearse the charges against Mr. Trump: firstly, and chiefly, that he is a demagogue — a political opportunist who has managed to whip up a populist movement by taking advantage of public discontent with the Republican Party in particular, and American politics in general. Mr. Trump has made some outrageous comments along the way, some of which have been offensive, others merely crude, and some downright silly. He has bullied, shocked, and entertained his way to the top of the Republican polls, and despite expectation he stands a chance of becoming the party’s nominee. Given all of this, why ban Mr. Trump from entering Britain?
In addition to its purpose as a protest the ban might have some punitive aim. Mr. Trump is not a British citizen, so he cannot be prosecuted by the British government for hate speech, which does carry a legal penalty in the U.K. So the ban may be a way of reprimanding him in the only way possible. However, such a punishment would not be consistent with Britain’s treatment of many other foreign political figures that are either themselves guilty of far greater crimes, or are representatives of regimes guilty of far greater crimes. That is, if the British parliament wants to punish individuals that do not live up to British moral standards, why stop at Donald Trump? In response to their oppressive regime and disregard for human rights, why not shut down the Saudi Arabian embassy in London? Why not prevent Robert Mugabe, the notoriously corrupt president of Zimbabwe, from entering the U.K.? At least, after all, Mr. Trump has not yet done anything harmful to any individual or group.
Aside from being inconsistent, banning Mr. Trump risks committing the greater mistake of completely marginalizing his supporters. A ban on Mr. Trump risks effectively dismissing his entire campaign, and the populist movement he has managed to instigate. It is vitally important to separate the man from the movement. Mr. Trump’s campaign has taken advantage of pubic frustration, and it is crucial to realize that this public frustration is legitimate. His supporters have genuine grievances against the American political system. Over the past several decades the U.S. has seen stagnant wages, mass exportation of labor, soaring national debt, and a continued military struggle in the Middle East that is looking increasingly grim. Moreover, these problems have been largely created by bad policy.
For instance, one debate that Mr. Trump’s campaign has sparked is the mass importation of low-skilled labor, mainly from Latin America. Mass immigration over the past several decades has burdened American taxpayer-funded public assistance, and increased the competition for low-skilled jobs. While Mr. Trump’s proposals concerning immigration range from the nativist to the simply implausible, there is a genuine feeling that he is the only one willing to engage with the policy at all. That is, there is disagreement about exactly which policies are responsible for America’s palpable decline, but there is an increasing consensus among ordinary Americans that neither established Republicans nor Democrats are equipped to fix them. Moreover, there is a feeling that established politicians are not willing to solve these problems, out of some combination of ideology and financial self-interest. Banning Mr. Trump risks further alienating a large segment of the population that already feels marginalized. If nothing else, it would likely serve only to stoke the “us versus them” sentiment which Mr. Trump is abusing, and thus possibly increase his support.
To ban is effectively to disengage. Banning Mr. Trump fails to engage with his proposals and explain why they are wrong. I am not suggesting that one ought to try and convince Mr. Trump himself that he is wrong — this is surely an exercise in futility. Rather, an explanation is owed to those who support him, to those who feel that their concerns are not being addressed. The impulse to ban is in a certain way both authoritarian and intellectually arrogant. It suggests that there is no merit whatsoever to any of the concerns that Mr. Trump’s supporters have, and that their flaws are painfully obvious. It is wrong to ban Muslims from entering the United States. But is it obviously wrong to a mother who just lost her son to a terrorist shooting in California? Doesn’t such an individual have some reason to be concerned to some degree about radical Islamic insurgency in the United States? If such worries are actually unmerited, does she not deserve an explanation as to why? It is wrong to prevent all immigration to the United States. But is it obviously wrong to a father who lost his job in construction work, and has been replaced by illegal immigrant labor? Doesn’t such an individual have some reason to be concerned about mass immigration? Perhaps these reasons are not good reasons, but that must be argued, and not dismissed through a ban. Mr. Trump’s proposals ought to be engaged not out of respect for him, but out of respect for private citizens who deserve to have their grievances addressed.