Opposing Donald Trump can play a role in bringing down our own vicious government
Theresa May’s government is on the brink. She lost her Brexit Secretary and Foreign Secretary, just days after ceremoniously declaring cabinet unity over its negotiating stance with the EU. And her decision to invite Donald Trump to London shows how vast is the gulf between the values of this government and the majority of people in this country. The huge protests that Trump’s presidency have provoked: the Women’s March, the protest at the ‘Muslim ban’, the Keep Families Together demonstrations and sit-ins across the States, and the mass demonstration against his visit to London, reveal that we have the chance to break the toxic special relationship at a moment when it looks most vulnerable.
Forged in the aftermath of the Second World War, the special relationship enabled declining British imperial power to ally itself to the new global imperialist superpower, the United States. From 1945, when it dropped atomic bombs on Japan, up to the present day the United States remains the biggest military power in the world, dwarfing the military capacities of its rivals. The special relationship is designed to maintain America’s global dominance through this massive military threat. It is a relationship that is sustained by war and therefore always requires an enemy; the twentieth century’s Cold War was swiftly replaced by the twenty-first century’s war on terror.
It was the special relationship, of which Tony Blair was a most vociferous champion, that orchestrated the destruction of countries across the Middle East and, as the anti-war movement warned at the time, resulted in devastating sectarian violence, the creation of refugees across the region and an increase in terrorism.
But the bloody pact at the heart of the special relationship is not an inevitable or eternal political reality. Huge resistance was galvanised against the Vietnam war in the United States; in London an anti-war movement, which climaxed with a demonstration outside the American Embassy in Grovesnor Square in 1968, helped to ensure that the British government did not join the military action. In 2003 two million people marched through the streets of London, in Britain’s largest ever demonstration, against the Iraq war, and when the American president George Bush visited the capital in 2003 the Stop the War Coalition organised the largest week-day protest ever seen in Britain.
The scale of this movement had important effects – in 2013 David Cameron failed to win a parliamentary vote for military action in Syria with numerous MPs citing their constituents’ opposition to war and a reluctance to repeat the mistakes of 2003 as their reasons for voting against. Trump’s own visit has had to be rearranged (and considerably downsized from the once-vaunted tour in a royal gold carriage and speaking engagements in football stadiums) with the scale of protests being cited as a reason.
The special relationship is potentially vulnerable. It is important to remember that Donald Trump was not elected on a wave of overwhelming public support but was instead running in an election in which both candidates were widely unpopular. In countries that have experienced the chronic low pay, insecurity, privatisation, massive spending on armaments alongside cutbacks on welfare, and assaults on workers’ rights under decades of neoliberalism there has resulted an increasing disillusionment in the political establishment and a political polarisation as people seek alternative answers. In America, the scale of Bernie Sanders’ rallies testified to the widespread desire for radical social change. The Democrat Party leadership’s rejection of Sanders as its presidential candidate and decision to back Hilary Clinton, so utterly complicit in the discredited neoliberal and warmongering politics of the elite, ensured that Trump (the billionaire businessman) was able to act the part of the anti-establishment outsider. Trump is banking on dragging the polarisation to the right. However, that in a recent Democratic primary in New York, the incumbent was defeated by Democratic Socialist member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is evidence of the continuing popularity of progressive anti-establishment solutions. Nevertheless, while this sentiment can to some degree be detected by-elections, it cannot be sustained by-election results.
Against Trump’s radicalising of the right, the success of the left depends upon the extent to which social movements can be sustained and deepened to undermine Trump’s divisive solutions.
Politics has polarised in Britain too. The exposure of UKIP’s fraudulent anti-establishment stance, having been exposed by Jeremy Corbyn’s genuinely anti-establishment politics immersed in the social movements and social justice campaigns, has seen sections of the far-right attempt to build street protests fuelled by Islamophobia. These forces of division must and can be overcome; the experience of the mass demonstrations over the past decade and a half, and the popularity of Corbyn’s proves deep and genuine opposition to Britain’s foreign policy and its accompanying racism. These mobilisations must be sustained, crucially if the Blairites’ attempts to enshrine Britain’s warmongering friendship with the American government, NATO membership and arms dealing are to be resisted.
Donald Trump has torn off the mask of the special relationship, revealing the ugliness at its heart. Mobilising against Trump’s visit provides an opportunity to undermine that relationship. It can help to deliver the blow that could end the Tories and force a new general election.
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