Saturday 21 January 2017

Why didn’t I protest against the inauguration of Donald Trump?

The obvious answer to this question is simply that I did not think that any protest of mine would have any effect. But perhaps that is not good enough: after all, I am a protester at heart and can demonstrate that by two stories from the past.

At the peak of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa I boarded a bus bound for London then joined a huge throng converging on South Africa House. Our protest march was supposed to be peaceful but, because our march was halted for many hours, tempers flared, stones were thrown and the police moved in. In my rush to escape the violence I narrowly avoided being struck by an enraged and hatless policeman whirling around within the dense crowd whilst wielding long pole torn, no doubt, from one of our placards,. And, as I finally emerged from the melee, I was almost trampled underfoot by a large police horse, its rider urging it into a gallop towards the centre of the aggression.

A few years later, a small group of us attempted to take Margaret Thatcher to court by accusing her of transgressing the Geneva Conventions through possession of nuclear arms – which inevitably, of course, would kill and maim non-combatants if used.

I certainly cannot claim that my contribution to those protests changed the world, but perhaps every little bit does help. On a more positive note I was also a keen protester for the return of real ale to the pubs of Suffolk. This was a success and much more fun – but hardly as important.

I do not like Trump. And I certainly do not like many of his extreme proclamations. Nonetheless, stimulated by his coming presidency, I did sample one of his television programmes. I was not amused or impressed by the hard talking, the humiliation of contestants and the explicit bullying (keenly supported, by the way, by the awful, toadying, Piers Morgan). I would not have given Trump my vote and surmise that I would have grudgingly voted for Mrs Clinton in order to keep him out.

But I did not have a vote, and that’s the point. The Americans chose this man as their leader using their own democratic system of presidential election. And that, of course, is worlds away from the situation of South Africa in the 1960s where people could not vote solely based on the colour of their skin.  I now await with keen interest to observe what will evolve from the USA’s choice and hope very much that it will be good for those whom he claims to represent and also for the UK and the world at large.

Meanwhile, I do strongly object to the conflation of Trump’s success and the Brexit vote in the UK. The connections are tenuous to say the least and the issues quite, quite different. Of course if you are eager to find links in order to undermine Brexit by association with Trump, you will. I attended an interesting lecture at Oxford University’s fine new Centre of Governance last week. It was presented by an American professor of Indian extraction and attempted to take a more nuanced view of the then President-elect under the titles: Tantrumps, Trumponics and Trump over the Globe.  It was interesting and thought provoking. Afterwards I had the misfortune to exit the building with a lady who was unmoved by the talk and thought that the election of Trump was a step towards the end of the world (though she did not enter the debate itself). In our short interaction she moved on to attack the outcome of the Brexit referendum at which point I announced that I, in common with the majority of the UK, had voted to leave. This brought an uncompromising, alarming and wholly irrational response: “A vote for Brexit was a vote for Trump”. At which point I left.

We cannot see into the future, most predictions turn out to be quite wrong: Trump and Brexit are outstanding proofs of that. However, there is a possible future where Trumponics and ‘America First’ lead to world-wide recession or, even worse, to war. How would I then respond to a question from one of my grandchildren: “What did you do about it Rob?” My response would have to be: “Nothing, because I could not influence it. But I did help to save real ale.”