As if total domination of the US media wasn’t enough, presidential candidate Donald Trump has managed to get his name splattered over every global news outlet for the past three days. It normally requires an extraordinarily inspirational, or devious, act to justify that kind of international attention and – to be fair to the press – Trump did indeed provide them with cause. His call to ban all Muslims from entering the US – regardless of nationality, circumstance, or history – was one of the vilest remarks we’ve heard in this election cycle so far.
(I refrain from asserting more boldly, as some of Trump’s other comments – like calling Mexican immigrants rapists or publicly mocking a journalist for his physical disabilities – are equally reprehensible in their own way.)
But along with Trump’s name being blasted throughout the news, another title bore full association with his comments: Republican.
Even though some of the first people to respond to Trump were his fellow Republican candidates governor Jeb Bush and senator Marco Rubio – who called him “unhinged” and “outlandish” respectively – there is no doubt this episode has damaged the Republican brand, especially abroad.
Never mind Bush’s defence of Spanish-speaking Americans or Rubio’s commitment to give Hispanic migrants a legal path to citizenship. Never mind that, according to Sean Trende from Real Clear Politics, “Trump’s support doesn’t come from the most conservative voters; instead they tend to be moderate-to-liberal”. For the months to come, all the media and international community will remember when the question of immigration pops up is Republican Donald Trump’s outrageous proposal.
I fear Trumpmania. It is a sickness, and it is spreading far beyond the world of political punditry. It has turned rational political discourse in the United States into a frenzy, while his comments seem to have a negative effect on everything they touch.
Indeed, the UK has not been immune from Trump’s illiberal thinking. A petition calling for him to be banned from entering Britain has gained over 300,000 signatures in just a few days, backed by people who, I believe, have been swept away by the force of Trump too. Those signatures implicitly endorse Trump’s original statement: that it is quite legitimate to ban people from travelling to or entering a country because of the beliefs they hold.
Signees will probably think this an unfair comparison; their moral stance is right, and Trump’s is wrong. Banning him from the UK sends a message that tolerance has triumphed over hatred.
But if the petition is successful, that “tolerance” would have been achieved by deeply illiberal means, by perpetuating an immigration system that arbitrarily denies people access to the UK based on the whims of people in power, and the public opinion they are responding to. The Home Office already has the power – and has used it – to deny people a visa to the UK under “general grounds for refusal”. This is defined broadly enough that it applies to people who have not, and are not expected to, commit criminal activity.
It was very difficult to listen to Trump’s attack on the Muslim community, but it’s far harder to see his tactics prove successful. He has hundreds of thousands of people trying to beat him at his own game, by endorsing an illiberal immigration system that Trump himself would approve of.