No democratic leader in modern times has faced the level of vitriol, anger and hatred that has been directed at Donald Trump since he was elected President of the United States last November. Protestors have taken to the streets to demonstrate their opposition to his agenda, and in the two short weeks since he was sworn into office there has been no let up; indeed, public anger has only intensified with every decision made by the 45th President. There are many reasons to be upset and angry at the current state of US politics, but the demonisation of President Trump demonstrates a serious double-standard prevalent amongst those on the left.
That isn’t to say that we should be afraid of holding the President to account or exposing his many flaws. After all, this is a man who is publicly racist and privately misogynistic, a bullying egomaniac who lies on a daily basis and is completely unfit for public office. During last year’s election campaign I criticised those in the media and the political establishment who refused to call him out for the racist that he is, and since entering the White House he has proven time and time again that he is either unwilling or unable to pivot towards a more presidential persona. His conduct has been erratic and inappropriate – just today, he used a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast to boast about the ratings he received as host of The Apprentice – whilst his early policies have been extreme and badly thought-out. Surely this is a man who deserves our scorn and vitriol?
In theory there is nothing wrong with protesting against Donald Trump; on the contrary, it is in many regards a totally rational and reasonable response to a grossly inept President. The problem lies in the way in which the protests have been carried out, and for what reason. After all, the first demonstrations occurred just hours after he legitimately won a free and fair election, before he even had a chance to introduce any of the malignant promises made on the campaign trail. Now, the protests are couched in the language of policy, of opposition to the measures being introduced by President Trump, but the reality is that the objectives are still the same; for many of the people taking to the streets, the problem lies not with Trump’s agenda, but with Trump himself. It therefore doesn’t really matter what the President chooses to do, as the protests will carry on regardless.
Nowhere was this more obvious than in Trump’s decision to nominate Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. It has been almost a year since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, and liberals are rightly angry that Republicans in the Senate refused to consider Barack Obama’s nominee for the empty seat, Merrick Garland. The argument that justices should not be appointed in an election year was not only constitutionally invalid, but it also lacked any historical precedent, and it is a travesty that Judge Garland was not even dignified with a confirmation hearing. However, too many on the left are converting that legitimate anger into illegitimate action by fighting fire with fire and lashing out against Trump’s nominee.
Protesters descended on Washington on the night of the Gorsuch announcement armed with ‘fill-in-the-blank’ placards so that they could add the name of whoever Trump nominated, proving that even the most moderate appointment would have attracted the ire of the demonstrators, tainted by their association with the President. Sadly, this attitude was not confined to those on the streets, as Senate Democrats indicated that they would use every trick in the book to block Gorsuch’s nomination. Yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that he would insist on Gorsuch needing 60 votes in order to be confirmed, suggesting that the judge was insufficiently ‘mainstream’ to attract bipartisan support, despite the fact that Gorsuch was confirmed unanimously when nominated to the US Court of Appeals by George W Bush in 2006. Indeed, one of the Democrats who voted to confirm Gorsuch back then was none other than Chuck Schumer himself, as well as the current Minority Whip Dick Durbin. Therefore, any threats to oppose the same man they backed just a few years ago smack of cynical opportunism.
By opposing Donald Trump at every turn no matter what, the liberal left opens itself up to the same charges of obstructionism that were leveled against Republicans during the Obama years. Likewise, by building the President up as some kind of evil, illiberal bogeyman, we risk over-exaggerating the threat he poses to the very fabric of Western democracy. Admittedly, his race-baiting rhetoric should cause concern, and the temporary travel ban introduced last week was heavy-handed and poorly executed. Nevertheless, demonstrators conveniently forget that the list of countries whose citizens are now banned from entering the United States was originally drawn up by President Obama. Yes, it is bizarre that Saudi Arabia is not included despite having produced the perpetrators of 9/11, but Trump cannot be blamed for this. Likewise, Trump is not the first President to introduce a temporary travel ban; in 2011, Obama paused the processing of Iraqi refugees for six months after being presented with intelligence suggesting that terrorists were infiltrating the refugee programme. Trump’s ban may have been broader and introduced in a chaotic manner, but it was not completely without precedent.
Likewise, one does not have to be a supporter of either Trump or the travel ban to recognise that the measure was far from being a ‘Muslim ban’ as many in the media have labeled it. By making such false assertions, critics of the President find themselves bending the truth to suit their own agenda in exactly the same way as Trump; we cannot expose this post-truth President by stooping to his level. We must also be clear that whilst we may not like Donald Trump or his agenda, we must retain our sense of perspective. In Britain, an online petitioncalling for the cancellation of Trump’s upcoming state visit has received almost two million signatures, yet such demands overlook the host of unsavoury dignitaries that have been hosted by the Queen over the years. Few people condemned David Cameron for welcoming Chinese President Xi Jinping to Britain in 2015 despite China’s appalling human rights record; indeed, the two men even drank beer together during a chummy photo op in a village pub. Are we really meant to believe that President Trump is more of a threat to liberal values than an authoritarian Communist who imprisons, tortures and executes dissenters?
In the context of modern America, Donald Trump is an alarmingly different kind of President, one whose words and actions are a cause for legitimate concern. However, he deserves to be given a chance, and opposition for the sake of opposition will only ramp up the destructive partisanship that has dominated Washington in recent years. His first two weeks in the White House have been marked by policy blunders and bizarre behaviour, and one suspects that this will be the norm for the entirety of his presidency, but that doesn’t mean that he won’t sometimes get it right. After all, the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court was a shrewd pick, whilst his extension of federal protections for LGBT workers has gone largely unnoticed despite breaking with decades of Republican policy. President Trump may be a thin-skinned, lying xenophobe, but he is not an existential threat to Western values, and demonising him will only serve to embolden the very same forces that swept him to power in the first place.