MPs convened late last Monday afternoon after an online petition calling for US Presidential Candidate Donald Trump to be banned from the UK received over 575,000 signatures earlier this month. As per the government’s website www.petition.parliament.uk, petitions that receive 10,000 signatures or more will be given a response and those achieving over 100,000 “will be considered for debate in Parliament”. Specifically, the petitioners argued that his plan to ban all Muslims from entering the US – proposed in a flourish of demagoguery after the San Bernardino terror attack late last year – constituted hate speech upon which Home Secretary Theresa May should exercise her discretionary power to exclude him from entering the country. Before I elicit the reasons for my difficulties with this petition and the use of Parliamentary time to debate it, I want to make it abundantly clear that not only do I find this and the majority of his comments to be repugnant in the extreme, but dangerous and irresponsible. He has consistently demonstrated a willingness to employ vilifying rhetoric under the guise of ‘tough talk’ to rile up the worst within the GOP voter-base, exploiting the fears of ordinary, less informed individuals for political gain to an extent that I find despicable.
Nevertheless, the very first thing I thought after seeing the petition circulating around social media was the almost comical irony in the petitioner’s demands to ban a person from the country because that person wanted to ban others from his own. Of there are many rebuttals to this observation, but it led me – despite my personal disdain for Trump – to pause before adding my own signature. Ultimately I realised that there was an even deeper irony at play. Just like Trump, who seems unable to understand that his divisive comments against Muslims fuel the rhetoric of groups like the Islamic State that seek to construct a fiction of East vs. West and Islam vs. Christianity, we, by signing this petition and turning it into a national debate, fuel the attention-seeking behaviour that has propelled him to the top of the polls. No other time in history has a Presidential candidate been able to invoke such ire that the UK, or any other Western nation for that matter, has put before its Parliament a proposal to have them banned from the country. The reality, as unpalatable as it might seem, is that by having this conversation we have merely given his voice an international platform from which to spread its hate whilst achieving nothing in return. Indeed this is no better represented by the fact that, at the time of writing, the second highest petition on the government’s website with nearly 500,000 signatures calls for the immediate cessation of all immigration into the UK until the Islamic State is defeated.
Another important reality that we must come to terms with is the fact that Trump not only has a chance of becoming the next President, but a very good one. Current polls have him leading the GOP primary race with margins of up to 20 per cent, and with the wave of anti-establishment furore sweeping the country he will have an excellent chance of beating likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in a general election. The US is perhaps our closest foreign ally and despite the problem one might have with its conduct in the past, no-one can deny that having the world’s most powerful nation on our side is beneficial. To debate or even suggest that we might ban a possible future President from our shores is not only absurd but contrary to our own economic and national security interests. Indeed in 12-months time when Barack Obama is replaced, our own government may well regret entertaining such a fanciful notion.