Let Trump Come
Donald Trump is a bad guy. Good, we’re agreed. Should he have been invited on a state visit to Old Blighty? Yes, definitely. Should we go out in droves to protest when he gets here? Yes, definitely. This may seem like a contradiction of beliefs, but it boils down to what we need the state to do for us, and what we can do for ourselves.
To work out the role of the state, we have to ask why we have one in the first place. The first and most obvious answer is protection. Protection from outside forces, other states, and protection from each other, through a system of enforced law. Granted, on top of this it can be argued the state should have anything from no extra powers to enough powers to run our entire lives, but the point is that protection should be, and is, the state’s primary concern.
For our state, and many allied states, our protection from external forces resides in NATO. It is no secret that Donald Trump is a direct and explicit threat to this pact — although unless we, and various other NATO states, increase our defence spending to the agreed amount then we are just as much of a problem. This latter point aside, Trump is a problem for our defence, and one that our government can only hope to resolve by keeping the US onside and making sure the dialogue stays open. This isn’t done by turning down invitations for state visits or refusing to reciprocate such gestures and it most certainly isn’t done by rescinding formal invitations because some people signed a petition.
Donald Trump’s travel ban is undoubtedly barbaric, thankfully the US judiciary agrees, and we should let the US know this — which our government did, behind closed doors. However, this isn’t an arbitrary state visit from some minor nation with whom we can afford to brush off a visit from on the grounds of distasteful domestic policy. We need Trump at the table with us to ensure NATO’s future. It may not be a nice thought that we don’t have as much freedom of action when it comes the US, but its the truth. Progress was made in Washington as Trump pledged commitment to the alliance, now lets build on that.
Any responsibility of the government to be the mouthpiece of the people comes after its responsibility to defend them, we can speak for themselves while the state goes about doing what we asked them to. Trump’s state visit is the perfect opportunity for people who think he’s a whopper to go and shout ‘whopper!’ at him (although more erudite protests are encouraged) and this is exactly what we should do, because he is a whopper. Trump can come to the UK and see that his alliance with the British government remains, whilst also getting a sense for the British people’s feelings towards his ban and his overall existence. He’s no doubt cleverer than most give him credit for, and he will be able to see the subtlety of the situation — the special relationship remains and we are still interested in a defensive pact, but don’t be mistaken that we’re going to let you get away with anything and everything. May has said that to him directly, and now we get our chance to say it. We don’t need Theresa May virtue signalling and cancelling a visit on behalf of us, and potentially throwing our most valuable defence system and alliance to the wind just so she can get a few retweets. If anything, the best way for May to dissuade Trump from any particular domestic policy action would surely be through closed door discussions rather than attempts at public humiliation — his skin doesn’t seem to thick, nor his fuse too long.
It is not the role of the state to publicly condemn every other nation’s poor domestic policy decisions. It is first and foremost protection of its own citizens. This was illustrated well by the visit and reenforcement of the special relationship, and by Boris Johnson’s contacting of his opposite number on behalf of UK citizens where they were affected by the travel ban. There is, arguably, an international role for governments to play when another state oversteps the mark but not at the expense of the security of their own citizens nor when, as is the case with the travel ban, the issue is being dealt with within the guilty state.
It is important that we don’t fall into the illusion that the state is the be all and end all of the citizenry. The special relationship we have with the States’ is not solely between governments. It is a special relationship of civilisations, cultures and citizens. If that goes, then the relationship is in danger and both Trump and May will be aware of that. Let the state do what we asked it to do — protect us — and let’s take the opportunity to let Trump know that with us, the British people in all of our witty sign wielding, egg-throwing glory, he is on a short leash.