First things first; a disclaimer. Like 99% of the people I know I find Trump’s Muslim ban repulsive, ill thought out and counterproductive. As such it became a valid topic for what was Leeds’ third protest in just over a week, following the demonstrations after Trump’s inauguration and the Leeds incarnation of the nationwide ‘women’s march’. However, it is precisely the frequency of protests, coupled with past hyperbole, which devalues the vitally important point of the most recent round of protests.
It would be my guess that the same people, or at the very least the same type of people, have attended each march. This is an issue, as it means a policy which is widely unpopular across the political spectrum is being protested only by a relatively small group of left wing activists. Furthermore, the frequency of these demonstrations risks diminishing their significance and ability to raise awareness of certain causes. For instance, similar protests reacted to the 2015 Conservative election victory, the EU referendum, Trump’s election and his inauguration. Inevitably, this devalues their impact, diminishing the ability to raise awareness of what is am evidently poor policy.
This is symptomatic of a wider failing, among people of all political persuasions, but one which I feel particularly afflicts the liberal left. The exaggeration of your opponents’ failings might be tempting in the short term, but it reduces the ability to criticise genuine extremists such as Trump.
The Democrats used similar slurs to those they hurled at Trump against previous Republican candidates such as Mitt Romney or John McCain. Likewise George W Bush was regularly caricatured as a right wing trigger happy extremist who was too stupid to be president. What this means is that calling Trump these things failed to have the desired effect. This phenomenon is not confined to the US either- some on the British left will even call Tony Blair a fascist, for goodness sake. If you think Tony Blair is an extreme right winger, you need to get out more. Such exaggeration is not by any means solely the preserve of the left- Republicans may regret absurdly trying to label Obama a terrorist sympathising Marxist if a candidate about whom that description is accurate should ever run for the presidency. In such circumstances the likelihood of voters rolling their eyes and claiming to have ‘heard it all before’ is extremely damaging. Some of the shock at Trump implementing the platform on which he was elected can surely be attributed to this weariness with constant threats about opposing candidates every four years- people were shocked when they finally turned out to be accurate.
In summary then, this week has revealed a key weakness of the polarised climate in which politics at present is conducted. While we all want robust debate, the election of Trump shows the perils of falsely labelling your opponents, as it devalues such labels in circumstances when they are truly merited. The recent protests show in microcosm the dangers such irresponsible campaigning can pose.
(Image courtesy of YouTube)