STUC General Secretary, Grahame Smith, shares his thoughts ahead of Trump’s UK visit. An abridged version of this was published in the Daily Record on 13 July 2018.
Donald Trump arrives in the UK this week. His encounters with our PM are nothing more than a convenient pretext for the real reason for his visit, the most expensive ever Scottish golfing holiday.
To some Trump is a figure of ridicule, and he has given the late night American talk show hosts plenty of opportunity to do just that. To some, including many white working class Americans, he is a figure of salvation from the drudgery of global capitalism. And to some, me included, he is a figure of dread, someone to be feared, someone who poses a significant threat to democracy.
We Scots like to think we are a welcoming people. But there are limits, and we should draw the line with Trump – a narcissistic, misogynist, sexist, racist, authoritarian, white supremacist, Nazi sympathizer.
Trump and the other authoritarian leaders, in whose company he appears most comfortable, pose a serious threat to us, to our planet, to democracy, to unions, to progressives across the world.
We should never forget the many lessons to be learned from history and it’s not as if we haven’t seen this movie before.
The rise of ultra-right, populist, protectionist, authoritarian regimes, has consistently followed a global economic crisis – just like the one we suffered in 2008.
Fascism makes progress by increments. It feeds off economic discontent. It manufactures and stokes ethnic, cultural and national grievance. It concentrates power in the hands of its elites. It ostracises minorities or outsiders – those who do not conform to its definition of what is morally or culturally acceptable, who are ‘less worthy’.
It eliminates opposition politically, in the media or in civic society – including trade unions.
Fascist regimes hate international institutions that would hold them to account against collective standards for human, labour and civil rights. They prefer the company of their own.
They justify their actions as upholding the rule of law – the law they create, however outrageous, and however divergent from international standards. Any decent is condemned as lawlessness and is ruthlessly crushed.
Trump’s actions certainly conform to this sinister pattern:
pulling the USA out of the Paris climate accord and the UN Human Rights Council and violating the rules of the WTO;
consistently criticising international institutions like the UN, the EU and WHO;
preferring the company of authoritarian dictators like Putin, Kim, Erdogan and Duterte, on whom he lavishes praise;
threatening to ‘lock up’ his political opponents, condemning those who challenge him, including the press and media, as anti-American;
disregarding evidence to justify policy decisions while making a virtue out of ignorance, including his own;
attacking unions, collective bargaining and workplace reps;
justifying the separation of families on the Mexico border and the interment of children as upholding the rule of law;
referring to those seeking asylum as people who infest America;
demeaning, through his words and actions, women; people with disabilities, African Americans, and the LGBT+ community;
retweeting disgusting and bogus videos of the UK’s far right; and
defending the Charlottesville Nazi’s who marched with their torches in defence of pro-slavery monuments, and amongst whom, Trump said, were ‘good people’.
There is no moral equivalence between fascists and anti-fascists as Trump tried to assert. There are fascists and those who oppose fascists, only one of those groups is right.
Theresa May has much to be ashamed of, but her sycophantic tolerance of Trump, despite his total disregard for her and the so called ‘special relationship’ between the USA and the UK, is near the top of the list.
It was disgraceful that a British PM ran hot foot to the White House to beg Trump to undertake a State visit. It says something that even the Queen finds Trump so odious that she baulked at that prospect.
When asked in the Commons about Trump’s detention of children her response was anaemic. An appropriate response would have been to cancel his visit.
This week, May has the opportunity to tell Trump some home truths. I’m not holding my breath. Trump is dangerous. He should not be appeased or pandered to. He should be condemned.
On Friday and over the weekend, thousands of people will join people’s protests against Trump. These protests are not anti-American. We stand shoulder to shoulder with all Americans who fear Trump as much as we do and who are actively resisting: the Women’s March; Black Lives Matter; Planned Parenthood; progressive trade unions; the Human Rights Campaign; and many other groups and individuals from the political left; from industry, sports and the media.
The STUC and unions will be prominent in these protests. It is our responsibility to defend democracy at home and abroad.
Democracy is about more than putting a vote in a ballot box on Election Day. Political institutions need to be influenced and held to account by wider civic society of which unions are a central part. We have a crucial role to play in defending fundamental human rights and civil liberties. Building union membership and organisation has never been more important not just to improve rights at work but to stand up for democracy.