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Coffee House US Election

Spot the difference: Trump wants to ban people; people want to ban Trump

20 January 2016

1:17 PM

20 January 2016

1:17 PM

The shamelessly censorious MPs and petition-signers who want Donald Trump banned from Britain are basically saying: ‘Oh my God, he wants to ban people from entering America! This is so outrageous we must ban him from entering Britain.’

Can these people hear themselves? The thing they claim to find repulsive in Trump — that he fantasises about forcefielding his nation against people who have allegedly dodgy ideas (Muslims) — is the very thing they aspire to do. The Trumphobes share Trump’s intolerance of funny-thinking foreigners. They denounce The Donald, but when it comes to being tolerant, open and not a mind-policing, border-enforcing irritant who shuns any outsider who thinks a bit differently, they fail just as spectacularly as he does.

The parliamentary debate on Monday about keeping Trump and his allegedly mind-warping bants out of Britain was a nauseating spectacle. Various MPs gave freedom of speech (and their own reputations) a kicking as they insisted some ideas are just too dangerous to be allowed into Britain, where they might drive mad those folk who aren’t very good at working out right from wrong and being normal, level-headed citizens (that’s us).

Labour’s Jack Dromey — who used to work for the National Council for Civil Liberties for pity’s sake — said Trump should not be ‘allowed within 1,000 miles of our shore’. Maybe we send a gunship to intercept this big-haired possessor of questionable views? The DUP’s Gavin Robinson said Trump had a ‘dangerous capability’ for saying ‘the most obscene or insensitive things’. Labour’s Tulip Siddiq branded Trump ‘a poisonous, corrosive man’ and suggested his rabble-rousing might… well, rouse the rabble, the little people — that’s us again.

This is the key concern of the Trump-bashers, from those showboating MPs to the 576,824 people — how depressing! — who have signed the ‘Block Trump’ parliamentary petition that brought about Monday’s debate: in the words of a reporter from the New York Times, they’re worried that his presence in Britain would ‘inflame tensions between communities’. That is, his words might set us off, unleash people’s inner Islamophobe, turn the pogrom-in-waiting that is the fickle, tabloid-reading blob into an actual pogrom.

This exposes the ugly prejudice that always motors demands for censorship: contempt for the public. Sure, those MPs and sad petition-signers might loathe Trump, but they fear — really fear — ordinary people, whom they view as an unpredictable, swirling mass, less capable than them of thinking rationally.

From feminists who want to squish lads’ mags lest they programme teenage boys to become rapists to campus censors who No Platform the far right in order to prevent students from becoming intoxicated by their nasty ideas, every censor is driven far more by an elitist contempt for the public than by a genuine opposition to the speaker or image or thing they want to hide.

Sure, Trump would be the immediate victim if the Block Trump nonsense were to be successful; but the real targets of this initiative are Trump’s potential listeners in the UK. You know the kind: white, of course, very possibly working-class, maybe a bit Ukippy, and thus utterly untrustworthy in the eyes of snooty leftists and lawmakers. As Thomas Paine said, censorship is more a ‘sentence on the public [than] the author’, because it tells them ‘they shall not think, they shall not read’.

And such censorious snootiness, such a desire to crush or quarantine certain ways of thinking in the name of maintaining social peace, makes the Trumphobics indistinguishable from Trump. Where he wants to build a metaphorical wall around America to keep out those with an Islamic mindset, his British haters want to enforce a blockade against those of an allegedly Islamophobic mindset.

Both sides are driven by intolerance of ideas they don’t like, yet which they’re unwilling to confront in the public arena. Instead they demand bans, restrictions, restraints on people they consider bad or dangerous. They might fancy themselves as polar political opposites, but both Trump and his British opponents opt for the cowardly solution of censorship over the more difficult but infinitely more rewarding route of free, frank, visible debate.

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