Brendan O’Neill

The Stop Trump protests are the ultimate virtue signal

The Stop Trump protests are the ultimate virtue signal
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This afternoon, across Britain, the most pro-establishment demo of modern times will take place. Sure, the Stop Trump protesters gathering outside Parliament and elsewhere will look and sound rad. They’ll chant and rage and blow whistles and hold up placards with Trump done up like a tangerine Hitler. But don’t be fooled. These people are the militant wing of the old establishment. They’re radicals for the old status quo, pining for the pre-Brexit, pre-Trump era when their kind ruled and ordinary people knew their place. 

The aim of the Stop Trump gatherings is to encourage MPs to deny Trump a state visit. Starting at 4.30pm, MPs will debate a petition insisting that Trump shouldn’t be afforded the pomp and shenanigans of a state trip because he isn’t a very nice person. His ‘misogyny’ and ‘vulgarity’ make him unfit for an audience with the Queen, apparently. It would ‘cause embarrassment to Her Majesty’. Well, we can’t have uncouth, foul-mouthed people from that uppity colony-turned-republic upsetting our monarch, can we? It won’t do. More than 1.8m people have signed this craven, forelock-tugging petition to protect Her Majesty from the ‘vulgarity’ of a brash, moneyed foreigner (who happens to have been elected by 63m people — 63m more than have ever voted for the Queen).

As MPs debate this plea from the chattering classes to protect the Queen from mortification — the petition’s signatories are largely based in the south of England and in metropolitan areas — protesters outside will beg them to ban Trump, or at least deny him the pageantry of our great state. Radical? Do me a favour. This is a painfully polite plea emanating from the metropolitan set and demanding our institutions be ring-fenced against the gruff speech and tiny hands of a stupid Yank. It’s as pro-British establishment as it is anti-Trump, the argument being that our political system is too pristine and good to be despoiled by the pussy-grabber-in-chief.

There’s an ironically nationalist bent to the protests — ironic because the protesters are no doubt the kind of people who fancy themselves as super-cosmopolitan and pro-EU. The protests are in essence an appeal to British decorum, to British fair play and temperance over the ‘vulgarity’ of rich, portly Americans. They’re calling on our MPs to do the bloody decent thing of turning Britain’s gilded, golden back on a nasty bloke from afar.

This is why so many in the political class have leapt with relish upon the Stop Trump moment — because they spy in it an opportunity to big up themselves and their institutions at a time when both are held in pretty low regard by most of the public. The Stop Trump cry is the greatest gift some sections of our ruling class could have wished for. It provides them with the shortest of short cuts to a moral high ground that has eluded them for so long. All they need to say is ‘Yeah, I hate Trump too’ and — boom — they’re good, they’re pure, they’re back in the moral game.

Hence the orgy of virtue-signalling and back-patting among certain parts of the political classes as they’ve stood up one by one to say ‘I don’t like Trump’. John Bercow, Harriet Harman, Yvette Cooper, Ed Miliband, Nicola Sturgeon — they’re all at it; they’re all seizing the soap box being thrust in their direction by protesters praying that they slam Trump and in the process advertise their own superior virtue.

It’s a win-win for these people. They get to look edgy and glamorous to the Twitterati, who fawned like overgrown schoolgirls over Bercow when he said Trump shouldn’t address Parliament. And they get to whitewash their own past nastiness. Bercow voted for the bombing of Iraq. Miliband was at the forefront of demanding the bombing of Libya. These destabilising events created the very refugee crisis in relation to which Trump now issues cack-handed executive orders. Yet thanks to protesters, who have fashioned the most binary of moral universes in which Trump is the most wicked of politicians and anyone who opposes him is wonderful, these politicians can hide their own culpability for global disarray beneath the glare of being Against Trump.

Not surprisingly, the old establishment — the technocrats and bores and haters of ‘the deplorables’ who ruled the roost pre-Brexit and pre-Trump — love this rather shallow anti-Trump movement. Hillary tweeted effusively about the Women’s March against Trump. Obama has praised protesters. Over here some MPs are lining up to speak at anti-Trump gatherings. At the same time, some on the left have praised, or at least accepted, attempts by America’s intelligence agencies, the deep state, to weaken Trump’s grip on power. We’re witnessing the birth of a bizarre love-in between the old, bruised elite and supposed radicals, between an establishment rejected by ordinary people and leftists who miss that establishment.

A whole new era of protest is being born: one in which marchers demand greater power, not for themselves, but for a decaying bureaucratic elite that is looking on with horror at what democracy has spawned. This is no people’s movement. It’s the opposite, in fact. It’s an expression of metropolitan fury with the dumb political choices made by the people, cheered on by a sad, ousted establishment.