It's not a perfect measure, but you can generally assume that when half a million British people agree on something, that something is stupid, selfish, priggish, and wrong. Case in point: the petition to ban Donald Trump from entering the UK, signed by 575,000 people and debated in Parliament on Monday.
The debate was a great exercise in British self-delusion, running for three hours, as one politician after another put on their most serious statesman face, burping up heroic soundbites on fighting racism or free expression in the hope of being turned into a viral gif. Parliamentary politics at its finest, or in other words, as a mildewing private school debate club: there was no vote, and the debate had no consequences; the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have already indicated that they will not be blocking Trump from entering the country—supposedly because of our commitment to free speech; more likely because we can't be sure that a bored and blood-crazed American public won't hand the man 7,000 nuclear weapons. We can debate the issue all we like; the next time Donald Trump comes to Britain, he's more likely to be stuffed into a gilded carriage with the Queen than to be turned away at the border.
And this, despite appearances, could be a good thing. Not because of any of the usual guff about how open debate is the best way to solve differences or how we can only change people's minds by talking to them, but because of the sheer hypocrisy of the petition. Trump has said and done any number of monstrous things over the course of his 69-year slither to the top, but what really caught the world's attention was his proposal for a temporary moratorium on the movement of all Muslims—including US citizens—into the United States. His politics are border politics: a big beautiful wall to seal off the boundary with Mexico, a big beautiful database of every Muslim in America, a big beautiful box to hide your head in.
Like all fascisms, it's about determining what is inside and what is out, stamping down on any exceptions that blur the divide, and turning the world into a cartoon with extremely heavy linework. And the reaction of the British public, when faced with proposals to introduce harsh and arbitrary border controls and keep the dangerous foreigners away? Introduce harsh and arbitrary border controls. Keep the dangerous foreigner away. What does it say about a country when its reaction to any outside evil is to go glassy and rigid, to jump inside of its shell?
Whatever their other differences, just about every response to the Trump situation is based on the idea that Britain is a good and open and harmonious place, something you can easily disprove by going outside on a rainy Tuesday. Theresa May insists that "coming to the UK is a privilege and not a right." Jeremy Corbyn proposes to invite Trump to his local mosque in Islington, so he can see how nicely everyone is getting along. Paul Flynn MP suggests taking him to Brixton, which Trump had identified as a Muslim-controlled "no-go" area.
Meanwhile Britain bombs foreign countries and refuses to take its share of refugees; it lets children die on train tracks or crammed into the backs of lorries. A new Home Office policy, taking effect in April this year, will order the deportation of any non-EU national in Britain who makes less than £35,000 [$50,000] a year. (If the rules were enforced universally, well over half the country would have to leave. Donald Trump, though, would be safe.) New changes to the spousal settlement visa would separate British-born children from parents who fail to pass a mandatory English language test and are unceremoniously exiled from the country.
The discourse on migration in Britain is brutal and insane, and the laws are enforced by dawn raids and racist vans, an exclusionism on the point of fascism. We don't just talk about purifying ourselves of foreign contaminants, we do it every day. In a situation like this, the function of that petition is to make us feel better about ourselves. We take the evil that surrounds us and project it onto the sweaty folds of Donald Trump's body. We're not racist, we're not fascist—it's the orange man, he's to blame. And to prove how different we are, we'll close our borders to him. The petitioners are speaking his language. Britain and Donald Trump deserve each other.
I'm not saying that Donald Trump should be allowed into the UK; ideally, he'd be barred from every country on Earth, left to live out the rest of his days in an underwater prison. But if we're serious about keeping fascism out of this country, we should do it consistently. The Home Office can block or remove anyone from the country if it feels that their presence is "non-conducive to the public good." Let's start taking this seriously.
First, we boot out all the foreign landlords, all the attendees at our glitzy arms fairs, all the visiting generals. It'd be hard to claim that any of these people are anything other than non-conducive to the public good. Then we can get to work on our domestic problems. Ticket inspectors, for instance, those low-level enforcers of our own grotty 21st-century fascism. Border guards (of course), lobbyists, cops, Vine stars, aristocrats, Sunday Times columnists, and so on. As we work further and further to dig out the evil from our national psyche, the landscape itself will start to change. The old forests, beaten back for 3,000 years, will once again swamp the countryside, their deep dells seething with wolves. Climbing plants will slowly grapple skyscrapers to the ground. Seals will swim up the Thames. Something like life will return to the rainy fascism island. All this is in our power. And until it's done, we have no right to refuse entry to anyone.
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