Protest has filled the void in public discourse left by sensible, reasoned debate
Mr Trump is coming to these shores next week, and the plans for protests have already been unveiled, as reported in the Guardian. What this means is that though there may well be plenty of coverage for Mr Trump, there is certainly to be almost as much for those who do not like him.
It is not quite clear to me what the protesters are protesting about. Alasdair MacIntyre, in his seminal work, After Virtue, made the important point that protest fills the gap in public discourse left by the absence of a shared public reasoning. In other words, people will not be discussing Trump, refuting Trump or interrogating Trump, or asking Trump to justify his positions, they will rather be shouting slogans which, while they will leave us in no doubt that they dislike Trump, will not tell us much about why this is the case. The ubiquity of protest is a sign of the decline in our national conversation, which has become not an exercise in reasoned discourse, but a shouting match.
Another thought about the Trump protests is as follows: are they aimed at the right person? Trump is coming as the guest of the British government. One can hardly blame him for coming. If one really wants to object to the visit, surely one should aim one’s objection at our own Prime Minister, who invited him. If Trump is so antipathetic to the British public, and he certainly seems to be, surely Mrs May is very much to blame for inflicting this unwelcome guest on us all?
Beyond the question of Trump, we should perhaps question the whole idea of state visits, official visits and working visits by foreign heads of state. Many an unsavoury character has had a moment of glory with a carriage ride down the Mall, or a photo op with the Queen and Prince Philip. Why did we have to give Ceausescu this accolade? Perhaps there was a good reason back in 1978, but who can think what that might have been now? Ceausescu was by no means the most blatant example of an embarrassing guest either. The question remains: do these state visits bring any lasting benefit to Britain?
In the category of state visits, I do not include the two Papal visits Britain has received. The first was a pastoral visit by Pope John Paul II, which was surely the right emphasis – a visit to these shores to visit the Catholic faithful. The state aspects of the visit of Benedict XVI, thanks to Gordon Brown’s invitation, did not really add anything to the success of his visit. It is best if the Papacy does not emulate the customs of heads of state. Popes are primarily pastors rather than heads of state, and it is the pastoral role that should be stressed.
As for Trump, when he comes, I shall not be protesting. But I might be tempted to ask Mrs May, if I were ever to meet her, why she invited him.