The Northern Line Tube train going into central London from Balham was packed with jolly middle-class people, all of them well (though casually) dressed. It was the day after the inauguration of Donald Trump and they were on their way to Green Park to join tens of thousands the world over in a huge exercise in virtue signalling.
These people wanted Planet Earth to know that they loathed Trump and all his works – his misogyny, his locker-room talk, his unbelievable dishonesty, and his nasty finger gestures. They reminded me rather of the cheerfully defiant mood among the anti-war marchers 15 years ago. As I swayed between the doors clutching the central pole, a young woman got up and offered me her seat, which I accepted. I knew better, though, than to say: “Thank you, my dear.”
I liked these people, even if I did not agree with their rigidly secular worldview. Many of them were members of the Sloane diaspora in south-west London, and some might even have been members of the dreaded liberal elite. They shop at Waitrose and Peter Jones, and their children go to prep schools and in the loveliest retro uniforms. It’s a bit like the 1950s. Best of all, though, is that these good people keep the property prices buoyant in my part of London.
When I reached Grosvenor Square (via Green Park) at about midday there were thousands of protesters in place. Some wore EU flags to indicate that Brexit was just as bad as Trump – as, of course, it is; and, indeed, worse, since we are not going to be given the opportunity in four years’ time to opt back into Europe.
There were quite a few children there, and husbands and boyfriends, and some excellent dogs. One or two of the dogs – I think especially of an absolutely beautiful working cocker – looked just a little bit apprehensive, the way dogs do when they are in a crowd and out of their comfort zone. A cocky little spoodle wore a wrap-around coat bearing the words “Bitches got Rights”.
The march was led by Pride in London, followed closely by Suffragettes against Trump. Many in the parade wore pink “pussy hats” and a few had pink hair. Some of the the placards were simple and to the point: “—— Trump”.
As we moved towards Piccadilly Circus I spotted a group of three lovely young women standing beneath one of the better slogans in the parade: “Free Melania”.
I knew exactly what the women meant, or thought I did: Melania is a product of Trump’s Playboy taste in women and is therefore his creature, his prisoner. But I suggested to the woman that she was not a victim but a willing collaborator, cushioned from reality by the Trump billions. I decided not to argue the point, but did suggest she had seemed pretty chilled during the inauguration. “She wore a very nice blue outfit,” I said. One of the woman stopped smiling for a moment and said sharply: “That is irrelevant.”
Anything else on their minds? Yes, Obamacare, women’s reproductive rights, the environment, and LGBT issues. But isn’t Trump quite good when it comes to the LGBT community? He has, after all, said that he will not try to overturn gay marriage, which ought to please LGBT folk, if not the Christians who voted Trump. What will have pleased the Christians, however, – not least the more cynical among them – is Trump’s executive order to defund International Planned Parenthood.
But when Trump describes himself as a Christian one ought not to take him too literally. He developed a quasi-spiritual taste for his “cracker and wine” at the Marble Collegiate Church on Fifth Avenue, but his Christianity is probably no more profound than Hillary Clinton’s. He has said that he does not go down on his knees before God to beg forgiveness. (When many years ago I visited the Marble Collegiate Church, I noticed that there were no kneelers. I spoke to the pastor and we managed not to strike up a friendship. My fault, I suppose. I think I banged on rather about the Traditional Latin Mass and he told me that he had an inbuilt fascist detector.)
And yet to many good Christians Trump is the Christian candidate. Some muscular Catholics believe that not only is there a case for voting Trump, but that it would be sinful – perhaps mortally so – not to.
It is so tricky. At the Tablet Christmas party I spoke to a Catholic academic and author whom I know slightly and respect a lot. He was scornful at the idea that any Catholic could find reasons for not voting for Trump, because not to vote for him was to hand the vote to Hillary Clinton, who is a pro-choice extremist and an enemy of the Church.
Yes, but Trump is a liar. You can’t vote for a man you can’t trust, especially one who makes promises he knows he can’t keep.
This article first appeared in the January 27 2017 issue of the Catholic Herald. To read the magazine in full, from anywhere in the world, go here