This coming Thursday, President Trump will be making his first official state visit to the UK. A series of demonstrations and protests are scheduled to take place during his four-day visit, with criticism being thrown at Theresa May for allowing the trip to proceed amidst the never-ending Trump-generated controversy that has been at a particular peak the past couple weeks.
There is an argument to be made that the protests against Trump’s state visit are misguided, as such demonstrations play into the conservative narrative of liberal hysteria and disrespect towards Trump voters and the democratic process. And it is true that dictators and tyrants alike have been welcomed to the UK without nearly as much fuss and outrage.
The protests take place within the context of a heated discussion over the matter of civility in politics and political discourse, following an incident involving Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders being asked to leave a Red Hen restaurant a couple weeks ago. This was not the first occasion of public shaming towards a member of the Trump administration. Former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen have all been accosted while dining by members of the public.
Of course they should be allowed to lead personal lives. They should be able to go out for dinner. But calls for civility ignore the fact that those being confronted have signed up for a job in the public sphere, under the harshest of public lights and are fronting and advocating for contentious and often damaging policies and positions. It cannot be expected that that part of their lives can be dropped and left at the door at the end of every day.
The roles they have chosen to undertake have very few equivalents as these are figures whose daily actions affect the lives of so many and represent their nation in a global stage. When Sarah Huckabee Sanders or Mitch McConnell walk into a restaurant, those who confront them can’t be blamed for feeling uncomfortable, or taking the rare opportunity to make their grievances heard.
For those like Donald Trump, numbers, ratings and attention mean everything. The president has opened the floodgates for show-business type political talking-heads whose careers rest on the numbers of likes and retweets their tweets receive. With Trump, like with any online influencer, numbers mean power and the ability to have one’s influence reach further than any sit-down TV interview could achieve.
It does feel like all anyone talks about now is Trump; I myself being obviously guilty. And it’s pretty clear that that is what he is after and is the motivation behind every late- night, caps-filled tweet. He wants to get the world talking and to ensure that attention never strays from him for too long.
When it comes to talk of civility, it does not feel like the time or place for such concerns to wholly dictate our actions. That’s not just because the president is the most uncivil of all; it would be much too easy to use that as the only argument. While the baby Trump blimp may seem immature and unhelpful, we must use numbers in the way Trump understands, as the most important means of power. The 2017 Women’s March, 2018 Women’s March and the March for our Lives all occupy the top spots in the largest marches in US history.
The debate about civility is simply a power play and one that can not be used to squash resistance or protest.