Trump, May and the fightback for human rights

Posted by Martha Spurrier on 22 November 2016

Donald Trump’s presidency poses an existential threat to the global human rights movement. Our resistance must start now.

Vicious attacks on human rights were the dark animating force of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. His rhetoric was openly racist, sexist, disablist and bigoted. His policies, clearly in breach of the values laid out in the US Constitution and protected by human rights laws the world over.

Anathema to freedom, liberty and democracy itself

He’s pledged to reintroduce waterboarding and “a hell of a lot worse”, lock up and deport millions of US residents, impose mandatory surveillance of mosques, create a database of American Muslims and ban others from entering the country.

He’s promised to appoint Supreme Court justices to overturn its 1973 establishment of a right to a legal abortion, and jail his opponent – as well as punishing any other woman who exercises control over her body.

His aims are anathema to freedom, liberty and democracy itself.

Denial and delusion are dangerous responses

Over the past fortnight, many commentators have suggested Trump won’t govern the way he campaigned. But his words tell a different story.

Since last Tuesday, he has re-committed himself to mass deportations, wall-building and a Muslim registry. His advisers are talking up Second World War Japanese internment as good precedent.

He’s appointed acknowledged anti-Semite Steve Bannon as his second in command. His chosen Attorney General was blocked from becoming a judge for his racism and his new National Security adviser has tweeted that “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL”. Women in America are now queuing up for long-term contraception – and 12 have claimed that the President-Elect has sexually harassed them.

Donald Trump and Theresa May

Trump’s victory unleashed a torrent of hate, harassment and abuse of minorities, on a scale unseen for decades. His response? To play it down, blame the media and attack those bravely and peacefully protesting against his platform.

The signs aren’t good. Nothing about this situation is normal. And all those committed to liberty, freedom and equality, must keep saying so.

Denial and delusion are dangerous responses when a hate-fuelled Administration takes power.

Trumpism and Mayism

Which is why our Prime Minister’s response to Trump’s election has been so disappointing, so disloyal to the values we hold dear and so disrespectful of the principles that make this country a civilised one.

In marked contrast to other Free World leaders, Theresa May failed to insist our continued co-operation remain rooted in adherence to basic values.

Disappointing, yes. But not surprising to followers of her Home Office career, where fundamental values fell victim to realpolitik on a daily basis. Deportation squads, scapegoating of Muslims, the indefinite detention of migrants, all-seeing surveillance – all established under her watch.

Over the last decade, the dark spectre of authoritarianism has loomed over our policies – and the consequences have been divisive and discriminatory.

Earlier this year Prime Minister even called for UK withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights – the value system that protects us from tyranny and forces our elected representatives to respect our rights.

Her Government remains committed to repealing the Human Rights Act – precisely because its protections apply to all human beings, regardless of nationality.

Trumpism and Mayism may be closer than we think, and their political relationship may be cosier than we like.

Where next?

Trump will soon be Commander in Chief of the most advanced military and surveillance arsenal in history. The newly-passed Investigatory Powers Act will no doubt give him access to the UK’s bulk surveillance programmes.

Forget the pledges Trump’s already made. Think of the ideas yet to be dreamt up. Consider the resurgence of the far right across Europe, exploiting economic insecurity and scapegoating others – whether migrants, religious minorities or BAME communities – for problems that are the fault of the political elite, not the citizens they are supposed to represent. It’s easy to predict the road we could soon embark on.

From Saudi to Selma, from Hillsborough to Hungary, the universal struggle for human rights faces an acute and existential challenge.

Stand with us

Our sister organisation, the American Civil Liberties Union has wasted no time in its efforts to block Trump’s assault on liberty. Liberty stands in solidarity with them, as we have so often before.

If you do too, please stand with us by joining and donating to Liberty – together we will hold our Government and its allies to account in the years to come.

Martha Spurrier Liberty

Martha Spurrier