Speaking shortly before he boarded his flight to Britain last week, Donald Trump declared smugly at a press conference following the NATO summit in Brussels: “Protests? There might be protests. But I believe that the people in the U.K. – Scotland, Ireland... I think that those people, they like me a lot, and they agree with me on immigration. And I think that’s why you have Brexit in the first place, because of immigration.”
Trump was not only fully unaware that the Republic of Ireland isn't part of the U.K., and has not been for almost a century. He also seemed to have missed the memo that the vast majority of Brits despise him. Had he tuned in, Trump would have seen upwards of 250,000 people gathered in London on Friday, and many tens of thousands more across the country, to protest his U.K. visit.
Meanwhile, Trump spent much of his stay in Britain trying to convince Prime Minister Theresa May – whom he has previously lambasted with relish in the media – to push for a “hard Brexit.” This would mean the U.K. relinquishes its entire access to the E.U. single market in order to have complete control over its borders.
A “soft Brexit,” the plan May has been more enthusiastically backing in recent months – a point she further confirmed in Thursday’s Brexit white paper – would retain some level of trade relations with the E.U. and make provisions for freer movement of people. On Sunday, July 15, May revealed on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that Trump told her she should sue the European Union rather than negotiate with them.
Trump’s other faux pas during his visit – at least according to the left, and indeed a significant proportion of the center and the right as well – included criticizing the U.K.’s National Health Service, which offers free medical care to all citizens, and accusing the Labour Party's London Mayor Sadiq Khan of being soft on terrorism.
Khan, incidentally, allowed a 30-meter-high balloon in the image of Trump as an angry-faced diaper-clad baby to be flown over the Houses of Parliament on the day of the protest. Many have dismissed the inflatable baby as a puerile and counterproductive response to Trump’s policies. Others are insistent that it hits him where he hurts: Tell Trump he is morally bankrupt and he is unlikely to have much reaction, but criticize his image and he'll run straight to the right wing press to tell them the blimp made him feel “unwelcome.”
Carey Marvin, an artist from New York who has lived in the UK for 29 years, said, “There are a lot of Americans here, even though the American Embassy put out a release saying that Americans shouldn’t go near London on the day of the march."
Martin told Occupy.com she was skeptical about the impact the march would have on Trump, but said that was “beside the point.”
“He’s dismantling democracy, he’s got no morals, no empathy, no civility and we have to protest," she said, citing voter apathy as a main cause of Trump's success winning office. "You can’t lock babies up, you can’t put Bible-bashing judges into lifetime positions with no experience. I think if we don’t fight all this we’re going to lose all our rights. A friend of mine who lives in Texas was saying to me that all the millennials she works with just don’t bother voting because they think it has no effect and that it’s all rigged.
"And when they lose their right to abortion, when they can’t get health screening, when they can’t get contraceptives, when their gay friends get beaten up, it’s too late. We have to stand up. At a certain point it gets so bad it’s criminal to stay silent," she added. Concerning Theresa May’s attempts to rekindle the UK’s “special relationship” with the US, “anyone – well, apart from Putin – who thinks they can be nice to Trump and gain his favor is insane.”
Carryn Jenner, another U.S.-born demonstrator, grew up in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, but has lived in the U.K. for what she called “many years.” Jenner said she believes Trump is likely to all but ignore the protests.
“I don’t know how much impact the protest is going to have on him because he doesn’t seem to take notice of anybody but himself anyway,” she told Occupy.com. Jenner is more concerned about the effect Trump’s presence is having on Prime Minister May, which is why she joined the march.
“He wants Brexit because Europe as a whole is quite strong and if he splits it up it makes him stronger. It’s all for his own reasons – it has nothing to do with what’s good for Britain," she said, adding that Trump’s actions are a far cry from what she was taught about democracy in school. “I was brought up in America, where we studied the Constitution, and it’s just crazy because it doesn’t represent anything that’s happening in America at the moment. My family still live in America and I have a family visit scheduled this summer. To be honest, if it wasn’t for a special family occasion, I would be absolutely staying away. I feel quite ashamed.”
Noel Marcellus Kalitsi, a Socialist Workers Party activist waving an anti-Trump petition, told Occupy.com: “Trump is scared of us, that’s why he’s steering clear of London today. He’s postponed his visit to England quite a few times but interestingly enough he’s chosen Friday the 13th to come!”
Kalitsi said he has no doubt that Trump will go as far as he can to achieve as much power as possible, Constitution and democratic order be damned. “If someone goes round trying to start a punch-up, says to Korea, ‘Your stick is big but my stick is bigger,’ that’s fighting talk. You can’t hide it or disguise it as anything else. What’s brought me here today is both Donald Trump and [British far-right politician] Tommy Robinson: both fascists, both mendacious.”
Fifteen-year-old Jack, a British student who attended the action, described Trump as “a pure idiot” and was adamant in asserting that the march would affect Trump, even if on the surface he appeared unmoved.
“Of course Trump will put out the initial impression that he’s not bothered by the march, but I think deep down he knows we’re coming for him,” said Jack. “He knows that it’s all going to hit the fan soon. His immediate response to everything is a very immediate, very Republican one – that he wants to dim down socialism, reinforce capitalism and play the hard man.”
Like so many others across the country, Jack was shocked to see May so quickly try to ingratiate herself with Trump. “Although he’s trying to get Theresa May onside, he’s been very clear in the media about how he hates her and how he wants a hard Brexit because of how a soft Brexit would affect the USA. It’s all about him and his country.”
Another protester, Amanda King, who is a retired teacher, said: “I don’t often go on marches now, because at 75 I find it hard physically, but I see the world descending into being a darker and less caring place and I think as such a powerful figure, Trump is one of the prime movers in that.”
King said she believes Trump wouldn't take much note of the political message behind the demonstration, but was convinced it would dent his pride. “I don’t think the march will have an overt impact on Trump, because he’ll carry on blustering, but we know he’s a vain and self-absorbed man and to know that 250,000 people want to descend on central London and demonstrate against him will give him pause for thought," she said.
More deeply, King is concerned about the level of involvement Trump is attempting to have in British politics – and not just in relation to Brexit. “I deeply resent the fact that he thinks he has a right to stick his fingers in our pie. He’s been rude about our London Mayor and more importantly our National Health Service, which is an institution we hold very dear. It makes me even more anxious that Britain should move away from the United States and towards Europe, because that’s where our friends are, the people who share our values. I know many Americans don’t share his views, and are decent people with decent values, but to invite Trump on an official visit was ill thought-out.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn spoke at the rally following the march, with rhetoric that was at once simple and powerful, drawing deafening cheers from the crowds. “I see that banner over there and it has a very important message: ‘Build bridges not walls'. We are asserting our right to demonstrate, our right to free speech and our right to want a world that is not divided by misogyny, racism and hate,” he said.
True to form, Corbyn pushed for less confrontational dialogue and a move towards peaceful compromise. “It’s not about not being prepared to talk to people with whom we disagree. I’m very prepared to talk to anybody about anything at all in order to advance the cause of peace, justice, democracy and human rights… When we divide ourselves with hatred, at the end of the day we all lose.”
The banner Corbyn quoted was one of a surprisingly few “serious” slogans seen on the march; the same brand of humor behind the inflatable baby was more in evidence. “We said comb-over, not come over,” read one. Another spoofed a famous Pink Floyd anthem: “All in all you’re just another prick with no wall.” Countless other banners simply read “DUMP TRUMP!” The last time Britain was famous for employing inflatable objects for political ends was when it sent out dummy tanks during WWII. Let us hope the inflatable baby was not a precursor to anything similar.