American Contradictions

Speech for CND demo at Trump’s golf course in Balmedie, 9 September 2017.

So, I’ve lived in Scotland for fourteen years, but I didn’t know until a couple of weeks ago that in the UK, the word Trump also means fart. Seems appropriate.

Jonathan asked me to bring an American perspective today, and I’ve been thinking about what that means.

I grew up in Connecticut, where the gap between wealth and poverty is obvious. Per-capita, it’s the richest state. Donald Trump had his first mansion there. George W Bush was born there.

But Connecticut’s capital city, Hartford, has one of the highest poverty rates in America. Its murder rate is five times the national average. The city is looking at declaring bankruptcy.

In many ways, Connecticut is a symbol of America’s contradictions. The promise of opportunity and the reality of inequality. The promise of justice and the reality of violence.

Trump is a product of those contradictions. His privilege and entitlement, his misogyny and racism, his contempt for every other creature on the planet. It’s like everything that’s ugly and poisonous about America has come to life, and he’s trying to spread that poison over the whole world – whether that means emboldening racists and fascists, rolling back civil liberties, or provoking a nuclear war.

I’m not going to list his fuck-ups. We’d be here all day and we all know the story.

The good news is that people aren’t just accepting it.

All over America, people are getting involved in activism, many for the first time in their lives. Established organisations like trade unions, feminist groups and environmental campaigns have seen huge increases in membership and donations. Movements like Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter are expanding incredibly fast, and new organisations have exploded onto the scene.

They’re harnessing technology to stay connected and be as effective as possible. Experienced organisers are sharing their skills and training newcomers. New activists are injecting energy and enthusiasm when hope is at a low ebb.

There’s an echo of the early Bush years, with a new urgency. Trump has been so outrageous, so belligerent, so terrifying that ignoring him is not an option. His brand of evil will not fade away on its own. It will not respond to politeness and compromise. It is not self-limiting. It is not rational.

We’ve seen this again and again throughout the twentieth century. When we tolerate hate speech in the name of freedom, then hatred and violence will grow, until they threaten the very foundations of democratic society.

All that’s necessary is for good people to avert their eyes.

But the good people of America are not averting their eyes. Not this time.

The Women’s March in Washington was the biggest protest America has ever seen. There have been thousands of rallies, town hall meetings, fundraisers, letter-writing campaigns, activist training sessions, and everything else you can think of, all across the country.

There’s not one leader on a pedestal, or one movement that has all the answers. There’s hundreds of leaders, and hundreds of interconnected movements, because all of the issues we face are part of one toxic system.

Racist attacks in the American South may seem a million miles away from nuclear posturing in the Korean peninsula, but they’re all expressions of the same mindset. Big men – and it’s mostly men – inflate their egos by making other people suffer.

One leader can’t fix that mindset across the whole world, and the terrible, visceral shock of Trump – especially after the hope and positive rhetoric of Obama – have shown everyone that the political pendulum can swing wildly.

The antidote is long-term, grassroots resistance. The antidote is solidarity. The antidote is building the world we want to see, from the ground up, and not pinning all our hopes on one leader or one movement or one idea. The antidote is showing that hatred and violence are not normal, not acceptable in a civilised world.

It’s not always glamorous or sexy. It’s writing letters to the newspapers and talking to your neighbours and organising protests and fact-checking the fake news. It’s standing up for what’s right, again and again and again, until you’re exhausted and your heart hurts will the enormity of the task.

Sometimes it might feel like our little actions are meaningless and isolated. But remember: we are not alone. And when millions of people take action together, we can pull the pendulum back towards justice.

Because the same thing is happening on the other side – that’s how someone like Trump came to power in the first place. We let our guard down. And the contradictions of inequality were exploited to consolidate the power and privilege of the rich.

But Trump can be a lesson – and he can be a turning point. There will always be hatred in the world – but we can weaken its grip and keep it in check. More and more, the good people of the world are standing together and refusing to tolerate hatred. And here in Scotland, we’re part of that global resistance.

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