Jennifer Saul on how Theresa May is getting away with it.
I am both British and American – born and raised as an American, I came here in 1995 and have had dual citizenship since 2002.
After the US election in November, I found myself in the depths of despair and hopelessness. But then things changed. The resistance that I saw beginning with the Women’s March stunned me. I was further stunned by the protestors and lawyers pouring into airports to fight Trump’s immigration order. I’ve been heartened to see every immigration order thoroughly defeated. We’ve now seen a budget which met almost none of Trump’s stated goals. The first effort at killing Obamacare failed even in the House, and it still looks likely that the second will fail in the Senate. Much of this is due to a left in the US that I have never seen so energized, or so effective. These give me hope.
There were also beautiful anti-Trump protests in the UK – a women’s march, a scientists’ march, many protests against the idea of Trump coming to the UK. You might think these would also give me hope – and they did, fleetingly. But in the end that hope has turned to frustration. The opposition to May, the Tories, and Brexit is vastly less mobilized and effective than that against Trump. British people seem far more eager to protest Trump than to protest May.
One might suppose there is good reason for this: May is a normal politician, with positions far less extreme than Trump’s, most seem to think. But is that really true? She has brought in a policy which requires a special 8-page “rape form” be filled out by victims of assault hoping to claim child tax credit. She has committed to using EU citizens in the UK as bargaining chips in the Brexit negotiations. She has expressed a total lack of concern over nurses needing to resort to food banks. And she has demonstrated again and again her deep xenophobia, whether by insisting that foreign students (who come for a short period and pay a huge amount of money) be considered immigrants; or by insisting on policies which result in the deportation of people who have spent 30 years as caregivers rather than money-earners. And that’s just off the top of my head.
So what’s the difference? The key difference, I think, is that Trump has been unwise enough to be absolutely crass and open in his racism, sexism, and contempt for the poor. Both societies are in fact willing to put up with quite a lot of these things – as long as they are not made to explicitly face up to it. Because May has mostly avoided clear declarations – intoning empty words like “strong and stable” over and over, rather than “Mexicans are rapists” – she is being allowed to get away with some of the most damaging and retrograde policies imaginable.
Jennifer Saul was raised in the US, but has lived in Sheffield for 21 years, where she is Professor of Philosophy. She has dual citizenship, which she thought would be comforting. Instead, she has two countries that upset her greatly.