Kieron O’Hara is an associate professor and senior research fellow in electronics and computer science at the University of Southampton. He has also written extensively on conservatism and the Conservative Party.
I can’t abide Donald Trump. He seems to stand for everything I loathe, from thuggery to charlatanism to mercantilism to fiscal profligacy. If I want a dose of anti-Trumpism to perk me up, then it is easy enough to find in the Guardian’s Comment section.
But hang on a minute: isn’t that a bit counter-intuitive? Granted, Trump’s robust personality could turn almost anyone off, but his general economic and political stance is really quite lefty – protectionism, big government, big debts. When you get down to it, the drumbeat against Trump in the left-wing press is weirder than his support from the right. Look at the parallels, illustrated below with links (mainly) to the Guardian.
- The Left is keen on Keynes. Trump is about as Keynesian as they get. He promises to borrow billions at low rates to invest in capital projects. Isn’t that what John McDonnell has been calling for for some time?
- Trade and globalisation. Trump hates borders that are open to capital flows. Everyone seems pleased that the Trans-Pacific Partnership is dead, but no-one seems pleased that its killer was Trump. A Guardian editorial sniffed that “on one narrow issue, President Trump is right” for the wrong reasons, while Owen Jones went so far as to argue that Trump deserved no credit, as the Trans-Pacific Partnership had been killed off already by the people.
- Social movements. Paul Mason, among others, has extolled the virtues of social movements, new kinds of politics and resistance, bypassing sclerotic centres of power and championing the people directly. And Donald hasn’t?
- Low opinion of democracy. George Monbiot agrees with Trump that our democracy is debased, de-based and corrupted, and is unsurprised that people voted for him. His article suggests moves toward direct democracy, though not via referendums such as Brexit. He suggests ‘helping’ voters make informed choices – not through a campaign, mind, but with authoritative and accessible guides to issues published by a national agency (i.e. Project Fear revisited). In other words, the democracy we have doesn’t work because it produces the wrong results. This focus on outcomes is also very Trumpian; the latter’s assumption that (if he lost) the election would be rigged, and his berserk assertion that the votes of illegal immigrants lost him the popular vote, are mirrored exactly by Democrats alleging voting irregularities (a bit rich given their earlier outrage at Trump’s ‘rigging’ rhetoric).
- Shaking up the system. Trump’s selling point is that he is draining the swamp, and indeed has been applauded by anti-elitists on the right such as Boris Johnson and Michael Gove (that was a joke). But hasn’t the left been telling us Washington, and Whitehall for that matter, are corrupt for decades?
- Post-truth politics. Most on the left have excoriated ‘post-truth’ politics of the kind practised by Trump and his team. In this, they are absolutely on the button; nothing is more depressing than the devaluation of the currency of truth. But the left has form here too; for example ignoring the evidence that free markets have pulled billions of people out of extreme poverty. And that’s before we even start on Jeremy Corbyn’s rail journey.
- Low opinion of Obama and the Clintons. Obama and the Clintons, those dratted neoliberals, were in bed with the bankers and neglected the common man and woman. Owen Jones accuses Hillary of failing to oppose trade deals ‘authentically’. If only an outsider populist had got in instead.
- High opinion of Putin. What a love-in it would be were Putin, Trump, Farage, Corbyn and Seumas Milne to be trapped in a lift together. Let’s not go there.
- Trump’s rhetoric about women was and is horrible, and his cabinet is none too girly. Yet behaviour on the left often recalls H.L. Mencken’s definition of a misogynist as a man who hates women more than women hate each other. Even stalwarts such as Germaine Greer and Julie Bindel have been attacked, while the women’s anti-Trump march was preceded by inevitable namecalling. Trump is an outlier in his lack of respect for women, but feminists’ endless internecine battles are hardly good examples for him to follow.
- Trolling as a tactic. Online politics is not pretty, and Virtual Trump is one of the ugliest, as is often argued. But Corbyn’s Labour Party doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny.
- Climate science. Admittedly, it is safe to say that Trump’s view of climate science is not that of Monbiot or Caroline Lucas. However, they do all subscribe to the same erroneous principle: if climate science is approximately correct, then human society needs to be completely reconfigured. Trump and Monbiot are ghastly mirror images: the former rejects the science because he doesn’t want to go back to the Stone Age, while the latter’s political agenda and environmental agenda reinforce each other. The science should inform but not dictate the policy response. Without the apocalyptic principle that they jointly hold, one can reject cretinous conspiracy theories that climate science is a hoax (whether Chinese or otherwise) and take its risk analysis seriously, without ‘unashamed radicalism’ or fantasising about ending capitalism.
The parallels only go so far. It is hard to imagine any serious Guardianista advocating torture, deregulating business, insulting Mexicans while building a wall to keep them out, being pointlessly punitive about crime, or threatening to deny health services to millions of people. Trump is not a man of the Left, but neither is he of the Right.
He is the 45th President of the United States, and until the 46th arrives he has to be dealt with as such. Theresa May is obviously entirely sensible in dashing to Washington to talk necessary business. Though we don’t have to like it – I certainly don’t see any upside of Trump – we surely must lump it (thought I’m not sure it’s the ‘national disgrace’ that Susanna Rustin suggests). But while Trump’s rise has been welcomed by many on the Right for unclear reasons, the sullen rebellion of the Left seems odder since he shares so many of their assumptions and policy aims.
Maybe they are just cross that they lost and he won – the narcissism of small differences.