Another year, another Trump visit, another demonstration. But there are particularly urgent reasons to protest this summer. There is a real and growing threat of a US attack on Iran. Trump and his supporters are stoking the rise of the far right across Europe and beyond. And his administration’s continued denial of climate change is helping to push the planet to an irreversible tipping point.
The slow tightening of the screws on Iran began last year when the US tore up the 2015 nuclear deal, despite full Iranian compliance, and imposed stringent sanctions. It has been ratcheted up in recent weeks to crisis level. Sanctions have caused major damage to the Iranian economy, with oil production and GDP down and inflation rocketing. To intensify the military pressure, the US has sent a carrier strike group and bomber taskforce to the region.
Now unsubstantiated allegations from US intelligence that Iran deliberately attacked Saudi oil tankers in the Gulf are reminiscent of the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964 – the fabricated claim that North Vietnam had carried out an unprovoked attacked on US shipping – which was used to justify the US’s decade-long war against Vietnam. This should really ring alarm bells – but activists need to know that May’s government shares the US analysis of Iran as a “heightened threat”, even if it claims to counsel a more low-key subversion of the country.
Trump’s destabilisation of Venezuela and support for right wing authoritarian regimes worldwide also need calling out. His latest endorsement of the migrant baiting government of Viktor Orban in Hungary puts him on collision course with the European Union which has criticised Orban’s trampling of civil liberties. This won’t bother Trump, who has also effusively praised Nigel Farage, whose Brexit Party has been complacently portrayed in the media as a populist challenge to a detached political elite. But make no mistake: behind Farage stand the most extreme forces.
His party’s most senior election official publicly praised the far right ‘Tommy Robinson’, now the best funded politician in Britain, thanks to US money flooding into his and other alt right organisations. If these politicians find a longer term purchase in Britain, it will be thanks in some part to the latent nationalism in our society that we challenge all too infrequently. A recent survey showed that over 40% of people were “proud” of Britain’s colonial history and thought the British Empire – built, remember, on centuries of slavery and exploitation – was “a good thing”. We don’t expect the right wing media to educate people on these issues, but when did the left last produce the materials that could challenge such assumptions on a mass basis? Now we should.
All this raises real concerns about the functioning of our democracy. But for some they will seem secondary to the threat to the very survival of the planet that Trump poses. Without an immediate internationally concerted effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions, rising temperatures will cause higher sea levels, ocean acidification, severe climate events and the accelerating loss of species.
Yet Trump is leading the ‘free world’ in the opposite direction, boosting fossil fuel development, opening up Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling, slashing investment in renewable energy and threatening to pull the US out of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change if he is re-elected.
Don’t expect the UK government to take Trump to task over this during his state visit. The Tories’ own commitments to oil and gas extraction mean that it will miss its targets under the Paris Agreement. New research suggests that recent subsidies for oil and gas extraction will add twice as much carbon to the atmosphere as the phase-out of coal power saves. And should a hard right Conservative leader replace Theresa May and take Britain out of the EU without a deal, all evidence suggests that the monitoring of, and resistance to, climate change will be significantly set back.
The scale of recent protests in London, led by Extinction Rebellion, show that growing numbers of people understand the enormity of the challenge.
Inspired by these, Jeremy Corbyn moved a parliamentary motion proposing a climate emergency, while most Tories vacated the chamber. Labour have followed that up with proposals to bring the national energy grid back into public ownership and install solar panels on 1.75 million homes, mostly social housing and low-income households. These are excellent steps.
Mobilising against a reckless and dangerous President is just the start. The challenge is to build a mass movement for radical change to bring about a fundamental change of political and economic direction, which only a Corbyn-led Labour government can secure.