The petition calling for American businessman and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to be banned from entering the U.K has over 570,000 signatures. A debate will now be held on the 18th of January in the House of Commons. The petition comes after Trump’s countless statements, from demanding a wall be built along the entire American-Mexican border to calling for most Muslims to be banned from entering the US.
I, like the majority of the British population, completely disagree with everything that Donald Trump represents. He is a neo-fascist barely capable of putting together a coherent sentence, let alone a coherent policy proposal. He relentlessly tarnishes America’s virtue of liberty and freedom, whilst proclaiming to defend them. Trump reacts to events with as much dignity and understanding as, well, a fascist. His response to the terrible Paris attacks was to call for a database registering every Muslim in America. This is perhaps the most condemned political statement of 2015 and, I believe, rightly so. Similarities here to previous fascist states are clear.
Yet despite my opposition to Trump, I strongly believe that he should not be banned from entering the U.K. This petition goes beyond Trump. It centres on what it means to live in a liberal society where freedom of speech is integral.
Many of those who signed the petition no doubt believe themselves to be liberal. A key belief for liberals is that a diverse society is a healthier society. Such a society means a greater diversity than race, nationality or religion. Diversity of thought is a virtue that ought to defended just as much as any other type of diversity.
By attempting to ban Donald Trump from entering the U.K, those that signed the petition are proclaiming without doubt that he is wrong. And yes, I agree that he is wrong.
Debate the ideas
But the only way to demonstrate that a person and their ideas are wrong is with thorough debate. An individual, especially one running for political office, must have their opinions held to account. Would banning Trump from the U.K do this? Certainly not.
Trump has claimed that the U.K has “a massive Muslim problem.” This is nonsense. Nonsense that has to be countered with opposing arguments, not a reductive outright ban. Trump should be allowed into the U.K simply to show him that we don’t have “a massive Muslim problem” nor any other kind of Muslim problem.
For a society to flourish, freedom of speech has to be as robust and extensive as it can. John Stuart Mill was a 19th century English philosopher, and a strident believer in the freedom of expression.
His most famous essay “On Liberty” states, “there ought to exist the fullest liberty of professing and discussing, as a matter of ethical conviction, any doctrine, however immoral it may be considered”. On this basis alone, the ability of Trump to express his opinion should not be curtailed. And it would be if he wasn’t allowed into the U.K.
Every state and society have some sort of laws restricting freedom of speech, on various grounds. John Stuart Mill believed that the ‘harm principle’ was the only justification to limit speech. He states that “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”
Would Donald Trump entering ‘harm’ British society?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines harm as to “have a bad effect on something”.
Well, to ban Trump from U.K. would actually harm the U.K. It would have a negative effect on debate, restricting ideas and diversity of thought. That is a far greater harm than objective offence.
John Stuart Mill’s harm principle was later developed by other thinkers into the ‘offence principle’. Many claim that Trump is offensive. I myself find him offensive.
Many felt that Malcolm X was offensive. And Mahatma Gandhi. Even Lady Chatterley’s Lover was banned for this reason. Should the French magazine Charlie Hebdo be banned? My point is that offence is objective and someone can’t just restrict speech because it offends them. What is deemed offensive changes often. This perfectly demonstrates another point of Mill. He said that an individual or a society cannot assume infallibility, that they are incapable of being wrong.
Now, I’m not saying that I think in 50 years time we’ll all look back and think Trump was right after all! But, we can’t assume otherwise.
If we ban Trump from entering the U.K, we assume that we are infallible. Any assumption of infallibility is misguided and ultimately damaging to society.
I say let Trump into the U.K. Debate with him. Ridicule his every word and point out the vast holes in all of his arguments. Use logic and reason to state why you think so. But we should not ban him.
The news organisation Vice recently advertised a article about Trump on Facebook with the line, “500,000 people can’t be wrong.”
True. But they can’t claim to be right either.
Do you think Trump should be banned from the UK? Let us know in the comments below.