Donald Trump has left the White House. The world has breathed a collective sigh of relief. I warmly welcome President Biden and Vice-President Harris: they are a breath of fresh air on the world stage and a reminder that decency, professionalism and compassion should be hallmarks of those in positions of political leadership.
Donald Trump has been a terrible president. Probably the worst president in the history of the United States. He has divided a nation and helped prejudiced poison spread around the entire planet. Instead of building bridges, he built walls, metaphorical and actual. His racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia made life harder for American citizens and people in Plymouth because it legitimised hate. His attitude towards women was appalling, his views towards migrants and refugees disgusting, and he demeaned the Office of the President of the United States. I am glad he has gone but we must not kid ourselves into believing that the hate has gone, nor that the special kind of crisis that saw the Capitol stormed is a peculiarly American phenomenon.
Hate is on the rise. I saw that myself when my office was attacked a year ago with homophobic slurs graffitied across the windows. I hear it in the lived experiences of people in Plymouth who are abused for their skin colour, their sexuality, their background and their accent. Hate is on the rise and we must confront it and call out what we see before us.
I loved working in America in a previous job. The American people are great. But the divisions are growing in that nation, just as they are in Britain. I am hopeful that the Biden Administration will take the steps to tackle the virus and grapple with the climate crisis that Donald Trump refused to take. I believe Joe Biden will be the glue that will hold an agreement at COP26 together and I believe the message of hope, equality and unity he and Vice-President Harris represent will be heard around the world. We need that hope.
Britain is as divided as the US. Brexit highlighted the divides in our communities, in families and between friends. The Brexit deal has not made things better. It makes us poorer, and the consequences of a weaker economy are conditions that those on the far right – nationalists, racists and opportunists – will exploit. We are already seeing their hate seeping into the mainstream. The Government’s campaign against ‘woke’ agendas is just rebranding of Trump’s hate in a British context. Any Downing Street policy that seeks to divide rather than unite must be looked at twice. The fake news, the misinformation, the lies of modern politics are hallmarks of a nation and a democracy ill at ease with itself. Healing will take time, and is not an inevitability.
Donald Trump’s time in the White House has been a disaster, but more people voted for him in 2020 than did in 2016. I have friends across ‘the Pond’ who vote Republican. Though I disagree with their politics, we remain nonetheless good friends. There is an unease in me, though, about the comfortableness decent right-wing voters have with a President whose racism, division, lies and self-promotion have caused so much harm to so many people.
What lessons can we take from Donald Trump’s election loss? For me, someone on the left of politics, Biden’s victory gives me hope that division does not always win. But it also highlighted that division is deep-rooted. I believe in facts and I trust experts. That doesn’t mean we cannot debate, question and discuss, but it does mean that we should approach a debate with a common context and frame. I am vocal at calling out people who post slurs, insults or abuse on this page. Some quietly reflect on being called out and adjust their behaviour and for that I am grateful, but others just spout bile and hate in other forums. There is no place for hate in our politics but there’s a lot of it currently and that demands that everyone in public life looks again at what they are doing to unite rather than divide.
The violence and attacks we have seen have no place in democracy. Those who spread lies and whipped up the mob have the power to stop it. That they don’t tells a story about them and their values, and they will be poorly remembered in history. The mob is angry and scared. Hope is a very powerful emotion that can overcome lots. It is in short supply in an economic crisis, a deadly global pandemic and a fractured democracy. But we need more hope. And less hate.
British Trump, as President Donald calls Boris Johnson, is still in power. He suggested Donald Trump should win the Nobel Peace Prize, he cosied up next to him when he didn’t need to, and his Ministers and Government have been slow to call out his lies about election fraud. I am not a fan of populism, fake news and the type of politics that has proliferated on both sides of the Atlantic in recent years. I am glad Donald Trump is no longer President, but I do not for a moment believe that the hate and division he represents is gone. It is a challenge for the Republican party to rid itself of nasty populism, and it is a challenge for us all, everywhere around the world, to build a better way of treating others, building bridges and conducting the art of democracy. That is true of how we do politics in Britain and in Plymouth too. Work hard and be nice to people is my approach.
There will be some people in Plymouth who are sad to see Donald Trump go. There will be many, many more who are happy about today. The attempted coup in the Capitol only days ago should serve as a reminder that democracy is fragile. It requires constant nurturing, care and commitment. That is as true in Britain as it is in America.
So, today, I welcome President Biden and Vice-President Harris. I believe America is in better hands today than it was yesterday. The brighter future for all Americans and for the rest of the world will take a lot of work, but I am up for that effort and ask that each of us, in our own ways, do our bit to build bridges, to listen, to forgive, and to heal. Stay safe Plymouth.