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Sunday, 24 January 2016

Trumpy The Talking Toupee


Donald Trump is like a force of nature. Not a good one like sunshine or rainbows, but a nasty one like the bubonic plague or a river of fast-flowing lava. You can't avoid Donald any more than you can avoid gravity.

So outrageous has been Donald's behaviour - specifically, his recent call to ban all Muslims from entering the US - that the UK Parliament debated whether or not he should be barred from entry into the UK. This came about as a result of an e-petition signed by over 570,000 people sick of gravity and wishing it would just go the hell away. That's more signatures than any other e-petition to date.


Background for non-Brits

The UK does not have any threshold of signatures at which the government must enact a law or even hold a referendum. So all e-petitions are really just calls for Parliament to debate the issue, and of course a chance to make public feeling known. In fact, the government doesn't even respond to a petition unless it gets at least 10,000 responses, and it won't even consider them for debate unless there are at least 100,000 signatures. Even at that level there's no guarantee they'll hold a debate. Make no mistake : petitions are calls, nothing more. They aren't diktats or demands. That's why I signed it - not on the expectation that it would actually happen, much as I might like it to.

Furthermore, in this case the decision to bar someone from entry rests with the Home Secretary, not Parliament. Of course, if there was a strong cross-party consensus, it would be a foolish Home Secretary indeed who ignored it, but Parliament has no power to enforce the result of the debate even if there is one.

It's also important to remember that the UK has had exclusion powers for years, and has used them on hundreds of people. There'd be nothing the slightest bit novel about banning Donald, save that he's a Presidential candidate candidate* for some reason.

* At least I shall assume that's the correct term, since he's currently only a candidate for the Republican nomination which would then still only make him a candidate for President.


The Debate

With that in mind, I watched the whole three-hour debate which I shall summarise for the less patient / more pressed for time below. And a very good debate it was. Quite unlike the riotous performances typically seen in the main chamber, there was not one cry of, "yeeeeeeeeah !", not one personal attack (except on Donald), and everyone gave way when pushed for questions. In fact, this is probably the first time I've ever seen politicians debating an issue as though they were actual grown-ups and not drunken teenage louts. I would even go so far as to say that I emerged with a strong feeling that British democracy was getting along rather better than I'd previously feared.

Admittedly, this did mean the debate fell into the "interesting" rather than "exciting" category, but it was not without its colourful moments. Donald was repeatedly lambasted as an "idiot", "buffoon", "fool", "stupid", whose ideas were "bonkers". The highlight was definitely when a member of this the Mother of Parliaments described Donald as a "wazzock". That, dear readers, is the sort of word the Brits use when they're 13 and haven't quite grasped the concept of swearing yet.

Not a single person defended Donald's ideas or presented him as an admirable figure. It's pretty darn hard to do that when several of the MPs present were female Muslims. "Yes, Donald is right to ban the Right Honourable elected lady because she's clearly plotting a terrorist attack right now, look, you can see it in her devious Muslim eyes, why I bet she'd have blown us all to pieces if she was wearing a burka".

Without further ado, here's my summary of the arguments debated for and against banning Donald. You can watch the full debate here or read a complete transcript here. Here I have attempted to condense a lot of the repeated arguments and present the counter-responses where appropriate, along with my own comments where I thought I had something worth adding.


YES, WE SHOULD BAN DONALD TRUMP
  • Donald's views are causing an increase in violent hate crimes. His opinions aren't merely offensive, they are dangerous and causing harm to people who have done no wrong. At this point free speech becomes an excuse, not a virtue. We would be condoning bigotry to let him in.
Most of the MPs seemed to agree that yes, there does come a limit at which freedom of speech is a mistake. I'd agree with that too. The question then becomes : has Donald crossed that line ? Is he really inciting violence ? This was not fully answered. If he is, he surely should be banned. If he isn't, he should not.

  • Other people have already been excluded for having very similar views. The law must apply to everyone equally - in the words of the original petition, "the rich as well as poor, and the weak as well as powerful".
This is probably the most compelling reason for the ban. If you don't agree that it's right to ban anyone at all, well, fine, but if you believe in the rule of law you should currently advocate for the ban. The counter-argument to this one looked decidedly weak to me. Those advocating for the ban held up examples of bloggers and activists banned for very similar views; those against it held up a completely different list of people banned for actually being violent themselves. There does not appear to be a complete public list of those subject to exclusion orders, and that's a big problem.

  • Donald Trump would ban current British MPs from travelling to the US for no reason other than they happen to be Muslims. They've committed no crime, they've lived in the UK their whole lives and been elected to political office, but he would ban them anyway. Therefore we should have no scruples about banning Trump just because he's a politician.
I find this argument compelling too. The counter-argument that the ban won't actually happen since the President is not a dictator seems weak. More persuasive was the argument that we could be talking about banning the supposed leader of the free world - the richest, most powerful country on Earth - from coming to the UK, which is obviously a pragmatic nightmare even if that leader is a talking racist toupee. I could wax lyrical on America's schizophrenic attitude to freedom (you can get pulled over for minor traffic violations, can't buy alcohol until you're 21, but you can buy an assault rifle without anyone checking to see if that's a good idea), but I won't.

A closely related argument was that we surely would have banned other political figures for having similar views. The excellent counter-argument was that actually no, we've let in far worse people on official state visits before. Clearly, exclusion orders have problems.

  • A ban on Donald isn't interfering in American politics, it only controls what Americans are able to do while they're in the UK. It would send a clear signal to the US that we disapprove of Donald but that's not the same as trying to influence their election. Anyway Donald's policy would interfere with British politics so we should feel free to intervene in American politics.
    Those arguing for the ban had mixed opinions as to how it would work politically. The argument that politically it wouldn't cause problems was best expressed thus : "Donald Trump is a fool. He is free to be a fool; he is not free to be a dangerous fool on our shores." Ideally that may be true but the counter-argument, which I find convincing, was that the American voters won't see it like that. Therefore we would be interfering in American politics whether we intended to or not. The also convincing counter-counter argument was that by banning Muslims, Donald would ban the very people who could persuade him that he's wrong - leading to a self-perpetuating stupidity.


    NO, WE SHOULD NOT BAN DONALD TRUMP
    • Freedom of speech is only necessary when people say things we don't like. Best expressed here as "...but it takes real guts to say unpopular and controversial things, and in that regard, I have a lot of respect for the Leader of the Opposition [Jeremy "I ride a Chairman Mao bicycle" Corbyn], whose hallmark is saying unpopular and controversial things. I will always defend his right to do that too."
    One slightly disturbing thing I've seen in the US election is that when people defend Donald for saying what he thinks (he isn't, but we'll get back to that) they are attacked because they must have sympathies for his moronic ideas. Well, here we have a very clear example of someone defending freedom of speech on both sides of an issue. That's absolutely the way it should be.

    (While we're at it, can someone explain to me why hate speech against Muslims (or any other group) is called, "free speech", whereas standing up for them is called, "political correctness" ?)

    But as already mentioned, the MPs seemed unanimous that freedom of speech does have some limits. Of course those limits should be used extremely carefully, but the question remained unanswered : has Donald crossed the line ? Or as one MP eloquently put it :  "I have heard of a number of cases in which people have been excluded for incitement or for hatred; I have never heard of someone being excluded for stupidity, and I am not sure that we should start now."

    • We should not stoop to Donald's level. Rather the opposite, that's what makes us better people. Moreover, we will only propogate his views with a ban - far from silencing them, it would be the biggest boost to his campaign possible.
    This strongly appeals to the Machiavellian streak in me and I have to say I find this the best argument against the ban by far. As I've written previously, Donald and his ilk use the vitriol of their opponents against them. That's how he can get away with (quite absurdly) protesting that his ban on Muslims would be fair but banning him would not (I'll get back to that in a minute), even though banning one individual is patently different to banning a whole group. He would say that his opponents hate him for telling the truth or some such effluence, and his popularity would only increase. So if we want to stop Donald, banning him is the last thing we should do.

    The counter-argument is that Donald is causing violence. Accepting this as true, it's hard to resolve these two very strong arguments (at least I think so).

    • Banning Donald would be ridiculously ironic. In fact it's crazy that we're even debating the idea of banning a Presidential candidate candidate at all. It's for the US to decide on Donald's views, and it's embarrassing and silly of us to hold this debate.
    This one I reject completely. Yes, the US get to decide if they agree with Donald or not, but they don't get to tell us how we respond to him. No, holding the debate isn't ridiculous. While I expect politicians in a representative democracy to have their own views, they still have to abide by the will of the people. In this case that meant more than half a million people calling for a debate, so I see nothing ridiculous in the discussion whatsoever.

    As to the fact that the ban would be ironic, I would say yes, that's the point. If Donald doesn't like being banned himself, what in the hell gives him the right to ban other people ? Wouldn't such a ban point out the stupidity of a ban in the clearest way possible ? Assuming that Donald is not actually a terrorist, he'd have been banned for no good reason. Clearly there are hundreds of millions of Muslims who aren't terrorists, and banning all of them is equally nonsensical. The irony isn't a problem, it's delicious.

    A more important rebuttal was presented in the debate : there's a difference between banning one dangerous individual (assuming he is one) and a whole group of people based on their beliefs. One person proved to be dangerous is wholly different from a diverse group of people with a common characteristic. You cannot say that a few extremists make that group dangerous any more than you can say that Irish terrorists make the Irish dangerous or neo-Nazis make the Germans dangerous. Judge people on their criminal behaviour, not what they believe in.

    • We should tackle Donald head-on, not suppress him. France has more laws against free speech than other European countries but the largest far-right party, whereas the British National Party collapsed soon after the leader's high-profile appearance on Question Time. We should educate and persuade Donald, not try to silence him. Donald is free to say stupid things, but the flip side of that is that we're allowed to point out his immense stupidity.
    I don't know if anyone has shown a correlation between free speech laws and the far right (or indeed left), but that would certainly be interesting. Assuming that freedom of speech does lead to less extreme views, then (with my Machiavellian streak again) I'd be all for increasing free speech laws as much as possible. It doesn't seem to be working in America very well at all though.

    The idea that we should try and persuade Donald is certainly a laudable goal, but flawed. It rests on the assumption that Donald is an idealist - someone with principles, who genuinely believes what they're saying. That probably applies to many of his supporters, but I doubt this for the man himself. He's populism incarnate, saying anything it takes to win votes. He has no principles and believes in nothing except himself. That gives him an advantage : he has literally no emotional stake in anything he says, so if he contradicts himself he literally doesn't care. Most politicians at least get flustered when they're caught acting against their own principles, but not Donald.

    Another rebuttal to this was that we shouldn't need to educate an American Presidential candidate candidate. The counter-rebuttal was that some Presidents haven't exactly been Mensa material.

    • Our values of tolerance are strong enough to stand up to Donald. We shouldn't ban him, we should ridicule him, as is the British way. Put him on Have I Got News For You and see how long he lasts.
    The Muslim MPs countered that it's all very well saying that our values are strong enough, but it looks a lot different when you and your community are being directly threatened. Their view was that Trump is succeeding in making a bad situation much worse. It's hard to disagree with that.

    A few MPs said that Donald is so dangerous that this is no laughing matter. On this I profoundly disagree. It is precisely because he's dangerous that he should be ridiculed at every opportunity. There's nothing more damaging to an idea than accurate ridicule. I personally would pay good money to see Hislop and Merton make mincemeat of the man. Notable quotes from the debate included : ""On that point about [banning]1.6 billion Muslims, thank God there aren't 1.6 billion Trumps !", ""Up close we might get to see just what is under that hair !", and, from a Scottish MP, "He is the son of a Scottish immigrant, and I apologise for that." Please also watch the HIGNFY link above for better examples.


    Conclusion

    There was a unanimous consensus that Donald Trump is a bad person and his idea of banning all Muslims isn't a very good one. No clear verdict emerged as to whether or not he should be banned, though if I had to guess I'd say the nos had it.

    Personally I don't think it's so easy to come to an obvious conclusion here. If others have been banned for similar views, then the question becomes why shouldn't we ban Donald ? On the other hand, if we we really want to stop his campaign, we probably shouldn't ban him because it's quite plausible that will only make things worse.

    Ban or not, I'm strongly in favour of the ridicule approach. It's damned hard not be be afraid of Trump and nigh-on impossible not to hate him. Only by revealing him as the clown he is - albeit one in a dangerous position - can we stop feeding the fire, and perhaps persuade his supporters to see reason. Well, maybe.

    One might wonder if that given this lack of a clear conclusion there was any point in having the debate at all. I say yes, emphatically, there was. Sometimes there's value in a talking shop. The idea that issues are complicated and uncertain is something that only people like Donald can never understand.

    6 comments:

    1. Replies
      1. I'm afraid "crackers" just doesn't cut it. Stronger language was needed.

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    2. "Clearly there are hundreds of millions of Muslims who aren't terrorists, and banning all of them is equally nonsensical."

      Clearly there are hundreds of millions of private firearms that aren't used in the commission of crimes, and banning all of them is equally nonsensical. Yet isn't that pretty much what the U.K. has done?

      "The Muslim MPs countered that it's all very well saying that our values are strong enough, but it looks a lot different when you and your community are being directly threatened. Their view was that Trump is succeeding in making a bad situation much worse. It's hard to disagree with that."

      Wait, what? How has Trump harmed any Muslim, or committed violence against them? If "making a bad situation much worse" is saying words that inspire people to commit physical violence in retaliation for those words, precisely who is "making a bad situation much worse"? (E.g., http://chersonandmolschky.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/behead-those-who-insult-islam.jpg )

      "One might wonder if that given this lack of a clear conclusion there was any point in having the debate at all. I say yes, emphatically, there was. Sometimes there's value in a talking shop. The idea that issues are complicated and uncertain is something that only people like Donald can never understand."

      But if I understand Trump's statement correctly, he didn't call for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States. In reaction to mass killings resulting from "sudden jihadi syndrome", and to claims by Daesh that they are now infiltrating terrorists into the U.S., and to numerous polls that show a small but non-negligible proportion of Muslims in the U.S. (one percent of five million? that's still a lot!) believing that violent jihad to advance Islam is justified, Trump called for a temporary moratorium "until we can get things sorted out." (In his official statement, at least; some of his campaign speeches have been less nuanced.)

      Would you play Russian Roulette for a £20 payoff if there were a 1% chance of a live round in the chamber?

      Would it have been unacceptable if Trump had called for a ban on *all* immigration (not just Muslims) for, say, five years? (Stupid, granted! But unacceptable?)

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    3. "Clearly there are hundreds of millions of private firearms that aren't used in the commission of crimes, and banning all of them is equally nonsensical. Yet isn't that pretty much what the U.K. has done?"
      Not quite. It's banned (essentially) all firearms from public ownership, but this doesn't apply to the police. I think the situations are too different to compare directly.

      "Wait, what? How has Trump harmed any Muslim, or committed violence against them ?"
      Promoting the view that Muslims are dangerous - so dangerous that no more should be allowed into the US - fuels the rise in hate crimes against Muslims.

      "But if I understand Trump's statement correctly, he didn't call for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States."
      In fact that's exactly what he did. Temporary on not, it would still be a discriminatory ban.

      "...a small but non-negligible proportion of Muslims in the U.S. (one percent of five million? that's still a lot!) believing that violent jihad to advance Islam is justified"
      A fair point, and in fact polls in other countries have shown much higher proportions than 1%. Yet the disparity in the numbers of those advocating and actually practising is massive, see http://astrorhysy.blogspot.cz/2015/11/scapegoats-and-statistics.html

      "Would you play Russian Roulette for a £20 payoff if there were a 1% chance of a live round in the chamber ?"
      A not entirely inappropriate analogy but it needs modifying. Suppose there were five different guns and I was told that there's definitely a bullet in one of them. One of the guns, I'm told, is 0.001% more likely to have the bullet. I'm also given some sort of device for detecting bullets. Though the device isn't 100% perfect, it says that another gun is much more likely to contain a bullet. Obviously, it makes no sense to discriminate against one gun if all the evidence is saying it's another.
      I also think a harmonious multicultural society is worth far more than £20.

      "Would it have been unacceptable if Trump had called for a ban on *all* immigration (not just Muslims) for, say, five years ?"
      If he was saying, "because all foreigners are dangerous", then yes it would.

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    4. >> "Would you play Russian Roulette for a £20 payoff if there were a 1% chance of a live round in the chamber?"

      > A not entirely inappropriate analogy but it needs modifying. Suppose there were five different guns and I was told that there's definitely a bullet in one of them. One of the guns, I'm told, is 0.001% more likely to have the bullet. I'm also given some sort of device for detecting bullets. Though the device isn't 100% perfect, it says that another gun is much more likely to contain a bullet. Obviously, it makes no sense to discriminate against one gun if all the evidence is saying it's another.

      A modification of your revised analogy:

      You are playing Russian Roulette, and can choose any gun from six on the table in front of you. The person who loaded the guns tells you that there are two bullets; one bullet is in the red, orange, yellow, blue, or violet revolver, and one bullet is definitely in the green revolver. Would you decide to play? And if you did, then would you deliberately choose the green gun?

      > I also think a harmonious multicultural society is worth far more than £20.

      Perhaps. In this analogy, what would be an appropriate payoff? And perhaps you'll pay more than £20, yet you still won't receive the promised goods.

      (It reminds me of the exchange between Slartibartfast and Arthur Dent in one of the "Hitchhiker" books:
      S: I'd far rather be happy than right any day.
      A: And are you?
      S: No ... That's where it all falls down, of course.")

      There are multicultural societies, and then there are societies that contain separate cultures that do not mix with one another (and often are hostile to one another). Any culture in which more than twenty percent of the population subscribes to Islam seems to me *in practice* to belong to the second category, and frankly I don't see much value to that.

      > Promoting the view that Muslims are dangerous - so dangerous that no more should be allowed into the US - fuels the rise in hate crimes against Muslims.

      Has there in fact been any rise in "hate crimes" against Muslims? Has there been any rise in crimes of *actual violence* against Muslims? How many subway bombings or beheadings of innocents have been carried out by Lutherans, Buddhists, Jews, or Scientologists in the U.K., and have Muslims been the targets of any of them? Have Muslims in he U.K. committed any such acts?

      To be clear: I consider Trump an opportunistic buffoon who likely would be a disaster as president. I hope with the intensity of a thousand Wolf-Rayet stars that he is not the Republican nominee. But one reason his candidacy is getting so much traction is that he's willing to go against the orthodoxy of our Betters, and to raise issues that other politicians have not. Perhaps these aren't issues that you think *should* be raised, but many people in the United States do, and it will take convincing arguments against Trump's proposals to counteract him. The arguments against him that you've set forth above are unlikely to convince the undecided voters here, much less dissuade Trump's followers.

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    5. "You are playing Russian Roulette, and can choose any gun from six on the table in front of you. The person who loaded the guns tells you that there are two bullets; one bullet is in the red, orange, yellow, blue, or violet revolver, and one bullet is definitely in the green revolver. Would you decide to play? And if you did, then would you deliberately choose the green gun?"

      Well, to answer the question, I'd pretty much never decide to play anyway unless someone was threatening to shoot me if I didn't. Of course I wouldn't deliberately choose the green gun if I was told there was a bullet in it.

      However this "modification" actually breaks the analogy to the point where it's no longer applicable. My point was that there is at worst a slight extra _risk_ that one gun contains a bullet that the others. You don't actually know if there are any bullets in any guns, and there are other ways to check each gun. If you have to rely on the stated 0.001% chance that the green gun contains the bullet whereas you have good evidence that it's in another, it really doesn't make any sense to avoid the green one.

      The clue is in your question about banning all foreigners. Obviously, some percentage of foreigners are dangerous. But this can be said from the point of view of ANY country, so the idea that foreigners are more likely to be dangerous is nonsense. Would you discriminate against women or Africans if 0.001% of them are dangerous ? Of course you wouldn't. You'd do other checks to see if they had a history of criminal behaviour. If you had to rely on their race or gender, it would be obvious that your danger-spotting procedure had been a complete failure.

      "Perhaps. In this analogy, what would be an appropriate payoff? And perhaps you'll pay more than £20, yet you still won't receive the promised goods."

      An interesting question. Tough to answer. As a white 30-something male I suffer the least discrimination possible in western Europe. Yet I daresay my demographic is responsible for rather more than its fair share of crime.

      "Has there in fact been any rise in "hate crimes" against Muslims? Has there been any rise in crimes of *actual violence* against Muslims?"

      Yes there has. Just Google "rise in hate crimes" - you don't even need to add "Muslims". If you add "Donald Trump" you'll get some interesting articles, however a direct connection between Trump's remarks and a rise in crime is more difficult to prove. As I said in the original article, this was one of the key points of the debate that was not fully answered.

      " How many subway bombings or beheadings of innocents have been carried out by Lutherans, Buddhists, Jews, or Scientologists in the U.K., and have Muslims been the targets of any of them?"

      Irish terrorists planted a great many bombs in Britain over the years and no-one said that the root cause of terrorism was their being Irish. Or, for that matter, that being male makes one more likely to be a terrorist. Yet apparently whenever a minority commits a crime we don't think in the same way. Statistical thinking does not come naturally.

      ReplyDelete