I’ve been thinking about Donald Trump’s state visit to the UK, scheduled for June, particularly about people highlighting the apparent hypocrisy of marching against him but not against leaders from other countries we don’t like, such as China and Zimbabwe. I think they have a fair point. So what makes this state visit sufficiently different that it mobilises the normally phlegmatic Brits?
Could it be because the US has always had a reputation (or at least held itself up) as the moral leader of the west, supporting merit, openness, fairness? That the colour of your skin, the look of your god(s) or prophet(s), your sex or indeed any other differences shouldn’t matter?
This is a country claiming to value decency, respect differences and fight for the rights of the oppressed, things to which we also aspire in the UK. And there is little doubt that the US and the UK have been close allies for decades. In intelligence slang we’re "cousins" and there are no two more closely integrated intelligence services than ours. But our close ties aren’t just about geopolitical necessity. No, they go much deeper and are based on language, heritage, political systems, law and civic norms, making us feel like kin.
So, although allegedly legendarily polite Brits expect to have to hold their noses when Her Maj welcomes tyrants, corrupt goons and dictators from other parts of the world, we have higher standards for "family". And I suppose that what makes Donald Trump so abhorrent for many people is that he does not share or promote our common values: quite the opposite, indeed. There is incontrovertible evidence of his racism, misogyny, xenophobia and Islamophobia. I suppose it seems worse somehow when the leader of a country we think of as family has turned against our values, for profit, for pride and for the popular vote.
Of course, many politicians do that to some degree. But this man is doing it in a way that makes many people in the western world afraid. Not of bombs, but of the creeping likelihood of a far-right state if views that demonise whole sections of humanity or prioritise profit over people prevail.
We are told we should respect the job title even if we don’t respect the person holding it. But that seems to me to be what allows evil to prosper, so I don’t think we can separate them – and when it comes down to it, I don’t think we should.
All of which brings me to our sector. Regular readers will know that I am not infrequently irritated by ignorance about how our sector operates or by the constant negative messaging to which we seem to be subjected.
I’m always quick to leap in and defend charities, and I can get very annoyed when I feel folk are being unfair or unreasonable. But on reflection I have to own up to the reality that the nature of our work is such that we are inevitably held to a higher moral standard than is perhaps reasonable – but is not unjust. Those who aspire to serve others need to hold themselves to unreasonably high standards. Because we’re family.
Debra Allcock Tyler is chief executive of the Directory of Social Change