Protest works. Cast your minds back to that distant political era otherwise known as January 2017. A racist misogynist megalomaniac had just celebrated his inauguration as the 45th president of the United States.
Theresa May – overcome with hubris, but yet to be fatally wounded by her nemesis – gallivanted off to the White House and served us up a grotesque love-inwith Donald Trump. Her offer of a state visit, an honour never even extended to some presidents, was a PR coup for an already deeply unpopular demagogue.
Then came Trump’s Muslim ban, and – with 36 hours’ notice – ten of thousands of us poured on to Britain’s streets in protest. Our messagewas not just solidarity with those targeted by Trump’s hatred. It was a rejection of xenophobia and racism at home and abroad – and a passionate rejection of May’s government subordinating Britain to the level of Trump’s poodle.
Ever since, it has been abundantly clear to the authorities that any visit by Trump to Britain will be met with a mass show of democratic force on the streets. With very little notice, Stop Trump and other campaigns will mobilise protests in every town and city in the country. Trump has the lowest approval ratings of any president since records began eight decades ago. He is loathed and ridiculed by tens of millions of his own people. For May to offer a full state visit to the lying, failing Trump – to use his own terminology – when her own authority has been shattered, would be political suicide. One recent poll suggested that 2 million Brits would protest a state visit. For Trump, too, it would prove an utter humiliation: the United States would see the citizens of their closest ally united with contempt and fury at their unfortunate ruler.
Even though my cat has more political nous than the UK government, that’s the conclusion they themselves have come to, and Trump’s visit has been downgraded. If they believe that will prove sufficient, and the protests will be called off, disappointment beckons. Any official visit – even one without pomp and ceremony – will be met with mass protests. For a start, Trump will try to use a visit to what is nominally his closest ally as an attempt to shore up his appalling domestic position. It will be nothing less than a political stunt by an increasingly cornered hatemonger.
Indeed, the downgrading of the state visit has left us scenting blood. It is clear that authorities on both sides of the Atlantic are rightly fearful about the response Trump will get. These mass demonstrations, of course, will go far beyond the personality of Trump.
They will represent a passionate rejection of anti-Muslim hatred, immigrant-scapegoating and refugee-bashing, not just in the US, but here in Britain, too. They will offer a reminder that powerful vested interests – including plutocrats such as Trump – should be blamed for our social and economic woes, not those fleeing foreign violence and persecution. They will promote feminism and women’s rights in defiance of a self-confessed harasser of women. They will champion the cause of trans rights against the transphobe-in-chief, who has singled out this minority to be excluded from the US military. They will advance the cause of saving the planet from a climate change crisis exacerbated by Trumpism. They will challenge the warmongering of Trump’s administration, which threatens the lives of tens of millions of people. And they will seek to unite progressives from either side of the Atlantic in these common causes. The mirror image of Trumpism will be on the streets.
May’s government is weak, shambolic and crisis-ridden. The last thing it wants or needs is mass protests on the streets. As soon as Trump touches down on British soil, this is what will happen. That is their choice. The biggest carnival against hatred this country has ever seen awaits. From LGBT rights to women’s rights, from workers’ rights to anti-racism, we already know that protest works. Both May and Trump deserve to learn this instructive lesson.
• Owen Jones is a Guardian columnist