Double Standards and the Death of Debate

13 Feb 2017


Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow’s unnecessary and inappropriate rant against President Trump this week is just the latest in a long line of double standards flowing from the anti-Trump, anti-Brexit factions.


Bercow previously declared it his ‘privilege’ to welcome the Emir of Kuwait to Parliament and excited to hear from the Chinese Premier, Xi Jinping on his state visit to the UK. Both of these countries have human rights records worse than that of Trump or the United States. In fact, Bercow was delighted to host North Korean representatives on the parliamentary estate, at a cost to the taxpayer. But apparently accepting the freely and democratically elected ‘Leader of the Free World’ would just be too much for him to stomach.


Mayor Sadiq Khan has also suffered from a similar bout of double standards. He was quick to condemn Trump’s Muslim ban and even held a reception at City Hall to denounce the ban as ‘cruel’ and ‘prejudiced’; eleven of his guests were diplomats from countries that block entry to Israeli passport holders. As Nigel Farage pointed out, in this instance Khan showed himself to be ‘a hypocrite’.


In her by-election campaign in October, Sarah Olney argued that people must ‘accept’ the decision to leave the EU, but in the recent parliamentary debates argued for a second referendum. Similarly, an old Lib-Dem leaflet sees Nick Clegg promising ‘to give the British people a real referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU’, but he is now happy to publicly ignore the result of the ‘real referendum’ that we had in June.


Ultimately, these are just a few high-profile incidents where centrist and leftist politicians are content to let their principles loose in order to jump on the anti-Donald Trump and anti-Brexit bandwagon. They are symbolic of an overarching theme. The ugly side of politics is being brought out by a minority within these groups, unfairly labelled as a ‘liberal elite’. They are not a ‘liberal elite’, but rather people who feel that their political views are morally superior to that of everyone else’s, and that it is their duty to correct the democratic mistakes that are President Trump and Brexit. Most of the politicians cited are simply setting double standards and acting hypocritically, but they are giving rise to this uglier fad of shutting down political opponents.


The recent protests at Berkeley University against right-wing activist Milo Yiannopolous are the perfect example of this. A number of students disagreed with what Yiannopolous stands for and what he says, but rather than be mature and respectful, and either debate with him or simply decide not to go to the talk, they decided that their views are morally superior, and his are ‘wrong’, so they felt it necessary to shoot fireworks at the venue of the speech, vandalise university property and attack the police protection at the event. These people acted in this disrespectful, anti-democratic, aggressive way because they felt a sense of duty to enforce their views and values upon everyone else.


We are seeing an ugly rise in intolerance and the shutdown of debate. No longer do many activists engage with their political opponents or use reason to justify their opinions and seek to reach compromise. Unfortunately, the only option for many thin-skinned millennials is to run for a safe space and attack their opponent as racist, sexist, homophobic or simply wrong. One of the side effects of our generation growing up in the instant-messaging, social media world is that many young people feel a sense of entitlement, and this leads to them refusing to accept opinions different from their own and be too easily offended by anybody who has a different view on anything. This is seeing an erosion of free speech and democratic values both in the UK and the US, and is causing us to be even more divided, as some people refuse to engage with anybody that is not like-minded.


The other side effect of this shutting down and unfair labelling is misinformation and over-exaggeration. A few weeks ago, the Mayor of Berlin warned President Trump not to build his wall, saying that ‘we Berliners know best how much suffering was caused by the division of an entire continent with barbed wire and concrete’. This is a completely inaccurate comment! Trump’s wall may not be the best way, or even a very good way to protect the US-Mexico border, but building a wall to act as a barrier across an existing national border is not even comparable with the Berlin Wall! This is but one example of those who refuse to engage with or respect the views of others trying to label or brand their opponents as something that they are not, which devalues debate and is another form of shutting down free speech.


To return to the topic of double standards, the anti-Trump and Brexit bandwagons are growing in popularity at an ever-increasing rate at the moment, as they are what is politically popular, especially amongst young people. There are very fair and legitimate reasons to oppose President Trump and Britain’s exit from the EU, and I’m not arguing that those against them should stop fighting for what they believe in. However, a small minority in this group have decided that their views are objectively right, and everybody else’s are wrong, and therefore they should be able to stop others from disagreeing with them. Our generation has a lot going for it, with a lot of potential and enormous discoveries to be made over the next 50, 60, 70 years, but it’ll never be realised if we remain in the state that we are. A small but vocal minority are trying to kill off free speech and debate in order to further their own agendas, and we mustn’t allow this to continue if we want to protect true democracy and liberty.


Read more by this commentator here. 



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