Usually it starts at McDonald’s. When protestors gather in central London they like to vandalise the burger chain’s Whitehall branch in honour of rioters who trashed the place on May Day, 2000. Today the anti-Trump crowd overlooked this historic site and converged on a nearby pub, the Silver Cross, where a handful of pro-Trump Brits were praising their champion with slogans and fist-gestures. They were a strange bunch. A pensioner in a Sherlock Holmes deerstalker, a bearded youngster wearing a yarmulke, and a black guy, about fifty years old, decked out in the full Trump regalia: a red MAGA baseball cap and a ‘Trump 2020’ tee-shirt. These three stalwarts were yelling and gesticulating wildly at the thousands of anti-Trump protestors as they thronged into Whitehall. A cordon of determined cops kept the factions apart. The pro-Trump gang realised they didn’t have a decent anthem to sing. So they improvised. They used the tune of the ‘hokey-cokey’ and turned it into a made-up hymn. ‘Oh Trumpy, Trumpy, Trumpy,’ they chanted, ‘oh Trumpy Trumpy Trumpy.’ This stung the anti-Trump crowd into a furious reaction. ‘Fascist scum!’ they yelled. ‘Fascist scum. Off our streets!’
The demo lasted most of the afternoon and the activists drifted between two mustering points in Trafalgar Square and on the parched lawn outside parliament. The famous inflatable ‘Donald Trump’ baby was being carried everywhere by a team of sweating bearers who were themselves dependent on a sub-team of water-carriers. The big baby was easy to spot but it didn’t work as an icon. A tanned, blonde toddler is impossible to hate because a newborn baby is the universal symbol of hope, innocence and renewal. A female poet speaking at Parliament Square was so smitten by ‘baby blimp’, as she called it, that she persuaded the crowd to join her in a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday Baby Donald’. She was followed by a Muslim mother who told us about the views of her young son, Ali. At breakfast this morning she had asked Ali what Trump’s visit meant to him. ‘It shows dumb people can have power,’ Ali had reported, ‘and it shows dumb people who have power can start wars for no reason.’
A carnival of protests always attracts freelancers with side-projects to tout. At Trafalgar Square a man from Liverpool was doing an excellent trade in Donald Trump tee-shirts. Two slogans were available, ‘Dope’ or ‘No To Trump’. At £10, these accessories were not cheap but they included a key detail, ‘London July 13th 2018’, which is very attractive to protestors who want to build a personal archive of their careers as activists. I asked the vendor if he had a ‘No To Capitalism’ version. I even offered to pay more for this luxury. ‘Too subtle,’ he said. He was selling half a dozen units every ten minutes. He was making a fortune. The president would have been proud.
A woman from Boston spotted me taking notes and came over to inform me, in hushed tones, how US democracy really works. Every general election, she said, is bought by ‘dark money’ controlled by the Republicans. I asked why she was protesting and she told me a long tale about her British husband who had been blacklisted by the US authorities. This meant she was unable to return with him to her home in Cape Cod. I sympathised. ‘Your husband’s black?’, I said, assuming that America’s racist immigration policy lay behind her decision to protest. ‘No he’s white’. ‘Well that’s good,’ I went on, ‘at least US immigration policy is completely non-racist.’ ‘Oh yeah. It’s not racist,’ she said. I asked about the hopes of a Democratic revival. She stared gloomily at the ground. ‘They have nothing. They’re just chasing Trump.’ Is there a chance he could win in 2020? ‘Oh yeah he will,’ she said. And I burst out laughing. Then I apologised because she didn’t seem too impressed by my reaction.
I spoke to a nice, middle-aged Englishwoman holding up a Mexican flag the size of a bed-spread. It was making her arms hurt. She had a lot of facts at her disposal. ‘Fewer than five percent of migrants crossing American’s southern border are Mexicans,’ she said. ‘They’re from all over central and south America, escaping drug-gangs.’ I asked if there was a limit to the number of incomers America could take. ‘Look how big it is. Look how rich it is.’ ‘But is it wise,’ I said, ‘in the long-term to deprive the developing world of its most talented people by transferring them to the richer countries?’ The logic of this seemed to get through to her. ‘I think we should stop behaving like different races,’ she said, ‘and just be one race. The human race.’ Which is a handy get-out clause. When faced with an argument you can’t answer, turn into John Lennon.
I paused at a Socialist Worker Party stand where the newspaper was being offered at two different prices. ‘Standard price’, one pound. ‘Solidarity price’, two pounds. To me this looked like a class-system based on wealth. I asked the seller for a free copy. He offered me a leaflet. ‘This is free. The paper costs a pound.’ ‘Isn’t that a bit capitalist?’ I said. ‘These are capitalist times,’ he replied. I suggested to him that he ought to ‘become the change you want to see’. Which meant that I should get the newspaper for nothing. ‘Yes well then we’ll run out of money.’ ‘But you don’t care about money,’ I hectored, ‘you’re communists.’ ‘But we’re not rich people,’ said his colleague. I walked over to the next vendor, a beautiful girl of university age, whose accent suggested an expensive education. ‘As we’re both practising communists,’ I said, ‘can I ask you to share a copy with me?’ ‘No,’ she said. ‘We’ve got our production costs to pay.’
I went back to the Silver Cross. By now the police had closed the pub but the tenacious pro-Trump crew were still outside. And they’d remembered the words to a chant that everyone knows. ‘Lock her up!’ they chorused. ‘Lock her up!’ The anti-Trump crowd, vastly outnumbering the trio, tried to drown them out with whistle-blasts and horns. ‘Fascists!’ they yelled. ‘Fascist, fascist, fascist scum’. They nearly succeeded in silencing the elected president’s supporters. But not quite. A good day for democracy.