During the 2015 election campaign you may remember that everyone’s favourite purple-wearer, Nigel Farage, made a number of comments linking the strain on NHS resources with immigrants being treated for HIV. It was at the time when “peak UKIP” appeared to have passed – or at least, when the surge in support necessary for them to win more than a handful of seats didn’t look like it was going to materialise. His comments attracted a disproportionate amount of media coverage, wound twitter up into a frenzy and certainly appeared to shore up the UKIP vote, even if it didn’t win him the tens of seats he desired.
At the time his comments seemed so outrageous I’d assumed they had to be part of a cleverly thought-out strategy based on the psychology of “othering” (There’s a great Radio 4 programme about this available on the iPlayer at the moment). I waited with bated breath for the ever more outrageous claims about immigrants, HIV and NHS funding to appear that would have been needed to build on his position – but fortunately, they never did. UKIP’s momentum was broken and spent, rather like the waves crashing against the breakwaters on the beach in Skegness.
Which brings me to Donald J. Trump. Unfortunately, he’s shown himself to be a genuine expert when it comes to exploiting the psychology of “othering” in a way that hasn’t been seen in the West for decades. It’s helped him to turn around a position in the polls that had appeared to be showing signs of crumbling away, into a 20 point lead over his rivals almost overnight. He’s even managed to dominate the news agenda in the UK, where (almost) no-one has a vote for or against him. That’s a truly amazing feat and even more amazingly, he’s persuaded some 550,000 people to sign a petition asking for him to be banned from the UK like some common hate-preacher.
Which, ultimately, is exactly the kind of furore that will enable him to bolster his position with those he’s seeking to sway into voting for him.
Well done Donald J. Trump. I fell for it. I signed the petition, when every bone in my body knows that the only way to defeat hate-preachers like you is not to silence debate in the way of 1980s “no platform” student politics, but to tackle the bile you spout head on.