We’ve had many “unexpected” people try and claim that Donald Trump is actually one of their bunch, and further, has been all along. And the guy hasn’t even been president-elect for a week yet. Embarrassingly, both sides of the Labour Party have got in on the act. View Emily Thornberry and her “Jeremy is like Trump except without all the hateful yucky stuff” routine, which I hope for all of our sakes is short-lived. On the other wing, some ex-Blairite corporals have also been spouting gibberish about Trump not only being a centrist but being centrism “turbo charged”. The idea here is that because Clinton and Blair took things from both the Left and the Right (they used to call it “triangulation” in the old days) and Trump takes things from the Left and the Right, he is basically Bill Clinton Mark 2. Yeah, okay. If I didn’t think the Labour Party was in very serious trouble before this week, the last few days would have more than convinced me.
Look, I get where all of this is coming from. Figures from the left of centre all across the western world are seeing a horror show and can’t bear to watch. Nor do they want to spend the next four years whinging non-stop. So instead they are trying to talk themselves into seeing the current situation as not all that bad. Hey, have you ever noticed that the alt-right is really gay? Maybe that means Trump might help gay rights in the States (when not rounding up Mexicans and piling them into the backs of death trucks)! Straw clutching barely covers it.
Let’s ask a simple question here: could Trump be considered a liberal, at least in the European sense of the word? I am pretty broad minded when it comes to granting the term liberal. For instance, I would allow both George Osborne and Tim Farron the label, if they wanted it and I was judging some “liberal or not liberal” contest (go with me here). But Trump? He’s anti-free trade and anti-immigration, both in explicit terms. It’s hard to come back from that in the liberal sweepstakes. In my fictitious contest, the Donald gets a thumbs down.
In the end, it’s much better to face up to reality and admit defeat. Once you’ve come clean on that, you can start to really try and rebuild. How does liberalism make a comeback in the age of populism? Where are the new ideas to forge a more open-minded, liberal future? These questions are worth answering. Otherwise, you’re just kidding yourselves. What next? Marine Le Pen redefined as a liberal? An invitation for the AFD to join D66 in some sort of continental liberal love-in since, hey, we’re all liberals now that the term is stripped of any definition.
There comes a point where words begin to lose all meaning if you apply them too broadly. Words like “liberal” and “centrist” are too important to destroy, even if it makes some people feel better for a little while about the fact that Donald Trump has been elected the president of the United States.