On Thursday night, the Oxford Union voted with a stonking majority in favour of the motion: This house fears the return of ‘Trump’s America’. 182 people voted in favour, whilst 55 voted against. The vote followed a debate marked by stark differences in tone of the proposition and opposition sides, with both drawing on aspects of the legacy of the Trump presidency in the United States and abroad.
Trump is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination in the 2024 presidential election, while currently facing 91 felony charges in four different criminal cases. These cases concern his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, the hush money payment to adult film actor Stormy Daniels in New York and his handling of classified state documents at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
Speakers for the proposition were: political reporter and White House Correspondent, April Ryan; academic, former social worker and Oxford Green party councillor, Larry Sanders; and Balliol student Isabelle Horrocks-Taylor.
Opposing the motion were: former Deputy Assistant to the President during the Trump administration and host on right-wing Christian Salem Radio, Sebastian Gorka; Christ Church student Oliver Jones-Lyons; and St Anne’s student Charlie Chadwick, who stood in for absent American conservative activist and radio talk show host, Charlie Kirk.
Horrocks-Taylor opened the debate for the proposition with a list of the “multiple of firsts” achieved by Trump, including his suspension from Twitter and his two-time impeachment. She argued that the wealth of pre-suspension Tweets, which included one telling black Democrat congresswomen to “go back” to their home countries was reflective of a “deep-set prejudice, deeply rooted in Trump’s political identity.” This, she stated, is “not befitting of a national leader, particularly of one of the most diverse nations.”
Horrocks-Taylor further criticised Trump for his diplomacy, where “nuclear war codes were an appropriate tool for playground politics”, for his mishandling of the Black Lives Matter protests, and the January 6th insurrection.
Opening the proposition, Oliver Jones-Lyons agreed with the proposition about the seminality of Trump’s presidency. However, he distinguished between Trump and the America that voted for him, citing the “silent minority” of white voters without college degrees, among whom “voter apathy is high.”
“For better or for worse, the neglected felt heard” in Trump’s America, Jones-Lyons argued. “Fearing the people who made Trump president will achieve nothing,” he added.
April Ryan followed this speech by acknowledging that America wanted something “not familiar to previous political standards,” claiming that this could be found in Trump’s “reality TV charm.” Drawing in large part on her experience as a journalist working in close proximity to the president, she described Trump’s rhetoric as using terms that were “used by Hitler”. Ryan also noted how Trump had asked her, a woman of colour, to organise a meeting for the congressional black Caucus “like I was his secretary.”
Sebastian Gorka’s booming case for the opposition was made using sharp terms, arguing that Trump, a president “untainted by the elite,” had “defended Western civilization against those who wish to destroy it.” Whilst Barack Obama had been soft on Islamic extremism, it was Jihadis and Isis, “who should fear my former boss,” as well as Iran and Vladimir Putin. This was met with laughter from the chamber.
Gorka characterised Joe Biden as a proponent of “high-tech lynching”, preceded by a suggestino that Trump was a godsend for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Despite repeated points of information attempts from Spectator, Gorka declined them with “I’m good, thank you.’
Closing the proposition, Larry Sanders asked the audience: “Do you know how many people died in Covid because of his stupid arrogance?”
“What did he do about income? What did he do about minimum wage? What did he do about taxes? He cut taxes for the rich. 1.5 trillion in tax cuts,” he continued. Bringing up Trump’s climate change policy, Sanders further argued that “the last eight years have been the hottest on record. What is Trump’s response to all this? He wants to increase fossil fuel extraction.”
Charlie Chadwick in his closing speech restated the opposition’s original contention that Trump’s America had not gone away, characterising Biden as a Trump continuity candidate. In the Middle East, “the only suggestion that has given any prospect of peace has been the Abraham accords, started by Trump. Who continued them? Biden.”
Other aspects of Trump’s policy mentioned by Chadwick appeared more than anything to distinguish him from Biden: Chadwick suggested that Trump’s “threat of tariffs on China guaranteed a fairer deal for the American people,” and further that Trump’s “tax cuts led to a booming economy,” a claim which ran contrary to his contention that the “soaring inflation” that has come about as a result of Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act was also a “continuation of Trump’s legacy.”
The next US presidential election will take place on 5 November 2024, with incumbent Joe Biden running for reelection, whilst his predecessor, Donald Trump, will also run for re-election to a second, non-consecutive term.