Opinion: Giant Trump balloon over London is the wrong message

Trump balloon flies over London, July 2018

When U.S. president Donald Trump visited the U.K. this week, he was greeted by the sight of thousands of protesters and a large balloon depicting him in a diaper, with phone in hand. It was crowdfunded, and approved by London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, but it should never have been allowed to fly.

As most Montrealers know, Donald Trump has had an effect on practically every country in the world. Canadians have banded together, regardless of political leaning, to join the “Buy Canadian” movement, after Trump’s tariffs on Canadian products were met with retaliatory tariffs by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Montrealers are grabbing French’s ketchup off the shelves of their local Provigo stores, eschewing the American-made Heinz for a Canadian brand. Rather than heading to the U.S. for summer holidays, many Montrealers are staying put, or heading into Ontario for their vacations.

When the trade dispute began to grow, Canadians unexpectedly saw a longstanding friendship with our neighbours across the souther border become fraught with tension; it was now considered unpatriotic to take that weekend cross-border shopping trip to Burlington or Plattsburgh. Trump’s unconventional governing style suddenly got personal.

But the giant orange balloon that flew over London was representative of exactly what everyone has been criticizing: bullying behaviour.

It’s no secret that Trump has denigrated those who disagree with him, cross him, or hold different political ideologies than his. It is one reason so many, worldwide, have condemned him as a person, never even considering any action he has taken as a world leader.

But is it right to bully the bully? Bullying behaviour, by definition, is intended to humiliate those who are targeted; bullying is carried out by those using their power to ridicule individuals they feel are beneath them. This isn’t about self-defence; it is about intentional degradation.

We see bullying behaviour in our own backyard; look no further than Montreal’s Terry Mosher, also known as Aislin, the Gazette’s venerable editorial cartoonist. He has made a career out of biting, sometimes shocking, jabs at every public figure imaginable. From politicians to hockey fans, Aislin pulls no punches. We are used to the ridicule when it is in the pages of our editorial sections. We overlook it.

However, the Trump balloon goes beyond editorial cartoonists or political campaigns. The organizers knew it would garner worldwide coverage for days. The balloon crosses the line from art to ridicule. Moreover, it is a message to the U.K.’s greatest ally that respect is about the person, not the office of president of the United States. It is a statement that respect for that very office is on a sliding scale, determined by the personal like or dislike of its occupant.

If there were a greater purpose to the balloon, something beyond the slapstick quality of its caricature, perhaps it would be funny.

But the point of humour is that the laughter is not mocking; the point of humour is that derision not be part of the “joke.” The point of humour is that feelings do not get hurt.

Yes, public figures put themselves in the proverbial fishbowl. They are not granted protection of privacy and they should not be untouchable insofar as criticism of their political duties or personal missteps. Donald Trump is anything but irreproachable in personal flaws.

However, that does not give foreign governments the right to humiliate him, or any other world leader, merely for the cheap laughs. The balloon was a personal attack, and it is likely that no citizen of any other country would welcome a similar stunt depicting their leader. Canadians would, predictably, take it as an affront were a mocking Trudeau balloon become front-page news worldwide.

There are better, more intelligent ways to express discontent with politicians. Global embarrassment is not among them.

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