When it seems the world is going mad it’s time to turn to GK Chesterton. “Earnest freethinkers,” he says, “need not worry themselves so much about the persecutions of the past. Before the Liberal idea is dead or triumphant we shall see wars and persecutions the like of which the world has never seen.” This seems to speak of the current mood of those people driving round American cities burning and looting, or the Women’s March bearing placards with slogans of abject hate towards Trump or the unborn in the name of tolerance and liberal values.

It’s time to reject the narrative that it is populism which has triumphed in Brexit and in the election of Trump when populism means “having opinions that are offensive to a progressive liberal consensus”. What has triumphed is democracy, which is why it is dangerous and irresponsible to caricature or ridicule adherents to the winning side as something “other”.

In societies which boast about how inclusive and diverse they are, how is it that your right to vote for whom you choose now identifies you as an implicit threat to the wellbeing of that society? Such populism could be stopped in its tracks by being, well, popular, by presenting a convincing agenda which has sufficient electoral traction, rather than one regarded as so self-evidently ideologically supreme as to make voting a mere formality. The American Dream shows that if certain truths were indeed self-evident, we wouldn’t need elections at all.

Dog-whistling about Hitler and how he rose to power on the tide of popular vote ignores various vital points of comparison. However unpleasant you may find Trump’s rhetoric or Brexit’s campaign slogans, neither conducted campaigns of mass intimidation, sending out thugs to smash up businesses or burn books. By all means, resort to direct action and violence when the next election is cancelled, when parliaments are suppressed and we are governed by special powers, when the courts are coerced or their power limited, but until then there is nothing stopping your attempt to defeat hateful ideas by the same means those populists used to seize power: good ol’ liberal democracy.

The problem is, as Chesterton says, that “Men do not differ much about what things they will call evils; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable.” Is the erection of a barrier where your territory borders a country on the verge of civil war and awash with the murderous trafficking and violence of drug cartels inherently more totalitarian and dangerous to the future of humanity than redefining by diktat what marriage is, or seeking to destroy the reputations and livelihoods of those who oppose government policy on LGBT rights, even beyond your own borders? It is surely discriminatory and absurd to identify all members of a certain faith as potential terrorists, but the desire to protect your citizens’ security is at least a legitimate prerogative of government. What threat, I wonder, to national security are the millions of unwelcome arrivals who can not only be legitimately exterminated but whose extermination has already been imposed as a responsibility and cost on all employers? The right to eliminate babies simply because a law defines them as a potential threat to the health and wellbeing of the very women who conceived them in their wombs: is this not the stuff of apocalypse?

President Obama was unwavering in praise and support for Planned Parenthood, an organisation which owes its creation to the work of the self-proclaimed racist eugenicist Margaret Sanger. This continued even after its hideous trade in body parts was exposed.

​How to continue reading…

This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week

The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection