In light of revelations contained both in Michael Wolff’s overnight best-seller ‘Fire & Fury’, and following comments made by Trump this past week on “shithole” countries in the context of a cross-party meeting about immigration in the Oval Office, a steady stream of opinion-formers have taken to the airwaves to discuss the orange one’s mental state, his inability to comprehend simple facts, and his basic unsuitability to hold high office — an office many of those same expert voices told us a little over a year ago he stood little chance of ever actually occupying.
The real surprise here is how surprised many of these perennial panelists are, not so much that Trump came to power at all, but that he did so in the way he did — despite every warning sign from history illuminated in 10 foot high flashing red neon, long before he became the Republican front-runner.
Those of us who’ve paid attention to the sorts of people who not so long ago appeared merely distasteful outliers to this political commentariat — flat-earth cranks, creationist con-artists, and the scientifically illiterate et al, however, look-on with a mix of wry amusement and sheer horror, as a significant proportion of the so-called ‘alt-right’ count these loons amongst their number, now that they’ve finally drawn the attention they actually deserved more than 10 years ago from a news media apparently unaware of the scale of political influence these disparate groups have enjoyed for even longer still — albeit in those towns and cities ignored by their fellow-Americans for far too long, talked about in such disrespectful terms as mere “fly-over” States.
Watching ostensibly serious journalists wake up in a world where this “basket of deplorables” are now calling the shots, which many of us saw coming whilst doing our bit for the so-called “great debate” — a ragtag bunch of scruffy looking Nerf-herders, who coalesced around the maelstrom of primarily religious polemic, written by the so-called ‘new atheists’ post-911 — is a disconcerting affair. Partly due to a somewhat naive yet lingering often misplaced trust that, for all their flaws, the broadcast media have our best interests at heart, and partly thanks to the dawning realisation among the wider public that our obsession with the 24 hour rolling news agenda is killing long-form investigative journalism, we dutifully wince in unison when the same failures to talk about the root-cause of Trump’s appeal are repeated on the hour, every hour, in the American news media, just as they were prior to Brexit in my country’s press, where a London-centric view of the country similarly failed to account for the dichotomy within working-class households in the North, who refused, begorrah, to vote the way they were told to by their betters — all to the clear astonishment of those working the Prime Minister’s mouth, pulling the strings, playing the fiddle, and other man-behind-the-curtain metaphors abound.
Despite what international readers may have heard about Brexit, the truth is we Brits weren’t really given a choice between Remain or Leave, in the EU referendum. Yes, Leave or Remain was the binary choice given on the actual ballot paper. But, in reality, the “choice’ was between a Leave campaign headed by Boris Johnson — certainly in the opinion of most left-of-centre voters one of the most disliked Conservative politicians since Margaret Thatcher — and a Remain campaign championed by David Cameron, the Conservative Prime Minister at the time, whose government had spent the previous 5 years forcing the poorest of the poor in society to pay for the ineptitude of a casino banking culture which caused the 2008/9 global financial meltdown.
Cameron had accidentally won a majority government in the general election of 2015, which he and his advisors had apparently somewhat rather hoped would instead result in a hung-Parliament (where no one party has enough seats in Parliament to form a government and so must form a coalition with other parties). This would have meant his general election pledge to hold a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU wouldn’t in-fact go ahead, since the party he would most likely ask to form a coalition, the Liberal Democrats (who he had already formed a five year coalition government with in 2010) are a staunchly pro-European party.
But when the general election result didn’t go the way many had predicted, Cameron had no choice but to hold a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union, following pressure from within his own party ranging from serious issues around the democratic accountability within the Council of Europe, to spurious nonsense about EU directives which apparently forced British greengrocers to throw away otherwise perfectly edible bananas on the basis they were too bendy. No, seriously, that actually happened.
Unfortunately for Cameron, the British public immediately understood that what we were in-fact being asked to do, was put to rest these and other arguments which had at times simmered quietly, and at other times raged uncontrollably within the Conservative Party ever since the UK joined the European Single Market in the 1970’s. And while it is true that many of those who were eventually convinced to vote Leave did so because of a long list of legitimate concerns about the European project as a whole, it is also the case that the referendum campaign was dominated by a vote Leave agenda largely drawn from a 10 year-long misinformation campaign mounted by Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party — who had begun to take votes away from David Cameron’s Conservative Party, by playing to the same xenophobic tendencies among forgotten voters in post-industrial, high unemployment towns in the North — foreshadowing Trump’s promises to the rust-belt and coal-mining communities Stateside — rather than a broader malaise about the EU within society as a whole.
Indeed, throughout the 1980’s, ’90s and early 2000’s, the number of EU funded projects which had transformed communities with the building of new schools and colleges, arts projects, state-of-the-art communications infrastructure and the freedom to live, travel and move between one European country and another, meant the EU as a whole was viewed positively by those who benefitted from these programmes in the UK. It wasn’t until UKIP introduced the phrase “open borders policy” into the rightwing populist lexicon, that immigration became the go-to bone of contention, picked clean by the rightwing establishment in the tabloid press, and the 1922 committee — the grey men in grey suits who run the Conservative party from the parliamentary back-benches — that the “coming over here, taking our jobs” brigade found the courage to say what 40 plus years of that dreaded political correctness had prevented them from saying out-loud. Hence the choice the British public were in-fact given in the EU referendum was to either vote Conservative, or very Conservative. The former, being defined by that insidious brand of Blair-speak, perception capitalism, and the latter being the unvarnished truth of what the other was actually saying, beneath the facade of compassionate conservatism.
If this is all beginning to sound familiar, the comparison to the none-of-the-above pseudo-choice offered to the American electorate in November of 2016 doesn’t end there. Just as Trump promised to drain the swamp of Washington D.C., so too the Leave campaign in the UK assured us their primary motivation was to “restore sovereignty”, and “take back control” — the most disingenuous of these jingoistic promises being the slogan, “We send £350m a week to the EU, let’s fund the NHS instead” scrawled onto the side of the Leave campaign’s battle bus — conveniently missing out the fact that £350m a week also just so happens to come back to us from the EU in the form of farming subsidies alone.
Despite that he was not part of the official Leave campaign, this battle bus slogan was a near verbatim quote often used by UKIP leader Nigel Farage — who on the morning after the EU referendum result was announced, took to the Breakfast Show airwaves to insist this was a promise no-one should have made, and didn’t believe anyone took too seriously.
Hours later, when Sterling fell to a 30 year low as news of Britain’s 48 to 52% decision to leave the European Union spread around the globe, the governor of the bank of England made a rare appearance on live TV. “Don’t worry…”, he assured us, “…there’s trillions in reserve, and we’ll do whatever it takes to stabilise the markets”. Quite why these “trillions in reserve” weren’t mentioned at some point over the previous 8 to 9 years of public sector wage freezes, various cancelled infrastructure projects, a police force in ruins, firefighters forced to contemplate strike action over a 2% pay increase, and National Health Service workers having to use Foodbanks to feed their children, wasn’t ever fully explained. Nor was it explained why the governor himself was given the job of announcing these magic reserves of untold trillions, when the missing in action chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, should have made this known to Her Majesty’s Parliament before he declared that a vote for Leave would bankrupt the country overnight — which forever earned the Remain campaign the label ‘Project Fear’ from which it never recovered.
What was, however, made abundantly clear, within hours of vote Leave claiming victory, was this too wasn’t supposed to happen. Just as Cameron had gambled and lost on forming a coalition with the LibDems, thereby deferring the need to hold an EU referendum for at least another 5 years, so too Boris Johnson had nailed his flag to the mast of a ship which was never supposed to float, much less set sail. This was written on his ashen face, during that afternoon’s press conference, wherein he lamented the resignation of his party’s leader, before insisting with all the conviction of someone forced to apologise for something they aren’t in fact sorry for, that Britain leaving the largest trading bloc in the world, with absolutely no prospect in sight for any sort of a deal with the EU which wouldn’t leave us with no choice but to fall back on WTO trading tariffs, was somehow a great day in our nation’s history.
We’re again reminded of the similarities between Leave’s inadvertent Brexit “win”, and accounts of the mood in Trump’s inner circle, as contained in Michael Wolff’s ‘Fire & Fury’. Melania, we’re told, sobbed upon realising her husband was to become President, and not in a good way. And while the colour drained from Trump Junior’s face, as White House staff quickly realised the new boss was semi-literate and required picture cards to have basic constitutional matters explained to him, the world began to grapple with the reality of having the nuclear launch codes in the hands of someone who said civil rights leader and friend of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior, John Lewis, was “all talk and no action”. This was in response, you’ll recall, to Lewis condemning the commander in chief for saying the Neo-Nazis who murdered peace protestor, Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, were “very fine people”.
As we enter 2018, the simple fact that Trump didn’t plan for a win becomes ever clearer. His fixation on building a wall along the United States border with Mexico remains one of the most popular rallying cries among his base, despite a whole year of it being made abundantly clear to everyone else that the Mexicans aren’t going to pay for it. And yet, despite this, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News continue to tell his alt-right klan that this will in-fact still happen, and that he’s doing a great job — which, I’m sure, has nothing at all to do with the billionaire class being given a tax-break by the Republican controlled House and Senate, which was paid for by repealing the Affordable Care Act upon which so many in the Fox News demographic depend.
Similarly, here in the UK, as it becomes painfully obvious no plan was ever put in place by the pro-Brexit campaign in the event of a win, the majority of the tabloid press, and pro-establishment broadcasters, like the BBC, continue to assure the 52% who voted to Leave, that our divorce from Johnny Foreigner will lead to trade deals with countries outside of the EU, who might for some unfathomable reason prefer to buy British purely on the basis that Nigel Farage no-longer has to sit next to brown people on the Tube.
In the case of Trump, it might be said that America has the excuse that many of its citizen’s only connection to conflict and war perpetrated by it’s own government upon its own people is in the history books. Americans have no immediate muscle memory of what it is like to live in a country where their own government is led by a dictator. They don’t know, unlike many Italians still alive today, what it was like to live with a Muscolini; they don’t know what it was like for the people of Serbia to live in 20th century Europe, with a war criminal running their government, any-more than they know what it was like for ordinary Germans to see their country become the first to be invaded by the Nazis.
Europeans have no such excuse. While it might be the one facet of the American Dream™ which remains unfathomable to Europeans — namely that if someone like Trump wants the presidency bad enough it might be worth giving him a chance to prove he deserves it regardless of how much pussy he has grabbed — it should nevertheless be the duty of all Europeans, despite the likes of Farage and Johnson telling we Brits that doesn’t include us, to say to our American friends that we’ve seen this movie before, and failed to learn the lessons it teaches us to our regret once too often. We can’t now simply stand around in silence as we watch it being screened in the United States.
This man has already damaged America’s reputation around the world, in ways which are both immediately obvious, and in ways which won’t become clear until long after Robert Mueller’s investigation leads to his inevitable impeachment. In the interim, Trump and his enablers are going to wreak as much damage as they can. His conspiracy theory support base are going to shriek about “crisis actors” even louder than they ever have before, when the next lunatic with an arsenal of perfectly legal firearms opens up on innocent people. We must never become used to that, as if it is normal. Accepting injustice as a normal part of life isn’t who we are as individuals, it is what we know we can only fight against together. So let’s get to it!
Agitate. Educate. Organise.
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