In an unprecedented and unforeseen move, the UK Government has announced that, following the formal departure of Britain from the European Union in seventeen months’ time, all government ministries will be merged into a single superdepartment to be known as the National Scapegoating Agency (NSA).
In a press statement which exhibited the clear thinking and decisiveness that has characterised the premiership of Prime Minister Theresa May, the Government announced that ‘faced with the challenges posed by the impending transformation of British life, we have decided to take necessary precautions. No one beyond outright demagogues and the sort of people who would struggle to name the capital city of ‘their’ country now believes that Brexit will result in anything but chaos. Had we listened to experts instead of self-interested ideologically-motivated tricksters such as Mr Farage and Mr Johnson in the first place, this would never have happened. As it is, the only options we have are, one, to massively increase the forces of law and order by reintroducing conscription and two, redirect all the energies of every government ministry into pretending that it’s all the fault of foreigners or whoever else we might be able to get away with blaming. It’s not like there’ll be any money to waste on trivial expenditure such as schools or hospitals anyway. As for foreign aid and combatting Climate Change, you have got to be fucking kidding me.’
At a separate press conference, during which a minister who could not be identified as he or she had a paper bag over his or her head refused to make any further statements or answer any questions, a series of informational posters were revealed. They will be deployed around the country, which may or may not by then include Northern Ireland, on billboards and buses from the beginning of 2018. Slogans include:
Want to feed your family? Then join the army!!!!
Cold? Hungry? Ill? BLAME A FOREIGNER!!!
Want to keep warm this winter? BURN AN IMMIGRANT!!!
Asking about the £350 million we were apparently going to spend on the NHS is an act of treason punishable by death.
Whoever gave you permission to read this?! Keep your eyes on the pavements, you dogs!
The cost of the poster campaign will be covered by European Union funding.
The next Prime Minister of Italy may well be Silvio Berlusconi, the four-time premier and tycoon who is in many ways the prototype for Donald Trump. Although Berlusconi was banned from elected office for life in 2015, he is currently appealing to the European Court of Human Rights on a technicality. He is being represented by the same British law firm which includes Amal Clooney. After all, everyone has the same human rights, even if (as in the case of Berlusconi) they’ve been convicted of tax fraud, wiretapping political rivals and paying for sex with underage prostitutes, and are planning on forming a government with the political descendents of Mussolini.
Meanwhile, Democrats in the US are falling over themselves to condemn Senator Al Franken for the incident in which he groped a colleague in 2006. A few weeks ago condemnation of Harvey Weistein was universal. No one claimed he had been set up or that the charges were ‘fake news’. On social media many progressives are proud that they condemn all wrongdoers, no matter which side of the political divide they line up on. They are waiting in vain for the right to reciprocate and/or congratulate them.
The abstract principle that everyone has the same right before the law and must enjoy the same access to justice is a fine one. Similarly, it is of course essential that those who have done wrong must be brought to justice and the hypocrisy of those who only pay lip service to universal principles when it suits their political agenda exposed. It is noble of liberals and the left to stand up for such principles.
However, there’s clearly a problem: the right is neither grateful nor impressed. If Berlusconi is successful, he will pay off his lawyers, bribe his way back into power and set about ripping the constitution and the rule of law to shreds. (Italy’s recognition of the European Court of Human Rights may well be at stake.) In much the same manner, no Republican in the US will turn round and thank Democrats for preserving the human rights of all Americans by berating itself for ‘allowing’ some of its leading figures to get away with abusing women. The idea that the right-wing will suddenly learn a valuable lesson about hypocrisy and renew its commitment to democratic values is morbidly mistaken.
Right now all over the world the right is abandoning its commitment not just to the rule of law, constitutional precepts and human rights, but to the very notion of a shared reality. There is no fact or value that they will not deny whenever it is expedient to do so. Whether this takes the form of Michael Gove in the UK decrying the work of experts, politicians in the US rejecting out of hand careful research documenting the pedophilia of a Republican senatorial candidate and the overwhelming evidence of regular sexual abuse by the President, or right-wing pundits from Fox News to the Telegraph openly lying about climate science to protect corporate interests, the savage nihilism of the new global right-wing movement is beyond anything we have encountered in the age of democracy – with a couple of notable exceptions.
That doesn’t mean that the right will not, drawing upon seemingly inexhaustible reserves of cynicism, use the tools of democracy, including the media and the courts, to suit their purposes. At this moment they are busy weaponising every element of our civilisation to attack liberal values and entrench their power. That includes not just the notion of women’s rights in order to purge opposition politicians and liberal celebrities, but also movies, computer games, children’s cartoon characters and other cultural icons, from Ghostbusters to Gamergate and Pepe the frog to pizza and cow’s milk. Their commitment to literally building up their armories is no accident – what we are witnessing is the equivalent of a psychopath grabbing everything he can as a tool to beat his opponent to death. (The most powerful weapon nowadays is, of course, the Internet.) That means they will happily employ the notion of free speech and the discourse of human rights when and where it suits them. No Republican or fascist will ever insist that those rights also be granted to their political opponents, and they will never turn such weapons on themselves.
This does not mean that we abandon our commitment to honouring universal values. Rather it’s a question of priorities. Just as the right to free speech does not mean that everyone can demand access to mass and social media audiences, liberals and the left must not prioritise causes established and exploited by the far-right. With the very real threat of fascism bashing down the door of democracy, this is not the time for human rights lawyers to be defending budding autocrats like Berlusconi, and in much the same way, while it’s right and necessary to condemn the Louis CKs and Harvey Weinsteins and Al Frankens of this world and disown anyone who casts aspersions on their victims, the left must not spend so long howling in the desert at its own hypocrisies that it lets the real enemy off the hook. Democrats did not facilitate abuse by those men in the same way as the Republicans are for Moore and Trump.
In the meantime, while doing all they can to expose and annihilate the far-right agenda, US progressives would do well to study Italy’s dismal history of vapid and hapless post-Berlusconi governments to learn an instructive lesson in how mere neoliberalism managerialism, committed to no values beyond GDP growth targets, inevitably leads back to yet more right-wing populism – or something even worse.
US President and Commander-in-Chief Donald Trump is said to have been ‘profoundly shocked and disgusted’ at the revelation that Democratic Senator Al Franken briefly groped a female colleague during a TV stunt over eleven years ago.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a White House insider said that neither his staff nor his family had ever seen President Trump as downbeat as over these last 24 hours. He is said to be profoundly shocked that anyone, particularly someone in a position of responsibility, could even think of treating a woman in such a way.
President Trump spent Friday away from TV cameras and was not present on social media all day. Aides reported that he was ‘heartbroken’ upon reading the reports of Franken’s behavior. He is believed to have spent the day in consultation with close female friends, including a number of noteworthy feminists who have been seeking to bring him up to speed on the depth and extent of sexual abuse of women in the US. The President is said to have been ‘humbled and horrified’ by what he has learned.
President Trump is known and respected for his dedication to the furtherance of women’s rights. He has said on several occasions that protecting women from sexual abuse is the single biggest motivating factor in his becoming involved in politics. He used his inauguration speech in January to call for a ‘new feminist dawn’ in America, and has been consistent in seeking to ensure that any woman who does report untoward conduct by men in any area of life is given a full hearing by the justice system and that the right of all women regardless of their age or political affiliation to live free of sexual harrasment is respected at all times and in all places, ‘from hotel elevators to TV studios to the back stage areas of beauty pageants’. In return, he has been universally heralded as the country’s ‘first female president’, and rumors are now spreading that he may be awarded the Nobel Prize For Feminism And Never Having Been Recorded Boasting About Regularly Molesting Women FFS in Stockholm next month.
In other White House news, President Trump’s daughter has been appointed to lead a global task force to investigate the sexual abuse of women by political figures, while his son Barron Trump is to head a commision of inquiry into the mounting problem of Fake News and will also take charge of the Government’s response to the opoid epidemic, negotiations with North Korea, hurricane relief and healthcare reform. Finally, Julian Assange has been appointed Australia’s ambassador to the United States, replacing a woman who had been variously referred to by President Trump on social media as a ‘stupid aborigine slut’ and a ‘fat bich whos too ugly to even rape, lol’.
The psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan came up with the concept of the ‘subject-supposed-to-know’, an impersonal and intangible entity which carries knowledge on our behalf. As I understand it, this relates to the conscience. When we feel morally guilty, what authority is it that knows we have done something wrong? For many, the answer is an omniscient god. Lacan’s insight is that we all in a sense believe in God whether we like it or not.
This raises two questions for me. In a heavily mediated society where even our most intimate thoughts and gestures are mediated back to us even while we think and act, could a mediating institution play such a role? Or perhaps a political tyrant, as George Orwell posited? Social media could well come to embody the two, in that so many of our experiences are thought of in terms of their value, evaluated as potential cultural capital, and also because the affordances it offers to directly repressive regimes are boundless.
The other thing that concerns me ( in fact I now see that the idea actually came from Slavoj Žižek) is what we can call the subject-supposed-not-to-know. For example, most of us have grown up in the light of terrifying facts regarding the climate which, were we to take them seriously, would compel us to transform every aspect of our lives*. Instead, we deal with the question as we do with death, pretending it’s not real and dealing with each instance of it as though it were occasional and incidental, with no implications for how we ourselves should think and act. There is clearly some sort of (as Lacan calls it) ‘Big Other’ that embodies and excuses our lack of awareness, an authority which, unlike us, is truly ignorant of the problem. Here we can see that these tools are particularly useful for understanding the role of mass and social media in our lives.
The other pressing instance of the subject-supposed-not-to-know is directly related to this: supporters of Donald Trump. In a way unerringly similar to that of a cult leader, Trump acts out their ignorance and thus allows them to continue with a kind of hysterical blindness. This is true not just of the climate, but also of his own behaviour. If we want to understand why they are so resistent to acknowledging his failings while so ready to blame others, this provides an answer. As long as he pretends that the allegations (including admissions he has himself made in the past) don’t exist, it’s as if they’re not real. He is aided in this by partisan media outlets and social media platforms which facilitate tunnel vision/amplify our blind spots and enable wilfull ignorance of that which their participants do not want to acknowledge. Trump’ s supporters embody an increasingly prevalent condition which affects us all, just in a more extreme form: they and we are effectively, as José Saramago pointed out, blind.
*The now-ubiquitous term ‘triggered’ (as in provoked) actually describes an effect of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. What else is this trauma which we’re so keen to avoid addressing that we displace our fear and stress onto substitute targets, eg race?
I recently announced that I’d stopped reading the Guardian and adopted the Daily Telegraph as my journal of choice instead. This might seem like an odd decision for someone who spent the days after the Brexit coup listening to this. Partly I was being silly, but I also wanted to step across the divide and try to parlay with the opposition, genuinely listening to concerns which I’m inclined to dismiss out of hand. I admire and respect George Marshall’s exhortation to engage with Conservatives/Republicans, and so made up my mind that I would spend a couple of weeks using the Telegraph and not the Guardian as my principal news source.
I therefore entered into the experiement in relatively good faith. The problem was that I don’t feel the Telegraph kept its side of the bargain. After a few days I started to feel distinctly less informed about the world, such was the almost total dearth of original reporting. The term ‘churnalism’ was coined by the Guardian journalist Nick Davies, who didn’t exempt his own paper from his criticisms; the Telegraph takes it to another level, leaving even that online-only clickbait factory The Independent in the shade. The content seemed to be entirely sourced from elsewhere online and its substance was so thin it barely even did what it clearly aimed to do, viz. comfort the comfortable. As for afflicting the afflicted, which is the least you could expect of an avowedly right-wing publication, it had little to offer. There was the odd column by someone desperate to give the impresion she’d never left Surrey calling anyone who posted #metoo part of a feminazi death cult, the occasional piece by Toby ‘Look at meeee!’ Young or that comedy fascist Andrew Lilico calling for Corbyn to be flung out a helicopter, demanding war rather than negotiation over Brexit or claiming that 19th Century New Zealand will be the ideal trading partner to replace the EU, and, as a special treat, Charles Moore rambling on about Catholicism like Mel Gibson’s grandfather after four bottles of Merlot; however, examples of such effortful trolling were few and far between. One jewel among the shite is Michael Deacon. They must pay him a lot to be associated with such a poor excuse for a newspaper. It was partly thanks to his wry tweets that I thought of the idea in the first place. His columns are an exception. Most of what I came across was just bland.
In a sense, that may not be such a bad thing. Telegraph readers are not kept in a high state of splenetic anxiety like those the Mail and the Express. The focus was instead on lifestyle trivia of a sub-Sunday Times variety. The corresponding comments on Facebook and Twitter were, suprisingly, on the whole quite pleasant and some intelligent and thoughtful people chipped in. They were interspersed with the odd contribution which would be best classified as at least entertainingly horrible. However, such attitudes and opinions were not unfamilar given that so many obnoxious trollery is increasingly the default mode of below-the-line commentary, particularly on the Guardian’s Comment is Free pages.
I eventually got bored with all the promotional fluff, royal gossip and clickbait tittle-tattle and invented a minor game called ‘Bloody Islam!’, which consisted solely in posting that obnoxious but ubiquitous phrase in response to the most innocuous of stories which clearly had no connection with either politics or religion. Nobody ever batted an eyelid, but I was constantly outplayed by unwitting rivals, the kind of commentors who are able to turn a piece about a corgi getting a new haircut into a genocidal diatribe which would give Anders Breivik himself (PBUH) pause for thought. In my turn I would parody (or perhaps that should be troll) them by positing a domestic scenario from their life along the lines of:
‘- Would you like a cup of tea dear? – I BLOODY HATE JEWS!!!’
On the whole I was less annoyed with the Telegraph than bored. I’d read in Private Eye how its staff has been cut to the bone by its stingy Bond villain owners to the point where it barely has enough resources to report the cricket scores. In the end I was left with the impression that its staff consist of one bloke with a laptop, one or two interning daughters of the editor’s tennis partners, and a handful of Boris Johnson-imitating professional arseholes who periodically fax in their obnoxious opinions from the Home Counties. Like anyone, I do need to read a range of news sources and encounter opinions and perspectives that challenge my own, but I prefer to read publications which at the very least take their journalistic responsibilities seriously rather than ones that are only really a pale pastiche of what you can truly call a newspaper.
The singer Manu Chao once said of the connection between organised crime and politics:
‘The worst enemy of democracy in the 21st century is not military dictatorships, but mafia dictatorships, and military dictatorships will seem really light in comparison. It’s already happening in Russia and in Mexico, but it’s coming up everywhere, and it’s very very very very dangerous. More and more and places I go, and I have the chance to travel a lot, the mafia is in control.’
This theme feels close to home for two reasons. One is that just down the road in Ostia an apparent alliance between a mafia clan and a far-right organisation looks set to be the decisive element in a local election. The area was partly the setting for the film and subsequent Netflix series ‘Suburra‘, a slightly lurid take on the events which culminated in the Partito Democratico-controlled local council being dissolved for mafia infiltration in 2015 as part of a response to a scandal known as Mafia Capitale. Among many other eye-popping examples of corruption in and around Rome, there were revelations of mafia groups making huge amounts of money from the management of immigrant detention centres.
The far-right organisation known as Casapound is a gang of fascist street thugs. Although their name has erudite connotations (it’s a reference to the Mussolini-supporting poet Ezra Pound), their propaganda consists of the standard racist clichés dressed up in the pretentious but intellectually derisory rhetoric of all Italian fascists. They have a particular focus on ‘heroes’. A recent poster stuck up on a bridge near our flat called refugees, by contrast, cowards. As it happens, Casapound have contempt for actual heroes of Italian history, calling Second World War partisans ‘rapists‘. Nonetheless, their visibility and influence has been steadlily growing, partly because in some of the most deprived areas of the city, such as Nuova Ostia, they have been running food banks and other essential social services, taking over from the State in the wake of the huge public spending cuts of the last decade. In run-down areas of Ostia they got 20% of the vote, and the 8% they got overall means they may well hold the balance of power after the second round of voting.
They’ve also been active around the issue of housing. Distribution of ‘case popolari’ (council houses) is a hugely sensitive issue and thus easy pickings for those whose aim is to divide the poor against each other. They have demonstrated against immigrants or Italians of foreign origin moving into apartments allocated to them. Perhaps sensing an affinity, in the elections this month one local mafia group known as Spada gave open support to Casapound; it was when the brother of the rumoured leader was asked by a journalist about these connections that things took a violent turn. Of course, Casapound spokespeople have since tried to distance themselves from organised criminals, but given that they also deny (among other things) l’Olocausto, such statements should be taken with un pizzico di sale.
The violent contempt which both the far-right and the mafia have for a free and independent media brings me to the second reason these events strike a chord with me. In 2015-2016 my wife and I lived in Mexico, where I had daily cause to marvel at the incredible bravery of reporters who, despite constant threats and regular assasinations of their colleagues, reported on atrocities and the links between the culprits and those in power. Although the far-right is not present in the same way in Mexican politics, it’s not really necessary given how extreme the mainstream parties are; nevertheless, it does have a presence in the army and may have influenced the impunity granted to members of the military in the wake of (one can safely presume) their massacre of left-wing students in Iguala.
The mafia relies upon silence, (omertà), which means that anyone investigating it is taking a huge risk. Mexico is not the only dangerous place to be a reporter. Donald Trumps’s new Best Dictator Friend in the Philippines once remarked that ‘Just because you’re a journalist, you’re not exempted from assassination’; this week, in the company of and to the apparent amusement of Trump (who rumours have linked to the mafia for decades), Duterte openly referred to journalists as ‘spies’. There have been an increasing number of reminders over the last few months that the global infrastructure of human rights was a response to the horrors of uniformed fascism: General John Kelly’s recommendation to Trump that he use a sword he’d been presented with on journalists carried many chilling and probably deliberate echoes. Truimp’s attuitude to political power is very reminiscent of that of any number of notorious Mexican political figures. As I wrote in December last year:
‘We don’t have to stretch our powers of speculation to imagine what a world run by and for Trump would look like. Basta ver what has happened over the last few years in the State of Veracruz: massive corruption and abuse of power backed up by the murder of anyone who investigates or speaks out.’
Of course, the fact of the relationship between fascists and the mafia will be no revelation to anyone who is from Italy or who follows its politics. In the decades after the fall of Mussolini’s regime, the far-right Propaganda Due (P2) masonic lodge, which allegedly included Silvio Berlusconi, was involved in targetted assasinations, huge financial scandals and attempts to manipulate the political situation to the advantage of far-right elites. Journalists were very often targetted for intimidation and murder. We recently went to an exhibition in Rome of photographs by the phenomenally courageous Sicilian photographer Letizia Battaglia, who documented several decades of violence in Palermo against anyone who trod on the toes of the mafia or annoyed their political servants. There are echoes of this period in the writer Roberto Saviano’s reaction to events in Ostia. He puts them in the context of the long history of the relationship between fascists and the mafia from the 1920s onwards. Few are better placed to understand what goes on behind the headlines – he has lived in hiding for the last eleven years because of his work exposing the neapolitan Camorra.
In 2011, Saviano shared the Olof Palme Prize with the Mexican journalist Lydia Cacho ‘for their tireless, selfless and often lonely work in support of their ideals and for human rights’. Such bravery made me feel guilty that after a while in Mexico I stopped reading the newspapers every day. Although La Jornada was mostly in black and white, the accounts of mass killings around the country were just as shocking as the lurid front pages of the more sensationalist publications, with their blood and gore and the neverending telenovela of El Chapo. Of course, the bogeymen identified in the press or on TV may not tell you all that much about how power operates behind the scenes.
As it happens, the poet, theatre and film director Pier Paolo Pasolini was murdered in Ostia, in an apparently mafia-style killing in November 1975. Although his last film, ‘Salò, or the 120 days of Sodom‘, with its almost unwatchable scenes of human brutality, was set during the final collapsing orgy of fascist rule, it wasn’t a historical document about the barbarities of the Second World War, but rather an analogy to something deep within the Italian State. It was, in a sense, a film in which Silvio Berlusconi was a central character; tales of his underage bunga bunga orgies recalled the scenes in which venally corrupt businessmen cavorted with uniformed sadists. Last week the newly politically-revitalised Berlusconi announced the cabinet he hopes to appoint after the general elections next year, with a prominent role for the openly anti-immigrant ‘centrodestra’ figure Giorgia Meloni and the position of Minister of the Interior reserved for the up-and-coming fascist demagogue Matteo Salvini. It’s starting to feel like there could well be a Salò Part 2.
*The term ‘centre-right’ is a ubiquitous euphemism in Italian politics, and speaking of ubiquity, anyone wanting to understand why Italian society sees regular outbursts of repugnant anti-immigrant sentiment needs to take into account the fact that Meloni and Salvini are never, ever, not even for a second, off the fucking TV.
People have often laughed when I’ve argued that climate change denial should long have been treated as an imprisonable offence. You may also disagree with me; in my defence I ask you to consider what the…(people? No, that’s not the word) are celebrating in the above photo. The concerted efforts of a specific group of pseudo-scientist fraudsters and staggeringly corrupt media commentators to spread doubt, ignorance and confusion on behalf of corporate interests have ensured that if the human race is to survive more than a few decades, it will be in dire circumstances and with a vastly-reduced population. To any trolls wish to make light of that sentiment, I would point out that I am the father of an impossibly adorable nine-month-old baby and stress that I regard all of the people in the above photo as mass murderers of infinite future generations of human beings. (To anyone sent here from 4chan, I appreciate your desire to demonstrate your commitment to overturning all bastions of post-enlightenment wisdom and ridiculing liberal unease, but please go and play at defending pedophiles for the evening instead.)
I’ve sometimes been accused in the past of hyperbole when it comes to this topic, so I will make the following sentence as circumspect as I possibly can: Those who have dedicated time and energy to making action to prevent or mitigate climate change impossible are the enemies of the entire human species, guilty of plotting a genocide many times greater than those of Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot multiplied together. It is no accident whatsoever that their number includes a very high proportion of holocaust deniers. (Scratch a climate liar, find a nazi. Punch a climate liar in the face and film it, I’ll send you $60 by PayPal.) Displaced repressed fear of an overheating planet is what most fuels attempts to build a post-modern fourth reich. No climate denial conspiracy, no “President” Trump. You’re welcome to disagree with me on this, but only if you first agree it’s a very good point. (And if you didn’t know that Climate Change may well have been a major factor in the war in Syria, it might be because, like everyone alive including me, you don’t like to read stories involving the climate. Knowing about that does help explain why those who deny climate change hate refugees, and vice versa. As I said before, it’s no accident. Find me more than one climate liar who’s not a close associate of the far-right and I’ll buy you a copy of the book ‘Why I tell lies on behalf of oil companies’ by Piers Corbyn.)
One of the only remaining means by which human beings might wake up to the scale of the emergency which is upon us would be if the facilitators of ecological breakdown were to be brought to justice as publicly as possible. There is a precedent: the infrastructure of human rights came out of the realisation of the immortal horrors that mortal human beings were capable of. The creatures responsible were quite rightly eliminated from the face of the earth. How it might come about is a mystery, but it seems to me that the scale of the betrayal of the climate lying movement justifies a similar response. We need a Nuremberg-style trial for all those guilty of lying about the causes and consequences of the changing climate. Much as I know it would delight that group of pro-diluvuan misanthropes to hear someone say this, they are quite simply the worst scum who have ever existed, and humanity cannot start to address this trauma as long as they continue to be present on our planet. Cheers.
We have a cleaner. I’m not enormously proud of the fact, but we can afford it and it saves us a lot of time and energy. In theory. Plus we’re giving someone work and thus Contributing To The Economy. (I know that’s the justification used by tobacco manufacturers and arms dealers, but still.) He (his name is Johnny and he’s from the Philippines) comes every Sunday at 11am and stays for about two hours, during which time he does an excellent job and for which we pay him €20, which we believe to be slightly more than the going rate.
Of course, before he comes we need to get the house ready, so that he doesn’t think we’re lazy slobs and so that things don’t get lost. Starting with the bedroom, obviously the baby’s toys need to be cleared away, especially the playpen which takes up about a third of the space. Then there are all the bits of clothing left lying around, which have to be organised into things that need to be washed and things that need to be put away. Plus there are the bedside cabinets and the desk, from which books and speakers and earplugs and the like need to be removed so he can do the dusting. We usually change the sheets on the bed while we’re at it. (So to speak.) Then there’s the bathroom, where the odd empty tube of toothpaste or toilet roll cardboard thing needs to be binned and the shampoo and shower gel bottles tidied up. Also the washing machine’s in the bathroom, so it needs to be filled and/or emptied, and we usually give the sinks a bit of a clean so Johnny’s not too overworked. In the kitchen all the dishes need to be done and put away in their appropriate places, any stray bit of food which the baby threw on the floor during breakfast have to be picked up and food items need to be replaced in the fridge or cupboards. We usually take advantage to throw away anything that’s past its sell-by date, tupperware anything that needs tupperwaring and organise the bins (plastic/metal, organic, paper and everything else).
Then its the turn of the living room. Again there are toys to be sorted out, books to be reshelved, magazines and newspapers to file away or to add to the stuff in the paper recyling bag. Laptops and phones need to be gathered up and chargers have to be stored sensibly so they don’t get mixed up. The cushions on the sofa, of which there are, for some reason, thirteen, have to be collected together and made presentable, and any loitering jumpers, dressing down cords, coasters, glasses cases, pens, coins and other indeterminate objects have to be picked up and returned to their respective homes.
Finally, we give the entire flat a quick going over with the vacuum cleaner, mop the floors, shake out the rugs, dust all the surfaces and wash all the windows. By the time we’ve finished it’s usually time for the doorbell to ring.
Trump’s tweets about ‘making friends’ with Kim Jong Un, complete with exclamation marks more befitting an eight-year-old, confirm once again a level of naivety about world affairs which most people, judging his role and the background to such statements, will regard as both terrifying and contemptible. But his online supporters (presuming there are some who are not automated) seem to lap it up, insisting that his appeals for everyone to get along be taken at face value. Their insistence that the most superficial aspects of world affairs – reports of personal conversations between individual world leaders – are the only defining ones also explains their (faux?)-naif response to his statement about Putin’s ‘response’ to his (apparently pretend) questions about election meddling. For one thing, the theme of lying is too adult to acknowledge; for another, they appear to be too deeply embedded inside a particular worldview to truly care about what’s true or false, or, as Reza Aslan wrote last week, ‘Trump has been spectacularly successful at getting his supporters to believe his blandishments rather than their own eyes’.
It’s common to see Trump supporters on social media extol love and friendship, and denounce the ‘hatred’ and ‘negativity’ of his opponents. I’ve written before about the sentimentality of tyrants. With his gold bath fittings, made-up golf trophies and puerile insistence that such tokens of his success – his toys – be explicitly acknowledged and admired, Trump resembles a more insecure version of the man who will inevitably, in the next few days, become his new BDF (Best Dictator Friend): Rodrigo Duterte of (as it’s correctly spelt) the Philippines, who combines unmitigated brutality and obsceneoutbursts with teen-like melodrama, especially when it comes to karaoke. There is a long history of autocrats seeing their subjects and counterparts in a mawkish light; there’s also a Michael Jackson element to both Trump’s worldview (and that of his immediate family members) and his appeal, which it’s fair to suspect may suggest similar predilections. Maybe some Trump supporters think that Roy Moore, like the King of Pop, just wanted to play innocently with those children, and would react just as nonchlantly if it were revealed that their hero does too.
I’ve long contended that such naivety is a symptom of a retreat to a less complex and frightening world in the face of the changing climate. The infantile depiction of the world of Fox News and the bogeyman worldview of Infowars are cases in point. There are a number of factors that account for the success of such propaganda. For me, such a retreat to a world of fairy tales is a response to our inability to discuss the environmental consequences of our way of life responsibly. If you can deny the facts of global warming, you can (be persuaded to) deny anything. Once confronted, acolytes of the new right habitually deny everything we try to use to counter them: reason, the experiences of others, universally-agreed upon historical fact, intellectual and scientific authority, even what they themselves have just said. This last is telling: owning one’s own statements and the logical consequences thereof is a habit one acquires as one matures. Instead, faced with truly incontrovertible evidence that their argument is based on false premises, both children and self-declared supporters of Trump repeatedly try to shift the blame by changing the subject, and when that doesn’t work resort to insults. I find most of the time that I have no response but to plead with such people to grow up.
Trump supporters and their equivalents elsewhere may perceive and behave in accordance with a cartoon version of reality, but it’s not a innocent or harmless one. It encompasses the cruelties of children: spitefulness and bullying, including racism of the most puerile kind. Read, for example, this exchange between two adult Trump supporters as reported by Kyle Griffin. Then there are phenomena like the trans bathroom controversy and the building of a wall to keep out outsiders. It is not a world defined by and for adults.
Social media exacerbates this. It’s a playground in which it’s extremely easy to discard the standards of reasonable debate. Bullies and political manipulators were much quick to recognise and mobilise its radical potential than defenders of progressive values. I suspect that as fascism takes hold across the planet, meaningful resistence will not be centred on social media in its current form.
Children often begin to distinguish themselves from their parents by forming gangs. Some join cults. I think it’s essential to take seriously the notion that Trump’s base is a cult. Thus in trying to turn the tide – and, Canute-like or not, we have no choice – we need to turn to the wisdom of deprogrammers and those who know how to counsel individuals caught up in the cult mindset. Trump (etc) supporters behave and argue like children, because that is the mentality particular to their cult. The critical question is: given that their childish retreat into a more reassuring world is partly a symptom and result of our own failure to begin to address very real problems which, Trump or no Trump, threaten our continued existence, what do we have to offer them which is better than the comfort blanket they are so attached to? How do we engage with them without getting drawn into a cartoon-level battle of good versus evil? Should we even treat them as adults, or as children? I have no idea whatsoever. I think it’s time to read up on how cults work.