2017: The Year of Lying Brazenly

For connoisseurs of 21st century dystopian humour, there is a bleakly  amusing clip doing the rounds showing Pete Hoekstra, the US Ambassador to the Netherlands, apparently being well and truly hoist by his petard.   Hoekstra is a diplomat appointed by Trump and forged very much in the template of his master.    Asked by a Dutch journalist whether he said that there were Muslim ‘no go areas’ in the Netherlands, Hoekstra denies that he said any such thing, and accuses the interview of spreading ‘fake news.’   Said interviewer then shows said ambassador a 2015 clip in which Hoekstra can be found saying exactly what he has just said he has not said.

When the interviewer shows Hoekstra the clip and asks him why he characterized it as as fake news, Trump’s man in the Netherlands immediately denies that he said it was fake news even though the interview that he is participating in clearly shows him saying exactly that.

This exchange tells us a number of things about the state we’re in.   The good news is that there are still good journalists who are prepared to hold lying politicians to account.  That might be grounds for optimism, were it not for the fact that Hoekstra doesn’t appear to care that his falsehoods have been exposed in full public view.

Hoekstra may be little more than his master’s lickspittle, but the contempt, arrogance and total indifference to truth or fact-based argument on display here are another indicator that 2017 has taken us into a new political territory, whose implications have yet to be fully absorbed.   ‘Post-truth’ politics didn’t begin with the election of Donald Trump.    Tony Blair and George Bush worked up one of the great political lies in modern history, and neither of them paid any serious price for it.

But Blair, Bush and their defenders have repeatedly denied that they were lying about WMDs and tried to make excuses for their catastrophic decision to invade Iraq.     In the Trump era excuses and apologies are not required.    We now have an American president can lie openly and brazenly on an almost daily basis without any consequences whatsoever:   a president who can ignore and reject photographs demonstrating that his inauguration was poorly-attended as ‘fake news’; who denies that he was in a ‘pussy-grabbing’ video in which he can be clearly seen and heard – and crucially, a president whose power base ignores and rejects whatever he ignores and rejects.

This isn’t some kind of American aberration.   David Davis has clearly lied through his teeth all year about the Brexit impact studies that turned out never to have been made.   Asked by the Brexit select committee early this month what had happened to these studies, Davis denied that they  had ever been carried out, even though he himself had said on various occasions that such studies did exist.

As early as November 2016, Davis’s department said that it was preparing impact studies ‘ on over fifty sectors of the economy.’   Yet Davis sat before the Brexit committee looking bored, smug and utterly indifferent to the discrepancy between what he had promised and what he was offering that was being presented to him by his shocked interlocutors.

There are various reasons why we have ended up like this.   Part of the explanation lies in the common decadence of British and American politics, which increasingly produces politicians without any intellectual grounding or moral compass,   who no longer feel any motivation even to go through the motions of telling the truth.    But the arrogance shown by Trump, Davis et al is also the product of a deeper cultural and political shift, in which political arguments have become so tribalised that truth no longer matters even to their supporters.

Trump and Davis know that the people who support them don’t care if they lie, and don’t care if they are found out, as long as their lies suit and reflect their common agenda.   So if Davis lies about Brexit, that’s fine, as long as his lies are seen to further the cause of Brexit.   When Trump lies about…anything, that’s ok too, as long as his lies rub salt in the wounds of ‘liberals’, ‘leftards’ or ‘the elite.’    And when Hoekstra is caught lying about Muslim ‘no go areas’ in which ‘cars and politicians are being burned’, that doesn’t matter either because there are many people who want to be believe that such things are true.

This is why the likes of Katie Hopkins have continued to claim that October’s car accident outside the Natural History Museum was a terrorist attack, even when it was absolutely clear that it wasn’t.   After all, if you believe that the media and political class are so cowed by Islam that they will actively cover up a major terrorist attack to avoid causing offense, then you will believe anything, and politicians like Trump, Davis and Hoekstra appeal to an audience who are prepared to believe whatever confirms their prejudices.

This audience has been around for a long time, fed on a diet of poisonous allegations and conspiracies that goes beyond the current world of shock jocks, Infowars and Prison Planet etc to the ‘UN black helicopter’ conspiracies that circulated in the early Clinton era.   Social media have merely widened that audience and made it easier to reach it and compartmentalize it, and the results are plain to see.

There was once a time when Americans were taught to admire the young George Washington, who   supposedly admitted to cutting down a cherry tree on the grounds that ‘ I cannot tell a lie.’   A 21st century Washington would simply deny that a cherry tree had ever been chopped down or call it ‘fake news’, and his supporters would agree with everything he said even if someone showed them a chopped-down tree and an axe with his fingerprints on it.

These tendencies aren’t exclusive to the right, of course.   Leftists can think and act like this too, but the brazen dishonesty of Trump, Davis and Hoekstra is essentially a product of the tribalism of the right and the far-right.   And 2017 is the year in which this toxic sludge burst from the social media fringes into the mainstream,   to the point when the whole process of reasoned argument and fact-based discussion that makes democratic life possible is now at risk.

Because if lying no longer matters, then why should truth matter?   Why bother even trying to prove that something is true or false if people will simply ignore your arguments if they don’t like them?

And if you no longer believe that truth has a role to play in democratic politics, then you run the very real risk of transforming political life into the playground of bullies, demagogues, populists, Twitter hatemobs – and liars.

 

 

 

 

Waiting for the Barbarian

Anyone familiar with horror films will recognize the following scenario: a group of people are being terrorised by a monster/serial killer/alien.   They find a hiding place and fortify it. All their attention is focused on keeping the intruder out. Not until it is too late do they discover that the monster is already inside the building.

There is something of this trope in the response of the UK public to the political horror film starring the orange-haired beast known as Donald J. Trump.

Last week a poll revealed that 1 in 10 people would be willing to protest against a putative “working visit” from Donald Trump next year on a date that has yet to be determined. It is still not certain that this visit is even going to take place. Yet already the community networks that helped organise last February”s Stop Trump/Stand Up to Trump protests are bracing themselves for the occasion and putting dates into their diaries.

On one level this response is admirable. It”s a healthy sign that so many people are willing to disregard the grovelling decision by May and her hapless cronies to invite Trump anywhere near these shores. But we should not allow the beast in the White House to distract us from our own political monsters already in our midst. Because like Godot, Trump may not come. And as far as migrants in the UK are concerned, Trump is by no means the most pressing threat that this country faces right now.

My piece for Ceasefire Magazine.   You can read the rest here:

You can also check out the new 1 Day Without Us campaign video, which we have just launched this week.

 

 

Trump’s Christmas Message

This week the Trump non-presidency posted what may well go down in history as some of the weirdest photographs ever taken in the White House, featuring Melania Trump as the spirit of Christmas.   One of them shows the First Lady walking with a fixed grin through what looks alarmingly like a giant silver vagina, but turns out to be a corridor of Christmas trees.   In another she is standing on a marble floor surrounded by a little copse of snow-covered Chrismas trees in her white dress and heels, looking like the wicked witch of Narnia in search of a dancing partner.

But the most striking image  shows Melania standing on a red carpet in a white dress   and her arms by her side staring through a phalanx of ballerinas.   It’s an image that is   both surreal and also an inadvertent homage to the horror film genre, because Melania looks an awful lot like Sissy Spacek  with that stare and dress, and you can’t help wondering what might happen to those dancers if   a bucket of pig’s blood was thrown on her.

You certainly wouldn’t want to leave her alone with the baby Jesus for long.   As is often the case with Melania Trump, it’s difficult to know whether she is Rapunzel or Countess Dracula in this Mar-a-Lago winterval.   Is she reveling in her power or is she too a prisoner of the dystopian sci fi satire made flesh that we are all forced to inhabit?   Either way, these joylessly saccharine images are unlikely to win the ‘ War on Christmas’.   This is partly because this ‘war’ is a figment of Trump’s imagination, and also because nothing and no one can conceal the fact that the howling beast who inhabits the White House walls has nothing to do with the message of peace and brotherhood that Christ’s birth was intended to bring to the world.

Trump isn’t the first world leader to fail to get this message.   Hitler was also a big fan of Christmas:

Image result for hitler's christmas

And he liked Santa too:

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I know I’m probably being a bit of a killjoy posting such images, or maybe even going over the top a little, when all the White House wants us to do is think of tinsel and reindeer.   But that isn’t the only Christmas message that’s come out of the White House this week.   Because Trump has now retweeted none other than our own Britain First – a fascist would-be paramilitary organisation that specialises in anti-Muslim hate speech, whose name was quoted by the man who shot Jo Cox to death.

Even our PM, who up to now would have swum naked through a lake of cold sick to get a trade deal from the US, has  said that Trump was ‘wrong’ to do this, without going too deeply into what his ‘wrongness’ consists of.   May has too few friends to risk cancelling the state visit on which the British diet of chlorinated chickens depends.   But even what she did say was too much for Trump, who tweeted back contemptuously that May shouldn’t be focusing on him, but on the ‘ destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism Radicalism that is taking place within the United Kingdom.’

Let’s just pause here and take stock of this.   The president of the United States retweeted anti-Muslim videos from a fringe fascist organisation – videos that don’t even depict what they purport to depict.   When accused of retweeting videos from said fringe fascist organisation, Trump ignored the fact that most of the videos were fake and told Theresa May off for saying that he was ‘wrong’ to retweet them and criticized her instead.

All that is bad enough, but I fear that its badness hasn’t been fully-digested. Because some commentators, our own government amongst them, continue to imagine that Trump ‘crossed a line’ or ‘went too far’ as if these retweets were some kind of gaffe that can be rectified.    But Trump’s retweets and his response to the criticism he received make it clear he hasn’t crossed a line.   On the contrary, he is moving very firmly along the tajectory that was established during his campaign, when he first reached into the fascistic underbelly of the GOP and US society: he is deliberately bringing fascism and racism back into the mainstream of American politics and pushing American society further towards the far-right.

He knows what he’s doing, and his closest supporters know it too. This is what the Bannon project is all about.   It’s what sexy/cool provocateurs and fake cultural insurrectionists like Milo Yiannopoulos are all about.   As the brilliant Buzzfeed investigation    into the Bannon/Yiannopoulos nexus recently showed, these people are conduits seeking to open up new channels through which far-right and even openly Nazi politics can re-enter the political mainstream and break down the barriers to such progress.

When Trump dubs calls CNN ‘fake news’ and tells the most jaw-dropping lies without even the slightest remorse or concern about whether he’s found out, it isn’t just because he is a narcissistic sociopath: he is deliberately shattering the intellectual context that makes evidence-based argument or rational discussion possible.

In Trumpland, there are no ideas that have to be respected, only feelings and instincts that don’t change when confronted with facts that contradict them.   Trump knows that his base has no interest in facts or truth and will love him as long as he sticks it to the ‘liberals’ or ‘lefttards’.   He knows that he can rely on the support of the intellectually and morally debased Republican Party, many of whose representatives either care only about their career or would not mind taking off their suits and putting on a paramilitary uniform should the opportunity arise.

They certainly don’t have to wear uniforms now, because 21st century fascists don’t do that until they are absolutely certain that they can get away with it.   Until then, they are content to allow their poisonous ideas to percolate,   until what once seemed abnormal and unacceptable becomes a new normal.   This is a long haul task, but Trump has powerful helpers: reactionary millionaires and Domininionist billionaires; Fox News, Breitbart, bullying shock jocks and many other fora that understand his game perfectly and have the same lack of scruples.

So Trump’s inadvertent tribute to the self-styled ‘Warrior for Christ’ Jayda Franzen isn’t just because he is a lazy, ignorant buffoon who can’t even be bothered to check a source – it’s exactly on a par with his tributes to the Nazis in Virginian and his praise for the Confederacy.   He is promoting her because he agrees with her, and because he wants to poison our politics as he’s already poisoned his own country.   Admittedly that isn’t too difficult to achieve in the toxic world of Brexitland,   and Trump has lots of willing   helpers swimming in the same dank waters.

These include not just the marginal crypto-fascist freakshow that is Britain First, which he has now transformed into a national brand.   Trump’s British co-enablers are way more mainstream than that.   They include Katie Hopkins,   Farage, Arron Banks, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, the Daily Mail and Rupert Murdoch, all of whom have used anti-Muslim hatred as the acceptable face of racism and a kind of intellectual Trojan horse to insinuate far-right narratives back into the mainstream – just as Trump did yesterday.

All of them, like Franzen and David Duke, can look to the white supremacist fascist enabler in the White House who is clearly dreaming of a white Christmas everyday, and the sooner we recognize Trump for what he is and treat him accordingly, the better chance we have of stopping him – and them.

 

 

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The Gospel According to Jacob Rees-Mogg

And so it came to pass that in the year 2017 there was great confusion in the land of Albion, and much weeping and gnashing of teeth amongst the tribe of Tory following the failure of May’s snap election and the pessimistic voices whispering calumnies in the shadows about her future and abilities.   And yea, even as the pound continued to ‘fluctuate’ and Monarch announced that its birds would no longer take wing,   and the mad King Herrod slapped   a 219 percent tariff on the birds that Bombardier maketh, and the Pharaoh Barnier continued to tap his watch to remind us that the clock ticketh, the elders of the tribe of Tory did gather in great distress in Manchester for their annual conference.

Yet even in the great chamber there was no relief, as the angry tongues did hiss like snakes behind the Great Leader’s back, and conspirators seeking to overthrow the Maybot sharpened their knives even as they bared their fixed grins to show that everything was ok, and even Tory commentators warned that the tribe faced rupture.   Even inside the temple there were those who doubted the competence of the government and questioned whether it really had the ability to lead God’s chosen people out of the EU and keep the holy fire of Brexit burning, or whether in fact it was leading the nation towards irrelevance and national suicide.

In this time of trial and tribulation a multitude of false prophets stepped onto the podium to speak of even darker days to come should the party desert its leader, should its membership continue to fall, should the misguided youth of the land continue to worship at the feet of the false Marxist god Corbyn.

One by one they stood before the tribe to warn that a Labour victory would crash the economy if it came to power, thereby depriving the government of the opportunity to continue doing it themselves; that the European Union had killed all the bees of Albion and taken away the loaves and fishes that were rightfully ours; that the hearts of the Labour Party were filled with hate whereas those of the Tories were filled only with the sweetness and love that we have seen flowing through the land of Albion for so many blessed years.

And the Lord looked down on the empty seats and the sea of bored and stupefied faces and he heard the vacuous platitidinous speeches from a succession of careerists and incompetents and he observed the philistine Johnson rubbing his hands on his belly and chortling and he saw that none of this was good, and that the tribe of Tory indeed faced electoral oblivion.

And in this time of confusion, it came to pass that at a fringe meeting in Manchester a prophet of the Lord called Jacob Rees-Mogg did fetch up from his Somerset manor to reassure the faithful that everything was going to be fine because he believeth, and yea, they should believe too.   And his voice was soft and gentle and his words like honeyed gold, and even when the uncouth leftist rabble did heckle him and call him despicable, he smiled upon them and gently admonished them for their intemperate ad hominem attacks and reminded them that politics and people were two different things.

And indeed they are, for Jacob Rees-Mogg attacketh and hateth no man personally, and pitieth even the victims of his own polices, and is as polite and genteel to his enemies as he is unto his friends.    For verily he blesseth the food banks that have only become necessary because of in-work poverty, zero hours contracts and the benefit cuts that his government has imposed upon the poor and vulnerable.   He praiseth the EU nationals who have come to the land of Albion speaking only strange grunting foreign sounds.

He bestoweth his love and admiration upon them even though his own government has used them as bargaining chips and issued deportation orders against them for no reason and plunged millions of them into uncertainty and despair.    .Great was the wonder amongst the faithful at   such nobility of spirit.   And there were those who looked at his voting record and saw that it had always been thus, and that   Rees-Mogg had consistently voted against giving EU nationals any right to remain in Albion – yet still he found reasons to praise them.

All this was proof that he was a prophet sent by God to save the tribe of Tory, pursue hard Brexit and build Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land.   His disciples saw that he had voted against smoking bans and they smiled upon him,   for it was only just that non-smokers should have the right to get lung cancer along with those that smoketh.   And it was written in the scrolls of the elders of Albion that he had voted against same-sex marriage because homosexuals and lesbians were the spawn of Satan; that he voted against laws promoting equality and human rights for it was not fitting that people should be equal or have rights.

The scrolls also revealed that the prophet Jacob voted against an investigation into the Iraq war and his listeners knew that this too was just, for the Lord did not allow the actions of the British state to called into question or held accountable.    Great was their astonishment on discovering that one of the wealthiest MPs in Albion made more than £1 million in the last year alone, that he liveth in a Grade-II listed manor house, yet hath consistently voted to reduce housing benefit to social tenants with ‘excess bedrooms’.

The prophet’s disciples saw that Jacob had voted against paying higher disability or illness payments and they understood that this too was just,   for the taxpayer should not be burdened in this way and the Bible sayeth clearly that the sick and disabled cannot   get into work and have the opportunity to become millionaires like the prophet Jacob if they allow the nanny state to prop them up.

They saw that the prophet had voted to lower corporation tax   yet also voted to reduce welfare benefits to those who have least and whose lack of virtue and entrepreneurial spirit have brought them to the food banks that Rees-Mogg admireth so.

All this the Tory faithful saw, and great was their joy on seeing these things, so that they wondered how such a man could have been ignored for so long.   And so they crowded into the fringe meeting and heard the prophet Jacob tell them that leaving the European Union was ‘  Magna Carta, it is the Burgesses coming at Parliament, it is the great Reform Bill, it is the bill of rights, it is so many… It”s Waterloo, it is Agincourt, it is Crecy, We win all these things.’

And the faithful heard these honeyed words and they knew that it would be thus, that we had always won and would win again, and that the prophet Jacob would lead the children of Albion into the promised land.   And Rees-Mogg   did tell them that even the young saplings of the nation would soon be   ‘liberated’ on leaving the EU and that they would be able to ‘determine their own futures’ – though these futures would no longer include the right to live, work and fall in love in 27 countries.

Those who consulted the scrolls remembered that Rees-Mogg had voted to end financial support to some 16-19 year olds; that he had voted in favour of raising tution fees and against using public money to help provide guaranteed jobs for young people in long-term unemployment.  Now the hearts of the faithful did melt as they heard him declare how much he loved and cared for the young.

And in a troubled land where love, good manners and noblesse oblige have been absent for so long, the faithful did marvel that a man who opposed abortion even in cases of rape could also make money from a drug  used to induce abortions in Indonesia.

But this too was good, for they saw that this was a man who loveth even as he profiteth,   and they doffed their caps and kissed his pin-stripe suit and ran out into the streets to tell the world that a new contender had arrived and great was their joy as they shouted ‘ Behold! The Lord hath sent a prophet to save the nation and the Tory Party, and his name is Jacob Rees-Mogg.’