How to be a Populist

2 09 2017

Richard Rorty

When Donald Trump was first elected, well-read people with good memories dug out a prediction by the philosopher Richard Rorty from 1998 that seemed shockingly accurate:

“[M]embers of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers — themselves desperately afraid of being downsized — are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.

At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for — someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots.”

Richard Rorty, Achieving Our Country, 1998

‘Wow’, everyone thought after the election and it was quoted and forwarded all over the place. But there was a second part to that quote which was quickly forgotten. After nine months of Trump Presidency we can see that part is also clearly coming true:

“One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past 40 years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. … All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.”

With his constant nudge wink appeals to his perceived base’s perceived intolerance it’s like Trump is the only person who keeps what Rorty said in the forefront of his mind, as a guide to bring him success. It culminated in clear and stated ambivalence when Nazis took to the streets of Charlottesville, and the pardoning of Joe Arpaio who was convicted of Criminal Contempt for refusing to accept the Constitutional rights of people he thought looked foreign.

Richard Rorty didn’t realise he wasn’t engaging in political prediction, but in instruction for an aspirant strongman.

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Erdogan on a Plane

10 07 2017

Preisdent Erdoğan of Turkey, on a plane.

Erdogan on a Plane

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And the award for barbarism goes to…

7 06 2017

UKIP

Just time before the polls open for the UK General Election to make the award for the party manifesto policy which most advances the cause of  barbarism. The clear winner is … UKIP for FGM inspections. Here is the winning policy:

“Implement a screening programme for girls identified to be at risk of FGM from birth to age sixteen, consisting of annual non-invasive physical check-ups.” UKIP 2017 Election Manifesto p.35

It’s almost as if they didn’t think about, couldn’t imagine, what that might mean. Like they just got out the notorious dog whistle and that is the sound it produced.

Imagine for them. A little girl going to school and waiting to be dragged off for her annual FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) inspection. ‘From birth to age sixteen’. The shame, the humiliation, exacerbated by the cultural mores of exactly those families most at risk. Families for whom avoiding shame and humiliation are paramount. The result of this annual, date in the diary, sexual assault would be depression, mental disorder, self-harm and honour killing.

Just so you know UKIP, irony is when you seek to defend liberal democracy by utterly undermining its values.

And in a section of your manifesto titled ‘One Law for All’, nothing contradicts that stated intention than singling out one section of society for ritualised humiliation. And more than that, the group you have identified as most at risk of harm is the group you choose to harm. The group you would most like to protect and see integrated into Western democratic values is the group that you single out and alienate.

No-one sitting around that little pub table where the policy was surely drawn up had a sense of history either; none had heard of the Contagious Diseases Acts, among the more notorious Victorian legislative disasters.

Women suspected of engaging in prostitution could be subject to compulsory checks for venereal disease. The problem is; who defines adequate suspicion of prostitution, who ensures the powers under the Acts are not abused by the individual policemen and doctors, and, most importantly why on earth should fallen women (to use the language of the time) be singled out as being without the basic rights enjoyed by the rest of society?

It was the catalyst for the politicisation of women in the UK and led to the organised political movement which campaigned for and eventually brought women the vote. But you didn’t know all that UKIP.

Of all the ill-considered, foolish, impractical, hypocritical and financially ruinous policies that bloat the manifestoes of all the political parties, this is the one that stands out for barbarism. Congratulations UKIP; it is, perhaps with good reason, likely to be the only thing you will be winning in the next couple of days.





Don’t say we weren’t warned

9 11 2016
Douglas Kelley (left) with colleagues

Douglas Kelley (left) with colleagues

The experts are playing catch-up over Donald Trump’s election victory, but there’s really only one person qualified to comment, and since he’s been dead for 60 years I had better do it for him.

Douglas R Kelley knew a thing or two about the need for character in high office because he made it his mission to work out what Americans should look out for when choosing their leaders.

By that I do not mean what to look out for in the next Pericles, he was not that optimistic about American democracy. He meant look out for as in avoid like the plague.

And he had a good idea of what that was, from his job as psychiatrist to the defendants at Nuremberg. Read the rest of this entry »





Bernie and Me…

11 02 2016

 

(This article first appeared in DISCLAIMER Magazine)

It’s been a while since I met Bernie Sanders, decades in fact; I interviewed him in the days when both Clintons were still in Arkansas, Sanders was a recently elected Congressman and I was studying journalism and working for a Vermont TV station while in Washington DC.

Knowing nothing of Vermont’s politics or his track record I focused on the slightly more academic question of the effectiveness of a loner Socialist congressman. Sanders is currently running for the Democrat Presidential nomination, but he was originally elected as an independent socialist. In a political system then absolutely divided between Republican and Democratic faultlines the concept of an independent was utterly alien. And an avowed socialist? It was unthinkable.

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Chutzpah

19 01 2016

 

Paul Flynn

Labour MP Paul Flynn has received plaudits over the way he brought a debate to Parliament on whether to press for Donald Trump’s exclusion from the UK following the presidential candidate’s call to ban Muslims from entering America – see here.
There is an irony in Flynn drawing attention to a man criticised for seeking to discriminate against people based on their heritage.
It is something Flynn himself has done. Read the rest of this entry »





How the BBC Conducts an Interview

30 12 2015
Marin Alsop

Marin Alsop

It takes an arts interview to reveal the truly parlous state of BBC journalism; to illustrate how deep attitudes run in the organisation.

Razia Iqbal, presenter of World Update on BBC World Service, interviewed Baltimore Symphony Musical Director Marin Alsop – listen here, at 20’40” – on 30th December 2015.

Alsop was speaking about the mentoring programme she had introduced to promote the study of music among Baltimore’s deprived (mainly African-American) community. Alsop’s comments about the success of the programme prompted the following extraordinary and revealing statements from BBC presenter Iqbal:

This would surprise a lot of people for whom Baltimore means the television series The Wire or the Baltimore that people see in real life depicted in our news bulletins of young African-American men being gunned down by the State. I wonder how you reconcile those things in your mind?

Up to that point there had been no political element beyond Alsop’s desire to get more African-American involvement in classical music. Read the rest of this entry »