Speech and War
Trump and his people are inviting us not to care about whether a Britain First video is “real” or not because Trump retweeting it “elevates the conversation.” This elevation is clearly not intended in any sense that Jane Austen or Henry James might have recognised elevated dialogue. No. What Sarah Huckabee means by “elevates” is “make louder.” In Trump world, in what is increasingly “our world,” all that matters is that an opinion be loud. That it garner re-tweets and follows. Britain First understand this principle of the new media, which is dragging the old media along behind it like your “other” Grandad, the one who isn’t the boorish, embarrassing one who rants about women and immigrants and Muslims over Christmas dinner. Nice Grandad goes along with the distasteful crudity of the boor who carves the roast simply because he no longer has the conviction or energy to tell the man to shut up.
Why does the degradation of public speech matter? What is wrong with the loudest voice being the most important? With there being no agreed standards of ,if not “truth” then at least ethics in what people in positions of power carelessly chuck onto social media because it gives them a warm feeling in their tummy as their own worst, weakest most bigoted instincts are confirmed? Or indeed offers the opportunity to sneer loftily at the idiots on Twitter, one of whom happens to be Dipstick In Chief? Isn’t it all just a bit of fun, reduced like all consumed news product to titillation at one level or another? Does it really matter if Rupert Murdoch was right all along? That the most cynical, bleakest view of all human conduct, elite or not, turns out to be right?
What matters to me, I think, most…is that The Triumph of Energy that Trump represents is also the Death of Hope. The triumph of prejudice over evidence, of the triumph of loudness over intellectual process is the Triumph of the Will over Reality. Reality itself gets bent out of shape so that stuff which was unthinkable a year ago is normal times now. God knows about five years from now when he’s in his second term.
It isn’t just Trump. It’s the making of the machinery of government into his echo chamber. The reduction of government itself into loud, cheap lie machine to protect the hatreds and stupidity of a cheap crook. That a White House staff would calmly dismiss the promotion of a Neo-Nazi Hate Group as “elevating the conversation” is more than absurd: much more dangerously, it is what you have come to expect. As each line of decency is crossed, as each decline and fall of what it is publicly possible for the President to say and retweet is crossed and normalised, the more we really are, as a civilization, handing over our future to the successors of the Trumps and Farages simply because they seem to have more get up and go than we do.
In the same way, cherished liberal elitist notions of “Balance” – that the media can offer a neutral platform for the debate of ideas within a commonly agreed window of responsible disagreement – are blown out of the water when you interpret this to mean giving equal time to climate change deniers and fascists on an equal footing with actual scientists and …well, let’s just say Nicola Sturgeon, or Vince Cable, or Hillary Clinton. Whatever complications one may have about any or all of these, surely we can agree to recognise that there is a qualitative difference between them and Nigel Farage and Donald Trump? “But what can we do?” bleat the newsminders. “We can’t be Reithean Policemen of the Public Good anymore! This is what the democracy has chosen, it is what the new media has thrown up, this is what the market wants!”
It isn’t just Trump. It’s the making of the machinery of government into his echo chamber. The reduction of government itself into loud, cheap lie machine to protect the hatreds and stupidity of a cheap crook. That a White House staff would calmly dismiss the promotion of a Neo-Nazi Hate Group as “elevating the conversation” is more than absurd: much more dangerously, it is what you have come to expect.
The apparent energy of the faux authentic, of the “good bloke in the pub” Nigel Farage, and of the “No nonsense Man’s Man” Donald Trump seems to just floor the equivocating, desiccated toffs who have lost all conviction about their role as “keepers of standards.” Even the fact that I am putting so much of this little lament into inverted commas tells me that I too am hidebound by deadened language, crippled by quotation, unsuited by my own civilised, pussy-footing irony to properly face the enemy. It feels like dereliction of duty even to try to explore an idea rather than reach for a baseball bat.
Of course, one reaches for past parallels. One is gaining from the present debacle a tremendous insight as to what the 1930s must have felt like at the time as we drifted in apparent hopelessness towards war and genocide. But what requires no retrospection or gazing into a crystal ball is the observation that right here and now we are in real trouble. That if we continue to hand over the field of public speech to the boors and thugs then maybe will get the future Trump, the Future Farage that such equivocation deserves. Maybe it really is time to finally abandon ideas like “balance” and “truth” rather than simply imprison them in quotes. We need a new set of weapons to take these people on. Right now it feels like life during wartime. And only one side is suited up.