This is The Monday Line (on Wednesday)
by Denis G. Campbell
It is nearly impossible to fathom the tone of the 2016 Welsh and US elections. A culpable and complicit media pushes those who are most outrageous to the front of the pack in a celebrity culture where common sense need not apply.
Today, on the right, we see dangerous narcissistic party ‘leaders’ with one goal, stoking systemic, moral outrage that blames a mysterious ‘other’ for one’s slights. That a Donald Trump, Nigel Farage or Geert Wilders (The Netherlands) rise up is not news. There have been blowhards like them for decades (George Wallace, Nick Griffin, Pim Fortuyn…) until they got into government and imploded or sensible people awakened in horror and dismissed them and their rants as the hate screed they are.
In the noughts (‘00-’09), their sentiments simmered beneath the surface. These were thought, perhaps implied, but rarely said aloud. The dog whistle race and religious slurs of today were occasionally uttered to shock and horror. We’ve seen not-so-subtle racist undertones in the USA towards its black president and a long standing anti-immigrant (‘benefits scroungers’) bias in the UK. But this sense of grievance and fear of immigration rarely dominated headlines like today.
It would be easy to blame the change on the anonymous rage of social media. Twitter is, after all, ten years old this week (Facebook is eleven), but that’s too easy. Our lives spin at a much faster pace midway into the twenty teens, yet we seem to fall further and further behind. This has created a nostalgia for simpler times.
Over 50s focus on the 1950s when two paycheques meant a solid middle class lifestyle. One could put a child through University and save for retirement. Your home was your biggest investment and both it and your pension would provide you with a comfortable retirement income and lifestyle after spending 40-years on the same job.
Today, Boomers through Millennials will work 10-12 jobs over their career and well into their seventies (and even eighties) just to survive. Jobs disappear in a heartbeat and everyone feels quite expendable with zero hour contracts and no guarantees. Unions have been on an extended losing streak for decades and the prevailing feeling is that one should be grateful just to have a job because so many were shipped overseas.
This is why on the left Bernie Sanders, Nicola Sturgeon (SNP), and Jeremy Corbyn have reached so many people. They’ve tapped into a simmering, seething dissatisfaction with the unfairness of not living the life we saw our parents lead. It is being denied to us because the 1% believe workers can be found cheaper overseas.
The lie of simplicity
Trump, Sanders, Sturgeon, Farage and Corbyn are modern-day carnival barkers. And every barker (PT Barnum being the most famous, ‘there was indeed a sucker born every minute’), knows exactly what buttons to push to generate maximum outrage. The problem is they do nothing beyond creating outrage to solve the issue. Outrage is good enough?
There is a thin line between angry enthusiasm and violent fascism. Donald Trump knows the only way he can win is by keeping the message simple and the crowd violent. He fans the flames with simple phrases and his world literally beats a path to the doorway.
They know they need to be likable showmen (and women) when the cameras are on. Everyone want to have a beer with Nige, Nicola or Donald because… they ‘tell it like it is.’ They speak their mind.
So does my uncle. I love him and he is the last person who should have a finger on the nuclear button. But it is the xenophobia and Islamophobia they preach that makes them very dangerous.
We need more than nine words
There is nothing to these candidates beyond their nine-word inciteful and hateful slogan and that is terrifying. Remember, “The SNP backed-Labour Party is dangerous for Britain?” The Tories parroted those words in lock-step during the 2015 General Election until everyone was afraid and aggrieved. Their ‘tear the house down’ mentality is all they have. My question? What are the next nine words to rebuild it? What are the nine words after that?
Politics is more than running to the microphone and winning the sound bite war. It used to do great things and build societies. Today it is reduced to carnival clowns firing up the base. And once fired up, both sides have NO way back to centre where the rest of their country resides and expects solutions.
So there is a choice, send a message with your vote or try to build something. There is one side that will only outrageously protest. You need to ask them, what will you actually do?
When we were children we used to say, ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.’ Maybe. I would suggest words can and do hurt. Especially when used to incite violence and motivate a mob.
I, too, long for a simpler time. I’ll settle for pre-Twitter 2003, not 1953.
Right now we are headed towards a rendezvous in the USA with the convention riots of 1968. Only now everyone in the USA is packing a firearm. This could all end very badly indeed unless we wake up and change our tone. As my grandmother said, ‘how you say what you say, is as important as what you actually say.’