It was like being punched in the solar plexus. Just when you thought Trump was safely consigned to the relative obscurity of starting his own TV network to plug that gap in market between Fox News and the Ku Klux Klan, the FBI release a maddeningly vague letter to Republicans in Congress that “re-open” those bloody emails. The fact that the emails in question refer to a former congressman, whose name is a synonym for “Penis” who sent pictures of his OWN penis to younger women, including a fifteen year old…and that this creep is married to one of Clinton’s key advisers, so that the antics of a sexual predator ex-Congressman may result in the elevation of a sexually predatory Reality TV Star to the Oval Office where the husband of the opposing candidate used to act as a sexual predator…takes the whole ghastly mess to levels where terms like “irony” and “House of Cards on Acid” don’t come close to doing it justice – let alone that the FBI released this non-material material 11 days out from the election makes the 1972 “Watergate” election look entirely free of inappropriate interference.
‘When is this OVER?’ cry 300 million Americans, who must feel that they are trapped in a cross between Guantanamo Bay and a lunatic asylum. While the rest of us watch with our mouths open, feeling as sick and scared as Fredo Corleone in Godfather 2 when he confesses: “Questadt…the Senate lawyer…he belongs to Roth…”
Once again, however, I want to try and tie the semiotics of the email scandal to the way that politics in general seems to be going here in the UK, and here in Scotland. I want once again to observe that we are now living in an era of binary, tribal politics, when we desperately need to remember that we live in an analog world, where just because someone disagrees with you, they’re not necessarily involved in an evil conspiracy with everyone else who disagrees with you. Paranoia, as Freud observed, is a form of narcissism…we flatter ourselves when we think we’re important enough for the world to be against us. My pleading question, however, like Bob Dylan in All Along the Watchtower is : “There must be some kind of a way out here?!?”
I want once again to observe that we are now living in an era of binary, tribal politics, when we desperately need to remember that we live in an analog world, where just because someone disagrees with you, they’re not necessarily involved in an evil conspiracy with everyone else who disagrees with you. Paranoia, as Freud observed, is a form of narcissism…we flatter ourselves when we think we’re important enough for the world to be against us.
We know how it goes. Hillary Clinton is both guilty of high handed carelessness in using a personal (and insecure) email account for government business, while AT THE SAME TIME, according to Trump, is clearly involved in a criminal enterprise where she attempted to hide “corruption” of a secret, non-government server.
Now, both things cannot logically be true. Doesn’t matter. Absolutely doesn’t matter. To the total “this explains everything” mind of Donald Trump, entirely contradictory conclusions are no hindrance. Kurt Vonnegut once described the mind of a fascist as that of a broken clock that ALWAYS thinks it is showing the right time. EVERYTHING proves you right. If the FBI now turn around and say “the investigation is NOT re-opened” Trump will say, “they WOULD say that…because the system is rigged after all” for example.
I trust this is sounding familiar. British politics has followed Scottish politics into our own local versions of the madness of a binary world. Every economic report is read to be in support of pro or anti Brexit positions simultaneously. Liam Fox briefs against his own Chancellor to say that any measures her takes to protect the British economy from uncertainty are part of a Re-Moan conspiracy to talk Brexit down.
Likewise, in Scotland, many Nats take every criticism of the SNP government as proof of an anti-Scottish conspiracy, (Red Tories etc etc etc) while Unionists insist that the same government is only pretending to be interested in health (for example) as a cover for their real goal, which is Independence under any circumstances. Everyone seems to angrily reject the conspiracy theories about their own side while accepting as Gospel whatever simple minded crap anyone, no matter how barmy, throws at their opponents.
Each side of each of these Manichean divides – Trump vs Hillary, Leave against Remain, Yes vs No, interprets every move their opponents make as proving the case against them. So I repeat my pleading, with the help of The Animals this time: “We gotta get out of this place”. How do we do that?
We are here, I think, because there is no longer an arena which is deemed to be non partisan. Both God and the BBC are deemed to have taken sides these days, so balance, on the one hand this, on the other that, is now no longer an editorial principle, but an avoidance of judgement that has led, among other things, to the brute and inescapable fact of climate change remaining a “controversy”. One can plead for civility, or course, but there is no going back to God or Lord Reith, or Walter Cronkite, for that matter, as the voice of reason to judge between the voices of increasingly shrill and tiresome partisans in the US, the UK and Scotland. All that is left is the purely personal distance of irony, and a certain humility. “I beseech you in the bowels of Christ, Consider that you may be wrong” said Cromwell (who should have listened to his own advice.)
In plays, no one character has all the right answers. The characters argue, full and passionate, and the audience judge…probably not with unanimity, or as a dramatist, you hope not. So it may be that dramaturgy is the essential political paradigm de nos jours…where we no longer hope for certainty and healing in public life, because the only way that does happen is silence.( “if only everyone on the the other side would just SHUT UP” screams everyone on every side). Maybe we do all have to learn to be civil. And maybe we do need to look at referendums and elections as being stops on the way to somewhere rather than thinking “this explains everything” and “this will solve everything” – whether we’re talking about Independence or Brexit or not.
We need to acknowledge our own doublethink, that it is partisans who get things done, but it is ironists who live better lives in the world that partisans die for. We have to be both. We have to learn to be wrong, we have to change our minds. We have to embrace nuance as a value in itself in life. While at the same time, in the arena of politics, we need to keep fighting like dogs, but with respect.
Is that beyond us? Maybe it is, sometimes in the heat of a binary referendum in an analog world. Or an election between a rock and a hard place. But if Caesar had a slave in the back of his chariot whispering “Remember you are mortal” – maybe all of us who’ve been involved in Scotland’s fevered political journey in the last few years, need someone behind us to whisper: “Remember, you may be an arsehole!” And who better to do that job than journalists and writers with whom we may not agree, but who we MUST read.