Reality TV Politics

heres-what-donald-trump-supporters-really-believeLiberal democracy is eating itself. I think that’s the most obvious conclusion today, in the era of Brexit, Le Pen and Trump.

When I grew up, liberal democracy was a series of polite fibs. When politicians talked about ethics and human rights, they sold torture equipment to dictators. When they talked about feminism, it was a pretext to invading countries. When they talked about freedom, they were suspending it and declaring a state of emergency.

Still, though, they had to play the game. The trick of Tony Blair’s era, or Barack Obama’s, was to talk the language of civilisation, respect for the vulnerable, and common decency while tearing up those values in practice. That era is finished.

The fascinating thing about today’s “new politics” emerging in the form of the ‘alt-right’, is it’s complete contempt for all the polite fibs that make up liberal democracy. These people don’t pretend to believe in higher ideals or political responsibility; they actively appeal to the meanest sentiments. And figures like Donald Trump, or Boris Johnson, rest their appeal on one main thing: breaking taboos.

Every liberal democracy has some version of this syndrome. Populist, taboo-breaking rhetoric, rudeness, sexism, racism, it’s all being rewarded. Yesterday’s annoying extremists are tomorrow’s cabinet ministers or president-elect.

It’s no surprise that Donald Trump, the absolute epitome of this trend, comes from reality television. From Gordon Ramsey to Simon Cowell, successful reality TV usually features unbearably rude bastards who behave in a truly sociopathic manner, berating people, abusing women, saying the unsayable, dismissing people’s efforts as useless.

This reality TV succeeds because at some level everyone wants to break the polite boundaries of society. Indeed, 1960s and 1970s leftism was all about taboo-breaking, while the Mary Whitehouses of the world defended common decency.

Today, it seems like the right-wing are rude and brash and don’t care who knows it, and they’re painting us into a corner as cringing liberals.

I say, let’s defend some taboos. Some things are non-negotiable. There’s no debating the rights and wrongs of human rights. There’s no debating the obligations of comparatively rich people in the West to help the victims of persecution and injustice. And I’m certainly not debating the alleged excesses of feminism with men over the internet.

But we can’t just defend taboos, we need to break them. Democracy is failing because there are certain things we know but we cannot speak about. Sometimes, it feels like it’s illegal to talk about social class, for example. Equally, there’s a polite liberal consensus that stops us reminding people that Britain is a country that sells weapons to dictators and regularly bombs the shit out of farmers. The same was true of the US election: be polite, and stop moaning about Clinton’s Contras.

The biggest taboo of all is the power of capitalism, the word that dare not speak its name. Yet capitalism is surely the number one threat to our democracy.

Let me give you an example. We all agree about the climate crisis: something must be done. Yet because there’s a consensus that something must be done, it feels rude to talk about the cause of the crisis. This woolly urgency leads to an unwillingness to scare people away from the topic. So inevitably a false pragmatism takes over: the problem is so urgent that, if businesses and billionaires have a role to play in the solution, brilliant – let’s create the biggest possible tent.

But the crisis is inseparable from capitalism. And under capitalism, we can’t reverse it. By playing the big tent game, we might be dooming the planet to extinction. In a more immediate sense, look at the refugee crisis: it’s inseparable from the impact of climate change on Syria. Look at desertification in Spain, etc. Populations are going to move, and the choice will be, change the system or shut the border and shut down democracy. Those are the stakes, but our rhetoric on the subject has fallen victim to a polite, false pragmatism in the name of a misleading urgency to unite with Bill Gates.

Or take the left’s biggest challenge, both in Scotland and the US: immigration and its alleged threat to jobs and services. Our big problem here is to make sure we don’t end up looking like smug liberals who refuse to tell it like it is. Some people responded to the Brexit vote by demonising everyone in Northern England as a thicko who blamed their failures in life on immigrants. I just can’t agree with that picture. Northern England not so long ago was a hotbed of radical trade unionism and leftist ideology. That region has been an ally of progress for most of history.

The same arguments about the ‘rustbelt’ in the States is clogging up my social media feed today.

Faced with the anti-globalisation right, we’re often left defending free trade. I think we should be honest about this. Free trade has failed working class communities. It’s been a disaster. Living standards haven’t moved for decades. It’s terrible that people have been manipulated into blaming immigrants for the problem. But open, cross-border trade has ruined many communities, and desperate people are open to manipulation. Trump is a master of that manipulation. We have to be the people to link this problem to capitalism, because that’s the root of the problem.

In our fragile emotional state today- let’s remember our most important cause: to reclaim democracy. Who stole it? The best answer was offered five years ago by Occupy Wall Street: if we’re reclaiming democracy, it’s because the 1 percent have stolen it. Their dollars buy power. Their riches are stored offshore, beyond democratic accountability. They use 175 times more carbon per person than the poorest in society. They’ve stolen the future, and their existence marks the failure of our politics.

They’ve got a stranglehold over the world in general, and in particular over the 9 percent of us who live in a liberal democracy. We watch their television and read their newspapers, we buy their shit, we slave for their companies, we send our children to fight for their interests abroad. And nobody wants to offend them: when a Jeremy Corbyn or a Bernie Sanders speaks out, there’s an Hilary Clinton or an Owen Smith ready to hall them down and maintain the taboo.

Well, for me, the way forward for the left now is to focus on reclaiming democracy. We need to stand on any makeshift platform we can find, and say these unsayable things. That’s how we seize back the initiative from the radical right. Let’s not cringe and cower. Let’s learn from them, let’s be rude as hell and let’s fight with fighting words.

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  1. Crubag says:

    But I take is RISE has no part in this? Is it now an ex-parrot?

    “Populations are going to move, and the choice will be, change the system or shut the border and shut down democracy.”

    This is a non-sequitur. The evidence is that populations will often vote for tighter border controls to limit immigration. That’s democracy. It’s actually shutting down the democratic choice that would be undemocratic.

    The hard Left (i.e. socialist rather than social democrat) has taken several wrong turnings, including allying itself with unsavoury groups, but its main failure has been in its underlying idea – state control of the economy. To certain 19th century writers, it seemed inevitable there would be a caste of thinkers and a body of doers, and society could be centrally planned – static, unchanging. Their analysis hasn’t kept up with reality

    1. Ronnimor says:

      Put away the scatter-gun Cat, find a rifle and select your real target – financial capitalism. The world is presently run by those who control the money which is why all the things you and I want our governments to do are unaffordable. Politicians of all stripes have shown themselves incapable of dealing with this parasite which is why, for better or worse, sheer frustration is driving more and more decent folk towards radical change. Remember why the Nazi party came to power in the 1930s…..

      1. milgram says:

        “Remember why the Nazi party came to power in the 1930s….”
        …they shouted about “parasitic” “financiers” who “controlled” a lot too. If you individualise a critique of the capitalist system, you end up in some dodgy places.

        1. c rober says:


          But you cant argue it wasnt true though

          1. milgram says:

            “it” what?
            Did you just tell me that Jews controlled the international banking system in the 1930s and so the Nazis were right?
            I hope I am badly misreading you.

            Short comments on politics are useless. This is not Twitter

  2. John Robertson says:

    Excellent piece!

  3. Thrawn says:

    So your response to an extremist from the right gaining power is to argue for an extremist response from the left….I hope you see the irony in that but i doubt it

  4. john young says:

    “Thou shalt not put false gods before me” seems bang on to me,in our atheist world it,s not that you believe in nothing,you will believe in anything,we are moraly bankrupt and put our faith in all kinds of fcuking madmen,ask all of these warmongers,financial rapists e.t.c. one simple question,would you have this done to you or your own,not likely.Our lady of Fatima had it just about right proclaiming prayer will save the world.

    1. Thrawn says:

      Your point is kind of slightly undermined by the fact that the US is one of the most religous countries in the world and that Trump carried self-identifying christian evangelicals by 5 to 1

      1. c rober says:


        Religious claimed – practiced hardly.

  5. john young says:

    Convenient Christians in name only Thrawn a la Tony Blah Blah becoming a Catholic,as a Catholic I just can,t reconcile myself with that one,though the church is a place for sinners to hopefully repent and find themselves,these “Christians” hitch themselves to whatever religion takes their fancy,then continue to usurp every tenet of the Christian religion,unfortunately people condemn religions across the board when in reality it has nothing to do with religion,the capacity for “mans inhumanity to man” knows no bounds.

    1. Thrawn says:

      Ok….Catholics went 52-45 for Trump with white Catholics 60-37 for Trump…but you know maybe God told them to do it so we can let them off

  6. Cade Bois says:

    Here’s a taboo to break right now: capitalism is racist but no one wants to talk about that either. People of color who are engaged politically have been saying this all along but hey, instead of listening, white political commentators still pander to their white audiences and their delicate sensitivities out of fear they too will be accused of “making everything about race.” But as much as we try to try not to upset white folks too much, those of us who live in countries whose contemporary wealth is linked to colonialism and imperialism, that our economies are deeply intersectional with racism is just a historical fact–one that we need to face, today.

    Here in the US, we all are taught is grade school how our Constitution has the 3/5th Compromise–for non-Americans, ths compromise was included to appease those Framers who were pro-slavery and wanted slaves to not count as full citizens but still count toward population towards representation in the federal government. This was how we got our Constitution, by agreeing to devalue an entire group of people, their personhood, their bodies and their labors for the benefits and wealth of others which by then had become entirely defined by racial lines. The reason the pro-slavery Framers were able to get this clause added was all about their economic power that stemmed from this very racist institution of slavery. While in the US how our capitalism is rooted in racism is very clear, it is not really that different for Europe and the UK, even if you don’t have a tidy historical fact like that to pinpoint how your own economies are built on devaluing the bodies and labors of others along racial, cultural and ethnic lines for the profit of a more powerful class. Just read up on your histories and it should be pretty clear, pretty fast.

    Anyhow, this is what is so maddening right now about people arguing that white people who voted for Trump are desperate and hurting and it’s not really about racism, white privilege or white supremacy. Journalists are lazily interviewing cherry-picked representatives of this poor, down-trodden class of voters and once they are allowed to tell their weeply tales of unemployment and loss of quality of life that ALL Americans who make under US$75k/year have experienced in the past decade, the journalists fail to dig deeper to find out what sets them apart from all the other Americans in their situation who didn’t vote for Trump. Scratch that weepy surface and before you know, it’s those coloreds’ fault. Because whites in this country have been told, directly or indirectly, since the day we were born, that we are more entitled than anyone else to reap the benefits of being an American. In other words, white supremacy. I live among these sad, desperate white Trump voters here is Texas. I am family to some of them (although we are not originally from here, this environment here has encouraged something already planted in their souls via our history and culture). All those white Evangelicals you heard were voting for Trump–yep, them too. Forget love Thy Neighbor and all that Christian social justice jazz. Historically you don’t get more racist in the US than white protestants, and Evangelicals are just an extreme spin-off of them. Get these “disillusioned” white folks alone, away from any brown or black people, and let them talk with their guards down, and before you know it, the racism just flows. This is why they resent “political correctness”–because it curbs them from doing what they feel is their natural-born right: blame someone other that those in power for their problems, and preferably someone of a different skin color. And good luck trying to persuade them that the powerful are who they should be angry at: the powerful are white, like them, so naturally they’re on their side, right?

    Why does this happen? Did Fox News and Trump give them a scapegoat? Did they assault the American public with an avalanche of misinformation that overwhelmed their common sense and innate civility? In a small way yes, there is truth to that, but the roots are so much deeper. Let’s go back to that 3/5ths business: one cultural facet of our economic attitudes is that from the start, those in economic power have always made sure to demonize the same people the economy devalue and exploit for the powerful’s benefit, so to shift any resentments among the working and middle classes away from them. Demonizing the most powerless is an unequal society is almost always a sure thing. The powerless can’t fight back, those in the middle are shaken by their sense of economic vulnerability and side with the powerful and against those they perceive as least like them, and the powerful keep on doing what they do. Black slaves were demonized like this, and then later their free yet poor, economically disenfranchised descendants. Native Americans were demonized too. Mexican and Mexican Americans have been demonized since the today white settlers showed up in these corner of the world. Immigrants of course have been demonized, and unlike Irish, Germans and Italians who could eventually assimilate into the vast whiteness of American racial privilege to escape it, are still being demonized, with vigor, in part because Americans of color have been steadily fighting back via the law and the Constitution and aren’t such easy targets anymore.

    Capitalism IS deeply racist, not just because it needs bodies and labors it can freely exploit without the middle folk making too much a fuss, but also because it needs scapegoats to protect its elite when those middle folks start hurting and begin to sense things are amiss. We cannot pretend it isn’t about racism anymore. The real world doesn’t work according to our neatly defined and separated ideologies about social issues and economic theories. This is how capitalism as an economic system in action works. We reap what we sow and Trump, a true capitalist if there ever was one, just made the most of a centuries-old system of sowing deeply entrenched racism that is center to our capitalist model.

    1. Thrawn says:

      Yup all those Japanese and Chinese and South Koreans are really suffering from capitalism’s “deeply entrenched racism”

      1. c rober says:


        Technically they are , through pollution , low wages at home being the lowest price producer for the world.

        One only needs to look up the suicides in even the Apple production lines , and apple the biggest of all american companies uses korean chips , while suing the manufacturers to keep the prices down and prevent them being the competition – while avoiding tax through offshore units that would embetter the lives of Americans , either through direct employment or by the taxes being used on services other than the war machine.

        But then Americans are so dumb to believe that buying American , when its not , is patriotic – when the company obviously isnt.

        Then we have the American rice biased trade deal on Japan – while telling Japan they cant import cars only assemble in the USA for the USA market – while the American makers churn out pickups using the chicken tax.

        But still Trumpo ,man of the people has said that he will reduce taxes in order for the monies to be repartriated , and trade tarrifs on China to prevent it happening again – but this defeats the VFM for the American low paid – increasing the price of goods , or worse still will drive down wages in the USA in order to fulfill the orders.

        Every single Govt around the world that followed the wrong model post financial crash are already at war – its called the currency war , not cold , not WW 3 – because they simply are controlled by the true wealth creators and hoarders they have bailed out using the taxpayer…. The west has became Scotland in the 1706 act of Union , created in the same manner as todays economies as a result of similar bankruptcies of the rich selling them out – and where Westminster represents the private central banks rather than a king.

        But the new king has arrived baby.

    2. Yan says:


      The white privilege rap.

  7. Frank says:

    I’m sorry Cat but being ‘rude as hell’ is not going to get us anywhere. The so called ‘radical left’, typified by RISE is actually part of the problem with the left these days in Scotland.

    The rise (no pun intended) of the ‘radical left’ is a backward step for the socialist left in Scotland. It reflects a demographic which fetishes the youth, is obsessed by social media fame and identity politics and often believes in its own inflated hype.

    This is a politics big on slogans but lacking in ideas and one where ‘the movement’ is often a lifestyle choice completely separated from the lived realities of most working class people.

    Gerry Hassan wrote an interesting article in Scottish Review (can’t find the link) and said:

    ‘identity politics founded on race, ethnicity and gender has been out manoeuvred by class, status and whether people feel outsiders or insiders’.

    This is spot on! We need to understand the Trump phenomenon and situate it within the material context which produced it. Articles like this are mere hot air, a left wing tabloid rant, but are devoid of any real analysis.

  8. john young says:

    Thrawn and it would have been better more moral if those percentages were reversed,I think not.

  9. Mathew says:

    I’m not sure why Cat says it’s rude to talk about the causes of the climate crisis? The cause of the climate crisis is that 7 billion people spew out over 40 billion tons of CO2 annually. Or does she mean that it’s rude to name Capitalism as the culprit? She is absolutely correct in saying that under Capitalism it’s impossible to deal with climate change. Nothing rude about that. In fact I think it could be put even more plainly – Capitalism = Death.
    This isn’t a rude statement or even an ideological statement. It’s a factual statement based on the numbers of species dying off annually due to habitat loss, ocean acidification and changing weather patterns.

    1. Crubag says:

      It’d be more accurate to say industrial society. That’s where most of the environmental ompacts come from and why our population has grown so big.

      The Aral sea was drained under Communism, not capitalism.

      And China is still nominally Communist…

      1. Mathew says:

        As you say China is only nominally Communist – since becoming a Capitalist country its contribution to World pollution has been turbo-charged.
        Russia and all other former Soviet bloc countries are all Capitalist.

      2. Mathew says:

        I take your point that there was environmental degradation in the Soviet Union but ultimately the Cold War was ‘won’ by the Capitalist west. At present every country on the globe is Capitalist (bar North Korea). But what was ‘won’? A dead planet?

        1. Crubag says:

          I’m saying the problems come from technology, regardless of the political system. Capitalism.might be argued to be more wasteful as there is more consumerism, but state controlled system are probably more inefficent than market mechanisms.

          Agriculture itself is environmentally destructive, and that predates any of our modern political systems. But it did give us the surplus to create civilisation.

          1. Mathew says:

            What happened before the Industrial Revolution is of little significance since the CO2 output in that period is minimal. From the late 18thc onwards we get a turbocharged Capitalism powered by coal and then oil. CO2 output goes up fast from this point and hence temperatures too. Now (early 21stc) Capitalism covers the entire globe – we are accelerating towards a brick wall and Capitalism (& competitive Nation States) are preventing us hitting the brakes.

  10. Henry says:

    ‘Free trade has failed working class communities. It’s been a disaster. Living standards haven’t moved for decades. It’s terrible that people have been manipulated into blaming immigrants for the problem. But open, cross-border trade has ruined many communities, and desperate people are open to manipulation. ‘

    Perhaps the fact we have a problem with the populist right is because the populist left is just as incoherent as this rambling article shows. Random correlations dresses up as causality to confirm biases. It’s plain childish. Take the above quote…

    This is such an arrogantly western, leftist imperialist attitude. 1) In the last 30 years hundreds of millions in Africa, India, South America and especially China – not to mention SE Asia etc etc have been lifted out of absolute poverty by ‘Free Trade’. But now that we in the west are no longer the chief beneficiaries the leftists like Cat Boyd and her mirror image on the right Trump both decide they want to pull up the drawbridge, a big fuck you to all those who kind of prefer their new middle class life in Shanghai or Mumbai than when they were starving to death under socialist collectivisation. There is a lot wrong with contemporary capitalism, but free trade is not one of them. The structure of capitalism needs to be changed, greater redistribution, the closing of tax havens and cooperative tax systems across the world, cooperation on the environment and so on.

    But a closed leftist protectionist return to mercantilism and closed economies and societies is not going to help anyone – there is no difference between this approach and the closed protectionist Mercantilism of Trump’s vision of the US or the Brexit view of Europe or the Scottish nationalist view of the UK.

    It’s is all the same thing.

    1. Mathew says:

      How do you propose to tackle climate change Henry?

  11. Henry says:

    Question for Cat Boyd – would very much appreciate a reply – genuinely.

    If I understand correctly Cat and many leftists would like to see a return to 1) the collective ownership of property via the state 2) the collective ownership of the means of production via the state 3) the central planning of the economy – and society as the two are inseparable.

    My question: One of the main paradoxes with the above is the problem of information – simply, it is logically impossible to command a closed or open complex system from the center without perfect information of every single action. The human body is an example – the brain operates due to messages sent through nerves and neuro receptors – you put your hand int he fire the nerves in the hand tell the brain and the brain moves the hand.

    All economy is exactly the same – without knowing what is happening everywhere at all times then the central command starts operating an imaginary economy. It necessarily requires a reflexive system – e.g) supply and demand, to operate. This is the sole reason why every single centrally controlled economy collapsed – USSR, China, Vietnam, Venezuala, Cuba etc etc.

    How does Cat propose to solve this inconvientent piece of logic?

    1. Mathew says:

      Question for Henry – how do you propose to tackle climate change?

      1. Henry says:

        Perhaps it is too late to halt climate change, but there is no harm in trying – so through international cooperation on things like CERN, UNCLOS to manage fish stocks, sea acidity, and the 50 % of the worlds surface that is outwith nations. Ditto, transnational regulation on carbon emissions. One of the ironies is that the best chance of saving the environment is to provide a profit motive based on necessity – arguably the best way to ‘solve’ or manage climate change (now more probable and pressing) is to invest in technology – aka capiltalism.

        One thing that is absolutely certain is that harping back to closed border collectivisation is simply missing the point of the problem.

        What irritates me about the shouty left is that when you ask them a serious intellectual question they simply ignore you.

        Cat any answers? No, thought not. Not as smart as you think you are perhaps?

        1. Mathew says:

          CERN people are particle physicists, too busy battering minute particles into each other to be much use to the climate crisis.
          Sounds to me like you just want ‘business as usual’ and pass the problem on to the scientists/engineers in the hope that they can invent the magic machine that sucks up millions of tons of CO2 from the atmosphere.

  12. Danny Brokel says:

    The “voice” of the national telling us how it is/must be. No mention of how some Scottish newspapers including the national are owned by Gannett, who donated to the Clinton campaign; the board of Gannett is heavily involved with investments in energy companies (and weapons) and dare I say it, very much part of the oh so bad “patriarchy” that some “feminists” blame for the state of things; I wonder why people with investments in energy companies love to stoke the fuel of pseudo leftist/indyref hope in Scotland? What could the interest be!!? Smoke and mirrors folks; follow the money trail and it will lead straight to Mr and Mrs Dollar. Another journalist/columnist of the national recently wrote how (oh how surprising Mr Gannet) how a Clinton victory would be a victory of values (contra sexism etc). Funny how the National has omitted Michelle Obama slating (a few years ago) Hilary Clinton for not being fit for president as “she could not keep her house in order” in reference to hubby Bill’s lack of faithfulness-How sisterly of her. Oh and no mention how Hilary Clinton made the lives of many women a misery (those of came forward against Bill). Lets forget that. Tell you what, lets forget all the pseudo leftist analysis of the Trump victory and get real; Scotland is being sold the dummy pass, and any extrication from capital’s noose will have to involve an escape from the faux hope of an “elite” which create division, disharmony, and ignore the plain old facts.

  13. Danny Brokel says:

    What I would like to know is what relevance is the fact the some Scottish newspapers including the national are owned by Gannett, an American company who donated to the recent Clinton campaign. The board of Gannet is run by folk who have significant interests in the energy companies and weapons. Wonder why they have such and interest in Scotland? So much talk about how bad the sexist Trump is – this is double standards-Michelle Obama slating Hilary for not keeping her house in order when Barack running against Hilary for the candidacy, and how Hilary made the women’s lives a misery who came forward against Bill-how sisterly. Smoke and mirrors. Follow the money trail and forget the pseudo leftist hope spewed by a pseudo left. Follow the money trail.

    1. Yan says:

      The indy movement is in essence a confused centre-left globalist movement where utopian internationalism co-opts the corruption of capitalism, the Scottish nationalism they propagate is a fraud and deception. This is why they deny the destructive effects of mass immigration which in reality is not the FREE movement of people but the inception of a globalist slave trade.

  14. Danny Brokel says:

    I read todays national-wow. Perhaps the “radical left” and Gannett puppets of Scotland should watch this. This wise woman’s words are very apt especially for (some) of the “radical left unity” in Scotland. The big change in Scotland will not come from the “left elite” in Scotland….smoke and mirrors… will come from folk who are waking up. The Invisible committee were right about certain (many things) things.

  15. Alf Baird says:

    “In our fragile emotional state today”. Speak for yourself. If capitalism is so bad, how do you reconcile the fact there are hundreds of thousands of SME’s out there owned by people who consider themselves socialists? For most of us the state could not deliver a pizza. You are maybe too young to remember Ladas.

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