Speech and War

What this is about, – after the 48 Hour news rumble which I’m sure Trump loves, is the degradation of public speech. Of the defeat of evidence by noise.

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.

Comments (10)

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  1. Interpolar says:

    Yes. And yes. But what might these new weapons be?

  2. Alf Baird says:

    Is there not more than a hint here of middle class pc arrogant liberal elitist intellectual snobbery and pro socio-cultural re-engineering, so favoured by the msm and career-politicos like “Nicola Sturgeon, or Vince Cable, or Hillary Clinton”? And does that not explain why “qualitative difference” Grandad’s voted in their droves for Brexit and for Trump? And to ‘drain the swamp’?

    1. iain says:

      Naw Alf, there really isnae. Whilst ‘bella’ often has a rather high brow and intellectual approach, you are hereby invited to wake up and smell it with regard to Trump.

      1. Alf Baird says:

        Lat’s leuk whit wey the wind blaws, Iain. The stench of corruption (and resultant discrimination) is all around us; we don’t need to look at other countries or their heads of state to find it.

    2. Jo says:

      @ Alf.
      I think you make valid points. I felt uncomfortable reading this as I felt Peter’s aim was to condemn only the sort of noise coming from the likes of Trump.

      I’ve found all sorts of noise deafening lately and not just his. I’m hearing news broadcasters putting out as fact things that aren’t verified yet. I’m reading news of women going on to Twitter to accuse others of abuse, or calling newspapers to tell their particular story. Serious allegations are then published wall to wall without even a word to police!

      There’s a lot of noise. I agree with Peter pn that. But it’s coming from various sources and if we want to put a stop to it then we need to turn all of it off!

      1. Alf Baird says:

        Jo, in realpolitik terms, there is probably more chance of President Trump securing Scotland’s independence than the SNP; the latter bottled it in 2015 even with a virtual clean sweep of 56 MPs and 50%+ of the vote in a GE (i.e. de facto independence) and even now with 39 MPs they could constitutionally/legally give notice to withdraw from the union in the same way it began (maybe pending a further ratification referendum, with a better managed voter franchise this time), via a Scottish majority, if they wanted to, but they clearly don’t. Our elected Scottish Government should be nurturing a relationship with President Trump, not doing the UK msm’s work for them by constantly vilifying him. He is after all, and despite his foibles (none of us are perfect, not even the pc brigade), the most famous Scotsman on the planet. Hell, offer him the Honorary President of Scotland for life role if he can cut the auld colony loose from these upper class eejits in Westminster! That’s realpolitik.

  3. James Mills says:

    Former US president Lyndon Johnson once claimed that a fellow politician ”couldn’t fart and chew gum at the same time ”.
    I doubt that Trump can tweet and chew gum at the same time .

    How the holders of this office have declined in such a short time ! I thought Gerald Ford was a poor excuse for a president , then came George W Bush – but the barrel hadn’t reached bottom , unfortunately . Now we have Trump . God help us all !
    Gore Vidal once said that half of Americans never read a paper and half never voted . He hoped it was the same half – but he was wrong !

  4. SleepingDog says:

    I think the article misses some developments that have emerged as a result of Trump’s behaviour.

    Long protected and given an easy ride as an official ally by the UK media and culture, the brash outpourings of Trump are being answered by a (slightly elevated) scrutiny.

    The Sun has called out the USA for its horrendous child bride scandal as reported in a BBC documentary series called “America First?”:
    https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/4756732/child-brides-usa-marriage-forced-zimbabwe/

    The question of why the USA has not signed up to the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child is far from being merely of academic interest:
    https://www.unicef.org.uk/what-we-do/un-convention-child-rights/

    There are other signs that the UK establishment may be preparing a position (or contingency) to distance themselves from the USA, tarnished possibly indefinitely by the kind of sexual abuse tolerated (perpetrated?) by the Trump administration.

    Pushing at the opening door of this opportunity, now may be the time to get mass public support for withdrawal of USA bases from the UK and unslaving our nuclear defence from them:
    http://www.cnduk.org/campaigns/no-to-nato/us-bases-in-britain

    The special relationship Poodlism be damned: by any reckoning the rogue state and mass violator of humanity and planet, the USA, should be our official enemy.

    1. Interesting stuff Sleeping Dog. You say: “Pushing at the opening door of this opportunity, now may be the time to get mass public support for withdrawal of USA bases from the UK and unslaving our nuclear defence from them”. I fear that public support or not is not the question. We will not be free of US bases / nuclear weapons until the British state is disassembled. Not one for a petition I think.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Editor, I agree that a petition is unlikely to make much difference. However, perhaps a more strategic approach could work with reassembly rather than disassembly of the British state.

        If Scottish independence is essentially a question of psychology, and psychology essentially the study of comparisons, then you are looking for a pattern of choices, outcomes and interactions that will result in the desired state.

        One path to independence lies through a United Kingdom constitutional assembly. It’s not the shortest path, but you don’t have to give up other methods. It should be clear even to reactionaries that the UK system is broken, not least on the question of where sovereignty lies. This is one you may get sufficient public and partial establishment support for.

        Then the question of outside influences comes into play. It should be clear that a nation undergoing such fundamental reforms cannot be occupied by another. Hence the US bases must go. It is clear that their media cannot be dominated by corporate or foreign backers. Hence media reform to establish representative plurality must take place. It is clear that foreign economic influence or ownership of critical infrastructure must be minimised. Hence no foreign-owned nuclear reactors.

        Reform options to sovereignty should mean the optionalisation of the monarchy and all their historical, legal and convention powers stripped. You can set the bar high on their removal by public will, but then their removal will not cause a constitutional crisis.

        Popular sovereignty is incompatible with monarchical command and control systems, so nuclear weapons will be constitutionally banned. This will become obvious at an early stage of debate, preventing upgrades during the process.

        The various members of the UK will have clear and amicable paths to becoming independent, the smoothing of these paths counterbalanced again with setting the bar to leaving much higher than a single majority-wins vote. Matters such as currency can be settled beforehand. This will also be a time to scrutinise the peoples of non-self-governing territories and the tax haven blight:
        http://www.un.org/en/decolonization/nonselfgovterritories.shtml

        The best advice and examples of modern constitutional thought and practice will be taken from around the world. Concepts new to British constitutional thinking, like environmental protection and human rights, will be enshrined.

        There are those who deride the populace of the UK for their shallowness, ignorance and inability to tackle such great constitutional questions. I think they just need the opportunity, encouragement and assistance to rise to this challenge.

        Such an open strategy benefits the general UK public and need not be hidden. It is a win-win approach for people and planet, if not for power and privilege. If some independence campaigners fear that making the UK a land fit for citizens will hamper their cause, then perhaps they need to reflect on their objectives.

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