Coal, Coups and Conspiracies
As the Troll from Trondheim brings some unheard-of seasonality to December, the year ends with a new surge of weirdness. Whether it’s the spectacle of the Tories championing new coal in 2022; or the Reichsbürger movement: the German conspiracy theorists who make America’s QAnon look like level-headed moderates; or the sight of Kanye West discussing Scotland with Gavin McInnes, the founder of the far-right group the Proud Boys, it’s a strange end to a strange year.
McInnes described our country as “the most woke country in the world”, adding: “It’s like Berkeley and Portland times a thousand”. This utopian descriptor may not immediately chime with all of you, but it was nice to be noticed. But if the far-right Proud Boys have comedy value in their homo-erotic dress code, the rise and rise of Christian Nationalism is no joke, whether it’s in Putin’s Russia or Biden’s America.
It’s not getting better, it’s not going away.
Trump has been dining with neo–Nazi Nick Fuentes and rapper Kanye West (aka ‘Ye’) and the amount of cash-power behind these individuals is quietly terrifying. Kanye is estimated to be worth $6.6 billion. It’s fashionable to mock or ignore Kanye and his hangers-on, either because you might suspect he is mentally ill or because he’s just a stupid pop star, but his fusion of antisemitism and extreme christian nationalism should be taken seriously.
In exchanges between Fuentes, West and McInnes Kanye explains:
“We need a government of Christians. We need a conservative movement, a nationalist movement, led by Christians that obey the Bible and obey God and serve Jesus Christ.” He continues: “If you don’t believe in Jesus Christ, you are wrong. And anyone that doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ should not be in control or any influence to anything that America produces.”
It may well be that, as the New Yorkers had it ‘Trumps 2024 campaign so far is an epic act of self-sabotage’ – but the social forces that put him in office haven’t gone away and the idea that Trumps’s first term was some kind of aberration is liberal wishful thinking. The forces of liberal failure and naivete, a collapse of social norms, an inability of mainstream capitalism to provide and cope with its own failing logic, the pathology of wild conspiracism and the far-right’s ability to speak simplistic truths all still exist, arguably more so in 2023 / 2024.
Nor do I agree with the logic of the New Yorker that: “The official campaign for the 2024 Republican Presidential nomination is barely three weeks old, but there is one clear takeaway so far: Donald Trump is running against himself—and losing.” They argue that he is ‘courting controversy’, but ‘controversy’ is the oxygen that Trumpism and MAGA thrives on. The Overton Window of what is acceptable in US politics (and here) has been moved so far to the right it’s unbelievable. It’s not that nobody cares that Trump courts a holocaust denier, or that as just last week, he suggested jettisoning the Constitution so he could be reinstated to the office he was thrown out of by the voters in 2020 – it’s that the wrong people care. None of this matters because nothing matters anymore. If you can look at the scientific data and attend COPs 26 and 7 and then say with a straight face “lets open a new coalmine” you are so though the looking glass, you are beyond redemption.
Those really complicit in embracing the ‘post-truth’ era aren’t the confused MAGA conspiracists they’re the British government ministers approving new coal and new oil fields in 2022. As the American academic Timothy Snyder wrote a week after Trump’s election first time around: “Post-truth is pre-fascism,” he warns, and “to abandon facts is to abandon freedom.”
So here we are. Trump’s behaviour is more erratic and more extreme than ever before, and it makes no difference. Trump retains the support of more than forty per cent of the G.O.P. electorate in recent surveys—more than enough to win the Republican nomination in a crowded field. The reality bite for many of the liberal commentariat is this: Trump was and still is the Republican front-runner for 2024.
As we observe our own bizarre political landscape it’s important to avoid being too smug about all of this. The fusion of post-truthism and the petri-dish of paranoia, Anglo-British nationalism and Conservatives ascendancy is a toxic prospect. Britain has more than its fair share of libertarians, far-right bigots, and wild conspiracy theorists bubbling under the surface. And the dividing line between left and right is getting hazier (just witness Russell Brand’s platforming of Jordan Peterson and others “hello there you six million awakening wonders”). Who is to say that this brand couldn’t fuse with the plethora of right-wing media platforms into something far more sinister? We have to be grateful that Britain’s hard-right libertarianism is currently led by Neil Oliver, Right Said Fred and Claire Fox. But while there’s a hairs-breath between the Antivaxxer movement and MAGA we still have Suella Braverman and Rishi Sunak in charge. The former is presiding over the most draconian immigration policies ever witnessed while the latter is gearing up for the sort of attacks on workers’ rights that would have made Thatcher blush.
As we laugh at climate activists and watch as the Tories gear-up a new round of anti-trade union laws it would be worth avoiding being too haughty about the extremes of Trump’s culture war who may sweep aside ‘Sleepy Joe’ Biden’s ineffectual Democrats. If we laugh too at the Reichsbürger movement ask yourself this: how far away is the state of mind of those who believe the German state is an artificial construct that illegitimately replaced the “Deutsche Reich” of the Nazi era and the predominant mindset that harks back to a glorious Britain that straddled the world and that defends Empire and imperial conquest? The pantomime of Harry and Meghan and the revelations about Lady Hussey shows a Britain peeping out from beneath the bunting that isn’t a pretty sight.
The social conditions that have created the new right aren’t going away. The utter failure of the liberal centrist political elite and the abject failure of the capitalist economy to protect its citizenry from social and ecological collapse continues to play out. As we enter Britain’s Winter of Discontent the need for radical alternatives becomes more urgent as the Arctic storm bites and the reality of the ‘cost of living’ hits home.