“He said what!?”
For those of us who can still recall how politics was done pre-2016, with at least an appearance of diplomacy, consistency, courtesy, grace and manners each outrageous statement Donald Trump makes is greeted with a slack-jawed disbelief.
“He did what!?”
With every newscycle a new low seems to be reached, and the unavoidable question recurs, just what does a man have to do to get impeached around here? When is enough enough?
But then the self-styled ratings king is set on keeping his audience entranced. He seems to think that he’s giving politics the same makeover that TV was given thirty years ago. Bugger regulation and Reithian ‘entertaining, informing and educating’; the system was wrested from the hands of elite ‘tastemakers’ and thinkers and into the hands of populist “reality” and the race to the bottom. The most successful drama series of the time, commissioned by elite producers, just took reality TV and showed us the face of its future nadir: Shameless.
But Trump is only the premier cheerleader for reality politics where, just like real life, you get to change your mind whenever you want to and you get to say whatever you want to say, even if a few “pussies” and Mexicans get offended. Real life, that is, in our western world which a system of elites has spent centuries promoting and defending freedom of speech.
Like so many innovations, the brits did it first. Trump saw Brexit as the template for populist revolution. The Brexiteers can’t give the NHS £350 million a week, so what? May backed Remain, who cares? She swore she wouldn’t call an election and yet… and yet for some reason we do nothing or have no effective mechanism to hold politicians to their words.
Trump turns on a dime. So does May. But you’ll struggle to find the word “Sorry” in Hansard.
What if this is an improvement though? Blind conviction politics of the like of Margaret Thatcher was heartless. ISIL, like all despotic regimes, are deeply convicted to one way of doing things. There is no room for doubt. Jeremy Corbyn hates changing his mind, he is a politician of conviction (possibly not for the freedom fighters of the IRA but a man of conviction none the less) which is admirable even if those unswayable principles distances him from the views of the major electorate.
But conservatives hate doubt and there is a feeling that the Tories are tolerating May for fear of something worse taking her place. In the US, conservatives are starting to find Trump’s vacillation incompatible with their homoerotic vision of bullheaded leadership.
“Half his tweets show utter weakness. They are plaintive, shrill little cries, usually just after dawn,” Peggy Noonan wrote in the Wall Street Journal (Prop: Rupert Murdoch) “He’s not strong and self-controlled, not cool and tough, not low-key and determined; he’s whiny, weepy and self-pitying. He throws himself, sobbing, on the body politic. He’s a drama queen. It was once said, sarcastically, of George H.W. Bush that he reminded everyone of her first husband. Trump must remind people of their first wife.”
Noonan writes from the heart of American conservativism where the deepest insult possible is to be likened to a woman.
So, if we cannot take these politicians at their word, how do these leaders, neither of which were voted in by a majority, have the gall to carry on – and why do we let them?
In 1945, concerned about war breaking out again in the future, the American War Office didn’t blindly send soldiers on to the streets to give out sweets and “win hearts and minds”, as they did in Iraq, they actually thought about what they didn’t know. They sent the anthropologist Ruth Benedict to Japan to study the people and commissioned her hugely influential book The Chrysanthemum and the Sword. Benedict noted that the reason Americans struggled to understand notions like suicide kamikaze pilots, or ritual suicide aka Hari-kari, was that the West had what she called a “Guilt Culture” whereas Japan had a “Shame Culture”. Western people internalise their moral compass, they value their own judgement and act correctly to avoid feeling guilty. The Japanese moral viewpoint was performative, your society enacted punishment, they shamed you and they watched as you did the right thing. Historians seized on this dichotomy to explain the enlightenment (guilt) emerging from the dark ages of a shame society.
The social media revolution introduced a new shame culture to the West. We tweet to seek approval from our followers. We update our society at every moment with what we are doing and they can like hate or even star rate our behaviour. Perhaps this is why the ramifications of Social Media’s global societal judgement was understood far faster by shame cultures like the movement for global jihad than liberal democracies which simply decried its invasion of privacy.
But as more people defer to their screens and their ‘followers’, there is no doubt we are once more becoming a shame society. And in the kingdom of the shamed, the shameless are kings. Trump and May are apparently without shame. Unapologetic, each represents someone that many, caught in the gaze of social media, might love to be. The obscenely successful in this world we’ve made, are the shameless. The bankers, oligarchs, world leaders, the 0.0001 percent; those who can sleep at night as we cannot shame them and they carry no guilt. Meanwhile RT, Like and subscribe if you think I’m right. I don’t know. Maybe I shouldn’t have said these things. What do you think? Love me.
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