I really don’t want to have to write about Trump, but right now I feel I have to. There’s a pattern forming which nobody is talking about yet, and we need to be vigilant.
First the good news; it is now no longer a fair criticism to claim that the American people are apathetic about politics. They are absolutely awake to the feckless fascist lurking in the White House and willing to kick up a hell of a fuss about it.
Here ends the good news.
The last week has been, it’s fair to say, monumental. Trump entered office and managed to immediately infuriate most of the media and the CIA with a pair of insane, rambling speeches. Even his inauguration speech sounded like one of his rallies, a screeching, self-congratulatory gout of grievance and verbal masturbation that those who don’t support him find repulsive. The day after he became the most powerful man in the world there were marches against his bigotry and misogyny which obviously dwarfed the crowd watching him take the oath of office. Trump, however, is such an insecure man-child that he could not allow this objective fact to settle in his mind, and sent his spokesman out to claim, on the basis of no evidence, that his supporters outnumbered the Women’s Marches and President Obama’s inauguration.
A lot of people have tried to read more into this. They say that it was a deliberate distraction while the Republicans pushed through legislation to strip away several million American’s access to healthcare.
Come off it.
Trump is not a master of manipulation. He’s a bully, a racist, a misogynist, a climate change denier, a fascist, and a hundred other disgusting things but he is, first, a showman. He only knows how to interact with the world in that capacity. He continues holding rallies because he’s good at it and he craves a cheering crowd, he signs grand, sweeping executive orders because it keeps the attention of the world on him, he lies all the time because in his mind he is the main character in a television show. In his mind he is not lying, the show is wrong and must be rewritten.
By all accounts he voraciously consumes media (though not books). He watches a quite unsettling amount of television and, I am sure from observing his account, is constantly glued to Twitter. As he tried to settle into his office (and reintroduced the ‘global gag rule,’ which every Republican President has reintroduced and every Democrat has repealed) he would have seen the suggestions that he had used his insanity to try to distract the world. I think he took this on board and, as reports leaked out about the chaos caused by his incompetence in government and a backlash grew at the fresh lie his press secretary had told claiming that he had won the popular vote (which, incidentally, he absolutely did not) he announced he was actually going to build a wall along the border between the US and Mexico.
And why wouldn’t he think that was a good idea? It shows that he’s planning to keep his campaign promises. It shows that his government is on track and decisive. It always played well at the rallies.
It did not play well in the press. It did not play well in the international press. His promise to somehow make Mexico pay for it played extremely badly with the former President of Mexico (who posted these exact words in a Tweet: ‘We’re not going to pay for that fucking wall #fuckingwall) and it was, at its core, mental. A bloody stupid policy from a bloody stupid man.
Steve Bannon, his neo-Nazi media advisor, probably thought it would play rather well with rather a lot of Americans. He has spent decades living in a bubble of his very own, one comprised of bitter men who think they’re the master race. He was probably surprised it didn’t go down well, and he blamed the mainstream media for its poor reception. This is why they doubled down on their attack on the media, it’s not some Putin-esque power play, it’s panic. We need to worry about Bannon though, Trump is a media obsessed man, his media advisor will be favoured in his court.
I’ll have to skip over rather a lot because so much dumb crap happened. Trump has no idea how to govern, he’s only interested in looking like he knows how to govern. And then he signed an executive order to ban immigration from Muslim majority countries.
America has never been a sectarian state before. It is now.
Now there are protests at airports, there are people in the Republican party (very, very tentatively) suggesting it’s a bad idea, foreign governments are angry, a Daily Mail columnist agreed with Jeremy Corbyn that Trump should not be allowed in the country while this racist ban is in place.
Now, ignoring all the other crap, ignoring that the ban specifically targets Muslim majority countries where Trump does not have business interests and ignores Muslim majority countries where he does have business interests, ignoring that a five year old child was detained by police for hours on end at an American airport, ignoring that a court has ordered the executive order be suspended and Trump has carried on enforcing it anyway, ignoring the fury and the protests and the international condemnation (though not from my government, but that’s an infuriated rant for another day) this has been a disaster for Trump.
I know, I know, he treats the press like an enemy and he doesn’t seem to have even the briefest connection to the truth, but this will get to him. There’s no way it can’t, an avalanche of infuriated condemnation is being launched at the USA from every corner of the earth and it will get to him. Even if it doesn’t it will get to the Republicans, though whether they can find their spines or grow some values and actually do anything about it is another matter. No matter what else happens he has almost certainly alienated everyone outside of his inner circle, and nobody can govern like that.
It’s the future I fear, though. He has in the last few hours begun to make a great deal of noise about Daesh. It sounds to me like the first, terrible rumble towards war. And his will be a terrible war. He will order airstrikes that butcher civilians, then deny it ever happened. He will level cities. Slaughter families with cruise missiles. He will ignore human shields and kill ‘em all.
And then what? What will he do when his army is bogged down in another middle eastern quagmire and someone with brown skin and a foreign accent opens fire and shouts allahu akhbar? His knee will jerk, and he will crack down on Muslims even more. ‘Gitmo times a thousand’ was one of his campaign promises, so there, on American soil, we will see the first internment camp. Then he will try to follow through with his promise to deport millions of undocumented migrants. The conditions will be terrible. They will have to work for food. Internment camps will become concentration camps, the step from concentration camp to death camp is barely visible.
This probably will not happen. The world won’t allow it, the American public won’t wear it, he probably won’t last that long. But I was sure he wouldn’t try to build a wall. I was sure he wouldn’t be so stupid as to ban Muslims from traveling to America. I was certain he would never win.
Be afraid, America. I was going to tell you that all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing, but you’ve heard that and evil may triumph despite your efforts. Instead of Burke I give you Bakunin:
‘Destroy or be destroyed, there is no middle way. Let us then be the destroyers.’
‘Let’s be honest, 2016 has been shit’ – The beginning of the British Green Party’s New Year message. No, really.
Let’s start with the obvious, unforeseen horror of David Bowie’s death. This should have been a warning, really, if you’re inclined towards magical thinking. The only upside to it was the outpouring of love and grief in Brixton which saw a sudden, unplanned street party and singalong that still honestly brings tears to my eyes when I see it. But we should have known then that the transgressive, unifying force of love for the other that Bowie embodied was about to take the worst kicking of my lifetime.
I’ll try to avoid discussing other celebrity deaths in this piece, that’s not really what it’s about, but I would probably be remiss in not mentioning Alan Rickman, Terry Wogan,, Victoria Wood, Prince, Caroline Aherne, Gene Wilder, Pete Burns, AA Gill (who I disagreed with often and profoundly but still enjoyed), George Michael, Muhammed Ali, Leonard Cohen and a ridiculous list of others. With every passing month there was another front page obituary which could not help but add to the sensation that the world we recognised was vanishing.
There were some moments of hope in 2016. Not many, admittedly. The Panama papers leaked, giving the world an insight into the rampant corruption we all sort-of knew was happening around the world. The first solar powered aircraft to circumnavigate the world. The USA and China ratified the Paris global climate agreement. The first proven vaccine for the Ebola virus was developed. The good stops here, though, and I’ve got to talk about the darkness.
Brexit came first. It arguably isn’t as bad as the other big political story of 2016 but it’s still disastrous. A lot of my friends, some younger than me, some relatively new to politics, felt repulsed and lost. They felt, I think, that the world they believed they lived in was an illusion. It’s interesting to me how much they all, bar one or two exceptions, leapt to the remain side of the Brexit debate.
Now I know that a lot of Brexit supporters roll their eyes at this phenomenon. They write off all the Remain voters as a naïve, liberal, metropolitan elite and, actually, I think this is a mistake on their part. The truth of it is that Remain voters are by and large involved with the world in a way Leave voters aren’t. There is a generation of voters who now feel disenfranchised, betrayed and furious with their treatment and they have no love for an isolationist world they neither remember nor care about. It’s been the habit of commentators to examine the Leave voters meticulously, I’d like to see some more attention paid to the fact that the people who are going to inherit the fallout of Brexit are never going to forgive those who stole the future from them.
Nevertheless; Leave won. The campaigns they ran were a disgusting, racist, toxic nightmare and even when a neo-Nazi supporter murdered a left-wing Remain supporting MP in the street they shamelessly carried on with the empty rhetoric of nationalism and race baiting. For forty years the repellent right wing newspapers of Britain had been screaming hysterically about the evils of the EU, nobody dared publically defend it and even Jeremy Corbyn, who ostensibly supported the remain campaign, said he was only ‘about 70% in favour’ of staying. David Cameron, the other half of the Remain campaign leadership, brought out banker after banker to announce the dangers of leaving and how much it might damage their bonuses.
Does anyone really wonder why Remain lost? And then the hate crimes began. An undercurrent of disgusting blood-and-soil nationalism was implicit throughout the Leave campaign, so naturally the racists took the referendum as a victory for their fucknugget philosophy. Suddenly Mr Farage is even more ever present in our media than he was before, constantly babbling crap about how those who do not support Brexit are treacherous scum, and the right wing press lap it up and repeat it. We’ve seen judges attacked in print for rendering a judgement, in a democracy, that the press did not like. We have a government so weak that they barely bother to mention that this is unacceptable. We have the disgraced, possibly corrupt former defence secretary Liam Fox in a position of what looks like power. We have Boris Johnson as foreign secretary. We have Theresa May as a prime minister. And the more they go on the more convinced I am that they have no idea what the hell they’re doing.
Enough. I can only talk about Brexit for so long. I have to talk about Trump now.
The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States of America should have come as more of a surprise than it did. Not only were the polls trending heavily against him, he was a monstrously awful campaigner by the standards of a normal campaign. I think we forget, in the rest of the world, just how abysmally racist America can be. It’s a paranoid, insular place with some of the most appalling wealth disparity in the world and a terrifying tendency to glorify in its worst aspects. Even more than Britain it refuses to look elsewhere for inspiration, when it seeks inspiration it looks only to its own past. Now, finally, its rapacious worship of the dollar, its cult of celebrity and its bigotry has reached its culmination; a man who has praised internment camps, admitted to sexual assault and expressed admiration for Vladimir Putin. If you are a left wing person still somehow under the impression that being enamoured of Putin is no bad thing then you need to read about Alexander Litvinenko, Boris Nemtsov and the invasion of Ukraine.
He will be a disaster and he can’t bring back the world the people who voted for him want. It’s gone. Yes he’s a dangerous fascist and he should be treated as the pariah he deserves to be but for the next four years he’s going to be POTUS. Gods help us all. So much has been said about him that I feel anything I add here might be redundant.
So what’s to be done in 2017? It’s probably going to be worse than 2016, if only because Trump will actually take office and get to work dismantling the rights people in the USA have fought so hard for. Nationalism is an empty, vile creed that wins because it is the creed of selfishness, it is Adam Smith’s vile maxim; ‘all for me, and nothing for anybody else.’ There’s more to it than that, obviously, but I have neither the space nor the inclination to go into it here. It will have to suffice to say that internationalism represents the hope of humanity at this point, that closing the blinds and pretending that the world ends at the borders of your nation-state is not a healthy or good way to govern the world. We’re going to need to fight for this, but we’re also going to need to examine our own failings. The rate of homelessness has soared in the last few years, the use of food banks has become commonplace, a contempt for the poor has become the watchword of all of our political classes across the whole spectrum of ideology, and the poor are being seduced by the filth who will not help them but will use them as a stepping stone to power.
In the meantime, and more urgently, we will need to stand up against the casual cruelty of this blinkered, nostalgia-led fascism. From Farage, to Trump, to Putin, to Le Pen, the hope of the world is under threat. They are the past, shuddering through a final, convulsive last gasp, we’ll all have to be ready to resist them and repair the damage they do.
It was Nero’s 1,979th birthday yesterday and I think it’s probably time to look at him again. Among the general public he is generally regarded as a lunatic who burned Christians to death and fiddled while his city burned. Among historians he is generally regarded as a slightly fey fop who was in far over his head and lost his mind when he began to understand the sheer scope of his power.
To my mind both of these views are insufficient.
Picture a man who knows himself to be a God. He is not big headed or arrogant as such, he is a God. He is a God, a descendent of Gods and he carries on the work of his ancestor Gods. And yet, despite this knowledge of his own divinity, he is most fond of some of the most despised people in his dominion.
Nero loved acting, poetry and singing. According to Seutonius ‘he often appeared in public in a dining-robe, with a handkerchief bound about his neck’ and he never wore the same garment twice. He loved theatre above all, it was his abiding passion. He was, let’s face it, a cravat wearing 19th century fop born a couple of millennia too early.
Which is why it is perhaps stunning that, in the early part of his reign, he was reasonably well regarded by the masses of the roman people. Not the aristocracy, of course, they thought he was a disgrace. And when he took to the stage to pursue his dream of being an actor the aristocracy regarded it as a dreadful, undignified scandal. He performed his poetry to the public, he sang and played his lute for them, and though they had no option but to do so there’s no real evidence to suggest their applause weren’t genuine.
Then, before the horrors of his later life when ultimate power would consume him utterly, Rome burned. Nobody knows the cause, though it was most probably arson and could very possibly have been arson by Christian terrorists. Later it would be said that he cackled, that the scandalous lover of music watched Rome burn and did nothing but play his fiddle, but contemporary accounts tell a different story.
He opened his private estates to refugees. He did his best to prevent looting. He began a huge program of public works to rebuild and to employ the thousands upon thousands who had lost everything in nine days of inferno.
But his vision stretched further than that.
Nero was never a man to think small. He saw an opportunity to remake the eternal city before him. Instead of cramped alleys and impenetrable mazes there would be plazas, and statues, and wide avenues. His would be a Rome of art and high culture, not stern and stoic functionality. He would rebuild the empire to suit his vision, it would be an empire of staggering beauty and soaring art. No longer would actors be viewed as the scum of the earth, no longer would poetry be the domain of the young and empty headed, Rome would reshape the world to be elegant, inspiring and majestic.
It didn’t work, of course. The cost of such an operation would have been incomprehensibly massive. The world turned, Nero began to resent his failures and from there on his reign is a cascade of increasing horror. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, being a good man is incompatible with being a God.
But imagine for a moment that it had worked. Picture it; the civilisation that lies at the foundation of all of western culture turned primarily to the creation of beauty. What could have come of that? What sort of a world would we live in? It may well have been worse, of course, but think of the possibilities of a world founded and grounded in the philosophy of the aesthete.
Nero failed, but his vision as he stood and gazed at the ashes of the greatest city in the world is one that would have swept me away. I would have loved him for that romanticism, for that glory. Perhaps loved him enough to follow him as he marched into hell.
With thanks to LJ Trafford for drawing my attention to the Suetonius quote on Twitter and to Tom Holland for the excellent narrative biography of his life in his book ‘Dynasty.’
The pound has dropped to, according to one Financial Times calculation, a 168 year low. The last time the pound was that low HMS Daedelus reported a sighting of a sea serpent and 5,000 people died of cholera in New York. Incidentally the British Empire was somewhere near its height, we could squeeze our colonies to plug the gaps in our economy. That is no longer an option that is open to us.
But what do the press make of this backlash, and by backlash I mean terrible things actually happening due to the stupid Brexit vote? Let’s have a quick look at who these measured moral guardians have decided to blame. I’ll start with the Daily Mail, it’s the obvious choice.
What a surprise. The first, last and only retreat of the brainless right when they’re proven wrong. Let’s do this then, word by word.
First of all apparently I’m ‘damned’ and so is the MP representing my interest and all of my friends and anyone who agrees with me, which is slightly less than half of the people who actually voted in the referendum. Well fine, it’s not even a swearword any more so who cares?
Secondly I’m ‘unpatriotic.’ I don’t feel an especially strong need to defend myself from this facile statement but I know some do. Just remember; this sort of right wing filth consider themselves patriots so if you disagree with them you are, by their infantile logic, unpatriotic. This absurd fantasy of inverted, self serving, megalomania is probably the best argument for retiring the meaningless word entirely. Wilde said that ‘patriotism is the virtue of the vicious,’ which is a good line but I disagree, it’s the virtue of the meaningless, the platitude of the pointless, a rallying cry for those who know they have lost. It, like faith, is exactly as worthy as the actions it inspires and absolutely no more. Treat those who question your patriotism with the blistering contempt they deserve.
‘Bremoaners’… weak. Weak, Daily Mail, I thought right wing papers were supposed to have a knack for puns? ‘Bremoaners’ is just rubbish.
‘Their plot to subvert the will of the British people.’ All right, I think I have to explain something that most adults understand: when everything goes wrong and someone points it out it is not necessarily their fault. Sometimes you have a terrible idea, the grown up thing to do is to own it and try to rectify your mistake. And it’s only a plot if they do it in secret, nobody is being quiet about this nor are they hiding their intentions. Grow up. As for the idea that the way this is being handled is somehow ‘subverting the will of the British people’ I feel the need to remind you that there were two boxes on the ballot, one which said ‘leave the European Union’ and one which said ‘remain in the European Union.’ There was no mention of leaving the single market, no mention of free movement of labour, nothing about the human rights act… nothing. The shape of Brexit is absolutely up for debate, why do you seem to be so worried?
Time to move on, I think. Let’s see what the Express has to say.
That is a fairly unambiguous and sinister threat. Are they suggesting banning discussion of the most important political issue in Britain today? Are they suggesting leaving the EU with no plan whatsoever? Let’s take a look inside to find out:
Nope, they’re talking about jailing their political opponents. This is what political discourse in our press is nowadays. This is disgusting.
Well let me show you something that I find important, Daily Express, this is my passport:
Do you see it yet? No? Let me show you again:
One more time, because you still won’t see it:
You want to strip me of my citizenship. That’s what this is about. I am a European, the closest I ever felt to ‘patriotic’ was my pride in being a part of the project that put a stop to the constant apocalyptic wars across this continent. You want to lock up people who disagree with you? You want us all to shut up and let you do whatever you like you small minded cowards? You have so little faith in your position that you want to imprison the ‘Bremoaners’?
Try it. Come and try to take sixteen and a half million people away. See what happens, you simpering xenophobic scum.
I dare you.
Tradition matters. In a way I wish it didn’t, a world in which we could pick up and put down customs at the drop of a hat would certainly be a more harmonious one. It would also be far more empty, a joyless trudge through time with no festivals, no holidays, and no town criers. I like traditions, but they can be problematic; it is the nature of traditions that they are abandoned only rarely, because without continuity they are nothing.
I want you, if you’re unfamiliar with British folk dancing traditions, to bear the above paragraph in mind when I tell you that some Morris sides still perform in blackface.
I’ve been brought up in a family deeply involved in folk music in general and Morris dancing in particular. My Dad started Pigsty Morris in 1987 and my Mum has been a clog dancer since 1976, my brother and sister enjoy ceilidhs and folk festivals and, though I have drifted away from it over the years, I still have a fondness for some of my childhood memories of the folk scene. In the interests of full disclosure I should point out that Pigsty Morris have never performed in blackface.
‘Well?’ I hear you say, ‘when are you going to get to the point?’
Fair enough. There is a debate currently raging about the use of blackface amongst the Morris community.
At first I could not comprehend why this was even in question. It’s blackface. A historical blot that I instinctively find uncomfortable at best. What mad ideas have led Morris dancers to think they can get away with blackface when Al Jolson and the Black and White Minstrels have almost been deliberately erased from the cultural history of the western world?
Well, actually, a few things. None of them are good enough, nothing could be, but they might explain why the debate is raging instead of long over. Also I should point out that I don’t believe anybody in the debate is deliberately racist, honestly, you’ve largely never met a more strident bunch of liberal lefties in your life.
Firstly; like most things to do with Morris dancing, the actual reasons for it are a mystery. It almost certainly doesn’t have roots in racism. Some people say that blacking up began as a kind of crude disguise, a way to hide your identity from meddling priests or landlords. I think it was more likely something to do with industry, miners meeting to practice at the end of a shift and adapting it to be part of their costume. Maybe that’s all wishful thinking. Maybe it has racist origins, maybe not, maybe there’s no real reason beyond a simple way to make your costume more striking and outlandish.
Secondly; it’s a tradition. It’s at least a couple of hundred years old, maybe more (people tend to write a lot of authoritative pieces dating the origins of Morris dancing, they have wildly different dates and are never backed up with any kind of solid evidence. It’s a mystery, and I’m okay with that). If you become, by dint of effort, the guardian of a tradition then it is your duty to defend it. It’s a good thing to do, preserving traditions serves a useful purpose.
Well… everything else really. I used to quite like it when I was a child. A white child. I even used to like their dogged determination to ignore the changing times when I was a teenager. I understand their trepidation, but Morris dancing is a living tradition, and life is change.
I also understand why the people doing it might be so upset. There is a tacit suggestion that they are racist in urging them to stop doing the thing they’re doing. They think ‘I’m not a racist, I’m the person doing it, therefore it can’t be racist.’ There’s reason there, but there isn’t logic.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the pro-blackface camp: you are wrong. Right now I can just about understand that you’re trying to maintain a tradition and that’s very much a part of what you’re supposed to do. But if you keep this up it will start to get dismal. That instinctive urge you feel to keep blackface is the same urge that keeps bullfighting in Spain and dog restaurants in China. I get it, I get why those traditions carry on, but I understand even more why they shouldn’t. And please know that if you don’t stop, soon, the rest of the world will begin to notice and you will very publically be on the wrong side of history.
So why not start a new tradition? Why not wear masks? You’re a creative bunch, I’m sure you could come up with something awesome. Why not burn a few pots of shoe polish every year to commemorate the time you used to do that crazy thing?
I’m sorry you’re losing a part of your performance, I’m sorry you feel that it lessens the importance or the art of Morris dancing (which it absolutely does not), but it’s time to put this one to bed. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi.
And, now that’s out of the way, it’s time to deal with the Morris Ring.