Friday, 18 November 2016

There are lies, damned lies and straight bigotry. Then there are right-wing campaign pledges

How appropriate it is that ‘post-truth’ has been selected by the Oxford Dictionaries as the new word of the year.

It doesn’t refer to what happens after the truth. The ‘post’ means beyond the time a notion was relevant, as in ‘post-modernism’, the concept which expresses the baby-boomer conviction that modernity ended with their youth. After all, we invented sex, as Philip Larkin pointed out:

Sexual intercourse began 
In nineteen sixty-three 
(which was rather late for me) – 
Between the end of the ‘Chatterley’ ban 
And the Beatles' first LP.

Post-truth is our current period in which truth is merely an optional, and not particularly desirable, adjunct to political discourse. There was a time when one felt politicians made unrealistic promises, or promises that were far-fetched aspirations rather than real deliverables, but avoided downright lies.

Not any more.

In Britain, the point was made powerfully during the Brexit campaign. Supporters promised leaving the EU would release £350m a week for the NHS. They knew the EU didn’t cost £350m a week and that any funds would be needed for other purposes, but that didn’t stop them.

Once they’d won their campaign, they simply announced that well, no, the money wouldn’t actually be available. But who cared? The point was to win, not to deliver.

The other side was as bad, of course. They claimed the economy would collapse if the electorate voted for Brexit. Because that didn’t happen many Brexiteers are now trumpeting the success of Britain outside the EU. That’s before the country’s even started the process of leaving. It also ignores the timelag, measured in months or even years, that economic change requires to make its effects felt.

Many have pointed to the links between Brexit and Trump’s campaign in the States. Rightly. Even if post-truth is their only common feature.

Let’s take one of Trump’s more toxic pledges. He promoted building a wall along the US-Mexico border to keep immigrants out. Now, though, Trump is admitting that stretches of his ‘wall’ would be more accurately described as ‘fence’. Much of that fence is already in place and it doesn’t work.

But he also had less vile ideas, even if he expressed them with ugly violence. ‘Drain the swamp’ is a brutal way of putting it, but who would oppose the underlying idea, of ending corruption and the power of naked money in Washington?

What, though, has Trump done since his victory? He has appointed four members of his immediate family to his transition team. One of them, Jared Kushner, is the son of Charles Kushner. In 2005, Charles was in federal prison on 18 counts of tax evasion, witness tampering and making illegal campaign donations.

Now, that’s not a reason for turning on his son: I don’t believe in visiting the sins of the father on the next generation. No, where the story turns ugly is when we come to Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, a keen Trump supporter who was expected to chair his Transition team. He had, however, been the very US Attorney who prosecuted Charles Kushner, describing his jailing as a “great victory for the people of New Jersey”. 

I like to picture the scene as Christie found himself in meetings with the son of the man he had jailed with such gloating triumph, and realised the victim’s son was going to have a major say over his political aspirations. The arrangement would prove career-limiting for Christie, who soon had to make his excuses and leave.

Kushner And Trump
The power behind the throne alongside its occupant?
He wasn’t the only one to go. An ally of Christie’s, Mike Rogers, previously a national security adviser to Trump, was the next out, followed on Wednesday of this week by Kevin O’Connor, another man close to Christie, who’d been leading on Justice matters in the Transition team.

So Trump has started the process of draining the swamp by appointing his son-in-law and giving him the power to settle old scores.

Meanwhile, he’s also appointed Steve Bannon Chief Strategist and Senior Counsellor. Bannon owes his reputation to promoting White Supremacist views on his Breitbart website, mouthpiece for the ‘alt-right’ (another candidate term for Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year, as a less offensive synonym of ‘crypto-fascist’).

As well as his track record for racial harmony, Bannon brings in a flavour of high finance, as a former Goldman Sachs executive. In other words, he represents precisely the kind of arrogant banking interests that made the swamp Trump claims to want to drain.

It seems that Trump didn’t really intend to drain the swamp any more than he planned to build his wall. But then, that wasn’t the purpose of the exercise, was it? Like the £350m a week for the NHS, this wasn’t a policy, just a trap for votes. It achieved its purpose not by being delivered itself, but by delivering a victory to the campaign that voiced it.

Truth? Who needs it when victory is more easily gained without? This is the post-truth epoch.

Oh well. These things are temporary. Perhaps someday we can make ‘post-far-right-lies’ the new term of the year.

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