Barcelona, Donald Trump And The American Media’s Crisis Of Perspective

There is more to the horrific Barcelona terror attack than Donald Trump’s garbled response, but you wouldn’t know that if you are watching CNN

To get a good sense of just how debased and insular the American news media has become, one need only flick over to CNN and watch their coverage of the horrific Islamist terror attack which took place only hours ago in Barcelona.

What you will find is not detailed coverage of the Barcelona attack and how it transpired, or even the mindless banalities and speculation that has become the hallmark of cable news, but rather a bunch of talking heads agreeing with each other that Donald Trump’s response to the terror attack was all wrong.

This is the age where men, women and children being mown down in the middle of a European city street by a van-driving Islamist is secondary news to whatever inanities various celebrities have to say about the event on Twitter, or the word choice of an American president whom we already know to be rash, unstable and in loose command of the facts (at the best of times).

What really got CNN riled up on this occasion is this tweet by Donald Trump, promulgating an unfounded rumour about the supposed action taken by US Army General John Pershing in response to a Muslim-planned terrorist attack in the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century:

The urban legend goes that General Pershing rounded up the culprits and suspects, and had them shot with bullets previously dipped in pigs’ blood. In Trump’s own graphic telling, Pershing shot 49 of the culprits and spared the 50th one so that he could go back and warn others in the movement about America’s swaggering zero-tolerance policy for terrorist shenanigans.

To be clear, there is zero proof that this apocryphal story actually took place, and that the President of the United States would make speeches presenting the tale as fact both during the election campaign and again in the immediate aftermath of an Islamist terror attack on an American ally is bad, wrong and depressing in equal measure.

But for most of the past hour on CNN, the chyron across the bottom of the screen hasn’t reported details of the terror attack, but rather Trump’s entirely typical and unsurprising blustering response to it. That’s not to say that Trump’s actions are unworthy of coverage – and we should certainly never allow ourselves to stop reporting on the president’s misdeeds and objecting to them just because they occur so regularly. But good television news is supposed to educate and inform, not simply encourage people to think myopically about global issues exclusively through the narrow lens of their own country’s political process.

Yet rather than presenting Trump’s dodgy urban myth about General Pershing as one tangential element of the story, CNN did what CNN does best – assemble a multitude of talking heads in boxes, all crammed onto the screen at the same time, to denounce Trump and slot an inconvenient story about terrorist murder in Barcelona into their preferred narrative about Trump’s unfitness for office.

Again – the point is entirely valid, and in an ideal world the President of the United States would neither spread unfounded rumours nor seek to get the more distasteful portions of his base excited by telling them yarns about shooting Muslim terrorists with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood. That would be nice. But this is not the main takeaway from the Barcelona terror attack, and yet both Jake Tapper and now Anderson Cooper seem to be leading with it, to the detriment of telling the more important story about the seemingly unstoppable wave of vehicular Islamist terrorism in Europe and the inability (or unwillingness) of political leaders to take any meaningful action to prevent such massacres.

Meanwhile, television news in Britain – itself hardly a fitting successor to the likes of Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite – is at least reporting the facts and broadcasting footage and eyewitness statements as they emerge. Decent analysis remains beyond them (or at least beyond their willingness to pay a knowledgeable panel of experts and commentators to schlep into the studio) but at least they aren’t using the tragedy as a means of bashing Prime Minister Theresa May. Yet.

If American political discourse is to improve, restraint has to happen both ways. Just as conservatives need to come to terms with the fact that the Alt-Right is an issue in our own back yard which we must disown and work to discredit, so those on the Left – including much of the mainstream media – need to bring some balance back to their coverage and accept that important as the office of President of the United States is, Donald Trump’s reactions are not always the most important part of a breaking news story.

This de-escalation should not be so hard to achieve among adults, but sadly there are too many adult children on both sides who would rather have the last word and advance their political agenda at all costs, even if it debases the office of the presidency, diminishes trust in the media and rips the country apart at the seams, all at the same time.

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A Final Word On Charlottesville

I want to talk about one rather overlooked aspect of the Alt-Right vs Counterprotesters + Antifa demonstrations which roiled Charlottesville, Virigina last weekend and left one young woman dead as the result of a far right domestic terrorist attack.

To listen to Donald Trump and his cheerleaders on one hand and the arrayed forces of the mainstream media on the other, one would be forgiven for thinking that ideology and conduct are one and the same thing.

On the Left, a strong insinuation has been made that because neo-nazis hold abhorrent views their violence is to be condemned while those who oppose them should get a free pass whenever they breach the peace – as evidenced by the fact that the “is it okay to punch a Nazi?” conversations and articles are bubbling up again. Meanwhile, on the Right, too many apologists are claiming that because both sets of protesters committed atrocities there is some kind of exculpatory moral equivalence, overlooking the fact that the AltRight saw Antifa’s standard street brawling tactics and raised them an Islamist-style car terror attack.

Let’s be clear – ideology and conduct are in fact separate, a fact which is particularly important in a country like the United States which at least nominally respects the right to free speech. Violent actions are unlawful and punishable. Provocative speech is not.

Most decent people should be able to agree that neo-nazis hold repugnant and immoral views which humankind really should have transcended by this point. Whatever the president says, there were no “fine” people at this Unite the Right rally – any decent person would have taken one look at the company around them and either gone home or rapidly joined the counterprotest. But nonetheless, free speech means that these far-right activists have every right to express their views and peaceably gather to protest if they wish to do so.

The counterprotesters, on the other hand, were not a homogenous bloc of people. Many were decent, upstanding citizens outraged at the resurgence of neo-Nazism in their hometown and determined to express their opposing view. But a significant contingent were Antifa troublemakers – Antifa being anarchist at best, communist at worst and always inclined to use their fists (and baseball bats) rather than their words in either case. These people do not have the right to silence the expression of any idea, however abhorrent and immoral, by force. There is no rioter’s veto over free speech, and nor should there be – though craven authorities too frequently allow violent leftist groups to enforce one.

The neo-Nazis who assembled in Charlottesville clearly lose the ideological argument. Their political ideas are bad, and so are the acts of violence they committed – particularly the act of domestic terror carried out by James Fields. But the fact that the Antifa elements of the counterprotest oppose the racist views of the neo-Nazis does not excuse the violent acts committed on their own side, including more than one attack against journalists.

One would think this would be a simple concept to grasp, but numerous partisan commentators on Right and Left prefer to engage in whataboutism, pointing to the sins of the opposing side while exonerating their own. This is asinine. The counterprotesters clearly win the moral argument insofar as they oppose white supremacy. The identity politics which many of them peddle may be supremely unhelpful and damaging to the fabric of American society – Lord knows that this blog spends enough time analysing and criticising it – but it doesn’t hold a candle to the very real and tangible damage wrought by white supremacy in America’s history.

Pretending otherwise is stupid, and only diminishes the moral authority of the Right, opening conservatives up to criticism that they are complicit in the white nationalist Alt-Right agenda.

That’s not to say that conservatives should engage in self-flagellation or admit any responsibility for the violent actions of Alt-Left extremists when these odious people inhabit an entirely lower moral plane. But neither should we shower undue blanket praise on all of the people who opposed the neo-nazis in Charlottesville – many of the violent Antifa contingent in particular hold abhorrent and totalitarian ideas of their own, a fact overlooked by some conservative apologists such as Mitt Romney:

Doubling down and allowing the Left to claim the moral high ground – either by furiously denying that the Alt-Right is a problem or by overcompensating and suggesting that the Right has a monopoly on evil – is political suicide for conservatives, reputationally speaking. People will not listen to our valid complaints about identity politics and leftist intolerance if we fail to clear the very low bar of unequivocally condemning the odious Alt-Right infiltrators who seek to piggyback on the wider conservative movement.

As I wrote the other day, when the devil is in our house – as it is right now – conservatives of conscience should spend less time pointing out the flaws of the Left (however real) and more time getting our house in order.

 

Charlottesville protest - alt right march tiki torches

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When The Devil Is In Your House: Charlottesville, The Alt Right And Conservatism

There is nothing conservative about the resurgent white identitarian movement taking root in America, and all decent conservatives must vehemently reject this toxic ideology – and its adherents – before we are further tarred by association

There seem to be two main responses from conservatives to the awful violence which took place in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend.

One approach – and the correct one – is to forcefully condemn the rise in white nationalism and the specific act of domestic terror which one individual from that movement perpetrated on society, pointing out that no matter what these people call themselves (Alt Right, Far Right or anything else) there is no place for them in the conservative movement.

The other approach is to point angrily at the leftist counterprotesters, particularly the militant Antifa contingent, and point out that these thugs were also violent, punching people, wielding clubs and attacking journalists with very little intervention from the police. This is the “whataboutism” approach – pointing out the speck in your brother’s eye while ignoring the beam in your own.

Sadly, we have seen too much of the second approach and not enough of the first in the days since violence came to Charlottesville.

The video above is a segment of the Andrew Klavan show. Klavan is a podcast host on Ben Shapiro’s conservative website The Daily Wire, and in this segment he demonstrates by example the way that conservatives should respond when racist, far right fanatics try to hijack our movement and sabotage our policy agenda in service of their own warped agenda.

Beginning at 6 minutes into the video, Klavan says:

Let us start among ourselves, because we’re all good conservatives here. Let us gather together and just remind ourselves – these clowns are in our house, okay? These evil, satanic clowns are in our house.

And it’s no good saying “well, they don’t believe what we believe”, of course they don’t believe what we believe. Of course they don’t. They don’t believe in the Constitution, they don’t believe in E Pluribus Unum, they don’t believe in the great American tradition of bringing people in, transforming them into America through our creed that we conservatives are fighting so hard to defend, they don’t believe in low taxes, they don’t believe in any of this stuff. They don’t believe in America, they don’t believe in the whole thing that makes America what it is.

But they’re in our house. They identify themselves as right wing, they vote for the people we vote for, they have their slogans “Unite the Right” and all this stuff. It’s no good – when the devil is in your house you gotta take care of that, it’s no good saying “well, the devil is in the other guy’s house too” – of course he is. But let’s not mince words about it.

Absolutely. And conservatives cannot afford to be hypocrites here. Whenever a terrorist atrocity is committed by a radical Islamist, many of us on the political Right correctly demand that the Muslim community do more to confront and defeat extremist Islamist ideology wherever it manifests in their mosques, their workplaces, their social circles or even their own homes. The state can not be fully responsible for making radical or violent interpretations of Islam unacceptable to susceptible people, and its attempts to do so (through the PREVENT programme in Britain, for example) will only ever be partially acceptable. The ultimate solution to Islamist extremism cannot be enforced from outside, it must be midwifed by responsible people within the community.

But if we make this demand of our Muslim compatriots, friends and neighbours, we conservatives must also be honest when a violent and extremist ideology is lurking in the fringes of our own movement. The domestic terrorist who killed one person and injured many more in Charlottesville, Virginia last Saturday is no more representative of the conservative movement than the depraved Islamist terrorists who kill innocent people in London, Paris or Brussels is representative of all Muslims – possibly even less so. But still we have an obligation to stand up and vociferously object when our movement is hijacked by those who would seek to appropriate our language, policies and even our political parties for their own warped purposes. It is only fair to be morally consistent in this way.

In the face of resurgent (or at least emboldened) white nationalism it is not enough to do what some stalwarts of the American Right did, and loudly proclaim that Nazism is actually a far-left ideology, trying to pretend that the white nationalist identitarian resurgence is not a problem primarily of the Right:

This is just supremely unhelpful, not because Dinesh D’Souza doesn’t have a point but because this “whataboutism” makes it look – quite reasonably – as though conservatives are deflecting. Yet D’Souza seemed to spend most of the weekend labouring this angle of attack, which while technically true does nothing to purge conservatism of the parasites in our midst, or convince sceptical people that we have our house in order.

Right now I don’t think Republicans or many American conservatives realise just what a severe reputational issue they are facing at the hands of this president. Is the media always fair with its coverage? Of course not. Does the media lazily try to fit every story into their “conservatives are racist” framework much of the time? Yes. But that only makes it more important for us to be whiter than white at all times (if you’ll pardon the unintentional pun).

Conservatives know that they will be attacked for racism if there is even the slightest possibility of malice, while leftists will be given a free pass. We know this, so there is absolutely no excuse for acts like Donald Trump’s latest press conference where he opened himself up to valid accusations by the media that he was drawing a moral equivalence between the violence of the neo-Nazi thugs and the actions of the counterprotesters (yes of course violence took place on both sides, but the ideologies in question are not morally equivalent, and only one side committed an act of domestic terrorism).

And yes, sometimes the Republican Party has been too willing to make a home for racists in their house, a fact which is not expunged by the fact that Democrats did the same in the 1960s. Engaging in whataboutism does not shift the spotlight away from conservatives, it merely makes it look to ordinary people as though we have something to hide.

At this point we are rapidly running out of excuses and mitigating factors for Trump’s behaviour. No, scratch that – the reserve of excuses has long since been exhausted, and the barrel is now bare. And if this presidential behaviour continues largely unchallenged by mainstream conservatives then only one of two things can happen – either conservative and Republican elected officials face deserved electoral annihilation in the midterms and the next presidential election cycle, or they are propped up and kept in office not by genuine conservatives but by uber-motivated Alt Right types – at which point small-government, constitutional conservatives will have been definitively pushed out of their own party.

This is untenable. The white nationalist and white supremacist Alt Right is a cancer on conservatism because they choose to align themselves with conservatism and live in our house, and rather than administering a welcome dose of chemotherapy the President of the United States is allowing the tumour to grow unchecked – either for cynical political ends, or else for a much darker purpose.

Meanwhile, every hysterical criticism and slander of conservatism ever made by leftists becomes slightly more plausible when Donald Trump, face of the Republican Party, cannot bring himself to disavow gushing words of praise from white supremacists like David Duke.

Abraham Lincoln once said:

Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation [..] We — even we here — hold the power, and bear the responsibility.

We are rapidly reaching the point where all conservatives of conscience who have not already done so – including elected officials at all levels – must take a public stand and declare whether they accept the White House’s inexplicable Entente Cordiale with the Alt Right, or whether they repudiate it as a matter of conscience.

Those people who choose the wrong side of this existential debate, or who shamefully sit on the fence, will be remembered in spite of themselves.  And one day they will have to answer for their cowardice.

 

White Supremacists March with Torches in Charlottesville

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Violence And Death In Charlottesville, And A Morally Compromised President

Charlottesville protest - car attack - far right domestic terrorism

If President Donald Trump cannot bring himself to explicitly condemn an act of domestic terror perpetrated against anti-racism protesters in Virginia, one must question not only whether he is capable of bringing Americans together as one nation, but whether he even intends to try

What hath identity politics wrought?

That was the question that stuck in my mind as I sat and watched footage of the far right and Antifa protests in Charlottesville, Virginia today, culminating in that heinous act of domestic terrorism where a car rammed a group of counterprotesters at high speed, killing one and injuring nineteen – a deliberate copy of the kind of low-tech attack perpetrated by radical Islamist extremists recently in Europe.

As part of my media monitoring watching this story develop, I spent some time tuned into a livestream report from Alt-Right conspiracy site Infowars. Their reporter was embedded with a group of Alt-Right protesters who had been dispersed by the police and were trying to regroup. Several of them openly admitted to being racist on camera. A couple spoke about the conspiracy of “international Jewry”, while others just barked the name George Soros over and over again. One talked about the demographic timebomb that threatened America when Texas finally turns into a Blue state due to Hispanic immigration. Lots seemed to want a complete shutdown of all immigration, legal and illegal. And all this on top of the images we have seen of protesters bearing swastikas and making Nazi salutes.

Nobody is covering themselves in glory at this point – not the far Right white supremacist protesters, not the more extreme Antifa elements of the counterprotest, not the news media, not people on Twitter and certainly not the President of the United States.

Many people have made the point that the Left’s obsession with identity politics has helped to fuel the white nationalist/supremacist backlash we are now seeing from the far Right. They’re not wrong. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and the relentless growth of identity politics, aided and abetted by cynical left-wing politicians, has certainly put rocket boosters on right wing extremist sentiment.

But none of that matters in the moments after a car is driven at speed into a crowd of anti-racist protesters, in what can only be described as an act of domestic terrorism. At that point it doesn’t matter whether the counterprotesters were trying to suppress the free speech of the far Right, or whether their own leftist ideology is flawed. At that point, these discussions should be put on hold, to be relitigated after we have condemned this singular and abhorrent act of violence.

If there was a time for Donald Trump to step up and show that whatever his flaws he could be president of all Americans, this was it. He failed that test, making a statement consisting of weasel words that condemned violence “on all sides” but without mentioning the focal violent incident of the day.

Remember: this is a president who is happy to shoot his mouth off on Twitter about terror attacks in distant lands, offering certainty and condemnation even before the facts are fully established (and sometimes getting it plain wrong in the process). This is a president who can be frighteningly specific when a particular person or group has roused his anger – when he wants to be. As one Twitter user noted, it would have been nice to hear the President of the United States condemn the mowing down of protesters with the same stridency and tone he uses to attack the likes of Rosie O’Donnell or any of the other celebrities he likes to feud with.

But instead Trump said this:

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.”

Well yes, there were certainly acts of bigotry and violence committed by Antifa and others among the counterprotesters. But to paint any kind of equivalence when violence from one side has resulted in death and multiple injury is morally questionable, and politically self-destructive.

There exists a preset media narrative that the Trump White House is staffed with people who are white nationalists at best, and white supremacists at worse. This is mostly media hysteria – while Trump certainly made racist comments during the presidential campaign (not least of which suggesting that Judge Gonzalo Curiel would be incapable of ruling fairly in a Trump University pre-trial hearing because his Mexican heritage would create bias because of Trump’s border wall policy) he has not yet taken any executive action which a reasonable person could construe as being motivated by white supremacist leanings.

Nonetheless, Trump should have realised – and probably was fully aware – that anything less than irreproachable behaviour on his part on any issue touching race would be jumped on by political opponents and the media, bogging his administration’s agenda down and giving Americans just cause to fear that their president was in fact not equally concerned with the welfare of all citizens regardless of race.

And yet when given the lowest of hurdles to jump over – unambiguously criticising violence committed by white supremacist protesters – Trump failed to clear the bar, instead preferring to issue a meandering blanket condemnation of violence which was never going to be enough to satisfy the politicians, media outlets and commentators sniffing for blood.

Why not? Well, to my mind there are only two potential explanations. Firstly, Trump did not specifically condemn the white supremacists because he sympathises with their cause. Or secondly, Trump does not agree with (or is ambivalent about) their cause, but values the votes and political support of this subgroup too much to risk displeasing them by making an overt criticism.

In the first instance, this would make Donald Trump utterly depraved and unworthy of political support from any decent elected official. And in the second instance, this would make the President of the United States a coward for failing to risk taking a political hit in order to tell the kind of harsh truths and specific admonishment to the far Right that much of America needed to hear. Complicity in racism or rank political cowardice – neither characteristic befits the office of president.

Rod Dreher gets it right:

Trump’s response to the racist rally has been — how to put this? — underwhelming.  No, I’m sorry, it’s not “underwhelming”. It’s disgusting. And given that professional racist David Duke invoked Trump’s name favorably at Friday night’s rally, Trump has every reason in the world to condemn this rally and its attendees in no uncertain terms. But he didn’t do it.

[..] Yes, we can and should talk about how left-wing racism and antifa violence are feeding this right-wing racism and violence. But that can come later. Today, all that needs to be said is: these white thugs who desecrated Charlottesville today are evil, and must be condemned and resisted by all decent people. And also, by the American president.

The National Review’s Rich Lowry also makes a fair point:

I don’t have a problem with Trump condemning both sides, since both sides resorted to violence. And he did denounce bigotry and hatred. But I agree that it was mealy-mouthed and wrong not to specifically name and slam the white supremacists whose march was the precipitating event here. Putting aside the merits, if you are a president people suspect is allied with the nastiest forces on the right, you should leap at the opportunity to denounce violent white nationalists. I wouldn’t be surprised if a Trump takes a second bite at the apple sometime soon, but this shouldn’t be so hard.

While Michael Brendan Dougherty is even more appalled:

This weekend in Charlottesville Richard Spencer organized his “Unite The Right” march.  David Duke was there too. Fights broke out between the demonstrating racists and the people protesting them. A motorist driving a Dodge muscle car rammed into a group of anti-racist protestors, injuring several and killing at least one.

Even if you believe as I do, that Spencer’s form of white nationalism is a marginal movement granted far too much attention, the sight of hundreds of unmasked young men marching through Charlottesville with torches and chanting racist slogans inspires genuine fear in many Americans. Trump was given a chance to speak to that fear today, and to offer the same moral condemnation and deflation he’s given others. Instead he essentially repeated his disgraceful half-disavowal of Duke. He refused to call out these white supremacists by name, and condemn them. He merely condemned “all sides.”  An energetic law and order president who had any sense of the divisions in his country would have announced today that he was instructing his Justice Department to look into the people in these groups, and zealously ferret out and prosecute any crimes they turned up.

This is a target-rich environment. Some of these scummy racists in Charlottesville wore chainmail, others went around shouting their devotion to Adolf Hitler. A president with Trump’s intuitive sense of depravity should be able to call them what they are: evil losers. More pathetic: evil cosplayers.  Just as Spencer took Trump’s “I disavow” without a direct object to be a kind of wink in his direction, surely he’ll take today’s statement about “all sides” as another form of non-condemnation. With his performance today, Trump confirms the worst that has been said about him. He’s done damage to the peace of his country. What a revolting day in America.

What stubborn obstinacy exists within Donald Trump that makes him unable to do the sensible thing, to follow the path of least resistance, time and time again? Trump knows that his every statement and every tweet will be parsed by the media, many of whom are actively antagonistic to his agenda (see CNN White House Correspondent Jim Acosta’s preening, virtue-signalling battle with Stephen Miller over immigration at a recent press briefing). So why feed them more ammunition? Surely Trump knows that given widespread concerns about his attitudes to race, he needs to be whiter than white (if you’ll pardon the pun)?

More importantly, Trump should realise that criticisms of identity politics from his administration and other conservatives will be even less likely to get a fair hearing than would otherwise be the case, so long as he refuses to condemn white nationalist violence with the same zeal that he criticises violence committed by other identitarian movements such as Black Lives Matter.

Maybe somebody smarter than me can come up with a better and less worrying theory as to why Trump deliberately avoided the path of least resistance when making his statement. But to my mind, the only reason the president would refuse to explicitly condemn white nationalist violence – when he knew that the entire country was watching and waiting for him to do so – is because there is a certain constituency he is sufficiently keen to keep on-side that he is willing take the political hit for issuing a mealy-mouthed, non-specific condemnation of the violence in Charlottesville.

There is an exceedingly unpleasant subgroup within Donald Trump’s support base that holds utterly abhorrent views which need to be acknowledged and confronted, not just by ordinary grassroots conservatives or sycophantic GOP politicians but by Trump himself. And every day that the president fails to denounce that racist element, what little moral authority he has left will continue to ebb away.

 

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Carnage

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Abandon all hope?

Rudyard Kipling once wrote:

“If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken
And stoop and build ’em up with worn out tools…”

Well, I can’t quite say that I have given my life to the causes for which this blog stands – particularly as I only started blogging after the 2010 general election, and my views on some issues have matured and evolved over that time – but I have been doing this for over five years now, sometimes publishing multiple times a day, and I think that I hold my own when it comes to putting my time, money and effort into being an engaged citizen.

And so I think I certainly know what Kipling was driving at when he alluded to the disappointment of seeing a long-cherished and hard-sought goal turn to dust in one’s hand the moment it is finally reached. That feeling pervades politics right now, at least for pro-Brexit, pro-nation state conservatarians such as myself.

2016-2017 has been a period of one step forward, two steps back in many regards. The British people voted for Brexit and freedom from that decaying, antidemocratic political conglomerate known as the European Union, but they did so on the back of a tawdry and deceitful campaign led by proud ignoramuses who wore their lack of a Brexit plan as a badge of honour – and now the hubris of the Westminster Brexit aristocracy threatens to ruin the entire endeavour.

Meanwhile, the Coke Zero Conservative Party managed by a whisper to keep Jeremy Corbyn’s marauding socialists out of office, but only at the expense of turning themselves into a limp, centre-left version of the Labour Party themselves. And now conservatives face the dual indignities of being accused of being heartless haters of the poor and persecutors of the weak despite having ceded most of the intellectual arguments to the Left, and being completely unable to move the needle of British politics in a remotely satisfactorily right-wing direction.

If I’m going to be accused of callously taking a jackhammer to the welfare state I at least want to see a little bit of rubble as my reward. But there is no rubble, only the stench of craven capitulation to the leftist forces of perpetual dependency.

And things are little better across the Atlantic. Whatever pleasure one may have otherwise taken from the humbling of Hillary Clinton in her second presidential campaign – and there were many reasons to want to see a borderline corrupt establishment candidate in hoc to global elites punished at the ballot box – any such joy quickly turned to ashes when faced with the alternative of President Donald J. Trump, who vastly matches and exceeds Clinton’s flaws in every conceivable way.

The real tragedy of the Trump presidency – at least in my view, as I previously discussed on this blog – is that even those few policies and initiatives of the Trump administration which are positive and laudable are actively being rendered toxic and untenable by their association with a man so patently unfit to serve in the highest civilian office.

As with Brexit and the limping British conservative government, I fear that the Trump presidency will shift the Overton window of American politics further and further to the Left the longer it persists – either because Trump himself embraces many protectionist and left-wing ideas, because the Republican Party’s brand is being tarnished through their utter inability to transition from a party of strident protest to a party of responsible government, or because the American Left has been driven to such blind, seething fury at Trump’s personal flaws that any daft socialist or redistributive policy starts to seem appealing to people simply because it is a rebuke to the president.

Almost across the board, applying the normal metrics, this should be a time for celebration. But instead, each victory appears increasingly Pyrrhic. To defend Brexit now is to open oneself to ceaseless mockery and hatred by a cast of bien-pensant know-nothings who think that taking their opinions from the Guardian website makes them high-information voters when in fact they are some of the very, very lowest in the land.

And now even those of us who had nothing to do with the major Brexit campaigns – the increasingly ridiculous Leave.EU or the establishment Vote Leave – are accused of unleashing a tide of hatred and xenophobia, and of “dividing the country”. Of course, our accusers didn’t mind when the country was equally divided prior to the referendum, because the people who disagreed with them were not given a proper voice in power. Only when the machinery of state finally swung into action on behalf of the majority did these pant-wetting histrionics about “divisiveness” begin.

And that is to say nothing of the fact that our political class are mismanaging Brexit to such a jaw-droppingly colossal extent that many Remainers are effectively being proved correct, a fact which they do not hesitate to crow about on television, in the newspapers and in social media. Of course, this is why Brexit needed to happen in the first place – our ability to self-govern has atrophied over decades of relentless integration with a remote and unaccountable supranational government in Brussels.

Bringing power back closer to the people and undoing 40 years of political integration was always going to be an Hurculean, traumatic process (not a singular event), but even if the most dire Brexit predictions come true it is surely better to go through the painful correction rather than simply throw our hands up in the air, admit that we are not able to govern ourselves adequately as a people, and submit permanently to remote technocracy.

But it is increasingly clear that the promise of Brexit will not be realised, at least not by the current crop of politicians, or realistically within at least a couple of decades. Brexit was always going to be a process, not an event. And Brexit itself was never the thing that would deliver the beneficial payload in terms of bringing power and accountability closer to the British people. Brexit merely makes these things remotely possible, by extricating us from treaties and frameworks which give us no opt-out or right of reservation if a particular policy, regulation or initiative is against our national interest.

But our political class are so superficial and intellectually uncurious, and the quality of our political discourse so weak, that this richer conversation has played out only on the independent blogosphere, while prestige news outlets, journalists and politicians present Brexit as a zero-sum game in which – depending on their perspective – either buccaneering Britain defeats the evil continentals, or the Virtuous Europeans give us the “punishment beating” we were so richly warned about during the referendum.

Perhaps we should have seen it coming. Effectively overruling the establishment’s carefully laid out plan for our lives was always going to generate a huge backlash, from powerful and well-connected people with the ability to make traditional grassroots anti-establishment backlashes look like a cake sale at the Women’s Institute. Perhaps we forgot this fact because we Brexiteers and defenders of nation state democracy were so used to being part of a backlash ourselves – the backlash against the establishment – that we didn’t give enough credence to the fact that globalists, disinterested “citizens of the world” and other assorted types are equally as invested in their worldview as we are in ours, and in a far stronger position to defend it from attack.

And now that they have experienced repudiation at the ballot box, the establishment’s ability to turn howls of outrage into a full-on filibuster of democratically-made decisions is stronger than many of us planned for. We have Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and the like jabbering away like idiots, totally unmoored from reality, tarnishing the dream of Brexit with every garbled statement. Meanwhile, they – the pro-EU establishment – still control the bulk of the machinery of state, dominate Parliament, the worlds of art, science and commerce. And they would rather see Britain fail so that they can scream an hysterical “I told you so!” at the 52% than muck in and help to amplify the voices of sane Brexiteers (they happy few) who understand what they are talking about.

Neither is the concept of the nation state faring much better in America, where Donald Trump’s presidency has caused American leftists to increasingly embrace a position in which no illegal immigrant should face deportation, or even the slightest hindrance as they attempt to subvert the law and settle in the United States without permission. Never mind that a nation which cannot control its own borders can hardly still count itself a nation – to even question the idea of mass amnesty, sanctuary cities and a fully open door is to be racist towards “undocumented” people, for whom our hearts should brim over with sympathy, while hardening against America’s native-born huddled masses.

But to support the nation state, or its greatest expression through Western Civilization, is becoming increasingly gauche and passe for many in the political elite. Donald Trump recently visited Warsaw and made what was actually a rather decent speech (obviously not of his own creation) about defending Western values from military, terrorism and cultural threats. But of course Donald Trump was the worst possible person to make such a speech, and so now even more hearts will be turned against the idea of taking pride in liberal Western values. The president of the United States actively sets back the causes which he (or the people in his administration who pull the strings) seek to promote, purely by virtue of his ignorance and inestimably deficient personality.

One Australian news anchor put it rather well, remarking that “there’s a tendency among some hopeful souls to confuse the speeches written for Trump with the thoughts of the man himself”. A dangerous tendency indeed. Even when Trump says something broadly positive – such as about supporting the nation state and defending Western values – one cannot rejoice, first because the man who delivers the words renders them toxic and consequently less likely to happen, but also because there will likely be no attempted follow-through anyway. These are just words put into his mouth by a speechwriter or an administration ideologue like Steve Bannon.

The Trump-Bannon or Trump-Miller partnerships are not remotely like that between John F. Kennedy and his brilliant speechwriter Ted Sorensen, where the wise counsellor Sorensen merely refined JFK’s own fairly sophisticated thoughts and words. No, the incumbent of the Oval Office is a shallow, egotistical and unlettered man who just wants to be seen to be winning, and who can be manipulated into doing pretty much anything so long as it makes for a good TV visual.

That’s why one can’t even rejoice when Trump says something vaguely encouraging in a speech – because at the best of times, Trump is effectively little more than a sock puppet for the cleverer, more manipulative people jostling for influence within his administration.

The future of conservatism also presently hangs in the balance, on both sides of the Atlantic. In America, the Republican Party – having sold their soul to Donald Trump – seems determined to prove that they cannot be trusted as a responsible party of government. If you want angry tri-cornered hatted protests about freedom and liberty, the GOP is probably still just about the party for you. But if you expect mature governance and the diligent application of conservative policies in government then look elsewhere.

Eight years of whining about the evils of ObamaCare and the Republicans have no realistic plan for repeal. All of their proposals get dreadful scores from the Congressional Budget Office because they are forecasted to simultaneously throw people back onto the uninsured scrapheap while simultaneously costing more money. “Repeal and replace” is rapidly becoming the Republican Party’s version of Vote Leave’s “£350 million for the NHS” pledge. And if the GOP cannot deliver some kind of conservative reform that meaningfully benefits people’s lives by the time of the 2018 midterms, they will be punished far worse than Theresa May’s limp Tories.

Speaking of which, British conservatism is in complete and utter crisis. As I have extensively written on this blog over several years now, failing to robustly defend small-government conservative values comes with a price attached. And now we know what that price is – Jeremy Corbyn on the verge of entering 10 Downing Street as prime minister, all because Theresa May’s cowardly and incompetent election campaign failed to make a bold and compelling case for conservative solutions.

But truthfully this is not all Theresa May’s fault. The rot goes deep, even back beyond the Cameron and Osborne years. If you do not defend conservative principles as an inherently good thing rather than a necessary virtue, eventually you will lose. And for years now the British public has been fed a poisonous diet of the idea that the only “good” conservatism is that sop to the Left known as “compassionate conservatism”, while any attempt to preach the virtues of self-reliance, individualism and civil society over the state is seen as somehow evil.

Then look at the remorseless advances made by the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics, who have broken free from the university campus and started to inflict their dogmatic regressive illiberalism across whole swathes of society. At one point I attempted to document daily occurrences of overreach and infringement on civil liberties by the social justice brigade – my “Tales from the Safe Space” series – but by about the sixtieth entry it started getting a little bit repetitive basically issuing the same dire warning week after week.

If the warning was heard, it certainly has not been heeded. Political leaders, corporations, media outlets, journalists, commentators and virtue-signalling private citizens have all been falling over themselves to jump on the social justice bandwagon.

Even once-venerable institutions like America’s Southern Poverty Law Centre would rather spend their time hounding brave reformist Muslims and ex-Muslims who speak out against extremism, accusing people like Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali of being Islamophobic extremists themselves, than stick to their core mission of shining a spotlight on genuine racism and discrimination, particularly in the Islamic world. The ACLU has additionally given itself over completely to punishing anybody who doesn’t buy into radical new gender theory, while the UK’s Liberty organisation has long favoured leftist agitation over the single-minded defence of true civil liberties.

In short, there is little to celebrate and even less to give cause for hope. Having snatched power, those few forces which could have potentially been an agent for change have instead been stymied by their own incompetence, while the forces of the globalist Left fortify themselves in temporary opposition.

I wish it were otherwise, but at present I do not see how. Compare these two extracts from the Obama second inaugural speech in 2013 and Trump’s first (and hopefully last) inaugural in 2017. First the Obama:

This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience. A decade of war is now ending. (Applause.) An economic recovery has begun. (Applause.) America’s possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive; diversity and openness; an endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention. My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it — so long as we seize it together. (Applause.)

For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it. (Applause.) We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class. We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work; when the wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship. We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American; she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own. (Applause.)

We understand that outworn programs are inadequate to the needs of our time. So we must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work harder, learn more, reach higher. But while the means will change, our purpose endures: a nation that rewards the effort and determination of every single American. That is what this moment requires. That is what will give real meaning to our creed.

And then the Trump:

The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.

Everyone is listening to you now.

You came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before.

At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction: that a nation exists to serve its citizens.

Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves.

These are the just and reasonable demands of a righteous public.

But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system, flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.

This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.

The two speeches are truly not that different, in basic message if not in style. Or at least, the difference lies in what is not said rather than in what is said.

Both make the same essential (and valid) point – that there is an “American Carnage” or Western Carnage in progress. But while former President Obama did little to arrest this trend and is now happy to go off yachting with Tom Hanks and Bruce Springsteen in his retirement, current President Trump would rather rage against his critics at 5AM on Twitter than do anything about it.

And waiting eagerly in the wings, like hungry jackals, are the same cast of incompetent, self-serving clowns who gave us Donald Trump and Theresa May in the first place.

For conservatives and supporters of the nation state as the greatest bulwark against threats to our liberty, optimism is vanishingly hard to find in politics right now. And there it is.

 

Apologies for the recent lack of blogging, due to health issues. Hopefully normal service will commence soon.

 

Boris Johnson - Brexit - conservatism

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