Democracy and the problem of slippery journalism.

This is the unedited version of my published Guardian letter, 13 05 2017:

Jonathan Freedland (‘No more excuses: Corbyn is to blame for this meltdown’, The Guardian: 08 05 2017) continues his excoriation of Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters. It makes for slippery journalism.

He cites the election results as “evidence” and “proof” of Corbyn’s failure as leader, but notes the collapse of UKIP, “its programme swallowed whole by the Conservatives. Ukip voters transferred en masse, reassured that Theresa May will give them the hard Brexit they want”. Many working-class anti-EU voters, he says, feel better represented by May than Labour. Well yes, because Labour’s stance towards Europe, the EU, other nationalities, the world, is not the same as Ukip or the Tories. Generational and educational factors, as well as social and economic experience and circumstances, have influenced voting behaviour.

Few of the participants in the two focus groups Freedland observed ever bought a paper and seldom watched a TV bulletin. “So blaming the media won’t wash,” he proclaims triumphantly. Nor could they name a single politician, other than May, Corbyn and Boris Johnson. Freedland ignores the significance of where/how participants get their information, and the role of closed circles/echo chambers on social media, concluding: “They had formed their own, perhaps instinctive, view.” What on earth does that actually mean? As journalism it’s beyond poor. Is it disingenuous or just sly?

Freedland quotes Dave Wilcox, the Derbyshire Labour group leader, who refers to “genuine Labour supporters”, who will not vote Labour while Corbyn remains leader. “Genuine”: well what does that make the rest of us, those out campaigning for a Labour government? ‘Fake Labour voters’? And what of all those young people ready to vote Labour because Corbyn is leader?

Theresa May exults in her identity as a “bloody difficult woman”. Her bluster seeks to disguise the fact that, as Professor of European Law, Michael Dougan (speaking as a panel member on Brexit Britain, at Liverpool’s WOW [Writing on the Wall] festival, 06 05 2017) insists: “There is no plan”. Freedland would serve democracy better by calling to account a prime minister “nervously pinballing from one stop to the next, with apparently no idea of where she is going or why” (John Harris, ‘Today there are three voter types: the disconnected, deceived and dismayed’, The Guardian: 06 05 2017), but determined to take us with her.

val walsh

 

Theresa May’s feminist gaffe.

 

In his first week in office, the new US President:

                  Trump has proclaimed war against the media, been accused of serial lying,      declared open season on environmentalists and undocumented migrants,                 outraged the Mexican president, begun stripping millions of Americans of healthcare coverage, removed funding to organisations that offer abortion advice or procedures, and revived the prospect of torturing terror suspects (Ed Pilkington, reporting from Michigan [28 01 2017] ‘Trump fans. ”I think he’s doing a phenomenal job”’, The Guardian).

Theresa May, UK Prime Minister, has shown haste in securing a meeting with Trump, at the head of the queue of other foreign leaders – except “all the others had thought better of it” (John Crace’s sketch [28 01 2017] ‘When the Donald met Theresa and not Teresa’, The Guardian). Given her increasingly hardline attitude to the UK’s Brexit process, this enthusiasm is disturbing.

Theresa May’s summit with Donald Trump conceals an ambitious, perhaps      desperate, British agenda: to enhance ties with strongman leaders in the US, Israel, Turkey and Poland as relations fray with key EU players, notably France and Germany (Simon Tisdall [28 01 2017] ‘Rights set aside as PM courts strongmen’, The  Guardian).

So is cosying up to leaders of countries with ultra-conservative and authoritarian domestic policies and rubbish human rights records going to replace established UK ties with, for example, EU social democracies? Do Trump’s claims that torture works and climate change is a hoax get to be sidelined in the building of the new ‘special relationship’ between the US and the UK?

The advent of Trump’s administration exemplifies hetero-patriarchal masculinity on parade: armed and dangerous, and coming to a life like yours. . . .

Inclusive, bold, feminist activism.
Ahead of Trump’s inauguration, women were on the move, planning a Women’s March in Washington DC, for 21 January 2017, his first day in office. As Kaylin Whittingham, president of the Association of Black Women Attorneys, announced:

A march of this magnitude, across this diversity of issues, has never happened        before. We all have to stand together as a force no one can ignore (cited Joanna Walters, reporting from New York [14 01 2017] ‘Inauguration of Trump is expected to be eclipsed by huge protest march of women’, The Guardian).

Beginning as a feminist rallying cry via social media, the call attracted more than 200 progressive groups and partners, representing issues including: the environment, abortion rights, prisoners’ rights, voting rights, a free press, affordable childcare, gun safety, racial and gender equality, and a higher minimum wage (cited Walters, ibid). Jessica Neuwirth, who heads the Equal Rights Amendment Coalition, called it “a comprehensive call for social justice and equal rights” (cited Walters, ibid.) And so it came to pass, and not just in Washington DC, but in other US cities and cities across the world. .) See ‘This looks like defeat. But all is not lost’ in Category ‘Comment 2017’ at togetherfornow.wordpress.com.

These worldwide demonstrations were not just protesting Trump’s social and political agenda as president. These demonstrations were feminist acts for all participants, as a stand against the man himself: the man who takes pleasure in threatening women’s rights (e.g. reproductive rights, going so far as to suggest that women who have abortions should be punished); the man “who mocks menstruation, and grabs vaginas’ (Hadley Freeman [28 012017] ‘No president cares more about size – let’s show Trump how many of us oppose him’, The Guardian Weekend).

 Misogyny and racism were key acknowledged triggers for these street uprisings in major cities worldwide. These were protests against the abuses perpetrated by hetero-patriarchal masculinity and sexualized male dominance. Widely described as narcissistic, Trump exemplifies the worst of this breed.

The problem isn’t men, but those men with narcissistic traits. Narcissists view their   needs, their entitlements, their ambitions, as far more real than anyone else’s. They brook no criticism, whether justified or not, and tolerate no humiliation. They will     punish those who try to thwart them . . . . to a narcissistic man such as this, no one               matters but himself. He is all-important. Because feeling superior is so essential to his being, and because his desire to have his superiority affirmed is bottomless, he is far more likely to casually indulge in misogyny, racism, class prejudice – you name it   – because the less like him you are, the less you could possibly matter (Deborah Orr [28 01    2017] ‘I grew up in a man’s world. I’ve seen the damage narcissistic men can do’, The Guardian).

Theresa May’s performance.
                  Their hands remained uneasily entwined as they walked down the colonnade                 towards the Palm Room. . . Trump started to creepily stroke and pat her hand. . . (John Crace, ibid).

The sight of May and Trump, hand-in-hand, in a ‘just-married’ pic, will have made a good few of the protesters on the Women’s Marches retch. She didn’t have to go that far; she chose to go that far, to display what she thought was her power as a woman prime minister. And in that display of heterosexual intimacy with this misogynist and racist, her ethical credibility was soiled; as a woman leader her efficacy was compromised; and any feminist awareness and commitment towards women as a diverse constituency, is dead in the water.

She chose to distance herself from the powerful feminist demonstrations of the 21 January, and the women and men who together bore witness to the importance of social justice issues, equality and human rights as central to democracies, and not mere ‘minority’ issues, optional extras. Her Tory individualism and personal ambition rule.

“Underpinning May’s approach was a kind of optimistic naivety tinged with arrogance” (Jonathan Freedland [28 01 2017] ‘Never mind the optics, May’s dash was mortifying’, The Guardian). Her deportment and body language, as well as her silence on key social justice and equality issues, made it clear she is prioritising the hard men of the extreme right (at home and abroad). She wants to be accepted as one of them, as equal: a populist and authoritarian leader. In a short skirt and heels.

29 01 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

This looks like defeat. But all is not lost.

The cumulative impact of political events in 2016 in the USA and the UK, specifically the UK EU referendum leading to the Brexit vote, and the election of Donald Trump as the 45th US President, has left those who suffered ‘defeat’ in those elections, not just feeling defeated but bereft: agonizingly bewildered and disempowered.

The fact that so many white women in the US saw Trump’s misogyny, racism and cavalier disregard for facts and evidence as no reason not to vote for him, punches a big hole in the feminist project and any idea of political ‘sisterhood’, not just in the US.

The fact that such a man could seduce large sections of the electorate by means of his unabashed misogyny, racism and lies (now called “alternative facts”); his concerted incitement of hatred and contempt for so may social constituencies; and his fostering of fear as a means to social control: this violent onslaught laid waste the grounds for mutuality, reciprocity and inter-cultural co-habitation.

The wall of misogyny and racism these political events have exposed, intensified and glorified, is not new, but has suddenly acquired an ‘official’ status and institutional power that aims to undo and bury the achievements that equality, environmental, and peace activists have worked for over so many years. The crude triumphalism delivering this hetero-patriarchal surge of testosterone adds to the misery of his diverse opponents/ victims.

In the wake of this biggest of political upheavals, and the second time in recent history that the clear winner of the popular vote has been prevented by the American Electoral College from claiming the presidency, neither screaming nor silence will serve us. American stand up Alec Baldwin screamed his protest and pain after Trump’s triumph, noting that we, the defeated, were expected to give up quietly. To shut up, roll over and accept defeat in silence. But in response to his call, it was clear his audience, like him, had other ideas.

Given the unseemly, ugly and deceitful campaigns waged, and the central roles played by racism and misogyny; given that all the signs are that under Trump’s administration, equality and social justice, healthcare, environmental protections and social care, and international collaboration, for example, will be relinquished as democratic values and goals, what is the evidence so far that the populations on both sides of the Atlantic, who reject the authority and legitimacy of these election results, will acquiesce and submit quietly?

Women take the lead.
Amidst the outrage and despair, the fear and uncertainty, Saturday 21 January 2017 offered us a sign of hope. The Million Women March in Washington DC, called at short notice to protest the Trump agenda, triggered a wave of solidarity rallies led by women in other US cities, as well as across the world, including London and Liverpool in the UK.

In DC many more people turned up than had attended Trump’s inauguration the previous day. The televised evidence is clear. The aerial filming of the gatherings in these cities provided stunning evidence of women’s power to initiate and lead, and of people power, as these events attracted (e.g. in Liverpool) the participation of men, babies and small dogs, and not just seasoned feminists, but adults (women and men) who have never attended a public demonstration in their lives, but had been moved by the seriousness of the situation to act (I’m drawing here on a conversation with a couple of strangers at the Liverpool rally of 1000 people outside St Georges Hall.)

In Chicago, the streets were so jam-packed with demonstrators, people couldn’t march as planned, but bore witness, shoulder to shoulder, in their great numbers. And to see so many people sporting bright pink knitted beanies with ‘pussy ears’ felt like feminist insurrection! Don’t think Trump could explain or dismiss that with his “alternative facts”. In Liverpool, one of the small placards read: “Pussies for Peace”. There were many other heartfelt, passionate, pointed and witty messages. All defiant. As ever, humour was wielded as powerful political ‘talkback’. We all felt better for it.

It was women of colour in the US who had initiated this wave of activism, allowing so many angry, despairing and frightened souls to take to the streets, to demonstrate that courage, hope, determination and collectivity were not in short supply, despite Trump’s ascendancy. As a start to 2017, this uprising will have saved many of us, and not just women, from feeling that the odds against truth and justice, equality and fairness, and global mutuality and responsibility had just become insurmountable. The joy of being present at one of these demonstrations, and/or witnessing them on TV or social media, cannot be underestimated as political and politicizing. Good news.

Meanwhile, we brace ourselves.
As Trump overreaches himself in his first week of office, pounding out one astounding edict after another at breakneck speed, he is leaving individuals, communities, organisations, politicians, journalists, diplomats and countries reeling in fear and disbelief. The enormity of what is being attempted by this peevish narcissist and braggart, who, like all bullies and dominators is used to thinking he is fireproof, untouchable, will surely trigger national and international efforts at defence and containment, hopefully short of war. Early impeachment would be an honourable start.

Meanwhile, the British Prime Minister, Teresa May, alone among national leaders, rushes over to the US to make friends and ‘do deals’ with Trump, as if it’s business as usual. Given May’s passion for fashion and ‘femininity’, I mused to a feminist friend in a text: “I wonder what she will decide to wear. . . and what shoes?!” She replied tartly: “May needs to remember that, whatever she wears, she’s just ‘pussy’ to him.” Will this fact assist or hinder the ‘special relationship’ May seeks?

Well she chose to turn up in a skirt, with bare legs, arriving in freezing weather. She obviously thinks her ‘femininity’ (her legs) will serve her in this political encounter. By talking to journalists on the plane, ‘flirtatiously’, about “opposites attracting each other” (referring to herself andTrump), she exposes her inadequacy as a responsible and competent political actor: she’s just a personally ambitious, rather conventional, middle class, heterosexual Tory woman, who lacks feminist antennae or motivation.

May appears to be approaching her meeting with Trump (a known sexual abuser and misogynist, who sees women as sexual targets and trophies, who can be “grabbed by the pussy” without complaint), as a heterosexual woman displaying her knees, thinking she can challenge or seduce his male dominance and emerge unscathed and victorious. She may be overestimating her prowess, and the power of clothes to seduce or intimidate (neither a ‘winner’). The press has already referred, delicately, to her “charm offensive”. Is she seriously going to try to flirt her way into this new special relationship? As opposed to raising, for example, the issue of women’s rights (including reproductive rights) as human rights, on behalf of her ‘sisters’ worldwide. Where’s a feminist when you need her?

May has also chosen Holocaust Memorial Day for this significant first visit to Trump. Not perhaps her most sensitive decision yet.

27 01 2017