I have been meaning to post my thoughts about The Donald, when I read the following from an old friend, Jacqueline Nicholls. She expresses it so well, I think it needs no further comment from me…
“He’s not my president. It has bothered me a lot why, as a British citizen, the American election has disturbed and bothered me so much. Whoever won the USA election, they were never going to be my president. The domestic and foreign policies of the USA do have an effect globally, but it feels more personal than that. And it started here in the UK.
In May 2016 I was doing a daily drawing project, The Bestiality of Fears, taking inspiration from marginalia in medieval manuscripts, I turned the things that frighten me into little beasties to be conquered. One of the fears was the Fear of Foolish Kings. I wrote,
“This is not a fear of my internal flaws. I am no king. But looking out into the world, I want to find leadership, vision and guidance. Or just the simple trust that the big things are being decided by intelligent, thoughtful people who are responsible and have compassion to the vulnerable. And I just don’t see it. I look at the current political climate both here in the UK, in the USA, and in Israel, and I feel a grinding paralysis of despair. We are being dominated by fools and tyrants, maniacs and corruption. Power hungry fools who control and bully the conversation. There is no king.”
This was back in May 2016. I was hearing the language used in the Brexit debate, in the London mayoral elections, the presidential nominations, in the corruption scandals, and it terrified me.
There may well have been some good arguments for leaving the EU, as it is an imperfect political body, with tons of flaws. But the popular rhetoric of the Leave campaign was one of racism, dodgy data and a casual relationship with facts and informed opinion. The distrust of experts. The dehumanising of refugees. The fabrication of facts. And the inability of a media to robustly address all these issues.
Nigel Farage become a public figure because he is ridiculous. He was the fool to laugh at, would say outrageous statements, that weren’t properly examined because no one took him seriously. There was an assumption that fools will be exposed by ridicule alone. He will be hoisted on his own petard.
But giving someone who has no fear of ridicule or shame disproportionate amount of airtime, has no effect. He was entertainment. A readily available rent-a-gob. But he bided his time, became a household name and took the conversation to the right. Since the Brexit vote I have been rereading Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta. He thought it would take a dramatic nuclear holocaust, and subsequent environmental disasters, in order for the western world to embrace fascism. But he wrote V for Vendetta when he was profoundly disturbed with what Thatcher and the Tories were doing to the UK. How they were speaking about the miners, and those who were not white, straight, British-born, and that people switch off the news and didn’t want to engage with complex reality.
This time last year there was a debate in Westminster to ban Trump from entering the UK based on his use of hate speech, and incitement to violence. The tone was fairly light-hearted, although serious concerns of his racism and bullying were discussed. But it was agreed that the British way of dealing with him should be one of ridicule, to point out he is a fool. To quote David Cameron from that time “the UK will unite in opposition to Trump.” All said with a jovial smugness.
Roll on a year and we have Michael Gove, a Tory MP, conducting the most fawning interview without any challenge or journalistic standards. David Cameron’s many confident (arrogant) statements have been proved wrong in so many ways, and so too with this. The UK is not uniting against Trump. Far from it.
(And I’m not going to go into the incompetence of the Labour Party, and Jeremy Corbyn in particular. They are failing to be an effective opposition party and challenge what the Tory party is doing to the NHS, education system, welfare, and how they are handling the Brexit process. And I’m also don’t have the energy to go into Theresa May’s ridiculous Brexit means Brexit rhetoric, and the nonsense language of “friends” when trying to sound tough on how Britain will negotiate with the EU. Corbyn and May are just more foolish kings.)
Post the American election, there was much naive hope floating around that it couldn’t possibly happen. The electoral college vote. The inauguration should be postponed while the links with Russia are properly investigated. Could he be impeached on the ethical conflict of interests with respect to his businesses? There has to be some way of stopping this foolishness… Perhaps we’ve all seen too many movies or high drama political thrillers, and we can’t separate entertainment from grim reality. Today sees the swearing in of a person, of an attitude, so counter to how the world ought to work and what should succeed. There is an anti-intellectualism and distrust of education. It is really happening. And if there is any accountability, checks and balances in the political systems, then now is the time for them to kick in.
But I can hear myself thinking that I am being foolish. So alarmist. How much destruction and damage can really happen… But it is shocking what has unfolded over the last year. To lose the outrage, and just take an attitude “wait and see, and lets ridicule what is going to happen, and that will protect us” assumes that we can be seperate, and that there will always be time to say stop. So before the corruption, the lying, the bullying, are so normalised that they fail to shock, or I turn off the news because I can’t take the realities unfolding on a global scale, and just focus on my own little bubble, perhaps I need to making a last stand on how absurd the world is. And realise that there is still an alternative vision of how the world could be.
Due to family commitments, I can’t attend the Women’s protest tomorrow in London. But I am fasting today. The Talmud in tractate Ta’anit, discusses the practice of a communal fast, to alert the people that there is a crisis and a threat to life. Some American rabbis have called for an inauguration fast. Fasting focuses the mind to the fact that things are not normal. The suffering of the body that is not eating or drinking is to personalise and feel that things are not ok. I am reminded of a teaching from Rebbe Nachman of Breslav. There is a kingdom that had a diseased crop of wheat. If you ate it, you would go mad. But if you don’t, you will starve. The King and his adviser discuss what to do. They decide to eat the wheat, but first they would place a mark on their bodies to remind themselves that they are now mad. We are stepping into the time of fools, and we are not immune from becoming foolish ourselves.
Last night Raymond Simonson, my fellow Rebbetzin DJ, posted a brilliant playlist on spotify. It included the Billy Bragg song ‘Accident Waiting To Happen.’ It is the song for our times, a summary of what has been building both here in the UK, and over there in the USA. “Goodbye and good luck to all the promises you’ve broken. Goodbye and good luck to all the rubbish that you’ve spoken. Your life has lost its dignity, its beauty and its passion. You’re an accident waiting to happen. You’re a dedicated swallower of fascism. You’re an accident waiting to happen.”
This has been a long, rambling rant. thank you for reading to the end. I wish there was a more positive conclusion. And in writing these mess of thoughts down, I had hoped to have reached some sort of understanding as to why the election of this president has brought together so many of my fears for the future. I have spoken a lot of rubbish, been full of resolve on how I can resist, made promises that I hope not to break. We are all accidents waiting to happen. Mindful of that, I will prepare to break my fast on the corrupted wheat.”