Friday, 25 November 2016

Letters from America

Often, of a Friday night, blogs will post 'long reads' for the weekend. 

Here's one for ITBB which I hope you'll enjoy (though it's probably not one for if you've just got in from the pub)...

Radio 4's short series of post-US election talks, Letters from America, has been notable for featuring five speakers, none of whom supported Donald Trump and most of whom obviously loathe him. 

That's much as you'd expect from a left-liberal-biased radio station like BBC Radio 4.

The station should be - but won't be - ashamed of itself for not featuring even a single Trump supporter.

However, it has to be said that the talks improved as the week went on, and I will gladly confess that I rather enjoyed them, all-in-all. So much so that I will now feature my own personal highlights from each episode - namely, the wholly-cherry-picked bits that run counter to the usual BBC narrative and which, inadvertently (and tellingly), expose the BBC's bias in the process.

From Episode 1 (Zoë Heller) came this surprising and effective take-down of US liberal and Radio 4 A Point of View regular Adam Gopnik and his absurdly hysterical, apocalyptic anti-Trump pre-US election edition of A Point of View - especially surprising given the partisan tone and content of the rest of the speaker's (anti-Trump) talk:
Recently on this network the American writer Adam Gopnik asserted that there was "zero correlation" between support for Trump and economic dislocation. 
"Despite its various injustices and inequities, America", he assured us, "was a prosperous and, by any sane historical standard, successful country. The rise of Trump reflects an eternal and immutable tribalist instinct, nothing more, nothing less". 
This is certainly a neat diagnosis, but perhaps a little too neat. 
If all that Trump's people wanted was to build walls and get rid of minorities how do we interpret the curious fact that more than 200 of the United States counties that voted for Trump this election were won by Obama in 2008 and 2012? Did the people in those counties turn racist over the last four years? Or here's another interesting question: Why did so many Trump supporters identify Bernie Sanders - a democratic socialist - as their second choice? 
Gopnik's assertion that America is an essentially prosperous and successful country is, I suspect, precisely the sort of complacent statement that makes people living in America's bleak post-industrial and rural areas despise the comfortable elites living on America's coasts. 
Thanks in part to spikes in alcoholism, drug overdose and suicide, the mortality rates for white men in such places have been rising over the last thirty years, even as mortality rates in the rest of America have been declining. 
It's worthwhile wondering: If you were a former steelworker living in one of these areas and working as a Walmart greeter for $9 an hour or a woman who lost a house in the sub-prime mortgage crisis or a young man who spent four years fighting a war that's now widely understood to have been a mistake or the mother of a meth addict, don't you think you might find it maddening to have someone calmly inform you that actually America is doing very nicely and that your desire to make it great again is just a redneck, xenophobic fantasy?

From Episode 2 (Thomas Chatterton Williams) came this also-unexpected point of view (especially given what had gone before - an anti-Trump rant). It intriguingly echoes the point of view most effectively championed by Spiked - i.e. a robust, unflinching defence of free speech against the various 'safe spaces' of this world, including BBC studios!:
In the days since the election I have been dismayed to see well-meaning white friends on my Twitter timeline and Facebook news feed self-flagellating, apologising for their whiteness, as if they were somehow born into original sin. And I have seen too many non-white glibly blaming whiteness and white people as a category for every possible malady. 
Without excusing the racists and sexists, who by all indications are both numerous and emboldened, the dominant liberal discourse of late has too often shown itself to be counter-productive. It has made traditional and social media outlets and campuses across the country self-censoring, borderline oppressive environments, more focused on the optics of pluralism, creating safe spaces and policing bad thoughts than developing real diversity of ideas, ways of being and, yes, the right to be wrong and be defeated. 
The Left certainly didn't create white supremacy or tribalism but it has, in its celebration of essentialism, offered a mainstream template for an overly white identity-based politics that Trump has masterfully exploited - even if more minorities did vote for him than Mitt Romney.

From Episode 3 (Jill Lepore) came the following, which (whilst bashing both sides - and the Trump side even more so) also, I think, showed up hysterical, apocalyptic anti-Trump types like Adam Gopnik - plus whole swathes of of the BBC too (both on the BBC proper and on their Twitter feeds). This describes them as much as it describes ardent Trump supporters:
This election there was much talk of 'division', of a 'divided nation', even of 'divided marriages'. But there was union in misery, in lament and in doom-mongering. The candidates and their followers pointed, again and again, to the gaping chasm between them - and, for certain, their differences were many and deep. But so were the traits that straddled the divide: isolation, incomprehension, a spirit of vengeance and the rhetoric of apocalypse. 
Republicans and Democrats in this election weren't practitioners of two different faiths. They were members of rival sects. They accepted the fundamental tenets of a shared creed: that the world turns on the election of an American president; that this was the most important election in American history; that their opponent is a liar and an enemy; that supporters of their enemy are either knaves or fools; and that a loss would be devastating to the nation and to the world. 
Both sides predicted political catastrophe and even urged it on, as if, in the agony of defeat and the maelstrom to follow, would be found redemption - the scourge upon the land that would prove the rightness of their sect. This is the reaping of the whirlwind by those that have sown the wind. 

From Episode 4 (from anti-Trump Andrew Sullivan) came this evisceration of Hillary Clinton and her 'blind' supporters - into which camp I'd unflinchingly place much of the BBC during the past year and more:
In all the post-election analysis one explanation for the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States has, so far, been all but missing. I hardly dare mention it to my liberal friends for fear of being overwhelmed by a torrent of defensive knee-jerk fury and abuse. And so the delicate silence continues and the denial they're still in deepens. So allow me to fill the gap and say what has to be said: It was Hillary, stupid. 
There's a clear, blinding, obvious reason Trump won the election: The Democrats ran the most mediocre, flawed, despised and compromised candidate since Michael Dukakis. She lost because it would have been impossible to find a more damning representative of everything that is currently unpopular in the populist mood sweeping the West.... 
She gave the impression she was running for president because, well, because it was her turn. Her smugness never left her and infected her party and her campaign.... 
She is, and always has been, a mediocrity - someone who has close to nothing to cite as a single achievement in over three decades in national life, who sucked the life out of a room whenever she spoke and overstayed her welcome in American life by a decade or more.... 
And her alleged ace card in the entire campaign - that she was the first woman ever to campaign for president - proved to be a total dud. White women, her core demographic, voted for a repulsive and disgusting chauvinist pig over the icon they'd been told to bow down and worship.... 
America and the world will live with the consequences of the Democrats' blindness and Clinton's fathomless sense of entitlement. May she leave the stage forever and never, ever come back.

And, finally, from Episode 5 (John Gray) came the following set of perspectives, none of which find much if any echo in the consistent agendas of programmes like Newsnight or Today or the BBC One news bulletins or From Our Own Correspondent, etc, etc, etc.:
In polite society the election of Donald Trump has produced something like a collective nervous breakdown. Along with gasps of astonishment there's been an outpouring of anger and grief. The world that so many expected to continue indefinitely, slowly improving, has suddenly vanished. And, despite what they'd like to believe, it's clear that it's not coming back. The pre-Trump status quo has gone forever. It's the lessons of Trump's victory that should concern us now - and, in particular, what it means for the liberal inheritance that many of us seem to have taken for granted. 
There can be no doubt that these lessons will be hard to swallow - so hard in fact that I doubt that the current generation of liberals is capable of learning them. For if there's a single message that comes out from the dramatic political events of the past months is that the liberal establishment that has framed policies and shaped opinion over the past decade and more did not understand the urgent needs of large numbers of their fellow citizens. 
There's incessant talk of the dangers of populism, but populism at the present time is a term that liberals apply to the consequences of their own errors and folly. The threat to liberal values that exists today is largely the result of the attempt to apply an ultra-liberal ideology which in applying an ideal model of society has lost sight of how most people actually want to live.... 
As a look at the history of the last century will confirm liberal democracy is far from being the European norm. The irony is that it's an extreme version of liberal ideology that has put liberal democracy in peril again in Europe.... 
Immune from democratic accountability [the European elites] refuse to respond to discontents that are being felt ever more intensely and widely. The disaffection of voters can only be expressed in an effective way at a national level, where the upheavals of the past few months in Britain and the US look like being repeated. Starting with a constitutional referendum in Italy and a re-run of a cancelled presidential election in Austria, both to be held on December 4th, there will be elections in Holland, France and Germany over the coming year. 
If, as I suspect, may prove to be the case, the EU comes undone as a result of this succession of votes, the blow liberals will suffer will be greater than any so far. More than any governing system today the EU is a quintessentially liberal construction. 
The dream it serves is one that gives meaning to the lives of liberals everywhere: free movement of people and goods in a borderless world. But it's this very dream that makes the EU likely to founder. 
What we rightly cherish as liberal values - individual freedom and toleration of different faiths - aren't free-floating ideals that can be realised anywhere by an act of political will. They are fragile practices, fashioned with immense difficulty over many generations, which can survive only when the majority of people enjoy a decent measure of security in their everyday life. 
Plainly this is not how people in the EU feel today. On top of unprecedented levels of long-term unemployment in some countries many are unhappy with the way the EU has dealt with the migrant crisis. Equal or greater numbers are worried by its inability to prevent or deter terrorism. Above all, voters are becoming convinced - not unreasonably, in my view - that the EU is incapable of reforming itself.... 
After Trump's unnerving victory Europe's electorates know they can inflict a similar shock on their rulers - and on all who believe the future can only be a continuation of the recent past.


  1. I enjoyed the Andrew Sullivan gay-spat! He didn't like Hillary did he - even if he voted for her! :)

  2. So much anger and hate. Just more evidence to support my theory that Progressives and Leftoids of other stripes simply cannot accept that a good, intelligent, informed person can have a different opinion. Any different opinion must be inspired by some nefarious motive.