There is a question that haunts me with the current state of political discussion, or lack thereof, and the current discourse that we see on the internet and social media. The fact is that there seems to be no sense of morals within the voting electorate in the US. IN the UK there isn’t, but that’s because of indifference as a result of the political class not having any. Perhaps ‘morals’ was a bad choice of word, but it got your attention. Really I mean ideals.
This has been the case for some time and it is not a new phenomenon, however we are seeing this on a much larger scale as a result of the reliance on social media that we now have, and we are seeing a different view of the world as a result. The current state of politics is strange to me, since the ideals that I currently hold are not that different to those I held when I was younger, however the way I would vote, if we were to break things down to a binary choice, has changed dramatically.
I’ll use the American system as my main example, as this is the more binary system of the two countries, and the issues that I will discuss vary most widely here, but I will also refer to the UK as a result of some of the issues that we see there. Looking at the change in which we see people thinking about political information was something that occurred to me while studying for my masters in journalism. I was discussing politics within a team I had for a project when one of the members said the following – “I don’t know much about UK politics, not being from here, but are Labour the good party?” That thought struck me enough for me to make a note of it. The idea that political parties could be boiled down to ‘good’ and ‘bad’ was not something that had not occurred to me before, perhaps as a result of naivety with regards to current social trends.
In America we see the current polarised dichotomy between the parties and their supporters. More correctly we should say the more vocal supporters. This distinction will become clear later. The party, however, especially in the case of the democrats, seems to be appealing to the worst aspects, the more radical, of their supporters in attempting to drum up social disobedience. This behaviour has gone so far as to champion mob-like behaviour and to assert that ‘we can’t have civility until we regain some of that power’. The idea that this should be the thoughts expressed by representatives of a political party is shocking and is reminiscent of the spoiled kid in school who would tip over the game if they weren’t winning. “I’m taking my ball back and going home” seems to be the moral of the political, American, left wing at the moment.
This is a surprising thing to realise when only a few years ago they were the party most opposed to war. Of course that ideal of peace was only apparent the last time a republican government was in power and waned completely during the 8 years President Obama was in office, to the point where they are now the ones proposing and supporting as much military action as they can possibly manage. The shift is made to seem all the more drastic when you consider that one of the biggest arguments for voting against Trump was that he was going to bring about World War 3. Following his election however the President has been widely and harshly criticised for trying to bring about peace with long-time enemies of the country Russia and North Korea. In the current climate Trump is only given any positive review in the news when he is doing something that will strain international relations with Russia, i.e. bombings in Syria. This shouldn’t really be a surprise since it was one of the campaign promises that Hillary Clinton during her Presidential campaign.
Heightened international tensions that could possibly lead to nuclear holocaust aside the next biggest issue, and one that is especially interesting to me in the UK, is the matter of free speech. I have admired the US for a long time on their commitment to free speech. This is not something we have in the UK or indeed the EU. It was only a few years ago when the law was changed so that you couldn’t be arrested for saying something that an anonymous third party could find ‘insulting’. It surprises me that the Democrat supporters are the ones that are trying to shut down free speech as quickly as possible. However once again this ‘team based thinking’ can be seen over the last 10 years when attitudes about George W. Bush and his policies were widely criticised and then these same, and worse, actions were permitted under President Obama, the treatment of journalists and whistle blowers being the more egregious examples.
In the US currently, as has been remarked by a number of commentators, the idea of defending the right to free speech now has to be prefaced with the phrase ‘I’m not an extremist’ pre-emptively having to defend yourself simply because you believe the right to say what you are thinking is ridiculous. More ridiculous however is the argument that the only reason you would defend this right is because of some prejudice or bigotry that you hold. To give an example of how much things could change in the US system- the current law in the UK is that you can face arrest for using words that could cause harassment, alarm or distress for example the word ‘Fuck’. That word, used on it’s own, not aimed at anyone could lead to arrest. The hate speech laws do not even require that the minimal level of harassment, alarm or distress is met. Instead the hate speech law requires that something is said that may not break any law, but could be interpreted by someone as hateful against a particular group. That’s pretty wide scope.
If we take for example two relatively high profile cases in the last year we see the YouTube user Count Dankula (screen name, unfortunately) being convicted of a hate crime as a result of teaching his girlfriend’s puppy to raise it’s paw when he said the phrase ‘gas the Jews’, the puppy thus mimicking a Nazi salute. As was explained at the beginning of the video this was because it was the worst possible thing that he could think to teach a very cute puppy to do and it was done to be funny. Outside of the court when speaking to the press he pointed out how ridiculous he thought the decision and the case was. When asked, a number of times, by a reporter whether he thought saying the phrase ‘gas the Jews’ was appropriate the Count then pointed out that the reporter had said it twice without the comedic context and should be prosecuted the same as him as a result. This was met with laughter, yet seems more true than comedic.
The second example is of a young woman who was convicted of a hate crime for quoting rap lyrics on a tribute page for a young man in her community that had recently died. The reason for the prosecution was that the quote contained the ‘n-word’ (I hate this type of euphemism but the internet can’t handle someone typing the word, even though they have to know it and interpret it in their heads in order to understand what the phrase n-word means. Bigots). There was no formal complaint made by anyone in this case and the main prosecution witness was a police officer from the hate crimes unit of her local police force. This young woman was convicted of a hate crime as a result. Interestingly one of the comments made both by the officer and the judge was that this word should not be used in any context by any person, regardless of background or skin colour. I suppose that Kanye West, or any other rapper, will not be able to perform in the UK ever again for fear of arrest.
The rush to give up freedoms is a bizarre campaigning strategy for any side of any political argument, as a result it appears quite easy to see why republicans and those undecided or not simply following the team based politics that we have today would vote for Republican Trump over Democrat Clinton. The Democrats in this case have gone from the party of science to the party of emotion where in the same space of time, perhaps as a direct result, the Republicans have gone from the religious party to the party with all of the facts and statistics.
Reading this article, it may be easy to assume that this is a biased article from a biased writer. In fact, I have no skin in the game at all. I am not able to vote; I am simply looking at this as an outsider with a kind of morbid interest and amusement. It must be noted though that this is the net result of the current democrat stance on political issues. In order to begin any political discussion, you must first defend the Republicans against some of the more ridiculous things that have been said by the opposition supporters. In a comment mirroring Patrice O’Neil’s, during the Obama years, when he said on stage ‘we would be ready to hate him too if you’d just shut up’ – talking about black people being willing to criticise Obama if the white people would stop making it so that they felt the need to defend him. The same sentiment is echoed by comedian Dave Smith in his special (Libertas) when he opined ‘now if Trump does anything as president short of a holocaust I’ll think he has done a good job’ (paraphrased) in response to the constant accusations Trump receives of being a nazi (along with his supporters and anyone who disagrees with an obnoxious and very vocal mini minority).