Life and Death Leaves No Room For Chivalry

Today, as then, the chivalric code is most popular among people who launch crusades in the middle-East.

Senator John McCain dragging his cancer wracked body to the Senate to vote on the Republican motion to repeal the ACA (Obamacare) showed the courage and determination he built up during his years in the Vietnam War. Sadly, when it came for his time to vote, McCain again found himself fighting on the wrong side of history, for an evil cause.

Despite the fact that McCain’s actions were immoral, numerous liberal commentators were quick to salute his fortitude. McCain even received a standing ovation from the Senate: including — inevitably — Democrats; including — depressingly — Independent socialist Bernie Sanders; the latter even hugging the man who had just voted to condemn millions of Americans to a life without healthcare.

You see McCain is “the good Republican” — a label he himself has worked tirelessly to cultivate. While Trump has all the brashness and lack of grace of a mediocre man, who used daddy’s money to run a few failing casinos before becoming a cartoon capitalist for reality TV, McCain’s white hair and personal charm give him a grandfatherly air. For the educated elites that make up the bulk of Democratic Party, and their media outriders in respectable journals, that’s enough. It’s hard not to see this as evidence that politics is a game for so many of these establishment liberals. As long as you are polite to the people on the opposite side of the aisle, as long as you are eloquent, and occasionally use your eloquence to condemn the absolute worst of the reactionary right, then you are removed from the moral consequences of your actions.

But, while politics is a game for the ruling class, it’s very real for millions of people. We should not shy away from the stark fact that McCain voted to let ordinary Americans die so his party could give a tax cut to millionaires. Politics is sometimes about simple morality, about the good and the bad; when given a choice between the side of the righteous and the side of the damned McCain chose, as always, to follow the sulphur.

In Britain it is customary for a resigning Prime Minister’s final session in Parliament to resemble the last day of term in — a very expensive, fee-paying — school, and David Cameron’s was no exception. In a tediously festive atmosphere Jeremy Corbyn made a series of quips about their previous sparring sessions while the outgoing Prime Minister grinned smugly. At the end everyone gave Cameron a hearty round of applause for his “public service”. It was only the SNP who failed to lend the rest of Parliament a hand in giving Cameron a happy ending.

This obsession with civility and good practice was disapointing from Jeremy Corbyn, who should have taken note of his long-time friend John McDonnell’s maiden speech. Eschewing the public-school debate club pleasantries that require you to praise your predecessor, McDonnell opened fire on Terry Dicks, the recently removed member for Hayes and Harlington:

He was a stain on the character of this House, the Conservative party which harboured him and the good name of my constituency. He brought shame on the political process of this country by his blatant espousal of racism and his various corrupt dealings. He demeaned the House by his presence, and I deeply regret that the Conservative party failed to take action to stem his flow of vile bigotry. Thankfully, my constituents can now say good riddance to this malignant creature.

A more recent, but equally as stirring, maiden speech was delivered by Geordie MP Laura Pidcock. In her speech, dripping with memories of the great working-class MP Aneurin Bevan, Pidcock said of Parliament: “It reeks of the establishment, and of power. Its systems are confusing, some may say archaic, and it was built at a time when my class and my sex would have been denied a place in it because we are deemed unworthy.” In a later speech delivered to the Metro she clarified that the building was intended to intimidate, “working people, those who don’t have the time to luxuriate in debates and rhetoric”.

Those who don’t have the time to luxuriate in debates and rhetoric rarely have their voices heard. The process of making it to the top in politics or the media means their anger is always battered and beveled, chafed and chamfered: sharp points are removed by increased comfort, by proximity to those you are meant to be holding to account, and by the insidious shaming of your colleagues that your fury is “not a good look”.

When there is so much justifiable anger — and when the right are so adept at using it, channeling it, and directing it at us — it would be nice if the milquetoast liberals who cry out for their own personal vision of decency would get out of the way. Politics is about power, and the need to wield it in order to do good for those you are meant to represent (for a socialist that is the working-class, the poor, the marginalised, the dispossessed) something that the right fully understands. If you want to take part in no-stakes, friendly debates, and to marvel at your opponents’ skill as a wordsmith, go back to Oxbridge or Harvard. Let those who want to win get to the front. Because, as it stands, the right has warriors and we have chocolate soldiers.

(Sadly my new job has decided not to give me any hours this week, so I’m gonna be a massive mark and pop my account up if any of you particularly like this/anything I do.