History is coming…which side are you on?
It’s fair to say that in the aftermath of the Trump election, there’s been something of a mixed reaction. On one side, liberals have embraced the angry face-palm, on the other, conservatives have spent the aftermath fist-pumping for all they’re worth. If there is a common theme to the result, though, it’s that what once were regarded as bad things have, thanks to the magic of Trump’s rhetoric, become acceptable: the general principle that racism, sexism and homophobia are “bad things” no longer applies.
You might argue that there’s no such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and that it depends on your point of view, but I’m not sure I’d agree. I think, rather, that it depends on how willing you are to close your eyes to the obvious. In a great sketch by Mitchell and Webb, two SS officers contemplate the German army’s retreat from the Russian steppes. As the Soviet army’s guns draw closer, one of the officers suddenly begins to take note of the symbol they’ve been fighting under: the totenkopf, or death’s head. A silver skull over two crossed shinbones. After a pause for thought, the first officer turns to the second, and asks, “Hans, are we the baddies?”
Wittgenstein said that language was slippery, but what Trump and his advocates have done is remarkable. In a clever inversion of history, they have pulled language inside-out, adopting the language of the people they’re attacking, and turning it against them. Today, if you complain about racism, you’re a “speech nazi”. If you not supporting Trump, you’re a “white quisling”. While “speech nazi” is an easy and obvious troll, courtesy of the ever-charming Ann Coulter, “white quisling” is a bit less obvious. In fact, Quisling was a Norwegian collaborator during the Second World War. A collaborator who was executed after the war for his role in supporting the Nazis.
In Australia, for a while now there’s been a debate about section in the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) that makes it an offence to:
“do an act, otherwise than in private, if:
(a) the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and
(b) the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group”.
A lot of people who have recently come out and supported Donald Trump, like Senators Cory Bernardi and Pauline Hanson, have complained that section 18C of the RDC is an attack on freedom of speech. Really what they’re saying is, wouldn’t it be great if we could behave just like Trump has, and be able to get away with it.
It is worth stopping for a moment and establishing what we mean by discrimination, because there seems to be a lot of confusion. Let me help. If I ask a room full of people to divide themselves up between blue-eyed people and brown-eyed people, some folk would call that discrimination. And maybe they’d have a point… I’m separating people based on some distinguishing characteristic. If I were then to say, let’s machine gun all the people with brown eyes and put their bodies in a ditch, just because they had brown eyes, that’s the kind of discrimination that needs to stop. Actual prejudice to people based on some arbitrary aspect that they’ve got no control over. Recognising Aboriginal people in the Australian constitution doesn’t act to anyone’s detriment; locking away and brutalising generations of Aboriginal men and women does. See if you can guess which one provokes accusations of discrimination?
Now that Trump has triumphed, it’s worth asking just what he has triumphed over. Do all of the homophobes, racists and sexists have a point? Is our society in peril because of the blacks and the gays and the women and the Jews? Is it only those courageous folk like Bernardi and Hanson and Trump who bravely the stand up for the silent majority, and whose voices are crushed under the jackboot of legislation like the RDC, that keep the barbarians at bay?
Let’s see… homosexuals don’t really have form when it comes to, say driving around screaming abuse at straight people before bashing them because of their sexuality. Nor do people of colour in the US have much history in establishing institutionalised discrimination, demanding segregation, or conducting genocidal warfare with smallpoxed blankets. Likewise, it’s arguable that women, by and large, haven’t manifested the means to keep men poorer, less educated, prone to domestic violence and away from the loci of power. Whereas, homophobes, racists and sexists have pretty much nailed all of those.
Want a concrete example? During the lead up to Brexit, an English member of parliament, a woman by the name of Jo Cox, was shot and stabbed to death as on her way to a meeting with her constituents. When police searched the alleged murderer’s home, can you guess what they found? Was is a sea of Liberal Democrat memorabilia? Wall to wall “Hope”posters? Surprisingly, they found books about “white supremacists, Nazi Germany, shootings and assassinations”. It turns out the killer had been researching the Ku Klux Klan and the Waffen SS in the lead up.
Now I’m not saying that everyone who supported Trump was a homophobe, a racist and or sexist, any more than I’m saying that Clinton’s supporters all socialist vegans who knit their own yoghurt. But what I can do is provide a list of some of the people who have proudly associated themselves with the Trump campaign, and they are a roll call of the best that bigotry can offer:
Sarah Palin, David Duke, Joe Arpaio, Hun Sen, Tony Abbott, Cory Bernardi, George Christensen, Malcolm Roberts, Marine Le Pen, Ilias Panagiotaros, Vladimir Zhironovsky, Frauke Petry, Pauline Hanson, Steve Bannon, Geert Wilders, Katie Hopkins, Piers Morgan, Ann Coulter….
If there are a few unfamiliar names, take the time to look them up. You’ll see a pattern develop fairly quickly.
So, when I hear the angry and disenfranchised clamouring for an amoral billionaire to lead them to some glorious new utopia, and you are thinking of joining the throng, I’d say to you, just like our SS officers, check out the badges.
Sure, you might think that your crowd are wearing the white hats, but if those hats rise to a point, and have eyeholes cut into them, then you’re missing something important. If you find yourself marching alongside people like those I’ve mentioned above, you should ask, “Are we the baddies?” You might be surprised by the answer.