Beware the Kool-Aid: Louise Mensch and the dangers of your enemy’s enemies
In times of stress, disbelief and chronic institutional hypocrisy, many of us will clutch around for community, for forthright voices, for the beacons that might signal us out of the chaos and misery of our new norms. We’ll grab for any kind of escape hatch out of the raft that’s barrelling towards the rapids, for seemingly reliable forces out to uncover the truths that will save us from our woes. For the American left, dealt a dreadful blow by the supposedly impossible election of an idiot who not only represents everything it believes wrong, but who’s arrived either by complete accident or by the sinister design of foreign government (whichever one seems less jarring) — one such attractive ripcord of hope inexplicably appeared on the horizon this year in the shape of a certain Louise Mensch.
As someone well-versed in the ways of Ms. Mensch — in other words, like anyone who has had anything but the scantest interest in progressive politics in the UK over the last few years — I was not a little confused to come across a tweet in March recommending the most inspirational women of Twitter to follow on the topics of authoritarianism, institutional lying and Russian hacking. Strangely, the list included, alongside powerfully informative voices like Brittany Packnett and Sarah Kendzior, the above-mentioned Ms. Mensch. Sarah herself, whose no-nonsense, anthropologically-sound commentary on the rise of Trump and the dangers of his wannabe totalitarianism has been a vital thread in connecting the dots of his views, aims and tactics since long before the election, also re-posted the tweet, simply appending it with the words “I endorse this list.”
I was baffled. Could this be the self-same Louise Mensch who in the last year had called a man visiting a British hospital with his poorly son a “loathsome scumbag” for suggesting staff there were cheering the apparent sacking of the most inept, pro-privatising Tory politician in the history of the National Health Service? The same Mensch who had so ruthlessly pursued notoriety in her own career and on the coat-tails of Rupert Murdoch that she’d flipped from being a romance novelist, to a Conservative member of parliament, to a fevered blogger on all things conspiratorially libertarian, and who at that moment was sitting at eleventh on Newsthump’s ‘Arsehole Premier League’ table, rubbing shoulders with such time-honoured activists of the left as Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage?
What did these insightful American progressives know that I didn’t know? Or, conversely, what was this self-styled ‘resistance’ failing to spot that’s been plain as day for the British left throughout the years Mensch’s rabid, libertarian star has been on the rise, a voice of jeering Conservatism in this new age of digital media?
It turns out that Ms. Mensch has only of late turned her laser-guided gaze of inchoate righteousness on Trump and the trail of suspicious threads leading from his presidential campaign out towards the Kremlin, through Russian banks and nepotistic appointments. So recently, in fact, that she’d not long gone on record in praise of Trump and many of his appointments. In its time of need though, a progressive community looking for the quickest and most damning evidence of wrongdoing — a smoking gun indisputable enough to lift us in one fell swoop out of the current moment of despair, had found an ally in Louise’s newfound rumblings on the nature of American power, her largely coincidental ‘enemy’s enemy’ position an apparent irrelevance, since the courage and investigative brio of her methods must be a vital weapon in the dismantling of Trump’s agenda, a thing surely to be embraced and wielded and fuelled.
I said it at the time and I’ll say it again — she’s not the one.
Her selective hijacking of liberal bugbears does not make her a great ally in a great fight: in fact her almost hysterical banging of the deep Russia conspiracy drum reads like a boy-who-cried-wolf obsession that has the effect of diminishing the more feasible aspects of the story, making the whole affair sound like an improbably bizarre plot to cede American society to Kremlin control one citizen at a time. While I don’t buy into the red herring rather wickedly floated by Milo Yiannopoulos that at the time of the election she’d promised him “to take the Trump opposition so violently off into conspiracy theory… [that] he’d be guaranteed a second term”, her tactics could reasonably amount to the same outcome anyway, in terms of splintering cohesive efforts against Trump’s day-to-day agenda. This president stands for blind deregulation, for lining the pockets of the few at the expense of the many, a Randian highest-bidder sell-off of American infrastructure, land and values to whomsoever dovetails most closely with his skewed narcissism. The allegations and ramifications of the Trump team’s ties to Russia are damning and could well bring down his administration, but to split his critics into a binary of believers and deniers of blanket Russian influence oversimplifies and distracts from a more sinister force — the one that excuses the Trump team’s own interests in dismantling America, Russia-sponsored or otherwise. Either way, the photograph of her snakily cosying up with Yiannopoulos should give us all a shiver.
I don’t dispute that, however unseemly, there are people who hold forthright attitudes on liberal issues like women’s rights at the same time as being rooted in economic Conservatism. But Mensch adheres to the kind of sneering, entitled Toryism that consistently treats those on the left with at best contempt, and at worst, a deeply intransigent, bitter superiority in which facts come a distant second-best to invective-laden point-scoring. Whether it be defaming Jeremy Corbyn supporters for using search terms that in fact were in her own search history or hectoring, insulting, and even doxxing the numerous detractors of her politics, she shows a remarkable lack of humility, open-mindedness, let alone basic civility: all things surely fundamental to the liberal mindset. Not only is she not on the team, she’s gone as far as defending white supremacist murderers and implying that the Ferguson protests were Russian-sponsored. She’s not the one.
Whether one queries her motives or not, hers is a unique brand of libertarian intolerance whose most divisive effect is to fudge and fake the real issues. In the hands of Mensch, the skewed take on an issue of the day is her own well-established precursor to our recent idea of ‘fake news’. She’s been peddling ideologically-weighted claptrap for two years on Heat Street, a Murdoch-owned, gossip-mag version of Breitbart News, but long before that her style of indignant, withering attacks on the left had started to become a tiresomely predictable part of British political discourse, something that was to become all too familiar by the time of the Brexit vote (yes, she’s pro-Brexit too, of course).
Luckily, it didn’t take long for some of the more considered voices in the anti-Trump lobby to wise up to her tactics and call her out for the vitriolic conspiracist she is. Sarah Kendzior and Malcolm Nance, alongside those who’ve been treated far more harshly by her, have now identified her as dangerous, motivated by her own mysterious intentions than any desire for the greater good. Quite why she, cheered by a chorus of misguided supporters, felt the need to either make up — or fallaciously attribute to an unreliable source — the certainty that ‘articles of impeachment’ were being considered by the Supreme Court in May (a complete misunderstanding of the impeachment process) and continue to stick to such nonsense after repeated proof of its spuriousness, is bafflingly, although conforms to a more probable explanation—that the world according to Mensch is exactly how she imagines it and nothing else. Even the most staunch anti-Trumpers are finally discovering that whatever truths do come to light are at least a more powerful starting point than a self-serving fiction that only apes this administration’s own worst excesses.
But Louise Mensch’s stock (and her Twitter following) is on the rise and after all, that’s the point. The internet’s full of self-serving right-wing firebrands spouting off: it’s where they propagate. Nothing speaks better of ‘patriotic exceptionalism’ and ‘libertarian freedom’ than the ability to blog or broadcast one’s own brand of self in the most malodorous, uncompromising terms – to be a lone, scything voice of personal dogma. What’s unfortunate is watching swathes of the wishful follow down the rabbit-hole, led on by yet more dubiously-sourced tidbits of the surefire demise of all that ails us. She has already invoked a whole new series of unhinged conspiracy hashtags that hint darkly of ulterior forces manipulating not only government, but various groups and individuals on Twitter and beyond. Mensch, abetted by a ring of willing lieutenants like Claude Taylor and John Schindler, is serving up a tasty Kool-Aid which promises to cleanse us of this dastardly regime — one which supposedly is a mere swallow away from collapse.
Don’t be so eager to put your lips to the cup. There’s no shortcut to the truth: there is much work yet to do.