I have never flashed a stranger in my life.
I thought I better get that out there (no pun intended) at the start. One of the current trends that annoys me the most is the need to state things which, in a mature and civil society, shouldn’t need stating.
I’m also not a serial killer.
It’s probably a symptom of social media, which strips people back to their almost animalistic behaviour, such that we need to restate that we are indeed civilised.
I don’t squash baby animals for performance art.
And I also suppose this is the bit where I have to write: “He/Him, believes in democracy and the rule of law, GSOH”.
So, let me repeat that: yes, I believe in law and order. I was brought up to respect the police. I bear them no ill will. Yet, I do have to admit, the current focus on “law and order” politics does rile me up.
It was hardly surprising to see it happen in the US. I’ve been saying for two or three years that Trump would run the 2020 election on the radicalism of the Left. Never has there been a US politician as easy to read as Trump. That’s why it was so important that the Democrats nominate somebody as boringly moderate as Joe Biden. He wasn’t the best candidate in the race. He was, however, the one that Trump would find hardest to style as the next Che Guevara.
Without a properly loopy radical to run against, Trump needed to drag that madness in from somewhere else. That’s why the death of George Floyd became so big. It wasn’t that the death was so awful that it moved a nation but that it came at a time when the social injustices feel particularly acute. The November election is already turning into a dirty race that will further magnify the corruption inherent in gerrymandering and voter intimidation. This was why Trump worries about “voter fraud”. He wants to force all those black voters who skew hugely towards the Democrats into busy polling stations, perhaps amid a second coronavirus wave, in which case they might not vote at all. If he can also make protestors seem “radical” and violent, he will think he can grab victory because of all those quiet Republicans and independents who will feel compelled to save themselves from the violent socialists by voting Trump.
Or so he hopes. The remarkable story about the US protests is how little rioting we’ve seen. That’s not to say there have been some examples of particularly nasty confrontations but we live in the age of social media. With enough cameras pointing at reality on any one day, it would be easy to get a shot of anything up to and including a smoky bear dancing the polka. No, what has become big is the story about the police, caught too often meting out violence to peaceful protestors. They’ve been seen pushing over old men, pepper-spraying innocent bystanders, shooting people with rubber bullets from blank range, firing pepper balls into people’s homes, and, of course, doing all of the above at journalists knowing full well they were journalists. Then there was the spectacle surrounding Trump’s photo op with a bible.
Trump hopes that people are dumb enough to overlook all of that and to fall back on their old prejudices. He hopes to inflame that 50% of America that is still white against the 50% that aren’t.
I doubt if he succeeds and every political sense I possess tells me that he’s in for a drubbing in November. Those are the same political senses that said he’d win in 2020. This time there are huge differences, not least the polls in key states which are looking terminal for him. That’s not saying this is over. A lot can happen between now and November but I suspect that people aren’t as bad as what Trump believes.
But then I look at the UK and I begin to wonder…
This is why I avoid social media. I woke up feeling bright after a couple of days of rest/recovery. My sinuses have eased and I feel considerably better. I watched SpaceX launch some satellites. I love anything to do with space. Feels like we’re watching the evolution of our species in real-time. “People are good” as they say in that episode of Community before they prove that people are actually evil.
And then I checked Twitter…
The comment was from a long time Twitter friend. It was innocuous. A compliment even. This friend said that my argument (in my last Reaction piece) was sensible but that we still need law and order.
I felt my stomach knot. I’d never discussed law and order. My article had nothing to do with law and order. This was that moment you assume must be in some episode of Columbo…
“Who mentioned that Mr Jones was murdered with a knife? Only I knew that…”
This remark reminded me of the thing that has really been bothering me for days, even as I didn’t feel well enough to write about it.
The very fact that the Black Lives Matter protests keep being reduced to a debate about law and order is precisely why we have Black Lives Matter protests. Here we have another chance to address some of the social injustice in our country and, instead, we are distracted by a few minor scuffles between police and protestors, one statue of a seventeenth-century slave trader at the bottom of Bristol harbour, and a few words scribbled on the side of Churchill’s statue in Westminster.
Said in an Australian accent whilst wearing crocodile skin underpants: You call that a riot?
I’m old enough to remember the miner’s strike. Old enough to remember the Poll Tax riots. Then there were the London riots in 2011. As I sit here on the morning of Saturday, 13th June, nothing about the BLM protests have looked anything like the kind of riots that would finally (reluctantly) bring a London mayor back from his holiday (no, not Sadiq, but Boris in 2011).
Yet we fall for it all the time and excuse it with some argument like: “I believe in the meaning of the protests but…”
The best motto I’ve heard in the past couple of years came (ironically enough) from Twitter. I wish I remember who said it so I could tip my hat (also crocodile skin) to them. “Everything before a ‘but’ is bullshit”. It’s good because it’s generally right. Here we are again not talking about the issue. Instead, we are distracted by the huge “but”. We were never going to have that conversation, were we?
The cynical part of me does wonder if MI5 have a spray can unit ready at a moment’s notice to spray something saucy on Churchill’s statue. It really is that easy to redirect the national conversation. It’s the Trumpian logic that a fearful nation will eventually stand behind the establishment. Even The Guardian does it. “BLM protestors given 5 pm curfew by Met police” reads the headline on their website this morning. Dig a little deeper and you find the reason. “Demonstrators urged to stay away from London this weekend due to fears of clashes with far-right.”
Notice how it’s the protests being framed by the curfew, implying it’s the protestors who are already squaring up to the law? Why isn’t the headline “Far-Right given 5 pm curfew by Met Police”? Why isn’t is a headline that reflects the complexity of the situation? “Fear of violence as far-right and BLM protestors meet in London”?
Again, and lastly, I don’t defend rioting. I don’t defence violence. I don’t defend mobs of any kind. I do defend the need to have a sensible debate without the government turning a different bigger mob, united by “public opinion”, against people with a valid argument to make. This is why nothing gets done in this country. We are all Homer Simpson admitting in one breath “I have a very short attention span” before running out the door shouting “oh, look! A bird!”
I also don’t own any crocodile skin clothing.