Yesterday, while blogging about the resignation of Theresa May, I mentioned her infamous ‘citizens of nowhere’ speech at the Conservative Party conference in 2016.
At the time, those words were seen as a clear attack on the pro-European, pro-EU, ‘Remain’ cosmopolitanism that many people were expressing after the referendum shock. Mrs May, it was judged, had taken a side in the culture war, and allying herself with a narrow nationalism.
Three years later, that phrase has become a damning shorthand for Theresa May’s hostility to migrants.
While writing my earlier blog post, I read the speech. And actually, the context of her ‘citizens of nowhere’ line is the culmination of an attack on… millionaire tax dodgers. Continue reading “Citizens of Nowhere: A revisionist history”
And now for some pedantry. Today I read two articles that both made the same definitional error.
First: In his new (and by all accounts, important) book Breaking News, Ex-Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger writes:
The germ of the idea had come from the Iraq war and the press’s role in aiding and abetting a conflict based on what now we would call fake news.
Second: In a powerful memoir of his time surviving and fighting in the Warsaw ghetto during the second world war, Stanisław Aronson writes:
The city was full of refugees, and rumours were swirling about mass deportations to gulags in Siberia and Kazakhstan. To calm the situation, a Soviet official gave a speech declaring that the rumours were false – nowadays they would be called “fake news” – and that anyone spreading them would be arrested. Two days later, the deportations to the gulags began, with thousands sent to their deaths.
Both writers take the term ‘fake news’ to mean ‘government misinformation’ but that is most certainly not what the term means. ‘Fake news’ is a very particular type of falsehood—that perpetrated by the media.
We don’t need a neologism for government misinformation. We already have a perfectly good word for that: Lying.
Since my ramble last week about the different ways in which Donald Trump could break America, I have been drawn to articles which seem to be saying the same thing, only better.
Ian Millhiser’s piece ‘Democrats will botch The resistance against Trump‘ is an good example. He catalogues the ways in which democracy itself might be undermined by a president and a ruling party intent on consolidating their power. Millhiser also notes the terrible conundrum liberals face, which is that ahrence to the Rule of Law can often award power to those who are eager to undermine the Rule of Law!
We have brought a sheet of parchment and a set of abstract principles to a knife fight. We’re going to get cut.
The pedant in me wants to point out that it’s also possible to get cut by paper… but the point is important. The article also cites the example of Thurgood Marshall, the first black justice appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States, who made the point that adherence to rules is crucial.
Justice Marshall taught Kagan that “it was the very existence of rules — along with the judiciary’s felt obligation to adhere to them — that best protected unpopular parties.” A liberal who casts aside the rule of law today because the cause seems just will have no ground to stand on tomorrow when the strong arm of the state is brought to bear against them.
Millhiser also links to an important post by historian Timothy Snyder, setting out a 20-point guide to defending democracy against a Trump presidency. The list sets out the ways in which democracy can be eroded and how dictators gather power to themselves. More importantly, it also offers ways to resist. We need to be mindful of the way politicians try to bend language and redefine what words mean (see, for example, how Republicans will try to claim a ‘mandate’ when they have none). And we should be particularly savvy and calm when some kind of terrorist atrocity occurs, as one inevitably will.
Those in the legal profession and in law enforcement have a particular rôle to play. Judges, lawyers and gun-carrying police officers need a strong sense of professional ethics and have faith in those principles.
One practical thing the rest of we can and should do now is to draw attention to the different kinds of Every Day Resistance that Snyder suggests. A large part of the task is a mental one: refusing to buy in to the framing that powerful people seek to impose on any given situation. It is a also a challenge of communication: using the platforms at our disposal to push back against shoddy thinking in the media and against the lazy non sequuntur of those in power, even if the stakes seem relatively small (that’s something I try to do with this blog). Happily, modern technology has made us well equipped to do this. There has been much chat recently about how social media puts us inside an opinion ‘bubble’, but remain optimistic that it can also fortify us against the mental trickery that demagogues and propagandists would play upon us, and embolden everyone to resist at moments when they must.