Thursday, 9 June 2016

Peak Preaching

I had often seen photographs of Donald Trump. His ludicrous hairstyle was enough to make me think he was unlikely to be the ideal man for the job of President of the United States. Not because I think physical attributes matter, but because I think his decision to brush his hair frontwards so that it looks very peculiar is evidence that he has poor judgment.

Until a couple of days ago though, I had never seen or heard him speak. But, following a Tweeter's instructions, (I am a very obedient sort of person really), I clicked on a video link and actually saw Trump being interviewed. By the end of the clip I was genuinely baffled - and that's how I thought I would remain.

Why is this man so appealing, I wondered. In the interview, he kept repeating himself. He was not coherent. He appeared to have the kind of eyes that might concern you if he were your dog and you had to leave him alone with your children.

As often happens when I'm feeling in a bit of a muddle I decided to take a walk. And while I walked I thought I would take my mind off the disturbing puzzle of Donald Trump's popularity by listening to a podcast. The one I chose was from the London Review of Books. It was a recording of some kind of Edward Said memorial lecture. I don't know why I chose it as the speaker was Naomi Klein and I have never been a big fan of Naomi Klein. Perhaps my choice was a sign of poor judgment. Perhaps if I were a man I might brush my hair frontwards. I suspect we will never know. I hope not.

Anyway, unsurprisingly, given that this has been pretty much her one-note cry since she first came to prominence, Klein's message was essentially that we in the West are greedy and thoughtless and irredeemable. We have never acted from anything but self-interest, we are selfish and destructive and vile.

By the time I got home, I was feeling pretty downcast so I put away my podcast gadget and turned on the telly, hoping for something a bit cheering. A broadcast about the EU referendum in Britain appeared on the screen.

The programme featured, among others, Chris Patten, a Tory who was the last Governor of Hong Kong. In the course of his remarks about people who question the EU as an institution, he referred to their "spittle-flecked ways".

"Spittle-flecked"? I was shocked by the disdain in Patten's tone, the sneering. A snobbish sense of moral and intellectual superiority resonated in every syllable of the phrase.

Don't get me wrong - I am not a Remainian or a Brexiteer.  The EU question, it seems to me, is one where there are good arguments to be made on both sides. But let's leave it aside for the moment, as it wasn't the issue under discussion that attracted my attention when I listened to Patten's comment. What attracted my attention was the way that its tone echoed that of Naomi Klein in the lecture I'd just heard.

I imagine that Patten and Klein are probably not on the same side of politics, but at that moment I realised that they do have one thing in common. They are both elitists. They both belong in the overcrowded ranks of the self-righteous. They are both self-appointed celebrity opinion givers who, whenever they are given an opportunity, indulge their passion for telling others what to do and chastising their less enlightened, ("spittle-flecked") fellow citizens for their unspeakable stupidity. Klein's stock in trade is railing against the environmental, racist and gender-related errors of her fellows, not to mention their unforgivable flippancy in the face of inequality and inter-cultural misunderstanding. Patten appears to be armoured in a self-satisfaction built mainly on a belief that he is much, much cleverer than the riff-raff who make up the bulk of his nation's population.

Anyway, as Patten's contemptuous words boomed out of my telly, I heard the faint clink of a penny dropping in my head. Simultaneously, I was transported back several decades to a classroom in London where, as a six-year-old, I faced my most loathed - until that date, at least - teacher. Her name was Miss Pickard, and she couldn't bear me. I was too excitable, too exuberant, too clumsy, too impulsive and too eager. I was too alive, too untidy, too disorganised and too inclined to act before I thought. Proof of all this, of course, was that I was left-handed.

It was clear to me that Miss Pickard found me irretrievably revolting. Of course, I fully admit that I may have caused this situation myself, as very soon after we had encountered one another for the first time I had decided that she was prim, dull, shrewish, unimaginative and lacking in warmth.

I expected teachers to be enthusiastic and interesting. I didn't mind if they were quite odd, provided they amused me. If they had strict rules, I would obey them, provided they had gained my affection and respect. Miss Pickard did none of these things. Worse still, she loved rules purely for their own sake.

Miss Pickard - at least so it seemed from where I was standing, (and I do understand that when you are only three foot four your perspective may be skewed somewhat) - very much enjoyed imposing restrictions on her charges, even if those restrictions were unnecessary. On top of this, she exhibited no lovable characteristic quirks. Furthermore, she didn't appreciate such things in others. She wasn't intrigued by individuality. The qualities Miss Pickard held dear were neatness, quietness and orderliness. The norm she wanted us to conform to was that of a rule-observing, unquestioning, silent child, with no ink spotted about their uniform and no rips on their clothes or skin from tripping over in their rush to get to the playground. The more we deviated from that norm, the less she appreciated us.

It was very clear to me that I was never going to win Miss Pickard's approval. In those circumstances, my childish reaction was to flout her at every turn.

Could this be what is happening today in politics?  Is there a similarity between my reaction to Miss Pickard and the attitudes of Trump supporters? Are we seeing a spasm of hurt spite, a kind of bloody minded "up yours" to all those prominent disapproving elitists who have set themselves up as the custodians of correctness in our world? Is the Trump phenomenon, (and, as in so many things, Australia, I would like to point out, pioneered the clown politician figure when Mr Clive Palmer became a force to be reckoned with, [ah, patriotic pride]), caused by a rift in society? Are the people who claim to believe most fervently in democracy inflaming their fellow citizens with their keenness to lecture and their unwillingness to listen to large sections of the public whose points of view they regard as beneath contempt?

If the answer is yes, then the only solution is to reestablish communication between the two sectors. For that to happen, the Kleins and the Pattens, the Junckers and the Benedict Cumberbatchs and all the rest of the class of people who appear never to question their own rightness will need to learn to listen as well as to proclaim.

There is an urgency about this too. Because, judging by that interview, Donald Trump is a very frightening prospect indeed.

I hope that doesn't mean that I have crossed over and become one of the preachers I have just railed against. Oh well, let's cheer ourselves up with a bit of Dusty, who was fond of preachers' progeny apparently:


  1. I think you've hit the nail on the head. There is a elite of bien pensants who decide what is and isn't acceptable and most of my social media acquaintances have made it clear that they regard anyone who wants to leave the EU as a small-minded racist. My attempts to promote a more nuanced view (and remind them that one of the most prominent anti-EU politicians was Tony Benn) have fallen on deaf ears.

    I will stop here rather than rant, as I've just had my first glass (or two) of wine for the first time in a month.

    1. Oddly, given how many users seem to think it is precisely for that purpose, in my experience social media is the last place I would get into any kind of conversation about politics. And I agree, those who believe in the EU are as unquestioning as religious zealots and get furious if one suggests that it is not an entirely good thing, which is silly - no organisation is perfect. Whether or not it is wise to leave I can't decide but I do think it has an awful lot of worrying faults.

    2. The irony of a very rich white man supposedly representing the interests of the non- elites. The Yanks don't do irony!
      You fail to mention that the Republicans have, for at least the last thirty years, been harping on about taking Washington back from the ( East coast/ media) elites.
      Could it be that Trump and the Brexiters are appealing to racists and misogynists? What if a significant proportion of their followers actually are small- minded? I suppose it's "elitist" to call them out.

    3. Im still hoping Chris Matarazzo got it right:

      Tricked You
      Over at Hats and Rabbits, Chris has come up with the most wonderful scenario. He no longer has faith in it, but I shall cling to the dream regardless. Chris's scenario is that Donald Trump is playing a huge practical joke on the American public and very soon - any day now, (please) - he's going to turn round and say:

      "Look how far you let me push you, American people, to support the most negative and insensitive views! Look how you let me appeal to your reptilian brain instincts! Let this be a lesson to you: Don't let fear and hate drive your decisions. I am officially dropping out of the presidential race. It has all been an act. How could it have been anything else? Just don't forget how you almost voted for a guy who was clearly running a campaign that alluded to Hitleresque ideas..."

  2. I hope so too!

    Polly Toynbee writes, "elites are under attack in an anarchic way". Your post seems to confirm this, taking what Trump says at face value and by ignoring the fuelling of hatred and the scaremongering by the Right.

    1. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world et cetera
      (Hang on, I thought that was supposed to be allegorical, not actual.)