Noises Off: This is the nightmare quality of current events. That, beyond the wafer-thin screens of normality, vast beasts go prowling in the dark. We can hear them barking and roaring: sometimes far away; sometimes frighteningly close. There’s a skittering of claws on marble floors. Eyes glowing green in the shadows. And, try as we may, we cannot wake up. Painting by Otto Dix.
HOW CAN YOU TELL when a system is falling apart? That the load-bearing walls of everyday reality are beginning to weaken? The simple answer is absurdity. Words spoken and positions taken that simply make no sense. Behaviour that raises suspicion of complete madness. Sums that stubbornly refuse to add up.
Think about the extraordinary display put on by Australia’s governing party, the Liberal Party. What was that all about? For some time the party has been declining in the polls. So, what does it do? It convulses itself in a bloody and ultimately pointless bout of political fratricide. Hurling aside an urbane, accomplished and highly intelligent politician, Malcolm Turnbull, and replacing him with an intellectually stunted and morally vacuous religious zealot whose primary political accomplishments have been the persecution of refugees and the punishment of the poor. Entirely unsurprisingly, the Liberal’s primary vote has sunk to record lows.
Then there is the ongoing campaign by the United Kingdom’s liberal establishment to destroy Jeremy Corbyn. Unable to counter the Labour leader’s policies: for fear of exposing their unshakeable allegiance to the “loose affiliation of millionaires and billionaires” (thank you Paul Simon) that constitutes the actual government of the world; these ostensibly “progressive” politicians and journalists have embarked upon a barking-mad effort to paint Corbyn and his allies in the Labour Party as “antisemites”. By which they mean opponents of the State of Israel.
Now anyone who knows anything about Jeremy Corbyn (which includes the people who are levelling the charge of antisemitism against him) cannot possibly believe that he is prejudiced against Jews simply because they are Jews. Corbyn’s quarrel is with the ideology of Zionism, and with the unjust and often downright murderous actions of the Israeli state: a stance he has maintained with admirable consistency for more than thirty years.
Clearly, the prospect of such a man being just one general election away from No. 10 Downing Street is of profound concern to right-wing Israeli politicians and supporters of Zionism all around the world. That such people are attempting to undermine Corbyn is perfectly understandable. But, the campaign being waged against him on the pages of The Guardian isn’t about Israel – or Jewish people. It’s about something else; something all the more unnerving for being unspoken. It’s about who is entitled to govern the UK and who is not.
Corbyn constitutes an existential threat to the UK’s governing elites, whose formerly vice-like grip on the nation’s political and cultural institutions has been seriously weakened by a bottom-up political insurgency from the left of UK politics for which the veteran left-wing MP has acted as a lightning-rod. They are calling Corbyn an antisemite because they can’t plausibly call him a paedophile and because they are not yet desperate enough to call for his assassination.
That’s why it all sounds so mad. Like the accusations which Stalin levelled against the old Bolsheviks in the Moscow show-trials of the 1930s. They are lies – obvious and terrible lies – but with the power of the apparatus behind them they risk acquiring the character of Truth. So we go on reading the articles in The Guardian: noting the rising pitch of hysteria between every line; and the world lurches sideways under our feet.
And then we look at Donald Trump’s America, and Corbyn’s woes fade – overwhelmed by the dazzling image of the planet’s most powerful nation spontaneously combusting.
It’s all about race, of course. The whole history of the United States has been about race. About being white, or, more accurately about not being red, black, yellow or brown. The history of the United States of America is a series of evermore urgent reiterations of a consistent ruling-class strategy of making sure that the consciousness of class oppression is forever being displaced by the awareness of racial privilege.
The election of Barack Obama was the trigger. A black man in the White House was the ultimate symbol of white decline. From that moment on, a majority of white Americans were seized by a racial distemper that rotted their brains and inflamed their spleens. Though Trump has yet to speak or tweet the words explicitly, “Making America Great Again” has the ring of a genocidal call-to-arms. What else could it be? When demographic trends threaten to submerge white Americans in a diverse, multicultural morass?
When Trump talks about “draining the swamp” the assumption has always been that he is talking about cleaning up Washington DC. But what if he means draining away or diverting the waters that are lapping at the feet of white Americans? What if he intends to leave white America high and dry by simply getting rid of all those forces that are threatening to swamp it?
This is the nightmare quality of current events. That, beyond the wafer-thin screens of normality, vast beasts go prowling in the dark. We can hear them barking and roaring: sometimes far away; sometimes frighteningly close. There’s a skittering of claws on marble floors. Eyes glowing green in the shadows. And, try as we may, we cannot wake up.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 30 August 2018.