Heartattack And Vine is on the CD player – lyrical happenstance for the mad decline of Donald Trump, with the title track’s opening refrain of “Liar liar with your pants on fire…”
Tom Waits is on to something here.
Before we set off along that corkscrew track, here are wise words from a sometimes darkly amused observer of modern political life. It’s Ian Hislop, editor of the veteran satirical magazine Private Eye. Here goes: “The biggest challenge is to overcome people’s relatively recent decision that anything in the mainstream media must be untrue, while anything they read online from someone’s bedroom is clearly absolute fact.”
Mistrust of the mainstream media can have many causes, some deserved and others not. Donald Trump didn’t invent this mistrust but he weaponised that lack of trust. And he was aided and abetted in that task by super-partisan news outlets such as Fox News in the US and almost any newspaper marked by Rupert Murdoch’s thumbprint. Incidentally, how did Murdoch manage to jump the vaccine queue well ahead of the Queen, Prince Philip and my mum?
Somewhere along the way, news as told by such outlets stopped being a report of something that had happened and became instead a blatantly one-sided telling that suited the teller; or suited the owner who paid the teller.
That, surely, is one of the reasons we ended up with Brexit, with so many newspapers blindly toeing the Leave line, their editors ordered in that direction. Too many newspapers told obvious lies about Brexit, while the fair-minded BBC did us a disservice by elevating Nigel Farage in the spirit of hearing both sides.
That, surely, is how the world ended up being misled by slogans – “Make America Great Again”, “Take Back Control”, “Get Brexit Done”.
That, surely, is how we were blindsided by meaningless catchphrases designed to make us look to the imagined blue yonder rather than at what we were about to tread in.
And that, the more you look at it, is why Trump and Brexit are twins, Tweedledum and Tweedledee in the neo-liberal nursery rhyme of modern life.
Trump made lying the new political truth. A four-year experiment in telling nuclear whoppers ended last week when an armed mob of right-wing loons invaded the US Congress to stop Joe Biden’s victory being certified. They were urged on by Trump, who hymned them as “patriots”, before later condemning their actions in a robotic statement he’d clearly he forced to deliver.
Just think of that: the departing president fomented a riot that looked like a coup – and all because he won’t admit that he lost the election.
Towards the beginning of Trump’s tawdry reign, I was teaching journalism at university. One line I trundled out about Trump was that the ‘fake news’ he decried was only fake when it declined to flatter him. Fake news that flattered him would have been fine to Trump.
Looking back, I was right and wrong about that. It is true that Trump wanted the news to serve only him. But there was more to it than that.
For Trump, undermining journalists was just part of his assault on established systems; traditional politics, science, social equality – all were smashed by the malign me-me. A madly egotistical wrecking ball destroying everything in the hope it would make himself stronger.
The world is well shot of him. But too many people will still believe what they “read online from someone’s bedroom”.
On a cheerier note, I do love the way assorted Tory MPs and ministers are furiously backtracking after previously having expressed sick-making admiration for the way Trump operated.
Never forget the self-basting words Trump spouted when Boris Johnson was elected prime minister – “They call him Britain Trump.”
Well, we call him many things nowadays. But I reckon ‘Britain Trump’ is one that should stick around, especially when his pals in the right-wing media are busy bashing out comment features insisting that Johnson is nothing like Trump.
Pants on fire all round, I fear.