Never mind Post-Fact politics, we’re in the age of Post-Consequence politics.
Watergate these days would be no big deal. No lie is too big, no promise too badly broken, no hypocrisy too blatant that it’ll do any lasting damage to a politician’s ratings. All that matters is that you dog-whistle to the right part of your polarised audience and they’ll follow you unquestioningly — as long as you never stop pandering, pandering, pandering. After all, what else are they going to do, vote for the “enemy”?
I know it sounds like I’m ranting about Trump, and I *am* ranting about Trump, but it’s also about the UK, the Referendum, the last General Election, the tabloids, and the seemingly goldfish-like attention span of the electorate.
Increasingly, it feels like nothing will stick to you provided you position yourself as anti-establishment. Apparently it doesn’t matter that you couldn’t be more establishment if you were a millionaire with your own seat in the Diogenes Club. Just tell everyone you’re an outsider. It’s a consensual mass hallucination.
Better yet, make it clear that what you really mean by anti-establishment is anti-political correctness. Anti-social justice. Anti-feminism. Tell them we’ve had enough of all that awkward, discomfiting more-secular-than-thou nonsense about rights and intersectionality. It’s getting so no-one can say anything any more. They just want a politician who can say the unsayable, tell it like it is, talk about the things you’re not allowed to say any more. You know: those things mainstream politicians have been saying constantly on every news broadcast for the last 10 years.
Trump is Gamergate. He’s Rabid Puppies. He’s Men’s Rights Activists. He’s far-right nationalists. He’s UKIP. They’re all fundamentally the same worldview.
It’s hard for me not to see Trump, Farage and May as all of a piece. They’ve collectively moved the narrative around race and immigration to the point where prejudice unfounded by evidence can be positioned as respecting the genuine fears of ordinary hard-working people. (You may not see May in the same camp as the other two politicians, but she’s spent years peddling outright falsehoods about immigration and human rights with the best of them. And look how that held her back.)
I’m sure it’s possible to be concerned about immigration without being racist. But for every voter in an inner city riven by cultural whitewater rapids, there’s the people in the cosy 95% white areas who’ve never met an asylum seeker in their lives. Are their fears equally genuine? Maybe. But they’re not necessarily rational. They’re not founded in personal experience. Like many beliefs, they’re a synthesis of what other people think: the fears of other people; the myths peddled by politicians; the barrage of tabloid distortions. The stuff that’s in the social ether. Fear of immigrants is as much a political and social and media construct as it is a huge groundswell of popular opinion. It may be a deep well of frustration but it’s one that was pump-primed by politicians and ripe for exploitation.
These days, it seems, a politician who taps into that reservoir can do no wrong, and need fear no consequences.