One of the worst things about growing up in the north of England was constantly being surrounded by folk who didn’t beat around the bush, called a spade a spade and weren’t afraid to tell it like it is.
By this, I don’t mean people who tell you things you might not want to hear, but dare to do so out of concern for a greater good. I mean people who say tactless, offensive and/or untrue things – as people are wont to do anywhere – but assume that their words gain authenticity and nobility simply on account of them being uttered in a hammy regional accent.
Middle-class people can be the worst offenders for this. Turns out you can be as racist and sexist as the nastiest Bullingdon brute, but if you can make yourself sound like Vera Duckworth, you’re merely voicing what “the people” really think. It doesn’t matter if you’re actually a home-owning, university-educated accountant from the Lake District. Express enough contempt for foreigners or women or indeed any of those groups so beloved of “the elite” and you can rest assured you’ll be keeping it real.
These days I’m not sure you even have to do the accent any more. As long as you’ve said enough things that “nobody’s allowed to say anymore” it will be assumed that you have the common touch. You can be a millionaire standing in a gold-plated lift and still you can claim to know what really matters, what real people really think. And in your mind, what real people really think is: difference is threatening; white skin is best; male bodies and minds are best.
Sure, plenty of people deny it – most people, in fact, due to “the scourge of political correctness” – but they’re simply not being honest. Even those who aren’t white and/or male know, deep down, that they are inferior. That identity politics is bullshit. That “equality” is a bizarre form of benevolence, or even pity. Pat the ladies on the head. Praise the immigrants for their dignity, or diligence, or whatever euphemism one wishes to use to suggest the absence of thought. It’s what liberal people do as a form of entertainment, because it makes them feel good, because they can afford to indulge in these idiotic fantasies, in which human beings have worth simply because they are fellow humans. Rest assured, it’s not what they really believe.
At the heart of today’s “post-truth politics” lies the assumption that everyone, if only they would admit it, feels threatened by the other. That the liberal elite lie in a way that white, wealthy men of the people such as Trump or Farage do not lie, insofar as the former lie about feelings, not facts. This is a worse sin: to pretend you’re not filled with hate and fear and fury at the sight of people who are not like you. Because of course, it could not be possible – it would be simply unimaginable – that compassion and empathy could be anything other than “virtue signalling.” That an instinctive sense of kinship could constitute anything more than some self-serving, narcissistic performance. That a failure to wish harm on others could be anything other than a luxury that only the over-educated can afford.
According to The Federalist’s John Daniel Davidson, writing in The Observer, Donald Trump emerged on the political scene as “a rough character, a boisterous celebrity billionaire with an axe to grind”:
He had palpable disdain for both political parties, which he said had failed the American people. He showed contempt for political correctness that was strangling public debate over contentious issues such as terrorism.
Go Donald! You show the establishment how it is! The “celebrity billionaire” seems pointed – one can be a celebrity billionaire and a man of the people not least because there are some who might find celebrity billionaire-dom vulgar. But vulgarity is what’s wanted, is it not? Isn’t restraint a form of snobbery?
That most of us already know from bitter experience that there is nothing original about Trump’s naked hate – that Trump is no different from the tight-lipped patriarch at the family dinner table, the lairy racist on the street corner, the frat boy rapist, the playground bully – barely seems to register. Mundane reality – racism, sexism, exploitation – seems exotic, imaginary even, to the likes of Davidson. We are supposed to pause and take stock of this alternative fact, to wring our hands, to confess to all the ways in which identity politics has failed the common masses. If we daren’t yet venture into out-and-out racism (that is, if we are cowards), we should at least make some noises in that direction, mumble something vague about “wage depression” and “threatened communities.” That’s the way to become credible: hate signalling, hinting at resentments you don’t even think are valid.
To be honest in the actual, real sense of the word, to say what you really believe, is something else. I don’t dare say in full what I think about those who supported Trump, those who insisted Clinton was just as bad as him, those who voted for Britain to leave the EU. Funnily enough, that’s a form of straight talking no one appreciates. It sounds, so I’m told, smug, superior, elitist. In other words, to people who see the entire world as a mirror, it sounds as though it’s not about them.
They simply don’t believe in our compassion, our hurt, our desire. They can’t believe we’re not fixated on their response. They still insist we can’t accept those who call a spade a spade, even when it’s a gun and a jackboot.
They are not being honest with themselves.