Leonard Cohen once prophesied ‘Democracy is coming, to the USA’. But despite its lyrical brilliance I highly doubt he would have pictured Donald Trump ever becoming America’s president when ‘Democracy’ was penned twenty-five years ago. I recognise there’s something macabre about juxtaposing this, despite the highly coincidental timing of Donald Trump’s remarkable election victory with Cohen’s death two days later, but the sequencing of the two events is perfectly emblematic of what seems like an insidious moral and intellectual decline. I’m not saying this is actually the case, but it feels as though we’ve been steadily edging towards the cliff edge for the last fifteen years, and now we’re on the precipice, and that the steep fall’s yet to come. It’s as though we’re through the looking glass. We live in a world where life is closely imitating a highly satirical Simpson’s episode. How bizarre can things get?
On a broader level the events of the last two years have reminded me of the ending to the movie Easy Rider, and specifically a quote by Wyatt towards the end; ‘We blew it’. It’s a perfect analogy for our contemporary political peculiarities and disengaged age. When I first saw the ending to Easy Rider it got to me, how could they end it like that, man? That’s fucked up, and deeply unfair, like a stab to the gut. But when applied to the current context it now makes total sense, and in a way it was justifiably karmic. Wyatt and Billy were hedonistic opportunists out to make money with little regard for anything or anyone else and they hid behind the laissez-faire thinking and spiritualism of the movement to justify it. Only once the drug deal had been completed did Wyatt realise the hollowness of their goal, and not long after, both he and Billy were to find out it was too late to rectify their mistake.
While Brexit and Trump’s election could unquestionably hold dire and unforeseen consequences for many (regardless of what they believe or how they voted), both events can be seen as a karmic rebuttal for all those angry and smug columnists, tweeters, analysts and political commentators who have anointed themselves as the centre left consensus of sensibleness ‘among the sea of idiotic extremes’ they’ve been betrayed by. Perhaps it’s the shock they needed? In recent years this pious lot have been complacently ignoring the seismic changes happening around them, instead they contented themselves by spewing demeaning rhetoric from their cubicles and digital echo chambers with clichéd articles berating and blaming those who don’t agree with them (pointlessly too, as they are never likely to read their material) often just to pursue a micro issue that’s important to them, or, worse than that, just to score points on the internet.
It’s just a thought, and as I’ve come to realise recently, but perhaps people’s motivations are more complex than they appear? Forget those who visibly oppose your views with direct abusive feedback which you can then use to validate your superiority, what about the silent majority, who often keep their beliefs to themselves? How do you reckon those who voted for and with Donald Trump and Nigel Farage react to being derided en masse by this destructive soapboxing as a combination of greedy, stupid, impressionable, delusional, xenophobic, misogynistic, racist, sexist and bigoted? Perhaps we could recognise that capitulating to the antithesis of thought, namely diplomacy and empathy, to counteract discord and dishonesty is true stupidity.
But sadly it’s far easier (as I’m doing here) to write condescending articles in an effort to prove how clever and right you are than offering constructive ideas or solutions for stuff. That shit’s too hard. Think about it – using sweeping generalisations to patronise the poor and uneducated, and attack the educated and affluent who vote to keep what they’ve earned, is, when you reduce it down, just as selfish and shallow as voting to leave the EU because you don’t like immigrants.
Folk much cleverer and better read than me, and who are better writers, will offer more thorough and convincing takes than that and this: but it’s clear now that Reaganism and Thatcherism have succeeded. They made it not only acceptable but logical to embrace opportunism over altruism. Combine this majority inclination with digitalism, cynically manufactured hysteria towards shite like Terrorism after the 11th of September attacks (a hysteria which hasn’t died down since) and the rise of social media, and society has become even more fractured when technology, in theory at least, should have had the opposite effect. Today if you don’t like someone’s views or they strongly disagree with what you believe something stands for (not if it actually does, that doesn’t matter), you can just block them, avoid certain articles and publications or never visit these enclaves on the net. It’s never been easier to insulate yourself from the opposing view.
The result? Democracy and political journalism are now almost entirely tribalistic endeavours – a cheap way to separate yourself from otherness; I did or said this therefore I’m not them, and I want you to know that; on Facebook, on Twitter, in a soundbite, in a speech or in some other public form. So many of us only care about how we’re perceived by our like-minded peers, are interested in ourselves generally or concerned with what we want to believe. This is a lack consideration for others, and it’s a problem, as, in the end, it solves absolutely nothing.
Well, fuck, this piece was a shitey rambling hypocritical mess, but, well, I’m not getting paid for it, nor is it to be published in the Guardian or the Times. Plus, I’m not calling you stupid, telling you what to believe in or how you should vote, so it’s got that going for it.
So, yeah, what of the future? Well, right now Lenny, as he tended to be, is completely (and unfortunately in this case) right, and I reckon he’s exiting stage left at just the right time too: