What better persons to aid and abet that than the Alpha and the Omega of British populism on US television: Nigel Farage and Katie Hopkins.
One day I happened to stumble on Fox & Friends, Fox News’ breakfast show, where the President of the United States gets most of his information. The show has three presenters: two men – ‘guys’ and a ‘girl’.
The ‘guys’ are what the French would call convives: like people who meet up and regularly have a meal together. The ‘girl’ is always dressed in a dress which stops just above the knees, is usually sleeveless and in primary colours. Like a box of crayons.
Fox takes great pride in reminding its viewers that some of the ‘girls’ have law degrees, etc. This is true. It’s part of Fox’s overall mission to prove that you don’t have to be Hillary Clinton to have a law degree.
Launched in 1996 with the frankly brilliant idea of bringing right wing talk radio to the living room screen, Fox News’ main targets have always been Bill and Hill and their political descendants. It has triumphed in the election, to the highest office in the land, of reality television star and business tycoon, Donald J. Trump, for whom the term ‘unfit for office’ was invented.
Fox & Friends broadcasts in a studio whose windows are street level and wide. The street looks like Fifth Avenue to me and the Rockefeller Centre area of New York City. Which, if true, is the funniest thing about the network.
Because in the same area is NBC – its nemesis, and home of Trump Take-Down show: Saturday Night Live. Trump has made SNL great again so to speak, and NBC is riding high off it. Past its windows walk the citizens of the ‘Clinton Archipelago’, the ‘coastal elites’ which Rupert Murdoch’s money spinner was invented to destroy.
Fox & Friends allows the dwindling number of citizens of MAGA – ‘Make American Great Again’ – a chance to set their clocks and their faces toward the task of the day: destroying the liberal consensus. What better persons to aid and abet that than the Alpha and the Omega of British populism: Nigel Farage and Katie Hopkins.
The importance of the British accent in the United States cannot be underestimated. Even though America made its name and gained its independence through a war against Britain, the fascination with British culture (ie, English middle class culture) and British voices continues.
Southern slave holders imagined themselves in the time of King Arthur, when ‘knighthood was in flower’. They named the African people they bought and sold and ‘bred’ after characters from Shakespeare. They took tea. And a woman was ‘Ma’am’. Churchill, whose mother was an American heiress, played on this US obsession with all things English in order to save the UK. A comedian back then said that Churchill spent more time in New York than in London during the war. Thank goodness he did.
The Beatles also understood that they had to create a kind of fantasy England – part Lewis Carroll, part Metro Goldwyn Mayer UK – so that they could top the charts and make money.
So do Hopkins and Farage, and to a certain extent David Cameron’s ex–guru, Steve Hilton, who represent on Fox that English ‘authority’. Hilton aside, the ‘Englishness’ of Farage and Hopkins gives credence and weight to a view of this country broadcast to Fox’s core audience: what Shakespeare called the ‘rude mechanicals’. The UK is cowed: by Europe; by Whitehall; by its own citizens. The UK (always read this to mean: ‘England’) has a hidden core waiting to be released. Suppressed by the forces of ‘political correctness’ and a timidity bred by decades of the Attlee State, the UK awaits the arrival of the Strong Man From Trump Tower to set it free. Nigel Farage digs deep into this scenario, and serves it up piping hot.
Maybe it’s me, but when I happen to catch Farage on Fox, I always get the feeling that behind his hand, Nige is smirking; patting the shoulder of some invisible cove in the pub, and saying: ‘Listen to this, mate!’ They must enjoy him out in MAGA. He’s kinda like Henry Higgins.
But it’s Katie Hopkins who is, to use a good old New York expression, ‘off the chain’. She’s part of something new and insidious.
Hopkins appeared on Fox & Friends to comment on the atrocities on London Bridge and in Borough Market. She described a London cowed; frightened; reeling in fear. She had once called for internment, an idea so abhorrent that Farage called her out on it.
Even Fox News backed away. One of the presenters said later during the programme: ‘I think I made it well-known my feeling on that, which I find reprehensible, but on behalf of the network, I think all of us here find that idea reprehensible here at Fox News Channel. Just to be clear.’ The guy was clearly shaken.
The Russian-American writer, Masha Gessen, a refugee from Putin’s Russia, writes frequently about the dangers of Donald Trump and his ilk. Gessen sees what she believes is the beginning of not only a fascist state, but worse: a fascist mind-set. She recognises the destruction of fact itself and the insistence on fact as one of the early systems.
In her latest piece she describes a student asking her if it was better to exaggerate, even to lie, in the face of exaggerations and lies. Wasn’t that the best defence, the best way to be heard? Gessen replied that it was necessary now to protect our political environment. We must protect it against the opposite reaction to a Trump and a Hopkins, which can be just as destructive: the reactive suppression of free speech which we find repugnant and unacceptable.
She points out that a Trump as Commander In Chief of the most powerful military in the history of the world would have been unimaginable in the past. That he would try and replace the government of the US with a military and police headquarters.
And who would believe that, here, this nation, instead of attempting to reform and correct a huge economic and cultural entity, would seek to leave it instead. We watch as the most unsuitable person imaginable becomes the nation’s top diplomat, and we want to fight back with our own ‘hyperinflation’.
But Gessen warns that this approach merely fuels the atmosphere; one created by those whose aim is to destroy civil society itself. Fox & Friends, of course, asked Hopkins to comment on the London attacks.
She had the air – deliberate or not – of a person reporting from a bunker, while outside blood ran in the streets. The presenters also brought up the term ‘global warming’ – a dog-whistle to their base. This entered the conversation because it could become a talking point, a less complicated one than ‘radical Islamic terrorism’, their favourite phrase and one which Trump has adopted.
Hopkins assured them that the people of London didn’t give a hoot about all that, it was ‘Muslims’ and the failure of the Muslim mayor ‘Sadiq Can’t’ to reign this all in. She was almost hyperventilating as she described The Fear. And then she said that Mayor Khan had taken the Oath of Office on the Koran.
Khan took up his office in that bastion of radical Islam: Southwark Cathedral. I was on the stage next to Sadiq – just a few feet from him. He did check his watch. But maybe he was going off to get a horoscope drawn up.
As I recall and looking back over the videos, there wasn’t any Oath as such. He was given a book to sign and then made a speech whose first lines were something like: ‘I’m the Mayor Of London’. I thought this was apt since Khan is a Tooting lad born and bred. And also he won more votes than anyone who has ever run for political office in the UK in its entire history. Ever.
The people of MAGA are used to political hyperventilation if they watch Fox News, even if they don’t know it. But Hopkins paints a dangerous and distorted picture of the Mayor, of London, of the UK in general for the Twitler-In-Chief who religiously watches.
But maybe Katie Hopkins doesn’t care. Or worse, somewhere she believes that the world she conjures up is real.
We have to protect our own sense of reality – reality itself – from the hyperinflation of a Hopkins, of the Breitbart nomenklatura and Fox News. And try not to do it ourselves. But it’s not easy.
So I applaud LBC for its, and Hopkins’, mutual decision to part company. Not because she should be denied a public life. But there are phrases and points of view that we still don’t flaunt, don’t tamper with. There’s too much at stake now. For LBC to continue to allow Hopkins to broadcast would have been a failure to something bigger than them both.