How normalising Breitbart News energises the victory of racists
PUBLISHED: 15:32 23 November 2016 | UPDATED: 11:02 30 November 2016
The "post-truth" era is upon us and we must fight to stop it becoming the norm, argues Bonnie Greer
The Oxford dictionary word of the year is “post-truth”.
Post-truth is not the truth, of course, but an obfuscation of it. Above all, its erasure, its obliteration.
Online is the home of post-truth. This is so much so that Mark Zuckerberg is being called to task for allowing Facebook to become the nesting ground for Macedonian clickfarms, the generators of this apocalyptic phenomenon.
A clickfarm might create a phony website masquerading as a Western media giant, for example ABC News. One such site stated that Denzel Washington had exhorted his fans to support Donald Trump.
This is a lie, of course, but it spread all over the world, and since an increasingly large number of people get their news online, somewhere this kind of lie sticks. It becomes the truth of the person who wants to, maybe needs to, believe it.
It becomes post-truth.
Just before the American election, I was asked to appear on the BBC to debate against a Trump supporter. I readily agreed.
My opposite number turned out to be Raheem Kassam, editor-in-chief of Breitbart London. I changed my mind and I made it public.
I did this because Breitbart is one of the drum majorettes of post-truth, a loud and proud purveyor of stuff that harms and helps to destroy civic society.
I don’t have anything against Kassam personally. I don’t know the guy. My problem is the part his employers played in the Trump ascendancy, that textbook of “normalisation”.
Because to have appeared with Raheem would have been to normalise Breitbart and sites like it. It helps to create, nurture, promulgate and give power to a wider culture that denigrates women for starters.
So why is Breitbart, and soon no doubt far worse news sites, given airtime at all?
It’s because we are entering the era of normalisation - a term that I predict will be up there with post-truth as one of 2017 most used.
Normalisation makes words, points of view and behaviours equivalent to what is expected and needed in a society in order for it to remain civilised. We humans are always five minutes away from savagery.
The rule of law, civility and all the stuff you’re encouraged to practice and understand is put against things you were weaned away from as a baby - brutality, ignorance.
So normalisation makes a right-wing news site equivalent, to say, Liberation. It says that they have the same legitimacy, the same right to occupy the space where you listen, make up your mind as to how you will see the world. As to how the world is.
Nomalisation allows Andrew Marr to interview Marine Le Pen on Sunday morning television. Marr’s inability to react to Le Pen’s outrage when he used the word “racist” in reference to her party, the National Front, is an example of the pedestal-building and demagogue-enabling going on right now.
It is the failure to see that normalisation is our clear and present danger that will make us begin to accept things, say things that would lead to creating a society where the brutal is normal and death happens to “The Others”.
This trend energises the victory of racists, for example. Who would have thought that calling for the “extreme vetting” of a people based on their religion would enable a person to win the highest office in the world?
In this new era of normalisation, to call someone a racist, an anti-Semite is to give them a thrill, an affirmation of the universe they inhabit. A white supremacist, a homophobe, a misogynist can’t be debated out of their affliction. Debating itself gives them an air of rightness, of being able to occupy the same space.
You cede territory to barbarity every time these forces are acknowledged and there can be no compromise. No “getting along” and “making the best of it”. Because to do that is to collude. Which is what normalisation does.
It’s impossible to discuss or debate a woman’s right to choose if women are less than human, tools for pleasure or work. You cannot discuss the news about a news item that is false. How can you be in the same space with a climate-change denier or a creationist who believes that God magicked up the world in seven days?
It’s OK to celebrate openly a man who wants to build a wall. It’s great to have on television people who see other human beings as much less than them, and soon, this point of view will be taught. Because that’s the era we’re in.
A teacher in America recently was suspended because he compared Trump to Hitler: “I didn’t say that he was Hitler. I just wanted to show the comparisons. I’m a history teacher.”
Breitbart and sites like it are rejoicing because they think they scored a victory. “We won. Get over it”, they screech. And and the danger is that we will stop being outraged as soon as we see what they say and think as normal.
I was recently on a panel with Conrad Black, a man whose views I disagrees with, but who is erudite. When I heard his passionate plea for Trump, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. He explained that Trump wasn’t playing on the fears of white people, that he wasn’t a misogynist.
As I sat on the other side of the panel, I wondered for a moment how he had arrived to where he was. How could a man, who had written books of history support the views of a man who admitted himself that he did not read. A man who sees the world as the true germaphobe that he is: a hostile place full of disease and dirt and people not like him.
A world he has to control and if necessary-destroy.
We have said by accepting normalisation - not railing against it - that it was fine that Russia interfered in the American election and admitted it.
That it was quite all right for Wikileaks - once a whistleblower against injustice - to employ cheap theatrics and slow-drip a series of stolen correspondence in order to sway the electorate in the direction it wanted.
As much as I love and respect President Obama, his recent speech in Athens after the Trump win was a textbook in normalisation: “The lesson I draw, and I think people can draw a lot of lessons, but maybe one that cuts across countries is we have to deal with issues like inequality, we have to deal with issues of economic dislocation, we have to deal with people’s fears that their children won’t do as well as they have.”
He had to say this. He’s sill President of the United States and has to maintain some air of unity and decorum.
The Trump victory is the opposite of this. And we must not forget.
It’s necessary now to pinpoint the changing landscape; to look as clear-eyed and soberly at what it is, not what we wish it to be, or hope it can be.
And so since I don’t want to be a part of condoning a reality I feel to be the opposite of civilization, I declined the invitation to be on air with Raheem.
But if he were to ever part company with Breitbart, I’d be happy to go join him in any forum.