“The art of progress is to reserve order amid change,
and to preserve change amid order.”
— Alfred North Whitehead
The news that Facebook is going to let Donald Trump back on to Facebook at time when his public profile is not what it was (but apparently when speaking to those who can hear, he’s gotten a lot more extreme) has not gone down well with some.
As the never Trump commentator Charlie Sykes notes in the Bulwark yesterday:
The fascists of the 1930s, wrote Hannah Arendt, “elevated cruelty to a major virtue because it contradicted society’s humanitarian and liberal hypocrisy.”
For many of the faux-intellectuals of the era, “‘violence, power, cruelty were the supreme capacities.”
“Fascism,” as Jay Griffiths put it in a 2017 essay, “not only promotes violence but relishes it, viscerally so. It cherishes audacity, bravado and superbia, promotes charismatic leaders, demagogues and ‘strong men’, and seeks to flood or control the media.”
(NB that insight from Russia). This theme of violence of the recent past (the serious assault on Nancy Pelosi’s husband, and the wholesale attack on Congress which was condemned by GOP senators who now back Trump again) is fascinating.
One of the Guardian’s US columnists, Jan-Werner Müller, writes perceptively:
By allowing him back on, Facebook is signaling that neither the past, nor what a perpetrator thinks about the past, matter. It pretends that, unless Trump is on the platform, citizens have no chance to find out what “the king of social media” (according to Nigel Farage) is thinking, depriving them of vital information – a patently absurd claim given that Trump remains the most public American who has ever lived. [Emphasis added]
So, he continues, this is not a case of the tyranny of the platform, but of the decision consciously made by the platform. By the last line he accuses Facebook of not being able to “let go of its ‘incitement capitalism‘”.
The point about the past not mattering takes us closer to home. Apologist arguments for past violence is a commonplace now in the southern press (I’ve even bought into some of it myself) since to young people songs about the IRA are “harmless.”
But in effect that is to bin the context material of yesterday in fav0ur of today headlines and tomorrow’s chip paper. And it doesn’t, contrary to common wisdom, isolate violence from present scrutiny but in the hands of a populist, everything else.
Take this exchange from Leader’s Questions last week over the hot water the Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe got into over not declaring expenses incurred by a businessman supporter to the extent of between €1k and €2k…
The “brass neck” concerns a payment of €7k that Sinn Féin paid to a UK based polling company but neglected to report (until it was picked up by the media) to SIPO, subsequently rectified quite legally (as did Minister Donohoe) in retrospect.
A case of “flooding the media” with a minor story that’s injurious to a political opponent which (it turns out) you’ve also done yourself. The question here revolves around the quality of the media’s decisions about what matters and what doesn’t.
As reminder, here’s Simon Kuper noting how easy it was for Trump to fool a media which “privileges access over accuracy”:
The art of progress as referenced above was always a tricky affair…
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty