We moved from my first home when I was three, but I still remember quite a lot from before then, including some of the neighbours, among whom was a family called the Stewarts.
Beechcroft Drive was quite a close little community, but for some reason my mother had taken a dislike to the Stewarts. Maybe she thought they were snobbish, or perhaps one of them (I vaguely recall) may have been divorced: this was England in 1955, remember. Whatever the reason, she had a habit of referring to them (so she later recalled) as “those blinking Stewarts.”
That said, they were always fine to me. The two children were a few years older than my brother and I, so we didn’t play with them too much in the street. But I remember one day I was invited round to watch their TV, the first time I had seen one – a 12 inch, black and white 405 line wonder . The very first programme I ever watched was Andy Pandy. Intellectually it was completely over my head, I’m afraid.
Anyway, the Stewarts were the occasion for one of my mother’s perennial anecdotes about my misspent infancy, and the wisdom of the old adage “Not in front of the children” (which ought now to be expanded to include Alexa). For one day, it seems, eager to maintain family unity, when we met Mr and Mrs Stewart walking past the house, I loudly proclaimed, “You binkin Dewarts!”
Oddly enough, 65 years on I still retain some sketchy animus against a family whom I can only vaguely remember, and who I’ve no doubt were perfectly reasonable individuals.
And that brings me to the general British attitude towards Donald Trump, which appears to be almost entirely of the “binking Dewart” kind, with our press playing the part of my dear, though unduly prejudiced, mother. It is notable because you would expect us British to care little or nothing about American politicians one way or the other.
But here, like there, the BBC and the mainsteam media has never, to my knowledge, carried a mention of the President without adding something pejorative. Indeed, they have been spare in referring to any achievements he has made – a booming economy for working people, and middle east peace deals, for example – whilst dwelling obsessively on his extreme immorality (unspecified except where eventually disproven), his undoubted guilt over Russiagate (from dodgy dossiers and anonymous whistleblowers, disproven after length investigation), his racism (from misquotes, or simply taken for granted), and his Tweeting vanity (which may be real, but is all that has kept his policies in public view amidst universal press censorship).
Oh yes, and I forgot about his dreadful followers – all 70 million of them, however many more votes Joe Biden may have got from dead people and unregistered voters without names. These supporters are all dangerous right wing extremists. But it is odd not only that all the cities burned and looted over the last months have involved Antifa and BLM rather than the Far Right, but that in the weeks since all those rust-belt thugs have thought they were cheated of the election, they have not perpetrated one significant act of violence.
The effect of this constant news diet on the British has been profound. My brother, after the election, was alarmed but not surprised by the BBC’s observation of sinister armed gangs of Trump supporters lurking suspiciously. The fact that their protests actually were “largely peaceful,” as contrasted to the months of left-wing destruction of business and violent intimidation, simply doesn’t register, because the good old Beeb never mentioned it. If anything, Auntie followed the US press in hinting darkly that all the fires and murders were something to do with a sinister Militia called The Proud Boys.
My son, sending out a family e-mail about Christmas, said that at least there was some good news in a bleak lockdown because Trump was gone. Although he has never had much interest in politics, he does know that he can take it for granted the whole family will agree with his judgement. Because the Guardian has spent four years guaranteeing it.
Even before lockdown, one of my musical acquaintances laughed about how she routinely visited a website where all Trump’s gaffes, lies and stupidities were chronicled. I didn’t like to suggest she might gain more by looking deeper at the policies, or even listen to him speak at length, instead of accepting edited clips as unbiased truth.
I recently sent another good friend a link to a video by a data security specialist, explaining in detail the back-doors and other security weaknesses, and the murky origins and ownership, of the voting software in widespread use in America (don’t you think “Dominion” is a strange name for a system designed to ensure impartiality?). The firm had started investigating the software after previous proven voter fraud in Dallas, and had not only discovered what tricks could be used to turn elections, but had detected some of them being used this time around. Incidentally, two reports of their findings to the FBI, the second early this year, produced no response.
My friend was astonished, and decided to watch it a second time – but realised as he did so that he didn’t want to disturb the idea that Trump is just a bad loser. Such is the power of hearing “those blinking Stewarts” repeated constantly for four years. But understanding one’s conditioning is the route to freedom.
The BBC’s preferred tactic following the election has been once more to ape CNN by tagging any reference to Republican suspicions of election fraud in the News headline as “without evidence” or “unsubstantiated”. The Pavlovian repetition blinds us to the fact that they are peddling opinion as news, itself presented without evidence by the UK’s independent public service broadcaster. </irony>
Now, I’d intended when planning this piece yesterday to generalise this point to other objects of propaganda, such as “climate deniers,” “anti-vaxx protesters,” “far-right conspiracy theorists” and the like, because it’s an observation as old as Orwell’s Emmanuel Goldstein that you can control the people, and divert them from discovering truth, by channeling their unreasoning hatred towards a suitable target. Incidentally, have you noticed that everything such hate-targets do is “bizarre”?
The converse is true as well: your preferred individual or group is invariably linked to words like “unifying”, “inclusive” or “moderate,” even when advocating the suppression of opposition. But I’ll let you find your own examples, because I happened to catch the two-hour press conference by Rudy Giuliani and Trump’s team of senior lawyers yesterday evening, and I watched the lot as my other computer sorted out a new hard disk.
They presented witness testimony of fraud and intimidation on election day, of officials being instructed how to change votes, and of very many affidavits being presented to the courts, of which three were quoted directly and publicly available. That’s three more named witnesses than the anonymous whistleblower of the Ukraine phone call.
Details were given of the shady origins, vulnerabilities and actual abuse of the software on the day, including a plausible suggestion that the simultaneous shutdown of voting stations at 9pm was because the high number of Trump votes overloaded the algorithms, and necessitated the deliveries of late postal votes, the exclusion of monitors, the blocking of windows and all those other sure signs of an honest and transparent count.
Now since all this will soon go to court one way or another, it is at least as big a story as Watergate even if it turns out to be false, if all those legal reputations are thrown away, and if the cases are laughed out of court. It deserves multiple-page spreads about the details of the affidavits so far in the public domain, some interesting block diagrams about the Dominion software itself or its alleged “paper-trail” back to Venezuela, George Soros, and the Clinton foundation, and some in-depth investigative journalism to confirm or refute the story, rather than the lazy shortcut of dismissing it.
The team were realistic about today’s probable headlines, and challenged the assembled press to stop claiming there was no evidence when they had just produced two hours of it, whether or not it stands up in court (after all, the Russiagate claims immediately after the 2016 were entirely hearsay, and were eventually shown to be without foundation, but the press ran with them for years nevertheless). The lawyers’ expectations have not been disappointed, of course, all the stress in todays US news being on how “bizarre” the press conference was (no, it wasn’t, though it was astonishing in the scope of its claims) and on Giuliani’s hair dye running, a sure sign of an unreliable lawyer… or rather, paying attention to it is a sure sign of a worthless press.
But as an Englishman I was interested in how the UK press would handle it, and especially the dispassionate BBC, dedicated to bringing us the important news about the most powerful nation in the world.
The conservative mainstream press, in the form of the Telegraph and the Mail, parroted the US press, down to the “bizarre” and the hair dye. I suppose one explanation is that they regurgitate their news undigested from agencies like Associated Press and Reuters, nowadays every bit as much partisan opinion-organs as the newspapers themselves. But it is sad that these august journals have no foreign correspondent capable of watching a news conference online and reviewing it soberly.
But what about the BBC? As always, I listened to the Radio 4 news at 7.00am, eager to hear how they would handle it. Nothing in the brief headlines. But somewhere down in the news itself came the full, unvarnished, informative report, which had three bullet points:
- President Elect Biden condemns Trump for not conceding defeat.
- A recount in Georgia turns up nothing untoward.
- Republicans are still claiming election fraud
No news-conference mentioned, though the Beeb had clearly heard it, because the last point omitted the usually obligatory “without evidence.” But they didn’t report the conference itself, or its portentous claims, and so all the well-informed people like my family and friends have absolutely no idea of the actual state of play in America. This despite the fact that it could turn out be the most important court case in American history, whether it demolishes the entire US establishment and the Democratic Party, or ends up in Civil War.
But our politically mature and well-educated citizens will continue to tut-tut sagely about the binking Dewarts.