Despite this site’s preoccupation with American culture and politics, every now and then, a story emerges so large and unimportant we feel the need to cover it. I am of course referring to the fiasco, the pandemonium, the chaos, and disorder of Harry and Meghan’s own Brexit. You see, despite their intentions to leave it all behind and start anew, they’re back out there, pursuing the spotlight with the fervent appetite of Prince Andrew at a Pizza Express. Why? Because they need to Speak. Their. Truth.
Where better to get a factual and dignified take of accounts too than the chicken-soup-for-the-soul odyssey that is Oprah!? No-one has the know-how and interrogative dynamism of the Queen of Media, whose line of questioning as teased in the trailer (“were you silent or silenced”) showed this was going to be anything but a walk in the park.
Of course, I’m not so heartless as to deem Harry and Meghan’s plight inauthentic or trivial. Certainly, the British media’s coverage has been hostile, bordering on psychotically obsessed at points. And if you find yourself saying “you know what, Piers Morgan has a point,” something has probably gone awry. (He stormed out of an interview when questioned about his constant attacks of Meghan. They once were friends or something so there’s a whole story there.) Plus, tabloids have spun the story so much that it’s hard to make heads or tail of when all this animosity began. And they’re trash. So on the whole, I do feel that Meghan Markle has been bullied.
On the surface, it seems Harry and Meghan have not navigated this tricky terrain with much tact however. Alternately torn between vague notions of privacy and stepping away or stepping back from the Royal Family, they’ve squandered a lot of good-will by doing such high profile interviews (worst of all, appearing on James Corden’s show; the lowest of the low) which has led to accusations of them wanting the glitz and the glamour but none of the baggage of that wacky family.
Now, they were never going to exactly be left alone (being Royals) and race has disgracefully played a part in the narrative surrounding Meghan, distinguishing her from the likes of Kate Middleton. The British press have painted her as something of a sorceress or spinner of webs; the Margery Tyrell of the Royal Family; a deviant, bent on pursuing the most delicious of all prizes, UNLIMITED POWER. Her claims, in stark contrast to this picture, were never going to be as credible since the press survive on perpetuating and repeating controversial claims, even if they’re outlandish or plain untrue. So, maybe appearing on Oprah is her chance to try win the people over, having been dogged by such spurious accounts of mischief while in reality, being bullied by the institution and the press. (Although really, she didn’t know what it would be like?)
It’s a catch-22, if that’s the case. By trying to restore her reputation in the public’s eyes, she’s reinforcing her image as an attention-seeking socialite. Perhaps a personal essay would have been a more dignified approach? But then, headlines amplify what essays don’t. Maybe another interviewer? Oprah’s great at what she does but a lot of her interviews feed into the tabloid style of things. Though… she does guarantee a wide net for viewership. In this respect, I’m quite sympathetic because I don’t know what exactly she can do to reverse people’s perceptions of her. Indeed, it’s hard to know what to believe in all this miasma of conflicting statements. Even some of her assertions have been contested (e.g. her son was never going to be a prince due to laws surrounding his not being direct in line to the throne).
What’s more important, however, is the archaic and hierarchical boundaries in which the Royal Family, as an institution, operate. In the interview, Harry claims that they are afraid of receiving negative coverage from the tabloids and as a result, give them special access. Therein lies the most significant point of the conversation; something we’ve always suspected (known) but is still quite shocking to have formalised by a prince.
Monarchy, as a system, is outdated. For whatever reason, many countries defend its existence with weak countenances of tradition, tourism, and symbolism against which politicians can be held to account. If we’re being honest though, none of that matters since nepotism, on this scale, is wrong. I can’t quite reconcile Harry and Meghan’s personal accounts with the way they’ve conducted themselves at all times but at least this interview might shed light on this eon-long system of oppression and abuse. After all, she’s been disparaged to the highest degree while the likes of Prince Andrew have been given a pass for far worse. Isn’t it time we held them all to account by the same standards?
In 1992, Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History… suggested that with the end of the Cold War, humanity had reached an end/block point to the ideological evolution of the 20th century resulting in a broad acceptance of Western liberal democratic values. It was a stupendously general claim to make and one that would be criticised as new problems rose to take the place of the old. But if you take a step back, you’ll see how it is sometimes crucial for our understanding of history to get a broad overview before splitting stones because back then the US had very much started a new chapter of its story.
Hindsight is key for any proper historical evaluation. This article will simply not be able to capture the essence, key themes and ideas of the last decade; at least, not in a lasting way- primarily because, we don’t know what’s going to be important six months from now, let alone in 20 years. New information always becomes available and our core values change with each generation. Obama may be considered left of centre today but for future generations, he could be positively right-wing. Heck, Richard Nixon (the most flabbergasted of Republican presidents) established the Environmental Protection Agency.
Enough dawdling though; this context is important for the purpose of humility but it does not advance the story of the 2010s. What was this decade all about? How did America get from point A to point B? From Hope to Trump.
A New Generation
The millennials came of age this decade. Cast in the shadow of global austerity measures and economic hardship following the Financial Collapse of 2008, theirs (I say theirs, ours really) was a generation fraught with a unique level of anxiety. Many degrees were becoming increasingly less advantageous as job opportunities dried up and the unpaid internship net widened. It’s no wonder why, in this context, a sea of resentment festered; particularly against Boomers who wreaked prosperous opportunities in less tech-automated times whilst ignoring the most pressing issues facing the youth of today. As such, we’ve seen more people living at home for longer, trying for MAs, and adapting to a range of career positions; fluidity and creativity all the more pertinent.
Did the Obama administration fail this generation then by following in Bush’s lead in bailing out the banks? Intentions are certainly important; Obama did save America from the brink of a depression but the seeds of discord were planted in 2009 and the early 2010s. If millennials were to be denied the opportunities of their fathers or grandfathers, they’d at least strive to make their voices heard- which they very much have; for better and worse.
With regards the better, they (and Generation Z) have called for increasingly liberal stances on issues such as student fees, climate change, and health care. Whilst not altogether effective yet, the knocking on the government’s door has been getting louder and louder in recent years. How else would one explain the sensation that is Bernie Sanders; a candidate who probably wouldn’t have prospered this way in the 2000s. In another area, they have been more effective; calling for increased diversity in workplaces, media, and arts. Today’s music, TV, and film scene is a lot less white than it was 20 years ago.
With regards the worse, millennials are often seen (seen, don’t cancel me) as petty and entitled by the older generations (who in turn, have seemingly forgotten their responsibility to rear and guide their children). Is there truth to this? It’s a wild stereotype that’s limited but keeping in mind, the general overview from the intro, I’m inclined to believe that for all the good done with social media justice, there is an equal and lamentable drive for over-reaction. It is far too easy to get a rise out of people on social media or to have their television or film contract reassessed due to some stupid but ultimately unimportant remarks made in the past. On college campuses, speakers are protested for merely holding non-liberal views and as a result, many fear the very idea of free speech is under threat (especially when the term “hate speech” gets added to the mix). Outrage is an industry in and of itself.
Millennials can be said to be tolerant of anything but intolerance. Again, generally. At first glance, this may seem amicable and perfectly reasonable. Look at the strides made by the LGBTQ community this decade; today, people assess sexuality and gender in a far broader context than ten years ago. On the other hand, judgment has become popular and forgiveness is in short supply. This is not meant to advocate some false equivalency of opinion between liberals and conservatives but rather to point out that to effect change among certain groups, it is sometimes wise to speak rather than shout, listen so as to at least be cordial. This is as much a question of generational divide as it is political ideology; a great gulf has split people on subjects ranging from health care to gender neutral bathrooms. I believe we should let decency prevail where political correctness fails because there are numbers to be gained from the other side, especially in 2020.
With all that in mind, I don’t think millennials can be faulted for their intentions. Climate change does need to be addressed and for this reason alone, there is more hope to be found with 20- to 30-somethings than with our elders. The question looming over the 2020s on this issue, among others (like gun control) will be did they manage to tackle the problem effectively as well as righteously.
The Culture Wars (On Steroids)
To explore this generational/ideological gulf further, we must assess why and how everything became so political. What do I mean? What talk show today doesn’t feature a joke about Trump? What books or movies or genres of music do well with one camp or with another? This isn’t exactly a new idea- the culture wars have long been prevalent in American society but nowadays, even a movie like Star Wars: The Last Jedi is read by some as a feminist assault on traditional cinema. The reactions to divisive projects like this are often downright ridiculous but they do have origins tales of their own; for just as diversity promised to enrich America’ cultural experience, there were those who felt the pendulum was moving a little too fast and in places with a little too much force (e.g. female reboots, politically correct re-workings). With the recent reaction to John Legend’s version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, it’s fair to say that “woke culture” (to broaden this horizon) was given a bit of a slap in the face. The condemning of past opinions too (like John Wayne’s on race relations), while right, also seem trivial and petty. Will it be a case that liberals have to learn to pick their battles or will a dignified if self-righteous sense of morality prevail?
Of course, the culture wars don’t matter to most people and outrage (built on Twitter feeds) has never truly reflected the actuality of common opinion. Clickbait journalism and not-even-trying-to-be-objective-anymore news stations have amplified once barely prevalent tensions. Controversy sells and as long as people relinquish their sacred duty for critical thinking (on the left and right), the battleground will continue to get muddier.
It’s also become harder to blend opposing facets of oneself. You vote Blue so you must adhere to every liberal constitution, right? Your favourite movie is Moonlight andyou drive a hybrid? Where the divide between Democrats and Republicans has intensified on the actual issues, so too have the values associated with social liberals and conservatives. It may not come across on your social media field but there have been gay republicans and fervently religious but vegan democrats. Contradictions may arise if you take everything literally but people aren’t just what they wear, what they vote, or what they listen to. The idea of groupthink and identity politics may be useful for our understanding of certain privileges and economic disadvantages but it is fundamentally important to remember the individuals (sometimes) trapped within.
From Hope to Trump
So far, we have largely explored the emerging tide of liberal values among millennials as well as their shortcomings. While their voices may be heard across social media and campuses however, the real power now lies with a bizarre authoritarian right wing. Is this a reaction to political correctness? A reaction to an America older white people don’t recognise? To the failure and stalling of democracy? Obama? It’s hard to pin it down to one reason but most people would agree it is indeed a reaction.
Let’s go back to 2010. The economy is poor and health care legislation has been passed. The Republicans have amped up their objection to an 11. Will they undo Obama’s key piece of legislation? No. But they will use it as bait to take back both the House and Senate later that year and for the next six, make Obama’s presidency as much of a struggle as possible. Every time, a shooting occurs, they will keep focused and ensure protection of the NRA… I mean, the 2nd Amendment. Every time, a liberal piece of legislation comes forward from Obama, they will block it because they understand it to be good politics; the attack strategies of the last twenty years have worked, so why not? Thus, Obama is confined to foreign policy measures and acting where he can. To many, he appears weak.
Obama’s team is not willing to give up that easily however. There are cards to play and victories do emerge, even if they take time. One such victory was the assassination of Bin Laden in 2011, which undoubtedly helped push the re-election campaign along nicely. Beating Romney the following year also cemented his popularity, meaning he could argue his case to the public more frequently. The Iran Nuclear Deal and Gay Marriage followed in 2015 and all things considered, Obama had done a pretty good job with what he was given. So why was there such a fundamental shift in 2016?
For one, people underestimated just how important the appeal of Obama, himself, was. Hillarys politics may not have been miles off his but she simply couldn’t inspire the loyalty he did; he was one of the greatest orators of all time. As well as that however, Obama was unable to translate his messages across as those of the Democratic establishment. After all, they lost handily in 2014, even before Trump entered the picture. Perhaps because, for all their gesticulation, they couldn’t advertise themselves half as well as the GOP. Confidence it seems can be as toxic as it is appealing. That’s where Trump comes in.
Trump won, not because of the substance of his arguments but because of the way he projected them and himself. The Republican field toppled in the debates of late 2015 and all the while, throughout the primaries, we fooled ourselves into thinking this was some kind of joke. Brexit should’ve rang alarm bells. Trump getting the nomination should have too. But like an age-old tragedy, we followed the path blindly and suffered as a result.
If Trump wasn’t a traditional conservative, it didn’t matter at all. As stated earlier, Nixon established the EPA; so clearly this party’s open to whatever. And just like that, they all relinquished honesty and their duty for the sake of power (… Paul Ryan). The Democrats, on the other hand, may not have exactly appeased their camp but they did little to persuade voters, who could be turned, why theirs was a better one to join. Many liberals simply took to labelling Trump supporters stupid, racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and so on. This continues to be a mistake, in my view, and a crucial one differentiating many working class people struggling with every day economic opportunities from the elitist self-righteous liberals who know nothing of them.
Trump’s impeachment may get rid of the man but it won’t get rid of the problem because he’s as much a symptom of the ills dominating the bi-polarity of politics this decade as obtuse NRA support or further tax breaks for the 1% are. In a strange way, it’s odd that it’s taken so long for a clown to ascend to the throne considering the acrobatics and pantomime politicians perform but if anything should be clear to the Democrats now, it is that their battle will not end in 2020. Complacency has always been their problem.
A New Left
There is a spark of hope to be found in the Democratic Party however as we end the 2010s. For just as the right has moved beyond any nuance of centrism, the left has recognised its need to stake its own ground too. The campaign of Bernie in 2016 mobilised a movement the corporate Democrats simply didn’t understand; one that has already flourished with the election of candidates like Alexandria Occasion Cortes last year and the adoption of more liberal stances in the election field this year. The party is undergoing a period of transformation, having essentially spent the last 30 years meeting their adversaries in a compromised middle. Whether this will prove wise remains to be seen. Two schools of thought are currently battling it out to see who can take back those Trump voters; the more centrist likes of Joe Biden and the others like Bernie/Warren. Again, we see the political and the cultural dominoes of America falling in tandem.
As I’ve often stated in pieces on this site, I believe the issues should remain central to Bernie’s and other’s campaigns, not the bait Republicans masquerade as issues (e.g. patriotism) nor the scandals that get blown out of proportion (e.g. Hillary’s emails). So far, they seem to be on track but as the other elections of the 2010s have shown, the Republicans aren’t bad at winning.
How strange the Clinton-Blair years now seem to us in a world turned upside down. Forests are burning, debts are rising, automation threatens millions of jobs, racism appears more openly acceptable, and James Corden has a chat show. The 2010s have been a scary time and they’ve only gotten more so; the fresh fruit of the Obama years now rotten to its core. Were we misguided by hope as we may be now? Possibly. I think, more likely however, voter apathy and perennial compromise by liberals beset on preaching without acting led to desperation.
In times of economic upheaval and vulnerability, radical ideologies become all the more appealing. That is not to say we will face a direct parallel with the 1930s and devolve into a fight between fascism, democracy, and communism but this sharp split is somewhat reminiscent. It will play out dramatically in next year’s election, which will be about much more than electing a new president; it’ll be about ratifying the course American culture will head in under the auspices of ideological, generational, and human values (or as Joe Biden put it, the “soul of America”).
The 2010s are yet foggy and there was a great deal more I could have explored (e.g. foreign policy, keyboard warriors, police brutality, #metoo, etc.) but a feint trajectory permeates this hew nonetheless; one linking our apathy and disinterest to upheaval and renewed activism. The people of today speak of politics far more than they did ten years ago. This is both a good and bad thing.
Firstly, let’s qualify this title before it’s misinterpreted the way so many others are. This is meant, by no means, as a defense of Trump, his policies, or his legitimacy as president. Rather, it is a simple, nagging thought bubble that submerges every now and then, prodding as to whether impeachment is necessarily the path we should take. Lately, I’ve been thinking no.
Trump deserves impeachment. He never deserved to be president. He probably doesn’t deserve human form; perhaps a Horcrux but okay, sorry, not even that. To put aside the platitudes surrounding his level of deftness for a moment though, let’s consider impeachment: what it means, what its effect on America and the cultural hegemony would be, and why beating Trump in the 2020 election may unfortunately be the option best waited on.
Impeachment, as established by the U.S. Constitution, can come about as result of treason, bribery, or other “high crimes and misdemeanors”. Trump’s probably guilty of these three in some form or another. The problem is these clauses are open to a wide spectrum of interpretation, particularly in the case of the latter. Realistically, as President Ford put it, it comes down to “whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history”. The House is of course controlled by the Republicans and so is the Senate. So straight off the bat, we have a problem there. But here’s a few other hard truths:
Recently, Trump’s approval ratings have lingered in the mid-40s. This is not unusual for a president at this point in their first term. His support may have dropped but don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s gone.
His support eludes morality and reason. Remember back in 2015 when everyone thought his bid was a joke? Remember when no-one thought he could beat Hillary? We need to stop thinking the ludicrous can’t happen.
His endurance rests on: a) the flotsam of a post-truth world in which facts get lumped in with “Fake News”; b) the populist frustration that still exists with old Washington; and c) the inflammation of the Culture Wars and polarity between Left and Right
I’m not arguing that Trump’s levels of support cannot dwindle to the point of endangerment but for practicality’s sake, we need to accept that perception and emotion precludes reason, doubt, and logic at present. With regards to point 3.c. above especially, we must recognize that there’s a base of conservatives and even non-political individuals who’ve come to disavow much of what the far-Left are associated with; political correctness, identity politics, and liberal activist leanings in all areas of society (e.g. universities and the arts). Trump has fed off this polarity and taken things farther. Although there were some right-wingers who truly wanted “THE WALL” and a Muslim ban, there were also many people in 2016 who just wanted to stick it to the Left. They may be wrong- I won’t weigh in- but the image was drawn. That picture hasn’t changed.
Of course, you might wonder as to when impeachment should occur if not now. It is still possible, I suppose. Headlines continue to shock, even in recent days with that pantomime display in Helsinki. But impeachment, given the context above, will leave a lot of people unhappy and they won’t rest easy. They will see it as a means of encroachment on their civil liberties, freedom of speech, etc. and bullshit. It may even result in further mobilization of the Alt-Right, who would then seek to take down the next Democratic president without hesitation. (Clinton and Obama experienced increased pettiness on this scale and it’ll only get worse). Of course, that problem doesn’t go away even if Trump’s defeated in election. The Republicans will likely stew as they always have but- it will be that much harder to justify supporting a president who lost by electoral means than one who was “done in”.
As aforementioned, none of this may even matter as the Republicans are in control and they, collectively, have no spine. A few figures have criticized Trump’s rhetoric on occasion (like in Helsinki) but for the most part, it has become normalized among their ranks. Democrats may make major in-roads this November but given the seats up for contention in Senate, are unlikely to take a majority there. Plus, the impeachment process would be long, as anything in politics, ever is. 2020 may seem far away now but it may prove easier to just wait out as was the case with Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson.
So where should the Democrats’ efforts go? Undoubtedly, a strong and media-savvy candidate will be needed for 2020 but even if 2018 proves a success, the Democrats must not give up on the House and Senate as they continually seem to do just when their president needs them. They must also try harder across the whole country, given the disastrous electoral college system that’s screwed them over twice in recent years. They should also not consider themselves “above” attacking Trump. After all, his wacky branding helped him knock off candidate after candidate in the Republican primaries. At the same time, focus on the issues the likes of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren hark on about; be the party of welfare and increased minimum wage but not the party that gets bogged down by identity politics and PC agendas. Those Trump supporters may very well be for the taking given enough room in that area.
It all essentially comes down to restoring order and sense in a chaotic time. Impeachment’s appealing and Trump deserves retribution but eliminating the Horcrux itself won’t eliminate the whole (all America’s problems). What he represents (or doesn’t) is far stronger than who he actually is.
20 years ago, the scandal that would define the latter part of the Clinton presidency broke on The Drudge Report. With the advent of the Internet Age, this story would take on a life of its own, exposing a changing media and political landscape traceable right through to today. Although the focus of the scandal would consume the next year’s news, resulting in the impeachment of the president, its elements and themes remain ever prevalent. In retrospect, we can now understand just how significant this cultural moment was for a) partisan politics, b) media sensationalism, and c) the online community / cyber bullying. Just how, you ask?
a) Partisan Politics
To be fair, 1998 can hardly be pointed to as the year in which partisan politics turned ugly. It’s not even when tensions began to spark between the Clinton Administration and the Republican majority. It is, however, reasonable to identify it as the year in which these tensions took a hold of the national consciousness and shifted the focus away from the issues to the ideological fronts on play. In establishing the impeachment process against Clinton in December 1998, the Republicans ushered in a new breed of malice that would become commonplace over the course of the next 20 years.
Of course, Clinton survived impeachment and his approval ratings even soared as the public saw past the petty under goings of the Ken Starr investigation but the bar for civility in politics was undoubtedly lowered. From thereon, the creed of the Republican Party became largely associated with winning on any level, as opposed to winning on the issues. Thus, support for Trump.
b) Media Sensationalism
Again, 1998 wasn’t the year sensationalism in the media was born but it easily got vamped up a notch as every sordid detail was covered in this case- from the blue dress to the definition of what sex is (“it depends on what the meaning of the word is is”- smooth Bill, really smooth).
Now, I’m not saying it’s in any way appropriate for the president to have an affair on the job but to be fair, a president’s always on the job and it’s a private matter. The media loves a scandal, of course, so in many ways Clinton can be blamed for digging his own grave. (It is conjectured by many that he’s a self-saboteur.) What many pundits, anchors, and journalists failed to recognize (or rather, chose to ignore) at the time however was a) how distracting their constant coverage was to the political and legislative process, b) how distracting it was from serious issues that could have been addressed- e.g. the growing threat of terrorist activity or the rise of Smash Mouth, and c) how damaging it was to a young woman (which we’ll cover in a moment.)
It’s one thing to make a case out of a proper injustice in the system (e.g. Watergate) but unlike any scandal beforehand, save that, this was covered with more gall and obsession than could ever be justified. And whilst being frank about it, let’s put to rest the claim that Clinton’s evasiveness and lies damaged the moral fabric of America. Yes, he was wrong but also politically motivated like any of the Republicans going after him, to save his own ass so that important things could be accomplished. Of course, many of his greatest opponents, like Newt Gingrinch, would later come under fire for their own affairs. Somehow, that just didn’t leave the same mark on the mass media’s blueprints however.
c) Cyber Bullying
Today, you only have to load the comments’ section on any Youtube video to encounter the ugliest, most vile, and seemingly illiterate people around. In some ways, Monica Lewinsky was patient zero for this new wave of bullying (at least on a national level) and it took a long time for her to come to grips with what had happened, especially because the focus turned to her so immediately. As she remarked in her 2015 TED talk; “overnight I went from being a completely private person to being completely publicly humiliated.”
It could be argued that she hardly helped the situation. She, of course, had an affair with a married man and later admitted to having done this before, all whilst under the delusion that this could result in an actual partnership, swayed by the charm of old Slick Willy. (She even kept the dress…) Her mistakes were her own but the backlash was insatiable, as she struggled for years to find work and at every corner, was reminded of the shame she had brought upon herself and her family.
Years later, she became an activist against cyber bullying, relating her own experiences to those targeted on social media and other platforms: “I couldn’t count how many horrible things people online had said about me, but I could count when somebody said something face to face on one hand.”
This is symptomatic of what’s going on today and ties in with the points above, in illustrating the inner portrait of America that was being painted a la Dorian Gray style. I’m not saying things were perfect before this happened but in these three respects, they were a little nicer and political relations were a little more civil. When you lower your standards, it only gets harder to reach for a higher platform. Trump, the modern GOP, social media, and mass media have largely followed this line to to its natural next breach and where it goes next is beyond daunting.