Thursday 19 September 2019

Ian O'Doherty: 'Are we witnessing the rise of mob rule?'

CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta attends a press briefing at the White House in Washington, DC before his press pass was removed
CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta attends a press briefing at the White House in Washington, DC before his press pass was removed
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

There was a time when calling American politics the "greatest show on earth" was just a turn of phrase.

But it often looks as if President Donald Trump really does view his gig as just an extension of his reality-TV past, with an unquenchable thirst for ratings and column inches.

It really doesn't matter whether you think Trump is an idiot savant or just an idiot, or even just vaguely mad. If the American couple I met in Dublin last week are anything to go by, he will probably walk the next election.

They didn't vote for him last time out, and they still think he's an absolute spanner. But they were only able to visit the 'old country' because of the extra money they have in their pocket since he brought in his tax reforms.

That may well become a feature of the next US election - people who think Trump's an eejit but who will vote for him anyway because they can see a material difference in their lives.

The dilemma over voting for a man they openly think is a moron was, the couple admitted, further heightened by his latest spat with CNN, which saw the White House withdraw the press pass for their correspondent Jim Acosta.

Trump and that network have been at war since before he was even elected and Acosta has been leading the attack. He has been consistently rude to the President and, whether you agree with his behaviour or not, he was doing his job as he and his employers see fit.

Every self-respecting journalist should be a thorn in the side of the President - it's just a pity that more of them didn't think that way when his predecessor was in power.

The decision to revoke Acosta's credentials isn't so much an attack on the free press, or on democracy, as some have claimed. It's just intensely stupid.

If his staff haven't learned that there's not much point appealing to his sense of reason, they could surely start appealing to his sense of spite, which he has in spades.

Trump's biggest enemy is himself, which is saying something when you look at the list of those who hate him, but he gave Acosta exactly what the reporter wanted - he made him a martyr and a figurehead.

Even Fox News, often seen as little more than the propaganda unit for Trump, have threatened legal action in solidarity with CNN to get Acosta's pass returned to him.

Inevitably, Acosta's colleagues, and plenty of journos here in Ireland, were quick to have a fit of the vapours. But many of them have been silent on the far more sinister treatment of other journalists.

While everyone has been squawking about the treatment of Acosta, there was a terrifying example of mob rule in Washington last week when a bunch of Antifa thugs gathered around Fox anchor Tucker Carlson's house and tried to kick his door down.

His wife was home alone when she heard her front door splinter as they tried to break in.

Chanting "racist scumbag, we know where you live" and the rather telling little ditty, "no borders, no wall, no USA at all!", they blocked both sides of his street and then took to Twitter to boast about it.

Thugs will do thuggish things, and Antifa have decided that it's acceptable to threaten violence against journalists they don't like (I've had a few love letters from them myself, so for once I know of what I speak.).

But what is remarkable is that so many people who consider themselves tolerant, decent types, don't seem to have a problem with masked cowards terrorising a woman alone in her house - after all, they knew Carlson was on air at the time and not at home.

Or how about the treatment of Kat Timpf, the Fox contributor who has now been assaulted three times in public, most recently this week? It really shouldn't matter what you think of someone's politics, assaulting someone because you don't like their views is repugnant, criminal and as will happen when they eventually pick on the wrong person, also liable to get you shot.

If those two, who are just two of many, worked for CNN and were attacked by a bunch of white power morons, the press would have been all over the story - and rightly so.

But here's the problem - mobs always think they're doing the right thing and, on this occasion, many of the mainstream journalists seem to secretly agree with them.

This is going to get a lot worse before it gets any better and we shouldn't be too smug over here, either.

Two years ago, the launch of some obscure right-wing, anti-immigration Irish political party was cancelled in Dublin when Irish Antifa attacked the organisers - safe in the knowledge that they would get more praise than condemnation for their actions.

There is a certain irony in militants who cover their faces with masks, attacking opponents, breaking up meetings and threatening women then calling themselves 'anti-fascist'.

After all, their behaviour comes straight from the Brownshirt playbook.

If we can't even agree that all mobs, whether it's neo-Nazis or the bullies on the left, are a rather bad idea, then we're in more trouble than I thought. And I already thought we were in a lot of trouble.

After all, if you think protesters are entitled to attack strangers in public and to post private home addresses, you really can't complain when the thugs from the right start doing it to you.

 

Phone a friend... loneliness can be a silent killer

We're all well used to various different people running to the newspapers with their own tale of individual woe.

Most of the time it's merely a fatuous attention-seeking activist, using fake outrage to try to elicit a fake apology while basking in the fake sympathy of their followers on Instagram.

But despite that, there are times when someone tells their story and it's enough to break even the hardest of hearts.

English mother-of-three Emily Fox admits that she hasn't made any friends in more than a decade, can go for weeks without speaking to other adults, and sometimes the solitude becomes so unbearable that she goes to the shops simply in the hope of meeting someone to talk to.

It may not be a diagnosable condition, but long-term loneliness can kill a person as quickly as any disease and it's a growing problem in this country as well.

We often make the mistake of assuming that debilitating loneliness is something which only afflicts the elderly and it is true that we can all do a better job of checking on our elderly neighbours.

But the rise of isolation and loneliness among younger people has become notable in recent years and while it's easy to sneer at the so-called 'snowflakes' (God, I hate that bloody term), social media has proved to be anything but.

There was a crisis in Japan in the 1990s with young people becoming so addicted to video games that they simply stopped talking to other human beings, and the genuinely moving story of Ms Fox - it's as sad as a Christmas TV dinner for one - shows that we're social animals and isolation from those around us is a guarantee of depression and self loathing.

It should also be a timely reminder that no matter how many friends or followers you may have on your social media accounts, they are not, actually, your friends. They're merely electronic avatars, an ersatz replacement for the flesh and blood of real friends.

I sincerely hope Ms Fox gets some support, and maybe even develop some real-world friendships after coming out with her story, but the sick irony of being lonely is that you're not alone - there are thousands out there who feel just the same.

We're coming into Christmas party season. It might be a good time to root out your old contact list and ring some old friends to see how they are doing. It can't hurt, and it might do a lot of good.

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