Editorial: Turning over a new leaf
One of the most disconcerting experiences I’ve had for a while was watching interviews with protesters arriving in Washington on 6 January, Epiphany. These were not the rioters who broke into the Capitol, but peaceful demonstrators in support of President Trump who urgently wanted to challenge injustice and to be heard.
They believed that what happens in many countries had happened in the US: corrupt officials had tampered with or misrepresented the result of an election. They wanted to reverse the unfair outcome.
We can say with complete confidence that they were wrong. Outside the US, the media of every political stripe (and even most inside the US) are united over these facts, as they are so rarely over anything: the election was not rigged, Mr Biden won, Mr Trump and his diminishing number of allies are not telling the truth.
What disconcerted me was how much the protesters interviewed sounded like I would hope to sound: intelligent, articulate, informed. They were not incoherent with rage, not an ignorant underclass, not brainwashed extremists. They seemed like reasonable people who just inhabited a different reality to me. For all my confidence that they are wrong, put me in a room one of them and I’m certain I would have no chance of shaking their certainty that they are right.
I think one problem is that US society and its media are so profoundly divided, and elements of its media so corrupt, that a Fox viewer in Wyoming gets an entirely different version of current affairs to a New York Times reader in Los Angeles. Without the benefit of a global perspective, what are you going to do, but choose a side? You pick the one that feels right, based on something probably too deep to put our finger on, and then stick to it and find it quite hard to see things from the other point of view.
The US aside, I have very firm opinions on vaccine conspiracy theory, gay relationships, Brexit, evolution, and much more. Some don’t even feel like opinions, but simply sight of reality. And, in each case, I know there are other British people who disagree, just as firmly. It’s thoroughly disconcerting that there’s so little to distinguish what I think I know from delusions and lies.
I could just accept that we live in a post-truth age, but I want to do better. My resolution is to be scrupulously honest myself, to apply the same standards to my opponents I apply to those I agree with, to listen as I would be listened to, to be more courteous the ruder I feel, and to read further outside my bubble. How I will do, and whether it will do any good, I don’t know. But this is the first Reform of 2021, and after a year like the last one, I’m ready to turn over a new leaf.
This article was published in the February 2021 edition of Reform