Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Mary Beard on the Trump election

Her article about how she missed the late night drama of the Trump election is both witty and serious.  Her last paragraphs:
Trump and Trump’s policies are truly ghastly, but you have to face the fact that a very large number of people actually voted for him. What is more, resentment at “the elite” has morphed into a proud contempt for truth, expertise and knowledge – not unlike Michael Gove’s jibe at “experts” before the Brexit vote. And in the broader context of political rhetoric, the idea that he won’t be as bad as he claimed is more, rather than less, worrying. I thought that the conciliatory speech was the worst thing I had heard all evening. The idea that he could be thanking Clinton for her service to the country (“I mean that very sincerely”) and be speaking of “binding the wounds of division” – when only the day before he’d promised to impeach her and poured salt into the very wounds he was now promising to heal – beggars belief. It has nothing to do with being “gracious” (as the television pundits had it), and everything to do with words not meaning anything. It was precisely what ancient rhetorical and political theorists feared almost more than anything else: that speech might not be true, and the corrosive effect of that on popular power.

So if we have a big job in a Trump (and Brexit) world, it is not simply to limit the damage. It is also to restore the place of knowledge as necessary for the political process, and not as something that merely reeks of privilege – and to revalue the nature of rhetoric, from “Crooked Hillary” to “taking back control”. Politicians may always have lied, but at least the Greeks and Romans worried about that. We have come almost to take it for granted.

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