FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Romney and the Royals

by PATRICK COCKBURN

It is always gratifying to find a politician or celebrity behaving in the same way as malign caricatures of themselves. In Dickens’s Hard Times the stereotypical capitalist is Mr Bounderby, a banker who denounces his workers for expecting “to be set up in a coach and six, and to be fed on turtle soup and venison, with a golden spoon”.

A century-and-a-half after Hard Times was published, Mitt Romney, the Bounderby of his era, is revealed as showing similarly dismissive contempt for the exaggerated expectations of the poorer half of the American population at a $50,000-a-plate dinner in Florida for Republican high-rollers. He pours scorn on the 47 per cent of Americans, self-declared “victims” supposedly dependent on government handouts, who “believe that they’re entitled to health care, to food, to housing, you-name-it”.

Bounderby claimed falsely that “he was born in a ditch” and had pulled himself up by his boot straps. Romney describes himself as a self-made man, despite being the son of the head of one of the larger US car manufacturers, the American Motors Corporation, who later became governor of Michigan.

At first sight, there is not much in common between Romney and the Duchess of Cambridge, other than that they both acted as if it was possible to court public adulation 80 per cent of the time and then somehow become invisible for the other 20. It is surprising that an experienced politician such as Romney should let his guard down, with such damaging results. Maybe the explanation is that he is just as arrogant and mean-spirited as he sounds in the film and felt relaxed enough in the company of members of his own class to show it. Or maybe he just always tells people what he thinks they want to hear.

In the case of the duchess it is not as if the Royal Family were unaware of the need to stay out of sight when doing anything they don’t want to see in the press. So far as I can recall it was after some scandal in the 1950s that one royal, whose antics were heavily publicised, complained self-righteously to another that “I only do in public what the rest of you do behind closed doors”. To this the fellow royal responded: “But don’t you understand that that’s what doors are for?” Attempts to suppress this sort of thing are not going to get very far, given the British public’s appetite for royal scandal over the past few hundred years. Futile efforts to keep the pictures from public exposure give the story legs long after it would have died if they had been published in Britain in the first place.

Not that this hunger for royal news has ever been confined to Britain. My mother was travelling in Lapland in the late 1930s when she was approached by a party of Lap reindeer herders. A translator explained that the Laps wanted a detailed account of the abdication crisis.

What has changed in the past 20 years is not the nature of news or scandal, but that the means to record it are now universally available. Once this is done, the news can be transmitted instantaneously and unstoppably through the internet, mobile phones and satellite television. Cats get out of bags far more speedily and are impossible to recapture. It is not just the Romneys who are vulnerable. A few years ago I was writing about a grim story in northern Iraq where a girl belonging to Yazidi sect, who had eloped with a young Muslim man, was beaten to death with lumps of concrete outside Mosul by members of her own community. Once I would have struggled to establish what went on, but now I found that every savage detail of the girl’s murder had been filmed by half a dozen mobile phones.

Governments have not quite yet taken on board the consequence of their actions being recorded. The methods of repression employed by Bashar al-Assad last year were probably less grisly than those used by his father 30 years before. The difference was that every time a demonstrator was shot, the scene was on YouTube and satellite television within minutes. Brutality now enrages more people than it intimidates, and countries can no longer seal themselves off by excluding foreign journalists.

The film mocking the Prophet Mohammed which provoked protests across the Muslim world and the death of the US ambassador, Christopher Stevens, carries a different but widely misunderstood message. There was nothing particularly new about the technology used to produce the film, and few protesters will have seen it. What is new is that governments in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt are weaker, more democratic, and less willing to allow their security forces to fire into crowds of their own people.

There is a misunderstanding in the West about the nature of these latest protests and of the origins of the Arab Spring uprisings. One of the main sources of discontent in the Arab world was that its autocratic regimes mostly sided with the US against the wishes of their own people during every crisis for at least 40 years. There were popular protests against the Gulf wars against Iraq in 1991 and 2003; in favour of the Palestinian intifadas in 1987 and 2000; against the Israeli bombardments of Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2008. Support from the US-Saudi-Israeli combination that has dominated the region for decades was a crucial element in maintaining many of the police states that have fallen or are under threat. The withdrawal of US support for President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia by President Obama last year resembles Gorbachev withdrawing Soviet support for the East German regime in 1989. But the latest protests show that Arabs have not forgotten that the US was complicit in tyranny for so long.

The capacity of governments to suppress or manipulate news is less than it was, eroded by new ways of recording and passing on news. And control was never total. Even Hitler, with every aspect of German life in his iron grip, said that “no politician should ever let himself be photographed in a bathing suit”.

PATRICK COCKBURN is the author of “Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
December 09, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nasty As They Wanna Be
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Second Gilded Age: Overcoming the Rule of Billionaires and Militarists
Andrew Levine
Trump’s Chumps: Victims of the Old Bait and Switch
Chris Welzenbach
The Forgotten Sneak Attack
Lewis Lapham
Hostile Takeover
Joshua Frank
This Week at CounterPunch: More Hollow Smears and Baseless Accusations
Paul Street
The Democrats Do Their Job, Again
Vijay Prashad
The Cuban Revolution: Defying Imperialism From Its Backyard
Michael Hudson - Sharmini Peries
Orwellian Economics
Erin McCarley
American Nazis and the Fight for US History
Mark Ames
The Anonymous Blacklist Promoted by the Washington Post Has Apparent Ties to Ukrainian Fascism and CIA Spying
Yoav Litvin
Resist or Conform: Lessons in Fortitude and Weakness From the Israeli Left
Conn Hallinan
India & Pakistan: the Unthinkable
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Nativism on the Left – A Realer Smith
Joshua Sperber
Trump in the Age of Identity Politics
Brandy Baker
Jill Stein Sees Russia From Her House
Katheryne Schulz
Report from Santiago de Cuba: Celebrating Fidel’s Rebellious Life
Nelson Valdes
Fidel and the Good People
Norman Solomon
McCarthy’s Smiling Ghost: Democrats Point the Finger at Russia
Renee Parsons
The Snowflake Nation and Trump on Immigration
Margaret Kimberley
Black Fear of Trump
Michael J. Sainato
A Pruitt Running Through It: Trump Kills Nearly Useless EPA With Nomination of Oil Industry Hack
Ron Jacobs
Surviving Hate and Death—The AIDS Crisis in 1980s USA
David Swanson
Virginia’s Constitution Needs Improving
Louis Proyect
Narcos and the Story of Colombia’s Unhappiness
Paul Atwood
War Has Been, is, and Will be the American Way of Life…Unless?
John Wight
Syria and the Bodyguard of Lies
Richard Hardigan
Anti-Semitism Awareness Act: Senate Bill Criminalizes Criticism of Israel
Kathy Kelly
See How We Live
David Macaray
Trump Picks his Secretary of Labor. Ho-Hum.
Howard Lisnoff
Interview with a Political Organizer
Yves Engler
BDS and Anti-Semitism
Adam Parsons
Home Truths About the Climate Emergency
Brian Cloughley
The Decline and Fall of Britain
Eamonn Fingleton
U.S. China Policy: Is Obama Schizoid?
Graham Peebles
Worldwide Air Pollution is Making us Ill
Joseph Natoli
Fake News is Subjective?
Andre Vltchek
Tough-Talking Philippine President Duterte
Binoy Kampmark
Total Surveillance: Snooping in the United Kingdom
Guillermo R. Gil
Vivirse la película: Willful Opposition to the Fiscal Control Board in Puerto Rico
Patrick Bond
South Africa’s Junk Credit Rating was Avoided, But at the Cost of Junk Analysis
Clancy Sigal
Investigate the Protesters! A Trial Balloon Filled With Poison Gas
Pierre Labossiere – Margaret Prescod
Human Rights and Alternative Media Delegation Report on Haiti’s Elections
Charles R. Larson
Review:  Helon Habila’s The Chibok Girls: the Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria
David Yearsley
Brahms and the Tears of Britain’s Oppressed
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail