JOHN CARLIN. The New Normal

Dec 2, 2019

Recently, President Trump was convicted and fined $2m for stealing $2.8m from a charity meant for war veterans. No one batted an eyelid. Boris Johnson continues to lie and the same thing happens. Now, in Spain, Vox, the Francoist Party won 50 seats in parliament on a platform of jailing its political opponents who support Catalan or Basque independence. Welcome to the new normal.

I don’t know if you noticed, but last week it was confirmed categorically, beyond any doubt or confusion caused by fake news, his favourite sport, that the President of the United States is a thief.

A judge in New York sentenced him to pay a fine of $2 million for having used money from the foundation that bears his name to finance political activities, pay business debts and commission a portrait of himself to hang in one of his hotels. There was no argument. Donald Trump confessed everything in documents submitted to the court, admitting, among other things, that he used $2.8 million in donations for war veterans for his own election campaign.

Appalling, but not as appalling as the fact that his conviction has hardly been noticed. Stealing money from the poor to give to the rich has been a capital sin in all geographies, all cultures and all ages. No longer. The news was forgotten in a couple of hours. Trump’s presidential suit is so covered in shit that we don’t even notice one more or one less load.

It’s the same in the United States and everywhere. The Joker who inhabits the White House is nothing more than an extravagant cartoon of a syndrome, let’s call it a loss of moral compass, which today affects half of humanity. Take as an example a couple of European democracies that ended the year in full electoral fever.

In England, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a biographer of Winston Churchill and in his dreams, his heir, is not a thief, it should be said, but he is the king of lies. A former minister of his very own Conservative Party wrote this week that Johnson was a “compulsive liar who has betrayed every person he has ever dealt with.” Brexit is the decision of greater weight and consequence than any the United Kingdom has had to take since World War II but, Johnson, demonstrating an epic frivolity, has not stopped lying since the 2016 referendum campaign and continues to do so in the current campaign for the general election to be held on December 12.

He lies, people know he lies, he must know that people know he lies, but everyone is so happy. The democracy for which so many gave their sweat, their tears and their lives rusts and corrodes, but nothing happens. This is what is called “the new normal”.

In Spain at least they have the excuse of having had democracy for only four decades, not 400 years. Although for that reason one would think that they would be taking care of it a little better. What has attracted the most attention outside Spain are the general elections last weekend with the spectacular success of the Francoist extreme Right represented in the Vox party: 0 to 52 members of parliament in record time. We already know that Vox shares with other similar parties in Europe xenophobia, sexism, bully nationalism, etc., etc. On Friday, one of the new Vox parliamentarians said that “feminism is cancer” and that what really empowers women is “sewing on a button.” But it is not because of this kind of ridiculousness that Vox places itself even more to the Right than, for example, the English Ukip or the French National Front.

What makes the difference is that Vox has as its official policy the criminalization of opposition political parties. The leaders of Vox declare, without batting an eyelid, that the day they come to power they will declare the separatist parties of Catalonia and the Basque Country illegal and imprison their leaders, something similar to what the governments of Venezuela and Russia do today with their dissidents. Three and a half million Spaniards want this. They voted for it, convinced that Vox is the right party to rule their country today, in the 21st century, 44 years after Franco’s death.

As you see here, and as seen this week from heaps of articles and videos and memes, it is very easy to denounce Vox and its followers, and laugh at them. It is more difficult to understand how it is that one sixth of the Spanish population votes for them and about half accept them as a normal political phenomenon.

I offer you a clue, the lines of an oft quoted poem: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out… Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out … Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.” That Vox has become normal is the logical and natural consequence of the fact that the vast majority of Spaniards on the Left, Centre and Right have found it normal. First, the justice system of their country put in jail for two years, without trial, nine Catalan politicians who neither committed violent acts nor incited anyone to commit them; and, second, that they have found it normal for them to be sentenced from nine to 13 years in jail for the medieval crime of “sedition.” So normal that almost nobody said anything.

People shrug their shoulders and will continue to say nothing until it is too late, and Vox comes to power and, in a manner consistent with the current judicial logic against the Catalan prisoners, it has become normal to imprison such people, and that no one regards it as scandalous that politicians are jailed.

As it seems normal to the English that their prime minister, whom the majority will vote for next month, is an unscrupulous clown; as it seems normal to half the Americans that their president is a thief and that he faces an impeachment today for being a gangster, for trying to threaten and bribe the president of a vulnerable friendly country. “What’s the fuss?” Republican congressmen say. “Nothing happened.” And so, little by little, the moral pillars on which democracy rests are falling apart and the necessary consensus to make democracy continue to function or make sense is broken. Welcome to the new normal. Hopefully what comes next will be better.

John Carlin is a journalist, author and columnist for both English and Spanish language newspapers. His main areas of interest are international and national affairs, food and football. He is the author of a number of books about Nelson Mandela, and writes regular columns for La Vanguardia and Clarín, (Argentina). This column appeared in Clarín, Argentina, on 16 November 2019, and is translated by Kieran Tapsell,


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