Melanie Phillips is talking nonsense – but we must take her hateful views seriously

In the world of Trump, irrational arguments are dangerous


It can’t really be said that the Times is one of the ‘serious’ newspapers when it runs a regular column by Melanie Phillips. The former Guardian hack turned reactionary has been writing muddled garbage for years, and today’s contribution — ‘Trump’s opponents are the bigots and racists’ — is no exception.

Phillips uses entirely meaningless quotes to claim Clinton supporters are calling for mass violence, provides embarrassingly inaccurate definitions of political concepts, and defends the shameless racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and misogyny of Donald Trump and his new adviser Steve Bannon.

For example, she claims that Bannon’s Breitbart News Network, rather than being hate-filled and Islamophobic, simply ‘exposes Islamist violence and intimidation.’

Sample Breitbart headline: ‘Political correctness protects Muslim rape culture’

She also shrugs off accusations of anti-Semitism directed at Bannon and, by extension, Trump.

Sample Breitbart headline: ‘Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew’

Instead of focusing on these expressions of prejudice and hatred, Phillips argues, we should hone in on the ‘real bigots’: the Black Lives Matter activists who have the temerity to demand that Black Americans not be gunned down in the street.

Her defence of the far right is grotesque, as is her attack on the Americans who — however much she scoffs — are most afraid for their safety following Trump’s victory.

Moreover, her hypocrisy is staggering. As her fellow Times columnist David Aaronovitch wrote in the comments:

“I was trying to imagine my colleague’s reaction had Jeremy Corbyn appointed as his chief of staff someone with Bannon’s record of talking about Jews and others. My suspicion is that she would have been scathing.”

Unfortunately, laughable as Phillips’s rants may seem, in the current context they must be taken seriously.

Her core argument — that the marginalised are the real bullies and racism hurts racists most — is a powerful one in the tospy-turvy world of 2016. In different forms, it’s been parroted by Theresa May, Nigel Farage and, of course, the President-elect himself.

It has been used, and will continue to be used, to discredit the activism of people of colour, LGBT communities, disabled people, leftists and human rights advocates.

And most worryingly, Phillips and others like her are happy to use this argument to fan the flames of social division — with the violent language of culture wars and enemies of the people — and supposedly reputable newspapers will go along with it.

Phillips starts her article by laughing at Americans who feel their safety and well-being is under threat following Trump’s victory. She concludes by warning the same people that ‘this is the culture war’ and that, on both sides of the Atlantic, ‘it will be fought every inch of the way’.

Remind us why liberal fears are unjustified?

Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin is editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter.

See also: Trump shows the far-right is on the rise – but they don’t own the future

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4 Responses to “Melanie Phillips is talking nonsense – but we must take her hateful views seriously”

  1. Frank

    When Brexit happened I was shocked at the number of middle class, privileged, university graduates calling all Brexit voters bigots, stupid and racists. Brexit may not have gone the way I wished, but the people stereotyping more than half the country because they didn’t the same way is bigoted on a gigantic scale.

  2. David

    The over-arching trajectory of the alt-Right – and Breitbart in particular – is broad brush conspiracism. The conspiracism is mostly directed at ‘feminists’, Blacks and Muslims.

    You got a hint of conspiracism in Breitbart about Jews with the ‘elitist Jewish’ description of Anne Applebaum: but it isn’t prominent. That doesn’t mean that it won’t be a target at some point. It is certainly a theme on the broader alt Right.

    I don’t think that the ‘renegade Jew’ piece by David Horowitz is a good example of that, however. Horowitz’s argument – which I think is hysterically and hugely overblown – is that Clinton has “empowered” Hezbollah and Hamas. Kristol is described as ‘renegade’, in the sense that it is claimed that his support for Clinton harms Jews.

    It is this free-ranging conspiracism which incites bigotry and hatred of its targets that is one of the most dangerous features of the alt Right. It is important to focus on that, and not to make accusations which are not particularly well supported by the evidence.

  3. Martyn

    There is nothing alternative abut the so-called alt-right. Their ideas are simply a sightly more exreme extension of ‘normal’ right-wing discourse.

  4. Robert Brynin

    Like most public thinkers, Melanie Phillips says much that is good and much that isn’t, which is of course merely my opinion. I suspect that when she warns of the danger of militant Islam many British people agree with her but are afraid to say so. We live in a country where most people now self-censor. Militant Islam is, in my opinion, a threat we are afraid to talk about, let alone deal with. There is, I suspect, a silent majority who are afraid to say what they think. For example, I believe the idea of a man marrying a man is simply nonsense, and perhaps a large number of people agree, but we are no longer allowed to say so for fear of being called homophobic, which is of course a meaningless word, as is Islamophobic. People are not irrationally fearful of homosexual people or Muslims.

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