‘The readiness of the English to apologise for something they haven’t done is remarkable,’ Henry Hitchings writes in Sorry! The English and their Manners (2013), ‘and it is matched by an unwillingness to apologise for what they have done.’ Boris Johnson presents a classic case. He’s the sort who’ll gabble apologies on entering a room or sitting in a chair, an upper-class tic that gives the impression of excessively good manners. By mumbling vague apologies and failing to individuate his words, Johnson creates an aura of harmless stupidity that makes him seem like a friendly, slovenly underdog to a nation with a soft spot for incompetence.
Donald Trump’s tone may be unprecedented in American politics, but his policies aren’t. Barack Obama restricted the movement of citizens from the seven Muslim countries that ended up on Trump’s travel ban list. The wall that Trump wants to build along the Mexican border is an extension of Bill Clinton’s Operation Gatekeeper. Trump’s rampaging deportation machine was bequeathed to him by previous administrations, including Obama’s. And Trump is hardly America’s first racist president. Even his ‘shithole countries’ comment is not new.
Since the weekend, the Greek police have rounded up around 6500 immigrants in Athens. About 1500 have been found to be without documents and are currently imprisoned awaiting deportation, in overcrowded detention centres where conditions are ‘dire’. More than three-quarters of the people targeted by the police are completely innocent. But most of the media (even the Guardian) have described it as an operation against lathrometanastes or ‘illegal’ immigrants.
Among the many astonishing claims that Barack Obama made in his recent speech opposing the Palestinian bid for statehood was that ‘peace will not come through statements and resolutions.’ This is, at best, an odd thing to say for a president whose ascendancy to power itself depended on the compelling use of rhetoric. Indeed, his argument against the power of statements and resolutions at the United Nations to achieve peace was a rhetorical ploy that sought to minimise the power of rhetorical ploys. More important, it was an effort to make sure that the United States government remains the custodian and broker of any peace negotiation, so his speech was effectively a way of trying to reassert that position of custodial power in response to the greatest challenge it has received in decades. And most important, his speech was an effort to counter and drain the rhetorical force of the very public statements that are seeking to expose the sham of the peace negotiations, to break with the Oslo framework, and to internationalise the political process to facilitate Palestinian statehood.