Clearly we all have very short memories. Or we are all frogs in boiling water who don’t realise what is happening. Stupidity or naivety. Take your pick.
Because unless this is all a very, very bad dream, we have literally just been served the biggest “get-distracted-sniggering-at-his-stupidity-whilst-he-slips-into-power” lesson of all time. His name is Donald Trump and his power is the White House. Remember how we all rolled our eyes and said in pubs over wine, “Of course that will never happen!”
Or remember when we laughed at Boris when we spotted him on his bike around town. Oh, how we chuckled when he got caught in a zip wire. And then look: he led this country to Brexit, driven by personal, greedy ambition and a bus with giant lies written across it.
Now enter far right Jacob Rees-Mogg; he’s very rich, he’s very Catholic, he’s very C/conservative, and some people find him somewhere on the scale of Amusing to Hilarious. As a result of the Tory party leadership vacuum, he has begun to be fetishised as the crazy outsider who is saying things that others are "too scared to say" (sound familiar?); who makes us laugh on panel shows; who is the non-boring bit of the Conservatives.
I suddenly caught a glimpse of what purgatory looks like. It’s realising you’re in agreement with Piers Morgan as he fights eternally with potential Prime Minister, Rees-Mogg
And yesterday he said he didn’t agree with same sex marriage or abortion, even cases of rape. So, I wonder, have we finally stopped laughing yet? Perhaps. Suzanne Moore, Helen Lewis, Rossalyn Warren, big feminist voices, came out in chorus to remind us there’s nothing funny about shitting on human rights. The gay community fought back, flooding the #MoggMentum hashtag with pictures of couples kissing and showing love. Perhaps we do recognise that the person lined up to be the next leader of the Conservative party is a dangerous bigot, and that he carries extreme views that influence the way he votes.
And perhaps we do recognise his danger, even if, as Moore points out, just like pictures of Trump in gold-gilded apartments in the 1980s, we are fascinated by Rees-Mogg’s wealth, revelling in it like porn, feeling both dirty and excited by the fact his many children have daft names and he’s got more money that every local authority in this country put together. It’s the way we all watch the Kardashians: wide-eyed, can’t look away, and we’ll say nothing about the hyper-capitalist, hyper-condescending, hyper-misogyny it’s peddling. And it’s the same with Rees-Mogg. We just laugh and point and roll our eyes at the nanny, at the tweets in Latin, at the fact he voted against raising benefits for disabled people because we can’t quite deal with what we’re seeing, and everyone else seems to be watching, too.
Rees-Mogg’s views are no great surprise. He’s voted in an ultra-conservative way for years. He is a devout Catholic, the source, he claims, of his opinions. But even against the backdrop that he may be the next Conservative leader, why are we still so aghast? Theresa May sold her soul to the DUP this summer. We can hardly forget that Theresa May is not what a feminist looks like, either.
But it was *where* he delivered this news that made the joke feel bigger than just Rees-Mogg. He sat opposite Susanna Reid and Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain, the same Piers Morgan who had the day before told Munroe Bergdorf that, as a straight white man he was “offended by being stereotyped”. As I watched the clip on social media, I suddenly caught a glimpse of what purgatory looks like. It’s realising you’re in agreement with Morgan as he fights eternally with potential Prime Minister, Rees-Mogg.
And in this pantomime, “human rights”, “same sex marriage”, “abortion”, “rape”, “discrimination" were just buzzwords to angrily throw at each other during a 7-minute slot to ensure some good social media action, to ensure some headlines, to further two white men’s egotistical paths to power and influence. Just like Trump tweeting exclamation mark-fuelled rants, it’s a red rag that both rages and blinds us to what is really happening.
And whilst we’re busy wondering how these punch lines became headliners, the rights of the most vulnerable become even more vulnerable. As if Morgan's opinions going out live to millions each morning wasn’t bad enough, now we’re allowing dangerous bigots to join in. “But they’re just one man’s views”, said everyone about Trump.
The world is increasingly led by extremities, our currency is rage and hate, our borders are Us and Them. And like Pandora’s Box, once hate is out, it’s hard to put away. Meanwhile, women are dying because they can’t access of abortions. Just today Stonewall realised a report that said incidents of LGBT crimes are drastically on the rise.
There’s nothing to laugh about in our new world order. And it will be blood on our hands if we continue to sit in pubs and laugh over wine at men like Rees-Mogg, exclaiming it will never happen.
It’s already happening.