Reasons to be fearful

Trump was Twitter’s darling for years until his account was closed down at the press of a button following the Capitol riots. But while many breathed a sigh of relief, the unfettered power and influence displayed by the social media platform should not be ignored, says Lord Digby Jones.

(Illustration by Punyaruk Baingern/Shutterstock) (29122131)
(Illustration by Punyaruk Baingern/Shutterstock) (29122131)

AS OUR world charges into a new year full of hope and trepidation, the issues are coming thick and fast:

Coronavirus

New strains, national lockdowns, government responses and consequent appalling economic damage, personal emotional stories about the very best in people but sadly the selfish, mindless side too and then always with us, the destruction of lives and livelihoods, and the tragic loss of life.

Brexit

Since you last gave me the privilege of reading these few jottings, the deal has been done, in the ‘down-at-the-wire’, last-minute fashion that was entirely predictable, sorted out between the only two actors who only ever really mattered when all the chauvinistic froth and arrogance was put back in its box, Germany and the UK.

Now it has to be made to work: more forms, more delay at borders and more vulnerability to capriciousness, but also opportunity with a capital O. Every business in the wider Europe now knows where it stands: there is certainty and a basis on which to plan, in which to invest, for the first time in four-and-a-half long, uncertain, confusing years. And huge opportunity for the UK in global markets, the likes of which have not been available for nearly half a century.

Globalisation was made for Britain in so many ways (not least its lack of protectionist tendencies, its historical and wider family ties, its production of value-added goods and services) and, as the world pivots east in Asia’s century and the UK shakes off the shackles of an EU marching valiantly towards the 1970s, she has never had such an opportunity to become the low-tax, lightly-regulated, global trader and home for inward investment that Paris, Berlin, Brussels et al always feared it would become.

America

The world looks on with a mixture of emotions: much rubbing of hands with glee in the corridors and throne rooms of Beijing, Moscow and Pyongyang; acute sadness at the sight of a great country that sent an entire male generation across the globe to risk its life and often be crippled or die as democratic freedom was embedded in places its population had never even heard of, now putting on vivid public display its divisions, its President-fuelled disrespect for democracy, its deep-rooted prejudice and violence plus fear that ‘out there’ are millions of fanatics, armed to the teeth and unstable enough to make the wrong and frightening call in the escalation away from the exercise of a proper constitutional right to peaceful protest.

And this all matters to the UK more than to most other countries. There is a special relationship between the USA and the UK, whether the Biden/Harris ticket likes it or not, especially in military and intelligence matters. America is Britain’s largest trading partner and inward investor and, often forgotten but of paramount importance at this worrying time in domestic America, the UK is one of the largest investing nations into the USA and a continuing mutually-beneficial relationship between the City of London and Wall Street is of vital importance to the lives of millions of people who don’t even know there is one.

So we should all wish the 46th incumbent of the Oval Office the greatest amount of good fortune as he is sworn in this week. It is in no one’s interests that he fails as he seeks to unite his country. (Note to Joseph Robinette Biden Jnr: less of the declining to speak to the BBC because ‘I’m Irish’ please. Remember that one of your ancestors, Charles Biden, was a thorough-going, first-class English colonialist with the East India Company – inconvenient of course (especially given the prejudices of your No. 2) but then history has that awkward knack of delivering embarrassing facts, doesn’t it?).

So what of the exit left (well, to Florida actually) of the pinking and preening fallen demagogue? Federal and (not affected by any possible presidential pardon) State prosecutors will make hay and Donald J Trump is about to face many a day of reckoning – he is about to discover that cheating at golf is the least of his misdemeanours.

But I would leave you with two alarming reflections on the presidential fall from grace:

1. Corporate America has publicly shunned Trump. Even the Professional Golfers’ Association has taken tournaments away from his courses. No doubt this herd instinct will see replications by businesses and sporting bodies the world over. The new year will be a cold, lonely place for Donald. But just look at the exercise of double-standards. These same organisations cosy up to China, support events (and golf courses) there, and some even endorse state policy and its prosecution. The commercial relationships with Saudi Arabia are huge. The case for the defence will mention loss of jobs at home and influence abroad if action is taken against these two disregarders of human rights. ‘That shouldn’t stop us putting the boot in where we can,’ I hear them say. ‘And anyway, it’s good for biz both ways,’ they don’t add, but should.

2. Trump was Twitter’s darling. The last four years (and a few before that) have been of mutual benefit to individual and social media platform alike. Indeed, the entire Trump followers phenomenon is a product of Twitter. If you want to see just how damaging its consequences can be, just view again those dreadful scenes at the Capitol.

In the backlash, Twitter banned a democratically elected President and, at a stroke, cut off his primary method of communication. I guess, like me, millions breathed a huge sigh of relief. But think on: you can, right now at this minute, go on Twitter and read the anti-vaccine conspiracy theories of Iran’s leaders, you can read the diatribes from Chinese Embassies and from Saudi Arabia’s powerful rulers; on many platforms you can access with ease hate speech and worse. Just ask the parents of that poor girl who followed social media and ended up hanging herself in her bedroom. All this continues behind the curtain of ‘we’re just a platform; we’re not responsible’, yet, acting as judge, jury and executioner (without a court order in sight), Twitter shut down the President with the press of a button. What unfettered power; what influence! Unelected, unaccountable, completely unassailable and very, very dangerous.

Should Trump have been prevented from inciting riots and worse? Of course he should. But don’t we have judges to make those sort of decisions, not corporate potentates with vested interests conflicting every minute?

And if they are suddenly so imbued with a social conscience, while they’re at it what about those countries whose human rights records put Trumpism into mild context?

This should all ring alarm bells in every inhabitant of the Free World and encourage people to vote with their feet and wallets when they can, in the cause of debunking sheer hypocrisy and reclaiming democracy and the rule of law – reclaiming not from louts egged on by a sore loser and vanquished bully but from unelected, unaccountable staggeringly powerful entities whose unchecked prosecution of self-interest is one of the greatest things of which to be fearful as 2021 unfolds.

Happy New Year!

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