I met a girl who sang the blues
And I asked her for some happy news
But she just smiled and turned away
Don McLean, American Pie
I haven’t read any crime fiction for the last two weeks, mainly because I’ve been mesmerised by the slow-mo car crash of the 2016 US election. So this post is mostly about that seismic political event, with some crime fiction stuff mixed in. Normal service will be resumed shortly, promise.
Quite a few of us in the UK stayed up for the results, and saw almost exactly the same story unfold as for the EU Referendum back in June: the polls were unreliable, the results started going in the wrong direction almost immediately, and as the hours passed, an awful sinking feeling set in. My heart went out to my American friends, because like many of us here I could understand (at least to some extent) what you were feeling during that long, dark night: the total and utter dismay of witnessing a ‘black swan’ phenomenon that will fundamentally alter your political landscape, unleash destructive forces of xenophobia, and have potentially catastrophic long-term effects.
I’ve largely steered clear of the papers since then – the headlines read like some really bad dystopian alt-history novel – but have dipped into a few online pieces. There is some solace to be had there, such as the fact that HRC appears to have won the popular vote, and that people/organisations are already rolling up their sleeves for the work ahead (see this HuffPost piece: ‘If you’re overwhelmed by the election, here’s what you can do now’).
One thing we’ve realised here in post-Brexit UK is the importance of speaking up for our core democratic values (I explain why in the final comment below), and I’ve been struck by how vocal writers/actors such as Stephen King, George Takei and J.K. Rowling have been about the US election online. Their willingness to speak up is no small thing given the often hostile response they receive in return. This wonderful tweet from Rowling (after the results) ended up being shared over 40k times: “We stand together. We stick up for the vulnerable. We challenge bigots. We don’t let hate speech become normalised. We hold the line“. King and Rowling are part of our crime-writing community too, of course, so I’m particularly proud of them.
Two thoughts on all of this and crime fiction. Firstly, Ben Winter’s ‘Last Policeman’ trilogy has been on my mind a great deal. These novels play out in an America threatened by an asteroid strike (!!!), but I’m drawn to them at the moment because they depict individuals reacting to hostile situations with integrity and resilience (for more on the trilogy, see my post here). Secondly, crime writer Eva Dolan and I had a brief Twitter chat yesterday about how crime fiction might respond to the political events of 2016. Two trends are likely: the gritty, hard-hitting crime novel that addresses these events directly, and ‘cozy’ crime fiction that offers an escape from it all. I think both have an important role to play. We obviously need crime fiction (all fiction) to illuminate serious political, social and ethical issues, but also need to look after ourselves, which may mean seeking solace in ‘respite crime’ when required. I suspect I’ll be mixing them up liberally according to mood.
Anyhow – hands across the pond, lots of love, and on we go…
Thanks for those words of encouragement. My household is very depressed and shocked at the results, but hoping for the best.
Joining you in that hope, Tracy x
First, I love that song, Mrs. P! Thanks for including it. And thank you for your thoughtful sentiments. Thank you also for reminding us all of the role that writers and bloggers can and should play in making our world a better place. We need those voices, and I appreciate yours. Hands across the pond!
Lots of songs speaking to me at the moment, but that one stands out in particular. Such an iconic American song and its lyrics are pretty resonant in places.
I truly believe that voices and actions (no matter how small) will make a difference. Hands across the pond!
You sum up exactly how I feel, Mrs P.
At least there are lots of us with shared values who feel this way. It’s a comfort.
As long as it doesn’t get too escapist… I think you are right, Mrs. P, we need that push-pull of reality and escapism, debating issues (or even just highlighting that they exist) and relaxation.
I see it as a bit of a ying-yang balance between the two. I’d go slightly loopy if I only read gritty stuff, but agree that blocking everything out completely isn’t a viable strategy.
Good song choice. I’ve been overdosing on Leonard Cohen since yesterday’s news of his sad passing. I know he’s Canadian but a lot of what he sang about seems very pertinent right now.
I jumped in to the ‘respite crime’ end of things to see if I could get my reading mojo back on track, somehow I don’t think more anger and outrage is what I need just now.
What saddens me most about the current mess is how many genuine problems in society are being highlighted and how only some of them seem to be getting attention. I won’t go into a diatribe on your excellent blog but just provide one anecdote. My 21 year old niece who is at college in northern California was physically attacked by fellow students a few weeks before the election. Her ‘crime’ was to admit that she wasn’t planning on voting for Clinton. She was screamed at, spat on, scratched and punched by a group of similar-age young women and one of them told her they would organise for her to be raped if she didn’t see the error of her ways. Until then my niece had been planning on voting for Jill Stein – she had very firm beliefs that both main candidates were as bad as each other and she really was offended at the endless marketing of her campaign as “It’s Hilary’s turn” (she sent me some of the messages and posters that I never saw here and she wrote “where does this woman get off thinking anyone gets to be my President as some kind of right of birth?”) but after that experience she decided to vote for Trump (her reasoning being that he might actually break the system which is so clearly corrupt from her point of view) and if anyone asked again she would say she was voting for Clinton. She even said in the exit poll she answered that she voted for Clinton. Part of her wants to tell the group of girls who attacked her (who she knows and who she reported to college security and who received no punishment at all) that they made her vote for Trump but she realises how dangerous that would be. Of course I am sad that my niece had to go through such a horrendous experience but I am also sad that little of this type of thing is being talked about or reported…and certainly not before the election. The media decided that all Trump’s supporters were “deplorables” or rednecks or whatever and all Clinton’s were the country’s saviours. In reality there is extremism everywhere and it’s always bad and it ought always to be called out for what it is regardless of the ‘righteousness’ of the extremists’ cause.
It will be interesting to see how crime fiction writers respond to all of this – I hope there is some compassion and a quest for real solutions to the divisions that have developed in all our communities after the first flush of stupefied outrage and anger dies down. While I think the election result was the worst thing America (and by extension the world) could have hoped for I’m concerned at some of the responses I’ve seen. Blind lashing out and random acts of violent protest are not any part of the solution and I hope like hell they are not going to be tolerated just because they are actions being carried out by “good” people (i.e. people who think like me versus those “deplorables” on the other side).
I’ll be going back to my cosy historical mystery now. Respite is called for.
Hello Bernadette – I’m so very sorry to hear about this dreadful attack on your niece and absolutely agree with you. Such behaviour is completely inexcusable and should always be condemned.
It’s horrible to see such terrible, deep-rooted divisions in American society, and such a loss of faith in the American democratic system. A time for deep political reflection.
I’m still waiting for my reading mojo to turn up 😦
And yes, RIP Leonard. Been listening to ‘Anthem’ today x
Thank you, thank you thank you for this post. As an immigrant black woman here in America, your support and words of encouragement mean the world. It’s been a rough, sobering few days, but I am somewhat comforted by the encouragement I have received from friends both near and far. And for words like yours. Again, thank you for this thoughtful post.
You’re most welcome, Gillian. I hope you can draw some comfort from the popular vote too, which shows that the majority of US citizens do not want DT as their president. And from what I’ve seen online, there are many, many good people and organisations who will be fighting his agenda every step of the way. Surround yourself with them and stay strong. Keep in touch if you’d like via the ‘Contact’ page xxx
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Mrs P. I think both Brexet and the US election results are a wake up call to those of us who want a better world. We have to get better at listening and not silencing dissent (Bernadette, what happened to your niece makes my blood boil). I’m tempted to write escapist cozies myself, but anything I write tends to turn political…
I agree, Angela – very much a wake-up call. And yes, absolutely, we do need to listen carefully to others’ views and in particular the reasons that have led so many to become politically alienated. But I reckon we also have to take on post-truth politics, which freely distorts or misrepresents facts. We saw lots of that from the ‘Leave’ campaign in the run up to the EU Ref. That trend really worries me, especially when it goes unchallenged in our tabloid media or in our political programmes here.
What can be more in line with Britain’s democratic values than leaving the EU? Such arrogance.
Hello John and thanks for your comment. What you say is a little ambiguous – I’m not sure whether you mean that the UK should leave the EU because you feel the EU is undemocratic, or that the decision to leave is clear-cut and democratic due to the EU referendum result.
In any case, I’ll try to explain in more detail why I have concerns about the EU referendum and the way in which the UK government is now trying to implement its result.
• The referendum vote was very close (Leave 52% vs Remain 48%). The 52% is equivalent to 37% of the British population (the overall turn-out was 76%). The mandate for leaving the EU is therefore weak. UKIP’s Nigel Farage – our most vocal Leaver – is on record as saying that he would have challenged the result if it had been the other way round (Remain 52% vs Leave 48%). See http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/nigel-farage-eu-referendum_uk_576e6585e4b08d2c56393f12
• The EU Referendum had advisory status and is not legally binding: http://uk.businessinsider.com/green-eu-referendum-not-legally-binding-brexit-2016-6. Even Farage has conceded this point, as shown in this clip from last week’s Andrew Marr show: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-eu-nigel-farage-forced-to-admit-the-eu-referendum-was-only-advisory-a7401151.html
• The UK government has signalled that it wishes to trigger Article 50 without consulting parliament, but the High Court has ruled that to do so would be unconstitutional, because parliament is sovereign. If you’ve not read the judgement, you can do so here: http://www.libdemvoice.org/understanding-the-high-court-article-50-decision-link-to-full-judgment-52354.html
• The government is appealing this decision, even though the High Court judges have cited precedents from constitutional law dating back to the 1689 Bill of Rights.
• Our tabloids have branded the High Court judges as ‘enemies of the people’, when they are simply doing their job: implementing the rule of law, upholding parliamentary sovereignty and, by extension, reaffirming our democratic values.
• Our Lord Chancellor Elizabeth Truss, whose job it is to uphold the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, has failed to support the High Court judges following their ruling in any meaningful way.
• The Leave result, aided by tabloids such as The Daily Mail is normalising xenophobia and racism in our country. There has been a spike in hate crimes since the referendum result: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/sep/28/hate-crime-horrible-spike-brexit-vote-metropolitan-police
• All of the above are in conflict with fundamental British values as enshrined in government documents (such as the 2011 ‘Prevent Strategy’) and in our educational system by OFSTED.
2. The rule of law
3. Individual liberty
4. Mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.
If we are going to leave the EU, then there needs to be proper parliamentary discussion by our elected representatives about how that should be done (a hard Brexit is not our only option). This is how democracy works. Even Stephen Phillips, a Tory Leaver and JC, is in agreement with that view, and has resigned his seat because of it.
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