We watched the rolling CNN coverage with our mouths slightly agape, occasionally looking at each other in astonishment. I’m sure you were doing the same.
Thousands of Trump supporters swarmed over the US Capitol building, insolent feet up on the desk of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, nonchalantly taking selfies – selfies!! – with police officers, relaxed and milling around inside the seat of US democracy for all the world like busloads of tourists who’d just arrived from the Midwest. There were people in fancy dress, even a guy on a motorised scooter.
The scenes were both terrifying and laughable at the same time.
Even more laughable was the response of law enforcement, those absurd selfies aside. We all know how very different the reaction would have been to a protest that wasn’t one of angry, armed, white men.
I don’t want to dwell on Trump. Anyone who has been watching these last four years knew exactly when the ramping up of his language to full-blown incitement to insurrection was coming. I don’t want to see him again until he’s in handcuffs and in a courtroom, although I fully support Hadley Freeman’s four-years-in-the-making-I-told-you-so:
What I really want to say now is that we here in the UK (and especially Scotland because that’s where I live) have seen and heard the loudest possible warning shot across the bows of democracy.
It came in the grotesque shape of a man cosplaying Jamiroquai with a badly painted flag on his face.
What’s left of our media, of our commentariat and of our political class needs to take a deep breath, look at what they’ve created and wake the hell up.
Because they are all culpable for creating the poisonous them-and-us environment we all now inhabit.
Think of Theresa May’s hostile environment and Go Home vans.
Nigel Farage’s Breaking Point advert on the day a Labour MP was assassinated by a far-right extremist.
Take Back Control and Brexit and Remain and Leave and “you lost, get over it”.
I’m old enough to remember when the likes of Question Time was actually about debate and people accepting others had a point of view that they might not have shared but at least they believed their opponents were entitled to have and express that opposing point of view.
I’m old enough still to have pals across the political spectrum, and we have argued and ridiculed each other for what we consider ludicrous political stances. Then we’ve laughed and cried as pals do about the more important things in life. We’re still pals.
What do we gain from increasing polarisation? What do we gain if we only ever listen to or acknowledge those who think exactly like us – and if we demand that everyone thinks exactly like us?
Business talks about the silo mentality, when one part of a company doesn’t share what it’s doing with others.
Our political discourse, our civil society, even our ways of protesting are being divided into ever smaller, ever growing silos that diminish our culture in every possible way.
Don’t think what happened in Washington yesterday can’t or won’t happen here. When all you hear is what you want to hear, the bombastic rhetoric of a British Trump (and we’ve got the Billy Bunter version right here) can easily strike a chord with the disaffected, the disenchanted and the disillusioned.
We can walk back from this. But it starts with you. And me. And the first step is emerging from the silos of our own making and putting an end to the “othering” of each other.