I Believe In Justice

I have an idea. It’s a little out there but hear me out. Why bother? Why bother with a criminal justice system? Why bother with courts of law? Why bother with statutes and legislation? Why bother with a police service? Surely, such antiquated institutions are no longer fit for purpose in the modern world. Instead, why don’t we just try people on Facebook and in the court of public opinion? It’s a genius idea and works out much cheaper than the status quo. It could literally save billions all over the world.

I’m being facetious, of course, but having observed events during the last few weeks I’m starting to think there are those who might favour this drastic course of action. As everyone knows, Paddy Jackson, Stuart Olding, Blane McIlroy and Rory Harrison were unanimously acquitted of all charges made against them. Increasingly, though, the modern world is ignoring such realities in its insatiable desire for vigilantism and rough justice. Seemingly, our moral arbiters don’t worry so much about such trifling matters as innocence and evidence in the unforgiving court of public opinion.

It was codified as far back as the Magna Carta (and been firmly established since) that free individuals possess an entitlement to be judged by a jury of their peers. Are we really going to squander and relinquish this centuries’ old right because we now have Facebook and Twitter? That’s not very prudent. Not that I’m taking sides in this argument. I’m not taking a position on the case because I don’t have to.

It’s the jury that heard the evidence and it’s the jury’s opinion that matters. Everyone else’s view is completely and utterly irrelevant here. At the end of the day, it’s hard not to feel an enormous amount of sympathy for everyone involved in this deeply unfortunate and regrettable incident. One of the most prominent sentiments expressed in reports following the conclusion of the case was that it produced no winners. Never have truer words been written.

But you don’t have to take sides to be shocked by the sheer vindictiveness and extremity of some social media opinion expressed these last few weeks. “Let’s ignore due process and make our own mind up anyway based on snippets we’ve read on the internet and in social media.” It’s the mentality of the mob. What makes this such a minefield is that most of these utterances are obviously well intended and heartfelt. They come from a good place. But misplaced and uninformed opinion can still be sinister even if meant well. Moral certainty and polemical views can be extremely dangerous entities when borne out of ignorance and denial of basic facts.

It’s almost like we’re seeing a confrontation of old and new values. The modern world thinks everything can be solved through the prism of social media and soundbites. Even the most substantial topics are glibly reduced to memes and status updates these days. Wars, elections, corruptions and scandals: social media has you covered. Who cares if the facts haven’t been checked? Interested in activism and social change? Don’t join a political party or pressure group. Sign an online petition. Why worry if the petitioner has failed to do his or her research?

So much of this stuff is undeniably positive. Social media is a wonderful innovation and has done much to empower our generation and give it a voice. It’s quite remarkable how social media outlets cut through formality and bureaucracy to give a voice to the formerly powerless and disenfranchised. What other medium would give an unfettered platform to idiots like me?!

But with great power comes great responsibility. We must resist the excesses and lust of the mob. This isn’t Salem. Nor is the Jackson-Olding trial a reality tv show. Law can’t be reduced to memes or tweets. Even in the modern world, some matters are too substantial and important for status updates. We’re dealing with real lives, real people and their livelihoods. And perhaps the most precious thing of all: their reputation. There’s a reason why those antiquated institutions mentioned above have survived the test of time. And why they will remain long after Facebook and Twitter have been relegated to footnotes in history. We tamper with these values and standards at our peril.

# I believe in justice!

Twitter: @rorymcgimpsey

Hillary’s Trump Card!

“Hobson’s Choice: A choice of taking what is available or nothing at all.”

In a nutshell, that is the dilemma facing American voters when they take to the polls on 8 November for the U.S. Presidential election that will choose their next leader. A choice that seems like no real option at all, between two candidates who inspire apathy at best, nausea at worst. To say it’s an unenviable prospect is an understatement of epic proportions. What’s the alternative to choosing between two distinctly unappealing candidates? Staying at home? For a nation that prides itself as a bastion of democracy, there must always be a compelling reason to exercise the democratic franchise previous generations struggled to attain. Alternatively, voters can plump for Gary Johnson. However, with the Libertarian candidate all but out of the contest, where is the merit in that action? When all’s said and done, no matter how it’s diced, the 2016 Presidential election boils down to a simple, inescapable choice: Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Hobson’s choice indeed.

The overriding narrative of the campaign thus far has been a seemingly obsessive determination to keep the controversial Trump out of the White House at all costs. Until last week, the Republican nominee’s chances of victory still seemed remote, but with only a week left to attract voters, all indications suggest that the maverick businessman is closing the gap on his more illustrious rival. An ABC News/Washington Post poll remarkably has Trump leading by a percentage point over the Democratic nominee. Indeed, Clinton’s aggregate lead (at the time of writing) could even be as low as two points, depending on which pollster you listen to. All of a sudden, the heretofore unthinkable scenario involving a Trump victory is looking more plausible by the day. While a Trump win remains pretty unlikely, the outcome dreaded by many citizens in the U.S. and beyond is far from impossible. Quite a remarkable turn of events. However, as the recent Brexit vote demonstrated, improbable outcomes should never be discounted in politics.

So, what’s going on? Although Trump is ostensibly a mainstream candidate, his journey to presidential nomination is that of the definitive political outsider. Despite his ratification as a candidate by the Grand Old Party, Trump is undoubtedly a maverick and eccentric; a candidate who’s the very antithesis of political orthodoxy. While it’s easy to characterise Trump’s ambitious march to the White House as the ultimate manifestation of an oversized ego that’s spiralling out of control, his nomination is symbolic of a wider trend that’s both global and increasingly prevalent. Mr Trump’s campaign is indicative of a deepening disillusionment with establishment politics and mainstream political faces. After all, you can’t get any more “establishment” than  the GOP and yet they’ve opted for the most unorthodox candidate imaginable to square off against Hillary for the presidency. Many commentators had earmarked 2016 as an election that was eminently winnable for the Republicans and yet they’ve staked their modern political reputation on a man that courts controversy like it’s going out of fashion. Allegations of misogyny, confusion over immigration and an allegedly reprehensible attitude to Islam. None of these excesses have derailed the Trump campaign in any significant way.

Cynicism with establishment politics is evident throughout the world at the moment. It’s one of the primary drivers of the UKIP expansion into British politics and is further evidenced by the plethora of independent candidates contesting Irish elections, for example. On a more local level, disenchantment with mainstream politics was seen in the last Stormont election, where Gerry Carroll topped the poll in West Belfast for People Before Profit. If the establishment parties aren’t listening to these outcries, they should be. Voters are becoming increasingly disillusioned with political norms and conventions, and they’re turning to some extremely unorthodox alternatives as a consequence. Global recessions, economic meltdowns and unjustifiable wars have all played their part. As has declining standards of living for millions of ordinary people who feel that traditional politicians no longer represent them or their interests. Political mavericks who previously wouldn’t have stood a chance of electoral success are reaping the rewards for voter apathy and disillusionment. The upcoming U.S. election has become the unlikely nexus of this popular disdain.

The success of Trump is just one manifestation of this crisis of political confidence. A victory that once seemed absurd and preposterous is now potentially only a week away. Clinton’s inherent lack of charm and warmth is only part of the problem. Many voters are utterly fed up with the obnoxious Bush/Clinton duopoly that’s dominated the most prestigious political office in the world for over 15 years. Only Obama’s underwhelming tenure has interrupted the relentless advancement of these wealthy familial dynasties. Perhaps this is why Republicans unexpectedly anointed Trump as their nominee. He wasn’t Jeb Bush. What applies to Republican grandees, is equally true of ordinary voters. Trump represents the ultimate outsider and maverick. This is the reason the Clinton camp must fear him. Trump can win on 8 November. Make no mistake about that.

Clinton, on the other hand, seems tired and battle weary in comparison. The unfortunate allusions to her health may be somewhat below the belt, but they’ve fuelled the perception of a candidate lacking a certain freshness and energy. Certainly, it seems a lifetime since Hillary’s old man announced himself as a “bridge to the future.” The entire Clinton project seems rather jaded from the halcyon days when Bill’s charisma and charm endeared all and sundry with its universal appeal. For all that, Hillary is still the devil we all know, if you excuse my clumsy turn of phrase. A safe pair of hands that is better trusted with an office that, although diminished, is still the most important in world politics. Will Clinton’s constancy and perceived reliability be enough to finally accede to the job of her dreams in what’s surely her last chance? Or will the ultimate outsider pull off one of the greatest electoral upsets of all time? History beckons for Mrs Clinton, but the polls are too close to permit anyone sleeping easy. Despite an unfortunate lack of box office appeal, Hillary has one last trump card. She is not Donald. That may be enough to see her home by a whisker and allow the rest of us to breathe a massive sigh of relief.

Twitter: @RoryMcGimpsey




Brexit: A Sleepwalk into Disaster

The United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union”

My alarm clock went off at 6:00 as usual on Friday morning, but the world I woke up to was markedly different to the one I left when I fell asleep. It was the dulcet tones of Conor Bradford that relayed this cataclysmic news to  me. For those unfamiliar with the broadcast journalist, Bradford is a newsreader and anchor on BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster programme. His grand and patrician style is particularly appropriate for events of such significance. l couldn’t believe his words. Like most of us, I hadn’t seen this coming.

I’m a bit of political anorak and had spent most of Thursday evening watching the television analysis of the Brexit referendum. However, as I retired to slumber, all the meaningful early predictions and exit polls were calling a narrow but clear victory for the Remain campaign. Therefore, the mind-boggling news that the electorate had decided to end the UK’s 43 year membership of the EU came as an almighty shock. Coming from Northern Ireland, the Brexit debate has undoubtedly assumed a greater significance, given the complex dynamics of all-Ireland political and  economic structures. All of a sudden, we were facing the unsettling prospect of sharing a land border with the European Union. What would that mean for our industry and agriculture? On Friday morning, shock and confusion reigned above all else. Dismay was the prevailing emotion. The fact that Northern Ireland had voted to remain was scant consolation.

Once the shock had abated, my mind turned to a more rational analysis of these groundbreaking and unprecedented events. What did it all mean? How best to make sense of the madness? It occurs to me that whatever about the merits of the outcome, this was a decision made for the wrong reasons. My abiding impression of the Brexit fiasco is that this was a critical decision made by many without even a basic comprehension of the facts. I can scarcely recall a political debate where the campaign was so thin on information and rational argument. The Brexit referendum was a triumph of ignorance and alarmist rhetoric over rationality. There was plenty of noise, but no real substance. For a decision of such magnitude, the debate was painfully thin on detail. In fact, many people seemed genuinely confused about what they were actually voting about. Some folks seemed to think that the issue related to immigration. Although a misguided view, having regard to the EU’s insistence on the free movement of people, goods, and services, you can see how they came to that conclusion. Others strangely linked the referendum to terrorism. How bizarre! The idea that this unstable action has somehow made us safer in this volatile world must be the ultimate example of hysteria and ignorance triumphing over rational thought. The Brexit vote, it seems to me, is the result of a weird form of collective impulsiveness, individuals hastily making a vital decision without recourse to even the basic facts.

In truth, there are those who have no real interest in dealing with the facts in relation to this discussion . For events that are hijacked by such hysteria and febrile emotion, there is a form of “confirmation bias” at work here. Facts and details are consumed by a perfect storm of prejudice and preconceived ideas, sacred cows that cannot be challenged. It is my belief that the propagandists on both sides of this debate have no interest in hearing anything that remotely challenges their predetermined notions. For a debate of such fundamental importance, objectivity and emotional detachment were needed to drown out the rhetoric and emotion. Alas, the opposite appears to have been the case. As happens so often in these emotionally charged debates, individuals decide what side of the fence they’re on and then look for evidence, no matter how flimsy, to support and justify that preconceived view. That is an inherently flawed process when dealing with something so significant and fundamental.

The other curious factor was how many voters ostensibly sacrificed self -interest for  emotion.  It’s remarkable that Northern Irish farmers apparently derive over 70% of their income from the EU by virtue of the Common Agricultural Policy. And yet statistically, some of those same farmers must have voted for Brexit. In a region that is so dependent on EU finance and support, how can such actions be rationalised? And for that matter, it seems strange that the largest Unionist party supported a decision that seems, on the face of it, to be utterly detrimental to the stability and prosperity of their beloved United Kingdom. You wonder if they’ve given it any coherent thought. Maybe they want another Scottish referendum and the consequent break-up of the union they supposedly cherish?!  That’s before we even get to the dreadful miscalculation of David Cameron. The deeply flawed decision to hold this referendum is borne in arrogance and strategic senselessness. I’m no fan of Cameron and the Tory party, but I’ve always viewed Dave as an effective and clever politician; a consummate leader who  exerted an almost clinical control of an often dysfunctional and divided party. To have sacrificed his legacy, just a year after securing an impressive majority, is one of the greatest political errors of the last 50 years. Regret must be the least of Cameron’s emotions this morning.

In truth, Brexit has produced no real winners, aside from the remorselessly ambitious Boris and the eccentric, absurd Nigel. For all the well-meaning and naive talk of a second referendum, I think we’re stuck with this disaster. As someone living in Northern Ireland, we’re facing a particularly uncertain and potentially divisive time. What will the impact be in relation to our re-defined frontier? Surely there will be some form of enhanced demarcation and customs presence? No-one really knows for sure, but we’re about to find out. However, a time of great flux and uncertainty awaits the entire United Kingdom. Brexiteers. Strange term. Sounds a bit like musketeers. All for one and one for all? Not anymore following this seismic vote. Well, they’ve got what they wanted. The law of unintended consequences in all its dramatic glory. The UK has sleepwalked into Brexit. Now we all must face the consequences of this new and scary reality.

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/25/Boris_Johnson_July_2015.jpg

File:Boris Johnson July 2015.jpg