There is a word we have been missing in the English language: traitriotism. This article explains what traitriotism is and why it is such a powerful tool in the hands of the unscrupulous.
But first, let’s do a little thought experiment. Suppose you were leading a political party whose aim was to enrich a tiny group of people at the expense of the bulk of your own population. Getting elected in the first place, might not be too difficult – as long as you were careful not to reveal your intentions.
But once you had been in power for a while, and people found that, rather than benefiting from your tenure, they were getting poorer year-on-year, re-election would become increasingly difficult.
So how could you hold onto power?
It would be vital to convince enough of the population that, despite all the evidence, your party was the solution not the problem. You would need to move the debate away from the facts about your performance and onto other issues.
You would need to find a way to dodge reality. And that is exactly what the UK government has been doing, so far successfully:
- The far-right has developed an extensive and highly effective toolkit of rhetorical devices which create a powerful emotional response and shift the debate away from the facts about their performance and that of the UK while they have been in power;
- Of these, traitriotism is the most powerful and is increasingly the preferred rhetorical trick of this government;
- We must be careful not to fall into the trap.
The Far-Right Has a Toolkit of Rhetorical Devices
This table explains just a few of the rhetorical tricks the extreme right uses to distract attention away from the effects of its own policies and to divide and demotivate its opponents and the population in general:
|Rhetorical trick||How it works|
|Reality inversion||Simply claim the opposite of the truth – eg
“The UK has the strongest economy in the G7”
“The left-wing elite has a stranglehold on our media”
|Morality inversion||Claim that (your own) immoral behaviour is upstanding and (your opponents’) moral behaviour is reprehensible – eg
Attack those who oppose racial and other discrimination: “Suella Braverman revealed that her officials took part in almost 2,000 hours of diversity training as she declared a war on ‘woke witch trials’”.
Celebrate those who exploit every form of tax avoidance – and by implication criticise those who willingly pay their taxes for the benefit of society as not taking responsibility for their families:
|Blame-shifting||Blame a problem you have created yourself on some suitable third party – eg
Blame immigrants for the NHS waiting lists: “the last thing our NHS can afford is … uncontrolled and unlimited immigration, which would could cripple our health service, leaving it understaffed and underfunded.”
Blame the people who point out the problems you have caused: “Rishi Sunak says he plans to widen the definition of extremism to include people who vilify the country”
Blame the victims of your policies. Victim-blaming has long been a highly effective technique: for example attacking “stubborn” working-age people who “refuse” to get jobs
|False equivalence||Claim that your opponents’ or even the entire population’s behaviour is just as bad as your own – eg
Pretend that Starmer’s (already investigated and found to be legal) beer and curry was equivalent to Johnson’s illegal partying and lying to parliament: “Are you going to korma quietly, Sir?”
Pretend that a criminal offence with a penalty of up to £10,000 is something everyone has committed: “Come on Cathy, you’ve broken the law, I’ve broken the law. It was a fixed penalty notice. We’ve all broken the law in that case.”
|Dog-Whistling||Use euphemisms to convey your meaning in a deniable way – eg
Don’t say, “I think black people should be stopped and searched more than others” because that is undeniably racist; do say “Stop and search is a proportionate and targeted measure that helps to keep our streets safer” which reassures the racists among your voters that you are on their side.
Say: “We are prepared to take difficult decisions” or talk about “fiscal responsibility” when you mean, “we are preparing to slash benefits and public services, which will make life difficult for most of the UK population, but not for our donors.”
|Traitriotism||Use the language and symbolism of patriotism to obscure the harm you are doing to your compatriots – eg
Claim to represent ‘Britannia’ while blaming the UK’s poor economic performance on British workers: “The British are among the worst idlers in the world.’”
These techniques have all been effective; and traitriotism, which combines the others into a single rhetorical weapon, is the most powerful.
Why Traitriotism is the Most Powerful
When Johnson (Samuel, not Boris) said: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel,” he was not referring to true patriotism – a deep and genuine love for one’s country and a willingness to work on behalf of one’s compatriots; he meant traitriotism. As his biographer, Boswell, put it: “he did not mean a real and generous love of our country, but that pretended patriotism which so many, in all ages and countries, have made a cloak for self-interest.”
At first glance, the idea that a deeply anti-British party could brand itself as patriotic and its opponents as unpatriotic might seem hopeless:
- They do not care for the British people – they hold normal people in contempt: “the worst idlers in the world,” “ordinary subject citizens,” etc and their policies have reduced real wages, damaged public services, and caused soaring rates of poverty;
- They do not care for the British economy – the economy has performed far worse over the last 12 years than it did even during the legendary 1970s; and current plans will damage it further;
- They do not care for the British countryside or the environment in general – they have put the future of British farming at grave risk; they allow water companies to flood our rivers and beaches with sewage; and they are keen to encourage fracking on land and oil production in the North Sea.
But the very fact that there is such a thing as true patriotism means that they can blur the distinction between patriotism and traitriotism, and traitriotism becomes feasible. In fact, since we have not had a word for traitriotism, even calling-out the distinction has not been easy.
The reason traitriotism is so powerful because it taps into our base instincts, both the best and worst.
On the positive side, most people do care about their compatriots, just about everybody wants to see a strong UK economy; and most people care greatly about the environment. These are patriotic values and if they can tap into them, they have a lot of us on their side.
And on the negative side, traitriotism allows them to tap into our fears. Many people have been persuaded that the reason public services are failing is that they are over-stretched because of uncontrolled immigration. A key plank of traitriotism is pushing ever-more racist ideology so that the opposition it provokes can be painted as the real problem (“activist lawyers” etc). Protection of the environment can be described as anti-business or anti-growth – and at a time when the economy is struggling badly, many people are desperate to see the possibility of growth. By branding those on benefits as scroungers, taking money from hard-working people, the government can turn the hardship they have inflicted on millions of families into a reason for re-electing them.
Most importantly, if they can paint their opponents as unpatriotic, they can still win. Those who oppose the “creative” destruction of the UK, must be careful not to let them do that.
We Must Take Care Not to Fall into the Trap
Although at first glance, traitriotism seems feeble and implausible, it contains a trap which is easy for us to fall into. Our natural reaction to traitriotism is to push back or play along. Both are extremely dangerous.
If we push-back, unless we are careful, we support their attempts to position us as unpatriotic. For example, when traitriots drape themselves in the Union Flag, if we respond by attacking the profusion of flags, rather than the hypocrisy of a traitriot exploiting the flag, we play straight into their hands.
If we play along, for example, with Truss’s invented “anti-growth coalition” opposing the government, we risk turning an obvious nonsense into something Conservative voters can believe in.
For people already opposed to Truss, it is clear that this example is intended to ridicule Truss’s claim; but for the rest of the population, it helps them visualise the idea of an anti-growth coalition and the kinds of people who might be in it. It brings the nonsense to life and makes it feel real.
Here is another example, which is perhaps even more self-destructive: it risks turning Truss’s rhetorical invention into something people can see all around them.
In contrast, Ian Hislop showed brilliantly how to call-out the rhetoric.
With all of these rhetorical tricks, the most effective way to tackle them is to ignore the supposed message and attack the trick itself. Make it explicit what the trick is trying to do. Call it out. And in particular, call out the facts that the rhetorical trick is designed to obscure.
Here we see Truss giving a near-perfect illustration of traitriotism. She employs:
- Not one but two Union Flags on her podium to hide her distaste for her compatriots;
- A slogan “Getting Britain Moving” to hide the fact that her plan would be hugely destructive for the UK; and
- An invented “anti-growth coalition” into which she lumps her political opponents to hide the fact that it is her government which has produced the low growth since 2010.
Truss is by no means the only traitriot in her party: many of her colleagues joined in with this “anti-growth coalition” campaign, but she is one of the most transparent and one of the most dangerous.
In the short term, the damage she is doing can only be halted if the Conservative Party halts it. And the party will only halt it if Conservative MPs are convinced that their electoral prospects depend on getting rid of Truss.
Two things will encourage them to act:
- Being far behind in the polls (they are); and
- Receiving a huge volume of letters from constituents making it clear that they will never vote Conservative again unless the party acts now.
So please write today. These notes make it easy – all you need to know is your own post-code!
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