They’ve done it again in the grey building on 826 Eighth Avenue, New York City, NY, USA. They – the editors of the New York Times – have launched a tumultuous broadside against the most degraded, pathetic, hopeless, rancid, ugly, stupid, ridiculous, doomed and offensively anti-democratic country in the entire world. That is to say, the United Kingdom.
This particular fusillade is quite something. Under the shouting headline The Fantasy of Brexit Britain Is Over, the author – Richard Seymour (and we shall come back to him) – serves up a grand, all-you-can-eat buffet of UK hatred.
Britain, according to Mr Seymour, is ‘economically stagnant, socially fragmented, politically adrift’. The right’s ‘Brexit fantasy’ is now a ‘nightmare’; the country is ‘corroded’, it is ‘unravelling’, its economy is ‘abysmal’, and its people are ‘dying in hospital’ in their ‘tens of thousands’. And all this is just a ‘familiar nightmare’ of ‘chaos’, ‘crippling strikes’, ‘structural problems’, and ‘chronic labor shortages’. What’s more, whenever we Brits do manage to raise a snaggle-toothed smile – for, say, the football – we are merely ‘flag-bedraggled, drunk and delirious’; we are horrible crowds ‘nourished by nationalism… roaming empty commercial streets’.
Nor does it end there. The writer gets so priapically excited by his thesis he actually questions whether Britain has a right to exist, or whether it even, you know, exists. As he puts it ‘what even is Britain’? He’s not quite sure of the answer, but that doesn’t matter, because he adds – and you can feel the author’s relishing spittle as you read the words – Britain is finally being ‘cut down to size’.
It is, as I say, quite the show. And this is not some tiny blog hidden away in the bowels of an online edition. This is a long, printed, prominent essay in the most respected paper in the United States of America. Imagine a major British newspaper publishing such a splenetic tirade against all of America and all Americans, and ultimately wondering whether America should now be destroyed, or whether America is even a thing in the first place, given its utter horribleness.
Perhaps, you might ask, this is a one-off aberration, a weird but temporary spasm: like a friend taking up ketamine for a day? Sadly, that is not the case. This frenzied attack is just the latest in a long series of assaults by the NYT on all things British. There are far too many of these histrionic articles to list here, but the following stand out merely by their headlines, which range from the curiously hurt to the frankly bizarre.
Brain Drain From Britain Delivers Boost to Estonia (November 2021). Britain’s Christmas Lament (October 2021). Britain is Heading Into a Nightmarish Winter (October 2021). Chicken, Milkshakes, Candy: Scarce in Britain’s Truck Driver Shortage (September 2021) (yes, who can forget the Great Candy Drought of autumn 2021?). Then there’s How Brexit Ruined Easter (Easter 2021). Another Day in Brexit Hell (December 2018). Could Brexit Destroy British Fashion (February 2019), 53 Tons of Rotting Pork and Other Brexit Nightmares (February 2021). And – I’m not joking – Will The Harvey Weinstein Effect Derail Brexit? (November 2017). And so on.
If you are detecting a theme here, you’re right. The New York Times hates Brexit, which might have something to do with its CEO, a British remainer called Mark Thompson. But this Britain-loathing obsession goes beyond Brexit, see: Britain is Melting (July 2022), Britain on the Brink (February 2022), Britain’s Covid Response Offers a Warning (November 2021), Waste Negligence and Cronyism: inside Britain’s Pandemic (December 2020), and No One Knows What Britain Is Anymore (November 2017) (hint: it’s a big island off northwest Europe). There are dozens more.
So: what the hell is going on? Perhaps a clue is offered in the identity of this week’s Britophobe, Richard Seymour. If you’ve not heard of him, that’s probably because he is an obscure ‘Northern Irish Marxist’ who writes a blog called ‘Leninology’, whose main claim hitherto has been that he once had to issue this piquant apology, after insulting a badly-burned Falkland Islands veteran: ‘To be absolutely clear, I do not think that Simon Weston’s injuries deserve ridicule. I emphatically do not think that people who advocate for the West Bank settlers should have their throats cut’.
This is, surely, not the normal kind of writer the New York Times goes to when commissioning a major analysis of a senior ally. Yet such is their desperation for copy critiquing Britain, it seems they abandoned any checking of credentials. They just want a hatchet job, and they don’t care who wields the hatchet. Just use the damn axe. Put the boot in. Please.
This urgent desperation suggests to me an answer to the puzzle: why does the NYT do this? Yes, Brexit is a factor, but it’s more than that. This is personal, visceral, emotional. In other words, this is much more about America than it is about Britain. This is projection.
Look at it this way. It isn’t much fun being American right now. Your cities are sinking into criminality, your sidewalks are full of drug addicts, your education system is self-harming, you are the fattest big country on earth, your health service is a cruel disaster, your towns are burned by race riots, you are shooting your own children in schools, your military is in retreat around the world, you are being supplanted as the number one nation by China, you are returning to medieval laws over abortion, your life expectancy is actually shrinking, and you recently suffered an attempted coup.
It’s not a pretty list. It is, indeed, a horrible list. America is in stark decline and its people are in anguish, so they lash out, and comfort themselves, by saying ‘look, it’s even worse over there’. And, as psychologists know, when someone lashes out, it’s always the close friends and family that get hurt. Not the strangers. America is not attacking Indonesia or Japan or Brazil. It is attacking the mother country. Britain. This is Oedipal.
And so I say this: America, we hear you. We share your pain. We see your suffering. But get a grip.
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