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Shouting in a hurricane

A plea for more moderate political language is admirable but doomed to fail, fears Sam Leith

Enough Said: What’s Gone Wrong with the Language of Politics?by Mark Thompson (Bodley Head, £25)

“Libtard.” “Racist.” “Cry-bully.” “Denier.” “Zionist.” “Fascist.” “Trot.” “Terrorist sympathiser.” “Cuck.” “Loony.” “Blairite.” The vocabulary of political insult has reached a glorious apogee in our age. In most if not all advanced democracies, now, we contemplate a dynamited centre ground, the rise of populists of left and right alike, and— at least among political and media elites— a sense that public trust in establishment politics is at an all time low. Evidencebased argument has given way to ideological dog-whistling, listening has given way to shouting, and truth has given way to (in US comedian Stephen Colbert’s excellent formulation) “truthiness.” We live in an age of “post-factual politics.” To quote Donald Trump (as Mark Thompson does in his first chapter): “There is great anger. Believe me, there is great anger.”

Even if you regard the above as an overstatement—as, perhaps, the received wisdom of legacy media types and complacent old-school politicians disturbed by the democratic freedoms of the digital age— you would struggle to make the case that it’s business as usual. For better or worse, something is going on in our politics. Mark Thompson, President and CEO of the New York Times, former Channel 4 CEO, former Director-General of the BBC, and sometime Humanitas Visiting Professor of Rhetoric and the Art of Public Persuasion at the University of Oxford, attempts in this book to describe what it is.

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s November issue: Sam Tanenhaus argues Donald Trump is a consequence of the American government ignoring the people—and they’ll have to deal with his impact whether he wins or loses the presidential election. Diane Roberts explores the rage eating America by looking at the people that government has failed. Switching the focus to the UK, David Marquand and a quartet of commentators assess Labour’s position—with varying conclusions. Also in this issue: Matthew Qvortrup looks at the relationship between Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin, two of Europe’s most important politicians whose lives have long been intertwined. Andy Burnham, Labour’s candidate for the mayor of Manchester, lays down the reasons why the northern powerhouse is so important and Prospect’s Arts and Books Editor Sameer Rahim reviews Zadie Smith’s latest novel.