Spare a thought for the disenfranchised
By Tim Charlesworth (@Timc1972)
So Donald Trump has been inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States to a chorus of generally gnashed teeth, the world over (although the world still seems to be turning). Trump puts me in mind of the apocryphal Roman emperors Nero and Caligula. By popular reputation he is vain, self-serving, brash, aggressive and arbitrary. Historians debate whether or not those Roman emperors deserve those reputations in much the same ways that many contemporaries believe that Donald Trump is misunderstood. The very idea of Trump the emperor is an instructive one.
We live in a world where the United States is largely unchallenged as the pre-eminent economic and military power. The US president is commonly described as the ‘leader of the free world’, and it often strikes me that I am really a subject of an American empire. It’s an empire that projects ‘soft power’ rather than the ‘administrative power’ which both the Roman and British empires relied upon, but an empire nonetheless. The American empire is far from unique in the use of soft power. Eighteenth Century France and Fifth Century BC Athens, were both empires that projected their power through influence rather than direct administration.
One of the things that makes me feel as if I am part of an empire is that fact that I have no say in the choice of the leader of the ‘free world’ in which I live. In that sense I am a subject, not a citizen of that empire, and only US citizens are true citizen’s, because they have the power to elect the leader. And it is this sense of ‘subjection’ which seems to be making Trump’s election so unpalatable to Europeans (I’m pretty sure that Trump would have lost if Europeans had been allowed to vote). For most of my life, the choice of US President has been a subject of interest rather than obsession for most British people, but that changes when a candidate is chosen who many people genuinely fear or despise.
I had the pleasure of watching arch-WOB Piers Morgan on BBC Question time last week. Trump and Brexit were naturally the main topics of conversation. Morgan is essentially pro-Trump and I was struck by his pleading for people to ‘understand’ Trump and ‘give him a chance’ (Morgan doesn’t extend the same courtesy to Arsene Wenger). The emotions of the exasperated anti-Trumpists and Remainers in the Question Time audience reminded me of nothing as much as the emotions of the WOB. Their world is moving in a fundamental direction that they disagree with, and there is nothing that they can do about it. They have become the disenfranchised. Both groups complain that they have been defeated by dishonest campaigns and fake news, as if this is some kind of new phenomenon in our world, but the post-truth, fake news world is something that has been brewing for a while:
- The football transfer gossip market is a perfect example of fake news (as is often observed on Untold Arsenal)
- Richard Dawkins (amongst other scientists) has been complaining long and loud about the advances of ‘creationism’ and the now widespread teaching that animals were created by god rather than evolution.
- US Republicans (including the Donald) spent much of Obama’s Presidency complaining that Obama’s birth certificate was falsified and that he was not born in the USA, and therefore not qualified to be its President. As far as I can tell, this claim is entirely false and mischievous.
There has always been a grey area between ‘fact’ and ‘opinion’, but we now live in a world where people find this boundary so tricky, that they have lost all interest in distinguishing between the two, where rumour and innuendo are given equal weight to carefully established facts. WOB chat sites routinely repeat the idea that Arsene Wenger only won trophies with ‘George Graham’s defence’. A little bit of research, or knowledge, instantly exposes the nonsense of this: none of the Invincibles back five of Lehmann, Lauren, Campbell, Toure and Cole played for George Graham. The 2001/2 double winning team also rarely employed defenders who had played under Graham, other than Keown, who Graham sold, but truth is not the point here, and the allegation is repeated so often that it almost looks like ‘common wisdom’.
Few people are still holding out against the post-truth tide, and Untold Arsenal is one such place. Traditional media is under mortal threat, and in no mood to stand on high journalistic principles. The newspaper world is being destroyed by the internet and television channels are reeling from the blows delivered by multiple channels and online streaming services. As media outlets and news sources proliferate, there is ever more room for ‘niche outlets’ that only present news from a single viewpoint. Arsenal fans can now get all their news and ‘facts’ from websites that adopt firm AKB or WOB positions, and need never look at the ‘enemy’ news outlets.
The frustrated Remainers and anti-Trumpists (your author is in both camps) are trapped in a world where choices have gone against them. It seems scant consolation to remind them that they live in a democracy. Their democratic choices have been ignored or over-ruled, and this leaves them in the same place as the WOB. The WOB don’t have ‘an opinion’ that Wenger is past his sell by date, they know if for a fact. Given this ‘fact’, they conclude that the Board are incompetent, the players are deluded and the AKB fans are traitors. They can only see the club in the light of the fin de siècle purgatory that characterised the end of George Graham’s time. Success is unthinkable, and they just want Arsenal to lose and fail, so that it can all be over.
Sometimes the AKB faction of Arsenal supporters (myself included) are intolerant of these views. We can’t understand how an Arsenal fan can hope for defeat, and we gently advise them to ‘go elsewhere’ (often in more colourful language). But, of course, they can’t go elsewhere. We know that football supporters are stuck with their team come rain or shine. They have no more choice than Remainers or anti-Trumpists. Remainers could go and live in France and anti-Trumpists could move to China, but these are not proportionate reactions, or realistic options, and a WOB Gooner cannot realistically ‘go to the Lane’. So perhaps if you are an AKB Remainer, or an anti-Trumpist, you have a little insight into how it feels to be in the WOB, and might be able to be a little more empathetic to their dilemma.
My final observation is that politically speaking, Arsenal is a dictatorship. Kroenke is the ultimate power and the WOB are helpless against him. Would it be different if Arsenal was a democracy? If the WOB could channel their energy positively into a campaign to elect a Chairman who would replace Wenger, would they be happier? What if they lost? Would they just be back to square one like Remainers, rejecting the validity of the vote, or would they be satisfied that the decision was democratic? The three most successful clubs in the world are democracies. Real Madrid and Barcelona are owned by their fans, and Bayern fans own 75% of the club. The members of these clubs choose Presidents, and those Presidents are responsible for making marquee signings and appointing managers. We occasionally sneer at these elections – like many elections they can be undignified and divisive processes, but you can’t really argue with the results! This is no coincidence – It is nearly as unusual for a Spanish or German cub to be owned by fans as it is in England. It seems that these clubs are not democratized because they are big, but rather have become large and successful as a result of being democratic. It seems that democracy and football success go together better than you might think.
So, the world is a complex place. Let’s all have sympathy for those on the losing side of a disagreement, and recognise that we may be there ourselves on occasion. We don’t know what a Trump presidency will look like, or a post-Brexit Britain, let alone a post-Wenger Arsenal. Let’s all be wary of those who tell us the ‘facts’ about these future dystopias and maybe even take a leaf from
Piers Morgan’s book and just ‘give it a chance’. Arsene Wenger has a job where he can get away with being a ‘bad loser’, but the rest of us might be wise to take It all with a bit more grace.
Tim is the author “It’s Happened Again” (available on Amazon)
Arsenal v Burnley
- Arsenal – Burnley: The long road to the upper corner
- Steve Bould’s managerial career begins with a victory
- Arsenal v Burnley. The teams, the beach, the factoids
- Arsenal v Burnley: Cheating Ladbrokes, injury news, tactical preview and Arsenal in crisis.
- Arsenal v Burnley Sunday 22 January 2017 – The Match Officials, and news of a promotion
- Arsenal v Burnley: the background stats, Burnley in season 1, and goalscorers in double figures.
- Arsenal and Burnley, the early early news
- Referee Appointments and Results Matchweek #15 complete with video evidence
- If TV football audiences really are in terminal decline, as the figures suggest, then what?
- Referee Appointments and Results Matchweek 15 – The bullet points
- Why are statistics such a problem in football? After all, the facts are out there.
From the History Society
- Arsenal in the summer: the overseas tour of 1937
- Arsenal players 1936/7, Arsenal crowds in the 30s, and comparisons with earlier years
- April / May 1937: Arsenal slip back and Man City triumph – for the moment
- The Index of articles about Arsenal players throughout history: A to K L to Z
The picture above is of The Untold Arsenal Banner is on permanent display inside the Emirates Stadium