I’m writing this the day after the death of the Labour MP Jo Cox. Her killing may be connected to, but in any case has happened during, a political campaign in which the well of our public discourse has been deeply poisoned. We have seen the worst of ourselves, and we have seen the worst in each other. A friend writes, quite reasonably, on Facebook that ‘Britain is broken’. It seems hard to see how this broken society will be healed when one of our best healers has been taken from us so violently. And this is a week that has seen mass homophobic murder in Orlando and also thousands of unreported or unrecognised incidents both in liberal democracies and countries that are not.
I had planned this week to write a review of the rather excellent book ‘Walk with us’, which is an anthology of thoughtful examples from fans about how the TV series The West Wing inspires or inspired them. It feels potentially superficial and crass to mention it today, but I would like to make one observation none the less. The continued popularity of series like The West Wing – and Borgen, come to that – lies in their portrayal of a politics where we can be our best selves: where flawed individuals work together for something that is bigger, more important and more enduring; that – as Jo Cox’s own work showed us – we can be better than we have been in this awful, appalling referendum campaign. This is an ideal that millions of people find reassuring and nurturing and it may provide some comfort today.
For it is at times like this that we struggle. Social media can be cathartic as we let off steam but the atmosphere can turn easily to acidic finger-pointing, gleefully picked up by a media that won’t acknowledge its own hypocrisy and complicity in making us turn on each other. We can write blog posts as an attempt to marshal our thoughts. As the fictional character Matt Santos reminds us, we hunt around for people to blame, as I have just done with the media. And we look to others to give meaning to events that can have no meaning. We require dignity, courage and perspective from people who are in their own personal worlds of grief and shock. In the world before immediate news, it was sometimes a politician rather than a journalist who had to announce a moment of fracture, and these moments can become iconic: Nehru announcing the assassination of Gandhi, Robert Kennedy on that of Martin Luther King. Today, emphasis has been given to the remarkable words of Brendan Cox as well as to the heartfelt tribute by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
What often happens is that people say that they will uphold the causes championed by those who have been killed; that we will find a way through a time of darkness. And although these words are sometimes glib, or trite, they hold resonance for us.
It’s also a time when we cling to our communities; some of the most affirming communities can be virtual, though Jo Cox’s work fighting for the dispossessed reminds us that being in front of a keyboard is not enough. We may not manage it today, or even tomorrow, but at some point we will remember that we can come together. Until next time.