Some months ago (it was June 2, but politics has been moving so fast it might as well have been June 2015), it was quite a nasty shock to see the BBC’s Political Editor, Laura Kuenssberg, using the Twitter-friendly phrase “just sayin”. She was responding to the hisses and boos she received at a Labour Party press conference after Jeremy Corbyn had accused the BBC of being obsessed with discrediting him.
She pointed out that as part of the referendum campaign “Corbyn also mentioned the importance of free press in his speech…just sayin”
What is this ‘just saying’ ploy all about? If you are interested in finding out do not, please, put ‘Just Saying’ into twitter’s search facility – you will find endless bloggers and tweeters called ‘justsayinthis’ and ‘justsayinthat’…
‘Just saying’ – whether with or without its final ‘g’ – is a get-out for saying something you know to be wrong or insulting to an individual or generally offensive or bullying. It is the modern equivalent of the now clichéd and largely disused phrase “Pretend I never said that” – which was often followed by “Old boy” and a chummy slap on the shoulder.
However, we seem to have reached the point at which people – not just politicians – say what they want or what trips off their errant tongues with no thought at all for how other people may be hurt, offended or incited – let alone with any regard to the truth. Some people have just enough self-awareness of what words can do to attempt to deflect criticism from themselves with a ‘Just saying’ shrug – as if it made any difference or retracted what they had said.
Is this all part of a general devaluation of words and their meanings? Take a word that has had so many outings in the past months it is now suffering from ‘meaning fatigue’: ‘democracy’.
When Trump was elected, the Foreign Office declared that a ‘democratic decision’ had been taken in the USA – so all was well. It is as though the one word ‘democracy’ excuses everything – in whatever guise it comes. It has become a mere label.
Democracy in the USA has of course changed somewhat since George Washington won his first term in Virginia’s House of Burgesses after his campaign supplied voters with about half a gallon of rum, punch, hard cider and beer for every vote he received. Did the labels on those bottles say “Democracy aware – vote sensibly”? Just drinkin.
Did the Foreign Office believe the German Democratic Republic (aka East Germany) was a democracy because the label said so? Just askin.
One commentator pointing out that Trump lost the popular vote (just) and was voted in by one in four Americans, blamed “the eccentricities of the American electoral system”.
But he failed to explain that these ‘eccentricities’ have not just grown like Topsy. They have been engineered to protect various parts of the establishment – especially business. The Supreme Court lifted restrictions on how much big businesses and the super rich could spend to buy influence during campaigning – or even to ‘buy the Presidency’.
Republicans in control of Congress and many state governments have made registering to vote harder – not doubt learning from Hitler and Mugabe. (The Coalition government even had a little try at that ploy – which may have affected the result of Britain’s last election.) At the detailed level gerrymandering of boundaries is rife and exploited by whichever of America’s two parties holds sway in an area.
And of course politicians can lie to the people with impunity. They are ‘just sayin’ – just as British politicians lied during the Referendum campaign. It’s all part of the political game.
When Trump said that if he lost the election he would not accept the result was he lying, boasting or ‘just sayin’?
So when the local elections come round next Spring, Marlborough.News is going to produce thousands of baseball caps with “Make Marlborough Great Again” embroidered on them (probably made in China just to tweak Mr Trump’s nose.) And we will donate them to the candidate who could best be said to have plans to make that promise come true. Really? No – just teasin.