LOUISE O'NEILL: Right wing people hold those who identify as liberal up to impossible standards

When I realised the date of the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment might clash with a work commitment in London, I immediately set about organising a postal vote, writes Louise O’Neill.

I reasoned that if I wasn’t eligible to vote in this way, then I would simply fly over and back to Cork on May 25.

One thing was certain - I was going to vote.

This was too important. Fortunately I managed to get a postal vote but I was not expecting people to start tweeting to me after the referendum, asking if I had voted, and how I had voted, and what a hypocrite I was for not voting, after I had been so vociferous in my support for the campaign.

They then went on to accuse me of not bothering to turn up for of the Marches for Choice, and that my postal vote ‘only happened in my head’ and why didn’t I take any photos? I thought taking photos of your ballot rendered it invalid? And I had the bloody thing signed by a Commissioner of the Peace, and then a local guard.

I wanted to shout at them. I’ve been going to the marches since 2013 and had to miss last year because of work!

I didn’t say any of that. There was no point. But when I started to think about it in greater detail, I realised that this nonsense attempt to invalidate me highlighted a growing phenomenon where right wing people hold those who identify as liberal up to almost impossible standards, standards they don’t bother to apply to themselves.

When Ewan McGregor dropped out of an appearance on Good Morning Britain last year because he disagreed with derogatory comments the presenter, Piers Morgan, had made about the Women’s March, Morgan derided him as a ‘paedophile-loving hypocrite’ for working with Roman Polanski in 2010. (Polanski pleaded guilty to the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl in 1977).

While McGregor’s decision to work with Polanski was deeply regrettable, there were no allowances given for the fact that people change, they evolve; that perhaps McGregor would have made a different decision in 2018 than he had eight years previously.

McGregor had spoken out for women’s rights, and it stood to reason he should have lived an entirely blameless existence in order to do so.

At the end of May, Roseanne Barr sent a racially charged tweet comparing a former White House adviser to an ape and the backlash was swift, with her eponymous sitcom axed.

A week later, Samantha Bee, the presenter of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, described Ivanka Trump as a “feckless c**t”, and there were demands that she be fired too, with Donald Trump taking to Twitter to call it a ‘total double standard’ and Fox News debating the situation with barely concealed glee.

There was an uneasy sense that Bee played into the Republicans’ hands, that she had given them the ammunition they needed to launch an attack not just on her, but liberals as a whole.

Whatever you think about the choice of language, there was a completely false equivalency at play.

One white woman calling another white woman a ‘c**t’ might be distasteful to you, but it is not the same as describing a woman of colour as akin to what would happen if the “Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby”.

The moral outrage on the right was almost comical, given their silence when President Trump was accused of sexually assaulting numerous women, or Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for Alabama Senate was accused of serially harassing teenage girls.

The depiction of Ivanka as a delicate flower who cannot be criticised seems especially ironic given the manner in which Chelsea Clinton was treated during her father’s presidency, with Rush Limbaugh calling her ‘the White House Dog’ when she was 12 years of age.

The right claims critiques of Melania Trump are tantamount to bullying, even memes about her enormous hat or refusing to hold her husband’s hands, while blithely ignoring that Michelle Obama was subjected to vicious abuse, most of it racist, for the eight years Obama was in office.

We saw something of this false equivalency closer to home during the referendum, with people saying that ‘both sides’ behaved badly, even though I don’t remember the Pro-Choice side running a campaign based on scare-mongering and misinformation. But, as always, we on the left are expected to be infallible.

If you proclaim you are interested in social justice and equality, then you must be ‘perfect’.

That if you want to fight for a society that is fairer, more compassionate, and kinder, everything you say and do will be scrutinised, and any inevitable mistakes used to punish you. It’s absolutely exhausting.

The former host of the Daily Show, Jon Stewart, summed it up perfectly when he said:

Please understand that a lot of what the right does, and it’s maybe their greatest genius, is they’ve created a code of conduct that they police, that they themselves don’t have to, in any way, abide... Don’t get caught up in a trap of thinking you can live up to a code of integrity that will be enough for the propagandist right. There isn’t.

What do we do next? When they go low, we go high, as Michelle Obama famously said? But what if we can never go high enough to please them?

Maybe we simply need to, as Stewart said, create our “own moral code to live by.” “Don’t,” he warns, “be fooled into trying to make concessions that you think will mollify them.”

Lousie says

READ: The Storm Keeper’s Island by Catherine Doyle. This is one of the best children’s books I’ve read in years. It’s funny, exciting, and poignant, and seems destined to become a modern classic.

GO: To Bantry for the West Cork Literary Festival. I’m doing two events this year, one for adults and one for teenagers, and tickets are on sale now. Starting July 13th. See westcorkmusic.ie/literaryfestival

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