Reports of the death of irony were greatly exaggerated


Just after the September 11th destruction of the World Trade Centre buildings in New York, several articles were published announcing the death of irony. But the current “impeachment” show, starring US President Donald Trump, and which is now monopolizing all American media, seem to have forgotten that they had announced the death of languages’ most effective literary device. “Irony” here means the use of language that contradicts itself; words or actions, according to how they were used in Greek tragedies, which “are clear to the audience or reader although unknown to the character.”

Viewing the US media, which are basically condemning Trump for soliciting help from another country (Ukraine) to influence the outcome of an American election, against the backdrop of what is known about how the US foreign intervention, puts irony front and centre.

Trump is accused of seeking help from Ukraine to influence the upcoming presidential election. To that end they sought to shed some light on the proceedings by publishing an article written in the New York Times by journalist Peter Taylor. The piece discusses America’s founding fathers’ fear of foreign influence. It highlights what the framers and signatories of the American constitution said about impeachment and the kind of “high crime” that would trigger an impeachment process. Alexander Hamilton, a well-known signatory described one such crime as giving into “the desire of foreign powers an improper ascendant in our councils.”

They were paranoid about foreign intervention and worried about a president abusing his power for personal gain; one who “subordinated the national good to foreign interests…” None other than George Washington, one of the framers and first president of the newly independent country, spoke in his farewell address to the nation of “the insidious wiles of foreign influence…one of the most baneful foes of republican government.” Two hundred and thirty two years later, a current senator, Christopher Murphy, railed: “To use America’s global credibility as a casino token to be cashed in for personal gain is an intolerable abuse of power and totally anathema to the rule of law.”

Given these days how memory is in short supply, Mr Murphy may need to be reminded of how Ronald Reagan, a man they consider to be a great president, won the job in 1980: his electoral team (Democrat Jimmy Carter was the president at the time) made a deal with Iran to wait until after the election to release the 50-odd Americans they were holding in Tehran. Or recalling Henry Kissinger who famously said: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.” The Chilean President Salvador Allende was thereafter overthrown with the help of the CIA, ushering in 17 years of dictatorship. That, ironically occurred on September 11th, 1973.

Seemingly forgotten are the more recent episodes – the ongoing operation to replace the Venezuelan president and government, the destruction of Iraq and Libya; the slow destruction of Syria; the use of economic power backed by military power to punish and break governments they don’t want, sanctions and embargos proliferate everywhere, etc. All of this against the backdrop of a debate that, among many other things, recalls some of the ideals the US set for itself in its infancy. Among them was the clear position on forbidding foreign governments from interfering in its local affairs, particularly in elections.

One would have thought that in a country where information on almost anything is readily available on every media and social platform, that Americans would have spotted the contradictions.

After all, if it’s one thing we know about the Americans is there attachment to the Bible, a book that they take very seriously and often use its teachings to direct their lives. How then can they fail to apply the Golden Rule which says: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”?

Whatever the answer, this behavior demonstrates the classic Greek definition of irony as recorded in their tragedies where “Words and actions are clear to the audience or reader although unknown to the character.”

If irony was dead on September 11th, 2001, it’s been resurrected and lives comfortably in Washington. Although, as the ancient Greeks said, the characters don’t recognize it.