The phrase “jumping the shark” describes the moment when a once popular television show attempts to revive its fortunes by staging a dramatic and invariably self-defeating twist in its storyline or format. It is difficult to point to the exact moment when the Irish politics blog Slugger O’Toole took such a jump, though the publication (and eventual removal) of articles accusing the Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar of being animated by anti-British views because of his implied inferior mixed parentage is certainly a good place to start.
During its early years the nominally Belfast-based website, initially a lone effort, adopted an editorial line that was broadly sympathetic to the then mainstream parties of nationalism and unionism in the north-east of the country, the SDLP and UUP, and the Alliance Party above all, while being disdainful of their rivals in the DUP and Sinn Féin. With the political mainstream in the disputed region becoming the new fringe in the decade following the signing of the peace accords under the Good Friday Agreement, SO’T gradually became more explicit in its ideological leanings, moving from a moderate and relatively fair AP-style pro-union line to something closer to the editorial agendas of avowedly unionist publications like the Belfast Telegraph or some of the more politically antiquated revisionist opinion columns of national newspapers like the Sunday Independent or Irish Times.
Worse still, some of the team at Slugger O’Toole seemed to exhibit symptoms of the neo-right contagion running rampant through much of the conservative media in the United Kingdom and United States, complete with the obligatory references to alt-right favourite Jordan Peterson. Now we have days when the blog reads more like a parody of the defunct but in its time politically toxic Brexit Central or the somewhat deranged Express newspaper in the UK, its commentary on affairs in Dublin weirdly echoing some of the anti-Irish conspiracy theories that have gained popularity in Fleet Street and Westminster since the Brexit referendum of 2016. In a way you could almost compare the ideological journey of some of the figures behind SO’T to that of the former radicals who now make up the motely crew at the libertarian-right publication Spiked Online. Dissidents turned reactionaries, and not above letting ideology trump logic or reason in pursuit of good rhetorical barbs to fire at their enemies, no matter how ridiculous. Take the lines below from a Slugger O’Toole opinion piece.
I was asked recently if I thought the present southern government would last the year out. I’d seen odds suggesting Micheál Martin would not last the year out, but above all Martin is a stoic…
With the Brexit deal under strain, his refusal to trade in near-ubiquitous anti-British rhetoric may just clear a sane space for the kind of economic rescue that was always needed from the start.
…as many Irish Americans are working in prominent positions within the Trump administration, it’s clear that Ireland is pretty fond of its own bad boys (and girls) too.
…reducing the Taoiseach’s moral objection to Sinn Féin as Ireland’s Trumpian (promoting anti-British as opposed to anti-immigrant feeling) project par excellence to a personal trait rather than tackling the substantial point.
This absence of humanity within the machine is what drives good people towards tell-them-what-they-want-to-hear populists like Trump and Mary Lou. And this silent complicity, as I would put it, is something almost universally missed by those who claim to oppose them.
It’s easy to criticise Trump in Ireland, Sinn Féin not so much.
For Harris (and I think I agree with him), Martin despite his misfortune at the ballot box in February is one of the few voices in Irish politics standing against the wave of populist sentiment
These exchanges don’t earn the Taoiseach much favour elsewhere, but they do show a grasp of north-south relations that’s been shaded from the public square by Sinn Féin’s ethno-nationalist populism and the previous administration’s deployment of anti-British rhetoric viz a viz Brexit negotiation.
Sinn Féin’s capacity to speak directly to communal fears and a sense of economic and social abandonment, while claiming that they alone understand and care for them has put them on a course for power and with that the island on a course for conflict…
If this nonsense had been written by a British newspaper columnist I would have dismissed it along with the dozens of other articles penned by right-wing journalists in Britain (and the US) with zero insight or understanding of politics in Ireland. However it comes from a blog claiming to offer an informed and balanced analysis of Irish affairs. Such news quackery offers neither. It’s merely another manifestation of a strain of homegrown opposition to Sinn Féin and its policies that has spread its British unionist and Irish revisionist roots into the new soil of Anglo-American “culture war” politics. The same opposition to progressive republican politics in this country that is reflected across the mass of the Irish media, not in (historical) fear of the ballot box in one hand and the Armalite in the other but in (fantastical) fear of the ballot box in one hand and Das Kapital in the other.
That is the illusionary shark the team at SO’T are seeking to jump.