Margaret Thatcher and the Emotional Straitjacket of Mourning

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Britain is marking the passing of one of the most provocative and divisive leaders it has ever had this week. For reasons I’ve outlined below in another post, I was unable to weigh in on Facebook with my initial reaction. My instinct was just to say farewell, you old Battleaxe, and leave it at that. But of course, it wouldn’t have been that simple.

Whatever one has to say about Thatcher’s political legacy; her dismantling of the pre-1979 British state, her bellicosity on the world stage, her demolition of the societal bonds that once held Britain together, it would be churlish to deny that her passing is a milestone in British history. A moment where the nation can take stock of itself, reflect on how its place in the world has changed, and honestly ask itself whether the changes of the Thatcher years were for the better.

And say what you like about the Brits, at least that’s exactly what they’re doing. Compare their national discourse on the subject so far to that which followed the death of Thatcher’s good friend┬áPresident Reagan a few years ago. The American media, left, right and center, lined up to deliver weepy eulogies on the passing of the great man, close in on the stoic suffering of his widow Nancy, and cover every second of his gaudy state funeral. And heaven help anyone who didn’t toe the media line. Any criticism of his years in power, and his effect on his society were subject to the most vitriolic dismissal. The man just died! Show some respect! Have you no decency, you evil liberals? Is there no end to your depravity?

(Then, of course, Osama bin Laden and his family were brutally murdered by Navy Seals, and they poured into the streets shouting ‘USA! USA!)

Thankfully, no one cared what I thought at the time of Reagan’s death, so I was free to call him, being a slightly flippant seventeen at the time, a disastrous president, a disgusting human being, and the worst thing that would ever happen to the United States until the election of Dubya twenty years later. Being out of earshot of Bill O’Reilly, I felt able to say that with some comfort. Certainly no one in the supposedly liberal media felt the same freedom I did.

But you know what I love about the Brits? They feel that freedom. They feel it pretty deeply. I love these guys in the photo. Fuck the emotional straitjacket of politically correct mourning. Fuck, as Stuart Lee once eloquently put it in the context of Princess Diana’s death, ‘the hysterical shrieking grief of twats.’ The people going to street parties in Glasgow and Brixton know exactly what they think about Maggie, and they’re glad she’s dead. They’re allowed to feel that way, and people like Nick Clegg should stop falling over themselves to call them puerile and childish. At least they’re emotionally honest.

I will also point out that the right-wing Brits and Americans who angrily demand the sympathies of their nations when their heroes die were among the most disrespectful assholes on social media when Hugo Chavez died. And the same goes for plenty of left-wingers who all but wept into their keyboards for the great Bolivarian socialist, but don’t see the irony when they go to a street party celebrating Thatcher’s death. The worst sort of double standard is at work here. When people you agree with die, it’s a tragedy. When your enemies die, it’s cause for celebration.

That feels pretty barbaric.

But then again, maybe it’s just human nature.

As for me, If I knew Thatcher’s children, or had a deep personal relationship with Nancy Reagan, perhaps I’d mourn the passing of these two twisted, vicious ideologues. As it is, I feel mainly indifference.

(PS: It was Russell Brand, of all people, who wrote the most thoughtful and interesting commentary I’ve read so far on the subject. I recommend you give it a read. I gained a new respect for him after reading it.)