Our president has been accused, many times, of aspiring to become a dictator. Certainly he behaves like one, much of the time. Given the chance that is exactly what he'd become. The point we may wish to consider is that historically (in modern times) Dictators have tended to arise only in places where there has been immense poverty. So nazism was a direct result of the catastrophic collapse of the German economy. Napoleon rose to power in the aftermath of the upheaval that was The French Revolution, which left their economy in tatters. Franco took over a badly fragmented Spain. Mussolini grabbed power in an Italy that was so impoverished and divided that it was in economic collapse. In such cases the impression of the citizens was that they were without resources. So, Italy before Mussolini had very little heavy industry - and it was therefore somewhat defenseless compared to the industrial might of many of its neighbors. France before Napoleon was afraid of foreign invasions. Japan under Hirohito was starved of oil and steel, and so invaded China and then the Philippines to get what it needed. China under Mao could not feed its populace. These are the breeding grounds of Dictators. The US, by comparison, has always been wealthy beyond most people's beliefs. The natural resources here are extraordinary. This country has defied tyranny because we've had no reason to believe that tyranny will serve us any better. Trump's dubious achievement is that he persuaded a significant portion of the population that there simply isn't enough wealth to go around, and that "immigrants" are to blame. Obviously this notion is not true. This is still the richest nation on earth. There is plenty of wealth, even with that thieving 1% in charge of so much. Look around, people. Trump sold you a lie.
What we've been told, many times by post-election analysts, is that Trump voters are those who felt Washington had ignored them and that neither party was taking them into account. That is indeed a sad situation. Yet it is no good reason for voting the way they did. America in 2016 was far from perfect. But plenty of people from all over the world were only too happy to come here in order too find a better life - a better life, notice, than most of the rest of the world could offer. Doesn't that say something? I emigrated thirty-two years ago. My own (British) government had destroyed the jobs market, so I came to the US. Since there is so much opportunity in the US, why do so many people believe that it's a dwindling resource, one to be protected by walls, expulsions of foreigners and so on? What sort of illogic is that? The answer may be something less than pleasant. Trump always felt he'd been ignored by those in power. He is also shifty, deceitful, manipulative, dishonest, entitled, frightened, and angry. What happened in the election was that these personal aspects of his character came through his speeches at a subliminal level. And you know what? He appealed to those people who were, fundamentally exactly like himself. Dishonesty spoke to dishonesty. People who liked what they saw were essentially responding to those instincts within themselves, projected onto his already unpleasant attributes. Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who is the ugliest of them all?
About that non-handshake between Trump and Merkel this week... Yes, it was a snub. It was also astonishingly crude. If you want to convey disapproval of a political leader there are plenty of ways of doing it, all of them better. Trump doesn't seem to know what the art of the diplomatic snub is. Just another thing he doesn't know. To be fair, though, Merkel herself wasn't that phased by it. One could almost hear her thinking: OK, if that's the way you are, then that says it all. So she paused, and in that pause she showed that she was less than eager to shake his hand, too. Who looked like an idiot? Not Merkel.
Perhaps you've already noticed the blizzard of edicts coming from the Oval Office. These pieces of paper threaten to undo many of the protections and services we've had for many years, and nothing is going to replace them if they go. Please recognize, though, that they are not yet law, and need to be challenged. The problem is that the Oval Office is deliberately issuing far more of these than we can ever hope to deal with. It's the equivalent of speeding up the conveyor belt. The aim is simple: wear us down, wear us out. When we're exhausted then the heavy laws will be passed, and we won't have enough energy to fight back. That's what the edict maker wants. So, good people, it's absolutely OK to pace yourself. While the flurry of activity is distracting us we are very likely to have our pockets picked -- unless we know we're being "played". Personally I'm doing all I can without driving myself or others crazy. Then I'm also giving money to the ACLU and other such causes. They know all about fighting the legal issues. For me this is the equivalent of working smart.
I read with interest today (Guardian: 17 Feb.) that scientists are on the verge of de-extinctioning the woolly mammoth. In two years or so they should be able to recreate something close to this enormous creature through DNA manipulations I do not pretend to understand. So we'll have woolly mammoths, which lived in the Arctic-like Ice Age, just about the same time the Arctic ceases to exist and elephants become extinct. Forgive me if I'm underwhelmed. Now, I admire science. I love that we explore such astonishing things. What I have trouble with is science that can do amazing things when the larger world seems intent on destruction which renders science's progress useless. For example: We have ever better ways of harnessing solar and wind energy. Yet the US government is defunding that research so we can keep burning fossil fuels. We have ways of reducing pollution ready to hand, yet the US has gutted the EPA. And so on. I hope we can de-extinction the woolly mammoth, and perhaps many other species that we are, every day, eradicating. I just wish we didn't do that eradicating in the first place.
Beauty comes in all forms and is never a guarantee of anything -- such as good character, morality, etc. But we can sometimes tell the characters of people by looking at them. With this in mind I've been surveying the pictures of some of the Republican stalwarts. Kellyanne Conway, Paul Rand, Mitch McConnell, Bannon... all of them look like very sad people who have been dragged out of the pit of hell. There's no real life in their faces, just a sort of ghastly, semi-dead mask. They all seem to be suffering. Match that to what they say and all I can point out is that, sometimes, we can see what's wrong without even having to listen that hard. Trust your eyes. These are sick and haunted people.
George Orwell has been much mentioned recently. For the most part people have chosen to read and discuss his most famous work, 1984. In it we see the ghastly aftermath of a dictatorial government take-over of The United Kingdom. The trouble with this book is that it shows how horrible things will be after a totalitarian take-over. It doesn’t tell us how to resist one. If we shift our gaze a little we can see a different book, also by Orwell, that should perhaps be more considered. I mean Homage to Catalonia, his frequently ignored description of the Spanish Civil War. In it Orwell describes the different leftist and liberal groups that opposed the dictator Franco. While it is a book of complexity and subtlety the biggest point it makes, again and again, is that the leftists could easily have won if they had only banded together. Instead they divided according to political creed and philosophy. The Marxists argued with the Trotskyites; the Marxist–Leninists argued with the POUM (Partdio Operaio Unito Marxista) who were in turn stymied by the OUM, and so on. Franco didn’t so much win as stand by while the various factions of the left destroyed each other. While diversity is always a wonderful idea, what we need to do is focus on defeating Trump. That means we all agree to choose a specific aspect of what he has done (his taxes might be a good place to start) and then we use all our force to impeach him. Immense pressure on one specific point will stop him in his tracks. The Republicans taught us this. Think of the Clintons and Whitewater; think of Bill Clinton and Lewinski; think of Obama and the birth certificate; and so on. The specific target matters less than the powerful ability to do damage using any target at all. It’s time to focus. Let’s do it before it’s too late.
Teaching my class on the Grimms' tales the other day a young woman suggested that a king who fell in love with a picture of a princess is "cursed". I thought this idea fascinating. Love -- passionate and unrealistic and idealistic love for something one sees in another -- can be a blessing or a curse. When we love like that we simply have to do something about it, and that action can open our hearts. It can also feel like an overturning of everything we know. That's why some people see it as a curse. It upsets everything. And that can feel like torture. And that's the point -- it's an opportunity to change everything we know, to become fully human, perhaps. So, next time someone annoys you, disgusts you, or infuriates you, simply wish them the experience of this passionate loving for another. It will either change them utterly, or be torture. I'd like certain politicians to experience this love. I wish them to experience a love that will humanize them.
This afternoon as I gazed from the window I caught a flash of movement across the back garden. I looked again, and another quick movement. Whatever it was had gone into the shade and was up-sun of me. Then I saw it; a Northern Harrier had killed and was eating a sparrow (I think) and was now scattering feathers across the ground.It stayed there, feeding, for about 20 minutes. At first I thought how cool it was to see a raptor here in the city. Then i thought about the poor sparrow. Then I found myself thinking that a hawk was of more value than a sparrow. Wait. Really? Both are birds; both are lives. So are some lives of more value than others? Then I found myself thinking that "this was the way of Nature". Some creatures must die and be eaten, clearly, and sparrows are worth less than Hawks. But then I caught myself. That may be true of Nature, and that's fine. But this, where we live, this is Society; and Society stands against the savagery of Nature. It values all lives because we don't have to prey on each other. We don't have to victimize any person or class of people. Society has evolved specifically to offset that. Let us remember that we live in a Society -- and that no matter what legislation is forced on us we are not going to regress to a state of Nature.