Trump’s hostile takeover of America succeeds

trump

President-elect Trump routs the liberal establishment

White van man is on the march. Trump’s victory in the United States presidential race is a victory for disaffected white men – opinionated, racist misogynists – who have decided to give the establishment a kicking.

One thing is for sure, 2016 will go down in history as a watershed year. First Brexit and now Trump, reactionary forces are in the ascendant. The liberal consensus – that has dominated post-war politics – is broken.

Mrs Clinton was a flawed candidate. She carried baggage, was too close to corporate America and failed to connect with the voters. But she was the standard-bearer for liberal values and should have won. Her victory would have secured President Obama’s legacy – so he is a big loser too.

The FBI did Clinton no favours, but its intervention over her private emails only confirmed unease already there.

Like Brexit, the campaign bombed in part because those who had most to lose did not get out and vote. The working class, African Americans, millennials and women failed to give Clinton the backing she needed, and deserved.

But this was not the only reason for Trump’s triumph. He successfully mobilised voters who previously did not function as a group. Older white males gravitated to him. With his leering and hubristic bar-room campaign, he became their standard bearer.

There have been suggestions that Trump the president will be different from Trump the candidate.

But there is no reason to believe that this leopard, who scapegoated vulnerable groups to win the White House, will change his spots. Hubris, and his enormous ego, will always rise to the surface. Trump cannot help himself, he behaves like the spoilt reality TV celebrity he is.

He put on a show to win the White House; and he will ensure the show goes on. Trump will govern using the script of The Apprentice.

America has made its choice, and has a right to pick who it wants as president – even a complete amateur who has never been tested by high office. But this election is not just about America. What happens in the only remaining superpower resonates around the globe.

The world is now a more dangerous place. Volatility is the enemy of peace and security; and the leadership of the free world will soon be in the hands of an unstable demagogue.

And Trump has his doppelgänger. In Russia’s President Putin, the leadership of the unfree world is also controlled by a man who cannot be trusted – a man who believes self-preservation is the same as the national interest.

So where from here? It’s hard to see how the genie can be put back in the bottle.

Those who voted Trump and Brexit imagine there are simple solutions to complex problems. But there are no easy answers, it will take time for that to sink in. Trump will disappoint.

In the meantime, the left must find its voice again. It must find a way of reconnecting with the electorate. And it must find a champion who has a vision of a world that is positive and inclusive.

The hard right has successfully crafted a narrative that presents liberals as an out-of-touch elite. It has demonised migrants. And it has tapped into the nasty underbelly of petty nationalism.

The last time these forces were abroad, Adolf Hitler rose to power.

Trump is no Hitler. But as the rising tide of violent racism in post-Brexit Britain has demonstrated, there are risks that the demons that destroyed Weimar Germany will be unleashed. 

I hope I am wrong. But on this morning after the night before, it is difficult to dispel pessimism.

President Obama was elected with “Hope” as his one-word slogan. With Donald Trump’s election, “Abandon hope all ye who enter here,” has become the catchphrase of modern America.

Obama lays Kennedy’s Cuban ghost to rest

obama

Obama on a walkabout in Cuba

The inevitable has happened, and President Obama has walked the streets of Havana. The images of him – on the first visit of a US President to Cuba in almost a century – will become part of his lasting legacy. They are undoubtedly historic.

There is still a long way to go before US-Cuba relations are fully normal, with mutual suspicion and anger still running high. But the pressure to make the thaw work is greater and the diplomatic rebuilding is genuinely underway. The meeting between the President and Cuba’s leader Raul Castro, and Obama’s commitment to ending the US trade embargo could not have been envisioned 18 months ago.

An easy foreign policy win for an embattled and lame duck President perhaps. But it had to be done, and he will go down in history as the man who did it.

Cuba’s isolation was an anachronism, sustained more by the internal politics of the US (Florida in particular) than global politics. It is a loose end left by history – and it is rather satisfying to see a Democratic president tying up one left by another.

John F Kennedy’s presidency was defined by Cuba, first in the botched Bay of Pigs invasion, then in the stand-off with Khrushchev in the Cuban missile crisis.

The extent to which the crisis had transfixed America’s western allies is perhaps best illustrated in the memoirs of a prominent British observer, the Guardian editor of the time, Alastair Hetherington, which are held in the archive of the London School of Economics.

Britain, like the rest of the world, was a bit player during the missile crisis. As Peter Thorneycroft, Harold Macmillan’s defence minister, said: “We were all bystanders.” Macmillan offered support and a shoulder to cry on, but Kennedy was circumspect; this was the United States’ game. Britain may have had a special relationship, but like the rest of the world, Kennedy let Macmillan’s government know only what he wanted it to know.

The Guardian, which had opposed Eden on Suez, was just as concerned about the United States’ intentions against Cuba and opposed direct action. Hetherington, a former major in the Intelligence Corps, had been scarred by the reaction to his newspaper’s opposition to Suez and, as US-Cuba relations deteriorated ever further, he saw history repeating itself, but with much more serious – and more global – consequences.

A Guardian editorial on October 27 1962 addressed the issue of a possible attack on Cuba:

“Is the United States about to bomb or invade Cuba? This is now the question. Worse, there is even talk of a possible nuclear attack on Cuba. This is reliably reported as under consideration because the authorities in Washington are so troubled by the rapid approach to readiness of the intermediate range bases on the island. It would be madness.”

An American attack on Cuba, he wrote: “would seem to most of the world to be as much a piece of aggression as the British and French attack on Suez.”

The October 27 Guardian leader told Macmillan: “The British Government should make it clear that it must vote against the United States in the United Nations just as the Americans voted against us at Suez.”

Six weeks later, Hetherington met Kennedy in his study in the White House. The president talked for 40 minutes from his rocking chair. Hetherington’s note of their discussions, held in the archive of the London School of Economics, gives an insight into the mind of an editor whose views had been proved wrong by events, and a president who felt his allies had let him down.

In the memo, Hetherington writes:

“I began by saying I thought we ought to apologise for some of the things we’d said – for our misjudgements – at the time of the Cuban crisis. We’d been critical because we thought Kennedy was walking into a trap. We thought that the Russian objective was to establish the missile bases in Cuba as a bargaining counter against which they would try to trade all the American bases in western Europe and Britain. We also thought that the reaction would come with a new blockade of Berlin to balance the blockade of Cuba.”

The president was magnanimous: “Kennedy laughed off the apology, and said that perhaps our analysis hadn’t been so far out. But there had been a bit of difficulty with the British press. He hadn’t had the backing he’d expected.”

As Hetherington records it, Kennedy said there were three things about Cuba. There was “deliberate bad faith” on the Russian side. Khrushchev had given “a personal assurance to Kennedy that there would be no offensive missiles in Cuba”.

If the US had given in, its allies would have doubted its willingness to defend them in any future crisis. “This, the president said, was more important than the military effect of the missiles in Cuba… The Russians had brought about an open alteration in the balance of nuclear power. This had to be resisted.”

Kennedy told Hetherington: “Our intelligence had said that the Russians would never put offending missiles in Cuba. They would be too exposed… but their intelligence had obviously told Khrushchev that the Americans would not react.”

The most frightening thing about the crisis was just how far the two sides were from understanding each other. Hetherington writes: “Such misunderstanding could easily lead to nuclear war. This was what [Kennedy] found most frightening about the Cuba affair.”

In a statement Kennedy was fated never to see tested, he gave Hetherington his assessment of the likelihood of nuclear conflict: “How, he asked, can we get through the next ten years without nuclear war? He was not sure that we could do so.”

Asked whether there would be more progress on talks to ease tensions, Kennedy said he thought not. “It wasn’t possible to take their word for anything,” he said of the Russians.

The president then proceeded to lecture the editor on his editorial stance. “He thought the greatest flaw in what The Guardian had been writing was our failure to realise that the Russians were expansionist.”

He was dismissive about the need for a European nuclear deterrent. It would be too costly and the issue of political control was too complicated. “The bomb is great until you’ve got it,” Kennedy told Hetherington. National deterrents such as Britian and France’s, in his view, were unnecessary and dangerous.

Kennedy told Hetherington that America would welcome economic competition with the Russians: “It was a challenge that the Americans would like to meet,” Hetherington reported.

Kennedy’s view was apparently that if the two powers competed economically rather than militarily, the world could benefit. In an exchange that resonates with the agenda for the 2015 Summit of the Americas, Kennedy talked Hetherington through the challenges facing Latin American states:

Kennedy said that yesterday he had been entertaining the president of Honduras, 60% of whose people were illiterate. The day before he had had a long talk with the ambassador of Brazil, where the country was almost bankrupt, and the day before that he had seen another Latin American ambassador, half of whose people were either undernourished or near starvation.

It would be much more profitable if the Russians and the Americans competed in trying to raise standards in these countries. But unfortunately the Soviet Union was not prepared for this kind of peaceful competition. It had the urge to expand.

We live in a different world today. Instead of gauging a president’s attitude to nuclear war, The Guardian is reporting on the beginnings of a real Cuban-American thaw.

The Castros still bear intense antipathy towards Washington and its machinations but an American president has now gone walkabout on the streets of Havana. As relations between the two nations start to normalise some fine duty free cigars are undoubtedly on their way to the White House in diplomatic bags.

  • A version of this article appeared in The Conversation last April.

Obama handshake ties up Kennedy loose ends

Americas Summit

Barak Obama and Raul Castro at the Summit of the Americas

A handshake and four simple words – “those days are past” – signalled a new era of diplomacy between the United States of America and Latin America. The handshake between presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro at the opening of the Summit of the Americas was the not the first (the two met at Nelson Mandela’s funeral), but it is certainly the most significant.

There is still a long way to go before US-Cuba relations are truly normal, with mutual suspicion and anger still running high. But the pressure to make the thaw work is greater and the diplomatic rebuilding is genuinely underway at last.

Cuba’s isolation is an anachronism, sustained more by the internal politics of the US (Florida in particular) than global politics. It is a loose end left by history – and it is rather satisfying to see a Democratic president tying up one left by another.

John F Kennedy’s presidency was defined by Cuba, first in the botched Bay of Pigs invasion, then in the stand-off with Khrushchev in the Cuban missile crisis.

Global crisis

The extent to which the crisis had transfixed America’s western allies is perhaps best illustrated in the memoirs of a prominent British observer, the Guardian editor of the time, Alastair Hetherington, which are held in the archive of the London School of Economics.

Britain, like the rest of the world, was a bit player during the missile crisis. As Peter Thorneycroft, Harold Macmillan’s defence minister, said: “We were all bystanders.” Macmillan offered support and a shoulder to cry on, but Kennedy was circumspect; this was the United States’ game. Britain may have had a special relationship, but like the rest of the world, Kennedy let Macmillan’s government know only what he wanted it to know.

The Guardian, which had opposed Eden on Suez, was just as concerned about the United States’ intentions against Cuba and opposed direct action. Hetherington, a former major in the Intelligence Corps, had been scarred by the reaction to his newspapers’s opposition to Suez and, as US-Cuba relations deteriorated ever further, he saw history repeating itself, but with much more serious – and more global – consequences.

A Guardian editorial on October 27 1962 addressed the issue of a possible attack on Cuba:

Is the United States about to bomb or invade Cuba? This is now the question. Worse, there is even talk of a possible nuclear attack on Cuba. This is reliably reported as under consideration because the authorities in Washington are so troubled by the rapid approach to readiness of the intermediate range bases on the island. It would be madness.

An American attack on Cuba, he wrote: “would seem to most of the world to be as much a piece of aggression as the British and French attack on Suez.”

The October 27 Guardian leader told Macmillan: “The British Government should make it clear that it must vote against the United States in the United Nations just as the Americans voted against us at Suez.”

Fraught relationship: Nikita Kruschev and John F Kennedy in 1961.
US Department of State, CC BY

Six weeks later, Hetherington met Kennedy in his study in the White House. The president talked for 40 minutes from his rocking chair. Hetherington’s note of their discussions, held in the archive of the London School of Economics, gives an insight into the mind of an editor whose views had been proved wrong by events, and a president who felt his allies had let him down.

On the brink

In the retained memo, Hetherington writes:

I began by saying I thought we ought to apologise for some of the things we’d said – for our misjudgements – at the time of the Cuban crisis. We’d been critical because we thought Kennedy was walking into a trap. We thought that the Russian objective was to establish the missile bases in Cuba as a bargaining counter against which they would try to trade all the American bases in western Europe and Britain. We also thought that the reaction would come with a new blockade of Berlin to balance the blockade of Cuba.

The president was magnanimous: “Kennedy laughed off the apology, and said that perhaps our analysis hadn’t been so far out. But there had been a bit of difficulty with the British press. He hadn’t had the backing he’d expected.”

As Hetherington records it, Kennedy said there were three things about Cuba. There was “deliberate bad faith” on the Russian side. Khrushchev had given “a personal assurance to Kennedy that there would be no offensive missiles in Cuba”.

Fidel Castro and Nikita Kruschev in 1961.
Superdominicano via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

If the US had given in, its allies would have doubted its willingness to defend them in any future crisis. “This, the president said, was more important than the military effect of the missiles in Cuba… The Russians had brought about an open alteration in the balance of nuclear power. This had to be resisted.”

Kennedy told Hetherington: “Our intelligence had said that the Russians would never put offending missiles in Cuba. They would be too exposed… but their intelligence had obviously told Khrushchev that the Americans would not react.”

The most frightening thing about the crisis was just how far the two sides were from understanding each other. Hetherington writes: “Such misunderstanding could easily lead to nuclear war. This was what [Kennedy] found most frightening about the Cuba affair.”

In a statement Kennedy was fated never to see tested, he gave Hetherington his assessment of the likelihood of nuclear conflict: “How, he asked, can we get through the next ten years without nuclear war? He was not sure that we could do so.”

Asked whether there would be more progress on talks to ease tensions, Kennedy said he thought not. “It wasn’t possible to take their word for anything,” he said of the Russians.

The president then proceeded to lecture the editor on his editorial stance. “He thought the greatest flaw in what The Guardian had been writing was our failure to realise that the Russians were expansionist.”

He was dismissive about the need for a European nuclear deterrent. It would be too costly and the issue of political control was too complicated. “The bomb is great until you’ve got it,” Kennedy told Hetherington. National deterrents such as Britian and France’s, in his view, were unnecessary and dangerous.

Latin lessons

Kennedy told Hetherington that America would welcome economic competition with the Russians: “It was a challenge that the Americans would like to meet,” Hetherington reported.

Kennedy’s view was apparently that if the two powers competed economically rather than militarily, the world could benefit. In an exchange that resonates with the agenda for the 2015 Summit of the Americas, Kennedy talked Hetherington through the challenges facing Latin American states:

Kennedy said that yesterday he had been entertaining the president of Honduras, 60% of whose people were illiterate. The day before he had had a long talk with the ambassador of Brazil, where the country was almost bankrupt, and the day before that he had seen another Latin American ambassador, half of whose people were either undernourished or near starvation.

It would be much more profitable if the Russians and the Americans competed in trying to raise standards in these countries. But unfortunately the Soviet Union was not prepared for this kind of peaceful competition. It had the urge to expand.

We live in a different world today. Instead of gauging a president’s attitude to nuclear war, The Guardian is reporting on the beginnings of a real Cuban-American thaw.

The Castros still bear intense antipathy towards Washington and its machinations and it will be a while before an American president goes walkabout on the streets of Havana. But as relations between the two nations start to normalise, with an inevitable exchange of ambassadors, it might not be too long before some fine cigars are at last on their way to the White House in diplomatic bags.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Strange Fruit and lynch mob justice in the USA

Unknown

Lady Sings the Blues: Billie Holiday

Some voices are so compelling you just have to stop and listen. The American jazz singer Billie Holiday has such a voice.

Lady Day, as she became known, was a survivor. By the time she was 15 she had endured poverty, prostitution and prison, and you can hear it in her voice. It is the voice of a woman who has endured and lived to tell the tale. Many like her did not. One of her most famous songs is Strange Fruit. It’s not subtle.

Southern trees bear strange fruit,

Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,

Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,

Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Into the 1960s, lynchings were all too familiar; about 4,000 have been recorded but many extrajudicial murders remain unrecorded. Whites were targeted by lynch mobs too, but African Americans bore the brunt.

As for the judiciary, it also too often believed being black was enough to prove guilt. Justice may be blind, but in the United States of America it was never blind to the colour of a person’s skin.

Historical stuff? Yes, America has been transformed, equal rights is embedded in law and an African American is in the White House. Yet earlier this week I listened to a remarkable interview given by Anthony Ray Hinton. Exonerated this week, Mr Hinton spent half his life in solitary confinement in Alabama, sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit. And yes, he is black.

The thing that pained him most was the injustice done to his mother. Denied the company of her son, she died while he was still behind bars. His priority on getting out was to lay flowers on her grave.

Miscarriages of justice happen – we have seen our share on this side of the Atlantic. But in a country where the death penalty is administered with psychopathic fervour, the wrong verdict is often a matter of life and death.

There are too many examples of injustice. Since 1973, 152 people been freed after being cleared of capital crimes.

The Alabama administration’s slogan is “connecting our state with its people”. It’s website invites us to explore the great outdoors. “It’s not called Alabama the beautiful for nothing”. But behind the slick marketing lies a sick regime that uses lethal injection and electrocution to dispatch those it deems unfit to “explore the great outdoors”.

The statistics are chilling. Alabama has more than 190 people on death row, and in the US more than 3,000 citizens are waiting for the executioner’s call. Since the death penalty was reintroduced in 1976, more than 1,300 have been executed. Hanging is too good for some. Electrocution, lethal injection, and the firing squad are all deployed.

The US obsession with the death penalty is wildly at odds with the Enlightenment spirit of its founding fathers. They proclaimed their independence with the words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Injustice after injustice demonstrates these “unalienable rights” are for the chosen – and they are white.

Racial discrimination is a distinctive feature of the US justice system. According to the Equal Justice Initiative, more than half those on death row are people of colour – more than four in 10 are African Americans.

And a defendant is more likely to get the death penalty if the victim is white.

In Alabama, 65 per cent of murders involve black victims, yet 80 per cent of people on death row have been convicted of crimes in which the victims were white. The judiciary is overwhelmingly white. Only one district attorney is black, and 23 capital cases have been overturned because prosecutors were found to have excluded blacks from juries.

I listened to Mr Hinton with sympathy, but no real surprise. Later that day, when I heard Holiday singing Strange Fruit on the radio, I made the connection and fully appreciated the scale of the injustice done to him. Nothing much has changed. He was lucky to escape with his life.

While the US continues to use capital punishment, and until it addresses the racism in its judicial system, it cannot claim to be leader of the free world; and Obama’s two-term presidency will look like a hollow act of tokenism.

“Blood on the leaves, and blood on the root”, strange fruit indeed.

  • This article first appeared in The Irish News on April 10 2015