Dangerous president must be stopped in his tracks

 

Donald Trump: threat to world peace

Can I bring myself to write once more about Donald Trump? Can you bear to read any more about this malign man?

In chemistry a catalyst increases the rate of a chemical reaction without itself being altered. Last November the American electorate introduced a catalyst into the delicate chemical mix that is international politics.

And sadly the effects are all too clear to see.

As this chemical reaction intensifies, it is clear that we are living now in a world at greater risk of explosion than any time since the Cuban crisis marred the beginning of JF Kennedy’s presidency.

Trump promised America would no longer be the policeman of the world. It would turn in on itself: no more foreign policy initiatives, no more intervention in wars in far off places. He offered instead an isolationist United States, focused on making itself ‘great again’ through a domestic political agenda that put American first.

Yet in the miserable months since his inauguration – with its bitter and twisted address when he talked about “American carnage” – he has been unable to resist undermining the delicate balance that has sustained what peace we have had since the end of the world’s second global conflict.

At home he has been slowly undermining his predecessor’s health care reform – depriving millions of a basic human right to health and well-being. Abroad he has been dismantling foreign policy initiatives designed to make the world a safer place.

Obama neutralised Cuba with a rapprochement with the Castros; he was not able to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but his accord with Iran, ending its pursuit of nuclear weapons, made the middle east a much safer place. Kim Jong-Un in North Korea remained a threat, but was being increasingly isolated.

One by one, Trump has undone those achievements.

Just months after it opened, the United States’ embassy in Havana is under threat of closure.

His wilful denunciation of the Islamic Republic of Iran at the United Nations was met this past weekend with the launch of a Iranian missile which demonstrates they can, if they wish, attack their bitter enemies in both Israel and Saudi Arabia. By demonising Iran in front of an astonished UN General Assembly, Trump undermined moderates who had been winning the battle against the mullahs.

North Korea was belittled. “Rocket Man” was abused before the world, gratuitously insulted in a manner designed to provoke a reaction. And a reaction is what he got. North Korea’s foreign minister told the UN it was now evitable that North Korean rockets would “visit” the US mainland.

Let us not forget that the only country to use atomic weapons in anger thus far was the United States.

There has been much commentary on the irrationality of Jong–Un; he has been painted as a comical figure by the west. To be fair, Jong-Un does what he can to prove those prejudices correct.

But put yourself in his shoes for a moment. His embattled country has been vilified, and his opponents have done all they can to bring it to its knees. He has been humiliated repeatedly and taunted on Twitter, on television and now on the floor of the United Nations – an organisation that is built on the principle of mutual respect.

Given the belligerence of the United States, the Russian arsenal, French and British independent deterrents, and the emergence of nuclear nations such as India, Pakistan and Israel – why shouldn’t North Korea, or for that matter, Iran wish to arm themselves with nuclear weapons too.

I am not for one moment advocating the proliferation of nuclear arms; merely highlighting the imperialism of the nuclear haves who are holding the world to ransom.

The death last week of Stanislav Petrov, a nuclear worker who quite possibly saved the world from conflagration, is a timely reminder that we are all at risk while these weapons exist. Petrov was on duty when Russian’s early warning system indicated an incoming American strike. He decided it was a false alarm and did not report the warning to his superiors.

Back to our catalyst now. The attention-seeking president of the United States is a real and present danger to the world. He is being treated with kid gloves because of the client status of many western powers. The United States is ‘too big to fail’.

But the price of their silence may well be the destruction of the very political, social and economic systems they are struggling to maintain.

Jong-Un is a dangerous man. But Donald Trump is the greater threat to world peace and it is time those governments who give him tacit support recognised that.

  • This article appeared in The Irish News on 26 September 2017

 

 

 

Founded on a lie: Trump’s debt to George Washington

The finger of history: Donald Trump

Every nation needs its foundation myths. They are a way of communicating core values to succeeding generations.

The story of George Washington and his father’s cherry tree is revered in the United States. As the story goes, the six-year-old future president was given a hatchet as a present by his father.

Young George promptly took the axe to his father’s favourite cherry tree. When asked what had happened, George said: “I cannot tell a lie, I did cut it with my hatchet.” Rather than beat the boy, his father hugged him and told him that telling the truth was worth more than a mighty forest.

As the world prepares itself to witness the inauguration of Donald Trump as 45th President, we would do well to ponder the importance we place on truth in the modern age.

Trump plays fast and loose with it.

Some believe the grandstanding showman will present a new face to the world when he swears the oath of office next week.

Leopards don’t change their spots. As president-elect, Trump has behaved no differently to the obnoxious foul-mouthed carpet-bagger he was on the campaign. He will be the same in the Oval Office.

This will be a government driven by whim. Yes most politicians are self-seeking. But few take it to the level of Mr Trump.

Sigmund Freud, the celebrated psychoanalyst, believed our minds were controlled by three forces. The ego, the super ego and the id.

The id is untamed and instinctive, it is the wild child that sees the world only through its own eyes; the super ego is driven by convention and rules, it is the voice of our parents telling us to go to the naughty step. The ego is the bit that tries to find a course between the two extremes.

Mr Trump’s personality transcends ego and super ego.

Anyone who has spent time with a three-year-old child will recognize the signs of arrested development evidenced by the president-elect’s stream of invective on twitter, his abuse of vulnerable individuals who cross him, and his knee-jerk responses to perceived slights.

In his totemic Gettysberg Address, Abraham Lincoln talked about “government of the people, by the people, for the people” and he promised that it “would not perish from the earth”.

This weekend we stand on a precipice. The people have handed the keys of the free world to a man clearly unfit to hold office.

Trump’s term will be one of government by the id, for the id. The rest of us will not get a look-in.

The people who elected him will come to regret their ill-judged vote. But in the meantime, the American political system will need to find a way of minimizing his impact, and the world will have to work round him until the voters come to their senses and elect a president fit for office.

As for George Washington and his hatchet … well, the story was made up by his biographer Mason Locke Weems who knew what his public, hungry for information about Washington, wanted to read.

If anything was an omen of what was to come, the cherry tree myth (for myth it is) prefigured the post-truth society by a couple of centuries.

***

Apparently I once told Martin McGuinness that he looked cute. He had phoned the Irish News to complain that a picture – used to illustrate a story about him – was deliberately chosen to make him look like an idiot.

It is a common complaint of politicians, and truth be told journalists sometimes take pleasure in using a particularly unflattering photograph.

Telling him he looked cute in the picture was a feeble excuse, and disrespectful. (Disrespect is another journalistic trait.) And I apologize now. Given this was the early nineties, and the job he had then, it was also somewhat fool-hardly on my part. The then editor thought I was both brave and stupid.

Whatever you think of Mr McGuinness’s politics and his past, there can be no question that he has served the people of this island – nationalist and unionist – well. He was a distinguished Minister for Education, and he has performed the role of deputy First Minister to the best of his ability in very difficult circumstances.

Nationalists are well used to slights. But in refusing to work with him, the DUP has done its own people and its country an enormous disservice. So much could have been achieved with good will. Ten years on, all the DUP has to show for its tenure is a pile of ash.

The article first appeared in The Irish News on January 13 2017

It’s farewell to the Year of the Celebrity Cull

 

Death where is thy sting: Carrie Fisher

The New Year is something I hate with every fibre of my body. While most of the world is celebrating, I prefer to take to my bed with a hot water bottle.

One of my least cherished memories of my teenage years is being unwillingly dragged from my bed by my father, just past midnight on January 1, and forced to join in a rendition of Auld Lang Syne.

I’ve never much liked Robert Burns, and this particular ditty is a song I would happily consign to Room 101.

I don’t know whether my intense dislike of this hedonistic festival is down to a desire to hold on to the past, or a refusal to embrace the future. It may be both.

Now well into middle age, I have too much of the former and not enough of the latter.

New years mean uncertainty, and somewhere inside this moderately intelligent being, there’s a catastrophist struggling to get out – a little mad merchant of doom capable of believing the crackpots who claim the end of the world is nigh.

The world was supposed to end last July – the 29th to be exact – when End Time Prophesies (a YouTube channel dedicated to doom and gloom) claimed a megaquake would destroy the planet.

If it did, I didn’t notice. But maybe I just wasn’t paying attention.

***

Democracy is a funny thing. It is now clear that even if she lost the election, Hillary Clinton won the vote. She ended up almost three million votes ahead of Donald Trump.

If 100,000 votes had gone the other way in just three US states, she would have won. Yet it is the Twitter-mad billionaire who will be inaugurated President of the United States next month.

Now if ever there was reason to believe the end of the world is nigh, this is it. In office many leaders go mad. He has a head start. Trump has already hacked off the Chinese, the Mexicans and most of Nato.

Vladimir Putin, a Cold War throwback, appears to be a soul-mate. I suspect Trump will do a deal with Putin to carve up the globe, replacing embassies with a string of casinos built by Trump and run by Russian oligarchs.

My nerves are steadied only by the memory that we have been here before.

Ronald Reagan was once seen as a threat to global stability. He is now regarded as one of the finest presidents in US history (largely I suspect because he believed in doing as little as possible.

While there were scandals, not least the Iran-Contra affair – the illicit support of rebels in Nicaragua, it is also the case that the tyranny of communist dictatorship was reversed during his watch.

Marx (who has a lot to answer for) once observed that history repeats itself, once as tragedy, twice as farce. The farce is about to begin.

****

I’m glad I am not a celebrity. If it becomes known for anything, 2016 will be known as the Year of the Celebrity Cull.

As I write, the world has moved on from grieving George Michael. I have never watched Star Wars, but I warmed to Carrie Fisher when she appeared on the Graham Norton show earlier this month.

A heart attack carried her off on the way back to the States. She was a mere 60 years old. Then her mother Debbie Reynolds followed suit. Like Michael, Fisher had been through the mill. (There is always a price to pay for celebrity.)

I am sure celebrities have died in previous years. But this is the year it became fashionable: David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, the Artist formerly known as Prince, Gene Wilder, Alan Rickman, Jean Alexander, Muhammad Ali, Andrew Sachs, Victoria Wood and Ronnie Corbett to name just a few.

The tear I shed was for Liz Smith, nana in the Royale Family (the creation of Caroline Aherne who also died this year). Nana was not a celebrity but the embodiment of the generation that made me and mine: hard-working, working class women who put others before themselves.

***

One thing I can confidently predict for the new year is that the Renewable Heat Initiative at Stormont will continue to be a feature in 2017. The 108 Assembly members will continue to produce copious supplies of hot air at a cost of more than £40 million in the coming year. Most of it will disappear into Ian Paisley’s mythical ‘blue skies of Ulster’.

***

Whatever 2017 brings, let’s hope we survive it. Happy or crappy, have a good one.

  • This article first appeared in The Irish News on 30 December 2016

Trump’s hostile takeover of America succeeds

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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.

Whatever the question, Trump is not the answer

 

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Donald Trump infiltrating the Republican Party

The American sociologist Robert King Merton is not a household name. But he is one of the founding fathers of modern sociology. An unassuming professor at Columbia University, Merton, who died in 2003, pioneered the scientific study of human society.

He is perhaps most famous for his exploration of the Law of Unintended Consequences. Each of us will have experienced its effects. We do something for the right reasons, but the outcomes are often different to those we expect.

A classic example of the law in action can be seen in the current state of the British Labour Party. Those who signed nomination papers for Jeremy Corbyn, to ensure a full range of voices were heard in the leadership debates, never believed this would result in his election.

Much the same thing is happening in the United States where Donald Trump has taken over the Republican Party and is in the process of destroying it from within.

Whatever you think of their politics, the Republicans are one of the great political parties of western democracy. Among their presidents they number Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower and the greatest of them all, Abraham Lincoln.

Richard Nixon (although a crook) transformed the west’s dysfunctional relationship with China, and Ronald Reagan (by no means a towering intellectual) presided over the collapse of communism and the end of the cold war.

A President Trump would make the most recent Republican incumbent of the Oval Office – George W Bush – look like a master craftsman of the democratic arts.

Trump should have been taken down in the US Primary elections. These are designed to weed out the rubbish from the field of candidates. No-one imagined he had a chance. Then the Law of Unintended Consequences kicked in. Much the same thing happened in the Brexit referendum.

David Cameron – recently branded one of the worst prime ministers in British history in a poll of politics academics – never believed the vote would be won by a bunch of right-wing conspiracy theorists with an inferiority complex about Britain’s relationship with Europe. But it was.

Trump’s brand of negative, misogynistic politics is tailor-made for the Twitter age. It’s easy to lie in 140 characters – Tweets, sound-bites and slogans strip away the detail, the context and the facts.

And they play to an audience that is looking for simple answers to complex problems; that believes nobody is listening to their voices, and which sees the elite getting away with murder.

Lost on them is the nonsense of a multi-millionaire property developer portraying himself as an anti-elitist man of the people.

Trump is on the ballot because people have exercised their democratic right to put him there. It cannot be contested that the exercise of democracy is a good thing. Yet the unintended consequence of giving people a voice is that they may misuse it. Or worse, their legitimate fears and worries might be exploited.

History is filled with those who exercised power through the exploitation of democracy. In the last century Adolf Hitler rose to power by taking over and then undermining the democratic process.

It is instructive to look at the Merton’s analysis of why actions and motivations that are inherently good can lead to unintended consequences: ignorance, making it difficult to predict outcomes; failing to analyse problems properly; putting short-term interests ahead of long-term goals; making decisions to address problems that don’t really exist; and making decisions on the basis of outmoded value systems.

That final one is the most dangerous. It is what is fuelling Trump’s cry of “make America great again”, and it was the underpinning basis of the xenophobic, anti-European, Little Englander campaign that it taking us out of Europe,

For those of us looking on (in horror it must be said), the consequences of a Trump presidency are all too apparent. If he governs the country the way he has governed himself over this past 18 months, God help the free world.

His core vote – and he has one – has been sold a vision of a resurgent America on the side of the little people against the forces of global capitalism. If they buy into his dream, their vote will have the same unintended consequence of those who claimed Brexit would make Britain great again: a currency in free-fall, an economy unfit to meet the needs of working people, a society riven by racial hatred and abuse.

Having given us candidate Trump, the US electorate appears to be the only force capable of stopping him. Let’s hope they do.

  • This article first appeared in The Irish News