Category Archives: US politics

“We’re taking names …”

Here’s The Hill:

New U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley on Friday warned the international governing body’s members against crossing the U.S.

“There is a new U.S.-U.N.,” she said during her first speech at U.N. headquarters. “We talked to the staff yesterday and you are gonna see a change in the way we do business.”

“Our goal, with the [Trump] administration, is to show value at the U.N.,” added Haley, the former GOP governor of South Carolina. “The way we’ll show value is to show our strength, show our voice, have the backs of our allies and make sure that our allies have our back as well.

“For those who don’t have our back, we’re taking names.”

To those of a certain age, a certain political “bent”, a certain cultural awareness, that takes us back — all the way to 1962.

There it was:

Oh we’re meeting at the courthouse at eight o’clock tonight:
You just come in the door and take the first turn to the right.
Be careful when you get there, we’d hate to be bereft,
But we’re taking down the names of everybody turning left.

Oh we’re the John Birch Society, the John Birch Society—
Here to save our country from a communistic plot!
Join the John Birch Society, help us fill the ranks:
To get this movement started, we need lots of tools and cranks.

What goes around, comes around. 

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This is oh-so-poignant

As almost-always, The New Yorker gets the alternative view:

petrusich_katchadourianyw_3530-1200

Amanda Petrusich’s account is equally worth the visit:

High noon on the day after a Presidential election: historically, a moment in which political signs are dislodged from lawns in either satisfaction or disappointment, not freshly planted in them. And yet on Wednesday morning the artist Nina Katchadourian, known for her intelligent explorations of systems—sorting, mapping, charting, coding, arranging, translating—was preparing to complete her latest showing of “Monument to the Unelected,” a collection of fifty-eight lawn signs touting the campaigns of those who ran for the country’s executive office and lost, from John Adams (1796) to Mitt Romney (2012). The installation had gone on display on the front lawn of the Lefferts Historic House, in Prospect Park. Now Katchadourian had a new sign to add to the scrum, and it was not the one that many of those gathered with her in the park hoped it would be.

This side of the Atlantic, I have a very disappointed daughter. Her Hillary 2016 tee-shirt, proudly worn around London for the last couple of weeks, after undermining the US diktats against alien support, has to join the 20o8 iteration as another failed vaunt that gender equality was reaching presidential status.

hillary-2016-t-shirts-men-s-premium-t-shirt

The Pert Young Piece will be around in 2020, 2024 and so on. She’ll be proclaiming her same partisan allegiance, and — with luck and some sanity in the Democratic Party — a similar gender bias.

How does Elizabeth Ann Warren fit?

Failing which, I have an American-born grand-daughter — tough as old boots (you should see her as an inside forward on the soccer field) — who should be coming ripe about three decades on.

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Meanwhile, a bit of American decency and good news

dfe98e-20161108-omar11Ilhan Omar is now a member of the Minnesota House of representatives, representing House District 60B.

None too many days ago, Donald Trump was telling the world how Somali immigration represented a threat to the State of Minnesota, and — by extension— to the entire United States.

The lasting success of the United States is the ability to nurture and integrate talent from around the world. Why, even the grandson of a Kallstadt draft-evader and  barber’s apprentice can make it to the White House. We’ve just got to become used to it.

Cue the coda of  The West Wing: Episode 4.01 — “20 Hours in America part 1″. Peter Lien, son of a Vietnamese refugee, has been elected to Congress.

BARTLET: Leo, meet Congressman Peter Lien, Texas 22nd. Peter, this is Leo McGarry, U.S. Air Force, 144th Fighter Wing.

LEO: Pleased to meet you, Congressman.

BARTLET: Peter’s family fishes in Galveston Bay, but they don’t catch marlin. It’s a sore spot, and he doesn’t like to talk about it. Peter’s 34 years old.

LEO: I’m sorry it’s been two months and we haven’t been able to get you up here until now.

LIEN: No, please. It’s a bust time. If there’s any help I can give you in Texas…

BARTLET: Ordinarily I would tell you that Jim Coor was a good public servant, and you’ve got big shoes to fill, and he was and you do, but obviously you have a bigger symbolic responsibilty then that.

LIEN: Yes, sir.

BARTLET: But you biggest responsibiltity isn’t symbolic, right?

LIEN: Yes, sir.

BARTLET: What is it?

LIEN: It’s my district, my country, and the Congress of the United States.

BARTLET: Welcome, my friend, to the show that never ends.

LIEN: Thank you, Mr. President.

Or, in real life, the real President lists the contributions made by Asian-Americans.

To cheer us up, there’s imminent mid-Terms on Tuesday, 6th November, 2018.

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Hillary and Trump beneath the Upas tree

The prolificly-mischievous George Steevens perpetrated one of his literary hoaxes, allegedly translated from the diary of a Dr Foersch, a (fictitious) Dutch surgeon, in Java. He invented  the upas-tree:

Erasmus Darwin, physician and scholar, a figure of some standing in botanical science and the author of several botanical works including The Loves of the Plants (1789), was another of Steevens’s victims. The London Magazine for December 1783 (pp. 511–17) carried Steevens’s description of the upas tree of Java which could kill all life within a distance of 15 to 18 miles, his source being an entirely fictitious Dutch traveller. Darwin was taken in and admitted the upas tree into his Loves of the Plants, from which Coleridge derived information…

That from the Dictionary of National Biography.

Once invented, the upas-tree had a life of its own, and became a metaphor for deadly power and influence. Southey had it, perhaps as the first, as the punch-line of Thalaba the Destroyer:

Enough the Island crimes had cried to Heaven,
The measure of their guilt was full,
The hour of wrath was come.
The poison burst the bowl,
It fell upon the earth.
The Sorceress shrieked and caught Mohareb’s robe
And called the whirlwind and away!
For lo! from that accursed venom springs,
The Upas Tree of Death.

Byron reckoned that Thalaba the Destroyer was one of Southey’sunsaleables, but that didn’t get in the way of borrowing the Southey reference in Childe Harold, Canto the Fourth (verse CXXVI):

Our life is a false nature — ’tis not in
The harmony of things, — this hard decree,
This uneradicable taint of sin,
This boundless upas, this all-blasting tree,
Whose root is earth, whose leaves and branches be
The skies which rain their plagues on men like dew —
Disease, death, bondage, all the woes we see —
And worse, the woes we see not — which throb through
The immedicable soul, with heart-aches ever new.

Our modern Upas

… is the toxic media.

  • We have it in the tabloid press (the British version might seem uniquely venomous, but — sadly — not).
  • We have in the shrill populist excess that is Fox News.
  • We have it, in excelsis, in the vowel evacuations of the shock-jocks.
  • Above all, it is the proliferation of web-sites and social media even further beyond the pale than Breitbart.

In this dispensation, anything short of vitriol is soft-soap.

How many times in recent weeks have we encountered hand-wringing despair such as this from Paul Waugh:

No one is pretending that either Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are perfect or all-wise, far from it. As the two candidates with the most negative poll ratings in history, the voters seem to be choosing which is their least worst option, via the least worst form of government. Here’s just one example: Trump’s repeated lies are well documented (a Newsweek reporter last night tweeted 100 of his worst ones, from business to politics to even fibbing about his golf score). And yet he polls ahead of Clinton for honesty. For many voters, their loathing of Hillary outweighs their distaste for Trump.

Today’s edition of The Guardian was a fine effort, with several articles of enduring worth. For now, I’ll stick with the First Leader:

… the only alternative to Mrs Clinton is Donald Trump. It needs to be said again, at this fateful moment, that Mr Trump is not a fit and proper person for the presidency. He is an irascible egomaniac. He is uninterested in the world. He has fought a campaign of abuse and nastiness, riddled with racism and misogyny. He offers slogans, not a programme. He propagates lies, ignorance and prejudice. He brings no sensibility to the contest except boundless self-admiration. He panders to everything that is worst in human nature and spurns all that is best.

Fear and Loathing revisited

Beyond the valid charges made by The Guardian, Trump is a prime example of a media creation, a thing spawned by his own monomania. Hillary Clinton is a lawyer and a politician.

And therein lies the difference.

Clinton still works within accepted patterns, professional disciplines, of behaviour. When use of a private email is a crime, we are all guilty. Every one — especially a successful, practising political operator — has their “private channels”.

Trump, though, is a fraud, a bully, a liar.

He is poison.

But he survives this far by anti-toxin imbibed from long sojourn under the Breitbart/Fox upas tree.

So I am reminded of the fable Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin generated from the upas tree:

Deep in the desert’s misery,
far in the fury of the sand,
there stands the awesome Upas Tree
lone watchman of a lifeless land.

The wilderness, a world of thirst,
in wrath engendered it and filled
its every root, every accursed
grey leafstalk with a sap that killed.

The king sends a slave to collect the poison:

He brought the deadly gum; with it
he brought some leaves, a withered bough,
while rivulets of icy sweat
ran slowly down his livid brow.

And, mission accomplished, the slave expires.

The king now uses the poison:

The king, he soaked his arrows true
in poison, and beyond the plains
dispatched those messengers and slew
his neighbors in their own domains.

If Trump beats the odds, he too is capable of such savagery.

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“Estimate $4,000,000–6,000,000”

The art-work that Norman Rockwell did for the cover of The Saturday Evening Post, edition date 4th November 1944, is up for auction at Sotheby’s in New York:

cwb8rfoxgaagj7u-jpg-large

There’s an essay on the subject, with consideration of other Rockwell comments on elections, by Lisa Pisano on line here. She says:

Occurring in the midst of the Second World War, the election dominated the national discourse as Thomas E. Dewey, the Republican governor of New York, challenged the longstanding Democratic incumbent president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, for the office. Though the war had turned in favour of the United States by late 1944, Roosevelt faced considerable hostility from those who disapproved of his signature domestic and foreign policies. Rumors concerning the President’s failing health also surrounded his campaign. For the first time in over a decade, more Americans than ever had to ask themselves, “which one?” […]

In Which One?, Rockwell depicts a resident of Cedar Rapids, Iowa standing in a voting booth, poised to cast his vote for one of the two candidates. Indicated by the array of political pamphlets that line his pocket and the morning newspaper he holds, the voter has clearly attempted to educate himself on his choice, yet the bemused expression on his face reveals that he remains stymied by the task and he continues to weigh his options on this rainy November day.  

I’ve also just seen a piece by  for The New Yorker‘s Cultural Comment, niggling at Rockwell’s constant theme: little crises of American experience

Consider “Which One? (Undecided Voter; Man in Voting Booth),” from 1944—the last year, before the present one, in which a Presidential election was contested by two New Yorkers, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Thomas E. Dewey. […]

The undecided voter is a smartly dressed middle-aged gent, inviting demographic speculation. When younger, he must have been something of a dandy. When still younger, he may have come from nothing much—rising in the world, as Americans, or at least white Americans, frequently did back then. He likely works in upper-middle management somewhere—no higher, one suspects, given a self-conscious raffishness that’s a bit incongruous at his age. He holds out against conformism.

So: a cinch for F.D.R. in past elections. But now, in 1944, the man wonders whether Republicanism might be better styled for his enhanced station in life. (You know he belongs to the country club.) […]

Being conscientiously informed on “the issues,” as evidenced by the Cedar Rapids Gazette that the man holds and by the brochures that protrude from his coat pocket, doesn’t settle anything. Does it ever? Aren’t our votes always episodes of autobiography, not about what we know but about how, and as what, we opt to see ourselves?

In 1944, as today, once the Primaries are out of the way, Iowa receives minimal attention from Presidential candidate. That’s because the State has just six votes in the Electoral College, of the 270 to guarantee a victory. It was a whit more significant in 1944: ten Electoral College votes of the necessary 216 majority. It is, however, a “swing state”, going for the winner some three-quarters of the time: Obama in 2008 and 2012, Bush in 2004, but Al Gore in 2000.

Iowa went for the Dewey/Bricker ticket in 1944, one of the dozen states that defied the lat FDR steamroller.  It was a 547,267  (51.99%) to 499,876 (47.49%) split.

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Filed under Elections, New York City, New Yorker, Norman Rockwell, United States, US Elections, US politics

Hung for a sheep as a goat?

ldRather enjoying the little spat (as reported on the BBC news web-site) arising from the Trump campaign’s claim to be “winning”. Obviously a meme borrowed from the Liberal Democrats here in the UK (heroes to zeroes on a single parliament).

To repeat the obvious, boy-wonder, chip of the old block, Eric Trump plucked a graphic out of the aether, to demonstrate the same phantasy that the all-winning Liberal Democrats have nurtured these many years. It demonstrated — but of course — how the Trump machine was steamrollering the American continent.

Unfortunately, the graphic he had chosen was lifted from fivethirtyeight.com to show how men were trending for Trump:

538

As compared to women:

538

Then the fun began: and it went quite silly. I was reckoning on “…if only goats voted” (based on USDA graphic for distribution of goats in the USA, showing a frightening concentration in Trumpish Texas), but then I recalled …

John Kennedy’s first outing as a Democrat politician wannabe was Massachusetts’s (then) 11th Congressional District. Patrician JFK worked his Irish-American patch assiduously, but was less-than-convincing with his accent and a hotel as his registered address, so he enrolled himself with the Knights of Columbus. The pay-off was candidates had to parade on St Patrick’s Day with a “relic” or token of Irish ancestry. Kennedy got landed with leading a goat. The JFK Presidential Library has the evidence:

goat

It was the goat what won it, and the rest — as they say — is history.

 

 

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Looking for silver linings

I just love elections, even when they go sour (and I’ve been on the shitty end of quite a few). I could — I suppose — blame Theodore H White, and that purplest-prose opening bit of The Making of the President:

themakingofthepresident1960It was invisible, as always.

They had begun to vote in the villages of New Hampshire at midnight, as they always do, seven and a half hours before the candidate rose. His men had canvassed Hart’s Location in New Hampshire days before, sending his autographed picture to each of the twelve registered voters in the village. They knew that they had five votes certain there, that Nixon had five votes certain — and that two were still undecided. Yet it was worth the effort, for Hart’s Location’s results would be the first flash of news on the wires to greet millions of voters as they opened their morning papers over coffee. But from there on it was unpredictable  — invisible.

By the time the candidate left his Boston hotel at 8:30, several million had already voted across the country-in schools, libraries, churches, stores, post offices. These, too, were invisible, but it was certain that at this hour the vote was overwhelmingly Republican. On election day America is Republican until five or six in the evening. It is in the last few hours of the day that working people and their families vote, on their way home from work or after supper; it is then, at evening, that America goes Democratic if it goes Democratic at all. All of this is invisible, for it is the essence of the act that as it happens it is a mystery in which millions of people each fit one fragment of a total secret together, none of them knowing the shape of the whole.

What results from the fitting together of these secrets is, of course, the most awesome transfer of power in the world-the power to mar- shal and mobilize, the power to send men to kill or be killed, the power to tax and destroy, the power to create and the responsibility to do so, the power to guide and the responsibility to heal-all committed into the hands of one man. Heroes and philosophers, brave men and vile, have since Rome and Athens tried to make this particular manner of transfer of power work effectively; no people has succeeded at it better, or over a longer period of time, than the Americans. Yet as the transfer of this power takes place, there is nothing to be seen except an occasional line outside a church or school, or a file of people fidgeting in the rain, waiting to enter the booths. No bands play on election day, no troops march, no guns are readied, no conspirators gather in secret headquarters. The noise and the blare, the bands and the screaming, the pageantry and oratory of the long fall campaign, fade on election day. All the planning is over, all effort spent. Now the candidates must wait.

That gets me, every time, from the initial “It”.

1960 wasn’t my first experience of US Presendential elections: that would be my Dear Old Dad tuned to AM-crackly, fading, AFN for the first Eisenhower election in 1952. On the other hand, in 1960 JFK was the New Kid on the Block.

So this one is my fifteenth. And I’m following it closer than ever, because I’m able to, now all is so much more cyberspatially-immediate.

Things may, for the moment, seem to be a “done deal”, though yet another October Surprise may pop out of the woodwork.

Here, then, is Ryan Grim (by name and nature as “Washington bureau chief for The Huffington Post”) with a nice speculation:

If Donald Trump does what he claims he does to women, he’s guilty of a crime punishable by time in prison. There’s no telling what Trump’s legal fate is over the next few years, but the first chance that the American public will have to cast judgment comes at the ballot box.

And that judgment holds the potential to be devastating: The American people are within striking distance of delivering the most brutal rejection of a major party candidate in U.S. history. 

That title is currently held in the modern era by Democrat George McGovern, who won 37.4 percent of the vote in 1972 against Richard Nixon, a defeat so thorough that it marked the beginning of the end of the liberal wave that had begun with FDR and the New Deal. 

Trump, according to HuffPost Pollster’s analysis, is now pulling in 42.5 percent of the vote. That was before he was caught on audio boasting about his penchant for sexual assault. 

Trump supporters can do their part in driving Trump down to 37 percent by abandoning him in droves, as at least some elite Republicans are starting to do. But there’s also a role for people who were planning on sitting this one out because the Democratic alternative is less than inspiring, or because they don’t live in a swing state. 

Helping make Trump the biggest loser in American history doesn’t require you to vote for Hillary Clinton. A vote for anybody other than Trump ― Green Jill Stein, Libertarian Gary Johnson, writing in your own name ― drives down Trump’s overall national percentage by driving up the total turnout.

White that’s not, but I’d never made the connection between the doomed run of George McGovern and “the end of the liberal wave”. The more we have learned about Trump’s character and attitudes, the more welcome the Grim humiliation of >37.5% seems.

I’ve just spent a fortnight in New York City, the well-burnished bits of commuter New Jersey, with a side trip up to the north end of Long Island. What it revealed, from the lawn banners and vehicle decals, was a remarkable social divide. Benign, intellectual, prosperous, leafy Essex County, NJ, is awash with Hillary ephemera. Not too far away, in the harder-scrabble neighbourhoods, Trumpery gets a showing. Similarly, there is a vast political chasm in the bare couple of miles between East by Northeast (bring your wallet and own company) and Montauk’s The Dock (which I recommend for beer and conversation).

All is changed, changed utterly …

When White wrote the first Making of the President (and his own reputation), the Democratic Party was a strange beast, and involved in a strange metamorphosis:

The Democrats were not divided on these issues of the future, of war and peace, as a fortnight later the Republicans were to be. By unspoken consensus, they were united on foreign policy and defense. What divided them were matters of the past, the emotions that reached into the origins of America rather than into the whither of America. They were divided on the relations of white and black, and divided on the attitude of Protestant and Catholic…

In amateur of days another dominant note was struck by the mysterious process of common press observation. From the sounds and sights, from the hundreds of lost and milling faces in the Biltmore, the press distilled a swift truth that was a remarkably accurate historic assessment: that this was the convention where the young faced the old, this was the convention where one generation gave way to another, this was — in James Reston’s felicitous phrase — the assembly that witnessed the Changing of the Guard.

[Chapter 6, page 154 in my text]

That all seems bizarre from our present stand-point: the South is hard-line Republican. Despite all his inanities and insanities, Trump will carry Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee. Not too long ago:

In 1950, the GOP had no senators from the South and only two congressmen in a Southern delegation of 105. Over the previous fifty years, it had mustered only eighty victories in 2,565 congressional races — and fifty of these victories took place in just two districts in east Tennessee. The Republicans had alienated the region during the Civil War, and had been widely blamed for the Great Depression. “I’ve never seen such shitasses in my life”, was Sam Rayburn’s verdict in 1933, after meeting some Wall Street Republicans. For their part, the Democrats had both defended Southern segregation and poured resources into the region through the New Deal, cajoling Northern taxpayers into paying for huge dams and roads.

[Micklethwait and Wooldridge: The Right Nation, page 52]

Even, more recently ago (when that cited book was published in 2004) its authors were predicting that the US would not be just “the Right Nation”, but was going to remain so. Ahem!

So, to a personal conclusion:

I’m wondering whether this 2016 Election is equally a turning-point, perhaps and much as 1964 and LB Johnson’s signing the Civil Rights Act and losing the South “for fifty years”.

Certainly neither major Party can continue to stand where it does. After the Obama revolution (the 44th President wasn’t born when JFK became President: he goes into “retirement” aged just fifty-five), we have reverted to older — and self-evidently uninspiring and unoriginal — candidates for both Parties. Notably, the main opposition to Hillary Clinton sprang from an even earlier generation — a 75-year-old “democratic socialist”. The Trump insurgence exploited a bewildered generation or two of workers whose wages have been frozen for decades — for them, neo-liberal economics has been a total and continued disaster. While my grandson struggles with  a school essay on the 19220s and quotes Coolidge on the chief business of the American people is business, we have to wonder — in a global age — what “business” is exclusively American any more.

Therefore will necessarily be a major reconstruction job for both parties in the next few terms. It might be helped by set-backs to the GOP in the Senate and House — thus releasing a few minds to look for the way ahead, and hopefully a more liberal one (especially if the Democrats are pre-occupied with the pragmatics of delivering).

One last thought: Obama had never held national office before he was elected to the US Senate in November 2004. Four years later, he was President-elect. We should be scanning the new intake.

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