Tag Archives: politics

Holy Catholic Ireland, Batman!

Irish Blasphemy referendum

Ireland has a blasphemy law.

Take a few minutes to digest that.

Because whatever you think it means, it means.

I had thought that my wife had got it wrong or that she had mistranslated what her mother had said or it was simply another my-mother-in-lawism.

But no.

‘We’ve got the Blasphemy Referendum on the same day as the presidential elections, you know,’ was the way the conversation went between my better half’s mother and her self.

‘What?’ the wife had responded incredulously, and somewhat confusedly. Her mother could have literally meant anything. Is it blasphemy to her to have another referendum? Do the Irish wish to place the Catholic Church back into a place of centrality in the constitution and Irish society and so therefore are about to commit blasphemy against all that is decent and good by swearing loyalty back to the holy Catholic Poobah of Rome in all his piousness? Or did my beloved simply mis-hear her own mother’s accent? Was my m-i-l sick of making decision through plebiscite? Was it with a heavy sigh that she said ‘we’ve got that blasted referendum’ over re-nationalising sewage treatment or something?

She clarified.

‘Because blasphemy is illegal, you know. You could be fined €25,000. €25,000!’

And a few moments of knowing acknowledgement of the Irish character of old and a google search or two confirm the laughably theocratic thing you think “blasphemy referendum” means, is what it means. The Irish are about to go to the polls to decide whether blasphemy should still be illegal in Ireland.

Which is interesting.

When I was I wee slip of a study abroad student at the tenderly legal age of 21, I left my native America and set foot on The Emerald Isle’s shores for the first time.

I had been raised Catholic but was not very good at practicing, well, at what I had been raised. But something vaguely spiritual awakened in me in the land of saints and scholars, land of my forbears, holy, holy hosanna in the highest, holy Catholic Ireland where St Patrick ran out the symbolic pagan serpents, and I thought, why not, for shits and giggles, why not see a real, devotional Catholic, pious country as it celebrates the most divine panus angelicus, the consecrated mysteries, the inner meaning of which always seemed to elude me (question as a child: why was Jesus keeping his heart secret?)? So I did.

I had been raised ‘Irish American’.

I have reconciled myself to the fact that ‘Irish American’ counts as a culture. I don’t think it entitles you to call yourself Irish, but it does require you, it seems, to buy into the stereotype of the Catholic Ireland myth, a place second only to Rome in its Catholicity, a land where the aisles up to communion are paved with potatoes and gold (neither of which are indigenous to Eire).

I had somehow not been privy to the many scandals to do with the Catholic Church, child abuse, rape, molestation and rank hypocrisy.

I had not been privy to Ireland’s secular awakening during the economic boom in the 90s known as the Celtic Tiger, a time when the Irish fairly quickly shirked off the shadows of groping priests and the shackles of roman collars.

I had also never seen Father Ted.

So my vision of a pure and Jesused Ireland remained untainted on a Sunday morning when I wandered into a church in the suburban village of Maynooth, just west of the capital, expecting at least some of the mass to be in Latin, expecting at least three miracles before the second reading, the whole church bursting with song and several hours of Irish people soberly and self flagellatingly meditating on the most divine.

An Ireland that was happy to give the Catholic Church a special place in the Irish state enshrined in the constitution of 1937.

An Ireland that would ban the joyously scathing satire of Joyce, Beckett and O’Casey (to be fair, it’s been a while since there’s been that scale of censorship).

An Ireland, bless it, that would write, and keep on the books a law that would sanction the the act of blasphemy (whatever that means and whoever decides what it means) with a fine of up to €25,000.

An Ireland in which a man from Ennis in County Clare would lodge a complaint about actor and writer Stephen Fry who, in an interview with Irish Radio and TV personality Gay Byrne, questioning the existence/benevolence of a god who would allow obscene amounts of children to suffer in horrible ways.

An Ireland in which the same man, clearly finding himself at a loose end, called up the police to find out if they could please update him on the status of his complaint two years later as he would like to know when they’d be prosecuting that awful auld Stephen Fry fella to the full extent of the law.

An Ireland, in sum, that pays gravely serious attention to its religion.

What transpired was a mumbled gathering of assorted worshippers, garbling through their prayers at speed, barely an intelligible ‘amen’ in the house, whilst all kept their coats on (in America’s puritanical Catholic Churches we were always taught to make ourselves comfortable in the house of god), a muted, dark and glum acknowledgement of a shared religious upbringing, with barely a bit of eye contact and not a note of music struck by a single vocal chord.

Far from genuflecting in front of our lord on the way out, the almighty was lucky if he got a curt nod as the becoated parishioners scurried out like rats from a sinking ship and blessed themselves as some hurried ritual to superstitiously ward off the holy cooties they might have contracted within doors, with Christ, as Beckett writes, ‘all crucified in a heap.’

It was not, suffice to say, the ossified holy Catholic Ireland that Irish America venerates. It was not an Ireland had time for a church steeped in constant controversy from the Magdalene laundry revelations to ‘illegitimate’ babies buried in mass graves by sisters of ‘mercy’ in whose care young mothers were entrusted bearing up against the then shameful badge of a pregnancy out of wedlock.

Tomorrow, the Irish go to the polls to vote for their president, a largely symbolic figurehead role (another discussion for another day with another host of issues) but the more important vote will be a kind of symbolic confirmation.

If Irish voters do as polls indicate they will, after years of far more important referenda embracing marriage equality in defiance of a homophobic past and bravely embracing reproductive rights in defiance of a chauvinistic and misogynistic past, across the country, they will be confirming their faith in themselves and humanity and liberal, progressive values, and away from a failed moribund model of morality.

In contrast to the cynical votes that brought about Brexit and President Trump, it will be an optimistic vote for the future. And for Ireland, simply a sign of the times.

So I say again, with less ambiguity, Ireland has a blasphemy law.

Soon it will not.

Praise be.

Just You Wait: Reflections on Hamilton, Founders Chic and the Need for an Example in the post-truth era

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Jamael Westman as Hamilton. Photo by Matthew Murphy. Taken from theamerican.co.uk

There were two types of people in high school in the late 90s: those that screamed and swooned and became haunted with a lost look in their eyes at the mention of Tori bloody Amos (I mean Christ I had friends who wrote flipping research papers about her) with a log-lady like protectiveness, and those that wondered what the fuck they were on about.

I must confess, dear reader, I fell into the latter.

I fell outside the clove-cigarette smoking circle.

I couldn’t tell you y Tori kant read.

And I was never a Cornflake Girl.

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I never was. Taken from eil.com

Which is not to say I don’t appreciate the beauty of her music; perhaps it’s just envy or frustration that I missed the rapturous mass convrersion to the Church of Tori.

So it goes with most obsessive fads: Harry Potter, Bubble Tea, Christianity.

Blink and you miss the wave and the further it drifts away from you the less fun it seems like to catch.

Which is funny really, because I write to you from inside the Hamilton bubble, that wonderful phenomenon of storytelling that has swept from Broadway to most major American cities and now on to the London stage and that everyone who is anyone seems to be talking about and seems to know everything about.

Except me. I knew almost nothing. I heard vague references to a hip hop musical and Alexander Hamilton, who had always been a footnote in American history books mentioned somewhere in connection with federalist papers (yes, it’s true when they say ‘every other founding father’s story gets told’). And I hadn’t expected much because I’m one of those people who’s just ‘not that into musicals’ (I hated Billy Elliot the musical. Did I mention? Awww look at all the cute Northern miners striking for their very fucking survival! Good job, Elton John for condescending to them and treating them like pixies!)

And this wasn’t some desperate grab for tickets. This wasn’t me entering the Hamilton lottery every day or calling ticketmaster or camping out like I did for Ani DiFranco tickets back in Penn State. This was pure luck. My editor at The American happened to be unable to go and so he offered it up to me. On the night my mother-in-law was landing from Dublin for Christmas.

I ask you not to judge me for choosing Hamilton.

I wish I could buck the trend and say it didn’t live up to the hype.

‘Well,’ my brother intoned to me skeptically over facenet with digitally raised eyebrows, a couple days after I had seen the show, ‘I hope it’s more than just… gushing praise.’

I mean it was articulate gushing praise.

My younger sibling was worried that I had not caught on to the trend of Founders chic, the celebration and the cool rebranding of our anglophile, landowning, manipulative power hungry founding fathers and the backlash against said trend. He was right. I hadn’t been all that aware that John Adams had been made cool again or that all the kids were pejoratively referring to their worst enemies in the playground as lobsterbacks.

And I get the point. I really do. We spent the first couple hundred years setting up these white men indignant at having less privilege than their British counterparts as Gods. And I know it’s not as simple as that, but it’s also not that much more complicated. George never came clean about the cherry tree. He never chopped down the cherry tree. It was a myth invented by Washington’s first biographer. Draw what conclusions you will but that tells you a lot more about our national character and our unquestioning belief in the deified founding fathers than any account of our first commander-in-chief’s life and times.

But is re-interpreting Hamilton’s life as an inspirational tale of an American grafter overcoming adversity by pulling himself up by his bootstraps really dangerous? As a former History major and a former teacher of History, I can sympathise (see above for my irreverence and unquestioning acknowledgement of our ‘founding fathers” non-greatness and flawed humanity) with the frustrated historians who see it that way. After all, I refused to shell out to see The Iron Lady in 2011 because I’m not going to financially support anything that humanises a woman who would gladly see her fellow MPs die on Hunger Strike and question their virility before she would negotiate for their rights as prisoners of war. To be sure, Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Churchill looks compelling but I’m deeply skeptical of the perpetual lionisation of prime minister who changed parties twice and didn’t really know what to do without a war to get him up and going in the morning (or midday… or whenever he slept off the previous night’s whiskey as it were).

But here’s the thing. Because Hamilton includes references to history does not mean it is to be taken as a History Lesson. It is fiction. A compelling story. But no more an attempt at a factual historical account than Richard III, one of Shakespeare’s most compelling portraits of witty, villainous, despotism in which the bard, according to many frustrated British historians, greatly maligned the last Plantagenet.

And I’m not going to repeat the obvious arguments in greater detail than has already been outlined with greater eloquence than I could accomplish here (that hip hop subverts the white elitism that was the currency of Hamilton and Washington’s era and forces us to reflect on it with fresh eyes, that Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians playing historical figures who would have been exclusively white also challenges us to a process of cognitive reevaluation of the way we perceive our history).

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I’d prefer Hamilton to Trump. I think. Taken from macleans.ca

What I will say is that we need Hamilton as a story and as a national mirror of who we are, and we need its critics every bit as much. We need Hamilton for reasons that neither Lin Manuel-Miranda nor anyone else could have anticipated back when the show opened in 2015, that its jibes at major political leaders would seem so much more poignant now than they did then. That we would suffer such a paucity of leadership that James Comey would join the ranks of bestseller authors by building a case several hundred pages long about the poverty of leadership from which we as a nation currently suffer. And we also need Hamilton because one of its very true facts: that unlike some of our current and recent political leaders, Hamilton came clean about his sexual misdeeds. He faced up and ‘overwhelmed them with honesty.’ He showed us how to handle a scandal. It may have circumscribed his political ambitions, but at least he was honest.

So read Hamilton‘s critics. Get to know them. Understand them. If this magically inspiring historical musical that is as American the spirit of protest that allows us to use our greatest words to protest through historical analysis, and to be inspired by an engaging narrative about energy, ambition and drive, then more power to it.

 

Now, We Fight Back

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Photo by @pollyjohughes (dissembledesign.com)

7/7. The Opening Ceremony of The Olympics. Marching in The Women’s March on Saturday. Recalled moments in which I have felt a welling sense of pride in my adopted city.

They say that the arts thrive in times of intense uncertainty and pressure. I believe it true of progressivism as well. That we will become stronger through having our beliefs tested to the utter limits over the next four years I do not doubt. Though unwelcome, I wonder if the left perhaps needs this in order to sort ourselves out and pick more exciting candidates that act as beacons of moral leadership.

Whatever the sinister circumstances that brought us together over the weekend, let us not let it break us apart in the trying times ahead. Let us counter every one of Trump’s utterances of moral depravity with fierce, fierce love and unity. Let us counter his cynical, insidious narrative, every time.

Highlights of the day: a dog walking around with a sign on its back that said: ‘Even I wouldn’t grab a pussy,’ having to explain the course connotations of the word ‘pussy’ to my ten year old (Thanks, Mr President!) because it just became inevitable, and the eloquence of those present on the day, including Labour MP, Yvette Cooper, whose speech was moving and who spoke with conviction about the murdered Pro EU MP Jo Cox:

“We are marching because a talented woman MP was murdered by a far-right extremist and we need to call it out as the terrorism it is. And we are not just marching – we’re … standing up to the misogynists, the bullies and the haters who try to intimidate and silence people online, just as for years they tried to intimidate or silence women on the street.

“We are here because we want to take a stand against Donald Trump. Millions of American women and men voted for him. Marching isn’t enough – we need to persuade, to win arguments, to challenge the causes of division and to build a future in common. For the sake of our children and grandchildren … we are here because we will not let the clock be turned back.” (Reprinted from guardian.co.uk)

Thank you, London, as so many of the placards on Saturday said, we shall overcomb.

Surviving a Trumpish Presidency, at Home or Abroad

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Batten down the hatches, you say. Take cover, you say.

Repent, for the Trump is nigh, you say.

And well you might. The storm is no longer approaching. The storm is here. It’s raining down acidically on workers’ rights, the environment, third world countries, reproductive rights, our esteem in the world and the ideals Americans of every class, creed and culture hold dear. And those dark clouds in the distance are just about threatening functioning healthcare as we know it.

Ride it out for four years in the shelter in the backyard, you say.

Ride it out in Canada, the great paradise of the north, America’s own Scandi style Yukon Utopia, some say.

It won’t last, others say.

Not my problem, say the remaining few, the ones who didn’t bother to vote, refused to talk about it, and prefer to not get political because it ‘doesn’t affect them’.

But here it is, folks, the end of days. America’s last president.

You want to survive the next four years, the Trumpian apocalypse? Here’s a few tips how from someone who lived abroad during the dark, dark Bush years.

1. Stop complaining about the electoral college. Do you know how often we have a serious discussion about the electoral college and how unfair and undemocratic it is? About every four years. Because that’s the only time it comes up and we only really find it at fault when it throws up an anamolous result, like one that is the exact opposite of the popular vote. The truth is if Hillary had told a compelling enough story and convinced enough people that she was human and that she cared, we wouldn’t be worrying about the popular vs the electoral college vote. I’m not saying that sacred invention of the founding fathers is just or right. I am just saying that when the dust settles, we have bigger problems to worry about, like having a psychotic billionairre in The White House.

2. Own your country! Back in the Bush years, I was held responsible for every invasion, misadventure and stupid thing that my country inflicted on the world at dinner parties. Now it’s up to us expats and you mainlanders, to convince and keep convincing the rest of the world we’re not brash, loud, obnoxious, literal-minded morons. The decision our red-voting brothers and sisters have made has not helped in this matter in any way, shape or form. You’re at a dinner party and someone asks you what’s wrong with your countrymen, putting a bigot in The White House, you say uh… hello? Brexit? Le Pen? Actually, no, we’re being ambassadors not abusers. You say we also elected the first Latina senator, the first Indian-American senator, the first Vietnamese American congressional rep and the first LGBT governor in US history, all women. Our president may be a vile, hypocritical, crude, sexist, but most of us are not. More of us voted against him than for him. And we’re also responsible for the best TV (House of Cards, Mr Robot) and the best films that you watch. We are not necessarily a melting pot, but look for the extremes and you won’t be hard put to find people who are as unlike Trump as a bad toupee is from real hair. Emphasise that to our fellow citizens of the globe, and be conscious of that when you are sharing your life on a global social medium.

3. Do something! Did you? Did you really? I didn’t start volunteering with the Democrats Abroad until this election cycle, even though I always said, ‘I really should’. If you really want things to be different in the midterms and in another four years, volunteer for your local party, whether it be Green, Independent, Communist or Democrat. Unless of course you want eight years of radioactive orange masquerading as a statesman. The hottest places in hell…

4. Banish these words from your vocabulary. ‘Actually, I don’t like to talk about politics. I’m not really that political,’ or any variant therein. From now on, you might as well stop pretending. Sticking your head in the sand is how we got into this mess in the first place. You care about schools, the price of gasoline, how high your taxes are? That’s political. You care about air quality, the amount your township clears your driveway and how much they charge you for it? That’s political. You care about whether your government provides you with any opportunity for advancement, incentivizes you retraining, how much you have to pay for basic necessities? Also political. I’m not saying it’s the only thing you can talk about, but avoiding it is delusional and dangerous. Duh.

5. Get angry and make noise.Make no mistake. Nothing in history worth changing — not slavery, not universal suffrage, not homophobia — has ever changed without a significant amount of anger and noise. No injustice was ever fought by going placidly ‘amidst the noise and haste.’ Injustice, inequality, all the wrongs that will issue out of the executive branch of the government over the next four years, must be fought hard and noisily. No inch must be given, no quarter conceded. This doesn’t just mean being politically active. It means challenging ignorance, whenever and wherever you see it. Workplace, public transport, social media? You let it pass and you are contributing to it.

Now you can batten down the hatches. It’s going to be an exciting — and angry — four years.

Should you want to get involved as an expat, www.democratsabroad.org is a great place to start. And in the spirit of equal time and because I assume most Republicans are secretly pretty embarrassed, http://www.republicansoverseas-uk.com.

Crazy Sh*& My Republican Parents Say or Trying to Find Traction in Nonsense

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ibtimes.com

 

“But Dad, I read an article from Alternet that meticulously compiled Trump’s interviews and public statements. You want to know how often he lies? Statistically, he lies every five minutes.”

“Yeah?! Well She lies every two minutes.”

“Um… uh… um… well. That’s pretty bad.”

My father. Just a few weeks ago. Making a sound case that a vote for Hillary is just as bad as a vote for Trump.

I mean, come onAmerica! What do you do? And I’m not talking to just my small, closed-with-an-insularity-and-fascism-that-stinks-of-npr-the-guardian-the-new-york-times-and-radio-4, left wing, like-minded card carrying traitors commies liberals. I mean the almost sensible compassionless, selfishly driven amiable and good tempered conservatives and libertarians that I haven’t unfriended and or stopped talking to.

How do you find traction in a post-fact, post-truth world of unreality and ignorance. Like the young Republican — with whom I had a bizarre exchange back in my college days in front of the Willard building in Penn State — who told me in front of my Green Party Stall that he’s an environmentalist and has a great bumper sticker that says ‘pave the rainforests’ right before hearty guffaws of laughter, sudden change to seriousness and then, “but seriously, what about the family planning clinics that are responsible for the fall of Western Civilisation?” with no irony whatsoever, the right wing modus operandi is science fiction.And aside from my old pal ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, how is a thinking person to respond?

It’s the bistro ship in The Hitchhiker’s Guide. It defies all laws of history, memory, logic and thought to drag its notions of fancy and imagination from the ununiverse of black space dust and anti-matter into existence and real form, looking odd, misshapen, lumpy and… well… not of this world.

How else do you explain Trump? He’s finally used enough of his underpaid workers from his various restaurants and hotels (whose nationalities he loves) to bring himself from the void of nothingness in between dimensions into reality like some hideously deformed, monstrous product of hate fostered over say… oh… I don’t know… the last eight years or so (that’s right, Republicans, it’s true. This is of your own making. What Republicans read my blog?).

I thought that if I was honest with my father for the first time about my political views (I’m in my… ahem… late thirties), that we’d have a productive exchange of views, that we’d air our differences, that we’d get to know each other better. I mean, did my Dad really not know all these years that I was as far to the left as the hard shoulder of an American passing lane. Well as far to the left as a European Conservative. Well, as far to the left as an American socialist?

But my father, like so many Republicans so happy to trample all over Godwin, likes to pull arguments out of all sorts of places and as long as he emphasises them with enough conviction, brandish them as truth or fact or legitimate even. It’s difficult when truth gets in the way, so it’s easy to brush aside. Like when my mother also said over the summer:

“I’m hopeful. George W. Bush didn’t seem too smart at first but he did pretty good,” to which of course my reaction was absolute horror, or in the parlance of the post-truth millennial world, shocked face, shocked face, shocked face, pile of poop. How could my mother not know to say pretty well instead of pretty good? So embarrassing.

And how could bad, Northeastern Pennsylvanian grammar erase the truth from one’s mind of one of the most divisive presidents in history?

In the same way that the constant drip of Hannity, Dennis Miller and the strange, circuitous, other-worldly logic of Trump can make you think that he’s “not that bad”, that he’s going to “make America great” again and that he’s going to somehow “sort out the jobs for everyone” by closing us off to the world and tacitly encouraging a violent dystopian society in which dissenting voices are dragged out and silenced.

And I suppose this is why the best argument we have lies with the post-millenials, like my nine year old son, who, on our first morning of our annual trip to America, said to my father, “Grandpa, do you actually like Trump?”

My father cautiously replied with, “Well, I like some of his ideas,” to which my son, with great conviction responded with, “don’t! I think he’s a big fat idiot and farthead!” and continued making fart and poop jokes about Trump for another ten minutes.

Out of the mouths of babes comes the most effective rebuttals to the childish arguments of the right.

Laughter, the most potent weapon.

Homeland! What the f*$£! are you doing?!

Right.

That’s it. That is it.

What the…?

Forty seven to forty what?

That is it. This needs a blog post.Where’s the computer?

All right, America fans. Here’s how it is.

I know you’re going to say, that I’m sitting on my great British Spotted Pony of a high horse.

Believe me. I know. I’ve been called Madonna for extolling the virtues of walking up the escalator on the left and condemning my compatriots for standing in the middle.

I’ve been called an ex-patriot for dripping contempt on the invasion of Afghanistan (by my family).

But as the saying goes, sticks and stones may break my bones, but this is freakin’ important, America.

And insane.

I told you this was insane. 

It started as a farce and now it’s turned to the blackest, most tasteless joke in American history. Donald J Trump, controversy-ridden, provincial, racist, bigoted dealer in debt and misery, is a percentage point away from the highest office in the land.

And you put him there.

Okay. Okay. We put him there.

Now it’s time to undo the damage, folks.

Why, you ask? Why?! Because this is the greatest threat to America since The X Factor and if we don’t act now, it could prove almost as clear and present a danger to our way of life. Almost.

But here’s why else:

  • As this study (that I will come back to in my Saturday blog) from Alternet categorically concludes, Trump is not the straight talker that his supporters think he is. He lies, on average, every five minutes, even in his sleep (okay, I made those last clause up, but it was to prove a point and you wouldn’t put it past him, would you?

 

  •  Do we really want one of the most blatantly racist men in the history of business and politics sitting in the oval office? No. no, we don’t. Not just when the world has spent eight years understanding that we’ve finally started to grow up about the question of race.

 

  • He is also one of the most proudly stupid businessmen or politicians in history.

 

I know you think it isn’t a big deal and that Trump is a man of the people. I once got on a Guardian forum to defend our voting for George Dubya, telling British readers that it wasn’t that we were stupid, but that, unlike the British, we liked our politicians to be, not elevated above us, but just like us, if not below us. And if there was one thing we couldn’t say for Dubya, it was that he was above anyone intellectually.

But proudly stupid? Dubya was brainless, but unaware of his own brainlessness. Trump knows how stupid what he’s saying sounds and the louder he says it, the more it increases his credibility with his core, all of him understand that to say stupid things in public is to admit to your own humanity and therefore to be one of us (not one of me thanks).

As the saying toes, we get the leaders we deserve, compatriots. In our proud history of Charlie Parker and Bessie Smith, Edith Wharton and TS Eliot (that’s right I bet you all forgot he was one of us, didn’t you?), Thomas Edison and The Wright Brothers, in all that cultural and intellectual richness, don’t we deserve better than proud stupidity?

Look folks, I get it. You want someone exciting. You want someone ‘non-establishment’ and Hillary is neither of those things, but she is whipsmart, has the experience and the drive to make America greater than any Trumpian nightmare dystopian vision, while keeping us in some kind of relative harmony with the rest of the world.

For that, I’m with her. I know how I’m voting. Just think of me and the rest of the expats. We don’t want to return to the Bush years. Don’t make us sow Canadian flags on our backpacks again.

Please! 

 

Trump’s America

You don’t have to look far to find this strange and delusional man’s vision for the country

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From Deadspin.com, 1990, The Tour De Trump

I have an abiding memory of Donald Trump that seems illustrative.

I am 12 years old. It is 1990. I am laying lazily on my grandmother’s sofa sheltering from the summer heat. The TV is on. I haven’t put it on, haven’t tuned in, haven’t consciously looked for a particular show. It’s just on. And I am vaguely aware, from my almost supine position on my grandmother’s sofa after spending all day at the beach near Point Pleasant, New Jersey and then collapsed from sheer, childish exhaustion, that there are sports commentators narrating the events of whatever I’m watching. I’m furthermore vaguely aware that there are athletes in spandex shorts and oblong helmets and brightly colored shirts  and muscles rippling beneath spandex, that are pelting down asphalt, sweating their hearts out, determination and hope in their eyes.

I look up to my uncle, who has just walked in from the kitchen, probably with a sandwich in his hands. He takes one look at the TV and says to me what is perhaps one of the most politically perceptive insights I have ever had imparted to me.

‘Ah. The Tour de Trump. I think he must have been very insecure as a child. He seems to have a compulsive need to name everything after himself.’

My uncle then plops himself down on the couch and proceeds to finish his sandwich while watching the race. Nothing more that I know of was said about it, certainly not in the vast stores of my memory banks. But the more I reflect on it as I see that the Republican Party has given in to is baser urges and finally taken complete leave of its senses, shifting the responsibility of steering the thing to those who have a compulsive need to take a hard right towards the next rocky outcropping, the wiser my Uncle’s insight seems.

Because Trump did name everything after himself back then including his galactic failure of a cycling event. Trump Tower, Trump Marina, Taj Ma Trump… no wait a minute… the Trump mahal… hang on a sec. The point is, for a time in the 80s, before Trump decided to upend the monopoly board with everyone else’s pieces on it, declare bankruptcy, and start buying the world and charging us double the rent for living in it all over again, Atlantic City became Trump World, an idealistic utopian space into which we walked when we wanted to each perfect venture capitalist paradise.

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From business insider.com

So, if actions are indeed stronger than words and if we take Trump’s purchase and branding of  a whole city as his model for his vision of America, what do we learn, boys and girls? Well, do we want an America in which retirees gamble away their pension plans, trust funds and retirement savings on slim chances in which there are no real winners? Do we want an America that looks shiny from a certain angle, say, coming at us from the Eastern side of The Atlantic only to find that the sheen we project is only as substantial as the glass front of a seaside hotel and beyond that, we are nothing but hypnotised obese, complacent automatons, waddling or scooting to the next billboard without questioning whether our lives belong to a higher purpose? A homeland where beyond that sheen, our poor, our starving, and our huddled masses continue to huddle and continue to reach out their hands in supplication lumped together with the degenerates, the undesirables, and anyone else whose lifestyles or beliefs are alien to the interests of the United States, leaving The Great Gamesmaster in his great tower, the great big insecure child presiding over, and branding us all, from his little fiefdom on the Jersey shore to his great inward looking fiefdom smack dab in the middle of the Atlantic?

Oh, Republicans, my fellow Americans, my moderate peeps, where are you? I used to number among you. With his latest call to boycott Apple for their cowardly call to stand up for civil liberties, Trump turns my stomach. If I was still a young conservative, he would certainly have turned me liberal. 

Just. Plain. Wrong.

protestors syria

Image taken from theage.com.au

Oh, I’ve got plenty of things to say. Over the summer, I spent three weeks in America, where the citizenry still drink corn syrup for breakfast and eat bowls of bleached sugar dipped in lard for lunch. I spent two weeks in Ireland, where the good people of that island revel so much in death and misery that some humble Hibernians prefer to use rip.ie as their home page when they open up Internet Explorer (“Seamus! Seamus! Would you look at this now, Seamus! Guess who died! Go on, guess!”). It will soon be a fertile field from which to mine much pith and wit reflecting on life in general.

But first things first. War? With Syria? What are we, nuts?

Big deal. The American Londoner’s a peacenik. That wasn’t hard to call. Typical pansy liberal, right? After all, his (adopted) country voted to sit this one out while the real players (like France, because we’ve always loved the French) commit to doing all the dirty work on the front lines. Right?

But it’s not as simple as all that. Not by a long shot.

(And I’ve been meaning to say his for a while by the way, but what with being back at work, taking the boy to school yada yada… who has time in the end?)

I’d go so far as to say this is the most morally complicated case of threatened military intervention in my lifetime (Oh you don’t get me that easy).

I don’t pretend to be an expert. For balanced and more well-informed opinions, you’d have to go to Scott Erb’s excellent mainly political blog, World In Motion or The BBC or Huffpost or some gloriously legitimate and reputable news source. What follows is how I see the insanity in a subjectively truthful way from this side of the pond.

In what way is it complicated, Pete? (I hear you say) You then reach for a Teutonic comparison quicker than you can say Godwin’s Law. Assad is a barbaric dictator. It does not follow that all barbaric dictators are the same or indeed that it is the responsibility of more powerful countries to intervene on behalf of the wretched of the earth against their oppressive overlords. If recent history is any precedent or instructor, one would think it our responsibility to use those oppressive overlords to maintain the balance of power that served us best in a remote region.

Bottom line: is there a moral imperative? Well isn’t there? Aren’t we henceforth responsible for any atrocities that happen if we choose to do nothing? Aren’t the hottest places in hell then reserved for us?

20130919-232337.jpg

Still the world’s biggest copper? Image taken from azstarnet.com (Daily Fitz Cartoon)

Answers are good. Questions are even better. The Syrian Civil War has been going on for two years. Why haven’t we done anything before now? Chemical weapons, you say? Good point.

There we were, us not-in-my-namers, back in the naive noughties raging about Bush leading us on some bloated, ignominiously futile crusade to find WMD (eventually callously jokingin his trademark , pre-cro-magnon manner about it) and here we have a man who has actually used WMD on his own people. Put your money where your mouth is, lefties, and let’s send the troops in and smoke ’em out.

Oh. Hang on.

That last phrase certainly did sound familiar.

In fact, the last time I can remember feeling like that was when I heard our leaders say that they had “reliable” intelligence claiming that Iraq could deploy weapons of mass destruction, which is a bit like saying you have high confidence that a dictator has slaughtered his own people.

Eerily familiar, huh?

And before you know it, you’re committed to another unwinnable quagmire of a conflict, being resented by the people you’re trying to help and doing more harm than good.

I don’t doubt that Assad probably did slaughter his own people, in their thousands. And Obama is refreshingly careful in his language compared to Bush’s bully boy tactics and cowboy diplomacy. One gets the sense that POTUS does not take these decisions lightly.

But if the chemical attack really is the smoking gun, why didn’t we remove Saddam when he slaughtered 5,000 in Halabja with chemical weapons? Why did he remain in power for another 15 years? Where were our guilt pangs and outrage when our military used white phosphorous in Fallujah in 2004, or indeed when the CIA helped Saddam to gas 20,000 Iranians during the Iran-Iraq War?

The fact is that our leaders have long lost the benefit of the doubt when it comes to leading us down us down the well trodden paths of military interventionism. I don’t blame Obama for the sabre-rattling and who knows but that it may have done some good as a deterrent in the end, but there’s always a better option to war and the infliction of further untold suffering on innocents.

The worst part of this whole issue though is not the limited and unpalatable choices we are left with though. The most horrific element of all is that we have lost the ability to talk about these matters in any way that means anything. Take the picture below that did the rounds on Facebook a couple weeks back:

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And this wasn’t the most brutal photo by far. Taken from politifake.org

First of all, the president does not genuinely actively support those who commit atrocities. Second of all, the extreme and brutal elements always rise to the fore in these sorts of situations. Thirdly, as this argument is based on glib, false conclusions, it can do nothing but hinder constructive debate and solutions and can only be credited by the truly paranoid.

Our world is complex. The only way to try to make it better is to try to understand those complexities instead of shooting horrific photos at one another. We need to do nuance more often.

That’s me for tonight. Next time, back to the trials and tribulations of an American Limey expat.

For Shame, Homeland

Trayvon Martin

Image taken from guardian.co.uk

Good God, America.

Good God.

I try to be a good ambassador. I really do. I argue that we have culture and intelligence and that we’re an ethnic melting pot built on the highest ideals. But you know what? You make it hard not to have contempt for you, my country, when things like this happen.

The internet is already awash with a raging war of words about Trayvor Martin, by individuals far wiser and more eloquent than myself, as is right and to be expected. This kind of case rips open the sensitive scar tissue of a nation. It sparks fears and riots and intense divisions.

One of the best that I’d seen though, shared by a friend on facebook earlier today was not from a pundit on either side, but from a great novelist. Ah those amazing observers of human behaviour and psychology. The storytellers. The novelists.

Trayvon Martin

image from frrole.com

The empty calls for calm ring hollow in the midst of such clear injustice and since your various feeds will be saturated, I’ll be quick and share a poem I like an awful lot about what use words, poetry or beauty are in the face of such callous disregard for the principles of fairness. It’s called “For Saundra” by Nikki Giovanni. You’ve got to stick around for the end. That’s the kicker really. Enjoy.

For Saundra
Nikki Giovanni


i wanted to write
a poem
that rhymes
but revolution doesn’t lend
itself to be-bopping

then my neighbor
who thinks i hate
asked -do you ever write
tree poems – i like trees
so i thought
ill write a beautiful green tree poem
peeked from my window
to check the image
noticed the school yard was covered
with asphalt
no green -no trees grow
in manhattan

then, well, i thought the sky
ill do a big blue sky poem
but all the clouds have winged
low since no-Dick was elected

so i thought again
and it occured to me
maybe i shouldn’t write
at all
but clean my gun
and check my kerosene supply

perhaps these are not poetic
times
at all
 

Two Stars and A Wish — Happy Independence Day, Homeland!

American Flag

Roy Lichtenstein’s “La Nouvelle Chute de L’Amerique” 1992 (taken from live auctioneers.com)

I don’t know what’s current in American education. Well, alright. I have a vague idea, but not intimate knowledge. I’ve never taught there. I qualified in Dublin, taught there and taught here. And at least in classrooms over here, we repeat the phrase, “two stars and a wish” to our students, often when they’re marking each other’s work (imagine it in saccharine Hallmark tones: “Alrighty, class! Give your neighbour two stars and a wish and when you’re done with that give ’em a big ole thumbs up!”), the rationale being that children emphasise the positive in each other’s work twice as much as the negative.

And that’s what I’m doing today. Two proud Americans for whom I have a great fondness and one who really, really “could do better” (That’s another thing teachers write. Quite a bit. Just in case you didn’t quite see what I was doing there…).

Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart American

The Man, The Legend, The Stewart (image taken from jewishjournal.com)

Comedy is a hard thing to keep up with while living abroad. Ask me to name the big ones on the American scene and I’d struggle. Sara Silverman. Is she still big? I think Andy Borowitz is rather funny, but I’m partial to him because he hosts the American version of my favorite satirical British radio show, The News Quiz. But Stewart will always hold a special place in my heart. For it was The Daily Show that gave me solace with its grimly side-splitting conceits in the wake of Dubya’s theft of the election in 2000. And it is Stewart and his show that still form a bonding point when I go back home on my yearly summer pilgrimage and sit down with my brothers to convulse giddily while watching the man let rip with his Kronkite delivery and his incisive wit, tearing the powers that be and anything else that seems utterly ridiculous and nutty in America to shreds. I have caught my Irish wife, who has become suspicious of all things American — nothing to do with marrying me, she assures me — especially American comedy, laugh out loud (No really, she did. It’s not one of those cases where someone types it but they’re barely amused) at Stewart and it takes genuine funny to crack an Irish skeptic. Long live Stewart, fine American.

Ralph Nader, The Leftie We All Left Behind

Nader American

Man of Integrity (Image taken from guardian.co.uk)

If you could have been there. Here was a man who stood for something. Here was a man we used to toast at meetings of Amnesty International over wine and… letters. Here was a man who ran for president and who you voted for even though you knew he wasn’t going to win because in the end, you wanted to news broadcasters to say that a significant percentage of Americans cared about the issues. Because that’s what Nader did. He insisted on not shutting up about the issues like environmentalism, corporate greed and corruption and accountability, issues that no other politician would consent to mention in public. And he’s still doing it. Brazen enough to respond to the criticism that he split the vote for Al Gore, I once saw Nader respond to this issue on The Daily Show by saying, “Al Gore prevented me from being president!” Got to admire that spirit.

Dennis Miller, Clearest Transformation To A**hole

Dennis Miller American

Jerk! (Image taken from worm radio.net)

Ever tried googling “Was Dennis Miller always…”? Try it now. Actually, I’ll spoil it for you. Your non-evil browser will help unite your thought with the rest of the browsing community by suggesting, “conservative” and the second link it presents is headed, “When exactly did Dennis Miller lose his mind?” Which is entirely appropriate. I always thought that Miller was the obscure political comedian whose jokes I got because I was well-read and he made recondite references that no one else got, making him the pretentious intellectual comic that no one liked.

Until I saw him on Fox at my parents’ house (my folks are slightly bigger fans of Fox than I am) chumming around with Bill O’Reilly and frothing at the mouth about “damned liberals.” He had that same deranged and “slightly off the deep end” focus in his eyes that you saw the last time you were arguing with someone who thought that Ann Coulter was a perfectly legitimate authority. On anything. That conservative, “Oh but I know I’m right!” righteous look. You know the one. It was a sad moment for me. Because my earliest memories of Miller are also nostalgic ones of my older brother letting me stay up late to watch The Dennis Miller show on his TV. I remember laughing even though I didn’t get it a lot of the time and then the knowing, superior laugh when I finally started to get it. Never in my wildest dreams did I suspect that he was a rabid Repundit.

The concept that conservative commentators don’t seem to get though is that humour is generally subversive. It’s a bit cheeky. A bit naughty. A bit rock-the-boat. Confirming one’s own reactionary values with a knowing laugh is never going to be as funny or as popular. That’s why the miserable 1/2 News Hour was never, ever going to work. Yes, Joel Surnow, satire does tilt right sometimes, but then we call it desperate.

I think at some point in his career when we’d all forgotten about him Dennis Miller made a conscious decision that he wanted to be remembered for something. It’s just a shame he chose to be remembered for being a slightly off-the-bend right-wing maniac. Could do better.

Well that’s it folks. Peace out. I’m at work tomorrow. Rest assured, I’ll be reminding my British colleagues that I’m internally celebrating my independence from them. In the meantime, Happy Fourth ya’ll!

Image from writing-the-wrongs.blogspot.com

Image from writing-the-wrongs.blogspot.com

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