Thursday, 7 January 2021

The Storming of Congress - a metaphor for Donald Trump's relationship with anything he doesn't like or disagrees with.

 Did you see John Sopel's face last night as he reported on events on Capitol Hill for the BBC?  I've never seen him so filled with emotion about the subject of his report. This normally urbane objective reporter of the American Scene had his heart on his sleeve as his mouth and eyes told all. And what an "all" it was to tell. Like him I was filled with horror, dismay and anger as I watched the storming of "The Hill" and listened to Trump's petulant whining and stirring of his mob to march down there. 

Trump can't accept the result for one simple reason. He doesn't believe he could possibly have lost the election. There is no way he could not be a winner. There is no way the American electorate would have rejected him. That is truth, fact, reality for Donald Trump. Everything else follows from this. Lawsuits, claims about election rigging, ineligible votes being counted etc. Of course votes which were not for him would be ineligible. The logic is impeccable and legitimises every means used in order to subvert or overturn the result.

What I find most scary of all however is that I do not hear a roar of outrage from the USA. Sopel in his piece for the BBC displayed it visually, but there is as yet nothing much out there which seems to match my sense of outrage and fury. I know that Marina Hyde may launch an ascerbic opinion column at these events, but much as I like these opinion columns in the Guardian, I want to see a much larger, united voice of outrage expressed, because it should be! How can any reasonable American citizen of even average intelligence (not linked to Trump in some subserviant dependant way), not be outraged and angered by the events of yesterday? This horrific display should have produced a denouncement of such national proportions that removing the man from office immediately would have followed as naturally as night follows day. The fact that is does not adds huge dismay to my outrage. 

Even Jo Biden's response seemed limp by comparison to the enormity of the deed itself. And Trump's response to Biden's call to tell his mob to go home? Sure he did tell them to head home as in the same breath he claimed the high ground and told his people that they were not to be like "them", and closed by telling his mob that he loved them and they were "special". Who were "them" but the advocates of fair and free democracy and how in any sense were they the ones the mob were not to be like? It was as though thsoe who upheld the constitution and the democratic process were the ones doing the mobbing and rioting and gun slinging. These scenes do not augur well for the future of America right now. Obama must be hitting his head off the wall, Biden blinded in a mist of rage, and millions of ordinary voters dazed and confused. Reason, sense, good will, justice, please prevail!


Wednesday, 16 December 2020

Truth and Reason

 I happened to catch sight of an article on John Le Carre in the Guardian the other day, and saw that he had coined the idea of us living in an age of "mob orators who do not speak reason." He goes on to say that they use their communications to fire people up with anger and nostalgia. This gives them a popularity with the mob which they can then use to control whatever institutions pass for democratic ones in their particular country. So we see for instance the largely meek and aquiescent Tories bowing down to Boris Johnson's madnesses. This idea of truth being "whatever you can get away with", (another of Le Carre's phrases), has of course taken the reigns of power with a tight grip in the States. Joe Biden will have a hard job to get the mob to heed the voice of reason with which he will attempt to speak. There will always be the harsh background white noise of Trump's lying and offensive and provocative tweets, backed God help us by some very powerful Christian leaders.

The viscissitudes of the Pandemic, the Brexit problem back home, the Global Climate Crisis, and the Trump noise will stamp their large print on 2021 for sure, and vaccination or no vaccination 2021 will be a tough and challenging year to navigate, particularly since we all have been hoping to see the end of the tunnel in sharp focus near the beginning of the year. As the Bible says, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick".

I should have seen the rise of the mob orators coming. After all, most of the very successful preachers pitch their message to the emotions. Whether this was a pitch to the emotions of shame and fear as in our Free Presbyterian traditions in Scotland, or to legitimise the selfish material aspirations of the congregation in the prosperity Gospel messages, or any number of other angles, these churches have flourished. 

So these times need orators who can harness gentle reason to the emotions, and so bring the mob round, away from blame laying and seeing the differently coloured stranger with suspicion and fear, to an open hearted sharing and a spirit of cooperation. That is a tall order, for negativity is easier to harness than a positive attitude. Moreover, reason needs to speak with the voice of love, otherwise she falls at the first hurdle. Truth can be a harsh taskmaster and a dangerous mantra. Only love can really deal with it effectively. That's why the apostle Paul puts love ahead of the pack in his great paean of praise to love in 1 Corinthians 13. Love however seems always to prefer the low, unassuming road, the appearance of defeat, the humble stable, the oppressive Cross. 2021 will be a fascinating year to be in. 

Friday, 6 November 2020

Election USA

 At this moment the result is hanging the balance. Donald Trump has cried "foul" and "stop the counting". He has alleged electoral misconduct perpetrated by the Democrats. These allegation are as yet unfounded, unsubstantiated, lacking in any evidence. But that does not matter. Trump creates truth by stating things. Millions of Americans go along with his versions of reality, no matter what they happen to be. A quip on the BBC Comedy Quiz show, "Mock the Week", went like this: "It's not that we have underestimated Trump. We overestimated the American voters." His statements are no longer lies, exaggerations, misrepresentations, equivocations or even opinions. They are facts. This is the way the world now is. 

People want their political heroes to be like them, not above them; to be seen to be flawed because then we don't have to trust a sham, a hypocrisy, a veneer of nobility. With Trump you see it all. He is the average voter (who votes for him). If he throws a hissy fit at the prospect of losing and throws metaphorical plates against the wall, then heck, he has a right to defend himself and his hard won position. The noble gestures of the candidates for the White House who in the past resigned as they saw before the finish that the game was up are not for Trump. Those who control their emotions, their words, are doing simply that. Trump says it like everyone thinks it. That's why he is as he says, a winner.

My take? This election will go to the wire, Trump will not vacate the White House and the litigation will wear everyone out and will damage the USA in ways which it will on an optimistic reading take decades to repair. The Chinese and the Russians argue that democracy is weak and you need a strong leader to hold a country together, bring peace, and economic prosperity. Maybe they are right, But these strong leaders do not last forever, nor do their dynasties. The relatively recent history of Yugoslavia that was, and Libya now tell a story of the frailty of holding things together by ruthless despotism. Rome gave the empire a few centuries of peace and prosperity, but in the end, collapsed. However it may be that Trump has bought the strong leader argument, and we will yet see a more horrific scene play out in our time. I've said this before on this blog: please let me be wrong.

Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Truth and Lies

So here's the truth about what's happening to Donald Trump.

The president is not really sick. He is very sick. He is pretending. He is not pretending. That was his body double in the car. He may die. The illness is a fake to win Christian sympathy.

Or perhaps I should have said "truths". That paragraph was taken from an article by Simon Jenkins in the Guardian today. Jenkins goes on to say that "We are in a maelstrom of information, spin and lies. No wonder there are six explanations for every apparently simple development." You want to undermine the seriousness of Covid? Easy. You'll find a credible enough facebook or other media thread out there already. Just join in.

Jenkins goes on to argue: 
"No holder of liberal values – however defined – can defend the cruel anarchy of the web. We have been taken back to the time of the Salem witches, when an anonymous lie pinned to a church door was known to a whole village in minutes."

He argues that the barrage of unregulated platforms for expressing opinions, facts, "news" has deeply undermined our trust in the media. Any lie can be put out there and within seconds there are a vast array of "likes" and opinions expressed in support of the supposed fact. He ends his piece by quoting Mark Twain.
"A lie is halfway round the world when truth is still putting on its boots."

Truth has become the plaything and the servant of what I feel, what I am comfortable with, what I like and what I don't like, what I suspect and what I resent. The poor politicians who have to dish out stuff around the Covid reality are caught between many devils and many deep blue seas. Rules designed to protect become straightjackets which stress us and shouldn't be adhered to. Balancing acts between protecting the economy and the general public become evidence of indecision and dithering, inconsistancy and lack of clear guidance. In a constantly changing landscape people want black and white consistancy? Dream on. 

What is needed is trust. But in this regard the politicians have not done themselves many favours.  From waffling buffooning Boris to sleekit lying Dom, and quite a few idiots and heidbangers in between and of most political persuasions, who could blame the public for feeling suspicious? If that weren't enough there is the issue of accountabilty. It seems to be the preserve of the few. Nicola Sturgeon held the line over her SNP MP Margaret Ferrier, putting her way ahead of Boris. But will Nicola be able to keep true and accountable through the Alec Salmond charade?

Truth, trust, what's the other T? O yes, transparency. The three t's are joined at the hip though. One alone won't sort the other, and I pity the politician who attempts transparency when the situation is utterly complex. Take Covid. Economics, public health, the NHS, Care Homes, education, conflicting or at best diverging medical and scientific opinions, surges and spikes, the only tranparency that would be honest would be "help!", or, "I'm sorry I haven't a clue."

The fix if there is ever to be one, will be a long slow journey through the storms of misinformation, past the reefs of conspiracy and discontent, testing the waters of humility, collaboration, decency and integrity. God, or your higher power, help us.


Tuesday, 9 June 2020

George Floyd, racism, demonstrations and history

In the wake of the scandalous murder of George Floyd by police in the USA there has been a justifiably sorrowful and angry reaction. This tragic event has not only sparked demonstrations in its own right but has given impetus to the ongoing concerns of racism implicit in most white institutions, and anger and outrage against it. Of course these expressions of public concern have both their critics and their advocates.

It is naturally the case that any event no matter how tragic is tinged with various nuances and complexities which can be exploited by any who have an agenda one way or the other. I have heard critics comment on the less than perfect record of George Floyd as a person and complain therefore against the status of martyr to which he seems to have been raised. But that is to miss the point. The point is that what was done to him was wrong with a capital W. You cannot argue that his killing was less of a crime because of his moral status, and if you dislike his profile being raised in the way it has been, that was not of his doing but because of what was done to him.

Now that the fuse has been lit good and proper it will be interesting to see what develops. Already since the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol a light has been directed upon our tawdry history of enslaving others to be a means of great financial profit and gain. Fresh debate has been ignited over memorials, statues, road names and other types of "honour" bestowed upon those who made fortunes from slavery. We need to tread very carefully over this ground. Some voices are calling for the eradication and removal of all these statues and memorials, and the changing of road and place names to those more edifying and worthy. This would be wrong.  I say this not because I believe that those who gained from slavery and whose memories have been cherished and whose reputations are enshrined in praise deserve to continue in that favourable light. But to eradicate all memory of them would be wrong because it would be a wiping away of a part of our past that needs to be owned and settled with properly. So instead of tearing down and removing, we should make the stories which we display alongside these memorials tell more of the truth. There should be longer explanations of how they came by their fortunes which can be factually accurate without being vituperous. Explanatory plaques or "storyboards" could be placed alongside street names and statues and other memorials. Indeed, as a youngster I would have appreciated some explanations alongside Street names in my own native town as so often the street names remain a mystery to the curious youngster.

There is an even more challenging side to this honouring of a past that may not be so honourable after all. The profiteering from slavery for instance runs very deep and benefitted many white people in the north western hemisphere. We probably continue to reap the rewards of it in many of our institutions today. Much that has been done cannot be undone. The stealing of land by conquest is another hot issue. It rages curently in Israel/Palestine but Australia, the USA and Canada come to mind as relatively recent examples. There is also the unsavoury fact of present day slavery and bonded labour,
both here in the UK and many other parts of the world used in the sex trade. in sweat shops and in agriculture. This too needs to be brought into the light and eradicated.

But to return to where we started, and the incipient racism that plagues humanity. We have a tendency to pick on and exploit the exploitable, vulnerable, different. They need to be protected by social mechanisms that have the power to protect and to change mindsets too. What is needed is the political will to do it. I hope that this latest disastrous episode will be the spur we need to make these changes, just as I hope that the current pandemic of Coronavirus will galvanise more efficient action in the race to slow or halt climate change.

Thursday, 28 May 2020

Coronavirus USA rises above 100,000

Thursday 28th May and this morning's news was featuring the "staggering" and "shocking" number of casualties in the USA to Coronavirus. So here folks is another way of conveying the truth. I do wish that the broadcasters could just stop for a moment and dig a little into the "facts" so that what we get from them is less orientated to the sensational and more to the "real". For interest, Russia has about 21 road traffic deaths per 100,000, (just a little lower than Switzerland's Covid 19 count), India about 11, the USA around 10 (3rd highest world wide) and the UK has between 2 and 3 per 100,000. Density of population, amount of road traffic, are other relevant factors affecting even these stats. So let's get a little focus on our stats please before we throw a wobbly.

Monday, 4 May 2020

PPE, tests, and the hungry media.

Now I am not what you would call a politically aligned Tory. Indeed I'm very far from it. I used to think as a very young man that Christianity kind of obliged those of us who admitted to being Christians, to be socialist in outlook. Well whether it does or not, there are very many Christians who don't feel obliged. However, I digress. I was thinking that despite the fact that I am no fan of the current government, that is not because of their current Covid 19 performance. Of neither their performance in the face of, nor in anticipation of, and not even in prospect of what remains of, the Coronavirus pandemic am I a critic.. Yes they have made mistakes. If they have a fault it's that they are very reluctant to admit this. At least our Nicola has on occasion been honest enough to 'fess up to this. But to hear the journalists questions - "Does country X have less fatalities than us because they did such and such?" You can smell the scent of their appetites for blame. Of course we didn't have enough PPE and of course they chose to priorotised the NHS over Care providers. Of course we didn't have enough testing capability. Of course we brought lockdown in too late.  And of course they will put enough words around all these choices to make us think that they weren't choices at all. But they were. We are told that there were early warnings (generalised ones about pandemics) and then much later specific ones about Covid 19 and that they were ignored. Stockpiling was not done. But isn't this the case with every life ending scenario? Not every region in the UK stockpiles snow clearing equipment which will mean rapid response and lives saved when the occasional blizzards hit. Not every region that needs to will spend as much as it could to safeguard every vulnerable home from flooding. The government will never make it so expensive, our roads so watched and patrolled, so difficult to learn to drive and own a car, that the annual death toll from motor accidents will plummet. The laying out of cash versus lives saved has always been an economic equation. The very act of easing lockdown no matter how carefully will be an economic choice, until a vaccine is found. The equation is simply a matter of how many deaths are tolerable? The answer depends on who you are, what your arena of work is, and the relationship you had with the last casualty. It is precisely because of this that if you take the high moral ground of elevating every life as non negotiable, then of course you can be a righteous critic of any group, government or other public body that actually works in the real world of the economic equation. What makes me fizz is to hear the journalists doing this. I do not believe they care to that extent. They do however want belters of headlines, and big blame stories. By all means take up a postion in this debate, for that is what it is. But please do not signal your virtue by sallying at a government who have simply done what we pay them to do, and have done with the best will in the world, and that is make decisions, that for better or worse, in this tragic instance have affected thousands of lives and have cost a good few, although thankfully not all of them.
There will be a debrief in the aftermath, name calling, blame laying, a search for that illusive thing, truth. I do not think it will be worth it. What I hope for is that the lessons which have the highest value will have been learned by the ordinary public, for we are the ones upon whom the need for resilience and co-operation falls particularly when we feel especially powerless in the face of a threat as powerfully compelling as this one. I hope we will be the winners in appreciating for and caring for those around us. I hope we will be winners in appreciating and caring for the beautiful world which we longed to see more of when cooped up. I hope we will have learned that we do not need to fly to distant locations half as much as we used to in order to be happy, fulfilled, or to work even. I hope that we will have discovered much to keep us busy and happy nearer home that we ever used to and that the mileage on all our cars will drop significantly. I hope for our planet. I hope for global co-operation. I hope.