A Rueful Regime

The first few weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency were always going to be eventful. The thinly veiled objective was to set about destroying the scarcely blemished legacy of predecessor Barack Obama by implementing a range of controversial and radical policies that were outlined during the election campaign.

There was universal disdain when he shamefully spoke of banning all Muslims from entering the United States, as well as anger in Mexico after vowing to build a huge wall across the border between the two nations. Those claims seemed far-fetched at the time. After all, he still needed to win an election. But that he did, and the former businessman has immediately set about making them a reality.

It all began at his inaugural address, a bombastic display of fierce and furious rhetoric, all uttered in front of a crowd of (I suspect) quietly seething onlookers. For many in the United States and across the globe, it was a day which confirmed that their worst fears had been realised, as someone who showcased some of the least desirable human values and characteristics gained passage to the White House and all the power it brings.

Some of the more optimistic members of the sizeable percentage of the US population that is against Trump pledged a willingness to give him a chance and see how things would play out. Surely he wouldn’t be as cruel and subjective as he was suggesting he would be during his grudge match with Hillary Clinton? He said all those things so he could win an election, right?

Wrong. A series of social media outbursts and tense press conferences in the run up to his inauguration hinted that Trump would never allow anyone to undermine his authority. Not the media; not the Clinton supporters still raging at his triumph, and not even the most distinguished of Hollywood actresses such as Meryl Streep; disgracefully lambasted for expressing an opinion – and one shared by many.

After only an approximate number of 250,000 people gathered outside the US Capitol building for the ceremony on January 20, the tone was set for the new administration’s relationship with the media. Following a series of accusations from Trump himself, new White House press secretary Sean Spicer led the assault, erroneously asserting that the crowd was the highest ever for such an event.

This was a lie, and Spicer knew that all too well. At a time where fake news seems to be  ubiquitous in muddying the editorial waters and misleading the public, this unsophisticated remark from such a high ranking government official was not only irresponsible, it  has left the people doubtful as to whether they can trust the legitimacy of White House press statements. Not a good idea when faith in politicians worldwide seems to be at an all-time low.

A week into Trump’s reign came the visit of UK Prime Minister Theresa May, which the media on both sides of the Atlantic never tired of serenading as his first meeting with a foreign leader. For May it was a bid to secure the best possible trade deal and the continued endurance of the ‘special relationship’ between the two countries, the importance of which was added to by the upcoming departure of the UK from the European Union.

Trump has been consistently unequivocal in his support for the UK’s decision to leave the EU, a process that will dominate the political arena in the months to come. He is unlikely to change his stance on that matter, but Theresa May has been able to convince him of the benefits of NATO. Be grateful for small mercies.

Indeed, when facing the customary media conference during her trip to the States, May openly stated that she would not hesitate to tell her counterpart if she disagreed with him on a particular issue. That it seemed, was typical of her character – throughout her time on the cabinet she has come across as steely, resilient and single-minded.

But she even went as far as to announce that Trump would make a state visit to the UK later in the year. A dubious promise given the widespread hatred that exists for Trump, and one which was to have severe ramifications barely 24 hours later.

For Trump then passed an executive order, restricting entry to the United States for citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries.  The order amounted to the groundless and unjust persecution of millions of innocent individuals, with these nations unfairly targeted despite no evidence that any are involved in terrorism.

It is oppression of the kind that shouldn’t exist in the 21st century, let alone in a country which likes to be known as the Land of the Free. As the new president, Trump can now claim to be the leader of the Free World. Instead he is using his office to forcibly remove people from US territory, simply because of the country that they happen to be from, or because they are seeking to escape bloody regimes and landscapes overseas.

The level of disgust resulting from the order has been unsurprising, understandable and completely justified. Some have questioned the legality of such a policy, with Supreme Court judges taking a dim view, but despite his failure to retain its enforcement, a begrudging Trump has stuck to his guns and decided to rid himself of anybody who is against the new measures.

Take the acting Attorney General Sally Yates. She spoke out and was made to pay with her job, which was a particularly worrying development. On Twitter I likened the decision to 1930s/40s book burning ceremonies, where the most notorious 20th century leaders would create a cult of personality where any contrasting or dissenting voices would be silenced without good reason.

Such vilification for simply having a perfectly reasonable and well-considered opinion is making a rather ominous comeback through the guise of social media. Well respected public figures are voicing their opposition to Trump’s values and measures, at the expense of receiving vile messages. This represents a rather frightening aspect of modern societal attitudes.

The executive order may have been put on hold, but the resulting barrage of tweets from Trump, which have basically lampooned dignified public figures such as court judges and elected representatives, have been ill-becoming of a national president, and frankly irresponsible.

As was Theresa May’s refusal to condemn the executive order, a decision which saw her go down in the estimation of many. Having hot-footed it to Turkey, she was admittedly put in a tricky position, but she failed to stand up for our values and reinforce the promotion of human rights and in doing so received the criticism she probably deserved.

I, like many other UK citizens, do not want Donald Trump to make an official state visit. However, any notion that he will be barred seems preposterous, given that the United States is our greatest ally. That it has elected a buffoon as its president will hardly change that.

In the weeks since his installation, Trump has never been away from the headlines, many of which have involved crackpot new measures, social media backchat or a possible scandal. Just look at the resignation today of Michael Flynn, the US National Security Advisor, for apparently discussing sanctions for Russia before the new administration assumed office. The dust just isn’t being allowed to settle.

Not even a month has passed, but already so much has happened and so much has been said, and you would be surprised if that didn’t remain the case during the years to come. One striking (often described as eerie) moment of the inaugural address saw Trump quote the Batman villain Bane, promising to ‘give it (America) back to you, the people‘. From what we have seen so far, Trump also favours Bane’s favoured choice of punishment: Death by exile.

 

Trump in line for a Love Actually moment?

Anybody who pays the slightest amount of attention towards world politics will be a little concerned by the possibility of seeing Donald Trump elected as president of the United States. At present he is the clear frontrunner in the race to be the Republican candidate to stand in November’s vote, which means that he is clearly doing enough to convince the American people that he’s the right person to lead the country despite holding many divisive views.

His speeches are intended to be controversial. They are intended to be hard-hitting. They are intended to make some people look up and ask, ‘My goodness, did he really just say that?’. Just as is the case for UKIP leader Nigel Farage in the United Kingdom, he is saying the things that some – mainly working class – people truly believe, to the extent that they will be compelled to vote for him.

Now, as I am not from the United States I am not privy to all the policies that Trump has proposed during his arduous campaign, but some of the more widely reported pronouncements he’s come up with are nothing short of alarming, leaving myself and many others to question whether he is a fit and proper person to lead a nation such as the United States, and even whether he is mentally unstable.

He caused a lot of consternation with comments about abortion, but the most unbelievable of his remarks were made in late 2015 when he gave a speech insisting that as president he would build a ‘great, great wall’ along the border with Mexico, and also stated that he would implement a blanket ban on all Muslims entering the United States.

Speeches normally have to be carefully prepared and to some extent diplomatic and persuasive. Instead, he used powerful and coarse language to insult a huge percentage of not just the American population, but the world population.

Some of his sympathisers would say that he was speaking in the best interests of the country in the aid of national security, given the current prominence of the so-called Islamic State group. But to totally denigrate all members of what is a fine faith which should not be treated any differently to others just because of the actions of a terrible minority.

Such comments put plenty of world issues in jeopardy, not to mention diplomacy in the future. A man who came out with such proclamations, whether in the interests of gaining power or not, would always be taken up on what he said by other world leaders, a source of prejudice for any potential negotiations and peace talks. It may even harm the health of the infamous ‘special relationship’ between the United States and the United Kingdom.

It had me speculating whether Trump’s election as president may lead to a ‘Love Actually moment’, in other words an inspiring and rousing monologue in the manner of Hugh Grant, whose fictional Prime Minister made his position clear in no uncertain terms towards president Billy Bob Thornton in the 2003 film.

The speech, written by Richard Curtis, is one of its most memorable moments, and although done for comedic effect, has had an impact on British culture. Maybe Trump could come in for similar treatment from David Cameron, albeit with the use of much different phraseology.

Here is the Love Actually speech in full:

“I fear that this has become a bad relationship. A relationship based on the President taking exactly what he wants and casually ignoring all those things that really matter to, err… Britain.

We may be a small country but we’re a great one, too. The country of Shakespeare, Churchill, the Beatles, Sean Connery, Harry Potter. David Beckham’s right foot. David Beckham’s left foot, come to that.

And a friend who bullies us is no longer a friend. And since bullies only respond to strength, from now onward, I will be prepared to be much stronger. And the President should be prepared for that.”

Cameron has already said something similar, responding to comments reportedly made by a member of the Russian government in September 2013 that Britain was ‘a small island that nobody listens to’. The Prime Minister made an impassioned defence of his nation, also using jovial and patriotic language.

It all just goes to show that speeches, and how they are conducted, do carry an incredible amount of weight and have done so for many, many years. Love Actually took the whole concept and turned it into a cultural phenomenon, while Trump and many of his political peers use it to appeal to the most radical, cynical thinkers in society. Persuasive arguments happen every day from the mouths of eloquent and poetic courtroom barristers, but it’s the use of language that will always continue to fascinate, regardless of a speaker’s agenda.

Howzat for an Analogy?!

On Tuesday I went to the splendid and richly historic city of Oxford, a place with far too much to see and experience in just the one day. I saw many things that fascinated and intrigued me, along with a couple of artefacts that totally blew my mind.

This was never more pronounced than during my brief browsing of the Weston Library, anattraction that was received widespread attention from tourists and visitors since it was opened in its current state back in March 2015. Unfortunately it was moving towards closing time when I ventured inside, partly to escape from the pouring rain.

Shelves and shelves of books and other media were on display beyond a first floor balcony when I first walked inside on to a wide and pristine foyer, while there was a shop and small cafe to the left. On the right was a collection of items exhibited to mark the centenary of the birth of former UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson, which included personal notes and photographs, as well as numerous letters he sent during his time in office.

Seeing these items was special enough, but the real treasure hoard was through a nearby door, where a heavily bearded member of staff was leading a group of people around a room sprinkled with display cabinets, all containing items written or produced by the hands of world-famous individuals.

Among them were the musings of 19th century Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, poet John Milton, and renowned scientist Dorothy Hodgkin – whose crystallography skills were integral to the development of penicillin. It was spellbinding for me, and presumably it was the same for everyone of all those many nationalities within that lamplit showroom.

But the subject of this post centres around a transcript that was pinned to the wall just to the right of Benjamin Disraeli’s letter. Continuing with the political theme, it happened to be the speech given by Geoffrey Howe as he resigned from the UK cabinet in November 1990, an event which is viewed by many as the trigger for Margaret Thatcher to resign as Prime Minister shortly after.

For me, speeches are not an area covered in enough depth from an academic point of view. When I was at school there were times that we sat a mock exam and one of our optional questions would be based around writing a speech. I tried such a question once with mixed results – using the required amount of persuasive language, but elsewhere it was a little lacking in substance because of my limited background knowledge.

Everybody enters a speech with a different approach. For a perfect speech a number of things need getting right including content, balance and validity of argument, and most importantly the delivery. The person making the speech must be engaging, and this particularly applies in places such as the House of Commons as MPs vie to get their voices heard and views sympathised with. And that is where Howe got everything spot on.

He began with a lengthy cricket analogy, part of which went something like this

It is rather like sending your opening batsmen to the crease, only for them to find that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain.

Now, it has been acknowledged that Howe himself didn’t write this line, or indeed any part of this metaphor, but it was the way he delivered it that brought about the end of Thatcher’s 11-year reign. The person who wrote it was in fact his wife.