Monday, 12 December 2016

Donald Trump

by Ian Harris                      Otago Daily Times                   December 9, 2016

Vox populi, vox Dei, the saying goes: “The voice of the people is the voice of God.” And then came Donald Trump. Another phrase bubbled up from my dim Latin past: Quem Jupiter vult perdere, prius dementat, loosely “Whom the gods (Jupiter was king of the Roman gods) wish to destroy, they first make mad.”

Have the Americans gone bananas? Vox populi, vox Dei is usually cited to promote the view that ordinary people should have the power, through due process, to govern themselves – in practice, that the will of the majority should prevail – because God works through them. This idea was abroad in northern Europe in the late 700s, so much so that the great English monk and scholar Alcuin advised the Frankish King Charlemagne to resist such a dangerous notion. Don’t listen to those who say the voice of the people is the voice of God, he warned, “since the riotousness of the crowd is very close to madness”.

Kings claiming to rule by divine right did not endear themselves to their subjects either. In 1327 the archbishop of Canterbury denounced the misrule of Edward II in a sermon titled Vox populi, vox Dei. By the people, of course, he meant barons and prelates like himself. But their excesses, too, could sometimes verge on madness. Ironically, the idealists who drew up the United States constitution in 1787 took great care to ensure that the popular will would always be tempered by wise heads like their own: “The separation of powers was designed precisely to create sturdy firewalls against democratic wildfires,” wrote conservative political commentator Andrew Sullivan in New York magazine, back in May.

At the time, Trump was barnstorming through the Republican primaries towards the presidential nomination. Wildfires were taking hold. Barriers to an unbridled popular will were crumbling before his populist – Sullivan calls it protofascist – demagoguery. This, he says, is behaviour typical of a late-stage democracy, as foreseen by Plato 2400 years ago, where everyone is aggressively equal, traditional elites are despised, and anything goes. Then vox populi prevails – but the restraint and responsibility that flow from vox Dei, intrinsic to which is a concept of the common good, are greatly weakened. 

“And what mainly fuels this,” says Sullivan, “is precisely what the Founders feared about democratic culture: feeling, emotion, and narcissism, rather than reason, empiricism, and public spiritedness.” Kindling those wildfires in the latest election season was a simmering frustration among many white Americans that the future was slipping beyond their grasp. Neoliberal economics have hugely enriched the top echelon of society, but generated inequality and stagnation for the middle and working classes.

White Christians, currently 43 per cent of the population, are steadily diminishing as a proportion of the whole. “So,” says Sullivan, “our paralysed, emotional hyperdemocracy leads the stumbling, frustrated, angry voter toward the chimerical panacea of Trump.” This helps to explains the part evangelical Christians played in propelling him to power. Indeed, one observer pinpoints religion as the missing piece in understanding Trump’s triumph. Trump presented himself to the Christian right as their last hope in their fight against the evolving culture in general, and abortion and same-sex marriage in particular.

According to exit polls, white evangelicals, who make up 26 per cent of the electorate, voted 81 per cent for Trump, only 16 per cent for Hillary Clinton. White Catholics favoured him by 60 per cent to 37 per cent. Most baffling of all, Trump’s sexual predations, lying, refusal to pay contractors and dodging of his tax obligations did not deter these one-time “values” voters. One evangelical leader explained that grace and forgiveness are at the core of Christianity, and “fussy moral values” were not the issue they used to be.

Another, Dr James Dobson, judged Trump “tender to things of the Spirit”, and “God’s man to lead our nation”. That’s weird. Last time I looked, the fruit of the Spirit in the New Testament were the virtues of love (not the Trump variety), peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, humility and self-control.

Not all evangelicals are so infatuated or pliable. Women’s ministry leader and broadcaster Jen Hatmaker condemned the way Trump consistently normalised violence, sexual deviance, bigotry and hate speech. She branded him “a national disgrace”. But the voters have spoken. Mrs Clinton won 2.5 million more votes than Trump – isn’t that vox populi? – but Jupiter gave Trump the White House. Vox Dei, which calls for dignity, respect, compassion, justice and the sharing of burdens, is shaping as a sad casualty of this bruising electoral circus.  

Put Away the Flags

Howard Zinn                      July 1, 2007                    The Progressive

On this July 4, we would do well to renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed.

Is not nationalism — that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder — one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred? These ways of thinking — cultivated, nurtured, indoctrinated from childhood on — have been useful to those in power, and deadly for those out of power.

National spirit can be benign in a country that is small and lacking both in military power and a hunger for expansion (Switzerland, Norway, Costa Rica and many more). But in a nation like ours — huge, possessing thousands of weapons of mass destruction — what might have been harmless pride becomes an arrogant nationalism dangerous to others and to ourselves. Our citizenry has been brought up to see our nation as different from others, an exception in the world, uniquely moral, expanding into other lands in order to bring civilization, liberty, democracy.

That self-deception started early. When the first English settlers moved into Indian land in Massachusetts Bay and were resisted, the violence escalated into war with the Pequot Indians. The killing of Indians was seen as approved by God, the taking of land as commanded by the Bible. The Puritans cited one of the Psalms, which says: “Ask of me, and I shall give thee, the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the Earth for thy possession.” When the English set fire to a Pequot village and massacred men, women and children, the Puritan theologian Cotton Mather said: “It was supposed that no less than 600 Pequot souls were brought down to hell that day.”

On the eve of the Mexican War, an American journalist declared it our “Manifest Destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence.” After the invasion of Mexico began, The New York Herald announced: “We believe it is a part of our destiny to civilize that beautiful country.”

It was always supposedly for benign purposes that our country went to war. We invaded Cuba in 1898 to liberate the Cubans, and went to war in the Philippines shortly after, as President McKinley put it, “to civilize and Christianize” the Filipino people.

As our armies were committing massacres in the Philippines (at least 600,000 Filipinos died in a few years of conflict), Elihu Root, our secretary of war, was saying: “The American soldier is different from all other soldiers of all other countries since the war began. He is the advance guard of liberty and justice, of law and order, and of peace and happiness.”

We see in Iraq that our soldiers are not different. They have, perhaps against their better nature, killed thousands of Iraq civilians. And some soldiers have shown themselves capable of brutality, of torture. Yet they are victims, too, of our government’s lies. How many times have we heard President Bush tell the troops that if they die, if they return without arms or legs, or blinded, it is for “liberty,” for “democracy”?

One of the effects of nationalist thinking is a loss of a sense of proportion. The killing of 2,300 people at Pearl Harbor becomes the justification for killing 240,000 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The killing of 3,000 people on Sept. 11 becomes the justification for killing tens of thousands of people in Afghanistan and Iraq.

And nationalism is given a special virulence when it is said to be blessed by Providence. Today we have a president, invading two countries in four years, who announced on the campaign trail in 2004 that God speaks through him. We need to refute the idea that our nation is different from, morally superior to, the other imperial powers of world history. We need to assert our allegiance to the human race, and not to any one nation.

Howard Zinn, a World War II bombardier, is the author of the best-selling “
A People’s History of the United States” (Perennial Classics, 2003, latest edition). This piece was distributed by the Progressive Media Project.

Some Thoughts on Flags

by Arthur Palmer 

Yes, flags. My first encounter was when, as a six-year-old, I began school at Naumai in Northland New Zealand. This was at the beginning of 1925, only six years-and-a bit since the Great War, as it was called then, had ended. I had to learn that the impressive flagpole which stood fifty yards from the school entrance door was more than simply the main mast of a vessel wrecked in the Kaipara harbour. Certainly it was that, and it must have been the envy of other schools. But it was also the centrepiece of a ceremony which occurred from time to time, when the British Union Jack was hoisted and saluted by the entire school of about 45 students.

We were roughly half-and-half Maori and white pakeha, but there was no acknowledgement that we differed in any way from a traditional English school in Britain. Our Principal was a very British woman who appeared to my young eyes quite elderly. She kept order without any corporal punishment or regime of fear. The only penalty that I can recall seeing was a pupil’s mouth being ceremoniously washed out in the corridor for swearing. It was patiently endured and the swearing continued unabated.

And so did the flag ceremony, supported by songs of Empire glory. The chorus of the only one that I can still remember included these lines:

Hearts of oak are our ships. Jolly tars are our men,
We always are ready. Steady boys, steady.
We’ll fight and we’ll conquer again and again.

And in the playground I often heard a very un-British song which puzzled me:

Take me over the sea, Where the Allyman can’t get at me.
Oh my, I don’t want to die, I want to go home.       

It was clear that the singers of that plaintive ditty felt themselves to be victims. Victims of what was not clear to me for some time. And flags were in the background of that one too.

Now here I am, many decades later, staying with my daughter Ruth in the home that she has just bought. And only ten feet from the window where I eat my breakfast there stands a stainless steel flagpole with all the necessary cords to hoist an emblem of loyalty to some important concept, of nationhood perhaps. Fixed on top is a small globe about four inches in diameter to deter any birds from alighting and polluting this semi-sacred erection which is there to declare the owner’s loyalty to the flag displayed. The pole is likely to stay unadorned while Ruth is living here.

We need to listen to the voice of Howard Zinn on this. He is speaking to his fellow-Americans, but we in New Zealand seem to regard the American military umbrella as our best guarantee of security, even as we  pay our dues by supporting US action in Iraq and Afghanistan. So Zinn’s warning is there for us too.

“Put Away the Flags” was written almost a decade ago. In that time US arms have been continuously in use to destroy the infrastructure and many of the people who live and die in this difficult area. This is not the road to a better world of peaceful cooperation. Nor to security. Yet in the near future with a Trump as US President we are likely to see more, rather than less, of confrontational politics, nation against nation, class against class. As Zinn tells us: “We need to assert our allegiance to the human race, and not to any one nation.”

Idealistic and fanciful nonsense? Yes, I can hear the dismissing comments. But I do believe that there is a growing anger and disillusionment with the assumption that we must concentrate on maintaining our dominant position, with the help of powerful friends and the most advanced weapons. The unexpected support for Bernie Sanders in the US Presidential election was a positive message, disregarded but still there. Trump is almost sure to serve no more than one term as President.

But what are your thoughts on all this? I welcome your comments. Meanwhile let’s listen to Howard Zinn.

This is the most dangerous time for our planet

Stephen Hawking on Inequality          Guardian/UK           1 December 2016   

As a theoretical physicist based in Cambridge, I have lived my life in an extraordinarily privileged bubble. Cambridge is an unusual town, centred around one of the world’s great universities. Within that town, the scientific community that I became part of in my 20s is even more rarefied. And within that scientific community, the small group of international theoretical physicists with whom I have spent my working life might sometimes be tempted to regard themselves as the pinnacle.

So the recent apparent rejection of the elites in both America and Britain is surely aimed at me, as much as anyone. Whatever we might think about the decision by the British electorate to
reject membership of the European Union and by the American public to embrace Donald Trump as their next president, there is no doubt in the minds of commentators that this was a cry of anger by people who felt they had been abandoned by their leaders. It was, everyone seems to agree, the moment when the forgotten spoke, finding their voices to reject the advice and guidance of experts and the elite everywhere. 

I am no exception to this rule. I warned before the Brexit vote that it would
damage scientific research in Britain, that a vote to leave would be a step backward, and the electorate took no more notice of me than of any of the other political leaders, trade unionists, artists, scientists, businessmen and celebrities who all gave the same unheeded advice to the rest of the country.

What matters now, far more than the choices made by these two electorates, is
how the elites react. Should we, in turn, reject these votes as outpourings of crude populism that fail to take account of the facts, and attempt to circumvent or circumscribe the choices that they represent? I would argue that this would be a terrible mistake. The concerns underlying these votes about the economic consequences of globalisation and accelerating technological change are absolutely understandable. The automation of factories has already decimated jobs in traditional manufacturing, and the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining.

This in turn will accelerate the already widening economic inequality around the world. The internet and the platforms that it makes possible allow
very small groups of individuals to make enormous profits while employing very few people. This is inevitable, it is progress, but it is also socially destructive.

We need to put this alongside the financial crash, which brought home to people that a very few individuals working in the financial sector can accrue huge rewards and that the rest of us underwrite that success and pick up the bill when their greed leads us astray. So taken together we are living in a world of widening, not diminishing, financial inequality, in which many people can see not just their standard of living, but their ability to earn a living at all, disappearing. It is no wonder then that they are searching for a new deal, which Trump and Brexit might have appeared to represent.

It is also the case that another unintended consequence of the global spread of the internet and social media is that the stark nature of these inequalities is far more apparent than it has been in the past. For me, the ability to use technology to communicate has been a liberating and positive experience. Without it, I would not have been able to continue working these many years past.

But it also means that the lives of the richest people in the most prosperous parts of the world are agonisingly visible to anyone, however poor, who has access to a phone. And since there are now more people with a telephone than access to clean water in sub-Saharan Africa, this will shortly mean nearly everyone on our increasingly crowded planet will not be able to escape the inequality.

The consequences of this are plain to see: the rural poor flock to cities, to shanty towns, driven by hope. And then often, finding that the Instagram nirvana is not available there, they seek it overseas, joining the ever greater numbers of economic migrants in search of a better life. These migrants in turn place new demands on the infrastructures and economies of the countries in which they arrive, arrive, undermining tolerance and further fuelling political populism.

This is the first section of a longer article by Stephen Hawking

The Anne Frank Story

By Robert Fisk                         Independent Online                             25 Nov. 2016

I’ve just visited the hiding place of some troublesome refugees who should make
Donald Trump very angry. You only have to glance at the family’s papers to see how they fall under Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric. They fled a dangerous country full of extremists – a nation which threatened its own neighbours – and they sought their first new home for “economic reasons”. Worse still, they even tried to enter the United States. They were turned away – on the grounds that even if they had good reason to flee their persecutors, they didn’t have good enough reason to choose America as their place of refuge.

No, they’re not Syrians or Turkmens or Yazidis or Afghans. She was, of course, Anne Frank, the German Jewish girl who with her family fled the Nazis in 1933 and was given sanctuary in Holland – until Germany invaded the Low Countries in 1940 and she found herself under the rule of her own vicious country all over again. By 1941, her father Otto – realizing that the Nazis had in store for Jews in Holland the very same fate that was already being perpetrated against the Jews of Germany – sought visas to the United States. And the door was slammed in their face.

Anne Frank’s diary was the first book my mother wanted me to read "on my own" (without having it read to me) and this wonderful narrative of childhood-growing-into-adulthood, of fear and love and joy and fury – especially at the other refugees crowded into the family hiding-place behind Otto’s office on the Prinsengracht Canal in Amsterdam – has stayed with me all my life. It has been translated into 70 languages. It’s even been translated into Arabic.

No matter. So powerful, so tragic and so relevant is Anne’s story to us today that queues stand round the block in the cold Amsterdam rain to take their turn to walk up the stairs behind the false bookcase to see where these frightened Jewish men, women and children lived until, two years after they first hid here, the Gestapo arrived. You can still see – it’s so genuine, it allows of no clich├ęs – the newspaper photographs of 1930s film stars (Ray Milland, Diana Durbin, Ginger Rogers) and of a very young Princess Elizabeth of England (plus sister Margaret and corgis) and of the Dutch royal family in exile whose nationality Anne wished to adopt after the war and whose pictures she glued to the wall of her room.

The Dutch nation would certainly have been more loyal to her than the Americans. Otto sought help for US visas from friends who were relatives of those who owned Macey’s department store. He had two brothers-in-law in the States. He wrote of the plight of his wife and two daughters. The State Department was not interested. Otto even pleaded for Cuban visas. He got one – on 1st December 1941 – but it was cancelled a week later when Germany declared war on Japan after Pearl Harbour. Thus did Japan as well as Hitler and the Americans join hands to doom the refugees on the Prinsengracht Canal. Roosevelt’s US – and Democratic – administration did a "Trump" on the Frank family.

Each time I read Anne Frank’s diary – and reader, if you haven’t read it, make up for lost time, as they say, and do so – I find something new which I missed on my previous journey through her pages. She wanted to be a writer. She wanted to turn her diary into a novel called The Secret Annex. And she wrote, on May 11th 1944, “my greatest wish is to become a journalist one day.” You can’t beat that.

But then her family was betrayed and three members of the Dutch Nazi Party and an Austrian (and therefore Reich) SS officer came storming up the staircase behind the false bookshelves on 4 August 1944. And that was the end of all of them. Except for Otto. He was eventually freed from Auschwitz by the Soviet army and travelled slowly back to Amsterdam to find that his family were dead. Edith died in Auschwitz, Margot and Anne at Bergen-Belsen, both of typhus. Anne, now 15 years old, died last. An old school friend says she caught sight of Anne in her last days and threw food to her over the camp barbed wire.

Four Dutch citizens helped Anne and her family and friends throughout their two years of solitude, at daily risk of their lives. They said later that it was a natural thing to do. Odd, that. Because today we are supposed to find it "unnatural" to help these people. I guess that’s Trump’s view. Yet in the streets around the Prinsengrach this week I found small cafes whose Dutch owners had written on their front doors the words: “Refugees welcome”.      [Abridged]