Posts Tagged ‘‘A History of the English-Speaking Peoples’’

Is Trump Barely Able to Read?

February 6, 2017

My thanks to Joanna, one of the long-time commenters on this blog, for posting this in one of her comments.

In this piece from the David Pakman Show, Pakman and one of his producers, Pat, discuss the considerable evidence that Trump is functionally barely literate. There are clips of Mark Fisher, an American journalist, discussing how he asked Trump if he was preparing for the presidency by reading the biographies of the great American presidents. Trump said something about reading one about Nixon, and another, but Fisher himself doubted he had ever read a book from cover to cover. Trump also said that he had never read a biography, but regretted this. Visitors to Trump have remarked that there weren’t any books on his desk, or on the shelves at his home or indeed anywhere else. Jeffrey Schwartz, who ghost-wrote Trump’s book, The Art of the Deal, stated that he didn’t believe Trump had ever read a book since he was in school. Washington insiders have said that The Donald actually has difficulty reading the documents and executive orders placed in front of him. He usually just scans the first page. Further evidence for this comes from clips from a court case, in which the opposition lawyer asks Drumpf to read a lease. Trump’s own lawyer objects to it, and Trump looks it over, remarks on its length, and then proceeds to give a summary of what’s on the page. Apparently, he doesn’t even send his tweets himself. He dictates them to a secretary in the next room, and she sends them for him. There’s also a clip with the writers from the comedy show, Saturday Night Live, in which they talk about how Trump had difficulty reading the scripts when he was guest host. And it’s also been said that the reason why Trump watches so much television, and gets so much of his information from it, is because he can’t or doesn’t read books and papers. There’s also a clip, which shows Trump very obviously not using a teleprompter at one of his rallies. Pakman argues that this isn’t because he’s particularly keen to speak ad lib. It’s because he has difficulty reading what’s on there.

Pakman’s producer, Pat, finally makes the point here that what’s shocking isn’t Trump’s inability to read, but his lack of intellectual curiosity. He doesn’t even send away for talking books, so he can hear things read to him.

This is truly astonishing. And frightening. People have been making jokes since forever and a day about the stupidity of politicians, but many have been people of real intellectual distinction. Churchill wrote his History of the English-Speaking Peoples. JFK apparently could write a sentence of Latin with one hand while writing a sentence in Greek with the other. Even Nixon was no intellectual slouch. He was crooked and a monstrous imperialist thug, whose regime was responsible for the deaths of untold millions in the Vietnam War and Fascist coups across the world, and he really wasn’t intellectually capable of being president. But he wasn’t thick either. Bill Clinton was far from stupid, though he was also responsible for some of the worst policies passed by an American president, such as gutting further what remained of the American welfare system after Reagan, quite apart from highly questionable foreign policy decisions.

On the other hand, there are a long line of chiefly Republican presidents, who have been suspected of being thick and incompetent. Like Ronald Reagan, even before the poor fellow was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Not The Nine O’clock News sang songs about his epic stupidity. There was a long-running sketch on Spitting Image, in which his aides go in search of his missing brain. Then in the early part of this century, he was followed into the Oval Office by George Dubya, who had been an illiterate drunk smashed out of his skull on recreational chemicals. Dubya at least gave up the booze and drugs, and was credited as reading. He still struck everyone as being so stupid, that when one person made up the rumour that he only had an IQ of 85, it was widely believed. And at one point it looked like America would get a female vice-president in the shape of Sarah Palin, who has a reputation for monumental stupidity. One American commenter described his candidacy for the presidency or vice-presidency to a ‘post turtle’. What’s a post turtle? He explained that if you go to the Deep South, ever so often on the roads you see a turtle stuck on a fence post. The turtle’s got no right to be there, doesn’t know how it got there, and you don’t know what moron put it there. And that summed up Palin’s bid for supreme power.

And now we have Donald Trump, a sexist, misogynist, islamophobic Fascist, a narcissistic megalomaniac, who seems unable to read or comprehend the documents put in front of him.

He is massively unfit for office, and the fact that he’s in it points to a deeply troubling strand of anti-intellectualism in the Republican Party. The late comedian Bill Hicks used to joke that there was a streak of anti-intellectualism in America, and that it began the same year Reagan was elected. He had a point. Reagan got into power by presenting the image of a down-home ordinary bloke, offering his folksy wisdom in place of the complicated and simply wrong ideas offered by those affecting to be cleverer than the rest of us. And this is a powerfully attractive approach. No-one likes the feeling that they’re being condescended to by someone impressed with their own intelligence, or being treated with contempt. And the right, both in America and in Britain, try to capitalise on this anti-intellectualism. You think of all the times the Tories have tried to persuade the public that you don’t need to know about fancy economic theories to understand the economy, just commonsense household management. Left-wing economists have tried to point out that, in fact, you do need to understand economics as it is definitely not like balancing a household budget. But still they carry on, using the metaphor of household budgeting to justifying cutting services and privatising the NHS.

And now Trump, who appears to be barely literate, is in the White House. Pakman points out that it seems that Trump spoke at the level of a fourth grade schoolboy, not because he was trying to talk to ordinary Americans at their level, but because his reading level is that of a fourth grade schoolboy. It’s been said that politician is the one job that doesn’t require qualifications. Well, intelligence doesn’t guarantee that someone will make the right decisions. But in a complex world, in which power relationships between countries are so delicate that a misstep could start an international incident or even another war, we do need intellectual ability in our leaders and their advisers. We need politicos, who have the ability to obtain the knowledge of world affairs they need, not just from the broadcast news, but from foreign policy documents, even simply from reading the papers.

Trump seems incapable of this, and it puts us all in danger. He really does need to go.

Vox Political on Boris Johnson’s Racial Slurs against Obama

April 23, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has put up a piece criticising Boris Johnson for his racial slurs against Barack Obama. Obama yesterday made it very plain that he wanted Britain to remain in the EU. He told us up front that a Britain separate from Europe would be ‘at the back of the queue’ for a trade deal.

This has upset the Tousled Twit, who only the other week announced his support for Brexit, after he initially seemed to be in favour of remaining the in European Union. Johnson has claimed that Obama’s comments came from a personal animus against Britain. it’s all due to him being half-Kenyan, you see, so he has a personal grudge against his father’s country’s former imperial masters. Mike states that at the root of this comment was the movement of a bust of Winston Churchill somewhere in the White House.

I read over on Mark Steyn’s webpage years ago that his ancestral hatred of the British was signalled by the cavalier way he treated Gordon Brown’s gift of a copy of Winston Churchill’s A History of the English-Speaking Peoples. This rumours – that Obama has a personal hatred of Britain -has been going on for years. It comes from ultra-Right wing Republicans, like Steyn, who believe that the English political culture begins and ends with Adam Smith and the Wealth of Nations. It’s not an accident that Trump would like Britain to make some kind of trade deal with America. The Libertarian/ Neo-Con right would love us to do so, and join a free-trade, Atlanticist bloc. The Republicans a few years ago under Newt Gingrich wanted us to join NAFTA – the North American Free Trade Agreement, the trade bloc consisting of Canada, America and Mexico. Similar reasons are doubtless behind the Dorset Tory MEP, Daniel Hannan, and his campaign to have us leave the EU. He also wants us to go independent and develop closer links with what he describes as ‘the Anglosphere’. The economic reasoning behind it seems to be the same. He also wants the NHS to be dismantled and sold off. It’s more of the racial essentialist thinking which wishes to contrast ‘free-trade’ oriented England and the Anglophone world, with the collectivist politics of the Continental peoples. It’s a kind of remnant of the pseudo-scientific racism Count Gobineau, which arose in the 19th century, and which tried to claim that the perceived national characteristics of the various races, including the European nations, were all biological determined.

As for Obama’s comments, they’re a threat, as Mike points out, but they’re undoubtedly true. Britain probably would be at the back of the queue behind a united Europe for a trade deal with the US, if only for the simple reason that Europe is much larger, and so any deal with the USA offers them a much larger market for their goods and services.

It’s also not a break with American foreign policy. Lobster has run several pieces citing various senior British diplomats, who have written in articles and books on foreign policy that various American presidents told them to convey to our prime ministers that they wanted Britain to join the EU. Lobster has a strong Euro-sceptic slant, though it’s from a left-wing perspective, and is no friend of American imperialism. If the Lobster articles are true, then it bears out Charles De Gaul’s reasons for blocking British entry to the European Community in the 1960s. He was afraid that if he let us in, he’d be letting the Americans in through the back door. The whole point of the EEC as it was then was to create a united Europe that could compete and maintain its independence against domination by both America and the Soviet bloc. With Barack Obama telling us we should remain in Europe, it looks very much like De Gaul was right.

In the meantime, Mike and Mrs Mike are trying to think of a suitable nickname for BoJo. Mike favours variations on ‘Bore-Us’, while Mrs Mike thinks a better nickname is ‘Tw*t’. You decide.

Mike’s article can be read at:

If ‘part-Kenyan’ Obama may have ‘ancestral dislike’ of UK, what about part Swiss/Turkish/French Johnson?

BBC 2 On Why Britain Voted Against Churchill after WW II

May 25, 2015

BBC 2 at 9.00 O’clock tonight is showing a documentary on how Britain rejected Churchill for the Labour party in the 1945 general election.

The blurbs for it in the Radio Times state

Surprise election results are nothing new. As this documentary explores, a few weeks after celebrating VE Day in 1945, Britons went to the polls for the first general election in a decade. The Conservatives were widely expected to win, a grateful nation rewarding Winston Churchill’s wartime leadership. Instead, Labour won by a landslide and set about creating the Socialist welfare system Churchill had warned against.

As historians relate, there were good reasons the electorate delivered a humiliating snub to their wartime hero. And we’ve forgotten how unpopular he was with sections of the public: striking footage shows crowds jeering a perplexed Churchill at Walthamstow stadium. “Most people saw him as a Boris Johnson-type figure,” claims one contributor. “A buffoon.”

And

Just weeks after VE Day, Winston Churchill went to the polls confident that the nation would reward him for his leadership through the dark days of the Second World War and re-elect him prime minister. In the event, he suffered a humiliating defeat by Labour under Clement Atlee. Historians including Max Hastings, Juliet Gardiner and Antony Beevor explore what prompted the nation to reject its great war leader in such vehement fashion.

This will no doubt annoy the Churchill family, who have been effectively living off the great man’s legacy since the War. They got very stroppy a few months ago with Paxo, for daring to state that Churchill was not some kind omniscient, super competent superman.

In fact, Churchill was and still is bitterly despised by certain sections of the working class, despite his status as the great hero of World War II. His own career in the armed forces effectively ended with the debacles of the battle of Jutland and he was widely blamed for Gallipolli. He fervently hated the trade unions and anything that smacked of socialism and the welfare state. Originally a Liberal, he crossed the floor to join the Tories when Balfour’s government introduced pensions and state medical insurance based on the model of contemporary Germany. ‘It was Socialism by the backdoor’, he spluttered.

This continued after the War, when he fiercely attacked Labour’s plan to set up the NHS and unemployment benefit. Because the latter meant that the state become involved in the payment of NI contributions by the employer, he denounced it as a ‘Gestapo for England.’

He is widely credited with sending in the army to shoot down striking miners in Newport. According to the historians I’ve read, he didn’t. Nevertheless, this is still widely believed. It’s credible, because Churchill did have an extremely aggressive and intolerant attitude towards strikes. During the 1924 General Strike he embarrassed the Tory administration by stating that the armed forces would stand ready to assist the civil authorities, if they were called to do so. This effectively meant that he was ready to send the troops in. When it was suggested that he could be found a position in the Post Office, the then Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, readily agreed on the grounds that it would keep him out of the way. The hope was that without Churchill’s militant intransigence, the Strike could be settled peacefully.

And despite the mythology of the country uniting under a common foe during the War years, there was still considerable working class disaffection. Indeed, according to one programme, there were more strikes during the War than hitherto. I don’t find this remotely surprising, given that the sheer requirements of running a war economy meant rationing, shortages and, I’ve no doubt, the introduction of strict labour discipline.

Nor was Churchill a particularly staunch supporter of democracy and opponent of Fascism. Orwell wrote in one of his newspaper pieces that the spectre of war was doing strange things, like making Churchill run around pretending to be a democrat. According to the historian of British Fascism, Martin Pugh, Churchill was an authoritarian, who actually quite liked Franco and his brutal suppression of the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. His opposition to the Nazis came not from a desire to defend democracy from tyranny – in that respect, Eden was a far better and more convinced anti-Fascist – but from the fear that a re-armed and militarised Germany would be a danger to British power and commercial shipping in the North Sea and the Baltic. He did, however, have the decency to consider privately that Mussolini was ‘a swine’, and was not impressed when the Duce declared that his Black Shirts were ‘like your Black and Tans’ when he visited Fascist Italy.

The British working class therefore had every reason to reject Churchill and his reactionary views after the War. And scepticism towards Churchill and his legacy was not confined merely to the working class. Nearly two decades later in the 1960s Private Eye satirised him as ‘the greatest dying Englishman’, and attacked him for betraying every cause he joined. Churchill was all for a united Europe, for example, a fact that might surprise some supporters of UKIP. He just didn’t want Britain to join it.

Even now there are those on the Right, who still resent him. Peter Hitchens, the arch-Tory columnist for the Daily Mail, has frequently attacked Churchill for bringing Britain into the War. His reason for this seems to be his belief that if we hadn’t gone to War against the Axis, we’d still have an Empire by now. This is moot, at best. Writing in the 1930s about a review of Black soldiers in Algiers or Morocco, Orwell stated that what was on the mind of every one of the White officers observing them was the thought ‘How long can we go on fooling these people?’ Orwell came to Socialism through his anti-imperialism, and so represents a particularly radical point of view. Nevertheless, he wasn’t the only one. When the British authorities set up the various commercial and industrial structures to exploit Uganda and the mineral wealth of east Africa, Lord Lugard cynically stated that they now had all the infrastructure in place to pillage the country for a few decades before independence. Despite Hitchens’ nostalgia and wishful thinking for the glories of a vanished empire, my guess is that many, perhaps most of the imperial administrators and bureaucrats out there knew it was only a matter of time before the British Empire went the way of Rome and Tyre.

In his book attacking atheism, The Rage Against God, Hitchens also attacks the veneration of Churchill as a kind of ersatz, state-sponsored secular religious cult. It’s an extreme view, but he’s got a point. Sociologists of religion, like Clifford Geertz, have a identified the existence of a ‘civil religion’, alongside more normal, obvious forms of religion, like Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism, for example. This civil religion is the complex of beliefs and values that shapes civil society as a whole. In America, this is a belief in democracy, centred around a veneration of the Constitution. In Britain, you can see this complex of beliefs centring around parliament, the Crown, and also the complex of ceremonies commemorating the First and Second World Wars. Including Churchill.

The programme looks like it could be an interesting counterargument to the myth of Churchill as the consummate politician, the great champion of British freedom and democracy. He deserves every respect for his staunch opposition to the Nazis, regardless of the precise reason for doing so, and his A History of the English-Speaking Peoples is one of the main texts that have created the belief that the British are uniquely freedom-loving. Nevertheless, he was also deeply flawed with some deeply despicable authoritarian attitudes. AS the blurbs for the programme point out, the British were quite right to vote him out at the post-War elections.