Posts Tagged ‘Abraham Lincoln’

Sam Seder on Disney’s Animatronic Donald Trump

December 20, 2017

Well, as Freddie Mercury once sang in Queen’s epic track, ‘Machines’, ‘The machines take over’, and this time there really ‘ain’t no rock ‘n’ roll’. Or as the blurb for this video puts it instead, the Trump animatronic is so horrifying it’ll haunt your dreams.

Disney have created a robot version of America’s most unpopular fascistic president for their Hall of Presidents. The Trumpdroid stands in front of the other animatronic US presidents, and recites a speech, with appropriate gestures and body movements, about his august predecessors were responsible for crafting the American constitution and political structure, and so creating the freedom that Americans enjoy today.

And Seder and his co-hosts are right: it is very creepy. The robotics technology used to animate the machine is really impressive, but it does bear out the observation of one Japanese robotics scientist. I forgotten the fellow’s name, unfortunately, but he shrewdly observed that people are uncomfortable with things that resemble them closely, but are still very different. Hence the human discomfort with robots when they become a little too accurate. Something similar was also said by Red Dwarf’s Kryten way back in the 1990s. Lister, or one of the other members of the ship’s highly dysfunctional crew, ask him why his manufacturers have made him look very much less than a perfect replica of a human. He replies by stating that it’s because this would make people feel uncomfortable around him, for exactly the same reasons the Japanese scientist suggested. And way back in the mid-1970s, an irrational fear of robots – ‘robophobia’, or ‘Grimwade’s Syndrome’, was one of the plot elements in the Tom Baker Dr. Who serial ‘The Robots of Death’. This particular serial was set on a sandminer, a vast mining vehicle, operated by a small human crew under which was a much larger labour force of robots. And the robots start shaking off their servitude. It’s explained in the show that some people have an irrational fear of robots, because although they look like humans, they don’t employ any body language. And so to them they appear as ‘the walking dead’.

Rather more humorously, Seder and his friends joke that the other mechanical presidents are looking at the Trumpdroid wondering how on Earth it got there. And that the President Lincoln android is just about to tell the rest of them that there’s no choice for it now: they have to put the pistols to their heads and blow their little robot brains out. They also joke that it’s rather like the bit on the SF series Westworld, when the robots look down at themselves and finally realise what they are.

Rather more seriously, the clip begins with a discussion between Seder and a caller about the GOP’s tax bill, and why people join the Republican party. He states some join, because they hate the Environmental Protection Agency, and what to use highly toxic pesticides on their land, like Tom Delaye. Others really hate trade unions, and what to destroy them to keep ordinary people poor. But the majority do it to enrich themselves through corporate sponsorship. Such is the state of American politics. And the same comments also apply to the corporate Dems of Hillary Clinton, and to the Conservatives and Blairite Labour over this side of the Pond.

If these characters remain in power, perhaps the world would be much better if the machines really took over. Or the Xenomorphs from the Alien franchise. After all, as Ripley says in the 2nd film, Aliens, when she discovers the way she and the space marines have been betrayed by the Corporation, the aliens ‘don’t f**k each other over for a percentage’.

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Cenk Uygur Demolishes Confederate Mythology around General Lee

November 5, 2017

Cenk Uygur is the main man of the American left-wing internet news show, The Young Turks. He’s said in the past that when he was at College he used to be a Republican, until he woke up to how harmful and vicious their policies were. He has also said that he was unaware just how brutal and horrific segregation and White supremacy in the South was until he visited a museum of Black history in the South, and found out from there just how absolutely horrific and barbaric the abuse and lynching of Black Americans actually was. He is passionately and very loudly anti-racist, and in this clip from his news show, he very loudly and angrily demolishes not just the myths surrounding the Confederate general Robert E. Lee, but also the racist mentality amongst the Republicans that still claims that Lee should be respected and promotes a whole series of myths about the South and how they were the real victims of what they term the War of Northern Aggression.

The occasion for his tirade was the appearance on Fox News of Trump’s chief of staff and foreign policy expert, John Kelly. Fox is outraged at the taking down of statues to Confederate generals and politicians up and down the country. After asking Kelly questions about contemporary issues and Trump’s policies towards them, they then asked for his views about General Lee, whose statue and commemorative plaque in Washington were also coming down.

Kelly replied that Lee was a decent and honourable man. He defended his state because at the time, the states were considered more important than the Union. One’s first loyalty was to their state, then to the US as a whole. And the Civil War was provoked by the North’s refusal to compromise.

Uygur points out that all of this is a lie. States weren’t more important than the Union, as that was the whole point of the Civil War. He also shows a whole series of tweets from the Black activist, Ta-Nehisi Coates correcting some of the deliberate falsehoods Fox and Kelly spouted.

Firstly, in stark contrast to Kelly’s comments, the North repeatedly tried to reach a compromise with the South. For example, they compromised with the South over the three-fifths rule, in which enslaved Blacks in the South were considered three-fifths of a human being. This was to allow the South to retain its power to elect presidents based on the size of their populations, while at the same time denying them the right to vote. Lincoln himself wasn’t an abolitionist. He just wanted to limit slavery, not abolish it. But that wasn’t good enough for the South. And there wasn’t just one compromise, but a series of compromises, such as the Missouri Compromise and so on. Finally, in order to hold the Union together, Lincoln offered a compromise in which only ten per cent of the population of the South had to swear allegiance to the Union. This was rejected as well.

And then there were the reparations payments Lincoln offered to the slave-owners to compensate them the loss of their property. Uygur states very definitely that he’s glad this was rejected and the country went to war, as this meant that the slaves were freed and the slaveowners got nothing.

He also takes the opportunity to demolish the myth going round the South that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery. It was about ‘states rights’. States’ rights to what? Slavery. The leaders of the Confederacy made no secret that they were going to war to defend slavery. He quotes one Southern politician as stating that he wanted to invade Central America, in order to extend the blessings of slavery there, and also export it to the North despite their aggression.

He then goes on to tackle the argument that the people back then didn’t realise how evil slavery was. Quoting Ta-Nehisis Coates, he argues that the majority of people in South knew all too well how evil slavery was. This was the enslaved Black population. But no-one asked them, as they didn’t count.

As for Lee himself, the myth is that he personally didn’t believe in slavery, but was forced to defend it through his loyalty to his home state. This is rubbish. Lee believed very much in slavery, as Uygur goes on to show. Not only did Lee own slaves himself, but he also inherited them. However, it was a condition of the will that those slaves should be freed. Lee actually went to court and contested the terms of the will, so that he could keep them in slavery. When his army invaded Pennsylvania, Lee enslaved a number of free Blacks, and brought them back with him as booty to the Confederacy.

And he was personally brutal to his own slaves. When two of his slaves were recaptured after escaping, Lee either personally beat them himself, or ordered his overseer to ‘lay it on well’. Not content with the suffering inflicted by the whipping, according to one of the recaptured slaves, he ordered that their backs should be washed in brine.

Uygur makes the point that, rather than being men of honour and integrity, the Confederate leaders were traitors to America, and it’s very, very good indeed that they lost a war, which ended slavery without giving the slave-owners any compensation for their losses. He fully supports the taking down of the Confederate statuary, and states that if Fox doesn’t like living in modern America, they should leave. But in stark opposition to what supporters of the Confederacy say in the South, it is not northerners, who don’t understand their history, it’s those in the South, who believe in and propagate these myths.

Dr Gerald Horne on Trump as the Product of the Racist History of the US

September 10, 2017

This is another fascinating video from Telesur English. It’s from an edition of the Empire Files, in which the host, Abby Martin, interviews Dr. Gerald Horne, the chair of History and African American Studies at the University Houston. Dr. Horne is the author of 20 books on slavery and black liberation movements. The blurb for the video on YouTube states that his most recent work is The Counterrevolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States.

The video is just over half an hour long, and it completely overturns the entire myth of the founding of the United States, in which the Founding Fathers were noble idealists, intent on bringing about a truly democratic state in which all men would be free. In fact the opposite was true. The Founding Fathers were either slave-owners, or else otherwise deeply connected to slavery and slave trade through their business interests. Instead of noble liberators for everyone, they were deeply opposed to granting Black Americans their freedom.

Dr. Horne argues that they were the products of British imperialism and its slave trade, which was first introduced into the Caribbean and then shifted north to the English colonies in North America. He traces the history of Black enslavement and anti-Black racist movements from the American Revolution to the American Civil War, and thence to the formation of successive waves of the Klan. His intention is to show that Trump is not an historical aberration, a strange historical throwback on America’s long progress to freedom and liberty, but a product of America’s racist history and the mass support anti-Black movements have enjoyed and exploited throughout it.

The programme begins by explaining the background to the Confederate monuments, which the Unite the Right stormtroopers marched to defend in Charlottesville the week before last. These were not simply memorials to great generals or valiant soldiers, as the myth around them says. Most of the Confederate monuments in the US were erected in two periods – the period of Jim Crow in the 1920s and ’30s, when the segregation laws were being introduced, and the 1950s when the Civil Rights movement was beginning. They were set up to convey a very specific message: that while Black Americans were technically free, the ‘Negro’ had better know his place beneath the White man. Or else.

He then goes on to describe the emergence of slavery in the US. He states that Britain at the end of the 16th century was ‘a failed state’. The British Civil War of the 1640s between Charles I and parliament was a quasi-bourgeois revolution, which gave some rights to the British merchant and middle classes. The real bourgeois revolution was the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which allowed the middle classes to exert more political control, and allowed British merchants to wrest control of the slave trade away from the Crown as a royal monopoly.

The most important part of the British empire in the New World at the time was the Caribbean, and particularly Jamaica. These colonies became immensely profitable due to sugar. However, in the 1720s there was an economic crisis in Caribbean slavery, so some of the major Caribbean slaveowners moved north, to Carolina and other parts of the US. It was from these slave-owning families that the Founding Fathers were descended.

Horne also briefly discusses the role north American slavery played in the definition of White identity. Back in Europe, the different European peoples saw themselves as members of separate nations – English, Irish, Scots, French, Germans and so on. it was only when they crossed the Atlantic to America that they created an overarching racial identity to differentiate them from their Black slaves.

Horne then goes on to argue that the major catalyst for the American Revolution was the American colonists’ frustration at the British governments attempts to limit slavery and stop further colonial expansion beyond the Alleghenies. One of the critical moments in this was the Somerset Case, which ruled that slavery was illegal in England. The ruling was expanded to Scotland a year later. The taxes against which the Boston Tea Party was staged included those levied on slaves. They had been imposed by the British government as a deliberate anti-slavery measure. The British government was also tired of expending men and treasure in the various wars against the continent’s indigenous peoples. This angered the colonists, who longed to expand and seize native American land to the west. One of those, who stood to make a profit from this, was George Washington, who was a land speculator. As indeed, in a curious historical parallel, is Donald Trump. The Founding Fathers also feared and hated Black Americans, because the British had given their freedom to all Black Americans, who remained loyal. As a result, the Black Americans were solidly behind the British against the emerging independence movement.

Dr. Horne then goes on to talk about the American Civil War, and Lincoln’s emancipation of the slaves held by the Southern states. Horne points out that it was felt at the time that Lincoln had somehow broken the rules of war, and done the unthinkable by arming the slaves. As for Lincoln himself, he didn’t have much sympathy with them, and was considering deporting them after the end of the war. Horne goes on to discuss how the deportation of Americans of African descent continued to be discussed and planned at various periods in American history afterwards. It was yet again discussed in the 1920s, when there was a movement to deport them back to Africa.

After the ending of slavery in American following the defeat of the South, many of the American slave-owners and traders fled abroad, to continue their business overseas. Several went to South America, including Brazil, while others went to Cuba.

After the Civil War came the period of reconstruction, and the foundation of the Ku Klux Klan in the late 19th century. Horne also talks about the lynching movement during this period of American history, which continued into the early 20th centuries. Not only were these intended to terrorise Black Americans to keep them in their place, but at the time they also were also almost like picnics. Photographs were taken and sold of them, and White spectators and participants would cut the fingers off the body and keep them as souvenirs. Dr. Horne remarks that, sadly, some White homes still have these digits even today.

He also talks about the massive influence D.W. Griffith’s viciously racist Birth of a Nation had on the Klan, boosting its membership. Klan groups began to proliferate. In Michigan, one branch of the Klan concentrated on fighting and breaking trade unions. Later, in the 1950s, the Klan entered another period of resurgence as a backlash against the Civil Rights campaign.

Horne makes the point that in this period, the Klan was by no means a marginal organization. It had a membership in the millions, including highly influential people in several states. And the Klan and similar racist organisations were not just popular in the South. The various pro-slavery and anti-Black movements also had their supporters in the North since the time of the Civil War. He also argues that the campaign against segregation was extremely long, and there was considerable resistance to Black Americans being given equality with Whites.

He also states that one of the influences behind the emergence of the Alt-Right and the revival of these latest Fascist and White supremacist movements was the election of Barak Obama as the first Black president of the US. Obama was subject to rumours that he was really Kenyan, with the whole ‘birther’ conspiracy theories about his passport, because he was Black, and so couldn’t be a proper American. And it is this bitter hostility to Obama, and the perceived threat to White America which he represents, that has produced Trump.

Watching this video, I was reminded of Frederick Douglas’ great speech, What To the Slave is the Fourth of July? Douglas was a former slave and a major voice for abolition in America. His speech noted how hollow the rhetoric about the Founding Fathers protecting Americans from slavery under the British, when they themselves remained slaves in reality.

He’s right about the rule of the sugar economy in saving the British colonies in the Caribbean, though from my own reading about slavery in the British Empire, what saved these colonies first was tobacco. It was the first cash crop, which could easily be grown there.

The role opposition to the British government’s refusal to allow further colonial expansion in provoking the American Revolution has also been discussed by a number of historians. One book I read stated that British colonial governors were encouraged to intermarry with the indigenous peoples. Thus, one of the governors on the British side actually had cousins amongst one of the Amerindian nations. The same book also described how the British granted their freedom to Black loyalists. After their defeat, the British took them to Canada. Unfortunately, racism and the bleak climate led them to being deported yet again to Sierra Leone. There were also Black loyalists settled in the British Caribbean colonies. One report on the state of colony instituted by its new governor in the early 19th century reported that the former Black squaddies were settled in several towns, governed by their own N.C.O.s under military discipline. These Black Americans were orderly and peaceful, according to the report.

As for the former American slave traders, who emigrated to Latin America, this is confirmed by the presence of one of the witnesses, who appeared before the British parliament in the 1840s, Jose Estebano Cliffe, who was indeed one of the émigré merchants.

Cenk Uygur and The Young Turks have also described the horrors of the lynchings in the Deep South, including the picnic, celebratory aspect to these atrocities. They made the point that if news reports today said that similar lynchings had been carried out by Arabs in the Middle East, Americans would vilify them as savages. But that attitude doesn’t extend to those savages in the US, who carried out these atrocities against Blacks.

It’s worth mentioning here that Blacks weren’t the only victims of lynching. Tariq Ali in an interview in the book Confronting the New Conservatism about the Neocons states that in Louisiana in the 1920, more Italians were lynched than Blacks.

The video’s also worth watching for some of the images illustrating Dr. Horne’s narrative. These include not only paintings, but also contemporary photograph. Several of these are of the slaves themselves, and there is a fascinating picture of a group of Black squaddies in uniform from the Civil War. I found this particularly interesting, as the photographer had captured the character of the soldiers, who had different expressions on their faces. Some appear cheerful, others more suspicious and pessimistic.

There’s also a very chilling photograph of people at a lynching, and it’s exactly as Dr. Horne says. The picture shows people sat on the grass, having a picnic, while a body hangs from a tree in the background. This is so monstrous, it’s almost incredible – that people should calmly use the murder of another human being as the occasion of a nice day out.

This is the history the Republican Party and the Libertarians very definitely do not want people to read about. Indeed, I put up a piece a little while ago at a report on one of the progressive left-wing news programmes on YouTube that Arizona was deliberately suppressing materials about racism, slavery and segregation in its schools, and making students read the speeches of Ronald Reagan instead. As for the removal of Confederate monuments, right-wing blowhard and sexual harasser Bill O’Reilly, formerly of Fox News, has already started making jokes about how ‘they’ want to take down statues of George Washington. Nobody does, and the joke shows how little O’Reilly really understands, let alone cares about the proper historical background behind them. I’ve no doubt that Dr. Horne’s interpretation of history would be considered by some an extreme view, but it is grounded in very accurate historical scholarship. Which makes it an important counterbalance to the lies that the Republicans and Libertarians want people to believe about the country and its history.

A Fitting SF Book For Trump’s Attitude to Mexicans?

January 22, 2017

fritz-leiber-pic

Fritz Leiber

Looking around one of the charity bookshops in Cheltenham on Friday, I picked up a copy of the novel A Spectre Is Haunting Texas (London: Granada 1971) by the great Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror novelist, Fritz Leiber. Leiber’s probably best known for his series of Fantasy novels featuring Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. David Pringle, the former editor of the British SF/Fantasy magazine, Interzone, named Leiber’s You’re All Alone as one of the 100 greatest fantasy novels in his book of the same title way back in the 1990s. That novel is about a man, who gets caught up in parallel society of people, who live outside ordinary humans’ perceptions, very much like the denizens of London Below in Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel and TV series, Neverwhere.

spectre-texas-cover

I’ve wanted to get hold of a copy for some time, ever since the Scottish space scientist and science writer, Duncan Lunan, briefly mentioned it in his book on the colonisation of the Solar System, Man and the Planets. It was that night, after I’d gone to bed, that I realised how weirdly fitting the book is now that Donald Trump is president of the USA. Here’s the blurb:

El Esqueleto!

Christopher Corckett la Cruz (or ‘Scully’) is an actor, an extrovert and a ladies’ man. To most of the inhabitants of post-World War III he looks outlandish, even sinister. To their women he looks very comely. Earth looks equally odd to Scully. Hormone treatment has turned Texans into giants and their Mex slaves into unhappy dwarfs.

To the Mexes, Scully is a Sign, a Talisman, a Leader. To Scully the Mexes are a Cause. The time is ripe for revolution…

It wouldn’t surprise me if some Hispanic Americans didn’t find the book’s politics offensive or condescending. In fairness, the book was published in 1969, when attitudes to race were extremely different, and its heart is in the right place.

And the future the book describes could, terrifyingly, become all too real. The Washington military and intelligence establishment seems all too keen to start some kind of altercation with Russia, egged on by the Democrats, desperate to deflect attention away from the sleazy contents of the material published by WikiLeaks on the shady business dealings and corporate funding of their leaders. Trump wants to end immigration from Mexico by building the wall. He also wants to repatriate 11 million undocumented immigrants. But he’s not the most extreme of the Repugs. One of the most bizarre and reactionary suggestions for stopping immigration from Latin America I’ve come across from the party of Ronald Reagan and George ‘Dubya’ Bush was that illegal immigrants from Mexico should be forced into state servitude for a period of seven years. You know, like slavery.

There’s a nasty movement amongst the Republican extreme right, led by the Von Mises Institute and other corporate think tanks, to try to rewrite the American Civil War. Apparently, the issue wasn’t about slavery. It was about tariff reform. I’m not an expert on American history, but I very much doubt it. And so, I think, would just about every respectable history of the War between the States. Lincoln only reluctantly freed the slaves. There’s a quote from him, in which he said that if he could maintain the unity of the US by keeping slavery, he would. I think by that he meant that if keeping slavery would prevent the break up of the US, then he’d make that decision. And when you consider the horrific carnage that the war brought about, you can easily understand why. Nevertheless, he couldn’t avoid civil war, and freed America’s enslaved. And thus he rightly became one of America’s greatest politicians.

Now right-wing extremists in the Republicans are trying to reverse Lincoln’s achievements, and obscure the causes of the Civil War in an attempt to make a suitably inspiring, sanitised history for those raised on Reagan, von Hayek, and the Fascist enablers of the Chicago school, like Milton Friedman.

Leiber’s title seems to me to be taken from the Communist Manifesto. This opens with the line ‘A spectre is haunting Europe’, before going to claim that it’s the spectre of revolution or Communism. It was rushed out in 1848, the year of revolutions, when all over Europe working people and occupied nations rose up against their class and imperial overlords.

We don’t need violent revolution, and the horror and mass death that comes with it. But we do need strong, left-wing movements to defend and protect ordinary people from increasingly predatory and exploitative political and industrial elites.

And perhaps the whole world now need an El Esqueleto to protect them from Trump.

The Young Turks on People Seen in Klan Robes with Pro-Trump Placards

February 25, 2016

More Fascism from the Trump campaign. Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian in this segment talk about the sightings in Nevada of a couple of men dressed in KKK outfits waving pro-Trump placards. The pair have naturally been condemned by several respectable politicians. They show a tweet from Senator Aaron Ford and another politico expressing their contempt for the pair. Uygur is careful to state that he’s unsure whether they really are Trump supporters, or are actually anti-Trump protestors trying to troll the tousled Nazi. In one of the photos it’s actually unclear whether or not they’re actually white. The hands of one of the men look Black, though this could simply be due to the lighting in photograph. It’s taken into the sun, so the men’s fronts are actually in shadow.

They also make the point that although these may be protestors, who are careful to hide their faces because they know they’ve probably taken a step too far, Trump’s supporters are still very extreme. They point to a poll which says that 70 per cent of Trumpistas would like the Confederate flag to be flying in South Carolina above the state legislature, and 38 per cent wish the South won the American Civil War. They naturally ask the question of how unpatriotic and un-American that is. They point out that the polling company inclines a little to the Democrats, but over all was the most accurate in predicting the results of the presidential election. And then there’s the Yougov poll which found that 20 per cent of Trump supporters, and 13 per cent of Americans generally, feel that Lincoln should not have given the executive freeing the South’s slaves during the War between the States. They also hedge this with one or two caveats, as they note that Republican voters hate presidential executive orders. The previous questions had been about how they felt about Obama’s orders, and so this could already have biased, or worked them up to condemn Lincoln’s historic orders. But even so, it’s an horrendous statistic, and the stats as a whole show how Trump’s campaign has deeply divided the nation.

Uygur goes on to say that he feels that the Klansmen in the photo aren’t really Trump supporters, because they’ve kept their faces covered. Trump supporters don’t do that. They’re open about their racism and their identities. He states that it’s because Trump is unashamed about the racist language he uses. Other Republican candidates are just as racist. Ted Cruz is actually trying to pass a law banning Muslims from the US. He’s not just talking about it, as Trump is. However, Trump doesn’t use the coded language that the others use to disguise their racism. He talks about it flatly, and is proud of the way he does so. Uygur makes the point that he’s the result of Fox News and the way the Right generally has legitimised racism and the demonization of foreigners and minorities. And Trump has turned this on the other Republicans. Marco Rubio was born in Florida, but Trump has even asked whether he was really born in America and should be running in the election.

They begin the show by being careful about whether or not Trump’s actually racist, noting that he’s distanced himself from the couple of Neo-Nazi messages he retweeted. Even so, the fact that he agreed with the message twice without looking at where it came from suggests that he’s too eager to accept information and support from this quarter.

Trump Blames Fail in Iowa due to Rumours

February 3, 2016

According to Mike over at Vox Political, Donald Trump is already pleading dirty tricks to explain his failure to take the lead in the Iowa Caucus. He claims that the results were skewed by a rumour going round that one of the other Republican candidate, Ben Carson, was going to retire. See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/03/trump-gets-the-hump-over-iowa-vote/. Mike also reports that the piece about it in the Guardian states that this is par for the course in America. Both George Dubya and his father are supposed to have beaten their opponents by spreading rumours about them, or otherwise manipulating images to blacken their names.

This is true, and it’s been going on almost since the beginnings of America itself as an independent, sovereign nation. Andrew Jackson was plagued by a series of malicious rumours. One of these was that he had taken the virginity of the daughter of southern gentleman, while staying with the girl’s parents. Another was that he was drunkard and an atheist, who planned to burn Bibles. There are eerie echoes of that today, in all the bizarre pronouncements made by various Republicans about liberals in general being manic atheists, determined to destroy Christianity and American pride, decency and liberty. Ann Coulter devoted a whole book to this point, Godless: the Church of Liberalism. Or some such, in which she declared that liberals were indeed heartily opposed to God, and formed a dire atheist church in which ‘abortion is the highest sacrament’. There are atheist churches. One opened here in Bristol last October, but ‘liberalism’ as a general political creed isn’t a religious, or anti-religious faith. Atheists can be liberals, but then, so can people of faith and agnostics. And indeed, Soviet Communism was militantly atheist, but hardly liberal.

The book Rumor, by Hal Morgan and Kerry Tucker (New York: Penguin 1984) lists some of the American politicians, who’ve been plagued by malign rumours. These include John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Martin van Buren, William Henry Harrison, James Polk, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, Theodore Roosevelt, Warren G. Harding, Franklin D. Roosevelt and JFK.

There’s a story about one of the 20th century American presidents – I think it may have been FDR, but I’m not sure – states that when one of his aids asked him what they were going to say about his rival, the great man responded by telling him to spread a particularly vicious rumour. The man was a farmer, and so FDR, or whoever, said, ‘Tell ’em he f*cks his pigs’. The aid was horrified, and protested that it was untrue. But the president continued. ‘Yeah, but let the sonofabitch prove it.’

Sometimes the attempts to cast aspersions on a rival’s character are genuinely witty, and actually show the man or woman to be entirely blameless, while seeming to do the opposite:

George ‘Smooch’ Smathers, in his 1950 campaign for the Senate, made this speech attacking his rival:

Are you aware that Claude Pepper is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert? Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to practice nepotism with his sister-in-law, and he has a sister who was once a thespian in wicked New York. Worst of all, it is an established fact that Mr Pepper, before his marriage, practiced celibacy.

So it’s been a long established custom in America to use all manner of dirty tricks to spread damaging rumours against one’s political opponents. However, the authors of Rumor also noted that this rarely works, though it’s the only positive thing that can be said of the tactic.

Not that this changes what happened to Trump. He still lost, and he’s whining about it. As you’d expect.

The French Islamist Assassin and Steven Sondheim’s ‘Assassins’ Musical

June 29, 2015

Musical theatre isn’t a word you often associate with serious politics. I don’t think the song and dance spectaculars of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers had very much to say about the threat of political or religious extremism, or the dangers of inadequate fiscal and economic policies. The same with the great musicals of Rogers and Hammerstein, though the song, There Is Nothing Like A Dame was used as the main song for a feminist ‘Golden Gala’ broadcast on ITV in the late ’70s – early ’80s, and reviewed by Clive James.

Steven Sondheim’s musical, Assassins, is different, however, and very relevant to the psychology of the Islamist murderer who killed his boss and attempted to blow up the oxygen plant at which he worked in France on Friday. Glancing at the headlines for the MSN news on the ‘net the other day, I found the headline that personal and job problems were behind the man’s brutal attack on his boss and his attempt at mass murder.

This is very much of a piece of the psychology of the long line of men and women, who have tried, and sometimes succeeded, to kill the president of US, according to Sondheim’s musical. This traces the personal histories and motives of the killers from John Wilkes Booth, the murderer of Abraham Lincoln, onwards. They include Italian anarchists, truckers and a young woman, who wanted to kill Gerald Ford out of her love for Charles Manson. After Ford pardoned Nixon, my guess is that a lot of severely normal Americans would’ve liked to kill him. The vast majority wouldn’t have done it out of adoration for a racist thug and butcher like Manson.

The play consists in the various eponymous assassins telling their stories. All of them are, to some degree or other, failures, who have found themselves at the very bottom of society. They’ve lost their jobs, or their businesses have folded, and there have been other, personal problems. So some of them ended up like the archetypal crazy on the street corner, shouting their hate and personal bile to the winds and to surprised passers-by. One of the would-be assassins is shown in a Santa Claus costume, holding up a sign saying, ‘I Demand My Constitutional Rights’. The circumstances may be different in each case, but with nearly all of them it’s a moot point how far they are acting out of altruistic, purely political motives, and how far they have just made the president of the US the focus of their hate simply for their own, personal and professional failures.

Which is the precise point the play makes.

And that appears to be pretty much the case also with the French assassin on Friday. He was a failure, having difficulties at work and home, and so decided to kill his boss and then destroy the plant, taking with it himself, his co-workers, and no doubt many of the local townspeople. Radical Islam and its jihadi ideology provided the rationale, a pretext to excuse and justify his terrible actions. But in the end, they were far less noble than he attempted to fool himself.

This doesn’t alter how terrible they were. He still killed an innocent man, and attempted to take the lives of many more innocents. But despite his professed motives, he was like the Assassins of Sondheim’s musical, just another sad loser trying to find a political scapegoat for their own personal and professional failings.

Arizona Allows Shops to Refuse Gays – Others Could Soon Suffer

February 27, 2014

There was a headline on MSN News yesterday that Arizona had passed a law allowing shops to refuse to serve gays. This is extremely ominous, not just for gay people, but for other minority groups, including Blacks. Despite the considerable liberalisation of attitudes towards homosexuality and gays over the past forty years or so since the Stonewall riots in America, homosexuality is still extremely controversial even over this side of the Atlantic. A friend surprised me a few years ago by pointing out just how many US states still have laws banning sodomy. These laws not only prohibit homosexuality, but also certain forms of heterosexual sex.

For many people, this is simply a moral issue without any connection to the wider issue of gender, ethnic or religious equality. They see homosexuality and homosexuals as deeply immoral, and clearly want the right to refuse to serve them. It’s a view shared by many over this side of the Atlantic. However, it also has profound and deeply disturbing implications for other groups.

The ideology behind the move appears to me to be not just hostility to gays, but also an attempt to appeal to the issue of personal freedom. Homosexuals are not banned from being served in shops in Arizona, the proponents of the law would argue. It’s just that they’ve given shopkeepers the right and freedom to refuse to serve them.

It’s a right that I’m afraid will be used to justify the passage of laws allowing shopkeepers and employers to refuse to serve and take on other groups, such as those of a different ethnicity or religion. And this is being argued for.

A year or so ago the transatlantic Right were trying to rehabilitate George Wallace, the pro-segregation American politicians left in a wheelchair after an assassination attempt. They argued that despite his support for segregation, Wallace himself was not personally racist. They stated that he was a member of NAACP – the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, one of the major American Civil Rights organisations. They stated that he was one of the first to end segregation in his department store and open it up equally to both Whites and Blacks. His resistance to the end of segregation, it was claimed, came from his belief that the passage of laws demanding the equal treatment of White and Black would be an attack on personal freedom. The argument runs that he wasn’t racist, worked to end racism, but respected the rights of others to be racist in their own business. A similar argument could be used to justify the new law allowing shops to refuse to serve gays.

Other sections of the American right are using similar arguments against Abraham Lincoln and his liberation of the slaves. Guy Debord’s Cat has covered this development in the American extreme Right over on his blog on one of his posts on the weird mental world inhabited by some of the commenters on the Telegraph blogs. Again, there is a serious, respectable historiographical issue concerning Lincoln’s attitude to the slaves. Rather than being a hero of the anti-slavery movement, Lincoln was, it has been argued, personally deeply racist and quite prepared to sacrifice the slaves if it would mean holding the US together. He only liberated the slaves at the very last moment as an attempt to undermine the South. Furthermore, it has been argued, no slaves were actually freed as a result of his legislation.

To many of those on the Right, however, Lincoln is a figure of hate not because of his highly questionable and ambivalent attitude to slavery, but because he passed legislation banning it. This is viewed very much as an attack on personal freedom and the sanctity of private property, and so he has been denounced in some quarters as a ‘Socialist’. It’s a view and argument very much that of the opponents of anti-slavery legislation throughout the world at the time. It’s horrifying that such views are being advanced now.

The Arizona law against gays presents a terrible danger, not just to gays, but also to the whole notion of equality as it has developed since the mid-19th century. There is a real danger of similar legislation being passed allowing the discrimination and subjection of others, whether on the basis of their race or religious beliefs, apart from their sexual orientation. And it will be supported by people claiming not to support racism or religious discrimination personally, but simply defending the personal freedom of those, who are. And that really will be a form of ‘liberal Fascism’, regardless of how Jonah Goldberg and the rest of the American Right feel about the Left.