The Near Aftermath

March 24, 2020

The coronavirus gave me the worst illness I have ever experienced. I’ve had chills and fever that were so severe that I couldn’t shift out of bed. I was still shivering even with the electric blanket on the highest setting. The virus does its evil work by bogging down the immune system, forcing the body to devote all its resources to fighting it, this manifests itself in high fevers and extreme fatigue. The body may need food but it has little capacity for consuming it: I have lost 5 kilos in the space of a week. Though I’m better than I was, even now, doing simple things like emptying the dishwasher or hanging laundry out on the line, exhaust me. I have a chair positioned next to a fireplace where I gather my thoughts after I’ve done something. I sit there for twenty, thirty minutes at a time. After this, I pull myself together and carry on.

I am lucky. The worst, it would seem, is over. Each day the struggles are a little less difficult. Coffee and food have started to taste better; the odd metallic taste they previously possessed is fading. I was able to cook for myself, which seems like an achievement. I am definitely on the path to recovery.

Given how awful this illness has been, I become horrified and angry when I see people who aren’t taking the virus seriously. There are British vacationers in Benidorm who seem to think that their holiday matters more than preventing the virus spreading. Via social media, I’ve seen college students on Spring Break in Florida acting as if the disease can not touch them; thank goodness the Governor of that state recently shut down the beaches and the marinas. My parents in America informed me that until the Governor of New York clamped down on the operation of clubs, bars, and restaurants, people were still going out as per normal in Manhattan. I’d warn all of those who are being so nonchalant, if you had this, you would trade every day in the sun, every fancy dinner, every midnight stroll on the beach you ever had to get rid of it.

Anyone with a weak immune system can easily break under the pressure of this disease: hence, I believe, we are seeing the spike up in deaths in Italy and Spain, and the preponderance of casualties among the old. In the United States and the United Kingdom, it’s highly likely the worst is yet to come.

Yet, the measures just announced by the UK government indicate that asking people to be good citizens and stay at home simply hasn’t been enough. There is still this odd perception that it is like the flu; we’ve all had the flu, it’s treatable, so what, get on with life. It does make one wonder how much serious it has to get for the message to land. Yet, fools create social media memes about licking public toilet seats. Other miscreants keep their pub chains open, making clear profits matter more than their customers. I have said to my parents: please just stay home, as it takes only one idiot, getting too close, only once for them to catch this illness. Normally sociable and active people, they have listened to me. They’re staying at home.

When the here and now is so awful, it seems almost unbearable to think about what tomorrow may bring. As the fevers die away and my strength returns, I am starting to look at that future; it is bleak. We are going to have to fundamentally rethink the economy.

An economy runs on the premise that people have needs and wants. One person sells, another buys, based on those requirements. The consumer society has been predicated on the notion that wants are just as important as needs. Blue jeans are just as easy to get as food or water. This has created a level of employment that wouldn’t otherwise exist: people have work making and selling blue jeans, when strictly speaking, that activity isn’t necessary to human survival.

The coronavirus has forced us to cut back to bare necessities. The “wants” part of the economy, from books, to blue jeans, to berry flavoured lip balm has fallen away. Indeed, all but the most basic of shops are now closed. How this is going to work? How will employment be maintained? I don’t believe there is a good answer to this question. Furthermore, much of the economy is social: going to restaurants, cinemas, on holiday and so on. What happens when you can no longer be social, or at least, have to severely restrict it? What if we have to wait until 2021 for a vaccine or treatment which will unshackle us from this virus? Will there be much of an economy left by that time?

Furthermore, what will be the long term effects on people’s behaviour? I have little doubt that when an effective vaccine is released around the world, the event will be celebrated with fireworks and music. It will be recalled as a moment of liberation from fear. Nevertheless, habits will likely have changed by then. What will be the permanent effects?

I have never experienced an event like this in my lifetime. The closest was September 11th, when I was in the United Kingdom and my mother was in New York; neither my father and I could reach her for several hours. A global event had hit me personally; behaviour and societal norms changed too. The impact and import of the coronavirus has been even more profound. I’ve been sick; I’m still not well, though I have been able to stand in the sun for a little while. I will go to sleep tonight in reasonable certainty that tomorrow morning will come for me and I will feel more healed then than I do now. Thousands all over the globe are not nearly as fortunate as I am; families are mourning, there will still be many more who will grieve before we turn the corner. After much pain and many oceans of tears, we will get up from this, but what will we have learned?

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The View from My Sickbed

March 16, 2020

The NHS believes I have the coronavirus. The pleasant GP on the other end of the phone ran through my symptoms while I lay in bed. She told me that there is no testing at this point in time. The focus, she said, is on treatment, not testing. Just rest, take paracetamol, drink plenty of liquids, stay away from everyone else, and hope for the best. When the UK government says that things are under control, I don’t believe them: after all, how can you know if you’re not measuring? Would my diagnosis feature in the statistics that the government is compiling? Somehow, I doubt it.

I am on the 4th day of this illness. It is one of the most unpleasant sicknesses I’ve ever had. I’ve had consistent fevers, only ameliorated by paracetamol induced gaps of lesser temperatures. The fever dreams are particularly odd. Over the weekend, I had a dream that my cat Thomas and I had washed up on a distant shore, the waves lapping over us as we lay on the sand. The hot sun beat down on us both. Flotsam and jetsam, brought up from the deep, I woke up before the dream could unfold any further.

As this indicates, the nights are particularly terrible. There has been an occasional panic in my stomach that something is dreadfully wrong. I thought it might be something with my heart. My hands have become very cold: I have had to switch up my electric blanket to the highest setting. I have all the temperature regulating abilities of a lizard. All I can do is take another paracetamol and use the brief gap it grants to fall asleep.

The mornings are not much better. As I sit here and type this, a low, dull headache throbs behind my eyes. Nevertheless, I’ve had to be responsible, sit at the keyboard, and cancel appointments for the next two weeks. “Sorry,” I say, “I’ve been diagnosed as having the coronavirus.” The recipient may get my missive or they may not. Either way, I will push through, finish writing, and go back to bed. When the recipient picks up the message, no doubt they will say, “Oh of course”. No one wants to be around someone with this. Cancel the appointment? Absolutely.

Often, daylight hurts. The curtains are drawn in my bedroom. Fortunately, I can watch television. Reading is more difficult. I have an audio book, a biography of Santiago Carrillo, the leader of the Spanish Communists, which I’m dipping in and out of. The problem is keeping track of all the acronyms and the various committees: no wonder the Left lost the Spanish Civil War, the comrades were bogged down by bureaucratic infighting. They should have focused on keeping the fascists at bay. This is about as elevated as my thinking gets at the moment. I look through the narrow portal to the world that Twitter affords to see what outrages are being committed by nonsensical populist governments. I also listen to the BBC World Service. Last night, I was lying in bed when I heard Trump talk about how happy he was the Federal Reserve cut interest rates. Given his joy, you would think an interest rate cut was a cure for the coronavirus. In fairness to the World Service, they had on a professor after Trump’s statement who said what most people already know, that the President doesn’t understand monetary policy and it’s unlikely to be the cure-all he thinks it is. Maybe his ignorance has finally caught up with him.

The fever returns. I go back to sleep. The time comes for another paracetamol; I awake, take it, and drink some water. Any trek to the bathroom feels ponderous and long. A week ago I was running over 2 miles on a treadmill; now I can’t climb the stairs without needing a rest. Similarly, going to the lavatory is a matter of one foot in front of another. When the hour is late, midnight, one am, two am, it feels like I’m absolutely alone. I am not, however: I reach out and there is my cat Thomas sleeping at my feet. Nevertheless, I have to worry about him getting this too: a dog with a compromised immune system in Hong Kong apparently caught it from their human. If indeed Thomas gets it from me, what chance does he have? But he wouldn’t be anywhere but with me: I know if I shut the door, I’d hear his insistent paw clawing the door. Indeed, he has not left my side since I became ill.

The dawn comes again. I should be feeling better. The thermometer tells me that I’m still feverish. How much longer, I wonder. There is no help from the NHS: they have no medicines, they have no advice except what I’ve heard already. Nature will take its course. Theoretically, I’m developing an immunity, which is what the government thinks is going to serve us best in the long run. I’m not sure we should be so cavalier about such an unknown and novel virus. Evolution is a powerful force and it’s difficult to know how this virus will change and adapt. It could become more lethal. Already there are reports that some people have caught it more than once.

As I fight the fever and feel aches ripple through my body, I think that I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. I have no idea how long it will take for the illness to loosen its grip. The thermometer indicates it won’t be today. Tomorrow? Wednesday? Who knows.

I am lucky. I’m relatively healthy. As awful as this is, I will get through it. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be frail and have the weight of this sickness land on you. I will wake up one morning and it will be gone. But I will remember those who succumbed, and I will blame those who decided that it wasn’t important to measure what was going on.

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In the Shadow of the Coronavirus

March 13, 2020

“Oh, damn.”

That was my first thought when I woke up on Friday the 13th. I had that scratchy feeling in the back of the throat, my lungs felt like there was something they wanted to expel. Sure enough, I coughed. I hoped it was a one-off. No. I coughed again. I sat up and felt the chilly air hit my body as I peeled back the duvet. I wanted nothing more but to lie back down.

“Damn,” I thought again and gathered all the sensations from my body into a single status. “I’m getting ill.” As if to emphasise the point, I involuntarily sniffled. I grabbed a tissue from my bedside table.

I wasn’t sure where or how I had gotten this sickness. I have been mainly self-isolated apart from one trip to an office in Slough on Tuesday.

Yes. That may have been it. I had sat at one of the hot desks and found packets of tissues and sanitary hand wipes there, unused. I had been careful and used the wipes. I washed my hands whenever I went to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. As I examined my memory, I remembered that there was an echo of sneezing. There, perhaps, I had picked it up. I had only been there for about 2/3rds of a day. I hadn’t shook anyone’s hand. But apparently the virus requires very little to do its malevolent work.

Maybe that wasn’t where I got it. After all, it can take several days to gestate. I go to the corner store from time to time. I stand in queues. Perhaps it was then. Perhaps it was when I last went to the gym, the hard exhalations of my fellow patrons filling the air. I recall someone saying in the locker room that they had recently come back from Australia. We are increasingly linked to a variety of networks, and yet we don’t realise that these connections are neutral: they can bring trade and tourism, but they can also bring disease. The Black Plague made its way down the Silk Road. The coronavirus, its less potent descendant, catches a flight to Munich, and from there it takes connecting trips to London, Milan, and Los Angeles.

If this was another time, my rising illness would be a cause for mere annoyance. I’d say to myself, “I can’t afford to have a cough”. Or a cold. Or the flu. I have things to do. I’d take vitamins, I’d tough it out. But the coronavirus has cast its shadow: I think with each cough, is it the virus? The NHS has told me to sit and wait for seven days. If it’s not better, then perhaps I should get tested. Meanwhile, stay at home; don’t go out, don’t mix and mingle, keep the door shut. I need to stay away from anyone who might be vulnerable…just in case.

The shadow extended further later in the day. Some groceries were delivered. The driver, wearing thick glasses, a green and white shirt, and a grey jacket kindly told me that he couldn’t do anything other than leave the bags on the doorstep. He couldn’t hand them to me directly, either. He also couldn’t take back the plastic bags for recycling.

“There’s been a memo sent to all customers,” he explained. He was apologetic. Nevertheless, he was upset when he made the faux pas of handing me a bag directly, even though I didn’t touch him. I believe he was glad to escape. His caution was welcome: a previous driver who had been less hesitant to carry groceries into the house was visibly ill.

My parents are currently visiting the United Kingdom; they are due to go back next Wednesday. I stayed up late earlier this week, listening with half an ear to Trump’s announcement of a travel ban, halfway wondering if they would be trapped here with me for a while. No, apparently not: they can go, because apparently Trump believes the United Kingdom is handling the coronavirus well, despite flimsy evidence for this assertion. Then on Friday the 13th he seemed to reverse himself. Never mind, my parents, who are in their seventies, are likely to go home before Trump can shut the door. That said, they are returning to New York, where there are already 400 cases. My parents have some pre-existing health conditions; for example, my father once had a rare infection of the spine. What impact will the virus have on them? They often hang out with my little niece. What about her? If this was the flu or a cold, I wouldn’t worry. It is the unknown of all this that makes it so menacing.

Perhaps there’s no point in worrying. I am following expert advice: I have self-isolated, remained inside, avoided contact. Saturday dinner with my parents at my home has been cancelled. My connection to the world is mainly expressed through a long black Ethernet cable which runs under the door into the router in the hallway. I sit in my study with my books and music and television and catch up on programmes I didn’t really care about beforehand. A box of tissues rests on my table. I cough into a tissue, take it to the bathroom, flush it away, and wash my hands while singing “Happy Birthday”. I am grateful to Gloria Gaynor for giving me “I Will Survive” as an alternative.

Local elections are cancelled. Sporting events are on hold. The Olympics is in doubt. I wonder where my dog-eared copy of Marquez’s “Love in a Time of Cholera” is located. I’d like to lie in bed as this ridiculous cough torments me. I will take another lozenge and read the Marquez while lying flat on my back. I want to shut my eyes and dream of the chill that lingers in this house dissipating in the warmth of Spring. Yet, I know that I will wake up tomorrow and the cough will still be there. I felt a chill earlier running through my shoulders. I’ll take a paracetamol. I’ll tell myself for now that it’s all within the normal parameters of being sick. Will it get worse? I don’t know. Perhaps. Perhaps tomorrow I will find that it was merely a garden variety illness. But what if it isn’t? What will tomorrow bring? And what will I do if the shadow lengthens?

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Passing the Torch

March 4, 2020

I went to bed on the evening of March 3rd with the radio tuned to the BBC World Service. I’m a light sleeper at best, so from time to time, I heard snippets of the Super Tuesday results. Biden won Virginia, Sanders won Vermont: these were not shocks to me. I drifted off. Around 4 AM, I heard that Biden had won a plurality of the delegates on offer. I was surprised that he won Massachusetts. I was more stunned that he was leading in Maine. It’s been a good night for the former Vice President; the campaign has crystallised into a competition between him and Bernie Sanders, and then with Donald Trump.

In many ways, this is a profoundly depressing set of events. America has never been more diverse than it is now. There are plenty of young people with world-changing ideas; I think the success of the American economy has more to do with this attribute than any tax cut bill that Washington has passed. Yet, the political system is churning out leaders who are probably more acquainted with the hits of Ethel Merman than Beyoncé. All three, Trump, Biden, Sanders, are septuagenarian white males. No matter who wins, the White House kitchen will likely need a supply of prunes and glucosamine. All three are part of high-risk groups for the coronavirus, particularly Trump, whose recent trip to India punctuated by healthy vegetarian cuisine could only provoke a chuckle at the thought of him being made to consume lentils.

I am not speaking from a position of cocky youth: I’m middle aged. My tired knees make a tearing sound sometimes when I ascend the stairs. The hair on the top of my head is long gone; however, this has been replaced by a thick forest of it in my ears. The mornings are more difficult than they used to be and require more coffee. Going to the gym is harder and more painful. Modern music often sounds to me like a car crash involving a van full of electronic instruments. I have caught myself saying on occasion, “Kids these days…”

But it is precisely these qualities that clearly tell me that people like me and older should loosen our grip if not let go of it entirely. The future should belong to those who have more of it ahead of them. Perhaps one of the most inspiring speeches ever made was by President Kennedy during his inauguration in 1961; a particularly memorable line was his statement that the “torch had passed to a new generation of Americans”. It felt like when Obama triumphed in 2008 that this had happened again. But in 2016, it was promptly handed back to the previous crew: this would have happened even if Hillary had won, but it was significant that it went back to an old, white male, a living, breathing symbol of the anger that many white males presently feel.

If anything, this retrograde step has become more pronounced since 2016. Much of the so-called “populist” phenomena is to do with older white males and what they want. They feel the world has slipped away from them: in their memory, or rather that of their fathers, they recall a world in which one income, derived from the man, could support a family and a middle class lifestyle. That man didn’t necesarily need a college education. That man could expect to work for the same company for 40 years and retire with a comfortable pension. There were darker sides to it, such as the treatment of minorities, the subservient role of women in the household, the veneer of hypocrisy covering all manner of sins including domestic violence. Also, much of that world was based on the consumption of cheap oil, an unsustainable state of affairs.

However, when white males marched in Charlottesville, they demanded a return to these fictional halcyon days. They believe that the diversity of today and those who dare speak its name are obstacles to overcome to get back to that era. Some of these white males, such as the extremist who murdered Jo Cox and the one who ran down Heather Heyer, don’t care if people are killed in the process. It is notable that they also tend to deny climate change.

Lest I be accused of describing a phenomenon solely on the Right, it says something that major figures on the Left in recent years are also of the same generation. Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders differ in many significant ways, but generally speaking they want a return to the social democratic consensus of the 1960s and 70s, in which state ownership was common, higher taxes and public spending prevailed, and less of the globalisation which has taken a wrecking ball to the stable working patterns of the 1960’s and 70’s. There are elements of high-tech glitter around the edges of their respective prospectuses, but the underlying principles remain the same. Because we are so far removed from this era, it seems thrilling and new to people who have no recollection of having such security in their lives.

To clarify, it is not always bad to hark back to the past: in general, I agree with Sanders and Corbyn that greater social protections are needed more than ever, particularly in a world which features the gig economy and high tech labour. Nevertheless, the past seems to linger like a miasma floating around our political systems, threatening to choke democracy as it puts power in the hands of people who are disconnected in time and status from those it puports to represent.

Perhaps the clearest symbol of the disconnect of the generations is Greta Thunberg. I am inspired by her. I think it’s wonderful that a young person is taking such a vital interest in ensuring the future of the planet. I am glad to see that there are more young people stepping forward who are just like her. I believe she and her generation will undo a lot of the damage that my generation and previous ones have done, if only we let them.

However, many older white males are enraged by her. An oil company in Alberta made her the subject of an extremely offensive cartoon. Trump has trolled her. This makes no sense. How is the most powerful man in the world, how are supposedly tough oil workers, threatened by this wisp of a teenage girl?

The reason, I believe, is that she reminds these men that the future doesn’t belong to only them or even mainly them. Youth will have its say, and she points out the fundamental truth that we are operating in such a manner that may not leave a future for youth to inherit. The angry responses are one long “how dare she, the world is ours”, laced with a lot of profanity. She merely brushes them off, often times with a humour beyond their comprehension. Perhaps she knows she is wiser than they. Perhaps she also knows that theirs is the reaction of someone who has been reminded that they are no longer young, and thus their horizons are limited.

Quite frankly, speaking as middle aged white male, I’m fed up with us. Perhaps we need to be reminded that we are not all or even mostly geniuses nor gods, and the best legacy we can leave is the good we do for our families, our neighbourhoods and our friends. An equally positive legacy would be to yield to youth and accept that change is inevitable. When that acceptance comes, perhaps some of the populist nonsense and its resulting hatred and violence will fade. Perhaps then, we would also leave a legacy of tolerance and wisdom. If not, it’s worth remembering that we are all on one long walk towards sunset; youth will have its say, even if it has to wait until twilight.

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Self-Isolation

February 29, 2020

“Self-isolation” is the latest term to enter popular vocabulary. People who have been infected with the coronavirus have been urged to remove themselves from society. People who have recently been to regions which have been afflicted by the virus have also been urged to do it. Go home. Shut the door. Have minimal contact with people. Ensure that you’re not putting the health of the public at risk.

I have neither been infected, nor been to an affected region. Nevertheless, “self-isolation” is a term to which I can relate. My self-isolation began in late 2018. I had just finished being a witness in a prominent court case. I had taken the stand five times; I had travelled to the Old Bailey on three separate occasions. It is the task of every defence attorney worth their salt to pull witnesses inside out; this made a task which I found depressing to do in the first place, even more onerous despite having the comfort of holding fast to the truth. By the time it was all over, I was bruised and saddened; I must, however, give credit to the volunteers who help witnesses outside the courtroom. They were very supportive.

My face and name were in the newspapers and on television. I recall going into a corner store to get some supplies and hearing a couple whispering to each other behind me in the queue, “Is that the fellow…?” “Yes, dear, I think he is…”. I paid and left as quickly as I could.

After my last court appearance on December 17, 2018, I sat on the platform at City Thameslink station, waiting for the first train to whisk me home. Being alone was blissful. It was the early afternoon. I sat there, with my phone in hand, a chill wind blowing down the darkened tunnel. In a rare departure from my usual classical repertoire, I put on the Beatles song, “Two of Us”. I hoped the jaunty tune would cheer me up, but the reason why it particularly appealed was the line “I’m going home”. I also thought of a statement from Eliot’s “The Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”:

Time to turn back and ascend the stair

I would go home and ascend the stair. The curtains would be drawn, that would be all. I would wait for the noise to dissipate and for people to forget. After all, Christmas was coming up and surely more important things would preoccupy anyone who was acquainted with the story. I waited for the day when I could go to the corner store and no one would know my face nor remember my name.

It took longer than I hoped. My preference during that period was to stay at home and out of sight. I kept my Twitter account locked for sustained periods. The media approaches continued into the New Year; I thought about telling my story but eventually decided against it. I didn’t want to be bothered any more than I had been already; also, while there was an appeals process underway, I thought it would be unwise to say anything. Furthermore, I believe the publicity harmed the job hunt I was undertaking at the time.

Eventually, Spring came. The looks and whispers died away. I still have preferred to be home; through 2019, I spent a lot of time and effort into putting together a comfortable study where I can continue to self-isolate. I put a large portion of my classical music collection in there: the Mozart, Bach, Wagner, and Beethoven box sets have prominent places on the shelves. I acquired more bookshelves from Ikea and filled them. I spotted a deal on a television last July; I acquired it. My comfortable sofa is draped with blankets in case I need a nap on the weekends.

I got another job. More often than not, I work from home: I do so in my study. My cats quickly realised this was where they could find me; my cat Thomas has a spot on the sofa which he has claimed for himself. It’s not uncommon for all my cats, Thomas, Sarah Jane, and Solomon to be in here all at once. My Dachshund Boris also is a frequent visitor.

I found the study window could be brightened up by stringing coloured pennants across it. I ordered some from a craft company in Lithuania via Etsy prior to the Brexit deadline. Books continue to cram every corner. Small busts of composers acquired from eBay sit on the shelves. My banjo sits on a stand in the corner. When I look up from my laptop, I see tomes which range from Isabel Allende’s latest novel to a biography of the Austrian statesman Metternich. As I type this, a vinyl record spins on the player, liberating Billie Holiday’s voice to touch the air. The door is shut. I am self-isolated, at least until my cat Thomas comes to the door, pawing at it until I let him in. He is always welcome.

Although I’m an introvert, I was not always this way. I ran for city council in 2016, 2017, and 2018 as a Labour candidate. I remember the 2017 campaign as a particularly inspiring time. I went out every evening and knocked on doors and spoke to people in the ward. I wanted to speak to everyone. One evening, there was a public hustings in a village hall. I wore a dark pinstripe suit and a bright red tie. I felt like I could talk to anyone, and advocate for the cause of my constituents. I recall doing it, I recall every nuance of strength and emotion that I felt. I effectively countered the 8 or more Conservative councillors who decided to question me from the audience. I remember feeling “switched on”; the possibilities seemed as limitless as the summer sunshine that blessed the weeks of that campaign. I didn’t win, but it was a shining moment.

Not too long ago, I drove past that village hall. It was night; the windows were dark, the doors were locked. It some ways it seems the door is still shut. I am self-isolated. Time to turn back and ascend the stair. Put on another Billie Holliday record. Drink some mineral water, wrap a blanket around the shoulders. You’re ready for the coronavirus, I tell myself. You can stay here for weeks at a time if need be. Dear Thomas will come to the door and we will listen to music and he will watch me as I type away on this keyboard, his green-yellow eyes following the movement of my fingers. I will look up at a later hour and see the fading sunlight, and eventually, night will arrive. It will be time to turn back and ascend the stair, Thomas following me as I go to bed.

However, things change. After all, the open horizons of 2017 became the narrow confine of 2018 and beyond. I have little doubt there will be a time when I will get up from the routine of work, study, with trips to the gym or the store in-between. The healing that self-isolation offers will be complete. The door will open.

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Review: Superman: Red Son starring Jason Isaacs and Vanessa Marshall

February 26, 2020

I must admit that I’m not a “comic book” sort of person. I never collected them. I watched some superhero cartoons on Saturday mornings when I was a boy. I don’t recall specific plots, but I do remember that the Green Lantern’s powers were useless against items coloured yellow. Also, there was a “Bizarro” version of Superman who couldn’t use pronouns correctly and had a face that looked like it was chiselled out of chalk. Apart from a few films I’ve seen over the years, the whole comic book and superhero universe has passed me by.

However, I am very interested in the history of Russia and particularly that of the Soviet period. When I was looking through Apple TV, I noticed on one of the new release icons that Superman was sporting a new logo on his chest: a hammer and sickle. This immediately sparked my interest. I clicked through and found the film was asking a fascinating question: what if Baby Superman had crash landed in the Soviet Union rather than the heartland of the United States? Raised by Soviet parents and educated in Soviet traditions, he would have had the same powers but would he have had the same values? Would he have been just as virtuous and heroic? Would Soviet socialism been more decent, more fair, and less brutal with an incorruptible hero guarding the land?

“Superman: Red Son” poses these questions and makes an attempt to resolve them. It also asks questions of Americans and others in the West: are we any better than the defunct USSR, or our flaws merely different in kind rather than degree?

We are introduced to the Soviet Superman as a child. He is referred to as “Misha”; he is a decent boy. Though tormented by bullies, he refuses to use his superior strength and powers to fight back. Only his best friend Svetlana knows the full extent of his abilites, and it is she who tells him that he must use his talents in the service of the state.

I’m used to seeing images of Stalin in drawings and prints; in my study I have a poster that shows Stalin as the “great leader of the Soviet people”. He resembles a superhero, standing large and and looking imposing set against the Kremlin and a red banner bearing Lenin’s visage behind him. I wonder how the physically diminutive Stalin (the adopted name of Iosif Vissarionovich Djugashvili – “Stalin”, interestingly, literally means “Man of Steel”), who spoke with a strong Georgian accent, would have felt with a 6 foot 4 inch Superman (coupled with the voice of Jason Isaacs) in his presence. He was notoriously paranoid and had any potential rival eliminated.

In this universe, however, Stalin refers to Superman as his son; I find this somewhat plausible as Stalin was dissapponted by his son Yakov (who died in a German concentration camp in World War 2) and his other son Vassily (who was a disssolute alcoholic). Superman, for his part, begins as an obedient Stakhanovite (shock worker); he helps put together and switch on a hydroelectric dam and refuses to give the credit to anyone other than the Soviet people. He is truly selfless and committed to the welfare of the people, as a good Soviet worker should be. Whoever put this film together does have awareness of the period’s imagery and propaganda, and it shows. I also noticed how Russian-sounding musical motifs made themselves heard on the soundtrack.

Superman takes control of the USSR when he discovers the gap between rhetoric and reality. He intends to eliminate this void. I was reminded of Solzhenitsyn’s portrayal of Stalin in “The First Circle”; in that characterisation, Stalin regards it as his mission to force his people down the path of progress. With the help of Brainiac, a sentient supercomputer, everything in the USSR is computed and measured to the tiniest degree, and Soviet Superman has every statistic about his people to hand, from industrial production, to the rate of reproduction, to suicide rates. He is not above putting chemicals in the water supply to stimulate or control behaviours detrimental to society. The Gulag (forced labour camp) is gone; lobotomies, however, are common.

Other characters from the Superman comic book universe appear. Wonder Woman (voiced by Vanessa Marshall) returns as an ambassador to the Soviet Union from her people, the Amazons. The film is unapologetically progressive in matters of gender and sexuality: in this universe, she is an openly LGBT character. Soviet Superman does not find this at all shocking. Additionally, Lex Luthor is an American industrialist, scientist, and politician instead of a master criminal. Lois Lane is Luthor’s devoted wife. This dramatic shift of characters in place and role is somehow natural and right.

Perhaps the most interesting change is in Batman’s character; in “Red Son”, he is an anarchist leader who doesn’t care who he kills so long as he brings down the “perfect system” that Soviet Superman has created. The writers may or may not be aware of this, but this Batman and his followers bear strong similarities to real groups like the Narodnaya Volya (“People’s Will”) who killed Tsar Alexander II in 1881 by throwing bombs at his carriage. The “Batmen” were perfectly positioned as their successors.

I have two criticisms of the film. First is its length. 1 hour and 24 minutes doesn’t allow for enough exposition in my view. I would have liked to see how Soviet Superman resolved the central paradox of the USSR: how could he balance control with the freedom necessary to be creative? Without creativity, no society can progress. I also would have liked to know more about the Soviet conquest of the globe with the exception of the United States; I was tickled by the scene in which the West was building the Berlin Wall and Soviet Superman told the Americans to “tear down this wall”, a well-executed inversion of Reagan’s words to Gorbachev. So: what happened to Europe afterwards?

The problem of length, however, is minor and it comes from someone who is viewing it through the lens of counterfactual history rather than that of the genre of fantasy. I am conscious of the fact that my tastes are niche.

My other, more serious point about this film has to do with its ending. It’s not my intention to give away too much; suffice it to say that not even Soviet Superman can overcome the United States. This suggests a rather clipped resolution to the question if it’s the systems that make people virtuous or if it’s the other way around. The film at first had not shied away from talking about the problems of inequality and racism in America; Lex Luthor is shown to have a dark, egotistical side and a fundamental disregard for life. Nevertheless, the system appears, eventually, to make him better than Soviet Superman. Really? Would it not have been possible for Soviet Superman to show the intelligence and sensitivity to plot a new course for his country? It is like the film was asking deep questions and then finished with an “Only kidding”.

Having said all this, I enjoyed the film tremendously. Indeed, I have changed the wallpaper on my laptop to show a propaganda poster featuring Soviet Superman fighting for truth, justice, and the Socialist way. This film will likely be among my favourites for years to come, not just because for what it is, but also because unlike those Saturday cartoons of yesteryear, it made me think.

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The Real Electorate

February 25, 2020

I remember when I first realised that Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign was in deep trouble. I was visiting my former home town, New York, and it was just after the first debate. Like many in my circle, I thought Hillary had wiped the floor with Trump. She knew her facts, she seemed poised and coherent. Trump rambled, was boorish, and spoke a great deal of pure nonsense. Twitter confirmed my view; Trump was an emotionally incontinent buffoon who just had his head handed back to him.

The morning after the debate, I decided to go get a haircut. The barber I use in New York is an old-fashioned one, with linoleum tiles and fixtures that haven’t changed since the late 1950’s. When I first started going there, it was staffed by Italian immigrants, now it’s run by Ukrainian Jews. The new proprietors were keen on maintaining continuity: black plastic combs rested inside glass tubes full of blue disinfectant. The traditional red, white, and blue barber pole was still illuminated on the outside of the shop, turning in a neverending spin. Even the cash register still has the familiar ding of yesteryear’s bell.

While I had my hair cut, there was an old fellow waiting in the queue behind me. I estimate he was in his early 60’s. He had white hair and a moustache, wore a red plaid flannel shirt and blue jeans. I guessed from his demeanour he was a blue collar guy, perhaps working in one of the light industrial plants in the area. As he waited and the barber worked on me, highlights of the debate were flashing up on a flat screen television stuck to the wall.

The old fellow audibly sighed after the piece ended. “Well,” he said, “neither of them are angels, but I’ve got to go with the Donald.”

If my barber hadn’t had a sharp pair of scissors in his hands, I would have been tempted to leap out of my chair. I engaged him in conversation. We talked a bit about Brexit; I then said, “People voted for it because they weren’t happy.” I added that sometimes when people aren’t happy they choose something unknown, which Brexit at the time was.

He replied, “I’m not happy.”

This fellow didn’t seem to be a “MAGA” type; he wasn’t enthusiastic about Trump. He was very well aware that Trump was vulgar and his behaviour was disgusting. Trump was not someone he would invite to dinner or meet his family. This fellow didn’t strike me as racist or having any particular axe to grind. His reason for voting for Trump was straightforward, “I’m not happy”. Hillary offered no change whatsoever; although her facts should have triumphed over Trump’s pomposity, it was precisely this that doomed her. She was the most visible symbol of the establishment. “We’re not happy,” the electorate said. That made all the difference in places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan where having Beyonce’s or Barbara Streisand’s endorsement means little when the factory is shut and whole communities are going under due to opioid addiction. They also didn’t like being called “deplorables”; although Hillary didn’t mean it specifically for this part of the electorate, it was read that way. If you were thinking of voting for Trump, it seemed, you were deplorable in the eyes of this elite person. I still don’t believe Hillary understands how much this off the cuff remark hurt her.

I have often thought about this conversation when I look at American politics. Indeed, I believe this fellow is a good sample of the type of person who is voting for “populist” parties in almost any democracy. They aren’t necessarily convinced by the populists, but they are certain that change is necessary. These people don’t care much for ideology, either on the far right or the hard left. They merely want their lives to get better. They want to have more money in their pay packets. They want their roads not to be full of potholes. They want their schools to teach their kids the things they need to know to be successful. They want there to be a good paying job waiting for those kids once they graduate. They want their communities to be safe. This may all seem very small beer when looking at the grand scheme of history, and a revolution is rarely made on the back of such bread and butter concerns, but it is precisely these basic needs that have gone by the wayside. The regular working person has been told for decades that globalisation is good for them; it led to cheaper prices in some of the shops, but it also meant that a lot of stable factory work disappeared. Without work, their communities fell apart; this was coupled by the increasingly crass behaviour by companies like Purdue Pharmaceuticals. Purdue exploited people by pushing opioids as an answer for pain; other forms of exploitation such as easy credit still are foisted on the public.

That public also saw they are governed by an elite which didn’t look like them: they came from top schools like Harvard and Yale, they are lawyers and solictors with expense accounts, Mercedes Benzes and are completely detached from the harsh realities that most face. Meanwhile, the costs of improving the regular person’s lot, such as via university education, skyrocketed. This was far from the promise that had been given to their parents and grandparents, that life would continue to get better, that their children would have more opportunity than they would. Is it no wonder they are aggrieved? Is it no wonder that if someone offers change, that they will grab hold of it, even if they don’t know what the outcome may be?

The question the 2020 election will pose is this, has enough change occurred to return Trump to office for another 4 years? The fellow in the barber shop may have a 401k retirement plan, which is linked to the performance of the stock market. The stock market has gone up substantially over the past 4 years. Unemployment statistics, at least, indicate that joblessness is low. Is that enough? Or is it sufficient change to not merit a dramatic shift to the left?

I don’t know the answer to this question. But I suggest that every Democratic candidate needs to consider this individual I met on that bright morning in the barber shop. The Democratic nominee will never get the vote of the MAGA, red cap wearing crowd; that wasn’t going to happen anyway. The vote of the individual who wasn’t happy and voted for Trump in 2016 is still in play. The election may very well turn on the answer to this question: “How will you convince this real electorate that the very basic necessities that they want for themselves and their families are things that you can deliver?”

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In Praise of Thomas the Cake Cat

February 15, 2020

When I write or work from home, I’m generally not alone. My cat Thomas is usually sitting on the sofa beside me, curled up as close as he possibly can be. Often, he’s dozing.

Thomas is a remarkable character. He has lived with me for nearly 8 years. I found him, or rather, he found me when I was living in Bradford. Not long after I’d moved to the city, I was out in my back garden hanging up laundry on the line. A red folding chair stood on the deck. It was there I first caught sight of him. He is a big white cat with a few black markings. He looked rather regal sitting there, his paw draped over the edge in a leonine fashion. His eyes narrowed when he first saw me; in retrospect, I believe he liked me at first sight. He certainly was not afraid.

Thomas was a stray. Enquiries made around the neighbourhood indicated that he had been living by his wits and on handouts from humans for about 4 years. He became a regular at my back door, asking for food: he was always indulged.

March 2012 in Bradford was unusually warm: I recall driving through the Bradford Moor neighbourhood and seeing families play in the sunshine. In Bradford Moor Park, a father dressed in a kurta pushed his young son on a swing. The boy’s feet went higher and higher with each undulation, till he probably could see the clear blue skies through his bare toes. It seemed Spring had been given a miss and we had jumped into early Summer. The trees were in leaf and swayed in the strong, warm breeze. Thomas showed up in the mornings, walking along the top of the fence that enclosed my small garden. He ate his breakfast, then went out into the day, perhaps looking for a place in the sunshine to sleep after his repast.

April grabbed Yorkshire by the shoulder and brought Bradford back to its senses. A blizzard hit. I recall seeing heavy, thick snow pelting down and the trees bending in the cold wind. I had two other cats at the time, Sarah Jane and Amelia: I quickly went to the glass door leading onto the garden and let them in. Then Thomas appeared. He cried out. I let him in.

Not far from the door stood a cat basket which neither of my two cats had used. Thomas bounded directly into it and sat there as if it had always been his. It was clear from that moment that he was here to stay.

There is a photo which was taken not long afterwards, after Thomas had the inevitable tests for diseases such as Feline AIDS and Leukaemia (negative, thankfully) and had been neutered. By that time, Spring had been restored and I was able to wear a t-shirt again. In the picture, I am seated at a chair and using my laptop. Thomas had leapt up onto the chair arm and was looking at me. The next photo in the sequence shows Thomas peering at the screen with me. The impression given is that we are looking at the internet together. There have been photos over the years which show episodes in which he is peering at books I am reading and watching television with me.

As the years have passed, the bond between he and I has only grown stronger. Every evening, when I go to bed, he follows me up the stairs. I climb into bed. He leaps up beside me and curls up right next to my chest and stomach. I stroke his head and tell him what a remarkable boy he is. Sometimes I even sing to him, to the tune of “Little Donkey”:

Little Thomas, little Thomas
On the dusty road
Got to keep on, carrying on
With your heavy load
Little Thomas, Little Thomas
Such a lovely boy
Little Thomas, Little Thomas
He’s our pride and joy!

This tune came to me not long after he arrived: he had wandered far throughout Bradford, his paws were covered in callouses. As a result, he is named after the most well-travelled of Christ’s apostles.

If I’m not gripped by insomnia, we fall asleep; if I am trapped by wakefulness, we go down to my study. He sleeps beside me on the couch. But, after the nights that insomnia has loosened its grip, he will awaken me either with an intense stare from his big, dark eyes, or by digging his paws into my duvet covered back. We go downstairs. I put on the coffee and the radio. I fill his food bowl. He has his breakfast, I have mine. His love of food makes him a gourmet among cats; not long after he arrived, I discovered that he loves cake. A photo of him devouring a cake has become widely circulated on the internet. What the photo doesn’t tell you is that he also tried to eat the cake I bought to replace it. But it’s not just cake, he is so food oriented, I’ve also come up with another little ditty in his honour:

Food, oh food
I don’t mean to be presumptuous or rude
But when you’re a cat
Food’s where is its at
Life isn’t life without food!

Food, oh food
It’s not a question of fad or of mood
Savoury or sweet
It makes life complete
Life isn’t life without food!

In addition to inspiration, Thomas provides proof that animals do have emotions and they feel ours. There is another photo of me, taken while I was asleep in a chair. Thomas had leapt up onto my lap. He stared at me adoringly. When I am unhappy, somehow he knows, and sometimes he will reach out a reassuring paw to touch me. “It’ll be OK,” is perhaps what he is trying to tell me. As a result, when things go wrong, when the days are full more of hurt than laughter, he is there to remind me that life is not all like that. He is indispensible.

I set these words down knowing that Thomas’s presence on this earth is likely to be much shorter than mine. He is getting old. His hard early years have manifested themselves recently in aching joints; he is not as fast as he used to be, though often I can still see the kitten in him and when the sun is warm, he still plays like one. Nevertheless, I sometimes have to give him an anti-inflammatory drug to ease his stiff paws. I have quietly worried when I have had to help him get up onto surfaces that previously he could mount in a single leap. Sometimes he aches so much that after I aid him, I have to wipe away a sympathetic tear.

Furthermore, his early years exposed to the elements mean that he develops a black growth on his nose which falls off after a certain point: it’s a form of cat melanoma, which fortunately doesn’t threaten his overall health, though I closely monitor it. If he looks tired, I reassure him, pet him, tell him quietly, “You stay here with me” and tell him he looks “trim, and fit, and lovely”. He purrs in response. As I type these words, he again has put a paw on my leg. Is he encouraging me? Is he comforting me? I pet him again and repeat, “You stay here with me”. I think he will, as long as he can.

I have a reoccurring dream. I have died, and what lays ahead is a portal of light. And out of that portal steps Thomas to lead me to the next world. Sometimes our dreams tell us what awaits us, sometimes they speak to us of our hopes. All I can be certain of is that this street cat from Bradford has given me so much. I believe he feels similarly about me; I hope that everyone who has let a cat or dog or any other animal into their lives gets as much heartfelt joy.

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Deliver or be Damned

February 11, 2020

British responses to the Irish election prove that there is nothing quite like the blindness that makes you unable to see what is right in front of you. Ireland is a major trading partner, the only country which shares a land border with Great Britain, and many Britons have recently had cause to remember they have Irish roots. Yet, the country is strangely invisible to British eyes. Voters in the 2016 referendum seemed to forget Northern Ireland; British commentators after Sinn Fein’s success in this election are wallowing in misunderstanding. The execrable Darren Grimes, whose only credentials are being employed by a secretive far right wing think tank and being forced to pay a £20,000 by the Electoral Commission for breaking the rules during the 2016 referendum, suggested that rent controls were to blame for high rental costs in Ireland. This, he suggested, led to Sinn Fein’s success. It is no wonder that the Irish separated themselves from the British: they have been subject to being patronised, ignored, and oppressed by people who could not be bothered to understand them, or indeed, Google what is going on.

The Irish election contains valuable lessons for any democratic society. Be in no doubt, Ireland is a better functioning democracy than many. In Britain, our electoral system creates a tyranny of the minority: most people didn’t vote Conservative, but thanks to the First Past the Post system, we have a Conservative government which will be immovable for the foreseeable future. Ireland relies on the Single Transferrable Vote. This makes the process of counting somewhat agonising: the vote took place on Saturday the 8th, and didn’t conclude until the evening of Monday the 10th. Nevertheless, the result may better reflect what the Irish think: the Fianna Fail and Fine Gael parties saw their support bleed away, the public put their faith in Sinn Fein and newer left-leaning formations like the Greens and Social Democrats. They mainly went for the newly packaged Sinn Fein, which racked up the most first preference votes by far. Their leader, Mary Lou McDonald, could very well be the next Taoiseach.

Why? The current Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, had done a masterful job on foreign policy: he had managed to wring concessions out of Boris Johnson and unite the entire European Union behind Ireland’s position. Unemployment, by all accounts, is relatively low. Ireland is, for the most part, on the other side of the financial crisis, and economic growth levels are reasonable. However, the lesson of Ireland is one that every government should take to heart: listen or be left behind. Deliver, or be damned.

It probably came as a surprise to British observers that the exit polls indicated that Brexit was a major concern for only 1% of Irish voters. Britain has been caught up in its own psychodramas for so long that it has failed to realise that these are uninteresting to nearly everyone else. The Irish were focused on were housing and health. Housing was the main issue; Ireland has some of the most expensive housing in Europe. This phenomena is by no means isolated to getting a roof over one’s head: I recall when I visited Ireland and was looking at the prices of products in Boots. It was then I became acquainted with the meaning of the phrase which I had heard while I was drinking my coffee: “Rip-off Ireland”. Combating this was a theme of campaigns on the left, including the Solidarity / People Before Profit alliance. Yes, the economy is growing; however, most people aren’t apparently feeling particularly good about it. The Fine Gael government has been in power for 9 years and been slow to respond; they were propped up after the indecisive 2016 election by Fianna Fail. Fianna Fail’s policy mix wasn’t substantially different to Fine Gael’s; they only exist as two separate parties because of their positions on the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 (Fine Gael was for it, Fianna Fail, against). To use an expression I first heard in Ireland, they were seen by modern voters as “two cheeks of the same arse”.

The government’s lack of listening was highlighted by Simon Coveney’s response after Fine Gael’s poor showing; most British readers will remember Mr. Coveney’s repeated and masterful appearances in the British media regarding Brexit. Upon facing his own voters, he apparently lost his touch: he expressed frustration at the voters’ lack of “patience”. Blaming the voters is never a good look for any politician. It smacks of Bertold Brecht’s famous poem, the Solution, which jokingly suggests the government should dissolve the people and elect another.

In a democracy, a government that neither listens nor delivers should be punished. Ireland is a functioning democracy. Fine Gael was knocked into third place. Fianna Fail only holds the most number of deputies in the Dáil because the Ceann Comhairle (the equivalent of the Speaker) is of that party. Otherwise, it would be tied with Sinn Fein. Forming a government will be a tricky business, but at least this is reflective of what people think and their priorities. It is now down to the politicians to listen and find a way to deliver, otherwise they will be punished again at the polls. Far from being an episode in which democracy has broken down or succumbed to the forces of populism, this is an example in which it has done what it should. Compare and contrast to Britain: the public was swayed by cheap slogans, and bound to an outdated electoral system, a government that didn’t listen and had not delivered on matters which were actually important – such as housing and health – was returned to power with a large majority.

I suspect much of the British commentariat will continue to be blind to what just hapened in Ireland; this is a pity. There is so much to learn from the Irish example, not least of which is how a proper voting system should work, and how a government that doesn’t deliver on the real priorities of the people should be treated. The Irish showed good political health in other ways: for example, immigration was very low on their list of concerns. Racism apparently has little truck in the Republic. Nothing is perfect: I was horrified by what happened to the party of the famous Irish trade unionist, “Big Jim” Larkin, Labour. They have been reduced to a ghost of their former selves with only 6 seats. Nevertheless, Ireland is in better shape than Britain is, more secure in its democracy and identity than the United Kingdom. Perhaps rather than ignoring them, we ought to pay close attention and learn.

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Defeating Trump

February 7, 2020

At first glance, the Democrats are in a terrible state. The Iowa Caucus was a failure of both technology and organisation: the Republicans can and will use this example to suggest the Democrats couldn’t run a bath, let alone the country. Trump escaped punishment thanks to a compliant Senate, which decided that it was better to acquit him of things of which he was clearly guilty than to face into his Twitter tirades. Recently, his approval rating hit a high of 49%.

However, it’s February. There are 9 months between now and Election Day, a vast ocean of time in which Trump’s hopes can be holed below the waterline. In my opinion, this is going to require an acknowledgement of his main weakness: as much as some would like it to be otherwise, he cannot be felled on policy because he will say anything, even left wing things, in order to curry favour. Attentive observers may have noted that he vowed to preserve Social Security in 2016: of course, he was lying. But, because most people don’t lie without a single pang of conscience, some took what he said at face value. We can assume that if a position is popular, he will peddle new falsehoods with a similar shamelessness. Thus it will be difficult to eject him on the basis of his plans for America.

There are significant headwinds any Democrat must face. We can dispute the causes of why the stock market is hitting new records: however, it is indisputably higher than when Trump took office. The giant corporate tax cuts that the Republicans enacted were used to buy back shares, driving valuations higher. This is the fiscal equivalent of drinking a can of Red Bull: a period of frenetic energy, to be followed by a subsequent crash and hangover. The short term effect, however, is to raise the value of 401K retirement plans. One of my aunts, who despises Trump with a passion, has noticed that her retirement income has increased: she is reluctant to credit Trump with any of it. However, others will not be so hesitant.

So: how do the Democrats defeat Trump? This question has global significance: Trump was at the crest of the populist wave that crashed over Western democracy in 2016. We have been drowning ever since. Far right populists have succeeded in yanking Britain out of the European Union (Trump called himself “Mr. Brexit”), and thrust it into an uncertain future. The far right AfD party recently collaborated with centre right parties in the German state of Thuringia and deposed the competent socialist premier. Orban still rules in Hungary, Putin is planning on staying in office until he draws his last breath. Modi is pushing India in a more intolerant direction and has crushed dissent in Kashmir. If Trump can be defeated and far right populism can be stopped in one of the largest and most powerful democracies, the phenomenon could very well begin to deflate.

My suggestion is simple: let Trump talk, and make him talk. When Trump speaks, he seems to repel more than he attracts: yes, he has rabid fans who hang on his every word. However, this is not a majority of the country: it wasn’t a majority in 2016. He cannot withstand the tiniest pinprick of criticism: it was not enough to say that his phone call to Ukraine’s president was “inoffensive” or any errors were “unintentional”, rather, Trump said it was “perfect” and continues to say so. When he talks, his narcissism, lack of self awareness, and crudity rise to the fore. The suburban voters who helped flip the House of Representatives to the Democrats in 2018 will no doubt be reminded of why they voted the way they did.

The Democrats could extend this further: this should be an election whose main topic is character. Whatever one may say about any of the Democratic presidential contenders, each one of them represents an improvement in morality and temperament to Trump. Bernie Sanders is not a hypocrite and has a visible sense of humour. Elizabeth Warren has genuine empathy. Pete Buttigieg served his country. Joe Biden, for all his faults, truly loves his family: it is well known that he would commute daily between Washington and Wilmington, Delaware so that he could be present in their lives. If the election turns on the pivot of personal qualities and who is the most Presidential, then Trump will be headed for defeat. This means not responding in kind to Trump’s childish taunts: others have tried and only managed to make themselves look the worse for it. Rather, this approach entails seeming more like the President than the President.

Democrats generally are not comfortable contesting elections on the basis of character: Bill Clinton’s antics may have dulled this appetite. It is much more comforting to talk about free tuition and universal health care; these policies do have their place. However, with the recent example provided by Representative Adam Schiff in his fine precis of the case gainst Trump, they should embrace a character-based contest: not only do truth and right matter, but so does personal fortitude. If there is no restraint within, then indisciplined and harmful bombast is the result. We have been lucky so far that the disasters that have ensued have not turned into total catastrophe. How long are we going to continue to be so fortunate? Do we really want to push our luck?

The Democrats can also make the case that the low character of the inhabitant of the Oval Office can diminish the office. I am originally from New York. Trump Tower is now a feature on 5th Avenue: I recall visiting and feeling like having seen it once, I didn’t need to return. There was a restaurant, a few shops, a lot of brass: it was gaudy. It was tacky. It seemed out of place on 5th Avenue. That’s because it is: previously, the space was occupied by the Bonwit Teller building, an Art Deco masterpiece. Trump destroyed it, despite people pleading with him not to do so. When the Metropolitan Museum of Art asked for some of the wonderful friezes on the building, Trump refused and destroyed them anyway. It would have only cost him $9,000 to save them, however, even this was too much for his liking. A piece of New York history was demolished by, ironically enough, inexpensive immigrant labour (he apparently paid his workers only $4 an hour and insisted they work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week) and replaced by a brass and glass monument to his monstrous ego. It remains an eyesore. Do Americans, who by and large feel a sentimental tug on the heart strings when called to their heritage of loving liberty, want to turn the Oval Office into something so base? The case needs to be made: this is a time for personal integrity. Trump has all the resilence of a spoiled infant sitting in a soiled diaper; this era of global challenges requires a fully realised adult who will behave with dignity.

There is still time to frame the election. It appears that Speaker Pelosi understands what needs to be done: her subtle provocations of Trump, such as tearing up his speech, appear to have pushed his limited tolerance to the brink. Mitt Romney’s brave stand against Trump caused him to explode in a fit of apoplexy. Whoever wins this contested primary needs to provide the positive contrast. Then perhaps we can all rest more easy, knowing that the horrors unleashed by 2016 may soon abate.

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Me And My Blog

Picture of meI'm a Doctor of Creative Writing, a husband, a son, a brother, an uncle, a published novelist, a technologist, a student, and still an amateur in much else.

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