“They arrive suddenly and inexplicably. …the media go into meltdown, …scientists study their behaviour, trying to make sense of it. The question on everybody’s mind is: do they come in peace, or is their plan to crush the world like a paper cup? But enough about Donald Trump supporters…” (Luke Buckmaster, film critic for the Australian Daily Review).
Luke Buckmaster then goes on to review the new film Arrival, currently having its worldwide premier. The movie is about the arrival on earth of a strange species of being and their appearance in twelve different locations across the globe. The film has been described as “a stunning science fiction movie with deep implications for today”. It is considered by a number of critics to be one of the year’s best movies about linguistics, metaphors and aliens, and, yes, it was produced before Trump became the President-elect of the USA! Having myself seen the movie, I can concur with the view of the film critics.
The film’s premise hinges on the idea, shared by many linguists and philosophers of language, that we do not all experience the same reality. As observed by that great philosopher of language, Ludwig Wittgenstein, members of any community develop ways of speaking that serve their needs – their reality – and these constitute the language-games, the cultural roadmaps, they employ. “Arrival is about more than talking to one another. It’s about the roadmaps we use to navigate the world and that these mental roadmaps need constant adjustment”. So, similarities with the past week in the USA are not entirely unavoidable!
On 8th November, 2016, the citizens of the United States of America voted to elect Donald Trump as the 45th President of their country. To many, in both the USA and across the world, this was a most surprising election outcome as Mr Trump was something of an unknown political species. So too, his speeches on the stumps were anything but peaceful! Mr Trump has had no significant experience in politics or public service, certainly nowhere near as much as the person he defeated in the election, Hillary Rodham Clinton – the Democratic Senator from New York, former USA Secretary of State and wife of the former President Bill Clinton.
Donald Trump may be described as a billionaire property tycoon who has built a string of impressive buildings across the USA and, in the process, bankrupting himself on several occasions and managing to pay minimal tax – personal or business! His lifestyle emphasises his wealth – with expensive homes in a number of major North American cities, golf courses in Scotland, a private Boeing aircraft, the Trump Tower in New York, and more, including a celebrity-style extended family.
Yet, it was this Presidential candidate that managed to attract huge numbers of voters from the so-called “rust belt” areas of mid-west United States, unemployed and low-paid blue-collar workers across the north American states, white voters disillusioned with the so-called “establishment” politicians, and even large numbers of women – a gender that had been insulted on a number of occasions by Mr Trump’s misogynistic comments during his campaign for the presidency. Donald Trump was able to tap-into the reality of this highly dissatisfied section of the North American population and indulge it in the language-games with which it were happy and of which it were accepting .
Language has great power, as alluded to in the Peter Weir film of 1989, Dead Poets Society. One commentator on this film postulated: “Words, so innocent and seemingly inert on the page of a dictionary, take on a profoundly different character when they are purposefully and articulately employed in the public arena, a place where they have the capacity to both unite and divide us, to cement accord or inflame dissent.”
Donald Trump claimed that he was telling the citizens of the USA “how it really was”. His style was deliberately confrontational with respect to a variety of USA political “sacred cows”, including those of his own Republican Party, and yet, despite this approach, perhaps in spite of it, he succeeded in capturing the election for the Republican Party, himself and his divisive personal perspectives and political policies. During the campaign he expressed the view that the election processes and outcomes were rigged. After the election, of course, this viewpoint changed – all was now sweetness and light, as well as fair-minded and correct!
Within hours of Donald Trump’s election victory, demonstrations erupted in several cities across the USA, notably in the nation’s capital of Washington (outside of the White House), New York on the east coast, Chicago in the mid-west and San Francisco on the west coast (note: nothing of the kind happened in the more conservative and Christian evangelical, hence Republican, southern states). Demonstrators took to the streets to emphasise that Mr Trump was not their President, his values were not theirs – they did not share his cultural roadmaps – and to express the fears they hold for the future of the country if President-elect Trump follows through on the type of policies he enunciated, albeit with little detail, during the presidential campaign.
Mr Trump came under considerable criticism from his own Republican Party during the election campaign. However, it was noticeable that, following his election win, the Republican Party more or less closed ranks around him. Isn’t it wonderful what power, or the promise of power, does to politicians! The United States of America now has four years, or more, in which to digest, even glory in, the fact that the Republican Party has control of the Presidency, both houses of the US Congress, very likely the Supreme Court judiciary and, for added measure, a friend at the FBI!
A number of commentators have pointed out the supposed similarities – apart from the ubiquitous appearances of Nigel Farage, the default leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) – between the events in the USA and the outcome of the British referendum on membership of the European Union. Similarities have included the way in which the polls were confounded; the ethnic breakdown of the vote; the focus on the extent of the disillusion accompanying the white vote; the immigration system; and the manner in which the political establishment were being blamed for the downturn in the nation’s economic fortune. A rallying cry for both Trump’s campaign and the “leave” proponents during the British EU referendum seemed to have been “power to the people”.
In some ways this appears to have been a legitimate position to take – a protest against the political establishment and politicians who had seemingly forgotten that their first task in government was to protect the country’s citizens, rather than their own status and aggrandisement.
Yet, to what extent does a figure like Donald Trump represent the hopes and aspirations of blue-collar, working-class persons from the wreckage of urban conurbations and dilapidated inner cities? Does a billionaire property entrepreneur speak to the hopes and aspirations of an economic underclass – poorer, low-skilled and under-paid or unemployed industrial and service sector workers? What racist or xenophobic emotions are stirred in susceptible people when an aspiring president voices objections to immigrants – illegal or otherwise, and non-Christian religions? What national and individual economic confidence is undermined by a disproportionately wealthy leader who preaches opposition to established trade deals and mutual defence treaties, and who, moreover, practises and openly encourages tax avoidance?
Trump informed the people of the USA that their politicians kept telling them that “America was great”, but it wasn’t. He then articulated what the people wanted to hear that, under his leadership, “the USA could be great again”. In supporting this observation, the Melbourne-based commentator, the actor Neil Pigot, said: “So what we have what is perhaps the greatest irony of the century, a divisive, misogynistic, messianic nihilist who is one of the most visible beneficiaries of neoliberalism leading the most powerful nation on earth away from another betrayal and into a new age. The sentiments that surround Brexit, though subtly different, are fundamentally the same; the language of politicians purporting one thing, while the reality that people saw in their streets was something completely different. Betrayal.”
Of course, the one critical area that was not mentioned by Donald Trump during his election campaign, neither by Nigel Farage during the British EU referendum, was that of the effects of globalization and, more particularly, the greed of the corporate world – be it in the USA, the UK or on the wider global front. This is to be expected for Mr Trump and, lest it be forgotten, Mr Farage are themselves members of that fraternity and participate, or have done, in its greed and exclusivity. In his election campaign, Donald Trump promised, with respect to the Washington elite, a “bonfire of regulations”; in reality, it is likely that his forthcoming presidency will issue in a “bonfire of vanities” – much of which will be of his own making!
It remains to be seen if President Donald Trump, who became the President-elect with a million less votes than Hillary Clinton (even though, obviously, he won the numbers in the electoral college), will follow-through with the policies he spoke of from the podium and, in doing so, raised the hopes of the 25% of the voting public in the United States that will put him into the Oval Office. Have the citizens of the United States been sold a dream, or a pup? Was the voting public of the USA promised a package of policies assembled in order to win votes but, with the election won, will eventually go the way of so many political promises – into the ether? Will Donald Trump prove to be any wiser or possess greater integrity than those who came before him and about whom he was so abjectly critical?
I am reminded here that the British nation narrowly voted to leave the European Union on the strength of the Brexiteers’ (those who favoured leaving the EU) dubious promise to pay into the NHS the £350m per week saved from paying the EU; to drastically reduce immigration (especially the reduction of those “workers” from within the EU); to close UK borders and, ever-mindful of the glory days of the British empire, to re-establish British sovereignty, that is, to end the so-called dominance of the European Parliament and courts of law over the their British counterparts and return power to the latter.
Yet, at the first instance of this returning of “power to the people”, this ideal was shown to be what it always was – false! A presentation of a successful peoples’ petition was made to the British High Court. The intent of the petition was to prevent the executive of the British Conservative Government bypassing Parliament and using the ancient “royal prerogative” (the last hope of the scoundrel) to instigate the requisite Article 50 in order to commence the official process of removing the UK from the EU.
The response of the new British Prime Minister, Theresa May, to this decision of the High Court, was to order a review of the High Court’s decision by the Supreme Court – in the hope of reversing the court’s decision. Naturally, this action was loudly supported by the Brexiteers, including those who had bleated so vociferously about restoring the sovereignty of the British Parliament and courts of law!
There are a number of other similarities between the British EU referendum and the Presidential elections in the USA. However, there is the inescapable realization that on either side of the pond, people have been promised a mess of pottage that, in the future unfolding of the political, economic, social and cultural life of both nations, may well prove to be, at best, a bowl of wishful-thinking and ill-conceived dreams, or, at worst, a can of deception and lies.
The United States of America fatefully faces at least four years of having Donald Trump as its President, with the Republican Party dominating its governance and judicial proceedings. During the same period the United Kingdom confronts a crucial engagement with a prolonged period of national instability as it undertakes the process of leaving the European Union.
The winds of change have been sown and are blowing across both nations. It is to be hoped that these winds do not reap the whirlwind!
Regular readers of this blog will probably note that this is article 100 in the series. This is, for me, somewhat of a journalistic milestone. However, I hope that, one day, I will reach the magic number in terms of my age (without any expectation of a congratulatory letter from the reigning monarch of the day – for, if there is such a post, then it will be duly marked RTS).
In the meantime, I can only reflect that, apart from the occasional bank balance, my first examination as a telecommunications technician-in-training, and for three years in a row with the results of my A Level classes in Philosophy and Ethics, the only other time that the number 100 has featured in my life was when I achieved that batting figure in a game of cricket – in fact, on reflection with some satisfaction, I reached that particular milestone on three occasions!
But, cricket is a team game and A Level grades are achievable by classes of students, whereas, writing a blog is a measure of my wider individual interests, literary undertakings and the patience and cognition of my readers. Even so, a blog article is stimulated by both personal and worldwide events, the encouragement of others and the value of a good proof reader – in this instance, my wife Vicky.
Though there is singular value in the writing of a blog, nevertheless, the purpose of such is that it is actually and collectively read. I have sought both variety and depth in what I have written over time – in such fields as philosophy and ethics, religion and theology, politics and contemporary events, sport and music. I have eschewed entries in Facebook and Twitter, relying on my networks in the UK and Australia, as well as an apparently expanding readership in various other parts of the world.
In the final summation, I am dependent on your readership, comments and encouragement and, further, I am appreciative of the initial suggestion of my younger son, Glenn, that, post-retirement, I occupy some of my welcomed recreational space, time and thought in the writing of a blog. That was over four years ago and the rest, as they say about political elections, referenda and the contents of blog articles, is history!