• Biden’s Choice

    Joe Biden seems to be everything that Donald Trump was not – decent, straightforward, considerate of others, mindful of his responsibilities – but none of that means that he has an easy path ahead of him. The pandemic still rages, American standing in the world is grievously low, and the economy is flat on its back, to mention only the most immediate problems – and that is to say nothing of the fractured country bequeathed to him by his predecessor.

    Trump did not create, but he certainly gave succour to, and drew support from, a section of American society that is usually hidden from view and that we have seen, in the past, only in glimpses. We saw them, in horrifying close-up, in the shameful assault on the seat of democracy a couple of weeks ago. We saw the far-right militia groups, the neo-fascists, the white supremacists, the conspiracy theorists in all their ugliness and preparedness to use violence; and the bad news for the new President and for America is that, whatever the outcome of the election, they are still there.

    Joe Biden rightly calls for unity and for people to come together; his problem, though, is that it is hard to see what accommodation a functioning democracy can reach with these outliers. These people have been a part of American society for decades and more; they are the price America is now paying, and evidently must continue to pay, for slavery – an institution on which so much of America’s early development and present-day achievement has been based.

    These are the people who continue to see their lifestyles and prosperity depending on their ability to disregard and disrespect – and to claim superiority as a birthright over – the descendants of those innocents who were long ago seized and uprooted from their homelands and transported to a “new life” of slavery in a foreign land. The ending of slavery and the defeat of the Confederacy in the Civil War has not meant, for those who yearn for the old ways, an acceptance of a future of unity and equality but, rather, a dogged re-assertion of their own superiority and of the practice of repression.

    What is the new administration to do? To press on with reform and with creating a free and equal society is to risk driving the outliers further into their lagers and ghettoes, convincing them that their only way out is either violence or electing another Trump.

    But Biden has no option. He cannot allow his presidency to be derailed by compromising with his opponents and critics in a futile attempt to bring them back into the democratic fold. His choice is a stark one – he must choose either to build a new America, in which a new set of democratic values is accepted as the norm, or to subside into an old one. He must not allow himself to be held to ransom by those who would deny the very principles on which his election victory was based. It is the non-democrats who must move. Americans need to decide who they are.

    Bryan Gould
    22 January 2021

  • To Impeach Or Not?

    To impeach or not to impeach? I understand why some of those who are justifiably aghast at Trump’s behaviour over recent days might still counsel against impeaching him for a second time.

    To impeach him, they argue, would run the risk of making him a martyr in the eyes of his supporters and would divide the country still further. As to the latter argument, the country is surely already divided between those who would countenance and support the Trumpian version of fascism and those who are appalled by it. If such a division exists, why try to hide or bury it? It should be brought out into the open so that everyone can understand what is at stake.

    Nor should we overlook the powerful arguments in favour of impeachment. In the case of someone who has made a lifelong art form of avoiding the consequences of his actions, it is surely essential that he is made, in the case of his egregious betrayals of his office and of the people he is meant to serve, to face up to them now.

    The charge sheet could hardly, after all, be more serious. To take only the two most recent and appalling, there is first his attempted bullying and threatening of a senior public official to compel him to falsify an election count and to “find” thousands of votes for Trump that were never cast – it is hard to imagine a clearer instance of corruption and of damage to the electoral process.

    And secondly, there is his clear incitement of insurrection when he assembled his supporters and urged them, knowing that many had come armed for the purpose, to “march on the Capitol” and to “be strong” and “not weak”.

    It is surely incumbent on any self-respecting democracy to make clear its rejection of such criminal acts; to allow Trump to go uncensored and unpunished after such heinous behaviour would be to signal that American citizens cared little for their democracy. Impeachment would be seen as a formal and definitive condemnation by the people of Trump’s actions.

    There are other reasons, as well, for believing that impeachment would provide some chance of repairing the damage that has been caused. The process that impeachment requires would give Republican Senators, in particular, the chance to make their positions clear. Those who would rightly condemn him would be able to demonstrate that they had the courage to follow through on that conviction; this who were reluctant to break ranks would have to stand up and be counted.

    And for the Republican Party as a whole, it would provide the chance to break the stranglehold that Trump has had on them and allow for a return to a more normal two-party and democratic contest for popular support.

    But perhaps the clinching argument is that impeachment would mean that we had seen the last of Trump as a viable political actor. He would lose the various advantages and immunities normally enjoyed by a former President and he would be disqualified from again seeking public office.

    We could all then awake, as from a bad dream, and say goodbye to a disgraced President, quite literally, for “good”.

    Bryan Gould
    10 January 2021

  • Telling It Like It Is

    In a recent column I wrote for local newspapers, I ventured to suggest that Donald Trump – in addition to being a liar and a cheat, and sexist and racist – was a fascist in the making and would probably try, if he were to lose the election, to defy the democratic will of the people. The column was deemed to be too extreme by my editor who declined to publish it on the ground that it would offend some of his Trump-supporting readers who might write letters to him to complain. So much for a free and courageous press! Our failure to agree on the issue led to my no longer writing my column for his paper.

    Yet all the signs were there. Trump had, after all, prepared the ground by predicting – from weeks out – that the election would be rigged and by declining to undertake to respect the result if he lost. He has, since the election, done all he can to foment dissent and suspicion, and has constantly declared, without any evidence, that the result was dishonestly achieved. Such is his self-obsession that, for him, the only evidence required that a vote cast against him was illegitimate is that it was not cast for him. His fragile ego cannot bear, it seems, to see himself cast as a “loser”.

    In maintaining this fiction in the face of endless rebuffs in the courts, he has suborned not only the democratic process but also many of his Republican colleagues whose fear of being accused of disloyalty has led them to become parties to his conspiracy against the people. The willingness of his “base” to believe whatever he tells them has been encouraged by the support offered to his fantasies by those Republican leaders.

    We saw today the (quite literally) shocking outcome of this self-deception and cowardice on the part of American politicians and media. Who could believe what they were seeing as the bastion of American democracy was besieged and invaded by violent hordes of Trump supporters, intent on putting a stop to the democratic process by which Congress certifies the result of a presidential election. And – even more surprising – this violent invasion was carried out – not at the behest of some revolutionary would-be tyrant – but to serve the interests of, and egged on by, the President himself.

    How the USA’s opponents and critics must have laughed and sneered. How her friends and allies must have despaired. And how much we should regret the unwillingness of our own media to allow it to be told like it is; we might one day need those media to speak out in the face of challenges to our own democratic processes.

    Bryan Gould
    7 January 2021

  • How Did We Get to Here?

    As the negotiations drag on and a no-deal Brexit remains a possibility, anti-Brexit opinion (for example, in the Guardian) asks, how did we get to this? The answer required to the question is presumably meant to be – by voting mistakenly for Brexit.

    But there is an alternative – and more accurate – answer to that question. We got to this point by joining up in the first place to an arrangement that was always (because it was intended to) going to disadvantage the UK. We eventually arrived at Brexit, with or without a deal, because our experience of EU membership had been so disastrous.

    Our leaders had misled us grievously by promising a future of sunlit uplands. But the arrangement was always a Franco-German stitch-up – perhaps a payback for the differing roles played by us and them in World War Two. For the supposedly great economic benefit of opening up our market to German manufactured goods, we took on the privilege of funding a huge outdoor relief scheme for French agriculture – known as the Common Agricultural Policy.

    These burdens meant the decimation of British manufacturing, a permanent rise in food costs, a hefty annual subscription, the tearing up of our links with (largely Commonwealth) trading partners who had provided us with efficiently produced food and raw materials and privileged markets for our manufactures, the loss of exclusive rights to our fishing waters, and the cession of the powers of self-government to European institutions like the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the European Court of Justice.

    None of these outcomes mattered greatly to the Euro-fanatics; they were obsessed with the notion of joining a romantic concept called “Europe” (something that only the bien-pensants could understand), as if we had not from time immemorial been historically, geographically, economically, culturally and politically an integral part of Europe.

    As the hollowness of the promised benefits, and the reality of a Europe that was a hard-headed and self-serving economic arrangement and a nascent super-state became apparent, and the costs (including the influx of cheap labour from Eastern Europe) mounted, it is little wonder that the British people leapt at the chance to say “enough!” The sequence of events since the decision to opt out has surely done much to reveal the reality of the “Europe” we have abandoned.

    The romantic “Europe” cherished by anti-Brexiteers has certainly not been much in evidence. EU leaders have shown little interest in a constructive post-Brexit relationship, based on mutually beneficial trade and on functional inter-state cooperation wherever it makes sense.

    Rather, the EU priority, reflecting their own fears and insecurity, has been to make life as difficult as possible for us, in case other members might also decide to leave and conclude that it is a relatively easy option.

    So, the answer to the question as to why the journey we undertook should have ended up at this destination, is that it was misdirected in the first place – something Euro-fanatics still refuse to acknowledge.

    Bryan Gould
    19 December 2020

  • We Trusted Each Other

    As 2020 draws to a close, we can reflect that it will live long in history as the year when the health of the world, and of our nation, came under serious threat and we were all put to the test.

    We can also reflect that we, as a nation, overcame the threat pretty well, while many other parts of the world didn’t do so well.

    We should also recognise that the threat to our health was twofold; it was a threat to both our physical health as individuals – in the form of the death and illness delivered by the coronavirus; and also to our societal health – the challenge the pandemic represented to our capacity as a society to deal with it.

    The facts about our relative success in bringing the virus outbreak under control are well established. We were arguably more successful than any other comparable country in limiting the numbers of both individual cases and deaths, and in maintaining the capacity of our health services to operate effectively in treating the cases we did have.

    We can afford to celebrate that medical success – but it is our response as a society, and our willingness and ability to stick together and do what was necessary, that really stand out.

    As many overseas commentators have observed, both successes owed much to strong, clear and empathetic leadership, but we – as a people – can also claim some of the credit. In the end, both our leaders and we, the led, were united by a quality we all held in common – we trusted each other.

    Our leaders asked us to trust them, and we did, because they showed themselves to be worthy of our trust. They told it like it was, drawing on all the expert advice they could muster, and they explained exactly what we would have to do and why, and showed that they understood the impact of what they were asking of us – and we believed them and accepted that we would need to do it.

    They, in turn, trusted us to do it, and we did. And we all trusted each other to do it too. We all knew that the sacrifices we were making – in terms of restrictions on our freedom of movement, the losses of income and the blow to economic and career prospects, and the barriers to contact with our loved ones – were all worth it and that others were doing likewise; we were confident that there would be no – or very few – backsliders.

    Like other countries, we had our instances of those hoping to make political capital from the price we had to pay for defeating the virus. There were those – aping those of similarly extreme views from overseas – who declared that the virus was a hoax, that it was a conspiracy designed to deprive us all of our freedom, urging us to refuse to comply with the restrictions required of us.

    Fortunately, we kept clear heads and clear eyes, and sent the conspiracy theorists packing. We knew enough about the way our society operates and the values it represents to allow us to maintain our trust in each other.

    A crisis of the kind we have been through puts us to the test as to how far we are ready to act on the belief that we are at our best when we act together – that we are all better off when we act in the common interest.

    Sadly (for them, certainly), the American people seem to have failed that test. Many of the tribulations they have suffered are the consequence, not only of poor (not to say, worse than useless) leadership, but also of a societal disintegration.

    They seem to have been more concerned with differences between them than with working together. They have paid a heavy price for being unable to trust each other.

    We, on the other hand, I am glad to say, were able to demonstrate that we are in good health – not just in the medical sense, but also as a society. We are in good health and good heart, affirming all our long-held values, and all the stronger for it – ready to face whatever further challenges may be thrown at us.

    Bryan Gould
    5 December 2020