We need to talk about Trump

Let’s start with some first principles: Trump is literally not my president. I didn’t have a vote in the election, as I’m not an American nor do I live there. And yes, I know exactly how it feels to have foreigners tell you what they don’t like about your country or your government.

And I try to avoid doing both, because lately the UK is no shining example of tolerance and love. Or even logic, due to the catastrophe that was the Brexit vote. ‘People in glass houses…’ and all that.

I also try to avoid overloading this blog with commentary on current affairs, as it can be quite divisive. I tend to keep that for debates on Twitter. Or over coffee, in person. So if you’re disinterested by this topic, feel free to skip to the next post.

That said…

That said, America appears to have appointed a narcissistic, unstable, petty, ego-driven, volatile and self-confessed sex-offender as president. I emphasise appointed as Trump lost the popular vote and the American electoral system still managed to get him into the White House.

And America may well have doe so in the past. Nixon was not dissimilar to Trump and I’m sure every president since has leaked their own preferences, biases and irrational needs all over the Oval Office. But, I think the difference is that they were surrounded by advisors and officials who could set them straight and ensure no damage was done to the office of the President by a temporary office-holder.

So let’s be clear: I don’t believe US Presidents are automatically examples of grit, determination, logic and wisdom as soon as they win the election. They’re human, just like you and me.

The difference here is we have an outlier on most aspects of human behaviour and attitudes in the White House, who has chosen to surround himself with similar outliers. Or extremists, if you will. People whose views on humanity, society and equality are as far to the right of any spectrum as you might find.

In the weeks leading up to the inauguration, I read a veritable chorus of commentary asking for us to ‘give Trump the benefit of the doubt’, telling us ‘the office will impact him’ and that we should ‘take him seriously, not literally’.

We’re just over a week into the Trump Presidency and I’m not going to keep quiet any longer. Yep, he’s not my president, but America is no normal country. Its decisions impact the rest of the world and as we can see, his executive orders thus far have done just that.

He has succeeded in offending and alienating his to closest neighbours with continued inflammatory talk of the ‘wall’ with Mexico and by instigating a ban on entry to the US by citizens (even green card holders and those with joint-nationality) from a selection of mainly Muslim countries. Except, of course, those where he has business interests.

You see? He is quite literally implementing the campaign slogans and it’s only a week into his term. Christ on a bike, what else is he going to do?

He has failed to share his tax returns or to formally divest himself of his vast and complex business affairs. He’s running the White House like a members’ club, giving jobs to friends and family, no more qualified to hold such important offices than you or I. And in some cases, probably less…

This is fascism in action.

Think about it. He’s pretty much mirroring what every nationalist dictator in history has done. He’s promised to rebuild the country, he’s blaming ‘others’ for the downfall of the country, he’s attacking the very system of government he’s supposed to be leading and he’s spreading lies and disinformation about allies and political foes alike. People don’t know what to believe and they’re afraid. He’s using his executive power to implement a nationalist agenda before our very eyes.

He and his administration announced their Muslim travel ban on Holocaust Memorial Day, while also refusing to specifically mention Jews in their press release. It’s like they’re waving their intolerance in our faces and laughing about it.

I’m scared.

I’m not worried that someone whose politics I disagree with is in a position of power. I’m worried that such an unstable and intolerant person has their hands on the levers of power, is busy making new enemies and has the military power to end life on earth.

And to all those American commentators who vilified me on Twitter with their talk of systemic ‘checks and balances’: where are you checks and balances now? Your system of government and electoral method has let you down, allowing a grotesquely in qualified man to take over your country and set it back at least a decade in just seven days.

Now let me tell you what this isn’t. This isn’t me issuing a blanket condemnation of all Americans, or even all the Americans who voted for Trump. Looking at Brexit, we can easily see why angry people use a vote to make a point, without a thought for the consequences.

I’ve been to the US enough times to know that it’s as varied in terms of people as anywhere else. It’s full of talented, thoughtful and broad-minded people. People who more frightened of this development that I could ever be. They’re out there right now, protesting at airports.

What I’m trying to say here is that this isn’t politics as normal. This is one of those times where people need to set aside political differences and stand up for what’s essentially right. Banning and abandoning people purely on the basis of their religion is not government-as-normal. It is fascism.

Our own unelected Prime Minister not only held Trump by the hand in public, she also invited him for a state visit to the UK later this year. This gives him legitimacy and is nothing more than a futile attempt to build some kind of relationship with Trump to offset the economic damage that will come with the kind of ‘hard Brexit’ May is pushing for. She’s emphasising trade and cooperation over human rights.

I’m embarrassed for the UK, especially as countries all around protested the travel ban openly. People need to know that this is not what the majority of people in the UK believe, no matter how appallingly the Prime Minister has behaved.

Remember also, that this is the woman who, when Home Secretary, had trucks drive around areas with suspected high number of illegal immigrants with a ‘Go Home’ message written on the side. And that after fawning over Trump, she flew straight to Turkey to sign an arms deal with a similarly unhinged nationalist clown.

trump-may

If Trump comes over here, I’ll be out there protesting his presence, his behaviour and his anti-human stance. The man is a charlatan, a bigot and unfit for office – any office. His past behaviour marks him out as singularly unfit to be President and no seal of office or plethora of officials or machine of government is going to change my mind on this.

He’s had his chance and he’s blown it.

Who’s with me? Who’s going to protest in London if/when he flies in?

2016 isn’t going quietly…

It really seems like 2016 is trying to push this world to the very edge before it takes its last gasp on 31st December.

The assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey live on TV was shocking and brutal. And won’t be without its consequences.

I tell you what else: scrolling through twitter, I didn’t expect to see the video clip of his death be shared so openly. It’s pretty dark stuff. Once again for the slow learners at the back of the room:

Just because you can share something online to millions of people, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you should. How about a little more thought and a little less macabre over-sharing. 

Still, you can always rely on the Daily Hate to get to the heart of the matter. The assassin was wearing a suit and tie! Imagine that!

Feeling conflicted about 2016

I haven’t written too much about the horrible, horrible events of 2016 on this blog. I sometimes wonder how useful it is to share angst online, if it’s not accompanied by action.

And one of my key observations about this year has been the tendency of people with whom I identify and like, to comment a lot, but do very little.

On the other hand, what’s the point of having an easily-accessible place to share my views if I limit it to pure geekery and pictures of food? And while it might result in readers abandoning the blog in droves, I think it’s more important to be honest – especially now.

I never started writing online to make others like me, after all.

Continue reading “Feeling conflicted about 2016”

What a mess

I watched coverage of the EU Referendum until 4am on Friday morning, sitting on my couch and blinking in disbelief. In the last few months, the campaign to leave the EU has been characterised by hatred, xenophobia and some outright lies about both the EU and what life outside of the EU would be like.

Despite the volume and frequency of the “Leave” campaign’s propaganda, I had hoped that common sense would prevail and the “Remain” vote would win – securing the UK’s place in the union.

It turns out that common sense was sorely lacking the day the UK went to vote on this enormous topic. The fact that “What is the EU?” was the second-most searched topic online a day later illustrates to me that people had no idea what they were doing. Continue reading “What a mess”

Don’t bring your bigotry with you

An appalling story reported by Attitude – refugees from the Middle East who have ended up in Amsterdam have been threatened and attacked… by other refugees.

Just because they’re gay.

After being spat on, threatened and attacked by others in their refugee centre, Dutch News reports five gay men – three from Syria, one from Iran and one from Iraq have been moved to a property owned by housing corporation Rochdale.

A spokesperson from the Salvation Army, which manages refugee accommodation across the Dutch capital, said the safety of the five men could not be guaranteed if they were to remain in their former lodgings.

This weekend sees another four refugees moved to separate housing in Rotterdam under the supervision of Safe Haven, an organisation that offers guidance to gay people with a multicultural background.

Back in October, two asylum seekers were relocated following issues at a refugee centre in the Zuidoost district.

From next year, gay refugees are to have their own wing in the Groenhof Refugee Centre in a former care home close to the city centre.

Having to separate refugees to continue to protect them from the bigotry they’re fleeing – even when they reach a ‘safe’ country – is terribly depressing. Obviously the people that attacked them feel it’s appropriate to bring their own special brand of hatred and intolerance with them. I’d argue it’s not.

I hope the Dutch authorities take this seriously. Housing gay refugees separately is a depressing step, but sounds necessary in the short-term.

What’s to stop the people who attacked them attacking non-refugee locals (no worse a crime) once they’re walking the streets? The Netherlands has taken them in – it’s time they acted like guests and not ambassadors for the hatred they feel entitled to act on.

This comes just over a week after the Telegraph reported new Dutch Government processes for the integration of refugees into Dutch society:

All non-EU newcomers to the Netherlands will now be forced to sign a declaration saying they will uphold Dutch values, or pay a fine of up to €1250 and have their residency revoked.
These values include upholding people’s freedoms, being a good neighbour and participating in society – for example, speaking Dutch. The measures are part of a harder line on immigration in the Netherlands, which Lodewijk Asscher, social affairs minister, described as the “warm heart and cool head” approach.
He wrote in a letter to Dutch MPs on Friday that the government was “committed to reducing the number of refugees” and acknowledged concerns about threats to jobs and houses, and about “which culture they bring along with them”.
How awful must it be to escape these countries, only to find yourself surrounded and attacked by the same kind of people who made your life a misery in the first place.

You can choose your friends…

A chilling piece in this morning’s Guardian: Saudi authorities have sentenced a man to death for renouncing Islam.

A Palestinian poet and leading member of Saudi Arabia’s nascent contemporary art scene has been sentenced to death for renouncing Islam.

A Saudi court on Tuesday ordered the execution of Ashraf Fayadh, who has curated art shows in Jeddah and at the Venice Biennale. The poet, who said he did not have legal representation, was given 30 days to appeal against the ruling.

Fayadh, 35, a key member of the British-Saudi art organisation Edge of Arabia, was originally sentenced to four years in prison and 800 lashes by the general court in Abha, a city in the south-west of the ultraconservative kingdom, in May 2014.

But after his appeal was dismissed he was retried last month and a new panel of judges ruled that his repentance did not prevent his execution.

Saudi Arabia, with its seat on the UN Human Rights Council, is going to kill this man because of his beliefs. Not because he’s been spreading hate, killing innocents on the streets of Paris or any other form or terrorism. Because his art and beliefs seem to offend someone, somewhere.

This is supposed to be the West’s ally in the Middle East. An autocratic, theocratic, violent and murderous regime, exporting hatred and division. The cesspit of Middle Eastern politics seems to rely on the (mistaken) belief that “the enemy of my enemy” can be trusted. That wasn’t the case with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and it doesn’t apply to the House of Saud.

A government with a moral compass wouldn’t kow-tow to these despots, never mind strike a deal to get them a place on an influential UN body on human rights. Rights that the Saudi regime  seems obsessed with removing from its own citizens at any cost. Because they are frightened by art, poetry, women and reason.

Paris

I flew back home to London from Barcelona last night, landing just as news was breaking of the attacks in Paris.

Cue a journey home on the train and tube updating Twitter and the BBC news app for more details.

Unbelievable. Heart-breaking.

I watched the people around me doing the same, whispering about updates to the death-count and trying to make sense of it all. And then home and lying awake until 2am, watching news reporters and various ‘talking heads’ trying to make sense of it all.

And that’s futile. Trying to find sense in madness like this is a waste of time. The people who did this don’t share our values, our perspectives our the value we place on human life and a free and open society. So it’s exceptionally difficult to understand their point of view.

They didn’t attack a government department, a military installation or a physical symbol of the French State. They attacked the essence of society itself: innocent people out enjoying themselves on a Friday night. Doing things that obviously offend these monsters, like listening to live music and enjoying sport.

Why does this hit so hard, when there are all kinds of other abuses and attacks going on around the world? For me, it’s because this could have been London. I can identify with the victims – they were just like me, like my friends and family. Just trying to enjoy the start of another weekend, eating a meal, telling stories and listening to music.

We don’t know (yet) exactly who did this. But we know that, just like all terrorists, this was about causing fear and spreading hatred.

Let’s not allow that to happen.

Let’s not finger-point and blame entire communities for what happened here. Let’s not blame refugees, who were trying to escape this kind of madness in the first place. Let’s not use it as an excuse to make political points or to ‘prove’ that we were right all along.

Last night, Twitter illustrated both the best and worst of humanity on a single screen. The offers of a safe place to sleep, the sharing of embassy contact details. But also the ‘whataboutery’, the ‘I told you so’ statements and the celebrities weighing in with platitudes. The best and worst in a single Twitter feed.

Let’s hope the former prevail in the weeks and months ahead.

Election time…

So the election is tomorrow. In case you haven’t heard. To be fair to the political parties and the media, they’ve kept it under wraps so far…so don’t feel too bad if this is the first you’ve read about it.

I reached maximum election news saturation last week, when news of a “Royal Baby” represented a welcome relief from the daily mud-slinging and childish abuse the politicians were aiming at each other.

I’m not running for election and I doubt I ever will. But I can still comment from the sidelines and I think that this election has flagged up just how out of touch most of these people are with everyday life in the UK. The debate focused on such a narrow range of issues, mostly using sound bites about “working families” and “economic recovery”, while ignoring the state of the world outside.

And no, people shouting “war criminal!” at Gordon Brown doesn’t constitute a debate about the Middle East. And again, no, nothing UKIP had to contribute to the national debate counts either, due to their overwhelmingly racist and xenophobic tone.

Plus the fact they seem to have attracted the largest group of dysfunctional candidates since…ever? But they’re not a distraction. All they’ve served to do is lower the tone of the debate. And that’s why I think the female party leaders shone in the debate they attended (sans Cameron because…reasons). They struck me – and I know I’m not alone – as down to earth, grounded, sensible and frankly human.

I’m bored with government parties making promises they could have fulfilled during the last five years. And slightly sick at the sight of them tearing into each other now.

I really, really don’t know how tomorrow is going to turn out. I hope voting turnout is high. I hope the media don’t focus on the oddballs and the psychopaths. I hope it’s at least Sunday before someone mentions the phrase “Constitutional Crisis” (but I fear that ship has already sailed).

I really, really hope Nigel Farage doesn’t get elected. In fact, I’d like to see UKIP implode.

I hope the Tories responsible for slashing social care and dismantling the NHS get the drubbing they deserve. I hope their ardent fans in the Lib Dems get it in the neck too.

I hope that Cameron isn’t taken hostage by his own right-wingers and goes into some horrific shotgun-marriage arrangement with UKIP, the DUP and any other right-wing loonies that get in. That will only lead to a more reactionary and ideological government, increased focus on our differences and what divides us and increased paranoia.

I’d like to see Greens, SNP and Labour do well (and Plaid Cymru!) as their messages on social policy and fairness resonated with me. And one thing Westminster needs now is fewer people thinking about how government policy will upset bankers. It needs less shouting, more women and more people who actually care about the impact of their legislation on people in the real world.

My overall hope is for a coalition of progressive parties to work together. Labour, Plaid, SNP, SDLP… they could get some things done. Yes, Ed will have to spin his way out of his promise to avoid a coalition with the SNP. And Nicola will have to negotiate and step back from some of her demands. Because that it what coalition is all about.

So yes, go out and vote. Don’t waste it, even if you’ve given up all hope of change. Cherish the fact that you can actually vote, unlike in many of the countries which are run by dictators, theocracies or a combination of the two.

And if you don’t vote, don’t complain about the result. You had your chance.