Donald Trump’s Gettysburg Address
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is a fairly bleak place; next to the tiny town are flat fields dotted with the occasional memorial and ambling tourist group stretching as far as the eye can see. But there are few places more emotionally moving for Americans than Gettysburg. It was here that the bloodiest battle of the American civil war took place, in 1863; here where President Abraham Lincoln sought to heal a divided nation with his famous ‘Gettysburg Address’.
And it was here, at the weekend, that Donald Trump delivered the landmark speech of his campaign. Trump has previously praised ‘Honest Abe’, contrasting the great Lincoln with his opponent in the presidential race, ‘Crooked Hilary’. The choice of Gettysburg was therefore telling. Trump is trying to present himself as the Lincoln of today, a fighter who will unite a nation at odds with itself, an outspoken champion of the many Americans who feel cheated by the political establishment and its commitment to pluralism.
Trump’s is a populist message in keeping with the resurgence of right-wing populism worldwide. He pits himself against the elite and his campaign calendar reflects this. A glance at the schedule of Trump and running mate Mike Pence reveals a very different agenda to that of Hilary Clinton, whose rallies are peppered with celebrity advocates like Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Bon Jovi and Jennifer Lopez.
Trump’s theme of The People versus the corrupt elite was underscored most powerfully in his address to the charity Al Smith dinner last week. A traditionally jocular formal dinner where leading politicians indulge in self-deprecating humour, The Donald just about managed some self-deprecation (not his forte) before launching into gags at Clinton’s expense. His insistence that Hilary Clinton is corrupt drew boos and jeers from the tuxedoed notables in attendance but praise from his supporters, who relished this ‘roasting’ of the establishment.
Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was only two minutes and 272 words long. Trump’s was much longer because it finally detailed policy: something which the Republican nominee has been previously criticised for not doing. For example, we learned that a Trump Presidency would see Mexican illegal immigrants given one chance after first being detained at the border; a second attempt to enter would result in mandatory two-year prison sentence, and those caught three times would get five years.
Emotion versus Policy
But, when they vote, do people care about such details? Do we vote with our heads or our hearts?
While some were outraged at the choice of venue, Trump’s Gettysburg speech drew quite a few plaudits for its combination of the emotive promise of fixing a broken country with concrete policies.
And yet, still, Trump is hamstrung by voters’ emotional responses to him. While some see him as a saviour, key demographic groups are revolted by him.
By way of illustration, American politics can be dirty. Television here is full of adverts commissioned by local candidates, both republican and democrat, seeking to dish dirt on their rivals. Most take the form of the exposé, with grave music and dark tones informing viewers that Congressman So-and-So is corrupt.
But among these muck-raking efforts, one stands out. It’s commissioned by the Hilary Clinton campaign and starts with a voiceover stating ‘autistic kids often flap their hands a lot’. It then switches to a mother, Jennifer Kohn, talking about her autistic son. Subtitles tell us she is a republican, yet in a heartfelt message she explains why she can’t vote for Donald Trump. Then we’re back to that infamous Trump rally in November 2015 at which the republican candidate mocked a New York Times reporter with a disability by flapping his hands wildly and slurring his speech. It finishes with the mother explaining that she’s voting democrat for the first time because ‘I can’t let my child grow up in Trumpworld’. It’s an advert that tugs the heartstrings, and it works.
The latest polls put Clinton comfortably ahead of her rival. Women voters, especially, are resolutely anti-Trump. This speaks to the fact that mere mention of ‘Trumpworld’, for many, conjures up images as horrific as Hieronymus Bosch’s depictions of Hell. Trump has been damaged more than his campaign expected by allegations of sexual assault against him. He responded at Gettysburg by saying he will sue every woman who has come forward to accuse him of molestation (eleven so far and counting): hardly a pledge befitting the place or the occasion itself.
Nobody likes a Bully
These are testing times in Trumpworld. Chiefly because the ruler of Trumpworld, Donald J. Trump, can’t stop acting like a child himself. This was made clear yet again at the third and final presidential debate last week. After a rather dignified start, Trump began snapping at his opponent like the proverbial petulant schoolkid, taunting back ‘you’re the puppet’ at Clinton after she accused him of cosying up to Vladimir Putin. He repeatedly rolled his eyes, interrupted and – most damagingly – muttered into the microphone that Hilary Clinton was ‘such a nasty woman’.
He also resorted to emotional language of his own, claiming federal laws on abortion allow doctors to ‘rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month’. But while Trump’s bid for Catholic votes seeks to represent Clinton as pro-abortion, many Catholics support Hilary because of her social justice agenda. In a further example of colourful language, Trump pledged that ‘bad hombres’ would be deported under him: language which will please his core constituency but endear him little to Hispanic voters. While Trump scored some successes on foreign policy, Clinton came out of the debate appearing more knowledgeable and substantial on policy, hence Trump’s elaboration on policy days later at Gettysburg.
Prior to the debate, many people were saying that Trump needed something of a miracle performance if he was to reverse Clinton’s poll lead. Instead, the headline was Trump’s continued refusal to say he’ll respect the outcome of the election on 8 November. Once again, he came across as something of a petulant, bullying schoolkid.
It’s a shame that Trump can’t help playing the school bully, because for all his faults he has succeeded in putting the wind up the American political establishment, both republican and democrat.
Even in the bluest [democrat-voting] areas I’ve visited, people talk with disdain about Hilary Clinton. In one of the most stinging moments of last week’s debate Trump called the Clinton Foundation a ‘criminal enterprise’, citing a $25,000 donation from a Brazilian bank and her dealings with a Saudi Arabian regime which – to quote Trump – ‘pushes gays off buildings’. He claimed she was hypocritical to talk about women’s rights while supporting the Saudis and told her to ‘give back the money’.
For all his bluster, Trump is right to hold Clinton to account on potential conflicts of interest surrounding her Foundation’s links to big business and foreign states. We now know that among the multi-million dollar donors to the Clinton Foundation who used Clinton-connected lobbyists at the US State Department were corporate giants Microsoft, Pfizer, Exxon Mobil and even Mexican TV network Azteca.
The problem is, these points are being made by Donald Trump.
And nobody likes a bully.
Each Wednesday lunchtime until US Election Day (8 November) I’ll be providing updates on the Presidential campaign for Liverpool’s Radio City Talk -105.9 FM- and on this blog
Meet Mike. A stocky US Military veteran aged 62, he has a neck as thick as it is sun-reddened. He loves his right to bear arms and he hates anything that resembles socialism, including wider health coverage under America’s Affordable Care Act 2010 (often dubbed ‘ObamaCare’). Mike is a private security guard in Wilmington, DE, and has voted for the Republican Party all his adult life. Until this election, that is. This time around, he tells me, his distrust for his party’s presidential candidate Donald Trump means he’ll be abstaining.
And yet he seems to match the stereotype of Trump supporter perfectly. So why, I ask him, won’t he vote accordingly? “Because I love my country” he replies. Mike explains further. He is worried that Trump’s anti-establishment rhetoric risks him becoming a stooge for Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Although he agrees with much of what the property-mogul-turned-politician says, when it comes to national security and foreign policy he feels that Trump is simply too unpredictable.
The ‘Rigged Election’
Mike’s distrust of Trump has found reflection in the most recent polls. The latest, from the state of Utah – solidly conservative, solidly Republican, predominately Mormon – indicates that Trump only has a 1% lead over independent conservative candidate Evan McMullen.
Trump has responded to this, and similar, indications by suggesting that the election race is not only being ‘rigged’ in his opponent Hilary Clinton’s favour by the mainstream media, but that such bias will operate at polling booths as well.
It’s an extraordinary claim, but one which speaks to the fact that this US Presidential race is unusually hostile.
On this score, it’s important to point out that not all the blame lies with the shrill Trump campaign. The USA does not have a moderate, supposedly ‘neutral’ media giant like the BBC to oversee things. Instead, the battle between broadcast giants ABC (traditionally Democrat) and Fox (traditionally Republican) has become as heated as some of the exchanges between Trump and Clinton.
And then there’s the menacing actions up and down the country which point to a wider resort to direct action. Two days ago, in Virginia, a Trump supporter stood outside the office of local Democrat candidate Jane Dittmar for 12 hours with his firearm exposed. However, as the recent fire-bombing of a Republican constituency office in North Carolina shows, resort to such behaviour is not the exclusive preserve of one camp.
Desperation and Democracy
What many observers worry about is that the growing sense of desperation around the Trump campaign, as he continues to struggle in the polls, will incite angry white men with guns to challenge the result of the election on 8 November.
Trump appeals to a strong libertarian streak within American culture – the corrupt federal government wants to tax us more, they want to take our guns. He also appeals to working class people who feel that it is too easy for African Americans to get ahead by playing the ‘race card’ and are tired of what they see as a decade of liberal political correctness that does not operate in their interests.
But those concerns are nothing new; where this election differs is the radical unpredictability of Trump, something that has alienated the Republican Party establishment and even rank-and-filers like Mike.
You know this is a different type of campaign when another Mike (Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate) assures people that their campaign will respect the election result only for Trump to undermine him a few hours later by claiming the election will be rigged not just by the media but at polling booths.
Trump’s resort to ‘Wikileaks’-inspired ruminations, often via Twitter, has led to an explosion in the humorous hashtag ‘Things Trump Claims are Rigged’ – with wits suggesting other spurious alternatives such as ‘door locks that are meant to prevent him walking in on undressed teenagers’, ‘the science that supports climate change’ and ‘his own multiple bankruptcies’.
It’s easy to lampoon Trump, but the media circus around him is not just due to his policies or his indiscretions, it’s because he is a genuinely good performer. I’ve met plenty of black American voters, for example, who admit to liking him as a TV personality. By contrast the majority of Democrats I’ve spoken to – even in staunchly liberal eastern states like New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Connecticut – don’t like Hilary Clinton, viewing her as a merely the ‘least worst’ candidate. The Clinton team have certainly done their homework in the last few weeks in exposing Donald Trump’s past, but remain hamstrung not by their own candidate. It’s not just Hilary’s lack of ‘charisma’ that’s problematic but her knack, like her opponent, of offending huge swathes of the electorate; her past remark that she could easily have forsaken politics for a life of domesticity, seen as an insult to American housewives, is now regularly dragged up, as is her ‘basket of deplorables’ comment: now a badge of honour for Trump supporters.
But there’s a greater danger here in Trump’s rhetoric. Firstly, as many have suggested, it calls into question whether his supporters will respect the democratic result and the peaceful transfer of power. But remember, too, that Americans are going to the polls on 8 November not just to elect a president but to elect members of the House of Representatives and a host of local and state officials such as mayors. Rumours of ‘rigged polls’ tarnish democracy more widely.
Secondly, and much more likely than an armed Trumpist insurrection following his defeat, is a prolonged legal battle instigated by his campaign which will stall the swearing-in of the new President. Talk of ‘rigged polls’ seems a harbinger of this. And, again, the result of such a long process may be that people’s faith in democracy suffers.
We Can’t Rely on Polls
Ultimately, the outcome of this memorable US election will, as per usual, come down to swing states – most notably Florida (remember George Bush winning here in 2000?) and Ohio. And all the indications are that it’s not looking good for Mr Trump.
So with much of his party against him and even died-in-the-wool Republican voters worried about where he might take the country, it would appear that all Hilary Clinton has to do in the next TV election debate (9pm Wednesday ET / 2am Thursday GMT) is calmly rebuff Trump’s wilder accusations while coming across as the steadying hand.
If only it were that simple. If a week is a long time in politics, there are still three to go. If the polls are to be trusted, it should be in the bag for Hilary. But, as the results of the recent referendums on ‘Brexit’ and the Colombian peace process have shown, pollsters sometimes get it very wrong indeed.
Peru’s new president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski seems universally popular. This Sunday in Arequipa, Peru’s second city, demonstrations accompanied the celebration of the city’s foundation by Spanish conquistadors 476 years ago. Miners in green and red hard hats clashed with riot police, the metal of the police guns flashing bright in the relentless afternoon sun. The melee dispersed, however, when Kuscynski, visiting the city for the anniversary, appeared on a balcony in the main square, waving to the throngs below. In a smart suit and light blue tie he looked every inch the Wall Street banker – for that was his profession – his appearance met with supportive cheers from the crowd below, including the grubby ranks of the striking miners.
This is Kuscynski’s honeymoon period. PPK, as the slogans daubed on city walls refer to him, won the narrowest of majorities against the populist female politician Keiko Fujimori in last month’s general election. Kuczynski was the candidate whom Peru’s liberals and leftists congregated behind in a last gasp effort to prevent Fujimori, daughter of disgraced former president Alberto Fujimori, from gaining power.
Many feared a return to the rather toxic mixture of neoliberalism, authoritarianism and corruption of Fujimori senior if Fujimori junior triumphed. But PPK is a limited leftie and the victory of this fInance capitalist represents another nail in the coffin of the Latin American left wing, of whom Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez was the standard bearer, a political phenomenon which now seems to be receding after a decade plus of populist left wingers taking power across the continent. It remains to be seen how PPK’s term will play out and what directions he’ll take on important issues considering his power is compromised by a hostile congress. But he’s certainly more popular then his predecessor Ollanta Humala, a military man whom everyone derided, and still derides, because, so people say, his wife wears the trousers.
Kuczynski, a cool grandpa who looks good despite his 78 years, goes out of his way to prove he’s still with it. He and his ministers do physical exercises in public before each Monday cabinet meeting. One of the most striking things about his ministry so far has been its liberal bent. This weekend Arequipa was also brought to a standstill by a parade of women activists, part of a nationwide and continent-wide campaign against domestic violence dubbed ‘not one more’ (death to male on female aggression). The campaign has won the backing of Ana Maria Romero, PPK’s minister for women, who challenged remarks made by the country’s most senior Catholic cleric, Cardinal Juan Luis Ciprani, archbishop of Lima, who tacitly blamed women for such attacks by dressing as if in a “shop window”.
This is an interesting clash because it pits state against church. If that is one of the courses PPK is to take, however, it will inevitably mean collision. And that, in a country traditionally marked by political populism, and for a man with the slightest of majorities, is a dangerous game.
Roderigo squints uncomprehending at the adults standing around him. Fifteen years old, but he looks about eleven thanks to malnourishment and only the wisps of pubescent lip hair suggest his age. His long thin nose supports red glasses with thick lenses. He shifts nervously from one foot to another and fiddles with the strap on his battered little green bag.
The school psychologist has asked Roderigo to take us to his house. And so we walk, our little group, a good twenty minutes through dust that brings a hacking cough, accompanied by flea-bitten local dogs. We finally come to a corrugated iron door and Roderigo shyly announces it’s his house. He seems embarrassed. The school psychologist, an assertive young woman in smart jacket and hat named Tarin, opens the door, noting that there’s no lock on it. Princesa, Roderigo’s mangy little dog, his faithful friend in a tough world, snarls and sniffs indignantly at the visitors. For Roderigo, who has learning difficulties, trusty Princesa is his pal – a familiar sight providing a little succour at home, his home, his little space now rudely invaded.
The unmistakable stench of piss and shit announces the flimsy outdoor toilet at the bottom of the dusty plot. The psychologist presses the reluctant Roderigo to open a black metal door and he eventually obliges by pulling a useless piece of string connecting door handle and door frame, revealing a miserable hovel of a kitchen, blackened from cooking, warm and dark and windowless. The adjoining room is the bedroom. A small bed, untidy, unmade, dominates this tiny space. It’s filthy, with an assortment of old sacks, clothes and other household items massed in one corner and the bed in the other. You couldn’t swing a cat here, but in this room and in this single bed sleep Roderigo, his fourteen year old brother, and their mother. Three people in a bed big enough for one. And these two rooms – kitchen and bed – are the extent of the place.
Mama is a cleaner, away and always working; the father is long gone, the elder sister (21) has moved out and has kids of her own, seldom finding the time or the desire to return home. Roderigo’s family are amongst the poorest in Arequipa and, hidden away in the sprawling shanty towns out past the city airport and in the foothills of a volcano, they reside, dirty and squalid, invisible to white tourists only acquainted with the white city of Spanish splendour. Seeing the Virgin mother on the wall and a solitary chicken clucking it’s way around the tiny yard, I can’t help thinking of the peasant hovels of the Famine Irish.
And who helps Roderigo, his mother, and brother? The church. Through helping his mother to provide him with a school uniform and a bag, thus giving them a scintilla of dignity, or hope, or just somewhere which provides a meal every day. And through raising money to buy them another bed and a table and a stove and a couple of chairs.
The assorted saints, their bright multicoloured pictures cased in flaky plastic coverings, adorn the inner walls of Roderigo’s miserable house. They, and the local school run by the church, provide hope. At the risk of sounding hackneyed, this is a powerful emotion indeed for the very poor.
More importantly, it is the sort of emotion which very few politicians – even the seemingly universally popular PPK – can hope to elicit.
When historians come to write the history of Britain’s historic EU exit they will struggle to convey the mood of despondency that has taken over the country.
I felt this the minute I stepped off a plane from New York in Manchester on Monday morning. It is tangible. There is a mood of anxiety, disquiet, and anger but most of all there is a feeling of dejection.
Brexit has thrown the UK into constitutional turmoil. Tension is rising and there are fears of further violent confrontations on the streets. Racism and xenophobia are undoubtedly on the rise. Little England has won but with Nigel Farage in Brussels and the leadership of the Tory party uncertain even the Little Englanders seem to lack a figurehead and are instead turning on immigrant communities.
While there is tension, though, there’s this overwhelming listlessness.
This stems from the fact that politically we are left with a real mess. David Cameron, who has foolishly thrown away his prime ministership by calling this utterly unnecessary referendum, is redundant. His party are tearing themselves apart. As I write this, the Labour opposition is in disarray too with Jeremy Corbyn losing a no-confidence motion by 172 to 40 votes. Meanwhile the economy is at risk and people are seeking answers about what happens next.
In time of uncertainty leadership is needed
Whatever the rights and wrongs of Brexit, it’s happened now. But it’s the mood of dejection and the sense of rudderlessness which is now the big problem. Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, has rightly condemned the leadership vacuum in Westminster. In this mood of dejection, political leadership is badly needed.
And this ties into the bigger constitutional questions now being raised by the Brexit vote.
The overwhelming point, constitutionally, is that we have no effective head of state who can provide a voice of leadership at times of crisis. We need a leader elected by the people, of the people, who can provide stability and reassurance in this time of confusion and anxiety.
Where is our President to guide us through this?
Instead of a President, elected by popular vote, who can appear across the media to appeal for calm and to reassure the populace, have Elizabeth Windsor.
The Queen is supposed to be ‘above politics’. Since the Scottish referendum, as she hits 90, she has increasingly let the mask slip on the nonsensical notion of her being above politics, with reports of her remarks on sensitive issues leaked by the press. And when it comes down to it, of course she’s not above politics – the very idea that the Queen, in her weekly meeting with the PM, discusses the racing form or the weather is a joke.
But the problem is this: she must be seen to be above it all, effectively gagged from intervening.
This is just one of the paradoxes about a hereditary head of state – because she is unelected and because of the history books displaying what can happen to an overly political monarch, the Queen must keep her mouth shut on political issues.
But at the same time, she is supposed to be a unifying force. The head of state should be the first to step forward at a time of crisis like this – to smooth the unease, to provide political leadership that is not partisan but in the interests of the people. To be a force for stability and reassurance in testing times.
No Constitutional Clarity
We have none of this.
The British people currently have no clear leadership and no clarity about how the constitution should now work. We need a written constitution that is clear and we need a head of state who can provide national leadership during times of great uncertainty like this.
The far-reaching consequences of Brexit may deliver changes I would welcome – an independent Scotland, a united Ireland. But in the interim we need a head of state with leadership, political nous and clarity providing calm.
This speaks to the fact that in the constitutional shake-up provided by Brexit we now need real change that puts real power in the hands of the people and which provides the means to weather political storms.
The Queen and the Windsor family are both unable and unwilling to offer leadership during a time of unprecedented turmoil. Instead of a monarch motivated to protect her own position we need an accountable head of state who can speak to the nation and help guide us through the turmoil.
If Brexit delivers one positive thing in the long-term, let’s hope it might be this.