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Trump’s #Gettysburg Address and the #USElections

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Armenia remembers its genocide but struggles to keep up with the Kardashians

On 24 APRIL Armenia and its diaspora marked the centenary of the Turkish deportations and killings of 1915 which left an estimated 1.5 million dead. But as the nation looked to the past with a little help from its most famous celebrity ‘daughter’, Kim Kardashian, questions emerged for me about Armenia’s future aspirations.

On 10 April, two weeks before the official national day of remembrance, Armenia’s National Genocide Memorial was mobbed with people. It was overcast and drizzling with rain. The thousands of wreaths adorning the memorial, a concrete chunk of Soviet monumentalism which overlooks the capital Yerevan, usually rest silent and undisturbed. But on that day things were different because Armenian-American superstar Kim Kardashian, her sister Khloe, and rapper husband Kanye West, were in town accompanied by legions of police and photographers.

Before the Kardashian circus had pulled up, I was completely ignorant of its presence. I was getting irate from trying unsuccessfully to make my way into the museum adjoining the memorial, which was mysteriously closed. Unusually for Armenia, even my offer of a bribe wasn’t opening the doors. Something was up. It then became clear: two weeks prior to the official day of remembrance, the Kardashians were there to pay their respects.

Kim-and-Khloe-Kardashian

Armenia’s suffering overshadowed as Turkey pulled a fast one

Choosing one particular date on which to commemorate genocide is always tricky, particularly so in this case; Turkey none-too-subtly advanced its Gallipoli commemorations to 24 April in an attempt to divert the West’s gaze from its historical crimes in Armenia. So as global heads of state flew out to Turkey for the Gallipoli events [Putin and Sarkozy were the only big guns to show up in Yerevan] Turkey partially succeeded in eclipsing Armenia’s suffering with Gallipoli.

To explain, 24 April is significant because it was on that date in 1915 that the Young Turk government executed 20 leading Armenian intellectuals: a symbolic assault on the brains of Armenia which marked the start of a fresh assault on hundreds of thousands of Armenian bodies.

The official slogan of the Armenian state’s commemorations is ‘remember and demand’, the latter exhortation a reference to the ongoing struggle for recognition of the events of 1915 as genocide. And although some Armenians I spoke to detested Kim Kardashian, others thought that she had helped a great deal on this score.

“Kim Kardashian has done more than any political or religious leader to highlight the Armenian genocide” claimed one young Armenian man, a concert pianist, to whom I spoke. “By just coming here”, he told me, “she’s achieved more than any politician or even the Pope [who recently referred to the Armenian woes of 1915 as the ‘first genocide of the twentieth century’] to get our genocide recognised internationally”.

Armenia's national genocide memorial, Yerevan

Armenia’s national genocide memorial, Yerevan

Armenians remember

Armenians remember

Dispute over the mass killings of Armenians

So why the controversy about recognition? Turkish denial aside, there are those who dispute whether, to quote the 1948 UN definition of genocide, the Turkish acts of 1915 constitute “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”.

Several points about the genocide are important. The figure of 1.5 million deaths is an estimate: figures for mass killings are rarely neat. It was largely carried out in the course of forced ‘death marches’ rather than in death camps, although there were ‘deportation centres’ which functioned as sites of death. Starvation accounted for many of the deaths, although many were also shot, drowned or burned to death. An interesting footnote relates to German involvement: many German officers, commanding Turkish regiments at this point in the First World War, presided over the deathly deportations.

The divide between ‘Westerners’ and locals

I don’t know whether Kim Kardashian was fully aware of the ins and outs of the controversy when she did her bit at the Armenian Genocide Memorial two weeks ago. The whole thing had the vacuous shades of that staple of modern Irish culture – the returned Yank – about it. Think Grace Kelly visiting Ireland in the Sixties.

Kardashian, looking resplendent in a red jumpsuit, certainly seemed to add to the noticeable divide between ‘Westerners’ and locals in Yerevan that day. It was in no small part due to this conspicuous divide that I ended up, by chance, sitting at a hotel bar alongside some members of the American film crew covering Kim’s ‘homecoming’.
They told me that on the trip the Kardashians had also visited their ancestral northern hometown of Gyumri: a city destroyed by an earthquake in 1988 and with none of the gaudy and glitzy glamour of parts of downtown Yerevan.

Suffice to say, Kim didn’t stay long in Gyumri. The scheduled day-long trip was curtailed to an hour, they revealed. I later visited Gyumri and could see why. To describe it as a ‘dump’, as one member of the Kardashian entourage did to me, would be unkind but, regrettably, reasonably accurate.

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Armenia continues to suffer from wealth disparity and miserable poverty

The plight of the Kardashians’ ‘home town’ highlights the problems that Armenia faces in the wake of today’s centenary, after which the world will move on to the next historical commemoration. These include hostile neighbours in Azerbaijan and Turkey; lack of post-communist political evolution; and over-reliance on Russian troops, one of whom recently, in Gyumri , drunkenly massacred a local family of seven.

But most of all, Armenia suffers from wealth disparity and miserable poverty. In a country which has tended to look to its diaspora for financial support, there’s precious little evidence of ‘trickle down’. All of which, despite her recent ‘homecoming’, makes the super-rich Kim Kardashian a problematic standard bearer for modern Armenia.

Armenians may look with gratitude to the Kardashians for helping to make today’s genocide commemoration newsworthy but, in the wake of the circus, they still have precious little chance of keeping up with them.

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