The Trump Administration – a Classic Case of Bait-and-Switch

Trump, given his personality, has surrounded himself for decades with sycophants who have fawned on his statements, however outrageous, however much they may twirl their fingers at their temples behind his back. Decades of talking nonsense is a hard habit to break, but how important is it that he continues to do so with the world hanging on his every word?

It seems Trump has been given his ‘toys’ to play with – Mexicans and the media. Not good for Mexicans undeniably, (though perhaps good for the media which now must return to investigative reporting rather than relying on briefs), but there it is. He’s got to have something to take his sledgehammer to while his supporters cheer him on, and why not Mexicans? The Republican party doesn’t worry too much about Mexicans, they’re hardly their natural constituency. Mexico itself is a different question, but they can stop things going too far.

Trump’s own appointees differ from him before they even get behind their desks in order to get through a vetting process run too rationally for them to acknowledge the President’s own statements as the ‘party line’. Increasingly, those reliant upon the official word on policy are ignoring what Trump says and turning to his aides as they go around smoothing any feathers he’s ruffled, particularly in the international arena. (The EU and NATO pretty much ignored the mouthings of the Commander in Chief and waited for assurances from the recent visit by the administration’s supposed lackeys, now essentially its leaders, which they duly received).

Trump has been reduced to a sideshow in his own Presidency. He doesn’t even seem to mind it happening. It can’t be he’s not noticed.

It seems to be a classic ‘bait-and-switch’. Trump’s anti-establishment rhetoric is not reflected in the appointments he’s made. Behind Trump’s clown’s mask – what happened last night in Sweden, whether it rained on his parade, the lying MSM and, of course, the crowd-pleasing Mexican Dance – the Republicans have been given carte blanche on an establishment ticket. Sure, that’s a lot less damaging than what would happen were Trump to really go with the agenda he promised in many areas but, in others that may have been more progressive, Trump has doubled-back on himself. He, along with the Republican establishment and their friends, are making hay while the sun shines behind the circus tent. Much as Trump may hate to be contradicted in his role as President, he clearly realises that the Republican establishment is working hard to benefit him in his role of Commander in Chief of Trump Enterprises.

Trump’s supporters have yet to notice the absence of bread for the thrill of the circus, but the distraction can’t last forever. Sooner or later the basic, undeniable facts of dodgy dealings with China, with Russia, of the tightening grip of the financial industries on the nation’s wealth, of no jam today becoming no jam tomorrow will register. Donald Trump, the friend of Big Pharma, oil magnates and Goldman Sachs will be seen for what he is, but not before he’s enriched himself considerably and a great deal of damage has been done.

Welcome to the biggest con job in history.

Only a year ago, so many of us had so much hope for a bloke called Bernie now lost in the furore. The Democrats are now busy reformulating themselves. Here’s hoping they’ve learned their lesson and they rediscover Sanders, not Clinton, to ask how best to move forward.

The Politics of Individualism

The right has a tendency to espouse individualism. However, while claiming the ground for themselves they discuss it largely in terms of making money and keeping as much of it as possible, something which of course is very limited in its reach and only of great importance to a privileged few.

When it comes to individuals in many another aspect of their lives, their arguments tend towards social engineering. The creation of a homogenous group of people who look the same, think the same, believe the same, act the same.

In other words, the right tends towards economic freedom and social controls, while the left tends towards economic control and social freedoms.

The legislature exists to maintain social standards insofar as people should not kill, steal, or in other ways transgress upon the rights and freedoms of other individuals in society. Beyond actions that do so transgress, I am not up for the idea of ‘community standards’ given these tend to mitigate against individualism and cultural diversity within a community.

I relish that diversity, both as an observer and as a contributor to it. But even if I didn’t, I wouldn’t feel that it would be right to enter into excessive forms of social engineering in order to try and bring about some idealised world suited to my own personal tastes for its comforting predictability.

A perfect example in my own life is my take on homosexuality. Two guys at it revolts me. End of. (Two women is another story, but let it pass). I’ve stated that fact openly to gay friends to their understandable chagrin, but they can miss the point along with those who would see their activities curtailed. Tolerance isn’t about “I like it.” That wouldn’t be tolerance, it would be choice. If I liked it, I’d be gay myself. Tolerance is about the fact that we live in a diverse world of diverse individuals with their own forms of self-expression, their own tastes, proclivities, cultural backgrounds, personal histories etc. If I want to live my life in accordance with the person I am, then providing I don’t hurt others in doing so I should be allowed to do it. I happen to detest beetroot. However, I do not want to live in a world in which others are banned from eating it. Neither do I want to live in a world in which eating it is made compulsory through legislation designed to inflict upon the entire population some sort of community standard.

I want minorities to have their rights because, in the end, we are all of us a minority of one. In expressing myself I don’t want to tread on anyone else’s toes, and I sure as hell don’t want anyone else treading on mine. If I am going to censure people on the grounds of my own personal tendencies, then I should accept the censure of others. Forget it. It ain’t gonna happen.

So, community standards be damned. My community standard is that of the individualist. I promise to stay the hell out of your face. In return, you can stay the hell out of mine.

British Party Politics Destined for Shake-Up?

I lay no claim to a crystal ball, but a number of scenarios are possible in the wake of the Brexit referendum which may lead to a shake-up of the political parties.

First, the Conservatives. The ‘eating one’s cake and having it’ option promised by the likes of Johnson in the campaign for Brexit is not an option. The Conservative party seems likely to divide over whether the European free-trade area is to be sacrificed for the sake of immigration control, or immigration is to be the price of remaining in the area. The clear divide here is between Brexit and Brin, but it seems likely that the Brexit camp within the Tory party will itself divide as some go for the less hardcore option and move away from “Stop Immigration Uber Alles.” With the leadership likely to be contended between May and Leadsom when the choice is given to the Tory party membership, May seems more likely to edge it. Leadsom, though more popular with Tory party grass roots members than with the Parliamentary Conservative Party, has already shot herself in the foot twice when it comes to honesty, first in supporting Brexit which appears to go against previous assertions, and now with a dodgy CV. Though May has come out as the most hardcore yet on immigration – no guarantees for EU immigrants already in the country, something even Johnson has said should be guaranteed – that may be no more than her keeping her cards close to her chest. She was, after all, a quiet Brin supporter. Whoever takes the leadership, however, a divide is certain.

Labour is in still greater disarray. Some of the Parliamentary Labour Party are already talking about jumping ship and joining the Conservative party if Corbyn remains as leader. The Labour party office is so concerned it is currently looking at who has effective copyright on the ‘Labour’ brand, only to find no one appears to do so. The very fact they are looking suggests they anticipate a schism the party may not survive intact, though I believe it will… the only question being what it will look like. And if Corbyn goes? That takes us to a much-neglected sector of the British political system in all the punditry.


The electorate is clearly dissatisfied in large numbers. The British people have more to be concerned about than many nations, across Europe and all the way out to the USA, which have had new parties springing up on the tide of populism with people seeking systemic overhaul. Dissatisfaction with establishment politics in the UK has been underlined by the Brexit vote and the number of people who went for ‘out’ as a purely anti-establishment vote. 2015 likewise played host to a general election that may be characterised as the election of the protest vote. With Corbyn as leader of the Labour party, those who feel disenfranchised have a home. The trouble is that has in turn alienated a generation of individuals who quite like a Tory Light party, in particular those members of the PLP selected in the first place precisely on the basis. In other words, there is an increasingly large percentage of the electorate feeling increasingly alienated from any Tory brand, lite or otherwise, who may have been the basis for a new populist movement mirroring those elsewhere, but who got sucked back into Labour as a viable alternative to establishment politics only now to be told by the PLP that they’re not welcome.

I say that the electorate is ignored with good reason. Take one issue alone. Trident. Corbyn has been portrayed as downright eccentric for being the only major party leader to come out against it (if we take ‘major parties’ to mean the Tories, Labour, the LibDems, and perhaps UKIP). An Indie-commissioned poll had 49% of people wanting rid of Trident one way or another, well within the margin of error for an even split across the country. The Independent blew what was a bombshell article on the back of that in analysing its political potential, instead electing for a sub-headline which proclaimed Corbyn’s abandonment of Trident was rejected by a majority of the electorate. No surprise that it is no longer only radicals who reject the mainstream media as a tool of the establishment.

I believe – but am open to correction – that no one vying for the Tory leadership has the stomach to call a general election for a mandate for their leadership, probably wise given the turmoil the nation is already in. Though not a supporter of the Tory party, and though I believe that an election before the year ends could see them out of office, I think the wisdom in not going for an election goes beyond party- and self-interest. With the state of the nation as it is right now no one would know what on earth they’re voting for anyway and we could do without the upheaval. It’s best to let things simmer down. The question is, what’s to come out of the simmering?

My guess is the Tory party will remain intact, but fractured. In the wake of Brexit it will have to move somewhat harder right in some regards, while in others things may soften by way of compensation. (May, for example, is for remaining in the European Convention of Human Rights Cameron was so determined to rid us of). However, the Tory party in a post-European Britain must inevitably play host to irreconcilable factions. It’s one thing to be in Europe and grumble about it but on any number of issues, outside Europe the reformulation necessary is going to lead to confrontation. (China is a good example. Osborne has already announced he wants to bring us ever closer to Xi Jinping, but how many would have the stomach for that? Out of Europe, less close with the USA, and we want China as our new bestest fwend? Really??? But perhaps Osborne would argue out of Europe, less close with the USA, where else? That may be resolved by China making it fairly clear that outside Europe we’ve lost much of the interest they had in us anyway, though close ties with a democratic nation happily sanctioning their behaviour could prove useful in terms of soft power and for propaganda purposes).

More likely to split is Labour. They are the most exposed to the political vacuum at the left of British politics. They will either fill the void under Corbyn and there will be defections from the PLP, or Corbyn will be ousted, the vacuum will still need filling, and it will be many of the membership and those Labour believe to be their natural voters who bail out and head for the first populist movement that arises in Corbyn’s wake. If that happens, it all comes down to whether that movement has a viable and pragmatic leader. If not, though it will have an impact, I don’t think the nation is quite ready for politics by Facebook. If a worthy leader emerges, however, then it becomes debatable whether the continued presence of Labour would do more damage in splitting the vote of the left, or in splitting the vote of the right. It seems likely their core supporters will come from a dying breed of “I’ve voted Labour all me life” and dissatisfied Tories who are increasingly alarmed by some of the less pleasant rhetoric likely to come out of the Conservative party in Brexit’s wake.

If we thought the 2015 election was interesting for the divisions it exposed, 2020 in the wake of the Brexit referendum will prove still more fascinating whatever happens. The irony being that, IM(H)O, we aren’t going to leave the EU in any case.

A Second Referendum on ‘Brexit’ is Inevitable

I think it highly unlikely the UK will leave the EU. I believe there will be a second referendum, won by those who vote to remain. Indeed, I think it inevitable and necessary.

Consider the timetable. Article 50 is invoked, I would guess between early September when a new Conservative leader is likely to be established and year’s end. However, that is only the beginning of the end.

At that point, the UK remains in the EU for the duration of negotiations for a withdrawal agreement. Theoretically this should be accomplished within two years, but the reality of EU law is that the two-year mark is only there for the EU to dump the UK if it feels negotiations are becoming too protracted. The UK can agree to withdraw before that two years is up if satisfied with what it has negotiated. Alternatively, the two-year limit can be extended if both parties agree further negotiation is needed.

Bearing in mind that we voted blind for Brexit – no one can have a clue what it will look like at this stage – then if there was ever an argument for a referendum on things such as the Lisbon Treaty there’s still more of an argument for the British people to approve – or disapprove – of an agreement which removes us from the EU altogether when we know what it looks like. Whatever it looks like, it’s going to take the nation in as radically a different direction as joining the EU in the first place.

I would suggest a three-way referendum. i), take the agreement as it stands. ii), renegotiate the agreement. iii), forget it, stay in the EU. A two-way vote would be confusing. If the choice were between merely accepting or declining the agreement and declining won, how would that be interpreted? A vote for agreement change, or a vote for ‘in’? We would enter into an endless cycle. Agreement not accepted, renegotiation, agreement not accepted given that at least 48% of the electorate would go for non-acceptance whatever the agreement reads.

To be fair, option three would have to outweigh the votes of options one and two combined. Both those options are, after all, a vote for Brexit. However, it seems likely that a re-run of the referendum even a few days after it was held would have led to a reversal as the “Oh my God, what have we done?” factor kicked in and people started to realise the bunny-rabbits-and-rainbows vision of Brexit wasn’t all it was cracked up to be and the Brexit camp were reneging on promises as soon as rewarded for making them.

Strictly speaking, if the UK wants to stay in it should invoke Article 49 and begin the application procedure all over again, but that would cause a bit of a mess. Britain can’t actually leave until it has negotiated and accepted a withdrawal agreement, and if it doesn’t want to withdraw then how is it supposed to negotiate that? A little legal dancing, however, and I guess Article 50 would suddenly become reversible to the benefit of both parties.

More and more people are talking about dodgy ways to just ignore the result of the referendum we’ve just had. I disagree with them. It’s a democratic mandate, and to ignore it – however reasonably in this instance – would set a very dangerous precedent. However, I cannot see how the Brexit camp can reasonably deny the British people a vote on the withdrawal agreement. Indeed, it would be to undermine many of their ‘democratic’ arguments were such a referendum to be denied.

All this being the case, and it seems to me the most likely scenario moving forwards, the next two years will prove to be damaging certainly with our reaffirmation of membership coming with the nation bruised by the battering of years of uncertainty but, nonetheless, Britain will remain in the EU.

Politics and Polarisation: The Case of the Stolen Trousers

Much of the reason for dissatisfaction in the world right now has been identified. People are sick and tired of this, that, and the other across Europe and across the USA. The question becomes… whose fault is it?

The technique used by members of the establishment invested in the status quo has been to blame those without a voice and turn losers against losers to fight among themselves. This is best summarised by a joke I heard. A banker, a worker, and an immigrant sit down at a table on which there are nine biscuits. The banker takes nine, then whispers to the worker “That immigrant’s gonna nick your biscuit.”

As a ‘divide and conquer’ technique it works wonders… but only for so long.

When things go too far, when the establishment takes too much and it is no longer tolerable, the community divides. There are those who wise up to the fact they’ve been conned, and then there are those who continue to be conned but become more radical in their search for solutions. It is the latter group that is of interest. They become susceptible to anyone who steals the establishment’s trousers for their own use.

Consider Brexit first. This is the story Cameron has been feeding the nation for years, along with many of his colleagues. “Yes, things suck. But don’t blame us, it’s all the fault of them Europeans and their regulations and their immigrants, but what can we do? We’re in the EU.” Then along comes Nigel Farage. He steals them trousers and says “Fine. We’ll leave the EU.”

Now Trump. “It’s all those damned Mexicans, those damned Muslims” is the story coming out of Fox News et al in support of the establishment. “But what can we do? We can’t build a wall.” Along comes Trump and says “Yes we can.” Once again, the establishment’s trousers are stolen to be worn by Donald Trump.

This puts the establishment in a quandary. They’re left with no trousers. They’re exposed. They can’t deny their own rhetoric. At the same time, any further confirmation of it merely plays into the hands of those who have stolen their lines and offered solutions. Thus any opposition they may present to the trouser thieves is weak and ineffectual. The only way to oppose them well would be to state the truth, but they can only do that by exposing themselves as liars.

What it means for the establishment is it’s screwed. It is opposed on the one side by the anti-establishment who sees the lies for what they are, and on the other by the anti-establishment that has hijacked the lies and packaged them with their solutions for those who continue to believe.

What it means for the rest of us is extreme polarisation. The two anti-establishment camps are, by their very nature, diametrically opposed in their philosophies and, indeed, in their very conception of reality.

Bremain or Brexit?

Clinton or Trump?

Chalk or cheese?

Review: Robert Tressell – The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists

The Ragged Trousered PhilanthropistsThe Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists having been on my to-read list for decades now, I was spurred into finally reading it by Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Good call in that they bear remarkable similarities. Bad call in that reading them back-to-back proved something of an ordeal.

The temptation to compare Tressell’s work with Sinclair’s is one I will have to succumb to in the course of this review, so best first to give Philanthropists some consideration in its own right.

Set in early-20th century England, prior to the First World War, it describes the ordeal of underpaid – to the point of starvation – painters and decorators in a town in southern England. The workers are not only accepting of the system that brings about their poverty, but also complicit with it, even encouraging it out of a misplaced faith in the order of things. This is how things are, have always been, and must forever be. Indeed, they are worshipful of those who exploit them as a class, (though showing reservations towards them as individuals given the abuse they suffer), for providing them with work in the first place without which they would surely starve. Each has the knowledge that he – all the painters and decorators are men – will age prematurely, become useless for work, and then end up in the poor house or dead. Those with families are desperate to provide for them while they can, consigning their own children to premature employment in order to get them started in life, even if that means ‘persuading’ an employer to take the children on as free labour as apprentices so they may at least lay claim to a trade.

Tressell himself could not have been better-placed as our writer. He was one such employee. He wrote in his free time, never seeing his work published nor believing it ever could be, dying prematurely of tuberculosis.

The cure for these societal ills, one in which Tressell himself clearly believes and, in believing it, puts in the mouth of the characters Owen and Barringer, is socialism. However, their protests against the system as it stands are largely met by its victims with incomprehension and mockery. At best, those who listen are wary. At worst, they refuse to listen and meet the socialists’ words with violence.

Tressell cannot keep his voice out of the work, frequently intruding his frustration as the narrator at the folly of the workers. These intrusions are too frequent, too repetitive. The portrait of Marx’s ‘lumpen proletariat’ is, at times, rather too scathing, (not that Marx is ever referenced nor the term ever used). Indeed, when Tressell presents one of the peripheral socialist characters giving up on the cause after the very people he desires to help put him in hospital, turning instead to campaigning for an established political party of exploitation because it pays, I can’t help feeling that Tressell himself may have done likewise, not out of a loss of faith – as Tressell’s character does not lose his own faith in socialism – but just to keep body and soul together with the pay received rather than continue to fight for those who would fight him for doing so.

In this, as in many another aspect, comparisons with The Jungle are numerous, so much so that The Jungle may be seen as the American Philanthropists. Sinclair’s central character does the same as Tressell’s peripheral character in serving the political needs of his own persecutors out of expediency. The arguments are somewhat better developed in considering socialism in Philanthropists, but both works serve in part as tracts supportive of the socialist ideal with contained expositions that can feel rather forced into the narratives of both works. Poverty and the fear bear a strong resemblance in the two works in their portrayal, and the sense of people used as objects to be cast away when worn out is the same. The skimping that provides the exploitative employers’ customers with shoddy work in Philanthropists, substandard and even dangerous food in The Jungle, are again the same. Indeed, in listing all the similarities it is hard to believe that the one work was not modelled upon the other, though no research I’ve done has suggested Sinclair and Tressell even knew of one another’s existence.

Behind the thematic treatment, however, there are distinct differences between the two works. Sinclair offers us wall-to-wall misery with little reprieve. Tressell at least has his workers upbeat and mischievous, albeit their plight is never backgrounded, nor are their fears. Sinclair’s work progresses. Tressell’s does not. He moves us from slender anecdote to slender anecdote in detailing the lives of his protagonists, so much so that the work would have benefited greatly from pruning, it’s a long novel. Sinclair ends his work with optimism, the central character safe in the arms of fellow believers in socialism, the pressure for change and the introduction of socialism building throughout society. Tressell ends his happily, but pessimistically. Barringer turns out to be from a better background than the other workers, slumming it in his socialist beliefs, trying to make a difference by raising the consciousness of the workers. He gives money to other central characters at the end, Owen’s family in particular, but we know that money cannot last, while overall Tressell seems to see the cause of socialism as hopeless. There is another strange connection here. Sinclair himself slummed it for a period in the Chicago meat packing factories that were the setting of his own novel in order to gain the experience to write it.

Neither author predicted that the system might reform itself, as we know that it did; sufficiently, at least, to make poverty a thing of the past, or so it seemed until it began to return in the late 20th century with the return of old attitudes which are now having to be fought again. (As I write, it is 2016, Britain has Corbyn, and the USA has Sanders, neither of whom would have been predictable even a year ago, but the expounding of socialism in these two works illustrates the fact neither man is a socialist in the true sense of the word. Nonetheless, the issues they seek to address are the very issues socialism was born to answer in the 19th century, beginning to emerge once more in the 21st).

The strain of reading The Jungle and The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists back-to-back means I failed to take as much pleasure in the latter as I may have done otherwise. Nonetheless, it is too long, a definite flaw. There is too little progress in the narrative and too much repetition for that length to be justifiable. A three-star read, I’ve given it four stars as a worthy work, a pertinent novel that needs to be read by some these days who seem blissfully oblivious to their own nations’ histories in the policies they advocate and the parties they support. As a work it should serve not as a snapshot of history, but as a warning lest history repeat itself.

The Fallacy of the ‘Top-Down’ Argument

One thing I have noticed that tends to stymie political debate, particularly in the USA, (this a hot topic now thanks to Trump, Clinton, Sanders, and Cruz, as great a name for a firm of dodgy solicitors as I’ve seen of late), is the use of ‘top-down’ arguments. In the course of discussion on LinkedIn today, one gentleman came up with (at least) three perfect illustrations in just a few posts. What lurks below is an adaptation of my rebuttal

Small government
Your small government on principle argument is top-down. When you find people disagreeing with it, you assume a false opposition – big government on principle. However, I have never, ever heard even one person advocate big government on principle. Why would they? To what purpose? The people who argue against you in this are arguing bottom-up. The opposite to your small government on principle argument is actually not small government on principle. Arguing from bottom-up, we would say “Government where government is appropriate,” and no more.

Your people opposed to capitalism idea is, once again, top-down. You have a conception of capitalism that believes it to function optimally under certain conditions. Consequently, if people talk about other conditions they are anti-capitalism. In reality we’re all of us capitalists in our conception, but have different views of the machinery of capitalism. We would like to see the volume turned up somewhat here, the colour purple tuned down somewhat there, with maybe the odd extra button stuck on the side and the odd lever dismantled. It’s still capitalism. If Sanders got in and made changes tomorrow, it wouldn’t stop being a capitalist system. It wouldn’t even be a strange capitalist system. People would wake up of a morning most mornings and it would be business as usual. It certainly wouldn’t move into an entirely different paradigm to become an altogether ‘non-capitalist’ system.

What is America?
With the nation as a whole, again you’re working top-down. America is this, Europe is that, and never the twain shall meet. Because America is somehow ‘different’, economic policies that work in Europe won’t function in America. But why not? History? Geography? What’s the supposed impediment that means the USA can’t be somewhat different? The top-down approach here rules out options to no purpose. You see something absolute, a premise rooted in reality to which all proposals must conform in order to be even rational. But why should it be some underlying premise of reality? In the end, what America boils down to is a society of some 300m+ people trying to get on with their lives as best and harmoniously as they can. If a majority decides that the best way to do that is move towards a European model, why not? There is no quintessential ‘America’ to which they must be subservient and to which they must adhere in order for it to still be ‘America’. ‘America’ is what its citizenry wants it to be, here, now, today, for themselves and for their children, not some historical inevitability.

Politic vs. Faith
With this top-down approach you are pursuing political argument in a way more suited to religion. If you are a Christian, then you know God exists. You may not be able to prove it, but knowing He exists with an absolute certainty borne out of personal experience it makes perfect sense to dismiss arguments which go against that as somehow fallacious. Top-down applies. In much the same way, as a non-Christian, I know the chair I am sitting on exists. If someone came at me with some clever-clever argument to prove that the chair does not exist I’d know there was something wrong with the argument and I could safely approach it top-down in an effort to identify the fallacy with the chair’s existence my basic premise. But you can’t take that approach with politics. Top-down doesn’t work. You can’t work with a set conclusion and then agree or disagree with arguments on the basis of whether they conform with it. All it does is lead to misapprehension of others beliefs and attitudes, and an inability to consider potentially viable options. American healthcare is a good example. It should be about balancing optimal health for the maximum number with optimal expenditure. You can’t formulate an argument out of ‘We can’t do that because it’s not capitalism’ or ‘We can’t do that because it’s not small government’ or ‘We can’t do that because it’s not America’. It just doesn’t work. That is not to say your belief that socialised healthcare is wrong is in any way falsified. It is to say that the evidence against it cannot be formulated top-down if the argument is to be successful.