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.

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: Upton Sinclair – The Jungle

The JungleThe Jungle by Upton Sinclair
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Jungle is remorseless. In studying the plight of a Lithuanian immigrant family working in the meat-packing industry in Chicago in the first decade of the 20th century, Sinclair exposes the abuse, corruption, and unhygienic practices of an industry in which the people were treated no better than the animals they slaughtered, expendable labour to be exhausted and thrown on the scrapheap given there were always others to take their place.

The novel starts brilliantly, taking us a little ahead in the narrative to the wedding feast of Jurgis Rudkus, the novel’s central protagonist, and Ona, his compatriot wife with whose family his own entered the country. A wedding feast is, of course, a joyous affair, and it is no different here, but the jollity seems somehow too edgy, too hysterical, too extreme. As the opening unfolds we discover why. The feast has cost the families far more than they can afford. Traditionally, costs are recouped courtesy of the wedding guests who chip in with gifts which cover not only the feast, but a little more besides to send the couple out into the world. However, it is not to be in this instance. The guests are desperate and impoverished. They can’t even pay their way, seeing the feast as a chance to eat and drink and be happy for a while, taking advantage of it rather than respecting it. This descent into the cynicism of desperation is one we are soon to see reflected in the development of the central characters; Sinclair is not sparing of the reality of impoverishment that leads its victims to abandon their ethics for the sake of survival. Moreover, with not so much as a half-day spared from work, Jurgis must return to the slaughterhouse hours after the feast closes for fear of losing his job. At this stage he is still convinced of his ability to keep the family afloat, so he will work harder; but he is soon to discover that working his hardest through all his waking hours – and many more when he needs to be asleep – can never be enough.

We return to the families newly-entered into America, their optimism high, and watch as even the elderly and the children are forced out to work to make ends meet. A house they assume they have bought simply drains their resources for a while, money to go to the pocket of a rich landowner, before – as was always the intention – they are no longer able to keep up payments and they are evicted leaving the house empty for the next tenants to go through the same routine as other tenants had gone through it previously. None of their money is returned. The children sometimes have to be bullied into work. Family members begin to die, one by one. Jurgis loses both Ona and their child. Before that, Ona has been forced into sex with a manager if she is to keep her job, and Jurgis beats him up thus hastening his own decline by getting himself blacklisted. Still later he is to see that as a mistake, that Ona was right, that if her giving herself to the manager was what was needed in order to survive then what choice was there?

With his own family gone, Jurgis abandons Ona’s in the end with no hope of finding work in the city. This is the one period of relief in the entire book, a pastoral intrusion in which Jurgis wanders the countryside where labour is in short supply finding piece work, but it is seasonal. He is compelled to return to the city when winter sets in. I found this section of the book a little strange. Certainly Sinclair did his research well, but I was left wondering why it was all Chicago didn’t up-sticks and head out to the countryside for seasonal work. Those with jobs could not do so for fear of losing them, of course, but many were without them. Indeed, in the same situation I suspect it would have been better for most to head off into the hills, find a cave somewhere, and live off the land. It would have been good to hear why that didn’t tend to happen, and how it could be that people continued to queue for work in the grimness of the city rather than pack their bags and head out into an environment far more pleasant in which work was readily available.

Jurgis gets some relief still later when he becomes involved with the corruption itself, working for the politicians. He is well-paid, at least by previous standards, becoming debauched in his behaviour, sacrificing any ethics he may still have had without a second thought. Sinclair is not sparing with such a realistic view of the human condition. If Jurgis entered America as a man eager to work with the world with dignity, reduced to the need for survival in a world which will not work with him he is compelled to fight for that survival with the loss of his humanity. Treat people like rats, they act like rats, however decently they may have started out. Povery corrupts. However, this too falls through with another encounter with Ona’s erstwhile manager and another attack, one that is to see him no longer able to work in politics given the influence the manager has.

At this point it may have been better for the novel had Sinclair permitted this to be Jurgis’s final decline, and certainly that is what the reader is anticipating. Instead, we get something of a fairytale ending. To be sure it’s not so divorced from reality as to be rags-to-riches, but instead Jurgis – and we – are offered hope of a solution. Jurgis stumbles, mainly for shelter, into a public meeting. He doesn’t know what it is, and doesn’t care. But after a while he pays attention to the speaker, and his eyes are opened. It is a socialist meeting. Jurgis is transformed. He makes himself known to the organisers, who help him. Then, in the biggest mistake in the book, he stumbles fortuitously upon work that is reasonable in a hotel, the hotelier just happening to be a socialist well-known to Jurgis’s new friends. (It would have been better had they referred Jurgis to the hotelier directly. Leaving it to chance like this, Sinclair makes it all-too convenient and unrealistic). At the end, Jurgis attends a small gathering of socialists which is nothing more than a vehicle permitting Sinclair to expound upon the underlying tenets of the socialist cause, and the book closes with socialists making steady gains in the then-running elections.

It’s this ending for which Sinclair loses a star for an otherwise five-star book. I do not agree with his socialist solution, but even were I to do so the star would be lost anyway. It is a cumbersome finale, and left me feeling that the entire work was a vehicle for the closure and the evangelism Sinclair adopts. It is forgiveable insofar as there were no other solutions being touted at the time, and it was right that Sinclair should expose people to its possibilities, but I felt it was poorly handled. Though nowhere near as tedious, and nowhere near as preposterous, it reminded me of Ayn Rand’s long diatribe in Atlas Shrugged. Write a novel with a political theme or write a political tract, don’t mix them.

It’s rare I research a novel before reviewing it, but The Jungle clearly needs some background for full appreciation of the content. Sinclair knew his subject well, working in the Chicago meat packing industry incognito for several weeks. The novel had political repercussions, though as Sinclair remarked, “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.” There was a public outcry, but not at the impoverishment so much as the quality of the food people now realised they were eating. Out of that came political initiatives that culminated with America’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As for the fate of socialism, that we know all-too well. It disappeared as the establishment, fearing an uprising, made concessions to the people sufficient for it to retain power overall, something the socialists never believed they would do adequately and perhaps with some justification. ‘Socialist’ in America was then to become a word abused to mean, in essence, ‘Anyone somewhat to the left of where I happen to be standing’.

It is interesting to speculate on how Sinclair may have reacted to that development. (Perhaps I should research that, he lived until 1968 after all, but I won’t). Perhaps he felt the social democracy that began to arise in the wake of the first world war, which was consolidated in the wake of the second, went far enough. Certainly the Jurgis’s would have been few and far between in the wake of social reforms. Meanwhile, the socialist revolutions in China and Russia started out with the best of intentions but came to nought, merely shifting the reins of power from one elite to another which promptly showed itself to be all-too human in abusing that power. If nothing else that should have proved that the industrialists were not a race apart, merely exemplars of the human condition overall. Where power is concentrated, corruption follows.

However, that doesn’t mean The Jungle can be regarded as merely a historical document, an interesting text on a period past and no longer relevant. The reversal of social democratic principles since the 1980s may not have reactivated the Chicago The Jungle describes, but they are leading us back in that direction. The social reforms which were implemented are falling out of favour with those for whom capitalism unbridled offers the lure of greater wealth. The New Capitalists of the financial industries and banks have no need of a customer base and merely resent paying their taxes for social safety nets they themselves do not need. The world is drifting back towards that of The Jungle. As it does so, the work takes on an alarming relevance in revealing what happens when social provision is absent. Those arguing the case for social provision with those who fail to learn anything from history could do worse than recommend The Jungle. It may not hit such readers in the heart, but it may well hit them in the stomach.

Review: Mark Twain – The Curious Republic of Gondour and Other Whimsical Sketches

The Curious Republic of Gondour and Other Whimsical SketchesThe Curious Republic of Gondour and Other Whimsical Sketches by Mark Twain
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Either it took me a while to get into this small collection of essays, or the first two were rubbish. Still, I got there in the end.

Strangely, at least to the best of my memory, this was to be my first encounter with Twain. The third piece switched me on, a somewhat ill-tempered attack on the folly of some individuals who had not realised an earlier item he had written was a joke. On the basis of that I concluded I was going to like Twain’s writing provided it was written when he was in a rotten mood, but other more amiable pieces had their way with me in what turned out to be an occasional five-star read.

Twain and I are well separated both in space and in time, so some of the humour based upon culture left me cold. That culture gap was made doubly-clear with the gaff concerning Knights of my Realm being called ‘Sir Smith’ and the like instead of ‘Sir John’ etc. Occasional essays that may have been better handled also popped up, good ideas gone wrong I suspect with the hurry of a too-urgent deadline. For the most part, though, this was a nice work to dip into and back out of again, which I thus ruined by reading in a couple of greedy gulps. Don’t do it, people, bad for the digestion.

Twain’s humour tends to be topical – or was at the time – though he’s not averse to spinning out of some topical nugget some whimsical train of thought which leaves reality’s track in search of new lands. Certainly here, though, his best work is when someone had annoyed the hell out of him. If only his editor had had the professionalism to employ someone to prod him with a sharp stick from time to time, I suspect this would have been a five-star collection.

Sadly that is an opportunity now lost to history.

Review: Andy McNab – Crisis Four

Crisis FourCrisis Four by Andy McNab
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After Remote Control, the first of McNab’s ‘Nick Stone’ novels, I wasted little time getting hold of the second. Crisis Four gets marked down a star on a technicality – the plot didn’t quite ring true in Stone being given his assignment in the first place, let alone the ease with which he accomplished the first part of it – and, indeed, much of the plot at the end rather depended upon him being the wrong person for the job. Still, I found it as much a pleasure to read as the first for all that.

In the first novel, our special operative Stone was saddled with a seven-year old girl throughout and, I must confess, I was rather pleased to see the back of her in this one. I find something somehow unfair about a seven-year old being dragged through violent and dangerous situations, even if she is fictional and has to be for the sake of the story. Then there’s the idea of good plans not coming together because she needs to go to the toilet that intrudes upon the action with too homely a tone. Once I could stand, but a second of the same I’d have probably been yelling ‘Shoot her and have done with it, damn it!’

However, the absence of Kelly is not the only marked difference between this novel and the last. That had action throughout. This takes a while to get going, but while we wait McNab really shows his chops as a writer and an expert in the craft of special operations. There are many ‘Don’t try this at home’ tips which would look good in any anarchist’s cook book, but also views of American life through the eyes of an Englishman that have immense veracity. McNab could probably try his hand at pretty-much anything and come up with a decent novel. He has an eye for things and can provide detail, even irrelevant detail, without it dragging. That’s quite a knack.

The action, when it comes, is of the sort where you can find yourself putting the book down and getting a cup of coffee just to take a break from it. McNab is an intelligent writer not above writing thrillers, and the genre benefits from that. Yeah, I know, his background, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t have written historical fiction about the Napoleonic wars, does it? Indeed, he almost certainly could were he so inclined and it would be worth reading. (Yes, ashamed as I am to confess it given it doesn’t fit with the image, darlings, I am becoming something of a fan).

The plot, and I can say little without spoilers. However, if you’re familiar with Nick Stone from the first novel, it’s the same bloke. If you’re not, check the first novel before this one. They stand alone just fine, but the first novel provides a useful introduction.

Review: Andy McNab – Remote Control

Remote ControlRemote Control by Andy McNab
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My first five-star book for a while for a work which, while not in my most favoured genre, pressed all the right buttons and then some for what it is. So much so I actually enjoyed it.

Nick Stone is an agent running out of London. Sent to the USA on the heels of some members of the provisional IRA he is suddenly called off the case. He decides to visit an old friend and erstwhile companion-in-arms, but arrives to find him – and all his family bar one – brutally murdered. The lone survivor, a seven-year old girl, becomes his companion given Stone knows she must still be targeted as a witness, and so begins a frenzied running around trying to uncover the details of an event which sees him not only head-to-head with law enforcement in the USA, but also the target of terrorists, and someone his own command back home now regards as an outsider.

Stone is very much in the British tradition of such heroes, James Bond aside. If guns are drawn every five seconds and thousands of rounds fired in the course of much of American literature of the genre, when guns are pulled in Remote Control their bullets smash through flesh, bone, and internal organs making quite a difference to the recipient. Fist fights are messy affairs in which blood spatters and there are no gentlemen. None of which to say this is a gore novel, far from it. It is just that when there is violence, McNab doesn’t give it the comic-book feel of so much else that’s on offer. He makes it plain this is for real, lives really are at stake, and guns in real life aren’t just there for decorative effect or to go ‘bang bang bang bang bang bang bang’ from time to time to no ill effect in order to keep the tension high.

Stone himself is a sympathetic hero, certainly, but McNab doesn’t give him the good-guy treatment. Shortly after we’re introduced to him we’re told of a botched operation in which, to cover the British government’s backside, he was told to kill his own allies once the mission was successfully completed. Stone’s regret is there, but not marked. The only thing that makes Stone sympathetic in the end, perhaps, is that the bad guys are even bigger bastards than he is.

The plot treads carefully on the comprehensible side of convoluted. I think I lost the odd detail along the way, but nothing important enough that I wasn’t pretty sure what was happening throughout. McNab manages to keep the intrigue going without making it feel artificial as he does so.

All in all, without resorting to gratuitous carping, Remote Control is a page-turner of immense veracity, well-written and carefully crafted, worthy of its rare five stars.

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Review: Toby Ball – The Vaults

The VaultsThe Vaults by Toby Ball
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Strange the ideas that cross one’s mind upon embarking on a work not having read any cover blurb. It’s something I’d like to try more often. Not knowing whether something is a thriller, or a love story, or a work of science fiction, how would we approach our reading differently?

In the case of The Vault I, for one, was ready by the end of the first chapter for some strange Gormenghastian world of endless vaults of information on a citizenry only one man was capable of interpreting but these vaults, instead, turned out to be the criminal records’ section of some city hall in some place in the USA in the years between the wars.

My initial misunderstanding was compounded in the following chapters as they hopped around, one apiece from character to character, in setting the stage for what was to follow. I confess to some frustration by the end of that, even considering ditching the book and moving on. On balance, though, I’m pleased I persevered. The work turned out to be reasonable enough, and certainly didn’t warrant a wall-chuck, particularly given that, these days, to do that would break some expensive bit of electronica.

Essentially, what we have here is a corrupt Mayor who made his way to the top with muscle, surrounded by people with muscle, and these are the bad guys. Needless to say the system is corrupt, and trying to expose it we have a journalist, our aforementioned curator of the vaults, and various other characters on the trail of convicted felons who somehow escaped imprisonment. The chapters are very short, and it’s easy to skip from one to the next which I often did somewhat beyond my allotted reading time, so it had me going at times for sure in my wanting to know what happened next.

In the end, a three-star review is rather cheap on my part to be sure, but it doesn’t merit a four. Your good guys are your good guys, not perfect by any means but sympathetic. The bad guys seem largely reliant upon violence with any intelligence they may have secondary to that, and that’s about it. There are plot holes and the occasional convenient unlikelihood, but these don’t detract too badly. Still, they could do with being filled in and covered over.

If the plot sounds like your thing, go for it. I doubt you’ll be amazed, but I equally doubt you’ll be disappointed. It does its job well enough if that’s the job you want doing.