Category: Politics

Notes from “In America” by Caitriona Perry

I received this book for Christmas ,it was an interesting read on the current political situation in the United States, as well as some parallels with the UK. Below are the key notes I took from the book:

The book opens by summarising who did not vote for Donald Trump: 58% of women did not vote for Donald Trump, 92% of black people didn’t, 71% of Hispanic people didn’t, 42% of white people didn’t, 55% of those who were college educated didn’t.  The author then explains why despite his flaws why people did vote for Donald Trump.

Although Donald Trump grew up in a wealthy household, went to good schools, went to work with his farther earning a good salary and has never had to worry about where his next meal is coming from or if he has a warm coat and boots for winter, he connects with people who have none of his privilege and all of those worries. He is straight talking. He doesn’t use fancy words. He speaks in simple language. His election slogans were straightforward and memorable. He uses simple language. His election slogans were straightforward and memorable. He uses slang and common parlance. He talks ‘dirty’ on occasion – remember the Access Hollywood ‘grabbing’ tape? He talks ‘mean’ on occasion – as evidenced in the election-campaign debates: the tone was lowered there like never before in an election cycle. He wears a baseball cap with an ill-fitting suit and a wind-defying comb-over. There is nothing ‘fancy’ in his appearance. He, in many ways, is the everyman – and yet in no way is he the everyman.

It’s starting how many times people mention Donald Trump’s children as a qualification that he will make a good president. It’s regularly the response to question on how voters can agree with his- at times – racist, sexist, xenophobic comments. ‘I don’t like that,’ they’ll say, ‘but he’s reared fantastic children, so he can’t be all that bad.’ I’ve learned America is still quite a conservative place at heart. ‘For all the bling and swagger, the American Dram, for many, means creating a good life for their children, getting them an education and a good start in life. The Trump children embody that legacy.

Of the thirteen counties in Texas that have a border with Mexico, Trump only secured a victory in three, which is a stark statement on the desire for a border wall among those who will actually have to live with it.

The book profiles voters who did vote for Trump. Nancy was afraid that if Hilary Clinton had been elected that she would have put ‘liberal judges’ on the Supreme Court bench. That she said, would have meant the US was headed ‘down the drain’. She shakes her head and gets as agitated as a genteel older lady can when she says she can’t believe that Christians would vote for ‘people like her, that believes in gay rights, abortion and everything that’s sinful, when God calls it “abomination”.

I’m a 100 percent Trump man. What is it about him that makes me excited? I guess, in a word, it would be sovereignty. The same reasons that my grandparents left Ireland at the time of the civil war – Donald Trump wants to make sure that America has security. A secure border, a secure economy and people are secure in their homes and in their persons.

In Pike County, Ohio – 66.1 percent of voter picked Donald Trump, compared with 49.3 percent who voted for Republican Mitt Romney in 2012. Ohio is a true swing state: it flips and flops between Republicans and Democrats. Only once since 1944 have Ohioans not voted for the person who ultimately became president. That was in 1960 when they voted for Richard Nixon over John F. Kennedy.

Almost three out of every five American households are in the same income bracket as they were in 2008. That’s nearly a decade without financial improvements. A sense of failure causes a feeling of anger, not just a financially driven anger but also a cultural and demographic anger, a thought process along the lines of ‘I’m not doing as well as I had hoped to do, but not only that, others are doing between than I am’. And by those ‘others’, they often mean newcomers.

What Happened – Hilary Rodham Clinton

Like many, I followed the 2016 US Election, particularly as I was teaching US Government and Politics for most of the election period – though I would probably follow it closely anyway. I found the result difficult to accept -as the leader of the US has a global impact.

This book begins by Hilary providing a summary of her book; in the introduction, she states: “Now when people ask how I’m doing, I say that, as an American, I ‘m more worried than ever-but as a person, I’m doing okay.” She goes on to say “I will always be grateful to have been the Democratic Party’s nominee and to have earned 65,844,610 votes from my fellow Americans. That number – more votes than any candidate for President has ever received, other than Barack Obama – is proof that the ugliness we faced in 2016 does not define our country.”

She quotes Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” We can disagree about policies and values, but claiming that 2+2=5 and having millions of Americans swallow it is very different.

She talks about making mistakes and says: “The truth is, everyone’s flawed. That’s the nature of human beings. But our mistakes alone shouldn’t define us. WE should be judged by the totality of our work and life. Many problems don’t have either/or answers, and a good decision today may not look as good ten or twenty years later through the lens of new conditions. When you’re in politics, this gets more complicated. We all want- and the political press demands – a “storyline”, which tends to cast people as either saints or sinners. You’re either revered or reviled. And there’s no juicier political story than the saint who gets unmasked as a sinner. A two-dimensional cartoon is easier to digest than a fully formed person.”

She talks candidly about Donald Trumps debate performance: “Trump wouldn’t answer any question directly. He was rarely linear in his thinking or speaking. He digressed into nonsense and then digressed even more. There was no point in refuting his arguments like it was a normal debate – it was almost impossible to identify what his arguments even were, especially since they changed minute to minute.”

She talks about changemakers, explaining “Change might be the most powerful word in American politics. IT’s also one of the hardest to define. In 1992 and 2008, change meant electing dynamic young leaders who promised hope and renewal. In 2016, it meant handing a lit match to a pyromaniac.” “It was sad to watch the Republica Party go from Reagans Morning in America to Trump’s Midnight in America”.

Hillary discusses her slogan for the primary campaign “Stronger Together” and how this was meant to be a direct challenge to Donald Trump’s divisive campaign. However, she also talks about the mistakes she made, when she said: “We are going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business”. This was an unfortunate soundbite, however, it was actually part of a much longer quote which was about how the move to clean energy was going to put coal mines out of business and as such their needed to be an economic plan for them.

She puts part of her failure down to the state of the United States and its failure to recover from the Recession. A lot of working-class Americans were hurting and frustrated. Unemployment was down and the economy was growing, but most people hadn’t had a raise in fifteen years. The average family income was $4,000 less than when my husband left office in 2001. Since 2001 half a million jobs in department stores have disappeared, that’s many times more than lost in coal mining.

Hillary quotes Jill Abramsom, former New York Times Editor saying “This may shock you: Hillary Clinton is fundamentally honest”. She found that Hilary told the truth more than any other presidential candidate in 2016, including both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, who was the most dishonest candidate ever measured.

Each chapter in the book begins with a quote, and my favourite is:

“Do what you feel in your heart to be right-for you’ll be criticised anyway. You’ll be damned if you do and damned if you don’t.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

The penultimate chapter is entitled ‘Why’ and in it, Hilary gives a number of reasons why she lost the election. This is exceptionally honest and well written, and I can’t really summarise it effectively for this post. It is worth reading in itself.

The book ends on a positive note giving examples of what people can do to avoid feeling helpless, the some of the examples given are:

  1. Make a contribution to the ACLU
  2. Look ahead to 2018 and get involved in the Democratic party
  3. Join a church or synagogue
  4. Volunteer
  5. Teach your children to love all people.

 

Art in the Age of Black Power

Photo of the gallery guide for 'Soul of a Nation' Art in the Age of Black Power

 

Today I visited the Tate Modern and among other things saw ‘Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power’. This is a temporary exhibit that is running until 22nd October. This was interesting, but of particular interest, as until recently, I taught US politics as part of A Level Government and Politics.

This links to the Black Nationalism section of the ‘old’ Edexcel course in Unit 3C – Racial and Ethnic politics, of which the last students will start studying this September, it is also a theme in the area of nationalist thinkers in the new Edexcel course (and I would expect with other exam boards as well). Had I be teaching this in September I would definitely point my students in the direction of the exhibit; if not taking them on a trip.

The exhibit focuses on the work of Black artists working in America in the two decades after 1963. As well as showing strong communities the exhibit reveals artistic differences in what it meant to be a Black artist at this time. “In 1963, when the exhibition begins, the American Civil Rights movement was at its height. At the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed his children would live in a ‘nation where they would not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. Others rejected the idea of an integrated America, and began to speak of a separate, autonomous Black Nation.”  (the text in this paragraph is paraphrased, or in the case of the chunk in quotes – copied – from the gallery guide written by the curators, Mark Godfrey and Zoe Whitley).

Below are some of the works that I found most interesting.

America the Beautiful  (1960) – Norman Lewis  – the gallery label points out that the title suggests the difference between the way America views itself and the reality.

Fred Hampton’s Door 2 (1975) – Dana Chandler – This was created by the artist in response to the original, an oil painting being stolen. The work is a statement against the Chicago Police who murdered a young black panther, Fred Hampton.

Did the Bear Sit Under the Tree (1969) – Benny Andrews – the artist said about this work “it is a Black person who is shaking his fist at the very thing that is supposed to be protecting him and that he’s operating under.

This exhibit is free to Tate members or £15.00 otherwise.

As you leave the gallery there is a sign encouraging you to hear the curator’s playlist of tracks on Spotify inspired by the exhibition. This is the first time I have seen this at an art gallery – and of course, I immediately listed to this on Spotify – and this playlist would also be useful for teachers of Politics.

The final takeaway from the exhibition was this book in the gift shop “Why I Am No Longer Talking to White People About Race” by Reni Eddo-Lodge. This looks like a timely well-authored read, it should be noted that this book is written by a London based author (so not directly linked to Black Nationalism in the 1960s), and I have not yet read the book. You can see an excerpt in the Guardians’ website here.