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A day’s browsing: superheroes, pressure cookers, politicians and an admirable prince

September 20, 2016

A bit of a smorgasbord, this post. Four different topics, vaguely connected, based on a day’s browsing.

A couple of weeks ago I started following Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on Twitter. I did so largely because I was fed up with reading second-hand commentaries on the utterances of the two presidential candidates. Best, I thought, to receive the wisdom from the horses’ mouths, so to speak.

After two weeks of following Trump I’m left wanting a steam clean to rid myself of the poisonous stench that this hateful character spreads with every mean and bombastic utterance.

With Hillary, I want to go see a priest to confess my sins, even though I have no religious affiliations. Her tweets range from censorious school-mistress mode (usually when referring to Trump) to inspirational vacuities of the kind you see fifty times a day on Facebook.

It’s not surprising that Trump’s social media campaign attracts more attention than Hillary’s. Muck, dirt, hate and anger is far more compelling than high-minded. Why otherwise is every second movie and TV series made in America about crime, murder and mayhem?

After all, The Joker was always more interesting than Batman. In this era of endless super-hero movies, Hillary will always be one-down to the chest-thumping Donald.

On to other matters.

It might seem strange to say this, but each of the attacks in the United States over the past couple of days is a symptom of success, not failure, of the security measures in place around the country. The fact that those who want to terrorise America can do no more than to detonate a pressure cooker or a pipe bomb in a dustbin is a measure of the difficulty lone wolves and organised groups face when trying to pull off atrocities.

The trouble is that these attacks pay off a thousand times by intensifying the fear of terrorism. So in that respect they are highly effective. They provoke reaction. They incentivise politicians, governments and citizens to marginalise communities from which the offenders spring. And they give people like Trump the excuse to campaign on simplistic solutions such as heavier vetting of immigrants.

The awful truth is that most of the perpetrators, both in the US and Europe, are home-grown. They either arrived in the country and were subsequently radicalised, or were born in the country they turned against. That’s not to say that ISIS didn’t manage to plant some of their sympathisers in among the flood of refugees entering Europe. But they are a tiny minority of the people who subsequently went on to carry out atrocities.

So “intensified screening” might catch a few, but it won’t make much difference if the poison brews up from within. The result? The cost of catching an occasional infiltrator will be the curdling of the melting pot as whole communities end up mistrusted and discriminated against.

The other and even more important awful truth is that attacks, whether lone wolf or group actions, will not end until the conflict in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan ends. And that’s not likely during the lifetimes of many of us. So get used to the new normal, people of America and Europe.

Back in my country, Theresa May’s government seems to be focused almost exclusively on the issue that sunk David Cameron and the Remain campaign: immigration. Maybe that’s why Jeremy Corbyn is reported to be putting Labour on a general election footing. Immigration is undoubtedly an election issue, and May is determined not to be on the wrong side. Her persistent banging away at the subject, to the exclusion of other pressing items, certainly sounds like campaign rhetoric.

The government also seems to be in kite-flying mode. An inquiry into police behaviour during the Orgreave riots during the 1984 miner’s strike? Mooted then stamped on. Questions about the Hinkley Point nuclear power project? Delayed for a micro-second and then waved through with a few eye-catching conditions.

I wonder how much attention May and her advisers are paying to events within the EU – the rise of the right-wing fringe parties, financial instability and a disaffection with governance – especially among member nations that are not among the core group of power-wielders. There may well be armies of civil servants now beavering away on working out the British position on Brexit. But are we also gaming contingency plans that take into account the fissures within the club we are leaving?

The other question is whether we truly understand that we see the EU as an economic project, whereas for those nations still recovering from the fundamental disasters of the recent past, the social dimension is equally important. If you’re interested in a discussion on that theme, the thoughts of the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas, published in Social Europe, are well worth considering. How many British philosophers match his knowledge of voting trends in the EU referendum with their understanding of the demographics of the Rhineland? For a pretty self-obsessed nation, we would benefit from the occasional glimpse of how others see us, I suggest.

Finally a reminder that not every famous person spends their life jumping up and down like a demented gorilla spewing insults at all and sundry. Today’s BBC website ran a video feature on the work of Prince William. Not the part of his life where he opens art galleries and says the right thing to people with ostrich feathers on their heads, but his job as an air ambulance pilot in East Anglia.

It’s a portrait of a bunch of down-to-earth people who are dedicated to saving lives. William, as he goes to some length to point out, is just one of a team. He’s not the first member of the royal family to do a “real job”. His brother risked life and limb in the army for several years. But William will be our king, and I suspect that when he is elevated to that exalted plane, he will bring with him memories of his life as a pilot – of the people he helped to save, of his interaction with ordinary people doing extraordinary jobs – that will leave him more connected with common humanity than many of the cabinet ministers who will one day line up to kiss his hand.

He comes over as unshowy, intelligent, humble and humane. Not a bad set of qualities for a monarch. His Mum, were she still alive, would be proud of him.

From → Politics, Social, UK, USA

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