Trump: A Cry Of Rage

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We should all have seen it coming. After the Tories’ win in last year’s UK election, and Britain’s unexpected Brexit vote earlier this year, at least those of us on this side of the pond should have viewed the numerous projections and predictions made by a seemingly endless number of ‘expert’ websites and pollsters with a healthy, hefty pinch of salt.

Instead we awoke to outpourings of shock, rage, sadness and – yes – joy as Donald Trump confounded nearly all professional opinion and found a path to The White House.

It’s difficult to meet someone who doesn’t have an opinion on America’s new President-elect and it’s even more difficult to meet someone who’s prepared to change their mind about him, so it would be somewhat less than pointless to add another hatchet job to the already extensive reading list. Besides, this particular horse has already bolted.

What is intriguing – whether you see this as the darkest day in modern American history, or the silent majority’s long-overdue battle cry of freedom – is how the Trump candidacy defied all logic and political wisdom to overcome what always seemed insurmountable odds.

The answer is likely to be deeply uncomfortable for middle class liberals like me, as the parallels between Trump’s victory and Brexit run much further than polling errors.

The 2016 US election has long been seen as a ‘Cry Of Rage’ from forgotten America in a similar way to how the Brexit victory is seen by some as a silent revolt by those marginalised and taken for granted here in the UK.

I believe there’s more than a grain of truth to both interpretations.

In Britain the liberal left have long taken working class support for granted. Any mention of immigration from large swaths of the electorate has never prompted an open, honest debate about its benefits to our economy. Instead, liberal/left politicians have sniffed about working class ‘racism’ and ‘bigotry’ and declined to engage.

This patronising approach to the country’s own citizens has left a vacuum to be filled by the fear of foreigners espoused by the likes of UKIP, Britain First and even sections of the Tory Party. Given this dereliction of duty and refusal to listen to real people, Brexit was actually no surprise. When a large group of people who are poorer than they were, more marginalised than ever and largely ignored by “the establishment” were given the opportunity to give those who think they know better a good kicking, what did we think would happen?

It’s a similar story in 2016 America. Large expanses of the United States, particularly away from the major cities, have struggled with globalisation and the growth of technology. Many communities are poorer now than they have been in decades as their industries have declined and nothing has been done to replace them. Add to this the fact that there are many rural values in America that are directly the opposite of the ‘metropolitan liberal elite’ – religion, gun ownership, abortion and so on – and it’s not so difficult to see the beginnings of a political tinder box. The traditional Democratic and Republican parties have had little or nothing of substance to say to these communities beyond patronising platitudes and so, just like Brexit, a vacuum has formed.

It was within this landscape that the metropolitan billionaire Donald Trump was somehow able to portray himself as an outsider, while Hillary Clinton, aiming to break the glass ceiling and become America’s first woman president, somehow ended up as the establishment figure.

Trump’s message to disaffected America was a very simple one: I hear you, and no one else does. Many Trump supporters were well aware of his reputation and his temperament. They could clearly see the narcissism, the chauvinism (both gender and racial) and probably never believed for a minute that he would build a wall on the border with Mexico (Trump’s £350m pledge?) but here was a man promising to kick the establishment’s door down. When everything else has failed and you feel angry and ignored it’s not too difficult to see how that message becomes attractive.

The result was a stunning change in American politics in which the Republican Party became a right wing party of the poor pitted against the Democrats who became seen as a left wing party of the rich. Clinton’s link to Wall Street and the like only helped confirm these perceptions.

Will a Trump presidency really be as terrifying as “we” seem to think? I think  it’s unlikely, although there’s no doubt we will have to watch much of it through our fingers. As Toby Zeigler says in the West Wing: “You campaign in poetry but you govern in prose”. Trump’s campaign was never poetry of the most beautiful kind but his governing agenda will surely need to be more prosaic due to the US constitution’s checks and balances.

What is clear is that he will be surrounded by some very clever tacticians who will already be working towards re-election in 2020. What is less clear is what condition the Democratic Party will be in in four years.

The Democrats have re-invented themselves in the past – they used to be the party of Southern slaveholder privilege – but do they have it within them to do so again? The first thing they’ll need to do is start listening to the communities across America who clearly felt Donald Trump was a better bet.

Arsène Wenger – clearly the worst football manager ever

For my sins I’m a bit of an Arsenal fan. Like the glutton for punishment I am, I also happen to be a Guardian reader (probably no surprise to anyone who’s read my increasingly infrequent pinko leftie-liberal ranting on these very pages). These days it’s becoming increasingly difficult to happily combine the two.

I don’t care what any fusty old git says about the Telegraph having the best sports coverage, to my mind the dear old ‘Graun’ wins it by a country mile. Football writers like David Lacey & Kevin McCarra, alongside broader sportswriters like Paul Hayward and Richard Williams, are – if you’ll pardon the rather awkward pun – leagues ahead of the competition in terms of quality, if not readership.

Nevertheless, the (admittedly Manchester-leaning) Guardian seem to have developed an unhealthy obsession with the fortunes of Arsenal Football Club. In fact, scanning the rest of the media, the annual end-of-season implosion of North London’s finest seems to be something of a cause célèbre for everyone else too. Arsène Wenger is variously derided as stubborn, deluded, myopic, deranged, overly prone to whingeing, not to mention tactically inept and – let’s not forget – just bloody well foreign.

An undue amount of attention seems to be given to Arsenal’s sixth season without silverware (although there never seems to be any mention of Liverpool’s trophy cabinet gathering dust for the same period) without anyone pausing to consider perhaps what a fantastic job Wenger has been doing these last few financially-constrained seasons.

During a brief chink of light during an otherwise unrelenting hatchet job on the Arsenal manager, The Independent’s Mark Fleming points out that:

Since The Invincibles season of 2004, Wenger is actually in profit concerning transfer dealings with £10.8m in the bank, thanks mostly to selling Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Touré to Manchester City, while at the same time recruiting players such as Andrei Arshavin (£15m), Samir Nasri (£15.8m), Theo Walcott (£9m) and Thomas Vermaelen (£10m). Such frugality is remarkable, given the net spending of his rivals – Manchester City who have spent £435m since 2004; Chelsea £397m; Tottenham Hotspur £239m; Liverpool £142m; and Manchester United £108m, despite selling Cristiano Ronaldo for £80m.

Wenger’s shrewd management of Arsenal has seen the club finish in the top four of the Premier League for every one of his fourteen seasons in charge while becoming by far the most financially stable club of those that regularly contest the honours. This has been achieved without the backing of rich benefactors, or indeed (as in the case of Manchester United) the scandalous laying of debt onto the future of the club. Oh, and Arsenal still manage to play by far the most entertaining (if frequently infuriating) brand of football in the English League.

Yes, they were found wanting in the closing stages of the season and yes, almost any Arsenal fan would be able to point to areas of the team which could do with strengthening, but it really is time that someone recognised the quite remarkable job Arsène Wenger has done with such limited means. Instead it seems that otherwise respectable organs like The Guardian draw lots among their sports writers to find out who gets the privilege of putting together the daily character assassination of the Arsenal manager (witness these eight pieces in the last week alone). Meanwhile the free-spending scattergun-in-the-transfer-market Harry Redknapp (one FA Cup win in his managerial career) is portrayed as some cheery national treasure, poised to lead the limited players of the England national squad out of the wilderness the moment his country comes calling.

Perhaps I’ve got it all wrong. Perhaps Arsène Wenger really is the worst football manager ever. Even so, Arsenal would be mad to swap him for anyone else.

A personal view on smoking

OK, best to start with my cards on the table. I am a smoker, I have been for around a quarter of a century (with a few brief flashes of willpower in between) and I work in the pub trade. You could say that these factors cloud (no pun intended) my judgement on the issue of smoking bans, whether the existing public places restrictions or a suggested ban on smoking in cars, and you’d probably be right. Nevertheless, I know smoking is daft, I know it’s unpleasant for non-smokers and I don’t believe it’s fair for parents to make their children suffer the muck they exhale.

Having said all of that, I can’t honestly say I was an enthusiast for the smoking ban when it came in in 2007. As the manager of a rural pub with a predominantly food-led trade we took the decision to become completely non-smoking some months before the ban came into effect, and our customers were (largely) grateful for it. But I always felt that establishments such as ours should be free to choose their own policy. Ultimately I always believed that such things would be, to use the jargon, ‘customer-led’ and that government interference would not be necessary. By the time of the ban there had certainly been a change in public attitudes towards smoking, and those pubs that didn’t examine what they were doing were in danger of being left behind – in the end people would have a choice, and no business wants to be on the wrong end of such a choice.

Of course, the ban in pubs did have another aspect and that was the protection of staff. Whatever one’s views on individual freedom there was a strong case to be made that the generally poorly waged should not be forced to breathe others’ smoke simply to earn a living, and that should be one of the reasons most pubs would never go back in the unlikely event that the law was ever repealed.

No such logic is present in Jersey’s deliberations on whether to ban smoking in cars. Few would argue against such a ban when children are present (although it seems an alarming 16% don’t feel compelled to agree) but it’s difficult to understand why individuals in private cars should not be free to smoke if they choose. Regardless of what those in favour of a ban say, it is not the same as using a hand-held mobile – unlike a phone you can still hold a steering wheel with a cigarette in your hand. Besides, even if you do make the case that smoking is a distraction, where do you draw the line? Is eating a travel sweet a clear and present danger? Should you really have the radio on or, heaven forbid, switch stations?

Perhaps I’m a little paranoid. Maybe I’ve adopted the seige mentality propagated by the tobacco lobby. But there will be many on the mainland who watch the Jersey experience with interest with a view to changing the law here. I suspect that few of those people believe, as I do, that individual freedoms should be maintained provided there is no demonstrable harm to anyone else.

We’ve come a long way from the days when advertisers used to tell a credulous population that “more Doctors smoke Camel than any other cigarette” and that is unquestionably a good thing. A smaller percentage of the population smoke now, and those that do are left in little doubt that their addiction tends not to be viewed sympathetically by the majority. I can handle being a social leper and I’ll keep going with my feeble attempts to quit. But I do think the choice should remain my own, provided I don’t restrict anyone else’s options. It will be interesting to see what Jersey’s powers-that-be conclude.

I’ll finish off with one of my favourite magic clips, which has very little to do with the arguments around smoking bans but is hugely entertaining all the same. This is an American magician called Tom Mullica who used to perform this ‘trick’ throughout the eighties and nineties. Understandably his doctors were never too enamoured with his performance, but the good news is he subsequently gave up smoking. He now reports that he can obtain health insurance for the first time in his professional life.

There is no trickery – he actually does what you see before you. (The whole clip is worth watching, but if you just fancy the disturbing part head to 2:56.)

Wayne Rooney – someone have a word…

To the great surprise of just about no one, the FA and referee Mark Clattenberg have ducked out of making Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney face charges for his blatant elbowing of Wigan’s James McCarthy at the weekend. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the FA’s somewhat strange procedure in cases such as these, it does seem rather odd that such a clearly obvious attempt at assault is able to go unpunished.

It’s probably fair to say that I’m not Rooney’s greatest fan. Talented though he is, you’d have to go a long way to find a more over-hyped player in the already never-knowingly-undersold English Premier League. Witness, for example, the wall-to-wall coverage of his overhead kick in the Manchester derby recently – undeniably a great goal, but overseas players frequently produce such feats with only a fraction of the fanfare – or the continuing media obsession with a colourful private life which is, nevertheless, private (or at least, should be).

Of course, it can easily be said that these factors are outside Rooney’s control. He doesn’t choose the headline writers’ puns, either front page or back. What is his responsibility, however, is his behaviour on the football pitch.

Rooney continually cuts a tormented figure, as if his entire life story is one of endless persecution by ‘The Man’. Every decision by a referee is met with a volley of Anglo-Saxon, a scowl or a plain, unadulterated tantrum. He chips away at opponents, bellows at linesmen, lashes out at corner flags and has now managed to add common assault to his less than glorious repertoire.

The argument often given in defence of his antics, not least by his supremely over-indulgent manager or the likes of previously sane journos like Paul Wilson, is that if you take away Rooney’s dark side you lose the part of his game that makes him ‘special’. What complete neanderthal rubbish. Why should we expect talented footballers to automatically behave like petty thugs or indeed excuse the few that do? It was never the case with Thierry Henry, Kenny Dalglish, Trevor Brooking or countless others. Lionel Messi doesn’t rely on assaults to the head to keep his genius ticking over. Yet we’re constantly told that Rooney’s precious talent makes him a special case.

Without necessarily going down the route of conspiracy theory to explain why Manchester United often seem to receive different treatment from the authorities, I do sometimes despair that anyone will ever summon the courage to tell Rooney to pipe down. Referees, managers, sports writers – all seem to develop a blind spot when it comes to the behaviour of England’s ‘Great Hope’, but seriously people, can someone have a word?

The fire of protest spreads

A spark of pro-democracy protest – almost unnoticed in parts of ‘The West’ – appeared in Tunisia last month and has now turned into a fire of potentially historic proportions reaching across North Africa into the Middle East. The great Arab democratic revolt overthrew the governments of Tunisia and Egypt and now threatens the established regimes of Bahrain, Yemen and Libya while doubtless causing anxious glances from other states in the region, perhaps most notably Iran.

It’s impossible to say how this will end and how much blood will continue to be spilled by totalitarian regimes such as Gaddafi’s in Libya, but this passage of history bears a striking resemblance to the collapse of Soviet Communism in Europe in the last months of the 1980s. In that case a similar domino effect was witnessed as the supressed and impoverished people of each Eastern European state felt able to draw strength and confidence from neighbouring states who had risen up against the old order. Europe changed forever in the space of a few short months. It was a fascinating period of twentieth century history, and it was a privilege to be alive during such a time of immense change.

There is a similar feel to events in the Arab world at the moment, although the factors causing change are quite different from those which were at play in Europe twenty-two years ago. On the face of it, nationalism appears to be less of a factor in the Arab uprisings as Middle Eastern peoples have always had less regard for lines on a map than their European counterparts. In addition the Cold War backdrop of a chessboard for the Superpowers doesn’t apply in the Arab nations, at least not to the extent that it did in post-War Germany and the nations surrounding it.

The common factors, of course, are repression and economic suffering. A class of people have found the strength to articulate their strong view that their economic hardship should no longer be taken for granted and that they should have the democratic freedom to do what they can to put that right. I applaud the courage of those who live in political systems I can barely imagine who have taken to the streets to give voice to, in some cases, hundreds of years of simmering resentment. I hope that the Arab states can find their solutions, free if at all possible from Western interference, and that people will not have to keep dying in the pursuit of democracy. History is being written across North Africa and the Middle East, and it’s probably about time too.

The madness of ‘Deadline Day’

Mercifully, this was my first ‘Transfer Deadline Day’ for some years which remained untouched by the hype and breathless speculation of Sky Sports News (I cancelled my subscription some months ago). As it turned out there was probably no need for that particular network’s passion for sensationalism, as another day of extraordinary gambling in the transfer market unfolded with Fernando Torres heading for Chelsea for £50m and – in perhaps the most eyebrow-raising move of recent years – an apparently reluctant Andy Carroll making the switch to Liverpool from Newcastle for £35m.

Every year one of the over-monied English Premier League clubs takes an extraordinary leap for a seemingly ordinary player, and every year there is the inevitable chorus of “this can’t go on”. Yet we know there will be more of the same in the summer and another rash of panic-buying a year from now. There seems no end in sight for a level of spending we all routinely refer to as unsustainable.

I’m no enthusiast for Tottenham Hotspur but – even for a club managed by Harry Redknapp – they too had a remarkable Deadline Day. Bids for Carroll, Blackpool’s Charlie Adams and a seemingly endless pool of £38.5m-rated Spanish centre-forwards were capped by a £500,000 approach for Everton’s Phil Neville, a move their manager David Moyes described as ‘insulting’.

Redknapp, of course, is great copy for the sports journalists during the transfer window. Not for him the quiet reticence of only speaking when you actually have something to say – Harry loves nothing better than discussing other clubs’ players, giving the nod to the journos about the ‘deals’ he’s working on. Some regard him as something of a national treasure, the coming saviour of the English national team. Others see him as a throwback to another era, when players moved on a nod and a wink and everyone in the game ‘looked after each other’ as it were.

Personally I see him simply as an irritant, someone who should learn the concept of good manners and not ‘tapping a player up’. I’d quite like him to take the England job, sooner rather than later preferably, because I’m fed up of Spurs looking like they might be successful. It’s hard to imagine him as a national coach, however. No transfer market and therefore no opportunity to make public overtures towards Spanish forwards who might be able to “come in and do a job for us”. It would be destined to end in tears, but would no doubt be hugely entertaining along the way.

I never quite understood the rationale behind the transfer window. It always seems to be unfairly restrictive on the clubs with the smallest squads and the tightest resources. Newcastle, for example, now find themselves a key striker down with no chance to bring in a replacement until the summer. The ‘big’ clubs, by contrast, can afford to splash out heavily with a few hours of the window remaining, thereby reinforcing their dominance on a league already controlled by sugar daddy owners with deep pockets (or, in the case of the Glazers at Manchester United, large overdraft facilities). Perhaps the worried cries of unsustainability over the years have been wide of the mark, but Deadline Day does rather preserve the status quo – the one reason above all others that nothing’s likely to change soon.