Tag Archives: Trump

Churchill or Bust?

President Barack Obama shows Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom a bust of Sir Winston Churchill in the private residence of the White House, July 20, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

There are so many big lies in the world – think Brexit Bus or the current outpourings from the Whitehouse – that there is a danger that the little lies slip through unnoticed. I am not talking about the run of the mill little white lies or the exaggerations and omissions that happen all the time. Instead I want to talk about seemingly minor inaccuracies that become significant further down the line.

 

CHURCHILL’S BUST

The story of Churchill’s bust is one such tale. According to the myth Barack Obama removed a bust of Winston Churchill from the White House and returned it to the British Government when he became President in 2009 because of his alleged antipathy towards the United Kingdom.

That is the version that the Daily Telegraph published at the time and it returned to prominence in 2012 when Charles Krauthammer used it again as evidence of the Obama regime’s antipathy to Britain in an opinion piece in the Washington Post.

There was initial confusion in the Obama team when they issued a denial.

This is 100% false. The bust still in the White House. In the Residence. Outside the Treaty Room.

The denial was wrong. The bust had been returned. But that was because it had only been on loan to president Bush while the original White House bust of Churchill, which has been there since 1965, was either undergoing restoration work or was in its usual home outside the Treaty Room in the private residence on the second floor of the White House. As the same Obama White House Archive post makes clear in an update:

On January 20, 2009 — Inauguration Day — all of the art lent specifically for President Bush’s Oval Office was removed by the curator’s office, as is common practice at the end of every presidency. The original Churchill bust remained on display in the residence.

They even provide a picture of President Obama showing the bust to Prime Minister Cameron in the White House residence. But that initial error by President Obama’s staff was seized on as a lie by opponents who ignored subsequent corrections. They  used the return of the bust to build a case against President Obama. Never mind that the fact of the return did not support the proposition that President Obama was hostile to the UK. The initial denial of the fact of the return of the bust and the subsequent correction were themselves taken as evidence to support the proposition. The correction was described as a humiliating climb-down and further doubt was cast on President Obama’s motivation. This interview of Krauthammer by Bill O’Reilly on Fox News is especially interesting.

B. O’REILLY: Here’s the back story. Some people believe that President Obama doesn’t like Winston Churchill because of British colonialism in Africa, particularly Kenya. So that he didn’t want old Winnie looking at him because he didn’t like him. That he sent it back because of that. That’s what’s been around.
Now, your point on even bringing it up, the bust deal was, what?
KRAUTHAMMER: My point was I don’t read into people’s minds. If I wanted to, I would have remained in psychiatry. All I know is that the British reaction to the return of the bust was extremely negative, and it felt like it was an insult, that this was a gift after 9/11 to show solidarity. The British had soldiers serving with us at the time in Iraq and Afghanistan, really standing shoulder to shoulder and this was a slight. That’s how they saw it.

Krauthammer is taking his cue from the Telegraph, who in turn were quoting the British Embassy. But the bust was not a gift. It was a loan. And it was not a sign of solidarity after 9/11. It was loaned to President Bush in July, months before the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre. So on one hand we have a genuine mistake because President Obama’s staff were confused by the fact that there were two Churchill busts in the White House in 2009, and they quickly issued a correction when their mistake was pointed out. On the other hand we have an attack on President Obama’s motivation and his state of mind that had no basis in fact. President Obama’s critics have yet to issue a correction to their mistaken apprehension of the facts.

BREXIT

The supposed antipathy of President Obama to British colonialism based on his Kenyan roots was to return during the Brexit referendum campaign. President Obama intervened on behalf of his old ally, Prime Minister Cameron to dismiss the idea that a trade deal with the USA would replace our access to the single market. President Obama pointed out that the EU was a major trading partner and Britain outside the EU could expect to find itself at the back of the queue for trade deals. I find it inconceivable that Barack Obama would intervene so flagrantly in the internal affairs of an ally without the express approval of David Cameron. But it proved to be yet another misstep by the Remain Campaign.

Boris Johnson for the Brexit camp responded by reviving the tale of Churchill’s bust and expanding on Bill O’Reilly’s anti-colonial argument by claiming that President Obama disliked Churchill because he had sent British troops into Kenya to quell an uprising. In a Brexit campaign pandering to the fears of immigration by those in Britain’s equivalent of the Rust Belt in the USA such dog whistle racism was condemned by the Remain camp and went unchallenged in the Brexit camp. President Obama answered the claims of anti British and specifically anti Churchill bias at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Cameron but to no avail.

THE STORY SO FAR

The best timeline of events is here. The short version is that the right wing Daily Telegraph put an anti-Obama spin on the original return of the bust in 2009 that erroneously linked the original loan of the bust to 9/11. In 2012 Christopher Krauthammer revived the tale and also played up 9/11, claiming that the return of the bust was an insult to the solidarity shown by Britain to the USA and showed where President Obama’s real sympathies lay. Though he was not so explicit as Dinesh D’Souza who said in his The Roots of Obama’s Rage.

Obama views Muslims who are fighting against America in Iraq and Afghanistan as freedom fighters, somewhat akin to Indians or Kenyans fighting to push out their British colonial occupier.

The myth was revived by anti EU campaigner Boris Johnson to undermine President Obama’s support for Prime Minister Cameron and the Remain campaign. The UK subsequently voted to leave the EU. Then, employing a similar populist strategy with complete disregard for the facts, Donald Trump successfully ran for president on a blatantly racist and sexist ticket.

THE STORY LINGERS ON

And it is not over yet. President Trump’s election has aroused protest on both sides of the Atlantic. 1.8 million people have signed a petition condemning the proposed state visit to the UK by President Trump. On February 6th the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, was adamant that the democratic values of the UK parliament, its anti racism, anti sexism and respect for the rule of law were inimical to an invitation to President Trump to address the UK parliament. In opposition to John Bercow Churchill’s bust was evoked by Republican Congressman, Joe Wilson. He suggested that it was the Republican Party that had restored this bust to its place of honour in Congress. This is yet another bust of Churchill that was not presented to Congress until 2013 and was then placed inside Congress’s statuary hall  in the Capitol Building were it remains to this day.

So some misreporting in the Daily Telegraph and a misunderstanding by President Obama’s white House staff about an obscure piece of statuary has morphed into a symbolic battle with anti EU campaigners in the UK and pro Trump supporters in the USA, claiming Winston Churchill as an ally against  Barack Obama, the pro Europe camp within the UK and the Democratic opposition in the USA.

The Nazis coined the phrase that, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” But before them Lenin had claimed that, “a lie told often enough becomes the truth.”

And no lie is too small to become truth. We ignore all lies at our peril.

Is Trump a God? The Consolations of Mythology.

Bernard Knox’s introduction to Robert Fagles’ translation of The Iliad contains an interesting discussion on the nature of the gods and heroes of Greek myth. In contrast to the moral theology that has subsequently developed out of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, gods and heroes were not expected to be a source of ethical or moral behaviour. If you wanted guidance on how to lead a good life you turned to philosophy rather than religion. It was Socrates who declared that the unexamined life was a life unlived, in the same sense that non-sentient animals exist without living. Beast or god? It was a moot point for Aristotle:  “The man who is incapable of working in common, or who in his self -sufficiency has no need of others, is no part of the community, like a beast or a god.”

Knox takes up this theme.

“To be a god is to be totally absorbed in the exercise of one’s own power, the fulfilment of one’s own nature, unchecked by any thought of others except as obstacles to be overcome; it is incapable of self-questioning or self-criticism.
“But there are human beings who are like this. Preeminent in their particular sphere of power, they impose their will on others with the confidence, the unquestioning certainty of their own right and worth that is characteristic of the gods.”

This description straightaway called to mind the phenomena of world leaders like Putin and Trump. Their policy decisions are guided not by reason but by their own psychological need to be accorded at least the accoutrements of respect and adulation. Being a god or a hero in the world of the ancient Greeks was not necessarily a good thing. The gods were similarly capricious beings who demanded worship and adulation but could be very fickle in their favours. The heroes sought to live like the gods but all were fated to die like men.

“Heroes might be, usually were, violent, antisocial, destructive, but they offered an assurance that in some chosen vessels humanity is capable of superhuman greatness, that there are some human beings who can deny the imperatives which others obey in order to live.
“The heroes are godlike in their passionate self-esteem. But they are not gods, not immortal. They are subject, like the rest of us, to failure, above all to the irremediable failure of death.”

Death comes to all. But heroes could achieve redemption if they recognized their failings and made their peace with the world before the end. Though it would come a bit late for their victims.

“And sooner or later, in suffering, in disaster, they come to realize their limits, accept mortality and establish (or re-establish) a human relationship with their fellowmen. This pattern, recurrent in the myths of the  Greeks, and later to be the model for some of the greatest Athenian tragedies, is first given artistic form in the Iliad.”

But what of the Gods? They are immortal, all-powerful beings. Why should they even want to change? There is a novel take on this in “The Last Days of Troy,” Simon Armitage’s masterly achievement in turning the Iliad into a two act play. At one point the gods are arguing about whether they should stand by while the superior Trojans triumph or should they intervene and help the Greeks win.

Zeus: We need believers, people of faith. If we sympathise – rule with a bleeding heart – then we favour the weak. And the weak are fickle and disappointed, diseased. The weak are weak. Do we put our future in their shaking hands?
Athene: You are saying … let the powerful survive. Those of the strongest arm.
Zeus: And the quickest arm, and the deadliest aim and the sharpest mind. It might be tomorrow or it might take another ten years. But someone will triumph either through muscle or brain …
Thetis: And they’ll be worthy of our praise.
Zeus: … and we of theirs.

An interesting point of theology. Zeus is wondering if the gods are actually made in the image of man by man. They may be immortal but they draw their potency from their worshippers.  And in the play Simon Armitage creates a modern day Zeus, devoid of all power who scrapes a living as an actor pretending to be Zeus and selling souvenirs on Mount Olympus.
And so, to our own modern day Zeus. Today I heard Trump say in a press conference that he respects the sovereignty and the right to self-determination of the United Kingdom; as if that were ever in his gift to bestow or to deny! He certainly matches the gods in overweening arrogance. He also matches them in his dependency on public approval. Deny him that. Lose no opportunity to expose him to public ridicule. Organize in opposition to his every move in the hope and expectation that he self-destructs before he manages to destroy America and the world. Our latter-day twilight of the gods cannot come to soon.

Corbyn’s critics plumb new depths

On Sunday Nick Cohen wrote a column in the Observer: Extremism thrives because of cowardly collaborators.  It was fairly run of the mill. Republican politicians who pride themselves on their desire to emulate Churchill and compare Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba to Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler are showing cowardice and hypocrisy by refusing to condemn Donald Trump whom Cohen describes in these terms:

I don’t throw the word “fascism” around, but can we at least accept that Trump follows the Führerprinzip? He has no colleagues, only followers. He is a racist. Not a closet racist, or a dog-whistle racist, but a racist so unabashed that the Klan endorses him. Above all, he has the swaggering dictator’s determination to bawl opponents into silence with screams of “loser”, “dummy”, “fraud”, “puppet,” “biased”, “disgusting”, “liar” and “kook”.

Cohen believes that Trump is unfit to hold office and that any Republican worth his or her salt should come out and say so. But most are staying silent or openly endorsing him, either out of fear or self-interest. This is unremarkable stuff. Many American commentators are making similar points, going so far as to say that Trump is destroying the GOP. This might be expected from The Washington Post but a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush is saying the same thing.

Now, I imagine the last person most people would compare to Trump is Jeremy Corbyn. Yet Cohen does just that in his final paragraphs.

Compare them to the British Labour MPs fighting Jeremy Corbyn. They are everything that conservatives despise: hand-wringingly PC, eco-conscious, emotionally literate, bleeding-heart do-gooders every last one of them. Christ, some of them may even read the Observer. But after the killing of Jo Cox by an alleged rightwing extremist, Angela Eagle, Jess Phillips and all the other anti-Corbyn MPs who are speaking out know that the death and rape threats from left-wing extremists may not just be bluster.

They are showing true courage. Not just moral courage but physical courage. A courage that those American conservatives, who are so loud in the determination to fight the threats of the past, and so silent before the dangers of the present, entirely lack.

By extolling the courage of Labour MPs who stand up to Corbyn and denigrating the cowardice in the GOP is Cohen implying that Corbyn is no better than Trump? And having already compared Trump to Hitler is he suggesting a similar parallel with Corbyn? Perhaps he is harking back to the furore about alleged anti-Semitism in Labour’s ranks and laying that at Corbyn’s door.

And note the not so subtle reference to the “alleged” right wing extremist who murdered Jo Cox that is set against the unequivocal “left-wing extremists” who are blamed for the anonymous online abuse being aimed at Corbyn’s opponents. You can almost hear the subtext.

“They say he was rightwing but just you wait until the left-wing extremists start making good their threats of violence. He may turn out to be not so rightwing after all.”

I happen to agree with Cohen about the craven hypocrisy of Republican politicians. But conflating that with the death of Jo Cox to imply that Labour MPs are more at risk of violence than their American counterparts in the GOP is taking the campaign against Corbyn to new depths. And it is not true. Apart from the IRA bombing campaign against Britain very few UK politicians have been the subject of political violence. By comparison, thirty-four US politicians and senior officials have been assassinated since 1825, including four Presidents of the United States. The most recent was a federal judge, John Rolls in 2011. Sixteen have been killed since the assassination of JFK in 1963. Following his assassination seven US presidents have been the subject of assassination attempts including Barack Obama. The plot to kill him was thwarted at the planning stage in 2008. You can read the full list here.

But in Cohen’s book the Left are all potential murderers and rapists unless proven otherwise. When allegations are raised about conduct within our ranks we are expected to condemn them out of hand whether they are true or not. Remember Angela eagle’s constituency office window that was never broken?

Perhaps he should reread his column, particularly the part where he says,

Latinos have to explain why they are not rapists and murderers or shut up and give up. Muslims have to explain that they are not terrorists or they lose the right to a hearing. At every stage, the argument is shifted on to the troll’s terrain of ethnic and religious loyalty tests. Except here the troll could become the world’s most powerful man.

We know how they feel. Except that here the troll writes a weekly column for the Observer.