We The People
Lucy chewed on her chicken and pesto sandwich, savouring the taste and texture of the crusty crumbs in her mouth. Mindfulness had been life changing for her social anxiety. Narrow your focus to the here, the now; the flavours, the textures. Experience it. It helped to filter out the noise, the posturing from her colleagues on days, like this, when there was a controversial vote.
Today’s hot topic was access to health care, and what restrictions should be placed on that. All around her, Lucy could hear, if she let herself listen, self-proclaimed experts spouting ‘facts’ that they’d gleaned from celebrities, memes or the posturing of interested parties.
In the past, Lucy had confronted them. She’d asked questions, quietly, politely, insistently until she had shattered any illusion that the speaker was well informed. She had learnt, though, to pick her battles wisely. On days like today, when her opinion ran so counter to the majority, it was better to say nothing. To enjoy the moist, saltiness of the meat fibres as her molars ground them, the sudden pungency of basil and Parmesan, the yeasty lightness of the bread. To trust in New Democracy.
Breathe. Chew. Savour the sudden sweetness of a tomato.
‘Fucking civics. I was just about to level up on Candy Crush! Here, can I use your screen?’
Breathe. Chew. Identify the peppery undertones of rocket.
‘Nope, I’ve been shut out for a week. Fucking civics lock.’
Lucy closed her eyes, swallowed and sucked in a deep breath. The guy sounded desperate, the sort of desperate that would make him feel entitled to come and ask a stranger for their pad. Wiping her fingers on her napkin, Lucy thumbed the screen, offered up her iris for identification and then activated the civics app.
‘Hey, can I use your pad?’ The unwelcome voice was, as she had expected, suddenly much closer, inside her personal space.
‘Sorry. Civics,’ Lucy murmured, hoping he’d imply the ‘lock’. She didn’t even turn to look at the guy. She just waved her screen close enough for him to see which app was open.
‘Fucking civics lock,’ he muttered as he moved on through the cafeteria in search of a free screen.
Lucy had never been under a civics lock. Since the New Democracy requirements had been voted through, she had always ensured that she put aside the designated one hour a week to read and vote on the issues of the day. She quite enjoyed it, if she was honest, but that wasn’t a popular opinion.
The same people who had only stirred themselves to vote when whipped to a nationalistic frenzy, who had shouted that they wanted to reclaim power, to return it to the hands of the people, to take it from the career politicians and ‘the elite’, now resented the time needed to inform themselves and make their choices. To counter that, a vote had been taken to block Internet access of those who hadn’t carried out their civic duty; the civics lock.
The screen offered Lucy the chance to vote on health care access. Lucy began to read, picking up her sandwich again and taking a bite as she scanned the words. She was familiar with the arguments being presented. She knew that many simply scrolled to the end and voted without reading, but that wasn’t an approach she was comfortable with. She believed in the premise of New Democracy, that all decisions should be made for the people, by the people; but if things were going to be done in her name, she wanted to be sure she knew what they were.
Both the sandwich and her lunch hour were finished by the time she clicked to register her vote. A heaviness had settled in her stomach, a weight that came from the responsibility she had shouldered. To Lucy’s compassionate heart the idea that someone would be refused access to healthcare because of their weight, their lifestyle choices, or because they were not genetically ‘British’ was frightening. Injustice was frightening, even when it was not her that suffered for it.
As she left the dining hall, she recognised the voice of the man who had spoken earlier. He had found someone willing to lend him their pad, his face screwed up in concentration as he tried to complete the level. Priorities, Lucy thought, letting out a breath and returning to her desk.
That evening, Lucy kicked off her work shoes and curled into the velvet softness of her couch, pulling a cosy blanket around her. A glass of red wine gleamed like ruby in the dimmed lights of her apartment, all part of the ritual to cast off the busy-ness of the working day.
Reaching out to pick up a novel, Lucy was startled by a sudden, business-like rapping at the door. Lucy’s right to privacy, as a certified introvert, was protected by law; she couldn’t recall the last time she had received an unexpected caller.
For a few, long moments, Lucy stared at the wooden front door, at the way the light caught the grain of the wood even through layers of paint, how the striations glistened. She steadied her breath. The knock came again.
Pulling the door open, Lucy was confronted with not one but two gentlemen callers. They were both wearing dark suits and uniformly smart haircuts, their smiles just a fraction too sincere.
‘Good evening, we’re so sorry to intrude,’ said the first man.
Not sorry enough to call ahead, Lucy thought.
‘We would have called ahead but we wanted to approach you discretely,’ added the second.
‘Yes. Ms Rawlins, we represent certain commercial interests. These interests wish to ensure that their Civic Messages are reaching the right ears. We believe that you can help us with that.’
‘Yes, Ma’am. You have been identified as an Influencer, in the
circles we wish to penetrate.’
Lucy cleared her throat around a sudden desire to laugh.
‘I don’t think that can be right. I’m not an influencer.’ Lucy knew of a few Influencers, people whose social media followings were so large they could sway votes. She had little in common with any of them.
‘You’re the sort of influencer we’re looking for,’ explained number 2.
‘A person of genuine integrity. May we come in?’
Lucy paused, giving herself the space of a deep in-breath and it’s precisely twice the length outward counterpart. Releasing her confusion, grounding herself in the moment.
‘I’m sorry, have I got this right? You’re saying that, because of my personal integrity, I have become someone of influence. As a result, you’re here, cloak and dagger, on my doorstep representing “commercial interests” in the hopes that I will abandon that integrity and say what they pay me to?’
Number 1 began to bluster, but Lucy focused on the sudden rush of blood to number 2’s cheeks, the way his eyes darted to the ground, away from her gaze.
‘No, Gentlemen, I’m sorry. Integrity is the one thing that you can never purchase, that’s what makes it so rare.’
The door swung closed, settling into the aperture with a satisfying clunk. Lucy turned the key in the lock, hearing the snick as the tumblers secured the entrance.
All at once, Lucy felt the salty burn of tears tumbling from her eyes to chase their way down her cheeks. An emotional reaction to something that her mind was still processing. The wealthy, big business…they had their fingers in New Democracy. Of course they did. She’d known that the big Influencers were up for sale, but celebrity endorsements were easily dismissed. If they’d come to her door, though, could any of her friends opinions be trusted? Was everything tainted?
Lucy backed away from the door, dashing the tears from her eyes, feeling ideas become solid, giving her strength. If her integrity had been noticed by them, it must have been noticed by others. Perhaps there was a way she could use her influence, after all.
Pulling up her pad, Lucy logged on to her social network.
Lucy Rawlins has added a note: When is integrity, not integrity? When it’s for sale.
Not because of a flag,
But because of the man who
got my suitcase down on the plane
without my asking, and quietly,
embarrassedly, moved it closer to me
Because he had noticed the stewardess
single me out for a hand luggage telling-
off in the queue.
Britain is great
Not because of a colour,
unless that colour is the green of
the fresh land, watered and wetted
and soaked and drenched until we all hide,
laughing together under umbrellas,
bus shelters, in pubs, cafes and shops.
Britain is great
Because Byrhtnoth, through ‘ofermod’
(an excess of heart or mind or pride)
let the Danes come over for a fair fight,
instead of slaughtering them where they stood
trapped; and went on to lose at Maldon
but at least we got salt from the wounds.
Britain is great
Because we understand nuance. This
is not black or white. It so much more.
Perhaps the nuances of the language
have trained our brains for this. Let’s
not lose it in Twitter. We recall our history,
our racial components, with every sentence
We the people voted for Trump, but many were dismayed and surprised by the election result. I admit, I thought Hillary would squeak it but I wasn’t surprised. I’m not a Republican but I’m not dismayed. Not yet.
Firstly, at 41 I’ve been around long enough to see pundits get things wrong several times over and, for that matter, so has a two year old. Second, I consulted a variety of media during the campaign and not all of it suggested a Hillary victory. Some may find some of my sources dubious, but even the likes of ‘Infowars’ said something useful about inaccurate polling, as it turns out it was. Perhaps the most important source of all was the one people would be most dismissive of.
In a recent HOW story (theme: Beauty to Ashes) about a deceased Donald speaking through a medium I hedged my bets somewhat, but implied Trump lost the election. However, my story was inspired by the website channelingerik.com that actually prognosticated his victory. To cut a long story short, the website’s namesake, nineteen year old Erik Medhus, committed suicide five years ago but he allegedly speaks from the other side.
What we can all agree on, because it's verifiable fact, is not only did Erik or his would be spokesperson predict a Trump victory at around the time things were apparently going so badly for Trump (http://channelingerik.com/the-presidential-candidates/) but Erik’s insight into his psychology and views on what a Trump presidency might entail seem prescient already, given that Donald is already dialing down his rhetoric. It’s a balanced assessment, pointing out that Trump’s major flaw is his ego and his inability to relate to other people but also saying he can make things happen (or ‘manifest shit’ as the young Erik puts it). Erik’s mother Elisa, who conducts the interviews, seemed to echo the fear of so many people the world over. Could we, she asked, trust Trump with the nuclear codes? Erik replied:
YOU CAN BECAUSE HE KNOWS WHERE HE CAME FROM, AND HE’S VERY PATRIOTIC. HE WANTS TO PROTECT [THE COUNTRY] FOR PEOPLE, BUT HIS AVENUES TO DO SO ARE EXOTIC OR ALMOST FOREIGN TO WHAT YOU’RE USED TO. THAT’S WHY HE’S RUFFLING A LOT OF FEATHERS. I WILL SAY, THOUGH, THAT EGO CAN GET IN THE WAY.
This opinion seemed plausible to me so I adopted it in my portrayal of Donald. It reminds me somewhat of Nigel Farage’s sly characterisation of Trump as a ‘Great Silverback gorilla.’ The gorilla can seem aggressive, tearing around thumping his chest and charging anyone who comes near, but we know he is essentially a peaceful mammal trying to protect his family.
Looking beyond a website dedicated to the teachings of a dead teenager I looked for some insight from the man himself. I read that Donald Trump has said many times that he uses exaggeration as a sales tactic, so there was reason to think his whip-up-a-crowd campaign talk was a viral sales pitch more than non-negotiable policy. He’s effectively out politicianed most politicians by using a simple, emotive language in body and voice, that stays with you.
Also, there’s a popular video on YouTube called ‘This video will get Donald Trump elected.’ Despite the manipulative piano soundtrack, it’s a telling portrait of what’s mattered the most to Trump over the last thirty odd years. This comes from a 1988 Oprah Winfrey interview:
WINFREY: Would you run?
TRUMP: Probably not, but I do get tired of seeing the country get ripped off... I would never want to rule it out totally.
In other words, he had no particular political ambition but was motivated by the raw deal he thought America had been getting ‘for 25 years’ at that time and remained consistent. Whereas Hillary’s campaign was underpinned by the notion that the US is already great, Trump had been saying for sometime that it had fallen from its perch and was getting stitched up in bad trade deals.
Given that many on the left were saying that the America of 2016 is so much better than thirty years ago (or more) it begs the question about who is right and how you define ‘better’. Well, in reality both sides may have a point. Certainly from a civil liberties perspective things are on the up in America (though not everybody feels the same about civil liberties). For instance, it’s easier being gay in today’s America than it was in the 1980s. (Note, I don’t say easy). America has relaxed its drug laws. Life expectancy has increased. On the other hand, Trump has underlined an intractable economic problem that Hillary played down: that of America’s spiralling debt and steady decline, with many middle class Americans become social climb-downers. Amongst others, Trump blames Mexico and China.
In the 1980s China was only starting to wake up from its Maoist nightmare (which nevertheless united the country, the prerequisite for what followed) and wasn’t a major economic player but is now emerging as the world's foremost power. For some, this hasn’t sunk in. During the EU referendum campaign China was only ever mentioned in passing, as if a country that is already setting the geopolitical agenda and liable to do so much more emphatically in future seemed less relevant to the UK than icebergs to the crew of the Titanic.
In fact, China has shown that it can use it’s power to intimidate smaller countries (Google: Norway-Nobel Prize-China-Salmon), which is one reason it may have been better off in Europe, and Donald has long claimed China is exploiting America but not necessarily in the xenophobic way people might think. He says, “I love the Chinese”, “I would do what they’re doing if I could,” “You can respect people when they’re beating the hell out of you.”
Trump respects business acumen and tended to get behind any president he thought was good for trade and the economy. He said Bill Clinton was a better president than George Bush and the Clintons were invited to his wedding. He thought Obama would be a good ‘cheerleader’ for America but was disappointed. He didn’t run for office in 2012 but said he’d do whatever he could for Romney. His primary concern was apparently America’s economic decline rather than the doctrine of many hitched to his wagon.
So, is China beating the hell out of the US and more importantly, does the US actually have a choice in the matter? Well, I never wrote a thesis on this you understand, but at face value it looks like it is big league. The West apparently sewed the seeds of its own demise by tapping China as a cheap source of labour whilst not safeguarding its intellectual property and it’s now awoken a giant that probably no one can contain.
China is now sells the US practically everything that is in its homes, whilst buying less from it than its tiny neighbour Canada does and lends it money to buy its goods. In the meantime, it’s leaning on Hollywood to show films that show China in a good light and making inroads into the West's so called free press, the China Daily having done a deal with the Telegraph to print some of its articles. In addition, China promotes Chinese language and culture on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter whilst blocking those websites in China.
China doesn’t just want a high standard of living, more than anything it wants cultural influence. It feels a strange blend of awe and resentment at how Western ideas, art and mores have spread around the globe and wants to lead the way in the future. Partly because it feels it it was the greatest country in the world before the West did unfair things to it and partly because it thinks it’s her turn. China uses this sense of injustice and impatience to fuel a political will to succeed that simply doesn’t exist in divisive Europe and America.
Trump may or may not understand all this, but he thinks he knows a bad deal when he sees one. Perhaps short-sighted politicians have been making them for many years and there is some wiggle room for improvement. Others say not, but the key thing is understanding what Trump is most concerned about. In an interview with Trump and Mike Pence sat side by side, Pence said, "This is all about the decline of America." These sentiments were not entirely dissimilar to those of a black woman who posted a rant on Facebook that went viral:
STOP MAKING THIS ABOUT WHITE PEOPLE. THERE ARE PLENTY OF BLACKS AND HISPANICS AND PEOPLE OF EVERY STRIPE WHO SAID NO TO THE PROGRESSIVISM, THE TRANSGENDER BATHROOMS, THE HIGHER TAXES...AMERICA SAID IT IS TIME TO GET BACK TO NORMAL OPERATIONAL STANDARDS.
Of course, it’s easy to pick apart her remarks, but the same can be done for left wing diatribes. The point is, she feels that America has focused on civil liberties to the detriment of core issues, or to put it another way, ‘It’s the economy, stupid.’ Some think the greatest human right, beyond that of freedom of speech (which I don’t believe truly exists in any country), is food, shelter and a job. Whether or not he could best deliver those, Trump articulated that sense of helplessness and loss of self-respect many Americans feel.
The other thing worth pointing out, as it so often is, is that the president isn’t some all powerful God who can do just what he pleases. He must take his party with him, and to some extent the opposition, and he’s only got four years to do it in. He’ll also become aware of political realities in office that he was blind to outside it. In effect, the election of an opposition party does not result in a reverse in polarity, public and parliamentary voices of many persuasions make themselves heard and ultimately, a party seldom gathers momentum in government without being chastened by compromise.
When Vice President-elect Mike Pence emerged with his wife from their meeting with the Vice President Joe Biden and his wife the press asked, “Are you worried that the new administration will dismantle everything that you’ve accomplished?” Biden replied, “NO, I’M NOT WORRIED. LOOK, THEY RAN ON A PLATFORM, THEY’RE GOING TO TRY TO MOVE, I THINK THERE’S A LOT OF THINGS WE CAN FIND ACCOMMODATIONS ON...LOOK, IT’S A WHOLE NEW WORLD.”
It was an upbeat reply, probably too upbeat, but the heartening thing is, Obama and Biden are graciously putting aside political differences and doing everything they can to help the new team prepare and actively saying they’re rooting for them.
But for some, perhaps this ultimately comes down to identity politics, where people feel a white man that boasted about groping women is a terrible figurehead for a country that should be empowering minorities and promoting equality and that his very election threatens so much that has been achieved, even world safety. In the words of a friend of mine in Prague, no doubt with Putin also in mind:
UNTIL WE KNOW OUR FREEDOM IS NOT IN DANGER, WE CAN'T BE TOO CAREFUL...EVERYTHING ELSE IS NEGOTIABLE, BUT THIS GUY COULD WELL END UP CRUSHING FREEDOM HERE, THERE AND EVERYWHERE...
Perhaps but then, isn’t there disagreement on how to preserve freedom and even what it is? The right invokes 'freedom' as an ideal, they see left wing policy as a threat to liberal democracies. I can almost hear Trump saying, 'Until we know our freedom is not in danger, we can't be too careful' to explain escalating security checks on Muslims entering America (more likely than an outright ban). Likewise, the right wing think that Merkel and co have undermined freedom by allowing lots of Muslims who are ideologically opposed to Western values settlement and further destablising the Middle East and Africa with the war in Libya.
Who's right? Don’t know. But progressives will rise again and Trump may yet do SOME good.