January 6th, Epiphany in the Christian calendar, is most commonly marked here by the taking down of the pagan midwinter decorations. This year, on the day that gifts were brought from the east for the baby Jesus, some strange kings and magicians visited the home of the American Republic. Owen Dudley Edwards tells us all we need to know, and more, about that 2020 election, and then, the Epiphany at the Capitol.
THE UNCOMMON PROSTITUTE AND THE MAKING OF THE PRESIDENT 2020
I congratulate President-elect Biden very much on his victory, and of course I congratulate Kamala Harris on being the first female Vice-President as she will become in the history of the United States. And the United States is our closest and most important ally, and that’s been the case under President after President, Prime Minister after Prime Minister. It won’t change and I look forward very much to working with President Biden and his team on a lot of crucial stuff for us in the weeks and months ahead. Tackling climate change, trade, international security, many, many, many, many, many other issues.— Prime Minister Boris Johnson reporting message to President-elect Joseph Biden 10 November 2020
The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave.— President George Washington, Farewell Address, 17 September 1796
The BBC? I’m Irish.— Vice-President Joseph Biden when Nick Bryant wanted ‘a quick word for the BBC’ after the US Presidential Iowa Caucuses in January 2020
Prime Minister Boris Johnson may claim with more reliability than usual that he is more qualified than most Englishmen to interpret the United States of America being — like Ireland’s Taoiseach and President, Eamon de Valera — an American born in New York City: his parade of owning English nationalism may recall de Valera’s apparent ownership of Irish nationalism. Personally he is entitled to claim a Special Relationship with the USA, which he enacted as personal servitude somewhere between butler and boot-boy, until the time came for the butler to give notice and the boot-boy to polish the next President’s boots.
IT IS A MELANCHOLY TRUTH THAT EVEN GREAT MEN HAVE THEIR POOR RELATIONS (Charles Dickens, Bleak House (1852-53) chapter 28)
The most famous President/Prime Minister Relationships seem to originate on a personal level. There were no such duets before that of Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, forged because Churchill was half-American, his unpopularity with English Tories before 1940 exacerbated by his American skill at self-advertisement. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s nephew-in-law’s brother-in-law, and instructed him in 1961 to have the UK join the future EU as the USA’s agent, which France’s President Charles de Gaulle diagnosed and vetoed with effect for his own lifetime (significantly UK entry was achieved in 1972-73 when Prime Minister Edward Heath was genuinely European and President Richard Nixon cared little for Europe in general or the UK in particular). Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher joyously embraced President Ronald Reagan as the real-life embodiment of an English schoolgirl’s dreams of romance with Hollywood stars as visualised in Grantham cinemas: Hollywood probably enchanted more UK children than any other foreign power could claim, by whatever means. President George W. (‘Dubya’) Bush’s strong Special Relationship with Prime Minister Tony Blair (‘Yo Blair!’) commanded his military vassalage for very strong personal reasons as yet undisclosed, usefully studied in Robert Harris’s novel The Ghost (2007), and its film (2010). President Donald Trump’s Special Relationship throve on extreme conservative white Southerners and therefore treated Prime Ministers Theresa May and Boris Johnson as African-American slaves on his plantation, leading her behind him by her finger when at auction or commending him as the most promising piccaninny. There was certainly cordiality here, in contrast to war (Lord Liverpool vs James Madison in 1814 when the UK burned Washington DC), threat of war (Sir Robert Peel vs James Knox Polk elected in 1844 on the slogan ‘Fifty-four Forty or Fight!’ demanding the future British Columbia up to that latitude, Lord Palmerston vs Abraham Lincoln in the Civil War when the UK encouraged the rebel Confederacy diplomatically economically and navally), or rumours of war (Lord Salisbury vs Grover Cleveland in 1895 over Venezuela, David Lloyd George vs Warren G. Harding in 1921 in naval rivalry ended by the Washington Conference). Sir Anthony Eden and Dwight Eisenhower clashed in 1956 over Suez, ending in Eden’s political destruction. President Theodore Roosevelt proclaiming new US status as a world power in 1901-09 was careful to be nominal friends with all other world powers. President Woodrow Wilson in 1917 would not enter World War I as an ally of the UK, insisting the USA did so as an ‘Associated Power’. Clement Attlee had little common ground with Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson with Lord Hume or Harold Wilson, Nixon with Heath, John Major with Bill Clinton. Prime Minister Cameron was pained when President Obama declined to send himself or Vice-President Biden to the funeral of Margaret Thatcher whom Obama had never known (two Reagan cabinet members were sent whom she had known: as honorary undertaker-in-chief Mr Cameron was honouring Thatcher’s pretence of being head of state as well as head of government), but foolishly persuaded him to advise the Scottish electorate against independence and the UK electorate against Brexit: President Obama as the most dignified President since Franklin Roosevelt, perhaps since Washington, has a regal courtesy, but good manners may become a bridge too far.
THE CAUSES OF THE ENGLISH DEFEAT WERE ALL UNFAIR (W. C. Sellar & R. J. Yeatman, 1066 And All That (1930), Chapter xxiii)
Will the murky antecedents of the Special Relationship throw up dangerous precedents for Mr Johnson’s government? Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg has recently denounced the creation of the Scottish Parliament in 1997-99. Will he pursue this gerontophobia further into the past? Will he demand the Repeal of the Reform Act of 1832? Will he disavow the Peace of Paris in 1783 thus denying the existence of the USA? Or — see reviews of his recent book The Victorians — does he know enough history to demand anything? In the Boris revival of Orwell’s 1984 the USA has always been the UK’s closest and most important ally and therefore the UK has always been the USA’s closest and most important ally, thus following the 1984 precept IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.
AS COLD WATERS TO A THIRSTY SOUL, SO IS GOOD NEWS FROM A FAR COUNTRY (Proverbs xxv.25)
The BBC under perpetual Tory attack and new Tory management might well have found it the better part of discretion not to appear ‘too clever by half’ at the expense of President Trump while he remained Mr Johnson’s incompletely fallen idol. For all of Boris Johnson’s and Jacob Rees-Mogg’s questionable learning, grassroots Tories are happiest as anti-intellectuals which appetite the cabinet’s few intellectuals (e.g. Michael Gove) carefully feed. Even ‘The Papers’, the BBC’s daily survey of the morrow’s headlines, chooses a plurality of its journalist commentators and featured newspapers from Mr Johnson’s formeremployer the Telegraph, financially his fairy godmother. BBC coverage of Election 2020 from May to November was not so much biased towards President Trump as ready to adopt his more printable public perceptions, such as stressing Mr Joseph Biden’s caution and age (merely three years above Mr Trump’s). The BBC’s Jon Sopel’s harmonised that ‘no candidate has campaigned less for the Presidency than Joe Biden”. Since Mr Biden’s limited personal campaign respected self-distancing to fight Covit-19, Mr Sopel appeared to homologate Trumpian doctrine that mask-wearers were anaemic sissy Democrats while bare-faced Trumpeters were red-blooded American men and women. (Most Presidential candidates throughout US history campaigned only from their ‘front porch’.)
CAN TWO WALK TOGETHER, EXCEPT THEY BE AGREED? (Amos iii.3)
BBC coverage made much of Election 2020 recording a divided America, which might seem to sanitise Prime Minister Johnson’s initial elasticity as to who had won. There was division certainly, 55% of women now voting Democratic as against 46% of men. Women have roughly outnumbered men in the USA for a century. Congressional elections of 2018 bore the same message as the Presidential election of 2020: Trump in office alienated American women. Election 2020 showed stronger anti-Trump than anti-Republican voting, which proportionately should owe something to female anti-Trumpery. How divided are Trump voters of 2020 themselves? By New Year’s Eve, what loves to call itself the Grand Old Party was shattered between Republican voters for Biden, Republicans reluctantly voting for Trump in 2020, Republicans loyally voting for Trump in 2020 but opposed to his renomination in 2024, Republicans nominally for Trump 2024 but actually for pseudo-loyalists bound for 2024 themselves (Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, Rudy Giuliani, &c, &c), Republicans for Trump 2024 and nobody else., redividing between Republicans admitting that Biden had won, Republicans believing but refusing to admit that Biden had won, Republicans following President Trump’s refusal to acknowledge the Biden victory in popular vote or Electoral College. Georgia Republicans in the two Senatorial elections of 5 January 2021 were divided between campaigners urging Georgia voters to elect Republican Senators to block proposals from President Biden, and Trump irreconcilables insisting there is not nor can there be any President Biden, much as many of them believe that the white South really won the Civil War. The Republicans are not only divided but sliced. The BBC covering Election 2000 seemed to tell viewers that Presidential Elections are not concluded until the runner-up concedes, but concession or congratulation has no official status: the results initially called by press and TV networks are not official results (as President Trump correctly pointed out while apparently denying that his defeat could ever be legal).
‘BAN, ‘BAN, CA-CALIBAN
HAS A NEW MASTER: GET A NEW MAN.
FREEDOM, HIGH-DAY! HIGH-DAY, FREEDOM! FREEDOM, HIGH-DAY, FREEDOM!
(Shakespeare, The Tempest (1611) II.ii.195-8)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s last known homage to his Presidential Master became famous when apparently eradicated before despatch: its premature congratulations on President Trump’s second term of office might endorse illegality as judge after judge denied the outgoing President’s wild cries that he had won and ’by a lot’ (however indifferent to illegality Mr Johnson shows himself in his own UK legislation). After a brief visit to the cleaners, the UK congratulations were polished up for President-elect Biden: to plagiarise Hamlet (I.ii.180-81), the funeral baked meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage-tables. Prime Minister Johnson then paraphrased them for the public as epigraphed above, retaining President Trump’s style when making a claim or denying an offence. Mr Johnson had indeed produced an economically reusable draft: a well-turned coat needs little further alteration. Like the Master whom he was reluctantly losing, Prime Minister Johnson well knows how to wallow in a patriotism identified with one’s country and oneself so that the ‘our’ in ‘our closest and most important ally’ means Her Majesty and all her UK subjects no less than Mr Johnson self-presenting as a single entity, deriving from Margaret Thatcher’s filching the royal ‘we’. It enables him to claim he speaks for ‘the British people’ as voters for Brexit although they were not: the English and Welsh voted for it in smaller proportions than Northern Ireland’s vote to reject it, while it was defeated by every constituency in Scotland. Mr Johnson’s graceless switch of congratulations for Election 2020 merely reminded the President-elect that to this Prime Minister all US Presidents are ultimately the same milch cow. Mr Johnson wants Mr Biden to know that his change of allegiance proves him the greater Earth-saviour, grinning welcome to the climate-change Conference which the Prime Minister will host in Glasgow on the first 12 days of next November. Ex-Vice-President Biden’s intellect may not equal that of his former leader President Barack Obama, but he can tell a Trump from a Thunberg, and will hardly be won with arguments that carbon-diminishing consequences of Coronavirus constitute Tory triumphs, while his pride in his Irishness gives him more understanding of Scotland than Prime Minister Johnson may like. Mr Biden’s party from Right to Left is united in doctrine that their President is no Trump, and Mr Johnson will win few Democratic friends by assuming they may be sweetened by syrup mixed for the outgoing Republican regime.
BEHOLD, I SHEW YOU A MYSTERY; WE SHALL NOT ALL SLEEP, BUT WE SHALL ALL BE CHANGED.
IN A MOMENT, IN THE TWINKLING OF AN EYE, AT THE LAST TRUMP
(St Paul First Epistle to the Corinthians xv.52)
Once Prime Minister Johnson had betrayed his Trump, their personal similarity increased as fast as their social distancing. Mr Trump’s campaign assertions that if elected the Democrats would abolish God, sired Mr Johnson’s Christmastide announcement to the Sun that he brought ‘glad tidings of great joy’ in his latest EU agreement, thus declaring himself the Archangel announcing the birth of Jesus to the shepherds (Luke ii.10). His affinity to Mr Trump puts both of them in the tradition of American snake-oil salesmen or of the medieval European pedlars of Our Lady’s breast-milk. Yet the Special Relationship partly entails fundamental divergence on national authority: the President is head of state as well as of government, the Prime Minister — with or without a state funeral — is first servant of the Queen, the American people are the constituent power, the UK is summoned to the monarch’s service, the American is a citizen, the UK consists of subjects. Within these vital parameters there is much similarity and imitation: both US Presidential elections and UK elections to the House of Commons are executed on the anti-democratic first-past-the post systems: for the health of US and UK democracies both must learn from the small power lying geographically between them, the Republic of Ireland, where Proportional Representation produced a much more democratic system. Mice may be the most useful advisers to lions.
YOU NEED SOMEONE OLDER AND WISER
TELLING YOU WHAT TO DO
(Oscar Hammerstein II, ‘Sixteen Going on Seventeen’, The Sound of Music (1959))
BBC pundits insisted that no Presidential Election has ever shown the USA more divided than Election 2020, however cautious their reference to the UK’s Anglo-Scottish divisions. It drives from the twentieth-century UK superstition that the USA however wealthy was usually confused and thus in need of UK leadership. It produced improbable agreement between US isolationists and UK chauvinists on UK responsibility for US entry into World Wars 1 and 2. The Old Etonian Ian Fleming’s James Bond battened on this UK master-mind manipulation as on so much more English chauvinist self-delusion. The Old Etonian Boris Johnson was playing the same angelic harp in declaring the eternal alliance between US and UK. The original form of UK superior wisdom to US derived from insistence that the USA’s greatest disaster was its Declaration of Independence, as Frank Richards from 1908 to 1940 would occasionally tell the weekly Magnet readers amidst adventures in Greyfriars School, while the only US history studied at Oxford before 1970 was ‘Slavery and Secession’, meaning that its single importance was its breakup. When the American Civil War broke out, the future Cambridge Regius Professor of History Acton wrote that the disintegration of the USA was inevitable and irreparable. The UK has produced some of its finest analysts notably historians, journalists, travellers and even politicians. Let Scotland celebrate Glasgow’s Sir Denis Brogan still sparkling as journalist, novelist, political scientist, historian 46 years after his death, who made endless American political folklore his servant, turned innumerable footnotes into individual works of art, and laid down the firm principle as broadcaster, teacher and scholar that the Constitution was where all ladders into US studies start. BBC TV film-making on the USA was unrivalled under Boris Johnson’s father-in-law, the late Sir Charles Wheeler, from whom he could have learned much, for instance on the struggle for racial equality where Wheeler showed how Lyndon Johnson did more for the African Americans than any other President: as a product of the Deep South President Johnson rejected its segregation and deliberately lost five former Confederate States in Election 1964 by insisting on telling the world in a speech from New Orleans how Jim Crow had poisoned, corrupted and bestialised white society by its degradation of the blameless blacks. The BBC coverage of Election 2020 included stars, Clive Myrie whose deeply reflective and compassionate work on the Navajo native Americans of Arizona held its own for quality against all other commentators, Nick Bryant who answered the Boris Johnson Anglo-American myth-spinning by showing that Britain’s significant influence on American historical development included planting slavery.
OUR SOCIETY DISTRIBUTES ITSELF INTO BARBARIANS, PHILISTINES, AND POPULACE; AND AMERICA IS JUST OURSELVES, WITH THE BARBARIANS QUITE LEFT OUT, AND THE POPULACE NEARLY
(Matthew Arnold, Preface to Culture and Anarchy(1869))
The Washington Post hailed Dr Bryant as “That rare thing, a Brit who understands America’.
Why rare? UK writers on America include crack journalists and academic giants, creating histories deserving immortality such as Marcus Cunliffe’s The Literature of the United States, Maldwyn Jones’s American Immigration, Peter Parish’s The American Civil War, Godfrey Hodgson’s America in Our Time, Michael Heale’s The Presidential Quest, Philip French’s The Movie Moguls and Westerns. But Americana also attract the British (or Irish) bluffer, too snobbish to recognise the USA’s humanity, too lazy to study its Constitution, camouflaging inadequacy by latter-day imperial disdain for locals, interviewing by browbeating, interrupting, and multi-layer questioning, disregarding answers, prating the latest hollow cliché as though intoxicated by their own originality. P. G. Wodehouse, having settled in the USA from 1909, satirised the English writer on America in ‘Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest’ (Strand magazine (December 1916)):
‘ … You see, Mr Wooster, I am in America principally on business. No doubt you read my book, India and the Indians? My publishers are anxious for me to write a companion volume on the United States. I shall not be able to spend more than a month in the country, as I have to get back for the season, but a month should be ample. I was less than a month in India, and my dear friend Sir Roger Cremorne wrote his America from Within after a stay of only two weeks. ..,’
Wodehouse above all else was a professional writer and, being fond of his England and his America, resented UK charlatans enhancing their unmerited status by shoddy work and patronising attitudes.
I AM THE MAN, THE VERY FAT MAN, THAT WATERS THE WORKERS’ BEER
(‘Paddy Ryan’ [Dr R. E. W. Fisher], ‘The Man That Waters the Workers’ Beer’(1938))
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a monarchy ruling its subjects who elect representatives, while the President of the United States of America is elected by his fellow-citizens and the American people are the constituent power. If you murder someone in the UK Regina prosecutes you, but if you do it in the USA The People will. The distinction affects UK reportage of the US. The UK monarchical principle (dissected by Tom Nairn in The Enchanted Glass (1989, 2011)) automatically creates a golden calf spawning innumerable other golden calves nominally ruling each of the UK’s universities, banks, businesses, newspapers, &c, each employee deferring to each calf in fawning adoration of its banalities. The thing goes back to England’s Henry VIII usurping the Pope’s title to be Christ’s Vicar on Earth. England’s Elizabeth I turned the screw by substituting herself for the preceding English cult of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Christ’s mother. The English public schools used the divine principle via headmasters flourishing divinity doctorates up to the twentieth century, however remote from actual educational activity apart from chapel, flogging, &c. In modern television the Americans established the ‘anchor man’, a fighting general, working a best as a duet, particularly NBC’s Chet Huntley and David Brinkley in the mid-twentieth century. In the UK, it enthroned cult figures whose ignorance diminished integrity. Robin Day covering US Presidential elections confused the status equality of reporters and candidates by addressing candidates’ press officers as though they were mentally deficient boot-boys. David Dimbleby after leading BBC teams to each US Presidential election every four years was still calling the 244-year-old state of New Hampshire ‘North Hampshire’ in 2008, just as he undermined UK partnership in the EC with such folly as ‘if this were a real election’ when reporting EC elections. Lacking the patience and perception to understand it, Mr Dimbleby gibbered against the American political system as incomprehensible when supposedly interpreting results, and his replacement for Election 2020, Andrew Neil, began Election Night coverage by denouncing the Constitution and bullying women Democrats. (He had already made anti-Democrat programmes for American transmission intended to influence the election itself.) Mr Dimbleby’s anger may simply have been the rage of a lazy schoolboy denouncing the work he had failed to do, but Mr Neil had ancient fish of his own to fry. Did his hatred of the US Constitution derive from its affirmation of State legislatures? Having been made ruler of the Scotsman by new owners in 1996, he reversed the paper’s 25-year-old proud pro-devolution policy and forfeited half its circulation by perpetually rubbishing the new Scottish Parliament. His most notable contribution on Election Night 2020 was to cite the Kennedy-Nixon Election 1960 and applaud Nixon for not contesting the returns in Illinois (27 electoral votes) and Texas (24) officially assigned to Kennedy but suspect of corruption, noting Nixon’s memoirs stating he issued a statement of concession and congratulation to spare the USA the humiliation and diminution in international opinion induced by a contest and recount of the results, Mr Neil hinting that Nixon had been the candidate actually elected. Kennedy-Nixon was certainly the closest election in US history but it did not and constitutionally could not turn on Nixon’s belated concession statement. A frank exchange between party bosses settled the matter rapidly: Len Hall, the Republican National Chairman, told his Democratic opposite numbers the Republicans would contest the returns in Cook Country (Illinois), and in Texas, to which his opponents genially answered that while they were doing it, the Democrats would contest the results in southern Illinois, and elsewhere. The iron grip of Mayor Richard J. Daley over all forms of democracy in Chicago made its returns naturally suspect before a vote was counted, and Texas was notorious for questionable elections. But Republican-controlled southern Illinois was as dubious as Chicago, and a much more vulnerable target for investigation existed in Nixon’s own state of California (32) where the victorious Nixon was separated from Kennedy by only 0.5%. It would indeed have been a humiliation for the Democrats to have corruption charged against the returns in Texas, proud fiefdom of Kennedy’s running-mate, Lyndon Johnson. But the Democrats were 2% above the Republicans in Texas. Moreover, Nixon’s bad advice had destroyed the political careers of California’s leading Republicans Senator William Knowland and Governor Goodwin Knight in 1958, so that his cause would have few real friends on the ground in a contested election. And if a Texas contest might embarrass Johnson, a California dispute would be truly shameful for Nixon. So there were no contests in 1960. Still, however Nixonian Mr Neil’s loyalties in style and content, the precedent was certainly one to bear in mind not for its misinformation on post-election candidate concessions in 1960, but for the likelihood of challenges in 2020. If President Trump or his minions heard the Neil thesis, did it teach that Presidential candidates mustn’t concede elections and election returns apparently declaring defeat were probably fraudulent?
AS PRESIDENT, I HAVE NO EYES BUT CONSTITUTIONAL EYES: I CANNOT SEE YOU
(President-elect Abraham Lincoln, Reply to the South Carolina Commissioners, 27 February 1861)
US history cannot be understood without command of the Constitution of 1787-88 and its Amendments across two centuries. Omitted, observers’ voyages are bound in shallows and in miseries. The US Constitution and its Electoral College take the form they do because Independence was Declared in 1776 by 13 individual States in the split second before they united, and they have lasted for over 230 years while admitting 37 others with the same powers in relation to one another; the UK is the product of several unions and one separation staggered across a millennium without a written constitution and with ignorant contempt for those who have one.
FROM PLATO TO NATO
(Genre title for US College History Survey Courses, in use 1950s)
The US Constitution, the liveliest survival of the eighteenth century, had a remarkable power of thinking in the loftiest terms of Enlightened idealism and simultaneously in the lowest of hard-bitten bargaining. The US Presidency the Constitution created followed Plato’s Republic in desiring a philosopher-king as similar as possible to George Washington, perhaps the least philosophical leader and the shrewdest in that great revolution of the intellectuals. Plato in his Republic declared the best system to be one where elected guardians choose a philosopher-king. That was probably in the mind of the classics-schooled John Edward Taylor when he founded the Manchester Guardian in 1821 in anger against the Tory government’s Peterloo Massacre, his family controlling it for over a century as the foremost English liberal newspaper of its time (which it still remains). But the principle of guardians needed translation into a political vocabulary Americans would know, and they certainly knew about Electors. From 1714 to 1776 they had been ruled by a succession of rulers of Hanover who as George I, George II, and George III also ruled Britain, &c, from 1714, but from 1692 each ruler of Hanover was also one of nine Electors to choose the new Holy Roman Emperor, the latest being Joseph II in 1765. The Holy Roman Electors elected, but as Electors played no further part. As with much else, the US inherited Electors from its former ruler.
E PLURIBUS UNUM [‘OUT OF MANY, ONE’]
USA Motto approved by Act of Congress 1782
The BBC’s London-centred bias may have shown itself in several minions telling its viewers the Electoral College must convene as a unit, which constitutionally it never can do: they have real difficulty in realising the States exist as individual units, often failing to give the essential information on what state a Senator or Congressperson represents. Traditionally an MP would be ‘the Member for’ Someplace, while the USA recognises a ‘Senator from’Someplace. An MP is called to the monarch’s service to report what should be reported from the MP’s constituency, while a Senator or a Congressperson is sent by States and Districts to negotiate with one another and with the President, separately chosen. Under the Constitution (II.i on the President) ‘the Electors shall meet in their respective States, and shall vote by ballot … And they shall make a list of all the Persons voted for, and the Number of Votes for each; which they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate’ (normally the outgoing Vice-President). Each State’s Electors chosen in the Presidential Election meet in each State’s capital building, each Elector choosing whomsoever s/he thinks the best person to be President of the United States. When Article II was being devised in 1787 there was general agreement among the delegates that George Washington (silently presiding over the Convention) was obviously the ideal President, but when Election loomed towards the end of Washington’s two terms, the evolving political parties met in caucus in the US Congress and decided on their choice and State Electors were expected to pledge voting for their party caucus candidate (which in the 1830s gave way to National Conventions’ choices). Very occasionally an Elector votes for a different candidate from the one for whom s/he had pledged to vote, and in 1872 President US Grant carried 29 States entailing 286 Electoral votes ensuring his re-election, but the runner-up, the newspaper editor Horace Greeley, died on 29 November and Electoral votes pledged to him from 6 States were scattered among 4 persons, the dead Greeley receiving 3 votes (from Georgia) not counted (by House of Representatives Resolution when the Electoral Votes were being opened and counted). In 1960 Mississippi and half of Alabama voters chose Unpledged Electors. The total Electoral College vote then was 537 (538 since 1964). The Kennedy-Nixon popular vote was extremely close and in the interval between Presidential Election Day and counting of Electoral votes, C. Vann Woodward (white southerner pro-integration probably the leading American historian at that date) told his students it was quite possible that the officially Unpledged 8 Electors from Mississippi and 6 from Alabama might be joined by the 5 other Alabama Electors as well as Louisiana’s 10, Georgia’s 12 and South Carolina’s 8 Electors despite their being pledged to Kennedy. That would have reduced Kennedy’s promised 303 votes to 268. Civil Rights Bills of 1957 and 1960 piloted through the US Senate by Kennedy’s future running-mate Senator Lyndon Johnson had aroused bitter hostility from the Deep South. 49 Electoral votes would thus be for auction between Kennedy and Nixon, the price for the winner being the President’s commitment to the repeal of the Civil Rights Acts, promise not to use federal troops in integrating Southern schools and universities (as Eisenhower had in Arkansas in 1957), and other worse possibilities. Had this not resulted in a clear victory for one candidate in the Electoral College it would have gone to the House of Representatives where each State would have 1 vote (as had happened in 1824-25 electing John Quincy Adams over the front-runner in popular vote Andrew Jackson). Nixon had won only 219 votes in the Electoral College but these were from 26 states, Kennedy’s 303 from 22. This did not necessarily mean that the sum total of Each State’s Congresspersons in the House of Representatives would be the same as the State’s Presidential votes (Mississippi’s Representatives in the House would not have been Unpledged but Democrat in party allegiance yet could well have chosen to vote Republican in that utterly exceptional vote for the President). In the event Kennedy’s Electors stood firm, and the officially Unpledged cast their votes for the extreme segregationist Senator Harry Flood Byrd of Virginia (not a declared candidate) who netted 15 Electoral votes because an Oklahoma Elector dishonoured his promise to vote for Nixon and cast his vote for Byrd.
SEGREGATION NOW, SEGREGATION TOMORROW, SEGREGATION FOREVER
(Governor George C. Wallace of Alabama, Inaugural Address 14 January 1963)
President Trump’s origins are German and Scottish-island which may seem a long way from the Deep South, yet if his obviousPresidential antecedent was Tennessee’s Andrew Jackson born in South Carolina if not in Ireland itself — there may be a genuine if untestable ‘birther’ origin there — his most obvious precedent among major Presidential hopefuls was Governor George C. Wallace of Alabama, the man whose candidacy made Richard Nixon President in 1968, threatened his re-election, and was crippled for life in the process. After the war rabid segregationist demagogues figures arose again in ceremonial opposition to racial integration, but now more obviously divided between irreconcilables and opportunists. The seething hatred in the voice of Governor Ross Barnet of Mississippi, leading white racist attempts to reject the integrationist party platform of the 1960 Democratic convention, spoke for the sincerity of his foul convictions. But in neighbouring Alabama the chief electoral profiteer from segregation, Governor George Wallace, luxuriated in defence of segregation and yet his chatty geniality (‘Gawd bless y’all whaite ‘n’ coloured’) told those who had eyes to see that if integration came, he would ultimately become its champion. And he did.
FAR ALONG THE WORLD-WIDE WHISPER OF THE SOUTH WIND RUSHING WARM
(Alfred Tennyson, Locksley Hall, lines 25-26)
Wallace’s 1968 Presidential campaign leading a Third (American Independent) Party took Arkansas and 4 of Goldwater’s 5 Deep South states of 1964 but Thurmond delivered South Carolina for Nixon. The American Civil War Centennial rekindled secession traditions, but towards independence of political action. Wallace’s appeal to racists had won impressive if abortive results in 1964 Democratic primaries in Michigan and Maryland, and as American Independent candidate his popular vote in 1968 was slightly less than a third of each major party. Nixon, as victor of 1968, was well aware that had Wallace made fewer mistakes he could have eaten heavily into what eventuated as Republican totals, instead of chiefly wounding the Democrats. Wallace’s party might prove Nixon’s Nemesis in 1972, and as Professor Robert Mason of Edinburgh showed in Richard Nixon and the Quest for a New Majority, Nixon desperately wooed Southern alienation with little success in establishing Republican strength on non-Presidential level. Wallace’s crippling by an assassin early in 1972 removed the danger to Nixon’s re-election and expedited his landslide. Lyndon Johnson’s Voting Rights Bill of 1965 enfranchised African Americans ensuring Obama’s victories of 2008 and 2012, but also made them available to appeals from self-created spokesmen for have-nots, such as Trump 2016 if not Trump 2020.
ONLY GOD CAN TELL THE SAINTLY FROM THE SUBURBAN
(W. H. Auden, New Year Letter (1941)
Observers noted with surprise that the Latino vote in some States went for Trump in 2016 and 2020, but State politics had shown that likely for Cuban refugees in Florida and Texas. Two Cuban-American Senators, Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas ran for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2016. Children of refugees from Castro and ferociously if not religiously conservative, they won extraordinary support although newcomers. Latino support for radical Democrats was much more likely, but operative where Mexican-Americans were exploited labourers in California, Arizona, New Mexico and western Texas. Donald Trump may have won some Republican support as being the most likely candidate to defeat the Cuban-Americans in primaries, since his origins in recent immigrant stock were less visible, and like Andrew Jackson many of his initial backers may have taken him for an easily manageable puppet. John Kennedy’s election enthroned the Presidency’s first descendant of Great Irish Famine Catholic immigrants but nevertheless chose a man whose ancestors had been American residents for over a century. The Republicans were more apt to choose candidates flourishing ancient roots, such as Bushes’ ancestors with military service in the American Revolution and the War of 1812, but twenty years after their defeat by Kennedy they sought redemption by another descendant of Famine immigrants Ronald Wilson Reagan, albeit one who had lost his Catholicism en route.
Reagan, like Trump, had to battle his way up the greasy pole, and both enjoyed vanquishing Republican inheritors, Reagan defeating George Bush senior before adopting him as running-mate, Trump scorning his immediate Republican predecessor Dubya Bush and defeating his brother Governor Neil Bush of Florida. However recent Trump’s origin he played the traditional American ‘Horatio Alger’ hero supposedly dependent on his own brawn, wits and virtue. That had been Reagan’s route backgrounded by the Hollywood sky, but in a Republican tradition, recalling the rail-splitting Lincoln, the canal-boy James Garfield, and the aristocratic self-made frontiersman Theodore Roosevelt. The Kennedys could rely on their fellow-Democrats of Irish descent without having to appeal to them: they intended to replace the Boston Brahmins as an elite but by courtesy rather than combat, their ancestors having done the combat for them. Joe Biden would also reach the Presidency from Famine immigrant origins but had to hack his own way from relative poverty: that ‘I’m Irish’ to Nick Bryant was a credential in self-achievement, not paternal finance. Mike Pence is also from Irish Catholic immigrant stock, but much more recently than Bidens or Kennedys: they reached the USA less than a century ago After decades of image-making 2020 presented two Presidential candidates who have subsequently grown increasingly like themselves. Hillary Clinton’s defeat in 2016 was a tragedy for the American people, but it was also her tragedy. Her campaign made her an artificial patrician while her autobiographies — too frank to be ghosted — showed a simple person of human courage much more representative of ordinary people than she appeared. (She did splendid courageous work in visiting poor people in Northern Ireland on state visit, but its only impact on her Presidential candidacy was for Mr Trump to complain that she had thereby endangered the lives of her Secret Service men.) Trump in 2016 was the millionaire disguised in working-class fancy-dress, by 2020 the naked emperor preening himself on his non-existent new clothes. Major Jim Kenney of Philadelphia summed up as the defeated Trump cried that Election 2020 had been stolen ‘Trump should put on his Big-Boy pants’.
ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW
(Emily Maitlis, BBC advertisement for BBC coverage of 2020 US Presidential election)
With Andrew Neil’s leadership style and Boris Johnson’s hopes of a Trump victory many BBC persons initially seemed to hint that a Trump re-election would follow normal American Presidential election practice, in keeping with constant repetition from different BBC throats that only 3 Presidents had been defeated after one term. In fact, there were 10 of the 45: both Adamses (1796-97, 1828-29), Van Buren (1840-41), Grover Cleveland (1888-89), Benjamin Harrison (1892-93), Taft (1912-13), Hoover (1932-33), Ford (1976-77), Carter (1980-81), George H. W. Bush (1992-93). Reference was continually made to the Electoral College meeting, although it never meets and never can meet: the Constitution’s Article II and its Twelfth Amendment state that ‘The Electors shall meet in their respective states’, traditionally in each state’s capital city (often not its most populous, New York’s (for instance) being Albany). What is at stake are the electoral decisions of each individual state whose relevant official will have announced victory for the successful candidate’s electors, who will have declared before Election Day whom they will choose as President. (In 2020 Biden’s New York electors included Bill and Hillary Clinton.) There is a very real patriotism and nationalism for each State, as rich and complex as might be found in independent regimes. They have lives on innumerable levels backed by extraordinary landscape with infinite variations and contrasting histories. Some States’ national identities induced the Civil War of 1861-65. In the BBC’s Election 2020, various presenters and witnesses repeated that the USA had never been divided at an election so hopelessly as now in 2020, regardless of Lincoln’s victory in the election of 1860 precipitating the Civil War, or the election of 1864 when the country was still divided by war. But mentioning them might affirm the durability of US democratic traditions in contrast to other regimes such as the UK which dispensed with general elections during its World Wars. The BBC under obvious danger from Boris Johnson’s government declared itself habitually objective, but it would not be safe to imply that British democracy was not in all respects The Best In The World. The appointment of a former Tory election candidate as its Director-General — and that of a financial Tory angel as Chair—made it quite clear that some objectivities were to be more objective than others.
AFTER THE DELUGE — THE TRUMPIAN EPIPHANY
THEN HEROD, WHEN HE SAW THAT HE WAS MOCKED OF THE WISE MEN, WAS EXCEEDING WROTH, AND SENT FORTH, AND SLEW ALL THE CHILDREN
(St Matthew Gospelii.16)
King Herod the Great was dead at the Epiphany when the wise men were shown the baby Jesus and worshipped him, his successor King Herod Archelaus being the Herod who slew three thousand families. There was always an element of epiphany about the Presidential Inaugural, the new kingship proclaimed by the new king’s benediction, the religious Americans ritualising their secular succession. In the first US epiphany the old king’s homicidal anger might vaguely be ascribed to George III, since when Herod remained offstage until now. The old king is now the one whom the new king will supersede and the old king orders his shock troops to punish the wise men and prevent the succession, noting as he does that his troops are equipped with lethal weapons. At the same time our Herod was free with claims of his allegiance to God, scattering God’s blessings purloined by himself, swearing to ‘MAKE AMERICA GREAT’ as his followers chanted from their own rooftops to Washington DC, and climaxing on the command ‘GOD BLESS AMERICA’. President Donald Trump can claim to have been betrayed by his many cabinet officers, officials, allies and serfs who have ratted on him, but he can also claim to have out-betrayed them all. The most despicable traitors in history and literature are virtuous in comparison. Herod didn’t noticeably blame his own soldiers having failed to deceive the wise men. Shakespeare’s most cruel traitor, Iago, goes to torture and death refusing to say another word. William Hare turned King’s evidence to hang William Burke but while denying his share in their murders did not proclaim his own virtue by contrast to Burke. Richard Pigott forger of the letters intended to implicate the Home Rule leader Charles Stewart Parnell in the assassination of Chief Secretary Lord Frederick Cavendish on 6 May 1882 stated in the witness-box in February 1888 that he had never claimed to be an honourable man. Judas committed suicide having acknowledged and repudiated his betrayal of Jesus. In treachery and hypocrisy Trump now stands on his own (as he liked to declare when claiming other distinctions, e.g. the greatest US President). Perhaps he resembles Charles II’s bastard, ‘King’ Monmouth, fleeing from the battle of Sedgemoor where he had commanded Protestant insurgents against his Catholic uncle James II and VII, and then snivelling repentance while throwing maximum blame on others.
NINE TIMES OUT OF TEN A REVOLUTIONARY IS MERELY A CLIMBER WITH A BOMB IN HIS POCKET
(George Orwell, Review of F. C. Green, Stendhal, New English Weekly 27 July 1939)
On Wednesday 6 January 2021 Trump from the White House publicly saluted the demonstrators breaking into the Capitol Building, where Congress was in session to recognise the validity of the US election of Joseph R. Biden as President. In the same speech he stated he would now accompany his immediate audience to participate in the crowd proceedings at the Capitol. It’s not clear how far he went with them physically or mentally, art and part, Confederate banners and Nazi slogans, but his statements implicate him sufficiently. One immediate reaction to the events was the occasional cry during the break-in ‘we are not French!’, later counterpointed by President Emmanuel Macron in a public statement in French ‘we believe in democracy! We believe in American democracy!’ M. Macron was accurately acknowledging the place of the American Revolution in the coming of the French one. The original denial of connection between the Trumpian breakthrough and the 1789 events was made because many participants and observers were probably likening them. The attack on the Feast of the Epiphany would naturally make people think of the Storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789, still observed as France’s leading secular holiday. It probably made Irish-descended minds (perhaps including Joe Biden’s and Mike Pence’s) recall the Dublin Easter Week insurgents of 1916 under Patrick Pearse and James Connolly seizing and holding the General Post Office from Monday to Friday. It also suggested the Storming of the Petrograd Winter Palace in October/November 1917, famous from its commemoration in Nikolai Evreinov’s staged spectacle on the third anniversary (1920), as well as in Sergei Eisenstein’s film TEN DAYS THAT SHOOK THE WORLD’ (1927) based on the American observer John Reed’s eponymous best-selling memoir (1919). In Edinburgh University we assigned the latter as a set book in American History and when my colleague Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones asked a visiting US student in tutorial what did he think of it, the youth — coincidentally, Nixon’s youngest Elector (Minnesota) in 1972 — replied ‘Read it? I burned it last night!’. He was an honourable man, who told us frankly that when assembled in the Capitol Building in St Paul he was shocked when his fellow-electors did not discuss what they were doing as the Constitution implies they should, however formally, but simply stated they chose Nixon. (However graceless, the logic is clear: any sign of individual responsibility might lead to some Elector breaking faith, as in 1961 when a Nixon Elector in Oklahoma broke cast his vote for Senator Byrd of Virginia for whom the Unpledged Electors of Mississippi and Alabama cast their votes.)
AND OUT OF THE HOUSES THE RATS CAME TUMBLING
(Robert Browning, ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin’ Bells and Pomegranates No.II Dramatic Lyrics (1842))
The Bastille proved to contain but seven prisoners when stormed. The Winter Palace had been quietly and effectively stormed by night in 1917. In both cases the revolutionary processes had obviously begun earlier in the same year. The assault on the USA’s Capitol Building and temple of its democracy had as its precursor President Trump’s frequent addresses in Twitter, or in public speeches throughout preceding months that Election 2020 would be or was fraudulent. He was, so to speak, the US equivalent of Madame de Pompadour, star mistress and brothel-keeper of Louis XV, remarking that after them would come ‘la Deluge’. But Louis and she were safely dead when it happened, and it was left to Trump to be his own Pompadour, his own Louis, and his own Deluge. As for the mob, they were frankly and indignantly Right-wing, but some of them muttered that Congress consisted of millionaires. They kept any precedents in Dublin, Paris or Petrograd to themselves, but some pointed out that they were working in the footsteps of the American Revolution which had been won by violence as everything (Trump had reminded them) always had to be. A few of them explained that they were doing what they were doing to stymie Left-wing conspirators, a few of their less violent fellow-Trumpeters surmised that the violence of the Right had been manipulated by the Left, about as false as Stalin’s accusations of the exiled Trotsky being responsible for any mishaps in the Soviet Union. Other ex-Trumpians anxious to wash their sins away by throwing the dirty water elsewhere have been denouncing the police and other security forces for allowing the capture of the Capitol, but we actually owe those forces a great debt for their restraint. If the official guardians had replied to the demonstrators with gunfire the blood-bath would have been far higher and the invaders would have converted by their martyrdom many who had actually deplored the invasion: Dublin’s Easter Rising had shown that, once Dublin had been flattened by bombardment from the UK navy and 15 insurgents had been shot.
THEN GOETH HE, AND TAKETH WITH HIMSELF SEVEN OTHER SPIRITS MORE WICKED THAN HIMSELF, AND THEY ENTER IN
(St Matthew, Gospel xii.45)
Other historical precedents asserted themselves. The Confederate flag was carried triumphantly into the Capitol Building by the rioters, where its champions tried hopelessly to carry it during the American Civil War. It brought home that if there was a supreme political theory in the riot it was racist, however ornamented by Trump’s supposed win in Election 2020. It stood for slavery, segregation, white supremacy and the ultimate enemies of the USA — the lost causers, the true believers, Hitler, and, of course, the Ku Klux Klan. But while American commentators easily invoked the Civil War they knew that Washington DC had withstood Confederate forces and marksmanship, adding that the city had never sustained anything as bad as 2021 since the day it had been burnt to the ground in 1814 by the British. The Americans have more memories than those to which Boris Johnson would restrict them.
SOMEWHAT IS SURE DESIGNED BY FRAUD OR FORCE
(John Dryden translation of Publius Virgilius Maro, AENEID (1697)ii.48)
The obvious hurt, the public wound stabbed by the rioters, was more complex. Washington DC is the US national shrine, but it is also architecturally and topographically sacred to the nation. It hardly embraces more historic sites than the seats of the branches of government still in action. But its memorabilia, essentially simple, tell the traveller that this is the USA itself, even in such childlike devices as streets bearing the names of the individual States or the letters of the Alphabet or ‘Independence’ or ‘Constitution’. The Washington Monument, the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, honour the great dead but also testify to the lives of their legacies, Washington’s completed in 1884, Lincoln’s in 1922, Jefferson’s in 1942. They have also played their part in national expressions of faith hope and charity. The LincolnMemorial has been the holy of holies in civil rights marches on Washington, pioneered in 1940 by A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping-Car Porters (whom the Bondsman Ian Fleming’s Live and Let Die (1954)) sought to identify with Voodoo) and in 1963 by Martin Luther King. It was a resolutely non-violent tradition whose enemies from J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI or numerous white Southern legislators sought to equate or infiltrate with Communism and violence. Black Lives Matter were condemned by innumerable Twitterers as criminals or anarchists, and leading Right-wing columnists, radio hosts and stringers frequently hint that to defend BLM is in itself treasonable, and their demonstration in Washington DC in June 2020 brought six times the number of arrests suffered by the Trumpeters of Epiphany 2021. Since Epiphany a counter-myth is parroted with the attackers as non-violent as the geese that woke the ancient Roman Capitol, though most of the Trumpian assault brigade would be outraged by any suggestions they could preach or practice pacifism. Their harmlessness is difficult to square with Molotov cocktails, firearms, ammunition, &c & removed from several of their number after arrest.
Gun would score higher than God in their theophanies. But fraudulent hitch-hiking on the pacifist tradition was a hypocrisy mild enough by contrast with President Trump’s claims that he is for law and order and his followers of yesterday deserve the extreme penalties of the law. There is also a defence of the Trumpeters against the Capitol that it was a defence in itself, defending America against dangerous Left-wing interlopers: it has on its side the aggressions of the USA, the UK, &c under the name of Defense or Defence, but spell it however they like it still won’t wash whiter.
OR TO TAKE ARMS AGAINST A SEA OF TROUBLES,
AND BY OPPOSING END THEM?
(Shakespeare, Hamlet (1600] III.i.60-61)
Donald Trump is now peerless as bad President, leaving Nixon odourless and Dubya Bush sanitised. (Many of the Trumpeters of Epiphany would probably hold Lincoln the worst President of all time, anyway.) But there is one predecessor with ominous common ground: John Tyler of Virginia, elected Vice-President taking office on 4 March 1841, becoming President by swearing himself into office on the death of his President, General William Henry Harrison (‘Old Tippecanoe’). They had been elected on the Presidency’s first really successful advertising slogan ‘Tippecanoe and Tyler too’. Harrison as the Whig candidate was chosen to embody opposition to Andrew Jackson, President 1829-1837, and to his chosen successor Martin Van Buren President 1837-1841: and for voter appeal Tippecanoe’s main credential was the resemblance of his image to Jackson’s, notably in his genocidal attitudes and treatment of native Americans even worse than Jackson’s. He had his own political beliefs which he expressed at the Capitol in the longest Inaugural Address in US history delivered hatless and coatless in heavy rain whence he led the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House followed by three Inaugural balls where he showed the young bucks that at 68 he could dance them off their feet after which he retired to bed with a cold, becoming a chill and then pneumonia of which he expired after one calendar month. Tyler’s Vice-Presidency was the result of electoral coalition enlarging the Whig ticket by the widest reach of anti-Jacksonians, but he was actually almost as hostile as Jackson to the Whig programme of a managed economy with national bank, federal grants to unite the country by good roads, and support of infant industries by strong protective tariffs, losing Tippecanoe’s entire cabinet save one within six months. His was a landmark Presidency in many ways: he established the precedent of Vice-President succeeding dead President instead of remaining, more vulnerably, ‘acting President’; he was the first President to have his veto overcome by the needed Congressional two-thirds, the first whose impeachment was considered in the House of Representatives (it was defeated), the first rejected for further nomination, the first to be widowed and later the first to be married in the White House, where his grandchild was the first baby to be born in it. He rebuilt his cabinet from his former Democrat party colleagues, and his last Secretary of State appointed in 1844 was the defender of slavery, champion of States’ Rights, and father of secession Senator John C. Calhoun who had resigned the Vice-Presidency under Jackson in 1832 on the defence of his state South Carolina which had declared nullification of an unwanted tariff Jackson threatened to enforce. The Republic of Texas, created by its US immigrants in rejection of the antislavery policies of its parent territory Mexico, was recommended to Congress by Tyler for US annexation, and Calhoun in bringing it about specifically linked it to the furtherance of slavery as a positive good. In those days the ‘Lame Duck’ interval between Presidential election and Inauguration lasted from early November to 4 March which was when Tyler took the initiative. The resultant war with Mexico and American internal disputes over the spoils of conquest led directly to the Civil War of 1861-65. Almost a century later the ‘Lame Duck’ period was reduced by Franklin Roosevelt to end on 20 January. But Tyler’s ghost reminds us that Lame Duck Presidents may liberate themselves in their last days in office by actions whose dire effects reverberate for years and perhaps decades. Tyler himself was the only President at whose death the US flags did not fly at half-mast, since he died a traitor, in 1862, having supported and accepted office under the Confederate States of America. There are other ominous precedents for Lame-Duck Presidents and Vice-Presidents, and their subsequent careers. In 1860 Vice-President John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky was the runner-up in the Presidential election as voted in the Electoral College, but he duly presided over the vote-counting and declared Abraham Lincoln President of the United States, after which he became Senator from Kentucky until he was expelled when he became Brigadier-General in the Confederate Army and ultimately Confederate Secretary of War though his slaveholding state never seceded. Mike Pence’s future may also be uncertain although he may retain the nominal status in his party sometimes accorded to defeated Presidential candidates. At the moment he has received personal denunciation and a sentence of lifetime excommunication from the President he served all too well until he chose Constitution over President. Some irreconcilable Republicans (among them perhaps the seven Senators and numerous Congresspersons who voted after the riots to deny the Presidency to the victor at the election) may privately or publicly think of him as a traitor. Others remembering his length of servitude to Trump before last-minute rebellion may fear him as a Typhoid Mary capable of infecting the future of his party. Others still may be ready to revere him as an elder statesman, so long as he restricts himself to that. President-elect Biden has drawn helpful different circles around the outgoing President and Vice-President, President unwelcome at the next President’s Inaugural, Vice-President welcome, and each has performed within their sphere: they have therefore been assigned their future roles, respectively pariah and hostage, bit-parts in the new Presidency but essential in their responsive contrast.
TREASON DOTH NEVER PROSPER, WHAT’S THE REASON?
FOR IF IT PROSPER, NONE DARE CALL IT TREASON
(Sir John Harington, Epigrams (1618) iv.3)
Religion can be a fascinatingly uncertain factor in political upheaval (how far was Rasputin responsible for the Russian Revolution?). The USA has a secular Constitution but this is less the cloven hoof being thrust forward by the American Enlightenment as shrewd creators’ conclusion that the former colonists were so religious in so many different forms that no faith must be allowed to claim a higher status than others. Neither Jefferson nor Lincoln had any known religious affiliation but ‘Nature’s God’ appears in all texts of the Declaration of Independence and God plays a formidable part in Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, especially stressing His detestation of the suffering caused under slavery. Religious observance in the USA normally seems stronger in expression than in most of Europe. Hence where possible politicians declare God on their side, including when swearing themselves into office or giving evidence (despite Christians having been warned against oath-swearing in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew v. 33-37) and the Epistle of St James (James v.12)). President Trump had public blessings at his Inaugural from Jewish and almost every form of Christian pastors, no previous Inaugural flourishing anything approaching the number of sacred scalps. He also used Presidential addresses to campaign for re-election charging his opponents with intent to abolish God. He mopped up evangelical support where he could, with Pence his devoted servant somewhat suspiciously equating his own servile service with Isaiah’s prophecy of Jesus as the suffering servant notably Isaiah lii.13-liii, which begins:
Behold my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high.
If those to whom this interpretation was vouchsafed worried that it seemed a self-equation with Jesus, Vice-President Pence could proffer his own humility before his President as proof of the piety of his professions. That it might also entail identifying Mr Trump with God the Father would have disturbed the recipient of the blasphemous compliment no more than it evidently disturbed the maker of the analogy. Mike Pence was lucky in his time, since he was born a Roman Catholic whose defection to Protestant evangelicals if in the early twentieth century would have won him implacable enemies ready to veto his Presidential prospects to the Last Day. But Ronald Reagan, also a cradle Catholic turned Protestant, ended that. Hollywood ecumenism made the star invulnerable, the landslides for Reagan obliterating sectarian loyalties. Mike Pence can now count on the support of some of the most bigoted Catholic media-manipulators currently raking in the converts and the cash.
AH, POUR ETRE DEVOT, JE N’EN SUIS PAS MOINS HOMME
[I AM NOT THE LESS HUMAN FOR BEING DEVOUT]
(Moliere, Le Tartuffe (1664) III.iii.
We may question the depth of the Vice-President’s devotion to the President now their bonds have been broken. But before Mr Pence broke them, his theocratic Trumpery might be credited with some soupcon of sincerity. The Vice-President’s ease in allowing worshippers to see the President’s deification may have entailed something more than cynicism. He diagnosed the glue which can bind fundamentalist crusades, the politics of hate, homophobia probably most of all. At least it didn’t prevent his performance of civility on a state visit to the Republic of Ireland whose Taoiseach on that date Leo Veradkar is gay. Yet he remains his President’s disciple in treachery. As President Trump became the vessel leaving his sinking rats, so did Vice-President Pence disdain the Senatorial and Congressional Trumpeters still yearning for his support for their attempts to deny the election returns which remained obdurately honest in declaring for Biden. He did it quietly as he had done in his days of deification, such as when in his Vice-Presidential debate against Senator Kamala Harris he answered her charge of White House lying with the quiet sentence that no lies had been uttered by or from the White House in the Trump regime, in itself a lie so monstrous that it swallowed and regurgitated all Trumpian lies in one. As a lie it has the merit that its mendacity is obvious. Across the Atlantic, treachery expressed itself in noisier language as Prime Minister Johnson showed his apostleship by turning his initial epistolary legerdemain into a repudiation of his once beloved Master as booming as he could bellow:
In so far as he encouraged people to storm the Capitol and in so far as the president consistently has cast doubt on the outcome of a free and fair election, I believe that that was completely wrong. I think what President Trump, has been saying about that has been completely wrong and I unreservedly condemn encouraging people to behave in the disgraceful way they did in the Capitol.
‘In so far’ is pretty rich, as though the Prime Minister is keeping a side-bet in potential probability should we turn out to have been in a parallel universe all the time. In his turn the Prime Minister can luxuriate in the rhetoric born of oleaginous imitation from his convert Mr Michael Gove, but treachery may prove once again to be as infectious as the latest variant of Covit 19.
… THE TRUE MEASURE OF [JAMES] BALDWIN’S GREATNESS [IS] HIS LOVE AND THE BELIEF THAT THE US CAN AND MUST BE SOMETHING MORE THAN IT IS
(Ashish Ghadiali reviewing Eddie S. Glaude Jr., BEGIN AGAIN: JAMES BALDWIN’S AMERICA AND ITS URGENT LESSONS FOR TODAY, Observer 10 January 2021)
But drawing the faithful together should gain some high-level leadership, and here President Trump perhaps unconsciously revealed his talents as a prophet and, if necessary, a deity. He was at home in a world where religion, correctly used, brought in the bucks. In the 1930s the increasingly fascistoid radio priest, Father Charles E. Coughlin, proved the profit of mingling religion and politics. He had begun by highly justifiable reproaches against anti-Catholicism, evolving into public sympathy for the impoverished and starving in the Great Depression, then with frequently justifiable denunciation of wealthy profiteers from poverty, then descending to targetting scapegoats, particularly Jews. Coughlin was initially credited with being the true friend of the poor, and could readily draw on Jesus’s love for the poor to enrich his rhetoric. While usually leaving Scripture to Pence and his holy warriors, Trump easily won the name of true friendship for the poor which Right-wingers would noisily applaud in comparably fraudulent display of the elevation of their own sentiments. It turned in part on Trump assurance that government measures made law to give permanent health all round were in fact ways of condemning the poor to death. It was easy to translate Trump’s undoubted capacity for speaking like a plain man proving his friendship for the poor man. He knew how to win at least some black audience in the politics of poverty. He could play Senator Joe McCarthy’s crusading music of vintage crudity and visible witches to be exposed and burned. For all of their mutual detestation Presidents ‘Dubya’ Bush and Trump shared crowd identification easily translated into crowd appeal. As communicators Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan all gave varieties of the same thing, Truman’s representative disdain for sophistication, Eisenhower as inarticulate simple soldier, Reagan’s ease in turning public questions to advertising gimmicks. But Trump also possessed the ability to draw openly on latter-day racism disguised as neo-Confederate patriotics. The east coast swamp he talked of draining was a useful metaphor with which to hint his secret baptism in the white South swamp, a disclosure for domestic consumption rather than export until the need for blood-warming confrontations boiled up. He tapped what the historian Richard Hofstadter has termed the paranoid style in American politics, which had flourished as the diseased part of growing democracy. Trump did not see it as diseased, any more than he could see Covit 19, and he alternated denunciations of what he declared chimeras with he himself created hippogriffs.
Whether through his Vice-President’s enlistment of evangelical profiteering or through his own brand of travelling salesman snake-charm Donald Trump successfully united the Republican rich and the castaway poor and went into battle with his chariots towed by both, destined for incessant expressions of rapture until it was necessary to leave them in the knackers’ yard. Orwell made the metaphor become the heartbreaking climax of Animal Farm (1945), but it can be as true of the USA as of the USSR. In both places this meant alliance with some of the most cold-blooded exploiters of simple religious enthusiasm. His use of religion and apparent appeal to it required ignoring the teachings of Jesus much more than seriously drawing on them. Jesus’s most biting contempt was turned on the pseudo-pious, who exploit religion to their own selfish advantage.
God is not mocked.