Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Interview With A President

"That government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
MIDNIGHT IN WASHINGTON. A chill autumn wind, laced with rain, sweeps across the reflecting pool at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial. The water is agitated: the reflection of the Washington Monument’s towering obelisk fluid and fragmentary. The National Mall has wrapped the darkness of this bleak November night tightly around itself like a comforter.
Two figures – a young man and a young woman – emerge from the shadows and begin to climb the steps leading up to the temple of the Republic’s tutelary deity. As they mount the memorial’s broad staircase the great seated statue of Abraham Lincoln is gradually revealed behind its screen the towering Doric columns.
The figure is artfully lit. The Colorado marble blazes like white fire, transforming the giant sculpture’s gaunt countenance into a chiselled battlefield of darkness and light. The rail-splitter-turned-president’s gnarled hands grasp the arms of his mighty seat as if straining to pull the lanky body to its feet. As if, above the wailing of the wind, it hears again the distant rumble of enemy guns, the staccato drumbeat of civil strife.
The young couple stare up at the silent statuary. Hugging each other for warmth. Silent in the presence of the author of the Gettysburg Address, the Great Emancipator, the Union’s martyred saviour. Together, they recite the words incised into the rear wall of the temple:
“I wonder what he would say, if he was here”, whispers the young woman. “I wonder how he’d react to President Trump.”
A brittle sound, like uncrumpling cellophane, sends the couple reeling back in fright. Impossibly, the massive, frock-coated figure has become mobile. It bends forward, head lowered, eyes alive, a faint smile playing about its lips.
“Well, Miss, I reckon I’d ask him what in the name of the Good Lord he believes himself to be doing to my Republican Party.”
“What would you say to the people who voted for him?” The young man struggled to maintain eye contact with the giant stone president.
“I would tell them that those who attempt to deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.”
“And those of us who voted against him, Mr President, what should we do.”
The giant leaned back in his chair and stroked his marble chin.
“I seem to recall saying once that you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. If I were in your shoes, Miss, I reckon I’d allow Friend Trump a few more yards of rope.”
“But the man’s such a fool and his followers are so loathsome!” The young woman objected.
“Maybe so, Miss, maybe so. But they are also you’re fellow Americans. If they are disposed, as you say, to follow a fool, then it is surely pertinent to ask what made them so ill-disposed to follow those who delight in calling themselves wise? And if they are loathsome, who made them so?”
“Those are fair questions, Mr President, but we are fearful of what this man may do to the United States, to its people, it’s institutions.”
The great face settled into something like its usual contours. The eyes once again hooded, the mouth grimly set.
“This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or exercise their revolutionary right to overthrow it. Or, at least, that, in my grimmer moments, was what I used to say. But through four long years of the most awful slaughter, I came to realise how ruinous the fall of a divided house can be. My belief, now, is that those who cry ‘Let justice be done, though the heavens fall!’, should be required to take up residence in the ruins. Democracy is a fragile thing, my young friends, do not be too quick to condemn its fruits. Those produced by just about every other form of human government are much, much, worse.”
“But is this truly democracy, Mr President?”
The great figure seemed to stiffen.
“You know I sat on a train once, pen in hand, mulling over how best to sum up what so many young men were dying to preserve. At the time I didn’t think that much of my conclusions, but it has pleased me to see how kindly the passing years have received the final words of my address.”
The wind outside the temple roared and bellowed. Autumn leaves whirled between the columns. The young couple shivered – even as the statue froze into its accustomed pose. A gravelly whisper, mingled with the wind, ran around the stone walls of the Lincoln Memorial. The young couple, recognising the long dead president’s words, added their own living voices to his fading peroration.
“That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
This short story was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Sunday, 13 November 2016.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

The vagaries of the American political system, which favoured Trump in the end, mean that it is no longer a government of the people. It is like many, a government of money. Particularly as corporations are now considered people and are free to donate pretty much as much money as they want to to a political cause, if not an individual. The political system in the US is awash with money, and most of it comes from the right. And of course the electoral college trumps the popular vote. So I'm a little bit more pessimistic about democracy in America and you obviously Chris. Particularly as Trump said he was going to drain the swamp, yet seems to be filling it up with more political hacks, friends and family. I think particularly the appointment of Bannon from Breitbart is chilling. The man is an anti-Semite in the Goebbels mould. And he will get a security clearance – that in itself would send me scurrying for the border.

Mr Tank said...

I had a fun wee debate with a mate last night about American constitutional and electoral reform - he was far too cynical as to accept that a Constitutional Convention could happen without a bloody revolution...it would be an interesting exercise to try to map out such a path I think...one would have to hope that there are Americans working on it.

Polly said...

With the stench of the Email bleaching and the Clinton Foundation's dubious donation secrecy I would seriously state that Abraham Lincoln would have had difficulty in giving Hillary Clinton his vote.

Clinton did not say she would have stopped illegal immigration in fact by attacking Trump on the issue she seemed to be supporting it.

I would have voted for Clinton but I would have held my nose whilst doing so.

Democracy? yes but by golly it can test sanity.

Finally the protests in the Cities are a disgrace and the organisers must be condemned by the Democrats if they want to be a credible political force again.

jh said...

“That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Bearing in mind the people are the American people,not the "infusion of new elements" forced on us by media, politicians and left-wing academics.

Victor said...


I used to share an office with a German friend, who was understandably obsessed with the threat of a revival of the authoritarian right in his homeland.

"But Hans-Dieter", I'd say, apropos what he saw as the latest blow to the democratic order,"you've really got to stop imagining that it's always January 1933."

Now, however, for the first time in my politically-conscious life, I've also got ever so slight a bit of that January 1933 feeling.....and it's Berlin not Washington in that month of which I'm reminded.

No, I'm not saying Trump is Hitler. In personalty terms, he more resembles Mussolini or, maybe, Jean-Marie le Pen.

But the combination of demonising rhetoric, xenophobia, racism, bullying, barely-hidden encouragement to violence, apparent contempt for constitutional conventions and required faith in the alleged infallible leader/man of destiny all clearly suggest Fascism to me.

Those foolish enough to think of this present moment of peril as a new birth tend to speak contemptuously of PC euphemisms. Well, one euphemism we should give up is the nebulous term "populist" when we really mean something a lot nastier.

Fortunately, at least on domestic matters, Trump will be restrained to a degree by the checks and balances of the US constitution. Foreign policy is another matter. Let's see how he cuts up when someone or something crosses him. It won't be nice and it may well be dangerous.

In the meantime, I would agree that the majority who voted against this (to my mind) openly evil man should abide by the law, as almost all of them are, in fact, doing. And, to paraphrase another memorable American, rather than mourn, they should organise.

Charles Pigden said...

To Guerllla Surgeon
I have argued publicly that America is a very corrupt democracy with pronounced plutocratic tendencies. But Trump's victory is a counterexample to this thesis. The money was mostly against him.

OF course you can argue that the influence of money propelled Hillary into the lead in the Democratic primaries, and that had Bernie been the candidate Trump would have lost. So it is not as if money had nothing to do with this disaster. But a freak like Trump was not the candidate favoured by the billionaires. Many of them would have preferred Clinton.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

True Charles. But there were huge amounts of money was spent on both sides. Obviously Hillary more than Trump, as the major Republican donors rejected the man. But even so, you cannot run a campaign in America without millions if not billions. Which either means you have millions if not billions or you are beholden to someone – usually one of the Koch brothers. I mean you could argue that Obama at least in his first election raised most of his money from small donations – at least so I have been told – but he still needed a lot of the stuff to get where he wanted to be. And money is a direct cause of the Republican politicians moving to the right, as rich tea party supporters threaten to put in candidates against them down ticket.

Victor said...

Charles Pidgen

I don't know about the billionaires but 48% of those earning in excess of $250,000 per annum who voted, did so for Trump. I suspect that quite a few of the remainder may have voted for Gary Johnston but haven't seen a breakdown

Only to a very minor extent was this a rich versus poor election. And most of the (largely Black and Hispanic) very poor seem to have voted for Hillary.

I agree, though, that more of the poor (and of the not-so-poor but still struggling) might have voted Democrat had Bernie Sanders or, perhaps, Joe Biden been the candidate.

More still might have voted Democrat if, as touted, the lead candidate had chosen a Hispanic running mate (Julian Castro?) and not an Anglophone who happened to speak Spanish (albeit rather well, to my uneducated ear).

And, of course, Hillary's failure to campaign vigorously in the Rust Belt will also have had an impact on the result.

I also agree with your description of the US as a "very corrupt democracy with pronounced plutocratic tendencies".

The question now is will it remain so or will it be transformed into a pure plutocracy reinforced by the autocratic exercise of power, albeit with ephemeral democratic trappings.

Hopefully, it will still be enough of a democracy in four years time to despatch Trump back to his gilt and gold-leaf pseudo-Versailles.

jh said...

Before you start shouting Hitler you might look at the pervailence of left-wing ideology in universities. Johnathon Hait says one in 3 was a conservative in social science departments whereas now it is one in ten. Frank Salter says we have a prevalence of environmental theories of behavior (racism); hence it's all about racism (the Nazis resurgence ) and blacks can't be racist. In fact ethnocentrism appears to be adaptive (the ethnocentric gene comes out on top in species).

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Before you start shouting Hitler you might look at the pervailence of left-wing ideology in universities. "

Maybe that's because as the Americans say "facts have a liberal bias." :)

David Stone said...

Hi Chris

We should all wait and see ( and don't have much choice anyway ) how president Trump performs . He might be a far better president than anyone is expecting.

For me the moves already made, consistent in this regard with his campaign rhetoric , toward stoping arms supplies indirectly and directly to the rebel/ insurgents in Syria . And cooperation with Russia to end the misery being meted out to the people of that country and the middle east generally ,will more than compensate for whatever sins he might be guilty of in other matters .

I don't think he expected to win. I don't think he had an acceptance speech ready and had to hastily prepare it as the results began to show it might happen. I think he was "taking the piss" out of the US electoral system and most of the outlandish offensive things he said during the campaign that horrified so many should be seen in that light. He must have known there was some risk he would win however and have some ideas on how he should proceed. I think in many areas he will be quite pragmatic , and listen to advice where he knows he needs it, but be resolute where he is sure of his ground. If he starts off by bringing peace to the middle east he should have everyones gratitude .

I only heard one person interviewd during the campaign who said so , and I don't think the issue was canvased in opinion surveys, but I am sure that this stance on the Syrian civil war drew him a lot of votes as cf the position and record of Mrs Clinton.

Here's Hoping anyway

David J S

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Before you start shouting Hitler you might look at the pervailence of left-wing ideology in universities."

Well, if they run for US president, or stand for the New Zealand house of reps, give us a ring and I'll try not to vote for them. :)

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I love this woman.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Jesus wept, just looking at some other putative choices for Trump in his transition team and cabinet. Apart from neo-Nazis it seems to be mouldering clump of time servers, cronies, nutcases and sheer incompetents. Bobby Jindal for crying out loud who seems to have ruined his state with neoliberal policies, and is a criminal to boot. Thank God Carson has turned down education. The man thinks pyramids were grain storage – it's not brain surgery Ben. As Samantha be said – rocket scientists everywhere are celebrating the fact that people will no longer use brain surgeon as a metaphor for intelligence. Interesting times as the old Chinese saying goes.

greywarbler said...

That statue of Abraham Lincoln is a beautiful piece of sculpted stone.
The USA is good with sculpting stones - there are the political faces
at Mt Rushmore also.

It seems to me that if Moses had been from the USA and sculpted his message in stone, he would have seen what a money-making proposition it would be and set up factories carving out copies.

That is what the USA believes in enterprise and making money. And religion is the ideal loyal following with tithes to bring in a regular income. They have tv evangelists raking it in and prosperity churches who preach that if you follow the way that you will then be rewarded. They teach financial management at church classes. And the prosperity churches are franchised out. You too can be a bishop in only minutes.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"If he starts off by bringing peace to the middle east he should have everyones gratitude ."

Given the fact that Trump doesn't see any problem with illegal Israeli settlements, and is almost certainly going to employ one of the biggest hawks in the US as head of foreign affairs, I can't see him doing that. In fact I can't see anyone doing that at the moment. But then I couldn't see him staying in the race, getting the nomination, or being elected. So it just shows how good I am at predicting.

jh said...

Blogger Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Before you start shouting Hitler you might look at the pervailence of left-wing ideology in universities. "

Maybe that's because as the Americans say "facts have a liberal bias." :)

not necessarily

Victor said...


"In fact ethnocentrism appears to be adaptive (the ethnocentric gene comes out on top in species)."

It is precisely because we default so easily to ethno-centrism that a firm stand is required against the hatreds and brutality that it so often engenders. Without such a stand, civilization is impossible.

Obviously, this isn't true for communities that are wholly ethnically homogeneous and living at a considerable distance from other populations. But, for most of humanity, this ceased being the case some millennia ago.

That's not an argument for or against high levels of immigration. It's an argument over how we should conduct ourselves in the societies of strangers that we all inhabit.

Victor said...


Thanks for alerting me to Samantha Bee. Truly hilarious. Stephen Colbert likewise.

jh said...

I think what we are seeing is a rejection of the left-wing "racism, xenophobia, bigotry" mantra. People want to choose who is let into *their* country just as people are free to choose who they marry.

Victor said...


I'm sure that's how you see it.

For my part, I reject the now increasingly dominant mantra that denies the existence of racism and xenophobia, even when it's palpably and openly parading itself.

Even more do I reject the hatreds, intolerance and violence characteristically associated with this denial and, more particularly, as evidenced in the US election and its aftermath.

I, of course, agree with you that any democratic society has the right to determine the levels of immigration with which it's comfortable.

But it may soon cease to be democratic if, in apparent pursuit of this goal, it hands itself over to fascist bullies.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

JH... I know you favour evolutionary psychology. I also know that you seem to be blind to its limits, and to the uses that it is put without justification by people like you. Pseudo-scientists tend to go beyond what evolutionary psychologists actually say, and it itself is a subject of much controversy. No one would argue against the idea I suspect, that human psychology is not partly influenced by evolution. But you seem to think we are simply robots, products of evolution. Well, as Dawkins said – "we are human beings, we can overcome our genetics." Or some such. You take everything much too literally. People are much more complex than you seem to believe.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Victor – I am pleased that you are pleased. You could also consider watching Trevor Noah? And I don't know if you've come across Mock the Week? Seven Days pales in comparison unfortunately.

Victor said...

David Stone

How do you see the cause of peace in the Middle East being served by the US abandoning its nuclear deal with Iran and/or its taking a benign view of Saudi Arabia acquiring nuclear weapons?

Of course, by the time you read this post, the President Elect might have backtracked on both these issues. There again, he might not have done. Or he might even have backtracked on his backtracking.

David Stone said...

Victor and G S

He is a minefield of contradictions isn't he. I don't have any convictions that he will do any good at all; and certainly don't see the points you refer to serving peace. But I think the approach he has talked about with Russia and Syria is appropriate . We have to wait and see. At least he will provide us with some entertainment , whether it be a mystery drama or a horror movie.
Chris seems pretty sure of the latter.

Cheers D J S

Victor said...

David Stone

How many hundreds of thousands of deaths are required for you to be sufficiently entertained?

David Stone said...


I don't find deaths entertaining ; My hope is that Trump's pragmatism will reduce deaths.

Victor said...

David Stone

I obviously hope that your hope is fulfilled. But I can't for the life of me see why you think it will be.

I grant you that Trump seems to prefer the unadorned pursuit of national interest to Clinton's annoying patina of evangelical liberalism.

But the same was true of George W Bush when he first took office. The result was "Shock and Awe". Why should it be different this time?

Anonymous said...

Time will answer for all. Let's see if he will do and what the near future.
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