A Political Circus

 

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If you’ve been following the world of politics lately it might seem as though we are living in some sort of alternate universe. It is starting to look like the inmates are taking over the asylum. It would appear that on both sides of the pond things have gotten a little crazy. First the UK shocked the world by deciding to leave the EU back in June. To be honest even the politicians who were campaigning to leave seemed surprised by the outcome. The result of the Brexit referendum showed that the leave side received 52.5% of the overall vote whereas the remain side only managed to acquire 47.5%.

Usually when a party secures the result they set out to achieve celebrations follow but not in this case. This time they all began to disappear from both sides. First David Cameron resigned. Then as if reeling from the shock of a surprise victory Boris Johnson decided not to run for Prime Minister after all. Nigel Farage stood down claiming he wanted his life back. Now I’m sure there were a number of people who wanted their country back or just to go back in time to before the election but thanks to Nigel and friends this wasn’t possible. The Austrian actor Christoph Waltz put it best saying, “of course, the head rat would leave the sinking ship.” No one seems to know what’s next for Britain in the wake of this result. They can’t just leave the EU over night. It’s much more complex then that. There is also the worry that other countries will follow suit. There is a lot of uncertainty in the air as the new Prime Minister tries to wade through unchartered water. It will take a number of years for this messy divorce to be resolved but you can bet the children, that is the younger generation will be the ones to suffer the consequences of this decision. A decision that was largely made by older people who have considerably less to lose.

Since then America has officially named Donald Trump the Republican nominee, off the back of one of the most bizarre events I’ve ever seen, the Republican Convention. It’s hard to pick which part was the weirdest really, could it be Ted Cruz refusing to endorse Trump and getting booed off the stage,  Malania Trump clearly plagiarizing Michelle Obama’s speech or Rudy Giuliani looking like he was in a drug induced state and scaring the crap out of everyone with mis-information. It was truly one of the oddest, most disturbing things I have ever had the displeasure of watching on television and in the age of reality TV that is really saying something. After all we are used to seeing “celebrities” venture into the jungle for no reason whatsoever but to ingest discarded animal parts as a means of entertainment.

Nevertheless I was continuously shocked by the way the speakers riled up the crowd and encouraged them to spew vile chants, mostly about Hilary Clinton without an ounce of concern for their actions or dare I say it the truth. If you were to believe the Republican Party Clinton is responsible for world hunger and war. According to them she deserves to be locked up for her many crimes against humanity. These statements aren’t actually based on anything or grounded in any facts. Despite reporters telling the crowds countless times that the information they were receiving was wrong this didn’t seem to matter. The mob grew ever more vicious as the days rolled on. I felt as though I was watching a cult rising up and declaring war on their enemy.

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Of course political conventions are by their very nature designed to put the other side down. They aim to rally the base and get people pumped and ready to vote in November. I doubt very much the Democratic Convention which started today, will involve sitting around holding hands talking about how misunderstood Donald Trump is and how underneath it all he’s really a nice guy who just happens to have misguided opinions about how best to run the country. They too will slag off their opponent in the hope that they can convince those who are undecided to get on board the Clinton love train. The Democrats are off to a rocky start with the resignation of their chairperson due to, yes you’ve guessed it, more leaked E-mails and a bunch of uncooperative Bernie Sanders supporters who won’t be so easily persuaded to join the Hillary camp now that their man has left the race.

I don’t think its possible however to top the Republicans in terms of fear mongering. The whole thing was more like an advert for the impending apocalypse then a political convention. Trump made sure, in his historically long speech, that he never missed an opportunity to warn the crowd about rising crime levels and how much danger they’re all in on a daily basis. This of course isn’t true, crime rates have steadily declined since Obama took office. The truth however is not really something that concerns Trump supporters very much. Trump needs very little, if any facts or real information in any of his speeches. He relies on fear and anger to win over the voters and they lap it up. All that matters is that they feel as though things are getting worse even if there is no evidence to back that up. The truth is completely irrelevant. When it comes to the Republicans this year is all about, as the comedian John Oliver describes it feeling over fact. The song Can’t Fight This Feeling by REO Speedwagon comes to mind. They have totally forgotten why the hell they are fighting. They just can’t help it anymore nor do they want to.

Trump’s big entrance made him look more like an X Factor judge then it did a serious political candidate. He emerged from a cloud of smoke to the Queen song “We are the Champions” playing in the background. And yes that thundering noise you’re hearing is the sound of Freddie Mercury rolling over in his grave. The other members of the band were quick to respond saying that they had not given Trump any permission to use their music at this event. In an age where entertainment is God perhaps Trump is striking the right chord in order to get elected. Maybe he is right and there really is no such thing as bad press anymore. At least that was his response during the recent embarrassing incident regarding his wife’s speech. Could it be the more coverage he gets the more likely it is that he will be elected president? Maybe we do hold entertainment over substance. After all the one thing that is repeatedly said about both VP picks in the media is that they are boring. Trump on the other hand provides ample entertainment and news cycles and therefore he is ahead in the poles. We now live in a culture where being boring is far worse than being dangerous.

Now if all that hasn’t made you want to lie down and go to sleep for the next four years, perhaps we should be asking ourselves what other reasons have attributed to these events. There seems to be an overwhelming urge among the public to push back against the establishment. People are sick of the status quo and a few irresponsible politicians have convinced them that they have the answers. The problem is they don’t. The Labour Party and UKIP in the UK and the Republican party and Donald Trump in the US have proven that over and over again. Donald Trump despite what he might say is part of that establishment that people hate so much and he is certainly part of the elite. The truth is there isn’t a better alternative on offer. We have to engage with the system we have, get informed and use our vote responsibly. We need to try to make it work for everyone and stop blaming it on the other guy. Voting isn’t the most we can do its the very least. We are all here and we have to learn to live with each other and welcome others in. Politics is supposed to be about discourse and in order for that to happen we have to stop all the yelling and listen to each other. The only other option is uncertainty, fear and a hell of a lot of hatred. I personally don’t want to choose fear. I believe that we deserve better.

 

 

The Donald Trump Effect

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I have always found American politics fascinating. It’s like theatre on a giant stage. This time around though the world has watched in wonder as the American election has gone from the sublime to the ridiculous. Perhaps the best way to describe it is like a Shakespearean tragic comedy. It can be classed as neither because it has huge elements of both. In the beginning I think we all viewed Donald Trump as an amusing caricature with bad hair who would be entertaining to watch for a while. After all the election process goes on for so long why not get some amusement out of it. No one really believed that he would still be in the race at this point, let alone be in with a real chance of winning the Republican nomination but alas it really is happening.

As the weeks rolled on the jokes got less funny and the threats got more real. In the course of his candidacy Trump has managed to offend Women, Mexicans, People with disabilities and Muslims to name a few. Everyday the list seems to get longer. His rallies have become a breeding ground for violent and racist behavior.  This has of course brought him more attention in the media and has in turn made him very popular. It also helps that the other Republican nominees aren’t very credible. There is no doubt that it’s a fascinating circus and people seem to be enjoying the show but at what point do we all have to get serious about the business of electing a real president?

Perhaps the reason for Trump’s popularity is the fact that he doesn’t seem to play by the same rules as the other candidates. In a world where everyone is getting more and more anti-establishment perhaps Trump is an attractive prospect. His campaign is like no other we have seen before. His team appear to have very little political experience between them. The campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski ran and lost Bob Smith’s Senate campaign in 2002, bringing to an end his short time within the GOP establishment. When asked about Lewandowski those closest to the Trump campaign say that what he lacks in credentials he makes up for in ambition and ruthlessness. Katrina Pierson, Trumps spokeswoman used to support Obama but she is now a tea party activist. Other members of the team have never even been involved in politics before now. Although most of them have worked with Trump on his various business ventures over the years.

Trump has a core team of about a dozen members. According to the Federal Election Commission he has a total of 94 people on his payroll nationwide, as opposed to Hillary Clinton who has a staggering 765 members on her team. It might not surprise anyone to hear that Trump employs no media coaches or speech writers. He writes all his own speeches (and Tweets) by himself. Other than the slogan “Make America Great Again” which he borrowed from Ronald Reagan, he has spent very little money on advertising. The whole thing seems to operate like a business rather than a political campaign. He says and does whatever is necessary to win. He is certainly not concerned with diplomacy or political correctness. Many believe that is the key to Trump’s success. Nowadays everyone is encouraged to mind their P’s and Q’s but Donald Trump ignores these rules and many find it to be a breath of fresh air. They say he speaks his mind but his mind, does seem to change quite a bit. So much so that he appears to be making it up as he goes along. It is estimated that on certain issues such as foreign policy the Trump campaign has changed their stance not once, not twice but more than half a dozen times over the course of the campaign. The only thing he is clear on it seems is that he wants to build a wall to keep foreigners out of the U.S. Strangely enough Trump says this makes him a unifier but how that works is again unclear.

Violent scenes have become more and more frequent at Trump rallies. He riles up the audience by promising them he is going to build a wall to keep out Mexicans and he is going to ban Muslims. He even offered to pay the legal fees for one voter who punched a black man in the face. He never talks about policy much less how he is going to, as he puts it make America great again but they don’t seem to mind. His aggressive approach keeps them coming back time and time again. His speeches read like slogans on a bumper sticker and the crowd loves it. He has unearthed a racism that lurked in the dark corners of American culture. Figures show that Trump appeals to a very poor, uneducated and mostly male demographic. They see him as a “self-made” billionaire and they admire him for it but in truth Trump isn’t self made at all. He grew up very wealthy and his father even gave him what he calls “a small business loan” of one million dollars when he was starting out. He has also declared bankruptcy a number of times over the years. In fact it is unclear just how much Donald Trump is actually worth because he keeps changing his mind on that also. It seems he is a far cry from the “every man” that his fans believe him to be.

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It is fair to say however that not everyone loves Donald Trump. Like I said he has managed to offend a lot of the electorate since his unconventional journey to the White House began. He has defiantly lost the Latino vote due to his offensive comments calling them rapists and murderers and then there was his recent remarks on abortion have done him no favors either. The Republican party are in full panic mode and they claim that they will not accept Trump as their parties nominee. Experts say that even if Trump does win the nomination he cannot win the election without the support of Latinos, Women and the Republican party. Of course Trump is fighting this notion by rounding up his legion of fans and encouraging them to revolt if he doesn’t win. This suggests there will be more violence in the weeks to come.

Many famous people have come out against the Donald trying to convince voters that he is not the right choice for president. Founder of the popular blog Humans of New York Brandon Stanton, who usually avoids turning the spotlight on himself was one of those people. He went so far as to post an open letter to Donald Trump online listing his crimes against humanity and calling him hateful. In just eight hours it became the most shared post in the history of Facebook so apparently there are those who agree with this sentiment.

I find it interesting that two of the most popular candidates are Donald Trump, who is now on the far right and Bernie Sanders who couldn’t be more left if he wore a t-shirt with a giant cannabis leaf on it. They are as different as the two political symbols of the donkey and the elephant and yet they are equally popular with voters. The political landscape in my own country isn’t all that awe inspiring at the moment either I assure you but I do wonder how Americans have ended up on such opposite sides and who will be able to bridge the enormous gap. Whatever the result it’s clear that this election will not only be historic it will be truly memorable. Lets hope its for the right reasons.

 

Obama’s executive action on Gun Control

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President Obama unveiled his new plan to combat gun violence on Tuesday, January 5th in the East Room of the White House. He was surrounded by the relatives of those who lost their lives in the many mass shooting that have occurred in the US over the last number of years. In attendance was former Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona who was shot in the head in Tucson during a constituent meeting in 2011. Mark Barden who lost his seven-year old son Daniel in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 introduced the president, before he left the podium he said that every gun related death is preventable.

“In this room right here, there are a lot of stories. There’s a lot of heartache. There’s a lot of resilience, there’s a lot of strength, but there’s also a lot of pain.”, President Obama

During his speech Obama referred to the time he spent with Mr Barden during his visit to Sandy Hook just two days after the shooting. He said that this event changed him and that he had hoped it would change the country. Although the President is known for being an impressive speaker he is often accused of appearing removed or clinical but last Tuesday’s speech was to be an exception to that rule. He delivered a very emotional, heartfelt speech that left the audience under no illusions about his passion and sense of regret on this subject. The Obama administration has been blocked by congress at every turn on matters of gun control and therefore very little progress has been made in spite of the fact that these shootings have become more and more frequent. In fact no other developed country sees this type of violent crime happen over and over again.

“It wasn’t the first time I had to talk to the nation in response to a mass shooting, nor would it be the last: Fort Hood, Binghamton, Aurora, Oak Creek, Newtown, the Navy Yard, Santa Barbara, Charleston, San Bernardino. Too many“, President Obama

Many believed that the President would make no progress on this issue, even though he vowed to again and again after each tragedy. After all Obama has only one year left in office. That is not nearly enough time to get the kinds of results needed to effect any real change on this matter. Some were so confident that Obama’s actions would have so little impact that the Wall Street stock prices for gun manufacturers like Smith & Wesson rose this week, showing that there was a real belief that new policies wouldn’t hurt sales in any way. Nevertheless Obama delivered his speech and highlighted the measures that would be taken to curb gun violence.

He also made sure to remind the American people that he was not standing for election again, that he was not looking for their votes. He simply believed that this was the right thing to do. He urged voters to force the hand of those in congress, those who are so adamant that no change is needed in this area. They object to Obama’s plans saying that it is unconstitutional and goes against the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms. Obama poked fun at those who suggest that his desire is to take away all their guns, saying that he taught constitutional law for many years so he knows a little bit about it. He insisted that there are ways to reduce gun violence and still uphold the Second Amendment.

“All of us should be able to work together to find a balance that declares the rest of our rights are also important. Second Amendment rights are important, but there are other rights that we care about as well.”, President Obama

So just what will Obama’s executive action do to change gun laws? The proposal’s main focus is on background checks and the requirements needed to obtain a gun. This is due to the fact that the majority of gun related crimes are the result of those who should not have been able to gain access to a weapon. Over the past decade more than 100,000 people have been killed as a result of gun violence in America. Therefore background checks will have to be much more extensive. This will be done using the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and proper technology will be used to carry them out. More people will also need to be employed so that this can be done in an efficient manner.

“Each time this comes up, we are fed the excuse that common sense reforms like background checks might not have stopped the last massacre, or the one before that… so why bother trying. I reject that thinking. We know we can’t stop every act of violence… But maybe we could try to stop one act of evil, one act of violence”, President Obama

Better education and enforcement efforts of existing laws will come into effect as well. This would mean that any business engaged in the sale of guns will have to acquire a federal license in order to sell them. This requirement applies to gun stores, sellers of guns at gun shows and those who sell guns over the Internet. If people fail to do this or to carry out the proper background checks before selling these weapons than criminal penalties of up to five years in prison or a fine of up to $250,000 will be incurred.

“So the gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage right now, but they cannot hold America hostage. We do not have to accept this carnage as the price of freedom”, President Obama

State authorities will also have to work together to prevent those engaging in domestic violence or suffering from mental health problems from gaining access to fire arms. The Department of Defence, Justice and Homeland Security will also receive funding in order to carry out the proper research into gun safety technology. These and several other steps are all included in Obama’s plans to crack down on gun violence.

“We need to develop new technologies that make guns safer… If a child can’t open a bottle of aspirin, we should make sure that they can’t pull a trigger on a gun”, President Obama

The President finished his speech with tears in his eyes as he recalled the events of that day in Sandy Hook Elementary School with sorrow and regret. He took a moment to compose himself before telling the audience that every time he thinks of those children who lost their lives it makes him angry. He also reminded the crowd that although there is a lot of work to be done and a lot of minds to change it doesn’t mean that we should give up hope. He appeared defiant throughout his speech and seemed to hope that others would be too in order to defy congress on this issue.

Every time I think about those kids it gets me mad.“, President Obama

Although it was a moving speech and these steps do look promising they have a long way to go before they are written into law. An executive action is in effect a list of suggestions that must be carried on by Obama’s predecessor in order for them to have any real impact. Many of the Republican candidates such as Donald Trump have vowed to abolish these changes immediately if they were to be voted into office. Republican candidate Ted Cruz even went so far as to put up a web page with the caption “Obama Wants Your Guns” next to his fundraising appeal. Democratic candidate Hilary Clinton on the other hand thanked the President for his efforts and promised to carry on his work if she is elected. This plan however does not have the support of congress and therefore it is most likely that it will face legal challenges in court.

Yes, it will be hard, and it won’t happen overnight…It won’t happen during my presidency. But a lot of things don’t happen overnight. A woman’s right to vote didn’t happen overnight. The liberation of African Americans didn’t happen overnight. LGBT rights, that was decades’ worth of work. So just because it’s hard, that’s no excuse not to try.”, President Obama

The President took a further step on Thursday when he faced his critics in a rare town hall meeting in Virginia. The meeting was moderated by CNN’S Anderson Cooper. Here Obama heard concerns from the audience and answered their questions. Once again he reiterated that there is no conspiracy to try to take everyone’s guns away from them. He criticised to NRA for perpetuating this myth and for refusing to meet with him on the issue.

As a non-American it is very difficult to understand where this desire to bear arms comes from. It seems to be embedded in the culture just like there are things embedded in mine. I struggle to see why people fight so hard to cling onto something that is so dangerous and has caused so much pain. I have watched on in horror as the details of each shooting are reported on in the news over and over, trying to shield myself from such tragedy while also attempting not to become numb to people’s sorrow. I applaud the President for his efforts and I hope that they won’t fall on deaf ears. It remains to be seen if his actions, along with his emotional appeal will have any real impact on gun violence in the future. I truly hope that it will. I hope that no more lives will be lost in these senseless mass shootings.