Sunday, January 10, 2021

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 10.1.21

 Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 

- Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'*  

Living La Vida Loca in Galicia/Spain   

My daughter has sent me nice pix of the thick snow and icicles on the Madrid roofs outside her window. They took me back to the days of my primary school - and even later - when these were a common sight during British winters. Or that's what I recall, anyway.

I guess everyone's seen the videos of the guys skiing and dog sledging on the streets of Madrid and the huge snowball fight in Sol. Where there wasn't much social distancing to be seen. The Covid virus is said to like the cold . . .

One of the relics of the Franco era is the Association of Christian(i. e. Catholic) Lawyers. Público recently reported that this very right-wing organisation had ramped up its judicial offensive, initiating more than 20 court cases against everything it considers offensive to its religion and its concept of family. This includes abortion, civil partnerships and assisted dying, of course. One can't escape the feeling they're swimming against a pretty strong tide. Didn’t Argentina just legalise abortion? Following Ireland a year to two ago.

This differential treatment of local statues looks like a bit of sex discrimination to me:-

The UK

Sadly there's been no follow-up to the quick response to my complaint that I couldn't call the NHS Business Unit re my EHIC card. So, I still don't know what to do when the card renewed only in December expires in a few days' time. Just another victim of Brexit, I guess.



The 2 articles below - both by right-of-centre American commentators - hit several nails on the head. But don't leave one optimistic about the near term. 

Nutters Corner

Two suspected burglars were arrested in the UK after accidentally calling the police when one of them sat on his phone and dialled the emergency number 999. Officers said they listened as the men carried out the burglary and could even hear their colleagues arrive to arrest them.


Finally . . .

Is this the original emoji, from around 1938? It was a British thing - usually asking a question like Wot, no eggs? but, during the war, was combined with the America line Kilroy was here, to make a composite cartoon, plastered everywhere by GIs:-



1. Donald Trump's despotic mania is a threat to democracy itself: A functioning body politic requires not just institutions and laws, but rationality and the expectation of civil behaviour    Janet Daley. The Telegraph

Scarcely twenty-four hours after telling the mob who trashed the Capitol on his behalf, how wonderful they were and how much he loved them, Donald Trump disowned them and called their actions “heinous”. Which of those statements do you believe? The first one which was uttered in a garden and seemed quite spontaneous, or the second one delivered from the White House podium and recited robotically with the aid of an autocue?

Never mind, what matters for the official process is that he has now accepted that Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States, and that there will be an “orderly transition” to the new administration - even if he won’t attend his successor’s inauguration. That’s the legal bit taken care of. But in case you thought his nerve had been broken by the prospect of permanent disgrace, he made it clear that some things have not changed. He promised his faithful supporters (the people who trashed the Capitol) that “our journey is just beginning”. God help us, he will be back.

I have to say that almost nothing that has happened over the past week has surprised me – although I was rather startled by the total ineptness of the security response at the Capitol. But from that moment in January 2017 when Trump emerged on the steps of the Capitol for his inaugural, waving his fist in the air like a comic opera dictator, I was convinced that this was very, very bad news. The sophisticated view among many of my Republican friends was that his absurd, puerile behaviour during the election campaign had been an act designed to make a point about the smug liberal establishment and its contempt for the ordinary people of middle America. Once he became president, they assured me, that would all fall away and we would see the serious political mind at work.

What happened next? He ran through successive waves of Cabinet appointments, busloads of expert advisors and exasperated White House staff, quite a few of whom wrote books chronicling their adventures. And still, so many intelligent, highly educated, Republican supporters told themselves (and me) that it was alright. At the height of Wednesday night’s horror show I emailed one of the most erudite of them to say, “Please tell me that you are appalled by these scenes. Otherwise we are on different planets.” His reply was less than robust.

Yes, Trump’s administration did get some things done. But surely the actual achievements - tax reform, progress in the Middle East, pulling away from the Iran nuclear deal – could have been accomplished by any sound, confident Republican president who had control of both houses of Congress? Mitt Romney or Marco Rubio, for example, could almost certainly have done remarkably similar things without legitimising this hideous societal warfare. But what Trump did surely, I can hear my friends retort, was to draw attention to what he called (plagiarising Franklin Roosevelt) the “forgotten man”.

He spoke to the new poor of the Rust Belt whose jobs had gone abroad along with the industries that had been the source of regional livelihoods for generations. Theirs were certainly grievances which had been ignored, or worse, despised by the metropolitan liberal elites who had taken over Washington. Trump’s protectionist solutions were not original but they were presented with an energy that obviously captured something that needed to be addressed. That is what a lot of Republicans saw and were prepared to support. Maybe they thought that this was something bracingly new: a refreshing and genuine form of authenticity.

But the price for embracing that well-aimed pitch was too high and it rested on a fatal mistake: the idea that Trump was a brand new, revitalising phenomenon, a brash antidote to the decadence of identity politics which had become the most fashionable form of modern electoral campaigning. In fact, what he represented was something that was not new at all, something that is as old as politics itself: the demagoguery which exploits and manipulates grievances as a means of acquiring power. There are inevitably legitimate dissatisfactions in any society. But using them to ignite the incipient alienation and frustration that is always present in human affairs is wicked. It is what constitutional democracy was designed to prevent.

It was truly shameful that the political parties in the United States had abandoned the post-industrial wastelands to such despair that an obnoxious ignoramus could capture their loyalty. The glorious self-righteousness of the Democrats, whose historic responsibility this once was, must not be permitted to erase the truth. Trump stepped into a vacuum which they had left. Led by Nancy Pelosi, the House Democrats will almost certainly vote to impeach him (again) but this will be purely symbolic and rather pointless. What they should be addressing is their own future relationship with what used to be their blue collar base.

What happens now? The Republican party is laid low. It has lost its hold on the Senate, almost certainly because Trump persuaded some of its voters not to bother turning up in Georgia (since the election would be rigged anyway), or because traditional Republicans were so repulsed by his behaviour that they couldn’t bring themselves to vote. Now they will be powerless in federal government for at least two years. Some of them – like the odious Ted Cruz – will try to keep the Trump flame alive in the hope of inheriting his following.

The rest will know that they must repudiate this bizarre episode if they are not to be reduced to a wacko cult on the fringes of American life. There is a truth here that should be grasped before it slips away in the myth-making of political history. What has happened before our eyes was as old as despotic mania: something much more permanent in the political psyche than democracy which tries – not always successfully – to hold it down. For democracy to win requires not just institutions and laws, but rationality and the expectation of civil behaviour.

2. Trump has brought us to the brink. Now conservatives must reclaim our cause: Andrew Sullivan, The Times

For anyone with eyes not blinded by tribalism and ears not deafened by denial, what happened in Washington last week was always going to happen. Donald Trump’s character and profound psychological deformation always, always meant he would not relinquish power without an almighty struggle. We elected an instinctual tyrant, preternaturally incapable of understanding the give and take of democratic politics, for whom losing in any contest threatens the core of his very being, and who has no effective control over the roiling emotions that course through his thickened arteries.

Some of us were ridiculed for saying from the very beginning that there would have to be some kind of violence to remove him if he were to lose the next election. We still are. We’re called victims of TDS — or Trump derangement syndrome — as if this were not the only sane position when a delusional, malignant, tyrant-wannabe has an entire political party in his grip, aided and abetted by tribal media tools. For myself, from the beginning, having examined Trump’s past and observed his plain-as-day pathology, I just couldn’t envision how this figure could psychologically, voluntarily leave the Oval Office. Every single day of his presidency has confirmed this. He has blown through every guard rail against presidential abuse that exists.

Trump is now and always has been delusional. He lives in an imaginary world. His insistence that he won the last election in a “landslide” is psychologically indistinguishable from his declaration on his first day that his inaugural crowd was larger than his predecessor’s. For four years, the actual evidence did not matter. It still doesn’t. Any rumour that helps him, however ludicrous, is true; every cold fact that hurts him, however trivial or banal, doesn’t exist.

For four years, any adviser who told him the truth, rather than perpetuating his delusions, had an immediate expiry date. For four years, an army of volunteer propagandists knowingly disseminated his insane cascade of lies.

And Trump really believes these fantasies. He is not a calculating man. He is a creature of total impulse. As I wrote, five years ago now, quoting Plato, a tyrant is a man “not having control of himself [who] attempts to rule others”; a man flooded with fear and love and passion, while having little or no ability to restrain or moderate them; a “real slave to the greatest fawning”; a man who “throughout his entire life ... is full of fear, overflowing with convulsions and pains”. For the ancients, a tyrant represented the human whose appetites and fantasies had no form of rational control.

This is dangerous in normal times. In an emergency such as Covid-19, it turned catastrophic. For Trump, the virus could not exist or would disappear all of a sudden because it might threaten his re-election. Anything in the press that did not reflect his own reality was, in his mind, invented. Dozens of lawsuits that failed to prove any fraud in the election were simply proof the conspiracy against him was even bigger. His vice-president, the most shameless lackey of them all, eventually could not force himself to do something that was feasible only in Trump’s imagination, and so he too became a traitor in the bitter, bunker end.

The storming of the Capitol last week to stymie, prevent or postpone the certification of the election results was therefore, in some ways, a metaphor for the entire four years. It was both absurd and terrifying. It was a violent insurrection against democracy, but it was also a scene from a bad dream about the Burning Man festival. Wild-eyed men wandered around carrying the Confederate flag; fanatics talked of how to execute Mike Pence for treason; and a QAnon crazy, dressed in furs and Viking horns, with a painted face, commanded the floor of the House. It was sedition as some form of cosplay. It was deadly, but also performative. It was as if the storming of the Bastille ended with selfies.

The pièce de résistance was captured, as so often, by the political journalist Olivia Nuzzi, who reported that Trump, after cheering the mob on, telling them he would join them, refusing to tell them to call it off and trying to hold off the National Guard, eventually soured on the riot as “low-class”. He didn’t mind the insurrection — he just objected to the aesthetics!

The hostage video he put out last week — which some of his followers, of course, believed was a deep fake — was obviously an insincere attempt to avoid legal liability for the insurrection he had just incited. Now, however, he is back to normal, repeating his claims of fraud and acknowledging he will not attend the inauguration of Joe Biden, his last act of contempt for democratic processes that help heal the divides from fiercely contested elections.

There is a temptation to believe that this is finally over. But, for as long as this man exercises the powers of the presidency, it isn’t. He has used the power of the pardon these past few years to obstruct justice, to prevent vital testimony in a legitimate investigation and to reward friends and relatives. In recent weeks, we’ve been told, he has also discussed the possibility of a prospective pardon for himself and his family that will only cement his legacy of a presidency beyond the reach of any checks and balances. The next 10 days, as he is cornered, are among the most dangerous. He could do anything. I favour a second impeachment, swiftly executed. The goal at this point is to get him out of there before he does even more damage, to keep him on the defensive and to bar him from running for office again. This is where we are.

It pains me to say it, but last week was, in many ways, the essence of American “conservatism” in 2021. It has morphed from a political to a theological movement to a personality cult. It is a threat to the very foundations of liberal democracy. It is nihilist, performative, incoherent and bristling with the certainty of fundamentalists and the corruption of grifters.

My first desperate hope with this administration was it would plummet so far in popularity so quickly that it would cause a revolt within the Grand Old Party (GOP). Trump’s demagogic genius, the left’s radicalisation and the pull of tribalism soon put an end to that delusional hope. My second was a thorough repudiation of the GOP, as well as Trump, this past political cycle, in what I hoped would be a landslide Democratic victory. The rhetoric of the far left and the burning of US cities last summer scotched that one, as the congressional tally shows. So my third is simply that we will soon begin to treat these past four years as the quintessential cautionary tale in the narrative of America. In future, if a president refuses to be accountable to Congress in any way, or obstructs justice, or tells massive lies — or refuses to concede an election — he or she will be stigmatised as being a version of Trump.

My hope is that those who knowingly enabled mass delusion, insurrection and constitutional chaos — such as Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley and Lindsey Graham — have no serious careers ahead of them; that those who served and enabled this president retreat from public life in the ignominy they deserve. My hope is that a Republican Party emerges that is built on the anathematisation of the past four years, a party that can address the deeper issues that Trump viciously exploited, and build a multiracial coalition around actual conservative principles to address the clear needs of all Americans.

I can’t see this happening without a split, or an open internecine struggle. If the result is a deeper commitment to an ideology of stab-in-the-back neofascism inspired by a seditionist president-in- exile, then the GOP needs to be burnt to the ground. But if someone can emerge who can marshal the ideas that helped the GOP make gains in the House last year and excommunicate the seditionists and bigots and fanatics, then we have something to build on.

Biden has a massive task ahead of him, but last week may help him find common ground with those Republican senators who have begun to understand that the forces they have unleashed and enabled are deeply dangerous to the entire project of self-government in America. Since his election victory, he has struck the right note every time the country has needed him to. Steer us back towards a sane centre, Mr President-Elect. Save the soul of this teetering, torn remnant of a republic, before we lose it for good.

* A terrible book, by the way. Don't be tempted to buy it, unless you're a very religious Protestant. 

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