The Prison of American Optimism

…watching the inauguration of President Trump with me were two friends…The former Chairman of a Conservative constituency association, and his wife- an Anglo- Irish women, an ardent Brexiter ( unlike her husband!) and huge fan of “The Donald.”

As the new President gave the speech the former conservative activist kept saying “He’s boxing himself in.” And  so he was with every additional promise. To put it at its mildest the new President was doing nothing to lower expectations of his followers. Rather he was increasing them- as did President Obama in 2008- “Yes we can!” But could we? Should we?

Why is this? Why do American politicians feel obliged to speak in these terms. Why are they so imprisoned by optimism that realism sounds like treachery? Why do they do so little to inject even a hint of the difficulties that are inherent in the political process and even the human condition itself into their discourse? It is, I think,  because The United States is a young country based on the facile hopes of the enlightenment. Is it cynical to ask if  the real promise of America will only be discovered when this compulsory optimism ( which can never be realized on this earth ) has been replaced by a more soundly based rhetoric? “Blood, sweat and tears” is more like it!…Or am I denying people hope, as one of my friends said as I read them the draft of this.


The latest from Trumpland…

…..well, as my late mother would said, that is “all very unfortunate.” But no more than what one might have expected after the election of someone so temperamentally  unsuited to be President as Donald Trump. Unpredictable episodes of this kind are all but certain to be one of the least happy distinguishing marks of his presidency. The trouble is that even if the stories are “fake news” as he claims, his personality gives them legs and makes them seem credible.  The silver lining  for Mr. Trump in this sorry situation is that expectations of him are now so low that he may well be difficult for him not exceed them.

Note: I may well have commented too soon. This is a fast moving story. ( How much quicker can the news cycle get? )  Noting is certain yet, but the information released by Buzzfeed could  be entirely fake. It looks as if the liberals  unreasoning and over inflated hatred of Trump has misled them into giving credence to a fraud.

We are NOT going to comment any more about this story. Frankly, it’s too narrowly political and fluid for us.

P.S. I have been polishing these posts in the light of the changing situation.

T. K. Whitaker- R. I. P.

I once spent some interesting days in the National Archives  exploring the details of the Ireland’s first application to join what was then the European Economic Community. What was very clear from the papers I examined was Dr Whitaker’s technical competence, his  passionate love of his country, and his determination to do all he could to  promote the prosperity and welfare of all  the Irish people. Rarely can a state have been so well served by a civil servant. May he rest in peace.

New year books- 2

In his time Maurice Baring (1874- 1945 ) was a well known literary figure who mixed in exalted circles social and intellectual circles. He was, for example, a close friend of for Mgr. Ronald Knox the well known Catholic apologist. Baring wrote widely as critic and novelist, and produced a remarkable work of military history based on his own experiences “Flying Headquarters, 1914-1918.” ( 1920). It  is a book which should be much better known than it is. It bridges the gap between sometimes hilarious personal reminiscence, military history, and the inner political economy  of wartime bureaucracy. C. Northcote Parkinson was not the first to explore the later theme.  Baring’s book is not  to be missed if you can find a copy. It was republished, unfortunately without an introduction, by Buchan and Enright in 1985 ( London )

New year books- 1


Simon Dunstan and Gerard Williams “Grey Wolf, The Escape of Adolf Hitler, The Case Presented” ( Sterling, New York, 2011)

This is really just a load of old rubbish. Hitler never got to South America, and the effort to argue in this book  that he did so, by way of Denmark, Spain, and the Canary Islands is just silly. But this curious production does have the advantage of drawing our attention to informal German colonialism in South America, especially Argentina. This is a subject which does deserve to be written about, and would make a story well worth telling, despite the fact that  escaped Nazis played only a very small part in it. This though book is much best avoided, although it does have a weird fascination!.

Books at Christmas- 3

Craig Oliver, “Unleashing Demons, The Inside Story of Brexit,”  ( Hodder and Stoughton, London 2016) £20.

The cliche that it is the winners who write the history is proving to be true in the new field of Brexit studies. So this book by Craig Oliver who was David Cameron’s “Director of Politics and Communications” at Downing Street throughout the referendum campaign, is all the more welcome. It is useful for what it says, and also for what it reveals. From a purely factual point of view Oliver tells us a lot about what actually happened which is intriguing. For example he seems in one place to let slip the point that Mrs Merkel was in fact prepared to breach her core principle of freedom of movement- something that Mrs. May”s diplomats may well make use of. More generally though  Mr. Oliver’s book is interesting for what it tells us about the world view of the elite that surrounded Dave. Until the very end of the campaign they retained the faith in the testimony of their experts which they BELIEVED- and believed is the right word here,  would save their political bacon. It was this belief combined with their industrial quantities of hubris which explains their humiliation. They convinced themselves that fear would trump identity. It didn’t, they lost, and as a reward for getting it wrong Mr. Oliver got a knighthood. So no tears here for him I am afraid. But his book does deserve to be widely read. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Books at Christmas- 2

Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher, “Trump Revealed, An American journey of Ambition, Ego, Money, and Power,” ( The Washington Post, Simon and Schuster, London, N..Y. etc )- no price because it was given to me as a Christmas present!

The current narrative of Brexit- to which I subscribe- is that the result of the Referendum in Britain was really the result of Euro- sceptical agitation by countless people over many years. Well, Brexit may have been a collaborative effort- if that is this is the right way of describing  the divisions within the Leave campaign- but unquestionably  Donald Trump’s victory five months later was clearly an individual effort. Trump’s victory was in a radical sense HIS victory. And since it was HIS victory his life is all the more central for understanding it. And this book is clearly where start if one wants to get any insight into Trump the man. The authors seem to have done a thorough, and relatively impartial job, which is all the more impressive when one considers that they both work for “The Washington Post.” There is a lot to learn here about the sort of man that Trump is, and by extension about the sort of President he will be. We are in for some surprises! Warmly recommended!

Books at Christmas- 1

While my Christmas has been disrupted, I am still a resident of planet earth. I’m staying in England with my sister, in a house full of recently published books. So I thought that instead of doing one long book review I’d write a series of much shorter bits about a selection of them.

FIRST UP- “The Bad Boys of Brexit, Tales of mischief, mayhem, &  guerrilla warfare in the E.U. referendum campaign ” by Arron Banks, edited by Isabel Oakeshott..published by Biteback Publishing

It really wasn’t William Hague’s day wen he insulted Arron Banks by saying he didn’t know who he was. In response Banks increased the donation he planned to give to UkIP from a hundred thousand to a million pounds. And worse, from Hague’s point of view, Banks then went to war against Britain’s membership of the EU.

                                 “The Bad Boys of Brexit” is  the story of what he did. It is quite a yarn. Banks is a millionaire in is early fifties who has made a considerable fortune in insurance, banking, and diamond mining. And consequently when he took decision to set up the LeaveE.U. organization he was able to ensure that it was a well financed and  highly effective campaigning outfit which played the social media with brutal skill. Banks had nothing but contempt for most politicians, and especially for the unfortunate Dave in Downing Street. His campaign did not play by the rules, and this book is revealing about all that he and his team did – and why they did it.

Obviously this is a highly biassed account of the Referendum campaign which upended British Politics in the summer, but no one who wants to get a grip on what happened should avoid “THE BAD BOYS OF BREXIT”

Sorry no pics for now, I’ll put them in when can.