ɪˈvɛnt/ event. Noun. A thing that happens or takes place, especially one of importance.
This has been an eventful seven days by any standards. As I, like many others, try to make some sense of what has occurred in the U.S.A. these words of Harold Macmillan come to mind. From one day to the next, the world has seemingly changed and, seemingly, for the worse.
As the son of Jewish refugee parents from Vienna I was brought up with many stories of how on March 12th 1938 the world changed for the Jews of Vienna. In the space of 3 days, the world turned and the lives of my parents & fellow Jews were turned upside down. What stunned and hurt them the most was that, from one day to the next, certain neighbours & acquaintances changed completely in the ways they behaved towards them. One day they were greeted with a cheery hello and the next they were shunned and worse. This change of behaviour occurred because events had occurred that legitimised the ‘new’.
I have just listened to the most recent episode of This American Life, which chronicled reactions of a variety of American voters, from both sides of the political divide, to the Presidential election result. (You can hear the whole episode here ) In Act 6 the host, Ira Glass, interviews a young New Yorker:
We have arrived at Act Six of our show. Act Six, Times Square. So on election night, a young woman named Blair Imani tweeted this around 11:30. Quote, “I’m scared today will be the last day I feel somewhat safe wearing my hijab.” I got her on the phone the next day, and she told me that she wrote that after walking through Times Square in New York. Four guys walked past her, probably on their way to the Trump victory party, which wasn’t that far away. They were wearing red “Make America Great Again” caps. She had never seen groups of Trump supporters together like that.
You know, whenever I see men in red hats– just because of this election, not before. But you know, because of this election, I kind of tense up and I wait to see what’s on their hat. And when I see that it’s not “Make America Gay Again” or, you know, a parody of Trump’s campaign, I kind of feel a knot in my stomach. And so when I saw four white men walking towards me with “Make America Great Again” hats, I was just kind of feeling the anxiety.
And were you seriously debating not wearing your hijab.
I always will have my head covered. Today, actually, I went and I bought some hats.
Wait, so you stopped wearing your hijab.
Yeah. And tweeted a picture of myself with, like, hashtag Muslim Girl Camo.
Camo, like Camouflage. She’s done this in the past sometimes. Like, when she has to fly, she’ll wear a hat instead of a hijab on the plane. On election night, there were other people tweeting things, like, quote, “My mom literally texted me, don’t wear the hijab, please, and she’s the most religious person in our family.” And quote, “My mom and sister are actually having the conversation on whether or not they should continue wearing hijab for their own safety.”
In the days since then, Blair says that she’s seeing more and more red hats around New York. Like, Trump supporters are feeling bolder now that he’s won in this super-liberal city, which is weird for her.
I appreciate that all sorts of outcome are possible following the Trump victory, but her ‘testimony’ reminded me in some large measure of the accounts of my parents and others as to their experiences in Vienna in 1938.
Hot on the heals of the above I run into a posting from an acquaintance of mine, a life-long Republican who lives in California, and who has been an active poster of Pro-Trump postings on Facebook. On Sunday he posted, together with some quite provocative newsreel images, the following:
History repeats itself with the far left trying to discredit a President. I was on active duty with the Washington DC Army National Guard during every anti war demonstration in 1970-1972. We arrested hundreds of demonstrators on May Day 1971. The demonstrations were carefully organized and financed by far leftists with Democrat support. The Dems candidate George McGovern sought to use it to discredit a Republican President when it was the policies of a Democrat President who really created it. This is now the tactic being employed against President elect Trump.
At the 1952 Republican convention Senator Joseph McCarthy said something rather similar:
“Our job as Americans, and as Rebublican is to dislodge the traitors (the communists) from every place where they’ve been sent to do their traitorous work.”
There is a saying, with which I am sure you are familiar:
If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.
It’s all anecdotal but one can not ignore that the world has turned last week and it doesn’t appear to heading to a good place. Neither can one overlook the leadership role that the USA plays in the western world. Hungary barb-wiring their frontier is not good, but when the President elect of the USA openly invokes the building of a wall along their frontier – even if it is empty rhetoric – he is inviting a political climate that legitimises the open expression of dangerous narrow-minded opinions. Moreover Trump’s “Make America Great Again” has encompassed a multitude of themes that go way beyond a scoundrel’s appeal to nationalism – misogyny, racism and lies, to name but three. It remains to be seen, whether individual and social discipline will come to the fore and whether American society & its political institutions will prove themselves capable of fostering diversity, or whether they become weapons for a narrowing of opinion. The extent to which they can, or can’t, will determine whether we have learnt anything from the events of the past century or whether we are going to really relive nightmares.
I wonder whether if the Trump election had preceded the Brexit referendum, it would have solidified the Leave decision or have prompted a move in the other direction. As MacMillan put it when asked what he most feared: “Events dear boy, events”. However one can only deal with what is put in front of one and this applies also to the time-frame in which an event is framed. As my reader knows, I voted Brexit in June but I have to acknowledge I may not have done so in November. I was a ‘soft Brexiteer’ then and am even more so now. In June, I was certain that a Clinton presidency would be an instrument for the UK retaining the closest possible EU links. With her absence, we need to look to Parliament more than ever to assert this view and I consider it vitally important that the Supreme Court not cave in to the May government pressure to bypass Parliament in the Brexit negotiations. Unexpected events may not be welcomed but the real mistake is to believe and act as if there is absolute truth in the belief that plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose – the more things change the more they are the same thing.