Belonging

I’ve just arrived in Shiroka Luka to take part in, but mainly to enjoy, the annual Children’s Theatre School that LLP Group and systems@work  sponsors. Shiroka Luka is a beautiful village, high in the sparsely populated Rhodope Mountains of southern Bulgaria, a place where, in the days when disadvantage was a political inconvenience, orphanages and other institutions for disadvantaged or disabled children were placed, out of sight and out of mind.

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Through the Theatre School we try, in a small way, to bring attention to, and give confidence to, children who are otherwise marginalised. Many are Roma children (‘gypsy’, to use a word imposed by the majority) and they will face discrimination almost every day of their lives. If we can give them a little more confidence we can chip away at the wall of prejudice that they must overcome, though it will be many years before the opportunities for a Roma child in Bulgaria are the same as for a ‘white’ Bulgarian.

I loathe prejudice and I loathe the marginalisation of any community. Marginalisation breeds despair, frustration, anger, and sometimes even violence. It is the marginalisation of those left behind by globalisation that led to the Brexit vote. It is the anger of the left-behind in the USA that is fuelling Trump’s unexpected, irrational popularity. And dare, I say it. whatever the causes may be, it is the marginalisation of the Arab and the Muslim world that fuels the irrational cruelty of extremism and violence. Religion is not the reason. Religion is simply a convenient justification for feelings that stem from a deeper frustration.

I strongly believe that most people want the same things, whatever their nationality, culture, religion, location, colour, gender, or sexuality. They want freedom of opportunity, access to education, opportunity to travel, impartial justice, free access to information, freedom of expression, health and prosperity for themselves and their families. I do not believe that people are fundamentally different from each other. Those who enjoy these freedoms are usually happy to live and let live, to tolerate colourful difference in any form, as long as it doesn’t diminish their own opportunity.

So, building walls and closing borders, when frustration and rage spill over into appalling violence, as in Nice, will never solve the problem. Isolation isn’t the solution. Inclusion is the only long-term solution.

Here in Shiroka Luka we are bent on inclusion, showing disadvantaged communities that they have opportunities in a society that has hitherto neglected them. It may take us a hundred years to achieve our aims, but we must start somewhere.

Don’t ask me how we can persuade those attracted by the ideology of IS that they belong to the same world as we do, and can be equally successful in it, but surely we must. There is no other solution.

 

Making America Great Again

There’s a sneaky video doing the rounds of Facebook – Not the Greatest – that purports to pour honest cold water over the idea that America is the Greatest Country in the World. Its caption is ‘The Most Honest Three Minutes in Television History’ and it supposedly shows the response of an unnaturally passionate and eloquent panellist to the question ‘Can you say why America is the greatest country in the world’ posed naively by a young woman in the audience.

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It’s produced and published by a media company called NextNextNow, and it’s obviously scripted. It’s entirely dishonest from the start. But spookily clever.

You think for a moment that the idea is to take down those stupid American Supremacists. The ‘panellist’ reels off statistics on prisoner numbers, child mortality, educational standards, exports and health, in order to prove that America isn’t the greatest except in some rather unattractive ways.

But watch carefully what happens next. The video morphs into a misty-eyed nostalgic account of a time when America truly was the greatest country in the world, the most innovative, the most moral. The implication, clearly, is that American can be made the greatest again with the right man in charge, perhaps.

Listen to what the panellist says:

‘We sure used to be (the greatest).’

‘We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons. We made laws and struck down laws for moral reasons. We waged war on poverty not poor people.’

Now hang on a moment!

Vietnam, Cambodia, Central America, Iraq, capital punishment. And on the positive side, health care reform, gay marriage, etc.

When was this golden age when America was the shining beacon of morality?

It’s a clever video, never more so than when the man says:

‘We never identified ourselves by who we voted for in the last election.’

Which means, of course, that just because you voted for Obama last time you mustn’t think that you can’t vote for Donald this time round.

It’s also subtly anti=establishment. It’s designed to appeal to the cynical and to the angry. The message is that clichés and received wisdom must be rejected, together with all the establishment assumptions. Most of all, don’t trust those in power. There used to be ‘great men’ but there aren’t any great men any more to whom you can turn.

It is clever, evil nonsense. And it’s a very sneaky ad from the Trump camp.

Don’t get taken in. The most honest three minutes? Pernicious nonsense!

There is no greatest country in the world. What does ‘greatest’ mean, anyway?

 

Americans Abroad

There are Americans all over South America. Not too many (how many would that be?) and definitely Americans of the right kind. You see them in the departure lounges, at the carousels, at breakfast, climbing glaciers and frolicking in the pool. You can hear them too, and there’s one word on their lips. It’s not ‘Hillary’, nor is it ‘Sanders’. It’s ‘Trump’, and you hear it before you even ask them the obvious question. In every case, so far, it’s pronounced with a snarl of disbelief, or anger. Mitch, from Colorado, holidaying in Patagonia, added some colour to the name – ‘****ing Trump’.

I haven’t yet met a single American supporter of Donald Trump (nor any other supporter, for that matter), either in Europe or in South America. They’re all appalled, and they’re all afraid. I ask them, ‘Is it possible that Donald Trump might be elected President?’ and none is sure that it’s impossible. None of them would put money on his defeat.

He’s likened by some to one of those fairground snake-oil salesmen, of the kind you might find in Mark Twain. He’s a buffoon, a charlatan, but everyone agrees that he’s dangerous.

All in all, I’d still rather have this….

snakeoil

than this…

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or this…

putin

or this…

stalin

So, if they’re not the Americans abroad whom I’ve seen and talked to in Europe and South America, who are Donald Trump’s supporters?

They’re often depicted by the media as the angry and disaffected, whom the arrogant political establishment doesn’t understand, or they’re victims of inequality, or globalisation. But, on CNN, this morning I saw an interview with Jonathan Weiler, who, together with Marc Hetherington, in 2009, published Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics. Jonathan Weiler made the point that the most accurate predictor, to date, of who might be attracted by politicians of the Trump variety, has nothing to do with race, or gender, or income, or ‘hand’ size, but, rather, attitudes to parenting, an indicator of authoritarianism in the broadest sense of valuing order and authority over independence and pluralism.

What characteristics do you value in children?

  • independence or respect for their elders;
  • curiosity or good manners;
  • self-reliance or obedience;
  • being considerate or being well-behaved?

If you prefer the second characteristic in every case, then you’re more likely to be a Trump supporter. I prefer the first, in all four cases, though, having no children, I’m not speaking from experience. And I’m for Hillary. She’s far from perfect, but she’s the best candidate in the circumstances.

See Trump and Parenting and Authoritarianism.