Dare to hope: the Democrats could sweep the board in the 2020 United States elections

June 30th, 2020 by Roger Darlington

For the third time during this lockdown, this evening I attended online a lecture to review the current state of the elections to be held in the United States on Tuesday 3 November 2020. All these lectures have been run by London’s City Literary Institute and given by the college’s Principal Mark Malcolmson.

Of course, the most important of the elections is that for the President and Vice-President who will occupy the White House from 2021-2024. But the whole of the House of Representatives is up for election for the next two-year term plus a third of the Senate seats for six-year terms. There are even some state governor elections.

At the start of the year, President Donald Trump still looked as if he had a fighting chance of winning a second term in the Oval Office. But the coronavirus crisis has changed everything.

Trump is widely believed to have handled the pandemic terribly with over 125,000 Americans already dead and the majority of states showing a rising number of infections. The collapse of the economy, with over 20 million Americans without a job, has taken away what he saw as his strongest card: a vibrant economy. Furthermore the reaction to the death of George Floyd and the demonstrations by the Black Lives Matter movement have further swung voters away from Trump.

So the presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, although little seen and little heard during the coronavirus crisis, has been doing better and better in the polls. Biden now has a double-digit lead nationally and a similar lead in a number of crucial swing states. Indeed, if the elections were held today and if the polls are correct, Biden would easily win the popular vote and, all-importantly, sweep the Electoral College. He would only be the second Catholic president in the entire history of the United States (the first was John Kennedy).

If Joe Biden is to be the next President, who is likely to be his Vice-President? He has said that he will choose a woman and there is a lot of pressure on him to choose a woman of colour. I would like to see Kamala Harris of California as his running mate.

Normally, for all the media speculation, the choice of running mate does not have a significant impact on the campaign, but this time could be different, partly because Biden is a candidate who does not excite voters and he is not a good campaigner, partly because his age means he could die in office and in any event is unlikely to seek a second term. So 2024 could see the election of the first female president in the history of the nation and she could well be a woman of colour.

Democrats took the House of Representatives two years ago and, on current polling, would increase their majority in November. Then we have the Senate which is currently controlled by the Republicans by 53 to 47. It is beginning to look increasingly likely that the Democrats will win enough Senate seats to take over the upper chamber.

It was the British Prime Minister Harold Wilson who said hat a week is a long time in politics and there are still four months before polling in the US elections but, barring surprises, the Democrats could take control of the White House and both parts of Congress, decisively bringing to an end the Trump nightmare.

But Trump will still leave an important conservative legacy: somewhat below the radar, he has now appointed some 200 judges, including two to the Supreme Court, who will represent a serious blockage to a roll-back of conservative values. Having said that, American judges sometimes surprise us and, in the last couple of weeks, the Supreme Court has made three unexpectedly progressive decisions.

A final thought: Donald Trump is such a narcissist that, if he sees that he he is going to be beaten in humiliating fashion, he might just decide to pull out. There is some interesting speculation to that effect. Even if he doesn’t withdraw from the race, he might dump Mike Pence as his running mate, partly to make him the fall-guy for the covid catastrophe and partly to inject some excitement into his campaign.

It’s going to be a nail-biting four months – but dare to hope.

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A review of the 2018 movie “Book Club”

June 28th, 2020 by Roger Darlington

In most films, the leading roles are given to men, so we should applaud this work in which the four main characters are female and played by talented women who are a joy to observe. Even more than a dominance of men, moviedom is dominated by young actors, even as the population ages, so it is a delight to see four maturerer actresses: Mary Steenburgen (aged 65), Candice Bergen and Diane Keeton (both 72), and Jane Fonda (80). The simple plot is that these longtime friends have a book club, start to read “Forty Shades Of Grey”, and realise that they are still interested in men and in sex.

Of course, this is a rom-com for the grey audience so the humour is not exactly subtle, with much use of innuendo, and the four storylines, while a little different, can only have essentially the same happy conclusion.

But, as a 72 year old man who has done a lot of dating of maturer women in recent years, I can tell you that the health and wealth of these four club members gives them options and opportunities not open to most members of their gender and age categories. Also, as many women would point out, not all older, single men are as goodlooking and rich as the characters played by the likes of Don Johnson and Andy Garcia – and anyway life can be quite satisfactory without a man messing it up. 

So, while the movie is well-intentioned and life-affirming and occasionally funny, it just does not ring true which is perhaps not too surprising given that the writers, Bill Holderman (whose directorial debut this is) and Erin Simms, are both so young. So scriptwriters need to try hard harder (no, that’s not an innuendo; well, maybe it is …). 

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Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the Universe, they discover a black neutron star

June 23rd, 2020 by Roger Darlington

Scientists have discovered an astronomical object that has never been observed before.

It is more massive than collapsed stars, known as “neutron stars”, but has less mass than black holes.

Such “black neutron stars” were not thought possible and will mean ideas for how neutron stars and black holes form will need to be rethought.

More information here.

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I told you a month ago that the 2 metre rule would be revised

June 23rd, 2020 by Roger Darlington

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced the 2m social-distancing rule in England is to be relaxed from 4 July. From then, people should still try to maintain 2m distance, but new guidance of “one metre plus” will apply where that is not possible.

He also announced that pubs, restaurants, hotels and hairdressers could reopen from 4 July. Speaking at the last daily Downing Street press conference, government chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance said the reduction in distancing was reasonable, but was not risk-free.

His comments were echoed by the chief medical officer for England, Chris Witty, who said people had to stick to the guidance to use “mitigation” – such as face coverings and not sitting face-to-face – when less than 2m from each other.

In all the circumstances, I think that these changes are right as long as we follow the mitigation measures and are ready to reintroduce restrictions if the transmission rate rises.

A month ago, I did a posting looking at the variable international practice on physical distancing and suggesting that the British Government would review and revise the 2 metre rule,

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How I first learned about racism and how I am still on a journey

June 22nd, 2020 by Roger Darlington

On 21 June 1948, passengers disembarked from the liner “Empress Windrush” including some 800 from the Caribbean. Although there had been black people in Britain since the Romans, the arrival of this group of immigrants is widely regarded as the beginning of the history of multicultural Britain. Since 2018, 21 June has been known as National Windrush Day.

I was born in the same week as the arrival of the “Windrush” so, in effect, my life has been a chronological analogue to the development of multicultural Britain.

I was born in a village just outside Wolverhampton and, although my parents soon moved to Manchester, I regularly visited my paternal grandmother in the Midlands. This was my first exposure to racism as I heard the reactions of the white people of Wolverhampton – including my nan – to the black bus conductors and drivers. It is no coincidence that a local Member of Parliament was the vicious Enoch Powell.

In Manchster, I never came across a black student at school. The most exotic person in my secondary school was someone with a Polish father. In history lessons, we learned nothing about British colonialism or the slave trade. However, my English teacher did recommend that we read “Sanders Of The River”. Even, at university, there was nobody of colour on my course.

Things changed when, after graduation, I moved down to London. My first job was accommodation officer at the then Polytechnic of North London where I struggled to find lodgings for black students because of the racism of local residents.

Everything changed again when I moved to the London borough of Brent where I spent 35 years. This is one of the most multi-ethnic boroughs in Britain with an especially large population of Asian descent and, in my particular part of the borough, Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka. As a contrast to my own school experience, I would say that, at my son’s primary school, almost two-thirds of the kids had a non-British ethnic background.

The events of the last few weeks have moved me profoundly., The murder of George Floyd in the United States , the demonstrations under the banner Black Lives Matter all around the word, and here in the UK the new focus on British colonialism, slavery and memorialisation of those involved in colonialism and slavery – these events have prompted me again to address my white privilege.

There is nothing that I can do about my past, but maybe there is a little something which I can do about the future.

During lockdown, at the request of their parents, I have been doing online history lessons for two nine year olds: one my granddaughter and the other the son of a close friend. I was asked to teach some British history and we’ve done 12 lessons on British kings and queens: the Tudors, the Stuarts, and the Victorian era.

But now, with the agreement of the parents, I’m going to switch to lessons on world history, looking at colonialism, slavery and modern black icons. As with the previous lessons, I will have to do my research and preparation. I will learn a lot and I hope that the little ones will learn something too.

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A happy Juneteenth to all my American readers

June 19th, 2020 by Roger Darlington

I confess that I had never heard of the American notion of Juneteenth until very recently. I suppose the Black Live Matters events of the last few weeks has brought the anniversary to more prominence outside the United States.

For non-Americans, Wikipedia provides an explanation of Juneteenth:

Juneteenth (a portmanteau of June and nineteenth;] also known as Freedom DayJubilee Day, and Liberation Day is an unofficial American holiday and an official Texas state holiday, celebrated annually on the 19th of June in the United States to commemorate Union army general Gordon Granger announcing federal orders in the city of Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, proclaiming that all slaves in Texas were now free.

 Although the Emancipation Proclamation had formally freed them almost two and a half years earlier and the American Civil War had largely ended with the defeat of the Confederate States in April, Texas was the most remote of the slave states, with a low presence of Union troops, so enforcement of the proclamation had been slow and inconsistent.

A common misconception is that this day marks the end of slavery in the United States. Although this day marks the emancipation of all slaves in the Confederacy, the institution of slavery was still legal and existed in the Union border states after June 19, 1865. Slavery in the United States did not officially end until the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States on December 6, 1865, which abolished slavery entirely in all of the U.S. states and territories.”

You can learn more here.

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Word of the day: Augean

June 16th, 2020 by Roger Darlington

This is an adjective describing a task which is both difficult and unpleasant.

The origin of the word is a story from Greek mythology involving  the king Augeas of Elis (in the western Peloponnesus) whose stables, filled with 3,000 immortal cattle, had not been cleaned for over 30 years. The cattle, moreover, were not only immortal but also divinely robust and healthy and therefore produced a prodigious amount of dung.

Hercules’ fifth task was to clean the dung in Augeas’ stables, a task that was deliberately meant to be humiliating and impossible. Hercules cleansed the stables by diverting the river Alpheus through them. 

The word Augean entered English at the end of the 16th century.

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The legacy of white supremacy

June 15th, 2020 by Roger Darlington

An American friend of mine has put it succinctly:

“One of the many profound outcomes of the BLM movement is an awakening among many people (many are already quite enlightened on the matter) that racism is indeed systemic. The entire adventure of British, other European and American imperialism (as well as Japanese imperialism) was and remains founded on a belief in white supremacy. The genocide against Native Americans was premised on the idea that people of color were for the most part savages. Much of the most famous British literature (Kipling, Swift, Defoe, even Shakespeare) assumed white supremacy. Indeed, all of colonial history and the world as we know it is rooted in racist institutions, language, ways of seeing, common assumptions, etc. The changes needed toward anything in the direction of social justice are very radical in nature, almost too radical to imagine.”

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Is it time for Canada to invade the United States?

June 14th, 2020 by Roger Darlington

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Word of the day: racism

June 13th, 2020 by Roger Darlington

The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis has resulted in protest movements, both in the United States and around the world, that have raised so many important issues and so many interesting ideas. We are seeing debates ranging from the urgent need for police reform to the long-postponed removal of offensive statues and memorials.

Now we are even seeing a discussion about the word ‘racism’ itself. The term is not just a reference to the behaviour of individuals, whether intentional or not, but also a reference to the consequences of organisational behaviour, whether intended or not. It is important, therefore, that a definition of racism covers systematic or institutional racism.

In the United States, the dictionary produced by Merriam-Webster is to change its definition of the word racism after receiving an email from a young black woman called Kennedy Mitchum, a recent graduate of Drake University in Iowa. You can read more about this story here.

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