Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Donald Trump’

Armistice 2018 Commemoration

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 11th November, 2018

3FD0BB67-E403-4016-BDB7-B1A8C5D35606I found pictures of the Armistice Day commemorations in Paris today deeply moving. President Emmanuel Macron spoke with dignity against nationalism and war. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, stood next to him, underlining how these two great European powers, which had fought each other three times during a period of just 75 years, are now allies and the mainstay of the European Union — a body which now unites not just most of the countries of Western Europe but also the formerly Communist states of central and Eastern Europe. It was good that both Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump were present, too (even if Trump blotted his copybook by pulling out of an earlier, related engagement because rain was forecast). Despite some recent tensions in the West’s relations with Russia, the Cold War, which kept us teetering on the verge of nuclear Armageddon, is long over. Scores of nations were represented at senior level in Paris, but shamefully Theresa May was not there. Apparently she thought it more important to be at the Cenitaph in London rather than participate in this unique, truly global event. Reportedly she sent David Lidington MP (Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster) instead, though naturally he did not get to stand with the top leaders, thus relegating the UK to second rank. At a time when Britain’s reputation is at rock bottom among our EU partners as Brexit loooms and many Conservative and Labour politicians fall over themselves to be rude to the EU and the 27 other member states, while banging the drum of British exceptionalism, this was a serious miscalculation. Theresa May is trashing the UK’s standing in Europe and the wider world, while Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn just stands on the sideline, nodding.

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Fahrenheit 11/9 ****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 22nd October, 2018

Fahrenheit 11 9Michael Moore has carved out a special place for himself in contemporary US film-making: as an intrusive, progressive Democrat who cares passionately about environmental issues, the abuse of power and the sad state of American society. So no-one is going to go to his new documentary Fahrenheit 11/9 expecting that the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump, is going to be given a smooth ride. The parallels Moore draws between Trump and Adolf Hitler and the way that the American public is being softened up to accept demagoguery and dictatorship, as happened in 1930s Germany, are hardly subtle, yet no less effective for that. Moore rightly likens the Trump tactics of holding mass rallies, whipping up crowd fervour against blacks/Hispanics/lesbians or whichever particular minority he is taking a pot-shot at, or the mainstream media, to those of the Fuehrer. Perhaps the most shocking thing to emerge from the film, for a traditional liberal such as myself, is to realise that far from being stupid (as we liberals tend to think) Trump has been very clever in the way he has reached out to the poor white working class, those who treasure the right to bear arms and self-identifying patriots. He knows how to manipulate and resonate, and hopes to be in there for the long haul.

Trump in Fahrenheit 11 9 The overarching message about how the fuck Trump got there (to quote Moore directly) and where the hell this is all heading, is nonetheless somewhat diluted by two very different sub-stories or plots in the film. One is the awful tale of the predominantly black Michigan town of Flint, whose people were poisoned by a water supply contaminated with lead because of the state governor’s switching of the pipes from the Great Lakes to the filthy local river to win favour from contractors. But even Barack Obama gets a big slap in the face over that, as he flew to Flint, to be greeted like a hero, only to dash local residents’ hopes by drinking a glass of the water to show them it was actually OK. That’s one reason many people in the area did not turn out to vote for Hillary Clinton in November 2016. Sure, she lost because of the antiquated Electoral College system, which meant that Trump won although she had a majority of the popular vote overall. But Ms Clinton also comes over as a poor candidate, badly prepared and in hock to big business, in contrast to Bernie Sanders, who obviously does rock Michael Moore’s boat. So too — indeed, much more so — the youngsters from Florida who reacted to yet another mass school shooting by standing up and speaking out against guns and then, through social media, organising big rallies across the country. When dealing with them, Michael Moore abandons his usual satirical bent, which makes things a little uncomfortable. But towards the end, the movie swings back to Trump and Hitler and the rise of the alt-Right. So there is an awful lot thrown together in this film, which makes it more uneven than some of his earlier work. But there are enough “oh my God” moments, as well as dark humour and the director’s trade-mark sloppy bear act, to make it fairly gripping throughout.

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What Happened to Jamal Khashoggi?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 13th October, 2018

Jamal KhashoggiThe disappearance and possible murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has taken on an added disquieting significance with claims in the Turkish media that either his smart-watch or phone recorded him being questioned and tortured in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, to which he had gone for formalities ahead of his forthcoming marriage to a Turkish citizen. The Saudi government, meanwhile, insists that he left the consulate unharmed at the end of his visit, but as there has been no further sign of him since, that statement seems increasingly thin. There have been stern reactions to the affair from a range of world leaders, not least French President Emmanuel Macron; even Donald Trump has said there will be consequences if foul play is confirmed (having earlier expressed concern about any impact criticism might have on tens of billions of dollars-worth of US arms sales). The United Kingdom is also a key ally of and arms supplier to the desert Kingdom and there is growing dismay in London as the days go by with no convincing explanation. The official Saudi line, not surprisingly, is that all the furore is an effort to besmirch the country, though the accusatory finger is tellingly being pointed specifically at Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, “MBS”, who is the very public face of Saudi “reform”. Meanwhile several leading international figures have pulled out of a big event due in Riyadh shortly. Certainly, the Khashoggi case is something of a PR disaster at a time when MBS is championing his country’s new look. Exactly two weeks ago, I saw Jamal Khashoggi, a contributor to the Washington Post, here in London, where he was one of the speakers at a seminar on Oslo at 25 put on by the Middle East Monitor, MEMO. He looked preoccupied, which I put down to jet lag; surely, he cannot have had any inkling of what may have been waiting for him in Istanbul. There is a certain irony that his disappearance occurred in Turkey, however, given the clamp down on journalists and media organisations there. Perhaps the Saudis — assuming the plot theory is true — hoped that the Turks wouldn’t make too much of a fuss. But this is ot a story that can be easily quashed.

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What Hope for Palestine?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 28th September, 2018

Netanyahu TrumpOn the fringes of the UN General Assembly in New York, Donald Trump met Binyamin Netanyahu for a friendly chat. The relationship between the United States and Israel remains as close as it has ever been. President Trump did say in his trademark casual way that he thought he liked the idea of a two-state solution to the Middle East impasse. But his actions so far have done everything to undermine that goal. First there was the decision to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in defiance of the almost universal convention that until the final status of Jerusalem has been agreed, the Holy City should not be acknowledged as Israel’s capital. The PLO Office in Washington was ordered closed and bilateral relations between the US and Palestine downgraded. Then came the swingeing cuts to US funding for UNWRA, the agency that supports Palestinian refugees as well as the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, leaving millions of people — many already on the breadline — destitute. No wonder that the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has declared that the Americans are no longer a credible mediator.

Israe; Palestine separation wallThe Netanyahu government, meanwhile, was quick to announce that any future Palestinian state will be a “state-minus”. It won’t be allowed to be in charge of its own defence and security, as Tel Aviv intends to keep control of things militarily right up to the Jordanian border. So in other words, the Occupation would continue in all but name. Moreover, the continuing expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, in contravention to international law, means that there is no viable Palestinian state left any more. The best that can be hoped for is a few little bantustans within an apartheid system. Anyone who doubts the appropriateness of the term “apartheid” in the Israel/Palestine context today needs to study the Nation State law recently passed in the Israeli Knesset. Non-Jews were de facto discriminated against within Israel before the passing of the law, but now that discrimination is officially sanctioned. As the USA under Trump is not going to do anything significant to stop the ongoing deterioration of the situation for Palestinians, it is time for the European Union to step up to the plate and become the Middle East mediator, with economic as well as political pressure on Israel to change its ways. Given Britain’s historical responsibility for mandate-era Palestine, the UK ought to be in the forefront of such action, though that is unlikely so long as Theresa May’s Conservatives are in power. However, one ray of sunshine in the otherwise cloudy landscape is that the Labour Party this week called for the immediate recognition of the State of Palestine following a similar move by the Liberal Democrats last year.

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When the World Laughs at Trump

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 25th September, 2018

Donald Trump VsignThere was an extraordinary scene at the UN General Assembly in New York when US President Donald Trump declared from the rostrum that his administration had probably achieved more than any other US administration in history: everyone laughed. Even Fox News carried the embarrassing moment live. And when the President said, “Well, I wasn’t expecting that reaction!”, they laughed even harder. It really does seem that Mr Trump thinks he is the best leader since Abraham Lincoln, or maybe George Washington. There is no limit to his vanity and self-delusion. But at least he has now felt the pin-prick of polite public scorn. From the whole world. Is he so surrounded by sycophants at the White House that he is unaware what people think? Of course, the smiles on the faces of many of the delegates at the UNGA were bitter ones, as there are so many ways that Trump has harmed the planet in the two years he has been in power, from rowing back on measures designed to limit climate change to trying to sabotage the Iran nuclear deal. Because he is who he is, even British Prime Minister Theresa May — who clearly did not relish having her hand grabbed by him when she visited Washington — feels she has to suck up to him, reluctantly admitting to a reporter the other day, after repeated questioning, that she does “trust” Donald Trump. Mind you, poor Mrs May is not in a much better position, as much of the world is laughing at her and Brexit Britain too. This is not a healthy state of affairs for the so-called Western World. Of course, Donald Trump may be voted out in 2020, assuming he is not impeached first, whereas Mrs May could in principle be in Downing Street until 2022, though that is looking increasingly unlikely. What a lamentable state of affairs!

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Boris Johnson: Trump or Chump

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 7th September, 2018

Boris Johnson scowlThe Daily Mail and the Sun today are both headlining a story that former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has been thrown out of the family home by his wife because of yet another alleged extramarital affair. It’s hard to feel sorry for him, however, as he has behaved like a cad in this and other matters. Besides, he earns so much from his cringe-worthy column in the Daily Telegraph that he can afford to stay in a smart hotel near Parliament while it is sitting. Or indeed buy a house in his constituency, Uxbridge; I can imagine his nose wrinkling at that thought. But of course peccadilloes are not the real reason Boris should be in the dog-house. It’s his political dishonesty and overblown ego that grate. Even some of his senior fellow Conservatives have started to call him a charlatan. It is well known that in the run-up to the 2016 EU Referendum he couldn’t decide whether to back Leave or Remain, eventually opting for Leave because he thought that way he would win the backing of genuine Brexiteers in his party. And having done so, he became their cheerleader.This was clearly all part of his plan to become Prime Minister. Theresa May bought him off by making him Foreign Secretary, rather than sacking him — inflicting harm on Britain’s reputation abroad in the process — but one has to feel a little sorry for Mrs May, as she knows that Boris would metaphorically slip a plastic bag over her head when he feels the time is ripe. Moreover, opinion polls suggest that Boris would be Conservative voters’ preferred candidate as a replacement Leader, which is a pretty damning indictment of the quality of other Tory Ministers. And Boris does reach parts of the electorate that other Tories don’t; I’ve lost count of the number of young black Londoners who have told me they think Boris is great — a laugh. But Boris is much more than a comedian with a handy way with words. He sees himself as an English Trump, which at this delicate stage in Britain’s political evolution is the last thing the country needs. I rather doubt that sufficient Conservative MPs would give him their backing to make a leadership bid viable, anyway, as they realise Boris is more chump than Trump. And they have no wish for Britain to become even more of an international laughing stock than it is already, thanks to Brexit.

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Soldiers of a Different God ****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 14th August, 2018

Soldiers of a Different GodWhile considerable attention has been paid by the media to jihadi groups and terrorist attacks of various kinds, the spotlight has not been shone so brightly on the counter-jihad movement. That is the term Brussels-based writer Christopher Othen gives to the motley collection of political activists, commentators and miscellaneous Islamophobes who are the subject of his book, Soldiers of a Different God (Amberley, £18.99). The sub-title on the cover offers the promise that the book will explain how the counter-jihad movement created mayhem, murder and the Trump presidency, but in fact the narrative thread is not as assertive as that. Indeed, at the very end, the author tentatively opines: “Decide whether Islam is an existential threat to Western liberal democracy or a slandered religion of peace that just wants to co-exist. Even Houllebecq the mage on the cover of Charlie Hebdo might find that kind of prediction beyond his powers.”

The French novelist Michel Houllebecq is just one phenomenally successful literary figure whose contribution to the counter-jihad movement is considered. Far more significant in many ways is Oriana Fallaci, who raised herself from her sickbed to write La Rabbia e l’Orgoglio, which, Othen writes, “spewed rage and venom like an out-of-control firehose.” Othen’s rhetoric is a fiery as that of many of the characters he introduces into the story, from Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders to Milo Yiannopoulos and Nigel Farage, but that does not mean he shares their views. Steve Bannon, formerly Donald Trump’s right-hand man, and for a while a key figure in alt-right Breitbart News, comes across as a particularly hiss-worthy pantomime villain. Othen was a journalist before turning to writing books, and much of this volume is written in colourful journalese, which suggests the volume is geared towards a younger readership, yet there are pages of copious notes at the end, giving it an apparent badge of academic respectability. I liked the way that he managed to include most of the right-wing nutters on both sides of the Atlantic that one has learned to hate, while not glossing over the terrorism, rape, human rights abuses and other causes of their ire, so the book does serve as a useful source for easy reference. But I do wish he had taken a clearer authorial stance. Serves me right for taking at face-value what was on the cover.

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Boris and the “Burka Ban”

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 8th August, 2018

NiqabThe former Foreign Secretary and Tory bad-boy, Boris Johnson, has well and truly put the cat among the pigeons with his Daily Telegraph column in which he likened Muslim women who wear the “burka” to letter boxes and bank robbers. I am sure he well knows that what he is talking about is the niqab (face veil) rather than the burka, but he is happy to chime with the populist riff in which “burka ban” has a satisfyingly alliterative resonance. This is more than a storm in a tea-cup, as several important issues are at stake. First, we live in a liberal, multicultural democracy in Britain, in which everyone should be free to wear whatever he or she wishes. Many white British may find the niqab unattractive or disturbing, but similarly many Muslims find topless bathers at least as offensive. As for the burka, while I saw lots of these in Afghanistan, and know that they have appeared in parts of north-west Pakistan, I have never seen one in England, though some of the many hundreds of people who have responded to a tweet of mine earlier today about the burka affair have assured me that  they have seen some in Ilford and Leicester. Anyway, the point is that it is not for us to tell people what they should wear, otherwise we become like some of the authoritarian societies which we rightly criticise.

burkaBut of course, there is a more important political point, namely that Boris Johnson has refused to apologise for his offensive remarks, despite being urged to by the Chairman of the Conservative Party, Brandon Lewis, and, more weakly, by the Prime Minister. By refusing to agree, Boris Johnson is essentially showing two fingers to Theresa May, knowing she is too weak to sack him (he resigned as Foreign Secretary, remember; he was not sacked, though he should have been). I agree with Lord Sheikh, founder of the Conservative Muslim Forum, that Boris Johnson should have the Conservative whip withdrawn if he stubbornly refuses to back down. Islamophobia is a problem within the Conservative Party, and whereas I do not believe Boris Johnson is personally Islamophobic (indeed, part of his pedigree is Turkish), I do believe that he is shamelessly pandering to the more disgusting of right-wing prejudices. He appears to be modelling himself on Donald Trump, saying the most outrageous things, knowing that he will carry a certain amount of the population with him. But Britain does not need such populism, nor should be tolerate it. We said “No!” in the 1930s, and we should say “No!” now.

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Devaluation of Political Discourse

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 25th July, 2018

Donald Trump 5Last night I did one of my occasional slots on the one-and-a-half hour (Bangladeshi) Channel S TV current affairs show, Let’s Talk. It was sweltering in the studio — the air conditioning was too noisy to be left on during live transmission — and all three of us (me, the host and another studio guest) were roasting in suits and ties. Moreover, the topic for discussion was a heated one: reactions to Donald Trump’s recent visit to the UK and the effect of Trumpism on politics globally. A caller for Oxford bemoaned the fact that Trump has encouraged people to follow his example to use coarse words (as well as bending the truth, of course), which enabled me to talk about what I see as the davaluation of political discourse. Rational debate has often given way to shouty confrontation, and “alternative facts” are seen as equally valid as the truth, providing you believe in them. I am all in favour of satire at appropriate moments — and indeed quite often poke fun at the more absurd arguments of Brexiteers on twitter. But it is clear that social media have encouraged the decline in respect for logic and evidence-based judgments. Mr Trump is partly to blame for this, as some people, on both sides of the Atlantic, feel that if the Tweeter-in-Chief can blast off like an angry child in a playground, so can they. The mainstream media has aided and abetted this lowering of standards. As I said on the programme last night, it was disgraceful that a newspaper such as the Daily Telegraph should pose the question whether Theresa May is a “traitor” because of her Chequers Soft Brexit plan. The gutter Press, not least the Express and the Mail, have continued their obnoxious Brexiteer tirades; do you remember that awful headline about Supreme Court judges being “enemies of the people”? Brexit and Trump are two sides of the same coin, and just as Trump’s rhetoric encourages white Americans to turn against immigrants, Muslims and Mexicans, so the Brexiteer narrative, personified by Nigel Farage, has turned a section of the British public against East Europeans, other ethnic minorities and Islam — fuelling support for anti-hero “Tommy Robinson” and the English Defence League. The BBC, for which I worked almost full-time for 20 years, is itself guilty in giving undue oxygen to extremists; Farage has appeared on Question Time more than any other guest. Meanwhile, both in the United States and here in Britain, society is polarising to such a degree that it is no longer fanciful to draw parallels with the 1930s. We all know what the devaluation of political discourse led to then. It is in everyone’s true interest to ensure that doesn’t happen again.

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Dump Trump

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 13th July, 2018

808A8666-5BFB-4B28-AAB1-CB96F9ABF5DFit was heartening to see many tens of thousands of people turn up this hot Friday afternoon to march against the views and practices of US President Donald Trump. There was a carnival atmosphere right from the moment that a giant Baby Trump in a nappy was inflated this morning and floated over Parliament Square, but at 2pm big crowds converged on Portland Place near the BBC’s headquarters before marching down Regent Street and on to Trafalgar Square. There was a host of nationalities represented and lots of flags — the EU’s and Palestine’s particularly visible — but it was the home-made signs that attracted the attention of the TV cameras, from the predictably scatalogical (“F**k Trump”) to the deliciously English (“I’m really rather cross”). A brass band enhanced the mood. I didn’t spot all that many politicians (Ed Miliband and Jo Swinson being notable exceptions) but there was every age and social group present, as well as trade unions and single issue groups holding up colourful banners, all united in their opposition to Mr Trump’s current visit to the UK. As I write this, he is sitting down to tea with the Queen at Windsor Castle, and one can only hope that he will be more diplomatic with her than he has been with Prime Minister, Theresa May. In an exclusive interview with the Sun newspaper, published this morning, the Donald rubbished Mrs May’s Soft Brexit plan and said he thought that former Foreign Secretary and government bad-boy Boris Johnson would make a great PM. The President’s busy schedule kept him well away from the big London demonstration, but he will doubtless hear about it and see pictures on his twitter feed. It was massive, and made abundantly clear that for many Brits and others living here, he is not a welcome guest.

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