Tag Archives: Donald Trump

November 20th : a red, amber, green and black letter day

Sometimes, I start writing entries on this blog with no real plan for where it might take me. Today is one of those days, but it’s been a fascinating journey, and I hope you’ll enjoy it too…

Traffic lights as we know them are 95 years old today. The patent for three position traffic lights was awarded in the US to Garrett Morgan on this day in 1923. The first traffic light system had been installed in London in 1868, but it was Morgan who came up with the idea of adding the amber light to better control traffic at busy junctions. Morgan sold the rights to his invention to General Electric for £40,000 (equivalent to about £500,000 in today’s money).

Morgan’s is a fascinating life, straight out of the American Dream handbook, made all the more remarkable by the fact that he was the black son of former slaves. Born in Kentucky in the final quarter of the 19th Century, he moved north to Ohio searching for work and took jobs as a handyman and then sewing machine repairman, before opening his own repair shop. Such was his success, that he expanded into clothing stores and then a newspaper – the Cleveland Call and Post, one of the most prominent of the black newspapers in the US.

The Call and Post featured prominently the Scottsboro case in 1931, which led to Supreme Court rulings on the conduct of criminal trials that remain in place to this day. The case was highly racially charged, involving an allegation of rape by two white women against 9 African American teenagers in the state of Alabama. The case is now widely cited as an example of a dreadful miscarriage of justice.

The Call and Post was facing bankruptcy and dissolution in 1998, but was saved from the brink by boxing promoter Don King. King is one of the most flamboyant and controversial characters in world boxing. He promoted the Rumble in the Jungle and the Thrilla in Manila – two of the three bouts contested by Mohammed Ali and Joe Frazier; and more recently, he was responsible for charting the meteoric rise of Mike Tyson, before an equally dramatic decline in his protogees fortunes. King himself has twice been charged with manslaughter – on the first occasion he was acquitted when the court accepted that he was seeking to prevent the victim from robbing him. The second case was much less justifiable, and King spent nearly four years in prison as a result.

More recently, King landed himself in hot water when he used the n word while introducing Donald Trump at a presidential campaign event at a Black church in Cleveland in 2016. It’s perhaps unfortunate that there isn’t a system of warning lights for Republican speakers at political rallies. It would save them all a lot of unnecessary trouble!

 

 

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There’s nothing original about fake news

Despite claims to the contrary, fake news was not invented by Donald Trump. It’s not even a recent phenomenon. This week I was fortunate enough to spend some time at De Montfort University (DMU). The University is situated near the centre of the city of Leicester in the English Midlands. In many ways, it’s a typical English provincial city – a mix of ancient and modern architecture; a river flowing through its centre; a railway station linking the city to neighbouring urban centres. In recent years, though, Leicester’s fame has increased significantly due to two remarkable facts : in May 2016, against all the odds, Leicester City Football Club won the English FA Premier League; and in August 2012, the skeleton of Richard the third was found under a local authority car park in the city centre.

Richard the third has arguably been the victim of a lot of fake news since his death in 1485. The image of the deformed, scheming infanticide, who ordered the death of his nephews to prevent their rightful accession to the throne on the death of his brother, Edward IV, is largely based on the narrative of the Shakespearian play. The reality was perhaps much more nuanced. The Richard III Society was formed in the early part of the 20th Century to begin to strip away the spin and legend that had grown up around the ‘hunchback king’. Their aim was to replace it with a more historically accurate analysis of his life and times. It is through their work (both as amateur historians and in funding more academic research) that we now know exactly where Richard was buried after defeat at the hands of Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth Field.

We also have a much more rounded appreciation of the king who did much to promote fair play and justice in the operation of the English legal system; and was a generous and enlightened supporter of the church – endowing colleges and chapter houses across the country to allow the better training and preparation of priests.

Leicester is rightly proud of its part in the history of England and the place that it plays in the biography of Richard III. The visitor centre celebrating Richard’s life and protecting his burial place are among the newest additions to the city’s cultural offering and look well worth a visit. I will certainly be making the effort to go back and find out more about this remarkable story.

Truth stranger than fiction

I caught the end of a fascinating news report on BBC Breakfast this morning. Author Jeanette Winterson had visited a school in the Cotswolds to help the children there critically review the Cinderella fairy-tale, and then re-imagine it for the 21st Century. You can see the report and watch the video here. In part, the purpose of the visit was to explore the inherently sexist nature of the traditional narrative, and the version created by the children brilliantly re-writes the story’s ending to create a vision of an empowered and independent Cindy becoming co-founder of a successful business in partnership with the prince. The sassiness of shortening the name to Cindy, and the ambition shown for her by these primary school children is charming and inspiring in equal measure. The opprobrium of many of the viewers who contacted the BBC following the story, declaiming the ‘ruining’ of traditional stories, was as depressing as it was predictable.

Juxtaposing this story with the “you couldn’t make it up”, real-life story of Donald Trump promoting his public-school educated, merchant banker buddy Nigel Farage, as a potential UK Ambassador to the US,simply proves the old adage that truth is often so much stranger than fiction. But the sexist, racist, elitist messages that both Trump and Farage openly endorse, make the work of Winterson and a whole host of other, less prominent, people who are continuing to promote ideals of equality, fairness and justice, even more vitally important.

It is Edmund Burke, 18th Century parliamentarian and philosopher, to whom is attributed the saying that “for evil to triumph it is only necessary that good men do nothing”. Of course, taking our lead from Winterson, we need to change the “men” in the quote to “people”; but now more than ever, Burke’s sentiment must be a clarion call to everybody who opposes the narrow-minded, myopic, xenophobic, homophobic, mysogynist narrative of Trump, Farage and the motley crew of ultra-right wing ideologues that cling on to their coat-tails.

Fairy tales are quaint and can be indulged more liberally when the prevailing wisdom in society sees them as artefacts of a by-gone era when we were less enlightened. When the core messages of a ‘woman’s place in the home’, economic dependence on men, and a good marriage as the principal means of future security, are now part of mainstream political discourse, then its time for all of us to re-write the fairy tales.

My reflections on the rise of the Donald

I’ve tried to write today’s blog post many times in the hours since it first became clear that Mr Trump would become the 45th President of the United States of America. Each time I have come up against some words of advice that have guided me from a very young age :

“If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all”.

 

 

 

 

I’ll be back tomorrow!