• The British Trump – I Don’t Think So

    A British newspaper last week published a photograph of the Queen meeting Boris Johnson and attached a caption which had the Queen saying, with the recollection no doubt of Donald Trump’s visit fresh in her mind, “I thought you had gone back to America.”

    They were not alone in purporting to see similarities between the US President and the new British leader. But how accurate is such a judgment?

    I have not had the pleasure of meeting Donald Trump but I do know Boris a little. Our paths crossed first when he was the political correspondent of the Daily Telegraph – indeed, when I left British politics in 1994, he came out to my house and was the last journalist to interview me on the eve of my departure for New Zealand.

    And we ran Into each other again last year at Florence airport when we were both bumped off our return flight to the UK – and we took the chance of a chat about the political situation and, in particular, Brexit, on which subject we have always agreed.

    There are of course superficial similarities between the two leaders. Both are larger than life and both sport extravagant coiffures, and neither is afraid of courting controversy. But that is about where the parallels end.

    If the list of similarities is a short one, the list of differences is good deal longer. Boris Johnson is an educated man – an Oxford classicist and graduate no less – and has a great deal of political experience, having been a political journalist and then Mayor of London and member of parliament. He has a good understanding of the value of democracy and the rule of law, and he is not a serial liar.

    Johnson may not, as they say, be “short of a bob or two”, but he is not preoccupied with his own financial and business affairs. His personal life, and marriage history, have both been a bit messy at times, not least quite recently, but he has never faced accusations of molesting or assaulting women or treating them with disrespect.

    Johnson has vowed to stand up for Britain, especially on the Brexit issue, but he has not found it necessary to set one group against another in his own country or to denigrate other countries. He is undeniably right-wing but the breadth of his political experience at least provides him with an insight into the lives of the less fortunate and into the downsides of free-market policies – and that might even lead him, while Prime Minister, to moderate those policies.

    Even in terms of their foibles and and weaknesses, there are significant differences. Johnson deliberately courts the image of someone who is a bit shambolic and likely to go off the rails because he know that this helps people to relate to him – as they laugh at him, they also warm to him. But behind the buffoon’s facade, there is a sharp and calculating political brain.

    Trump, on the other hand, cannot bear to be laughed at, and takes umbrage at anything that smacks of disrespect for his office. His self-importance and insistence on the trappings of power are deadly serious. In his case, the buffoon we see is not an act but is the real person.

    Despite these differences between them, however, we are bound to see repeated examinations on both sides of the Atlantic of their supposed simIlarities. The British media hostile to Boris will try to use the issue as a stick with which to beat him, since any association with or similarity to Trump will not play well in Britain.

    And Trump-supporting American media will try to build the story that the two leaders are blood brothers, in an attempt to demonstrate that Trump is more mainstream than he actually is, and that his peccadilloes are to be excused because they are not unique to him but can be found elsewhere.

    I remain confident that Boris Johnson, whatever his other weaknesses, will not see Donald Trump as a model to be followed. My slight acquaintance with him leads me to hope that at least one of the leaders of what used to be called “the free world” knows what he is doing.

    Bryan Gould
    27 July 2019

     

     

     

     

  • Democracy and Self-respect

    Democracy is important in many senses. It is first and foremost a form of government – famously described as, “government of the people, by the people and for the people”.

    It is then a process, which enables us to choose our government; that process, of elections and political parties, is often confused with democracy itself, but elections are merely the mechanism by which we deliver the form of government.

    Importantly, democracy also allows us to choose our leaders. Government and leaders are, for this purpose, two quite different concepts.  A government makes the laws and implements the policies by which we organise and govern ourselves.

    Our leaders, though, are those who represent us, who embody the values we hold and who bring them to life in both the national and international context.

    Democracy, in other words, allows us not only to elect those who govern us but also to choose those who represent and lead us. The former choice is very much a political one; the latter much more a personal choice – and we accordingly tend to choose those whom we like, with whom we identify and whose values we share.

    It is this aspect of democracy that is often overlooked, yet that provides us with one of its most valuable benefits. Observers from outside the country will be able to identify the true spirit and temperament of a democratic country by examining the personality of its leader or leaders.

    And for us at home, democracy produces leaders with whom we are happy and whom we trust. The choice we make tells us something about ourselves, and is therefore in some senses an exercise in self-respect. The more we respect ourselves, the greater the care we will take to elect leaders who represent us and who, in embodying our values, seem to deserve our respect.

    The personal qualities of our recent leaders in New Zealand tend to bear out this analysis. Whether it be the charm, warmth and bonhomie of a John Key or the compassion, concern for others and inclusiveness of a Jacinda Ardern, it can be argued that we have chosen leaders whose qualities not only resonate with us, but which are applauded by our friends overseas.

    There can be little doubt that Jacinda Ardern’s profile has greatly benefited New Zealand’s international standing. When our sportspeople perform well at international competitions – World Cups and the like – the good impression created by our prowess on the sports field reinforces the impression given of our national characteristics by those whom we elect to represent us in international forums.

    We can afford to feel proud of our leaders on the basis that they provide an accurate reflection of the qualities we value in ourselves. Democracy allows us both to demonstrate our own self-respect and the qualities on which that self-respect is based.

    We are not of course alone in choosing leaders who demonstrate qualities of which we can be proud. But our example does make it all the more puzzling that some of our friends overseas do not take the same opportunity.

    How can it be, we might ask, that the Americans can use their votes quite deliberately to choose a leader who, in the eyes of the world, does not deserve respect. Whatever other qualities he might have, Donald Trump’s lack of a moral compass – his tendency to lie, bluster and misrepresent, his readiness to divide the country by targeting particular groups as un-American, his treatment of women as playthings, his lack of respect for democracy and the rule of law – bespeaks an absence of, or at least peculiar definition of, self-respect on his part and, as a consequence, on the part of the American people as well.

    It is hard to believe that the Americans are willing to have their national identity established worldwide in terms of these qualities.

    Until they re-discover their sense of self-respect, the Americans will forfeit one of the most valuable aspects of democracy – the ability to demonstrate to the rest of the world the value they place on themselves. Given that we are not about to lend them Jacinda, we must hope that they can discover by themselves how to restore the foundations of what “made America great” in the first place.

    Bryan Gould
    22 July 2019

     

     

  • Belle and the Community

    Belle is a lovely fifteen year-old border collie who belongs to our friends and neighbours at Bryan’s Beach, Michael and Judy Corboy. Belle, in her old age, can hardly see or hear, but – as a constant participant at social gatherings and as a regular presence in her daily walk on the beach – she is well-known and much loved by all of us at Bryan’s Beach.

    A few days ago, she asked, as was usual in the late afternoon, to be allowed outdoors for a spell. It was a cold, wet and windy afternoon and, worryingly, she failed to return at the expected time. Michael and Judy messaged all their local friends through the local community online network to alert them and to ask if they would check their gardens, ditches and sheds for any sign of the missing Belle.

    As the news of Belle’s possible plight spread, the local community mobilised. Darkness was falling, but parties of searchers walked the beach, checked ditches and ponds, and shone torches into dark corners while calling her name.

    But there was no sign of Belle.

    Many of us began to fear the worst. We began to picture the poor creature, disoriented and uncertain as to where she was, in the dark and unable to see or hear, and having perhaps fallen into a tight spot from which she could not free herself.

    The search went on till late at night, but to no avail. As midnight approached, the volunteers were reluctant to give up and had to be told to go home and that the search would resume in the morning.

    Messages of concern and hope continued to pour in. Even neighbours overseas on holiday sent messages to signal their distress. Michael and Judy hardly slept a wink. In the morning, with hope fading, Michael decided that he would have to retrace the searches he had already made. He found himself walking along the bottom of a deep and narrow steep-sided drain that ran alongside the road on which they lived.

    He stumbled along, through blackberry and puddles, flashing his torch ahead of him. The light suddenly picked up what he thought might be the white ruff around Belle’s neck. He bent down and discovered that it was indeed Belle. She was face down in the ditch and immobile, her black coat having made her indistinguishable from the black darkness of the night.

    Michael is 72 years old but he found the strength to lift her out and carry her home. The news that she had been found was joyfully welcomed by the Bryan’s Beach community. Belle was dried, warmed and fed, but had difficulty in moving. The cold seemed to have got into her bones.

    She was taken to the vet and was found to have lost a kilo of her normal weight and to be in need of rest, but otherwise to be on course to full recovery.

    Judy and Michael agree that there are lessons to be learnt from the experience. Judy says that Belle’s days of being allowed to go off “on frolics of her own” are over.

    Michael, who is something of a philosopher, says that “whether or not, as some people dispute, there is such a thing as society, there certainly is such a thing as community – and we saw it in action last night. Even in our despair, we were warmed by the concern and generosity of our friends.”

    We are all lucky to be living in such a community.

    Bryan Gould
    7 July 2019

  • Where Did That Rule Come From?

    “We wuz robbed!” is the classic cry of the disappointed losers of a closely contested sporting contest – it is very much to the credit of the Black Caps that we heard no such sentiment from them following the stunning (and, for them, shattering) denouement of the Cricket World Cup final.

    No one can doubt that England won the match fair and square within the framework of the rules that were applied.

    Yes, the Black Caps had their share of bad luck, not least in respect of Ben Stokes’ boundary when the ball ricocheted off his bat as he was diving for the crease – but luck plays a part in most sporting contests.

    And there is little point in bemoaning the closeness of some of the calls – as when Martin Guptill attempted to complete a second run to win the match in the super-over. Close calls are always with us in top-level sport.

    And no Kiwi could complain that Trent Boult signalled that a six had been scored when he caught the ball on the boundary from an English bat, and trod on the rope – we expect nothing less from our Black Caps.

    But we might want to take a more critical look at the rule that was applied in order to decide the outcome of the match. Where did that rule come from?

    How was it that the criterion adopted was the number of boundaries scored by each side in the course of the match, especially when, on the face of it, a much more obvious and appropriate criterion was available.

    The common currency of scoring in cricket is runs and wickets. The point of the game is to score more runs than one’s opponents while, in order to do so, at the same time not losing wickets. In principle, one would have thought that if two teams score the same number of runs but one loses just eight wickets whereas the other is bowled out, the conclusion must be that the one with wickets still in hand has had the better of the game.

    Why was this obvious distinction between the two sides not adopted as the deciding factor? Indeed, I would go further and say that it should have been such a decisive factor as to render unnecessary any super-over or other such device.

    By opting instead for the number of boundaries scored, the rule-makers gave a double advantage to the England team, since the value of the boundaries they scored had already been taken into account in the total of runs they had accumulated.

    This is not a plea to re-adjudicate or re-litigate what was a wonderful match of which England were worthy winners. But I do suggest that the ICC (or any successor authority) should think more carefully about the rules they adopt when the two finalists finish in a tie.

    Let us at least hope for a rule that is based on some rationale in cricketing terms and is not just plucked out of the air. Here’s to another great final in 2023!

    Bryan Gould
    15 July 2019

  • The Trump-Kim Bromance

    It may be that we have all misinterpreted the somewhat surprising “bromance” between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. It has been all too easy to assume that it is Kim who is cosying up to Trump rather than the other way round, that t is Kim who sees himself as a supplicant and as an acolyte of the American president, and who seeks to gain some reflected glory from his association with Trump.

    But recent events suggest that this is a misinterpretation of the relationship – that it is Trump who is star-struck and who seeks to learn from, and to inflate his image through, his links to his apparently junior partner.

    The evidence for this is Trump’s obvious keenness to emulate his North Korean counterpart in so may respects. Trump’s unprecedented Independence Day military parade, for example – jets overhead and tanks rolling down the streets – seemed more typical of Pyongyang than of Washington and to have been lifted straight from the North Korean dictator’s playbook.

    But this surprising departure from American practice is not the only evidence of Trump’s admiration of the North Korean way of doing things.

    It seems clear that Trump is impressed not just by Kim himself but by the whole Kim dynasty. He seems to cast an envious and admiring eye on the Kim family’s ability to perpetuate its rule from one generation to the next. This, surely, is what lies behind Trump’s stated wish to remain President for an unending future, his warning that he might refuse to accept an election defeat, and his attempts to insinuate his daughter Ivanka, and other family members, into the higher reaches of world leadership.

    A Trump dynasty is clearly in his sights.

    The Kim regime seems to offer the American president, in addition to the glorification of military power, other useful precedents as well. Kim, Trump will have noted, does not need to worry about criticism from the media; so Trump has made persistent efforts to undermine the whole concept of a free press. He is very selective about the media outlets he is prepared to deal with and has put an end to the daily press briefings that traditionally – and essentially in a democracy -have provided the media with the opportunity to hold the executive to account.

    Dictators – from Hitler onwards – have relied greatly on propaganda to sustain them in power; the “big lie” was, after all, a technique refined by the Nazi regime. Trump has learnt from Kim that people will usually believe what they are told by those in authority, and he has proved that denying the truth, using techniques such as the “photoshopping” of pictorial evidence, will allow him to provide “alternative facts” to convince his supporters.

    And Trump has registered that Kim operates under no constraints imposed by the law or by the courts; Kim simply assumes that he is above the law – the classic stance of the dictator. Trump has followed suit; he has also adopted a policy of refusing to comply with the law – and that includes the provisions of the constitution – and of providing himself with an insurance policy by stacking the court benches with his political appointments.

    The evidence is overwhelming, in other words, that Trump is a would-be (albeit trainee) dictator, and that he is Kim’s pupil in such matters. He does not seem to possess enough self-knowledge to realise that adopting such a subservient relationship to the Korean dictator is far from “making America great again” but has reduced the supposed “leader of the free world” to the status of a client state.

    Sadly, Trump’s admiration for, and subservience to the model provided by, Kim is all of a piece with his regard for other undemocratic regimes – his approval of and close relationship with President Putin of Russia, President Duterte of the Philippines and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia being obvious and recent examples.

    Friends of the United States can only hope that the American people will recognise the danger they are in, and will in due course re-assert the democratic values that have underpinned the Republic for most of its existence.

    Bryan Gould
    7July 2019