Vote America, vote!

The 2016 and 2020 US presidential elections could not be more different. In 2016, both leading parties (Democrat and Republican) offered the electorate new candidates for the consideration. President Obama was leaving office after eight years in which the economy had been stable, foreign wars had been managed cautiously and healthcare revolutionised. The Democrat star was in the ascendant but, as so often, the urge for change proved the catalyst for the events that followed. Republican Party hustings at first, failed to identify an obvious president amongst the hopefuls. But gradually, as the summer wore on a ground swell of support began to identify Donald Trump as the preferred candidate.

Trump was different. With no governmental or political baggage, he was seen as a breath of fresh air, very much his own man. Indeed so much his own man that Republican grandees frequently questioned his allegiance to the ideology of the grand old party, some pointing to his Democrat sympathies when younger. But the party began to recognise him as the only person, of those on offer, with a realistic chance of at least bloodying the Democrats. A surprisingly strong orator with the common touch and an undoubted ability to work a crowd, he increasingly emerged as a credible candidate. Indeed his lack of political experience, far from being a disadvantage, was a significant asset. He could criticise the failings of previous presidents and candidates with impunity. He had no political blunders to his name. Against all odds this multimillionaire somehow persuaded legions of blue-collar workers that he, and only he, knew what it was like to be in their shoes. Obama, with all his fancy words and elaborate oratory, spoke as though for posterity. Although for many years happy to vote for him, the working classes never really related to his wordy academic tones.

If Obama spoke like Cicero, Trump was a Pennsylvanian sheet metal worker. He spoke the language of the Rust Belt states and, whether true or not, was believable. Trump was a street fighter.

But the fact remained that the Democrats were substantially ahead in the polls and even Trump was struggling to make inroads. It would take a particularly awful Democrat candidate to lose the presidential election to this political neophyte. But the Democrats had exactly such a candidate. Hillary Clinton had two insuperable handicaps to her candidacy. Widely seen as corrupt, dishonest and untrustworthy, Hillary Clinton was also a woman. In the southern states of America, with their pivotal electoral colleges, this was an electoral train wreck waiting to happen. Trump preyed on her assumed or alleged dishonesties and gradually the mud began to stick.

Trump talked less about his own policy plans and more about his interpretation of Clinton’s motivation to be president. Steering clear of his own policy plans was wise. After all there were none to speak of beyond a threaten to roll back Obama care. And a nebulous promise to “drain the swamp” which had an undeniable ring about it. Throw in support from the gun-toting religious right and a campaign focus on the swing states swept Trump to the presidency. Nobody could quite believe it.

2020 is an entirely different situation. We have learned many things about Trump as a president.

Firstly, he believes the job to be essentially part-time and that he can share time between the White House and the golf course – at taxpayers expense.

Secondly, he does not understand that the role of the presidency is nonpartisan. A president serves the entire country, not just the Republican bits. Presidents should always seek to unify. That’s understood.

Thirdly, he does not grasp the need for messages to be consistent, frequently undermining his briefing staff by ad-libbing policy thoughts.

Fourthly, he has no grasp of practicalities. Just saying that there will be a wall between the US and Mexico does not mean it will happen.

Fifthly, blaming all his own troubles on the previous administration simply won’t wash. It might have been usable as an excuse in 2017 but when facing the electorate in 2020, it’s not believable.

The last six months have seen the unravelling of this president and his vanities. Flashing hot and cold on key issues, he stands behind the presidential podium like some demented Belisha beacon. A gift to cartoonists with his ridiculous coiffure and disastrous orange tan, he is a cartoon president. Spitting image mercilessly lampooned president Reagan for his limited grasp of policy and preponderance of gaffes. Trump is almost beyond caricature. He is Mussolini, one minute all bluster and bombast, the next minute rambling, unfocused and incoherent.

If he were just an idiot, his failings would be almost endearing, like that bumbling uncle at the family Christmas get-together who gets names and places mixed up. He would be tolerated but largely ignored. But Trump is not an idiot. Or perhaps I should say Trump is not only an idiot. He has raised nepotism and cronyism to the level of art. No president previously has dared put so many family members into key positions. So brazen are his actions that commentators find their sense of outrage blunted. Any one alone would have been sufficient grounds for investigation. Most journalists have to suspend disbelief when reporting a Trump story. Far from draining it, Trump is the swamp.

In 2016, Trump offered vague sentiments along the lines of “let’s make America great again”, meaningless but somehow persuasive. In 2020, those slogans seem hollow. He has had four years to do so. If America is not yet great again, it’s his fault. Simply needling the previous administration isn’t persuasive.

The role of president is about one thing and one thing alone – leadership. When the threat to the country presents itself, the president is expected to have a plan and to act decisively. In March and since, the US and other countries have experienced a viral pandemic. Each country has acted in its own way, some more convincingly than others, but none has acted by doing nothing. Except America. Trump’s lamentable failure of understanding this has surely made the death count far worse than it needed to be. His ambivalence about masks and pronouncements that it would all miraculously disappear were comical if not for the fact that lives were lost as a direct result. Far from admiring a beacon of global leadership one is left with the feeling that a village somewhere is missing its idiot.

Trump’s presence on the international stage is even more absurd. His refusal to sign the Kyoto and Paris agreements was, on its own, an act of absurdity. Climate change is global. Surely nobody can fail to grasp that. And even more comically absurd was his withdrawal from the World Health Organisation at the outset of a pandemic. Petty, vindictive and stupid. But then that sums up the man. Protectionist economics rarely makes a country great. Great economies trade and trade widely. Imposing tit for tat trade tariffs is not a meaningful means of exerting foreign policy. In 2016 America commanded respect on the world stage. Confidence and a courageous economy led by a benign regime ensured respect from other countries. Pride even. In 2020, foreigners feel pity for America and Americans and that’s something I never thought I would see in my lifetime.

America is a great country, make no mistake. America has been the home to some of the greatest thinkers and the greatest technologies in the world. That strength has been built on a workforce as broad and deep as any in the world. Immigration has built that economy. Immigration has fathered tolerance and understanding. Immigration is America at its best.

At present, the country is on its knees, brought down by a divisive, vindictive and incompetent leader. America needs to unite and to heal its wounds. That can never happen under Trump. His regime needs to be expunged, his period in office a brutal, bloody stain in the country’s history. It’s time for America to brush him and his odious administration away.

Americans, it’s time to do your duty. To your fellow Americans, to the citizens of the world. America we love you. Make us proud of you again.

Live and let die.

It’s been interesting, over the last few months, observing the changing tides of public opinion on how to handle the coronavirus pandemic. In March we saw the first deaths from the virus, triggering widespread public anxiety and even, in the case of toilet paper, panic. Shops closed, supermarkets were more or less plundered, and every visitor to one’s house looked like an angel of death. We washed our hands to a degree commensurate with an OCD diagnosis. And you could not buy antiseptic hand gels for love nor money.

As March slipped into April, the number of daily new cases peaked at 5500 with just under a fifth of those dying. Things looked bleak and, if not bad enough already, we were subjected to daily briefings from one or other cabinet lackey, sometimes legitimised by the simultaneous presence of a scientist. When the daily news was particularly desperate, Bojo wheeled out Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance to add a measure of gravitas to his own bumbling reassurances.

Either way, it amounted to the same thing. We were confined to our homes and told to travel only when absolutely necessary. Of course not everybody’s interpretation of the words “absolutely necessary” was the same. While some balked at walking 50 yards to the corner shop for bread, others found 700 mile round trips to visit their dentist “absolutely necessary”. Clearly lockdown was easier for some than others.

As spring slipped into summer, warm weather made a mockery of social distancing. Meanwhile he government vacillated over the use of masks, eventually deciding (on a coin toss as far as I can see) in favour of facewear. Pubs were reopened, as long as they socially distanced. Of course that was never going to fly. Since when have drunks kept their distance?

Meanwhile silently, like a nuclear submarine, the virus continued spreading. The daily cabinet briefings became less frequent. Coronavirus ceased to be the first news item, replaced by the vicissitudes of the Brexit negotiations (but that’s another day, another rant). Whether deliberately downplayed or not, the dangers of the second wave became apparent to anyone who cared to notice. By the third week in September, the second wave of infection has exceeded the first. By the third week in October, the number of daily cases hit 19,722. That’s nearly four times the maximum values in the first wave which, in case you need reminding, cost more than 40,000 lives. And it’s rising even faster. By the middle of next week we will be over 30,000 cases daily.

We could have done something. We could have held back on opening up businesses and hospitality. Instead, the government opted for the populist solution. We all knew that this would mean an increase in reported cases. It’s not rocket science. Did the public react responsibly and intelligently? Let me help you – the answer to both questions is no. The country’s collective response to the lifting of restrictions was, in essence, a month-long lager frenzy.

All over the country people used (and still use) the word pandemic in the past tense, ignoring the gigantic elephant virus in the room. And we know enough from the shape of the first phase, Pandemic 1 if you will, that Pandemic 2 is going to be worse. By the end of the year we will look back fondly on Pandemic 1 with its little hand washing rituals and all those funny masks. Compared with what is coming, Pandemic 1 is a walk in the woods.

Who do I blame? Well quite a few. I blame the politicians for failing to protect their people. I blame the scientists for failing to ensure that their advice was followed. But above all I blame the young (late teens, early 20s). You could have done something. You could have shown the kind of leadership sadly absent in our elected representatives. But no, you didn’t. It may be a bitter pill to swallow but the fact is that, in large part, it’s your fault.

[This is where I put in my usual disclaimer. No it’s not every single person in their 20s who is responsible. It’s just a stereotype to help make a point. Don’t take it personally – unless you should].

And why should it be so? Because your generation is the most impatient. Your generation is the most numerous. Your generation is the least vulnerable. And in the final analysis, when we tot up the casualties, we will realise the saddest truth – that your generation ultimately didn’t care enough about the other generations. That’s why the second wave will be worse than the first. Well, not for you. You don’t have to worry. Let others do that.

Live and let die.

Upgrade or die?

Okay, follow my logic on this.

The UK government has made a huge fuss about a piece of software developed by Apple and Google together I understand. This is the NHS Covid 19 app. It uses your mobile phone and Bluetooth to look at your location over the course of the day and determine whether you have been in close proximity to somebody suffering from coronavirus infection. It’s full of other bits as well telling you about symptoms and so forth. And it’s pretty firm on what you should do if you start to cough, can’t smell the roses or get hot under the collar.

With me so far?

Okay I’m not going to dive into the civil liberty issues – where does all this information go and who has access and why – and take the thing at face value. The rather Huxleyesque overtones of this detailed surveillance are a subject for another blog on another day. Let’s just assume that this is an honest piece of software devised by our governments for our own benefit (although I recognise that sentence seems more absurd reading it a second time).

So, being a good and obedient citizen, I chose to download it. Simple enough you would think. After all every TV and radio advertisement break has been exhorting us to do exactly that.

I have an iPhone 6+, the ever so slightly larger version of the iPhone 6, made for those of plumper finger and weaker eyesight (such as myself). I bought it in the latter part of 2014 as a birthday present to myself. Apart from the usual patronising gobbledygook from the salesman, the purchase process was largely painless.

And let’s face it, that’s not always the case when you are buying technology above your pay grade. More than once I have been clubbed into purchasing inappropriate and needless “support” services only to find myself transferred from one geek to another in an endless vortex of deliberate obfuscation.

I digress. On this occasion the process was painless. A quarter hour spent transferring the contents of my previous phone (an iPhone 4) onto the new phone and I was good to go.

After a couple of years, O2 contacted me with details of the upgrade that was available to me. Indeed their wording made it seem much less an invitation than an expectation. My contract had expired and I was therefore eligible for a new phone. All I had to do was go to their webpage where a veritable cornucopia of telephonic devices strutted their stuff. What the “invitation” omitted to mention was that the spanking new phone would commit me to another two-year contract. Under contract in which I would have to pay for this phone. It was taken as read that every right-thinking individual on the planet would automatically want to upgrade their phone every two years or yearly or whatever.

On the other hand, my existing phone, worked fine. I have never suffered from phone envy, never been tempted by these concoctions of brushed aluminium and chrome. Remember I’m from Yorkshire. We are not easily swayed by these fancies. So rather than tie myself into a new contract with the new phone, “practically a gift” at £48 per month for two years, I elected to persevere with my iPhone 6+, paying only for the airtime at around £20 a month.

All fine and dandy. The iPhone 6+ continues to work well and allows me to do most if not all of what I want. I can make phone calls, send and receive texts, trawl the Internet, write blogs, make podcasts, read and write emails and probably a whole bundle more things that I have never taken the trouble to learn. The phone has served me well and, up until now, continues to do so.

This is where I get to the point. And I can hear that collective sigh of relief.

I log onto the Apple store, locate the app, click the “get” button, authenticate myself with my fingerprint and wait. After a second or two a pop-up informs me that I need to upgrade my operating system to iOS 13.5 before installation can proceed.

A quick check in the phone settings informs me that my phone has iOS 12.4.8 as its operating system. Ah, that will be the problem thinks I. I asked the phone to check for upgrades and to download them where appropriate. It does nothing. “Computer says no”. Not only is iOS 12.4.8 the current operating system on my phone, it is as good as I’m ever going to get. For the iPhone 6+, life ends at iOS 12.4.8. Stop those foolish dreams of iOS 13.5. You are obsolete.

Well I’ve been called many things in my time so “obsolete” doesn’t hurt. Besides, I didn’t want this stupid app anyway. See if I care.

But that’s exactly the problem. I do care. I do want the app. I want to be protected and to help my fellow man.

The wider implications, and this is where I was heading all along, are that people with older phones will not be protected. And what kind of people predominantly own old phones? That’s right. Old people have old phones. The very people who are most vulnerable to Covid 19 have been thrown under a bus. Not for them the protection of a spanking new iPhone. Some don’t even have smartphones at all. They will die in their droves (just remember that, Richard).

So the options for the elderly, whether chronologically or technologically senile, are very simple. They can either cash in their pensions to buy the latest iPhone, at the price of a second-hand car or they can take their chances in that great Covid lottery.

Perhaps it should be Apple’s new slogan – “Upgrade or die”. You’ve got to admit it’s catchy.