Friday, 29 April 2016

Hitler and Zionism: Antony Beevor and a Scrupulous Attitude to the Facts of History

Special medal issued by 'Der Angriff', a newspaper of the Nazi Party, commemorating a joint visit by members of the SS and German Zionist Federation to Palestine in 1934

With many bestselling tomes including ones dealing with the Battle of Stalingrad and the fall of Berlin under his belt, Antony Beevor is a military historian of fine repute. However, his recent intervention in the furore over comments made by Ken Livingstone positing Adolf Hitler as having been a Zionist was high on emotion but fell short of historical accuracy.

After claiming that Livingstone's comments were "grotesque", he went on to speak of "an element of truth". The problem is that Beevor underplays the level and length of contact between Zionists and Nazis while mentioning Adolf Eichmann whose name is synonymous with the planned extermination of the Jews.

There was actually an agreement reached between early Zionists and the National Socialist regime in 1933. The Haavara Agreement which is alternately known as the Transfer Agreement, had the objective of facilitating the migration of all Jews from the German Reich. It was pursued with the idea of mutual benefit: Germany circumventing an international economic boycott instigated by most of world Jewry, the majority of whom were not Zionist, and German Zionists aiding Jewish resettlement in Palestine.

The Haavara Agreement broadly observed the following modus operendi: A German Jew would deposit money into a specific account in a German bank. The money would then be used to buy German goods for export usually to Palestine. The Jewish emigres to Palestine would then receive payment for the goods which they had previously purchased after their final sale.

In 1934, the Nazi Newspaper Der Angriff produced a medal commemorating a joint tour of Palestine by an SS officer Leopold Itz von Mildenstein and an official of the Zionist Federation named Kurt Tuchler. The purpose of the visit was to assess development in Zionist settlements. The following year in May, the official newspaper of the SS, Das Schwarze Korps, proclaimed its support for Zionism.

Reinhard Heydrich, the high-ranking Nazi official who notoriously presided over the Wansee Conference noted at this time in history that "As a National Socialist, I am a Zionist."

It was an unholy alliance that did not meet with unanimous support on both sides. There were vehement denunciations of the agreement within the Zionist movement and the wider Jewish community. In fact, one of its key instigators, Chaim Arlosoroff was assassinated on his return to Tel Aviv from negotiations in Germany. Hitler himself is said to have initially had misgivings about the agreement but later gave it his full backing in the two years preceding the war.

The agreement continued to be implemented until the outbreak of war in 1939.

Beevor recently voiced his concern over what he saw as an attempt to re-write the history of Britain via a revised GCSE syllabus in order as he put it "to bolster the morale of certain sections of the population, rather than a scrupulous attitude towards to facts." He is absolutely entitled to this view. However, in this matter his critique of Livingstone is not based on a full consideration of historical evidence. 

Indeed, it betrays the logic of his maxim relating to having a scrupulous attitude towards the facts.

Antony Beevor on Channel 4 News.

(c) Adeyinka Makinde (2016)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Prince (1958-2016)

Prince etching by Adeyinka Makinde (1985)

(C) Adeyinka Makinde (2016)

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

The Mystery of the Velodrome: Battling Siki Versus Georges Carpentier

George Carpentier Versus Battling Siki at the Buffalo Velodrome, Montrouge

The history of prizefighting is one that is replete with unending controversy. Were Jack Dempsey's gloves loaded with 'Plaster of Paris' during his world heavyweight title-winning bout against Jess Willard in 1919? Would Gene Tunney have beaten the count had Jack Dempsey not delayed in proceeding to a neutral corner during their world championship rematch in 1927? Did Jack Johnson, the first black world heavyweight champion, feign being knocked out by Jess Willard under the broiling Havana sun in 1915? And was Charles 'Sonny' Liston ordered to take a dive in his rematch with Muhammad Ali in 1965?

The latter two examples concern the more lurid-based sort of controversy, namely that of match-fixing: the dishonest predetermination of the result of a sporting event.

Boxing is of course not the only sport to have been subjected to rumours of fixes, many of which culminated in scrutiny by administrative and law enforcement officials. The most famous fix in history is arguable that of the 'Black Sox Scandal'; the 1919 Baseball World Series during which eight members of the Chicago White Sox were accused of intentionally losing games to the Cincinnati Reds. Association Football has intermittently had its share of match fixing scandals as indeed has the gentleman's sport of cricket.

Sports are result based activities which garner the interest of betting syndicates, and it is the area of gambling which has often formed the subtext of match-fixing allegations. Yet, in the popular imagination boxing, with its famous associations with organised criminals, has seemingly always carried a reputation for this particular form of underhandedness. 

The story of corruption and the stage-managing of fights memorably received both literary and Hollywood treatment in Budd Schulberg's iconic work The Harder They Fall, the story of Toro Molina, an Argentinian farmer and former circus performer of limited pugilistic skill who rises to the heavyweight championship by illicit means. Using the life story of the Italian heavyweight Primo Carnera as its template, Schulberg laid bare the mechanics of skulduggery and human exploitation as practised by the bosses of organised crime aided by their lackeys in the industry including promoters and pressmen.

Many of the allegations of match-fixing in boxing remain bones of contention. Plagued by rumour and innuendo, they calcify over the years assuredly defying resolution in the manner of the proverbial riddle wrapped inside of an enigma.

Why they remain this way is not necessarily hard to fathom. If it is true to say that underworld figures frequently form the backdrop to such endeavours, then the threat of homicidal retribution for not carrying out the prefigured result or of blurting out the truth looms over the conspirators like a Sword of Damocles.

There are also the matters of legitimacy and reputation. While it may be argued that uncovering the occurrence of match-fixing may provide the basis of a re-validation of the sport in so far as its rigorous adherence to the ethics of probity and fair-play is concerned, the opposite just as surely applies. For confirmation of such a scandal would tend to provide the basis of an affirmation of the underhandedness for which the sport is often accused of being mired in; this alongside the frequent accostment of the inherent depravity of a sport that is predicated on inter-human violence.

The sport of course has it heroes and and one needs to be mindful of this in so far as scrutinizing match-fixing allegations pertaining to its prominent figures. There may be an element of denial especially where such allegations concern the succession to a title. Proof of match-fixing may thus have the wrenching effect of delegitimizing both sport and lauded practitioner.

The world light heavyweight championship bout fought between Georges Carpentier and Battling Siki in September of 1922 provides one such example of a typically hotly debated instance of match-fixing. But it comes with a twist of its own. While most aficionados and historians of the sport do not doubt that the eventual outcome -a victory by Siki- was not fixed, there is disagreement as to whether the fight was made on the basis of a fix; an arrangement from which one of the participants, the challenger Battling Siki, allegedly reneged.

George Carpentier, the reigning world champion was a French idol. A handsome, urbane figure who had served with distinction as an aviator during the First World War, he was the recipient of the Croix De Guerre and the Medaille Militaire. He had unsuccessfully challenged heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey the previous year in boxing's first million dollar gate.

Siki on the other hand was an African immigrant from the French colony of Senegal. Born in the port city of Saint-Louis, he had come to France as the charge of a French woman who later abandoned him. He took up boxing and fought at venues in locations such as Marsailles and Toulouse before the start of the Great War. During the war, he served in the French military and was present at various theatres including Gallipoli. Like Carpentier he also received the Croix De Guerre and the Medaille Militaire.

There the similarities between both men ended. Where Carpentier was the Gallic hero; an amiable and civil gentleman able to effortlessly transcend the brutal nature of his trade, Siki was often portrayed in stereotypically animalistic terms. His manager Charles Hellers once remarked that Siki was "a scientific ape"; adding, "Just imagine an ape that has learned to box and you have Battling Siki."

The bare details of the purported fix were as follows: Siki would be dropped once each in the first and second round before Carpentier finished him off in the fourth. In consideration for throwing the bout, Siki would receive Carpentier's purse of 200,000 Francs. Siki assented to the terms of the agreement on the condition that he would not get hurt.

The fight was scheduled for twenty rounds. In the inaugural round Siki temporarily dropped to his knee after a right hand thrown by Carpentier appeared to graze him. 

In the third, Carpentier threw a powerful blow with his right and dropped Siki. Siki was quick in getting up and in the sudden rush towards his opponent, Carpentier slipped from the momentum of throwing two left hooks, although he quickly recovered his stance. 

Carpentier continually measured his man with his left and unleashed a set of combination punches which caused Siki to lose control of his footing, bending at the knees although not descending to the canvas. Carpentier then chased after Siki until with the Senegalese trapped on the ropes, he unleashed a right hand which put Siki down.

Siki remained on one knee as the referee Henri Bernstein administered a count, but got up to exchange blows with Carpentier until both men fell into a clinch. After this, Siki began to show a willingness to come forward and pressure Carpentier. He unleashed a combination on Carpentier who sank to the canvas while Siki stood glaring at him before Bernstein pushed him back.

The fight resumed with each fighter seemingly wishing to tear the other's head off his shoulders: Siki with an array of short, brutish upper cuts, and Carpentier with a series of desperate right crosses. The round ended with Carpentier trudging back to his corner in a visibly bloodied state. It is claimed that he informed his seconds that he had broken the knuckles of his right hand.

The fourth began with Siki moving menacingly and determinedly towards Carpentier who willingly gave ground. Siki bullied him for some time before Carpentier unleashed a fusillade of punches in a desperate bid to end the bout. It failed, and Siki came back strongly against the champion who seemed as if he could barely stand at the end of the round.

Siki continued to dominate in the next round while Carpentier waned. Frustrated at the punishment he was receiving from Siki, Carpentier resorted to hurling racial epithets at his African opponent. At one point, he charged at Siki, head-butting his opponent to the canvas. Siki's protests came to nothing. Carpentier tried butting Siki while both were in a clinch and soon after charged him into a corner where Carpentier lost his footing. Siki's gesture of helping the champion back to his feet was rewarded with a swiftly delivered left hook to his unprotected face. The round ended with Siki complaining and walking towards Carpentier before his handlers dragged him back to his corner stool.

Siki pounced at Carpentier once the bell sounded for the sixth. He hit him with a series of hooks and uppercuts until he spun the bedraggled champion around. As he did this, Siki's left leg appeared to leave the ground, and whether by design or caused by the momentum, he apparently connected with either Carpentier's mid-section or his shin. Either way, Carpentier sunk to the canvas with his left leg perched on the lower ring rope. Bloodied and exhausted, his nose was broken and his right eye swollen shut.

Bernstein, who did not bother to issue a count, was quick to rule Carpentier the winner by way of Siki's disqualification. The crowd, outraged at this denouement, began to jeer, chanting "Siki is the winner" and "FIX! FIX!" Within the hour, the decision would be reversed and Battling Siki had succeeded in becoming the first African to win a world boxing title.

The question of a 'fix' dogged the fight from the moment Henri Bernstein had disqualified Siki and the reversal of the decision in Siki's favour did little to quell them. It had certainly been a strange fight. Rumours continued to bubble to the surface until Siki himself blew things into the open.

It happened after the federation declared Siki's title as forfeited after an incident which occurred during a bout in which Siki himself had worked as a second in the corner of another fighter. Siki is said to have entered the ring and struck the manager of the boxer his fighter was opposing. Siki made his complaint with the assistance of Blaise Diagne, the representative of Senegal in the French Chamber of Deputies.

It is useful to note that the modus operandi of a fixed-fight may take several forms. Crucially, both fighters do not have to be aware of the fix. For instance, James Napoli, a prominent figure of New York's Genovese family whose operations in illegal gambling intersected with his interests in the field of boxing had a particular technique centering on the compromising of ring officials.

'Jimmy Nap' would sort things out with a match official or two who needed relief from a gambling debt or who just needed an additional injection of cash. The thinking behind this was to favour an underdog who would be in a good position to get a win on points so long as he remained standing at the end of the bout. This was precisely the method used when Paddy DeMarco, a seven-to-one betting underdog, dethroned the lightweight champion Jimmy Carter by a surprise decision in 1954.

Napoli was also involved in another alleged fix in the 1969 world light heavyweight title bout between Bob Foster and Frankie DePaula. Federal Bureau of Investigation wiretaps suggested that DePaula had deliberately lost in the first round in order to secure a betting coup.

Perhaps the most famous dive was that taken by 'The Raging Bull', Jake LaMotta in a bout with Billy Fox who was under the charge of both Frankie Carbo and 'Blinky' Parlemo, the mafia figures who controlled boxing in the 1940s. LaMotta had been compelled to take this action in order to secure a challenge for the world middleweight championship.

In this case, Siki had reported that the conspirators in the endeavour were Georges Carpentier, Francois Descamps who was Carpentier's manager and Hellers. Referee Bernstein was also said to have been involved. Siki was alleging that both he and Carpentier had with the connivance of their managers effectively played a pantomime for a while.

An investigation conducted by a committee set up by the French Boxing Federation declared in January 1923 that it was "absolutely convinced that the match on September 24 (1922) was not preceded by an understanding the object of which was to arrange the events of the match and fix the result."

The federation based its findings on what it considered to be the discredited talk by a boxer named Georges Gaillard who later denied making them during his testimony. The committee also put a great deal of weight on the decision of Siki not to testify before it. The decision was, it announced, underscored by the use of deaf mute lip-reading experts who reported nothing incriminating in the words spoken by Descamps and Hellers which were captured on film of the bout.

Nonetheless, there are those who challenge the findings of the federation as a whitewash intended to preserve the reputation of the sport and some very important names in French boxing. The most compelling evidence of an intended fix which in the end did not materialise comes from Siki himself.

Siki's accusations were detailed and remained unchanged. He proclaimed the intended fix in the offices of the newspaper L'Auto while Heller was present. Heller, he admitted, had declared him capable of taking Carpentier only when others around. It was different when they were alone. He emphatically told him: "You told me to take a dive."

I avenge myself. They disqualified me by inventing lies. They deprived me of my living. I have a wife, I have a kid and me. I was too good to the French, and it is the French who have attacked me. I avenge myself, but I don't want to (do it) against you Hellers, and if they hadn't attacked me, I would have kept your secret.

Siki is then said to have gone on to recapitulate his allegations which his manager did not contradict but only argued over certain details.

The Italian Gazetta dello Sport purported to correct early impressions given in French newspapers of a fix in Siki's favour to that of a fix which had Carpentier scheduled to win by a knockout before Siki had abandoned the ruse. One manager and two trainers who frequented La Chop du Negre, a cafe favoured by the boxing crowd visited the offices of L'Echo des Sports to report on the proof they had of a fix but backtracked when called before the federation's inquiry.

For his part, Georges Carpentier flatly denied involvement in any enterprise to have the fight fixed. The investigating committee reported him as saying, "I never in my life faked a fight nor prolonged one for the sake of the moving pictures."

Part of the resistance to accepting the idea of an intended fix lies in the image of Carpentier as an upright gentleman soldier and pugilist. His image as a war hero had been sold to the American public by the promoter Tex Rickard, as a contrast to the 'draft dodger' reputation of heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey.

The idol of France was in the public estimation beyond reproach. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that as co-promoter of the bout and the part owner of the Velodrome, he could afford to dispense with the winner's fee of 200,000 Francs in return for an easy workout against a dangerous opponent. Siki's story had Hellers conveying Descamps' deal as having Carpentier contenting himself with Siki's officially proposed share as well as with the receipt of newsreel royalties. If, as has frequently been believed, Carpentier failed to train properly for his bout with Siki, could the reason for this have been related not to overconfidence in his ability to take care of Siki, but to laxity on his part so far as the assurance that Siki would engage in a staged exercise?

When thirty years after Carpentier uttered the following words, it is unclear whether his bitterness emanated from a miscalculation of Siki based on his overconfidence or in Siki's 'betrayal' of the agreed course of action.

I've been beaten by Siki. I, Carpentier, have let myself be beaten by this nigger I could have stretched out at my feet....after one or two minutes of combat.

It is also worth emphasizing the damage to the name of Carpentier as well as to French boxing if Siki's version of events were accepted. Those who have watched the movie Paths of Glory a fictionalised account of a real incident during the First World War dealing with how the French High Command sacrificed soldiers in order to protect the reputation of the French army will appreciate the raison detre for such a cover up much in the manner that students of history know of the true story of Alfred Dreyfus, the Jewish army captain whose innocence of espionage was known to the authorities but regardless was allowed to rot in detention for years.

As with Dreyfus, it was not only a matter of preserving the honour of a French institution, but it was a question of not allowing a 'racial inferior' to expose corruption.

If Carpentier was attempting to protect his good image in a situation involving more than a whiff of scandalous behaviour it would not be the last. During the Second World War while the northern part of France was under Nazi occupation, Carpentier was involved with running a tavern alongside a known French collaborator. Situated opposite the grave of the 'Unknown French Soldier', the establishment was popular among the German interlopers. 

Carpentier's close associations with the occupiers did not make for good relations with the French resistance. In March of 1944, the Germans sponsored Carpentier's 50th birthday celebration with a special boxing exhibition. Later that year, an American press report referred to him as a "Nazi chattel".

There was perhaps something of an Albert Speer about him. After the war, Carpentier's denials of pro-German activities were effective enough to at least spare him the fate meted out to collaborators. His service during the First World War had likely played a part in this outcome.

But if he has largely escaped the taint of match-fixing allegations with Siki, the stench of being a pro-Nazi collaborator remained. Seven years after his death in 1975, Gerard Oury's film L'as des As was an obvious attempt at salvaging Carpentier's reputation. The heavily fictionalised account of Carpentier's life via an anti-Nazi protagonist named 'Georges Chevalier' played by the former amateur boxer turned film star Jean Paul Belmondo can be viewed as an attempt to sanitize a legacy tainted by evidence of collaboration with the occupying Nazis during the Second World War.

And of Siki? His career went downhill after his victory over Carpentier. Siki suffered for blurting out the attempted fix by effectively forfeiting his ability to earn a living fighting in France and the rest of Western Europe. He was banned from fighting in Britain by the Home Secretary Winston Churchill who based the decision on the potentially unsettling effect interracial contests could have on public order across the British empire.

After losing his world title to Mike McTigue in Ireland, Siki travelled to the United States where he lost to the light heavyweights Kid Norfolk and Paul Berlenbach. His life spiraled out of control with alcohol abuse and confrontations with the police. He was found shot to death in the Hell's Kitchen area of New York in December of 1925.

Siki's reputation suffered in death as it had in life. But the lopsided view of Siki as a 'child of the jungle' maladjusted to the pressures of living in a 'civilised' environment is changing. He has been the subject of a number of books in recent years where his life and boxing career have been subject to a higher standard of research and analysis. 

The exaggerated stories as well as the myths which for so long had been the staple of boxing wordsmiths have been corrected. For all his faults, Siki was a sensitive human being who contested the dehumanizing effects of racism in society. Unfailingly resplendent in his choice of attire, he was a cultured man who spoke a number of languages including French, Dutch and English. 

His life journey has even provided the inspiration for a jazz suite.

As a fighter, Siki will never be ranked among the great fighters in so far as technique and longevity are concerned. But while there is much to agree with the supposition that he was lucky to defeat a champion who was past his prime, there is also much evidence that he was mismanaged and his potential not maximized.

While Carpentier, a respected ring technician, ranks higher in the esteem of boxing historians for his accomplishments both as a middleweight and light heavyweight, there may be a tendency to diminish Siki's victory on the grounds that Carpentier was ageing and physically unprepared.

Carpentier had, after all, not yet reached his thirtieth birthday. His physical appearance, that of a lithe and well-proportioned boxer which was familiar to boxing audiences, betrayed no evidence of excess fat in his abdominal area. Moreover, he would go on to knock out Marcel Nilles the following year; a fighter against whom Siki had only been able to win on points. 'Styles make fights' goes an often used phrase in boxing and it is possible that Carpentier was unable to deal with the problems caused by Siki's 'awkward' approach in the ring. This includes the idea of combating Siki by fighting him 'inside'and hammering away as suggested by Jack Dempsey. Siki was able to effectively close the gap when Carpentier measured him with his left and he also hurt Carpentier when they locked horns 'inside'.

Any summation of Siki and Carpentier cannot fail to grasp the manner in which each man transcended the confines of the squared ring. Where Carpentier was a national icon of France, Siki was adopted by the likes of Ho Chi Minh as a symbol of the struggle against colonialism. Each man was a decorated war hero who achieved a series of 'firsts' in boxing.

It would be a remarkable feat for any fighter to have negotiated a career in the boxing world at the time they were active without having to compromise on what would be considered to as sound ethical standards. Whatever is the truth behind the mystery of the Velodrome, it should be clear that in the final analysis Battling Siki was no more the devil than Georges Carpentier was a saint.

(c) Adeyinka Makinde (2016)

Adeyinka Makinde is the author of the books DICK TIGER: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal (2005) and JERSEY BOY: The Life and Mob Slaying of Frankie DePaula (2010)

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

David Cameron and 'Unparliamentary' Language

I can't think of a more accurate appellation for David Cameron than 'Dodgy Dave'. 

While it is true that the antics and language used by MPs in the British Parliament may at times appear childish and comical, I don't think using the term 'dodgy' should be designated as 'unparliamentary' in nature if the speaker did not flag Cameron for referring to former shadow Chancellor Ed Balls a couple of years ago as a 'Turkey'. 

If the argument is that 'dodgy' implies dishonesty then 'turkey' suggests stupidity. 

The system in the United Kingdom is an adversarial one, and jibes have always been part and parcel of the give and take at Westminster. Presumably Dennis Skinner ought to have merely accused Mister 'Ca-Moron' of having been 'economical with the truth' of his tax affairs and off-shore dealings. 

And given how the prime minister had famously called out celebrities for being 'immoral' by avoiding taxes through the use of off shore havens, perhaps the term used by Skinner - the 'Beast of Bolsover'- should have been 'hypocrite'.

(c) Adeyinka Makinde (2016)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

America - Beyond Election 2016

Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump
Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are both symptoms of dissatisfaction on the part of many of the American electorate about the political status quo.

I have recently argued in an essay of mine -with a focus on Trump rather than Sanders- that a victory by an outsider in the forthcoming United States Presidential Elections will change nothing.

The political system and its processes are run on the basis of favouring the ruling elite comprised of Wall Street and the large corporations.

This has maintained the unfair and frequently fraudulent culture in running the economy. It has also meant with the assistance of influential policymakers of the neoconservative stripe who are entrenched in layers of government that America has remained on the consistent but ultimately debilitating path of militarism.

In the meantime, broad segments of the American population will need to make assessments as to where their future political affinities will lie. This encompasses issues of race, gender and the default ideological bent of individuals.

To which party for instance will white working class males gravitate? Should black Americans continue to overwhelmingly support the Democrats? Will conservative-minded females for the most part only be minded to vote for a Republican nominee who is not named Donald Trump?

Some Americans, feeling that the respective establishments of Democrat and Republican parties will do all in their power to frustrate the candidatures of both Trump and Sanders, are already speaking in terms of protest votes against the preferred candidatures of Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton. They speak of the primaries as affording a referendum of sorts on the future of the Republican Party. This would also seem to apply to the Democrats.

For it is that the schisms and fault lines apparent in both parties has the potential to create a political upheaval which may result in major voting realignments within the parties if not in their actual splintering.

How, it may be asked, can the Republican Party continue to accommodate a constituency of Tea Party-belonging working class whites alongside country club and boardroom oligarchs? The fracture in the Democrats is also apparent with a choice between the old-style socialism of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton who is clearly the candidate of Wall Street.

Both major parties pose as what they are not.

The Republican party cannot continue posing as the party of 'limited government', of 'fiscal responsibility' and 'Isolationist' foreign policy. The levels of public debt run up in the Reagan administration and which was brought to an extraordinary level during the tenure of George W. Bush are not consistent with 'fiscal responsibility'. And the interventionist streak begun by George W. Bush took the party away from its traditional isolationist position in an extreme manner.

The Democrat Party which through its recent leaders has made itself beholden to the interests of Wall Street and Corporate America, can no longer hold itself as the party for the working man.

It is clear that part of the solution to America's political morass concerns the need for a creation or at least a tangible 're-birth' of political parties which are clear and transparent in their respective ideological platforms and which serve the interests of the constituencies who have consistently voted for them.

What is also clear is the need for an overturning of the successive Supreme Court decisions which have turned over the control of the electoral process to an oligarchy which ensures that government has been manifestly for the one per cent and not the country as a whole.

The mechanism for instituting regulations on election spending would be that of a constitutional amendment.

America needs to take stock of the underlying reasons for its disastrous foreign policy stances since the ending of the Cold War. Here a reassessment of the prevailing Wolfowitz Doctrine which maintains that America must retain a global hegemony at any and all costs is called for.

The provocations of American proxies in Georgia and Ukraine as well as the expansion of NATO in defiance of an agreement between the leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union have threatened to create a conflict with the nuclear armed Russian Federation.

Further, the hand of the United States in the destruction of Iraq, Libya and Syria bear testament to a ruthless and cynical policy to foreign nations completely at odds with the Jeffersonian ideal of the United States serving as an 'Empire of Liberty'.

The rise of Trump and Sanders has had the advantage of bringing to the fore a range of issues of critical importance for public scrutiny. The task is for the electorate to challenge itself to become better informed about the thinking of those in the political classes who rule them.

The general and widespread dissatisfaction with the system is shown through elements of congruence between Trump and Sanders, both of whom tap into an 'America First' feeling in regard to both foreign policy and free trade.

While certain criticisms of either man are understandable, in Trump's case of fostering racial divisions and in Sanders case, the concern that he may be an old school class warrior dressed in different clothing, others such as that offered by the influential political thinker Robert Kagan, highlight the subterfuge that is the calling card of those who are members of the neoconservative movement.

Kagan, who is apparently a Republican, went on record in February to say that he would prefer Hillary Clinton as president rather than Donald Trump. This rationale can only be related to Kagan's support for foreign interventions and unconditional support for the state of Israel.

While Clinton favours an aggressive foreign policy, Trump's expressions of favouring a rapprochement with Russia and of questioning American spending on NATO and aid to Israel has brought condemnation from neoconservatives.

The fact that Kagan's spouse, Victoria Nuland, was the principal deputy foreign policy adviser to former Republican Vice President Dick Cheney and is now the head of the Eurasian section of the State Department under the incumbent Democrat President Barack Obama must give informed members of the American electorate some food for thought.

Nuland was of course the overseer of the 2014 coup which brought to power an ultra-nationalist government in Ukraine and fomented a state of strife between Kiev and the eastern region which persists to the present day.

The malevolent influence of those with a neoconservative agenda dates back to the era of Ronald Reagan during which period its adherents were involved in the Iran-Contra Scandal. Several were charged and indicted with federal offences only to be pardoned by the administration of George Bush the senior.

Their influence which rose during the tenure of Bill Clinton was at its highest during the administration of Bush the junior. As events in Libya, Syria and the Ukraine have shown, they are still a formidable presence on foreign policy in the Obama-era.

If the American public in its rumination on the causes of its flawed political process as well as its apparently bottomless national debt and seemingly endless foreign wars, can comprehend and grapple with the origins of the national malaise, then the controversial candidatures of both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders will have served a supremely useful purpose.

(C) Adeyinka Makinde (2016)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

TRUMP – A Symptom of and not a Solution to America’s Great Divide

America is a divided nation.

Consistently wracked by a recurring series of ‘culture wars’ and a general dissatisfaction felt by the electorate about its political elite, it is a country beset by uncertainty about the future of its global economic and military pre-eminence. This general feeling of malaise; a dip in the form and the spirit of a people inherently convinced about the exceptional foundations and rationales underpinning their conception of nationhood is so profound as to have led some to conclude that the currents in contemporary America bear something of a resemblance to the Weimer era in Germany.

There are deep fissures in the eternally vexed question regarding race and the observance of what some feel is a stifling obeisance to the strictures of political correctitude. While it has for long remained split down the middle on the question of abortion there are misgivings among a significant segment of opinion over what is perceived to be the prioritisation of the agenda of the gay and lesbian lobby. As is the case with abortion, the issue of gun control succeeds in producing heated and often bitter debate.

The economy, consistently defined by an extraordinary level of national debt and the apparent permanent loss of manufacturing jobs to foreign destinations, forms a central part of popular discontent and dissent. However, there is little consensus as to how to set things right.

America of course operates as a pluralistic society and has historically spawned a range of influential social movements acting to transform its ethics and social policies towards what is perceived as being for the greater good. But the rise of a succession of populist activist groups; each strident in its complaints about the perceived failings in government and society has been striking: The Tea Party, Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street and American Border Control to name but a significant few.

Where the Black Lives Matter movement decries the relative expendability of the lives of American citizens of African-American extraction at the hands of trigger-happy law enforcement officers, the Tea Party ideology largely expounds on the supposed favouritism given to minorities in terms of opportunities for social and economic advancement. The mantra of wanting to “take back our country” is viewed by opponents not so much as being based on the idea of wishing to see government shorn of its powers as it is about wanting to halt the progress of minorities at a time when the White House is occupied by a black president.

While the Occupy Wall Street movement’s perception of the decline of America is rooted in the increasing disparities in wealth and income distribution in society as well as the malign influence of powerful corporate interests in the economic and political process, anti-immigration groups such as American Border Control posit the view that the country can never be put on the path of revival while there are what they claim to be hordes of Mexicans entering the United States illegally; bringing with them “crime, drugs and squalor.” For these groups, the very fabric of America as a nation with a majority European descended population and a particular set of mores is threatened by “immigration via the birth canal.”

The analogy made with the deepened social divisions during the Weimer Republic may not be totally misplaced, as indeed may be possible comparisons with the republican and conservative divide in pre-civil war Spain. As was the case with those traditionalists who in Spain of the 1930s looked on in askance at social innovations introduced by the Republican regime such as the legalisation of divorce, contraception and abortion, so too a large segment of present day Americans recoil at the perceived constricting tenets of ‘political correctness’ and the legalisation of gay marriage which along with other developments are viewed as the wholesale abrogation of traditional American values.

The polarized atmosphere of divisiveness and even outright hatred often on display in political wrangling and the general public discourse is clear to see. While most would agree to a general dissatisfaction with the state of affairs, there is no united consensus as how to tackle the root causes of the social and economic malaise.

In 1930s Germany and Spain, the proposed solutions were predicated on diametrically opposed rationales represented by the Left and Right of the conventional political spectrum. In both situations the resultant ‘revolutions’ led to the rise respectively of Hitler and Franco.

There is of course no suggestion of an imminent implosion in American society that would lead to an internal war –such a scenario is largely the concern of fiction in movies and in graphic comic book stories- albeit that Colin Woodard, a reporter for a newspaper in Maine, has perceptively argued the position of North America as being constituted of eleven separate stateless nations based on the dominant cultures of swathes of population concentrations in various regions.

Nonetheless, the rise on the one hand of the socialist Bernie Sanders in the Democrat Party and the populist Donald Trump in the Republican Party on the other speak towards a divide in terms of popular reactions to an unsatisfactory view of the prevailing system.

Those Americans attracted to Sanders’ message are angered by the licence given to profiteering corporations who outsource jobs outside of the United States. They hate the privileges conferred on beyond-the-reach-of-the-law bankers and the trends pointing to the concentration of wealth in the hands of an increasingly smaller percentage of the population. They are concerned about the concentration of mainstream media ownership in the hands of six corporations and are dismayed about student loans that are packaged with onerous interest rates.

But it is of course the campaign of billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump which has received the greatest amount of attention and also within whose populist agenda the deep cultural divide in America is laid bare.

Trump’s message has seen him become the leading candidate among those seeking the Republican Party nomination. Significantly, his campaign has also earned him the enmity of the political establishment; an entity encapsulated by the duopoly of the respective machineries of the Democrat and Republican Party Parties from which much of the electorate has increasingly become estranged.

That Trump has proved to be a magnet for popular discontent in America is clear enough.

An interesting array of persons and demographics has been energized into supporting him. On a personal level, some are impressed by his ‘no-nonsense’ talking style and ‘Alpha Male’ demeanour. So far as his capacity for executing the office of the presidency is concerned, some believe that a man for long enmeshed in the business world with success to go along with it could help cure America of its economic ills.

Trump some claim has surged ahead because he has had the temerity to challenge the status quo. The bland ‘business as usual’ form of electioneering that has for long constrained the discourse into a fixed set of parameters is gone. For others, Trump is a rabble-rouser; essentially a carnival barker who has turned over a rock that has revealed an ugly underbelly of intolerance and racism.

He has brought immigration to the fore in a way that otherwise would not have been the case. His criticism not only of illegal immigration but also of legal immigration to the United States has struck a chord among segments of the European-descended population who feel threatened by non-white immigration. For these people, the demographic shifts and changes portend towards a marked and irreversible change in America’s European-derived culture and mores.

For a man concerned with the preservation of the genetic purity of the white race which he continually asserts by their endeavours solely created the basis of America, the present discourse on the immigration issue is one that has captured the attention of the white nationalist David Duke.

For Duke, Trump’s intervention signifies a fundamental breach with the normally ‘timid’ and prescribed format of debate. For instance, Trump’s pledge to deport 12 million illegal immigrants marks a clear shift from the past; a past which according to Duke is littered with ostensibly tough-talking but ultimately insincere Republican candidates who inevitably capitulate by granting mass amnesties.

Duke has of course been made a point of discussion of the election campaign because he has applauded several of Trump’s stances while holding back from giving a formal endorsement. It is no surprise that this former member of a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan who later served as a legislator in his home state of Louisiana would become a figure of controversy.

Duke’s weltanschauung, which is predicated on the fundamental differences between racial groups, has as a central thesis the necessity of the neutralisation of Jewish power on both a national and global level. Trump’s strident views on immigration are extremely important to the likes of Duke who fear legal immigration –never mind immigration of the illegal sort- is irretrievably leading to the scenario of European-descended Americans becoming a minority population.

In this, Duke sees the hand of Jewish influence in engineering a shift toward a national policy of open immigration. Whereas Acts of Congress respectively in 1921, 1924 and 1952 had, he argues, sought to preserve a European majority, the Immigration Act of 1965 sponsored in both houses of Congress by Jewish figures such as Congressman Samuel Dickstein and Senator Jacob Javits  ‘opened the gates’. The reason which he proffers to his followers is that of an “atavistic hatred” Jews have toward white European Christian culture which they blame for age-long persecutions.

Relegating whites to minority status would, he argues, serve Jewish interests because it enables them to supplant white Americans as the elite in American society and also puts a damper on the capacity for the revival of cohesive ethnic nationalist sentiments on the part of Christian whites from which Jews have historically borne negative consequences.

In the words of Kevin MacDonald, a retired professor of psychology and a guru of sorts for Duke and other white nationalists, “ethnic and religious pluralism serves external Jewish interests because Jews become just one of many ethnic groups…and it becomes difficult or impossible to develop unified, cohesive groups of Gentiles united in their opposition of Judaism.”

Duke’s obsession with the power allegedly wielded by members of the Jewish community in media, the economy and political influence has led him to praise some of Trump’s actions.

For instance, when Trump chided Hillary Clinton for being readily accepting of the necessity for Israel to build a wall to keep Muslims out while at the same time being dismissive of the right of America to do the same, Duke highlighted this as evidence of the hypocrisy of mainstream politicians who cravenly serve the interests of the Israel lobby at the expense of their own national interests.

Again, when in December of 2015 Trump went before the Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Forum to tell them “I know that you don’t like me because I don’t want your money”, Duke was quick to interpret those comments as being profoundly revealing of the state of affairs in contemporary America. No political figure would have the courage to utter what he considers to be an ‘unmentionable truth;’ namely that of a preponderance of Jewish money in the electoral process.

He revels in the sorts of points of analysis as that given by Uri Avnery, a former member of the Knesset, who in his ‘Gush Shalom’ blog once accused casino magnate Sheldon Adelson of being like a figure “straight out of the pages of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” Avnery was alluding to an event which occurred in March of 2014.

As part of what several mainstream media outlets have referred to as the "Sheldon Adelson Primary", Adelson summoned four Republican politicians hopeful of running for the party’s presidential nominations in order to make a decision as to which candidate he would offer financial backing. All four including Jeb Bush and Chris Christie were present or former serving state governors. What followed Avnery described as “a shameless exhibition" during which "the politicians grovelled before the casino lord.”

Thus it is no surprise that Duke enthusiastically repeats his claim that Hillary Clinton’s top seven backers are Jewish and is encouraged by Trump’s sneering reference to a previously undisclosed loan given to his rival Ted Cruz: “Goldman Sachs own him. Remember that!”

While he expresses reservations about Trump, he appears persuaded by the fact of widespread media hostility towards Trump along with the concerted efforts by the Republican establishment to discredit him as ample evidence of Trump’s potential as a president who will not kowtow to what he sees as prevailing Jewish interests and will act in a manner that would go a long way in re-asserting the interests of European-descended Americans.

The Trump campaign raises two key issues. The first relates to the culture associated with the operation of governance and the electoral process. The second is to do with the qualities of the candidate himself.

It should be clear to all that the American political process is riddled with corruption and that what passes for a democracy is actually a system run under false pretences as a democracy.

A study by the political scientists Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University concluded that “majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts.” The views of rich people have a much greater impact on policy decisions than those of middle-income and poor Americans.

It is effectively government serving the interests of oligarchs.

The law has paved the way for entrenching this state of affairs via successive Supreme Court decisions which relate to the funding of campaigns. The case of Buckley versus Valeo in 1976 arguably provided the basis through which politicians can be bought and controlled by billionaires and corporate interests. In striking own certain provisions of the Federal Election Campaign Act (1974), it removed limits to the amount of money which could be spent on campaigns although limits were still affixed to the contributions of individuals. 

However, by overturning sections of the Campaign Reform Act (2002), the Citizens United versus Federal Electoral Commission case of 2010 went further by removing limits in expenditures made by non-profit and for-profit corporations. McCutcheon versus Federal Electoral Commission added to this by removing the biennial aggregate limit on individual contributions to national party and federal candidate committees.

The cumulative effect of these decisions –all of which invoked violations of the First Amendment as justification- has been to effectively remove restraints imposed on election spending.

Former President Jimmy Carter has bluntly stated what the implications are:

It violates the essence of what made America a great nation in its political system. Now it’s just an oligarchy with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or being elected president. And the same thing applies to governors, and U.S. Senators and congress members. So, now we’ve just seen a subversion of our political system as a major payoff to major contributors, who want and expect, and sometimes get, favours for themselves after the election is over. … At the present time the incumbents, Democrats and Republicans, look upon this unlimited money as a great benefit to themselves. Somebody that is already in Congress has a great deal more to sell.

The results are there to see. 

The links between political figures and Wall Street have increasingly taken an insidious and pervasive form. This takes into account the relationships developed in-between election campaigns. Hillary Clinton of the Democratic Party, for instance, has become wealthy from her links with the corporate world and particularly from her connections with banks.

Public financial disclosures show that she earned a total of $2,935,000 from 12 speeches which she gave before banking concerns between 2013 and 2015. While her standard fee is $225,000, Goldman Sachs once paid her $675,000 for a single speech and Deutsche Bank $485,000. In fact, Clinton has earned a staggering $21,677,000 for 92 speeches that she gave to private organisations over the same timescale.

It would be foolhardy in the extreme to think that her benefactors will not expect some form of dividend from their respective outlays.

It is important to note that there was never any halcyon era of the business of American politicking being free of corruption. The ‘pork barrel’ culture of elected politicians being disposed to return favours to moneyed interests is long established. As Huey Long, the legendary Louisiana governor and senator who ran the state as his personal fiefdom, once put it officeholders are “dime a dozen punks.”

It should be remembered that the 17th Amendment to the United States constitution, which changed the method of selecting U.S. Senators from appointments agreed upon by members of state legislatures to one requiring direct elections by the electorate, was in part prompted by allegations of corruption in the selection of senators.

The rise of the big city bosses based on the wielding of near autocratic power and the dispensing of patronage such as for example existed with Frank Hague in Jersey City and the Daley dynasty in Chicago is well documented as indeed is the history associated with New York City’s Tammany Hall.

In the midst of this election campaign we witness the rise of Donald Trump bearing the mantle of an independent spirit whose wealth ostensibly inures him from the pressures faced by seasoned politicians to be ‘bought and paid for’ vassals of Wall Street as well as that of a down-to-earth outsider who is not of the establishment.

There are parallels between Trump and other political figures in American history that were populist in message and not the favoured candidate of the establishment of the party with which they were associated. Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Ronald Reagan in 1980 both come to mind. Where Goldwater tussled with Nelson Rockefeller, Reagan took on George Herbert Bush; each opponent being representative of the ‘blue blooded’ Republican establishment. Trump has even been compared to Huey Long who was plotting a path to the White House when he was cut down by an assassin’s bullet in 1937.

However, Trump’s candidature arguably offers very little hope for a revolutionary change for two key reasons. The first concerns the man and the policies he is attempting to sell to the American public, and the second pertains to the practical limitations facing an earnest candidate wishing to make changes within the prevailing system.

The tone of Trump’s campaign while apparently refreshing to a large segment has demonstrably attracted those among the masses who readily subscribe to inter-ethnic and inter-religious division. Simply put, Trump does not appear to be a ‘healer’. A candidate who arrogantly mocks a disabled person and who makes thinly veiled quips about the effect of a woman’s menstrual cycle on her supposed hostility to him is at a fundamental level unsuited to lead.

An indication of his shifty persona and generally unreliable disposition can be garnered from the amount of about turns that he has made in regard to his position on several key matters. He is on record as supporting a universal health care system which would be paid for by government but now claims that he will repeal Obama Care. Where Trump was once in favour of restrictions to gun ownership, under the election spotlight, he now pledges to repeal Obama’s tough gun control laws.

And this from Trump some years ago about illegal immigration:

It’s very tough to say, ‘You have to leave. Get out!’ How do you throw someone out who has lived in this country for twenty years? You just can’t throw everybody out.

Trump has of course gained both notoriety and support for pledging to deport twelve million illegal immigrants and to ban all Muslims from entering the United States.

He now excoriates both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama where in the past he was fulsome in his praise for both; Clinton as being  “very, very capable” so far as inheriting the mantle of president and Obama as being a “strong and smart” leader. While Trump has always claimed allegiance to the Republican Party, he admitted that in many cases “I probably identify more as a Democrat.”

It is doubtful that Trump can perform an economic miracle by turning around the trends in the economy. He cannot for instance force Apple Inc. to manufacture goods in the United States and make them pay American workers at ‘developed country’ levels.

In this matter and others, Trump’s sums simply do not add up. He supported President Obama’s stimulus package and consistently supported a high level of government spending and other forms of interventionist measures including the use of eminent domain; that is, the compulsory purchase of private property for public use. Trump’s tune has changed. He favours an economic policy based on removing 75 million Americans from paying income tax. There would be a top income tax rate of 25% for individual and 15% for corporation. Death duties would be abolished.

Trump’s plan for making up for the inevitable shortfall in national revenues is to place a heavy tax on all foreign imported goods – an action which would likely kick start a global trade war and add over $30 trillion dollars to the debt of the United States.

He cannot bring about a genuinely substantive economic revival without a wholesale ‘root and branch’ reformation of the economic system. This is a system in which markets are rigged by the Federal Reserve and by the U.S. Treasury.

As Michael Hudson, a distinguished professor of economics, argues in his book Killing the Host, the whole of the financial system would need re-regulating. This would require a revolutionary tax policy geared towards preventing the financial sector from extracting economic surplus and capitalizing on debt obligations paying interest to that sector.

All Trump has offered thus far is a suggestion that the Federal Reserve ought to be audited and a truculent comment about the Reserve keeping the level of interest rates low so as to protect Obama from “a recession-slash-depression during his administration.”

He holds himself out as an anti-establishment reformer but from Trump there is no reference to a substantively constructed programme detailing how he would go about challenging the barons of Wall Street. He poses as a reformer without attacking power. There is no tangible sense of promise that he could wage the sort of battle with entrenched interests in the manner of previous presidents such as Andrew Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Jackson, weary of the powers accumulated by a powerful central bank -which he likened to a hydra-headed monster- and its “paper money”, abolished the Bank of America. Theodore Roosevelt attacked business monopolies via the Sherman Anti-Trust Act while his distant cousin was the instigator of the ‘New Deal’ a radical series of measures which included the institution of a social security system.

Trump’s wealth, while providing a credible image of a politician who cannot be bought, does not guarantee that he would be able to deliver on any radical policies. For one thing, an American president cannot go over the heads of both Houses of Congress and the Supreme Court which holds the final card so far as the settlement of core constitutional matters is concerned.

John F. Kennedy assumed the presidency backed by his father’s considerable wealth. But while he could, as a senator, take bold, independent stances such as his support for Algerian independence, as president, he had to make compromises with interest groups who supported the political party with which he was affiliated. As president, he earned the ire of the military industrial complex, barons of commerce, segments of the Intelligence community and high-ranking fascist-leaning army and air force generals in the Pentagon. He was almost certainly eliminated by a plot originated from elements from the aforementioned groups over discontent with his policies and fear of where he would take America.

Outside of economic and social policies, Trump painted a picture of prudence during a debate on foreign policy. While the other candidates appeared to be falling over themselves to present the image of being strong and decisive on Syria and the Ukraine, Trump said that he would endeavour to pursue a constructive working relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

However, his threat to “bomb the hell out of our enemies” exposes a poor grasp of the workings of international politics; not least a failure on his part to understand the lessons of America’s recent past. It contradicts the criticisms he has correctly levelled at Hillary Clinton for her part in the destruction of Libya.

It also suggests that Trump would go out of his way to appease the armaments industry and fall in line with the dictates of the military industrial complex. This important cog in the economic machinery of the United States, about which President Dwight Eisenhower issued dark warnings in his farewell address to the American people, operates on the basis of increasing defence expenditure and perpetuating the war industry by all available means. This has included facilitating the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in defiance of promises given by America’s leaders as a condition for allowing a reunified Germany to join N.A.T.O.

A President Trump who managed to limit or otherwise remove tax obligations domestically would more than ever need to preserve the United States dollar as the de facto global reserve currency. A necessary element of this state of affairs is the co-operation of the rulers of the oil rich Saudi state to which the United States is pledged to preserve for the consideration of the sale of oil in U.S. dollars.

The United States has served as an overseer of Saudi imperial designs in the Middle East including that regime’s part sponsorship of the lengthy and destructive war between the Saddam-era Iraq and Iran as well as the Saudi-backed insurrection against the Ba’athist regime in Syria. Further evidence of Trump as a warmonger can be garnered from his comments that Iran’s nuclear programme should be stopped by “any and all means necessary.”

But something which admittedly appears to work in Trump’s favour is the criticism he is receiving from the political establishment who the electorate hold in low esteem. This also applies to those paragons of the economic order.

For instance, when the economist Larry Summers alleged that Trump “is a serious threat to American democracy”, there are many who would keenly take Summers to task for his support of the present corrupt order. It was Summers after all, who helped deregulate the banking system which paved the way for the ‘casino banking’ culture that led to the economic crash of the late 2000s. Summers also played a key role as an overseer of the mass plunder of the Russian economy in the 1990s.

In this heated atmosphere littered with scornful reproach and blistering invective, the opportunity for calm and fruitful reflection is being lost.

It is clear that Americans need to re-think the nature of the deep-seated identity-politics and the highly partisan approach to issues which is imperiling the sanctity of its institutions and the conventions that govern them. The row related to the unprecedented decision of Republican leaders in Congress to arrange for a foreign leader, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, to give a speech before congress over the head of the serving president provides one example of this.

Where many Jewish Americans saw this as a necessary tactic to stymie President Obama’s then in progress attempt at reaching a deal with Iran over its nuclear energy programme, many African-Americans saw it as one of a series of insults directed at a black president.

The “You lie” interjection by the southern Republican Joe Wilson during a major speech to Congress by President Obama in 2009, according to former president Jimmy Carter, had exposed “an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president.”

But even if the action of enabling Netanyahu to speak before Congress without the consultation of the serving president in this instant was not predicated on the “intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama as a black man”, it clearly unveiled the power and leverage wielded by the Israel lobby over many United States legislators.

The actions of 47 Republican senators in sending a signed letter to the leaders of Iran warning them against reaching agreement with the Obama administration brought enough scrutiny to warrant the an accusation of treason.

The crucial point however is whatever the merits of the arguments for and against the deal with Iran, an important convention was circumvented and the office of the presidency was wilfully undermined by legislators who were beholden to an interest group and a gross level of partisanship.

The polarised views over issues related to the killings of Americans by law enforcement officials also exposes a divide based on race and political affinities at the expense of what should be a consensus view on the standards of policing and the even-handed operation of the criminal justice system.

While an increasing amount of cases such as the slayings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner brought forth uncomfortable statistics related to the killing of minorities by police and counter-arguments positing the statistics showing that armed white suspects were more likely to be killed than blacks in the same situation, lost in the emotional and uncompromisingly partisan discourse is the reality of an increasing militarisation of police forces in America.

Many white Americans, comforted by the fact that they are not profiled as criminal or terror suspects because they are neither black nor Muslim, appear aloof to this phenomenon despite the rise in apparently unwarranted shootings for instance of whites who call the police to investigate suspected crimes on their property. Age and respectability are no barriers to being on the receiving end of rough-handed treatment as the case last year of a retired four-star army general in Georgia demonstrated.

Meanwhile the Eric Garner case serves to illustrate how U.S. police officers have increasingly become unaccountable for actions of wrongful arrest and brutality including homicide. Taxpayers have had to fund millions of dollars in settlement of lawsuits.

In America, the issue of race is of course never far from the surface. “The problem of the Twentieth Century”, wrote W.E.B. Dubois in 1903 “is the problem of the colour line”.

It is also clearly a problem in this, the succeeding century.

The aforementioned Michael Brown case, as indeed also the one involving Trayvon Martin, was overshadowed by race. Each became a contest of accusations and counter-accusations based on perceptions of the racial attitudes of the police, and criminality in the black community. The likes of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson were called out by whites concerned about their silence in cases where white victims had suffered at the hands of black criminals. This extended also to situations of so-called black-on-black violence.

The issue of race and criminal statistics are projected on to cases such as those involving Michael Brown, serving, from the perspective of many whites, as a justification for the killing of young black men. In other words, that U.S. Department of Justice figures consistently attributing a high level of crime to segments of the black population make it alright to gun down black suspects.

There are a number of caveats nonetheless which need to be kept in mind. For instance, so far as homicides are concerned, most whites –over 80%- are killed by other whites much in the manner that most blacks are killed by other blacks. It is worth noting the statistics issued focus on street crimes and not on organised crime and corporate crime.

If the Department of Justice began compiling statistics related to the ethnic origins of say corporate crime which became repeated like the mantra of black street crime, then it would arguably create a new ambit of racial sensitivities.

It is worth pausing to think of a situation where the media and the public discourse was focused on the ethnic origins of Wall Street operatives who are convicted of financial crimes. The issues of race and social class, needless to say, play a part in this. How else is it possible to explain the ‘too-big-to-fail’ rationale behind the bailout of corporations on Wall Street? Whereas Iceland allowed banks to fail and jailed criminally culpable bankers, in the United States, the bigwigs in the banking sector escaped prosecution for policies and actions which appeared to be criminal in both conception and execution.  

For instance in 2006 and 2007, the Goldman Sachs Group offered over $40 billion in securities that were backed by at least 200,000 risky home mortgages. What the corporation failed to do was to inform potential buyers that it was also secretly betting on a sharp drop in housing prices which would result in the marked devaluation of those securities.

The excuse put forward by the regulatory authorities that many devices of market chicanery were not illegal at the times of their operation is unconvincing to many. It demonstrates an extraordinary level of descent in the standard of morality applied to the corporate world as indeed is the case in other spheres.

Those who helped plunge the United States and the world into an economic morass, destroying the livelihoods of many, shrinking their pension funds, saddling many with debts and in effect lowering the prospects of the succeeding generation are not categorised by race.

A worthwhile question for the American public to ponder is whether the construction of racial statistics related to the commission of economic crimes should be an important element of the public discourse as is the case with street crimes.

Ultimately, this may be unhelpful for the simple reason that it would serve to deflect attention from the underlying failures in the system. The aforementioned David Duke in relation to whom Trump took some time before disavowing is as fixated on the levels of black street crime statistics as he is on repeating the claim that Jewish organisations and Jewish individuals ‘control’ the electoral and wider political process when in fact, the system itself is open to being manipulated by the highest bidder.

The Koch brothers, David and Charles, who are worth a combined $86 billion provide a study of how any well-resourced group or individual can attempt to buy political influence in order to secure legislative enactment to their benefit rather than for the benefit of the wider society.

The brothers, who have given over 60 million dollars over a 15 year period to groups which deny climate change, are the fossil fuel industry's largest donors to the members of the congressional committee overseeing fuel and energy matters. In 2010, the Koch brothers and their employees donated over $300,000 to members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee which was overseeing the Keystone XL pipeline proposal. 

According to a report by the International Forum on Globalisation, the Koch Brothers would stand to make up to 100 billion dollars in profits if the pipeline is constructed. This would encompass the areas of exploration, construction and trading. Although the figure related to an expected profit margin is hotly disputed as is the extent of the involvement of the Koch Corporation in this proposed venture, it is worth reminding how Republican members of Congress attempted to use this project as a bargaining tool in the confrontation with President Obama over the budget in September 2013.

This is the daunting context within which any aspiring American president will be required to discharge his or her duties. It is doubtful that Donald Trump possesses the leadership qualities as well as the requisite policies which would serve as the panacea for America’s problems, for he appears to be a charlatan and a savvy peddler of populist propaganda.

In any case, it is worth reiterating the limitations of the office. The last president who seemed to act with a great measure of ‘independence’, that is, one fulfilling the ideal concept of a robust ‘father of the nation’ who as an elected official proceeded according to his own will in the belief that he was serving the interests of the mass of the electorate was probably Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Today, with a system so closely entwined in satisfying the interests of powerful minority elites, it would be difficult, if not near impossible for a president to effect change of the sort many Americans desire. A president, even one with a considerable amount of personal wealth, cannot hope to displace the entrenched interests of powerful lobby groups such as those representing the defence and armaments industry, the extractive industries, Israel, and, of course, Wall Street and the banking sector.

In several key ways, many who support Trump do so as a projection of their fears and their anger at the system: Anger at the economically debilitating aspects of free trade and the perceived overreach of ‘political correctness’ as well as the fear of immigration and Islamist terrorism.

But the Trump supporters who cheer on Trump's promises in relation to strengthening laws to combat the perceived ‘Muslim menace’ at home and abroad appear not to be cognizant of the fact that they are sanctioning the entrenchment of an Orwellian-like police state apparatus that has markedly developed in the post-9/11 era. Many who rail against 'political correctness' have only succeeded in providing overt evidence of their racial and religious prejudices while those subscribing to his strategy for regaining jobs that have gone overseas merely display their naivety of the workings of the economic order.

It is doubtful that most can believe that he has the solutions which he claims he has. From those sharing the racialist worldview of David Duke to the neglected working man sensing a different political animal to the tried and failed political classes, supporting Trump is a leap into the dark.

It effectively amounts to a protest vote against the system.

It is the system and the prevailing mores of the political and business establishments that guide it which ought to be the primary concern of Americans. It is only when the system is cleansed of the rules enabling political ‘sugar daddies’ and corporate interests to buy elections and the rules allowing the rigging of the economic system are properly reformed that the election of a new president will be able to provide the basis for genuine change.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2016)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.