uploaded : Thursday 13th Jun 2019 at 11:38
by : Carol Gould
Carol Gould on the 2020 US presidential election
The Benjamin Franklin House, London WC2
12 June, 2019
Who would have imagined so many months ago when Marcia suggested I deliver a talk in this historic house about current political events in the United States that in June I would be here during an unprecedented leadership crisis in the United Kingdom, and a very public war between former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump? You may ask, so what words of wisdom does Carol Gould have to offer that differ from the tsunami of news on Twitter, Facebook, newspapers, television and radio?
Indeed, in the past week I have agonised - where do I start? This past Sunday a clutchtch of nineteen Democratic presidential hopefuls converged on Iowa along with President Trump, Iowa being the lynchpin of the protracted primary and caucus process that will precede the Democratic party convention. The president let rip against former Vice President Joe Biden, calling him mentally deficient whilst the crowd of Democratic hopefuls spoke to Iowans with their hopes and dreams for the country. One candidate, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana played blues on an electric keyboard and former Representative John Delaney brought bagpipers. Iowa is 90% white, with a rural tradition that is waking up to the dangers of tariffs that could seriously hurt their livelihood. The primaries are like the Grand National. In the field is millionaire Andrew Yang, 41, who has pledged to give $1000 to every American over 18. Also in the field is spiritual advisor Marianne Williamson.
In this week’s Iowa confrontation Biden said of the president ‘I hope his presence here will be a clarifying event because Iowa farmers have been crushed by his tariffs toward China. It’s really easy to be tough when someone else absorbs the pain, farmers and manufacturers.’ He added that the president ‘backed off his threat of tariffs to Mexico basically because he realised he was likely to lose in manufacturing states such as Michigan and Ohio..He is an existential threat to this country and his behaviour is beneath the office of the presidency.’ Trump replied with ‘Biden was some place in Iowa today and he said my name so many times that people couldn’t stand it.’
In 2008 and 2012 the state supported Barack Obama in the presidential election and in 2016 Donald Trump. If farmers begin to struggle to the point of disaster will they go back to supporting a Democrat in 2020? As the left-leaning filmmaker Michael Moore said on Election Day, November 2016 as he reported from his hometown, Flint, Michigan, ‘There are people here, Democrats, who ten years ago had a working automobile, a house and a job, but are now living out of their rusting cars and wondering what happened.’ He observed that they will vote Trump because they think he will work some sort of magic on their lives.
Iowa holds caucuses around the state - this unique form of democracy, which I think Benjamin Franklin would have loved, affords citizens the opportunity to sit down to a meal or drink with a candidate and then assemble to decide for whom they will send delegates to the national convention. In this instance I am concentrating on the Democrats because it is assumed Republicans in Iowa and other states will automatically send delegates to the national convention to support the incumbent president. In 2014 the Iowa Democratic Party brought in new rules allowing satellite caucuses for the disabled and homebound and inclusion of military personnel; efforts are in progress to include legislation to allow employees time off to attend caucuses in the state’s 1,681 precincts.
Let me explain about Pete Buttigieg. He is not from outer space. Like the unknown Barack Obama, whom I saw speak in Philadelphia in the summer of 2004 and said to my sister, ‘one day he is going to be president’ Mayor Pete’s popularity is rising. His name derives from ‘Abu Hijaj,’ a family with origins in the Levant but also with roots in Malta. Such is the legacy of the wonderful melting pot that is America. He has just received an endorsement from millionaire Obama ‘bundler’ Nicole Avant, who is a wizard at fundraising. It is hoped that after years of a grievous deterioration in race relations Ms Avant, an African-American, can galvanise the black electorate to support a liberal candidate she sees as most likely to win in 2020.
I will come back later to the 2020 elections but allow me to briefly move now to the themes I promised to explore for this Benjamin Franklin House evening.
The first is the experience of being an American journalist in the UK. During my years as an executive with Anglia Television for the ITV network and PBS and then for Joop van den Ende Productions, I experienced more anti-Semitism than anti-Americanism. After the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 I started making political documentaries and established my news website in 2001. With the election of George W Bush in 2000 an American accent began to be a liability. Janet Daley, long-time American-born journalist, experienced a wave of anti-Americanism after 9/11 as I did, but when she wrote about this odd and rather hurtful phenomenon she was inundated with letters of support from Britons expressing their affection for us. I recall Judi Dench telling Michael Parkinson that she wished Britons would be as gracious to Americans as they are to British visitors. Piers Morgan’s front page on July 4th, 2002 for the tabloid he edited at the time, the left-leaning Daily Mirror (he is now a passionate Trumpster) showing President Bush in front of US flags and a headline about the hamburgers Americans would be guzzling whilst thousands died at their nation’s hands was a hurtful edition filled with condemnatory articles by John Pilger and other US-bashing writers. This was the first Independence Day for Americans post-9/11. It really cut me to the quick. Morgan later suffered the humiliation of being frog-marched out of the Mirror offices when he published what were purported to be images of British soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners. (Of course it is the ultimate irony that he was invited to replace Larry King on CNN and became a huge, well-paid star of various programmes in the USA. From America-hater to millionaire Trumpster..) I will stop there and go back to the early 2000s.
My full-page 2004 feature for the Guardian about post-9/11 anti-Americanism inspired Jonathan Dimbleby to invite me to be a panellist on BBC ‘Any Questions?’ and my career as a network political commentator was launched. But it was not a good start. In the car to the broadcast Tom McNally, Liberal Democrat MP at the time and now Lord McNally, refused to speak to me no matter how hard I tried to exchange pleasantries. At the Dimbleby dinner before we went on air he was equally reticent and on the programme. A few days later a fellow broadcaster told me ‘Oh, he and Jenny Tonge have you down as a rabid Zionist-American agitator and you know their views on Israel and the American Jewish lobby.’
I had already learned in the 1990s that as soon as there was a shooting in the United States it was open season on American expatriate journalists. There are not a lot of us here: Bonnie Greer, Charlie Wolf, Janet Daley, Sir Bob Worcester, Michael Goldfarb, Henry Chu and Jan Halper-Hayes. In the past three years young Kate Andrews of the conservative Institute of Economic Affairs has joined the small contingent of American commentators. My book, ‘Don’t Tread on me -- anti-Americanism Abroad’ came about after observing for many years the evolution of resentment of the USA. From British World War 2 veterans I interviewed in Portsmouth who were still angry that Franklin Roosevelt did not intervene sooner to help Britain, to the fury at President Eisenhower for not supporting Britain during the Suez Crisis, to burgeoning support by the United States for Israel and its powerful UN veto, to military force in Vietnam and of course Iraq.
After the Sandy Hook elementary school mass shooting in 2012 I was invited onto Victoria Derbyshire’s BBC Radio programme. Before a broadcast guests are kept in a green room but on that morning I was in an empty studio. The other guest, an Observer journalist, stormed in and paced the room, shouting at me ‘So where is your six-shooter?’ He grabbed my lanyard and asked me what qualifications I had for being on BBC radio and before I could answer began pacing the room again, ranting about ‘where do you keep your gun collection, Miss whatever-your-name is?’ and so on. It was the first time I felt I ought to leave the building but decided to tough it out. Once on air I made the point as devil’s advocate that had Alan Senitt, the young British charity worker on an exchange programme from Lord Janner’s London office, who was stabbed to death in Washington DC in July, 2006 had had a gun he might have survived. I was living there at the time and Mayor Williams had banned guns but within a few hours knife crime was going through the roof throughout the District. Alan’s female companion was being raped by a gang of youths and when he screamed to them to stop one of them brutally murdered him. I said that had he had a gun he could have scared them off. The rude journalist from the Observer stayed silent through this and to my astonishment was immensely polite after the broadcast.
It is possible for an American journalist to come up against another one in confrontation. On the Jeremy Vine Show Charlie Wolf, a staunch Republican and supporter of not-yet President Donald Trump’s Birther Movement (those wishing to see President Obama removed from office because they believed his birth certificate was fraudulent and that he was not born in Hawaii but in Kenya.) Charlie had brought along his own US birth certificate but I said on air ‘Gosh, I would have brought my own but I am so old it was etched on a stone tablet.’
In 2016 on the eve of the presidential election Notre Dame University invited me in my capacity as a political journalist to chair the debate between Democrats and Republicans Abroad. Before the event the Democrat, a lawyer, became apoplectic with rage when I said I was glad I had always cultivated friendships with Tories and Labour supporters as well as Republicans and Democrats. She flew into such a rage that I honestly thought she was going to strike me, screaming that it was beyond comprehension that I could befriend conservatives. Thankfully I am made of strong stuff but throughout my chairing of the debate her body language of hostility to me was palpable. There I was, instinctively a Democrat but feeling the warmth of Jan Halper-Hayes, the Republican debater - with whom I had a delightful dinner afterwards…
Those who have followed my television, radio and print journalism about Trump over the past three years or so will know that despite his fronting the Birther Movement I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt as an objective journalist.
When I was a panellist on BBC ‘Any Questions?’ in 2009 after the economic meltdown, we were asked to devise a short statement to warm up the audience. Mine was this: ‘We now need businesspeople to run countries. Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffett, Richard Branson, Bill Gates…’ I never included Donald Trump but my rationale was that successful billionaires know how to turn disaster into triumph.
When I appeared on live BBC television in July 2016 I said I thought Trump would win the presidency. The studio anchor was nonplussed. I had predicted the anger of Bernie Sanders voters would be so severe because he came so close to the nomination that they would rebel by voting Trump. The Executive Editor of the New York Times said the same on BBC Newsnight the Friday before the general election; indeed 33% of Sanders supporters voted Trump.
At the time Sanders and Trump agreed on four issues: not joining TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and leaving or revising NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, as well as breaking up the powerful pharmaceutical companies and helping college students with tuition costs.
But it is three years since the election and there is now much fear afoot for the future of American freedoms despite the Democrats regaining control of the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections.
Never, ever did I anticipate Donald Trump turning on the press and virtually every day shouting to crowds or in small gatherings ‘The press are the enemy of the people.’ This is a theme I promised to raise at this Benjamin Franklin House event. When President Trump was in Britain in 2018, at a press conference at Chequers he called on CNN’s Jim Acosta as ‘Fake News,’ and turned to Prime Minister Theresa May and said ‘I call him fake news.’ She giggled nervously, which infuriated me. She should have reprimanded him immediately and pointed out that in this country we have a tradition of a robust press. This year only two questions were allowed at the Downing Street press conference, which I felt was akin to a dictatorship’s behaviour. Did Trump bully Theresa May into this? If so she is no champion of a free press either.
In recent weeks the White House has revoked the press credentials of a significant cohort of journalists including all six Washington Post reporters. This is unprecedented. Benjamin Franklin and the Founding Fathers are revolving in their graves. Many senators, congressmen and a wide range of other Anericans have expressed their anger and are comparing such behaviour to that of a dictatorship. I did not come here tonight to Trump-bash but to me his hatred of the press is frightening. I am old enough to remember Richard Nixon’s hostility to the media and never thought we would see another leader so determined to stop the open discourse that underpins a true democracy.
Never, ever did I anticipate him referring to the neo-Nazis at the Charlotttesville demonstration as ‘nice people.’ Never, ever did I anticipate him poking fun at a woman of the dignity of Christine Blasey Ford, who bravely testified at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination. Never, ever did I anticipate him, in the same week that Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in Istanbul, telling a large crowd that he loved the beating a congressman had given to a British Guardian reporter, saying ‘He’s my guy.’ President Trump raged at CNN’s Jim Acosta at a White House press conference, calling him a ‘terrible person.’ All I could think of was what effect this would have on Jim’s children seeing their father insulted and degraded by the President of the United States. Trump, on the campaign trail, made fun of a reporter with palsy. But I was willing, now in retrospect to my eternal shame, to give him rope. Never, ever did I envisage him referring to migrants as a danger to American life. It should be noted here that his anti-immigrant aide Stephen Miller who is fixated on reversing the poetry of Emma Lazarus on the Statue of Liberty that defines the beautiful tradition of ‘America the nation of immigrants’ is the grandson of Jewish refugees.
I ought to have known trouble was on its way when Trump in his inauguration speech kept repeating ‘America First! America First!’ My late mother, whose generation saw the rise of the US neo-Nazi movement in the 1930s, was revolving in her grave. Donald Rumsfeld, who grew up in Winnetka, Illinois once explained in an interview the motto of his local German-American Bund was ‘America First!’ - they and their hero Charles Lindbergh were known as the America Firsters.
In his first few months in office the stock market boomed and still does. Unemployment is dropping. But the core issue that terrifies
Americans most is health care.
Had the Senate flipped to Democrat it is possible that Obamacare, or a more British-style NHS, would have become available to millions of Americans. Although it was fifteen years ago I came up against fierce opposition when I travelled to the USA at the behest of Sen John Kerry’s sister Diana to promote universal health care which she and I had enjoyed as expatriates living in Europe. Lamentably the head of the Kerry for President campaign, Jim Brenner, rang me and told me that if I so much as dared mention what he called ‘socialised medicine’ to voters I would not only be thrown off the campaign but out of the Democratic party. Hopefully this attitude will change as more and more Americans see the misery of the present health care system.
The fact that the Senate did not flip in 2018 is a troubling one for Democrats. Trump campaigned in many swing-states and several went Republican. It is believed that Democrat Heidi Heitkamp lost her seat in North Dakota because she voted against Brett Kavanaugh. Other Democrats to lose their seats were Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Claire McCaskill of Missouri. Representative Beto O’Rourke in Texas gave up his seat to challenge Ted Cruz for the Senate but lost by the narrowest of margins. He is now looking to 2020 in the presidential primaries. Also in 2018 long-time incumbent Bill Nelson lost the final Florida vote count to Republican Rick Scott. Likewise Democrat Mayor of Tallahassee Andrew Gillum conceded to Ron deSantis for the Governor’s seat. Trump called African -American Gillum a ’thief’ during the campaign. He also referred to African American Stacey Abrams as ‘unqualified’ - she conceded to Republican Brian Kemp in the Georgia governor race by a narrow margin of 5,000 and to this day there is fury about voter-suppression in her state.
Trump has repeatedly insulted legislators and journalists of colour and seems obsessed with calling Senator Elizabeth Warren ‘Pocahontas’ because she claims native American ancestry.
Moving on to international issues: Trump’s reversing of the Iran nuclear deal and restoration of sanctions is hurting the people of Iran and has caused shockwaves in Europe. His imposition of tariffs on China is perceived as bizarre even by anti-Communist observers. Businessman Jack Ma, mastermind of the billion-dollar conglomerate Alibaba, refers to Trump’s actions as ‘just stupid.’
Why does Donald Trump still have such massive support at home? Lest we forget that as soon as Barack Obama took office Sarah Palin went to work on establishing the right-wing Tea Party movement. The movement managed to elect several senators and congressmen to office , although it has to be said that Sen Rand Paul does not always vote with the right-wing. Lest we forget also that extreme right-wing radio and television personalities Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity had and still have an enormous influence on the immigrant-fearing, gay-bashing and abortion-opposing American electorate. It is possible that Roe v wade, the landmark 1973 abortion decision by the Supreme Court, could be reversed with a Trump-dominated court along with same-sex marriage. If a Democrat president is elected in 2020 and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg survives, it is likely she will retire and a liberal justice will be nominated. But if the Senate does not flip to Democrat in 2020 a liberal justice might never be approved.
Back to 2020 - though Sen Elizabeth Warren is gaining ground on Joe Biden he and fellow senior citizen Sen Bernie Sanders appear to be leading in the popularity stakes, most notable amongst young and first-time voters. Here in the UK Lord Heseltine recently noted that support from the 18-24 age group for the conservatives has plunged to an all-time, catastrophic low of 5%. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, as much to the left as his friend Bernie, also enjoys massive support from the young. All of the Democratic 2020 hopefuls have a decent to excellent rating from the influential ACLU - the American Civil Liberties Union. Finance for Democrats has always come from George Soros but in recent years passionate support has also been coming from billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer. If you can get on iplayer the interview he did on BBC ‘Hardtalk’ last week do watch it. There is great concern amongst world Jewry about the two new members of congress, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, both outspoken in their criticisms of Israel and of what they perceive as the ‘Jewish lobby;’ then again in recent days 2020 hopefuls Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigeig have also been fiercely condemnatory about Israeli policy in the West Bank.
In conclusion to me the issues that will be most crucial to the destiny of Americans and most particularly of women will be the makeup of the Supreme Court and the disastrous situation regarding health care. Whenever I have been on radio and television I have always said that had FDR not died of a sudden stroke in April 1945 he would have seen what Clement Attlee was doing in Britain and established an NHS for Americans. It was not meant to be but perhaps this will be a miracle that will soon become reality in an ever-changing America.