Wednesday, 15 June 2016

It's All Just a Little Bit of History Repeating ...

A guest post by Caroyln Morell

Despite the date having been written the wrong way round, the Stephen King televised serial, 11.22.63 was enjoyable bingeworthy TV (and is available on NOW TV for those, like me, who signed up for Game of Thrones and now has found fewer and fewer reasons for engaging in a real social life ever since). For the uninitiated, it follows the character of Jake Epping (played by James Franco) who travels back in time to 1960 in an attempt to (eventually) thwart the assassination of JFK on the famous day America lost its innocence.

Much has been written about the long shadow the assassination cast over American history; President Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline were young, handsome and vibrant, they mixed with celebrities and enjoyed a 60% approval rating among the general public - even when the country was increasingly divided over race. In fact, it’s amazing what a sprinkling of youthful, distracting stardust will do for any institution. Haven’t Kate, William and Harry done that for a monarchy that looked to be limping towards an inevitable demise as the century dawned?

Equally, much has been written about what would have happened if the murder had not taken place. Would the wholesale, innocent slaughter of young Americans and Vietnamese alike still have occurred? Would Martin Luther King have been dispatched in much the same way as Kennedy himself?

Of course, these questions are impossible to answer. Kennedy was an ardent Cold War warrior who sent "advisors" to Vietnam but who showed considerable political grit in helping bring America back from the brink of disaster during the Cuban Missile Crisis. In most areas, he was a moderate who understood the power of public support for his policies - it’s hard to imagine him sending nearly sixty thousand young American men to their deaths. With regard to MLK, who knows? Courageous political leaders have always been bullet magnets but JFK’s assassination turned a confident, forward thinking country in to a pessimistic one, negative and unsure of its place in the world. In such an environment, murder always becomes a more established method of removal than the democratic process.

The TV show and the book on which it was based gives us a brief glimpse into a world where the fatal bullet(s) had not made their connection and Kennedy had survived. Perhaps as we would expect from the foremost popular horror writer of the twentieth century, it does not look good. After Jake saves the president in a dramatic confrontation which also sees the death of Lee Harvey Oswald (and his fiancĂ©e), Jake returns to 2015 and finds a nuclear wasteland. Scant details are given about how the disaster occurred but we discover that Kennedy was re-elected in 1964, to be followed by the crazed segregationist and persistent presidential nominee, George Wallace, who famously announced he would rather stand in the school house door than allow the integration of Alabama’s schools. We discover little more but Jake realises (perhaps like a far more famous literary character, Jay Gatsby), that trying to change the past will always have more serious unforeseen consequences that we can imagine.

It’s often said that history repeats itself and its here that we can easily make comparisons between Wallace’s unsuccessful, real campaign for President in 1968 and the current, (yes, it isn’t just a horrible dream) campaign by Donald Trump. Like Trump, Wallace excited the political interest of the white working class in a way that politicians rarely do. Like Trump he put forward policies that could never realistically be implemented (Bring on the wall!) and his campaign fundraisers were often accompanied by violent scenes. Wallace tirelessly described himself as the champion of the working man and woman despite never having lived amongst them and all the time serving the needs of the elite business circles he mixed in.

What will happen if Donald Trump (unlike George Wallace) actually gets elected? Very sadly, the events in San Bernardino and Orlando have made that more likely, with a frightened electorate unsure about when the next ‘lone wolf’ terrorist attack will occur. Maybe next time, the victims won’t be the members of a subculture offensive to some Muslims and some Republicans alike but ‘normal’ NRA members, or families visiting Disneyworld? Maybe a politician who will ban Muslims from entering the country is the one to plump for? Of course the problem that he has not addressed is that the Orlando shooter was born in the US, whilst others were radicalised via the Internet long after their arrival in the States as children. Will Trump begin by attempting to limit internet access for Muslim people "until we can be sure what's going on?" How long will it be before President Trump, unable to stop every ISIS dedicated terrorist attack establishes Islamic internment camps for both first and second generation immigrants, just as occurred with the Japanese after Pearl Harbour?

It’s entirely possible that such a divisive, polarising President as Trump could be assassinated but this time the trial would likely feature the possibility of a third, fourth, or fifth shooter alongside the one in the book depository - especially when it becomes evident that he is fundamentally unsuitable to run the world’s most influential country (for good or ill). But if this happens, I doubt that anyone in the future would want to slip through a wormhole to prevent it from happening. Whatever the future holds for American politics, it has to be better without Donald J Trump than one with him in it.

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