Dr Michael Goodrum assesses the American President’s first year in office.
Dr Michael Goodrum looks at how the history of Haiti still haunts America today.
Dr Elaine Brown argues that attacks by right wing extremists should be labelled as acts of terror.
Peter Vujakovic, Professor of Geography, explores President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 Paris Climate agreement and the rise of China.
President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 Paris Climate agreement has created a vacuum in global moral leadership which China and the EU are quickly moving to fill. While Trump has argued he will make the US ‘great again’, this action, as he turns inward to his ‘rust belt’ constituency, is a further dent in America’s ‘ontological security’ – its positive self-image as a global power. This is made clear by the negative responses to his decision from American businesses, from Mark Zukerberg of Facebook to giant companies such as Exxonmobil and Chevron.
The real story here is China’s rise. It has gained in confidence as a global player since the 1990s as its economy has grown to become one of the largest in the world. It now sees itself as a major regional and world power, an ancient civilization emerging to greatness again. China suffered what is known as the ‘century of humiliation’, first under European power including Britain in the 19th century, and then under Japan until the successful communist revolution of 1949. It is now emerging from a long period of ontological insecurity to become a self-assured actor on the global stage. Much of its assertive behaviour in areas such as the South China Sea may have as much to do with projecting its new identity and a response to US naval dominance, itself a lingering slight to its dignity, as an interest in the sea’s physical resources. Its new silk roads initiative, One Belt One Road, proposed by President Xi is a bold initiative to integrate trade across Asia, Europe and Africa. In May President Xi held a meeting of heads of state to launch the initiative, following on from his strong defence of globalization at Davos in January. On top of this, China is now a leading nation in terms of ‘green energy’ development.
The message is one of a ‘soft power’ China, which seeks environmental and political security at the global scale to ensure its and others economic future. This may be a positive development, but the underlying danger is how the US will respond. One fear, articulated by some international relations experts, is the ‘Thucydides trap’, in which a rising power will almost inevitably come to blows with the current hegemonic power (as Athens did with Sparta). President Xi, on a state visit to the US, dismissed this, saying it was not inevitable unless the protagonists actively allowed it. While we may remain concerned about some of China’s repressive measures at home, perhaps the West should accept China’s rhetoric as being genuine and see its rise as a positive development for all rather than a threat. At present, the real threat to environmental security actually appears to be the US, the second largest producer of global carbon emissions, as it turns its back on the rest of the world.
Peter Vujakovic is a Professor of Geography, in the School of Human and Life Sciences. His research interests lie in global geopolitics, and specifically in how issues are treated in the news media and through cartographic representations. He is currently working on news media images of the geopolitics of the South China Sea.
Dr Mitch Goodrum, Senior Lecturer in Modern History, explores modern political views on integration and multiculturalism and how they mirror views from the early 20th century.
Dr Mark Ledwidge, Senior Lecturer in American Studies, reflects on the legacy of Obama’s foreign policy and looks ahead to what we might expect from the leadership of Donald Trump.
Peter Vujakovic, Professor of Geography in the School of Human and Life Sciences, explores the use of caricatures in media publications during the festive season.
T’is the season to be jolly! This December many news magazines have decked their covers with humorous caricatures and satirical graphics. The New Statesman has Donald Trump and Theresa May ski jumping …over the cliff edge? The Week has Boris Johnson in the ‘dog-house’. Even Time Magazine’s ‘Person of the Year’ cover seems to have been strategically arranged so the title letter ‘M’ provides a devilish touch to Trump’s profile. Time denies intent and notes that given the letter’s “location on the cover, many other subjects in the past have also appeared to sprout extra features. It’s happened to Hillary Clinton at least twice.”
What is clear, however, is the stinging intent in celebrated cartoonist Peter Brookes’ cover image for the Spectator. This features Trump and Putin literally carving-up the globe (in the form of a pudding), with Putin serving himself a large slice of the ‘Middle East’. Brookes’ cartoon is a direct pastiche of one of the most famous political graphics in history, James Gillray’s 1805 ‘The Plum Pudding in Danger’, in which the original protagonists were Pitt and Napoleon. This cartoon has been recycled many times; including Thatcher and Foot, Bush and Gorbachev, and recently Cameron and Sturgeon. Like an element of any great festive pantomime it’s an old joke with a contemporary twist. The globe or map in cartoons has always been subject to the power of the protagonists; to control, ‘cleansing’, fragmentation, or even destruction. Numerous examples abound, from Lenin sweeping the globe clear of capitalists, clergy and kings, to Putin ripping a map of Ukraine apart. But are these images under threat?
As Will Self has noted satire must ‘comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable’, and Brookes’ work does this. There is, however, a danger that true satire might be endangered by two contemporary processes, first a ‘scatter-gun’ approach in which, as Self has pointed out, the ‘afflicted’ have been made uncomfortable by some of the images produced by cartoonists; he cites cartoons of Mohammed. And secondly, the growing problem of ‘self-censorship’; a reaction to the threats of both violent extremists and the litigious tendencies of the rich and powerful. In the same month as Brookes’ cartoon, US artist Alison Jackson, who has recently published photographs with Trump ‘look-a-likes’, has claimed that she has to fight hard against ‘self-censorship’. “It makes you frightened, it makes you put the brakes on and that is very worrying.” She goes on to note, “Whether it’s artists or cartoonists or satirists, there has to be free and radical thinking. Without that we get into the realms of dictatorship.”
Dr Michael Goodrum, Senior Lecturer in the School of Humanities, discusses Kellogg’s decision to pull its advertising from Breitbart and its history of decision-making based on values.
The cereal giant Kellogg’s has pulled its advertising from Breitbart, the alt-right news service that has attained recent prominence thanks to the appointment of its executive chairman, Steve Bannon, as President-elect Donald Trump’s chief strategist.
In a statement, Kellogg’s announced that their decision was based on Breitbart not being ‘aligned with our values’. Breitbart has responded by declaring war on the company, running a series of derogatory stories and sparking a social media campaign through the hashtag #DumpKelloggs to encourage its readers to do precisely that. Kellogg’s decision fits into the broader pattern of economic warfare currently being waged by the group Stop Funding Hate, who also use social media to advance their cause. This group campaigns to get companies to pull their advertising from publications that publish stories deemed to be inflammatory.
Kellogg’s, however, has faced down right wing opposition before in a very similar situation. In 1946, Kellogg’s was the main sponsor of the Superman radio serial in the US. The serial was broadcast five times a week, and was nationally syndicated. According to contemporary Hooper ratings, it regularly attracted the highest juvenile audience of any radio show. Kellogg’s ran tie-in campaigns, and also ran adverts within the show, meaning the brand was closely aligned with the superhero.
This was seemingly just another sponsorship deal until, in 1946, the writers of the serial took a socially relevant direction. In a story known as ‘The Clan of the Fiery Cross’, Superman and his friends from the Daily Planet Lois Lane, Jimmy White, and Perry Olsen, took up the fight against a Ku Klux Klan-like organisation who sought to drive a Chinese American family out of Metropolis. Thanks to information gathered by the journalist and political activist, Stetson Kennedy, who went undercover in the newly reformed KKK, the writers of the serial had genuine information on passwords and rituals to place in their scripts. The Klan reacted furiously and, like Breitbart, declared war on Kellogg’s, urging their sympathisers to boycott Kellogg’s and staging pickets outside shops to press the issue. Kellogg’s refused to back down; Superman’s defeat of the Klan, or at least its thinly veiled allegory, rendered them ridiculous. The stream of stories issuing forth from Breitbart on the issue seems to be achieving the same function, even without Superman’s help.
Academics from our Politics and International Relations programme offer their initial thoughts on Donald Trump winning the 2016 US Presidential election.
Dr Agnes Gulyas, Reader in Digital Transformations, looks at the role the media play in politics, focusing on the current US Presidential election.
In the current US Presidential race Donald Trump has accused the “disgusting and corrupt media” of representing him and his campaign dishonestly and falsely. He claimed that if “media covered me honestly and didn’t put false meaning into the words I say, I would be beating Hilary by 20%”. Mr Trump arguably exemplifies post-truth politics which is based on reliance on assertions and feelings rather than facts and seems to be focusing on reinforcing rather than addressing prejudices. His political campaigning, style and communication marks a departure from practices of previous presidential candidates.
However, with blaming the media, Mr Trump is following a long held tradition among politicians who are trailing in the polls, or who have found themselves in the middle of an uncomfortable scandal. For these politicians, media are easy scapegoats and blaming them is a logical, if cynical, way to try to divert attention from themselves. These types of accusations are often vague with a hint of a conspiracy theory. Even their use of the word ‘media’ is ambiguous, as the term is so broad and all-encompassing it can refer to anyone who produces any type of media content. I suspect though Mr Trump’s criticism is really aimed at news media that have published unfavourable stories of him and his campaign.
From their point of view, however, these news outlets follow traditional functions of media and journalism in democratic societies: to provide information and analysis, hold politicians accountable and offer balanced news reporting. There can and certainly are issues with how news media report on and represent certain individuals, groups of people and events. There are examples of misrepresentations, especially of those societal groups who are in minority, lack power or underprivileged. There are also examples for lack of balanced news reporting. For example, several studies show that the coverage of the EU Referendum campaign earlier this year was heavily biased towards the Leave side in a large section of the UK print media.
However, the media are not a monolithic all-powerful institution. Political debate and public discourse agendas in democratic societies are shaped by the interdependent, hybrid relationships between politicians, media and the public. The debate about the effects of media, including the influence news coverage has on how people vote, has a long history and it is one of those questions that cannot be conclusively answered scientifically. The dominant view on the issue is that the news media do not tell people what to think but they have an influence on what people think about through framing and influencing public debate agendas.
This agenda-setting role, however, is arguably changing in our digital age where post-truth political culture is increasingly prevalent. Traditional ways of accessing news are shifting as news audiences are becoming more fragmented and news consumption on mobile and via social media platforms are rising. But the digital news environment does not automatically provide balanced news coverage for the audience, and relevant information and analysis could be difficult to find. On social media people tend to communicate in echo chambers with others who have similar views to themselves. Although we can access more information and analysis than ever before, there are indications that too much information can lead to greater confusion especially when facts, opinions and feelings are blurred, as they are in a post-truth political culture.
Instead of blaming the media, politicians should focus on ensuring that all of us continue to have access to news media that provide quality information and analysis, hold politicians accountable and offer balanced news reporting. The need for such news media and journalism is as important in the digital age as it was in the analogue epoch.