Defusing anger at governments
A week or so ago, our Prime Minister, Theresa May, approached the podium for her keynote speech to the Conservative Party Conference – dancing to an Abba song. The scene was played on our television news broadcasts. Like many other British citizens I covered my face with embarrassment. “For Heaven’s sake, woman, you’re the head of our government,” I moaned. “Can’t you behave with a little dignity?” She didn’t even dance very well. Wrong shoes, I suppose.
In the United States there was drama recently when Judge Kavanaugh was nominated to the Supreme Court. One of the women who accused Mr Kavanaugh of serious sexual misconduct during the 1980s, Dr Christine Ford, testified before the government, arguing that in view of his past behaviour he should not occupy such an important position in the judiciary. It was regrettable that the subsequent voting on Judge Kavanaugh’s appointment was split almost entirely along party lines, so a moral (and indeed legal) problem was “solved” by political affiliations. Of course, we can’t know the truth of the allegations, which Mr Kavanaugh denied and repudiated energetically, but we can make a few observations. First, if he did indeed misbehave three decades or so ago, as alleged, one might plead the excuse that he was young then and has since grown out of such reprehensible conduct; and that attitudes to sexual harassment were different then so perhaps he didn’t consider his actions wrong. I’m not impressed by such reasoning, but I can understand it. Second, although both parties in the argument showed memory lapses (we can all forget details of incidents that happened half a lifetime ago, particularly when the incidents were traumatic), there can be no doubt about Dr Ford’s honesty and courage. It is hard indeed for a woman to recall such experiences in front of a predominantly male and predominantly hostile, or at least sceptical, audience, and those who accused her of being a political pawn should be ashamed of themselves. She’s clearly not the sort of woman who could be manipulated in that way.
That was the background to another news item that shocked and disgusted me even more than Mrs May’s dancing antics. The President of the United States stood in front of an audience and mocked Dr Ford and her testimony. And people in the audience laughed and cheered. Now, it might well be that Dr Ford’s memory was in some respects at fault, but what can we say when the elected leader of a great nation mocks an educated and honest citizen of that nation for showing courage in public? I was speechless.
I’ve always had doubts about “wars” on abstract nouns. The “War on Want” was a good catch-phrase and its proponents were well-motivated but, sadly, it opened the door to corruption in some places. The “War on Terror” exploited public feeling to serve as a cover for morally outrageous acts such as kidnapping and torture, though again one could see positive motives among its proponents. But when it comes to a “War on Decency and Compassion” we all have to draw the line. And I’m bound to say that President Trump’s speech mocking Dr Ford was nothing short of a declaration of war on decency and compassion.
Filled with disgust at these incidents, I found the first book, Contact, of Hank Quense’s Zaftan Troubles series therapeutic as well as thoroughly enjoyable. All Hanks’ books are enjoyable; his blend of science fiction and fairy tale genres, laced with his own idiosyncratic humour, is a basis for gentle but effective political and social satire. Contact made me laugh at people in power. That’s what we all need to do. Thank you, Hank, for defusing my anger and outrage – and for providing the reading public with so much fun. I shall be downloading and reading the other six books in the series shortly.