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Finding Parallels: Fusing History With The Present With Thought To Donald Trump

20/01/2017 13:46

With the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump mere days away, I believe it's safe to say that the world is in a state of flux. This may be putting it lightly.

The Women's March on Washington, which will take place the day after the inauguration, on January 21st - is set to be one of America's biggest protests. Almost 200 protest groups have signed up to support the March, with Kaylin Whittingham, president of the association of black women attorneys, saying "A march of this magnitude, across this diversity of issues has never happened before. We all have to stand together as a force no one can ignore."

Just as voters rebelling against the 'elite' world of Hillary Clinton voted with Trump to 'drain the swamp' of Washington, protestors are rising up in response to the decisions and policies-to-be of a former reality television star.

I have always invested a lot of energy and time into US elections and post-election analysis in an amateur capacity, with my interests dating back to the first George W Bush election.

Beyond my misery at the election result, I wanted to construct a path to understanding the issues at hand, the precedents and the eventual outcomes. I was also fortunate that an intriguing new novel crossed my desk to help frame my thought process.

The Pearl and the Carnelian follows the progress of a young working class girl, Hester Blake, through the echelons of upper class society in the period between World War One and World War Two. The historical novel is set in 1930s Britain - the Devil's era - and framed against the rise of home-grown fascism, influenced by a right-wing swing on the world stage.

I spoke to author Annabel Fielding, somewhat of an authority on the power and politics of representation, to discuss the issues raised in her book.

I also reached out to Dr Matt Cook, Professor of Modern History at Birkbeck, University of London, to ask him about the rise of fascism between wars, and the parallels between then and now.

He said: "Fascism rarely appears as a complete agenda. It creeps like a fog. I absolutely see parallels between the 1920s/1930s and now. The biggest similarity I see is in the humanisation of what we could call outrageous rhetoric.

"Trump, in dehumanising entire groups like Mexicans and Muslims, is taking the first step towards normalising that kind of rhetoric and that kind of thinking. Just like Hitler did with the Jews.

"Another worrying thing is the claiming of 'common sense' as an instrument of the right. It basically means that anyone can say anything inflammatory or offensive by stating that it's the 'voice of the people'. We saw that with Brexit."

I asked Annabel Fielding was she able to harness recent political upheaval in writing The Pearl and the Carnelian?

"The idea of the novel was born more than two years ago so when I approached the topics of Oswald Mosley's popularity, of the rapprochement efforts towards Nazi Germany, I approached them as painful, but long-buried mistakes never to be re-enacted.

"So, among other things, the events of 2016 made me think, 'You must be kidding me!'

"The largest common denominators towards the Far Right swing were the fear of Communism and the vivid memories of the Great War. Today, Trump's bogeymen are Islam and the Middle East.

"Similarly, fascism's rise was happening in the context of rising unemployment, the Hunger Marches, a staggering number of families living on the dole. Even those not directly affected by such difficulties couldn't escape the narrative of a nation in decline. People saw the traditional parties tiptoeing around these problems; it was easy to believe, then, that anyone who promised to do things differently would necessarily do things better.

"The same drivers are at play today, with Trump's surprise victory against the establishment, and with Brexit. But the one lesson we must all remember from history is that to disregard a dangerous dictator only because they haven't started building the concentration camps yet is ridiculous. No one starts his reign with obvious atrocities; recognising the buildup to them is the key."

The final words are Dr Matt Cook's. I asked what history had taught us about how extreme regimes play themselves out, and how we can best deal with them.

'People need to be vigilant. Don't fall into a trap of normalising anything you feel is against democratic interests. Hopefully by being vigilant, people will start to see things as they really are. We have to constantly protest the implementation of fascist doctrines of any kind.'

The Pearl and the Carnelian by Annabel Fielding is out now, priced £12.30 in paperback and £4.61 as an eBook. Visit www.historygeekintown.com/the-pearl-and-the-carnelian/

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