I voted for Hillary Clinton, gave her money, and urged my captive physical and email audiences to do the same. And I agree with Rebecca Solnit that she was subjected to double standards and some unfair criticism during the presidential election campaign (LRB, 19 January). I am very sorry she lost, especially considering who won. But, the election being over, I acknowledge that there were also legitimate reasons to dislike her as a candidate, the main one being her relentless pursuit of money throughout her adult life.
She failed to mention it during the campaign, preferring to refer to her brief 1973 stint at the Children’s Defense Fund, but during the 1980s, while her husband was governor, Hillary Clinton was a partner in the Rose Law Firm, the most prominent corporate law and lobbying firm in Arkansas. This was an inherent conflict of interest, as anyone wishing the governor to think well of his or her request for state favours could simply hire the governor’s wife’s firm. She could have taught or done another kind of legal work, one less connected to state power and its use.
These were also the years of her miraculous conversion of $1000 into $100,000 by means of ‘commodity futures’ trading – always easy for novices. We can skip over the ethical challenges of the White House years (e.g. Travel Office firings and crony replacements, the anti-Monica campaign etc) and turn instead to the 16 years since, during which the Clintons have created a worldwide influence-peddling empire through the Clinton Foundation and Clinton Global Initiative, financed by contributions from self-interested sleazoids from all continents, including Donald Trump (whose own fake ‘foundation’ gave them $100,000). It did some good too, I am sure. The Clintons also received $153 million in fees for ‘paid speeches’ during those years, money paid in the hope of influencing a sitting senator, secretary of state and likely (it was thought) future president. Clinton herself took in $22 million for paid speeches after resigning as secretary of state, including $675,000 from Goldman Sachs for a few evenings of schmoozing in 2013 because ‘that is what they offered.’ What was the need, given how much they already had? She could have been a partner in a law firm or run a non-profit or an NGO. Her email server problem, which Solnit dismisses as the ‘dullest and most uneventful scandal in history’, probably had to do with her desire to shield all these multifarious arrangements from prying eyes. But of course it is all James Comey’s fault.
So where are we now? Senate Democrats are criticising Congressman Tom Price, Trump’s right-wing nominee for secretary of health and human services, for buying medical-device stocks and then introducing legislation that would have benefited the companies whose stocks he had bought. They are right. Such actions should be absolutely disqualifying. But we live in the political world that the Clintons helped to create, in which all such arguments seem partisan and hollow. Price will likely be confirmed by Republican votes, just as Democrats minimised or completely disregarded Hillary Clinton’s ethical transgressions out of partisan and/or gender loyalty.
‘Penis power’ indeed. What completes the monstrously intimidating phallic effect is the brazen Freudian symbol of Trump’s vivid red necktie. Brandished almost daily and a further signal of aggressive intent at the inauguration, the tie’s lurid length arrows pointedly to the groin – and in your face.
Edward Luttwak, setting out what he believes will be Trump’s faithfulness to his voters and the ultimate success of his economic policies, is both unfair to Obama’s legacy and panglossian in his estimation of the likelihood that Trump will succeed (Letters, 19 January). First, Obama’s stimulus package was constrained by the Republican Congress. To ensure its passage he had to cut $62 billion that would have gone directly to infrastructure spending. Much of the package had to be spent as transfer payments to individual states which, faced with an accelerating downturn in the economy, had to bridge huge budget gaps. Obama’s stimulus package was not nearly enough to counter the downturn while simultaneously boosting recovery. In size it will be dwarfed several times over by what the new Republican Congress is prepared to grant Trump.
Second, to blame Obama’s limited impact on environmental vigilance and necessary regulation is both short-sighted and a diversion. The record of Republican deregulation efforts has been disastrous: from the near collapse of the airline industry and implosion of savings and loan banks in the 1980s to the financial crisis of 2007-8 that nearly precipitated a depression.
Third, Luttwak fails to consider Trump’s infrastructure spending plans in the context of his economic programme. Trump proposes massive cuts to corporate and individual income tax rates for the wealthy on the basis that this will generate new investment in manufacturing and lead to the reshoring of American industry. Never mind that this approach failed to work in Canada. Combined with massive spending on infrastructure (one trillion over ten years), it will balloon the national debt and create an inflationary spiral that the Federal Reserve Bank’s raising of interest rates will be insufficient to staunch. The Fed has indicated that the current strength of the economy bequeathed by Obama makes such a stimulus unnecessary and even dangerous.
What’s more, Trump’s protectionist trade policy will not lead to a significant increase in American employment, for two reasons. It will be accompanied by greater investment in robotics, as a hedge against higher US wage rates. The Mexican plant abandoned by Ford under pressure from Trump was slated to employ 2800 workers; the Michigan plant that will assume its load will employ just seven hundred. And Trump’s trade policy is likely to provoke a trade war with countries that presently enjoy a trade surplus with the US. Tariffs on their goods will handicap American importers and disrupt supply chains, which will lead to higher unemployment. Trump’s economic programme is more likely to lead back to the stagflation of the 1970s than forward to an explosion of economic growth. Obama’s steadily mounting real growth will be looked on with nostalgia in four years’ time.
University of California Los Angeles
Julian Barnes’s review of The Shchukin Collection at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris has me hoping that somewhere a curator is already planning an exhibition of treasures from the Ivan Morozov collection (LRB, 19 January). I was reminded that in June 1954 an exhibition was planned for the Maison de la Pensée Française (rue de l’Elysée) in Paris of works from the museums of Leningrad and Moscow. The 37 works from the collections of Morozov and Shchukin were to be complemented by 12 works from private French collections (eight of these were lent by Alice Toklas from the collection of Gertrude Stein). The catalogue essay, ‘Picasso’ by Maurice Raynal, makes no mention by name of the two Russian collectors, and the insert in the catalogue thanks the Soviet ambassador. Apparently, relatives of Shchukin and Morozov threatened to go to a French court in an effort to recuperate the works, which had been nationalised by the Soviets. In a flash, the Soviets withdrew them, fearing perhaps that a French court might entangle them for years. Just as swiftly, a replacement exhibition was conceived. This time it was of Picasso’s works from two periods, 1900-14 and 1950-54. Picasso sent 39 recent works to complement the already promised 12 from French collections. The introduction to the second catalogue, ‘Oedipe Roi’, was by Aragon (dated July 1954). No mention of the previously planned exhibition was made.
Samuel Johnson in Lives of the Poets notes not that Swift learned how to eat asparagus, but how to ‘cut’ it in the ‘Dutch’ fashion (Letters, 2 February). The ‘fashion’ refers to cutting asparagus before it has grown above ground, when its head turns purple. The asparagus are harvested before dawn or after sunset. But it may nonetheless be the case that Swift also learned to eat asparagus the Dutch way, which was with a dip made from hard-boiled eggs and melted butter. After dipping the asparagus, one would have likely eaten – with a fork – only the head before discarding the stalk. The Dutch apparently did not think use of a knife while eating asparagus appropriate.
Murray State University, Kentucky
Peter Fernandes is right to remind us of Hergé’s Belgian colonialist attitudes (Letters, 2 February). However Tintin is a reporter not an empire official – though I admit I was probably over-wishful in distinguishing the press from the governing powers. He wears a kind of golfing outfit – plus fours and light colours, jersey, and maybe brogues – and together with his dog, Milou/Snowy, has an outdoorsy brio that does correlate with the leisure pursuits of the colonisers. But Tintin also carries many traces of another strong identification of Hergé’s: he’s very like an ideal Boy Scout. Hergé was by all accounts never happier than when in the Scouts, and his hero has many of the attitudes and skills and interests that the movement set out to develop. The Boy Scout movement is a fascinating example of the reverse identification I was trying to capture. Baden-Powell’s movement was inspired by encounters with cultures in India, Africa and the Americas, as the Tintin stories explore: camping, tracking, mirror and smoke signalling, totem animals for tribal groupings (led by a chief called Akela, a Hindi word for ‘alone’ and the name of the leader of the wolf-pack in Kipling's Jungle Book), and rites of passage themselves. The Boy Scouts also involve lots of dressing up. But the most under-examined effect of exotic emulation may well be the spread of male circumcision through the English upper classes during the period of imperial expansion and oppression.
Christopher Lord writes that Finnish soldiers acquitted themselves so well in the Winter War of 1939-40 partly thanks to heroin (Letters, 19 January). I treated heroin addicts at one time, and asked one of my first patients what the attraction was. ‘When I take enough heroin,’ he said, ‘you could put a gun to my head and it wouldn’t faze me.’ That can’t have been his regular state of mind – he ran a successful legitimate business – but it is rare for crimes of violence to be down to heroin’s pharmacological effects, as opposed to the need to find the money to manage an addiction. Too much alcohol encourages aggression: too much heroin, even by mouth, usually makes people sleepy and introspective. It is certainly much safer than alcohol in sub-zero temperatures, since alcohol accelerates heat loss. However, if the Finns were really so accustomed to heroin, their regular supplies may have protected them from anxiety and other unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
Last year, a unit of the Foreign Legion set up a first-aid post next to our house in Spain to minister to civilians doing a 100 km walk. One young legionario who had served in Afghanistan cheerfully confessed his fondness for the local cannabis. I suggested that might have made him a rather poor shot, but he replied that he was a machine-gunner and cannabis was just the ticket for spraying a group of presumed insurgents with bullets.