LRB Cover

Send letters to:

The Editor
London Review of Books
28 Little Russell Street
London WC1A 2HN
letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and work and home telephone numbers.

Letters


Why Trump Won, Why Clinton Lost

Rebecca Solnit’s vivid portrait of Donald Trump as ‘patriarchy unbuttoned’ is horrifyingly accurate (LRB, 19 January). Her suggestion that Clinton’s policies and positions ‘were often close to Sanders’s’ is rather less persuasive: the truth is that they were often – perhaps just as often – not close at all. Clinton’s platform should have mattered more to the media than her political career, Solnit believes, but doesn’t spell out the particulars of that platform in her piece. I write this as someone who was a volunteer and canvasser for Sanders in Philadelphia during the Pennsylvania primary, and who canvassed for Clinton during the last week of the general election. I was familiar with the policies of both candidates, and the differences between the two were notable.

Clinton did not support immediately raising the federal minimum wage to $15; Sanders did. Clinton did not support eliminating tuition fees for higher education at public universities; Sanders did. Clinton did not support breaking up ‘too-big-to-fail’ financial institutions; Sanders did. Clinton did not support a single-payer healthcare plan; Sanders did. Both Clinton and Sanders supported 12 weeks of paid family leave, but only Sanders outlined a plan – indeed, co-authored a bill – to pay for it; Clinton was against Sanders’s bill. Clinton supported a ‘no-fly’ zone over Syria, which might have brought the US into a war with Russia; Sanders did not. Clinton supported the expansion of Nato; Sanders did not. Clinton considered Henry Kissinger a friend and adviser; Sanders pointedly did not. Clinton waffled on her position regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership; Sanders did not. Beyond the platforms, the difference in the two candidates’ manner of fundraising was profound. Sanders did not rely on Super PACs and wealthy donors; Clinton did.

Solnit thinks the ‘Manichean hatred of Clinton as the anti-Bernie’ is mysterious, but – internet vitriol aside – it ought not to be. Hillary Clinton was both progenitor of the Democratic Party’s shift to the right in the 1990s and 2000s, and heir to it: her political record as first lady, senator and secretary of state as well as her 2016 platform and messaging all confirm this. Sanders ran as a self-described ‘democratic socialist’ and heir to the New Deal and the 1960s anti-war movement. It was against this form of politics that Hillary Clinton built her political career in the last twenty years. In other words, Sanders in some sense was the anti-Clinton, and Clinton was the anti-Bernie. That most Sanders voters appear to have managed to get over this fact and vote for Clinton – and even campaign for her – suggests that, in pragmatic terms, the opposition was not nearly as Manichean as Solnit makes out.

Nikil Saval
Philadelphia

Rebecca Solnit does explain why Hillary Clinton lost the November election, but not in the way she thinks. Clinton, she writes, after supporting the right-wing Goldwater in 1964 then ‘became a radical who campaigned for the most left-leaning Democratic candidates in 1968 and 1972 … and shifted right in the 1980s, perhaps to adapt to her husband’s home state of Arkansas or to the Reagan era.’ Right-left-right, depending on which way the wind blows. Those of us who are neither Clinton nor Trump supporters usually call that ‘opportunism’.

Harry Harmer
Eastbourne, East Sussex

My vagina-y credentials are just as solid as Rebecca Solnit’s, I believe. I didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton (or for Donald Trump). Not that my non-swing-state vote matters. But I don’t appreciate being taken to task on more-vagina-y-than-thou grounds. Impossible to deny that misogyny played some part in Hillary Clinton’s downfall. But isn’t it possible that another vagina-y candidate would have done better than she did? One who might have merited more trust from the voters? Elizabeth Warren, perhaps?

Solnit ostensibly lets women who didn’t vote for Clinton off the hook – but she doesn’t, really. She attacks men for not voting for Clinton when many of their reasons were the same reasons women didn’t, so how come those criticisms don’t apply to women too? The Clinton campaign ‘ratfucked’ the Sanders campaign, as Nixon would have put it, berated and patronised voters, called us misogynists or victims of false consciousness, and consigned women who didn’t vote for Clinton to hell. Solnit writes in the same scolding, overbearing way.

Blessed with a vagina or not, a candidate has to give people enough reason to get out and vote for her, or him, as the case may be. The only reason I see in this article was that Clinton isn’t Trump. That’s a big reason, and had my vote mattered, I would have held my nose and voted for her. But may I suggest that voting for a third-party candidate, or not voting at all, should be seen as a message to the Democratic Party that it’s on the wrong track?

Annette Bonnell
Paris


‘Beck’ v. ‘Burn’

‘Why don’t we get a gradual transition from northern English to southern Scots?’ Colin Kidd asks (LRB, 19 January). But we do. The Geordie of Newcastle merges into the Pitmatic of southeast Northumberland before a further transition in rural north Northumberland to a Scots-sounding lilt. Not many people from outside the area would hear Berwick or Kielder speech as anything other than another Scots accent. Rory Stewart, whose book Kidd is reviewing, is writing from a Cumbrian perspective; the more northern county of Northumberland is linguistically Scottish. The most obvious example is ‘burn’ for small river, rather than the northern English ‘beck’, which prevails in Cumberland as well as south of the Tyne, with the anomalous exception of the Beck Burn, near Longtown, Cumbria.

Harvey Taylor
Saxthorpe, Norfolk


The Death of Municipal England

County Hall, Tom Crewe writes, ‘was swiftly emptied of purpose and personnel after the GLC was abolished in 1986, and remained vacant until 1993’ (LRB, 15 December 2016). I remember it well: LSE put in a bid. Everyone was for it, only the economists against. We had a vote, unanimously carried for what must have been the first time in the LSE’s history. Our bid was the largest. The wife of John Ashworth, the director of the LSE, said to me: ‘Edward, when we take over I want a New Orleans brass band leading us there over Waterloo Bridge!’ At the meeting in Whitehall, the minister responsible, Michael Portillo, gave his answer: ‘NO.’

Edward Black
Church Point, New South Wales


In the Dutch fashion

Clare Bucknell mentions that the young Jonathan Swift was taught to eat asparagus in the ‘Dutch’ fashion at court, adding parenthetically: ‘whatever that may have been’ (LRB, 19 January). Is it not more than likely the ‘Dutch’ fashion refers not to the way the asparagus was eaten, but to the way the plant was cultivated by depriving it of natural light. This is a practice still common in northern Europe. It produces a white stalk with a yellowish tip much prized for its delicacy of flavour. We may live in hope that, post-Brexit, the dining tables of Britain will be spared such outlandish and unnatural practices.

Jeff Rodman
Bath


How to Perfume a Glove

I enjoyed Adam Smyth’s piece on early modern cookbooks, particularly the nine different recipes for perfuming gloves (LRB, 5 January). Robert Boyle testified eloquently to the use of musk:

I have by me a pair of Spanish gloves … they have been kept about eight or nine and twenty years, if not thirty, and they are so well scented, that they may, for aught I know, continue fragrant divers years longer. Which instance, if you please to reflect upon, and consider, that such gloves cannot have been carried from one place to another, or so much as uncovered, as they must often have been, in the free air, without diffusing from themselves a fragrant atmosphere, we cannot but conclude these odorous streams to be unimaginably subtil.

It is hard even to locate a decent pair of gloves today. For cycling in summer I have a pair of unlined grey leather German army tank-driver’s gloves bought in Dresden 15 years ago. If anyone has any spare musk to improve their scent I’d be most grateful.

Roger Morsley-Smith
London W4


Take as much as you like

The Assassins weren’t, as Mike Jay writes, ‘imported into Europe by Marco Polo’ (LRB, 5 January). Europe already knew about them at least a hundred years before Marco Polo. The Holy Land chronicler William of Tyre had a chapter about them in his History of Deeds Done beyond the Sea, written probably in the 1170s, and William’s work was widely distributed in Europe in the early 13th century, largely via a translated French version. There was also a detailed account of the Assassins in a report about the Muslim Middle East written by Gerhard of Strassburg, an envoy from the German Emperor Frederick Barbarossa to Saladin c.1175. We know about this because it was copied into the chronicle of Arnold of Lübeck in the early 1200s, and also used as a source in an account of the Holy Land written by a German pilgrim from Westphalia called Theodoric/Dietrich c.1217. So it seems to have been quite well known in Germany. The envoy’s account of the Assassins does not mention the use of hashish: rather he suggests that members of the sect were segregated and indoctrinated from an early age, and spurred on by promises of the joys to come in Paradise.

Graham Loud
University of Leeds


Dress like an Abyssinian

Exploring the colonial propensity for donning Oriental costume, Marina Warner refers to Virginia Woolf’s denouncement of peacockery in Three Guineas (LRB, 5 January). In 1910, six pranksters managed to embarrass the Royal Navy by assuming the likenesses of an Abyssinian royal delegation and bluffing their way into a guard of honour at Portland Harbour and a tour of the state-of-the-art battleship HMS Dreadnought. The perpetrators of the ‘Dreadnought Hoax’ soon revealed themselves, sending a photograph to the Daily Mirror. It can easily be found on the internet: Virginia Stephen is the bearded figure on the far left.

Benjamin Ralph
Bath

‘Tintin doesn’t fit the profile of the colonial oppressor,’ Marina Warner writes. I wonder if she would change her mind after reading Tintin in the Congo, the second adventure. Hergé depicts Tintin acquiring a ‘boy’ named Coco (who ‘doesn’t look very bright’), teaching Congolese children about ‘your country: Belgium’, and, finally, blowing up a live rhinoceros with a stick of dynamite. Its publication in 1931 was accompanied by a stunt involving a Tintin lookalike escorted by ten Africans and a collection of zoo animals.

Peter Fernandes
University of Edinburgh


Not Knowingly Grotesque

Could Esther Chadwick be persuaded to write a few sentences explaining who the two saints are in the illustration from the Clare chasuble and why they have such grotesque and, to my eyes, mocking faces (LRB, 5 January)?

Peter Thornton
Evanston, Illinois

Esther Chadwick writes: The maker of the Clare chasuble didn’t intend Saints Peter and Paul to have jutting chins and bulging eyes, or to be streaked with blue facepaint. The fine white silk that once gave them delicate – and, presumably, benign – expressions has disintegrated, distorting their features and exposing areas of the weave underneath.