News From Yesteryear | The Week in History, March 28th

The Alt-Right claim Jane Austen, Martin McGuinness gets an early obituary and Donald Trump remembers a past. This is the week in historical news, March 20th to 27th.

When Jimmy met Martin

The main story of the week was the death of Martin McGuinness, former deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein leader and Provisional IRA commander. Succumbing to a brief battle with amyloidosis at the age of sixty-six on March 21st, two days prior to his passing, an appropriately timed anecdote surfaced online.

On her Facebook page, former Irish Times journalist and author of In the Eyes of the Law, Nell McCafferty wrote a short post in response to the death of Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter, Jimmy Breslin. A former Newsday and New York Daily News columnist, Mr. Breslin died on March 19th at the age of 88, and upon learning the news, Ms. McCafferty paid tribute to the late writer by remembering a visit he paid to Derry in 1969.

It was in the aftermath of the Battle of the Bogside, when a twenty-five year old McCaffery, then secretary of the Derry Labour Party first met him. “I was sitting in the City Hotel, where all the journalists went”, she informed this reporter. “He came over to me and we became lifelong friends.” Giving him a tour of the city, she noted “He got lucky – getting inside a Bogside door was gold dust for any journalist.”

“I introduced him to an 18 year old Martin McGuinness”, she wrote of Facebook, saying the pair “chatted briefly.”

“Later [Breslin] turned to me, and said ‘Put that fellow in a white tuxedo, send him to the West Coast and your war’s over.”

Although, it would be Gerry Adams who was famously granted an American visa in April of 1992 by former President Clinton, a move, which contributed to the 1994 IRA ceasefire, still the view from across the Atlantic echoed Breslin as Clinton felt that both Adams and McGuinness were crucial to ensuring republican co-operation in the Northern Irish peace talks. “As Sinn Fein’s chief negotiator, his integrity and willingness to engage in principled compromise were invaluable in reaching the Good Friday Agreement”, said Clinton in a statement released on the day of Mr. McGuinness’ passing.

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ALT-Right Austen

As a Victorian novelist might have put it, it is a truth universally acknowledged that an ugly woman is far more likely to be a feminist than a hot one.

Given Milo Yiannopolous’ boastings about his lack of assertion to his English literature course, one wonder’s whether his knowledge of Jane Austen runs further than the opening line of Pride & Prejudice? Probably not, according to Nicole M. Wright, in her recent response to a bizarre new coupling, ‘Alt-Right Jane Austen’. The Austen specialist identifies the three ways in which populist movements have sought to co-opt the writer: as a symbol of sexual purity; as a standard bearer of a vanished white traditional culture; and as an exception to the rule of female inferiority.

The rationale behind this new fandom for Austen’s work is for the alt-right to have the cozy England of yesteryear in lieu of comparisons to Third Reich Germany. By taking the marriage plots from books like Pride & Prejudice, Emma and Mansfield Park, the belief is that men will be gentlemen again and women will be chaste. However actual reading doesn’t seem to be encouraged by these alt-right admirers taking Austen as ‘an outlier from the norm of female mediocrity’. No, because if it was someone might have noticed that the character of Miss Lambe in Sanditon is mixed-race. Or indeed, they may have noticed that dear pure chaste Jane named the heroine of Mansfield Park Fanny Price. As Wright proves, the alt-right should have perhaps read some of Austen before making her ‘universal truth’ akin to their post-facts.

Sinead Phelan

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Truth is Dead

In their latest issue, TIME magazine has revisited an iconic 1966 cover, ‘Is God Dead?’ for a new interview with Donald Trump, a person whose knowledge of history (Amazing job, Mr. Frederick Douglass) is about as strong as his relationship with Tiffany Trump.

Wondering now ‘Is Truth Dead?’, Washington Bureau Chief Michael Scherer spoke with the President two days after FBI Director James Comey appeared before the House Intelligence Committee and dismissed Trump’s allegations of “wire-tapping” by the Obama administration.

Justifying his “truthful hyperbole” and constant airing of alternative facts, Trump’s typical reply was to credit his strong instinct as something which seemingly endows him with the gift of prescience on all matters relating to the globe. Starting with his remarks on February 18th, “You look at what’s happening last night in Sweden”, implying a terrorist attack had taken place, he told Scherer,

“I predicted a lot of things, Michael… Sweden. I make the statement, everyone goes crazy. The next day they have a massive riot, and death, and problems.”

Proceeding then to his supposed witnessing of thousands of Muslims cheer in New York as the Twin Towers were attacked on September 11th 2001, he said,

“Well if you look at the reporter, he wrote the story in the Washington Post.”

And when reminded of the time he criticized Ted Cruz because his father “was with” Lee Harvey Oswald, “[r]ight prior to [JFK] being shot and nobody even brings it up”, again, he gave a similar reply,

“Well that was in a newspaper. No, no, I like Ted Cruz, he’s a friend of mine. But that was in the newspaper. I wasn’t, I didn’t say that. I was referring to a newspaper. A Ted Cruz article referred to a newspaper story with, had a picture of Ted Cruz, his father, and Lee Harvey Oswald, having breakfast.”

Whether sensationalized, placed in quotation marks (“When I said wiretapping, it was in quotes… It is just a good description”) or false until later proven true, Trump’s ability to manipulate history is depicted as  immoral, but brilliant from a tactical standpoint. “The truth may be real”, Scherer writes, “but falsehood often works better.”

A miserable read, whether you look at the feature or the transcript, still Scherer does try to prevent his readership from falling into an absolute slump by way of one heavy dose of black comedy that reflect on this President’s ability to thrive on constantly rewriting the past. Referencing in the first paragraph the myth of how a young George Washington chopped down his father’s cherry tree and later owned up to it, Scherer takes this pro-truth fable and tweaks it to fit the dear president of post-facts:

“I’m not gonna lie to you, Dad. The tree has been chopped – smart people say maybe by illegal immigrants or Muslims. There are some bad hombres. Anyway, it’s gone, and I’m gonna build something truly terrific on this parcel.”

 

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