Listen to the full episode
[Sound: crowd chanting we want Trump]
DONALD TRUMP: Well you need somebody because politicians are all talk no action. They will not bring us to the promised land.
ANNA-MARIA TREMONTI: From the moment he announced his candidacy Donald Trump was breaking all the rules, unapologetically dismissive, and suspicious of government and politics. He would upend the traditional and established way of doing things from how he used social media to his behaviour on the podium. And the more he did, the more he outraged party officials, opponents and pundits and the more enamored his supporters became. As he prepares to enter the Oval Office, we are looking at the U.S. president elect Donald Trump as the ultimate disruptor. And then..
DOC BROWN: Marty, you've got to come back with me.
MARTY MCFLY: Where?
DOC BROWN: Back to the future.
[Sound: loud noise]
AMT: No, that's not another excuse to get into a political discussion but depending on your point of view time travel never looked so good. The very possibility of traveling back in time, of escaping our fate, of a second chance at a missed opportunity has captured our imagination for centuries. And though at this point it remains in our imaginations the pull is strong. In half an hour James Gleick takes us on an excellent adventure through time. And then, there were those stuck in a time warp.
People have said oh can he marry a divorcee? Uh, well Prince Charles has. Or oh her mother’s black, is this going to be accepted by the royal family? It's 2016. This is a great thing.
AMT: Amidst the gossip of a new royal romance for Britain's Prince Harry is the story of vile media judgment of an actress living in Toronto. Exposing the racism at play in the tabloid criticism of Meghan Markle. That's in an hour, as we follow up on the stories we've been tracking. I'm Anna-Maria Tremonti, this is The Current.Back To Top »
Trump as ultimate political disruptor, breaking all the rules to victory
Guests: Teri Galvez, Chris Kutarna, Ben Mullin
[Music: The Disruptors Theme]
There are enormous issues geopolitically that we'll be dealing with. This is the seismic event of our political lifetime.
ANNA-MARIA TREMONTI: Well that is Steve Schmidt, a former Republican presidential campaign manager. Call it a seismic shift, a massive upheaval or a major disruption, the election of Donald Trump this week changes everything. The president-elect broke every rule on his way to victory, from his lack of any electoral or military experience to his remarks on the podium to the shunning of paid advertising to his dismissiveness toward his own party. Our season-long project on The Current is focusing on the disruptors and Donald Trump is perhaps the biggest political disruptor we have seen. And within 24 hours of his election, his disruption created another disruption as thousands opposed to him took to the streets in 11 US cities.
MANY VOICES: We reject the president-elect. We reject the president-elect.
VOICE 1: Even though we can't really change anything and we have to accept what has happened, we want them to know that we’re pissed. Like, this is awful. And even though we can’t change anything, it feels good to stand together with my brothers, my sisters, with people that share my beliefs and let everyone know that we are not OK with this.
MANY VOICES: Not my president. Not my president. Not my president.
AMT: Protesters last night in front of the Trump Tower in New York City. Teri Galvez is one of the millions who cast her vote for Donald Trump. She is a lifelong Republican, she is also Mexican-American. And Teri Galvez is in Washington D.C. Hello.
TERI GALVEZ: Hi.
AMT: You surprised at the protests last night?
TERI GALVEZ: Not really. No, I mean, I guess the magnitude of the protests that their intensities versus just, you know, in the main cities like New York, San Francisco, LA where you would kind of expect that sort of behaviour.
AMT: How surprised were you that Donald Trump won?
TERI GALVEZ: I was surprised, you know, to be honest [chuckles] I was surprised. I started getting a feeling that this might happen, but it really did sort of, [chuckles] I must say I was pretty surprised that he won at the level that he did.
AMT: And what was it about him that made you want to support him?
TERI GALVEZ: It certainly wasn't his rhetoric. [laughs] But, you know, many people like what he said and that resonated with them. For me it was more of a party vote. Rather than voting for the actual person I was voting for the party because philosophically I am a Republican and I've been a long-time Republican. I converted when I was 23-years-old and never looked back. So it was really more supporting the party and coming together that way.
AMT: How significant is it for you that he's an outsider, someone who has promised to disrupt the status quo?
TERI GALVEZ: That actually is a good thing. I think the American people, I for one am tired that people aren't listening in Washington, we have some serious concerns. And I feel like even my party to some extent has prioritized sort of what they need to keep getting themselves elected as their legislative priorities and yet not really focusing on the things that I think are important. And so I think it's time for a shake up and he's definitely going to do that.
AMT: And you make the point that it wasn't his rhetoric. You are Mexican-American, he promised to build a wall, he's called Mexicans rapists. That didn't bother you?
AMT: Of course it bothered me, but that wasn't the thing about Donald Trump that actually offended me. I was actually more offended by some of his comments about women. You know, I'm from Modesto, California originally, my parents are from Mexico and, you know, my neighbourhood where I grew up, which was not a good neighborhood to begin with, has really transitioned into a very rough, very dangerous neighbourhood with the influx of immigrants and with the influx of illegal immigrants. So I have seen it, I've witnessed this myself and the crime rate has gone up, the drug activity has gone up, the gang activity has increased. So these are all very big concerns for me and my family. Now obviously I don't live there anymore, I live in Washington D.C. but, you know, there is a grain of truth to what he says. I don't know that I would have said it the way he said it. He has a problem with wording I think, you know, it's not what you say it's how you say it. And certainly that's something that does concern me. But as far as him, you know, I did a lot of interviews during the Republican convention and the question I got from every Latino journalist — and I did many — was should he apologize to Mexicans? And, you know, I think his words were taken out of context. But, you know, I think that he'll dial back that rhetoric somewhat. And, you know, I think he's still going to be strong on the issue of immigration but there is a grain of truth to what he said.
AMT: OK. Well, I want to bring someone else into this conversation now. Chris Kutarna is waiting in the wings. He's the author of the best-selling book Age of Discovery: Navigating the Risks and Rewards of our New Renaissance. You may remember, Chris is the person we kicked off our disruptor series with, as he talked to us about how we are in a new Renaissance period in the world right now. He's a fellow at the Oxford Martin School. He's in our London studio. Ben Mullin is the Managing Editor of poynter.org at the Poynter Institute, which is a non-profit school for journalism in St. Petersburg, Florida. That's where we've reached him. Hello. Hi everyone.
BEN MULLIN: Hey Anna-Maria.
CHRIS KUTARNA: Good morning.
AMT: Chris Kutarna, let's start with you. How do you respond to what Teri Galvez is saying?
CHRIS KUTARNA: And first of all, Teri it's really nice to meet you virtually. I think the most poignant thing that you said that really jarred me and spoke to me is that people aren't listening in Washington. And I think, you know, sort of on the question of how Donald Trump has disrupted politics, I think what he did that no Republican nominee in the primary field was willing to do, certainly that Hillary Clinton wasn't able to do, was to distinguish between sort of the ordinary range of political rhetoric, where we disagree on issues but fundamentally respect one another, and really be willing to go into the domain of disrespecting groups, disrespecting his political opponents. And so I think that when audiences heard that language, it occurred to many people as startlingly authentic. I was speaking a language they hadn't heard politicians speak before. And I think that his primary opponents didn't know how to speak that language. And Hillary Clinton was completely unable to, especially because she represents this discredited elite that he was speaking against. And so he sort of owned that authentic discourse of anger and frustration and a sense that we are not being listened to, like no one else who stood for the presidency this year was able to do.
AMT: And in all of that of course was how this appeared in the media and through the media. Ben Mullin, how did Donald Trump disrupt the traditional relationship between presidential candidates and the media?
BEN MULLIN: Where do I start?
CHRIS KUTARNA: [chuckles]
BEN MULLIN: Donald Trump totally, I think, changed the game when it comes to the way that presidential politicians deal with the media. I mean, he basically ran a campaign against the media. He had the media in press pens at his rallies. And he spent a lot of time, you know, demonizing the media, telling everybody that the media was against him. So I think to a large extent his campaign was sort of an anti-media campaign. And I think, you know, as Teri said I think that message, you know, that message of anti-establishment rhetoric really did resonate with his supporters.
AMT: And Chris, as I said in the intro, Mr. Trump broke all the rules of campaigning. Why did it work?
CHRIS KUTARNA: Well, so I think there's a background disruption here. You know, that we talked about back in September. Which, you know, call it globalization, call it digitization, but the world is changing in some pretty remarkable ways. You know, I've talked about it as a Second Age of Discovery and it's made this the best time in history to be alive in an aggregate sense, that's absolutely true. But we've also failed on a number of things. I mean, we failed to distribute these aggregate gains so that everyone individually feels lifted up. And I think that we failed to forge new ties of belonging as society is being transformed literally in our streets. And we've failed I think to, you know, listen to people like Teri who say I'm not comfortable with a lot of the changes that are taking place, I think that they're not all moving in a positive direction and no one is really listening to my issues here. And so, you know, what history says is that a moment of wide and deep disruption like this is a fertile ground for populism. This is always the best time in history to be a populist because there is so much anxiety and frustration and it tends to be that our institutions are elite-driven and lag. They evolve too slowly for the revolutions that are taking place in technology and in society. And so there's this gap for a populist to walk in and say I'm going to help us make sense of this, you know, point a finger at the elite and blame them, and it's a powerful path to power. And to some extent Trump was historically lucky, he was the one who stepped up. But if not him it might have been someone else.
AMT: And do you see, can you attach a name to that kind of populism in what you've looked at in in the first big age of Renaissance?
CHRIS KUTARNA: In the first Big Age, I think the clearest parallel was Savonarola who is famous for igniting the Bonfire Of The Vanities, who sort of waltzed into Florence as a political outsider, leveraged this new media which was available called print and pointed at the Medici and at the Pope and said that these institutions are corrupt, you know, this world is changing, our values are being transformed, all this liberality washing into our society, and if you don't agree with that then support me. You know, and I will be this new flood, it wasn't draining the swamp, it was a new flood that God was going to send to make the world right again. So I think there's a strong parallel there and really I think the big lesson from the Savonarola parallel is how difficult it is to be the establishment archetype against that populism. I mean, what helped Savonarola catapult himself to power is that the Medici, the Pope were such clear focuses for popular anger and, you know, unfortunately--
AMT: [interposing] They had a lot of money, they had a lot of power. They were dripping in jewels. [laughs] Yeah.
CHRIS KUTARNA: And the Clinton machine, you know, Hillary Clinton and of course, you know, her husband Bill Clinton, former president, likewise were this focal point which if she had not been standing there and Trump was railing against these diffuse forces of globalization and automation and even trade, I don't know if he would have had the same resonance, the same power.
AMT: Teri Galvez, as you listen to what Chris is saying what are you thinking?
TERI GALVEZ: Well, it's funny because he brought up Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton. I think that a lot of the conversation has been about politicians and sort of, you know, their inability to deal with the real concerns of the people. I mean, you know, the fact is Obama was so hip, he hung out with Beyonce, he sang like Al Green, he was charming. You know, Hillary was a woman, she would have been the first woman. But, you know, the clear message was people were bothered by much of what Trump said but were more offended by Obama's policies and Hillary. And I personally was offended by them wanting to take more of my money. So it was a repudiation of what they stood for. So it wasn't just Hillary, it was Obama too. And people were upset and, you know, it was a clear message to all politicians that the status quo doesn't work. But a lot of it had to do with both of them I think.
AMT: And so Ben Mullin, a lot of that sort of got passed by the media. How did the media miss that? Not just with the polling but in the actual stories of that discontent?
BEN MULLIN: Yeah, that's a great question. I think, you know, there was a great column written the other day by Liz Spayd, who's the public editor of The New York Times and she wrote that, and The New York Times, you know, was sort of an effigy for Trump and a lot of his supporters. And, you know, since Trump was elected she's been getting a lot of emails from folks who said, you know, how could you miss this story? And then she wrote that The Times was better at telling stories of, you know, people in disaffected areas in, you know, urban centres and maybe less skilled at telling the stories of folks who may not be on the same ideological spectrum as their reporters. So I think part of it is that I do think there is a tendency among journalists to lean left. And I think journalists in general maybe haven't been doing the best job in getting outside of their own bubble and echo chamber and interviewing folks who may not agree with their beliefs. Now there was some great journalism done during this cycle. I don't want to tar everyone with the same brush, but I do think that, you know, getting those anecdotal accounts of Trump supporters expressing the enthusiasms, you know, that were clearly evident at the rallies. I think that could have been done a little better. And I think another part of this is that, you know, in large part I think not only is, you know, not only are journalists caught in their echo chamber but I think everybody is. I think, you know, with the rise of social media and Facebook, you know, there's a lot of media that we consume that sort of reinforces our confirmation bias. You know, the news feed algorithm shows us things that we're likely to like and spend time with. So I do think that in addition to being a news production problem there's also an inherent news consumption problem.
BEN MULLIN: And that maybe, you know, the media and, you know, consumers aren't doing their best to break out of that echo chamber. Well and Trump not only took advantage of that he disrupted that as well through Facebook, through Twitter. Am I right?
BEN MULLIN: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, he, I mean, he became in essence a publisher. You know, he started his own nightly broadcast from Trump Tower. That was done through I think this company called Right Side Feed. So I mean, you know, and of course he wasn't alone in that regard, you know, Hillary Clinton also, you know, she had a she had a website and she, you know, put out bulletins that looked like news stories. But I think Trump, you know, his campaign manager was Steve Bannon who is the former, you know, was the chairman of Breitbart. And so I do think that Trump was able to tap into balkanized media in a way that we haven't seen presidential candidates do before.
AMT: Teri where were you getting your news about the election?
TERI GALVEZ: I tried to listen to everything, I listened to CNN, I listened to MSNBC, I do listen to Fox, but I don't want to be one of those Republicans that, because they parrot a lot of what I believe. I want to hear what the other guys are saying so I kind of was all over the place. And I listened to Hispanic media as well because I speak fluent Spanish and I like to hear what they're saying.
AMT: And so what did you think of, because what you're saying is you're the anomaly, you weren't actually in a media bubble, you were all over the place checking things out.
TERI GALVEZ: Right, and in fact, you know, I came very late to the party, I didn't support him outright. You know, it was a gradual thing and it was more of a, you know, got to support the party. But there were things of real concern to me that were being depicted by the media, and I was just fed up. Like the Black Lives Matter movement was a real concern to me and how that is growing and gaining ground and the hostilities, the racial hostility. So that was a thing that was a very big concern and how that was being depicted by the media yet, you know, a lot of these cities where there's a lot of unrest or cities that are led by Democrats. And so it's kind of ironic that despite his rhetoric Trump got a higher percentage of the vote than Romney did with the Latino community and even the black community.
AMT: Chris Kutarna, how much of a game changer is the Trump victory?
CHRIS KUTARNA: [deep breath] I think it's a giant game changer. And, you know, I don't know if it's to defend the media but maybe to recognize how difficult a position, I mean, I think that the whole estate is going to be reflecting on this one because, you know, constitutionally the United States is a multiethnic, multiracial, a multireligious society. And so, just as, you know, politicos I think constrain their rhetoric in order to preserve a sort of recognition of fellow citizenship and recognize that ultimately what we need to do is build a society in which everyone feels they belong. So too I think the media is put in this difficult position that, you know, what are the constraints, what are the restraints that we put upon ourselves and our reporters so that at the end of the day, you know, every race, ethnicity, every religion feels that this is a place that I can call home too. And so, I think the big question and we're seeing it in the protests that you sort of let off the show with, is as a result of this election a lot of people feel I don't belong, I don't feel belonging in this community, in this decision. And an election is not--
AMT: And arguably there were those who felt they didn’t belong until Trump got elected.
CHRIS KUTARNA: Exactly, exactly. So clearly America is divided as everyone keeps saying. I think the fear in the question now is historically populists don't do a good job of unifying. What populists do is they single out minorities, they focus hatred from their support groups in different directions. So I mean, I sincerely hope that Trump governs differently from how he campaigned. Because in the big picture again the shocks, especially the international shocks are going to come more strongly, are going to be more visceral. And the question is when the shocks come, you know, do we as a society hold each other together, do we do we come together, or do we break apart. And we need that civility as a kind of social technology to stitch us all together. Right now it's already weak and I think it's being weakened.
AMT: OK, we have to leave it there. Thank you all of you for being part of this discussion.
CHRIS KUTARNA: Thanks so much.
BEN MULLIN: Thank you.
TERI GALVEZ: You’re welcome.
AMT: That's Chris Kutarna, the author of the best-selling Age of Discovery: Navigating the Risks and Rewards of our New Renaissance. He's a fellow at the Oxford Martin School. And he was in our London, England studio. Ben Mullins, the Managing Editor of poynter.org at the Poynter Institute, a non-profit school for journalism in St. Petersburg, Florida. That's where we reached him. And Teri Galvez is Mexican-American and a Trump supporter. We reached her in Washington D.C. What do you think of what they're all saying? Let us know we are @TheCurrentCBC on Twitter. Find us on Facebook, go to our website cbc.ca/thecurrent. And stay with us, because right after the news I think it's safe to say there are a few people wishing they could go back in time and do things differently. James Gleick has just written a brief history of time travel. Hear him coming up next on The Current.
[Music: Extro]Back To Top »
'Imagine what might have been': Author James Gleick's time travel adventure
Guests: James Gleick
ANNA-MARIA TREMONTI: Hello, I'm Anna-Maria Tremonti and you're listening to The Current.
AMT: Still to come, an awful lot of Americans, both celebrities and everyday citizens vowed to move to Canada if Donald Trump won this election. How many really will now that the Trump White House is imminent? We'll speak to one man who is moving North. And we'll check in on another week's worth of your feedback on the stories we've been following in half an hour. But first, some traveling tips for your next trip through the space time continuum.
MR. PEABODY: A question Sherman, where is Toronto?
SHERMAN: Out on the reservation with the lone ranger Mr. Peabody.
MR. PEABODY: [laughs] You’re close. Actually, Toronto is in Canada and that is our destination for today.
SHERMAN: What great name in history are we going to meet up there?
MR. PEABODY: Constable Archibald Willy.
SHERMAN: Never heard of him.
MR. PEABODY: He was the first Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman. I instructed chairman to set the way back machine for the year 1869, the place and outpost in the wilderness territory of Toronto. And before you could say halt or I’ll shoot, we were standing inside the post headquarters [peculiar goofy sound effect] watching a very irate Constable Willy.
SHERMAN: What’s the matter Mr. Peabody, he’s tearing the place to pieces.
MR. PEABODY: Looking for something Constable?
ARCHIBALD WILLY: Yes, by [unintelligible] a new job.
SHERMAN: You mean you’re quitting the Mounties?
ARCHIBALD WILLY: Yes, the whole things abast. For my very first case, I’m supposed to bring in Ottawa O’Toole.
SHERMAN: Well, bring him in.
ARCHIBALD WILLY: I can’t.
MR. PEABODY: Why not?
ARCHIBALD WILLY: Because of our motto. We always get our man. Ottawa O’Toole is a girl.
AMT: Oh, there you go. It's a clip that might take you back in time. Sherman and his dog Peabody, from Rocky and Bullwinkle back in the 1960s. And yes, in case you're wondering Constable Willy did eventually arrest the Ottawa O’Toole. But as with all time travel, that excursion to the past raises an interesting philosophical question. What if Sherman and Peabody had not gone back in time and intervened? The consequences for Canada are almost too dire to consider. OK, well author James Gleick has spent a lot of time puzzling over the paradoxes of time travel. He's written a number of best-selling books about science and technology, but his latest book is called Time Travel: A History. And we have reached James Gleick in New York City. Hello.
JAMES GLEICK: Hello.
AMT: I've got to confess, I remember that show. [laughs]
JAMES GLEICK: I do too.
AMT: Well, when we talk about time travel what do we mean?
JAMES GLEICK: We mean anything we want it to mean these days. But originally it started with H.G. Wells and he meant getting onto a machine. He invented the time machine in 1895 and sent it forward into the future to see what things were going to be like. And before that there was no such thing as time travel. Now we have time travel everywhere, so we can talk about imaginary time travel and we can recognize that books are time machines and we can use television cartoon shows to send our kids hurtling into an imaginary past.
AMT: So for those who have not read The Time Machine, give us a brief synopsis of the plot.
JAMES GLEICK: Well, the plot actually to me becomes the least interesting part of it. Wells wanted to tell a story about what the future might be like and if, I think a lot of our listeners probably do have some at least vague recollection of the time machine, but it tends to be as much from the movie as from the book, and the movie keeps changing the plot. There's a girl in the future named Weena who in the 1960 movie is played by Yvette Mimieux. And there are much more elaborate romantic scenes than there were in H.G. Wells’ original version. But the main thing about the book is the initial device where the time traveler has to explain to his friends that everything they know about time is wrong.
AMT: And so how does he explain the ability to move through time?
JAMES GLEICK: Well, he says remember in school they taught you about geometry and there were only three dimensions. Well I've got news for you, time is a fourth dimension. And my little machine can move through it just the way, you know, we move through the first three dimensions. And yet in his era it wasn't that easy to move through the vertical dimension but at least they were starting to have balloons and elevators.
AMT: The book touched off a philosophical debate about time travel. What were some of the problems philosophers were moved to contemplate?
JAMES GLEICK: Well the problems really arose when people started to go backwards through time, which H.G. Wells never thought of doing, and that that's sort of odd in itself. You'd think a guy like him who was interested in history would have wanted to take his time machine back and meet Queen Elizabeth, or well I guess it's reasonable that he didn't care about the formation of the Canadian Mounties.
JAMES GLEICK: But when you go back in time weird things can happen. What if you meet yourself, then what?
AMT: And what would you do that changes something and how do you, what do you.
JAMES GLEICK: And if you start to have a conversation as people do in some of the early time travel stories, then you think well shouldn't one of these people remember the conversation because they had it already? And then other paradoxes come into play. For example, a lot of people have heard of the grandfather paradox, which goes something like what if you could go back in time and kill your grandfather. Why it's the grandfather and not the grandmother, I don't know. But that's how always is. And then you will never be born and then you can never go back in time to kill your grandfather so you should be born. And so you're in one of these impossible loops.
AMT: Mm, I like that one. When we think of time and space a lot of people immediately think of Albert Einstein. How important did Einstein's theories become in time travel literature?
JAMES GLEICK: Well there is this peculiar coincidence that H.G. Wells’ time machine was published ten years before Einstein first published any inkling of his theory of relativity. And Wells said that time is a fourth dimension and he thought he was just inventing a fanciful idea that was going to be useful for his story to justify it, he thought it was a trick. And then ten years later Einstein said essentially the same thing. Time is just like a fourth dimension. And we more or less take that for granted today, right? I mean, I think you can find eight-year-olds arguing about whether time is the fourth dimension, it's pretty familiar to us. Physicists do like to think of our universe as a four dimensional space time continuum where the future and the past are just other parts of the big block. And so, if you imagine the universe that way it is sort of plausible that time travel could exist. You can imagine, for example, going through a wormhole as physicists like to do now a days. Maybe you saw the movie Interstellar, where our space travelers went through a wormhole to go back to the past. That's sort of thing that the modern physicist likes to speculate about.
AMT: Well, and we can talk about some modern physicists or we can go right to The Simpsons, and I have a clip for you. [laughs] We have a clip of Homer Simpson traveling back in time when he accidentally turns his toaster into a time machine. Listen to this.
[Music: fantastical orchestra]
HOMER SIMPSON: I’ve gone back to the time when dinosaurs weren’t just confined to zoos.
[Sound: dinosaur scream]
HOMER SIMPSON: OK, don’t panic. Remember the advice your father gave you on your wedding day.
[Sound: dream noise]
ABE SIMPSON: If you ever travel back in time don't step on anything because even the tiniest change can alter the future in ways you can’t imagine.
[Sound: dream noise]
HOMER SIMPSON: As long as I stand perfectly still and don't touch anything I won’t destroy the future.
[Sound: bug buzzing]
HOMER SIMPSON: Stupid bug, you go squish now.
[Sound: Homer squashes bug]
[Sound: bug stops buzzing]
HOMER SIMPSON: [gasps] But that was just one little insignificant mosquito, that can’t the future, right? Right?
DINOSAUR: I don’t know.
AMT: James Gleick, we’re finding all the clips.
JAMES GLEICK: Perfect. Well I love the toaster, isn't the toaster one of the very best of all time machines, you know, besides the DeLorean and the various time portals in Star Trek and the blue police box in Doctor Who. But that Simpsons clip is stolen, not counting the toaster, it's stolen from a wonderful Ray Bradbury short story called The Sound of Thunder, where a sort of safari organization exists to send bored huntsman, that is they're bored with hunting elephants, so they want to go back into the past and hunt dinosaurs. And the thesis of the story is exactly what you just heard on The Simpsons, that they have to be careful not to change anything. They're only supposed to kill dinosaurs that are already about to die because they're sick and old and they're not allowed to get off the path. And in this story, a hapless safari hunter accidentally steps on a butterfly and changes the future.
AMT: And we now talk about a butterfly effect.
JAMES GLEICK: [laughs] Well, that's another of these odd coincidences. And one of the themes of my book about time travel is the way ideas seem to bleed back and forth from popular culture and serious science. The butterfly effect is a serious part of chaos theory that was invented by a meteorologist Edward Lorenz, and I have no idea whether Lorenz chose the butterfly consciously or unconsciously because he had read Ray Bradbury’s story.
AMT: And what are some of the arguments against the butterfly effect on history?
JAMES GLEICK: Well, it doesn't have to be true that some tiny change a million years ago would have gigantic effects on the course of history. You might imagine that the forces of history are mainly big themes and that the only things that matter are the giant events and, you know, economic forces and political forces, and then if you make a little change in history it'll just get washed away in the great currents of things. These are things that historians argue about seriously and they turn up in every time somebody else starts to write a new time travel story that
involves changing the past. He or she has to think about these issues. You know, how easy is it to change the past? And if you do change the past, do you get the kinds of effects that you expect? I think you know, the great example of that is the one everybody likes to speculate about is what if you could go back in time and kill Hitler before it was too late?
AMT: It's funny that you bring that up because I have another clip. [laughs]
JAMES GLEICK: Go.
AMT: And it is a clip of Jeb Bush
JAMES GLEICK: [laughs]
AMT: The failed Republican presidential candidate. He was asked about some of the questions he received on the campaign before he dropped out and that was actually one of them. Have a listen.
VOICE 1: Baby Hitler.
VOICE 2: We have a request for Baby Hitler.
JEB BUSH: He said if you could go back in time and kill baby Hitler, would you? I need to know. Hell yeah I would.
VOICE 2: Even if he was really cute?
JEB BUSH: No, look, you gotta, you gotta step up man, I mean, that would be key. The problem with going back in history and doing that is as we know from the series, what was the name of the Michael Fox movies?
VOICE 2: Back to the Future.
JEB BUSH: Back to the Future. It could have a dangerous effect on everything else.
VOICE 2: There’s a lot to consider.
JEB BUSH: But I'd do it. I mean, Hitler.
VOICE 2: Oh, you’re down. I mean, there’s no backing out now.
AMT: OK, there you go, it sounds like that he was on the plane and they were just killing time there. But what do you think about his answer on killing baby Hitler?
JAMES GLEICK: Yeah, we learned quite a few things from that answer don't we? One thing we learned is those Bushes really like to be tough guys. Another thing we learn is that everybody is very familiar with these issues now. Time travel is so much in our heads, and he remembers Back to the Future and he realizes that when you try to change history, the effects might be what you expect. And when you read a lot of the science fiction literature that has actually explored the question of killing Hitler, you discover that most writers, and I don't know if this is a reflection of their fear of what reality is actually like or the demands of storytelling, but for one reason or another it never works out the way they want. I can't think of any science fiction novel where somebody manages to kill baby Hitler and everybody lives happily ever after. There's no World War II, there's no Holocaust. It never works that way either. Either they're not able to kill Hitler, the gun jams, or they get to the wrong place or something else goes wrong. Or it turns out that something even worse happens because of their attempt to kill Hitler.
AMT: And so that idea of going back in time to kill him, when was that first written about it?
JAMES GLEICK: Incredibly, the first story I found that involves fantasizing about killing Hitler was written in 1941, just as World War II was starting. And well before the full horrors of the Holocaust were known. Hitler was such a, well I guess if you're going to imagine changing the past there's no more obvious villain, right?
AMT: But even in 1941, what was the plotline of that story?
JAMES GLEICK: The plot line was some kind of, it was by a man named Ralph Milner, and I forget the details, but I do remember that it just doesn't work. And, you know, nowadays I don't know if you've heard this in Canada but here in the US we're starting to wonder what if you could go back in time and teach manners to baby Trump.
AMT: [laughs] What do you think of that?
JAMES GLEICK: [laughs] Oh God, if only.
AMT: There have been a lot of tyrants in history, why again are so many literary assassins focusing on Hitler, traveling back to get him?
JAMES GLEICK: Hitler is pretty exceptional. Hitler’s the one and only. I mean, people have also speculated about trying to prevent the assassination of Lincoln. That's turned up a number of times and I think it's showing up on a new network television show about time travel.
AMT: And one of the scientists who's had a hard time with time travel is Stephen Hawking. You write about a party he threw for time travelers, what happened?
JAMES GLEICK: [laughs] Hawking is another one of these physicists who both loves the idea of time travel but also knows in his heart that it isn't really possible. And he announced a party and sent out invitations and said dear time travelers here's a party that took place a few weeks ago. Please come. And then he observed that nobody came. And so he announced that he had proved that time travel does not exist because the time travelers from the future are not among us.
AMT: So interesting. I want to stay with the idea of changing history. I've got another clip for you, this is from the very first episode of another 1960s show called The Time Tunnel. I remember this one too. It's in this scene, a scientist travels back in time. Listen.
DR. TONY NEWMAN: Captain I must tell you something.
CAPTAIN SMITH: Yes, of course Mr. Newman, what did you want to say?
DR. TONY NEWMAN: I don't know how to say it without sounding like I’m out of my mind.
CAPTAIN SMITH: [laughs] Come, come, my dear fellow, you’re dissatisfied with your accommodations of the food or perhaps you’ve misplaced something and you're afraid it's been stolen, in any case I’ll show you--
DR. TONY NEWMAN: [interposing] Captain, this ship is the Titanic.
CAPTAIN SMITH: Is that what you had to tell me?
DR. TONY NEWMAN: What I mean sir is the Titanic sank, it struck an iceberg and was lost.
CAPTAIN SMITH: Sank. This is our maiden voyage sir, that means our first voyage. I trust this is not some poor attempt at a practical joke.
DR. TONY NEWMAN: No Captain, it’s not a joke, I swear to you. How can I make you understand?
AMT: Well of course, Captain Smith did not heed a warning from the future. If he had, the Titanic would have arrived safely in New York. How much of our desire for time travel is based on that desire to warn ourselves about looming disaster or heartache and to try to avoid it?
JAMES GLEICK: Yeah, certainly in all of our lives we have things that we wish we could redo. We wish we could get a do over free of charge. It is sort of sad that they always fail to heed the warnings and that's because again there are all these paradoxes that emerge. What if he did heed the warning?
AMT: So what's the lesson for us? I don't know. Could time travel actually have prevented something or changed something?
JAMES GLEICK: I think that the lesson is let our imaginations be time machines. You know, time is brutal, time imprisons us. It's no wonder that we want to escape from it. Time buries us all. I think more and more these days we feel trapped in a present that is full of multiple channels of information. The present is expanding in scary ways. Virginia Woolf said, what more terrifying revelation can there be than that it is the present moment. That we survived the shock at all is only possible because the past shelters us on one side and the future on another. So no wonder we like to dream about the past and imagine the future. And if we can't get there by using a machine like H.G. Wells’, at least we can get there in our books and in our movies.
AMT: So it's about freedom.
JAMES GLEICK: it's about liberation, yeah. It's about staving off our own mortality.
AMT: And I guess that's why in 2011 China's State Administration of Radio, Film and Television denounced time travel.
JAMES GLEICK: [laughs] Yes, well and it's also because time travel is a subversive way of thinking about the world. It allows you to again imagine what might have been. Things don't have to be the way they are if you can go back to the past and change things. That's the point of a lot of these time travel fantasies.
AMT: So if Chairman Mao had not been able to make a long march what would have happened to China?
JAMES GLEICK: Exactly. You know, we can think maybe the world doesn't have to be the way it is. Maybe if, you know, maybe if somebody just a little more clever had had thought about electric cars instead of gasoline powered cars. We would have skipped the whole dependence on Middle Eastern oil problem or should I say Canadian oil.
AMT: Now you're getting into conspiracy theories because of course there are people who argue that the electric car was actually thwarted by those pushing the oil.
JAMES GLEICK: Well, you know, history unfolded in a certain way and some people like to think, well, it happened that way because it had to happen that way. But other people prefer to think well what if? What if it was different, what if you could do it over? Another version of this kind of fantasy that is in its own weird way a time travel story is Groundhog Day, the Bill Murray movie. Where he's not trying to change history, he is stuck in his present and relives the same day again and again starting at 6 o'clock in the morning, only gradually he learns that he can do it better. And so the whole movie becomes a sort of parable about what if you can live your life over and over again until you finally do it right? Isn't that an emotion that we all share at some time in our life one way or another? I haven't always been a science fiction buff myself, I've read sort of, you know, the usual space travel adventures when I was a teenager. But time travel has really embedded itself in our culture in just astonishing ways. Everybody knows about these stories and there, when I started working on the book four years ago, I was thinking well maybe the genre of time travel will finally burn itself out. You know, every possible story has been told what's there left to think of? But I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I thought that because I couldn't have been more wrong. And even while I was writing the book, people kept producing the most imaginative time travel fiction, time travel movies. I love the stuff that people are doing now.
AMT: It's interesting, you know, because it does capture the imagination, there is something magical and full of possibilities, and intrigue.
JAMES GLEICK: And Anna-Maria, where we where would you like to go? If you had a time machine and--
AMT: Hey, that's my question for you. [laughs]
JAMES GLEICK: Oh no. Alright, well should I go first?
AMT: You go first.
JAMES GLEICK: I have to say, even though we've been talking a lot about the past, I always imagined that I wanted to go to the future. When I started working on the book I just thought well it was obvious that everybody would want to go to the future. And I have to admit nowadays I'm not quite as sure, the way we imagine the future has gotten a little bit gloomy. There are a lot of dystopias. We are not as excited as people were 100 years ago about all of the technological marvels that are likely to arrive and improve our lives because we've been disappointed so many times. So I'm not quite as sure, but I still think I'd like to go maybe just a little bit into the future to see what happens when we finally become one giant hive mind connected to the world brain. Resistance is futile.
AMT: I’d kind of like to go with you.
JAMES GLEICK: [laughs]
AMT: We’d do that together, we could take notes. Do you think time travel will ever be a reality?
JAMES GLEICK: No. Not in, I'm sorry, now I'm worried about disappointing all of my potential readers. But no. Not in the literal sense, that you're going to be able to get into a time machine and throw the lever. But I do think that time travel is a reality for all of us in ways that we are able to appreciate. Now, we are traveling through time in our networked lives, we are experiencing the past more and more vividly and imagining the future and creating the future as we go along. I hope that doesn't sound too sappy because it is what I feel. I think that we citizens of the 21st century are time travelers in ways that our grandparents couldn't have imagined.
AMT: So you're giving me the Wizard of Oz theory of time travel. The very thing we want we already have. [laughs]
JAMES GLEICK: Well, that's one way to look at it. Of course, yeah, the corollary to that is that there's no place like home.
AMT: There you go. But in your book you ask why do we need time travel? What's your answer to that question?
JAMES GLEICK: We need it for freedom, we need it to counter regret, we need it for the mystery, we need it ultimately, we need it to to stave off death even for the short amounts of time that we're able to imagine little journeys into the past and into the future.
AMT: Well, James Gleick, our time is up but this conversation will live on in time. So thank you.
JAMES GLEICK: [laughs] Thank you. It's been a pleasure.
AMT: That is James Gleick. His book is entitled Time Travel: A History. And he was with us from New York City, New York City of the present day. Stay with us. Coming up next The Current’s Friday host Kelly Crowe joins me in studio. We're going to get to your feedback on some of the stories we've been following. Yes, the election of Donald Trump to the potential disappearance of gifted classes in schools and other things. I'm Anna-Maria Tremonti, this is The Current on CBC Radio One.
ANNA-MARIA TREMONTI: Hello, I'm Anna-Maria Tremonti this is The Current.
[Music: Checking In Theme]
RAIS BHUIYAN: He never traveled out of Dallas. His heart was filled with ignorance and hate. He was hunting for Arabs. Not one of his three victims was from Middle East.
DAMIAN JANES: There are lots of people I could actually relate with in my class. I was really really sad when my dad told me they might have to shut down the gifted program.
DONALD TRUMP: I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans. And this is so important to me.
AMT: Well, those are just a few of the stories we have covered in the past week here on The Current. As always, we've got lots of feedback. Here to help me go through some of your emails, tweets and posts is this week's Friday host Kelly Crowe, the medical sciences correspondent for CBC national news. Welcome back.
KELLY CROWE: Thank you very much. Lovely to be here.
AMT: And guess what we're starting with today?
KELLY CROWE: No, it was such a slow week.
AMT: [laughs] Yes yes yes. Let's start with Donald Trump. Of course, he won the US presidential election in a victory that took much of America, and the world by surprise.
KELLY CROWE: As part of our coverage we spoke with two long-time friends who are supporting different candidates. Ernie Lou is a Hillary Clinton supporter and Tod Steward voted for Donald Trump. The two vowed to stay friends, they're still going to a football game together on Saturday. But they saw the election results in a very different way.
ERNIE LOU: It was such a disappointment. I cannot describe. I've never been so depressed at an election night than I have last night here in the US.
TOD STEWARD: And I've never been so happier in my life. [laughs]
AMT: Well, the letters and tweets we’ve received about the election were just as divided. @whatstherukkus tweeted, “Hillary Clinton ran a self-centered, smug campaign with only threats and scorn.”
KELLY CROWE: On the other hand, Abubakar Nasim from Toronto wrote, “I have never felt as worried and sad as I do today. I thought people were going to act with some civility and sanity and vote with their minds and intellect. How could anyone trust a man with such a temperament. I would be terrified if I was living in America today.”
AMT: Nawfel Saadallah of Montreal wrote, “Trump winning the election is a strong signal from the forgotten, sick and tired people who are watching those elites living in la-la-land. A vote for change starts with a change in the establishment.”
KELLY CROWE: Valerie Clark in Vancouver wrote to say, “I think this is an indictment of the Democratic Party establishment machine that did not let Bernie in. He could have beaten Trump hands down since he spoke to the same voters as Trump.”Back To Top »
Post Trump win, Don Sawyer is moving back to Canada
Guests: Don Sawyer
AMT: Well, on US election night this week as the results flooded in and Donald Trump's victory became apparent, something funny happened with Canada's immigration website. It crashed at around 11:00 pm. There were reported 200,000 users on the site, 12 times the number of users from a week ago and fully half the users were American. It remains to be seen just how many Americans will make good on their vows to move to Canada, but we have reached one who is following through. Coming to Canada will actually be a homecoming for Don Sawyer who has lived in the US for the past three years but has decided to leave now. Don Sawyer joins us from Fairhope, Alabama. Hello.
DON SAWYER: Hi Anna-Maria, how are you?
AMT: I'm well, now are you a dual citizen?
DON SAWYER: Yes, that's right I am.
AMT: OK, well, so Canadians have long heard of Americans talk about coming here when things don't go the way they want them to go. During this election campaign we did hear a lot of that. You're really going to do it.
DON SAWYER: Yeah. No, I think this is the last straw. I mean, it's been difficult enough for us. We've lived in Canada for 40 years and it's been hard to deal with a society, particularly in the Deep South, where racism and bigotry and misogyny is just below the surface. So it's been a, despite having a wonderful circle of friends here, it's been a challenge. And this has just been the last straw. And some of your letters really surprised me, because I think anybody who looked at this rationally has to be terribly frightened. This man now has his hands on the reins of power, the most powerful country in the world.
AMT: You say the last straw. So what’s been going on? What have you been seeing even before this?
DON SAWYER: Well, first of all just having been force fed over the last eight months this hateful rhetoric and bigotry and demagoguery and trying to avoid it but not being able to. But also encountering people here who just make casual comments about our N president. And the hatred that’s so personalized toward Obama, and it clearly has a racial dimension to it. And it just it becomes wearing after a while.
AMT: They call him the N president?
DON SAWYER: N president.
DON SAWYER: N word president.
AMT: Well, what situation would you meet someone who would actually say that to you?
DON SAWYER: Well, in one case I was standing in line at the post office and there were three women standing behind me and it was crowded, and this woman said geez I wonder why it's so crowded today, and she said because our N word president is taking our money today and giving it to welfare bums. And another woman said oh, of course it’s tax day, I’m so sick and tired of him giving money to illegal immigrants. It's that kind of thing. It's just kind of always in the background. And this is the community we're living in here is very divided along racial lines. We had really hoped that we'd be moving into a community. It's a very, you know, fairly prosperous community where blacks and whites would be living in in a, you know, some real harmony and it's just not happening. We have separate churches, we have separate graveyards, you know, for me to meet a black man downtown, in one case a good friend of mine, it's the first time he’d been downtown, he's 69-years-old since he was 16. I mean, you're living in an apartheid society that I'm not accustomed to and it’s not Canadian. [chuckles]
AMT: Now how long have you been there?
DON SAWYER: We've been here three years.
AMT: OK, so how much did you move back and forth between the two countries before? Well not much at all. I mean, when we immigrated, we taught in Newfoundland back in 1970 and then stayed in Canada the entire time, although we lived largely in [unintelligible] and British Columbia, I worked for Okanagan College, university college. So, you know, but both of our daughters interestingly enough, both of whom went to McGill and then got involved in programs in the States, moved to the States. And so when we retired we wanted to be closer to them and this seemed like a, you know, kind of a nice warm spot. But it obviously has its issues, warmth isn't enough I don't think to draw us or certainly not to keep us.
AMT: OK. And how have your daughters reacted to this?
DON SAWYER: Well, you know I would like to share one thing. Both of my daughters work with inner city kids. My one daughter is the Executive Director of the Youth Empowerment Project in New Orleans and she actually wrote, she knew how sick we were going to be and she said, you know, the reality of this is sickening and scary and lends itself to a lot of feelings of insecurity. Mom and dad, I'm so glad you can go home and I thought that really said a lot. But my other daughter who’s working in an all-black school in Philadelphia, talked about how scared her kids are. And she wrote and said, you know, they don't understand how a man who stands for everything that we as a school try to teach against, like acceptance and respect and tolerance, how he could become president. And last night she called us in tears and she said that several kids have come up to her, one was a six-year-old girl, and said Miss. Sawyer are they going to send me back to Africa? And another little girl came up and said are they going to make us pick cotton again? And she said, you know, I would get down on my knees and try to tell them everything was OK, but I'm crying along with this six-year-old because I'm not so sure it is going to be OK.
AMT: Hm. Did you think that Mr. Trump would win?
DON SAWYER: No, of course not. No one did. I mean [chuckles] we were, I mean, I can't tell you, it was like being kicked in the stomach. And of course, as you well know all the polls I mean, I was starting to breathe a sigh of relief, I really was. And then, you know, it's such an upbeat campaign and that final kind of triumphant rally in Philadelphia. You know, I was starting to feel OK, you know, at least this will be a firewall against the demagoguery and misogyny and hatred that we've encountered. But with that firewall gone, I mean, I don’t know. I have no idea where this is going to go, but it’s nowhere good.
AMT: Has your life there been all like this one note, like, are there good things, are there things you might miss?
DON SAWYER: Oh, absolutely. I mean, we have wonderful friends here. I mean, I don't want to paint this, you know, in stark terms. I mean, there’s lots of very progressive friends down here. I mean, there’s a wonderful writing community. I've become involved in a writer in residence program. You know, there’s a Unitarian group that we've become involved with, it’s very progressive working for immigrant support and that sort of thing. But I mean, it's just, you know, in our county like 72 per cent of the population voted for Trump. I mean, you just get some sense of the fact that, [chuckles] I said to a friend of mine, I feel like an alien. He said that’s because you are an alien. You know, it’s like the values and the attitudes that I bring to the table are just very very different from the people I'm surrounded by. And but of course we're going to miss a great many things down here, most mostly our friends.
AMT: Do you know anyone else who's thinking of leaving?
DON SAWYER: Well, you know, there's a lot of joking, you know, about it. One woman I spoke to said, you know, you may have seen this article by a Canadian woman who said, you know, Canada is not the booby prize. I mean, it’s like, you know, this idea like oh geez we're going to go to Canada. Well, no, not so fast. I mean, there's people talking about going to New Zealand and other places. But I mean, I just don't know what to say. I mean, you saw the same phenomenon when Bush was elected and not very many people followed through. But to me this is a whole different feel to it and it has a whole different quality to it. This is a leap over the edge and we can't see the bottom. I mean, who this man has surrounded himself with and the kind of attitude, total lack of experience, the, you know, the egomania. I have no idea where this is going to go. And I know that, you know, Canada can't, you know, that border is only sort of an insulation, it doesn't. The world really I think, quite obviously is concerned. And you can't run away from it but at least you can put a little distance between you and the worst of it.
AMT: So how quickly are you going to do this?
DON SAWYER: I'm looking for flights right away. I probably will be flying up to Toronto in the next week. We’re going to scout out some, I’m going to scout out first, and I mean, as you can imagine there's a lot of entanglements and, you know, all this sort of thing. We had to wonderful, by the way I posted--
AMT: You’re to scout out what? Sorry, you’re scouting out houses, what?
DON SAWYER: I’m sorry, can you hear me now?
AMT: Yeah, go ahead.
DON SAWYER: OK, I posted an open letter on Facebook to my Canadian and American friends about why we're leaving. And the outpouring of support and empathy and sympathy and I wish I could go with you, it's just been overwhelming, and the understanding that people have. I mean, we feel terrible, you know, we feel sad. I think sadness is the thing that, you know, the most prominent emotion that we're feeling right now--
AMT: [interposing] But Don, sorry, before I let you go then, you said you’re going to scout out, you’re going to come to Toronto and scout out what?
DON SAWYER: Yeah, well because our daughter who is pregnant with her first child lives in Philadelphia, so we want to be somewhere near her.
AMT: So you’re scouting out a place to live? Like, I'm sorry like.
DON SAWYER: Oh yeah, to live.
AMT: OK, you’re scouting out a house you’re going to buy. You’re going to sell there and buy here?
DON SAWYER: Yeah, I guess. You know, we're going to maybe rent. You know, this July we came by and we were even then thinking in these terms. So we went to St. Catherine's, which was really nice, and we have friends that had a place up in Halliburton. And, you know, I’m going to go up. I’m flying up, I’m going to rent a car and I’m going to drive around southern Ontario and have a look.
AMT: OK, well, Don Sawyer we’ll be in touch with you then. Thanks for talking to me.
DON SAWYER: OK. Thank you very much Anna-Maria.
AMT: Don Sawyer, dual citizen living in the US, plans to move back to Canada. He joins us from Fairhope, Alabama.
KELLY CROWE: OK. Moving on there are other things that we can talk about. Other things that are going on in the world besides the US election this week. Last Friday we delved into discussion about programs for gifted students. The Ottawa Carleton school board is considering eliminating some specialized classes for gifted students. Some argue the programs are elitist and take necessary resources away from regular classes. But Julian Jaynes, whose son Damian is in one of the gifted classes in Ottawa that may be eliminated, says the program is essential for his son's emotional, social and academic needs.
This is not about our kids at all being better or worthy of more, not at all. This is about all kids having a right to reach their own potential. Every child has untapped potential and every child has a right to be in a classroom where their social and emotional needs are met and where they can work towards a place where the work is challenging but doable. That's all we want, is equal access to an environment where they can thrive just like every other child.
KELLY CROWE: Parents, educators and other listeners were really divided on this one. A woman from Edmonton who didn't want her name used wrote, “I can't mince words here. Before we found relief in a gifted program, elementary school had been hell for me and many of my contemporaries, struggling through as social isolation turned to relentless bullying. Personally, I started contemplating suicide at age eight, when it seemed like I would never have relief from the antagonism of my classmates, let alone have a friend among them. I have real doubts that I would have survived junior high in high school without finding acceptance in a gifted program. And I know I'm not the only one.”
AMT: Well, Leanne Nash of Penticton, BC had a different experience in a gifted program. “I remember being baffled by the harder assignments, the lack of help in doing them and always in a panic by the feeling that I wasn't as good or as smart as the other kids. Rather than benefit from being among kids who were like me, that experience started a lifelong struggle with imposter syndrome.”
KELLY CROWE: Finally, on Twitter TJ Mair wrote, “classes for gifted kids are elitist. If you're brighter and usually richer, you're already privileged enough.”Back To Top »
Prince Harry's relationship exposes racism in British press, says journalist
Guests: Afua Hirsch
AMT: Well, moving onto another story that is taking the world by storm. Whenever a member of the royal family starts dating, the media, and the public, take notice. This week we found out that Prince Harry's most recent love interest has been getting some extra unwanted attention. American actor Meghan Markle, who spends a lot of time in Toronto because of her work, is dating the prince. And while you would expect there would be a lot of curiousity about her, this week Prince Harry took the unusual step of publicly asking the media to back off. As a mixed race woman, much of the media coverage she has been attracting has been racially charged. In a press release the monarchy said that Ms. Markle had been quote, “subject to a wave of abuse and harassment.” Afua Hirsch is a writer and broadcaster who's been watching these events unfold in the past few weeks. And she joins us from London, England. Hello.
AFUA HIRSCH: Hello Anna-Maria, good morning.
AMT: Now, intense media coverage of the monarchy and the love interests of various princes or princesses is not a new story. This one has taken on a different element. Can you break that down for us?
AFUA HIRSCH: Sure. Well, I'll tell you how I first became alerted to the story, because I was reading that Prince Harry had this girlfriend and that she was an actor in Suits. And the press coverage I was reading in the British newspapers referred to the fact that she was and I quote, “not your usual society blonde,” and frequently referring to the fact that she was a “saucy brunette.” And I kept reading this and I thought it was odd because, you know, as we know we have princess Kate Middleton, she is brunette. There’s nothing particularly controversial about having brown hair, so I couldn't understand what these references were getting out. So when I looked up Meghan Markle, I realized that she was a mixed race women and the penny immediately dropped, because this is what the newspapers here do. Instead of directly using the language of race and heritage, they allude to it without saying it. And it was clearly very racially charged because they were suggesting that this woman was not fit to be a princess because of her background. They became even more explicit as the days progressed. They, one newspaper ran a front page saying that she was quote, “straight out of Compton,” and suggesting that her mother had grown up in a gang riddled area full of criminal activity, and questioning whether Harry would ever be dropping around for tea. It was clearly very racially charged and very offensive. And I was really happy to see Prince Harry actually calling that out and cutting through all of the insinuation, saying this has racial undertones and it's unacceptable.
AMT: So they're using all this code. They call her exotic too, do they not?
AFUA HIRSCH: Yeah, the word exotic has been used. In fact, that was actually used in a column that was praising Harry for embracing diversity. But, you know, this goes really deep in British society because we have a really complex relationship with our royal family. Even though Britain is an incredibly diverse country, you know, by 2050 people from non-white backgrounds will be in the majority in Britain. We still have this view of the royal family that they somehow represent racial purity. We use the word blue blooded to describe our royals. And that's a phrase that derives from a time when if you had pale skin so that you could see the blue veins underneath, that was a sign of elitism and privilege. And it is still considered, I think, whether subconsciously or overtly, that the royal family should remain white. And that's obviously incredibly problematic for a multicultural society. And I think what the press has showed is that they still cling onto that view and they still promote it and that is something that really needs to be challenged.
AMT: Now when you say the press, who's doing this?
AFUA HIRSCH: Well, it was actually a remarkably broad cross-section of mainly the tabloid media who were doing it. I mean, to put it in a context, there is a complete obsession with the royal family in this country and any romantic activity on the part of a single prince is always going to be a front page story. And what Prince Harry said in his statement actually was that the public weren't even aware of some of the harassment that was going on behind closed doors of both Meghan Markle and her family. The number of stories that the palace had kept out of the press by threatening legal action. So the entire press is obsessed with stories about the royal family. But at least three newspapers, two of them tabloids and one of them a broadsheet, ran stories using this language, this coded language, to refer to her ethnic heritage. And ironically Anna-Maria, when I wrote a column and I was the first person to call out that this is actually racist, I was then criticized for being the only person to bring race into the equation, which is incredibly ironic.
AFUA HIRSCH: I was pointing out the kind of dog whistle language that was going on. So that's the situation that we have here.
AMT: And in fact, at one point they go after her mother too. Do they not say her mother is visibly black, is that the phrase they used?
AFUA HIRSCH: That's the phrase that they used. And they inserted a photo of her mother, they said she's visibly black with dreadlocks, and I'm not making that up, and included photos of her just to make the point for anyone who might have missed it, the subtle implication that they are talking about a woman with black African and African-American heritage here.
AMT: And this is the establishment media, which the tabloids, I know the tabloids or the tabs, but you know, when I was living in Britain in the early nineties, I remember a headline in a tabloid, a man who was of Indian descent won a lottery and the headline said lucky chapatti. And I was aghast. And it was like, and then I started paying attention to the headlines and I was like, what does this tell us about British society, even though as you point out, it's very diverse. What does it tell you about British media?
AFUA HIRSCH: I think there are a couple of things to say. I'm actually writing a book about this at the moment, my book is called Brit(ish), Brit bracket ish. And it's about how Britain has a really awkward relationship with diversity, and I think part of that and often it's quite innocent, relates to just general British awkwardness. If you lived here, you know, you'll be really familiar with it. The stiff upper lip, the discomfort with saying personal things. And British people have never evolved a language to talk about people of minority backgrounds. You know, we never had a civil rights movement in this country. There's literally still not a word to use. People don't know how to refer to someone from a non-white background. You know, people like me, I'm of mixed heritage. My mother's from an African country, get called coloured, we get called half caste. I mean, all of these words which are incredibly outdated and now considered very offensive. They still get used because people literally don't know what the correct vocabulary is. And then there's a more sinister side as well, which is I think that even though we are a multicultural and diverse society, there is incredibly loaded rhetoric around immigration here, not at all unlike what we've seen in America with the election of Donald Trump. There is the sense that immigrants, who are often visible minorities, are somehow to blame for everything that's gone wrong with society. That Muslims are somehow connected to terrorism, that black people are somehow more criminal, these really dangerous and racist ideas have really taken hold in Britain. And many people won't say them directly because they know they're not supposed to, but they still believe them and that's why sometimes they surface.
AMT: So what do you make of the fact that Prince Harry has actually been publicly, you know, saying please don't do this?
AFUA HIRSCH: I think maybe for people who haven't lived here, it's hard to appreciate how significant that is. But it's absolutely unprecedented for a prince or a senior member of the royal family, one to so openly defend somebody who’s his girlfriend, you know, they're not married and the relationship hasn't really been made official until now. And two, to use language like the language he used. He spoke of racial undertones, he spoke of sexism and he criticised it very very clearly for what it is. And I, I'm not always a huge fan of the royal family, but I think that if we ought to have a royal family then this is exactly the kind of moral leadership they should show. And I think we should absolutely praise him for that. And I find it very refreshing. OK, well Afua Hirsch, thanks for bringing us up to speed on this.
AFUA HIRSCH: Thank you, Anna-Maria.
AMT: That is Afua Hirsch, she's a writer and broadcaster. She joins us from London, England.
KELLY CROWE: OK, let's move on to reaction from one more story we covered this week. Rais Bhuiyan was a former Air Force pilot from Bangladesh who was working at a Dallas gas station the day a man named Mark Stroman burst in and shot him twice in the face. Mark Stroman wanted revenge on Muslims after 9/11. It was a hate crime and a near death experience, but it was also the start of a remarkable journey of hope and forgiveness that's told in a new documentary film called An Eye for an Eye. Here's Rais Bhuiyan.
I was able to read some of his blogs and at the beginning, those blogs were still viewing his negative views against Muslims and what he did he was trying to justify. But in course of time, looks like he went through a transformation. When he came to know that one of his victims started a campaign to save his life from death row, he was reduced to tears. It striked him powerfully and he talked about mercy. He talked about justice, world peace, he thanked the entire Muslim community.
AMT: Well, after that interview we heard from you on Facebook. Barb Peacock commented, “the Mark Stromans of the world, people who have so much hate in their hearts because of race and religion need to watch this and hear his words. How lucky is he that his victims forgave him.”
KELLY CROWE: On Twitter, Bridget Antwi wrote, “blown away by Rais Bhuiyan’s heart, faith and compassion. It's so easy to forget that there's still tremendous good in this world.” And finally Erika Ess tweeted, “I needed this reminder of deep grace and mercy.”
[Music: Checking in Theme]
AMT: Time to give some credit where credit is due. This week's edition of The Current have been produced by Idella Sturino, Shannon Higgins, Howard Goldenthal, Ines Calabresi and Lara O'Brien.
KELLY CROWE: Julian Uzielli, Josh Bloch, Pacinte Mattar, Sujata Berry, Liz Hoath, Karin Marley, Kristin Nelson, John Chipman and Willow Smith. Special thanks this week to our network producer in Montreal Susan Mckenzie. The Current’s writer is Peter Mitton, our web producer is Lisa Ayuso, our technical producers this week are Jennifer Rowley and Gary Francis. Our senior documentary editor is Joan Webber.
AMT: Our senior producers are Richard Goddard in Toronto, Cathy Simon in Vancouver. The executive producer of The Current is Kathleen Goldhar. And Kelly Crowe, just before we go, what are you working on?
KELLY CROWE: Wow, we have a really interesting story tomorrow about a documentary that's coming out about the first ever municipal election in Saudi Arabia where women are not only allowed to vote but to run. And we talked to the filmmaker about the experience of following these women trying to campaign in a situation where they can't talk to voters, they can't leave the house alone, they can't give media interviews. And if they win, they can't even go to the council to attend the meeting. So it's a really interesting look at the lives of women.
AMT: I'll be listening to that, sounds like a really interesting doc. OK, Kelly Crowe, medical sciences correspondent for CBC national news. She is our Friday host this week. And now, we have been talking about Donald Trump as a political disruptor and so we're having a, I want to give you another perspective on his stunning electoral victory with a bit of tape from four years ago that some now consider to be prescient. The retired US Supreme Court Justice David Souter was asked his opinion on the decline in civics classes in American schools and what he felt the consequences could be. We're going to leave you with some of what he had to say. I'm Anna-Maria Tremonti, thank you for listening to The Current.
DAVID SOUTER: I don't worry about our losing Republican government in the United States because I'm afraid of a foreign invasion. I don't worry about it because I think there is going to be a coup by the military as has happened in some other places. What I worry about is that when problems are not addressed, people will not know who is responsible and when the problems get bad enough, as they might do for example with another serious terrorist attack, as they might do with another financial meltdown, some one person will come forward and say give me total power and I will solve this problem. That is how the Roman Republic fell. Augustus became emperor not because he arrested the Roman Senate. He became emperor because he promised that he would solve problems that were not being solved. If we know who is responsible, I have enough faith in the American people to demand performance from those responsible. If we don't know, we will stay away from polls, we will not demand it. And the day will come when somebody will come forward, and we and the government will in effect say take the ball and run with it. Do what you have to do. That is the way democracy dies. That is what you should worry about at night.
CBC would like to acknowledge the support of the Broadcasting Accessibility Fund.