In 1950, American singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie signed a lease at Beach Haven apartment complex in Brooklyn, New York.
Whilst living there, Guthrie developed a somewhat sour relationship with his landlord, after seeing “just how much racial hate he stirred up in the bloodpot of human hearts”.
Guthrie’s landlord was Fred Trump, real estate developer and father to President of the United States, Donald Trump.
And just as Woody Guthrie dealt with a Trump, the world is now starting to learn how to deal with another. Donald has spent his first few weeks as POTUS signing executive orders, giving Americans and people all over the world an insight into the first 100 days of his administration.
Will Kaufman, Professor of American Literature and Culture at the University of Central Lancashire, and author of Woodie Guthrie, American Radical, is the person who discovered Guthrie’s comments about Donald Trump’s father.
— Will Kaufman (@KaufmanWill) September 6, 2016
He believes that the Trump Organization’s controversial past is vitally important from the start of the Trump presidency.
Kaufman said: “People talk about the apple falling whatever distance from the tree, but I maintain that the apple has been connected to the tree all along, because both Donald and Fred Trump were sued by the Justice Department in 1975 for racial discrimination practices.”
In 1975, the Trump Empire signed a consent decree – a settlement that does not include any admission of guilt – after being charged with violating the Fair Housing Act, a piece of legislation that outlaws the refusal to sell or rent to anyone on the basis of discrimination.
For Kaufman, such events are central to why Trump is “talking about building walls and establishing modes of separation”. Specifically, the professor believes Trump’s plans to build a wall on the US – Mexico border could have repercussions well beyond the first 100 days.
Kaufman said: “The entire northern half of Mexico was locked off in an unjust war [Mexican-American War 1846 – 48] and became Texas, New Mexico, California, Arizona, Colorado…that’s why the prospect of a wall is such an affront.”
He added: “There are Latino families living in all those areas that can trace their origins in their locations back to the 1600s. It’s a very fraught thing and if you don’t know the history – which Donald Trump certainly doesn’t know – then he’s going to make some huge mistakes, and I think this is one of them.”
But the growing resistance gives hope to people like Will Kaufman.
He said: “[Trump’s] learning that in the age of social media he can tweet as much as he wants. But huge demonstrations and petitions can be organised with the push of a button, with one tweet, with one Facebook post.”
[arve url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=heuzLtWnFRM” title=”Manchester’s Day of Action against Donald Trump” description=”Anti-Trump rally in Manchester”/]
But the resistance isn’t enough for Kaufman to stop worrying about the future.
He said: “Who knows what’s going on? The old guard vs [Steve] Bannon and those kind of upstarts…who’s running the show?”
Checks and Balances
Walsh believes that the soured relationship between the White House and the press is hugely detrimental to press freedom – and something that could have impact well beyond the first 100 days of the Trump presidency.
Walsh said: “You have [government] websites and web pages being deleted and not replaced without notice, federal employees being told they are not allowed to communicate with journalists…these are steps toward censorship.”
An attack on the free press by a sitting U.S. president is a slap in the face to democracy, our country’s founders and the American people. https://t.co/Gs57izuCiq
— Lynn Walsh (@lwalsh) February 17, 2017
She added: “I think the public should be very concerned that journalists are not allowed access…because if journalists are not allowed access, then it is harder for the public to have access.”
Walsh expects some tough challenges in the near future over this lack of access.
Walsh said: “If the only information the public receives comes directly from the administration, and no questions are allowed – or when asked questions, the responses are combative and do not answer the questions – then we are basically receiving propaganda.”
She added: “Access to government employees is going to continue to be an issue…it is going to be more difficult than it has been to get people to go on the record.
“Without this access and being able to quote individuals by name, the stories journalists produce will not be as complete as they can be and the public will not have the information they deserve – information that they are entitled to”.
Further concern has been directed at the apparent preferable treatment being given to pro-Trump media outlets, with pro-Trump blog Gateway Pundit, run by Jim Hoft, granted White House press credentials. Their Washington correspondent, Lucian Wintrich, is now able to attend press briefings and ask questions.
The site is known for gathering traction after promoting false rumours about voter fraud and Hillary Clinton’s health that made their way to mainstream media outlets.
Writing for Politico Magazine, Ben Schreckinger said: “The Gateway Pundit is often described as a mini-Breitbart News, with Hoft playing the role of Bannon to Wintrich’s Milo Yiannopoulos.”
The Gateway Pundit is making a splash in its first week in the White House briefing room https://t.co/hDW4tzuLpV
— Ben Schreckinger (@SchreckReports) February 15, 2017
So just like Woody Guthrie with Fred Trump, the likes of Kaufman, Walsh, and Schreckinger are learning how to judge and deal with President Trump. For them the warning signs are flashing. Some, like Kaufman, are drawing upon history in their cautiousness.
And maybe that’s not such a terrible idea. Lessons from the past can teach us many things about what to expect in the future, and more importantly, how to prepare for what is on the horizon.