It is no exaggeration to say that the past week has been particularly rich in horrifying events. In America, Spain and Portugal, the summer holiday season has been polluted by emotions of fear, hate and anguish.
Charlottesville, Virginia, USA
On Saturday, a man who was part of a white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia, drove his car into the crowd killing a woman. White supremacists and neo-Nazis were marching to protest against the tumbling of a statue of Robert E. Lee, a Confederate general. After delivering a reasonably presidential speech Monday from the White House, in which he condemned the supremacists, President Trump the following day performed one of the u-turns to which we have now become all too accustomed, with a series of unscripted remarks made at a press conference in front of the gold elevators at the uber-vulgar Trump Tower in New York.
As his team stood by looking awkward, Trump bellowed out a stream of shallow invectives that placed white supremacists and left-wing counter-protesters on the same moral plane, at the same time making it abundantly clear where his real sympathies lied. In refusing to condemn racist hate groups with clarity and firmness, the President has turned his back on one of the fundamental values of American society, the belief that all citizens are equal.
The American people, and indeed many of the rest of us, are feeling deeply concerned by the President’s consistently erratic behavior. They are beginning to wonder whether all this is not really about ‘America First’, the President’s isolationist campaign slogan, but actually about ‘Trump first’. As the President’s energy and that of his administration are increasingly diverted to political or diplomatic fire-fighting rather than governing, people are asking whether the divisive billionaire will be able to federate the nation or broker the political agreements required to pass new legislation.
Since last weekend business leaders, Republican politicians and ordinary Americans have been distancing themselves from their inept president. Charlottesville will perhaps be seen as a defining moment when a majority of Americans gave up on their president. In the meantime, it at least seems to have distracted Trump from his chilling shouting match with the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un in their nuclear playground.
Barcelona and Cambrils, Spain
In Barcelona on Thursday, 13 people were killed and nearly 100 injured by a van in a terrorist attack for which responsibility has been claimed by ISIS. This is the seventh time in the last year in Europe that a vehicle has been used in this kind of attack. Barcelona, which was occupied by the Moors for eighty years from 717, is an international destination for cool holiday-makers. A few hours after the Barcelona attack, five terror suspects were shot dead by police in Cambrils, a town 120 kilometres along the Spanish coast.
Portugal has not been spared by calamities this week either. On Sunday the Portuguese government made a request to Europe for additional fire-fighting equipment, and in particular planes, to combat the 268 fires that had broken out the previous day. An incredible 140,000 hectares of forest have burnt in Portugal so far this summer, more than three times the average over the last decade. Fire-fighting teams are exhausted and the hot summer weather is continuing with no immediate prospect of rain.
As if this was not enough, on Tuesday a giant oak tree, more than 200 years old, collapsed killing 13 people near Funchal, the capital of the Portuguese island province of Madeira, during the year’s most important religious festival, Nossa Senhora do Monte.
Finally, early on Thursday morning, inhabitants of Lisbon who had not yet been sufficiently shaken by these events, felt the ground stir beneath them with a minor earthquake which measured 4.3 on the Richter scale, a disquieting reminder of the great 1755 earthquake which devastated the capital.
Let’s hope next week things will be calmer – after all it’s still summer!
The author, James Mayor, is the founder of Grape Discoveries, a wine and culture boutique travel company
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