The voters' campaign

The campaign is no longer about the candidates and their messages but the enthusiasm and turnout of

Manassas, Virginia is in the "real" America and yet, it was there that Obama held his final rally, turning out a crowd estimated at 90,000.

In some ways it was a sombre affair. Earlier that day, Madelyn Dunham, Obama's grandmother, had passed away. Obama eulogised her in North Carolina.

"She was someone who was a very humble person and a very quiet person, she was one of those quiet heroes that we have all across America," Obama said at Charlotte rally, tears rolling down his face.

"In this crowd there are a lot of quiet heroes like that, mothers and fathers and grandparents who have worked hard and sacrificed all their lives and the satisfaction that they get is seeing that their children or maybe their grandchildren or great grandchildren live a better life than they did. That's what America is about. That's what we're fighting for."

Obama hardly mentioned his loss in Virginia. The pain was his, not ours. But it settled heavily on the evening. Obama was subdued. Tired. He said what needed to be said. He launched his attacks and unleashed his applause lines and ran through the central message of the speech, which was and always has been: change.

"The change we seek will not just come from government alone, it's going to have to come from each of us," Obama told the crowd of over 90,000. "Each of us has a role to play."

"I asked you to believe not just in my ability to bring about change, but in yours," he said. "In this campaign I have had the privilege to witness what is best in America."

However the hot coil of emotion that might have elevated his final speech was absent. It was just a speech but that was all that was required. The time for speeches is over. For two years, this election has been about the candidates. What they said and what they thought. What they did and how they looked. But the process has now barrelled beyond them.

It is now about the voters. What they have heard and what they have concluded. Whether they have formed a preference and whether they care enough to vote. This rally was not about the spent figure who stood on the stage, but the 90,000 who had left the quiet warmth of their homes to hear him speak. Obama might have been subdued, but the supporters' very presence was evidence of their excitement. And at this point, it is their excitement, not his, that matters.

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Stephen Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising space makes him almost as bad as Trump

The physicist's inistence on mankind's expansion risks making him a handmaiden of inequality.

“Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves,” Stephen Hawking has warned. And he’s not just talking about surviving the UK's recent run of record breaking heat. If humanity doesn’t start sending people to Mars soon, then in a few hundred years he says we can all expect to be kaput; there just isn’t enough space for us all.

The theoretical physicist gave his address to the glittering Starmus Festival of science and arts in Norway. According to the BBC, he argued that climate change and the depletion of natural resources help make space travel essential. With this in mind, he would like to see a mission to Mars by 2025 and a new lunar base within 30 years.

He even took a swipe at Donald Trump: “I am not denying the importance of fighting climate change and global warming, unlike Donald Trump, who may just have taken the most serious, and wrong, decision on climate change this world has seen.”

Yet there are striking similarities between Hawking's statement and the President's bombast. For one thing there was the context in which it was made - an address to a festival dripping with conspicuous consumption, where 18 carat gold OMEGA watches were dished out as prizes.

More importantly there's the inescapable reality that space colonisation is an inherently elitist affair: under Trump you may be able to pay your way out of earthly catastrophe, while for Elon Musk, brawn could be a deciding advantage, given he wants his early settlers on Mars to be able to dredge up buried ice.

Whichever way you divide it up, it is unlikely that everyone will be able to RightMove their way to a less crowded galaxy. Hell, most people can’t even make it to Starmus itself (€800  for a full price ticket), where the line-up of speakers is overwhelmingly white and male.

So while this obsession with space travel has a certain nobility, it also risks elevating earthly inequalities to an interplanetary scale.

And although Hawking is right to call out Trump on climate change, the concern that space travel diverts money from saving earth's ecosystems still stands. 

In a context where the American government is upping NASA’s budget for manned space flights at the same time as it cuts funds for critical work observing the changes on earth, it is imperative that the wider science community stands up against this worrying trend.

Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising the solar system risks playing into the hands of the those who share the President destructive views on the climate, at the expense of the planet underneath us.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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