No doubt Nancy Pelosi tearing up the State of the Union speech whilst stood behind Mr President after he’d just delivered it was regarded by the Speaker of the House of Representatives as an act of rebellious defiance. Yeah! Go, girl! However, this rather petty and pathetic gesture could equally be taken as symbolic of something else, perhaps the shredding of the Democrat hopes of recapturing the White House in November. To use a phrase that has never really crossed the Atlantic, right now it appears as though the Democratic Party couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery.

The farce that the Iowa caucuses descended into – suggesting much-trumpeted advancements in technology haven’t exactly improved upon the notorious ‘hanging chads’ of 2000 – almost felt preordained; to expect a slick and professional operation from a party that has left it until the last minute to turn its attention to finding a credible contender was a tall order. Okay, I’ll admit the lumbering American political system can be confusing enough for an American, let alone an outsider; but whereas Brits find even a month’s campaigning for a General Election tiring, the US electorate has to endure everything being stretched out over an entire year – and, lest we forget, the Democrats have had four to prepare for this.

Whilst 2020’s early front-runners are the doddery double act of ex-Vice President Joe Biden and veteran socialist Bernie Sanders, the other two to have hogged the headlines are token woman Elizabeth Warren and token gay Pete Buttigieg. As the tedium progresses, a dozen candidates seeking the nomination are whittled down via caucuses, primaries, fund-raising events and endless television debates. The campaign trail is a twelve-month marathon that comprises every cliché associated with US politics as the hopefuls kiss babies, pose for selfies, stand beside their spouses, and try to adopt an everyman/everywoman persona that will appeal to the widest possible demographic. But it’s increasingly difficult for the individual Democratic hopefuls to broaden their personal appeal beyond their own fan-base within the party, never mind attract the country’s floating voters, when the party still hasn’t recovered from 2016. It remains in denial, staggering around with political PTSD and resorting to many of the tactics that so alienated the electorate four years ago because it still can’t accept that 2016 happened.

The caucuses are the beauty contests of the protracted process, the platform upon which the candidates emerge as household personalities for the first time; how they fare here can determine whether or not they then go on to the next level, the ‘Super Tuesday’ circus, when a dozen heavyweight States hold their primaries and separate the wheat from the chaff. California and Texas are the traditional targets for the candidates; capturing them enables the ambitious to pull away from the no-hopers and establish a nationwide foothold as a realistic challenger. But the man or woman who is nominated as the Democrats’ great hope won’t be named until July. In the meantime, some Democrats are a little too preoccupied with a suicidal mission to defeat the incumbent President by foul rather than fair means.

The almost-fanatical obsession of certain leading Democrats with ousting Donald Trump from office has so far failed to be manifested in a way that has the best guarantee of achieving its aim. Finding the right man or woman to take on the President and defeat him at the polls would seem to be the logical step, something the Democrats have had four years to devote their energies to. Instead, all their energies have been exhausted on the superficial charade of an impeachment trial, one destined to end with the same outcome as the two previous attempts to eject a President by invoking an eighteenth century irrelevance. The Republican numbers, upon which success or failure will be determined, have been against the Democrats from the beginning, and the whole pointless exercise smacks of the kind of desperation that has characterised the Democrat response to Trump from the moment in 2016 that the awful realisation of his victory set in.

Accepting that Hillary Clinton lost the race to the White House has been as hard for Democrats as accepting losing that same year’s EU Referendum has been to Remoaners; both events overturned complacent expectations and have remained existential crises for the losers ever since. The hilarious howl of the anonymous crowd member during Trump’s inauguration ceremony summed up this dilemma better than any soul-searching treatise on the subject. Like children who have never been made aware of the word ‘no’, the collective inability of the opponents of both Brexit and Trump to overcome their disappointment and let it go reflects an emotional and intellectual immaturity that is politically counterproductive and doomed to distance them even further from the great unwashed voters who saw through their righteous arrogance. This childish refusal to acknowledge they lost and their willingness to surrender all reason to the conspiracy theory mindset is a sad indictment of their infantile philosophy.

This has been proven by the left’s reaction to the inexplicable triumph of Trump in 2016; barely had the shock result been officially announced before Hillary Clinton’s own shortcomings were rejected as a key factor and a fantastical blame game began; indeed, if her self-pitying memoirs are anything to go by, Clinton herself still can’t accept she has to carry the majority of the responsibility for the defeat – and that says a great deal about where we are now. Running with a thread that had initially surfaced during the campaign itself, the Democrats quickly put forward the theory that Russian interference played a pivotal role in the result. This unproven allegation was the first indication that the Democrats and their supporters were embarking on a nihilistic dirt-digging operation, employing the kind of below-the-belt tactics the President himself is routinely accused of.

As with Labour in the UK, I suspect it will take another pounding at the polls before the Democrats belatedly address precisely where it is they’re going wrong. Hillary Clinton’s clout in calling up a parade of shameless showbiz cheerleaders eager to earn a few Woke points in the culture wars may have thrilled the media, but as has been demonstrated in Blighty over the past three years, the media and its cultural allies represent a tiny minority of those eligible to cast their vote. No matter how loud their voices might be, their numbers are too small to swing it. Donald Trump may have represented a branch of that mysterious entity known as ‘the establishment’ by virtue of his fame and fortune, but it was easy for him to pitch himself as an outsider four years ago because he genuinely was outside those controlling the print and online consensus; it’s harder for a Democrat to do likewise and therefore appeal to the same disenfranchised American voter who also identifies as an outsider because the Democratic Party is part of the problem.

© The Editor


trumpWell, what can I say? Donald Trump is now officially President Trump; no great surprise, as his inauguration was advertised well in advance of the event. The talking point in the week leading up to it was the paucity of performers willing to participate, though I was relieved to be spared all that as a viewer. A Presidential inauguration ceremony isn’t half-time at the Superbowl, and I don’t recall entertainers being an intrinsic element of the ritual on the steps of the Capitol Building before the ‘Rumours’ Fleetwood Mac line-up reunited for Bill Clinton’s first bash in 1993 – or perhaps the Glenn Miller Band played at one of FDR’s numerous inaugurations and I was unaware of it.

The anticipated protests took place on the streets of Washington, but didn’t get anywhere near the parade route; as far as I can tell, the activities of the masked men were limited to smashing a few windows and – Shock! Horror! – pushing a few bins over. That should send out one hell of a message to the Donald that he’s up against a formidable enemy; ditto that chinless cinematic faux-anarchist Michael Moore, a man who pleaded on camera for Hillary Clinton not to become the Democratic nominee as he listed her failings and then pleaded on camera for the American electorate to vote for her when she did become the Democratic nominee, failings still intact.

The initial entertainment factor at Trump’s inauguration, rather than coming from pop stars, largely emanated from spotting ancient ex-Presidents arriving, none more so than Jimmy Carter, 92 years young; the only living post-Carter President absent was George Bush Senior, currently in hospital. Seeing Clinton, Bush Jr and Obama sharing the same podium did have the look of a ‘Doctor Who’ story when the Timelord’s previous incarnations get together; but it is strange when one considers Trump was sworn-in for the first time when he’s already the same age as his distant predecessors Bush Jr and Clinton are today. After eight years of a President born during JFK’s era, we’re back to the Truman generation.

Watching Trump hold up his little hand and repeat those famous lines certainly had more than a touch of parallel universe unreality about it; everyone knew it was coming, but it needed to be seen to be believed, to finally confirm it had really happened. When rain began to fall as soon as Trump had taken the oath of office and prepared to make his speech, no doubt some would melodramatically claim the Washington skies were symbolically weeping, though watching on TV, all I could think of was wondering what shape his hair might take when exposed to the elements.

Trump’s speech stuck to the core rhetoric at the heart of his campaign when going head-to-head with Hillary – the promise to revitalise the dead industries of America’s rustbelt, to end inner-city gang warfare and to give the country back to the people; what Obama must have thought when the inaugural address of his successor implied his Presidency had achieved very little on the home front probably won’t be known till the 44th President gets round to writing his memoirs; but I doubt Obama was reflecting on all the innocent lives his drones had extinguished during his two terms.

The headline-grabbing statements and choreographed controversies Trump specialised in during both his run for the Republican nomination and his clash with Hillary was akin to the chest-beating bravado that boxers exhibit at the weigh-in before their bout; come the moment he finally achieved the impossible by ascending to the White House, it was expected he no longer had any need to employ such contentious and divisive tactics, something that his unexpected conciliatory attitude towards his opponent re the fate he threatened her with during the Presidential Election seemed to point towards once he won the Presidency. However, Trump’s ongoing Twitter spats suggest it’s simply not in him to tone down his naturally combative nature, even when installed in the Oval Office.

How this nature will play out on the world stage, let alone domestic politics, remains to be seen; and I suppose it is the unpredictability of such an erratic character attaining the ultimate seat of power that is the main cause for concern when it comes to his detractors. At the same time, after years of persistent accusations that politicians are a bland breed straight off the android conveyor belt, having someone as the western world’s unofficial leader who bucks that trend with such brash vulgarity is part of Trump’s appeal, not dissimilar to the way in which many people find the eccentric persona Boris Johnson has cultivated a refreshing alternative to his fellow Parliamentarians.

The curious traditions of the US Presidency, whereby the new man at the top doesn’t take charge till two months after winning the Election, present the incoming holder of the office with customary American theatrically on the day he can actually be addressed as Mr President. As someone who has become a household name as the star of a reality TV show, it seemed fitting for Donald Trump to begin his reign in such settings, though what comes next is something that even Trump has never experienced before – the genuine power to affect the lives of millions who’ve never even seen his crappy television programme. So, strap yourselves in; it’s going to be a very interesting ride.

© The Editor


libertyThe famous still from ‘Planet of the Apes’ that accompanied yesterday’s post should really have been reserved for today. Confronted by the sight of the decaying Statue of Liberty rotting away on a beach, Charlton Heston’s astronaut character Taylor realises he hasn’t landed on some alien planet where man’s evolution occurred in reverse, but has been flung into the far future and is home – albeit a post-nuclear apocalypse home. Falling to his knees, he pounds away at the sand in despairing rage. ‘You finally really did it!’ he cries; ‘You maniacs! God damn you all to Hell!’ He didn’t add ‘You put Donald Trump in the White House!’ Who would? Who can even really believe this has happened? Donald Trump? Donald f***ing Trump? Yup.

Let me make it clear that I didn’t think Hillary Clinton was perfect by any stretch of the imagination. If anything, her absence of perfection on so many levels enabled Donald Trump to inflict a humiliating defeat upon the most qualified candidate for the Presidency America has probably ever seen. Had she won, however, it would have been an achievement solely based on her gender. History would have been made, though we shouldn’t forget that history was also made in 2008. Being America’s first female President would have been a big deal, as being America’s first black President was eight years ago. But had Hillary Clinton cruised along on that achievement alone – as Obama has often seemed to cruise along on his – the achievement would have paled very quickly.

When Obama came to office, the western world had just experienced its most severe economic collapse since 1929; though the climate has improved slightly since then, there remain vast areas of America that have yet to receive any signs of an upturn in their fortunes, and this was the climate prime for exploitation by Trump. Frustration with this state of affairs has manifested itself in many ugly ways in the US over the last twelve months, and having a black man in the White House doesn’t appear to have made a bit of difference to racial tensions whatsoever; if anything, they’re worse now than at any time since the Civil Rights movement half-a-century ago.

Barack Obama was swept into power on a tide of unrealisable optimism; hopes rested heavily on his shoulders after eight years of George II and the two unpopular wars he dragged the nation into, and Obama’s colour – coming from a country with such troubled history in that department – was an undoubted selling point that suggested America could finally shake off the toxic legacy of slavery and segregation. There was faith in the future again. When Americans got there, however, the limited extent of the President’s ability to enact the changes he and the country desired when confronted by a Republican-dominated Congress determined to thwart him at every opportunity seemed to highlight the impotence of the American political system. And that should serve as a timely warning to his successor and his myriad mad ideas. The Republicans may have retained control of Congress, but most of them don’t even regard Trump as a genuine Republican; one could argue that has been his ace.

Bernie Sanders was the anti-Trump candidate far more than Hillary Clinton was; the bullish billionaire tapped into the same blue-collar discontent Sanders could have appealed to. Two outsiders versus each other instead of one outsider versus the advocate of the system so detested by great swathes of the electorate would have been a far superior contest, and one I have a feeling Sanders could have won. A proud socialist against a shameless capitalist, both latecomers to the parties they represented – that would have dealt a fatal blow to the professional party machine more than a thousand Brexit’s.

Instead, we now have a President loathed by all but his fanatical supporters, a man whose very presence in the White House is the most telling example of an American political system that can be bought if you have enough bucks in the bank. The old cliché that every American child can grow up to be President in a way that every child can’t grow up to be a king has belatedly been exposed as the myth it always was. If your father is an extremely wealthy man, you’re certainly in with a shout. And JFK would have concurred with that truism.

Kennedy represented more than he ever delivered, and that probably would have been the case even if he had never travelled to Dallas in November 1963; he represented something so positive in the collective imagination, something youthful, regenerative, glamorous, new – a break with the grey old men who governed the nations of the western world, a man who appeared to be in tune with the spirit of the fresh decade he came to power in; and despite the unsavoury stories that have emerged in the fifty-plus years since his murder, that image continues to possess an irresistible allure. By contrast, it’s hard to think of any President in US political history – and I include Nixon and Dubya – who radiates so much negativity as Donald Trump. And yet, conversely, he represents a similarly radical break. This is a rejection of the American party system as well as the final rejection of the Obama era. Yet for all the expected talk of ‘uniting America’, it’s hard to see how somebody so divisive can unite after having alienated so many members of the electorate before even being declared the winner.

Trump’s combative personality and arrogant, unapologetic coarseness is seen by many Americans as a sign of his unvarnished honesty; what you see is what you get. He’s viewed as ‘one of the guys’, somebody you could share a few cans with as you watch the ball-game. He’d be the kind of guy you could go hunting with. Alien as that may seem to European sensibilities, in America it counts for a lot. But Trump’s tasteless braggadocio could be regarded as the same spiel a prize-fighter spews forth during the weigh-in alongside his opponent; having won the fight, his acceptance speech after Clinton conceded was remarkably subdued.

If the election of Donald Trump is the end of the world as we know it, I doubt many would dispute the world as we know it is a pretty bloody awful place, anyway. But it’s the world as we don’t know it that we now face; and God only knows what that’s going to be like.

© The Editor


libertyWe think we’ve got it bad over here. I’ve got friends in Canada – can you imagine what it must be like for them? They’re the next-door neighbours of the country upon which the world’s attention is focused today, yet they’ve no more ability to participate and affect change than we have. It’s akin to the Scots voting in an independence referendum in which the rest of the UK has no say and…oh, sorry, I forgot; we’ve already been there. Anyway, the disqualification of one half of North America in deciding the fate of the western world aside, the fact that the USA has to choose between a devious upholder of Washington’s status quo and a misogynistic billionaire narcissist is surely something nobody would envy. Suddenly, having to weigh-up the respective merits of David Cameron and Ed Miliband just last year doesn’t seem like such a terrible dilemma after all. The fact that both are now parliamentary toast shows how far we’ve travelled since the spring of 2015, whereas the US is now confronted with a similar scenario, albeit on a Hollywood blockbuster scale.

The first Presidential Election I was aware of took place forty years ago, when the incumbent occupier of the White House, Gerald Ford, took on the virtually unknown Georgian peanut-farmer Jimmy Carter. The former probably stands as the luckiest man in American history, becoming Vice President due to the resignation of Spiro Agnew in 1973 and becoming President due to the resignation of Richard Nixon the year after. I remember the Ford family being photographed during a visit to Disneyland in 1976, an image reproduced in the weekly I was subscribing to at the time, ‘Mickey Mouse’; but Ford’s luck ran out not long thereafter. He was defeated in November by Carter. Since Jimmy Carter ingratiated himself in the collective memory of my generation via his visit to the UK the year he was inaugurated, I have been a long-distance witness to nine further Presidential Elections, and this is the tenth. I can’t remember another like this one, though.

We’ve become accustomed to our own excessive political circuses in the age of 24-hour news media – two General Elections and two Referendums in the last six years – but being bombarded by Trump and Clinton these past few months has been especially frustrating in that we can look but not touch. Many comparisons have been made between the northern industrial wastelands that voted Brexit here and those poised to vote Trump there, and it’s hard to avoid such comparisons when the impact of globalisation has hit traditional providers of British and American economic prosperity with such devastating ruthlessness. Figures were bound to emerge to speak on behalf of those deprived of a voice, though it’s a shame they had to be figures like Nigel Farage or Donald Trump.

Donald Trump I find fascinating, if only as a classic American sitcom character ala Archie Bunker or Homer Simpson; that he’s actually on the cusp of being elected leader of the free world places this fascination in a state of disbelief. This can’t be for real, can it? So it would seem. History has taught us that a vacuum can be exploited by any opportunist, and if that opportunist be a reality TV star, that seems perfectly in tune with twenty-first century sentiments. In many respects, it’s a miracle Trump didn’t select Kim Kardashian as his running mate.

Trump may have attached himself to the Republican Party, but he has no real affiliation with the issues that have dominated Republican politics over the last decade or so; he certainly hasn’t played the God card, which has been the default position of every Republican candidate since Reagan, and one wonders if he’s hitched a ride on the Republican express simply because starting his own party would have rendered him a minority independent with no chance of gaining the keys to the White House. That he managed to blow the true Republicans (and their fanatical obsession with what their fellow Americans do below the waist) out of the water says all you need to know about that party.

Yes, he has galvanised the majority of fervent blue-collar Republicans who couldn’t get excited over John McCain or Mitt Romney, but he has also caught the attention of non-partisan voters in desperate search of someone to offer an alternative to the production-line politicians Washington produces with the same slick ease as Westminster.

Hillary Clinton’s FBI reprieve last weekend places the decision of the organisation that named and shamed her the week before in a curious situation; did the FBI announce the reopening of the email investigation to simply cover their backs on the off-chance that, should Trump become President, they could point to that announcement as evidence they were prepared to pursue it and therefore weren’t politically biased? The haste with which they subsequently declared there was no foul play on Clinton’s part makes their initial announcement appear even stranger. Why bother intervening in the campaign if there was nothing to report anyway? If that was the FBI’s strategy, it has ultimately backfired, as changing their minds just a couple of days before polling merely gives fresh ammunition to Trump’s avowed belief that ‘the establishment’ is against him.

Oh, well. Time’s up for speculation now. Come this time tomorrow, we’ll know where we stand – more of the same or a leap into the unknown. And no one here will have any say either way.

JIMMY YOUNG (1921-2016)

youngThe death of Jimmy Young aged 95 is yet another passing to add to an increasingly long list where 2016 is concerned. Coming just a few months after the death of Terry Wogan, this latest annotation to a dismal year’s catalogue of obituaries is especially poignant for anybody who recalls a time when a particular kind of diction dominated the airwaves. The handover between the two broadcasting mainstays that formed a crucial element of Radio 2’s morning schedule for years was one that those of us who grew up with grandparents or parents whose loyalty to old Light Programme routines governed breakfast listening habits cannot help but mourn the loss of.

The 50s chart-topping crooner may have been an unlikely addition to the original Radio 1 line-up, but Young helped make the journey from the ‘housewives’ choice’ school of 60s daytime broadcasting to the 70s concept of pop radio a largely painless exercise. He represented a bridge between the pre-pirate era and the generation that found fame on the high seas, an old-school personality DJ whose reassuring presence during the uncertain, formative years of Radio 1 was essential to the tricky transition. Transferring to Radio 2 in 1973, Young continued to speak to the same demographic for whom DLT or Johnnie Walker, and their insistence on spinning chart sounds, were anathema. As with Radio 2 listeners today, what Radio 2 listeners in the 70s wanted to hear were the sounds of twenty years before. In the 70s, that meant Doris Day or Guy Mitchell, precisely the kind of soundtrack I will always associate with Jimmy Young, courtesy of my grandma’s listening habits when I stopped at her home as a child.

Jimmy Young’s tenure on Radio 2 lasted until as late as 2002, when the periodical revamp tactics of new radio controllers finally caught up with him. But he had made an indelible mark over 35 years, and the station with which he will always be linked was poised to embark upon its most radical shake-up, for better or for worse. He belonged to a broadcasting era that was already drenched in nostalgia by the turn of the Millennium, and for anyone whose aural memory connects Jimmy Young and Terry Wogan with happier, more innocent times, this is indeed a sad day.

© The Editor


hareTiming is everything in a race. The old cliché (usually applied to the football season) that it’s a marathon rather than a sprint, has certainly been proved true on endless occasions, not only when it comes to the national sport, but also when it comes to politics. The 1970 General Election, in which serving PM Harold Wilson was expected to extend his Labour premiership to a full decade, was derailed by adverse balance of payments figures published during election week, though many believe world champions England losing to West Germany in the quarter finals of the World Cup just days before polls opened also played its part in the electorate delivering Wilson a bloody nose. It served as a warning to all hares speeding ahead of competing tortoises that the winners are declared as such only on the final day of the contest.

The timing of the FBI’s decision to reopen the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s ‘email affair’ less than a fortnight before election day in the USA has been downplayed as a political ploy, though the FBI certainly has history; under its first director J Edgar Hoover, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was far from impartial. Democrat President Truman had observed Hoover’s stewardship of the FBI as the emergence of a private police force separate from presidential control. ‘We want no Gestapo or secret police,’ said Truman in the early 50s. ‘The FBI is tending in that direction. They are dabbling in sex-life scandals and plain blackmail. J Edgar Hoover would give his right eye to take over, and all congressman and senators are afraid of him.’

Instigator of the ‘dirty tricks’ wing of the organisation, which became known as COINTELPRO, Hoover was in charge of the FBI from its 1935 inception until his death in 1972, and it is generally accepted that President Nixon refrained from removing Hoover from office over fears that Hoover would release the hounds; bearing in mind the skeletons that Nixon had nestling in his closet it was probably one of Tricky Dicky’s most astute decisions. Since Hoover’s death, the head of the FBI has been restricted to a 10-year tenure in order to avoid the perceived abuses of power Hoover oversaw; yet one cannot but feel the announcement to renew the entire Clinton email saga so close to polling day has been a concerted attempt to kindle fresh doubts in the minds of floating voters regarding Hillary’s suitability as President.

Prior to the weekend’s announcement by the FBI, Clinton had established a comfortable (albeit not exactly commanding) lead over Trump in the polls, though this has been slightly destabilised since. It goes without saying that Trump has revelled in the reopening of the investigation, claiming with customary melodrama that ‘this is bigger than Watergate’. However, as much as it appears to be appeasing the Republican candidate’s constant demands that Hillary be exposed as a crook, the FBI’s decision to once again stir up a controversy that has already been dealt with and dismissed presents us with yet another unedifying chapter in a gory story that has dominated world headlines for the past few months.

Donald Trump’s failure to present himself to the American public as something other than an egomaniacal sociopath telling the disgruntled and dispossessed what they want to hear (without any discernible solutions to the nation’s problems) has sorely required ammunition to aim at his opponent; and the former First Lady has gifted him with a succession of dodgy rumours that has turned their TV debates into a theatrical equivalent of constantly arguing parents.

As to what impact the FBI’s announcement will have on the outcome of the Presidential race, it’s too early to say. Trump has uttered enough contentious statements during the campaign to have fatally damaged most candidates, though his blunt speaking candour has appealed to a sizeable majority of the American public that is thoroughly sick of Washington spin. Whether the official stamp of approval on his opinion of his opponent will affect the outcome of the election depends upon the don’t knows out there who have yet to decide between the most experienced (albeit allegedly corrupt) practitioner of the Washington Dark Arts or a billionaire TV celebrity selling himself as an outsider in synch with public disillusionment over the way things have been run in the American capital in the post-war era. And Jennifer Lopez flashing her gargantuan arse at a Clinton rally probably won’t make much difference either way.

There’s no doubt that Trump moving into the White House would utterly obliterate the vice-like grip the professional politicians running both Democrat and Republican parties have on American governance, belonging as he does to no real traditions of either party and being in possession of an ego determined to dismantle an ancient network of cronyism that has done few favours to anyone residing beyond the borders of the District of Columbia; and I suspect many mischievous critics of the system would welcome his tearing down of the status quo. But the stark choice the American electorate faces is that of the known knowns or the unknown knowns (as another Donald once said), and whether or not they are prepared to gamble the future of the western world on the outcome probably has little to do with anything the FBI has to say. Our life is in their hands; and if that doesn’t fill you with dread, I don’t know what will.

© The Editor


lincolnPerhaps if Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams and the rest could have glimpsed 240 years into the future on the day they were poised to sign the Declaration of Independence, they might have come to the conclusion that taxation without representation wasn’t really that bad a deal after all. Would they have committed the Thirteen Colonies to breaking from the Mother Country had they been able to see what their great democratic experiment would descend to by 2016? Mind you, I suppose that bit about all men being created equal was somewhat contradicted by the fact that most of the Founding Fathers were slave-owners – an issue it would seem the nation that became the United States of America has yet to fully come to terms with.

The seven years of war that followed events on 4 July 1776 may have eventually established American independence from Britain, but it was a fragile independence that the huge land mass absorbed into the Union appeared to exacerbate. 78 years on from the Treaty of Paris, the new nation (now comprising 34 states) was at war with itself. The sheer size of the country – on a par with most continents – has always presented its President with problems, ones so persistent that it seems almost impossible for the US to really be regarded as One Nation. After the end of the Civil War in 1865, there was a slow, gradual forming of a new genuinely post-colonial identity that shaped the country we know today, yet it was still one that the old Confederate States continued to resist for another hundred years.

As post-Civil War America expanded, the speedy industrial overtaking of Europe that was to shape the forthcoming ‘American Century’ may have made it the richest nation on Earth, but jarring inequalities on a par with those of the Old World have never been far from the surface. The US now stands on the cusp of making a decision that seems poised to extend the various racial, regional and economic disparities beyond what they even have been since World War II, yet this is just the latest in a long line of challenges to the aims of the Founding Fathers; that it is undoubtedly the most ugly example in living memory doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the worst, but it sure as hell feels that way right now. A historical perspective is often the only reminder of how young a country the US still is, and the contemporary state of the nation suggests it remains in the throes of teething troubles – which brings us nicely to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, again.

The airing of an old recording in which Trump exhibited his gentlemanly charm when it comes to the fairer sex has been received as though his previous public image had been on a par with Cary Grant. Numerous Republican bigwigs have excommunicated Trump as a consequence; but wasn’t the truth staring them in the face the minute the billionaire celebrity first announced his intentions to run? How could anyone not know what Trump was like from the off? After all, he’s been a household name in the States for over twenty years, and he’s never been a shrinking violet when the camera points in his direction. It’s a measure of the dearth of talent the Republican Party can call upon that Trump even got this far, so they’ve only themselves to blame. For so many to now express shock and horror is a bit rich.

Anticipating the Clinton team to use such ‘revelations’ against him in the second TV debate, Trump ensured his apology would contain a dig at his opponent and her husband for equally reprehensible attitudes towards women in the past. Hillary would have to be very clever to successfully use the Trump archive as a stick with which to beat her nemesis when Bill’s own closet is crammed with enough skeletons to fill the grounds of a small provincial cemetery. With one more distasteful warm-up missive shot, the unedifying scene was set for the next head-to-head in the most vile and vulgar car-crash in American political history; and episode two made it to TV screens in the wee small hours of this morning UK time.

First time round, Trump’s shaky opening reminded me a little of Jemini’s memorably off-key live vocal at the 2003 Eurovision, though as soon as he was on the attack his bullish confidence surfaced and he was reborn as Dana International. This time, he didn’t hang around, with his response to a question about ‘that’ old recording the cue to revive some of Bill’s past misdemeanours whilst the ex-President sat just a few feet away. No knives were on hand to cut the atmosphere, but it was gruesomely electric. The nature of this debate was different to the first; there was a ‘Question Time’ vibe to proceedings, with selected members of the audience dictating the discussion. Both participants had stools to occupy when the other had the microphone, though as the programme progressed Trump prowled around the set when Hillary spoke, carrying the menacing air of a caged lion eyeing up the zookeeper when feeding time had been delayed.

During Trump’s most personal assaults, Hillary’s lengthy experience in public life was evident by the way in which she kept her cool and took the blows. Exhibiting the characteristics that have won him appeal amongst a sizeable chunk of the American electorate, Trump was more emotional; whenever he overran or wanted to respond to something Hillary had said about him, he questioned the fair share of time both had to make their respective points. He also sniffed a lot again, which will no doubt form part of his post-match criticism of how he was treated by the presenters. Hillary slickly skirted around some of the more probing questions of her own conduct, especially the ‘email’ issue, though whether her skilful avoidance of that perennial topic showed her expertise under pressure or preserved the popular image of her as a liar without compare remains to be seen.

What impact the second debate will have on the eventual result is too early to predict. Both contenders essentially lived up to preconceptions and nothing new was really learned about either of them. Its main purpose was as entertainment, a gladiatorial horror show that said more about the irresistible urge to watch two unpleasant individuals slugging it out to the death than it did about the optimistic ideals of the eighteenth century Enlightenment as a viable political blueprint that retains its relevance 240 years later. But who really expected it to?

© The Editor


trumpThe Luvvies are out in force again, though this time it’s the Hollywood left, that pious, humourless and self-righteous branch of the acting profession who turned this year’s Oscars ceremony into a sanctimonious PC rally that was straight out of ‘Team America: World Police’. Interpreting their participation in blockbuster movies that make millions as indicative that the audience stuffing itself with popcorn as they fly around in tights will also sit and listen to them preach as well is a measure of their colossal egos and sense of self-importance. They never learn. Lecturing the American electorate and commanding them to choose Clinton over Trump will probably be as counterproductive for Hillary’s campaign as their British equivalents promoting Remain were for that particular cause. Trump Republicans may be content to fill the multiplexes when actors are doing their day-job, but the minute thespians start preaching politics, the effect is to push a sizeable chunk of their audience into the arms of the enemy.

When Hillary Clinton referred to Trump supporters as ‘deplorable’, it was a rather sweeping statement that I have no doubt contained a grain of truth in the case of the narrow-minded bigoted redneck faction; the problem is that by tarring all Trump supporters with the same unsavoury brush, Clinton is delivering an almighty insult to those Americans whose fortunes have plummeted under the Washington regime of both blue and red persuasion over the last twenty years. Many Americans hold Hillary’s husband, Hillary herself and Obama responsible for the state they’re in; they may have previously voted Democrat and placed their faith in the man who said ‘Yes we can’, but the ultimate impotence of the office for resolving the problems of what Nixon referred to as the Silent Majority has hit them hard. In their eyes, Clinton’s statement seemed to represent both her contempt and cluelessness when it comes to vast swathes of a vast country’s population.

Many of that population have flocked to Trump simply because he’s telling them what they want to hear – not in an airbrushed and (for want of a better word) ‘politically correct’ way, but in the brusque, blunt and unvarnished manner of a barroom braggadocio; some of the things Trump has said in public are indeed deplorable, yet one could probably hear the very same things in any drinking den in any corner of the US; to hear them on the political podium is a novelty that makes some voters believe he speaks their language.

A showy, egomaniacal maverick multi-millionaire whose luxurious lifestyle was inherited from his father is hardly the kind of candidate one would imagine capable of captivating those struggling to make ends meet, let alone taking on and defeating the sophisticated Republican establishment; yet the elements of Trump’s personality that alienate his detractors are the same ones that have attracted his supporters.

Both Clinton and Trump have the kind of income and fortune that only a small percentage of their respective supporters will ever enjoy, so for either to declare themselves to be at one with The People is laughable; but the uncouth bluster of Trump has a kind of Homer Simpson appeal to many Americans, whereas Clinton’s public image is closer to that of Mr Burns. Trump has sold himself as the outsider, and pitching himself as an antidote to the formula so many blame for their ills is a pitch that has precedents.

The antipathy and envy Richard Nixon exhibited towards the Kennedys – seeing their movie-star glamour, wealthy privilege and aristocratic aura as everything he craved but knew he would never have – was to him the embodiment of East Coast elitism, a world that had been barred to him all his life, as it is to most; but the grudge he bore was one he used to his eventual advantage. Post-Watergate, it’s easy to forget that Nixon won a huge landslide in 1972; despite his many enemies, he connected with the same kind of voter that Trump is connecting with today.

Ironically, Clinton herself shares much with Nixon. Tricky Dicky’s political career had a vintage of over twenty years before he was finally elected President. He’d played a prominent part in HUAC activities in the late 40s/early 50s, spent eight years as Eisenhower’s Vice President, famously ran for President in 1960, and had a taste of future questions over his trustworthiness as early as 1952, when he utilised the relatively untested power of television by defending accusations of financial impropriety in the so-called ‘Checkers’ speech. After several years in the wilderness following his 1960 defeat to JFK, his capture of the Presidency in 1968 was undoubtedly one of the great political comebacks of all time. Clinton’s political career stretches back even further than Nixon’s did in 1968, and eight years after her first attempt to become the Democratic candidate she has returned for one last battle.

Like Nixon, Clinton has had her fair share of scandals that her opponents have pointed to as proof she cannot be trusted. There was the Whitewater controversy, which emerged even before her husband had been elected for the first time; there was her alleged compliance in buying off the victims of Bill’s extramarital philandering; there were a couple of ‘gate’ affairs – Travelgate and Filegate; there was the email controversy; there was her dubious recall of events when she landed in Bosnia in 1996; there have even been criticisms of her not being entirely truthful as to the state of her health during the current campaign – enough scandals, in fact, to fill a book, which Christopher Hitchens partially did in his merciless 1999 dissection of Bill, ‘No One Left to Lie To’. If only Hitch was still with us. What a mouth-watering commentator on 2016’s no-holds-barred battle he would have been.

This Presidential race is unlike any other in that both candidates are so intensely loathed by great sections of the American electorate. Hatred of Hillary goes back a long way, but Trump has done his best to catch up over the past twelve months. Perhaps it’s inevitable that someone as ghastly as Trump is the type that emerges when the masses feel disenfranchised and dispossessed, because it is only the Donald Trumps of this world that can boast the requisite ego, fearlessness and unshakable self-confidence in their own magnificence, the only ones that have the gall and gumption to push themselves forward for the job and genuinely believe they can do it. His complete inexperience in public office next to someone with more experience than anyone else is, on paper, a non-starter, yet his supporters bizarrely regard that factor in his favour, as much as it fills his opponents with dread.

The vacuous slickness of Obama and eight years of achieving very little beyond being the first black President can be perceived as a lack of guts, balls and the stomach for a fight; by comparison, Trump has convinced his supporters the opposite approach will achieve everything they desire. If recent events are anything to go by, America is indeed broken; but is Donald Trump capable of fixing it? And what does that say about the American political system that a man such as Trump is even in with a shout of fixing it in the first place?

The first TV debate between the two most polarising Presidential candidates in US history will air in the wee small hours of tomorrow morning. It could well be worth staying up for, if only as a dispiriting and masochistic wallow in how low we’ve sunk.

© The Editor


carterTo call this weekend’s New York bombing (and two other terrorist-related incidents on American soil) a potential game-changer in the ongoing US Presidential race is not necessarily exaggerating. Such events, and the way in which those hoping for power respond to them, can have an impact on public opinion; and it pays for the competing candidates to have stock responses in reserve just in case they occur. Thirty-six years ago, when President Jimmy Carter was running for a second term in office, his attempts to boost his falling ratings by staging an audacious rescue of the hostages being held at the American embassy in Tehran ended in tragic disaster and arguably cost him the Presidency as the country was won over by the untarnished Ronald Reagan.

The Georgian peanut-farmer and former Governor of his home state had swept to power in the wake of Watergate at a moment when the US was suffering from an acute decline in self-confidence; state-of-the-nation movies in that intriguing, immediate pre-‘Star Wars’ era, such as ‘Taxi Driver’, ‘All the President’s Men’ and ‘Network’, perfectly capture the uncertain mood of the moment in all its ugly albeit undoubtedly compelling glory. Despite being a relative unknown – and an unfashionable Southerner to boot – Jimmy Carter capitalised on the unpopularity of President Ford after his pardoning of Nixon by promising to lead the nation out of the untrustworthy darkness that had characterised the first half of the 70s and into a new era of more open and honest governance. Pardoning Vietnam draft-dodgers of the 60s on just his second day in the White House, Carter made an encouraging start, particularly in the field of foreign affairs.

Anyone who was around in this country during the late 70s will recall Jimmy Carter’s visit to the UK in 1977, and in particular the memorable diversion from the routine London meeting-and-greeting that constituted his unexpected trip to Newcastle. After the toxic legacy of Tricky Dicky and then the Presidency of a man who (to quote Lyndon Johnson) was so dumb he couldn’t ‘fart and chew gum at the same time’, Jimmy Carter seemed to be a breath of fresh air, and his overseas popularity was certainly strong, even if it couldn’t be replicated at home. His role in the building of bridges between Egypt and Israel won him considerable plaudits on the international stage, as did his joint signing of the Salt II treaty with Brezhnev, reducing the escalating arms race with the Soviet Union. Ironically, considering his success abroad, it was an event beyond America’s borders – the November 1979 capture of 52 American members of staff at the US embassy in Iran – that proved to be Carter’s undoing.

Operation Eagle Claw was the name given to the project planned as a means of releasing the US hostages from captivity in Tehran by force in April 1980. Had it succeeded, it would probably have been regarded as one of the American military’s greatest peacetime triumphs as well as a masterstroke on the part of the President that would have virtually guaranteed him a second term in office. But it didn’t. He’d already fought off a Democrat challenge from Teddy Kennedy (claiming he would ‘whip the Senator’s ass’) and then he was up against a former movie star whose Republican renaissance needed a calamitous blunder by Carter to give it the boost it required to ‘make America great again’. Funny how Republican aims always remain the same.

The Iranian Revolution of 1978/79 was the first tangible sign of Radical Islam as we know it today, and the end of the Shah’s unpleasant American-sponsored regime was marked by a new hostility towards the West (especially America) from former Middle Eastern allies. When students inspired by the Revolution took over the US embassy in Tehran, seizing 52 staff members for a period of what eventually turned out to be 444 days, American eyes turned to the President in the hope he would act. He took his time, despite the public clamour for action; and when a sequence of events contributed towards the failure of the mission to end the hostage crisis, Carter bore the brunt of the blame.

The hostages remained held against their will, whilst eight servicemen lost their lives in Operation Eagle Claw when the mission was aborted in the desert, just 52 miles from Tehran. An ill-thought-out project ended when a helicopter crashed into a transport aircraft packed with fuel for the intended operation and this was when the lives were lost. It proved to be a devastating blow for Carter’s re-election ambitions as well as one for national prestige; and Reagan couldn’t have wished for a better boost to his campaign. In fact, the Ayatollah Khomeini deliberately withheld the release of the hostages until the day of Reagan’s inauguration in January 1981, simply to deny Carter the credit for the belated end of their captivity. To his credit, Reagan offered his predecessor the opportunity to greet the hostages upon their return to the US, but he politely declined.

In many respects, Jimmy Carter’s post-Presidential career in the field of human rights has won him more admirers, and aged 91, he is currently the longest-retired President in US history, breaking Herbert Hoover’s long-standing record four years ago. In terms of history, however, it seems to be the failures rather than the successes that most associate with his term in the White House.

The situation in 2016 is somewhat different to 1980 in that the incumbent President isn’t seeking re-election, though Obama has given his endorsement to Hillary Clinton’s efforts to succeed him. However, Clinton’s recent health problems have served to momentarily stall her campaign, with a renewed terrorist assault on New York just a week after the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11 the last thing she needed. Donald Trump’s ignorant willingness to play into the hands of ISIS by proposing a ban on all Muslims entering the US received a gift with the latest (mercifully failed) attempts at claiming American lives in the name of Allah, though his uncompromising reaction to the bombing has been utterly predictable and precisely what his supporters wanted to hear.

It is too early in the campaign to discern how much of an impact these events will have upon it, though Trump’s hardline approach is precisely the kind of rhetoric many in America welcome; that Clinton is prepared to dredge up her time as Secretary of State in relation to the assassination of Osama Bin Laden (presumably proving she’s not ‘soft’ on Radical Islam) is perhaps a measure of how far both candidates are prepared to go when it comes to exploiting an incident that is being promoted within the US media as more a case of what could have happened than what actually did.

© The Editor


fdr-and-hillaryThe health concerns surrounding Hillary Clinton now that she and Donald Trump are embarking upon the final phase of their run for the US Presidency – the coughing fits, the fainting at this weekend’s 9/11 anniversary ceremony, and the eventual diagnosis of pneumonia – are a reminder of the stamina required to hold the highest office in the land; and she hasn’t even made it to the White House yet. Ronald Reagan was 69 when elected in 1980, and if Mrs Clinton is elected in November she will have reached the same age – an age at which the majority would be enjoying retirement rather than beginning one of the most demanding jobs on the planet. She has so far brushed off any rumours of serious illness, though if the race itself proves to be a strain, how would she cope once behind the desk of the Oval Office (as opposed being under it, which was the preferred position of her husband’s female aides)? Aside from Kennedy, McKinley, Garfield and Lincoln – whose demises came as a consequence of assassin’s bullets – four other US Presidents have died in office.

First up was William Henry Harrison in 1841. An American Whig and ex-Major General, Harrison holds several notable records: He was the last US President born a British subject (1773), the first serving President to have his photograph taken, the oldest man elected to the job until Reagan (aged 68), and the first to die in office; his tenure at the White House also remains the shortest on record, just 30 days, 12 hours and 30 minutes; he died from pneumonia after catching a cold three weeks on from his inauguration. Less than a decade later, President Zachary Taylor died of suspected cholera, believed to have been infected by the open sewers of Washington; another Whig and former Major General, Taylor was just seventeen months into office when he passed away.

Warren G Harding had served barely two-and-a-half years as President when he died of either a heart attack or a stroke in 1923 (the cause remains debatable). Not only did none of these three men serve a full term of office; their deaths were all surrounded by speculation and rumour, proving that the JFK conspiracy industry had precedents. Zachary Taylor’s remains were even exhumed in 1991 to finally resolve the mystery of his death.

Perhaps the most famous non-assassinated President to die in office was Franklin D Roosevelt, who passed away on the eve of the Second World War’s ending in April 1945. Stricken by polio at a relatively late age (39), the then-practicing lawyer was paralysed by the disease from the waist down and could no longer walk or stand without assistance. Determined not to be broken by the paralysis, Roosevelt worked hard at walking again, supported by a cane and wearing iron braces on his legs; he was frequently wheelchair-bound behind closed doors, though he was careful never to be seen so physically incapacitated in public. Roosevelt tried various alternative therapies to mask the extremities of his disability and found the warm springs in Georgia conducive to improving his condition.

Roosevelt already had a career in public office before his debilitating illness in 1921 and he re-entered politics by successfully running for the Governorship of New York in 1928; his physical difficulties were no secret, though the extent of them was. Whilst sometimes supported by crutches or one of his aides when speaking in public, he could stand alone on a podium by gripping a strong lectern; the need to keep hold of it led to his trademark animated head gestures when making a speech. After being elected US President for the first of four record-breaking occasions in 1932, Roosevelt was careful to minimise the damage that his frailty could have on public opinion, avoiding the media when arriving at events in order that his difficulties in getting in and out of vehicles wouldn’t be publicised. Any photographers that attempted to capture the President at his most vulnerable allegedly had their photos censured by the Secret Service.

The heavy strain of the War years took a further toll on FDR’s health; running for his historic fourth term in 1944, it was evident to those around him that he was not a well man, though it’s possible he may have wanted to see WWII through to its conclusion. He was eventually elected, but the three months he served before his death were characterised by the need to broker peace in anticipation of victory; he attended the famous Yalta Conference with Churchill and Stalin in February 1945, returning home a month later. It was then that his increasing ill-health could be hidden no longer, especially when he was forced to address Congress sitting down. A few weeks later he was dead at the age of 63 – five years younger than Hillary Clinton is now.

That Roosevelt became the most dominant American politician of his generation and was the White House resident for twelve years is testament to his tremendous determination to overcome a crippling illness that would have broken many men. It also shows how badly some crave high office in the face of potentially impossible obstacles. The manner in which the media, both professional and social, has become so flustered over Hillary Clinton’s health makes one wonder how far FDR would have been able to hide his considerably more serious ailments from the prying eyes permanently peering into the modern goldfish bowl. Even John F Kennedy managed to keep his own chronic back pain from all but his closest friends, family and advisers, the severity of it (and the amount of drugs required to numb it) not becoming public knowledge until years after his death.

The pressures public figures – particularly politicians – are placed under in the 24-hour 365-days-a-year spotlight when compared to their distant predecessors are undoubtedly something ‘private’ figures are relieved to be spared. However, entering public life is largely down to individual choice, unless circumstances push the anonymous onto the front pages; and today the general public as well as the politicians choose to do so, whether running for office and having the miniature of one’s entire life forensically scrutinised or posting a gallery of selfies and being exposed to the wrath of trolls. And nobody yet knows if Hillary Clinton’s decision to try to get her hands on the Presidency will ultimately do her more damage than it will her country.

© The Editor


Hillary ClintonHillary Clinton’s hard-fought slog to secure the Democratic nomination for November’s US Presidential Election was all-but confirmed this week, despite the stubborn refusal of the persistent thorn-in-her side Bernie Sanders to throw the towel in. Perhaps due to the ill-tempered nature of the campaign and the Pythonesque freak show of the simultaneous Republican circus, the history that will be made when Mrs Clinton goes head-to-hair with Mr Trump has been somewhat downplayed; but it’s still historic, all the same.

If any woman in American political history was ever going to have the guts, gall and gumption to make it all the way to the Presidency, Hillary Clinton is the one. Like Margaret Thatcher, Clinton is something of an aberration; if she achieves her aim, it’s hard to see it being replicated by another woman in the future, if ever. Love her or loathe her – and that’s just the American public – Hillary is the most expertly qualified mistress of Washington Dark Arts ever to have pushed herself forward for the top job. First Lady for eight years, New York Senator for a further eight and Secretary of State for four, Clinton’s experience of the highest offices the USA can boast is one few men, never mind women, could match. This is, of course, her second attempt to gain the Democratic White House ticket, having lost out to Obama in 2008; but the fact that she decided to run again even after history was snatched from her grasp eight years ago is testament to her inexhaustible political ambition.

Whereas Donald Trump is primarily known for being a businessman, TV celebrity and professional gobshite, his Democrat opponent is possibly the most experienced political animal to aim for the Presidency since Richard Nixon in 1968. Like Nixon when he gained the Republican nomination, Clinton has been a familiar face to the US public for a good couple of decades, giving them more than enough time to form a solid opinion of her both as a politician and as a person; also like Nixon, she divides the electorate like few other political figures in a country that has produced its fair share of divisive political figures.

2016 finds America in a strange place – or should that be a stranger place than usual. This is a moment in its history when political experience is viewed with suspicion and almost regarded as a hindrance to high office. Blue Collar America wants somebody with no experience whatsoever, somebody untarnished by association with what it perceives as Washington establishment elitism; that it should have honed in on an egomaniacal multi-millionaire whose clear contempt for anyone who doesn’t share his black & white worldview is odd on paper. But devoid of our own archaic social hierarchy, America is a country where even a man whose vast wealth sets him far apart from the street-sweeper can be regarded as ‘one of the guys’ simply because money hasn’t bought him any class. And in mistaking brash barroom bluster for ‘calling a spade a spade’ common sense, Blue Collar America has found its ideal hero, its very own Archie Bunker as the potential leader of the western world.

This places Hillary Clinton in a uniquely difficult position. Not only is she up against the ceaseless scrutiny of her lengthy and controversial career as a public servant – something Donald Trump is spared; she also has to calculate the best way to attack a man who has already shown he has no qualms over uttering outrageous statements that would ordinarily serve as valuable ammunition for an opponent, the kind that seasoned politicians would do their best to bury before facing the electorate. Trump would have to do so much backtracking over the sheer volume of ridiculous ideas and insults he’s aired during the past six months if he wanted to deny them that he may as well practice walking backwards for Christmas.

There are many Democrats who would rather have anyone as their candidate other than Hillary Clinton, which is why Bernie Sanders has been so successful at stealing her thunder during numerous primaries, and why the relatively inexperienced Obama derailed her expected smooth ride to the White House in 2008. The legacy of her husband’s secrets and lies, not to mention the dodgy moments from her own political past, have contributed towards the mistrust those within her own party feel towards her, and that’s not even taking into account the intense dislike of her that Republicans harbour.

It takes a tough nut to weather the kind of slings and arrows heading the way of Hillary Clinton over the coming months; but if there’s one hardened campaigner who can handle them, it’s the 68-year-old from Chicago who is determined to become America’s first female President. And I wouldn’t be surprised if she goes and does it.

© The Editor