A US President is assassinated, elevating Vice-President Johnson to the top job – no, not JFK and Lyndon Johnson, but Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. It’s April 1865 and the last shot in the Civil War is still to be fired; but the one that killed the President is ricocheting across the political landscape as a seemingly ill-equipped individual inherits the reins of power. Even though the conflict that had set the nation against itself was officially over before the year was out, the aftermath dominated Johnson’s one term of office, and the strains it placed upon the various strands of government were something Abraham Lincoln’s unsatisfactory successor appears to have exacerbated. The unfortunate circumstances that led to Johnson’s capture of the Presidency after just six weeks as second-in-command would probably be his sole entry in the history books were it not for the fact that he is also remembered as the first American President to be impeached.

A Democrat who seems to have spent most of his time as President engaged in a tug-of-war with Congressional Republicans, Johnson was eager to bring the seceded States back into the Union as quickly as possible; key to his post-war Presidential Reconstruction was to pardon Confederate leaders and raise no objections to Southern legislation limiting the civil liberties of freed slaves (the so-called Black Codes). With Johnson opposing the Fourteenth Amendment giving those former slaves citizenship, he repeatedly attempted to dismiss Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (who approved the Fourteenth Amendment); the President’s actions violated the Tenure of Office Act, which Congress had passed to restrict his powers to fire officials, and when Johnson eventually dismissed Stanton, the House of Representatives moved to impeach him.

Andrew Johnson’s ‘high crimes and misdemeanours’ were listed in eleven articles of impeachment that resulted in the President’s Senate trial, though a potential conviction largely centred on the illegal dismissal of Stanton. In the end, Johnson narrowly escaped conviction, and there were endless rumours that bribery and corruption saved the President’s skin and prevented him being removed from office. As it was, barely a year later Johnson was the ex-President, anyway, having failed to win the Democratic Presidential nomination. His sole achievement in office appears to have been the purchase of Alaska from the Russian Empire, though his main claim to fame is the one that is currently receiving renewed interest on account of rather more contemporary events.

Just over a century on from the inglorious episode in the career of President #17, the 37th holder of the office came within a whisker of finding himself in the same position. In 1972, Richard Nixon was re-elected by what was then the biggest margin of victory in American history, yet less than two years later he became the first – and so far only – US President to resign before his term of office was up. The Watergate scandal lifted the lid on the unsavoury reality of politics at the highest level and enabled a jaw-dropping public to be exposed to it for the first time; whilst Nixon’s dirty tricks were undoubtedly an extreme manifestation of the man’s paranoid persecution complex, it’s not as though Tricky Dicky was the first sinner in a long line of saints. Nixon’s crime was that he got caught.

Few politicians who climb to the plateau of power manage to do so without pissing a fair few people off en route, but how that resentment can maybe be turned into legal action that brings them down is easier said than done. Bill Clinton’s enemies were mainly female, most of whom he’d enjoyed extramarital dalliances with whilst – according to Christopher Hitchens, anyway – Hillary paid them off in order to prevent any future kiss-and-tell exposés. The 42nd President always made it clear these dalliances were consensual, though it was perhaps inevitable that the question of consent was destined to rear its ugly head by the time Clinton ascended to the Oval Office. Of course, it was in that very room that the ‘incident’ many both at the time and since attribute to the impeachment of Clinton in 1998 took place; the tawdry Monica Lewinsky affair, in which the President had lied on oath that he didn’t have ‘sexual relations with that woman’ before then admitting he had, served to exhume the ghost of an older allegation that sealed impeachment proceedings. Former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones accused Clinton of sexual harassment dating from his tenure as Governor of Arkansas, and it was the lawsuit Jones filed against the President that gave additional weight to the Lewinsky lie.

Nixon had evaded impeachment on account of resigning before the process could be completed and then receiving a pardon from his successor, Gerald Ford; but in January 1999 Bill Clinton went all the way and became only the second US President to stand trial in the Senate. However, like Johnson before him, Clinton was acquitted and was able to serve out his second term in office, despite his already-dodgy reputation being further besmirched by the whole sleazy saga. One could even argue Bill’s incurable philandering contributed towards the failure of the former First Lady to win the White House, as Donald Trump and his team were quick to magic up another accuser of her husband whenever the Democrats sought to bring Trump’s own dubious record to the fore during the notoriously nasty 2016 campaign.

And now we come full circle as a third American President has been impeached. Ironically, considering the rumours and whispers of Trump’s overactive libido that dogged (and ultimately didn’t affect) his bid for the Presidency, it is a purely political issue that will drag him to the Senate early next year. As the blueprint for the process, Andrew Johnson made a lot of bad enemies and it was then up to his enemies to find something they could nail him with; if the now-three US Presidents to have been impeached share anything, it is that the crimes and misdemeanours that formed their articles of impeachment were all their enemies could legally cobble together. All seem like minor offences when compared to the litany of alleged offences that couldn’t be proven; and the Democrats’ relentless pursuit of Trump just looks like partisan politics of the most desperate order.

Ever since Trump’s inauguration, most of the Democratic Party’s energies seem to have been devoted not to finding the right man or woman to beat the President in 2020, but to digging up any tiny scrap of dirt that would be strong enough to force him from office. It’s as though the humiliation of Trump being unceremoniously booted out was somehow more satisfactory than him actually being defeated in a fair fight, as if the President’s own lowly moral character has infected his opponents to the point whereby they’ve given up trying to be the better man. Indeed, if the Democrats had spent half of the time unearthing the perfect foil to take Trump on politically that they have rooting through the Donald’s underwear drawer, they might not be so determined to prevent a second term of office by stooping to impeachment.

The allegation that the President involved a foreign power in his attempts to dig some dirt of his own (on Joe Biden) is serious when compared to the articles that comprised the case against his impeached predecessors, but there appears to be little chance the President will be convicted, so what’s the point? And where does that leave the Democrats? The whole affair has the distinct ‘last throw of the dice’ look for a party dedicated to Trump’s removal by means that are foul rather than fair.

© The Editor


I suspect people had more blind faith where their leaders were concerned before 1973. If Watergate or a comparable scandal (in terms of cultural impact) was to happen now, how would we respond to the revelation that the biggest elected representative in the land was a bit of a crook? Shock! Horror! Yes, certainly in the media’s delivery of the news to the masses; but what of the masses themselves? A shrug of the shoulders and a resigned ‘Well, they’re all bent bastards’, perhaps; indeed, one wonders if Richard Nixon would simply serve out his second term of office today and face down the challenge of impeachment as Bill Clinton did. The general consensus now we are sufficiently distanced from the activities of Tricky Dicky’s inept White House mobsters appears to be that what Nixon got up to behind closed doors was no worse than what many of his predecessors got up to, not to mention his successors.

It would now appear that, as a collective, the Kennedys got away with far more than Nixon ever managed; this could have been because they always looked good; and in politics, particularly American politics, that helps. Regardless of all the unappetising worms that have slithered out of the Kennedy can over the past half-century, the JFK model remains a potent political sales technique, seen just last week as desperate Democrats continue to submit a succession of bland shirt-sleeves-rolled-up congressmen, senators, governors and mayors from those States where hair is nearly always thick, black and slicked-back. Perhaps it’s a sign of the cynical times that whenever I catch sight of these showroom dummies on TV, my first thought is to wonder how long it’ll be before their campaign is derailed by the inevitable story of an affair with a call-girl or, worse, an allegation of a college rape. In the twenty-first century, it’s become second nature that we eventually expect our leaders to be revealed as bent bastards; in the twentieth, it wasn’t necessarily so.

Yes, opinion of politicians in general languishes so low today in comparison to forty or fifty years ago that it’s hard to think of a profession that outranks politics in terms of eliciting public revulsion. The only one that springs to mind – tabloid journalism – is probably as responsible for this state of affairs as any other, salivating over every scandal it has helped to break with as much energy as the politician has sought to cover-up the one he helped to make. The negative view of politicians has been largely generated by their own wicked deeds, though repeated exposure to them via the media has helped fan the flames. It’s been a partnership that has had disastrous consequences for both parties; and the more polarising politics is, the more determined each side becomes to destroy the other at the expense of everything else that needs dealing with.

Therefore, though I’ve only skimmed through the findings of the Mueller Report (or those sections highlighted online and on television) since its publication last week, skimming was as much as I could be bothered doing. I mean – is anyone going to be remotely surprised by anything it has to say, even its most damaging indictments of a presidency few outside of the most devoted rate much higher than the nearest sewer, anyway?

The reaction to the Mueller Report from both sides of the ideological barricades is a perfect portrait of a wider political divide and how the media has played its part. The anti-Trump brigade, religiously dedicated to every website and rolling news channel that reinforces their viewpoint of the Donald as the Devil incarnate, furiously rifled through the report in search of anything that confirmed what they already believed – and that was all they were looking for; similarly, the pro-Trump crowd did likewise, bringing all their gun-totin’ baggage and unswerving love of the Man from Del Monte to the table, solely seeking to finally prove he ain’t no buddy of Putin. Consequently, Mr President can confidently declare the findings exonerate him and extinguish the Russian rumours once and for all, whilst his more vocal political opponents can also locate plenty in the report that supports their opinion of Trump and can perhaps act as the launch-pad for a renewed attempt to oust him from office. Who in 2019, I wonder, could possibly approach such a report with a totally unbiased perspective?

Numerous senior Democrats have played the part of TV talking heads in the wake of the Mueller Report, furtively speculating on what fresh opportunities for attack its revelations have presented them with. But Democrats really need to get over Trump. I think western liberals in general need to get over Trump, but US opposition politicians and their supporters especially need to get over him. Their fanatical, foaming-at-the-mouth obsession is proving an obstruction to the one legitimate and indisputable means of evicting him from the White House – the ballot-box. If they don’t get their act together soon and push forward a candidate the entire Democratic Party (and then the majority of the country) can rally round before 2020, their nightmare is simply going to be prolonged for another four years and make their meltdown a permanent one.

The Democrat fixation on dislodging Trump by any means, fair or foul, is almost comparable to the similar tunnel vision some backbench Tories have on Brexit, with the potential to destroy their party if they don’t put the brakes on. The man’s not going anywhere for at least another eighteen months, so cease and desist from wasting time trying to evict him other than by persuading the electorate to do so when the time comes. Otherwise, Democrats risk being defined solely by their disproportionate hatred of Trump as much as the ERG is defined by its disproportionate hatred of the EU.

Yes, we’ve all enjoyed Alec Baldwin’s impersonation of the President, but let’s not pretend poking fun will change anything. One could evoke Peter Cook’s sarcastic summary of the spectacular success German satirists had in preventing the Nazis’ rise to power or perhaps remember how the Alternative Comedy generation had a thing about Thatcher without their fury making the slightest bit of difference to the Iron Lady’s staying power; in the end it was her own insane sense of invincibility that did for her, without any assistance from Ben Elton. Indeed, as a stand-up, Elton was as indebted to Margaret Thatcher as Mike Yarwood was to Harold Wilson. Lest we forget, one prominent member of the 80s comedy club is now a Dame of the British Empire; she burned a pin-prick in the ozone layer last week by jetting over to Central London during its reinvention as Glastonbury to link arms with trustafarians and tell us how we’re killing the planet. Some of us already knew that, just like we know the best way to get rid of Donald Trump is to find a better man – or woman.

© The Editor


There was an abundance of memorable moments during the Watergate scandal, but none managed to condense as much drama into such a short space of time as the so-called ‘Saturday Night Massacre’, which occurred on October 20 1973. The reputation of Nixon’s administration had suffered additional embarrassment ten days earlier with the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew whilst he faced charges of tax evasion unrelated to Watergate; but when the President ordered the Attorney General Eliot Richardson to fire Archibald Cox, the man Richardson had appointed as an independent special prosecutor to investigate the June 1972 break-in at the Democratic Party offices in Washington’s Watergate building, the Attorney General refused to do so.

As part of his investigations, Cox had issued a subpoena to Nixon that ordered the surrender of taped conversations between the President and his aides recorded in the Oval Office; Nixon had refused in recognition of the threat Cox posed to his story of events. By ordering his Attorney General to dismiss Cox, the President assumed the problem would be solved; he hadn’t anticipated Eliot Richardson would refuse the order and then resign in protest. Nixon’s response was to demand Richardson’s deputy William Ruckelshaus do the deed instead; Ruckelshaus also refused and resigned.

Desperate to save face, Nixon initially claimed Ruckelshaus had been sacked and turned to Solicitor General Robert Bork to fire Cox; Bork did so after being sworn-in as acting Attorney General, though the whole unedifying affair served to finally turn public opinion against Nixon. An NBC poll a week after the Saturday Night Massacre showed a plurality of Americans supported the impeachment of the President for the first time, even though it took another nine months before the House Judiciary Committee approved its first article of impeachment; and Nixon resigned before the process could even begin.

What an excitable US TV news presenter referred to as the biggest constitutional crisis in the history of the nation as the Saturday Night Massacre unfolded has had echoes in the past couple of eventful weeks in Washington. The main difference between 2017 and 1973 is that Nixon’s credibility began to disintegrate when he had already served one full term in office and had retained power on the back of a landslide victory. As for the Donald, it’s only four months since he took the oath of office for the first time and there seems to have been enough constitutional crises to make Richard Nixon’s spell as President seem like an uneventful and rather dull period of American history.

The dismissal of FBI Director James Comey on May 9 certainly revived memories of the Saturday Night Massacre for those either old enough to remember it or those who have read about it since. Comey’s termination came in the wake of the FBI investigation into the Hillary Clinton email affair as well as the organisation’s conviction that Russia interfered in Trump’s election campaign. Subsequent revelations that Trump had shared classified information with the Russian Ambassador and Russian Foreign Minister during a recent visit to the White House have done little to dispel the lingering belief of Russian involvement in the Donald’s rise to power. Comey has claimed the President asked him to cease investigations into the short-lived National Security Adviser Michael T Flynn’s Russian connections, something Trump has naturally refuted.

Lyndon Johnson’s opinion of the FBI’s fearsome first Director J Edgar Hoover, that it was ‘better have him inside the tent pissing out than have him outside pissing in’, suggests simply sacking James Comey might not be the end of the affair for Trump. Despite the President’s intervention in Syria not exactly easing US relations with the Kremlin, the Russian issue won’t go away. The appointment of a special counsel in the shape of former FBI Director Robert Mueller to continue the investigation hasn’t necessarily met with Trump’s approval, with the President referring to the ongoing efforts to establish a direct connection between him and Russia as a witch-hunt. Mind you, Trump’s tiresome whinging about the media and how everyone is against him is only unprecedented on his side of the Atlantic; he’s more than matched over here by the most frothing-at-the-mouth Corbynistas and their incurable persecution complex.

Trump has already taken his ‘You’re fired’ catchphrase from ‘The Apprentice’ into his Presidency, sacking the likes of acting Attorney General Sally Yates for disputing his executive order to bar citizens of certain specified Muslim countries from entering the US; he also demoted and replaced acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Daniel Ragsdale the same day he dismissed Yates. No explanation for this dismissal was given, though mere coincidence in what was labelled by some as the ‘Monday Night Massacre’ seems unlikely. In this context, his firing of James Comey makes perfect sense. Trump still sees himself as the head of a company and everyone else as his employees. Anybody challenging his authority has to go.

Watergate was a slow burner of a scandal that unravelled at a sedate pace worthy of a weighty novel; it confirmed suspicions of Nixon that his most committed critics had harboured for a long time and cast a cynical shadow across Washington that has never really gone away. What’s happening now isn’t quite the same. In contrast with Richard Nixon’s unattainable ambition to be loved, Donald Trump couldn’t care less; Nixon’s downfall had all the elements of a Greek Tragedy, whereas Trump entered the political arena looking for a fight and now he’s got one. As long as Russian rumours continue to circulate and talk of invoking the 25th Amendment if impeachment fails giving his opponents hope, the Donald’s capacity to govern is entirely in his own hands. We shall see.

© 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