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    Antony Blinken plays Rockin’ in the Free World in Kyiv bar – video

    The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, performed Neil Young’s 1989 Rockin’ in the Free World at a bar in Kyiv during a visit on Wednesday night. He was called on stage by the frontman of Ukrainian rock group 19.99, before he played guitar. Young’s song was written in 1989 after he was denied an opportunity to perform in the Soviet Union and was released as the Berlin Wall came down. The song choice underscored Blinken’s support for Ukraine as Russia steps up attacks on the city of Kharkiv

    Before the performance, in a message to Ukrainians, Blinken said: ‘So much of the world is with you. And they’re fighting, not just for a free Ukraine, but for the free world. And the free world is with you too. So maybe we can try something.’ Blinken is known for combining ‘music with diplomacy’, and launched an initiative in 2021 through the state department to realise that goal More

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    No Going Back: Kristi Noem and other Trump veepstakes also-rans

    Donald Trump will never tap Kristi Noem to be his running mate. Indeed, she may never have had a real shot, but in the past few weeks her literary efforts have certainly helped torch whatever dreams she had of living in government housing, complete with Secret Service detail, a heartbeat from the Oval Office.Last weekend, at a vice-presidential cattle call, Trump failed to summon Noem to the stage. She reportedly left early. But at least she made it to Mar-a-Lago for a brief namecheck from Trump. Two other supposed vice-presidential hopefuls, Tulsi Gabbard and Ben Carson, failed to elicit even a mention. As it happens, like Noem, they have campaign books to sell.No Going Back, Noem’s memoir, dwells in a hell of its own, its fires stoked by her stunning story of killing Cricket, a 14-month-old dog, and an unnamed goat. The resultant controversy will be a tale for the political ages but more amazing still is that Noem simply refuses to say sorry. In her book, she writes that if elected president herself, the first thing she’d do “is make sure Joe Biden’s dog was nowhere on the grounds”, adding: “Commander, say hello to Cricket for me.” Talk about twisted.This is not the top table. In The Perilous Fight, Carson manages to argue for a nationwide abortion ban at a time when the US has never been more pro-choice, while Trump, seeking to escape a political trap, unfurls the banner of states’ rights. Way to read the runes, Dr Ben.For Love of Country is Gabbard’s bid for relevance. A former Democratic congresswoman, she is now a Fox News regular. She aims to feed the beast but may be consumed by it. Or, more likely, something worse: ignored.For unvarnished self-destruction, Noem wears the crown and will for some time to come. More than two weeks after the Guardian broke news of her cruelty toward defenseless animals and willingness to boast about it, she remains in the public eye, a punchline for daytime and late-night TV, a spectacle without a clue. On a dimwitted book tour, her attempts to sell her work double as a prolonged act of self-immolation.When you cause your seven-year-old to ask, “Where’s Cricket?” – and then print the tale in a mass-market hardback – you have a problem. But when it is revealed that in order to commit the story to print you dismissed the objections of editors and advisers, you are walking where most candidates dare not tread.A Politico headline blared: Kristi Noem’s Team Told Her to Nix the Dog Story Two Years Ago. The site added: “It would have violated the first rule of campaign memoirs: Do no harm.”Some publicity is just bad. Ask Trump about the Access Hollywood tape, about groping women, which nearly cost him the 2016 election. He also overdid the “best sex ever” gambit, regarding a New York Post headline about his extra-marital adventures. Trump now spends his days as a criminal defendant, on trial thanks to alleged affairs, passing gas and getting slapped with contempt sanctions and the threat of jail.Noem has not progressed quite that far. But with her tale of killing set to ring through the ages, when it came to a quite separate unforced error even her publisher threw her to the wolves.“At the request of Governor Noem, we are removing a passage regarding Kim Jong-un from her book No Going Back, upon reprint of the print edition and as soon as technically possible on the audio and eBook editions,” Center Street announced. “Further questions about the passage should be referred to the author.”Such questions may not get straight answers. Noem refuses to say she never met the North Korean dictator. Pro-tip: visiting England doesn’t mean you had tea with the king.View image in fullscreenCampaign trail books often come with awkward subtitles. Noem’s is: The Truth on What’s Wrong With Politics and How We Move America Forward. Catchy. Carson is not to be outdone. Underneath his own jaunty banner – Overcoming Our Culture’s War on the American Family – the retired neurosurgeon, 2016 Republican primary contender and former US housing secretary offers heartfelt jeremiads and dubious blurbs. Apart from that … not much to help his cause.Carson calls for a national abortion ban, writing: “The battle over the lives of unborn children is not yet finished. The practice continues in many more states.”Said differently, Carson thinks it’s time New York was more like Mississippi. Polling and election results suggest that’s not a popular stance.skip past newsletter promotionafter newsletter promotionCarson’s book jacket is graced by Tucker Carlson and Franklin Graham. Tucker’s gonna Tucker. Billy Graham’s son has threatened Americans with God’s wrath if they criticize Trump. Mary Miller, a member of Congress from Illinois, also praises Carson, offering this nugget of wisdom: “It is important to stand strong against the woke cultural tide at work to water down the importance of the traditional family, and I applaud Dr Carson for calling attention to this issue.”It’s always worth repeating that Miller once had this to say: “Hitler was right on one thing. He said, ‘Whoever has the youth has the future.’”Carson dedicates his book to “the strong traditional families that provide the solid foundation of our nation”. He bashes pornography but is of course silent about Stormy Daniels, the adult film star, and Karen McDougal, the Playboy model, who claim affairs with Trump.Last and least of the three would-be VPs, Gabbard delivers an awkward mix of memoir and screed. She grew up in Hawaii and served in Iraq. Her father was a Republican until he became a Democrat. Convenience may be a family brand.In 2020, Gabbard ran against Joe Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination, then endorsed him. Now she takes a cudgel to the man and a flamethrower to her old party. As to be expected, she attacks Hillary Clinton over comments about Gabbard and Russia. Once again, Gabbard gets her facts wrong. Clinton never called her a “Russian asset”.Gabbard reportedly turned down an offer to be Robert Kennedy Jr’s running mate. She won’t be Trump’s VP but a cabinet slot isn’t out of the question.Generally, campaign books endeavor to simultaneously show enough leg and sanitize a wannabe’s ambition, aiming to make a contender interesting without giving too much away. But such memoirs can still say and do plenty.Think of The Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama’s profession of political faith from 2006, used to develop themes that would underlie his 2008 White House run. Promise Me Dad, Biden’s memoir, burnished his image as a warm uncle, put the memory of Beau Biden, his late son, front and center, and provided a foundation for success in 2020.Now, on the Republican side, JD Vance is a leading contender to be Trump’s vice-presidential pick. His memoir, Hillbilly Elegy, published in 2016, brought him to national prominence and eventually a Senate seat for Ohio. Noem, Carson and Gabbard are nowhere near that league.
    No Going Back is published in the US by Center Street
    The Perilous Fight is published in the US by HarperCollins
    For Love of Country is published in the US by Regnery More

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    Wide Awakes: the young Americans who marched the north to civil war

    History is really the only thing I can do,” Jon Grinspan says, smiling. “I worked in restaurant kitchens, I did other things, but really history is it. If I ever have to stop, I don’t know what I could do. I got straight As in history and straight Ds and Fs and every other topic. It’s like I’m a one-use tool.”He’s being modest. But he definitely does history. A Philadelphia native who studied at Sarah Lawrence in New York and got his PhD from the University of Virginia, Grinspan is now a curator of political history at the National Museum of American History in Washington DC.He’s also the author of a new book, Wide Awake: The Forgotten Force That Elected Lincoln and Spurred the Civil War, which casts a bright torchlight on to a fascinating if brief episode in 1860s America with strong echoes in the divided nation of today.The Wide Awakes were a political movement, begun in Hartford, Connecticut, around the elections of 1860, growing spontaneously and nationally as a way for young men to publicly support Republican anti-slavery candidates, most prominently Abraham Lincoln. Members wore capes, often bearing a painted eye, carried flaming torches and wore military hats and approximations of uniform as they marched in opposition to the slave-holding south.In his small Smithsonian office, after a trip to the museum stores to see a Wide Awake torch, the last coffee cup used by Abraham Lincoln and other precious relics, Grinspan describes how he found his way to the Wide Awakes.“I always looked down on the civil war as a teenager, because it seemed so cookie-cutter and kind of hokey, very un-human and dry. And then in college we started reading Eric Foner” – the dean of civil war-era scholars – “and he made the factions in 19th-century America look human, kind of tribal. I got into it from there.”As a curator, Grinspan is responsible for telling the story of US democracy – hence the giant cardboard pencil in the corner, emblazoned with the words “Write In Ralph Nader”. As it happens, the evocation of the third-party candidate who maybe cost Al Gore the presidency in 2000 points to one of Grinspan’s driving interests: turnout.When he learned how many Americans voted in 19th-century elections, particularly around the civil war, “that made me want to find more. Turnout over 80%? What’s the story behind it? And that kind of guided me into trying to find the human stories, and from there it just seemed so exciting.View image in fullscreen“Also, growing up in the 1990s and early 2000s, politics seemed so dry and tame in America. Turnout was lower in the 90s than at any time since the 1920s. So looking back to the 19th century, when democracy seems so much more vibrant and engaging and conflicted, I got into this world that was completely different. And then over the last 20 years, our world has come to look much more heated, for mostly negative reasons, so it feels like I got into something really niche that has become somehow relevant.”‘Guys with torches in the night’Grinspan found the Wide Awakes “at grad school, in need of an idea for my thesis. I got so into it I essentially failed all my classes the first year. They threatened to throw me out, but I just felt the Wide Awake story wasn’t being told and I wanted to tell it.“So I got pretty fixated on it and I submitted a piece to the Journal of American History. And then, right when I was on the cusp of being kicked out, the Journal said, ‘We’re gonna run this in our Lincoln Bicentennial, which is 2009.’ From there, I had some great professors who said, ‘Just be ruthless in doing the work you want to do.’ And, pat myself on the back, it turned into a career, right?”Right. The Wide Awakes are known but they flourished briefly, before a civil war in which most were subsumed by the Union army. Grinspan has room to move.“There’s a little scene in the preface of this book where a professor turns to his computer, goes on a newspaper database, plugs in ‘Wide Awake’ and gets 15,000 hits for 1860,” Grinspan says. “And yet the group had been so neglected.“It usually gets a paragraph in good books on 1860. They’ll describe Wide Awake marches somewhere, maybe around the Chicago Republican convention in May. They’re outside. But then you’ll get 35 pages on the fight for the Republican nomination and you’ll get a biography of Edward Bates [Lincoln’s attorney general] at 15 pages. But you have this mass movement, hundreds of thousands of people? And I’m gonna get a paragraph?”Grinspan thinks some neglect of the Wide Awakes comes from “a little bit of elitism”, history focused on great leaders. But “the Wide Awakes aren’t entirely a pretty story. And after the war, it’s much easier to valorise Lincoln than to focus on the guys with torches in the night.”After the war, and Lincoln’s assassination, the Reconstruction years saw Ulysses S Grant, the general who became president, face down the Ku Klux Klan, torch-bearing night-raiders who terrorised Black people in the southern states.But the Wide Awakes had a dark side of their own. Like the Republican party, they emerged from a primordial soup of anti-immigrant feeling.“These white Anglo-Saxon Protestant Republicans were pretty hostile to the Irish Democrats and specifically Catholics,” Grinspan says. “The Wide Awakes in the 1850s are a nativist club. They are in nativist fights in Brooklyn, in Boston. You see accounts from Irish immigrants saying, ‘We stayed away from that group over there wearing the white hats.’ Because a ‘wide awake’ hat was the symbol of the group. And then the Wide Awakes in 1860, they take the same name just four or five years later. If you had started a movement called the Tea Party in 2015, people would have had associations. It’s a lot of the same people. They’re cheered on by the same newspapers like the Hartford Courant, which is massively anti-Irish.“But they grow out of it. I think they find a better conspiracy to fight.”By 1860, the southern grip on Washington was strong. The slave-owning states resisted change through an unrepresentative Congress and a supreme court tilted their way. The parallels with Washington today are strong, though labels have changed and it is Republicans who now pursue minority rule.“You look at the behavior of the slave-owning elites and they are doing everything they can to control Congress and control the supreme court, to determine the future of the nation,” Grinspan says. “It’s kind of funny that we hate conspiracy theories, but every once in a while one is accurate.”Another feature of Grinspan’s book that echoes strongly today concerns southern reactions to the Wide Awakes, which ranged from dismissive to angry to frightened. Particularly scarifying was the presence – remarkable enough in the segregated north – of Black men among the torch-bearing marchers.“John Mercer Langston was as far as I know the first Black Wide Awake. He starts the club in Oberlin, Ohio, then later becomes a Reconstruction congressman, a really prominent figure. I knew when I started work on the Wide Awakes there were Black men involved, but I didn’t realise how compelling this story was.skip past newsletter promotionafter newsletter promotion“A lot were fugitives from slavery. They connect the dots to underground abolitionists in Boston, who were fighting slave catchers in the 1850s. They come out publicly with the Wide Awakes, marching in uniform, 144 African Americans with 10,000 white Wide Awakes. They’re not just claiming public space or claiming partisan identity: they’re in military uniforms, a tiny minority in a sea of white people. It’s a bold move.“And those same guys, when the war breaks out, they organise the home guard and then they organise the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, the most prominent African American fighting force in the war. I see the Wide Awakes at a turning point there.“And in the south and the Democratic north, people go crazy when they learn about Black Wide Awakes. They start posting disinformation broadsides for Black Wide Awake events, real events in Pittsburgh and Chicago where we know there were no African Americans, just to gin up anger and get people to vote Democratic.”It all sounds familiar, evocative of rightwing fear and anger in summer 2020, when protests for racial justice spread and Trumpists insisted shadowy, black-clad anti-fascists, “Antifa”, threatened chaos and bloodshed.Rightly, Grinspan is wary of pat journalistic comparisons. Generously, he says the Wide Awakes were alarming to many.“After the 1850s, when there’s so much chaos in America, so much street fighting and Bleeding Kansas and the Know Nothing gangs, people marching in order, in silence, sends a political message. It’s saying, ‘We actually are the people in this republic right now who can organise things. The Democrats can’t even stay together as a party and we have matching uniforms.’ They’re not armed but it’s not a big jump from torches to muskets, as they always say.”View image in fullscreenLincoln’s victory in 1860 was followed by civil war but it also caused the Wide Awakes to fade from the scene. Members wanted to escort the new president to Washington but despite knowing of threats to his life, Lincoln turned down the offer.“If he brings a bodyguard to Washington,” Grinspan says, “if he has 5,000 or 100,000 Republicans in uniform come with him, he drives away Democrats, he drives away Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, slave-owning border states.”Prompted, Grinspan makes an apt comparison.“I mean, January 6, you can see how you can rile up your supporters,” he says, of the day in 2021 when Donald Trump sent supporters, most in what passed for Maga uniform, some in tactical gear, to attack Congress itself.“When Mussolini marches on Rome, he brings his blackshirts with him. There are so many examples of a leader mobilising people this way. And Lincoln has the self-restraint not to do that. He puts it out through John Hay, his young secretary, to the young Wide Awakes in Springfield, Illinois: ‘Go to Washington as individuals. Don’t come as a company. If you want to come to the inauguration, that’s fine.’“But there are still secret Wide Awakes in the crowd and they have the uniforms on.”‘People keep finding objects’Grinspan has ideas for his next book – which will be his fourth – and will continue to engage the public at the Smithsonian. Nonetheless, the publication of Wide Awake is a culmination, of sorts, of 17 years of consuming work.“At first I felt I discovered something no one else knew about,” he says. “And then I thought, ‘I’m done.’ But people kept coming to me with more Wide Awakes stuff. I wouldn’t have written this book five or 10 years ago but people keep finding objects. I still find references in diaries I read. And there was a sort of neo-Wide Awake movement in 2020,” around protests for racial justice.It seems Grinspan will never truly let go of the Wide Awakes. They’re part of his job, after all. Downstairs, in the conservation department, we approach another relic, spread out to be viewed with care.View image in fullscreenIt is a Wide Awake cape, owned and used by George P Holt of New Hampshire then stored in an attic for 100 years or more. Originally bright white with violet lettering, it has faded and frayed with time. But the painted eye, arranged to stare from the wearer’s breast, is as piercing as on the day it was made.
    Wide Awake is published in the US and in the UK by Bloomsbury More

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    Morning After the Revolution review: a bad faith attack on ‘woke’

    Writing on Substack in 2021, Nellie Bowles described some of the less attractive qualities that motivated her work as a reporter: “I love the warm embrace of the social media scrum. One easy path toward the top of the list … is communal outrage. Toss something (someone) into that maw, and it’s like fireworks. I have mastered that game. For a couple of years, that desire for attention … propelled me more than almost anything else. I began to see myself less as a mirror and more as a weapon.”Bowles is married to Bari Weiss, a former editor on the opinion section of the New York Times whose furious resignation letter earned her encomiums from Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Donald Trump Jr.But Bowles wrote that her decision to convert to the faith of her Jewish wife had actually softened her approach to journalism: “I want to cultivate my empathy not my cruelty. I am trying to go back to being closer to the mirror than the knife.”However, her new book, Morning After the Revolution: Dispatches from the Wrong Side of History, is dazzling proof she is completely incapable of changing her approach to her profession.Bowles is a former tech reporter for outlets including the Guardian and the New York Times. For many reporters, the decision to write a book comes from wanting to dig deeper into a particular subject, or a desire for freedom from the restrictions of one’s former employer. For Bowles, longform turns out to be the chance to jettison the standards of accuracy of her previous employers in favor of the wildest possible generalizations.Here are a few fine examples: “The best feminists of my generation were born with dicks.” This is the author’s jaunty description of trans women, who, she informs us, are “the best, boldest” and “fiercest feminists”, who unfortunately – according to her – have concluded “that to be a woman is, in general, disgusting”.On the ninth page of Bowles’s introduction, meanwhile, readers realize how much we must have underestimated the universal impact of the movement to Defund the Police. Did you know, for example, that “if you want to be part of the movement for universal healthcare … you cannot report critically on #DefundThePolice”?Bowles identifies a similar problem with marriage equality: “If you want to be part of a movement that supports gay marriage … then you can’t question whatever disinformation is spread that week.”The wilder the idea, the more likely Bowles is to include it, almost always in a way that can never be checked. To prove the vile effect of wokeness on the entire news business, she informs us that colleagues “at major news organizations” have “told me roads and birds are racist. Voting is racist. Exercise is super-racist. Worrying about plastic in the water is transphobic.” And a “cohort” took it “as gospel when a nice white lady said that being on time and objectivity were white values, and this was a progressive belief”.Writing about a tent city in Echo Park, Los Angeles, Bowles explains why nobody living there was interested in a free hotel room: “Residents could not do drugs in the rooms. And the rooms were, of course, indoors. People high on meth and fentanyl prefer being outdoors, with no rules, with their friends.”Predictably, the book reaches a whole new level of viciousness when it reveals Bowles’ attitude toward trans people.Intelligent people know three essential facts about the debate over whether children under 18 should have access to hormones or surgery to make their bodies conform to the gender in which they think they belong.First, a large majority of trans people of all ages never take hormones or get surgery. Second, nearly all of those who do choose to use medicine to alter their bodies report a dramatic improvement in personal happiness. Third, a very small number of those who have undergone surgery or taken hormones to block puberty do change their minds and opt for de-transition.skip past newsletter promotionafter newsletter promotionNaturally, Bowles mentions none of those facts. According to her narrative, “the transition from Black Lives Matter to Trans Lives Matter was seamless … I don’t think this was planned or orchestrated. The movement simply pivoted.”No mention, of course, of polls conducted by Christian nationalists and their allies which determined that the best new fundraising tool would be an all-out attack on trans people, including the denial of their very existence, as well as the introduction of hundreds of bills in state legislatures across the country to make this tiny minority as miserable as possible.Instead, Bowles wants us to believe the debate is dominated by websites you might not have heard of, like Fatherly, which asserts: “All kids, regardless of their gender identity, start to understand their own gender typically by the age of 18 to 24 months.” One parent who appeared on PBS in 2023 is equally important in Bowles’s book, because she said her child started to let her parents know “she was transgender really before she could even speak”.Needless to say, Bowles is horrified that as America became more aware of the existence of trans people, the number of clinics available to treat them grew to 60 by 2023. Then she makes another remarkable claim: “If a parent resists” medical changes requested by a child, “they can and do lose custody of their child.”Is that true? I have no idea. If Bowles had written that sentence in the Times or the Guardian, her editor would most certainly have requested some sort of proof. Fortunately for her – but unfortunately for us – her publisher, a new Penguin Random House imprint, Thesis, does not appear to impose any outdated fact-checking requirements. The only visible standard here is, if it’s shocking, we’ll print it.
    Morning After the Revolution is published in the US by Thesis More

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    Say More review: Jen Psaki on Biden, Trump and how to make your point

    Jen Psaki left the Biden White House after 16 months as press secretary. Saturday Night Live never savaged her, though Kate McKinnon played her. By that and other measures, Psaki compares favorably to Sean Spicer and Sarah Sanders, her predecessors from the years of Trump. A veteran of the Obama West Wing, before that a competitive collegiate swimmer, Psaki had the president’s ear and spoke with knowing authority.Her press briefings were not cauldrons of rancor. Her tussles with Peter Doocey, the Fox News White House correspondent, never neared the boiling point. They played nice.Unlike Karine Jean-Pierre, her successor, Psaki didn’t have to share the White House podium with John Kirby, spokesperson for the national security council and a retired rear admiral. Psaki was a force in her own right.Now a host at MSNBC, Psaki is out with her first book. It mixes political vignettes with tips on navigating life’s competing demands, including how to dodge – and throw – sharp elbows. As a political memoir, it does its share of score-settling. But, true to its subtitle, Lessons from Work, the White House, and the World, Psaki’s book is not a tell-all, terribly newsy or an audition for a slot in a second Biden administration, if there is one.To be expected, Psaki is critical of Donald Trump and his minions, but injects subtlety too. She wields a scalpel, lacerating Spicer and his former boss. She frames criticisms as career advice, not frontal assault.“Shouldn’t [Spicer] have rejected the job offer, if he were truly credible?” she asks of the Republican official who had first go at speaking for Trump, perhaps the most thankless task yet invented in politics.Great question. We all know the answer. As the anti-Trump operative Rick Wilson put it, everything Trump touches dies. Only Ivanka is safe and even then … who knows.“While Sean may not have been acting entirely on his own behalf when he was giving his press briefings,” Psaki writes, “he was the one who suffered as a result.”True. If Melissa McCarthy plays you in an SNL cold open, as she did Spicer, lampooning your loud parroting of your boss’s absurd lies … you’re screwed.Then again, Spicer was kind of lucky. Banished from the Trumpian kingdom early on, he never suffered a January 6-related indictment. Eventually, he expressed regret for beclowning himself over the inauguration in 2017.Back on Psaki’s own side of the aisle, Say More is no hagiography of Joe Biden. Psaki is aware of the president’s capacity for empathy but also mindful of his tendency to bring the story back to his own losses, most recently including that of Beau Biden, his late son who served in Iraq.In summer 2021, amid the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, a suicide bomb at Kabul airport left 13 US soldiers and 170 Afghans dead. Three days later, American bodies arrived at Dover air force base in Delaware, Biden’s home state. The president and the first lady, Jill Biden, attended. Things did not work out as planned.Psaki conveys how Biden was stunned into silence when told that family members of dead Americans were complaining he had spent too much time talking about Beau, alleging he was insufficiently focused on the deaths of their own children.“I paused for the president to respond,” Psaki writes. “The silence that followed was a bit too long. I worried for a moment that our connection had been lost.”Biden finally responded, but did so “in a softer voice than usual”.“I thought I was helping them. Hearing about how other people went through loss always helps me,” Biden said.Again he paused: “Thanks for telling me. Anything else?”skip past newsletter promotionafter newsletter promotionPsaki also tweaks Chuck Schumer, now Senate majority leader, and John Kerry, Barack Obama’s second secretary of state and until March a member of Biden’s administration as his climate envoy.Once upon a time, the Affordable Care Act was unpopular, viewed by many as another welfare scheme. Against the backdrop of the Great Recession, a stock market crash and the mortgage crisis, Obamacare cost the Democrats both chambers of Congress.“There were those … who suggested that we shouldn’t do anything other than the economy,” Obama later acknowledged to Jonathan Cohn of the Huffington Post.One of those “outsiders” was Schumer. The New Yorker grasped the political consequences of going all in on healthcare amid a meltdown in jobs and housing. Political prescience, however, isn’t always welcomed, let alone rewarded. Recalling how the White House rejected Schumer’s suggestion that Obama’s final State of the Union address contain a pitch for student loan relief, Psaki seems to delight in the outcome.“I was telling [Obama] he needed to decide whether he wanted this to be his State of the Union speech, or Senator Schumer’s,” she recalls. “I delivered my thoughts calmly. My argument tapped into my knowledge of how the media would cover the speech. The president eventually agreed. Sorry, Senator Schumer.”Psaki also recalls a gaffe made by Kerry in 2014. Responding to a question, he intimated that if conflict broke out between Japan and China, the US would use military force – a stance at odds with the stated American position.“That was a huge mistake,’” chided David Wade, a longtime Kerry aide. Kerry didn’t yell back. Instead, he gave Psaki and Wade the green light to contact the White House and distance itself from his comments. In that moment, Psaki learned that being effective in her job meant delivering quick feedback, at times.“Advising someone is not the same as appeasing them,” she writes.The Biden administration has been relatively leak-free. Nothing approaching Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury or Team of Vipers by Cliff Sims, an early memoir by a Trump administration official, has appeared. Whether this matters come election day remains, of course, to be seen.
    Say More is published in the US by Simon & Schuster More

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    Abigail Disney evokes Old Yeller in plea to reject Republicans after Kristi Noem kills dog

    Evoking the classic Disney tearjerker Old Yeller, in which a family is forced to put down their beloved dog, the US film-maker and campaigner Abigail Disney exhorted voters to oppose the Republican party of Kristi Noem, the South Dakota governor whose story of killing Cricket, a 14-month-old dog, shocked the world and seemingly dynamited her hopes of being Donald Trump’s running mate.“My great-uncle Walt Disney knew the magic place animals have in the hearts of families everywhere,” Disney wrote in an email released by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) and obtained exclusively by the Guardian.“When he released Old Yeller, the heart wrenching story stayed with people because no one takes the killing of a family pet lightly.“At least that’s what I thought until I read about potential Trump VP Kristi Noem shooting her family’s puppy – a story that has shocked so many of us.”Noem describes the day she killed Cricket (and an unnamed goat) in No Going Back, a campaign memoir published this week but first reported late last month by the Guardian.Cricket, a 14-month-old wirehaired pointer, met her fate in a gravel pit because Noem deemed her “untrainable” after she disrupted a pheasant hunt and killed a neighbour’s chickens. The goat, which had not been castrated, was deemed too aggressive and smelly and a danger to Noem’s children. By the governor’s own admission, it took two blasts with a shotgun to finish the goat off.Noem has repeatedly defended her story as indicative of her willingness to do unpleasant but necessary things in life as well as politics. Nonetheless, she has reportedly slipped way down Donald Trump’s list of possible vice-presidential picks, should the presumptive Republican nominee avoid prison on any of 88 criminal charges and should he beat Biden in November.Two weeks after the Guardian report, shock and revulsion over Noem’s story continues to ring throughout the US. This week, amid a string of uncomfortable interviews even on usually friendly rightwing networks, also questioning an untrue claim to have met the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, the governor cut short a promotional tour for her book.In her email in support of the PCCC, Disney said: “Walt Disney also understood story telling. Together, we must make sure all voters see how this sad Kristi Noem episode is part of the larger story of the 2024 election: America could vote into the White House extremists that glorify cruelty and lack basic empathy and compassion.”View image in fullscreenAsking readers to post pictures of beloved pets and the hashtag #UnleashTheVote, Disney also promoted a petition against “Trump and extreme Republicans who lack the character to lead our nation”.Old Yeller, which the Guardian called “one of the best and most poignant boy-and-his dog movies”, was released in 1957. It tells the story of a family in Texas in 1869 that adopts a large yellow dog.Disney said: “In Old Yeller, the family comes to see the lovable stray dog as an indispensable member of the family. The film’s climactic moment is a heartbreaking one, when the father has no choice but to shoot Old Yeller when the dog contracts rabies because of the inevitable threat to their lives – and, out of compassion, to end the suffering the dog would have to endure.skip past newsletter promotionafter newsletter promotion“Noem shot her family’s 14-month-old puppy after a hunting trip, in her own account, because she was too hard to teach. ‘I hated that dog,’ she wrote, framing the killing of a puppy as an example of strength.“Kristi Noem is not strong. Like Trump, she is cruel and selfish.”Listing positions taken by Trump and supporters like Noem, Disney said: “If Kristi Noem was actually strong, she would stand up to the January 6 insurrectionists instead of celebrating them. Or she would make billionaires pay their fair share of taxes instead of lining up for their campaign donations.“If she had real courage, she might even criticise the supreme court for abolishing abortion rights or making it easier to flood our streets and schools with guns.“True strength is not demonstrated through harshness, brutality, or callous indifference, but through steadfast kindness and compassion. Our pets teach most of us this lesson every day through their loyalty and unconditional love.“Let’s make sure Americans demand leaders who do the same when it comes time to vote.” More

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    Sweat review – chilling vision of a divided, alienated America

    Although principally set in 2000, Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer-winning 2015 play anticipated Donald Trump’s presidency with its portrayal of a divided, frustrated and disfranchised community in the deindustrialising city of Reading, Pennsylvania. With Trump campaigning for a second term, the Royal Exchange’s revival is timely. Jade Lewis’s production ultimately presents a chilling vision of how job insecurity can destroy one’s sense of self and lead to the poisonous othering stoked by Trump.The stage design by Good Teeth studio has huge slabs suspended from the rafters, powerfully suggesting an industrial landscape hoisted away overnight. This in effect is what happens to the play’s steelworkers who, amid a dispute with management over pay cuts, are locked out of their plant, with their machines and jobs destined for Mexico as a result of the contentious North American Free Trade Agreement whose renegotiation was a Trump campaign pledge.This conflict is heightened by a familial dimension akin to Human Resources, the 1999 film by the late Laurent Cantet in which a management trainee is embroiled in job cuts that affect his father on the shop floor. Nottage’s play centres on African American Cynthia (Carla Henry) who works at the factory with her son Chris (Abdul Sessay) and has finally crossed the floor to become a supervisor only to encounter resentment, some of it racially fuelled, from her friends. Suspicious of her new colleagues (“I wonder if they gave me this job on purpose. Pin a target on me”), Cynthia is also alienated by her former neighbours at the machines.View image in fullscreenSimilarly targeted is Colombian American Oscar (Marcello Cruz) who works at the local bar and crosses the picket line to pick up factory shifts. He is labelled a traitor by workers whose union has long been a closed shop to him and the story, framed by the aftermath of a violent climax, has a lucid sense that blustering calls for solidarity usually conceal exceptions. Nottage gave the play an epigraph from Langston Hughes’ Let America Be America Again, in which the poet declares the country “never was America to me”.With its sparse, barely stocked bar-room design, Lewis’s production perfectly conveys the play’s desolation – embodied by Cynthia’s ex, the drug-addicted Brucie (Chris Jack), one of the bar’s regulars – but missing is the atmospheric, authentic sense of place that marked Lynette Linton’s blistering 2018 staging at the Donmar Warehouse. It’s not just in the occasionally wavering accents or oddly pristine costumes but in the bonds between the characters, which need to be more fully established for the play’s second half to detonate. While the cast convey the bodily toll of work, a visceral sense of physicality is missing in their confrontations. Further use of the revolve stage, which heightens some scenes, might have prevented the energy seeping from other exchanges.If it never finds the right rhythm, there are powerful performances, especially from Henry as the weary yet steadfast Cynthia, Pooky Quesnel as her rancorous friend Tracey and Cruz as the observant Oscar who captures the lived-in tone of Hughes’ poem, which evades Maga fantasy nostalgia in its call to simply “make America again”.
    At the Royal Exchange, Manchester, until 25 May More

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    Civil War is a terrifying film, but Trump: The Sequel will be a real-life horror show | Simon Tisdall

    Director, cast and critics all agree: Civil War, the movie depicting America tearing itself to bloody bits while a cowardly, authoritarian president skulks in the White House, is not about Donald Trump. But it is, really.Likewise, the first ever criminal trial of a US president, now playing to huge audiences in New York, is ostensibly about claims that Trump fraudulently bought the silence of a former porn star called Stormy after a tacky Lake Tahoe tryst. But it isn’t, really.Both movie and trial are about a Trump second term. They’re about sex, lies and Access Hollywood videotape, about trust and betrayal, truth and division. They’re about democracy in America, where political feuds and vendettas swirl, guns proliferate and debates over civil rights are neither civil nor right.Alex Garland’s smash-hit “post-ideological” dystopian nightmare and the Manhattan courthouse peak-time showdown are both ultimately about the same things: the uses and abuses of power, about a nation’s journey to extremes where, as in Moby’s song, it falls apart.Talking of disintegration, what a diminished figure Trump now cuts in court. Slouched, round-shouldered and silenced alongside his lawyers, he acts up, sulky, aggrieved, childishly petulant. The room is cold, he whinges. Potential jurors rudely insult him to his face! It’s all so unfair.Trump never did dignified, not even in the Oval Office. Yet even by his tawdry standards, this daily demeaning before an unbending judge is irretrievably, publicly humiliating. The loss of face and sustaining swagger begin to look terminal. For Trump the alleged criminal conspirator, as opposed to Trump the presidential comeback king, the familiar campaign cry of “Four More Years!” has a disturbing ring. Four years in chokey is what he faces if found guilty on 34 felony charges.It’s no coincidence, so Trump camp followers believe, that Civil War premiered in election year. No surprise, either, that a Democratic district attorney pushed for the trial. Or that latest polling by the “liberal media” suggests Trump is losing ground to Joe Biden.Despite all that, the Make America Great Again screenplay is unchanging. Trump’s blockbuster second march on Washington is merely on pause, Maga-men say. He’s making an epic sequel and he’ll be back in November with all guns blazing – which is the problem, in a nutshell.If you doubt it, just look at Pennsylvania. Even as the defendant, dozy and defiant by turns, snoozed in court and slandered witnesses on social media, this same presumed 2024 Republican champion was effortlessly sweeping last week’s party primary with 83% of the vote.View image in fullscreenThere’s no real-world contradiction here. A grumpy Trump scowling at the bench and a Civil War-like wannabe dictator hot for White House power and glory are united in one unlovely, vicious personage. Two sides of the same bent cent. The list of Trump’s crimes for which he has yet to be tried extends far beyond the New York indictment and the charge sheets in three other pending cases. Like Tom Ripley, the sociopathic narcissist anti-hero of Netflix’s popular TV mini-series, Trump is violently dangerous beyond all knowing.The lethal 6 January insurrection he incited and applauded was stark treason against the republic. No argument. The racist relativism of Charlottesville in 2017 foreshadowed recent, unrepentant talk of “poisoning the blood of our country”. His corrosive words burn like acid through the social fabric. No Civil War paramilitary crazy could wish for more than Trump’s eager feeding of America’s gun addiction, support for domestic execution and assassination overseas, collaboration with murderous dictators, debasement of the supreme court and hostility to open government, free speech and impartial reporting.No Ripley-style conman or fraudster could hope to emulate the master criminal’s arm-twisting of Ukraine to dig up dirt on Biden’s son, Hunter, his political protection rackets and shameless nepotism, his suborning of his party, Congress and the legal system or his rich man’s contempt for the ordinary Joe who actually pays taxes.A prospective second Trump term presages obsessive score-settling at home and abject appeasement abroad. Judges, law officers, witnesses, female accusers, military men, diplomats, academics and critical media may be among the early victims of a national revenge tragedy – a personalised purge of the institutions of state that could prove fatal to democracy.skip past newsletter promotionafter newsletter promotionTrump’s fawning obsequiousness towards Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and vendetta against Kyiv’s leadership, spell disaster for Ukraine. Nor can there be much confidence, for all his bluster, that he would stand up to China should it invade Taiwan.Prepare, too, for a likely European rupture and trade war, a Nato split and an unravelling of 75 years of transatlantic collaboration. Prepare for an out-of-control global arms race, unchecked nuclear weapons proliferation on Earth and in space and the wholesale abandonment of climate crisis goals. A Trump success in November, with all the ensuing chaos, schism and constitutional outrages, would bring closer both an end to peaceful, rational debate within America and the demise of US global leadership.So truly, is Civil War so very far off the mark? Is it really not about Trump and Trumpism? It’s certainly more comforting to frame the movie as an entertainment, to interpret its studied avoidance of direct references to present-day politics as reassurance that, at heart, it’s essentially make-believe. But that denialist view is itself a type of escapism or wishful thinking. It won’t silence the guns.In one untypical, symbolic scene, the war-weary photojournalist played by Kirsten Dunst, all body armour and pursed lips, tries on a pretty dress in a downtown store insulated from the fighting. It is as if she, like America, is trying, fleetingly, to recover her humanity.It’s unclear whether she succeeds. More hopeful moments like that, and a good deal less trumpery, are badly needed now. Simon Tisdall is the Observer’s Foreign Affairs Commentator
    Do you have an opinion on the issues raised in this article? If you would like to submit a letter of up to 250 words to be considered for publication, email it to us at observer.letters@observer.co.uk More