Interview‘America could be truly free’: John Legend on his fight to overhaul the criminal justice systemSam Levin in Los AngelesThe Grammy-winning singer speaks to the Guardian about mass incarceration and his campaign to elect progressive prosecutors John Legend, the singer-songwriter and longtime racial justice activist, has thrown his weight behind political campaigns that rarely get celebrity endorsements: progressive candidates running for district attorney.The Grammy, Oscar, Emmy and Tony winner has long been a vocal supporter of the movement to reduce mass incarceration in the US, and has backed several chief prosecutors and candidates who seek to right the wrongs of America’s racially biased criminal justice system.Legend, who has spoken openly about the impact of his mother’s stints in jail while struggling with addiction, is advocating at a time when progressive prosecutors are facing intense backlash; an uptick in gun violence during the pandemic has led conservatives, some Democrats and media pundits to push for a return to harsh punishments and “tough on crime” policies.Legend – who has endorsed candidates in Tennessee, North Carolina, Oregon and California – spoke to the Guardian over Zoom last week about the importance of DA races, the “defund the police” movement, and his fears about the mounting opposition to reform. This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.How did you personally become interested in supporting progressive prosecutors?It started with seeing the effect that mass incarceration had on my own family and community. Every person you lock up has a bunch of family members that feel the effects of that. When you separate a child from their parent, you’re extending this cycle of violence and trauma to that child, creating more potential for them to get in trouble in the future. We continue to be the most incarcerated country in the world. We can do better and be smarter about it. Incarcerating people and removing them from their family should be a last resort, not a first resort, and we should be actively trying to find alternatives. Thinking about mass incarceration and how we can build a more equitable and just society, how America could be truly free, I really became convinced that prosecutors are a key lever because they have a lot of power in their communities.Why is it so important for voters to care about their local DAs?Prosecutors make policy decisions about which crimes they are going to focus on and prosecute, how much they’re going to charge someone and what they’re going to ask for in sentencing. They decide whether to use cash bail, which is a highly discriminatory policy that forces people to stay in jail simply because they can’t afford bail, leading people to be punished just for being poor. All these decisions affect our incarceration rate. In 2017, we started a “Know your DA” education campaign with the ACLU, because most people probably couldn’t tell you who their DA was and didn’t vote that far down on the ballot or just voted for the incumbent. And then we started looking for more progressive alternatives to run.This movement you’ve championed is now facing serious pushback across the country – what do you make of the opposition?We have to acknowledge that crime did go up in this country during a once-in-a-century pandemic, which caused more housing insecurity, food insecurity, poverty and unemployment. It’s not just in one city – it’s everywhere, including in communities with more conservative local leadership and prosecutors. The rise in crime is not correlated to whether or not that community had a progressive prosecutor. Blaming progressive prosecutors is not consistent with facts, and it’s not a good way of assessing what happened. Crime went up and that’s real, and all of us need to care and find ways to solve these issues. But we’re not going to solve it by mass incarcerating our way to safety. If incarceration was the key to us being safer, we’d be the safest country in the world. We’re already the most policed country in the world.You must have friends in Los Angeles who want to see a “tough on crime” response and are concerned about George Gascón, the progressive prosecutor there. How do you talk to them about this?You start with facts. George Gascón didn’t cause the pandemic or the rise in crime due to the pandemic. And then we have to talk about the costs of incarceration, not just monetary, but the disruptions to our communities and families, the disruption that I felt myself. We have to talk about the heartbreak, despair and violence that incarceration can cause. And we need progressive prosecutors who are thinking holistically about the community and making sure we’re not overusing jails and prisons as a solution to everything. Jails aren’t the solution to mental health issues, homelessness or drug addiction. When we have prosecutors in place who believe that, we can incarcerate fewer people and divert those resources to interventions that will actually help people heal and get better, rather than jail, which exacerbates their pain and their issues. We have a gun problem in this country and all kinds of issues that lead people into crime. We need to focus on investing into our communities so that we can help prevent crime.How do you feel about Democrats who are pushing back against progressive DAs and reforms, including Joe Biden who has strongly opposed calls to “defund the police”?I’m mystified by the vehemence of the rejection to “defund the police” when we haven’t defunded the police. We’ve increased funding, especially due to the American Rescue Plan. We’re already spending more on policing in America than any country in the world spends on their military, aside from China and the US. Spending more and more on police with no upper limit is not the solution. I’m frustrated by Democrats who believe that throwing more money at policing is going to solve these problems and are not looking at the root causes. The solution to homelessness is increasing the supply of affordable housing and supportive housing. We can’t send the police out to “clean up the streets”. Where are we going to put these folks? In jail?Even though crime overall is significantly lower now, do you worry we’re returning to the panic of the 1990s, when there was a push for harsh punishments surrounding the racist “superpredator” myth?I am worried about it. Back then, it was bipartisan, and now seeing how Biden and others talk about crime, it sounds bipartisan, too. I know that they’re responding to people’s real fears, and I really do empathize. I’ve had friends who have been victims of crime recently. It’s not an illusion that people are seeing crime go up since the pandemic. People are apprehensive and afraid. They feel less safe, and we can’t just say, You’re not experiencing what you’re experiencing. But we have to say that there are better solutions than more police and prisons. And politicians have the ability to lead on this issue and not just follow or propose bandaids. They can focus on systemic issues that cause crime and actually in the long run make people safer.What do you think people should understand about the realities of crime trends right now?The press has an important role. They make decisions about the sources they use – and which sources they use without skepticism. You’ll find that even newspapers like the New York Times just repeat the line that the police communications department gives them without scrutiny or skepticism. It’s important that people who are explaining crime to the public, don’t sensationalize it and don’t take statements of police unions uncritically. And we have to remember that a lot of times, progressive prosecutors are getting blamed for national and systemic issues. Folks are trying to find a local scapegoat. Alvin Bragg, the progressive prosecutor in New York, got blamed for crime even before he started working.This is not necessarily an easy issue to speak out about. I’m curious if you’ve personally faced backlash?When I speak out about progressive prosecutors, I usually stay away from my Twitter [laughs].Good call.Because there is a lot of vitriol thrown my way. But what I try to make clear is that, what is radical is how many people we’ve incarcerated in this country. Our status quo is radical. I don’t think what I’m proposing about how to reform our system is that radical.TopicsUS politicsCaliforniaJohn LegendUS crimeinterviewsReuse this content More
A Sacred Oath review: Mark Esper on Trump, missiles for Mexico and more The ex-defense secretary’s memoir is scary and sobering – but don’t expect Republican leaders or voters to heed his warningMark Esper was Donald Trump’s second defense secretary. Like James Mattis, his predecessor, he fell from Trump’s grace. Six days after the 2020 election, the 45th president fired him, via Twitter. Unlike Mattis, Esper now delivers a damning tell-all.This Will Not Pass review: Trump-Biden blockbuster is dire reading for DemocratsRead moreA Sacred Oath pulls no punches. It depicts Trump as unfit for office and a threat to democracy, a prisoner of wrath, impulse and appetite.Over 752 pages, Esper’s Memoirs of a Secretary of Defense During Extraordinary Times are surgically precise in their score-settling. This is not just another book to be tossed on the pyre of Trump-alumni revenge porn. It is scary and sobering.Esper is a West Point graduate and Gulf war veteran. No one confuses him with Omarosa Manigault Newman, Cliff Simms or Chris Christie. Esper ignores Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway and barely mentions Melania Trump. He is complimentary toward Jared Kushner.In general, Esper disliked what he saw. Trump’s fidelity to process was close to nonexistent, his strategy “narrow and incomplete”, his “manner” coarse and divisive. The ends Trump “often sought rarely survived the ways and means he typically pursued to accomplish them”.The book captures Trump’s rage when advised that Gen Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, lacked command authority over the active-duty and national guard troops Trump wanted to deploy against protesters in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd.“‘You are losers!’ the president unloaded. ‘You are all fucking losers!’”In addition to Esper, Milley and William Barr, the attorney general, Trump also targeted Mike Pence.Esper writes: “He repeated the foul insults again, this time directing his venom at the vice-president as well, who sat quietly, stone-faced, in the chair at the far end of the semi-circle closest to the Rose Garden.“I never saw him yell at the vice-president before, so this really caught my attention.”Esper explains why he didn’t resign: “I didn’t think it was the right thing to do for our country.”His wife, Leah, framed it this way: “As your wife, please quit. As an American citizen, please stay.”The government attempted to censor A Sacred Oath, as it did The Room Where It Happened, a memoir by John Bolton, Trump’s third national security adviser. Fortunately, the powers that be buckled after Esper filed suit in federal court. Here and there, words are blacked out. The core of the story remains.At one point, Trump proposed launching “missiles into Mexico to destroy the drug labs”. The then-president said: “No one would know it was us.” He would simply deny responsibility. Esper looked at Trump. He was not joking.According to reports, the censors found this inflammatory. They did not, however, deny its veracity. Confronted with the story, Trump issued a “no comment”. Donald Trump Jr asked if his father’s scheme was “a bad thing”. Hunter Biden isn’t the only troublesome first son.Trump’s reliance on underlings who put their boss ahead of country distressed Esper too. Mark Meadows, Stephen Miller, Robert O’Brien and Ric Grenell all receive attention. Little is good.Esper found their bellicosity grating. After a meeting with Trump’s national security council, Esper commented to Milley about its lack of military experience and eagerness for war with Iran.“We couldn’t help but note … the irony that only two persons in the room that had ever gone to war were the ones least willing to risk doing so now.”Esper offers a full-throated defense of Trump’s decision to kill Qassem Suleimani. The Iranian general had American blood on his hands and was planning an attack on US diplomats and military personnel.Esper also writes about the state of the union.“I was worried for our democracy,” he says. “I had seen many red flags, many warnings, and many inconsistencies. But now we seemed on the verge of crossing a dark red line.”In the summer of 2020, the unrest that followed the murder of Floyd transported Trump to a Stygian realm. In the run-up to the election, Esper feared Trump would seek to use the military to stay in office.Esper met Milley and Gen Daniel Hokanson, the general in charge of the national guard, in an attempt to avert that outcome.“The essence of democracy was free and fair elections, followed by the peaceful transition of power,” Esper writes.Ultimately, Trump did not rely on the military to negate election results – a path advocated by Mike Flynn, his first national security adviser. Instead, the drama played out slowly. By early January 2021, Milley was telling aides the US was facing a “Reichstag moment” as Trump preached “the gospel of the führer”.On 6 January, Trump and his minions unleashed the insurrection.“It was the worst attack on the Capitol since the war of 1812,” Esper writes. “And maybe the worst assault on our democracy since the civil war.”The Presidency of Donald Trump review: the first draft of historyRead moreYet Trump and Trumpism remain firmly in the ascendant. In Ohio, in a crucial Senate primary, Trump’s endorsement of JD Vance proved decisive. In Pennsylvania, his support for Mehmet Oz may prove vital too.Down in Georgia, Herschel Walker, Trump’s choice, is on a glide path to nomination. Walker’s run-ins with domestic violence and death threats pose no problem for the faithful. Even Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, has bought in.Days ago, Esper told the New York Times Trump was “an unprincipled person who, given his self-interest, should not be in the position of public service”.Most Republicans remain unmoved. Esper is only an author. Trump spearheads a movement.
A Sacred Oath is published in the US by William Morrow
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How Disney found its pride – and riled the American right Once known for its ‘traditional’ values, the entertainment giant is battling US conservatives over an anti-gay bill. Indeed the House of Mouse has had a long relationship with the LGBTQ+ community‘Christ. they’re going after Mickey Mouse,” said president Joe Biden in April, bemoaning the Republican party’s targeting of yet another American institution. A few days earlier, at a desk surrounded by small children, Florida governor Ron DeSantis had stripped Disney World of its self-governing status. Since its inception in 1967, Disney’s central Florida estate – officially the Reedy Creek Improvement District – has effectively operated under its own jurisdiction. The agreement has worked for both sides. Disney funds and manages public services in the district in return for autonomy over governance and development. Disney World has become the cornerstone of Florida’s tourist economy, employing 75,000 people locally. This is supposed to be Disney World’s 50th year, but the company finds itself in danger of being cast out of its own magic kingdom.DeSantis’s move was explicitly in retaliation to Disney’s opposition to HB 1557, better known as the “Don’t say gay” law. This vaguely worded bill prohibits discussion of, or instruction on, issues of sexual orientation or gender identity in Florida schools. After the successful weaponisation of “critical race theory” (an academic field that considers systemic discrimination in public life), Republicans have identified LGBTQ+ rights as another potential wedge issue, even linking them with paedophilia and grooming. DeSantis’s press secretary, Christina Pushaw, tweeted that the bill could be “more accurately described as an anti-grooming bill”. Disney responded with a statement calling for HB 1557 to be struck down in the courts. Sign up to our Inside Saturday newsletter for an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the making of the magazine’s biggest features, as well as a curated list of our weekly highlights.To Republicans, Disney had crossed a line by interfering in politics. “Ultimately, this state is governed by the best interests of the people of this state, not what any one corporation is demanding,” DeSantis said as he signed the bill. Viewed from the opposite side, DeSantis is using the power of the state to punish a private corporation for its political views – a significant escalation in the culture wars, and a worrying look for a democracy. How did it come to this?In truth, conservatives have been going after Mickey Mouse for a long time now. Disney, which now owns Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar and 20th Century Studios, is the US’s pre-eminent cultural superpower, with particular influence over children. In recent years it has been targeted for its “woke” values in terms of inclusion and diversity in matters of race, gender and sexuality, both in its content and its employment practices. In terms of the LGBTQ+ community, though, Disney’s relationship goes far deeper, and it has developed in ways the company itself can never have anticipated.Walt Disney was never a card-carrying homophobe but he was a steadfast conservative, and long after his death in 1966, Disney’s output continued to promote “traditional” and “family” values. That didn’t discount “coding” Disney characters (usually villains) as queer, in that they exhibited stereotypically gay attributes such as effeminate behaviour or disinterest in the opposite sex: Jafar in Aladdin, for example, or Scar in The Lion King, or even Shere Khan the tiger in The Jungle Book. And, as with all forms of culture, Disney stories have lent themselves to queer readings regardless of their makers’ intentions.Dealing with themes of fantasy and magic, many classic Disney stories concern characters moving between two worlds, feeling like outsiders in their communities, transforming and becoming their true selves. These themes could equally be interpreted as explorations of sexuality or gender identity. Cinderella goes from dowdy domestic to sparkling princess at the wave of a wand; Mowgli must decide whether he belongs in the jungle or the village; Mulan masquerades as male to join the Chinese army, during which time she forms an ambiguous bond with the handsome captain. Princess Elsa in Frozen is urged by her parents to suppress her true nature but after she is figuratively “outed” (as a sorceress), she flees her heteronormative destiny, preferring to belt out Let It Go in icy isolation: “Don’t let them in, don’t let them see / Be the good girl you always have to be / Conceal don’t feel, don’t let them know …”Disney films have helped queer people discover their sexuality, says George Youngdahl, a lifelong fan. “Tarzan, Aladdin, Peter Pan, Hercules – all of those were people who I wanted to emulate and I was attracted to. I wasn’t looking at the princesses, or I was because I wanted to be them, not necessarily because I thought they were attractive.” After his first visit to California’s Disneyland, Youngdahl applied for a job at Florida’s Disney World when he was 25. He moved to Florida and worked for Disney for 15 years.Although Disney would never admit it, queer themes have sometimes been more deliberate than accidental. One of the unsung LGBTQ+ heroes of Disney lore, for example, is Howard Ashman, the openly gay lyricist and producer, who died of an Aids-related illness in 1991. With a background in musical theatre, Ashman was instrumental in bringing Disney classics The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin to the screen, and his involvment is obvious in the final releases.In The Little Mermaid, for example, Ariel is told by her domineering father that the human world is evil and forbidden, but to Ariel, it looks like more fun. “Up where they walk, up where they run / Up where they stay all day in the sun / Wanderin’ free, wish I could be / Part of that world,” she sings. The fact that the evil sea witch, Ursula, was modelled on renowned drag artist Divine only adds to the queer appeal. (The original Little Mermaid was written as an allegory for same-sex attraction, incidentally: Hans Christian Andersen was inspired to write the fairytale by his unrequited love for another man.)“Kids, even in the most accepting of environments, grow up knowing that they’re different and unsure of how that’s going to play out in the world,” says Eddie Shapiro, co-author of Queens in the Kingdom, an LGBTQ+ guide to Disney’s theme parks. “So there’s a sense of otherness. And in the Disney universe, the characters who triumph, the Dumbos of the world, are frequently also other. And they come out on top, or they come out loved, supported, safe. And that’s a big comfort.”It is fair to also call Shapiro something of a Disney super-fan. As we speak, he is on a Disney cruise from Florida to Castaway Cay, Disney’s private resort island in the Bahamas. As with the movies, Disney theme parks have a certain appeal from an LGBTQ+ perspective, he says. “Disney offers a perfect world that never was,” he says. “You didn’t always feel safe as a gay kid, now you’re walking down Main Street, USA, and everything is manicured, everything is clean. Everybody’s friendly. It’s perfect – something that appeals to the child within.”Disney initially resisted attempts by LGBTQ+ visitors to express their fandom at its theme parks. In the 1980s, the company was twice sued for prohibiting men dancing together at Disney World, for example. But in June 1991 a man named Doug Swallow organised a coordinated mass trip to Disney World, attended by 3,000 LGBTQ+ people, wearing red shirts to identify themselves. This was the park’s first Gay Day, and it has continued ever since. The event now brings more than 150,000 LGBTQ+ people to Orlando every June.In the early years, Disney would warn “straight” visitors when it was Gay Day and hand out white T-shirts to non-participants who had inadvertently turned up wearing red. While Disney does not officially recognise Gay Day, it soon came to appreciate the commercial clout of the LGBTQ+ community. There is no end of rainbow-coloured Disney merchandise on sale, and Disney accommodates and facilitates the Gay Day schedule of events, including a week-long festival taking place across the city, with club nights, drag shows, pool parties, and special hotel deals.After his first Florida Gay Day in 1998, Shapiro founded a sister Gay Day Anaheim at the Los Angeles Disneyland. While Orlando Gay Days are more party-centric, the lower-key Anaheim event takes place mostly inside the park. There is a high level of cooperation. Disney now hosts a table at its welcome centre promoting fairytale gay weddings at Disneyland and hosts premieres at Gay Day.“Gay Day was never formed with a political agenda,” says Shapiro. The idea was always integration rather than segregation. “You’re mixing with traditional families, and hopefully changing some hearts and minds. It was not at all lost on us that we were showing up at America’s number one family destination with our families of choice, and announcing by being there, that [we] were worthy, and should absolutely be there, and stand up and be counted. And we’re still doing that.”Disney has learned to embrace LGBTQ+ friendliness on screen and off in recent decades. In 1995 it became one of the first companies to offer health benefits to same-sex partners of employees (prompting a considerable conservative backlash in the process). Meanwhile, it has taken tentative steps towards representation on screen. Even if its “openly gay character” proclamations rarely live up to the billing, there have been fleeting references to same-sex relationships in movies including Toy Story 4 (two women drop off their daughter at kindergarten); Onward (Lena Waithe’s cop refers to her girlfriend); the live-action Beauty and the Beast remake (the character LeFou, played by Josh Gad, is telegraphed as gay and dances with another man, although not even Gad was particularly proud of that one; “I don’t think we did justice to what a real gay character in a Disney film should be,” he admitted). Jack Whitehall went a step further, playing a gay man in Disney’s live-action film Jungle Cruise last year. And Pixar was recently reported to be casting for a voice actor to play a “14-year-old transgender girl” in an upcoming project.But Disney has always balanced its support for the LGBTQ+ community with its appeal to more conservative-leaning consumers, which could be seen as playing both sides. The corporation was recently revealed to have donated almost $1m to the Republican party of Florida in 2020, and $50,000 directly to DeSantis – none of which appears to have deterred him from targeting Disney.Many insiders blame Disney’s mishandling of the Florida issue on its new CEO, Bob Chapek. His predecessor, Bob Iger, is regarded as a hero for presiding over Disney’s canny acquisitions of LucasFilm, Marvel and Pixar, and launching Disney+, all while vocally supporting progressive causes such as Black Lives Matter during the Trump administration. Chapek, who came from Disney’s parks division, is reportedly more conservative-leaning, more managerial and less experienced at this kind of political diplomacy.When DeSantis first announced the “Don’t say gay” bill in early March, Chapek’s response was to stay silent. He sent an internal email to Disney staff expressing his support for the LGBTQ+ community but claiming “corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds. Instead, they are often weaponised by one side or the other to further divide and inflame.” This enraged Disney’s LGBTQ+ staff and their allies. Pixar employees released a statement alleging that Disney executives had demanded cuts from “nearly every moment of overtly gay affection” in its movies. In response, Chapek gave a public apology, “You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down. I am sorry.” That was not enough to prevent a series of staff walkouts leading up to the signing of the bill on 22 March. Hence Disney’s more confrontational statement about seeking to have the law repealed and struck down.“There is a widespread belief that this was bungled, and it’s a belief not just inside the company, but in the Hollywood community at large,” says Matthew Belloni, ex-editor of the Hollywood Reporter. “If they had remained on the sidelines, lobbied behind the scenes, and made employees know that they cared about the issue but didn’t do so in a way that provoked the politicians, they could have, in my opinion, gotten away with advocacy without becoming a punching bag.”If it happens, the removal of Disney World’s special status, which would come into effect in June 2023, is likely to hurt local citizens more than Disney itself. The burden of running the district’s public services will now fall to taxpayers, and could translate into additional bills for locals. As his public signing of the anti-Disney law, surrounded by schoolchildren, suggests, DeSantis, who many see as a presidential contender, is essentially engaging in political theatre. But potentially more harmful than the attacks on Disney is the “Don’t say gay” bill itself, which is likely to cause long-lasting harm to Florida’s young LGBTQ+ people and their educators.Cotton plantations and non-consensual kisses: how Disney became embroiled in the culture warsRead moreAs with previous occasions when conservatives have “gone after Mickey Mouse”, this latest attack is likely to blow over. “Disney is such a large corporation that I don’t think this specific punishment is going to register in the grand scheme of things,” says Belloni. “It’s more about how it moves forward, and whether it can operate as a down-the-middle, umbrella brand for everybody amid this kind of culture war that it has found itself the centre of.”Maybe Disney doesn’t have to pick a side. The Republicans’ current tactics feel like an attempt to turn back the clock – ironically to an era and a set of values Disney once embodied. But Disney is compelled to look in the opposite direction, led by a market that is increasingly global, young and diverse. While Disney’s centrism can be interpreted cynically as playing both sides or, more generously, catering to all tastes, the important thing is that “centre” has moved a considerable way during the company’s lifetime – and Disney has moved with it.TopicsWalt Disney CompanyLGBT rightsAnimation in filmFilm industryUS politicsFloridaRon DeSantisfeaturesReuse this content More
The Great Stewardess Rebellion review: stirring study of what Roe v Wade helped vanquish As the supreme court attacks women’s rights, Nell McShane Wulfhart’s story of ‘a workplace revolution at 30,000ft’ is timely In 1966, when America was still in the throes of the Mad Men era, when men were men and women were their secretaries, Martha Griffiths, one of a handful of women in Congress, wrote to the senior vice-president of United Airlines.‘A PhD in my brother’: Valerie Biden Owens on the Joe she knowsRead moreShe asked: “What are you running, Mr Mason, an airline or a whorehouse?”Charles M Mason had declared that a stewardess who lingered on the job for more than three years without finding a husband was “the wrong kind of girl”.Mason’s comment described not just the devalued status of stewardesses in the 1960s but the reality of most working women at the time. Mason’s “wrong kind of girl” (these “girls” were usually college graduates) was a woman who might not want marriage and children to be her only occupation, or might need to work for a living.As Nell McShane Wulfhart writes in her astonishing exposé of their long struggle for respect and equality, flight attendants were pimped out as sexual objects whose role was to serve, charm and entice male customers. TWA, United, Delta and other airlines argued that their bottom line depended on hiring young, beautiful women and firing them if they got married or pregnant, turned 32 or, God forbid, put on some pounds. Airlines were in the business of selling sex along with tickets, a very profitable Playboy Club in the skies.This largely under-chronicled aspect of recent women’s history is a valuable reminder of how far women have come. Those were the days when women couldn’t get credit cards or sign leases without their husband’s permission, sexual harassment and firing pregnant women was legal, only 3% of lawyers and 7% of doctors were women, and women earned 40% less than men for the same jobs. Women may have achieved the right to vote in 1920 but they hadn’t made many more strides towards equality until the second-wave feminist movement lit the fire in the 1970s.The recent bombshell draft opinion by the supreme court justice Samuel Alito, which would reverse 49 years of a woman’s right to control her body and life, only makes The Great Stewardess Rebellion a more relevant and urgent read. As American women stand on the precipice of revisiting their pre-1973 second-class citizenship, Wulfhart provides a stark reminder of how dark those days really were.In 1965, as many as a million women interviewed for 10,000 positions as “sky girls”. A stewardess’s globetrotting life trumped the few other options available: secretary, nurse, teacher. Those who made the cut were shipped to the “charm farm”, a stewardess boarding school where candidates were taught how to comply with strict hair, makeup, nails and clothing regulations. False eyelashes and girdles, yes. Glasses, no. Skills like mastering airplane safety came a distant second to physical appearance.As important as looking good was being svelte. If a stewardess stood 5ft 5 she could weigh 129lb or less, with three-pound overage once a month during menses. At the charm farm, “girls” close to the weight limit were pulled out of class for random weigh-ins. On the job, a scale was placed in the operations room, with stewardesses required to weigh in in front of their mostly male colleagues. Company doctors prescribed diet pills and many patients got hooked on Black Beauties. If a stewardess made the mistake of getting pregnant, she would have to quit, find a way to get an illegal abortion, or take sick leave to give birth in secret. At least six stewardesses who were fired after they turned 32 killed themselves.And then there were the “uniforms”. At first, the style was proper: hats, gloves, knee-length skirt suits and heels. But in the latter half of the 60s, the sex-kitten look prevailed. In 1968, TWA launched the “Foreign Accent” campaign. Each plane had its own theme and costume: a gold minidress for France, a toga for Italy, a ruffled white blouse for Olde England. American Airlines required tartan miniskirts, matching vests and raccoon fur caps.Braniff introduced the “Air Strip”, where stewardesses would slowly shed their Pucci-designed uniforms over the course of the flight. Madison Avenue ad copy boasted: “When she brings you dinner, she’ll be dressed this way … After dinner, on those long flights, she’ll slip into something a little more comfortable … the Air Strip is brought to you by Braniff International, who believes that even an airline hostess should look like a girl.”When the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission opened, after the passage of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, stewardesses were among its first customers. More than 100 gender discrimination complaints were filed by stewardesses in the EEOC’s first year and a half. The agency, set up primarily to battle race discrimination, did not take the stewardesses seriously at first. Nor did the unions, Congress or the courts, and it would be years until any semblance of real change could be wrenched out of the airlines.But when the women’s liberation movement erupted in 1970 it empowered stewardesses too. Mary Pat Laffey filed a class action discrimination suit against Northwest Airlines for violation of Title VII and the Equal Pay Act. Northwest appealed over and over but Laffey finally made history in 1984, when she won the largest monetary judgment in Title VII history: $63m in back pay.More importantly, the case forced other large corporations to settle EEOC cases and put affirmative action plans in place, paving the way for a workplace revolution. Laffey’s career lasted 42 years – enough time to witness the role of women in the workplace transform from servants and sexpots to partners and colleagues.Now we wait to see how far the supreme court will go to turn back the clock.
The Great Stewardess Rebellion is published in the US by Doubleday
Clara Bingham is the author of Witness to the Revolution: Radicals, Resisters, Vets, Hippies, and the Year America Lost its Mind and Found its Soul
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Trump sought strike on top Iran military figure for political reasons – Esper bookRobert O’Brien told top general shortly before 2020 election that Trump wanted to kill unnamed official, according to Esper memoir Shortly before the 2020 election, Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, “stunned” the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff by saying the president wanted to kill a senior Iranian military officer operating outside the Islamic Republic.“This was a really bad idea with very big consequences,” Mark Esper, Trump’s second and last secretary of defense, writes in his new memoir, adding that Gen Mark Milley suspected O’Brien saw the strike purely in terms of Trump’s political interests.I warned national guard of possible coup, Trump defense secretary saysRead moreA Sacred Oath: Memoirs of a Defense Secretary in Extraordinary Times will be published next week. The Guardian obtained a copy.Throughout the memoir, Esper presents himself as one of a group of aides who resisted bad or illegal ideas proposed by Trump or subordinates – such as the proposed strike on the Iranian officer.Among other such ideas that were discussed, Esper says, were sending “missiles into Mexico to destroy the drug labs”; sending 250,000 troops to the southern border; and dipping the decapitated head of a terrorist leader in pig’s blood as a warning to other Islamist militants.Trump made belligerence towards Tehran an important part of his administration and platform for re-election, pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal and regularly warning in bombastic terms of the cost of conflict with the US.He also ordered a drone strike on a top Iranian general blamed for attacks on US targets. In January 2020, Qassem Suleimani, the head of the elite Quds force, was killed in Baghdad.At a meeting in July 2020, Esper writes, O’Brien pushed for military action against Iran over its uranium enrichment – work that accelerated after Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal.Esper’s book is subject to occasional redactions. In this case, it says “O’Brien was pushing for” one blacked out word “and military action”. Esper says the vice-president, Mike Pence, “subtly lean[ed] in behind” O’Brien, who said: “The president has an appetite to do something.”Esper writes that Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff, “jumped in to contradict this statement” and the moment passed.However, a month or so later, on 20 August, Esper says Milley told him O’Brien had called the evening before, to say “the president wanted to strike a senior military officer who was operating outside of Iran”.Esper writes: “Milley and I were aware of this person and the trouble he had been stirring in the region for some time. But why now? What was new? Was there an imminent threat? What about gathering the national security team to discuss this?“Milley said he was ‘stunned’ by the call, and he sensed that ‘O’Brien put the president up to this,’ trying to create news that would help Trump’s re-election.”Milley, Esper writes, told O’Brien he would discuss the request with Esper and others.“I couldn’t believe it,” Esper writes. “I had seen this movie before, where White House aides meet with the president, stir him up, and then serve up one of their ‘great ideas’. But this was a really bad idea with very big consequences. How come folks in the White House didn’t see this?”Fears that Trump might provoke war with Iran persisted throughout his presidency, stoked by reports of machinations among hawks on his staff. Such fears intensified as the 2020 election approached and Trump trailed Joe Biden in the polls.Esper book details Trump rage at Pence and proposal to hit Mexico with missilesRead moreIn September 2020, Trump tweeted: ““Any attack by Iran, in any form, against the United States will be met with an attack on Iran that will be 1,000 times greater in magnitude!”In the case of O’Brien’s suggested strike on the Iranian officer, Esper writes that he told Milley he would do nothing without a written order from Trump.“There was no way I was going to unilaterally take such an action,” he writes, “particularly one fraught with a range of legal, diplomatic, political and military implications, not to mention that it could plunge us into war with Iran.”He also says the O’Brien call to Milley in late August was “the last time something involving Iran seriously came up before the election”.TopicsBooksIranMiddle East and north AfricaDonald TrumpTrump administrationUS politicsUS national securitynewsReuse this content More
Interview‘Name names? Never, never, never!’ Lee Grant on her decades of defianceEmma Brockes The Oscar-winning actor lost 12 years of her career refusing to out her partner as a communist, then had to endure his lectures about Marx while being treated as a ‘maid’. But a remarkable third act as a documentarian showcased her unique voiceLee Grant, child of the Depression, survivor of the anti-communist blacklist, director, Oscar winner and – incredibly – 95 and looking nothing of the sort, is standing in her Manhattan kitchen. It is the size of a medieval castle’s, with copper pots hanging from the ceiling, a catering-size fridge and what appear to be three ovens. “They’re all used,” says Grant, triumphantly, a tone she has earned. For 12 years during the McCarthy-era witch-hunt of the 1950s, Grant was banned from working in Hollywood, re-emerging in the 60s to become not only a wildly successful actor, but one of the US’s finest documentary makers of the late 20th century. Over the course of our conversation, the phrase she uses most often is “I was lucky”.If you have seen Grant on screen, it was most likely in one of her two best-known roles, from very different, seminal films. In 1967, she appeared as Mrs Colbert, the grieving widow, in the classic Sidney Poitier movie In the Heat of the Night. Eight years later, she played opposite Warren Beatty in the cult favourite Shampoo, for which she won an Oscar. Grant is a terrific actor, with a Zelig-like performance history that begins as a child dancer at the New York Ballet under George Balanchine (“My only memory of him is of my mother flirting with him; I was a fat little girl, that’s how I got in”), on through a scholarship at New York’s Neighbourhood Playhouse School of Theater under Martha Graham, and, after her acting career was unfrozen at the age of 33 – “old for Hollywood!” – includes a heady decade living in Malibu knocking around in Joan Didion’s circle. “It was like entering The Truman Show. I get to live here? On the beach? With my eight-year-old daughter? Are you sure?! It was so delicious. And then I met Joey.”Grant sits at her kitchen table, her second husband, Joe Feury, working in the vast living room next door. Together, they ran a successful production company specialising in documentary film, a genre in which Grant says she would never have been successful had she not survived those 12 years on the blacklist – or met Feury. (“Joey thought I could do anything,” she writes in her memoir, I Said Yes to Everything. “And I could.”) Grant grew up 50 blocks north of where we are sitting in Washington Heights, the only child of successful immigrants to New York. Her mother’s family were from Odessa, in present-day Ukraine, her father’s from Poland. Her father ran the YMHA, the Hebrew youth hostel in the Bronx, and her devoted mother and aunt Fremo ran a nursery school from the brownstone where they lived.It was a charmed childhood. “Fremo!” Grant’s mother would exclaim, pointing at four-year-old Grant, or Lyova Rosenthal as she was, then. “Look how she walks! How she talks! Sing something! Did you see that, did you hear that? Genius!” Grant bursts into laughter, remembering the scene. “I knew it was crazy; it was so theatrical. And delicious. They were very delicious, and funny.” And although it wasn’t a political household, they were political times, not only as the Depression raged across the US, but closer to home. Walking down Convent Avenue in the early 30s, says Grant, “the little girls who were on the steps of the Catholic school would shout: ‘You killed our Lord!’” She found this both surprising and comic. “I don’t think I felt sad about it; it was more like: ‘That’s strange. Me? I killed your Lord?’”Grant was innately confrontational, “something I was born with, no question about it”. The first time she recalls standing up for something in public, she was a teenager, walking along a stretch of Broadway near her house when she witnessed a man attacking a woman. The woman tried, desperately, to board a bus, but when the bus driver clocked the commotion, he shut the doors and drove on. Others in the street ignored it. Only Grant reacted. “I ran for a cop.” She ran three blocks, and the couple were gone by the time they returned. “Oh,” said the cop, “they’re probably in a bar now. It’s just a normal thing, don’t worry.” She did worry. “They didn’t have the kind of sensibility that I had. And then I married a blacklisted writer. And there was no hesitation. I certainly was not going to give names in order to work in film or television.”There wasn’t a second when …?“NOT EVEN A SECOND!” she booms. “Never, never, never!” Decades later, when she started to make searing documentaries about homeless Americans, victims of domestic violence and women in prison, she says, “I’d been there. I’d been on the other side almost all my life.”The man she married was called Arnold Manoff, and it cost her the first 12 years of her career. In 1951, straight out of acting school, Grant won a role in a Hollywood movie, Detective Story, with Kirk Douglas, and was promptly nominated for a best supporting Oscar. She was 23 years old and a huge future awaited. But by the time the film came out, Manoff, a communist writer, had been blacklisted – and so, by association, had Grant. A different person would have been furiously bitter. Grant was furious all right: “I was filled with rage and frustration at the blacklisters, who I was living among.” But she wasn’t bitter. She was ignited by a sense of injustice and common cause. In the beginning, she says, “we all stuck together and I really loved those people. And respected them. And they educated me. I had no education, I never went to college. I went right into acting. I felt lucky.”Soon, however, the situation curdled. Manoff was a bully and a hypocrite. “I was living with a man who had nothing but contempt for me,” says Grant. He tried to make her read Marx and Engels. “But I couldn’t get it,” she says. “I didn’t know what it meant.” She found a box of old letters she wrote to him, recently (he died in 1965), and was horrified. “They’re all supplications: ‘I can’t learn Marx, I’m sorry but I can’t.’” Looking back, she understands that he married her mainly to have someone to look after this two children from his first marriage. He belittled and controlled her. When, after the birth of their daughter, Dinah, Grant had an opportunity to appear in a play in upstate New York, her husband said he’d leave her if she took the job. Without hesitation, she took it. “I knew I had to go. Life was over. He didn’t like me at all. He was attracted to me in the beginning, and then it was over. I was the maid, I really was.” The funny thing is, I say, you ended up making a more political body of work than any of the men lecturing you to read Marx before putting on the dinner.“Lecturing the women around them, yes,” she hoots, then looks infinitely fierce. “Those fuckers.”The takeaway from those years was that Grant learned how to fight. She and some of her friends took on the fanatically pro-McCarthy clique that ran the TV union, and slowly, methodically lobbied members to vote them out and replace them with moderates. Eventually, she was permitted to return to Hollywood – three years after everyone else, “because they still thought I’d name my husband”. (She didn’t.) By then she was ancient by the standards of the era. She booked a very good facelift, lied about her age for the next four decades and started another phase of her career. After moving to Malibu and working a stint on the hit soap Peyton Place, offers started to flood in, particularly from liberal and leftwing film-makers, who “were stumbling over each other to give me work. Me first, me first! And they were artists, and brilliant.” She met Joe, 12 years her junior, and the opposite of her domineering first husband: “This really cute boy, and so dear, and so in love. A working-class Italian non-intellectual. It was like the biggest nourishment I could’ve had.”The greatest shift came, however, when Grant started to make documentaries. Before preparing for this interview, I had never seen any of them, but they are available on Amazon and I urge you to watch. They are staggeringly good. The first, made at the suggestion of Grant’s friend Mary Beth Yarrow, was about the Willmar Eight, a group of female bank tellers in a tiny town in Minnesota, who went on strike in 1977 after years of being paid a fraction of what their male colleagues earned. It is a deeply moving and shocking film – “A hell of a little piece that was really a calling card,” says Grant – and more were to follow, all for HBO. In 1986, Grant’s documentary Down and Out in America, in which she investigates the homeless and impoverished underbelly of Ronald Reagan’s America, won the Oscar for best documentary.What is striking about all her films is just how much she gets out of her subjects, who speak with an unselfconsciousness you no longer see on TV. Grant says much of this was down to her brilliant producers finding the right case studies. But her direction, and questioning, was a large part of it, too. In her 1989 film Battered, about domestic violence, she coaxes extraordinary testimony out of victims and perpetrators. One particular man, convicted of beating his wife, tells Grant how he can pick the one woman out of a hundred who is a soft target for abuse. “That’s the guy who stayed in my mind, too, that devil,” she says. “And he was attractive. Scary attractive. That was my first marriage! That guy who said I can come into a room and pick them out – that was me.”The Big Scary ‘S’ Word: why are people so terrified of socialism?Read moreGrant went on to make films about her old friend Sidney Poitier, and about Kirk Douglas and his family, and to strike a huge development deal with the US cable channel Lifetime. If she was shooting now, where would she look? “I would be fighting with HBO to let me go to Ukraine.” She thinks: “Or I’d be looking at Elon Musk, or at January 6th.”As it is, she says, “I’m old. I don’t look that old; I don’t feel that old, probably because I have a young husband – but …” In her memoir, she writes, “death makes me furious, which is a pity because I’m really up there myself”. But having survived all those waves of oppression in her youth, she isn’t done yet. “I feel there’s some way that I can still somehow do something. I don’t know what.” Experience makes her confident: something always turns up. “Life is like that. You slip to another place, go into another world, and you’re curious, and you take sides. And it’s a kind of miracle.”TopicsFilmDocumentary filmsFilm industryUS politicsinterviewsReuse this content More
I warned national guard of possible coup, Trump defense secretary saysMark Esper writes in new memoir of how worried he was that Trump would try to use US military to hold on to power A week before election day 2020, the US secretary of defense was so worried that Donald Trump would seek to involve the military in the election in an attempt to hold on to power, he told the general commanding the US national guard to notify him of any communication from anyone at all at the White House.Trump called top aides including Pence ‘losers’ as 2020 protests raged, book saysRead more“Without being too explicit,” Mark Esper writes in a new memoir, “my message was clear: the US military was not going to get involved in the election, no matter who directed it. I would intercede.”Such an intercession, Esper writes, would involve trying to persuade Trump not to use the military to hold on to power, then if necessary Esper would resign, appeal to Republicans in Congress and hold a press conference to appeal to the American people directly.Esper thought Trump might order actions such as seizing ballot boxes in key states. Ultimately, Trump did not attempt to use the military to influence the election, which he lost to Joe Biden. He did seek to overturn the result by other means.Esper was fired by Trump on 9 November 2020, six days after the election.He details the extraordinary steps he felt compelled to take before that in a new book, A Sacred Oath: Memoirs of a Defense Secretary in Extraordinary Times, which will be published next week. The Guardian obtained a copy.Esper devotes considerable space to his work with Gen Mark Milley, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, to stymie Trump’s attempts to use the military for political purposes, either in military strikes against Iran or in Syria – or even Mexico – or at home, by invoking the Insurrection Act against protesters for racial justice.Trump’s request that such protesters be shot in the legs, and Esper’s account of his resistance to it, has been reported elsewhere. The protests died down but Esper says the two most senior Pentagon figures remained concerned Trump could seek to use the military domestically, to tilt power his way.Esper describes a meeting at the Pentagon with Milley and the national guard chief, Gen Daniel Hokanson, on 30 October, “the last Friday before the election”.The “ostensible purpose of the meeting”, Esper says, given it was visible to anyone who could see his calendar, was an update on national guard military police units placed on alert to placate Trump during the protests for racial justice.But with regard to the election, Esper says, “this was a serious moment”.He says he told Gen Hokanson: “If at any point in the coming days – before, during or after the election – you get a call from anyone at the White House, take it, acknowledge the message, and call me immediately. The same rule applies if you hear of any TAGS [national guard state adjutant generals] or governors getting a similar call.”Esper says he also asked Hokanson “to figure out a discreet way to get this last part out, which he said he would”.Esper writes that as the only civilian between the president and the military, he was concerned the White House might “try to circumvent me to do something inappropriate” and “wanted to be ready for anything”.“The whole point of my game plan – the reason that I had taken so much crap over the last several months – was to be in this position, at this moment, to act. The essence of democracy was free and fair elections, followed by the peaceful transition of power.”Milley, he writes, told him he and the other joint chiefs would “resign if pressed to break their oath” and involve the military in the election. Esper says he did not want to allow the generals “to be put in such a compromising position, especially if a presidential order was legal but grossly wrong or inappropriate.“… If such an order came from the White House, my immediate recourse would be to demand a meeting with the president. I would want to hear and understand the directive straight from him, to offer alternative solutions if such were possible, and to voice my opposition face-to-face if he was unyielding. If I was unsuccessful I would be forced to resign on the spot in protest. But that wouldn’t be the end of the line for me.”Esper writes that he would have called senior Republicans on Capitol Hill to ask them to intercede with Trump, then staged a press conference “where I informed the country about all that had transpired and continued to unfold.Trump the hero for anti-abortion movement after bending supreme court his wayRead more“I would present my best case and make an appeal to the American people, their elected leaders in Congress, and the institutions of government to intervene. The point would be to buy time and put pressure on the president to stand down.”As Esper writes, election day, 3 November, “came and went without any incident involving the armed forces. Thank God.” He says he was relieved that though the contest was not called until the following weekend, Biden’s lead was clear.Esper also says he “never imagined” what came next: Trump’s attempt to overturn the election through lies about electoral fraud and coordination with Republicans in Congress and other rightwing groups and advisers, culminating on 6 January 2021 in the storming of the US Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.The attack on the Capitol has been linked to seven deaths and has led to more than 800 charges. But it failed to stop certification of Biden’s win. Having been fired after the election, Esper watched the attack on TV.TopicsBooksDonald TrumpUS militaryUS politicsnewsReuse this content More
This Will Not Pass review: Trump-Biden blockbuster is dire reading for Democrats Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns have made waves with tapes of Kevin McCarthy and other Republicans – but the president’s party has more to fear from what they revealThis Will Not Pass is a blockbuster. Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns deliver 473 pages of essential reading. The two New York Times reporters depict an enraged Republican party, besotted by and beholden to Donald Trump. They portray a Democratic party led by Joe Biden as, in equal measure, inept and out of touch.The Right review: conservatism, Trump, regret and wishful thinkingRead moreMartin and Burns make their case with breezy prose, interviews and plenty of receipts. After Kevin McCarthy denied having talked smack about Trump and the January 6 insurrection, Martin appeared on MSNBC with tapes to show the House Republican leader lied.In Burns and Martin’s pages, Trump attributes McCarthy’s cravenness to an “inferiority complex”. The would-be speaker’s spinelessness and obsequiousness are recurring themes, along with the Democrats’ political vertigo.On election day 2020, the country simply sought to restore a modicum of normalcy. Nothing else. Even as Biden racked up a 7m-vote plurality, Republicans gained 16 House seats. There was no mandate. Think checks, balances and plenty of fear.Biden owes his job to suburban moms and dads, not the woke. As the liberal Brookings Institution put it in a post-election report, “Biden’s victory came from the suburbs”.Said differently, the label of socialism, the reality of rising crime, a clamor for open borders and demands for defunding the police almost cost Democrats the presidency. As a senator, Biden knew culture mattered. Whether his party has internalized any lessons, though, is doubtful.On election day 2021, the party lost the Virginia governor’s mansion. Republican attacks over critical race theory and Covid-driven school closures and Democrats’ wariness over parental involvement in education did them in. This year, the midterms offer few encouraging signs.This Will Not Pass portrays Biden as dedicated to his belief his presidency ought to be transformational. In competition with the legacy of Barack Obama, he yearns for comparison to FDR.“I am confident that Barack is not happy with the coverage of this administration as more transformative than his,” Biden reportedly told one adviser.Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, is more blunt: “Obama is jealous of Biden.”Then again, Hunter Biden is not the Obamas’ son. Michelle and Barack can’t be too jealous.A telephone conversation between Biden and Abigail Spanberger, a moderate congresswoman from Virginia, captures the president’s self-perception. “This is President Roosevelt,” he begins, following up by thanking Spanberger for her sense of humor.She replies: “I’m glad you have a sense of humor, Mr President.”Spanberger represents a swing district, is a former member of the intelligence community and was a driving force in both Trump impeachments.This Will Not Pass also amplifies the disdain senior Democrats hold for the “Squad”, those members of the Democratic left wing who cluster round Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.Martin and Burns quote Steve Ricchetti, a Biden counselor: “The problem with the left … is that they don’t understand that they lost.”Cedric Richmond, a senior Biden adviser and former dean of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), is less diplomatic. He describes the squad as “fucking idiots”. Richmond also takes exception to AOC pushing back at the vice-president, Kamala Harris, for telling undocumented migrants “do not come.”“AOC’s hit on Kamala was despicable,” Richmond says. “What it did for me is show a clear misunderstanding of what’s going on in the world.”Meanwhile, Cori Bush, a Squad member, has picked a fight with the CBC and led the charge against domestic terror legislation.Burns and Martin deliver vivid portraits of DC suck-ups and screw-ups. They capture Lindsey Graham, the oleaginous senior senator from South Carolina, in all his self-abasing glory.During the authors’ interview with Trump, Graham called the former president. After initially declining to pick up, Trump answered. “Hello, Lindsey.” He then placed Graham on speaker, without letting him know reporters were seated nearby.Groveling began instantly. Graham praised the power of Trump’s endorsements and the potency of his golf game. Stormy Daniels would not have been impressed. The senator, Burns and Martin write, sounded like “nothing more than an actor in a diet-fad commercial who tells his credulous viewer that he had been skeptical of the glorious product – until he tried it”.This Will Not Pass also attempts to do justice to Kyrsten Sinema, the Arizona senator and “former Green party activist who reinvented herself as Fortune 500-loving moderate”. In addition to helping block Biden’s domestic agenda, Sinema has a knack for performative behavior and close ties to Republicans.Like Sarah Palin, she is fond of her own physique. The senator “boasted knowingly to colleagues and aides that her cleavage had an extraordinary persuasive effect on the uptight men of the GOP”.Palin is running to represent Alaska in Congress. Truly, we are blessed.Subtitled Trump, Biden, and the Battle for America’s Future, Burns and Martin’s book closes with a meditation on the state of US democracy. The authors are anxious. Trump has not left the stage. Republican leadership has bent the knee. Mitch McConnell wants to be Senate majority leader again. He knows what the base is thinking and saying. Marjorie Taylor Greene is far from a one-person minority.Martin and Burns quote Malcolm Turnbull, a former prime minister of Australia: “You know that great line that you hear all the time: ‘This is not us. This is not America.’ You know what? It is, actually.”The Republicans are ahead on the generic ballot, poised to regain House and Senate. Biden’s favorability is under water. Pitted against Trump, he struggles to stay even. His handling of Russia’s war on Ukraine has not moved the needle.Inflation dominates the concerns of most Americans. For the first time in two years, the economy contracts. It is a long time to November 2024. Things can always get worse.
This Will Not Pass is published in the US by Simon & Schuster
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The Right review: conservatism, Trump, regret and wishful thinkingMatthew Continetti’s history of 100 years of the American right is ambitious, impressive and worrying America’s tribes frequently clash but they rarely intersect. Over the past 60 years, the Democratic party has morphed into an upstairs-downstairs coalition, graduate-degree holders tethered to an urban core and religious “nones”. Meanwhile, Republicans have grown more rural, southern, evangelical and working class.Overcoming Trumpery review: recipes for reform Republicans will never allow Read moreWithin the GOP, Donald Trump has supplanted the legacies of Ronald Reagan and Abraham Lincoln. According to Matthew Continetti, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, being a conservative in 2022 is less about advocating limited government and more about culture wars, owning the libs and denouncing globalization.Subtitled The Hundred-Year War for American Conservatism, Continetti’s third book examines a century of intellectual and political battles. He seeks to explain how Trumpism became the dominant force within the Republican party. In large measure, he succeeds.The Right is readable and relatable, well-written and engaging. The author’s command of facts is impressive. For decades, he has lived around and within the conservative ecosystem.Continetti chronicles the tumult of 1960s, the emergence of Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy” and the migration of blue-collar ethnic Catholics to what was once the home of the white Protestant establishment. He also looks back, at the pre-New Deal Republican party and at conservatism after the civil war.Continetti is sensitive to the currents that swirl in and around this country and its people. He laments that in the 21st century blood, soil and grievance have overtaken the conservative orthodoxies of free markets, personal autonomy and communal virtue. He is discomforted by how contemporary conservatism acquired a performative edge.On the page, his dismay is muted but present. He wistfully recalls the collapse of the Weekly Standard, where he worked for Bill Kristol, his future father-in-law. George W Bush’s war in Iraq was one thing that helped do-in the magazine.Similarly, the Republican establishment’s call for immigration reform left many Americans feeling unwanted and threatened. The US immigrant population hovers near a record high, almost 14%. More than 44 million people living here were born elsewhere. Even before the pandemic, the fertility rate hit a record low. The populist impulse is not going to disappear.Trump’s inaugural address, replete with images of “American carnage”, is illustrative of the new conservative normal. Continetti quotes George W Bush: “That was some weird shit.” Nonetheless, on 20 January 2017, Trump struck a nerve.Continetti is mindful of broader trends, and the havoc assortative marriage has brought to society and politics. On that point, he gives Charles Murray his due. Continetti is pessimistic. Marriage predicated upon educational attainment has helped concentrate intellectual capital and financial advantage within a narrow caste.Twenty years ago, David Brooks, once Continetti’s colleague, described an idyllic urban existence, Bobos in Paradise. Those who can’t get in, however, face life in purgatory. The meritocracy got what it clamored for, only to discover it wasn’t loved by those it left behind.Continetti seemingly attempts to downplay similarities between Trump’s Maga movement and the hard-right in Europe. He omits all reference to Nigel Farage in Britain and Marine le Pen in France. Farage led Britain to Brexit and made a cameo appearance in Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the US. Le Pen twice forced Emmanuel Macron into a run-off for president.On the other hand, Continetti does capture how part of the US right adores Vladimir Putin: his authoritarianism, his unbridled nationalism, his disdain for classic liberalism.“Putin held the same allure for the national populist right that Che Guevara held for the cold war left,” Continetti writes. “No wonder President Trump was a fan of the Russian autocrat.”Continetti also says conservatism “anchored to Trump the man will face insurmountable obstacles in attaining policy coherence, government competence, and intellectual credibility”. Here, he stands on shaky ground.In 2016, Trump assembled a winning coalition and beat Hillary Clinton. In power, he loaded the federal judiciary. Whether Jeb Bush could have replicated such success is doubtful. As for intellectual credibility, in 2008 Kristol, Continetti’s mentor, helped pluck Sarah Palin from obscurity. And we all know where that led.In 2009, Continetti himself wrote The Persecution of Sarah Palin: How the Elite Media Tried to Bring Down a Rising Star. He now says “attacks on Palin” caused him “to rally to her defense”. Intellectual slumming, more like it. Palin was unfit for the top job. She resigned as Alaska governor 18 months before her term expired.Continetti also argues that conservatism needs once again to embrace the Declaration of Independence, the constitution and the Bill of Rights.“One cannot be an American patriot without reverence for the nation’s enabling documents,” he says.January 6 demonstrates otherwise. Conservatism’s commitment to democracy and the constitution appears situational. Members of the conservative establishment provided intellectual sinew for America’s Caesar. It wasn’t just about Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert and folks dressed as Vikings.The Presidency of Donald Trump review: the first draft of historyRead moreJohn Eastman, a former clerk to Clarence Thomas; Ted Cruz, a former clerk to Chief Justice William Rehnquist; Mike Lee, son of Rex Lee, Ronald Reagan’s solicitor general. Together with Ginni Thomas, the justice’s wife, they played outsized roles around the Capitol attack. Fifteen months later, Eastman is in legal jeopardy, Cruz is under growing suspicion and Lee looks like a weasel. Ms Thomas merits our scorn.The reckoning Continetti hopes for may never arrive. Gas prices surge. Crime rises. Together, they portend a Republican midterm landslide. Such realities ushered in Reagan’s 1980 landslide over Jimmy Carter.A one-term Biden presidency looms. A second Trump term is a real possibility. The latest revelations surrounding Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell teach us that inconvenient truths are quickly discarded. In politics, a win is a win.
The Right is published in the US by Basic Books
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