US Politics

Surely it wasn’t meant to be like this. In early September, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was set to attend a lavish ceremony in Washington to mark the seventieth anniversary of the signing of the ANZUS Treaty. On the same trip, he was due to sit down in person for the first time with his US, Indian, and Japanese counterparts, fellow members of the ‘Quadrilateral Security Dialogue’, or ‘Quad’, a gathering primed to be a regional counterweight to China.

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Writing this review of John F. Kennedy’s formative years soon after the end of the Trump regime has evoked some surprising parallels between these two one-term American presidents (and perennial womanisers). They were both second sons born into wealthy families dominated by powerful patriarchs. Against the odds, they emerged as their fathers’ favourites and were groomed for success. Thanks not just to their wealth but to their televisual celebrity and telegenic families, they managed to eke out close election victories at a time when just enough disenchanted voters were looking for a change of direction in the White House. Despite their administrations’ profound disparities in competence and their differences in political outlook, they shared a deep distrust of senior bureaucrats and military officials, as well as an inability to work effectively with Congress. Bullets and ballots, respectively, ended Kennedy’s and Donald Trump’s presidencies, but not the cults of personality they had inspired. In the space of just over half a century, they have tilted the trajectory of American democracy and diplomacy from the tragic to the tragicomic.

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The events of January 6 shocked the world. In this episode of the ABR Podcast Samuel Watts reads his article 'This Is America' and offers a historical perspective. As Watts notes, 'To view the assault on the US Capitol as the climax of a dramatic, but brief, period of authoritarianism in the US is a potentially dangerous mistake. This attack was just the latest iteration in a long-lasting tradition of anti-democratic, white supremacist violence that has plagued the Republic since, at least, the Civil War.'

Samuel Watts’s article ‘This Is America’ is one of a series of commentaries funded by the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund.

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On the morning of 6 January 2021, President Donald Trump addressed a crowd of his supporters outside the White House for more than an hour. The president urged protesters who had already begun gathering along the National Mall to go to the Capitol Building where both houses of Congress were about to start the process of certifying the results of the electoral college, formalising Joe Biden’s victory in the November 2020 election. The election had been stolen, Trump told them: it was time for them to take it back and march on Congress: ‘You will never take back our country with weakness,’ said the president. 

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Serious observers of American presidential politics will not have missed the rapid rise to national prominence of Pete Buttigieg, the thirty-eight-year-old former mayor of the small Midwestern city of South Bend, Indiana. Within a year of announcing his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination, Buttigieg had made history as, in his words, ‘the first openly gay candidate to win a state in a presidential nominating contest – doing so as the first out elected official to even make the attempt’.

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On 4 November 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected president of the United States. The former radio announcer, Hollywood actor, and governor of California (1967–75) beat Jimmy Carter by four hundred and forty electoral college votes. No contender had beaten an incumbent by that much since 1932, when in the midst of the Great Depression Franklin D. Roosevelt triumphed over Herbert Hoover. And much like FDR’s victory, Reagan’s win in 1980 permanently altered the course of US politics. The welfare state that had existed under both Democratic and Republican presidents was diminished, if not entirely dismantled. The religious right, previously a nonentity in American politics, gained major clout. And the economic tenets of neo-liberalism, dismissed as fringe ideas in previous decades, took centre stage.

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John R. Lewis, who died in July 2020, was an extraordinary man. Born poor, the son of tenant farmers in rural, segregated Alabama, Lewis was one of America’s most prominent civil rights leaders by the age of twenty-three. He spoke at the March on Washington in 1963, when Dr Martin Luther King Jr delivered his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech.

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Whatever we might think of him, Donald Trump has proven to be one of the most transformative figures in recent history. In today's episode, Timothy J. Lynch talks to ABR Editor Peter Rose about three new and highly critical books on Trump: Too Much and Never Enough by Mary Trump, A Very Stable Genius by Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig, and The Room Where It Happened by John Bolton. As Lynch writes in his review, 'There is a paradox that these books illustrate but cannot resolve: why is a man so chaotic, so reviled, so malignant also so transformational?’

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In this week’s ABR Podcast, Peter Rose speaks to Michael L. Ondaatje (Professor of History at the Australian Catholic University) about black American voters’ attitudes towards Donald Trump and the Republican Party. They also discuss recent startling developments in an already tumultuous presidential election. 

Michael L. Ondaatje’s article ‘Black and Republican in the age of Trump’ is one of a series of commentaries funded by the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund. It appears in the October issue.

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Rage by Bob Woodward

by
November 2020, no. 426

Tom Lehrer famously believed that Henry Kissinger’s Nobel Prize for Peace rendered satire impossible. Has Donald Trump’s presidency made the same true of political journalism? This may sound counterintuitive. After all, Trump has been a boon for news outlets and book publishing, as well as for social media. Bob Woodward’s Rage sold 600,000 copies in its first week. And that the dean of White House scribes herein abandons his trademark disinterest and pronounces authoritatively that ‘Trump is the wrong man for the job’ has been treated as news in itself. Yet so what?

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