United States

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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In the novel Demons, Dostoevsky’s narrator describes the character Shatov as ‘one of those ideal Russian beings who can suddenly be so struck by some strong idea that it seems to crush them then and there, sometimes even forever’. This ideal person is one whose ‘whole life afterwards is spent in some last writhings, as it were, under the stone that has fallen on them’. The people who populate Vivian Gornick’s The Romance of American Communism are Americans rather than Russians, but they too are living in the last writhings of the strong idea that dominates their lives: the idea of Stalinist communism.

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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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Rising to the lectern amid a tightly packed crowd in the Cambridge Union’s debating hall, James Baldwin began quietly and slowly to speak. ‘I find myself, not for the first time, in the position of a kind of Jeremiah.’ It was February 1965, and Baldwin was in the United Kingdom to promote his third novel, Another Country (1962). Baldwin’s British publicist had asked the Union if they would host the author. Peter Fullerton, the Union’s president, was quick to seize this opportunity, on one condition: that Baldwin participate in a debate.

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Ivan Vasilevich Ovchinnikov defected to the Soviet Union in 1958. After three years in West Germany, he had had enough of the West with its hollow promises. He was a farmer’s son, and his family’s property had been confiscated and the family deported as ‘kulaks’ during Stalin’s assault on the Russian village in the early 1930s. Ovchinnikov managed to escape the often deadly exile, obscured his family background, and made a respectable career. Brought up in a children’s home, then trained in a youth army school, the talented youngster eventually entered the élite Military Institute for Foreign Languages in Moscow. In 1955, now an officer and a translator, he was sent to East Berlin as part of the army’s intelligence unit.

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On a Saturday afternoon shortly before Christmas in 1984, Bernhard Goetz was riding the New York City subway. Goetz, who is white, was approached by four black screwdriver-wielding teenagers who asked him for five dollars. Goetz drew a 0.38 pistol from his jacket and shot each of the boys once, then turned to one of them ...

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Franklin Delano Roosevelt is consistently ranked alongside George Washington and Abraham Lincoln as one of the greatest presidents of the United States. His greatness rests on two pillars. Elected in the midst of the Great Depression, he permanently changed how Americans viewed government: as a force that would ...

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The president of the United States looms large in contemporary politics, a powerful figure dominating news and popular culture: from newly elected president Donald Trump bestriding (or, depending on your political leanings, besmirching) the world stage, to Kevin Spacey as the Machiavellian Frank Underwood in House of Cards. For the modern observer, it is di ...

Insane Clown President by Matt Taibbi & How The Hell Did This Happen? by by P.J. O’Rourke

by
May 2017, no. 391

Beneath a frantic veneer of normalcy, American politics is not okay. It is as if Punch and Judy have careened out of a dive bar, tripped down the rabbit hole, smashed head-first through the looking glass, and found themselves running all three branches of government. Core to this is that unlikely combination of words, President Donald Trump.

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