The Month of Trump

Donald Trump’s personal pathologies aside, it has become obvious that the worst possible leader of a self-styled democracy is the patriarch of an enormous family business, especially one that likes to slap its name in huge gold letters on every item, whether skyscraper or towel – and to whom people inexplicably pay money to paste the name on their own wares. A Trump employee is loyal to Mr Trump, as he’s always called, and one disagrees with the boss man, however mildly, at considerable risk. A federal employee, below the top-level appointments, is loyal to the government. A patriarch rules by fiat; a president has to deal with all those annoying existing laws and the courts that enforce them, agencies full of hundreds of thousands of recalcitrant bureaucrats, know-it-all pundits in the media, a loudmouth opposition party, and contentious factions within his own party. Everyone has an opinion. More »

In Istanbul

Last summer, a young Syrian woman in Istanbul gave birth to a baby boy with a severe umbilical hernia, which required surgery. But after three months he still didn’t have an ID card, and doctors wouldn’t perform surgery without it.

Songül, one of their Turkish neighbours, took the baby and his mother to all the hospitals and emergency clinics she knew of, to no avail. One hospital took a blood sample and gave them a referral for surgery, but they were turned away for not having an ID. They were told to go to the police station to get a copy of the baby’s birth certificate. They did, but the hospital wouldn’t accept it – only an ID card would do, they said. More »

Justice for Théo

On 2 February, Théo Luhaka, a 22-year-old black youth worker, was stopped by police in the northern Paris suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois, where he lives. Most of the media reported that the four officers were carrying out an identity check on him, but Théo says he confronted them first, when he saw one of them slap a young person whose ID they were checking. In either case, Luhaka was doing nothing wrong. And however the encounter began, there’s no doubt how it ended: twelve days later, Luhaka is still in hospital. More »

The Deep State

A few months before Donald Trump was elected president, I was in Paris talking to an American political scientist, a specialist on North Africa who has made his home in France. Laxminarayan (not his real name) was sceptical of Trump’s chances. And even if he were to win, Laxminarayan added, it was very clear what would happen next.

‘Really?’ I said. ‘And what is that?’

‘He will have to be removed from power by the deep state, or be assassinated.’ More »

Arguing with Strangers

Last year, an organisation called Protest Planned Parenthood, or #ProtestPP, put out a call to people opposed to abortion to demonstrate outside Planned Parenthood clinics across the US. The message went out through pro-life networks, conservative social media, churches and local Republican Party organisations; by 11 February, the scheduled day of the protests, more than 120 anti-abortion demonstrations had been organised in 45 states – no clinic left behind. Pro-choice Americans vowed to turn out too. On Saturday, many thousands of people went out to do in person what they typically only do online: argue with strangers about politics. More »

David Davis, Diane Abbott and Misogynoir

After the Brexit vote in Parliament last week, David Davis, the secretary of state for exiting the European Union, sexually harassed Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, in a House of Commons bar. That wasn’t the way Kevin Schofield of Politics Home broke the story on Twitter, however: ‘In Strangers bar tonight, David Davis tried to give Diane Abbott a kiss,’ he wrote. ‘She recoiled and told him to fuck off. He walked off laughing.’ Newspaper headlines blasted (and censored) the language with which she had rebuffed him, making the story about her profanity rather than his inappropriate behaviour. More »

Not So Innocent

Donald Trump’s clumsy expressions of interest in getting along with Vladimir Putin continue to provoke widespread outrage. The desperate indignation of Trump’s critics, however, threatens to interfere with US co-operation with Russia on vital national security issues. The latest furor erupted after Bill O’Reilly of Fox News asked Trump why he respected Vladimir Putin despite his being ‘a killer’. ‘There are a lot of killers,’ Trump replied. ‘What, you think our country’s so innocent?’ More »

In Quebec

After Donald Trump’s travel ban went into effect, Justin Trudeau addressed refugees on Twitter: ‘Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength.’ The next day a man opened fire in a mosque in Quebec City, murdering six people and injuring 19 just after the evening prayer. According to initial media reports, which later proved mistaken, there were two shooters, one of them Muslim, who allegedly entered the mosque shouting ‘Allahu akbar’ – as if only Muslims could commit this sort of crime. That’s presumably why the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, mystifyingly claimed that the Quebec attack justified Trump’s anti-Muslim policies. The Muslim ‘suspect’, it later turned out, was trying to help the victims. The man charged with the crime, Alexandre Bissonnette, a 27-year-old French-Canadian, is a fan of Donald Trump and Marine le Pen. He apparently wanted to signal that, despite Trudeau’s messages, Muslims are as unwelcome in Canada as in the US. More »

Ode to Joy

The Budapest Festival Orchestra played Beethoven at Lincoln Center this week, the First and Fifth Symphonies bookending the Fourth Piano Concerto on Sunday, and the Eighth and Ninth Symphonies on Monday. The standing ovations began on Sunday: Richard Goode gave a commanding performance; students from Julliard and Bard showed up onstage, unexpectedly, for the Fifth Symphony’s finale.

I bought my tickets months ago, well before the presidential election. But the election followed me into the hall. Throughout the interval on Monday night, an elderly couple discussed the day’s headlines in despairing terms. A few minutes earlier, two hundred rabbis and cantors had marched past Lincoln Center, on their way from 88th and Broadway to the Trump International Hotel on Columbus Circle, protesting against the president’s ban on Muslim refugees. More »

Shambles in Court

According to the most recent census, English is not the main language of 4.2 million people in England and Wales (7.7 per cent of the population); 726,000 people cannot speak it well and 138,000 speak no English at all. Many of us non-native speakers will at some point have to deal with the justice system, in one capacity or another (my first exposure was as a juror). The right to be tried in a language you understand is guaranteed under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). More »

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