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Best in Show
The Friday Speed Read is back, cramming everything you need to know about this week in the news into one, rambling piece of prose so you never have to read the news again.
It’s the future historians and political scientists I feel sorry for. Always have. How do you even begin to analyse the years circa 2016-2021 in American, and frankly, global politics when those of us living through it can barely muster anything apart from ‘WTF?’
Yes, Donald J. Trump (the J is for justice) has left the White House. Having tried every trick in the book (dodgy phone calls to rig the election, aiding a far-right insurrection of the Capitol) Don has finally decided to call it a day, ushering in the Biden era.
From this side of the pond, we’ve tended to react to Trump with a kind of shocked awe. ‘How could that happen?’, ‘Did you hear what he said?’, ‘Yuck!’ His presidency has often, fittingly, been seen as a reality show, something to gawp at, throw stones at while in our glass house, the Government has shown more willingness to avoid feeding hungry schoolchildren than it has to develop an effective test and trace system.
It’s important to properly consider what Trump has done as president. His greatest hits included withdrawing the US from the Paris Climate Agreement in 2017, making it a pariah amid the global effort to curb climate change. He enacted a travel ban on predominantly Muslim populations and carried out the policy of separating families detained at the US-Mexico border. For large parts of his one term, it looked as if Trump may well be re-elected. This was largely down to a relatively stable economy and strong markets, while unemployment reached a 50-year low. He rode the wave of economic recovery, making many people richer through tax cuts while many who voted him in wondered when they would receive their slice of the pie. That may be an incredible over-simplification of four years of policy, but you get the idea of what Trump the Legislator was all about.
Perhaps more significant is what Trump the Man bought to America. Trump’s worst characteristics were able to thrive in what increasingly seems like a broken political system. Hideously partisan news networks enabled him to lie, offend, abuse from office while keeping the support of one side of the political divide. Many accused Trump of being loose with his words, not understanding the effect they could have. Perhaps they had their desired outcome. Racial tension and domestic terrorism have grown exponentially in recent years while Trump has demonised activists and normalised white supremacists. In seeking to boost his own power, DJT embraced conspiracy theories, most notably when arguing in vain that the Democrats had stolen his election from him. A convincing electoral college defeat won’t save America from all of these ills. Many predate Trump. Dealing with them will be especially difficult as more of our lives move onto social media. Facebook and Twitter suspended Trump’s accounts on safety grounds following the events at the Capitol on 6th January, but it’s clear that these powerful, yet relatively young organisations are no closer to working out how to deal with rampant misinformation.
And so, enter Joseph R. Biden (the R is for respect). He has quite a job on his hands. It seems to have started relatively well. A composed inauguration speech highlighted the stark reality the US currently faces while setting ambitious, if vague, targets relating to equality, climate and COVID. In a pointed nod to his predecessor, Biden repeatedly hit upon the themes of ‘truth’ and ‘unity’. It was, if nothing else, ‘Presidential’. ‘Democracy has prevailed’ read The Guardian’s front page, while The Telegraph echoed Biden’s call to ‘End this uncivil war’.
Biden wasted no time in overturning some of Trump’s legacy. He signed a raft of executive orders focused on using the might of the US state to end the pandemic. It contrasted sharply with Trump’s first efforts, which involved pretending it wasn’t there. Among his first actions, the 46th US president also began the process of re-joining the Paris Agreement, revoked the declaration to ‘BUILD THE WALL!’ and ended the aforementioned Muslim travel ban. Again, it’s a good start, although most commentators agree that this is the easy part. Certain (ahem) sections of the British press decided to focus instead on Biden’s interior design preferences. ‘Joe Biden REMOVES bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office’ capitalised The Daily Mail while The Express published four separate stories on the matter. The Government, to its credit, did not make a scene out of it.
Back in the UK, the situation remains critical. Record numbers of daily COVID deaths were reported on Tuesday and Wednesday while Oxford University research showed that the UK had the worst daily death rate in the world. Considering these numbers as mere statistics can distract from the sheer human tragedy of the time we’re living in. Lives ended too soon; families broken apart. It’s difficult to assess what lies ahead of us. The Prime Minister has urged caution and warned that the weeks ahead will be ‘tough’ and even refused to rule out summer restrictions. Some other sources suggest cases seem to be levelling off, while the vaccination programme is ramping up. It’s certainly grim at the moment but the Speed Read confidently speaks for everyone in hoping there is a significant light at the end of the tunnel.
Debate continues on how best to curb the spread of the virus. Priti Patel and others raised the possibility of shutting borders to protect the UK from new variants of COVID-19, while on Friday, ministers confirmed that a £500 payment was being considered to encourage compliance with self-isolation rules. Both moves would surely help, but one wonders whether they may have slightly missed the boat on this one…
Arts and culture has, along with just about every other industry, been hit incredibly hard by the pandemic. News that Glastonbury Festival will once again be cancelled in 2021 will have done little to lift the spirits. The festival has a unique place in British culture and while there are clearly more important issues at play, The Speed Read longs for the days of warm cans and sunburn, but will begrudgingly head for iPlayer in late June instead.
Finally, for seasoned Speed Readers who read up on their Tik Tok sea shanties last Friday, the weekend took an unexpected turn. One internet content producer combined the ‘four lads’ meme with unimaginable computer genius to create this spellbinding video from a still image. The meme inhabited a unique space where it seemed the whole world was talking about it, on Twitter anyway. Manchester City used the meme to announce their team line-up on Sunday night and the ‘four lads’ in question were even invited onto Good Morning Britain. They did, however, have to endure a conversation with Piers Morgan.