Book review: Pussy by Harold Jacobson

trump pic

Published by Jonathan Cape, 13th April 2017

Few events have provoked a more seismic hostile reaction within the western world than the recent election of Donald Trump. One imagines his presidency will provoke a wealth of satirical novels based around his presidency. Well done then, to Booker Prize winning author Howard Jacobson then, for getting his version in first,  less than a hundred days into his presidency. Unfortunately, as with Trump’s own administration thus far, the book can only be viewed as a failure.

This is the story of Prince Fracassus, heir presumptive to the Duke of Origen, a spoilt, semi-literate, sex-obsessed, boorish,Twitter-obsessed fathead. Sound familiar?

Exactly. Indeed, this is part of the problem. Fracassus is so obviously meant to be Trump (something Chris Riddell’s excellent cartoons throughout confirm) that any satirical impact is largely blunted.

Howard-Jacobson-at-the-2015-Edinburgh-International-Book-Festival-5

The “heir presumptive” stuff seems somewhat misplaced too. Trump’s father was a millionaire property owner: Donald’s is not a rags to riches story but (as is often the case) a riches to far more riches story. But his dad was, at least, a self-made man. He was not, unlike Kennedy or Bush, part of a political dynasty. At least, not yet.

Donald J. Trump is probably the worst person to ever occupy the White House. He is an arrogant, bullying, egotistical, racist, misogynistic pig. Even the worst of his predecessors (Warren Harding, Richard Nixon, George W. Bush) had some redeeming features. He appears to have none. He is both a bad example to our children and a compelling argument for not having children.

He thus deserves a book which truly destroys him on the page. This isn’t that book.

pussy book

Advertisements

Why Richard Nixon was pretty bad, after all

nix

Forty years after his resignation as US president and twenty years after his death, many have sought to revise the general opinion about disgraced US president Richard Nixon. But though he did achieve successes, perhaps it’s worth remembering: he was known as “Tricky Dicky” for a reason…

The Pink Lady campaign

Nixon played dirty from an early stage, shamelessly exploiting the post-war Red Scare to demolish his Democrat opponent, the actress Helen Gahagan Douglas in his 1950 campaign for the US Senate.  Although she was basically a New Deal Democrat, Nixon labelled her “the Pink Lady…pink right down to her underwear” and had thousands of pink leaflets distributed saying the same thing. Douglas lost and gave up politics. Nixon won by a landslide but at a price: he would be known as “Tricky Dicky” forever.

Sabotaged peace talks

Having lost the 1960 election narrowly to JFK, Nixon wasn’t prepared to do so again in 1968. But President Johnson’s halt to the bombing in Vietnam in October was calculated to help Nixon’s opponent Johnson’s Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Nixon used an intermediary to sabotage the peace talks, something the Humphrey team knew about, in fact, confident of victory, they stated quiet. Instead, Nixon won narrowly. The truth wasn’t revealed until after his death in 1994.

Foreign policy dishonest

Nixon was elected claiming to have a “secret plan to end the war”. In fact, he had no plan. He first attempted to win the war as  Johnson had, also illegally invading Cambodia before ultimately withdrawing the US presence ensuring a Communist victory (in fairness, probably an inevitable outcome whatever he did). Nixon’s administration also backed General Pinochet’s bloody coup against the democratically elected Allende government in Chile.

nixon_620-e1357749984496

Obsessed with his “enemies”

Nixon generally confused legitimate and fair political opponents with enemies of the state. His “enemies list” included everyone from Senator Ted Kennedy (perhaps understandably) to entertainers like Bill Cosby and Barbara Streisand.

Watergate

In 1972, having sabotaged the primary campaign of his most feared opponent Senator Ed Muskie, the Nixon team’s attempts to wiretap and destroy their political opponents fell flat when a botched break-in at Democrat HQ led to the Watergate scandal which led to Nixon’s resignation in 1974. No scandal, other than the Iran-Contra scandal, has come close to Watergate in terms of severity. Nixon lied repeatedly, humiliated his country and himself and destroyed his own presidency.

henry-kissinger-y-richard-nixon

Book review: The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt and the Golden Age of Journalism

Book review: The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Viking/Penguin.

Bully Pulpit

Although not exactly a dynasty, the Roosevelts produced both the best Democrat president (Franklin Delano) while his cousin Teddy, discussed here, was the best Republican one.
Hugely charismatic, energetic and popular, Theodore, a keen hunter and former veteran of the Spanish American Wars, became the nation’s youngest ever president, when at 42, he inherited the office from the unfortunate William McKinley who was assassinated by a Polish anarchist while opening the Pan-American Exhibition in Buffalo in September 1901.
Roosevelt was elected comfortably in his own right before unwisely relinquishing office in 1988, ignoring enthusiastic pleas from within his own party to stay (there was no two term limit then). He later came to regret his decision even to the point of standing against his successor and old friend Republican President William Taft as a third party Progressive “Bull Moose” candidate. But TR’s intervention proved hugely divisive. Taft, the incumbent, was pushed into a humiliating third place, Roosevelt, the ex-president came second. The victor was Woodrow Wilson, winning only the third victory for a Democratic presidential candidate since the end of the Civil War. Wilson won with 42% of the vote and would undoubtedly have lost had it not been for Roosevelt’s presence in the campaign. Taft went onto achieve his foremost lifelong dream: becoming Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, Roosevelt went onto a fairly early death thus only witnessing the start of his cousin Franklin’s rose to power. Wilson led the United States into and through the First World War. The course of global history might have been very different had William Taft or Teddy Roosevelt led in his place.
This is a massive, thorough and entertaining book from Doris Kearns Goodwin whose Team of Rivals inspired not just Steven Spielberg to make his fairly dull Lincoln movie but which may have inspired President Obama to appoint his defeated opponent (and possible successor) Hilary Clinton as his first Secretary of State. This book may turn out to have some lasting political impact too as it is thought to have influenced Ed Miliband, the man most opinion polls suggest will be British Prime Minister within the year. Miliband could do worse than look to Teddy Roosevelt as a role model. Roosevelt was able to use the press of his time to press home the need for reform, however. In 21st century Britain, conditions are less favourable, however. The hostility of the right wing press may ultimately prove the greatest barrier not just to reform but to Mr Miliband even winning office in the first place.

Roosevelt Taft