Us politics

Biden should approach ageing like the Romans

Last week, Lionel Shriver wrote a characteristically sharp piece about the narcissism of the ageing Joe Biden, egged on by his wife, in standing again for the presidency of the United States. The Roman poet Lucretius (1st century bc) might well have offered a similar opinion, but he would have presented it as an example of a universal and destructive human failing which he described in his magnificent poem On the Nature of the Universe – the dread of death. Romans, Lucretius claimed, feared the whole idea of dying, because they believed that they had an eternal soul which, after death, would be subject to hideous tortures and punishments if they had been

Biden is as big a narcissist as Trump

The dullest assertion you can make about Donald Trump is that he’s a narcissist who has no interest in the American people and only cares about himself. Competent pundits don’t waste wordage on such an over-obvious observation. Less obvious, though more so since last week’s dog’s dinner presidential debate – in the aftermath of which dubbing the encounter ‘elder abuse’ went from droll witticism to exhausted cliché in a few hours – is that Joe Biden’s narcissism rivals Trump’s and may even exceed it. The Bidens’ decision to contest this race was arrogant and criminally oblivious to the country’s future Early in his 2020 run, Biden indicated to apparatchiks in

Freddy Gray

Jill Biden’s relentless pursuit of power

At rallies, Joe Biden often speaks after his wife. ‘My name is Joe Biden and I’m Jill’s husband,’ he begins. It’s a line he has used for years – a faux humble joke about how much more impressive she is. These days, however, it sounds more like an admission of the real pecking order. In the past week, we’ve seen the extent to which Dr Jill Biden (as she insists on being called) has taken charge of her ailing spouse’s collapsing campaign. This week, she appeared on the cover of American Vogue, looking imperious in a white tuxedo dress. ‘We will decide our future!’ shouts the quote headline. That’s a

The youth vote is turning right

Young people are supposed to drink a ton, have a lot of sex, hang out with their friends at every opportunity and vote for the left. Today’s young don’t live up to the stereotype. According to polls, they are one of the most responsible generations on record. Across the West, the share of young adults who binge-drink or who are sexually active has fallen to a new low. Teenagers spend far less time hanging out with their friends than their parents or grandparents did. They even seem to be defying political expectations – though their recent drift to the right has, in its own way, succeeded just as well in

Hunter Biden and the teaching of virtue

Joe Biden, President of the United States, may not have any criminal charges on his record, but his son Hunter does. When ancient Greeks discussed whether aretê (‘virtue, moral excellence, goodness, bravery’) could be taught, or not, such examples came into play. Plato discussed the problem in a dialogue in which Socrates raised the question with the famous sophist Protagoras who claimed to be able to teach anything to make people better. Socrates’s example was Pericles: here was a man of supreme aretê, but his two useless sons simply ‘browsed randomly about like cattle, hoping to bump into it’. Protagoras answered as follows. When men, he said, first learned to

Another election boost for Trump

Last Thursday evening a companionable London dinner party was just wrapping up when our hostess returned to the table brandishing the New York Times headline on her phone: in giant letters for such a tiny device, ‘TRUMP GUILTY ON ALL COUNTS’. Three American Democrats and one British Democrat-by-marriage, my fellow diners were exhilarated. One guest declared, ‘We got him’ – soon a triumphant refrain in my home state of New York. Democrats are so blinded by their own goodness that they fail to grasp how badly this strategy could backfire Technically a Democrat, sometimes as a sly rhetorical convenience, I was more muted, mumbling quietly once the cheers died down:

How would Athenians have dealt with Donald Trump?

Has Humpty-Trumpty had a great fall, or a great bounce? That will depend on what the Great American Public thinks was at stake in his trial. It was ever thus in the democracy of ancient Athens. In the absence of a state prosecution service, all legal cases in ancient Athens were brought by individuals. But a jury trial often had to await the result of an attempt to settle out of court. This consisted of two mediation processes: one private and, if that failed, the other public under an appointed arbitrator. If there was still no agreement, the case went to trial before a randomly selected jury of between 200

What is Trump’s new foreign policy?

26 min listen

Freddy Gray speaks to author Jacob Heilbrunn about what another term in office for Donald Trump might mean for America’s foreign policy, its relationship with Israel, and the war in Ukraine. How have his views changed since last time? And what will his relationship with Putin be like?

My message for Columbia’s protesting students

There are several frustrating things about American college campuses, just one of which is the sheer volume of column inches they take up. Whenever an American campus has an ‘occupation’ because the students want veto powers over foreign wars, the world media study their actions with great interest. Whenever a group of farmers or truckers complain about the loss of their livelihoods, whatever media attention does arrive comes from people eager to dismiss the protestors as know-nothings who are on to nothing. I told them that while they may know something, the chances are that people older than them know more Still, in recent months Columbia University in New York

Veep show: who will Trump pick for his running mate?

We are in the fifth week of Donald Trump’s ‘hush money’ trial and the real scandal is that it’s all so intensely boring. Sex, porn-star witnesses, shady lawyers, a president in the dock – the headlines are a tabloid dream. The crux of the case, however, is a bunch of tedious charges to do with tax reporting and accountancy. Who wants to read about that?   Trump is ‘not looking for an heir because that would be Macbeth or King Lear, a bloodbath’ Trump adores the attention, naturally. As the greatest showman of the 21st century he understands that we, the people, need fresh drama and new characters. That’s why, while

The Democrats have a Joe Biden problem

The Democrats dare to hope that this week will be a study in contrasts. On their side stands President Joe Biden, the veteran statesman, using all his diplomatic experience to stop a third world war breaking out in the Middle East. On the other, in the dock in Manhattan, sits Donald Trump, facing 34 criminal counts in a case relating to porn stars, adultery and hush money. As Biden urges Israel to ‘think carefully’ as it considers how to respond to Iran’s attack last weekend, Trump is, as ever, ranting away about himself. This speaks to Biden’s 2024 re-election pitch: it’s democracy (him) vs chaos (you know who). Trump can

Will Biden support Ukraine’s attacks on Russia?

This time last year, Volodymyr Zelensky was touring western capitals, calling for weapons and money to launch a decisive summer offensive. Nato eventually provided Leopard and Challenger tanks, Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, M777 howitzers, Himars rocket artillery and Patriot air defences – but too little, too late. The much-vaunted offensive went nowhere, despite a mutiny by the Wagner Group and widespread disarray in the Russian army. Instead, Soledar, Bakhmut and Avdiivka were seized. Today, Russian missile assaults are intensifying, not receding. In March, Russia hit Ukraine with 264 missiles and 515 drones. A relentless bombardment of Kharkiv is making Ukraine’s second city uninhabitable. In response, Kyiv’s most successful strategy to

Going electric requires electricity. Who knew?

A lead article in the sober-sided New York Times is seldom funny. Yet ‘A New Surge in Power Use is Threatening US Climate Goals’ earlier this month cracked me up. Check out this sternly dramatic first paragraph: ‘Something unusual is happening in America. Demand for electricity, which has stayed largely flat for two decades, has begun to surge.’ Personally, I’d have headlined that article ‘Well, duh’ – perhaps with the subhead ‘Aw, shucks’. Lo and behold, when you push people to electrify everything in their lives – cars, cookers, heating systems – while bribing them to go all-electric with lavish government subsidies, it turns out they use more electricity. Who

Why the British think differently from Americans

When I first started teaching undergraduates at Harvard, the grading system the university employed struck me as very odd. Even ambitious students at top colleges in the United States see it as their job to answer any essay question in the most thorough and reasonable way. They regurgitate the dominant view in scholarly literature in a competent manner. If they pull this off without making major errors, they fully expect to get an A. And with grade inflation rampant in the Ivy League, they usually do. This attitude has had a significant influence on American public life. If you read an opinion piece in the New York Times or the

Europe needs to step up on Ukraine

Vasyl, a burly, tattooed infantry commander who lost a leg to a Russian mine on the eastern front, sits swinging his remaining leg on the edge of the treatment table in the ‘Unbroken’ rehabilitation clinic in Lviv. He’s been inside the Russian trenches 50 times, he tells me. His stories are reminiscent of the first world war. I ask him what Ukraine needs for victory. Answer: ‘Motivated people.’ His T-shirt proclaims ‘no sacrifice, no victory’. After we shake hands and I wish him luck, he suddenly jumps off the table and starts skipping at amazing speed, his blue skipping rope whizzing around under his one foot, while he looks at

Emergency on Planet Biden

‘If aliens attacked Earth, do you think we would be safer under Joe Biden or Donald Trump?’ That’s a question in a new poll of American voters, and 43 per cent of respondents opted for Trump, 32 per cent for Biden, while 25 per cent sagaciously picked ‘Don’t know’. It’s fun to imagine President Donald in charge against the extra-terrestrials. ‘Zogblark the Magnificent is a good friend of mine,’ Trump would shout from the White House lawn, as the helicopter blades of Marine One clattered away behind. ‘He’s said some very nice things about me. Believe me. Things you wouldn’t believe… But we can’t have him exerting the supreme authority

Trumpvision: He’s making America watch again

It was hardly a surprise when Donald Trump said last weekend that he would not be participating in the televised Republican candidate debates. ‘New CBS POLL, just out, has me leading the field by “legendary” numbers,’ he declared on his very own Truth Social platform. ‘The public knows who I am & what a successful presidency I had… I WILL THEREFORE NOT BE DOING THE DEBATES.’ In other words, I am winning so I do what I want. Trump’s arrogance puts many people off. It’s also compelling because he has a point. On the right of American politics – and, to a large extent, on the left and centre too

Does Biden actually care about gay rights?

Joseph Robinette Biden, a practising Catholic, has travelled a long way when it comes to gay rights. In 1996, as Senator for Delaware, he voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, which blocked the federal recognition of same-sex unions. Two years earlier he voted to cut funding to schools that taught the acceptance of homosexuality. In the 1970s, when asked about homosexuals in the US military, he replied: ‘My gut reaction is that they are a security risk but I must admit I have not given this much thought… I’ll be darned!’   Saudi Arabia is the world’s second-biggest oil producer and so it gets a pass. Uganda has little to

Is progressivism winning in America?

36 min listen

Galen Druke, host of the FiveThirtyEight podcast, joins Freddy Gray on this episode to talk about what to take away from Chicago’s election this week, how well the Biden team is handling the progressive wing of the Democratic party, and whether the Democrats would prefer to face up against Ron or Don as the Republican nominee. Produced by Natasha Feroze, Saby Kulkarni and Cindy Yu.

Joe Biden has some difficult questions to answer

Joe Biden has become the Typhoid Mary of classified documents, spreading them as he goes. They keep turning up in batch after batch, everywhere but the floor at Starbucks. The President has said almost nothing about the mess, except to reassure us that ‘people know I take classified documents seriously’. That defence has since taken on a slight change of punctuation: ‘People know I take classified documents. Seriously.’ He certainly does. He takes them everywhere. Most recently, classified documents were found at the Penn Biden Center, a foreign policy thinktank in Washington, DC established by Biden in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania. The documents raise additional questions. Why were