In the Critics this week

Neil Morrisey's childhood, 20th century folk music, and civil war reprobates.

In the Critics section of this week's New Statesman, Rob Young traces the utopian visions conjured by folk music in the 20th century; Felicity Cloake discovers that English winemakers are "making great strides"; Helen Lewis-Hasteley wonders whether there's such a thing as "English cuisine", and concludes that though our dishes are prone to absorbing foreign influences, "when you can walk along a high street in even a smallish English town and a small peri-peri, cinnamon and garlic alongside the salty tang of fish and chips, who would have it any other way?"

In Film, Ryan Gilbey watches Duncan Jones' Source Code, and appreciates its sense of "underlying futility": "the visions of violence and destruction can't help but seem definitive". However, "few films" have "generated so little excitement from that old stand-by, the ticking bomb". Rachel Cooke watches celebrity documentary Neil Morrissey: Care Home Kid on BBC2, confessing from the off her "allergy" to the sub-genre ("the narcissism and self-pity is enough to make the skin itch"). This particular one, though, is "extremely moving". On the radio, Antonia Quirke listens to the various on-air tributes to Elizabeth Taylor, and finds the BBC's coverage strangely rife with mentions of "tributes that we never quite got to hear". Heat FM, conversely, had captured "Elton John" and "similar exotica" paying their respects. American radio was "headier", and World Service oddly reserved.

In Books, Leo Robson considers Philip Hensher's King of the Badgers, and Monica Ali's Untold Story as two examples of "condition of England" novels. Hensher is praised for "his steady head" ("his greatest attribute after his energy and fluency"), whilst Ali's mishandling of the "relationship between recorded fact, outright fabrication and plausible invention" has consequences for this novel's "identity and scrutability". David Crystal admires Melvyn Bragg's taking of opportunity to fruitfully display his "breadth of encounter" in a review of Bragg's The Books of Books: the Radical Impact of the King James Bible (1611-2011). Amanda Craig notes the charm of Katherine Swift's writing in her homage to gardening, "the most emotionally involving of all the arts". The Morville Year combines "observation of nature, creative day-dreaming and scholarly musing". Jonathan Beckman thinks John Stubbs' Reprobates: the Cavaliers of the English Civil War an "outstanding achievement". His success "lies not simply in working these dramatic life stories into the larger political and religious conflicts in England" but in "show[ing] that the circumstances of poetic production are an indispensable adjunct to appreciation". "Stubbs", writes Beckman, "has rescued the Cavalier's literary reputation and tempered the most scornful excoriations of their moral character".

Vernon Bogdanor wonders why there is no definitive biography of Churchill ("that may seem like an odd question to ask"), whilst Alexandra Harris, this week's Critic at large, examines the writers' trend of attempting to narrate the story of England by exploring the histories of particular, and personal, slices of land.

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Sean Spicer's Emmys love-in shows how little those with power fear Donald Trump

There's tolerance for Trump and his minions from those who have little to lose from his presidency.

He actually did it. Sean Spicer managed to fritter away any residual fondness anyone had for him (see here, as predicted), by not having the dignity to slip away quietly from public life and instead trying to write off his tenure under Trump as some big joke.

At yesterday’s Emmys, as a chaser to host Stephen Colbert’s jokes about Donald Trump, Sean Spicer rolled onto the stage on his SNL parody podium and declared, “This will be the largest audience to witness an Emmys, period.” Get it? Because the former communications director lied about the Trump inauguration crowd being the largest in history? Hilarious! What is he like? You can’t take him anywhere without him dropping a lie about a grave political matter and insulting the gravity of the moment and the intelligence of the American people and the world. 

Celebs gasped when they saw him come out. The audience rolled in the aisles. I bet the organisers were thrilled. We got a real live enabler, folks!

It is a soul-crushing sign of the times that obvious things need to be constantly re-stated, but re-state them we must, as every day we wake up and another little bit of horror has been prettified with some TV make-up, or flattering glossy magazine profile lighting.

Spicer upheld Trump's lies and dissimulations for months. He repeatedly bullied journalists and promoted White House values of misogyny, racism, and unabashed dishonesty. The fact that he was clearly bad at his job and not slick enough to execute it with polished mendacity doesn't mean he didn't have a choice. Just because he was a joke doesn't mean he's funny.

And yet here we are. The pictures of Spicer's grotesque glee at the Emmy after-party suggested a person who actually can't quite believe it. His face has written upon it the relief and ecstasy of someone who has just realised that not only has he got away with it, he seems to have been rewarded for it.

And it doesn't stop there. The rehabilitation of Sean Spicer doesn't only get to be some high class clown, popping out of the wedding cake on a motorised podium delivering one liners. He also gets invited to Harvard to be a fellow. He gets intellectual gravitas and a social profile.

This isn’t just a moment we roll our eyes at and dismiss as Hollywood japes. Spicer’s celebration gives us a glimpse into post-Trump life. Prepare for not only utter impunity, but a fete.

We don’t even need to look as far as Spicer, Steve Bannon’s normalisation didn’t even wait until he left the White House. We were subjected to so many profiles and breathless fascinations with the dark lord that by the time he left, he was almost banal. Just your run of the mill bar room bore white supremacist who is on talk show Charlie Rose and already hitting the lucrative speaker’s circuit.

You can almost understand and resign yourself to Harvard’s courting of Spicer; it is after all, the seat of the establishment, where this year’s freshman intake is one third legacy, and where Jared Kushner literally paid to play, but Hollywood? The liberal progressive Hollywood that took against Trump from the start? There is something more sinister, more revealing going here. 

The truth is, despite the pearl clutching, there is a great deal of relative tolerance for Trump because power resides in the hands of those who have little to lose from a Trump presidency. There are not enough who are genuinely threatened by him – women, people of colour, immigrants, populating the halls of decision making, to bring the requisite and proportional sense of anger that would have been in the room when the suggestion to “hear me out, Sean Spicer, on SNL’s motorised podium” was made.

Stephen Colbert is woke enough to make a joke at Bill Maher’s use of the N-word, but not so much that he refused to share a stage with Spicer, who worked at the white supremacy head office.

This is the performative half-wokeness of the enablers who smugly have the optics of political correctness down, but never really internalised its values. The awkward knot at the heart of the Trump calamity is that of casual liberal complicity. The elephant in the room is the fact that the country is a most imperfect democracy, where people voted for Trump but the skew of power and capital in society, towards the male and the white and the immune, elevated him to the candidacy in the first place.

Yes he had the money, but throw in some star quality and a bit of novelty, and you’re all set. In a way what really is working against Hillary Clinton’s book tour, where some are constantly asking that she just go away, is that she’s old hat and kind of boring in a world where attention spans are the length of another ridiculous Trump tweet.

Preaching the merits of competence and centrism in a pantsuit? Yawn. You’re competing for attention with a White House that is a revolving door of volatile man-children. Trump just retweeted a video mock up where he knocks you over with a golf ball, Hillary. What have you got to say about that? Bet you haven’t got a nifty Vaclav Havel quote to cover this political badinage.

This is how Trump continues to hold the political culture of the country hostage, by being ultra-present and yet also totally irrelevant to the more prosaic business of nation building. It is a hack that goes to the heart of, as Hillary's new book puts it, What Happened.

The Trump phenomenon is hardwired into the American DNA. Once your name becomes recognisable you’re a Name. Once you’ve done a thing you are a Thing. It doesn’t matter what you’re known for or what you’ve done.

It is the utter complacency of the establishment and its pathetic default setting that is in thrall to any mediocre male who, down to a combination of privilege and happenstance, ended up with some media profile. That is the currency that got Trump into the White House, and it is the currency that will keep him there. As Spicer’s Emmy celebration proves, What Happened is still happening.