A Level results and leaping Home Counties teenagers

It's a comforting newspaper staple, but surely all a bit old hat now?

Across the country, photogenic blonde teenagers have been jumping into the air to celebrate their exam results, in a tale as old as time.

The less photogenic, less blonde teenagers have probably been getting results too (and possibly jumping) but who cares about them? They're grubby, and probably smoke and smell of colleges and readymeals, and some of them don't look like English Roses, so who gives a shit about them?

This year, the Sexy A-Levels tumblr has decided to call it a day. Its work is done, and the tropes are so well known now we can all recite them without a second thought. The mid-air suspension photo. The leaping girls. The "excitedly opening an evelope" photograph. The token boffin kid to try and convince you this isn't all about 18-year-old cheesecake.

We know it off by heart. It's one of those stories that is the same every time, dreaded by a swathe of journalists up and down the land. The same words, just in a slightly different order, but you could pretty much do it to a template: "students celebrated... blah de blah... results went up/down... blah de blah... someone from the government said... someone from somewhere else said... prodigy kid... someone who got a lot of A-levels..." and so on and so on.

It's comfortable, familiar, a nice old pair of slippers. It's like that day when temperatures are slightly warm and newspapers break out the graphics of a cartoon sun, wearing sunglasses, next to a thermometer showing the temperature in Fahrenheit and a picture of some random "beauties" on a beach somewhere.

One of the stories (if there is a story) to this year's results is that boys have caught up with girls, so naturally we're going to get loads of pictures of boys, right? Er, well, no. "Teenagers celebrate as they get A-level results" whooped the Mail Online, and it was a parody of what you'd imagine the Daily Mail to do.

There they were, the leaping Home Counties teenage girls, forever suspended in mid-air with a piece of paper and an envelope. No boys in sight, of course, ugh, who wants to see them? Or maybe it just so happened that every time a male walked into range of a camera lens, the shutter accidentally didn't go off. We can't say for certain.

It has just become a strange ritual, this yearly parade of young female flesh, a May Queen for the newspaper age. It doesn't tell us anything about exams, or education, or anything like that. Of course, those debates are being covered, and covered very well - see the Telegraph or Guardian's liveblogs. But elsewhere, the same tired old images dominate. It's a bit old hat.
 

Lovely A Level students jumping for joy. Yawn. Photograph: Getty Images
Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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Leader: Trump and an age of disorder

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions.

The US presidency has not always been held by men of distinction and honour, but Donald Trump is by some distance its least qualified occupant. The leader of the world’s sole superpower has no record of political or military service and is ignorant of foreign affairs. Throughout his campaign, he repeatedly showed himself to be a racist, a misogynist, a braggart and a narcissist.

The naive hope that Mr Trump’s victory would herald a great moderation was dispelled by his conduct during the transition. He compared his country’s intelligence services to those of Nazi Germany and repeatedly denied Russian interference in the election. He derided Nato as “obsolete” and predicted the demise of the European Union. He reaffirmed his commitment to dismantling Obamacare and to overturning Roe v Wade. He doled out jobs to white nationalists, protectionists and family members. He denounced US citizens for demonstrating against him. Asked whether he regretted any part of his vulgar campaign, he replied: “No, I won.”

Of all his predilections, Mr Trump’s affection for Vladimir Putin is perhaps the most troubling. When the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, warned that Russia was the “number one geopolitical foe” of the US, he was mocked by Barack Obama. Yet his remark proved prescient. Rather than regarding Mr Putin as a foe, however, Mr Trump fetes him as a friend. The Russian president aims to use the US president’s goodwill to secure the removal of American sanctions, recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and respect for the murderous reign of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. He has a worryingly high chance of success.

Whether or not Mr Trump has personal motives for his fealty (as a lurid security dossier alleges), he and Mr Putin share a political outlook. Both men desire a world in which “strongmen” are free to abuse their citizens’ human rights without fear of external rebuke. Mr Trump’s refusal to commit to Nato’s principle of collective defence provides Mr Putin with every incentive to pursue his expansionist desires. The historic achievement of peace and stability in eastern Europe is in danger.

As he seeks reconciliation with Russia, Mr Trump is simultaneously pursuing conflict with China. He broke with precedent by speaking on the telephone with the Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, and used Twitter to berate the Chinese government. Rex Tillerson, Mr Trump’s secretary of state nominee, has threatened an American blockade of the South China Sea islands.

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions. The US constitution, with its separation of powers, was designed to restrain autocrats such as the new president. Yet, in addition to the White House, the Republicans also control Congress and two-thirds of governorships and state houses. Mr Trump’s first Supreme Court appointment will ensure a conservative judicial majority. The decline of established print titles and the growth of “fake news” weaken another source of accountability.

In these circumstances, there is a heightened responsibility on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, Mr Trump. Angela Merkel’s warning that co-operation was conditional on his respect for liberal and democratic values was a model of the former. Michael Gove’s obsequious interview with Mr Trump was a dismal example of the latter.

Theresa May has rightly rebuked the president for his treatment of women and has toughened Britain’s stance against Russian revanchism. Yet, although the UK must maintain working relations with the US, she should not allow the prospect of a future trade deal to skew her attitude towards Mr Trump. Any agreement is years away and the president’s protectionist proclivities could yet thwart British hopes of a beneficial outcome.

The diplomatic and political conventions embodied by the “special relationship” have endured for more than seven decades. However, Mr Trump’s election may necessitate their demise. It was the belief that the UK must stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the US that led Tony Blair into the ruinous Iraq War. In this new age of disorder, Western leaders must avoid being willing accomplices to Mr Trump’s agenda. Intense scepticism, rather than sycophancy, should define their response.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era