US press: pick of the papers

1. Mitt Romney camp's latest gaffe may be etched in history (Washington Post)

Etch a Sketch? Actually, it appeared more like Romney was playing Chutes and Ladders: He just landed on Space 87 and slid all the way back to 24, says Dana Milbank.

2. Politics, odors and soap (New York Times)

This year's Republican primaries have been a kaleidoscope of loyalty, authority and sanctity issues -- such as whether church-affiliated institutions can refuse to cover birth control in health insurance policies -- and that's perhaps why people like me have found the primaries so crazy, says Nicholas Kristof.

3. George Osborne's Budget (Wall Street Journal)

The worst part of Mr. Osborne's budget is that it keeps government in the dubious business of picking winners and losers, says this editorial.

4. The new globalist is homesick (New York Times)

The persistence of homesickness points to the limitations of the cosmopolitan philosophy that undergirds so much of our market and society, writes Susan Matt.

5. Romney's challenge to sway evangelical voters (Washington Post)

Outside of Mormon strongholds, voters most concerned about a candidate's religious views are rejecting Romney, writes E.J. Dionne Jr.

6. Don't close the GOP show (LA Times)

We in the mainstream media are just hoping to see the gaudy spectacle of this primary campaign continue as long as possible, says Doyle McManus.

7. Pope is coming -- time to round up dissidents (Star Tribune)

The church's coldness toward peaceful pro- democracy activists isn't all that surprising. Since 2009, Cardinal Ortega has become a de facto partner of Raul Castro, meeting with him regularly and encouraging his limited reforms, says this editorial.

8. Of super PACs and corruption (Politico)

It's time to rethink the whole relationship between independent spending and corruption, writes Richard Hasen.

9. Springsteen captures the state of America (Chicago Tribune)

One of the elder statesmen of American popular music delivers what might fairly be called a State of the Union address, writes Leonard Pitts.

10. Enough! Afghan war just isn't working (USA Today)

Bob Beckel says Afghanistan has been a tribal nation for centuries, and it will not become "democratic" soon, if ever, and Cal Thomas writes that the recent massacre of 16 Afghan civilians doesn't help us win the "hearts and minds" of the people we are trying to protect.

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Donald Trump's inauguration signals the start of a new and more unstable era

A century in which the world's hegemonic power was a rational actor is about to give way to a more terrifying reality. 

For close to a century, the United States of America has been the world’s paramount superpower, one motivated by, for good and for bad, a rational and predictable series of motivations around its interests and a commitment to a rules-based global order, albeit one caveated by an awareness of the limits of enforcing that against other world powers.

We are now entering a period in which the world’s paramount superpower is neither led by a rational or predictable actor, has no commitment to a rules-based order, and to an extent it has any guiding principle, they are those set forward in Donald Trump’s inaugural: “we will follow two simple rules: hire American and buy American”, “from this day forth, it’s going to be America first, only America first”.

That means that the jousting between Trump and China will only intensify now that he is in office.  The possibility not only of a trade war, but of a hot war, between the two should not be ruled out.

We also have another signal – if it were needed – that he intends to turn a blind eye to the actions of autocrats around the world.

What does that mean for Brexit? It confirms that those who greeted the news that an US-UK trade deal is a “priority” for the incoming administration, including Theresa May, who described Britain as “front of the queue” for a deal with Trump’s America, should prepare themselves for disappointment.

For Europe in general, it confirms what should already been apparent: the nations of Europe are going to have be much, much more self-reliant in terms of their own security. That increases Britain’s leverage as far as the Brexit talks are concerned, in that Britain’s outsized defence spending will allow it acquire goodwill and trade favours in exchange for its role protecting the European Union’s Eastern border.

That might allow May a better deal out of Brexit than she might have got under Hillary Clinton. But there’s a reason why Trump has increased Britain’s heft as far as security and defence are concerned: it’s because his presidency ushers in an era in which we are all much, much less secure. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.