Think the US public will be disgusted by Trump and Stormy Daniels? You don’t have a clue

If you’d suffered half a century of declining living standards, your disgust would be reserved for those who’ve been in charge all that time.

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Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for Stormy Daniels – a porn star with whom Donald Trump allegedly had a one-night stand and then paid to keep quiet – claims that, when all the evidence comes to light, “the American people… are going to be disgusted” and the president will have to resign. To which one can only say that chance would be a fine thing. What the professional classes in America do not grasp is the depth of anger among Trump voters. The typical worker’s inflation-adjusted wages have risen by only 0.2 per cent a year since the early 1970s. In the less prosperous parts of the country and among less educated sections of the population, real wages have fallen.

If you, your family and most of your friends have suffered nearly half a century of declining living standards, your disgust will be reserved for the sort of people who’ve been in charge all that time in Washington, DC and still presume to tell you what’s best for you. Trump’s election represented a huge V-sign from middle America to the elite. The more that well-heeled lawyers such as Avenatti express shock and horror, the more satisfied middle America will be.

Viciousness cycle

“A weekend of bloodshed” is how the press described the bank holiday weekend, as a 17-year-old was shot dead and three others wounded by gunfire in London. Under the headline “knife crime epidemic hits the shires”, the Sunday Times, which told us last month that London’s murder rate had overtaken New York’s, now warns that you are more likely to be stabbed in Bedfordshire than in Greater Manchester or Merseyside.

There is no shortage of solutions. More police on the beat, more stop and search, reversal of youth service cuts, drug legalisation, and the restoration of education maintenance allowances for 16- to 19-year-olds are among those offered. Will any of these work? I do not know. Nor does anybody else, despite the confidence with which politicians, journalists and academics peddle their pet ideas. Violent crime is largely confined to young males who are both perpetrators and victims. One wishes for simple diagnoses so that there were fewer grieving parents and wasted lives. But the intensity and type of violence are as unpredictable as teenage fashions in clothes and music.

I am certain, though, of one thing. Chatter about violence reaches a point where violence is perceived as so much of a threat that more and more youths believe they must carry a weapon to protect themselves. A knife becomes a must-have accessory. I wonder how many more teenage boys in Bedfordshire will now carry one?

Free schools’ lost liberty

The idea of free schools, as sold by Michael Gove when he was education secretary, was that they would be spontaneously generated and controlled by parents, teachers and other “community groups”. They would, Gove claimed, “embody the ideal of the soviet, a self-managing institution run by workers in the wider public interest”. Sceptics said most free schools would end up in the hands of private academy chains, which are usually dominated by corporate interests or religious bodies. So it has proved.

Out of 473 free schools, only 61 are parent- or community-led, TES magazine reports. Most of these are in London and the south-east; there are none in north-east England. No new ones have opened this school year. Parents have less influence than ever. Though schools run by academy chains each have their own governing bodies, with elected parent and teacher representatives, these are mainly confined to fundraising. Decisions are taken by central boards, stuffed with lawyers, accountants, management consultants and the like.

As in Russia, “all power to the soviets” didn’t turn out quite as advertised.

Hotter than thou

Hot bank holidays always frazzle the minds of journalists. The Times reported excitedly that, on 7 May, London was hotter than Johannesburg. Johannesburg, Times hacks should know, is in the southern hemisphere, where it is now late autumn. The average May temperature is 14°C, the same as in London.

Age old old-age problems

In James Fritz’s The Fall, now at the Southwark Playhouse in south London, a character observes that “it’s raining old people” but that, given the post-Second World War baby bulge and increased longevity, the deluge isn’t exactly a surprise. It’s just that nobody does anything about it; when Theresa May proposed a solution to the social care crisis during last year’s election campaign, she was traduced.

Many baby boomers’ children confront brutal choices, particularly if they are struggling to buy or even rent property. Should they care personally for an ailing elderly parent, perhaps sharing accommodation, and thus (with luck) secure their inheritance, but at cost to their own family and social lives, and perhaps careers? Or should they, as it is disapprovingly described, “put” the parent in a care home and risk the inheritance being wiped out by fees? Or as the parent’s quality of life declines and his or her capital shrinks, should they tentatively introduce the idea of a quick, painless exit?

Few children articulate these questions, even in their most private inner thoughts. In the National Youth Theatre’s absorbing, if rather shouty, production, they are brought uncomfortably to the surface. At least one cabinet minister should see it.

Aim like Sajid

Sajid Javid’s “power stance” was, according to one photographer, simply the result of snappers asking the Home Secretary to step to the left so that the Home Office sign was visible. Maybe so, but I’ve seen that stance many times in urinals. Alternatively described as the “look, no hands” stance, it is accompanied by little hip wiggles to ensure the stream is aimed correctly. 

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article appears in the 11 May 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Israel vs Iran