With CHARLIE HARPER
They put a Rotary Club awards ceremony on American national TV last week.
Several US networks interrupted their normal turgid noontime programming to broadcast an event that stood out even during the astonishing presidency of Donald Trump.
It wasn’t actually a Rotary Club ceremony – no offence meant whatsoever to that exemplary worldwide service organisation. It just felt that way.
What was televised was a self-congratulatory 75-minute rant by Trump in the biggest room of the White House, the ballroom in the East Wing. Packing the room were some of the major Republican legislative figures who defended Trump during the House impeachment process in December and the subsequent Senate trial in January.
Members of his legal team were there. Ivanka and Melania were there. Lots of staff members and other supporters and various hangers-on were present. The back of the room was filled with reporters and camera people.
It was a rally, celebrating Trump’s acquittal by the Senate on charges he abused his presidential power and obstructed Congress in its attempts to investigate his alleged misdeeds.
But Trump conducted it like an annual service club awards ceremony. He artfully pointed to and spoke intimately about dozens of House and Senate members who had spoken out in support of him during the hearings on Capitol Hill. There was humour and evidence of genuine affection from the president toward many of those whom he singled out.
There was also trademark venom from the president toward House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Utah senator Mitt Romney, who have taken primary positions on Trump’s roster of political piñatas to be whipped and beaten at every turn of the news cycle.
Pelosi, as we all recall, ostentatiously tore up Trump’s State of the Union speech after he finished delivering it. And Romney was the lone GOP senator who supported even one of the two articles of impeachment forwarded by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.
Trump is really nothing if not unpredictably predictable. Most observers had forecast a vengeful aftermath to the whole impeachment process. How right they were. And yet who thought the US president would open to the national press what amounted to a family gathering of his most ardent and committed supporters?
Seeking to build on whatever momentum his Senate acquittal affords him, Trump has also moved aggressively onto the campaign trail.
The president has obviously decided that it’s a good idea to hijack the exhaustively covered Democratic primary votes by holding a rally in those states on the eve of the election there, even though Trump only faces token opposition from within his own party.
He did this in Iowa, a state he may well carry later this year. He did it earlier this week in New Hampshire, a state where he very narrowly lost the vote three years ago and that he might well also carry this November.
Both are overwhelmingly white states with a strong conservative streak. They are often fertile ground for Republican candidates.
At Trump’s rallies, he smiled smugly at cries of “Lock Her Up”. Four years ago, these were memorably directed at his opponent, Hillary Clinton. At least for now, the chants are directed at Nancy Pelosi, who may just be Trump’s most powerful and skilled opponent in this critical election year.
You have to give Trump credit. He has an unerring knack for identifying and vilifying the political opponent who represents the greatest threat to his political future. First it was Hillary Clinton. Then it was Joe Biden, with various less prominent foes in between. It will be interesting to see whom he most forcefully attacks next. That might give us some good insight into the strongest of his potential Democratic opponents.
Biden’s on life-support now
Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary has spawned lots of commentary. Here are some of the themes: Bernie Sanders is in control. Amy Klobuchar is coming fast from the rear. Elizabeth Warren is finished. Joe Biden is on life support. Mike Bloomberg is spending many more of his millions. Pete Buttigieg is everyman with a husband. Tom Steyer and Tulsi Gabbard are intriguing but insignificant footnotes. And so forth.
As the Democratic campaign train slogs on to Nevada and South Carolina in the coming weeks, much will be made of the role African American and Latino voters will play in those states. The focus in this regard will be on Joe Biden, whose appeal to those groups may help revive his campaign after fourth and fifth place finishes in the first two primary states.
The wild card this year, as he was four years ago, is Sanders, a lifelong political maverick who still labels himself as Independent while caucusing with Senate Democrats. His self-identification with socialist policies worries voters in both parties. But he has built a fund-raising machine and looks strong if hardly unbeatable at this stage of the campaign.
Sanders makes the Democratic party establishment uncomfortable in 2020. Trump made the Republican party establishment uncomfortable in 2016. There might be a lesson there.
Meantime, the field was further winnowed when interesting businessman Andrew Yang, Colorado Senator Michael Bennet and former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick withdrew from the race.
While there is undoubtedly a long way to go until November, the Nevada and South Carolina votes will be significant. Depending on the outcomes there, the critical Super Tuesday primary votes on March 3 may feature still fewer surviving candidates.
In less than three weeks, the Super Tuesday line-up includes such pivotal states as California, Colorado, Minnesota, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia. Several of these may be toss-ups by the time of November’s general election, so results will be watched especially closely.
‘The most personal is the most creative’
Did you watch the Academy Awards show on Sunday night? It was too long, as usual, too pretentious, as usual, but, also as usual, it was exciting to watch all those beautiful women and men on TV in real life. Yes, most of the time the cameras caught them posing. But hey, they are actors!
A highlight was the opening dialogue between two of America’s funniest people, Steve Martin and Chris Rock. Here are two snippets:
MARTIN: A couple of years ago, there was a big disaster here at the Oscars where they accidentally read out the wrong name (for best picture), and it was nobody’s fault. But they have guaranteed that this will not happen this year, because the academy has switched to the new Iowa caucus app.
MARTIN: Chris, think how much the Oscars have changed in the past 92 years… In 1929, there were no black acting nominees.
ROCK: And now in 2020, we have one.
Among the biggest moments were the numerous (four in total) appearances on the awards stage by South Korean director Bong Joon Ho. This tall man with the spectacles and the messed-up hair and the fetching smile made people happy for him.
You could tell, because each time his Korean-language film, Parasite, won another award, the audience leapt to its feet in enthusiastic applause. The film won for Best Director and Best Picture, among other Oscars. It was the first Best Picture award for a foreign language film in the history of the Academy Awards.
But its director stole the show with his grace and modest charm. Accepting the directing award, Bong said through his equally charming interpreter, “When I was young and studying cinema, there was a saying that I carved deep into my heart, which is, ‘The most personal is the most creative.’ He then attributed the saying to much-decorated US director Martin Scorcese, who seemed exuberantly happy for his Korean counterpart.
And then Bong, with obvious honestly, quipped after his first win that he would enjoy a drink. In fact, Bong progressed from anticipating one celebratory drink to promising a full night of riotous imbibing. You had to love it. And to completely believe it.