We’ve just launched the US edition of The Spectator and the reaction so far has been great. Americans can be quite gloomy these days, but business optimism runs in their blood. They seem enthused about The Spectator’s transatlantic appeal. I met no end of Rod Liddle fans who thrilled at the sight of his name on the first US cover. Various people told me that America was crying out for a magazine with our sense of humour. But not everyone gushed. At our launch party in Washington DC, Anne Applebaum, the historian and journalist, asked how on earth we expected to make ‘the most quintessentially English magazine’ work in the US. The answer is that the US edition isn’t all that English. Most of the writers are US-based; most of the articles are about America. We have endeavoured to keep a Spectator-ish sensibility — humorous, heterodox, political not partisan — that appeals to good people everywhere. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to say all that, because our conversation veered on to Brexit. Anne doesn’t like Brexit.
To generate buzz, I did various TV and radio interviews, or ‘hits’ as American media-types call them. My favourite appearance was on Newsmax TV’s Liquid Lunch, which is presented by the wonderfully named John Tabacco. The show is filmed in a rinky-dink studio on Broadway. Mr Tabacco is a proper Nooo Yorka, an Italian-American boy from Staten Island, a Wall Street veteran who now tips cryptocurrency and other investments, always with the caveat: ‘But do not take any financial advice from me, do your own homework… and remember when I’m talking about stocks I’m also drinking alcohol.’ I loved him. We talked Meghan Markle, Trump, Robert De Niro (‘the guy’s a joke’) and the global elites. During the ad break, the producers brought out two frosted martini glasses and Mr Tabacco fixed the cocktails in a shaker. ‘Let me toast you, my friend,’ he said as we came back. ‘We are colluding with the UK right here!’
On my first night in New York, I went to a dinner to mark the publication of a new book, Deceiving the Sky: Inside China’s Drive for Global Supremacy. The author, Bill Gertz, is a sort of American Cassandra vis-à-vis China: 20 years ago, he published The China Threat. America’s leadership largely ignored him. The dinner was full of China hawks. Several people asked me, somewhat suspiciously, why so many agents of Beijing influence had British accents. The man on my right said that the Chinese have ‘effectively bought’ Cambridge University. People agreed that Trump’s tougher approach was welcome, though possibly too late. Towards the end of the evening, as the wine kicked in, a journalist at the end of the table suggested that China’s global takeover might not be so bad: ‘It’s not like we have much freedom today anyway.’ The others murmured in agreement, and said at least the trains might run on time.
Impeachment is all over the American news again. It’s a lot like Brexit: zealots on either side see a great conspiracy to thwart democracy; pundits overanalyse every turn — ‘saturation coverage’, they call it. But the experts and insiders are always wrong. Sane people are tired of listening to them. At the party, Jacob Heilbrunn, the editor of the National Interest, predicted: ‘He’ll be gone in six to eight weeks.’ ‘Didn’t you say that six weeks ago?’ replied the Sunday Times’s Josh Glancy.
The 45th President couldn’t make our DC party. Busy, I suppose. That morning, however, in his great and unmatched wisdom, he tweeted about one of our articles. ‘The Republican party has never had such support!’ he declared in response to an essay by Daniel McCarthy saying the Democrats would destroy themselves if they pursued impeachment. I wonder if he read it.
My children are still deeply amused by Trump. He’s not a monster to them. He’s more a real-life Donald Duck — larger, richer, sillier. They delight in impersonating him. Earlier this year we went on holiday to Florida. Gus, our second, surprised a Latina hotel worker by cheerfully announcing: ‘We’re going to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it!’ She saw the funny side, thank goodness. On Saturday, back in London, we were all in the car when Radio 4 started intoning on the presidential impeachment latest. ‘Trump! Trump!’ the children shouted. We all tuned in to hear the newsreader say: ‘…the President’s reply on Twitter: “BULLSHIT”.’ My wife hastily turned the radio off. The children laughed all the way home. ‘Bullshit! Bullshit!’ cried Clemmie, the four-year-old.