Donald Trump will not find satisfaction as the 45th President of the United States of America. He really wants to be king. Just look at the gilded-bling madness of his penthouse on the 66th floor of Trump Tower in Manhattan, or the sprawling exuberance of his holiday palace in Mar-a-Lago, Florida: Trump aspires to be an American emperor, the Big Mac Rex with triple cheese. Winning the White House is great, but it’s not enough.
Something I have long noticed is how, the moment they leave office, many politicians suddenly undergo a strange transformation where, overnight, they become much funnier, more likeable and intelligent. Two years after he had failed in his presidential bid, Bob Dole appeared on British television to comment on the American mid-term elections. To my astonishment, he was one of the wittiest people I have ever seen, delivering a series of perceptive barbs with a snarky, very British sense of ironic humour.
Michael Gove never intended to make his most famous remark. In an interview during the EU referen-dum campaign, the then justice secretary was told that the leaders of the IFS, CBI, NHS and TUC all disagreed with him about Brexit. He had tried to reply that people have ‘had enough of experts from organisations with acronyms saying that they know what is best and getting it consistently wrong’. But he was picked up mid-sentence by his appalled interviewer.
The picture had been chosen for its utterly gratuitous depiction of female beauty. It showed Justine Henin, the Belgian tennis player who won seven grand-slam singles titles between 2003 and 2007. She was fully dressed for tennis. The gratuitous beauty came from the shot she was playing. It was a single-handed backhand.
Henin was five foot six and so slim she had to run round and round in the shower to get wet.
On 2 January, the Vatican published a letter from Pope Francis to the world’s bishops in which he reminded them that they must show ‘zero tolerance’ towards child abuse. The next day, the American Week magazine published an article that told the story of ‘Don Mercedes’ — Fr Mauro Inzoli, an Italian priest with a passion for expensive cars and underage boys.
In 2012, Pope Benedict stripped Inzoli of his priestly faculties, effectively defrocking him.
It was October 2010 the night the priest came to our door. The knock startled Tim’s dullard beagle into a howl just as Tim’s mother was serving up dinner. She and her husband had flown in from New York a few weeks earlier to care for their dying son.
Tim and I had moved to London the year before. Our friends — newsroom colleagues — visited sometimes, though only with advance notice. Tim’s brain tumour had severely blunted his wit.
To all those computer hackers exulting in pizza-encrusted bedrooms across central Europe — the US presidential election was influenced! The CIA said so! — I would say this: yes, yes, perhaps. But listen: when it comes to altering the course of history through hacking, Britain is waaaay ahead.
Indeed, if you want to hear about intercepted communications properly changing the world, there is one incident in particular, 100 years ago this week, that had a much more seismic effect.
On two occasions, sainted members of my family have offered me a car for nothing. Both times, I turned them down — and not out of selflessness or for green reasons.
I said no because I knew it would mean me sitting still in a metal box for hundreds more hours every year. If I were the only driver in London, I’d have accepted the free cars in a second. Even if I could have been transported back to 1970s London — when in my memory the streets were largely empty — I’d have said yes.