Barack obama

The popularity of ‘Amazing Grace’ owes much to its melody

Type ‘Amazing Grace’ into YouTube and you can cancel any other plans you might have had for the day. Page after page serves up everything from Elvis Presley to Pavarotti, Gospel choirs and winsome Celtic lovelies, folkies in fabulous knitwear and X Factor finalists strenuously proclaiming their surgically enhanced faith; even an American president. There are arrangements for electric guitar, steelpan orchestra, bagpipes or (God help us) beginner flute ensemble. Saved from the storm, Newton was aware of ‘a sense of the amazing grace that snatched me from ruin’ All of which suggests that James Walvin’s Amazing Grace is a book landing in fertile soil. This is a song that’s

A treatise on greed: The Vaster Wilds by Lauren Groff reviewed

Lauren Groff writes to alleviate her angst about aspects of life she finds hard to confront. Climatic disaster, misogyny, spousal death, flawed utopias and pandemics have all fuelled the plots of books as disparate as Fates and Furies, her 2015 contemporary two-hander about marital verisimilitude, and Matrix, which features a 12th-century feminist abbess based on the little-known poet Marie de France. Yet neither is a bleak read; indeed, Barack Obama selected Fates and Furies as his 2015 pick. Groff’s intoxicating 2018 story collection Florida threw the strains of motherhood into this mix: the mother in ‘Ghosts and Empties’ who laces her running shoes to pace the streets because she has

Mad men plotting: The Unfolding, by A.M. Homes, reviewed

Fifteen years ago, A.M. Homes published The Mistress’s Daughter, an explosive, painful account of how she met her birth mother, Ellen, who had placed her for adoption as a baby when, as a very young woman, she became pregnant in the course of an affair with an older, married man. Perhaps the most memorable scene depicts her mother, who had instigated the contact between them when Homes was in her early thirties, appearing without warning at a reading Homes was giving in a bookshop. The writer’s panic and discomfort at this unexpected ambush, and her sense of what it might foreshadow, were palpable (and she was not wrong. Ellen’s desperate,

Has Cuba’s revolution finally fizzled out?

In 1968, the US anthropologist Oscar Lewis arrived in Cuba with a tape recorder and a mission to capture the revolutionary zeal of everyday Cubans. Eighteen months later, he was sent packing. ‘We have nothing to hide,’ Fidel Castro, the leader of the country’s 1959 revolution, had supposedly told him. That wasn’t quite true: production targets were being missed, dissidents were being locked up and the US trade embargo was already beginning to bite. The project briefly – and unsuccessfully – passed into the hands of Boom-era author and friend of Fidel, Gabriel García Márquez. After that, the voices of Cubans vanished from the official record. Lots of vituperative denunciations

Will Hunter Biden finally bring down his father?

It was meant to be a kumbaya moment for the Democrats. Barack Obama, the still revered 44th President, would make his first formal visit to Joe Biden’s White House – and sprinkle some of his leadership magic over a struggling administration. Barack and Joe, the old duo, were to mark the 12th anniversary of what is thought to be their greatest legislative achievement: the passing of the Affordable Care Act. Unfortunately, last week’s event ended up reminding most Americans that the current President may be better off in an Expensive Care Home. The videos from the day were painful to watch: Biden bumbled around helplessly as his former boss worked the

Barack Obama will make you cringe: Renegades: Born in the USA reviewed

Barack Obama wants the world to know how much he loves singing. In his new podcast, which takes the form of a series of conversations with Bruce Springsteen, he’s rarely without a tune on his lips. ‘Further on up the road…/ you been laughing, pretty baby…’ A shower-singer, a bedroom warbler, an Air Force One air guitarist with an okay voice, the former president is proof that you really can be embarrassing without feeling an ounce of embarrassment. Oh, to have seen his daughters’ faces when he broke into ‘Let’s Stay Together’ in front of Al Green. The sound team at the fundraiser in Harlem urged him to do it,

At last, America has a gaffe-prone president again

‘Folks, I can tell you, I’ve known eight presidents, three of them intimately.’ So said then vice-president Joe Biden in 2012. A month earlier, he had assured a crowd in New York that President Barack Obama could, in Teddy Roosevelt’s famous words, ‘speak softly but carry a big stick’ when it came to international relations. ‘I promise you,’ he said. ‘The president has a big stick.’ The crowd started laughing at the double-entendre. Joe wasn’t joking. ‘I promise you,’ he repeated, gravely. That is just Joe being Joe. The 46th president is someone who quite often has no idea what he is saying. Curiously, everybody seems relieved about that. We’re

Freddy Gray

US government shutdown: Trump’s presidency begins to resemble Obama’s

Donald Trump had hoped to mark his first anniversary as president basking in surprisingly positive media headlines and enjoying a lavish party at his Mar-a-Largo estate in Florida. Instead he must contend with a government shutdown and another major political crisis in Washington, the political swamp he promised to drain. Congress has remained in session all weekend as Republicans and Democrats seek to resolve the shutdown — and blame each other for having caused it. But who will Americans blame? The President? The Republican Party? Or the Democrats? The answer is everybody, probably. President Trump has taken a hardline with the Democrats, seemingly convinced that he can pin them for

Here comes President Joebama

‘So you’re seeing a team develop that I have great confidence in,’ said former president Barack Obama this week when asked about Joe Biden’s incoming administration. Obama sounds a bit of a World King these days, but you can’t blame him for feeling chipper. He has his third book of memoirs out (he only writes about himself, it seems), he’s making millions through publishing and Netflix deals, his great nemesis Donald Trump appears finally to have been vanquished — and his gang is taking charge of Washington again. Biden revealed a number of his cabinet ‘picks’ this week, and it’s a case of jobs for the old Obama boys and

Sordid confessions of a Centrist Dad

I have a shameful secret. I’ve been watching these… videos online. Amazing what you can get in a couple of clicks these days. Being what the Corbynistas deride as a Centrist Dad, I have taken to seeking out short films of taboo figures like Tony Blair and Barack Obama, talking about current affairs and being pained, maturely -analytical, and thrillingly reasonable. If Brexit is your problem, Mr Blair asks, if parliament can’t decide between two or more -different flavours of Brexit and lots of people think the flavours on offer are worse than no Brexit at all, doesn’t it make sense to ask the question directly in a referendum rather

Joe Biden is Obama without hope

Joe Biden’s inevitable 2020 presidential candidacy is a strange, strange thing. Biden has longed to be president all his political life: he first ran in 1988; he ran again 20 years later. Now we’re more than a decade past his last grab for power, and Biden, as he nears 80, thinks his day has come once more.  What are voters supposed to think is different this time? If Biden wasn’t good enough in 1988 or 2008, why should Democrats accept him as the best they can do in 2020? Is he the most electable candidate? Polls don’t suggest he’s the only Democrat who can defeat Trump, and there’s good reason

All heart, trust and gut feeling

‘To me, he was sort of like a unicorn,’ writes Mrs Obama, looking back on her courtship days with Barack. He was affectionate, loving, secure and brainy. Very brainy. ‘He consumed volumes of political philosophy as if it were beach reading.’ He was laid back but his sense of purpose was strong. ‘Barack was serious without being self-serious. He was breezy in his manner but powerful in his mind. It was a strange, stirring combination.’ In a languid late-night moment, she asks a penny for his thoughts. ‘Oh, I was just thinking about income inequality.’ This book takes you right back to those days when we all fell in love

Endless petty squabbles

I wrote foul-mouthed marginalia throughout Benjamin Markovits’s A Weekend in New York. Not because Markovits is a bad writer — he has a deserved reputation for excellence. But because this study of a privileged American family reaches for a significance it doesn’t achieve, and leaves a self-consciously literary novel with a surfeit of detail. There are admirable qualities. Markovits’s prose is elegant; his portrait of New York is vivid; his characters feel authentic. Paul Essinger is a mid-ranked tennis player facing retirement. Over a long weekend, his donnish siblings reunite in New York for his final match. Nathan is a Harvard professor; Jean a producer involved with her married boss;

Lend me your ears

Complaints about the decline and fall of political oratory are nothing new. Back in 1865 a British reporter branded the Gettysburg Address ‘dull and commonplace’ and, as this joy of a book points out, even Cicero had to put up with the Neo-Attics sniggering from behind their togas at his overwrought and outdated speaking style. The poor Roman must have felt rather like Harry Kane when a bunch of pub footballers take to Twitter to bemoan his inability to find the target. In rhetorical terms, Philip Collins is a long way from a Sunday League layabout. With three years as Tony Blair’s principal speechwriter/verb-remover, followed by a successful career as

Diary – 1 June 2017

In such gorgeous weather the best part of Scotland to visit is not (as so many seem to think) the West Highlands but my native north-east. Moray, a region of whisky and white beaches, has long been the country’s best-kept secret, but it has become rather spoiled of late by its new status as a battleground seat. Plenty of its SNP supporters voted for Brexit, leading to a conflict of loyalties that seems to have been resolved in favour of the Tories. They almost won the council last month and if they take the constituency they’ll depose Angus Robertson, leader of the SNP in Westminster. Nicola Sturgeon is worried enough

Private Manning’s freedom comes at the expense of US security

Barack Obama’s decision to commute the prison sentence of Private Manning was a final, disgraceful undermining of American interests by the outgoing US President. Today, Manning has been released from prison after serving seven years for leaking thousands of diplomatic cables and military files to Wikileaks. Manning’s decision to dump vast swathes of stolen information with the Wikileaks organisation, which then published them, caused untold and untellable damage to America and her allies. It revealed operational details which should never have fallen into the hands of America’s enemies. Manning ensured that they were available not just to such groups and nations but to the entire world. And of course leaks encourage

Tim’s a Christian, so he’s not allowed an opinion

Maybe I’m wrong about this, but I don’t remember the BBC running a documentary 100 days into Barack Obama’s first presidency and kicking him from pillar to post. Interviewing almost exclusively people who hated him, pouring scorn on his every utterance. They did it this week to Donald Trump, though, and even wheeled out Jeremy Paxman to present this travesty of a documentary. Because Jeremy was interviewing exclusively people with whom he wholeheartedly agreed, he didn’t get the chance to put on that famous supercilious expression we all used to love, back when he was good. Shame. With Obama, as I remember, it was a very different approach. The studio

Donald Trump and the end of the age of celebrity

The ongoing war between Donald Trump and the Hollywood A-list has entered a new and unpredictable phase. Celebrity criticism of Trump — keenly anticipated as the chewy takeaway from last week’s Academy Awards ceremony — was instead overshadowed by a celebrity cock-up. Thanks to a mix-up of the sacred envelopes, presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway temporarily awarded Best Picture to La La Land, rather than the real winner, Moonlight. The result was an unforgettable tableau of confusion at the ceremony’s crowning moment. Trump had earlier let it be known that he wasn’t watching. Like a kid talking too loudly about his maths project while the others are getting ready

Trump has done what journalists should have done: boycotted the White House Correspondents’ dinner

The most dangerous place in Washington DC, the old joke goes, is between a politician and a television camera. It’s a wonder there are any such places left, so intimate have the third and fourth estates become. Periodically, American journalism gets itself into a funk over its proximity to power and the consequences for integrity and neutrality. The lamentations are sincere but short-lived and before long the quarrelling lovers are reconciled and slip into old habits. ‘I hate myself for loving you,’ sang Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, lashing at the morbid affections of co-dependency. Iraq was supposed to be The Line. The press corps concluded in retrospect that it

Does Donald Trump read?

When President Obama left office, he confided that he had got through the eight years of stress by reading. He named some titles. I was surprised he chose V.S. Naipaul’s The Enigma of Arrival over his masterpiece, A House for Mr Biswas, which I count as the best novel written in the 20th century, if such competitive judgments can mean anything. But I so hope he will read it now he has time, because I know he will love and cherish it and reread it 20 times over the coming years. But Barack Obama does not need me to recommend books to him. President Trump does. Has he ever read