james debate
james debate

Friday, 15 January 2021

Happy New Year to all and welcome back to The Ephemeric. I hope you are all well rested and well fatted from your holidays, but now 2021 is upon us it's time to get down to business. A new year can only mean one thing, it's time to break out The Hot List and see what's coming up next.

So here it is, your ultimate guide to the year ahead, The Ephemeric's 2021 Hot List. In this first entry we will be looking at the most exciting things happening in the world of television over the next 12 months, with a particular eye cast over the brand new shows hitting your screens in 2021.

best anticipated new tv television shows 2021 hot list ephemeric
As far as the entertainment industry goes, television is one medium that has been left relatively intact during the pandemic era. It makes sense. After all, with everybody spending a lot more time at home, there's likely to be a much higher demand for television content and in particular the various home-streaming services. Indeed that's what we have seen, with Netflix, Disney and others reporting astonishing growth in subscriptions over the past year. 


Instead, the challenge has been in the production of new content. Acting out scenes generally requires a lack of social distancing, to say nothing of the various off-camera realms of production that typically are performed in teams. It has no doubt been a unique challenge for many production companies, one which has led, if not to a cessation, then to a much lower pace of production. As a result, many series that we were expecting to see in 2020 ended up being pushed to 2021, and even now it is far from certain when exactly we will see many of the year's most anticipated shows. 

Nevertheless, they are coming and here we have for you a list of the best of the best, the ones that everyone will be talking about in 2021 (pandemic willing). So without further ado here are the top 15 essential television shows, both new and returning, that will hit the airwaves in 2021:



15. Inventing Anna - Netflix (New TV Show)

inventing anna netflix tv show 2021 best most anticipatedEveryone loves a good conman story, and in Netflix's new series Inventing Anna, they have got a good one in store. Inspired by real events, this is the story of Anna Sorokin, a Russian fraudster who, for years, had infiltrated some of the most exclusive social circles of New York posing as a German heiress.

This is the first production to come of the much ballyhooed new exclusive deal between Netflix and Shonda Rhimes, best known as the creative mind behind Grey's Anatomy, How to Get Away with Murder and Scandal. Dawn of an exciting new era? We shall see. Julia Garner stars, with a cast also featuring Anna Chlumsky, Katie Lowes and Laverne Cox.

Production began in earnest back at the start of 2020 and despite a pandemic-related delay, we are now expecting to see this launch on Netflix towards the middle of the year.

Start Date: Summer 2021


14. The Sandman - Netflix (New TV Show)

the sandman netflix gaiman 2021 most anticipated tvAnother notable coup for Netflix, this is the long-mooted adaptation of Neil Gaiman's graphic novel The Sandman. As with most Gaiman works, the plot is such that it would be difficult to describe it in any meaningful way with the amount of space I have available. Suffice it to say, this is going to be every bit as weird and wonderful as you would expect from the man who wrote Coraline, Stardust, American Gods, Good Omens, among others.

The Sandman has endured something of a tortured production history, beginning life as a Goyer film that had been intended to star Joseph Gordon Levitt way back in 2013. That production ultimately stalled and eventually gave way to the new miniseries with which we have ended up. 

Filming began at the tail end of last year and Gaiman has insisted we will see this at some point in 2021. But otherwise we know surprisingly little about this production, who it will star or what it will look like. Nevertheless, it is enough to intrigue.

Start Date: TBA 2021


13. Daisy Jones & The Six - Amazon (New TV Show)

2021 most anticipated tv amazon daisy jones six novel reece witherspoonThis is the adaptation of the Debbie Award winning novel Daisy Jones & The Six, a miniseries that has been in production basically ever since Taylor Jenkins Reid's novel first dropped. Snapped up by Reece Witherspoon's production company, the series was first pitched as potentially making its way to HBO, it has since ended up finding a home on Amazon.

This is of course story of the titular Daisy Jones and her fictionalised 1970s rockband, allegedly based loosely on the history of Fleetwood Mac. The novel was written in the format of a documentary film, but it is expected that the series will be a more traditional drama, albeit with an Office/Parks and Rec confessional mockumentary style.

The cast may be mostly unknown, but in its lead they have some bona fide musical credentials in Riley Keough, grandchild of none other than the king Elvis Presley himself. She is joined in the cast by Sam Claflin, who you might recognise from the recent Pirates of the Caribbean films. Release data is still TBA,but this is one of the most exciting series in production. We will watch its production closely.

Start Date: TBA 2021


12. Station Eleven - HBO Max (New TV Show)

station eleven hbo max 2021 most anticipated tv showsSomewhat topical. Station Eleven is the adaptation of the 2014 Emily St. John Mandel novel of the same name, quite presciently depicting the aftermath of a flu pandemic that has brought the world to its knees. A little too topical perhaps? Don't worry, this is supposed to be the uplifting and optimistic type of post-apocalypse. If anything it will come as reassuring.

Patrick Somerville is attached as show-runner, best known for his work as writer on The Bridge, The Leftovers and Maniac. The cast will feature Mackenzie Davis, who you might recognise from Black Mirror, The Martian and Blade Runner 2049, alongside Himesh Patel, best known for his role in Eastenders and the recent Richard Curtis movie Yesterday.

Station Eleven will appear on HBO Max, a service that hopefully will one day appear in the UK. I'm expecting this to drop in the latter half of 2021.

Start Date: TBA 2021


11. The Orville - Hulu

the orville hulu family guy seth macfarlane 2021 most anticipated tv
The Orville had a great first two seasons in 2017 and 2018, finally giving fans that proper spiritual sequel to Star Trek that they had so badly been craving. It's been a rough two years since then, however. A transfer from Fox to Hulu would have been difficult under any circumstances, let alone in the middle of a pandemic that ultimately delayed production further. Production did finally resume at the end of 2020, and it is expected that we will finally see the third season this year.

Imaginative and timely with its moral-driven plotlines, Orville sees Seth MacFarlane move out of his comfort zone and into a less slapstick genre, one which showcases his talents as a writer. In an era when anything even vaguely sci-fi feels the need to be über grim-dark or full of over the top action, it's nice to see a series that's more about provoking thought than a visceral reaction.

If season 3 can maintain the consistency and quality of its storytelling, then we could have the makings of a very strong science fiction franchise here.

Start Date: Late 2021


10. This is Going to Hurt - BBC (New TV Show)

adam kay this is going to hurt bbc amateur transplants london underground 2021 most anticipated tv showsThe name Adam Kay means a lot of different things to different people. To some, he is a former doctor and graduate of my alma mater Imperial College. To others of a certain age, he is one half of The Amateur Transplants, a musical comedy duo that brought us such classics as London Underground and The Drugs Song (Kay would probably rather we not remember some of his other, most disturbing songs like "Never let a Woman Drive" to the tune of the Sheila's Wheels jingle, and "Rohypnol" to the tune of Blondie's Maria).

But to most, he is the author of the medical memoir This is Going to Hurt, detailing some of the horror stories from Kay's time as a doctor. The best seller is now being adapted to TV by the BBC.

If some of his material can be considered in bad taste, there is no denying that Adam Kay is a witty man. His writing is blistering, incisive, and hilarious, and if that translates well to the screen then this will be a very worthwhile series.

Start Date: Spring 2021


9. Dexter - Showtime

dexter showtime reboot return comeback 2021 most anticipated tvHere's one I did not see coming. Four great seasons and another four not so great, Dexter was a decent series back during its original run on Showtime, which ended some seven years ago. This surprise ninth season provides an opportunity to revisit these characters and hopefully to undo the catastrophically awful original series finale.

Michael C Hall reprises his role as the titular closet psychopath with a penchant for hunting down and executing criminals in order to (relatively ethically) slake his bloodlust. James Manos Jr, who helmed the series during its original run and will also be known for his work on The Sopranos and The Shield, returns as showrunner.

The revival is expected to pick up where the previous run left off, hopefully providing some much needed closure to fans. We have been told to expect the new series late 2021.

Start Date: Late 2021


8. Halston - Netflix (New TV Show)

2021 most anticipated tv halston netflixThis new Netflix series represents the latest work from the impressively prolific Ryan Murphy, best known for his work with American Horror Story, American Crime Story, Glee, The Politician and Hollywood, among others.

Halston tells the true story of America's first celebrity fashion designer Roy Halston Frowick, tracking his rise and fall in the 1960s. Ewan McGregor will star.

Ryan Murphy is not everyone's cup of tea, but his work is usually pretty entertaining and worth watching. His frenetic, oversaturated style would seem to be a good fit for the glamorous world of fashion in particular. An exact release date has not yet been confirmed, but production is complete and we have been told to expect this at some point during 2021.

Start Date: TBA 2021


7. Stranger Things - Netflix 

stranger things best tv show television 2021 season 4And of course you can't have a Hot List without a new season of Stranger ThingsNetflix's mega hit remains one of the best things on television, and I know I'm not the only one who can't wait to see where season four takes us.

Little is known about the new season. The last season left us on something of an ambiguous note, with certain central characters potentially gone, and the ongoing status of Stranger Things' main villain left uncertain. And what of Eleven's sibling and the ambiguous fate of her "papa"?

While there are clear plot-threads to follow going forward, no one really knows what direction the Duffer Brothers will take this. Whatever the case, the strength of the writing and production thus far gives us no reason for concern, and we expect great things when this releases in August.

Start Date: August 2021


6. The Boys - Amazon 

the boys amazon season 3 2021 most anticipated tvOne of Amazon's bigger successes in original TV content, The Boys is an adaptation of a little known comic book series satirising the superhero genre by imagining a world where the super-powered have become corrupted by greed and corporate interests. If the first season drew headlines for its violence and raunchiness, season two took the series to a more complex and highly polished level.

The main cast of Karl Urban, Jack QuaidAntony Starr, and Erin Moriarty returns. It's anyone's guess where season three will go from a narrative perspective, although the second season's cliffhanger ending certainly provide a hint of what to expect. It has also been floated that this season will see a depiction of the "herogasm" plotline from the comic series, the name of which should give some clue as to what it entails.

Filming is only just getting underway as we speak due to pandemic-related delays, so there is a chance this could slip into 2022, but I am optimistic that it will be ready in time for release by late 2021. 

Start Date: Late 2021


5. Staged - BBC 

staged season 2 lockdown michael sheen david tennant 2021 best televisionThe first of what will likely be many artistic works inspired by the pandemic era, Staged is the delightful creation of writer, director and sometimes actor Simon Evans. Evans plays himself alongside fictionalised versions of Michael Sheen and David Tennant as they seek to put together a theatrical production in spite of the logistical difficulties of lockdown. It's part commentary on the surreal nature of the pandemic era, part satire on celebrity and the creative industry. It's a very simple premise, rendered remarkable by the wit and self-effacing performances of its stars. 

Arriving just in time for another lockdown, season two will go full meta with a fictionalised non-fictional (if that makes sense) version of Sheen and Tennant attempting to adapt the TV show Staged for American audiences following the successful critical reception of the first season. They will be joined by an even greater lineup of celebrity guest stars, including the likes of Whoopi Goldberg, Simon Pegg & Nick Frost, Christoph Waltz, and many others.

Both seasons of Staged are now available on BBC iPlayer.

Start Date: January 2021



4. The Underground Railroad - Amazon (New TV Show)

the underground railroad amazon best tv show television 2021The main headline of Amazon's new original TV content for 2021, The Underground Railroad is a timely adaptation of the novel of the same name by Colson Whitehead

This miniseries, helmed by Barry Jenkins the award winning filmmaker behind Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk, depicts an alternate world where the real-world Underground Railroad (a network that worked to free enslaved African-Americans during the 1800s) is an actual underground train system. The plot follows two slaves, Cora and Caesar, as they attempt to escape Georgia and ride the railroad to freedom. Cast includes Thuso Mbedu, Aaron Pierre and Joel Edgerton.

Filming wrapped back in September, meaning that a release in the not-too-distant future is on the cards. I expect this one to drop around the middle of the year.

Start Date: Summer 2021


3. Ted Lasso - AppleTV+

ted lasso season 2 apple appletv+ plus new most anticipated tv 2021The big shock of the television world in 2020. When Apple announced an adaptation of Jason Sudeikis' short-lived and one-note comedy skit Ted Lasso (originally conceived as part of an advertising campaign for NBC's coverage of English football) into a full television series, most people (myself included) were quick to scoff. But somehow, against all logic, this is a far better show than it has any right to be.

The key ingredient was the tapping of Bill Lawrence, best known as the creator of Scrubs as showrunner. He has managed to craft a world that is bursting at the seams with charm and loveable characters. An idealised version of reality that makes for some delightful feel-good television that is sure to please fans of shows like Scrubs and Parks and Recreation.

Apple were so pleased with the first season that Ted Lasso has already been renewed for seasons two and three, with the second expected to land sometime in late 2021.

Start Date: Late 2021


2. WandaVision - Disney+ (New TV Show)

wandavision marvel comics vision scarlett witch disney disney+ tv show 2021 best most anticipated Until now, the television output of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been something of an afterthought, untethered from the continuity of the main series of films and without the same creative direction or resources. That looks set to change with WandaVision, the new series from Disney+ focusing on prominent movie characters Vision (Paul Bettany) and the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olson). 

Anyone who is up to date with the films will no doubt be wondering how we can have a series featuring these two characters. Much of the plot is still shrouded in mystery, but the trailers released to date make clear that something very odd indeed is afoot. Black and white suburbia, old four camera style with a laugh track. WandaVision appears to be going for some bizarre mishmash of midcentury sitcom and superhero blockbuster and that is part of what makes this so intriguing.

WandaVision will launch on Disney+ in mid January. It may be shrouded in mystery, but we will see soon enough what all the fuss is about.

Start Date: January 2021


1. Foundation - AppleTV+ (New TV Show)

foundation apple 2021 most anticipated tvApple's adaptation of Isaac Asimov's Foundation had been billed as the main tentpole of the company's new push into original content. Perhaps predictably for such a massive and expensive project, delays followed, and the release is now (hopefully) expected for some time in Autumn 2021.

The seminal, epoch-spanning book series has long been mooted for some form of adaptation, but has generally been considered either unworkable or too large-scale to depict on screen. Apple apparently feel the technology is now there, and are prepared to throw a significant budget into bankrolling this ambitious new series.

The project will be handled by David Ellison's Skydance production company, while Ellison will be joined as executive producer by a line-up of prominent names including David GoyerJosh Friedman, and Asimov's daughter Robyn. The cast features Jared Harris, Lee Pace and Laura Birn. Beyond that, much is still shrouded in mystery, needless to say this is going to be a major event when it gets here.

Start Date: Autumn 2021



So there you have it folks: 2021 in television. Tune in next week for the essential new videogames of the year!





Saturday, 9 January 2021

On January 20th, Joe Biden will become the 46th President of the United States. He takes the reigns of a country in free-fall, reeling from a seemingly unending litany of crises, many of which were self-inflicted by the previous administration. The new President needs to hit the ground running in order to get this house in order. With this post I will run through what should be the early priorities of this administration, many of which can realistically be achieved through this new Democratic majority.

2020 2021 joe biden 46th president new administration priorities legislation policy plan first year trump election inauguration

1. Get Coronavirus under control
This one goes without saying. The first and main priority for any President at this time should be getting this pandemic under control and putting an end to the catastrophic and ongoing loss of American life. 

Of course, we need to be realistic. There is only so much a President can do, it's not going to be a case of snapping his fingers and making everything better. Even with the best leadership, this is going to be a long and hard fight. That being said, there is an awful lot that the President can do to improve the situation, whether it is through mask mandates, lockdowns and tighter restrictions. Joe Biden will also establish a much needed Covid-19 task force and prominently feature medical experts in his response strategy, as opposed to the political strategists who have mystifyingly been put in charge of the Trump plan.

But perhaps the single most important thing the President can do to help handle the pandemic is educate the public. Set the right example, explain the need to wear a mask, the need to wash your hands and observe social distancing. For the past year, our Government has been officially telling people that the virus is no big deal and that they did not need to take any measures to slow its spread, and surprise surprise the virus has spread out of control. Simply changing this approach and educating people on the simple, easy steps they can take will do much to slow the spread.

2. Re-commit to the Paris Climate Accord
This is something that the new President can and should do on day one of his presidency. The Paris Climate Accord was a historic agreement that implemented a sensible and achievable strategy in order to protect our environment and safeguard the future of this planet. 

Donald Trump's announcement to withdraw from this agreement, making his pariah state the only nation on Earth not to commit towards solving this actual existential crisis, has been much overshadowed by the many scandals and more marketable crises since, but will nevertheless go down as one of the more reckless and unfathomable policy decisions of his presidency. Fortunately Joe Biden will reverse the previous administration's decision to leave the accord and can do so unilaterally as soon as he enters the White House.

3. Undo Trump's healthcare sabotage
There are few instances in which one can point to an actual belief or ideological stance among Trump's various policy endeavours. If there is a single unifying thread through most of the, admittedly few, things he attempted to accomplish as President, it would be the desire to reverse any actions taken by his predecessor Barack Obama (and in doing so provide his base with the validation they so desperately craved). Prime among these initiatives was the push to repeal Barack Obama's signature healthcare expansion.

The attempt failed, so instead Trump decided on an even more pathetic and underhanded strategy: attempt to legally sabotage the law so that it would be vulnerable to being overturned in the courts. The specific mechanism here was to reduce the non-compliance tax to 0%, and then argue in the courts that a 0% tax was unconstitutional and therefore the rest of the law must be repealed because it needs the tax to function. It's a nonsense, a fact made clear at the very least by the fact that the law has been functioning perfectly fine for years without it. Nevertheless, with the high number of extremist judges that Trump has managed to pack onto the courts, there's a very real chance of this insane endeavour working. While this would actually do very little to undo everything that Obamacare accomplished (after all, if you repeal a law to build a bridge, it doesn't un-build the bridge) it would remove many of the regulations and protections that hold the American healthcare system together, plunging the sector into a death spiral and almost certainly costing many American lives in the process. 

Fortunately this is also something that can be easily undone by the next President. A bare majority would be sufficient to reinstate the tax, thus rendering the entire case moot. President Biden should move to do this in his first week in office and he should follow it up by passing additional legislation to make the law less vulnerable to such cynical attempts at undermining in the future.

4. End gerrymandering & Electoral reform
If we have learned one thing from the past four years, it is that American democracy has a number of major flaws. The Trump administration began with the President and both chambers of Congress having been elected by a minority of the votes and shockingly this was in no way abnormal. Indeed, the Republican Party has only won the national popular vote once in the past thirty years, despite having controlled Government for most of that time. American democracy is shockingly undemocratic. It has been twisted and corrupted into a system that, as often as not, permits the preferred minority to defeat the majority. Clearly this should not be the case if America wants to continue to represent itself as the heart of democratic values. 

There are a number of steps that can be taken to help fix this system. One that has been in the news a lot over recent years is the abolition of the electoral college, the outdated system that allowed Donald Trump to take power despite losing the 2016 election by several million votes. This is extremely unlikely to be something that happens through Congress, as it would require a two thirds majority to amend the constitution. A more realistic alternative is the national popular vote compact, an initiative that calls on the states themselves to agree to award their electoral votes to whomever wins the national popular vote. There is actually a realistic proposition of this coming to pass eventually. It has currently been signed by states representing 196 electoral votes, with bills pending in states representing an additional 77. If those states sign (unlikely to happen in the immediate future) then the initiative will pass and the electoral college, while not technically abolished, would be rendered irrelevant.

A more immediate, and potentially even more important, step that can be taken to fix American democracy is a ban on gerrymandering. Gerrymandering, in short, is an undemocratic process by which politicians draw their own district borders so as to lump unfavourable voters into as few districts as possible, essentially to choose their own voters (this, for example, is why the Democratic Party currently needs to win nationally by historic margins just to squeak a narrow majority of seats). Congress can and should pass a law to end this practice, mandating that states establish independent and non-partisan commissions to draw their borders. This is actually something that Biden could move pretty quickly on, requiring only a bare majority of votes. It would also be largely immune to judicial challenge, given that the question of gerrymandering has been sent to the Supreme Court on many occasions, only to be dismissed as a question for Congress to resolve on each occasion.

I would also be remiss if I did not mention the shocking disenfranchisement problem that Americans currently face. This includes the long and surprisingly open attempt to exclude minority voters (in some extreme cases, by incarcerating them on minor charges) as well as less subtle initiatives such as voter purges and reducing the number of polling stations in urban districts. There are a few laws that Congress could pass pretty quickly to reduce the impact of these shameful practices: make election day a national holiday, re-enfranchise convicted felons who have served their time, as well as strengthening the federal electoral commission and other similar regulatory bodies.

5. Statehood for Washington DC and Puerto Rico
Along these lines is another national disgrace that, quite frankly, we have ignored for far too long. There are millions of American citizens who currently have no representation and no right to vote nationally. 700k people in Washington DC alone, a further 3million in Puerto Rico, as well as others. That's more people than live in Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota combined, and yet they do not enjoy the same rights as those citizens. 

But this is more than just a crisis of democracy. The shocking events in America's capital this week laid bare in striking fashion the very real toll of non-statehood, with DC officials lacking control over even their own national guard (which unlike every other state, is controlled by the Federal Government). The citizens of DC were unable to defend themselves from an attack, all because a capricious and hostile President refused to deploy DC's national guard. I expect this will inspire a renewed push for statehood, and rightly so. It is a national embarrassment that so many people are treated as lesser citizens for purely political reasons.

6. De-radicalisation of American extremists
Nobody wants to say it, but after this week's violent attack we really need to. It's easy to watch the recent news clips of these unhinged insurrectionists screaming about socialism or muslims or how Joe Biden is a Chinese child-rapist and just think to yourself "oh well those people are just crazy". But this is a much bigger problem than we want to admit. These types of wild, completely fictional beliefs are shockingly widespread. These are not bad people, they are not crazy people. Despite what many on the left like to believe, they're not even necessarily stupid. There are many completely normal, completely rational and otherwise intelligent people who have inexplicably turned into wild conspiracy theorists and I'm sure many of us know a few. 

We need to call it what it is. These people have been radicalised. Just like any other extremist movement anywhere else in the world, otherwise normal people have over time been twisted and manipulated to a worldview that is angry, fearful, and completely untethered from reality. It's not even necessarily their fault. The tools that liars and propagandists use to manipulate and poison the minds of the receptive have grown more subtle, especially in the mass media and digital age. The documentary The Brainwashing of my Dad does an excellent job of shining a light on this problem and I'm sure there are others. This is the biggest problem that America doesn't even realise it's facing. This extremism has led to our current state of division, anger and violence. It will only get worse if we simply continue to ignore it.

So what can we do about it? That's the question and it's more of a longterm project for this new President, but one that he will need to address at some point. It could take the form of campaign finance reform to prevent the unlimited and anonymous funding of propaganda, or greater regulation of the media to prevent people from spreading propaganda under the guise of legitimate news. Election security, to prevent hostile actors from targeting and manipulating the vulnerable (as we saw in 2016) would be a good move. Longer term it may require additional efforts through education, a greater emphasis on teaching our children about critical thinking and making sure they are mentally equipped to resist manipulation in the digital age. In the most extreme cases, we may need to consider a fully fledged program of de-radicalisation, similar to what we saw in the wake of World War II, or that we currently employ in the fight against terrorism.

I appreciate that this is a difficult topic to discuss and controversial in many ways. But mark my words, if we do not address this problem directly the violence will only get worse.

7. Crack down on corruption in law enforcement
Now let's be clear, I have never been part of the "defund the police" crowd. I think that's a stupid idea and one of the worst political hooks I have ever heard. That being said, it is clear that the police needs to be reformed in many ways, a fact that has been plainly thrust into the spotlight in the wake of this week's attack on the Capitol.

Some of the most shocking footage from the attack has been that of police officers aiding the attackers, allowing them through barricades and waving them on to the Capitol building. Posing for pictures with them and turning a blind eye to their criminal actions. The fact that the police force was so lacking for this attack compared to the Black Lives Matters protestors last summer is shocking enough, even more so when you see footage of police officers escorting the attackers away from the Capitol and letting them go on their merry way rather than being arrested on the spot. 

Nor is this an isolated incident. Many of us still remember the footage from Kenosha last year where police appeared to endorse armed vigilantism, even when those vigilantes went on to shoot and kill peaceful protestors. We may not need to defund the police, but they certainly need much greater oversight and accountability.

8. De-politicise the courts
This is a tricky topic, but one that needs to be addressed in some form. The rule of law in America has become increasingly politicised. In recent years we have seen the courts get packed with politically minded appointees, turning the judiciary into a de facto third legislative chamber, but one over which the voters have practically no influence. This has been a problem for a long time, but it reached an entirely new extreme during the Obama years, with the Republican Senate obstructing the judicial appointment process at an unprecedented level to the detriment of the country, culminating in the still-shameful theft of Merrick Garland's seat on the Supreme Court. 

We saw the problem in all its absurdity last year with the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. For an octogenarian cancer patient's life to be turned into a political football, for the wellbeing of so many to rest on a single individual forcing herself to continue a job at the expense of her own health rather than retire and seek care, is an absurd and unacceptable situation for so many reasons. A member of the judiciary falling ill or dying should not cause a political crisis or endanger the healthcare of millions, that is ridiculous. It is medieval. It is clearly an unsustainable way to run a modern democracy. One way or another, we must address the political dynamics that gave rise to so appalling a situation.

So what can we do? Many have suggested simply expanding the court. I do not favour such an approach on its own. This may at least recoup the two ill-gotten Trump Court seats, but without real structural reform there is nothing to stop future administrations simply doing the same ad infinitum. It kicks the can down the road and creates a self-fulfilling death spiral for the court. More substantial reform is needed. 

I am not sure what form that reform should take. Term limits would seem to be a sensible suggestion to avoid the absurdity of RBG's sorry plight. Pete Buttigieg had a decent suggestion that only some of the court's seats could be political appointees, with the others appointed by members of the judiciary. But the best suggestion I have yet heard comes from Andrew Yang, who points out that there's no real reason to have a single Supreme Court bench of just a few Justices. He advocates a wider bench of many Justices who sit on different cases according to their expertise and standing. This would increase court efficiency and allow the court to handle a larger number of cases each year. Most importantly it would reduce the significance of any single individual Justice since, if one dies or retires, they could just be replaced by one of the other Justices. This de-escalation of the significance of every single court appointment is the best solution I have yet heard for how to de-politicise the process, and ensures that the death or illness of a Justice does not also become a political crisis. 

9. Salvage the Iran nuclear deal
One of the most significant foreign policy accomplishments of the Obama administration was the Iran nuclear deal. It ended decades of brinksmanship between the Middle East's foremost powers, ensured stability free from the spectre of nuclear war, and provided an economic pathway for Iran to shift away from extremism and towards becoming a true global partner.

The Trump administration's betrayal here has increased the likelihood of a nuclear Iran and plunged the region into chaos. Most importantly, it dashed the internal credibility of Iran's reformers, setting back by years the movement to de-radicalise and moderate the nation. It's a disaster for the region and for the planet as a whole. If that wasn't enough, it also calls into serious question the trustworthiness of the United States. Why would anyone commit to any kind of international agreement with the country if they can just unilaterally break that agreement? If the global community was not so dependent on the United States, they would surely (and rightly) have been slapped with sanctions over this move.

For these reasons, it is absolutely essential that Biden do what he can to reverse the damage caused by the Trump administration. It may be too late to salvage this deal, especially without making some major concessions, but for the sake of peace and regional prosperity, it is an urgent crisis that requires attention.

10. Hold the previous administration accountable for its criminality
Many will disagree with me on this point, but this is something that I feel strongly needs to happen. The past four years have been a very dark period in our nation's history, a period of deep corruption and lawlessness. From financial crimes to foreign collusion, from obstruction of justice to extortion and abuse of power, from bribery-for-pardons to attempted electoral fraud, the last administration has committed a number of actions that appear to be criminal in nature. Several members of that administration have already been charged with crimes relating to these actions and there are still criminal contempt charges that were passed against Bill Barr and Wilbur Ross that have been just sitting there waiting to be actioned. All this before we even mention the sedition and violent coup attempt that came to a head this past week, an effort that was participated in not only by Trump but by many members of his own party and supporters. And these are just the things that are publicly known. Given this administration's penchant for lying and obstructing investigations, there could be much more beneath the surface of which we are not even aware.

When Richard Nixon resigned his office he was granted a blanket pardon in order to help the country move on and unify. Already there have been calls to do the same here, mainly from members of Trump's party. This is a terrible idea. This is not burglary or petty crime, this is an attempt to violently overthrow the United States Government. This is a widespread insurrection movement consisting of thousands of Americans who currently believe that their cause is righteous. Simply ignoring the problem will do nothing to bring those people back from the brink, if anything it will empower and perpetuate their cause. The only way to bring this country back together and end the division is to hold the criminals accountable and take away the legitimacy of the movement. There needs to be a massive effort (a special prosecutor or a political crimes commission) to enforce justice here and send a loud and clear message that these people are criminals and that their conduct is not acceptable. Every single one of them must be held accountable.

Conclusion
Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list of everything the next President should or will do. He will no doubt have his own legislative agenda and things that he wants to accomplish. This is merely a list of the items that I feel are either so urgent that they require immediate attention, or that are important and quickly achievable enough that there is no good excuse not to get them done. 

Whatever targets Joe Biden sets in his first 100 days, it is clear that he faces great challenges, many from within his own country. I would hope that most Americans will join me in wishing him luck and hoping that we can look back on the next administration as one that was able to repair the great damage that has been done to our country, and finally take us forward in the right direction again.











Thursday, 7 January 2021

Happy new year everyone! Before we dive into the 2021 Hot List (and boy, that's going to be a weird one this year) I would like to take a moment to mark this January's crucial event: the transfer of power from Donald Trump to America's 46th President, Joe Biden. Long-time readers will recall that this blog posted a similar article to mark the end of the end of the Obama presidency. A change in American leadership signifies the end of an era, not just for the country but for the world. It is my aim to use this moment to look back and provide a summary of record for the outgoing President, and to consider the type of legacy he will leave behind.

2020 2021 trump presidential legacy failure failed one single term president shame darkness embarrassment

Let me preface this post by addressing the elephant in the room. We have all seen the horrifying scenes transpiring in the US capital this week. Shameful, unthinkable images of armed insurrection. An attempted coup, plain and simple. Much of this article was written before this event and to be honest I have reservations about even making this post. Discussing the economic policy of the man who has incited a brazenly traitorous act seems almost laughable right now. But the truth is no one knows how a person will be remembered in history. Every aspect of his administration will be recorded and scrutinised, and all of it needs to be addressed and considered in forming the historical record of this dark period. So this will be a full evaluation of the presidency of Donald Trump, even though at this moment it seems pretty clear how he is likely to be primarily remembered in the history books.

The Donald Trump presidency is difficult to evaluate, simply because it has been so utterly dominated by scandal and corruption. From before he even took to the oath of office to his final day and likely even beyond, Trump has been a near constant presence in the news and usually for the wrong reasons. More than 1,000 Federal prosecutors formally issued a statement that Trump would have been indicted had he not been protected by presidential immunity, yet we've all kind of forgotten about that amid the deluge of crises that have since transpired. There has never been anything like this before, not even in the days of Nixon.

But all of this has been dwarfed by what we have seen in recent weeks and culminating in this this week's attack on Washington DC. Sights that no one could ever have imagined seeing in America. Armed insurrectionists occupying the US Capitol, an attempted coup incited by the President and several other Republican Party officials. For four years we have heard talk of "slippery slopes", conservatives laughing off the darkest accusations levelled against the President. Those silly games end now. This is the reality of this administration and will define the legacy that it leaves behind.

I'll come back to this later. It hardly seems relevant with everything that has happened, but I do want to spend some time evaluating Donald Trump's actual job performance over four years, though I admit any perception of his actions will inevitably be coloured by his shameful end. It is easily forgotten amid all the noise and drama, but Donald Trump has also really just been an ineffective President. By whatever metric you care to use, he has been an objectively bad President.

Low Popularity
A sensible place to begin in evaluating the Trump presidency is to look to how the public at large has been judging his job performance. At the time of writing, the poll aggregator Fivethirtyeight has his approval rating at 42.6%. This is a historically low approval rating for any President, let alone outgoing Presidents who usually see an approval bump in their final days. His disapproval rating is even worse at 53.2%, making Trump one of only a small number of Presidents to leave office with majority disapproval. These are historically poor numbers that, since the 1970s, have been topped only by George W. Bush. Bush aside, you have to go all the way back to Nixon for numbers this bad.

What makes these numbers even more damning is the fact that they represent a near high point of his presidency. For much of the Trump era, his approval rating has been hovering at or below 40%, dipping as low as the mid 30s following the Tuesday Night Massacre in which Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in order to, in Trump's own words, end "the Russia thing".

If Trump is unpopular among the American people, his perception among academics and presidential historians is even worse. The 2018 ASPA survey of historians ranked Donald Trump dead last, the worst President of all time. A Siena survey from the same year was almost as brutal, ranking Trump 42nd out of 44, above only the President who caused the Civil War and the President who still wanted black people to remain slaves after the Civil War. Given what we have seen in recent days and weeks, I expect the next surveys will be even less kind.

Economic Ruin
Perhaps the most damning indication of the job that Trump has done in office is the current dismal state of the American economy. Trump inherited a booming economy with record low unemployment in the midst of the longest period of economic growth in American history and plunged it into recession. Now growth has collapsed and unemployment is near 10%, a number which economists believe is likely even worse than it appears.

Trump's defenders like to obviate the President of any responsibility for this turmoil, arguing that it was all the pandemic's fault. Needless to say, this makes about as much sense as saying George W. Bush deserves no blame for the Great Recession because it was caused by the subprime mortgage crisis, or that James Buchanan deserves no blame for the Civil War since it was caused by a secessionist crisis. It's the President's job to manage crises, to enact policy that allows the economy to remain resilient in the face of sudden shocks. Above all, it is the President's job to plan a mitigation and recovery strategy in the event of a crisis that they can not prevent. 

This President did nothing to help prevent or mitigate the crisis and has done very little since to help us get out of it. It can be done, other world leaders managed to do it. Trump did not, because he does not and has never had any idea of how to build an economy. For four years his economic strategy was to ride Obama's coattails and take credit for his accomplishments. It should not surprise anyone that at the first sign of any turmoil, and in the absence of any kind of actual policy or strategy, his administration has utterly failed to manage the economy. His performance on the economy can be summed up simply: he will go down as the only President since World War II to oversee a net loss of jobs.

Policy & Legislation
I find it difficult to devote an entire section to President Trump's legislative accomplishments, because there are so few. The President's attempt to repeal Obamacare failed, his attempt to build a border wall with Mexico failed. He did manage to pass some tax reform legislation, but one that was limited in scope in order to meet the criteria for passage with just a 51 vote majority (and can thus be just as easily repealed or modified) and has been widely criticised for failing to achieve its goals as well as for its shoddy implementation.

Instead, Donald Trump's domestic policy has been hodge-podge of barely competent half-measures, marketing gimmicks, and insider-dealing cronyism. He couldn't repeal Obamacare, so he just slashed funding to healthcare services. He couldn't build his wall, so he conjured up a phoney national emergency so that he could use his executive powers to illegally divert funds away from real emergencies.

Elsewhere, his administration's most noted actions have ranged from the absurd to the downright appalling. This includes withdrawing the country from the historic Paris Climate Accord (something which thankfully can be reversed immediately when Biden takes office) to unilaterally (and illegally) ending the Iran nuclear treaty, an action that has taken a region from unprecedented stability and plunged it again to the verge of chaos, the end result of which will sadly likely be a nuclear Iran. Sadly it may be too late to repair the damage done here without making major concessions, if then.

Other notable policies have included a muslim ban, ending the ban on nuclear proliferation, ending the ban on female genital mutilation, withdrawal of support for Nato, family separation of immigrants (including the infamous baby cages), and of course trade war with China.  

But my personal favourite weird Trump policy has got to be the brazenly fake Moon mission he's had NASA perpetuate. Let's be clear about something. Anyone who knows me knows how much of a space geek I am. I would love for people to go back to the Moon. Trump's Moon mission simply isn't real. His plan was for man to be back on the moon within six years, conveniently the final year of his hypothetical second term. Six years, despite the fact that the technology currently does not exist for NASA to put people in space, let alone on the surface of the Moon, let alone bring them back. Six years to invent such technology, test it (which usually takes several years alone), test it with human occupants (also takes years) and plan the actual mission. Yeah, it was never real, it's an election gimmick and an embarrassment for NASA to have gone along with this charade.

But above all else there is Trump's abject mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic in human and healthcare terms. He dismissed the virus as a hoax, even when he knew it was real and deadly. He was slow to implement any kind of strategy and failed to provide the necessary life saving equipment. He spent months refusing to even wear a mask and has explicitly instructed his followers not to take these simple, life-saving measures. Instead he has told people to ignore the virus and continue attending his events in-person, something which alone has probably contributed to thousands of cases (and several confirmed deaths). His entire response to the virus has seemingly been governed by what he felt would benefit his electoral prospects, rather than what would save lives, and that is probably the most vile and shameful aspect of his presidency. It is true that this pandemic has hit the entire world hard, but few nations have been so overrun by it as America. We have seen a historic and unfathomable loss of American life over the past twelve months, hundreds of thousands dead, more than have been killed in any American war. Many of those Americans did not need to die, and would not have died under a different President. 

You have to dig pretty deep to find good things that Donald Trump has done as President, but incredibly they do exist. For all his bluster about the second amendment and Democrats taking people's guns away, he did actually pass some fairly notable gun control, allowing the Department of Justice to ban bump stocks. In signing the First Step Act, he has also taken a small but hopefully significant first step towards genuine and much needed prison reform in America. Lastly the renegotiation of NAFTA, while mostly stupid and for show, did actually contain one very good provision: establishing collective bargaining rights in Mexico. Not only will this create better worker conditions in Mexico, but it should disincentivise American businesses from looking south for cheap labor. Credit where it is due.

Finally, no discussion of Trump's policy agenda can be complete without mentioning the courts. Donald Trump has managed to confirm a huge number of judges to the lower courts, owning to consistent Senate control and the removal of the filibuster from judicial appointments. More significantly, he has named three Supreme Court Justices, potentially shaping the court for years to come. I actually think people make more of this than they ought to for a few reasons. Firstly, with two conservative justices in their 70s, the current makeup of the court isn't likely to last very long. Second, while the replacement of Ruth Bader Ginsburg obviously marks a significant shift rightward, the replacement of Scalia and Kennedy (who has often been wrongly praised as a moderate) with Gorsuch and Kavanaugh is arguably a pretty notable shift to the left. Thirdly, and most importantly, the courts really aren't as political as people tend to fear. The litany of Trump's failed post-election litigation proves that. For the time being, the judiciary is one of the few branches of Government that appears to be carrying out its function properly and with integrity, and even in the deeply corrupt Trump era that has mostly held true.

Scandals & Corruption
As we have already discussed, for whatever else has happened, the Trump presidency is one that has been most characterised by scandal, corruption, and carnage. And these are scandals that go way, way beyond the usual expectation of political scandal. 

It begins before Trump even takes office, with several members of the Trump campaign (and allegedly even the candidate himself) colluding with the Russian Government and abetting the hacking of the opposition candidate. Trump himself, according to evidence considered credible by US intelligence services and even prominent members of Trump's own party, may even have been directly under the, potentially treasonous, influence of the Russian President (and whatever the truth, he sure has acted accordingly!). It continues into Trump's presidency, where Trump fires the FBI director, again in his own words, to end "the Russia thing". That act prompted the creation of a Special Counsel investigation into the attack on the 2016 election, an investigation that resulted in more than 200 criminal indictments against some 40 people, including several high ranking members of the Trump campaign. That same report outlined as many as ten separate instances where Donald Trump appeared to have committed potentially criminal obstruction of justice.

It says everything that this is somehow considered one of the lesser scandals of this President. The President would later be named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the illegal campaign payment of Stormy Daniels, the target of multiple fraud and financial crime investigations, and of course, be impeached for abuse of power with respect to the coercion of a foreign nation to interfere in American elections, becoming only the third President ever to be impeached and the first ever to have a member of his own party vote to convict. Even as I write this article an entirely new scandal is blowing up in relation to recordings of the President instructing state Governors to manufacture fake votes in order to help him win re-election.

It's madness, pure and simple. We have never had anything like this before in American politics. We have never had a leader who so routinely, so consistently, so brazenly and openly engaged in such corrupt, likely criminal, conduct. The scandals themselves are astonishing enough, but we must now prepare ourselves for the very real probability that a former American President will be indicted after he leaves office. Remember that statement from the Federal prosecutors asserting that Trump should be indicted? That took place after the Stormy Daniels revelations and didn't even take into account all the other incidents. At this point, there are very few legal analysis who would deny that the President could be charged with a crime, instead the question must be the extent to which the new administration wants to hold him accountable, or just move on. That is an incredible, surreal position for nation to be.

An Attack on Democracy
But at the end of the day, none of that is an existential threat to the nation. Worst case scenario, Trump is a corrupt, petty crook and he goes to jail for it. The world moves on. What is an existential threat to the nation is Donald Trump's all-out assault on democracy and the rule of law.

This is a President who openly states that members of his party should be immune from prosecution. He has backed those words by issuing commutations and pardons to his associates like candy, particularly those whose criminal conduct relates directly to his own alleged criminality, like Michael Flynn and Roger Stone.

Perhaps the single most defining feature of this administration has been the complete and total weaponisation of every facet of Government into becoming a political tool of the party. The Department of Justice has repeatedly been seen to function as the Republican Party's political fixer. Even totally apolitical organisations such as NASA and the IRS have been twisted to benefit the President politically, be it NASA's fake Moon mission, or replacing the IRS officials with sycophants chosen to protect the President from investigation. It was always assumed that Trump's Supreme Court picks were chosen to service him personally, and during the election that supposition became an open fact with the President openly stating on numerous occasions that he expected the court to overturn the results of the election in his favour, something that mercifully did not ultimately happen.

This, of course, brings us to the election itself. Trump lost. He lost by a large margin in terms of both the popular vote and the electoral college. It was a clear and decisive defeat, among the largest in recent decades. This was not a close election in any sense of the word. Despite his clear defeat, Donald Trump has spent the last two months claiming that he really won and that the election was subject to fraud. He has claimed this with absolutely zero evidence. Less than zero evidence in fact, he has claimed as evidence entirely normal and expected voting patterns. He has claimed this despite the fact that he lost numerous red states where his own party was in charge of counting the votes, people who would have had no reason to rig the election for Joe Biden. He has claimed this in spite of numerous recounts, investigations and attempted litigation, all of which have concluded that there was no fraud. He has filed dozens of lawsuits, all of which have failed in the courts. Trump lost this election, and to be blunt anyone who still clings to these nonsense conspiracy theories is living in a fantasy land. The people voted, Trump lost.

It is easy to become de-sensitised to all this nonsense after four years, but it is worth taking a step back to appreciate the gravity of this moment. The sitting President of the United States is actively attempting to suspend democracy and overrule the results of an election. Let's not mince words, this is a coup d'état. If this was happening in any other country in the world we would be up in arms and demanding intervention and justice.

But as appalling and corrupt as this is, it is not at all surprising. Trump's tenuous relationship with reality is well known. His entire presidency has essentially be an audacious experiment in alternate reality. What is more concerning is the extent to which his party has been willing to endorse and participate in these actions. Republican politicians refused to acknowledge the results of the election for weeks. Some still don't. A number of sitting Republican congressmen and senators are preparing to attempt one more time to overturn the results of the election by abusing the rules of what is supposed to be a simple symbolic counting of the votes.

This is absolutely terrifying. This is no longer just one corrupt and wacky President acting out. This is a major political party that has ostensibly made the suspension of democracy an official party policy. Something of this nature happening in a country like America would have been absolutely unthinkable a few years ago. What precedent does this set going forward? Is every politician who loses a race going to claim fraud and attempt to overturn democracy in the courts? If the losing party controls Congress is it just going to vote to reject the results and name its own winner? These ideas sound outlandish, but it is literally happening as we speak. 

So when armed insurrectionists violently stormed the Capitol this week and attempted to overthrow the democratically elected Government, we should not be surprised. We should be angry. Angry at every single one of these Republicans who have incited and brought us to this moment. Ruthless sociopaths who have put their grandiose ambitions for power ahead of the ideals of American democracy, ahead even of the lives of the American people. None of them should ever be permitted to operate in US politics again and there must be consequences for all of them.

Conclusion
So how will the administration of Donald Trump be primarily remembered by history? A petty crook? A mad king? Will it be his mismanagement of the pandemic that is most closely identified with his administration? Perhaps the sheer absurdity of scandal and corruption will simply overshadow every other aspect of these four years. Only time will tell. But regardless of how we remember the man himself, the much graver impact of his time in office is likely to be his normalisation of autocratic tendencies and its influence on the Republican Party mainstream.

If I can offer one vital take away message from this whole sordid mess, one moment of clarity from this confusing trauma, it would be that we as a country, and voters everywhere, learn from this the dangers of remaining disengaged from the political process. For all the crimes of the Trump regime and the Republican Party, it should not be lost on us that the only reason any of this was able to happen is because of our own apathy. We have all some how created this mindset that politics is something to be tuned out, something that doesn't matter. When we hear talk of crimes or corruption in our elected leaders, we simply disregard it as yet more noise from Washington. Our indifference has allowed our democracy to be co-opted by the cynical and corrupt, and if we don't finally wake up to our situation we may never get it back.

This is a dark and shameful moment in American history, one that may permanently stain the American conscience and taint our self-image as a force for good in the world. We all need to come to terms with the fact that this nation has come to such a situation, where a sizeable chunk of the voters and an entire major political party is seemingly ready to throw democracy away. Whatever happens now, America has to ask itself some difficult questions and decide what kind of nation it wants to be going forward. This, ultimately, will be the legacy of Donald Trump.

Images of carnage at the US Capitol will follow these people for the rest of their lives. So too will images of the Charlottesville rioters, immigrant children in cages, and the hundreds of thousands of dead Americans from this pandemic. They will leave an indelible mark of shame not only on Trump and his officials, but on the Republican Party members who have enabled him every step of the way, and yes, on the voters who have and continue to support this man in spite of everything that we have seen. It is a mark of shame that the rest of us have a duty to never forget.










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