THERE was no shortage of angry words aimed at Donald Trump last week. 

Yet, as they tried to sum up new testimony on the sheer volatility of America’s worst-ever president, the country’s pundits kept reaching for a single adjective: unhinged.

This was how veteran political columnist Mark Z Barabak described the former commander-in-chief on the front page of the Los Angeles Times. 

It was how, in a thundering leader, the editorial board of The Washington Post assessed a man who had his finger on the nuclear button.

And, perhaps most tellingly, it was how TV host Brian Kilmeade labelled Mr Trump on Fox News, the ultra-conservative channel the 45th president once mainlined for hours on end while sipping diet cokes and tweeting bile.

Why “unhinged”? Because of a fresh and compelling account of what happened inside the White House as an armed mob stormed the seat of America’s Congress on January 6, 2021, trying to overturn a national election.

A junior staffer called Cassidy Hutchinson, in sworn testimony, described how Mr Trump demanded to lead the rally, doubling down on his “Big Lie” that his election had been stolen. “I am the f*****g president,” he shouted at a secret service agent, according to Hutchison. “Take me to the Capitol now.” 

The aide added that the president tried to grab the steering wheel of his armoured car. The White House head of security – one Robert Engel, potentially the man who prevented a coup in the world’s most powerful democracy – refused. 

Hutchison, 26, was an assistant to Trump’s chief-of-staff. She witnessed the president unravel, including throwing his dinner in a rage. There was literally ketchup on the White House wall.

The American left hopes her testimony about the Trump insurrection will prevent a Trump resurrection. “It was like seeing a portrait, sketched in black and white, suddenly filled with garish strokes of purple and blood red,” Barabak said in the LA Times of the composed Hutchison’s performance. 

“And it should emphatically end Trump’s political career once and for all.”

Once-mainstream conservatives feel the same. Bret Stephens of The New York Times last week said he was starting to think the congressional investigation into the events of January 2021 would “steer some of the Trump faithful towards the kind of cult deprogramming they so desperately need”.

Yet many Republicans remain loyal to Trump, even as right-wing analysts like Stephens predict “45” is losing grip of his base. 

And the many remaining MAGA (“Make America Great Again”) fans find they have a perhaps counter-intuitive source of financial support: Democrats. How come?

Because some progressives think the cultists – to use Stephens’s term – are easier to beat at the polls than conservative moderates. 

This matters, because this is an election year. Up for grabs is the entire House of Representatives, one-third of the Senate, and a raft of state houses and legislatures. 

Republicans are aiming to take back Congress, where both houses are currently held by the Democrats of President Joe Biden. 

And, of course, they want to prise control of as many local authorities as they can, especially in presidential swing states.

Take Pennsylvania. This north-east commonwealth – where Biden was born – turned Democrat blue in the 2020 presidential after going Republican red four years earlier. 

States have wide powers over everything from zoning congressional districts to counting the votes in a general election. So expect a tussle in PA.

Doug Mastriano, a state senator who pushed Trump’s “Big Lie” about a stolen election, has just secured the Republican nomination for governor of Pennsylvania. 

He spent less than $400,000 on TV ads to win a primary against more sober conservatives. 

His Democrat opponent, Josh Shapiro, spent twice as much on ads. Not for himself, but for Mastriano. 

The Democrat wanted to run against an unelectable wackadoodle, to use a technical term.

The same scenario has played out elsewhere in America. Big money is being funnelled in to the primary campaigns of some of the least credible, least, well “hinged” Republicans in America. From Democrats.

The Washington Post last week blasted this tactic. America, the paper said, needs a broad coalition against the kind of threat to democracy posed by Trump and, it might have added, catalogued by Hutchinson before Congress last week. Funding crackpots – the paper’s word – could backfire. 

“Democrats have helped Trumpian fanatics move one step closer to offices from which they could directly threaten the nation’s democracy,” the Post thundered.

Opponents of Trumpism have reason to be worried. The former president may now  face a difficult path to a personal comeback.

But the former president’s party – not least thanks to Dem cash – has lurched not just to the right, but away from reality-based discourse. 

The midterms, as this year’s elections are called, may be dominated by big culture war issues, such as abortion. Nobody knows how that will play out.

Pollster Nate Silver last week suggested the Republicans were in a strong position to take back the House, but that the Senate was a toss-up.

There is an adjective that comes to mind for Democrats who throw money at the most extreme Trumpists: unhinged.


Russia: War sees cinema revenues crash land

WHAT is the big picture in Russia? Well, there isn’t one. Literally.

The country, thanks to Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked war on Ukraine, is running out of blockbusters to show in its movie theatres. 

Major studios and distribution companies have pulled out of Russia since the Kremlin strongman moved to a full-scale invasion in February.

That means nothing from the likes of Universal, Warner Bros, Disney, Sony, and Paramount. So the big summer sequels – such as Top Gun (when Russians are again the baddies) – will not hit big screens. 

This may not seem like a big price to pay for attacking a neighbour … pirated Hollywood films, after all, are sometimes easy to download in Russia. But local sources warn of an economic and cultural cost.

Last week, Russian business daily Kommersant revealed that the number of screens in use at least once a day has fallen by more than one-third since January.  

Revenues are being hit even harder. The Association of Cinema Owners, which goes by the Russian abbreviation AVK, said box-office receipts in the week through to June 5 were down 63 per cent from the same seven days a year earlier. 

Picture houses have just enough content – with Russian movies, old western films and the occasional art house independent production – to stay open over the weekends. For now.

There have been lots of stories about big US brands leaving Russia, especially iconic ones like McDonald’s, whose opening in Moscow in January 1990 is often seem as marking the end of the Cold War.

The company’s food outlets, however, have been bought over and are reopening. Industry analysts suggest this transition will be easier than replacing Hollywood blockbusters in cinemas.

The cinema owners think it will get worse before it gets better. AVK said it expected a “critical shortage of repertoire” and half its screens to go dark by the end of June. Revenues will fall 80%.

This in an industry that employs 55,000 people. Replacing American movies is not easy. “Our industry could be saved by Russian films, good ones and lots of them,” Yelena Yermolina told the new exiled Russian independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta.

“But that is long term. Those movies have still got to be shot.”
Recovery will not be easy, not least because cinemas are already running out of spare parts for their imported kit. But the “big picture” is that Russians, when they do get back to the movies, won’t be watching the same films as the rest of us.


Spain: New space invaders are taking capital’s night-time economy to the next level

THE nerds are winning, the geeks are taking over. That, at least, was the story from Madrid last week. 

The Spanish capital may be famed for its vibrant nightlife of drink and dancing. 

But, increasingly, its bars and clubs are catering for a new client: the friki, as the locals say

A whole new night-time economy is growing up for what was once seen as alternative “freaky” youth.  

There are now bars offering giant screens for patrons to play videogames, including multi-user ones like Nintendo’s cartoon car-racing caper Mario Kart. It is quite a change.

As Nato leaders gathered for their summit in the Spanish capital to discuss Putin’s attack on Ukraine, newspaper El País sent its correspondent, Clara Angela Brascia, into the night to watch a different kind of war: a virtual one in bars.

Gaming, she discovered, is pretty social. In a bar called Meltdown in the chic Madrid neighbourhood of Chamberí she found a gamer called Álvaro Espinosa. The 22-year-old IT worker was waging his third bout of Mortal Kombat. But not alone. 

He was lazing on a pouffe perched on an old shipping pallet, surrounded by mates. “This kind of activity requires a sofa and a friend at your side,” Espinosa said. “Playing here is not the same as at home.”

Madrid’s nightlife exploded at the end of Spain’s dictatorship more than 40 years ago. La Movida Madrileña, the Madrid scene, was no legend. With liberty, came drinking and dancing – and sometimes drugs. 

But partying does not have to be that way any more.

“Because nights out in Madrid can be much more than a glass of something and the disco,” explained Kike Gutiérrez, Meltdown’s manager who decided to combine his love of gaming with business.

“This is something you can do perfectly well at home but we wanted to create a welcoming environment, a local bar. Except, instead of darts, we have consoles.”  

His venue is not alone. There is a boom, too, in nightspots that look like 1980s videogame arcades such as Rockade, which opened last year, complete with walls of pin-ball machines. 

Even retro roller-skating rinks are opening. Twenty-somethings told El País they were looking for a Stranger Things vibe. Geek culture is now so mainstream in Spain that earlier this year, another paper, El Diario, even published a nightlife guide for frikis featuring a Star Wars-themed Madrid bar called Vader.

But if disco is still your thing, don’t give up on Madrid. 
According to local press, there is a bar called The Next Level where you can jive. Provided, that is, that you know how to play 1990s videogame Dance Dance Revolution.



NATO: It seems ‘selfie’ culture has even influenced world leaders


IT is always hard to get a team photo.When the 30 leaders of Nato members lined up with the alliance’s general secretary last week, there was no single shot which showed them all still.

In the official pooled group portrait, the presidents of Latvia and Romania were caught in animated chat as the prime minister of Estonia adjusted her hair.

Nato is too big to catch in a single image. And it is getting bigger. Last week’s summit in Madrid was attended by the leaders of Sweden and Finland, the once theoretically neutral Nordic nations now set to join the alliance.

There has been a lot of talk of Nato growing in response to Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine. Some last week were even prematurely declaring the Baltic Sea to be a Nato lake, despite it also being home to Russia’s second city St Petersburg and its Kaliningrad exclave. 

The premiers of Sweden and Finland did not make it in to the group photo. Neither did another global leader who showed up, for the first time ever, at the Nato summit: Japan’s Fumio Kishida.

He was joined by dignitaries from South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. Kishida is a close neighbour of Russia and Japan still has a point of dispute with the Putin regime: the Russian-controlled Kuril Islands north of Hokkaido. Russia and Japan have still not come to a final settlement on their Second World War ceasefire.

Why was Kishida in Madrid for the Nato summit? Because of Russia? Or another potential threat? The prime minister spelled that out before arriving in Spain. He sensed, he said, a “strong sense of crisis” over Taiwan. East Asian and Pacific nations have feared that China would move on the democratic island, which it claims as part of its territory, when the world was distracted by Ukraine.

“We must demonstrate unity so that such attempts will never succeed,” Kishida said. Sure enough, at this summit, for the first time Nato, whose very name suggests its concerns are North Atlantic, sounded the alarm over China. The giant dictatorship, the alliance announced for the first time, posed a “challenge”.

“China is substantially building up its military forces, including nuclear weapons, bullying its neighbours, threatening Taiwan … monitoring and controlling its own citizens through advanced technology, and spreading Russian lies and disinformation,” said Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg. “China is not our adversary but we must be clear-eyed about the serious challenges it represents.”

Putin’s war has jolted East Asia too. Japan, which has a pacifist stance written into its constitution, tweaked rules to allow it to make limited aid shipments to help Ukraine. There have been calls for the country to bolster defence spending, including developing weapons capable of taking out rocket-launch sites in potential adversaries. 

Japan is back in the international defence picture, if not summit snaps.