Who’s afraid of Donald Trump?

🏝 Buddymoons | Rats ❤️ selfies | 💸 Benjamin supremacy

In the headlines

Nottingham killer Valdo Calocane will have his sentence reviewed after the families of his victims said he had “got away with murder”. Calocane, a paranoid schizophrenic who killed three people last summer, was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to indefinite detention in a high-security hospital, rather than a prison, after his lawyers successfully argued that he had “diminished responsibility”. The UN’s top court is set to decide whether to demand that Israel halts its military action in Gaza. The interim ruling by the International Court of Justice, due at lunchtime today, is part of South Africa’s case accusing Israel of genocide. A woman has been arrested after letting her pet lion go for a ride in the back of an open-top Bentley. The cub was filmed leaning out of the side of the car as it was driven through the busy streets of Pattaya in Thailand.


Who knows what he’d actually do? Tom Pennington/Getty

Who’s afraid of Donald Trump?

“Donald Trump might be president again,” says Holman Jenkins in The Wall Street Journal, and naturally his critics are having conniptions. So what would he really do? He doesn’t actually tell us, but “his opponents do, constantly”, making it hard to separate fact from fear. Every “Trump is Hitler/dictator/end of the world” argument starts from the same premise: “this time, he won’t be thwarted by his inexperience”. And it’s true that opportunists at certain think tanks have begun the “self-pleasuring activity” of making “plans” for his presidency. But it’s important to remember: “this has nothing to do with anything”.

Trump practises a strictly “ratings-based politics”. He’s not influenced by polls, much less by policy goals or ideology. His primary interest is in creating dramatic episodes – using “familiar props” like Nato or the Supreme Court – to show off that he is a man of action, “in contrast to the established political class”. When he fails, as he often does, he simply “hands matters back to this establishment and turns elsewhere”. His bad policies are mainly bad in an entirely conventional way: protectionism for special interests, overspending, and so on. It’s not absurd to suggest that in the long view, there’s less to fear from a second Trump term than a second Biden one. Biden, after all, has failed to deter two major wars. When Trump was president, in contrast, he rattled Russian and Chinese leaders by promising, “however implausibly”, to nuke them if they engaged in aggression. “They didn’t.”


When Paris-based photographer Augustin Lignier trained two rats to take selfies, “they didn’t want to stop”, says The New York Times. He started by building a special box that rewarded the rodents with a small dose of sugar any time they pressed a button that triggered a camera. The images were then immediately displayed on a screen where the rats could see them. Lignier gradually phased out the rewards, but even when sugar did appear, the rats took no notice and “just kept pressing the button”.

Inside politics

The Edinburgh leg of the UK’s Covid inquiry has already revealed a lot, says Fraser Nelson in The Spectator. Former first minister Nicola Sturgeon deleted all her WhatsApp messages. Her successor Humza Yousaf, health secretary at the time, was advised by the national clinical director that the way to get around mask laws was to “have a drink in your hands at all times”. Gregor Smith, Scotland’s chief medical officer, urged colleagues to delete WhatsApp exchanges “at the end of every day”. And in what may be “one of the most memorable phrases uncovered by the inquiry”, Ken Thomson, one of Scotland’s most senior civil servants, boasted that “plausible deniability are my middle names”.

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On the money

As cash goes out of style, says Oliver Bullough in Mother Jones, one note stands supreme: the $100 bill. Six years ago, the number of “Benjamins” in circulation overtook the number of $1 bills for the first time; by the end of 2022, there were a whopping 18.5 billion out there. Of the total value of all existing US currency in circulation, 80% is in the form of $100 bills. The reason? Benjamins are the favoured medium of exchange for the world’s “kleptocrats, tax dodgers and cartels”. And you can see why: $1m in $100 bills weighs just under 10 kilos, fits in a slim briefcase, is “universally accepted and can’t be traced”.


Tractors line up in front of the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin. Sean Gallup/Getty

Germany’s very French crisis

These days, “Germany is looking a little like France”, says Le Monde. Tractor blockades, strikes, political parties “shaken by the rise of the far right”, general government tensions and a budget crisis – bienvenue! In just two years under Olaf Scholz, Germany’s “legendary stability” has evaporated. So much so that 20% of the electorate now plan to vote for the far-right Alternative für Deutschland party. Their French equivalent, the Rassemblement National, is polling at 28%, and far-right movements are on the rise across the continent. But Germany’s dominant position within the EU makes this trend “more visible – and more worrying”.

The real problem, says Luc de Barochez in Le Point, is that Germany has become an economic basket case. It suffered the worst performance of any major industrialised nation last year, with GDP contracting by 0.3%. The share of the population which believes the country will have “left the leading pack of world economies” by 2040 has almost doubled in the past year, to 50%. Berlin’s fatal error was believing it had found a “Martingale” – a mythical betting strategy in which the gambler cannot lose – in the form of cheap Russian gas, unlimited exports to China, and US security. With all three on the fritz, Germany suddenly isn’t feeling so clever. But on both sides of the Rhine, economic uncertainty is adding to “cultural insecurity and identity malaise”. At a time of maximum geopolitical uncertainty – with “war at the gates of Europe” and Donald Trump’s possible return to the White House – there could not be a worse moment for France and Germany, Europe’s twin economic engines, to have become a “pair of cripples”.

Love etc

Newlyweds are increasingly going on “buddymoons”, says The Washington Post. Rather than take trips by themselves, couples invite friends along, sometimes as a way “to thank guests who travel long distances for destination weddings”. Another option is the “familymoon”: when influencer Izabela Zukovic got married in Copenhagen last year, she and her husband paid for both their families – a total of 16 people aged from six to 68 – to join them for a week in Greece.

Tomorrow’s world

A parcel delivery firm had to disable its AI chatbot after a disgruntled user coaxed it into composing a (rather bad) poem criticising the company’s customer service. The 14-line creation, which you can read in full here, begins:

There was once a chatbot named DPD,
Who was useless at providing help,
It could not track parcels,
Or give information on delivery dates,
And it could not even tell you when your driver would arrive.


Snapshot answer

It’s the Arch of Reunification, a 30-metre-tall monument near Pyongyang in North Korea, which has just been demolished. The architectural spectacle was commissioned after a landmark summit with South Korea in 2000, to symbolise peace and mutual hope for reunification, says Sky News. The decision to axe the arch coincides with rising tensions on the peninsula: last week Kim Jong-un called his southern neighbour the country’s “invariable principal enemy”.


“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.”
Comedian WC Fields

That’s it. You’re done.