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Radio review: Americast, The Documentary, and The Republicans

22 January 2021


Americast (Radio 4, Friday of last week and podcast) described the perks that a former President of the United States receives ­— and the First Lady

Americast (Radio 4, Friday of last week and podcast) described the perks that a former President of the United States receives ­— and the First Lady

THINGS might be looking serious in Washington, DC, this week, but it’s good to see that the people of South Ayrshire have retained a sense of humour. “Golf club owner loses presidential election” ran the headline in the local newspaper in November; and now an ice-cream producer has created an “impeachmint” flavour, which is served in two-scoop portions.

Americast (Radio 4, Friday of last week and podcast) prides itself on offering that extra sprinkling of trivia. I, for one, was not aware of the considerable perks that a former President receives: there is an annual million-dollar travel allowance at stake, as well as a hefty stipend for the former First Lady. With the Donald’s business interests many millions in debt, these sums are worth the taste of humble pie.

But it is in the podcast extra that last week’s episode delivered on its promise to go beyond the headlines. In a report suitable only for the most hardened of stomachs, we heard from the reporter Hilary Andersson of the life and death of Lisa Montgomery, executed last week in Indiana for an unspeakably cruel murder. In Montgomery’s background lay appalling parental abuse; yet the methodical planning of this killing undermined the obvious insanity plea, and recent polling indicates that Americans still favour the death penalty for murder.

It will be a significant test of Joe Biden’s liberal credentials whether he follows up on his commitment to abolishing capital punishment. In this, the part played by his Vice-President will be crucial; and, as we heard in The Documentary (World Service, Tuesday of last week), the record of Kamala Harris on this issue is not straightforward.

The excitement surrounding the election of the first female, mixed-race VP in the United States has largely masked the disquiet expressed about Ms Harris’s history: first, as District Attorney in California, during which time conviction rates increased from 52 to 67 per cent — mostly, it is claimed, of people from poor, black backgrounds; and, as Attorney-General, failing twice to support ballots that would have abolished the death penalty in the state.

There is nothing inconsistent in this, if the presenter Mark Coles’s assessment is correct: that Ms Harris has no doubts about who she is. Unlike Barack Obama, she has no need of a quest for identity; and, if she had, she would not make it a defining element of her back story. In this, as in so much else, we have an indication of how far the United States has changed since 2008.

If we need a reminder, then the series of radio dramas by Jonathan Myerson, The Republicans (Radio 4, Wednesday to Friday of last week), has enjoyed a well-earned repeat recently. The Thursday drama, dealing with the rise of George W. Bush, was particularly engaging. Maintaining a perfect balance between satire and historical drama, Myerson tells the story from the point of view of a deluded ex-Marine awaiting the Rapture. The temporal and the eternal here are portentously intertwined: “The road to Jerusalem goes straight through Baghdad.”

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