Uncut Review: Pod Save America in London

by Jonathan Todd

Kings of the King’s Road is a book about the Chelsea football team of the 1960s and 70s. The street has much changed since. Last Saturday, looking for somewhere serving a pint of beer, Uncut walked some distance past its high-end stores, little distinguishable from those of Manhattan, Dubai and so on. And then, inevitably, paid £6 for average IPA.

With 950 other paying customers at Cadogan Hall, we attended a self-help group for liberal America. Otherwise known as a recording of Pod Save America. Ex-Obama staffers Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett and Tommy Vietor debated politics in their inimitable way.

Comedy is the new rock’n’roll and podcasts are the new comedy. Our three heroes rode on stage to a backdrop of a video reminding us of some of Donald Trump’s most amusingly daft moments – which was reminiscent of the entrances made by some stand-ups. For example, Russell Brand on his Scandalous tour. The sense of comedic theatre did not end there: Lovett, in particular, delights in a well-timed zinger; the crowd, enthusiastic participants in a political pantomime, heartily cheered and booed on cue.

One of the targets of Lovett’s mirth was Sadiq Khan for turning down the opportunity to appear in the London show. He was busy being heckled by Trump supporters at the Fabian conference. While the headline slot at the Fabians is invariably a top gig in the early new year diaries of Labourites, it does not – unlike Pod Save America – average 1.5 million listeners per show. About as many people, as the New York Times recently reported, as Anderson Cooper draws on prime-time CNN.

These 30-somethings have transitioned from helping sow the Obama stardust to being media pioneers. Backstage influencers to main stage ringmasters. On a self-built stage.

Their endorsement would go far in the race to be the next Democratic presidential candidate. While there were warm words for Oprah Winfrey, following her impassioned speech at the Golden Globes, no such endorsement – in spite of promptings from the audience – came on Saturday. And it was made clear that the pod would wish to speak to all the runners and riders before any such declaration, if it ever comes, is made.

When Hillary Clinton spoke to the pod last September about her latest political memoir, What Happened, she came across as intelligent and engaged as ever. Ed Miliband got about as near to being prime minster as Clinton got to being president. While the pod is influential enough to secure access to her, it is hard to imagine Clinton deigning to come along to hear it being recorded. Miliband, however, was another face in Saturday’s crowd. Looking for ways to build upon his success in our end of year awards.

Timing is everything in politics and comedy. Maybe one day the UK will buy a pitch as left-wing as that Miliband made, featuring a pitstop at Brand’s flat, in 2015. Maybe the only problem with the pitch was its timing. Maybe the Corbyn surge shows that its time will come. Maybe.

Unity was the tenor of the appeal that first made Obama famous. There are no red states and blue states, just the United States, he told the 2004 Democratic Convention. In their own ways, Attlee, Wilson and Blair also came to power by encapsulating a sense of national mission in which all had a place. Finding a way to replay that tune may again help Labour in to government.

Trump has traded upon and exacerbated America’s divisions, meaning that unity may be a difficult sell for the Democratic candidate in 2020. It would certainly be easier, and, in a country so divided, may be more productive, to run in the other direction: toward the Democratic base. And hope that it is bigger than Trump’s. Because turning out his still loyal base is the only path to re-election – short of some epic skulduggery – open to Trump.

Saturday’s show dissected one of the factors that has contributed to the fractures of the US – highly partisan media. We saw clips from Fox News suggesting the problem with Trump’s recent “shithole” comments were not the racism of these comments but their profanity. Thanks to the magnificent Miriam Margolyes, Peston on Sunday has known courser language.

The awful realities are not only the racism of America’s president and the failure of much of the country’s media to challenge this but the intense fidelity to him that burns in the parts of America that Margolves is visiting for her BBC documentary series. The “shithole” comments came in a crucial meeting with senators. As such, in addition to being racist, they were – consistent with the core argument of Michael Wolff’s book – jaw-droppingly dumb.

Brexit may be forever, while Trump might be over by 2020 or even – we dare to hope – earlier, indicating, perhaps, that the UK got the worst of the democratic upheavals of 2016. If, however, Trump’s presidency, with its normalisation of much previously beyond the pale, lays the ground for another racist to win this office, and this successor is less stupid, even cliff-edge Brexit might seem relatively better.

We’ll know that America has saved itself from this fate when Pod Save America aren’t played to packed audiences off Sloane Square but in rustbelt America. The nativist yin to west London’s globalist yang.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut  

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3 Responses to “Uncut Review: Pod Save America in London”

  1. Anne says:

    I have been watching the Miriam Margolyes BBC documentaries. She has visited places where other celebrities have not, such as a female prison where she found that many of the inmates were there for drug release offences, and did ask the question if this was the most effective way to manage these offenders. Another question she did ask was this ‘America first’ a way of looking back to times gone, rather than present times.
    My own opinion on Trump is that a lot of time is spent discussing him rather than focusing on the issues of the day, and how present day issues and problems are best solved.

  2. Dave Roberts says:

    You should have tried the Chelsea Potter. You can get a decent pint for around a fiver.

  3. Axwell says:

    You refer to Trump’s alleged “sh!thole” comments which nobodyu knows for sure he even said. To build a whole character analysis of him based on a questionable quote he might well have not even made is delusional in the extreme. It’s a fantasy.

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