Anthony Barnett’s Diary: A Frog Eats the World of Frogs, Advances in American Politics, and Zelensky’s Comedic Timing


Just got back from six weeks across the United States, including a week filming progressive politicians and activists in Washington DC, with Aaron White, openDemocracy‘s North America Editor.

Back in Blighty, I was delighted to find many frogs in our new pond. Now there are myriads of little tadpoles under the seaweed that I struggle to control. Last year a neighbour’s daughter kindly shared their excess and as the growing tadpoles become carnivorous I give them raw liver to keep them from eating each other. Soon the froglets will start – and the slugs, watch out! It is a bewitching metamorphosis.

A new way forward

The invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin darkened our stay in the United States. I published my immediate response in the Nation magazine, which has just made Bhaskar Sunkara its president. He founded Jacobin magazine and more recently, in London, he gave Grandstand a rejuvenation à la Lazare. the Nationyet, speaks for a more determined and independent leftism than the Labor tradition Grandstand represents, or the post-Leninist socialism of Jacobinwho, Sunkara concludes, passed to “purgatory”.

On the other hand the NationThe tradition of American progressivism is coming back to life. People across the American left are discouraged by the Senate’s frustration with basic policies for saving American democracy and the White House’s lack of anger at its defeats. But they speak on behalf of a huge movement, generating creative and ambitious politics, with a broad sense of the big picture, popular politics and elected officials capable of defeating Trumpism.

It’s a claim I’m starting to make in my new book. Take control! and one confirmed by filming Congressman Jamie Raskin, who led Donald Trump’s second impeachment; Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus; and Silicon Valley Congressman Ro Khanna — watch out for him in 2024 and beyond. The contrast to Labour’s dismal lack of ideas under Keir Starmer could hardly be greater.

Putin’s Vietnam

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Nevertheless, widespread fatalism fuels the belief that Putin will be able to impose his will and thus help Trump. From the beginning of the invasion, I had the certainty that the Ukrainians will liberate their country. How long that will take is another matter. Yet unless it is cut off from all arms and supplies, a country that has undergone a national revolution cannot be defeated.

Vietnam showed it. Ben Tre was like Mariupol – it “became necessary to destroy the city in order to save it”. Massacres and rapes were commonplace. Captives were tortured. Hanoi and North Vietnam were bombed by B-52s and infrastructure was pulverized. President Nixon threatened to use nuclear weapons. And the United States lost. Putin will also lose. No matter how much territory he seizes, his regime will be unable to bear the costs of its occupation.

The People’s Sitcom

The strength of Ukrainian self-confidence can be seen in the gloriously pleasant servant of the people, the 2015 sitcom in which Volodymyr Zelensky plays a holy history professor whose exposure of corruption leads him to become a surprisingly ill-prepared president. He plays the lead role, which is why he was portrayed as a comedian. But he also ran the production company that created the franchise and registered “Servant of the People” as a political party in 2018. Those who run the media companies are strategic operators.

In season one, the history teacher is inaugurated as president. Abandoning the official discourse, he declares: “I know one thing. What you do should never make you ashamed to look your children in the eye. Or your parents. Or anyone else. This is something I firmly promise, dear Ukrainians.

Truly inspiring, not satire. It sums up Zelensky’s program – now war-tested.

Ukraine in the EU

This will also be Europe’s challenge. Once Ukraine secures its victory and accelerated entry into the EU, the suppressed revolution in Belarus will rise again to reject Alexander Lukashenko and claim his place. Together, Poland, Belarus and Ukraine will bring together 90 million people, around one-fifth of what will become an enlarged EU. Completely recovered from the loss of “Great Britain”, now too cumbersome for the specter of an “ever closer union”, Europe will have to become a continent of national democracies and shared regulation. A person who can follow the lead of progressive American politics – provided Trump doesn’t come back.

“American progressives – a new politics is in motion” will be posted on openDemocracy on May 12

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This article originally appeared in the April 20, 2022 issue of The New Statesman, law and disorder


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