Via Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything podcast, here’s the most entertaining interview you’ll hear today. It’s with Josh Glenn, a semiotician and editor of the culture website Hilobrow, who introduces us to the 1981 British spy novel, The Twentieth Day of January, by Ted Allbeury. Just in time for Donald Trump’s takeover of the USA.
A few excerpts:
Glenn: The plot is ridiculous. A Republican — Logan Powell — has just been elected president. This guy has never been in politics before, but he beats a crowded field of experienced politicians to become first a senator, then president. He’s from a wealthy East Coast family, but he sells himself as a populist. And his big idea is — he wants the US and Russia to be friends. And despite opposition from within his own party, this guy wins the election.
Walker: This is kind of a weirdly prescient novel!
Glenn: I’m just getting started! With only a month to go before the inauguration — on the 20th day of January — an officer in Britain’s intelligence service (!) who’d spent years under diplomatic cover working for the agency, MI6, in Russia and Paris and London, gets wind of a plot by the Kremlin to influence the US election.
Glenn: The FBI is too political and can’t be trusted with this intel. So the CIA get involved. But they’re reluctant to investigate — because they don’t want to meddle in the electoral process. And because this guy is about to be their boss. It turns out that nobody, not even the Democrats, wants to reveal the truth about this guy’s ties to Russia. They don’t even want to know the truth.
Walker: So you’re saying this predicts, like, how the Russians would get their — I guess, in this case — commie stooge elected?
Glenn: No, no. He’s a capitalist. But he’s also a narcissist who desperately wants power and recognition. So he keeps dancing to Moscow’s tune, because he knows he can’t win without them. Besides, the KGB has the goods on him, thanks to the art of kompromat, which — as we all now know — means the collection of compromising material as a source of leverage.
Walker: Oh my God.
Glenn: Yeah. Old-school Soviet sexual blackmail. They have photos of our man with a prostitute.
Then it gets weirder still. According to Glenn, it’s said to be Trump’s favorite spy novel.
Your time investment? Just under 20 minutes.
The BBC also has a brief report which includes archive interviews with Allbeury and an interview with daughter.