Summer in New York means outdoor theatre: lots of it, in parks, on street corners and at deserted petrol stations. It's one of the city's seasonal features. I was surprised, however, to see that politics too had been transformed into the theatre of the absurd.
So it seemed to me, having a foot on both sides of the Atlantic (which in itself can be an absurd form of mental gymnastics). We have witnessed over the past weeks a tale of two presidents and their temper tantrums. The props: war, oil, clenched jaws and tearful eyes. The question looming over everything: just how much emotion is acceptable in politics?
The ancient Stoics proclaimed that there should be a balance in everything to do with public life, believing strong emotions to be the result of errors of judgment. Whether or not it's to do with the common pet hate of our time — "new technologies creating ever shorter attention spans" — these days the opposite seems to be required. The ability to show emotion, a human, personal reaction when faced with a crisis, the capacity to convey an individual connection ("I'm with you") while maintaining the level-headed equilibrium expected from a leader ("I know the way out of this mess").
The trouble is that you can't have it both ways without turning into a caricature, as recent political turmoil has shown in two of the world's largest economies, Germany and America.
Germany, not usually known for its entertaining politics, delivered the most ridiculous resignation imaginable from a country's highest office. With the drooping mouth and tight lips of a child who is about to burst into tears or explode in anger, President Horst Köhler resigned in May. The position is exalted but largely decorative: you can be held to account for little, but you have a grand palace in the middle of Berlin. It's probably as close to Princess Diana as a German official can get: glamorous and influential, but primarily involved with those softer humanitarian issues which require a pair of doe-eyes. Maybe it was a Teutonic take on the role of the diva when Köhler, a member of the ruling CDU party, resigned — with no backing from Chancellor Angela Merkel, and on the peculiar grounds that the German media showed too little respect for his office.