Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Mory Kante, R.I.P.

I know that AWAV is coming to look like an obituary page these days but when someone noteworthy passes away–worthy of note for me at least—I have to make mention of it. The latest is this great Guinean singer, who died today in Conakry at age 70 (not of Covid-19, though the pandemic’s travel restrictions did prevent him from traveling to France to seek treatment for a chronic condition). I was turned on to Mory Kante in the early ’90s by a friend, who made a play list cassette of his songs for me—for which I am eternally grateful to her—which I’ve listened to countless times—particularly in the car on trips (my wife is also a fan) plus at my wedding party. His best known hit was, of course, ‘Yé ké yé ké’. What a great, fantastic, totally excellent song!

I spent a week in Conakry in 2000. Great music scene there, with more music on the streets—from stores and cars—than other African cities I’ve visited.

Idir, R.I.P.

Idir in Algiers, 2018 (credit here)

He died yesterday, at age 70 (not of Covid-19). Lots of people in my social media network are posting on him today, invariably linking to his beloved 1973 ballad A vava inouva. He was one of Algeria’s greatest singers—a Kabyle Brassens or Aznavour, as the slam poet-chanteur GCM put it in Le Monde. Al Jazeera English has a report on Idir’s life here. France 24 has videos of his career and music here, and a YouTube ‘best of’ playlist is here. Beautiful songs.

Pandemic lockdown: week 6

Paris, Bd Montmartre (Grands Boulevards),
Tuesday April 21st, 2:30 PM

[update below]

Or is it week 7? Each week resembles the previous one, as it does the next, and will until the May 11th D-Day, when the confinement will end, so Emmanuel Macron solemnly announced to the nation on April 13th. Not that life will revert to the status quo ante, of course; with restaurants, cafés, and cinemas closed until further notice, and with the continued necessity of social distancing (so no dinner parties anytime soon), I personally will not be venturing into the city too often.

As it happens, I went into Paris this past Tuesday, for the first time since the confinement began on March 17th, to take my wife in the car to her place of work, in the heart of the city (2nd arrondissement), where she had to pick up some IT equipment for her telework at home. I normally never, ever drive into the center of Paris during the week, let alone in the mid-afternoon, what with traffic, the near impossibility of parking, and simply the convenience of public transportation. As the traffic was light, to say the least, the voyage door-to-door took half an hour (normally it would be two to three times that). Driving through the empty city on a weekday afternoon, with everything closed and hardly anyone walking about—and despite the beautiful weather: sunny in the 70s F/mid-20s C, which is what it’s been for much of the month—was eerie, borderline apocalyptic. It’s as if the city had been hit by a neutron bomb. I know that it is likewise most everywhere else in the world but Paris is my city and where I live. Here are some images, taken by my wife from the car.

Hôtel de Ville

Rue de Rivoli (at the Louvre)

Boulevard Montmarte

Bd des Italiens & Bd Haussmann

Place de la Bourse

Rue Saint-Antoine

Place de la Bastille

My overriding sentiment at the apocalyptic spectacle of the empty city was sadness mixed with dread fear—for the future and of everything: the world economy and the consequences of the pandemic for humanity, France, Europe, America, my family (in the US and here: e.g. my 26-year-old daughter recently started her first career-type job and which is a good one, with a small company whose business is heavily dependent on international mobility and a strong globalized economy), for my own self and personal finances…

My anxieties and fears are that of several billion other people, that’s for certain.

Like everyone, I read numerous articles daily on the pandemic and watch/listen to the usual news programs and talk shows (for me, French public radio and TV). I can barely stand to read savant and other pundit speculation about what will happen down the road, as it only adds to the anxiety, but do nonetheless. E.g. one bleak piece read this weekend, which is surely on target in its prognostications, is by Jonathan V. Last, executive editor of The Bulwark (a new mouthpiece for anti-Trump conservatives, mainly orphans of the defunct Weekly Standard), “We cannot ‘reopen’ America.” The lede: “No matter when government stay-at-home orders are revoked, the American economy will not reopen. Because the source of the economic shock is not government orders. It’s the pandemic.” Last focuses on just two probable consequences of the pandemic: on the city of Las Vegas and on movie theaters, the former entirely dependent on tourism—and of the kind for which social distancing is not possible—the latter with the narrowest of profit margins even in the best of times. In short, Las Vegas risks being wiped out, with all the social consequences for the people there. Vegas will be an extreme case but towns and cities—whole countries—the world over whose economies are so dependent on tourism—Paris and France among them—will find themselves in much the same boat. As for movie theaters, most of them in America will likely not survive the pandemic. Such will hopefully not be the case in France, as the state may be counted on to save them. Hopefully.

Another bleak piece read this weekend is Andrew Sullivan’s weekly column in New York magazine, “We can’t go on like this much longer.” Sullivan, who has already had experience with pandemics (HIV), is despairing for the future. He begins:

I began to lose it this week.

And concludes:

[Trump] is an incoherent, malevolent mess of a human being. I used to be disgusted by him. I am now incandescent with rage at him and the cult that enables his abuse of all of us.

And so we wait. Absent a pharmaceutical miracle, we are headed, if we keep this up [i.e. Trump’s leadership], toward both a collapse in the economy and an inevitable second wave that will further cull the population. Yes, I’m a catastrophist by nature. I hope and pray something intervenes to save us from this uniquely grim future. But I learned something from the AIDS years: Sometimes it is a catastrophe. And sometimes the only way past something is through it.

France is fortunate not to be led by a madman like Trump, though the failings of Macron and the French state have been considerable. More on that another time,

In the same vein as Jonathan Last and Andrew Sullivan, Politico’s John F. Harris has a not-too-optimistic commentary, “Stop looking on the bright side: We’ll be screwed by the pandemic for years to come.” The lede: “Unfortunately, the history of the past generation justifies pessimism about the next one.”

In an academic vein, the very smart Columbia University historian Adam Tooze has a lengthy essay in the April 16th issue of the LRB, “Shockwave,” in which he weighs in “on the pandemic’s consequences for the world economy.” His closing words:

The worst is just beginning.

Also in the April 16th LRB is the latest very smart essay by dear friend Adam Shatz, “Shipwrecked,” in which he discusses Covid-19 in America through the prism of Franco-Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf’s latest book, Le Naufrage des civilisations.

And in the vein of relevant contributions by dear friends, Human Rights Watch MENA division Deputy Director Eric Goldstein was interviewed on the HRW website (April 16th), “When health care is decimated by war: COVID-19 in the Middle East and North Africa.”

There is so much more to say.

La prochaine fois.

UPDATE: The morning after posting, I learned of the death to Covid-19 of Henri Weber (age 75), who was a major figure on the French left of the past five decades: in May ’68, then the Trotskyist LCR, before joining the PS in the 1980s and converting to social-democracy. I had the opportunity to speak with him on the phone in 2017—a mutual friend put me in touch—to seek his help in organizing a visit for one of my classes (American students) to PS HQ on Rue de Solférino. He was warm and friendly and made the visit happen. A good man (and with good politics). When the bookstores reopen for business, I’ll pick up a copy of his autobiography, Rebelle jeunesse. R.I.P.

Follow-up: Laurent Joffrin has a remembrance in Libération, “Henri Weber, cheville ouvrière de la social-démocratie.” And Thomas Legrand in his Édito politique on France Inter.

Jean-Noël Roy, R.I.P.

He’s the first person I know personally—the first friend, in effect—to die during the pandemic. He was 92-years-old, already unwell, and may or may not have come down with Covid-19. I’d known Jean-Noël since 1992, his wife, Marie, being one of my wife’s oldest friends, having thus met him soon after my then future wife and I started going out. We spent numerous weekends over the subsequent years/decades at Jean-Noël & Marie’s lovely home in a bucolic hamlet on the edge of the Rambouillet forest—in which we took many long walks, with Jean-Noël walking briskly ahead of everyone even into his 80s. And at the house he always enjoyed discussing politics and history with me, and talking about the latest books he had read (he was cultivated and continued his work as a documentary filmmaker almost to the end).

Jean-Noël’s son, François, has posted this faire-part on Facebook:

Jean-Noël Roy, né le 26 décembre 1927,

Mari, père, beau-père, grand-père et arrière grand-père d’une grande famille, composée, recomposée, adoptée, cooptée…

Il aimait formidablement les gens, la vie, la créativité, la fête, il était d’une grande générosité, c’était un esprit libre en perpétuelle rébellion contre toutes les formes d’injustices…

Auteur et réalisateur de télévision depuis 1954
Il a commencé sa vie dans le spectacle
au théâtre comme comédien.
Il est aussi scénariste, producteur de cinéma
et écrivain.

Il fait partie des premiers réalisateurs de la télévision française,
et choisit de travailler dans tous les genres
et selon toutes les techniques,
avec une préférence pour le direct,
pour transmettre instantanément au public,
toutes les transformations de la société et de la vie…

[Sa famille a] la tristesse de vous faire part de sa disparition, le 12 avril 2020.

Jean-Noël recounted a number of personal stories to me, which I have in turn regularly told to my American students in courses I’ve taught on France or European history over the years, most recently this semester. One of them was about his grandfather, Marcel Grateau, who invented and patented the Marcel hair curling iron. When Jean-Noël was a boy, his grandfather—shortly before his death in 1936—told him of having been an apprentice coiffeur in Paris during the Commune in 1871. During the Bloody Week, the infamous General Galliffet lined up dozens of men in Montmartre, Marcel among them, and ordered all to open the palms of their hands. Those whose hands were calloused, indicating that they were laboring men, were executed on the spot, so Marcel told his grandson, but his hands being soft, as he worked in a hair salon, he was spared.

Another story was in Paris during the German occupation, in 1941, when Jean-Noël was 13-years-old and in lycée (a bourgeois institution in those days). There was a Jewish boy in his class, whom several of his classmates started to taunt one day. Other boys in the class, including Jean-Noël, came to their Jewish camarade’s defense, with a brawl ensuing. I took his story to be a metaphor—and with Jean-Noël entirely agreeing with me—of the profound division—roughly down the middle—in French society at the time, between conservative, Catholic, anti-Semitic France—and pétainiste—and republican laïque France, which adhered to the universal values of the French revolution.

Another World War II story concerned the United States. In the two years preceding the D-Day landings, the Americans and British engaged in heavy aerial bombardment of France, striking industry, infrastructure, and other targets of possible military value to the Germans. But the Americans and Brits proceeded differently. When the British bombers raided, they flew low for greater accuracy, though at greater risk of being shot down by German anti-aircraft fire. As for the Americans, whose military doctrine has always privileged force protection, their bombers flew high, to stay out of range of German fire but sacrificing accuracy in the process. So to compensate, the payloads of US bombers were greater, i.e. they dropped a lot more bombs, with the inevitable “collateral damage.” The consequence of this was 67,000 French civilians killed by Allied aerial bombardment, largely American—with many more wounded, hundreds of thousands of housing units destroyed, large parts of cities reduced to rubble… Jean-Noël said that when people heard the Allied bombers, they could tell if they were American or British by how high they were flying, and when they were American, people were terrified. As it happens, Jean-Noël’s story was confirmed by an elderly woman from the Angers-Nantes area I met in 2002, who said precisely the same thing (and with these stories confirmed by historians).

One Jean-Noël story I liked was of his trip to Chicago in 1961, to do a report for French television of the delivery to United Airlines of the first of some twenty Caravelles, the short/medium range jet airliner it had ordered from Sud Aviation. The Caravelle was my favorite jet aircraft as a boy and into my teens. I flew it on Air France, Alitalia, Iberia, SAS, and Sterling Airways—and on United, in July 1967, from Cleveland to Milwaukee, my first plane ride all by myself (I was 11; there were only maybe two or three other passengers, so we were put in first class, where I was given a complementary pack of cigarettes…). United was the only American carrier to fly the Caravelle, though the bulk of its short/medium range jets were Boeing 727s (the workhorse jet of US and other carriers, along with the DC-9).

Given the rules of the pandemic confinement, only immediate family members will be allowed to attend Jean-Noël’s funeral. What a terrible time we’re living through.

Pandemic lockdown: week 1

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below]

We’re still in the first week of confinement here in the Hexagon, which went into effect on Tuesday at noon. One can still go out but only with this form issued by the Ministry of Interior (printed out or copied by hand), checking the box of one of five authorized reasons: to go to work (if you can’t telework from home, and with a certificate from your employer), go food shopping or to the pharmacy (and close to home), for health reasons (to see a doctor or veterinarian; we’ve already had to do the latter), for “imperative” family reasons (to aid elderly or infirm family members or take children to a sitter), or to engage in solitary physical activity close to home (or walk a dog). My wife and I are teleworking (me teaching my classes via the Moodle platform, to students who are now mainly back in the US), as is my daughter (now 26) and her bf in their small one-bedroom apartment in Paris. As I already had my own personal lockdown seven years back—not stepping outside for five weeks—this is not a new experience for me.

I’m not going to linger on my own situation or thoughts, as everyone is in the same boat and thinking largely the same things. As for my worries and fears—for the economy (local and global), family and friends, and my own situation and future (not rosy)—they are shared by several billion people across the planet (the news today says that one billion are presently on lockdown). This is the biggest black swan event of the lifetime of everyone reading this. However the pandemic plays out, it is a certainty that the world will not be the same afterward.

Speculating on what the post-pandemic world may look like, the very smart and always interesting intellectual and writer Pankaj Mishra had a must-read two-part column in Bloomberg Opinion earlier this week: “Get ready, a bigger disruption is coming: The Covid-19 pandemic reflects a systemic crisis akin to the seminal crashes of the 20th century” & “Coronavirus will revive an all-powerful state: Much maligned in recent years, big government will come back—and with it, the potential for both greater good and evil.” If one can’t open the links to Mishra’s important piece, please let me know and I’ll copy-and-paste the text in the comments thread below.

Historian Adam Tooze, who is equally very smart and always interesting, has an equally must-read op-ed in The Guardian, “Coronavirus has shattered the myth that the economy must come first.” The lede: “Since the 1990s, faith in ‘the market’ has gone unchallenged. Now even public shopping has become a crime against society.”

Journalist and Politico founding editor John F. Harris—who is also smart—had a good column the other day, which spoke in particular to the current generation of university students, “The pandemic is the end of Trumpism: For a rising generation, a crisis fueled by frightening science foreshadows the coming conflicts.”

In Politico also see the forum, “Coronavirus will change the world permanently. Here’s how.” The lede: “A crisis on this scale can reorder society in dramatic ways, for better or worse. Here are 34 big thinkers’ predictions for what’s to come.”

Shifting gears to the here and now, one has perhaps read about the 180° flip this past week of Trump State Television, a.k.a. Fox News, in its coverage of the coronavirus (watch here). As to the chutzpah of Fox’s propagandists, of them doing this 180° with straight faces, David Frum, in his latest column in The Atlantic, drew an apt historical parallel with the American Communist party (and other Comintern affiliates) during the Stalin era changing the party line 180° from one day to the next on WWII following the June 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union (and, prior to that, in 1935 with the call to form anti-fascist ‘popular fronts’ with social democratic parties—heretofore tarred as “social fascists”—and in August 1939 with the proclamation of neutrality toward Nazi Germany following the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact). Moscow-line CPs never felt it necessary to explain, or even acknowledge, their revirements, let alone apologize for their past positions. The party line had changed and that was that. Likewise in Trump World.

Haaretz’s excellent US editor Chemi Shalev, in an analysis of Benjamin Netanyahu’s brazen power grab presently underway, speculated on the possible action of Bibi’s American alter ego, “Americans beware: Trump could emulate Netanyahu’s coronavirus coup.” The lede: “The United States is facing greater coronavirus upheavals than Israel, led by a president who has less respect for democracy and the rule of law.” Money quote:

But even if someone other than Trump was president, and he or she had not wasted precious weeks preparing for the coronavirus onslaught, the United States would still be facing an uphill battle, compared to Israel, in containing the plague. It is an immeasurably larger country with a far more dispersed and diverse population. Its public health system is a sham and a shame.

And unlike Israeli society, which can be described as permanently mobilized and has experienced national mobilization and country-wide lockdowns in its recent past – weathering Iraqi missiles with no response in the 1991 Gulf War comes to mind – Americans have never experienced such a direct threat to their homeland, not even in World War II. And while Israelis may grumble about their government, they see no alternative. Millions of Americans, on the other hand, truly view the federal authorities as their enemy.

It was enough to hear a Washington Times columnist on Fox News last week praising a coronavirus-inspired rush on guns and ammunition in Midwestern states as a “healthy sign” to realize that while it is Israelis who are seen as unruly and undisciplined, parts of the United States may simply be unmanageable. Corona is bound to come knocking at their door.

Given these two factors – a leader who rejects any check on his presidential authority and a coronavirus crisis that could soon grow out of control – Americans should beware a Trump who decides to emulate Netanyahu. The U.S. president, who now fancies himself a “Wartime President” with all the emergency powers that accompany the title, will go farther and more radical than Netanyahu would ever dare. But if the Israeli prime minister’s flirtation with tyranny inspires Trump, the battle to maintain American democracy and rule of law will be far fiercer than anything Israel is set to experience.

Scary.

Everyone is aware of the labeling of the coronavirus by the Trump regime and its propaganda organs as the “Chinese virus.” Not to diminish or relativize this blatant racism and xenophobia, but one must not ignore the responsibility of the Chinese regime in the coronavirus becoming a global pandemic, as Brookings Institution senior fellow Shadi Hamid writes in The Atlantic, “China is avoiding blame by trolling the world: Beijing is successfully dodging culpability for its role in spreading the coronavirus.”

I’ll write next time about the French state and the pandemic. In the meantime, I recommend the blog of Parisian Claire Berlinski, who lives in the heart of the city and is in lockdown comme tout le monde.

UPDATE: Yuval Noah Harari—whose Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind everyone has read—has a ‘long read’ essay in the FT on “the world after coronavirus” that everyone needs to read. The lede: “This storm will pass. But the choices we make now could change our lives for years to come.” Money quote:

In this time of crisis, we face two particularly important choices. The first is between totalitarian surveillance and citizen empowerment. The second is between nationalist isolation and global solidarity.

 

2nd UPDATE: Sofia-based political scientist Ivan Krastev—who is always worth reading—has a worthwhile essay in the New Statesman, “The seven early lessons of the global coronavirus crisis: Governments will eventually be forced to choose between containing the spread of the pandemic at the cost of destroying the economy, or tolerating a higher human cost to save the economy.”

3rd UPDATE: The Foreign Affairs website has several articles that should be read, one by the well-known economist Branko Milanovic, “The real pandemic danger is social collapse: As the global economy comes apart, societies may, too.”

Another is MIT economist Daron Acemoglu’s “The coronavirus exposed America’s authoritarian turn: Independent expertise always dies first when democracy recedes.”

4th UPDATE: Naomi Klein—whom I have not been a fan of—has a very good 27-minute video in which she “[m]akes the case for transformative change amid [the] coronavirus pandemic.”

USA: failed state

Seoul (credit here)

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below] [5th update below]

It’s not yet but is on the way—and will definitely become one in the unthinkable event that the orange-haired idiot manages to steal the November election and/or his political party keeps control of the Senate and tightens its grip on the federal judiciary. I fortunately live in a robust state, which, one may be sure, will never fail. Last night Emmanuel Macron addressed the French nation—watched by 25 million (over half the adult population)—his first since the pandemic began. He spoke for 26 minutes, which was twice as long as he needed to (a common affliction of French people, particularly highly educated male ones), but was good and reassuring. Frenchmen and women know that their government is 100% mobilized over the crisis and is acting calmly and professionally.

As for the United States, it is, of course, another matter altogether. On this, please read Julia Ioffe in GQ “on how hollowing out the government has endangered America”: “Trump voters wanted to blow up the system. Well, here we go.”

When you finish that, go to the brilliant essay in New York magazine by David Wallace-Wells, “Coronavirus shows us America is broken.” This one is a must.

If Wallace-Wells somehow doesn’t convince, please meditate on the post in Digby’s Hullabaloo blog, “The CDC Director is a hard core wingnut Trumpie.”

The USA may not yet be a failed state but it is definitely becoming a banana republic.

And à propos of banana republics, when you have 37 minutes to spare, watch the documentary released by Brave New Films last September, “Suppressed: The Fight to Vote,” on how the fascistic Republican Brian Kemp successfully suppressed hundreds of thousands of votes in the 2018 election in his bid to become governor of Georgia. Voter suppression is, it should be said, an old story in the United States, practiced in the present era—and the US here is alone among advanced democracies—exclusively by the Republican Party and in many states it controls—and without which it would lose many of those states.

On Trump stealing the election (see above), this is how it will happen.

Banana republic, like I said.

UPDATE: Continuing in the above vein, see the piece by The New Republic’s excellent staff writer Alex Pareene, “The dismantled state takes on a pandemic.” The lede: “Conservatives won their war on Big Government. Their prize is a pandemic.”

Also check out the analysis by Aleem Maqbool on the BBC website, “Coronavirus: Why systemic problems leave the US at risk.” The lede: “As the coronavirus spreads across the US, tens of millions of Americans may not seek medical help either because they are uninsured or undocumented. That puts everyone in society at greater risk.”

2nd UPDATE: On the tightening Republican grip on the federal judiciary, The New York Times has an important investigative report (March 14th) by reporters Rebecca R. Ruiz, Robert Gebeloff, Steve Eder, and Ben Protess, “A conservative agenda unleashed on the federal courts.” The lede: “President Trump’s imprint on the nation’s appeals courts has been swift and historic. He has named judges with records on a range of issues important to Republicans — and to his re-election.”

Also see Dahlia Lithwick’s column (March 13th) in Slate, “Former judge resigns from the Supreme Court Bar: In a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts, he detailed why he’s lost faith in the court.”

3rd UPDATE: Slate editor and writer Dan Kois has a gratifying slash-and-burn piece (March 14th) asserting that “America is a sham,” in which he details how “[a]ll over America, the coronavirus is revealing, or at least reminding us, just how much of contemporary American life is bullshit”…

4th UPDATE: Anne Applebaum—who leans to the center-right—has a powerful essay in The Atlantic (March 15th) on how “The coronavirus called America’s bluff: Like Japan in the mid-1800s, the United States now faces a crisis that disproves everything the country believes about itself.”

5th UPDATE: Following in Anne Applebaum’s vein, see Never Trumper ex-Republican Max Boot’s column (March 18th) in The Washington Post, “The coronavirus shows how backward the United States has become.”

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below] [5th update below] [6th update below] [7th update below]

This is my first post on the US presidential race in four months, which in no way signifies that I have not been following it. Au contraire, I have been riveted to the campaign—borderline obsessed—exchanging views on it regularly with friends and others via email and social media. I watched the first eight debates in full (en différé; catching the highlights of the last two) and have intended to offer my 2¢ on the race at a number of points, but it’s perhaps just as well that I didn’t, as whatever I would have had to say would have been obsolete within a week and with me possibly changing my mind as well.

One thing I did not change my mind on, even momentarily, was Elizabeth Warren, whom I supported 100% from the outset. I am deeply saddened by the failure of her candidacy and early exit, which just seems so unfair, as she has been without question the most impressive candidate of the lot (a case well made by Michelle Golberg and Ezra Klein)—and ever more so after other impressive ones (notably Kamala Harris and Cory Booker) quit the race—with the best, most thoroughly thought-out policy positions and an impeccable discourse on combating corruption in the deeply corrupt American system and tackling inequality. She was also clearly the candidate who could best bridge the gap between the moderate and progressive lanes of the Democratic Party. She’s a great communicator in addition and is, quite simply, a good person—and in this, the utter, total antithesis of the unspeakable current president of the United States.

As to why Warren’s candidacy failed, she did commit errors, e.g. getting tangled up in questions over the financing of Medicare-for-All and not specifying from the outset that this was a long-term objective—to be realized by the end of her second term—not a policy goal that could be imposed by executive fiat the day she took office. She also probably talked too much about transgender issues. And calling for a ban on fracking was not wise, as this would win her no swing votes in November but could create complications in key swing states. The media’s erasure of her after the Iowa caucuses was real (I noted it almost right away). And despite her compelling personal story, of growing up in a lower middle class family in Oklahoma, her image as the candidate of the “wine track”—of educated liberals, i.e. people like myself and the great majority of Americans with whom I interact (a mere slice of the electorate)—got locked in.

And then there was sexism/gender, which was incontestably a factor, discussed in numerous articles, notably Caroline Fraser’s in the NYRB, ‘Warren in the trap,’ though the issue needs to be nuanced. The notion that Americans are somehow not ready to elect a woman as POTUS, which I have come across countless times on social media, but also in my US entourage, exasperated to no end, as not only is it so utterly wrong but is, moreover, complete bullshit. Insofar as this matter needed to be laid to rest, it was in the 2016 election, when the otherwise unpopular Hillary Clinton—the lightening rod of so much antipathy on both the right and left—nonetheless won 48.2% of the national popular vote—2.1% more than her opponent—only losing the Electoral College in a freak accident foreseen by almost no one and following an October Surprise (the Comey letter) that, according to polls, cost her 2% of the overall national vote. Case closed. Had Mme Clinton’s campaign not ignored Michigan and Wisconsin and/or had the Comey letter never been sent, she would have won the election and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. As for Warren, many Democratic voters who were otherwise fine with her assumed nonetheless, for some incomprehensible reason, that other people—whom they did not know and based on no evidence—would not vote for her precisely because she was a women, so that Warren was ergo not “electable.” This crazy reasoning clearly undermined her candidacy.

Quoting Michelle Cottle in the NYT:

Last summer, a poll on perceived electability by Avalanche Strategies found that gender appeared to be a bigger issue than “age, race, ideology, or sexual orientation.” When voters were asked whom they’d pick if the primaries were held today, Mr. Biden came out ahead. When asked whom they would make president with the wave of a magic wand, without the candidate needing to win an election, voters went with Ms. Warren. Women were more likely than men to cite gender as a concern.

Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight lamented that such anxiety can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. “So there are a lot of women who might not vote for a woman because they’re worried that other voters won’t vote for her. But if everyone just voted for who they actually wanted to be president, the woman would win!”

On Elizabeth Warren making a great president—which she certainly would—the ultra-rightist polemical bomb-thrower Ann Coulter paid her this back-handed compliment:

We’ll never know, alas.

BTW, the entire Democratic Party owes Elizabeth Warren a big thank you for her demolition of the billionaire ersatz Democrat and troll Michael Bloomberg in the Las Vegas and Charleston debates, which effectively put paid to his attempt to buy the party’s nomination. Had Warren not done to Bloomberg what she did—had his candidacy thereby gained traction and eclipsed Joe Biden’s—the Democrats would have faced near certain disaster in Milwaukee in July, not to mention nationwide in November. Democratic officials who endorsed Bloomberg should hang their heads in shame.

Here’s an article just up in The New Yorker by Benjamin Wallace-Wells, “Elizabeth Warren’s American leadership.”

On the two candidates left standing—who would have ever thought this even a week ago?—The Nation’s Joan Walsh has this to say:

This has been my sentiment from the very beginning, of being dismayed by and opposed to the late septuagenarians Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden running for the presidency at their age—and crowding out the rest of what was a very good field. As I have said countless times, it is simply not reasonable for a man in his late 70s to be doing this. But alas, that’s where we are.

On Bernie, who barely a week ago looked to be the prohibitive favorite for the nomination, vanquishing the fragmented moderate lane and leaving Warren in the dust, I have been deeply conflicted. On domestic policy and most foreign, I have practically no differences with Bernie. He can give a speech and I will agree with every last word of it. His values and objectives are mine. As to qualms about “electability,” I have been more-or-less persuaded—or tried to persuade myself—by data-backed analyses positing that negative partisanship has become so determinant in US elections, and there are now so few swing voters left, that Democratic Party voters will turn out for their candidate against Trump regardless of his or her identity, including for Bernie. “Vote blue no matter who.” Much has been written on this, the latest in TNR by the very smart number-crunching political scientist Rachel Bitecofer (profiled in Politico), “Hate is on the ballot: The hidden dynamic that’s transformed our politics—and will loom large in the 2020 election.” And Matthew Yglesias made a strong argument on how “Bernie Sanders [could] unify Democrats and beat Trump.” Supporting this have been Bernie’s consistently robust head-to-head poll numbers against Trump (more so than any other candidate save Biden). So not to worry about Bernie Sanders in November.

But still. Strong polling in the winter does not necessarily carry into the fall. And while 90+% of Democratic voters—spearheaded by the army of enthusiastic millennials and Gen Zers—will certainly turn out for Bernie to beat Trump, it is legitimate to fear that at least some of the moderate Republicans (notably suburban women) who defected to Hilllary Clinton in 2016—and voted Democrat in the 2018 midterms, enabling the party to take back the House—would not bring themselves to vote for the “socialist” Sanders, that they would abstain or even go for Trump. To the retort that such a fall-off would be compensated by increased turnout of young voters—and the fervent support for Bernie by millennials and Gen Zers is impressive indeed—political scientists David Broockman (UC-Berkeley) and Joshua Kalla (Yale) threw cold water on this contention in a widely-read piece in Vox dated Feb. 25th, “Bernie Sanders looks electable in surveys—but it could be a mirage: New research suggests Sanders would drive swing voters to Trump—and need a youth turnout miracle to compensate.” The upshot: Bernie’s strong poll numbers have been predicated on a level of youth turnout that has, in fact, never materialized. Not that it couldn’t but a campaign is taking a big risk in banking its election prospects on this happening. And we are in fact witnessing a lower youth turnout compared to older cohorts in the primaries and caucuses so far; the young people have not been showing up at the polls for Bernie in the numbers announced (Seth Ackerman, the executive editor of the Uber-gauchiste Jacobin webzine, has posted a frantic, 4,000-word response to the Brookman-Kalla paper, which he calls “bunk” and “nonsense,” but that I had a hard time following, abandoning it around the 2,000-word mark).

On Bernie’s political baggage from the 1970s and ’80s—e.g. support for the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (whose candidate—disclosure—I voted for in the 1976 presidential election), honeymooning in the Soviet Union during the Gorbachev era, drunkenly singing Woody Guthrie songs while cruising down the Volga, etc—this is no big deal IMO. Only a few ageing boomers care about who said or did what during the Cold War—and it’s pretty unlikely that anyone’s vote would be swung on this. As for Bernie’s extolling Cuba’s 1960s literacy program, pundits and others decreed that he had, in one fell swoop, ceded Florida’s 29 electoral votes. Perhaps, though, in point of fact, Florida is going to be a hard state for the Democrats in any case, with all the well-to-do Republican-voting retirees moving there and massive voter suppression targeting Democratic-leaning minorities. While Bernie did take care to call the Cuban regime “authoritarian”—no, it’s more than that: totalitarian is more like it—his finding positive aspects in it was still highly problematic, pointing to a blindness on the American left—and particularly the boomers among them—on the subject of left-wing Latin American regimes. While not too many still support the Cuban Communists outright, there’s still a lot of apologizing for that indefensible regime—of blaming the state of Cuba’s economy on the US embargo, which is utter BS—or simply withdrawing into silence when the matter is raised. For US lefties—and Bernie for much of his adult life—US imperialism was/is the enemy, so any regime in its cross hairs couldn’t be entirely bad. But in fact, there is nothing in the Cuban Revolution to defend (and please don’t tell me about the health care system or literacy, which (a) we don’t have the full story on and (b) do not require dictatorships to achieve positive results). It has been a disaster from A to Z (if one would like an elaboration on this, go to the ‘Americas’ category on the sidebar, click, and scroll). It is likewise with Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua (a cause célèbre of the US left in the 1980s, and which included myself). And don’t even talk about Venezuela.

As Masha Gessen wrote in The New Yorker, “Here’s what Bernie Sanders should have said about socialism and totalitarianism in Cuba.”

So Bernie’s words on Cuba were an unforced error on his part. As with Elizabeth Warren on fracking, they will win him not a single vote but create needless problems for his eventual general election prospects.

This points to a big qualm I and others have about Bernie, which is his ideological rigidity and overall persona. Situating him on the French political spectrum, he would be a frondeur Socialist of the 2014-17 era, a rough equivalent of Benoît Hamon (my candidate in the 1st round of the 2017 election). But he has just a little bit of Jean-Luc Mélenchon in his personal style, which is a problem, as JLM is—and this is an objective fact—one of the most detestable, insufferable personalities in the French political class. Now I don’t want to push the comparison too far—I would never say that Bernie is detestable or insufferable—but quite a few Democratic voters—if my Twitter feed is anything to go by—do seem to feel this way. As Paul Krugman tweeted the other day:

Bernie’s big problem isn’t that he’s a progressive; it’s that he’s a progressive with an attitude: calling himself a socialist when he isn’t, denouncing anyone who raises questions as a corporate tool. This thrills his followers, but scares off key constituencies.

While Bernie has gotten along fine over the years with his colleagues in Congress and is capable of some political flexibility, he strikes one as a “my way or the highway” politician (as is JLM), not a big tent compromiser (thus his attacks on the despised Democratic “establishment”). And as Krugman observed, this has indeed put off many Democratic Party primary voters—including more than a few Warren supporters—witnessed by the surge to Biden on Tuesday.

And the problem here goes well beyond Bernie. It’s also his hardcore fanaticized base: the famous Bernie Bros; his massive Twitter army of young white male punks. Unlike the candidate, these white male punks are indeed detestable and insufferable, and are causing important prejudice to their champion. Many, many Democratic voters, including older progressives, cannot stand them.

The bottom line is that in order to win in November, the Democratic Party—indeed any party—must be united behind its candidate. If the Dems come out of Milwaukee divided or with a lot of bad feelings, they will definitely lose in November to a Trump whose party is 100% devoted to him. If Bernie were to somehow win the nomination and unite the party—which, pour mémoire, he still declines to call himself a member of—for the general election campaign, he would stand a good chance of winning. But that simply does not look likely in view of the resistance to him by a large portion of the party’s base—the majority of which remains in the moderate lane—not to mention by the party’s elected officials—and with many congresspersons up for reelection likely distancing themselves from his ticket, which would not help anyone win. In this respect, there is no comparison with Trump and the Republican Party in 2016, whose base quickly became Trump’s and with elected Rs falling into line (and whom Trump has cultivated and flattered behind the scenes, and giving them everything they wanted policy-wise while he’s been at it). This is not in the offing with Bernie and the Democratic Party.

Another bottom line: the American left is simply not ready to come to power. If Bernie were to win the White House, he would, as Ann Coulter said above, not get anything done. Even in the event (unlikely) that the Dems were to take back the Senate with him heading the ticket, a President Sanders would not be able to get much of his legislation through Congress. With Mitch McConnell at the helm, he would get nothing through. Disillusionment would set in, the Dems would likely be routed in the 2022 midterms, and with Bernie, in view of his age, a probable lame duck from the get-go. A Sanders administration would almost certainly not work out. If the left is to come to power, it needs to build up from the bottom, to take state legislatures and dramatically increase its representation in Congress. In other words, the left has to do what the movement conservatives did in the Republican Party over the past five decades—taking over one GOP state organization after another and finally conquering the national party, as they did with the Tea Party in 2010, and crowned with the ‘divine surprise’ of 2016.

Bernie Sanders is a historical figure, as Michael Tomasky justly put it, who has almost single-handedly pulled the Democratic Party to the left over the past four years. But if the left is to win the White House, it will be with one of his protégés, not him. #AOCin2032.

On Sleepy Joe Biden: I won’t say much about him here, as, barring unforeseen rebondissements or some stunning coup de théâtre, he is going to be the Democratic Party nominee (FWIW, Nate Silver today rates this an 88% probability)—and can all but seal the deal with a win in Michigan next week—so there will be ample occasion to do so down the line. Just a few points.

First, Biden is, as we all know, carrying a lot of baggage from his five decades in Washington, e.g. opposing busing in the 1970s and palling around with segregationist senators, Anita Hill, the Iraq war, calling for cuts to Social Security, to name just a few. Having recently seen the movie Dark Waters, I shuddered imagining the heavy-lifting Biden must have done in the Senate—and perhaps even as V-P—in favor of DuPont. But none of this matters today. It’s water under the bridge. Nothing that Biden did in past decades as Senator from Delaware will inform what he does as president of the United States in the third decade of the 21st century. In short, Biden’s record as a politician in the political distant past will be irrelevant in the 2020 election against Donald Trump.

Second, it is now commonplace to observe that Biden’s positions today are well to the left of Obama’s in 2008 or 2012. He’s a professional politician—i.e. malleable and opportunistic—generically liberal, and will go with the flow of his party. If the gravity of the Democratic Party is on the center-left—which is further to the left than what it was ten years ago, not to mention twenty or thirty—then that’s where Biden will be. On this, please read the commentary by the right-leaning Peter Suderman in the libertarian, not progressive website Reason, “Joe Biden is no moderate: [He] is a classic big-government liberal.” Sounds good to me.

Third, Biden, given his age, will be a transitional figure, a placeholder for whomever the Gen Yers and millennials put forth after him. One may assume that, in the White House, his staff, along with the Democrats in Congress, will play a central role in formulating policy. On this, journalist and IR policy intellectual David Rothkopf had an interesting tweet storm the other day, which begins:

As you who follow me know, I was not a @JoeBiden supporter at the outset. I have been energized and inspired by @kamalaharris and @ewarren since the beginning of the campaign. But with the inevitability of @joebiden as the candidate now clear, I’d like to share a brief anecdote.

Biden is surrounded by excellent advisors, some of the very best and the brightest in Washington. I’ve spoken to several of them over the past few months and their commitment to him and their reasons for supporting him have been quite thought provoking and persuasive.

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with @RonKlain, a close Biden aide, formerly his chief of staff, and one of those folks in DC whose views I value above most others. He described that he too, like me, shares some deeply held progressive beliefs.

He underscored that Biden shared many of them too. But then he explained that in his very sensible view, advancing those beliefs began with defeating Donald Trump. You have to protect our system and defeat the enemies of serving the people as job one.

To read the rest, go here.

Fourth, I have been insisting from the very beginning that the Dem ticket will need to have a woman and Afro-American. No need to explain why car ça va de soi, i.e it goes without saying. With Biden the nigh inevitable nominee, his running mate will thus need to be an Afro-American woman. The name that automatically rolls off everyone’s lips is Stacey Abrams. Sure. Why not? She does, however, seem to be situated in the moderate lane of the party, so it would be more politic of Biden to choose a high-profile progressive, and who could energize Bernie’s disappointed supporters. My candidate, whose name I have been touting to no one in particular over the past couple of weeks: Ayanna Pressley, a Bernie-compatible Warren supporter and bona fide member of ‘the Squad’. Any objections?

Fifth, the Democratic Party will be united behind Biden. Sanders supporters will faire la gueule, i.e. sulk, but they’ll turn out and vote for him in sufficient numbers to eject Trump. Of course they will.

Sixth, Biden is not an antipathetic person. No one despises him. As The Washington Post’s humor columnist Alexandra Petri reminded everyone, “Joe Biden is fine!”

Seventh, the big concern with Biden is cognitive decline. As everyone has observed, he shows signs of not being all there. But then, that’s an even bigger concern with his opponent. God save America (and the world).

A couple of comments on the other candidates who dropped out this week, both of whom have brilliant political futures.

Pete Buttigieg: I am relieved that it was Biden and not him, as he was reminding me a little too much of Emmanuel Macron, which is not a compliment. In the future he will be well-advised to move away from neoliberalism, of advocating reducing budget deficits and the public debt.

Amy Klobuchar: After her brilliant performance in the New Hampshire debate, I declared to friends in an email loop that she would have my vote if Warren left the race, to which a friend replied with a reminder of her numerous non-progressive positions. Better that she stay in the Senate.

À suivre.

UPDATE: For the record, the best analyses I’ve seen of Super Tuesday and Bernie Sanders’ counter-performance are the excellent Eric Levitz’s in New York magazine, “Bernie’s revolution failed. But his movement can still win,” and Ron Brownstein’s in The Atlantic, “Bernie Sanders gets a rude awakening.” The lede: “Super Tuesday’s clearest message: While the senator has inspired a passionate depth of support, the breadth of his coalition remains too limited to win the nomination.” This latter observation is central: Bernie’s left-wing base is simply too narrow to underpin a governing Democratic majority. Numerically-speaking, it comes nowhere close to the third of the American electorate that fanatically supports Trump.

Well worth the read is Esquire’s invariably spot-on Charles P. Pierce, “Elizabeth Warren was more of a threat to the money power than Bernie Sanders.” The lede: “This is not a country that is ready for what she called, endlessly, ‘big, structural change.’ This is a country fearful of any kind of change at all.”

2nd UPDATE: A smart political science friend with whom I exchange views on US politics (and we invariably agree) had this social media comment on my post (which he otherwise thought a “great analysis!”):

One small disagreement: While I like your possible VP picks, and I agree that a woman of color would be best for a number of reasons, I think that Kamala Harris would be a great pick, and one Biden is apt to feel more comfortable with. I think he will want to address concerns about his age and mental and physical health by picking someone with the experience to allow her to “do the job right away.” And if party unity becomes a problem (God, I hope you’re right about that) I think Biden would feel pressure to pick Warren.

Yes, I entirely agree on Harris, who would be a great pick. Some lefties would whine and kvetch—bringing up her record as San Francisco DA (which is completely irrelevant)—but it wouldn’t sink the ticket.

As for Warren, I think she’d be better and more effective staying in the Senate, particularly if the Dems take it back. Attorney General with carte blanche would also be a good place for her.

3rd UPDATE: Another point on the Elizabeth Warren/sexism thing that I neglected to mention above. We all know that women in politics—and particularly the ambitious ones—are raked over the coals and subjected to double standards and negative stereotypes in a way that men are not. This is the case *everywhere*. But it has not prevented women from being elected to the highest executive office (president or prime minister) in all sorts of countries and on all continents. There is no reason why it should not be likewise in the United States, whose society is, until proof to the contrary, no more sexist than, e.g., Argentina, Chile, Great Britain, Germany, Slovakia, Liberia, Sri Lanka, Burma, New Zealand, etc. etc.

4th UPDATE: Here’s a corrective by Nancy LeTourneau in the Washington Monthly (Mar. 6th) on “The disinformation campaign being launched against Biden,” for which “[t]here is no data to support the allegation that he is in cognitive decline.”

5th UPDATE: The NYT’s Sabrina Tavernise has a must-read piece (Mar. 7th): “A Sanders voter, weary of debt at 29: ‘I have nothing to lose’.” The lede: “Brian Michelz has never worn a political T-shirt or been to a campaign rally. But when he voted for the first time in his life, it was for Bernie Sanders. What will he do if Mr. Sanders loses?”

6th UPDATE: Robert Reich explains in The Guardian (Mar. 8th) that “Older people who feel unsafe seek the familiar. That’s why they’re flocking to Biden.”

7th UPDATE: Economists Erica Groshen and Harry J. Holzer have a useful op-ed (Mar. 4th) on the Brookings Institution website on “Bernie’s populism – and what it says about the job market.”

David Corn of Mother Jones had an excellent next-day Super Tuesday post-mortem that I had missed, “Sanders said it takes a revolution to beat Trump. On Super Tuesday, most Democrats disagreed.”

%d bloggers like this: