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[update below]

What a way to ring in the new decade. I’ve been reading about the Qasem Soleimani assassination for a good part of the day, plus discussing it with dear friend Adam Shatz, who has an instant commentary up on the LRB website, “Trump declares war.” Soleimani was certainly a “bad guy”—in a world where bad guys are a dime a dozen—but terminating him with extreme prejudice was a colossally stupid thing to do and for a number of reasons. E.g. one reads in a must-read portrait of Soleimani in The Daily Beast, dated August 7, 2018, by the well-known Middle East correspondant Borzou Daragahi, “Is the Iranian general taunting Trump on a U.S. hit list?”:

Many described the idea of targeting Suleimani as counterproductive, entailing untold risks without any guaranteed benefits. In 2008, Suleimani, famously approached then U.S. General David Petraeus to inform him that he was the guy who could stop the rocket attacks hitting U.S. bases in Iraq. Since then the U.S. has managed to communicate indirectly with Suleimani through Iraq’s Kurds and other officials. The senior Obama administration national security official said the U.S. contemplated directly reaching out to Suleimani to ask him to rein in militias bombing American troops as they were attempting to withdraw from the country in 2011.

In the pantheon of rogues, troublemakers and warlords playing the Middle East’s games of infiltration and subterfuge, Suleimani’s a guy you can at least talk to.

Andrew Exum, who was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East policy in the Obama administration, writes in The Atlantic that Soleimani was Iran’s “indispensable man,” thus irreplaceable. I’m dubious that anyone in a large organization is indispensable and, as Daniel W. Drezner reminds us, ‘[s]tandard international relations theory suggests that decapitating a key leader would not fundamentally affect that state’s capacity to act.” And political science MENA specialist Marc Lynch tersely tweeted, “The graveyards are full of indispensable men.” Borzou Daragahi continues:

“There’s a verified public history of the U.S. making outreach efforts,” said a former CIA official who served in Iraq and worked on Iran. “[Suleimani is] still an asshole. But we know his mentality. We know him. It’s not a secret what he does.”

There’s another consideration. Some former officials liken Suleimani to a sort of Ho Chi Minh, overseeing a cabal of brasher, bolder and more ruthless young men eager for action and recognition. Get rid of Hajj Qasem, as he is known by his supporters in the Shiite world, and power might pass into the hands of a more reckless young tough eager to make a name for himself. ”If there’s a younger, more ruthless generation waiting in the wings, I’d rather stick to granddad,” said the former CIA official.

N.B. The Israelis have had plenty of experience assassinating top bad guys in Hizbullah and Hamas, with both now stronger than ever.

If one missed it at the time, Dexter Filkins had a lengthy portrait of Soleimani, “The shadow commander,” in the September 30, 2013, issue of The New Yorker.

Gary Sick has a particularly excellent analysis, “Trump lit a fire by exiting the Iran deal & poured gasoline on it by assassinating Soleimani,” posted on the Responsible Statecraft blog.

Also see the irate post by The Intercept’s Mehdi Hasan, “Four years ago, Trump had no clue who Iran’s Suleimani was. Now, he may have kicked off WWIII.” Money quote:

This is not a column, however, about the consequences of the United States government assassinating the second-most powerful man in Iran… Rather, this is a column that allows me to express my ongoing astonishment that Donald Trump is president of the United States; my ongoing bewilderment with a world in which an unhinged, know-nothing former reality TV star and property developer, with zero background in foreign affairs or national security, may have just kicked off World War III. (From his golf course, no less.)

Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment has a tweet storm on Soleimani (here) that is worth reading. Likewise with Politico Europe’s Rym Momtaz (here). Both are dubious that we’re looking at WWIII.

Suzanne Maloney of the Brookings Institution writes in The Washington Post that Iran will “bide its time” and that we should not “expect immediate retaliation for Soleimani,” though concludes that “[n]either Trump nor Tehran may really want a war, but each side has proved unwilling or incapable of detouring from a path that will almost inexorably precipitate a much wider and more costly conflict.” Barbara Slavin of the Atlantic Council’s Future of Iran Initiative writes in the NY Times that “Qassim Suleimani’s killing will unleash chaos.” Robin Wright, who has been writing about the Islamic Republic of Iran forever, and Fred Kaplan are very much on the same wavelength.

As for “The Democrats’ gutless response to Trump’s airstrike,” maybe more on that another time.

À suivre.

UPDATE: Julia Ioffe, who is normally a first-rate journalist, has a piece in GQ arguing that a war with Iran would all but guarantee Trump’s reelection (people rallying around the flag, etc). Arguing the opposite is UC-Irvine political scientist Michael Tesler, writing in Monkey Cage, who posits that “[a]ttacking Iran won’t help Trump win reelection.” A key initial factor in public opinion supporting a war and thus the president, he says, is a bipartisan elite consensus, which was the case in past major wars (Iraq, Vietnam, etc). This is not likely to obtain if Trump launches a war with the Islamic Republic.

À propos, Bernie Sanders gave a speech (excellent) last night (Jan. 3rd) at a town hall in Iowa strongly condemning Trump’s Iran action and talk of war (watch here, from 46:00). And Elizabeth Warren had a strongly-worded series of tweets (here) in the same vein. Andrew Yang is also on this wavelength. If Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, and other candidates occupying the moderate lane—plus Nancy Pelosi and the congressional leadership—were to acquiesce in a Trump war with Iran—or even tone down the critique—this would blow the Democratic Party apart, a consequence being that Trump would indeed win in November. For this reason, I will wager that in the ghastly eventuality that a war happens, Biden, Pelosi & Co will align themselves with the Sanders-Warren-Yang position.

Best (and worst) movies of 2019

Voilà AWAV’s annual list (for last year’s, go here). The movies here opened in theaters this year in France. I see a lot of movies in the theater—two a week on average—but inevitably miss a few. As usual, several well-reviewed American movies that have come out over the past couple of months have yet to open in France. For the first time, the list includes Netflix exclusives. N.B. There was a higher-than-usual number of particularly good French movies this year.

TOP 10:
An Officer and a Spy (J’accuse)
Ash Is Purest White (江湖兒女 Les Éternels)
Balloon (Ballon)
Birds of Passage (Pájaros de verano)
Joker
Les Misérables
Never Look Away (Werk ohne Autor)
So Long, My Son (地久天长)
The Irishman
The Specials (Hors normes)

HONORABLE MENTION:
By the Grace of God (Grâce à Dieu)
Only the Animals (Seules les bêtes)
School Life (La Vie scolaire)
Someone, Somewhere (Deux moi)
The Dazzled (Les Éblouis)

BEST MOVIE FROM ALGERIA:
Papicha (بابيشة)

BEST MOVIE FROM TUNISIA:
Noura’s Dream (نورة تحلم)

BEST MOVIE FROM SENEGAL:
Atlantics (Atlantique)

BEST MOVIE FROM URUGUAY:
A Twelve-Year Night (La noche de 12 años)

BEST POLITICAL THRILLER FROM ARGENTINA:
Rojo

BEST POLITICAL THRILLER FROM SPAIN:
The Realm (El Reino)

BEST MOVIE FROM IRELAND ABOUT ECONOMIC PRECARIOUSNESS IN THE AGE OF NEOLIBERALISM:
Rosie

BEST MOVIE FROM SWITZERLAND ABOUT THE VALUE ATTACHED TO HUMAN LIFE IN THE AGE OF NEOLIBERALISM:
Those Who Work (Ceux qui travaillent)

BEST MOVIE FROM GREECE ABOUT A SUBMISSIVE HOUSEWIFE WHO TAKES CHARGE OF HER LIFE:
Her Job (Η Δουλειά της)

BEST MOVIE FROM ISRAEL ABOUT THE CRAP WOMEN HAVE TO PUT UP WITH IN THE WORKPLACE:
Working Woman (אישה עובדת)

BEST MOVIE FROM ISRAEL ABOUT CONSERVING THE MEMORY OF A HOLOCAUST MASSACRE COMMITTED BY AUSTRIANS:
The Testament (העדות)

BEST MOVIE FROM ROMANIA ABOUT CONSERVING THE MEMORY OF A HOLOCAUST MASSACRE COMMITTED BY ROMANIANS:
“I Do Not Care if We Go Down in History as Barbarians” (“Îmi este indiferent dacă în istorie vom intra ca barbari”)

BEST MAFIA MOVIE FROM ITALY:
The Traitor (Il traditore)

BEST CINEMATIC ADAPTATION FROM ITALY OF AN EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURY AMERICAN NOVEL:
Martin Eden

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE ABOUT AN OVER-THE-HILL POLITICIAN AND HIS SPRIGHTLY YOUTHFUL ADVISER:
Alice and the Mayor (Alice et le maire)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE ON HOW REALLY HARD IT IS TO BE A SMALL FARMER:
In the Name of the Land (Au nom de la terre)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE ABOUT AN INTREPID REPORTER DURING THE SIEGE OF SARAJEVO:
Sympathy for the Devil (Sympathie pour le diable)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE ABOUT AN INTREPID REPORTER DURING THE CIVIL WAR IN THE CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC:
Camille

BEST FRANCO-BELGIAN MOVIE FROM RWANDA ABOUT RWANDAN SOLDIERS IN THE EASTERN CONGO:
The Mercy of the Jungle (La Miséricorde de la jungle)

BEST FRANCO-BELGIAN MOVIE ABOUT A PRISONER IN NEVADA AND HIS HORSE:
The Mustang

MOST MACABRE FEMINIST COMEDY FROM FRANCE:
Rebels (Rebelles)

MOST AMUSING NETFLIX COMEDY ABOUT A 1970s BLAXPLOITATION FILM DIRECTOR:
Dolemite Is My Name

MOST AMUSING ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN COMEDY MAKING SPORT OF THE ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT:
Tel Aviv on Fire (תל אביב על האש)

MOST LIGHTWEIGHT NETFLIX SATIRE ON HOW ORDINARY PEOPLE ARE SHAFTED BY THE GLOBAL FINANCIAL SYSTEM:
The Laundromat

MOST NOT BAD BY-THE-NUMBERS NETFLIX MOVIE SET IN A PARIS BANLIEUE:
Street Flow (Banlieuesards)

BLEAKEST FILM NOIR FROM CHINA SET IN WUHAN:
The Wild Goose Lake (南方车站的聚会)

MOST TEDIOUS MOVIE FROM RUSSIA SET IN POSTWAR LENINGRAD:
Beanpole (Дылда Une grande fille)

MOST OVER-THE-TOP MOVIE FROM BRAZIL SET IN THE SERTÃO OF THE NORDESTE:
Bacurau

MOST FATIGUING INDIE MOVIE SET IN MY HOMETOWN MILWAUKEE WISCONSIN:
Give Me Liberty

BEST HOLLYWOOD MOVIE ABOUT FORMULA ONE AUTO RACING SINCE ‘RUSH’:
Ford v Ferrari

MOST ENTERTAINING BIOPIC OF A GREAT ENGLISH POP MUSIC SINGER:
Rocketman

MOST ENTERTAINING CINEMATIC TRIBUTE FROM ENGLAND TO A GREAT AMERICAN ROCK MUSIC SINGER:
Blinded by the Light

MOST ENTERTAINING HOLLYWOOD WHODUNIT MOVIE THAT DOES NOT NEED TO BE SEEN UNLESS ONE LIKES ENTERTAINING HOLLYWOOD WHODUNIT MOVIES:
Knives Out

BEST HOLLYWOOD MOVIE WITH MELISSA MCCARTHY AND RICHARD E. GRANT IN THE LEAD ROLES:
Can You Ever Forgive Me?

BEST NETFLIX MOVIE WITH ADAM DRIVER AND SCARLETT JOHANSSON IN THE LEAD ROLES:
Marriage Story

BEST HOLLYWOOD REMAKE OF A GOOD MOVIE FROM CHILE WITH JULIANNE MOORE IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Gloria Bell

MOST FAR-FROM-PERFECT HOLLYWOOD MOVIE WITH CHRISTIAN BALE IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Vice

MOST FAR-FROM-PERFECT HOLLYWOOD MOVIE WITH VIGGO MORTENSEN AND MAHERSHALA ALI IN THE LEAD ROLES:
Green Book

MOST NOT-PERFECT MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH JULIETTE BINOCHE IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Who You Think I Am (Celle que vous croyez)

MOST DEFINITELY NOT-PERFECT MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH VIRGINIE EFIRA AND ADÈLE EXARCHOPOULOS IN THE LEAD ROLES:
Sibyl

MOST ABSOLUTELY NOT-PERFECT MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH CHIARA MASTROIANNI IN THE LEAD ROLE:
On a Magical Night (Chambre 212)

MOST ONLY OKAY MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH DANIEL AUTEUIL IN THE LEAD ROLE:
La Belle époque

CREEPIEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH KARIN VIARD AND LEÏLA BEKHTI IN THE LEAD ROLES:
The Perfect Nanny (Chanson douce)

MOST RIDICULOUS MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH JEAN DUJARDIN IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Deerskin (Le Daim)

MOST COMPLICATED COURTROOM DRAMA FROM FRANCE WITH MARINA FOÏS AND OLIVIER GOURMET IN THE LEAD ROLES:
Conviction (Une intime conviction)

BEST MUST-SEE DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE POLITICS OF MEMORY OF THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR:
The Silence of Others (El silencio de otros)

BEST DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE MEMORY OF A DEMOCRACY EMBRACING ASYLUM-SEEKERS FROM A DICTATORSHIP:
Santiago, Italia

BEST MOST MOVING DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE MEMORY OF SUDAN’S INCIPIENT FILM INDUSTRY AND THE POLITICAL SYSTEM THAT PROVOKED ITS DEMISE:
Talking About Trees (الحديث عن الأشجار)

BEST MOST POWERFUL DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE WAR IN SYRIA:
For Sama (إلى سما)

BEST NETFLIX DOCUMENTARY FORESEEING THE FUTURE OF AMERICA’S DEMOCRATIC PARTY:
Knock Down the House

MOST FASCINATING DOCUMENTARY ABOUT AN INDUSTRIAL POTEMKIN VILLAGE DURING THE SOVIET ERA:
The Cacophony of Donbass (Какофонія Донбасу)

MOST UNSATISFYING DOCUMENTARY ABOUT A SMALL TOWN IN THE AMERICAN HEARTLAND:
Monrovia, Indiana

BEST MOVIE BY PEDRO ALMODÓVAR:
Pain and Glory (Dolor y gloria)

BEST MOVIE BY ARNAUD DESPLECHIN:
Oh Mercy! (Roubaix, une lumière)

BEST MOVIE BY JEAN-PIERRE & LUC DARDENNE:
Young Ahmed (Le jeune Ahmed)

BEST MOVIE BY KEN LOACH:
Sorry We Missed You

BEST MOVIE BY YORGOS LANTHIMOS:
The Favourite

BEST MOVIE BY BARRY JENKINS:
If Beale Street Could Talk

MOST ENTERTAININGLY TENDENTIOUS MOVIE BY COSTA-GAVRAS:
Adults In the Room

MOST ENTERTAININGLY OFFBEAT MOVIE BY ELIA SULEIMAN:
It Must Be Heaven

MOST NOT-ALL-THAT-BAD OF A MOVIE BY CLINT EASTWOOD:
The Mule

MOST MERELY OKAY MOVIE BY WOODY ALLEN:
A Rainy Day in New York

MOST MIND-NUMBING MOVIE BY JAMES GRAY:
Ad Astra

MOST FORGETTABLE MOVIE BY QUENTIN TARANTINO:
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

MOST PROMISING DIRECTORIAL DEBUT BY HAFSIA HERZI:
You Deserve a Lover (Tu mérites un amour)

MOST UTTERLY FAILED DIRECTORIAL DEBUT BY CAROLINE FOUREST:
Sisters in Arms (Sœurs d’armes)

MOST SOMEWHAT OVERRATED MOVIE BY CÉLINE SCIAMMA:
Portrait of a Young Lady on Fire (Portrait de la jeune fille en feu)

MOST OVERRATED MOVIE BY HIROKAZU KORE-EDA:
The Truth (La Vérité)

MOST FRANKLY OVERRATED MOVIE BY BONG JOON-HO:
Parasite (기생충)

MOST CRINGEWORTHY MOVIE BY FATIH AKIN:
The Golden Glove (Der Goldene Handschuh)

MOST NOT GOOD MOVIE BY RABAH AMEUR-ZAÏMECHE:
South Terminal (Terminal Sud)

MOST INSUFFERABLE MOVIE BY NADAV LAPID:
Synonyms

MOST PREPOSTEROUS MOVIE BY JORDAN PEELE:
Us

A NO DOUBT BEAUTIFUL MOVIE BY TERRENCE MALICK BUT THAT I COULDN’T BRING MYSELF TO GO AND SEE AS IT IS CERTAINLY VERY SLOW-PACED AND WAY TOO LONG:
A Hidden Life

The inevitable Brexit

[update below]

The UK general election is two days away and I am crossing my fingers—hoping against hope—that it will result in a hung parliament—though without the Tories, like last time, being able to form a government with the DUP (or any other party). A Labour-LibDem-SNP-Plaid Cymru-Green majority would be able to put an end to the Brexit folly, with a second referendum and inevitable Remain victory. After which another general election would be held and the world outside the UK wouldn’t care one way or the other who came out on top.

But I’m realistic enough to know that this is not the likely scenario. The Tories are well ahead in the polls and, barring a polling failure of the first order, will win a comfortable majority in the House of Commons—and with the UK leaving the UK next month and Boris Johnson in 10 Downing Street to the end of 2024. And the responsible party for this calamitous outcome will be the unreconstructed 1970s communist Jeremy Corbyn, who is Britain’s answer to Georges Marchais, though less entertaining in front of a TV camera (and two decades and some after the French Communists abandoned Marchais’ political vision). If the Labour Party hadn’t changed its leadership election rules in 2014—thereby enabling far leftists to hijack the party—the UK would most certainly not be in this Brexit mess. Maybe more about that another time.

Like lots of people, I have been appalled by BoJo and dismissive of him, viewing him as a sort of Trump wannabe. But I’m rethinking this after having read a lengthy portrait of him—”a great read,” as one friend emailed me; “brilliantly written,” so another tweeted—in New York magazine (December 9th issue) by Andrew Sullivan, “Boris’s blundering brilliance.” The lede: “Brexit has given the U.K’s self-seeking Prime Minister the opportunity to show he actually knows what he’s doing.” The piece is indeed a must-read. Sullivan may be interesting or irritating but, on this specific question, I instinctively trust him, as he is a product of Oxford, crossed paths with BoJo there, and as a working class ex-Tory (and anti-Brexit), has a critical distance on the matter. Sullivan presents BoJo as almost a social democrat—pragmatic in any case and hardly an ideologue—who will not sell Britain out to Trump’s America. I want to believe Sullivan here. The proof will be in the pudding. But Sullivan does convincingly argue that BoJo is not a right-wing populist in the mold of Trump, Orban, Salvini et al. And certainly not Marine Le Pen.

This YouTube video of BoJo reciting a passage from The Iliad in ancient Greek certainly proves that he is no Trump.

Regardless of what Sullivan says, the rhetoric coming out of the Brexit camp on the economy and social policy has been worrisome indeed, with talk of a “Singapore-on-the-Thames,” a free trade agreement with the US—that would lead to the gutting of the NHS, entre autres—and regulatory and fiscal dumping on a massive scale at the doorstep of the European Union. On this neoliberal vision/nightmare, one thinks of the last two films by the très engagé Scottish director Ken Loach. The most recent, which opened in France in October, is Sorry We Missed You, about a working class family (in Newcastle) in which the husband/father has lost his steady job and forced to become an independent contracter, and with the wife/mother working impossible hours—and neither earning enough to make ends meet. It’s the most incisive cinematic critique—denunciation, in fact—of the “Uberization” of our neoliberal economies that I’ve seen. Workplaces in France are not what they are in Great Britain such as depicted in the film—where no one mentions a Code du Travail—but if Emmanuel Macron were to get his way, it will only be a matter of time.

The other Loach film is I, Daniel Blake, which won the 2016 Palme d’Or. The protag in this one is a 59-year-old manual laborer (also in Newcastle) who is put on disability and thus entangled in the social service and unemployment agency system, which have been privatized and whose organizing principle is thus the bottom line—not in actually accompanying clients—and getting public charges off the dole. The film is a biting critique of precisely that: the privatization, or outsourcing to profit-making enterprises, of social service delivery, which had been—and should still be—assured by public employees. Having had personal experience with this here in France, where the state functionaries are dedicated professionals and whose objective is to help you, the citizen, I feel more strongly than ever that this sector must remain public and never be allowed anywhere near the private sector. Again, if Emmanuel Macron were to receive carte blanche, France would resemble its neighbor outre-Manche before too long.

Ken Loach is a gauchiste—more so than I—no doubt about that, but he makes good movies and that do not descend into caricature, bons sentiments, or manichaeism in their social critiques.

À suivre.

UPDATE: So the election resulted in the predictable Conservative victory, with a modest 1% increase in the Tory vote over 2017—a defeat for Theresa May—but a landslide in seats, which is all that counts. A huge victory for Boris Johnson and the incontestable brilliance of his strategy—of smashing Labour’s famous ‘red wall’ and uniting the entire Leave camp behind his leadership. And a corresponding debacle for Labour and the calamitous Jeremy Corbyn, who is incontestably responsible for the counter-performance. When a party’s share of the vote plunges from 40% to 32% in the space of two years—and witnesses its greatest loss in seats since before most people reading this were alive—the party leader is necessarily responsible. Nick Cohen nailed it in an instant post-mortem comment in The Spectator, “The polling that shows Corbyn is to blame for Labour’s decline.” It begins

The reason Jeremy Corbyn is not preparing to lead the first majority Labour government since 2010 is Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour leader is proving the falseness of the cliché that ‘oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them’. Unless enough people are convinced of an opposition’s competence and decency it will not take power, even when all it has to do is beat the mendacious rabble that make up today’s Conservative party.

Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition did not win a majority and could never win a majority because millions could not vote for the incompetent and indecent Jeremy Corbyn. It’s that simple.

I am not just repeating anecdotal evidence from Labour MPs and canvassers. A vast poll of 12,000 voters, released tonight, showed Jeremy Corbyn was by far the single biggest reason voters gave for deserting Labour. Of those who voted Labour in 2017 but were less than 50 per cent less likely to vote Labour now, Deltapoll found the overwhelming reason people gave was they ‘don’t like Jeremy Corbyn’ with 46 per cent agreeing with that blunt statement.

As tonight’s epic defeat shows, Labour could not win because of Jeremy Corbyn and the rancid political clique he led. Do not underestimate the scale of the rout for a moment. Johnson’s triumph is absolute. The Conservatives could be in power for most of the 2020s because a bunch of student politicians and narcissist performance artists destroyed a once viable party.

To continue reading Cohen’s comment, go here.

The Guardian’s Polly Toynbee likewise nailed it in her post-mortem column, “Devoid of agility, charisma and credibility, Corbyn has led Labour into the abyss.” The lede: “Yes, the manifesto was magnificent. But Corbyn has allowed his party to be riven by sectarianism, antisemitism and Brexit.”

For his part, The Observer’s political editor Toby Helm wrote, “I saw for myself just how hostile many voters were to Jeremy Corbyn.”

Paul Mason has an incisive comment in the New Statesman, “Corbynism is over – Labour’s next leader must unite the centre and the left: Only a pluralist movement can counter a dangerous alliance of conservatism and authoritarian nationalism.”

The tyke with a toque

Various people today have been wishing me a happy Thanksgiving, though here in France it’s just another day. Thanksgiving is every American’s favorite holiday, though if one is not in America—with family and/or friends, the turkey dinner in the afternoon, and football game (Dallas Cowboys vs. whoever) on in the background—it loses context, so no point in celebrating.

As Thanksgiving is principally about food, I will use the occasion to post a wonderful article in the current issue (November 25th) of The New Yorker by my dear friend Adam Shatz, “The tyke with a toque,” on his life as a child chef, from middle school years through high school, in western Massachusetts—and which took him to France. I’ve known Adam for almost twenty years but he only started to tell me in the last couple about this episode of his early life. He was on track to become a great chef but decided to take the intellectual route instead. I’ve had occasion to taste his cooking and it is indeed that of a gourmet fine gueule. If you read just one article today—or want a break from politics, climate change, and other malheurs—make it this one.

Today is the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, which is receiving a fair amount of media attention here in France. As I told my American students this week—born a decade after the event—it was, geopolitically speaking, one of the most important events in my lifetime, not to mention exhilarating (I further specified that states that put up walls on their border normally do so to keep people from entering, but the Berlin wall was to prevent people from leaving). I followed the unraveling in East Germany from Algiers, where I was living at the time, via the BBC World Service (on my shortwave radio), International  Herald-Tribune, and Le Monde (when I could find it): the opening of the Hungarian-Austrian border to fleeing East Germans, the demonstrations in Leipzig, and the sudden opening of the wall on the night of the 9th-10th. Unlike the Tienanmen Square movement in Peking five/six months earlier—which I was also riveted to via the BBC—this one did not end tragically.

For the anecdote, I went through the Berlin wall once, in August 1974, with my friend and traveling companion, along with a couple of Swedish girls we met at the youth hostel in West Berlin. One could visit East Berlin for the day without a visa (and that included US military personnel). So we went through Checkpoint Charlie in the morning and headed by foot to the center of the eastern side of the city, through several blocks of buildings that were abandoned or hadn’t been rebuilt since the war. On the Unter den Linden we crossed a guy around my age (late teens) standing at a table, maybe selling or distributing something. He asked me in a hushed voice, and in English, if I had a map of West Berlin (the city stopped at the wall on maps available in the east). I said no or shook my head. Who knows, it could have been a set-up. Crossing back to the west at Checkpoint Charlie, toward 6 PM, we watched the East German border guards slide a big mirror on wheels under the cars, to see if anyone was clinging underneath. What a system.

As it happens, there have been several very good films over the past two years on East Germany, of the nature of its system—of “actually existing socialism,” as the Hungarian philosophers Agnes Heller and Ferenc Féher tagged Eastern Bloc communism—and people trying to flee it. One is Balloon (the title in both German and English; the French title, Le Vent de la Liberté—the wind of freedom—is better), directed by Michael Bully Herbig and which opened here in April. It’s set in 1979 and based on a true story (there’s a lengthy Wikipedia page on it), of two families (of eight people) in a town in the hilly, forested southwestern GDR (in Thuringia), who concoct a plan to flee to the West in a hot air balloon, which the two men—who work together in a factory, one an electrician, the other who knows how to sew—have the skills to make. The attempt fails, however, as the balloon hits the ground just short of the border (with its electrified barbed-wire fences and minefields). They manage to make it back to their homes in the dead of night undetected but when the balloon is discovered, the Stasi launches a massive manhunt to find out who it was who tried to flee. The importance accorded to it at the summit of the East German state and mobilization of manpower and resources to tracking down the culprits—simple, otherwise non-political law-abiding people—takes one’s breath away. Knowing that they are in danger of being discovered, the families decide to confection another balloon and try again, with acquiring the materials without arousing suspicion riskier than ever. So it’s a race against the clock as the Stasi closes in on them, and which is hot on their heels as they take off from the forest in the second attempt (spoiler alert: it has a happy ending). It’s a terrific movie; a riveting, edge-of-the-seat thriller (the high-octane final scene recalls that of the movie ‘Argo’). A slam-dunk for AWAV’s Top 10 of the year. It seems not to have been released in the US or UK yet, though no doubt will be at some point. Trailer is here.

Another first-rate film, which opened in France in May 2018, is The Silent Revolution (In France, La Révolution silencieuse; the German title translates as ‘the silent classroom’), directed by Lars Kraume and also based on a true story (of course), this one set in autumn 1956 In Eisenhüttenstadt (then called Stalinstadt), at an elite high school, where the students are all members of the Communist party’s youth league, being tracked for elite careers and presumably with party membership. Two students, learning via RIAS—which listening to in the GDR could get one into trouble—about the reality of the Hungarian revolution underway—of the mass nature of the uprising and the bloodiness of the Warsaw Pact intervention—inform their classmates (equivalent of 12th grade), who decide to hold a minute of silence before class begins for the Hungarian victims. When the school authorities demand to know what the minute of silence was all about, the students make up a story that it was for the Hungarian soccer star Ferenc Puskás, who had reportedly been killed. But the reports of Puskás’ death were false, as it turned out, and could have only been heard via Western radio, so the school authorities demand to know who the ringleaders of the minute of silence are, informing the class that they will all be expelled—with their entrance to university thus compromised, future career plans scuttled, and parents punished for good measure—if they don’t cough up the names. It becomes an affaire d’État, taken with the utmost seriousness in East Berlin. But the students stick together and, one after the other, plot their escape to West Berlin (the wall hadn’t yet been built but there were checkpoints leaving the Soviet sector, making the crossing risky for East Germans and other citizens of Warsaw Pact countries). Crazy system. Trailer is here.

Another very good film—which was a nominee for this year’s Academy Award for best foreign language picture—is Never Look Away (in France: L’Œuvre sans auteur, which, like the German title, translates as ‘work without auteur’), by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who directed the 2006 masterpiece The Lives of Others, which remains the best film to date on the GDR and its system. The pic, which is over three hours long—split into two parts for some reason; I had to leave the theater and buy another ticket for the second part—is loosely based on the early life of Gerhard Richter—from his childhood in the mid 1930s to the mid 1960s—who has been one of Germany’s leading contemporary artists for the past few decades. The A-list cast, of actors/actresses one has seen in other German films, includes Tom Schilling, who plays the adult Richter character, Kurt Barnert; Sebastian Koch, a gynecologist and Nazi-turned-communist collaborator named Carl Seeband; Paula Beer, Seeband’s daughter and Barnert’s wife; and Saskia Rosendahl, the young Barnert’s beautiful, beloved, free-spirited aunt, who is committed to an asylum, and then sent to an early death, by the Nazi Seeband. I’m not going to recap the complex story—for that, one may consult the Wikipedia page—which takes us from Barnert’s childhood in Dresden during the Nazi era, coming of age as an artist in the communist GDR, suffocating under the reign of socialist realism, defecting with his wife via West Berlin (before the wall), coming into his own as a cutting-edge artist in Dusseldorf, and settling scores with his father-in-law Seeband, who was, as Barnert learns, responsible for the death of his aunt twenty-five years earlier. I was totally engrossed in the film from beginning to end. It is sure to make AWAV’s Top 10. Trailer is here.

And then there’s Cold War by Polish director Paweł Pawlikowski, which is set mainly in Poland in the late 1940s—the Stalinist deep freeze—to the 1960s (also in Paris and Italy), and has nothing to do with East Germany except for a scene in East Berlin (pre-wall), when the protag gets past a checkpoint to defect to the West. It’s short film (barely an hour-and-a-half), a mood piece (with the jazz soundtrack adding to the moodiness), shot in a haunting black-and-white—it’s aesthetically beautiful—of a torrid love affair between a prominent pianist and a young singer. And it gives an idea as to how “actually existing socialism” persecuted artists who fell afoul of the system, as did the protag musician. I was engaged with the film and, like most people I know who saw it, thought it quite good, though didn’t have a tremendous amount to say about it afterward. Trailer is here.

Finally, there’s an animated film, ‘Fritzi – A Revolutionary Tale’, which I saw last month at the annual Festival du Cinéma Allemand in Paris (at the Arlequin cinema on Rue de Rennes). I hesitated on this one, as I don’t normally go to animated films, but as the theme sounded sufficiently interesting, I thought what the hell. Here’s the description from its English website:

East Germany, 1989.

Twelve-year-old Fritzi lovingly takes care of her best friend Sophie’s little dog Sputnik, while Sophie’s family is on summer vacation in Hungary. When Sophie doesn’t come back, Fritzi and Sputnik set out in search of her. That adventure leads her into the Monday´s demonstrations of Leipzig and towards the heavily-guarded border…

Historically accurate, authentic, and with lots of rich period detail and atmosphere, this moving animated movie for the whole family retells the story of the peaceful revolution of 1989 from a child’s perspective. An entertaining and exciting tale of the Fall of the Wall, and of the people who were brave enough to change the world, which will make a lasting impression, not only on young viewers.

The salle at the Arlequin theater was packed with some 150 exuberant 8th and 9th graders on a field trip from middle schools in the Paris banlieue, whom I learned (asking a few afterward) were all taking German as their principal foreign language (LV1). They applauded and cheered at the end. The youngsters liked the film. Nice. Trailer (dubbed in English) is here.

 

[update below]

My goodness, people have been flipping out since yesterday with the publication of the New York Times/Siena College poll—headlined on the NYT website and bylined by the redoutable number-cruncher Nate Cohn—showing Trump, with the election a year-to-the-day away, to be in a strong position vis-à-vis the top three Democratic candidats—and particularly Elizabeth Warren—in the six battleground states that are sure to decide the winner. The collective hand-wringing, indeed panic and despair, among liberals and progressives on social media, plus in email exchanges with friends, has been something to behold. To this may be added the finger-wagging “I told you so!” by Biden-supporting pundits and friends who have been warning that the Dems are courting certain disaster next November if they lurch to the left with Warren (and there’s a fixation on Warren over Sanders, who tends to be discounted—I have been guilty of doing so myself—though that may be premature). One such self-satisfied center-hugging pundit—whom I follow and normally like—is New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait, who entitled a commentary à chaud, “Poll shows Democrats have been living in a fantasy world,” and tweeting “The Democratic field has proceeded in blissful unawareness of the extremely high chance that Trump will win again.”

What poppycock. A few points. First, the NYT/Siena College poll is just one poll—”a new data point, but not a definitive one,” dixit Ruy Teixeira—and which may or may not be an outlier. That it could indeed possibly be this is suggested by Trump’s +6 margin over Warren in Michigan (sample of 501 RVs and MOE of 5.1%), which is hard to believe, as not only has there never been a poll in that state with such strong numbers for Trump but the Emerson poll of Michigan voters released Nov. 3rd (1051 RVs and MOE of 3%) has Warren with a +8 lead over Trump.  One of these polls is clearly way off (pour l’info, FiveThirtyEight gives Emerson a grade of B+). In view of the sample size and MOE, not to mention MI’s polling history, I’ll wager that the way off one is the former—and particularly in view of news like this.

Second, the election is a full year away, which is, to employ that cliché, an eternity in politics. And it’s still three months to the Iowa caucuses. As Nate Cohn writes:

There is a full year before Election Day, and a lot can change. Ms. Warren is an energetic campaigner. She could moderate her image or motivate young and nonwhite voters, including the millions who might not yet even be included in a poll of today’s registered voters. Mr. Biden could lose the relatively conservative voters who currently back him; the president could be dealt irreparable political damage during the impeachment process.

The impeachment process: It’s hard to see how Trump comes out of that—assuming he survives it—without sustaining at least some damage to his standing in public opinion. Cohn, however, adds this:

But on average over the last three cycles, head-to-head polls a year ahead of the election have been as close to the final result as those taken the day before.

If it had been over, say, the past ten cycles, that would be a history giving cause for concern. But three? Just because Real Madrid has won the Champions League title three times in a row doesn’t necessarily mean it will win a fourth. Three is not sufficient to establish a loi des séries.

Third point. Jonathan Chait and others are simply wrong that Democrats have been Pollyannas deluding themselves about Trump’s potential electoral strength. Democrats, who are congenital worrywarts when it comes to national elections, have been more than aware that the 2020 campaign is going to be hard-fought and that despite their incontestable advantage in the national popular vote, the Electoral College now structurally favors the Republicans—and Trump in particular, with his cultural appeal in the Rust Belt. N.B. the analyses last July by Nate Cohn and Dave Wasserman, which were received by Dems like a five-alarm fire, of the growing skew in the EC, that the Democrats could win the national popular vote with an up to 5% spread but still fall short in a tipping state like Wisconsin, which is “balanced on a knife’s edge,” thus losing the election. And it is indeed the case that the demographic evolution of Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, even Minnesota—not to mention Florida, with all the Republican-voting retirees moving in—are not trending the Democrats’ way. To say that Dems don’t fully understand this is absurd.

Anyone who knows or follows me knows that I have been confident for the Dems’ chances in ’20, though do not categorically exclude the appalling possibility that the orange-haired idiot could win. He clearly has a number of factors in his favor, as enumerated in my July 12th post “Can Trump win in ’20?,” among them the power of incumbency, his party united behind him, no serious primary challenger, and a fanaticized base—of a fourth to a third of the electorate—such that the American political system has not witnessed on a national level in memory. And then there’s the money, of which Trump has an almost unlimited amount, and a campaign that will be/is far more professionally-run than in 2016. And his campaign—with its shock army of evangelicals—will invest massively in turning out every last voter inclined to vote for him, including lower class whites who abstained in 2016 and/or may not currently be registered—and discourage/suppress voters inclined to vote against him.

It won’t win Trump the popular vote but could the EC, to which the Democrats will have no choice but to massively invest in their own base strategy, of mobilizing Afro-American and younger millennial voters to the max—including the millions of potential voters who will have turned 18 over the previous four years—and combating Republican efforts at voter suppression. It will be base vs. base—and as I keep reminding everyone, there are more of us than there are of them, including in the states that will get us past 270 EVs.

Yes, Trump could hypothetically win the EC even with a 5-point deficit in the popular vote. But if it’s more that? Utterly unlikely. FYI, the spread in the national vote today at Real Clear Politics is Biden +9.3, Warren +6.1, and Sanders +6.8. Voilà.

On the (hugely exaggerated) progressive vs. moderate dispute, one thing Warren/Sanders detractors get wrong is that this will at all matter in the general election campaign. The fact is, Trump and the Republicans will set out to shred the Democratic nominee regardless of who s/he is. Sleepy Joe will be torn to pieces, Pete Buttigieg will be mauled in countless ways, Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bennet—should either pull off a miracle surge during the primary season—will be tarred as wild-eyed liberals, if not outright socialists. No matter who the Democrat is, s/he will be demonized by the Republicans and Trump state propaganda (Fox, etc). Whether or not the Democrat is viewed by pundits and mainstream media as a “moderate” or “progressive” does not and will not matter to Republican voters. To them, they’re just Democrats, period.

À propos, Sean Freeder—a very smart and insightful political science doctoral candidate at UC-Berkeley—posted this comment on a Facebook thread yesterday:

[I]f being “centrist” is what beats Trump, then we are truly all in trouble, as NO ONE running is centrist by 2016 standards. As cute as it is to keep calling Biden centrist, if a candidate with his policy platform had run in the 2008 primary, he would have been the most liberal candidate in the race by far, perhaps excepting Kucinich. The party has already moved far to the left over the past several years, but no one seems to treat that as true.

The moderate label we give to Biden is a relative one, not an absolute one. Stacks of research demonstrate that most voters dont have stable policy preferences, or know virtually anything about the candidates who run in primaries. “Moderate” voters prefer “moderate” Biden because they think he and they are moderates, but neither of these things are true. They just like the label moderate, and those to whom it is applied, because it sounds “reasonable”. Warren has a year to convince voters that she’s not a wide eyed extremist, and that her plans are in the dead, dull moderate middle of virtually any other left party in the world.

Tout à fait. On voters not having stable policy preferences, one may add that the vast majority have little to no knowledge or interest at all in the details of policy. Paul Waldman, in his WaPo column yesterday, “Democrats have a dangerous misconception about policy and campaigns,” underscored this point. Money quote:

Try to recall a time when a single policy issue not only made a significant difference in the outcome of a presidential election, but it was because one candidate had a more popular position on it than the other. It certainly isn’t what got Donald Trump elected. Or Barack Obama, or George W. Bush, or Bill Clinton, or George H.W. Bush, or Ronald Reagan.

Sure, there were arguments about policy in those elections. But voters don’t keep a scorecard on which they tick off points of agreement and disagreement with both candidates, then total up the results to decide their vote.

Presidential campaigns “are fought on character and broad themes,” not policy, which is one reason why the attacks on Elizabeth Warren’s Medicare-for-All plan, while perhaps valid, are, from the campaign standpoint, irrelevant. What Warren needed to do was come up with a plausible-sounding plan that does not raise taxes on the middle class—to deprive her Democratic opponents and, later, the Republicans of a sound bite on that, to be endlessly played in attack ads—and which she has clearly done (if Paul Krugman and Ezra Klein say her plan is serious and passes the test, that settles the matter for me). All Warren has to do now is defend her plan on the stump and in debates, and parry the attacks on it by Buttigieg, Klobuchar et al, which she will do no problem (pour mémoire, Warren is fast on her feet and sharp as a whip). And when the debate gets technical (which is not too likely with Trump), voters’ eyes will glaze over, with debate moderators eventually tiring of the health care issue and moving on to something else.

And if Warren wins the nomination, she will no doubt pivot toward the center in the general election campaign, as Will Wilkinson of the libertarian Niskanen Institute—who is critical of some of Warren’s positions—submitted in a tweet storm 2½ weeks back. One may be confident that she will assure voters nervous about losing their employer-based insurance that there will be no sudden, brutal transition. And once in the White House, inshallah, those with an even minimal knowledge of how American government works know that President Warren will not be able to implement her M4A plan by executive order. Congress will have a say in it—i.e. almost the entire say—and that even if the Dems win a decisive majority in the Senate and abolish the filibuster, there is no chance that M4A will be adopted in anything resembling its present form. Moderate senators (Michael Bennet et al) will take charge and pass a more modest bill (at minimum, reinforced ACA with a public option), and Warren will be fine with that, as she knows how Congress and legislation works. Her M4A plan, which people are dumping on, is all about firing up the base, moving the Overton window, and setting out a long term vision, which will be realized down the line via incremental reforms (and as it’s Elizabeth Warren, she of course needs to have a plan). Pundits know this, which is why the current polemics over the issue are so ridiculous.

Warren presently has Wall Street in a panic, as one reads. Nice. This no doubt makes “moderate” Democrats very nervous but none have, so far as I’ve seen, taken on Warren on this one…

I have a lot more say on the Dems, on Bernie (toward whom I am warming), Biden (who I really wish were not in the race), Buttigieg (if he knocks off Biden for the moderate slot, so much the better), and others. La prochaine fois.

À suivre. In the meantime, check out the current head-to-head numbers in the key swing states.

UPDATE: Yale University political science professor Jacob S. Hacker argues, in a NYT op-ed (Nov. 5th), that “Elizabeth Warren is asking the most important question on health care: How can we move from a broken system to one that covers everyone, restrains prices and improves outcomes?”

For the record, Lawrence Summers says in a WaPo op-ed that “Warren’s plan to finance Medicare-for-all pushes into dangerous and uncharted territory.”

Lock him up!

Magnet on my refrigerator

[update below]

That’s what the crowd chanted at Nationals Park in Washington Sunday night (game 5 of the World Series) when the wanker’s presence (in a stadium luxury box) was announced, as everyone has heard by now. How gratifying. Certain belles âmes in the mainstream media and Democratic Party establishment deplored the stadium taunting, equating it with the “lock her up!” chanting at Trump rallies aimed at Hillary Clinton. Talk about a false equivalence. In addition to the fact that Trump directed the chanting himself at his rallies, Hillary Clinton never committed a single crime or even misdemeanor, or was ever indicted for a thing—and, as we know, has been definitively cleared of any legal impropriety in the emails business. As for Trump on this score, his serial criminality requires no explanation or elaboration at this point. The man has been in and out of court for decades, been sued by dozens (perhaps hundreds; who’s counting?), and spent millions on lawyers defending himself, counter-suing others, and gaming the system. That he has avoided prison up to now is proof in the pudding of a certain corruption in the American judicial system, where money—how much one has—really does count.

But justice will ultimately be served, inshallah, and with Trump locked up for many years, after a fair trial, of course, hopefully preceded—wouldn’t it be nice—by the perp walk and in handcuffs. And with his real estate empire liquidated and name effaced from every edifice. His conditions of imprisonment should be comfortable—we don’t want to be vindictive—but with no Twitter or television, except for MSNBC in the evening (plus Al Jazeera if he likes). Juste un rêve…

It’s a foregone conclusion that Trump will be impeached by the House, though conviction by the Senate looks most unlikely. But maybe not. A number of commentators and pundits, conservatives among them, have speculated that enough Senate Republicans could indeed vote to convict in the end. E.g. Peggy Noonan, who has not been suspected of Never Trumpism and, ça va de soi, knows a lot of Republicans in Washington, had a noteworthy op-ed, dated Oct. 17th, in The Wall Street Journal, “The impeachment needle may soon move: The mood has shifted against Trump, but the House has to show good faith and seriousness.” It begins:

Things are more fluid than they seem. That’s my impression of Washington right now. There’s something quiet going on, a mood shift.

Impeachment of course will happen. The House will support whatever charges are ultimately introduced because most Democrats think the president is not fully sane and at least somewhat criminal. Also they’re Democrats and he’s a Republican. The charges will involve some level of foreign-policy malfeasance.

The ultimate outcome depends on the Senate. It takes 67 votes to convict. Republicans control the Senate 53-47, and it is unlikely 20 of them will agree to remove a president of their own party. An acquittal is likely but not fated, because we live in the age of the unexpected.

Here are three reasons to think the situation is more fluid than we realize.

First, the president, confident of acquittal, has chosen this moment to let his inner crazy flourish daily and dramatically—the fights and meltdowns, the insults, the Erdogan letter. Just when the president needs to be enacting a certain stability he enacts its opposite. It is possible he doesn’t appreciate the jeopardy he’s in with impeachment bearing down; it is possible he knows and what behavioral discipline he has is wearing down.

The second is that the Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, told his caucus this week to be prepared for a trial that will go six days a week and could last six to eight weeks. In September there had been talk the Senate might receive articles of impeachment and execute a quick, brief response—a short trial, or maybe a motion to dismiss. Mr. McConnell told CNBC then that the Senate would have “no choice” but to take up impeachment, but “how long you are on it is a different matter.” Now he sees the need for a major and lengthy undertaking. Part of the reason would be practical: He is blunting attack lines that the Republicans arrogantly refused to give impeachment the time it deserves. But his decision also gives room for the unexpected—big and serious charges that sweep public opinion and change senators’ votes. “There is a mood change in terms of how much they can tolerate,” said a former high Senate staffer. Senators never know day to day how bad things will get.

The third reason is the number of foreign-policy professionals who are not ducking testimony in the House but plan to testify or have already. Suppressed opposition to President Trump among foreign-service officers and others is busting out. (…)

A six to eight week Senate trial, with all that will be revealed during that interminable period and Trump melting down daily… Does one imagine that all but two or three GOP senators will remain with him to the end, and particularly if his approval rating descends below 40%?

In writing last Friday on “the collapse of the president’s defense,” Benjamin Wittes—editor in chief of Lawfare and a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution—observed that

Polls are unmovable until they move. Cracks in the wall are mere cracks until the wall comes down and we realize the bricks were actually just the spaces between the cracks. Senators are a fickle lot, and when the winds shift, they can shift suddenly.

The Washington Post had a report yesterday co-authored by Robert Costa—the National Review’s Washington editor before joining WaPo and who knows the congressional GOP comme sa poche—with the title, “‘It feels like a horror movie’: Republicans feel anxious and adrift defending Trump.” One notes this bit:

The GOP majority is in play in 2020, with Collins, Joni Ernst (Iowa), Cory Gardner (Colo.), Martha McSally (Ariz.) and Thom Tillis (N.C.) each facing tough campaigns and grappling with polls in their states showing independent voters souring on Trump and open to impeachment.

“At some point, McConnell is going to have to perform triage to save the majority,” said Rick Wilson, a longtime GOP consultant and Trump critic. “How the Senate Republicans handle everything is all going to come down to how threatened Mitch feels and how worried he is about losing Colorado, North Carolina and a few other states. And if Trump’s numbers keep dropping, that decision is going to come sooner than later for him.”

On calculations over the outcome of next year’s Senate races, Henry Olson—a senior fellow at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center—had some interesting observations in his Oct. 23rd WaPo column, “Trump is blowing his defense against impeachment.” E.g. this:

Trump is too personally tied to [the Ukraine] scandal to deny responsibility, but he could admit that he displayed poor judgment and pledge to turn over a new leaf. That might help him in the court of public opinion.

That’s not going to happen, though, because it runs counter to the pattern of Trump’s entire adult life. He built his public reputation as the man whose skill and will get him what he wants. Whether it’s in business, dating and marrying beautiful women, or “draining the swamp,” the entire Trump mystique is built around the idea of the daring, infallible “stable genius” who lives the life of power and luxury that most people only dream of. This is the character he has created for himself, and he is incapable of changing the script now.

Trump is Trump. He’ll never change. Olson concludes:

That both elites and average voters might be outraged by [Trump’s] decisions [to abandon the Kurds in Syria and hold the G-7 summit at his property near Miami] never entered his mind because he rarely tries to persuade people rather than sell himself to a niche market.

You can get rich and powerful marketing to a niche market. The Trump brand wasn’t for everyone, but it was attractive to enough people to fuel his real estate and product-branding enterprises. The Trump political persona clearly alienates millions of people, but it attracts millions of others. These people like the vision of Trump the president peddles, and like any good niche marketer, he keeps giving his acolytes what they want.

The trouble for Trump is that presidents can’t win without building larger coalitions. Trump won in 2016 because he persuaded that election’s swing voter — the person who disliked both him and Hillary Clinton — that “Never Hillary” was better for that person than “Never Trump.” Those people form the core of the person he needs to talk to now, and they aren’t buying the idea that the Democratic investigation is worse than what Trump appears to have done.

This conclusion spells near-certain doom for Trump if it persists. Trump’s reelection strategy has clearly been to rerun the 2016 campaign: hold the Trump base and coalition together and demonize the Democratic nominee, terrorizing the voter in the middle to reluctantly choose him again. That person, however, is unlikely to do that if he or she has already concluded that Trump’s actions regarding Ukraine are so bad that he should be removed from office through impeachment.

Trump’s character made him famous and gave him the presidency. Unless there’s more behind the mask he has created, however, it will also likely lead to his political demise.

If Trump is doomed in November 2020, so too will be the Republican majority in the Senate. If Trump goes down, he will make sure to take Moscow Mitch, Lickspittle Lindsey, and the rest of the wretched GOP band with him. When this becomes clear during the Senate trial, if not before, one may presume that the latter will do what they need to do, with the (illusory) hope that a President Pence will enable them to sauver les meubles and keep their majority.

But if Trump does survive the Senate trial, thus making it to Nov. ’20, does one really think that, after all we will have been through, he will clear 270 EVs and after a general election campaign dominated by the policy details of Medicare-for-All, or Democratic proposals to amend Section 1325 of Title 8 of the U.S. Code? Come now.

À suivre.

UPDATE: The Washington Post has a report from Florida (Oct. 31) by national correspondent Griff Witte, “Is Trump’s base breaking over impeachment? The tale of a congressman’s defiance suggests not,” that will throw cold water on the prediction/hope that GOP senators will vote to convict Trump.

And National Review editor Rich Lowry has an opinion piece (Oct. 24) in Politico, “The fantasy of Republicans ditching Trump,” that makes a lot of sense. He may well be right, alas.

 

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