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Renée Levine, R.I.P.

This is a remembrance of my friend Renée Levine, who passed away on November 2nd, at age 95, in a retirement home in Asheville, North Carolina. I met Renée in 2002 here in Paris, at the first meeting I attended of a newly formed University of Chicago alumni reading group (still going strong), of which she became a pillar, though she was not a U of C graduate herself, that distinction going to her beloved (second) husband, Harold, who survives her. Renée was born in Berlin in 1925, where she lived until her parents sent her and her brother to England following Hitler’s accession to power in 1933, though the parents stayed behind (the photo above is of Renée on her first day of school, in 1931). She visited her parents in Germany for the last time in 1936—part of her family perished in the Holocaust—and was sent from England to the United States in 1941, where she lived until moving to France in the mid 1990s with Harold, after his retirement from a career in the mathematics department at Brandeis University and hers in the administration of the Boston public school system.

Renée self-published her memoir, One-Way Tickets, which she wrote over a number of years and for her American grandchildren, so they would understand their German-Jewish grandmother and her world. Its first print run in 2007 was limited—she wasn’t interested in royalties or glory—but as it sold like hotcakes at the Anglophone bookstores in Paris—notably The Red Wheelbarrow, then in the Marais, where Renée volunteered her time—more copies were printed (The Red Wheelbarrow’s reopening last year, across from the Jardin du Luxembourg, was partly funded by Renée). It’s a marvelous book. The description on the back cover reads:

The author, born in 1925, in Berlin of German-Jewish professional parents, writes the story of three generations who left home never to return, It is the story of a time when loss of family and the transplanting of lives was commonplace. Her own one-way tickets took her from Berlin to Munich to Breslau, the North Sea coast, to London, to Los Angeles, to Boston, to arrive finally in Paris.

The description of each of these displacements is accompanied by photographs taken at the time.

There was a final one-way ticket, when Renée and Harold moved to Asheville in 2010, to be close to her three daughters (from her first marriage), two of whom lived in North Carolina. I saw her once after that, when they came back to Paris for a visit, but otherwise stayed in touch via email and an annual phone call when in the US.

A few things about Renée. She was without doubt the most avid reader—primarily of fiction—I’ve ever known. As I wrote in a post about her in 2011, in AWAV’s first week of existence, she certainly read more books—highbrow, obviously—than anyone I am likely to meet. I was permanently in awe of this. Though I only met her when she was in her mid 70s, I know that she was active in the good causes of the 1960s and ’70s (civil rights, Vietnam, women’s movement). Politically we were on the same page pretty much across the board. She and Harold were also world travelers and into their 80s, seeing more countries than I ever will at this point; e.g. they took a trip to Uzbekistan in the mid ’00s, just the two of them. No package tour or anything. This was par for the course for them (à propos, I am grateful for Renée’s having recommended to me this maison d’hôtes in the Tangiers Kasbah, where my wife and I went for our 20th wedding anniversary). I remember her talking of how she and Harold, in decades past, hopped a freighter in East Asia somewhere, taking it across the Pacific to the United States. I fantasized in my own decades past about doing such a thing, a fantasy that alas will never be realized.

Renée became an American in her teens and, sabbatical years excepted, lived in the United States her entire adult life to age 70, but she didn’t take to the US or American society, so she conveyed to me. She remained profoundly European and attached to German culture, and despite the Nazis and the Holocaust. When she and Harold arrived in France in the mid ’90s—they owned a house in a village on the Loire, near Orléans, and rented an apartment in Paris (11th arr.)—they knew few people, but within a few years had built up a social network (joining reading groups and other such activities). E.g. in 2004 or thereabouts, Renée invited me and my wife to a social gathering at their place, where there were some 15-20 guests, almost all French retirees (of their educational-cultural level), whose acquaintance they had made over the preceding years. I was impressed that they had been able to meet so many people in a city they were relatively new to and not being in the working world.

Renée kept an occasional blog. Here is her final post, titled “Making Choices: Election Day,” which she sent to me and others on October 22nd. It is well worth the read:

Last month I wrote about Labor Day. Today I’m writing about elections and Choice. The big election for the president of the country is ahead of us. The candidate of your choice is waiting for your vote.

Making choices is really what living is about. We try to get our choice in every task of living from that very first yell when we accept the contract to live with a cry that escapes with our first breath. You elect to live. Our lives are made to a large extent, by our own choices. We make choices from the very start when we cry for milk or yell because we do not want it.

I have now arrived at the place where we are making our last choices. I live in an old age home which I chose for valid reasons. My husband suffers from dementia and here we can live under one roof but in separate quarters. When we moved in, we were given a pamphlet called “Last Wishes” which offers the residents end of life choices in case we are not always competent to exercise these choices at the end.

But of course, choosing has been going on since the very beginning. By your choices you write your life, you make yourself, you invent the person you become. You write the story, you color the themes, you choose the cover, you select your role. You live with that image and you are seen as you present yourself.

This resembles planning for a trip. You start designing your life’s journey when you are very small: you plan for the unexpected and you organize the stopping places to be able to take in those sights upon which you wish to linger. You find the company that will help and enhance the experience. You hope the maps are adequate, you hope the intellectual preparations were sufficient so that you were able to appreciate both the company and the sites.

I have arrived at the last stop on my travel/life itinerary. The planning part of the journey is finished. I am looking over those choices, those that were actually my own. I did not choose to be the child of people who chose to separate just when I needed them. I did not vote for fascism just when my country plunged deeply into a vile dictatorship. I did not choose to leave behind my language, my friends or my parents at age 6. However, inside these major changes, I began to form a character, to make habits, smiling and crying, being kind and being critical. I learned to be afraid of the dark. I did not smile easily. I learned to be on my guard, not to trust easily. I began to shape myself into this woman who is now trying to understand her need to be left alone, but who also longs for company, to be clear about what she wants, how she thinks and whom and how she loves.

My choices were not always well informed. I was too inexperienced, I had not done my homework, I had not known enough about how to be a wife and a mother and remain a person I could admire. It is easier to plan a trip, to do the research, pack a well-planned suitcase, speak the necessary languages and carry a good map. Physical travel is voluntary, life choices are not so open. You cannot choose the outer circumstances. But you can choose how you address them unless they are too big for your canvas.

The climate, the virus, the political background, those test your character, they offer you a world with which you need to whet your character and learn to make your choices.

~Renée Levine

An obituary is here.

The deliverance

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

How gratifying Saturday was: when the election was called for Joe Biden (we’ll all remember where we were at the moment we learned; I was in the local Carrefour supermarket when my daughter called with the news), watching the celebrations on television (saturation coverage on the French all-news stations), and then the victory celebration in Wilmington (for which I stayed up past 3 AM). Great speeches by Kamala Harris and Biden. She’s terrific and he does not cease to pleasantly surprise. The reaction on Twitter was quasi unanimous: what a relief to once again have a president of the United States who is normal, well-spoken, and level-headed—and is just a fundamentally good person.

As for the unspeakable orange-haired one, he’s going to poison the well in a big way in the coming days and weeks, and likely years—we are definitely entering a dangerous period (more on that below)—but he will be gone from the White House come January 20th, along with his miserable family and regime of rogues, grifters, lickspittles, whack jobs, and other fascists. Alhamdulillah.

Though it’s been clear since Wednesday that Biden was headed for victory, I decided to wait for the confirmation before offering my post-mortem. And I didn’t want to be a killjoy following the exhilarating confirmation. as I have decidedly mixed feelings about the election result, and despite the overriding imperative of defeating Trump having been achieved. The fact is, this is a bittersweet victory and which puts paid to any dreams, or illusions, we may have had for the coming two/four years. A few brief thoughts.

First, on Biden’s victory itself. The collective feeling on election night was disappointment that it was going to be much closer than the polls suggested, let alone what we were all hoping—and particularly when it appeared early on that Trump was going to win Florida fairly easily (on account of Biden’s unexpected counter-performance in Miami-Dade)—and despite Bernie Sanders, among others, having warned two weeks earlier that the election night results were necessarily going to be misleading (the ‘red mirage’ to the ‘blue shift’). With that in mind, I decided that I wasn’t going to comment on the national numbers until all the ballots are counted and we have the final results, which may not be until December (California takes weeks for this). The way it looks now, Biden’s margin in the national popular vote could reach 5% at the end of the day (compared to Hillary Clinton’s 2.1% in 2016; FWIW, Nate Silver has predicted +4.3). This signifies that the weighted mean of the national polls was off but not hugely so (and with polling errors of such a magnitude a regular, unsurprising occurrence). And while some of the state-level polling misfired—with much closer margins than expected, particularly in the famous three Rust Belt states—there have been no big surprises. With Biden set to win 290 or 306 EVs, there’s little cause at this date to be bellyaching at the pollsters.

On the subject, my virtual friend Dahlia Scheindlin—a political scientist, professional pollster, and writer for the excellent progressive Israeli webzine +972—has an op-ed (Nov. 8th) in Haaretz, “Trump lost. Biden won. Now stop persecuting the pollsters.” See also the never uninteresting Zeynep Tufekci’s Nov. 1st NYT op-ed, which Dahlia links to, “Can we finally agree to ignore election forecasts?”

On Trump’s showing: it is clear beyond the shadow of a doubt that his furious campaigning in the home stretch—barnstorming the swing states in the final two weeks, with up to five events a day, boundless energy, and after having apparently recovered from Covid—succeeded in whipping his base into a frenzy, as we saw with the Trump pick-up truck caravans and the miles-long traffic jams to get to his rallies. To this may be added the painstaking, years-long efforts of the Republican Party to register millions of new voters in rural/small town America, who, embedded in MAGA family and friendship networks, went to the polls on election day. In short, Trump and the Republicans achieved maximum base turnout—and which more than compensated for defections of 2016 Trump voters to Biden (whose numbers may not have been as large as we had counted on). To comprehend how it was that Trump narrowed the polling gap and gained a net 8 million votes and counting from his 2016 total, and how the Republicans performed so unexpectedly well in congressional and down-ballot races, one need look no further than this.

As for actually enlarging the base, that’s less apparent. Numerous observers, citing exit polls, have it that Trump significantly increased his black support over that of 2016, with the exit polls—which are dodgy in the best of years and now even more so with the massive early and mail-in voting—showing him to have won 12% of the black vote, compared to 8% in 2016. The more reliable AP VoteCast survey, along with Ruy Teixeira’s “States of Change” study, shows no increase in the black vote for Trump, however. But even if there was indeed a four-point uptick, this would simply restore the black vote to what it was for Republican presidential candidates prior to 2008 and Barack Obama (in the low teens; data here). In this respect, some need reminding that if it weren’t for the Southernization of the Republican Party and its anti-government discourse, a lot of socially conservative and/or entrepreneurially-inclined Afro-Americans, who are many, would vote for the GOP.

As for the Latino vote (or “Latino” vote; that artificial, grab bag category should be expunged from the political and polling lexicon), Trump clearly did outperform his 2016 numbers, and not just among Miami Cubans. I’ll have a separate post on this in the next couple of days.

The Jewish vote: the AP VoteCast survey shows 30% for Trump, which is par for the course for a Republican candidate. Somewhat surprisingly—and to the dismay of Americans with MENA roots I see on social media—the survey reveals that 35% of self-identified Muslims (<1% of the electorate) went for Trump. If accurate, this signifies that Trump’s pro-business social conservatism trumped, as it were, his anti-Muslim outbursts and actions in regard to Israel and the Palestinians,

It was almost an article of faith among liberals/progressives—voters and pundits alike—during the campaign that Trump would take a big hit for his calamitous response to the pandemic and the 200K+ Covid deaths, not to mention its economic consequences. I was dubious about this, as it was not reflected in Trump’s job approval rating, which increased in the early weeks of the pandemic before settling back to where it had been at the beginning of the sanitary crisis, after Trump’s incompetence and mismanagement became manifest. It seemed clear that even his soft supporters were not holding him personally responsible for a pandemic and economic crisis that was afflicting the entire planet. This has been cogently explained by The Atlantic’s Annie Lowrie in a Nov. 6th piece, “Why the election wasn’t a Biden landslide: Despite a pandemic and an abysmal recession, five economic factors spared the incumbent from a more lopsided loss.”

All this said, Trump did underperform among voters over 65 and whites without a college degree, and which contributed to Biden winning back the Rust Belt states lost in 2016. À propos, Peter Beinart has a pertinent Nov. 7th post in the NYRB on “How Trump lost.” The lede: “If he’d governed as he ran in 2016, as an economic populist, he would likely have been reelected. Instead, he reverted to the same old Republican playbook.”

Had there been no SARS-CoV-2 or Covid-19, I am absolutely not convinced that Trump would have coasted to reelection, as many on social media have been asserting. Based on his job approval rating over the course of his term, there is no objective reason to think this. The dynamics of the campaign would have obviously been different—with the Democrats running a normal campaign, with rallies, mass door-knocking GOTV, and all, and which would have worked to their advantage—but we would likely be seeing much the same result.

On the goût amer of the election outcome, it was obviously the Democrats’ failure to retake the Senate, of the easy victories of R incumbents the Ds were supposed to knock off (Susan Collins, Joni Ernst) and even easier R victories in races into which the Ds pumped so much money now down the drain (Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham). With Thom Tillis in North Carolina, who trailed in the polls, likely to win reelection. the Ds now have to pin their hopes on the two January 5th run-offs in Georgia. One would normally be pessimistic, though it’s possible. Never say never. But even if we win both of these, that will leave the Senate at 50-50, with VP Harris the tie-breaker. A razor-thin majority means that so much we were so hoping for—abrogating Trump’s tax cuts for the wealthy, reinforcing the ACA and with the public option, beefing up the Voting Rights Act, comprehensive immigration reform (including regularization for the 11 million undocumented), nuking the filibuster, expanding the SCOTUS and federal courts, statehood for DC and Puerto Rico, etc, etc—will be off the table, and for the foreseeable future if the Republicans make gains in the 2022 midterms.

If the Rs maintain their majority and with McConnell in control, then Biden and the Ds won’t be able to do a thing beyond executive orders (e.g., DACA, lifting the “Muslim ban”). Certain pundits are even predicting that McConnell will block cabinet and other nominations, though this is less likely IMHO, as at least a few R senators (e.g. Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney) will (hopefully) not be on board with obstructing Biden to this extent. Whatever the case, it will be bad.

And then there are the setbacks in House—with the Ds set to lose at least 5 seats net, maybe even up to a dozen—plus the down-ballot races, with the Ds unable to flip a single chamber of a single state legislature, thereby heralding another decade of extreme partisan gerrymandering in favor of the Rs. Regarding the outcome in the House, not only was this not supposed to happen but the Ds were supposed to gain seats. The House Ds will now have the narrowest of majorities—the brilliant 2018 victory now squandered—and which will be bigly threatened in 2022.

New York magazine’s invariably excellent Eric Levitz has a pessimistic take on this (Nov. 5th) and to which I adhere, “The 2020 election has brought progressives to the brink of catastrophe.”

One has likely read about the salvos from frustrated moderate House Democrats, notably Amy Spanberger and Conor Lamb, aimed at progressives—read: the “Squad”—whom they want to hold responsible for their near defeats, what with supposed progressive talk of “socialism,” defunding the police, fracking (for Lamb), and whatnot. This is both pathetic and absurd, as not a single Democratic candidate or official even mentioned socialism or defunding police (as for fracking, that’s an issue in Lamb’s specific district, which he should bring up with the President-elect). Talk about straw men! Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who was clearly in her moderate colleagues’ sights, settled the matter in a Twitter riposte, followed by a must-read interview in the NYT. The WaPo digital opinions editor, James Downie, submitting that “Democratic leaders [are] play[ing] a ridiculous blame game with progressives.” likewise called Spanberger et al to order. So time for everyone to STFU, stay united, and move forward,

In point of fact, the only people who went on about “socialism” during the campaign were Trump and his propaganda apparatus, who not only accused the Democratic Party—with Kamala Harris as the right’s new épouvantail—of being “socialists” but outright “communists.”

On Trump continuing to poison the well, which I mentioned above, I think we all know that while he will be out of the White House come January 20th, he will not go gentle into that good night. Trump will be the Silvio Berlusconi of American politics: plotting his return in the next election, maintaining intact his adoring cult base and hold over his party, reminding us daily of his existence (via television appearances, rallies, and of course tweeting), fending off judges, staying physically healthy into his 80s, and simply refusing to kick the bucket. And if Melania leaves him, he’ll have bunga-bunga parties, and the base will love it. It will be America’s fate for the next decade, and possibly beyond.

If one hasn’t seen it, the always brilliant Adam Shatz has his à chaud post-election commentary in the LRB, titled simply “Why go high?”

À suivre.

UPDATE: Pollster Dahlia Scheindlin (see above) has emailed me the following on FiveThirtyEight:

[T]he polls in the weeks ahead of Nov 3rd were quite clear about how worried we all should have been…if one knows something about how to read them, which, increasingly I’m convinced Nate Silver does not. Amazing skill he has, predicting the pop vote margin …after election day. But on Nov 1, 538 showed 8.5 for Biden, RCP showed 7.2. The truth will be closer to 4 or 5, it seems.

Let’s be honest: Silver’s forecasts were extremely misleading; & his poll aggregates based on his ranking/weighting system led to errors on state polling significantly larger than simple RCP averages. I know because I tracked RCP state avgs over October, compared them to 538, compared both to actual results, obsessively, so you don’t have to. Silver failed to notice or emphasize obvious tightening of the Biden lead in battlegrounds – he discussed it briefly in PA at the very end, but seemed oblivious to declines elsewhere, as if he doesn’t know the simple fact about campaign dynamics: trajectories matter as much as final-day (or any-day) snapshot avgs.

I think one main problem is that he refuses to admit Trafalgar polls. I hate Trafalgar too b/c I always advocate ignoring polls if the methodology is not transparent. However they display almost as much about methodology as most polling agencies, just with a few undisclosed techniques & surely weighting tactics, which no one reveals. And there’s no denying they were much more accurate (also in 2016) & partly as a result, RCP avgs did much better. Sadly, I also suspect that beyond professional reasons to ignore Trafalgar, the main reason is that Silver & his followers were unable to tolerate information that goes against our wishful thinking.

So it’s really time for people to wean themselves off of Silver – the main things he offers, forecast models & his personally-designed special-sauce polling averages, don’t work. Frankly I wish he would admit this instead of deflecting blame onto polls, which were somewhat off but really not as badly as his analysis.

Dont acte.

2nd UPDATE: Sean Freeder, who is a very smart and insightful political science Ph.D. candidate at UC-Berkeley, has posted this on Facebook (Nov. 11th). It is well worth the read:

General Post-Election Thoughts (LONG):

1) I’m seeing a lot of “I’m happy Biden won, but I was really expecting to see a total repudiation of Trump by the voters, and instead we got a pretty close election.” Why? Why on earth would you think this? I get that the election is closer than the polls had predicted (by about 3-4 points), but in what universe was the country about to overwhelmingly turn against Trump? Through the Mueller Report, kids in cages, impeachment, gassing the public for a photo op, failing to control the pandemic, and literally more than 20,000 lies, his approval rating has been frozen permanently between 40-43%. Does that look like a responsive public to you?

Trump is going to be with us for a long time. For a not insignificant portion of Republicans, the party will effectively cease to matter to them over the next several years. They are now Trumpers. They will follow his every reaction on Twitter. They will support any candidates he names. They will go after any politician who he slanders. They believe anything he says. They will watch his network, presuming that is forthcoming, as if it is a tenet of their religion.

2) I can’t say with any confidence whether this is a good or bad thing for Republicans. On one hand, they are now free in theory to at least attempt to not make everything they do about his whims and wishes. On the other hand, Trump has now stolen their base, and they may feel compelled to continue associating him with their brand. On one hand, they may now have a chance to win the votes of Never Trump Republicans and independents generally. On the other hand, without Trump on the ballot, it isn’t clear that the massive wave of first-and-second-time voters who showed up solely because of Trump will be there to support the Republicans who replace him.

3) What I do expect is that Republicans are going to tear themselves apart over the next four years. Some will try to become the clear leaders of the anti-Trump wing of their party (Romney? Sasse?). Others will move quickly to become the heir apparent to the Trump throne (Jordan? Gaetz? Hawley? Cotton?). The majority will try to remain as silent as possible, and hope that it somehow all blows over without affecting them. But it won’t. For every single Republican running in primary in 2022, the first question they’ll face from the voters will be “do you support Trump?”. Their answer will determine their ability to survive the primary AND the general. I think it’s very likely that an abnormal number of Republicans will be slaughtered in their primaries, and their replacements will go on to be slaughtered in the general.

4) Democrats are about to tear themselves apart too. You’ve probably heard about the Democratic Caucus conference call last week, where moderate and left-wing members were at each other’s throats. That’s what happens in a successful-but-disappointing election – each side can fairly claim that their beliefs are vindicated. Moderates think Congressional losses can be attributed to rhetoric about “socialism” and “defunding the police”. The left thinks that weak performances can be attributed to their unwillingness to activate their base by leading with their base-preferred policies, and not compromising them away. There’s probably truth to both of these claims. The strategic question here is legitimately difficult, and if you go forward thinking about this debate strictly in terms of which type of policies you’d prefer, you’re doing your side a tremendous disservice.

5) I’m begging the left wing of the party, which I consider myself firmly a part of, to genuinely consider strategy over the next several years. There’s a really good chance Democrats won’t control the Senate. Therefore, there’s a really good chance they won’t be able to get virtually anything of value done. Even if they do control the Senate, Manchin has already made it clear that he will not be on board with many of the party’s big ticket initiatives. Biden, whose instincts would always have been to play things cautiously, will likely advance incremental improvements that will disappoint the base but could have a chance of passing.

Again, whether Democrats should be bold in order to win the trust of the left-wing, or cautious in the hopes of generating actual policy accomplishments, is a genuine and extremely difficult question of strategy. If you can’t see why there is no slam-dunk, obvious solution to this, and you are only able to process the other side as “hacks” or “extremists”, you’re honestly not even trying, and it’d be best for all of us if you remove yourself from the rhetoric pool.

6) Nevertheless, the double-runoff Georgia Senate elections on January 5 are only slightly less important than the defeat of Trump. If you really care about politics, it’s all-hands-on-deck time. The Democrats should both be expected to lose, but this race is also going to be completely insane. Expect $400m dumped into Georgia in the next 70 days. Expect record turnout for a special election. The Democratic party needs to live in Georgia for the next two months. The city of Atlanta should have a 150-ft inflatable Mitch McConnell floating over the city until the election ends (I’m only like a quarter joking). Donate, volunteer, blah blah blah. The difference it will make to the Biden agenda is incalculable.

7) The losses Democrats took this year among black and latino voters should be instructive – people of color are firmly in the Democratic coalition, but they are not locks, and should not be treated as such. Latinos, in particular, are not monolithic across nationality or geography. Neither are asians (Vietnamese appear to have almost voted majority Trump). Democrats will have to continue to work hard to keep them in the coalition. Pointing out that the Republican party is racist is NOT working, and it’s incredibly lazy to think that’s all that has to be done. Building coalitions means engaging in coalition maintenance, and that means being highly responsive to policy concerns, and putting boots on the ground in the right places when the time comes. Miami-Dade, I am looking at you.

3rd UPDATE: Adam Shatz has an LRB podcast conversation with Randall Kennedy and Mike Davis on the election (here) which is well worth an hour of one’s time.

Biden-Trump: the call

[update below]

Just about every American I know—not to mention many millions I don’t—is totally stressed out on this election eve and will likely have difficulty sleeping tonight. The trauma of 2016 is intact and with the prospect of four more years of that unspeakable person in the White House just too horrible to contemplate. Sure, there are the polls but polls can misfire. Polling failures do happen, and have in modern times. And, in addition to the very real threats to the integrity of the vote count, the Electoral College, even in the (highly unlikely) event of a clean, untainted election in every state, could be even more skewed toward the Republicans than our calculations have it. The sight of the great unwashed and other deplorables in MAGA world whipped into a frenzy these past weeks, with their “Trump trains” and cultish rallies in the midst of a pandemic, has also been deeply unsettling, The tribal phenomenon of Trumpism—of the hatred that MAGA world feels toward Blue America—is truly frightening.

And then there’s the very real threat of violence in the coming days and weeks (and perhaps months and even years). On this, take 8-minutes to watch the video on the NYT website, “‘I am on your side’: How the police gave armed groups a pass in 2020.” It is downright terrifying. And the armed groups—and the support they receive from law enforcement (or, rather, “law enforcement”)—will not slither back under their rocks after the election, regardless of the outcome. To the contrary. One seriously fears the worst for America.

So am I nervous? Yeah, I am, just because. But I have to be lucid and scientific, and focus on the numbers and other objective indicators, notably the polls. Friends and AWAV readers know that I have been dismissive of Trump’s reelection prospects for well over two years now, as it has been clear for his entire term that he has been uninterested in and incapable of expanding his political base—apart perhaps from marginal gains among black men—beyond what it was in November 2016, And his job approval rating has been remarkably, indeed astonishingly, stable over his term, lingering in the 41-42% range for much of it. On this election eve, it is at a relative high of 44.5%, which is nonetheless a near kiss of death for an incumbent president—and particularly one seeking reelection against an opponent whose personal popularity rating is close to 20 points higher than his.

And as I have reiterated on numerous occasions, when examining the breakdown in individual polls of Trump’s job approval rating by intensity of sentiment, the percentage of those who “strongly approve”—i.e. who love the man—tops out at a third of the electorate, whereas those who “strongly disapprove”—i.e. who hate the SOB—are in the mid to high 40s, sometimes over 50%. The spread between the two extreme sentiments is invariably 15% in all the polls.

As for the head-to-head polls, ten days ago Biden was at +9.1 at FiveThirtyEight. At the present moment, he is at +8.4 (and +6.8 at Real Clear Politics). And Biden has notably never dropped below 50% (whereas Hillary Clinton never broke 50%). As for the EC, RCP’s no toss ups map presently has Biden winning with 319 EVs. Quite seriously, for Trump to pull off an untainted EC victory in the face of these numbers would signify a polling failure of historic proportions. Possible but most unlikely.

So based on the hard data plus my pifomètre, here’s how I’m calling it:

PV: Biden 53%, Trump 45.5%
EV: Biden 359, Trump 179 (see map above)
Turnout: 155 million

N.B. Trump, in losing the election, will nonetheless have won more votes (70M) than Obama’s historic high (69M) in 2008, and represent a remarkable gain over his 2016 result (63M). Those new Trump voters will almost entirely come from rural/small town folk who didn’t vote in 2016 (as there is no Clinton-to-Trump phenomenon), but won’t compensate for the significant defections of 2016 Trump voters to Biden.

A few comments on the EC:

  • Pennsylvania: As I wrote on September 20, 2016: “The election all comes down to Pennsylvania. Whoever wins PA wins the nation. If Trump wins PA, it will necessarily mean that he has also won Florida and Ohio, plus held on to North Carolina, putting him over 270 EVs. If Hillary takes PA, she wins, as Trump has no realistic path to victory without it.” No change in 2020. Lots of people are worried about PA, though the great majority of polls have had Biden at +5 or more. Even if he ends up winning it by 2 points, it’s still a win.
  • Florida: The polls give Biden a slight edge but I don’t feel good about the state in view of its demographics (well-to-do retirees, large military population, more Republican-voting Latinos, etc). The Republicans at the state level have also perfected voter suppression to a greater extent than elsewhere.
  • Texas: I’m rolling the dice here in giving it to Biden, in view of its Blue-trending demographics and huge early voter turnout. Texas may be the Blue surprise this year, in the way Virginia was in 2008.
  • Georgia: Likewise. The heavy early voter turnout and two Senate races could give it to Biden.
  • North Carolina: I’m a little biased on this one, as this is the state in which I vote. Demographically it’s moving in the right direction.
  • Ohio and Iowa: Biden’s campaign stop in the latter makes sense in view of the Senate race there but as for the former, he’s wasting his time IMHO. These states are pretty red at this point.

As for the Senate, the Ds look like they’ll gain a net three at minimum, making VP Kamala Harris the tie-breaker. They need more than that.

Voilà.

UPDATE: The conservative policy intellectual Henry Olsen, who writes a column for The Washington Post and is a senior fellow at the conservative Ethics and Policy Center, has his election predictions that are markedly similar to mine.

2 days

I learned just this weekend about the phenomenon of “Trump trains,” which have become a thing in l’Amérique profonde during this campaign. Everyone has seen by now the footage of the Trump train ambush of the Biden-Harris campaign bus in Texas. There have been numerous such incidents across the country, including in solidly blue parts.

The images of the Trump trains naturally cause one to think of this:

Kindred spirits?

The prospect of violence this week and beyond is very real, as everyone is aware: in a presidential election in the United States of America—the leader of the Free World (which some people still call it). Amazing, The International Crisis Group, which, as its name suggests, issues reports (high quality) on crisis spots around the globe, has one out on the USA: “The U.S. Presidential Election: Managing the Risks of Violence.” The lede: “The 2020 U.S. presidential election presents risks not seen in recent history. It is conceivable that violence could erupt during voting or protracted ballot counts. Officials should take extra precautions; media and foreign leaders should avoid projecting a winner until the outcome is certain.”

America: in the same category as Belarus and Kyrgyzstan. The America of Trump

Many who are reading this are likely losing sleep over the imminent denouement of this unbearable election season. If one has an hour to spare between now and Tuesday night, do listen to Adam Shatz’s podcast conversation, “Catholics and lumpen-billionaires,” with the brilliant, iconoclastic, polymath writer and thinker Mike Davis, on the London Review of Books website, posted October 27th. The intro:

Adam Shatz talks to Mike Davis about some of the underlying and long-term political shifts at play in next week’s US elections. They discuss both traditional and emerging swing voters, the obstacles to majority rule, the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett as the latest move in an ongoing civil war within the Catholic Church in the United States, the critical failure of the left to challenge the philosophy of the Reagan revolution, the death cult at the core of today’s Republican base, the importance of Bernie Sanders’s presidential run and the Black Lives Matter movement, and why, fifteen years ago, Davis predicted an age of pandemics.

It is such an interesting, learned conversation. You won’t regret listening. Trust me.

If one didn’t see it, Never Trumper and erstwhile “neocon” Robert Kagan had a great column, dated October 30th, in The Washington Post, “It’s up to the people to foil Trump’s plot against democracy.” In evoking the prospect that the Trump regime and its henchmen (SCOTUS etc) will pull out all the stops to steal the election—and possibly succeed—Kagan offers this:

A stolen election will bring tens of millions into the streets, possibly for weeks and months. The nation will have descended into an extra-constitutional civil conflict, with each side using the tools available to try to prevail.

There’s something gratifying about this—of this former Republican asserting that we will not accept the legitimacy of a tainted Trump victory—and a Trump victory can only be that—and that we will resist.

After all, what other choice will we have?

I’ll have my election prediction, FWIW, tomorrow.

10 days

[update below] [2nd update below]

Ten days to go. I cannot wait for this national (i.e. Trump) nightmare to be over. I have been less riveted to US politics and the campaign over the past week than I would normally be as we enter the final stretch, partly because the outcome is increasingly apparent but also as there are other stories of late that have been distracting my attention and thoughts, notably here in France (which I’ll soon write about inshallah). I did watch Thursday’s debate en différé; as WaPo columnist Jennifer Rubin tweeted when the thing began: “In about 90 minutes you will never have to sit through a Trump debate again. Hold onto that.” How nice it would be indeed if we never had to see or listen to the idiot ever again, period. Sitting through 90 minutes of Trump’s torrent of lies and bullshit, not to mention his ignorant, incoherent blathering, was a trial. Biden’s body language and facial expressions while Trump was talking—as if he was thinking to himself “what a f*cking idiot” or “you are so full of shit”—told it all. The fact that Trump was deemed by commentators and pundits to have put in a reasonably good performance—at least compared to the first debate—shows how low the bar has been set; and how low the level of political discourse in the USA has sunk. What a goddamned disgrace that this sociopath—who is so utterly devoid of humanity and decency—has been president of the United States of America for four years now, is adored by tens of millions of Americans—who would continue to adore him no matter how many pussies he grabbed or people he shot on 5th Avenue—and actually has an outside chance, however minor, of reelection. But I repeat myself.

The debate, along with the dueling town hall meetings ten days ago, were instructive and useful nonetheless, as they so starkly highlighted the choice on offer in this election, but also allowed voters to take the full measure of Joe Biden, who has pleasantly surprised, indeed impressed. I found his town hall performance on the 15th to be very good: he was well-spoken, didn’t miss a beat, and displayed a detailed knowledge of policy on all the issues he was asked about. And he revealed himself once again, this time in his interaction with the town hall participants, to be a genuinely sensitive, caring, and good person. He aced it on both form and substance. The contrast with Trump at his town hall event was like night and day. Biden’s debate performance was likewise solid, even if he had a slight misstep toward the end on fracking (though which won’t matter a whit). The exchange on immigration caught my attention in particular, less on account of Trump’s unsurprising response to the migrant children separated from their parents—which should have him and the other responsible parties criminally prosecuted, if not in a US court of law, then in The Hague—than Biden’s pledge to offer a pathway to citizenship not only for the DACA/Dreamers but also for the 11 million undocumented migrants in the United States, i.e. 1986-type amnesty. Excellent.

So I’m feeling good about Biden right now, not only on his chances for victory but the kind of president he would be (assuming the Democrats take the Senate, of course). For those who still think of him as a faute de mieux, do read Franklin Foer’s article (Oct. 16th) in The Atlantic, “Joe Biden has changed: He’s preparing for a transformative presidency.”  Also the one (Oct. 22nd) by Bill McKibben in The New Yorker, “Joe Biden and the possibility of a remarkable presidency.”

On Biden’s chances, the polls have had him in the +10 range for the past two weeks (he is presently, as I write, at +9.1 at FiveThirtyEight). At this point in 2016, Hillary Clinton was at +3.8—and with the polling presumably better this time, pollsters having rectified some of their shortcomings of 2016 (e.g. weighting more for education). As for the Electoral College, the no toss-ups map at Real Clear Politics (which invariably has slightly better numbers for Trump than does FiveThirtyEight) has Biden at 357 EVs. Which is to say, EC landslide. (As for the Senate, RCP’s no toss-ups map presently has the Dems gaining 4 seats, thus taking control).

On Trump pulling a second surprise of the century, Thomas Edsall had another of his rain-on-your-parade columns (Oct. 14th), informing skittish NYT readers that Biden is not out of the woods, and The New Yorker’s Sue Halpern wondered (Oct. 21st) if we can really trust the polls. A black swan October Surprise is, of course, in the realm of the possible, as is the possibility that the polls are understating the actual level of Trump support, e.g. among the masses of rural/small town voters newly registered by the GOP, who are normally apolitical but may be coaxed to the polls by friends and family in their MAGA world. But for Trump to surge in the final stretch and win the EC, he would, as the Brookings Institution’s centrist policy wonk, William Galston, submits (Oct. 19th), have to cut Biden’s advantage by 8 points, “an accomplishment for which,” he says, “there’s no clear precedent in American history.”

Such a calamitous scenario is, frankly, hard to envisage, particularly in view of the massive, unprecedented levels of early and absentee voting we are presently witnessing—and which has led FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver to project a mind-blowing turnout of 154 million voters. Some of these will come from MAGA world but, given how worked up D voters are against Trump and the prospect of being rid of him, more will not. And new MAGA voters will, it stands to reason, be offset by the substantial defections of disaffected 2016 Trump voters to Biden. On this, there have been countless reports; see, e.g., the piece (Oct. 20th) by Politico’s conservative-leaning national correspondent Tim Alberta, who reports on “Trump fatigue” even among voters who are otherwise favorable to him.

Rather than a miraculous comeback, it is more likely that, as The Bulwark’s Jonathan V. Last categorically asserts (Oct. 22nd), “Trump is toast,” specifying that “[t]wo new pieces of data are the final nails in the coffin.”

Generally speaking, the number to follow is Trump’s approval rating, which remains stable in the 42-43% range. If it starts to move sharply upward over the next ten days, reaching 45-46%, then one can start to worry, even panic. If not, chill. He’s toast.

On the post-November 3rd nightmare scenarios explicated in lurid detail by Barton Gellman in The Atlantic—e.g. of Trump declaring victory on the night of the 3rd, before all the votes are counted—TNR’s Walter Shapiro issued a corrective (Oct. 20th) on “The overblown alarmism about a Trump coup.”

On Trump and the coronavirus pandemic, Robert Jay Lifton offered these thoughts yesterday on his blog:

Killing to Heal

In my study of Nazi doctors I emphasized their reversal of healing and killing. Trump and Trumpists, though not Nazis, are doing the same.

According to Hitler and his inner circle, the Nordic race had once been powerful but had been “infected” and weakened by Jewish influence, so that getting rid of the Jews was required for “healing” the Nordic race.

In the case of Trump and Trumpists, the way to heal society and return it to full functioning is to expose Americans to illness and death. The weak can be sacrificed; the robust will be fine. And when offering up the elderly in particular, Trumpists render them expendable, reminding us of the Nazi dismissal of “life unworthy of life.”

Trump and Trumpists have not only failed to take steps necessary to mitigate the virus but have colluded with covid-19 — holding large rallies, sometimes indoors, in which thousands of people congregate without masks or distancing. Trump himself was entrapped by this collusion, falling ill along with family members and loyalists who have been in contact with him.

Knowledgeable projections suggest that Trumpist policies have resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans, making this an age of presidential killing.

Trump also carries out his version of what the Nazis called Gleichschaltung, which meant the reordering or reorganizing of institutions and professions to conform to the required ideology. The Nazis did not destroy the medical profession but rather removed from its leadership those considered unreliable, replacing them with loyalists, so that the profession itself became Nazified.

The Trumpist Gleichschaltung of medicine during the Covid pandemic has installed the leadership of a neuroradiologist named Scott Atlas, a man with no public health or epidemiological experience. His advocacy – now Trumpist policy – is to invoke the deadly principle of “herd immunity” – encouraging the unimpeded virus to infect everyone and causing an extraordinary number of deaths in the service of a vision of ultimate healing.

Trump himself has resorted to a stance of cult-like omniscience, attacking scientists and physicians who tell us truths about Covid-19, and attempting to criminalize and destroy all who question him.

But Trump and those who follow and enable him are the criminals, agents of presidential killing. American presidents are responsible for protecting their people and enhancing their lives. Trumpists instead kill in the name of the president’s solipsistic (completely self-contained) reality. Their dominant mode has become the reversal of healing and killing.

We must keep that in mind as we vote this criminal administration out of power, remove it if it does not go willingly, and begin the long struggle to reassert truths about, make clear distinctions between, healing and killing.

Robert Jay Lifton M.D.

À suivre.

UPDATE: A faithful AWAV reader has sent a private message praising my analysis above, though takes issue with my “failure to mention voter suppression and intimidation in [my] forecast[, which] suggests [I] think that for the presidential election it won’t count for much, that Biden’s lead is comfortable enough to overcome its effects,” adding that, for his part, he is “cautiously optimistic about that but worried that it’ll keep the Dems from capturing the Senate.”

Valid point. I do take voter suppression seriously, have mentioned it in previous posts, and insisted from the outset that it is the only way Trump can possibly eke out a victory in the Electoral College (no one, including in his campaign, has ever believed that he can win the national popular vote). Of the numerous methods of voter suppression concocted by the Republicans in the states they control—Mother Jones journalists Ari Berman and AJ Vicens have enumerated 29—the main one to worry about is invalidation of absentee/mail-in ballots. This could affect the outcome in swing states (notably PA) if the result is very close. But if Biden’s current poll numbers in the key swing states hold up and are reflected in the outcome—and he wins the national PV by 6% or more—voter suppression most certainly won’t matter.

As for the Senate, it could be a problem in NC and GA (where the two races may both go to run-offs in January), though the D candidate in NC (Cunningham) is currently looking good in the polls.

MoJo’s Ari Berman has a heart-warming report dated Oct. 23rd, “Voter suppression efforts could be backfiring on Republicans: GOP efforts to make it harder to vote have motivated Democrats to cast ballots in record numbers.”

2nd UPDATE: Another faithful AWAV reader, who is nervous about the election, has asked me to comment on a piece dated Oct. 21st in The Washington Monthly, by Steven Waldman—who is president and cofounder of Report for America—entitled “Why Trump has a serious chance of winning. Really.” The lede “Here’s the evidence that Joe Biden isn’t doing that much better than Hillary Clinton.” A few comments.

First, it is untrue that Biden isn’t doing that much better than Hillary in 2016. She never had the sustained leads that he has throughout the campaign. Just look at the numbers. Second, I am not going to wade through Waldman’s interpretation of the swing state data, as I’ve already seen quite enough on this and for many months now (notably from Nate Silver and Dave Wasserman). Go back and reread William Galston’s analysis above. That’s as much as one needs on this particular aspect. Third, on Trump being “actually more popular now than on the day he was elected,” this observation is both gratuitous and irrelevant. Sure, Trump is now 10 points less unpopular than he was during the 2016 campaign—as Republican voters who disapproved of him back then (though who nonetheless voted for him) are now fine with him—but he is still way underwater in his approval rating—and has been for his entire presidency. An incumbent president cannot win reelection—fairly and squarely at least—with 43% approval—unless the challenger is also very unpopular. And on this, there is a big difference between Clinton and Biden: on election day in 2016, the former was at a negative 12.6 points, whereas the latter today has a positive rating of 6.2 (source: RCP). The current spread between Biden and Trump is a whopping 17.7. That on its own should clinch it for Biden. Finally, Waldman cites as evidence the Trafalgar Group polling institute, referring specifically to Rich Lowry’s article in the National Review. On the Trafalgar Group and Lowry’s piece, please read Never Trumper conservative Jonathan V. Last’s comment in The Bulwark’s Triad newsletter, “Conservative make-believe,” scrolling to “2. The pretend polls.” Case closed.

Emily in Paris

Taking a break from politics (ouf). This Netflix series has been the talk of the town—ça défraie la chronique—on my Twitter feed over the past ten days among Americans in Paris and other Francophiles, and has received media coverage on both sides of the pond, with reviews and reports in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Financial Times, and New York magazine entre autres, the leitmotif being the torrent of American stereotypes and clichés in the series about the French and France. As for the reaction here in France, it has been, so far as I’ve seen, largely negative (e.g. here, here, here, here, and here)—i.e. the series has been panned across the board—with the prevailing sentiment summed up in a two-minute commentary by France Inter’s Nicolas Demorand last Friday, who, “hate-watching” (his words, in English) ‘Emily in Paris’, slammed it as “un navet, mon dieu quel navet” [navet = a dud, a turkey].

The cleverest, most amusing commentary has come from the University of Cambridge’s Lecturer in the History of France and the Francophone World, Arthur Asseraf, who has been tweet storming on each episode (the first two are here and here).

I personally had no interest in watching ‘Emily’, particularly after reading some of the above-linked articles and following the Twitter reactions, and declared to one friend that there was not a snowball’s chance in hell that I was going to waste my time with this manifest dreck. As I’ve never seen even five minutes of ‘Sex in the City’, creator Darren Star’s claim to fame, there’s no logical reason for me to see this one, even if it has a Paris theme (as if I can’t see Paris every day of the week, on the screen and in real life).

But then last Friday I went on to Netflix to see what was new and, coming across the ‘new & popular’ category, noted that ‘Emily’ was in first place and ranked #1 in France. So I clicked on the trailer, what the hell, just to see. Finding it a total LOL, I thus reflexively, spontaneously clicked on episode 1 and started watching. And, lo and behold, I was LMAO from the get-go. It’s hilarious, the most uproarious comedy I’ve seen since the 2014 knee-slapper Le Crocodile de Botswanga. On the laugh-o-meter, ‘Emily’ is up there with Le Dîner de cons and Didier, indeed Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby.

People are missing the point of ‘Emily’. It’s satire, a parody of American clichés of France and the French—and with Emily (Lily Collins, impeccable in the role) the stereotypical twenty-something American woman, full of exuberance and enthusiasm, whom we adore, but ingénue and clueless. I’m amazed that people, and particularly in France, are at all taking it seriously, let alone taking umbrage. It’s total second degree humor. Obviously the series creator knows that one does not light up a cigarette in an office in France, that the workday does not start at 10:30, that concièreges are not always irritable (and where there are still concièreges, as few buildings outside upscale quartiers still have one). And that there would obviously never be a photo shoot of a woman walking butt naked across the Pont Alexandre III in broad daylight. Allez. The clichés are the point. And the joke is on Americans, not the French.

I’ve watched four episodes so far (at 25 minutes or so each, it’s not a huge time commitment). They remain funny, though the laugh-o-meter has dropped a notch. Will see how the series holds up.

25 days to go

[update below] [2nd update below]

Twenty-four, in fact. Three-and-a-half weeks. I can’t wait for this to be over—and obviously for the outcome to be as it should—to be rid of the deranged idiot and with إن شاء الله the Congressional Republicans rendered impotent. As more than one on social media has sighed, how nice it would be to lie in bed at night and read a book, instead of obsessively downscrolling through Twitter on our mobile phones to learn of the latest insanity or outrage from the resident of the White House. Even Republican voters (some of them at least) are worn out by Trump, as one Republican-friendly journalist reports.

On Wednesday’s vice-presidential debate—which is now ancient history, so three days ago—my reaction aligned with the general consensus, which is that Kamala Harris was very good—she didn’t miss a beat—and Mike Pence was a calmer, better-spoken version of Trump, though his constant interruptions, exceeding his allotted time, and ignoring the timid entreaties of the hapless Susan Page to please cede the mic likely didn’t impress anyone outside MAGA world, nor his evading questions (notably over abortion and if he had had a conversation or reached an agreement with Trump about safeguards or procedures regarding an eventual presidential disability, i.e. on invoking the 25th amendment). Harris did dodge one toward the end, though she was under no obligation to respond to the incessant one from Pence on packing the Supreme Court (and with her retort to him—on Abraham Lincoln in 1864—being right on target). The debate, to use that pundit expression, did not move the needle—debates rarely do, and V-P ones never—though it did further confirm that Biden made the right choice in putting Harris on the ticket.

On Trump in the past week, it is, to borrow from Charlie Sykes, easy to get lost in the thicket of his kaleidoscopic awfulness. This tweet sums up the overwhelming sentiment outside MAGA world:

I would say that he belongs in both: in the psychiatric ward of a prison. As everyone has been keeping up with what the polite media is referring to as Trump’s “erratic behavior” since checking out of Walter Reed, i.e. his irrational batshit crazy insanity—aggravated by steroids and other drugs—there is no point in belaboring it here, except to say that we are clearly in 25th amendment territory. On this, I’ve been wondering if we’re not nearing an Army-McCarthy hearings moment, with panicked top Republicans (Pence, Mitch McConnell, Sean Hannity etc), facing debacle on November 3rd, deciding to invoke the 25th as Trump descends into manifest psychosis all while super-spreading Covid, inside the White House and out. The coming week will likely be decisive, particularly if Biden further solidifies his now +10 polling lead (which will necessarily translate into an Electoral College landslide).

In addition to Trump’s delirium—and one knows that things are bad indeed when a pillar of the moderate conservative wing of the Inside-the-Beltway establishment punditocracy, David Gergen, calls the president of the United States a “madman” on live television—there is the alarming, dangerous agitation in the heartland’s MAGA world, e.g. the plot by the 13 whack jobs in Michigan to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Such fine, upstanding citizens they have in MAGA world… And with the support of elected officials and law enforcement (watch the video):

Civil war, anyone?

On the 13 whack jobs, lefty journalist Walker Bragman, who writes for Jacobin, The Intercept, and other gauchiste outlets, committed this tweet on these apparent damnés de la terre:

Bragman’s bleeding heart tweet provoked a must-read tweet storm response (here) by activist Dr Sarah Taber, a crop and food safety scientist who knows something about rural America.

Sorry, but MAGA people in l’Amérique profonde are not les damnés de la terre.

In my last post I linked to a piece on Fox News. On the subject of the right-wing media ecosystem, see the NYT op-ed by historian Paul Matzko, “Talk radio is turning millions of Americans into conservatives: The medium is at the heart of Trumpism.” Matzgo’s conclusion:

Conservative talk radio will march to Mr. Trump’s drum, but no matter what happens in November, it will also outlast him. Talk radio emits much too powerful a signal to fade silently into the ether.

Likewise with Fox, OANN, Newsmax, etc etc.

Also in the must-read category is an article in the July 2nd New York Review of Books, which I read just the other day, by Walter M. Shaub Jr., former director of the US Government Office of Ethics, “Ransacking the Republic,” on the banana republic levels of corruption in the Trump regime.

À suivre.

UPDATE: See the Twitter storm (here) by Josie Ensor of the Daily Telegraph, reporting on Mike Pence’s rally at The Villages, Florida, which is America’s largest retirement community. Up to 3,000 elderly MAGA people—who are decidedly not les damnés de la terre—not wearing masks and practicing no social distancing. Breathtaking.

2nd UPDATE: Ross Douthat argues that “[t]here will be no Trump coup,” making “[a] final pre-election case for understanding the president as a noisy weakling, not a budding autocrat.” His argument is plausible, even likely. The mere fact that Trump inspires no fear in the political opposition or media—no one outside Trump’s own party looks over his or her shoulder or self-censors in the Trump era (au contraire)—is a strong indication that the USA is not about to descend into authoritarian rule, let alone fascism. 

30 days to go

– Coronavirus: Trump contaminated by a person in his entourage.
– Impossible! Everyone is wearing a mask!
(Dilem in the Algiers daily Liberté)

[update below]

What did they expect? I’m hardly the only one to ask the rhetorical question. It’s about time the unspeakable occupant of the White House got the virus, not to mention others in his entourage. It’s amazing it didn’t happen sooner. One is slack-jawed at the images of the ceremony for Amy Coney Barrett at the White House, with the participants close together—including indoors—shaking hands, embracing, and hardly anyone wearing a mask. The cavalier arrogance of these people—of the alternate reality they live in—almost defies belief. Such a spectacle at the summit of the state—and with the number of Covid cases increasing almost everywhere—is inconceivable on this side of the pond.

Many who are otherwise not fans of Trump—politicians, pundits et al—have nonetheless been wishing him a speedy recovery but there will be no hypocrisy from me on this. I entirely share the POV of Indiana University political science professor Jeffrey C. Issac, expressed in an à chaud commentary on Friday, “Whatever removes Donald Trump—a miserable bastard—from public life is good.” It would of course be preferable if he suffers the humiliation of losing the election and, once out of office, is indicted and prosecuted for the countless crimes and misdemeanors he has committed, stripped of his assets and with his name effaced from every edifice, banned from Twitter, and sentenced to at least a few of his remaining years in some kind of detention facility (it can be one of those white collar country club prisons, that would be okay). And, importantly, that we don’t have to hear about him anymore. Inshallah, as Joe Biden would say. But if his condition turns for the worse and he meets his maker, as it were, in the coming month or soon after, then so be it. Just so long as he’s gone.

And BTW, we’d possibly be spared the Proud Boys and others of that ilk going into action on November 3rd and after following incitement from the White House, not to mention a constitutional crisis over a protracted vote count.

I’m not going to speculate on how the coming 30 days—and the 78 after that—will possibly unfold, except that (mixing my metaphors) there are sure to be more coups de théâtre in this montagnes russes we’ve all been forced to ride on. One does note that Biden is, as I write, at +8 at FiveThirtyEight, reflecting a clear post-debate bounce, which is nice. Given the steady stream of  deceptions and lies regarding Trump’s present condition—and the mere fact that the man is seriously ill a month before the election (and with people already voting)—it’s hard to imagine a sympathy backlash from those not already inclined to vote for him. As one pundit pointed out, if Trump can’t even protect himself and his own family, how can he be expected to protect us, the American people?

As to what would happen if one or both of the presidential candidates were to die between now and November 3rd, the answer is here. Quite simply, the relevant national committee(s) would meet and select a replacement candidate (if the death were to happen in the 78 days after Nov. 3rd, then things would get complicated). On who the RNC would choose to take Trump’s place, my smart money is on Ivanka, as Don Jr would likely be deemed too risky (and with the specter of Kimberly Guilfoyle as First Lady following a shotgun marriage, what with the latest revelations, only adding to the risk). 

But given how Republicans—base voters and politicians alike—inform themselves, who knows? On the principal organ of the conservative media ecosystem, a.k.a. Trump state television—the parallel universe which the American right inhabits—see the must-read September 16th article by The Atlantic’s staff writer Megan Garber, “Do you speak Fox? How Donald Trump’s favorite news source became a language.” 

On n’est pas sorti de l’auberge.

UPDATE: Never Trumper and onetime Republican operative Steve Schmidt has an incisive Twitter commentary on Trump’s joyride yesterday (October 4th) to wave at his cult supporters in front of the Walter Reed medical center.

35 days to go

[update below]

Thirty-four, to be precise. On last night’s “debate”: I didn’t watch it live, as it was at 3AM my time, though woke up at 5, just after it ended, and read through the instant commentaires on my Twitter and Facebook feeds. The universal consensus being that it was a ‘shitshow’, ‘chaotic’, a ‘disaster’, a ‘disgrace to American democracy’, an ’embarrassment to the United States of America’, and quite simply ‘the worst presidential debate in history’—not to mention a ‘dumpster fire’, ‘train wreck’, ‘grotesque spectacle’, et on en passe—I thought at first that I wouldn’t bother catching it on YouTube and subject myself to 90-minutes of a Trump even more unhinged and wretched than usual. As one friend put it on Facebook, Trump “once again challenged the English language,” as we long ago ran out of adjectives to describe his abject odiousness as a human being, who is devoid of a single redeeming quality. But I finally did watch it and am glad, as one should always form one’s own opinion about these things.

One of the social media refrains, from pundits, fellow academics, and friends alike, was that Biden was ‘weak’ and ineffective—one lefty friend called him “an establishment geezer long past his prime”—and that Chris Wallace was terrible as moderator. On Wallace and losing control of the debate: I thought he did as good a job as he could have given the circumstances. If there was a single potential moderator out there who could have gotten control of an out-of-control loud-mouthed bully with the maturity of a 3-year-old like Trump—and who happens to be President of the United States, so commands a minimum of respect in such a situation—I would like to know his or her name (it could likely never be a her).

As for Biden, I thought he acquitted himself quite well, again given the circumstances. We were all nervous that he would have a senior moment, fumble over his words, or commit one of his famous gaffes, but he didn’t. His responses were lucid and were as they should have been. And telling the idiot to ‘shut up’ and calling him a ‘clown’ were pitch perfect and impeccably timed, as was his body language in the face of Trump’s bullshit and lies. I also liked that Biden avoided answering the question about abolishing the filibuster and enlarging the Supreme Court. And the ‘inshallah’ he let out was cool; I had seen mention of it on Twitter though didn’t catch it during the debate, but he did indeed say it (as I do on most days myself BTW). Calling Antifa an idea, not an organization, was also spot-on. Biden’s keeping his cool while constantly being interrupted was admirable, as I doubt I could have had I been in his place (while watching the spectacle I continually blurted out “You are such as asshole!” whenever Trump opened his trap out of turn and wouldn’t STFU). Some on social media regretted that it wasn’t Warren or Sanders who was squaring off against the idiot, that these two would have landed one body blow after another, maybe even a K.O. punch. That’s possible, even likely, but it’s not clear that a proactive reaction—which would have delighted the liberal-progressive gallery—would have been more effective with moderate Republican women in the suburbs of Philadelphia or Charlotte than Biden’s more understated approach—such voters being one of his targets as he looked straight at the camera—and not at the idiot—as he spoke. And on being more aggressive, one knows the old adage about wrestling with a pig.

The huge takeaway from the “debate” was Trump’s refusal to condemn white supremacy, his calling on the Proud Boys to “stand by,” and declaring that he will both not recognize the election result and seek to disrupt the vote unless he wins. On Trump possibly winning legitimately, Thomas Edsall’s cold shower column last week, “Five things Biden and his allies should be worried about,” spelled out possible reasons why the election may end up being a lot closer than the polls currently suggest—and with a Trump Electoral College victory—without voter suppression—in the realm of the possible. But as Biden remains at +7 to 8 in the FiveThirtyEight poll of polls and with solid leads in the key swing states—the stability in the polls is striking, and what happened last night won’t be changing that (not in Trump’s favor at least)—it looks most unlikely that Trump will be able to pull off a clean EC victory (FWIW, FiveThirtyEight presently rates that a 21% probability). And à propos, we were informed in The New York Times the day after Edsall’s column appeared that “Trump faces challenges even in red states, [the NYT/Siena College] poll shows, as women favor Biden: Close races in Georgia, Iowa and Texas show President Trump’s vulnerability and suggest that Joseph Biden has assembled a formidable coalition.”

On Trump’s threats to stage a coup d’État, everyone has by now read Barton Gellman’s bone-chilling essay in The Atlantic, “The election that could break America: If the vote is close, Donald Trump could easily throw the election into chaos and subvert the result. Who will stop him?” It’s a scary piece, in which even those with deep knowledge of American politics learned new things about the workings of the Electoral College (and which further confirmed a thought I’ve had for a while now—which I’ll maybe develop in the future—that the USA has a terrible constitution, which should serve as an anti-model for incipient democracies). If Trump, enabled by the Senate Republicans and right-wing majority on the SCOTUS, succeeds in his projected coup d’État and rules as a dictator, the constitution will not save us. We are entering a truly dangerous period.

On the Republican Party, I read an NYR Daily article just the other day dated August 12th, by historian of Italian fascism Ruth Ben-Ghiat, “Co-opt & corrupt: How Trump bent and broke the GOP.” It’s a must.

The fundamental problem in American politics, however, goes beyond Trump and GOP. It is summed up in the title of the post-debate commentary by The Bulwark’s Jonathan V. Last: “The president is a sociopath. And 60 million Americans like it.”

I have much more to say but will leave it there for now. À suivre.

UPDATE: Steven Waldman, who is president and co-founder of Report for America, has an interesting contrarian take on the debate on his Facebook page:

I thought the debate was great. And Chris Wallace was outstanding, too.

Since I know pretty much everyone is saying that both the debate and the moderator were global embarrassments, let me explain. The purpose of a debate is to reveal useful things about the candidates. We pretend that we learn by observing a careful exchange of policy positions, and sometimes that happens. But has there ever been a debate where one of the candidates revealed more about himself than this one? Wasn’t it far more clarifying than most debates?

And Chris Wallace was, for that reason, pretty perfect. He inserted himself enough to clarify that Trump was breaking the rules. That was hard to do; he defiantly, on the spot, did not engage in false equivalence. The fact Trump blew right past him was great for the country – because we got to see Trump in his rawest, truest sense. We didn’t learn about the differences in approaches to health policy – but we did learn about character, temperament and personality.

We also got to see how Biden handled such a volatile situation. He mostly showed self restraint and calm. Isn’t that more telling than a few more minutes of him explaining his buy America procurement rules?

Debates should help voters make their decisions. This one provided a deluge of useful information.

Journalists are sometimes criticized for not ‘nailing’ the subjects that they interview. That misunderstands the journalist’s role. The job is often to reveal not rebut. If I’m really honest, I have to admit that when I do interviews, especially for print publications, I will intentionally let subjects continue to say stupid or offensive things, without challenge – because that is far more revealing than if I pointed out their stupidity and thereby prompted them to clarify.

I feel the same way about debates. The point is not to catch the candidates; it’s to reveal them. In that sense, this was the best debate in modern American history.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, R.I.P.

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I have nothing to say personally about this remarkable woman and her remarkable life, apart from what I briefly wrote in my February 2019 post on the biopic of her, ‘On the Basis of Sex’ (go here and scroll down). For remembrances that I’ve come across since her death yesterday, see in particular the ones by historian Heather Cox Richardson (in her indispensable daily newsletter ‘Letters from an American’), The New Yorker’s Jill Lepore, and (via Twitter) Elizabeth Warren.

This is the eventuality that liberals and progressives have been dreading since November 9, 2016, of Trump filling a liberal vacancy on the Supreme Court—Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer are ones we’ve worried about—and thereby locking in an ultra-conservative majority for a generation—and with consequences too horrible to contemplate (repealing Roe v. Wade, returning to the Lochner era in regard to business regulation, gutting environmental legislation, further reinforcing the anti-majoritarianism of the electoral system, undermining civil liberties, and you name it). Mitch McConnell may well get away with it, though this is not etched in stone. There is an outside chance that four or more Republican senators (we know their names) may not agree to hold a vote before the election, or during the lame duck session, to replace RBG. The situation is fluid, as The Nation’s Jeet Heer concluded in a trenchant Twitter commentary; we can’t know today how this is going to play out—except that it has, as Politico headlines, “[blown] up the 2020 campaign,” and with, as Ryan Lizza submits, the prospect of “turbocharg[ing] the politics of procedural radicalism.”

The Bulwark’s Jonathan V. Last, in a typically sharp analysis, says that RBG’s death 45 days before the election “may be—forgive the mixed metaphor—the black swan that breaks America’s back.” In this vein, Last’s Bulwark associate, Charlie Sykes, writing in his ‘Morning Shots’ newsletter on “RBG and the coming crisis: We could avoid the bloodbath but we probably won’t,” offers these thoughts:

Just when we thought 2020 couldn’t possibly get worse, we are about to see one of the ugliest political fights of our lifetime. It will leave scars not just on our politics, but also on the culture, and the legitimacy of the Court itself.

If you’ve been working on your ‘Worst Case Scenarios,” you’re going to have tear up and start over. If you’ve been playing at home, it’s possible that your 2020 Apocalypse Bingo card is nearly filled up.

The court vacancy obviously has long term consequences for abortion, voting rights, the environment, immigration, and the next generation of jurisprudence. But TrumpWorld is already gaming out the implications of 4-4 or 5-3 split in a contested election this year. All the planets and meteors of death are coming into alignment.

Of course, the coming bloodbath could be avoided if calmer, reasonable heads prevailed. But who are we kidding? This is 2020 and these fights always seem to bring out of very worst. (…).

Never Trumper Sykes does take care to avoid both-sidesism, as the very worst will, as we know, come exclusively from one side. There is no dirty pool on the D side of the aisle, not on this matter at least. But if Trump and McConnell succeed in ramming through RBG’s replacement before January 21st, the Democrats, should they win back both the White House and Senate—a prospect that may well be further enhanced by D voter rage and mobilization—will have no choice but to enlarge the SCOTUS, plus expand the lower federal courts by 70 to 100 new judgeships, as John Dean (of Watergate fame) has tweeted. Dean and others are talking about 2 extra SCOTUS justices, bringing the total to 11, though Norm Ornstein correctly calls for 13 justices, i.e. adding 4, to “right the wrongs from Garland and RBG.”

Will Biden, Schumer & Co have it in them to play hardball with the Republicans? To enact any of the Dems’ program, they will most certainly have no choice. And they’ll have to strike early in a Biden administration and start adding the justices, while offering the Republicans a deal: to stop at 2 if the Repubs agree to end life terms of all SCOTUS and federal judges, including those currently serving (I read a savant article some time ago by a jurist—I’ll have to find the reference—positing that such a reform would not require a constitutional amendment). I’ve been arguing the principle for years, posting on it a couple of times 8-9 years ago. Most of those who share my view call for a single 18-year term. I go for 12-year renewable terms (and a mandatory retirement age of 75), with nominations staggered every year or two—and beginning immediately, with current justices up for renewal (or retirement) in order of seniority. I can’t imagine that anyone could object to such a reform on principle.

À suivre.

UPDATE: Harold Pollack, a well-known policy maven who teaches social service administration at the University of Chicago, has posted on social media a piece he wrote in Politico in 2016 on term limits for SCOTUS justices.

Heather Cox Richardson, in her September 20th newsletter, weighs in on the “history behind this [Supreme Court] fight that explains just why it is so heated… and what is at stake.”

Brian Beutler, who is editor-in-chief of the smart webzine Crooked, argues that “After Ginsburg Dems must choose radicalism or failure.”

And don’t miss the opinion piece on the NBC News website by the very smart University of Washington political scientist Scott Lemieux—and co-author of Judicial Review and Democratic Theory: Power, Domination, and the Courts (Routledge, 2017)—”Trump and McConnell’s Supreme Court plan justifies anything the Democrats do in 2021: Packing the court, ending the filibuster and giving Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico statehood should all be on the table, if all norms are off the table.”

2nd UPDATE: Matt Bruenig, a founder of the People’s Policy Project, has a must-read piece in Jacobin, “What exactly is the liberal position on the Supreme Court?” The lede: “The Supreme Court is way too powerful — and its power shouldn’t be wielded for good, it should be permanently undermined. Many liberals are close to coming around to this position, but few articulate it clearly.”

Also in the must-read category, and following in Bruenig’s vein, is the piece by The Week’s Ryan Cooper, “Democrats have a better option than court packing.”

And summing things up is the excellent column by the NYT’s Jamelle Bouie, “Down with judicial supremacy! The Supreme Court was never meant to be the only arbiter of the meaning of the Constitution.”

3rd UPDATE: The Atlantic’s Russell Berman, writing on life terms for SCOTUS and federal judges, says that “No other Western democracy allows this: Only in America does so much power rest in the hands of elderly judges.”

55 days to go

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Fifty-four days, in fact. Political scientist and well-known specialist of populist movements Takis S. Pappas, who is presently at the University of Helsinki, has published an essay on his blog, “Why Trump is likely to get re-elected: A populism expert’s view,” and which he posted on his Facebook page. I had to respond to it (before reading me, please read him). I’ve said much of this before but here goes:

Your last sentence is key: “since no two cases in history are exactly the same, no history’s rule is binding.” The USA differs from the other 8 cases you cite, in that, among others, it has had regularly scheduled, quadrennial elections for the past 230 years and the results of which have been accepted as legitimate. To include the USA in a study of “lands of populism” is debatable (if the USA, why not the UK too, what with Brexit and the Trump admirer Boris Johnson?) In regard to the populist candidate’s victory in 2016, it cannot be stressed enough that this was a *freak accident*. Though a small number of clairvoyant persons predicted a Trump victory, absolutely no one foresaw him winning the electoral college, and by the margin he did, while losing the national popular vote by over 2%. This was unprecedented in US history. To repeat, no pollster, politico, pundit, or political scientist saw this one coming.

Since 2016, Trump’s populist party (the Republicans) has lost almost every intermediate and other by-election. If it weren’t for the anti-majoritarian features of the American electoral system—notably the electoral college, which now structurally favors the Republicans—Trump’s defeat this November would be a foregone conclusion. Since taking office in January 2017, Trump has never, not once, exceeded 47% approval in the polls (the average of them at a given moment). His approval rating has flat-lined at 40-43% for most of the past 3½ years, with the percentage disapproving of him (and strongly so) 10 to 15 points higher. An incumbent in a presidential system simply cannot win reelection with numbers like these—unless the opponent is an extremist and even more unpopular (e.g. France in 2002, and even that was an accident) or the system is rigged.

In this respect, if every registered voter who wishes to cast a vote in the November election is able to do so, and whose ballot is then properly tabulated, Biden will win and Trump will lose. This is a near certainty. The only way Trump can win is through voter suppression (with methods perfected by the Republican Party in a number of states, including key swing ones, not to mention manipulation of the US Postal Service; a phenomenon that makes the USA a true outlier among liberal democracies). For Trump to win 270+ electoral votes without voter suppression, he would have to lose the national popular vote by 3% or less, which is conceivable, though would have to be preceded by a dramatic shift in public opinion in his favor in the closing stretch of the campaign, which is, objectively speaking, most unlikely (particularly in the absence of a scandal or major negative revelation concerning Biden). Unless the polling on Trump over the past four years has been way off (which it was not in 2016, so why would it be now?), Biden is on track to win the national popular vote—provided the election is fair across the board—by at least 4 to 5 points, which will all but guarantee victory in the electoral college. If Biden maintains his present margin—7.8% today at FiveThirtyEight.com (which, FYI, is 0.1% greater than George Bush’s margin over Michael Dukakis in 1988)—he will win an electoral college landslide.

N.B. Since Biden declared his candidacy a year-and-a-half ago, he has never not led Trump in the polls, and by several points. And since early June, he has been at 50% or higher (something Hillary Clinton never achieved in 2016).

On your enumeration of Biden’s weaknesses, I don’t think any of them withstand scrutiny. The Democratic Party has its usual divisions—as a big tent party of the center and left, since when has it not?—but they are not so pronounced this year. The unity of the party behind Biden has, in fact, been quite remarkable (see, e.g., Bernie Sanders’ full-throttled support of Biden at the DNC). On Biden not being “charismatic,” so what? Since when has it taken charisma to beat charisma? As for Trump’s “law and order” demagoguery, there is, at least so far, no sign that this is working for him. In fact, it may well be working against him. And on the “vision thing” (borrowing from G.H.W. Bush), Biden and the Democrats have a detailed program for change (which Trump & Co are trying to tar as “radical left”). However one wants to see Biden on this, what vision is Trump offering except for four more years of himself? As he is the incumbent, the election will be about that and him.

On the chance of a Biden electoral college win if he wins the popular vote by X points, Nate Silver, in a Sep. 2nd tweet, has this:

0-1 points: just 6%!
1-2 points: 22%
2-3 points: 46%
3-4 points: 74%
4-5 points: 89%
5-6 points: 98%
6-7 points: 99%

To be continued.

UPDATE: Takis Pappas responded to me on Facebook:

The trouble, as I see it, is that Trump’s “vision thing” resonates among that “society thing” that America has become in recent years. The country is quite different from what it used to be during most of the past 230 years of political liberalism (which BJ still respects, hence the difference with Trump). I don’t know if Trump’s 2016 win was a “freak accident,” as you say. What I do know, though, if that the four years of his rule have been freakish and have cultivated a freakish mentality that that will get expressed in this freakish election. Pollsters cannot capture most of that! On the other hand, one can easily predict that, in typical populist fashion, Trump has planned his campaign around winning swing states for attaining 270+ electoral votes. To this purpose, he will employ the state mechanism and his powers for discouraging voters from voting, suppressing, and any other type of electoral trickery. Polarization is only to his advantage. Anyways, if Trump’s America is comparable to other known cases of populism, as I believe and have written some about, then I also think that there there are lessons to be learned.

And my rejoinder (Sep. 10th):

You’re right about one thing, which is that the Trump campaign is entirely focused on crossing the 270 EV threshold—Trump’s henchmen know that he has no chance of winning the popular vote—and will pull out all the stops to get there, including voter suppression, trickery, breaking norms and even laws, abject demagoguery, and you name it. As more than one pundit has observed, Trump is not so much trying to win reelection as he is to stay in power, as the personal consequences to him of losing—in view of the almost countless lawsuits that will await him—are potentially calamitous. It is likewise for the Republican Party and its plutocratic donor class, for whom a loss of the Senate, in addition to the White House, is almost unthinkable. So it looks like we don’t differ on Trump’s sole path to victory.

You’re also right in suggesting that pollsters can’t capture everything. There’s a fair amount of guesswork in the likely voter screens and we’ve learned that certain major polling institutes were underestimating the number of less educated white voters. The latter has been rectified, presumably at least. But like I said, it is really very unlikely that the polls (the mean as calculated by 538) are seriously misfiring, e.g. having Biden at, say, +7 when he may, in fact, only be at +2.

American society is certainly different from what it was 60 years ago but when it comes to the party system, the big change has taken place within the Republican Party, which has gone from a big tent party spanning the center to the hard right, to one entirely dominated by the hard right, with its erstwhile liberal and moderate conservative wings having vanished and mainstream conservatives capitulated to the reactionaries and populists. How this came about I discussed in my September 2017 post “How the Republican Party went crazy.”

What has in effect happened to the Republican Party is that it has become “Southernized,” assuming the ethos and world-view of the Old South. One cannot make sense of American politics without understanding the specificity of the South—i.e. the states of the Confederacy—which has been hostile terrain for liberal values and where one-party rule has always been the norm. The American South has not only been an outlier among democracies but was the most quasi-feudal region in the western world into the 20th century. All one needs to do is look at voter participation rates before the 1965 Voting Rights Act; e.g. in presidential elections in South Carolina to the 1940s, the percentage of the adult population that voted was in the single digits (and with the Democratic candidate receiving in the mid to high 90%), signifying that not only were black voters disenfranchised but many (poor) whites as well. Until the civil rights era, the Solid South was, of course, dominated by the Democratic Party. In the national party, though, the Southern Democrats were only one bloc among others. But when southern whites defected to the Republicans—and with a dominant GOP replacing the Democrats at the state level—their world-view eventually became hegemonic in the party, far more so than it was in the pre-1960s D party. This is the reality of American politics today and will remain so for a long while to come.

If one hasn’t seen it, do read the op-ed (Sep. 8th) by NYT editorial board member Jesse Wegman, “The Electoral College will destroy America.”

2nd UPDATE: With 50 days to go (Sep. 13th), Biden is maintaining his lead at +7.2. Unless there’s a big game-changer between now and November 3rd—an October Surprise is always possible, of course (e.g. the Comey letter in 2016)—Biden is likely to win the popular vote by more or less this margin. One thing that has not been much mentioned in election analyses is third-party or other candidates, who were a factor in 2016. Here is the cumulative total vote as a percentage for minor party candidates in the past five elections:
2016: 5.7%
2012: 1.7%
2008: 1.4%
2004: 1.0%
2000: 3.7%

The figure this year will no doubt be much closer to that of 2012 than 2016—and with potential third-party votes going to the candidate challenging the unpopular incumbent, as tends to happen. In 2016, 136M people voted. If we assume that 150M vote this year—a big “if” given the pandemic, though an otherwise realistic prediction in view of the 2018 midterm turnout—we’re looking at a Biden-Trump result on the order of 52.5%/45.5% (and ≈ 78M/68M votes; N.B. Obama won 52.9% of the popular vote in 2008 and 51.1% in 2012). With this margin Biden will obviously win the Electoral College in a walk, netting 350 EVs if he takes every state that Hillary Clinton came within 5 percentage points of winning. Realistic? On verra.

3rd UPDATE: Writing in The Guardian (Sep. 13th), John S. Gardner, who was special assistant to George H.W. Bush and deputy assistant to George W. Bush, reviews (favorably) historian Heather Cox Richardson’s How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America (Oxford University Press, 2020). See also historian Randall J. Stephens’ review of Richardson’s book in The Washington Post. And if one has some time, listen to discussions with Richardson on C-Span and Bill Moyers on Democracy.

65 days to go

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Sixty-three days, actually. The Republican national convention has come and gone, with Democrats—including many friends and family—wringing their hands, wetting their beds, and otherwise flipping out over a modest Trump “bounce” in two post-convention polls, plus dreadly fearing that masses of white people across the heartland will flee into his arms following the unrest in Kenosha, a smallish city that the vast majority of Americans outside the state of Wisconsin and maybe northern Illinois had never heard of ten days ago.

First, the RNC, which I watched some of the speeches of, mainly the first two nights (though not Trump; that’s asking too much). Richard North Patterson, writing in The Bulwark on the RNC’s “[f]our days of staggering cynicism and deceit,” thus began his take:

Though Donald Trump preens like an ersatz Mussolini, to compare his convention to fascist theater from the 1930s would be to stretch responsible historical analogy. But they share a depressingly familiar fusion of lies, anger, paranoia, erasures of reality, toxic insularity, and blind fervor for a nihilistic leader who brooks no dissent.

Over four evenings, we witnessed a cult of personality rooted in mythologizing a mendacious pseudo-populist so irretrievably self-obsessed that he is redefining our democracy by inflaming the basest instincts of his followers.

To get an idea of the “basest instincts.” just watch Kimberly Guilfoyle’s screamfest, followed shortly after by that of her boyfriend, Donald Trump Jr, who IMHO should work on his delivery if he’s going to succeed his father as GOP caudillo (ex-GOPer Rick Wilson, remarking that “cocaine” was trending on Twitter during Don Jr’s speech, observed that he does indeed give the impression of having had “too much blow”). Then there was the gun-toting McCloskey couple from St. Louis, whose address to the convention is a must-see in order to fully grasp the Zeitgeist of today’s Republican Party. The Le Pens—père, fille, and petite-fille—would certainly find the McCloskey’s prestation a little on the extreme side.  And to get an idea of the R party’s future, check out the speech by Angry Young Male Charlie Kirk (who, oy vey, is almost exactly the same age as my daughter), whom many liberals and progressives have likely never heard of but is a mega-star in the MAGA world.

In a commentary in The Bulwark, “Who was Trump talking to? Hint: Probably not you,” #NeverTrump Lincoln Project co-founder Reed Galen submitted:

The Republican convention featured mostly Donald Trump, his family members, and his most obsequious aiders and abettors—Mike Pompeo, Kellyanne Conway, Matt Gaetz. The RNC had no interest in reaching Democrats, independents, or anyone who might be persuadable. The rhetoric was so over the top that they weren’t even trying to reach Trump-skeptical Republicans.

So whom were they speaking to? Exactly the same 28 percent to 32 percent of the country who live in the Trump-Fox-Bannon-Limbaugh flywheel of doom. That’s it. Trump has literally no interest beyond those who follow him unconditionally. Anyone else, to his gangster’s mind, is not worthy of his attention. Just ask blue state residents.

It was, in fact, not precisely the case that the Republican convention was addressing the sole MAGA world, witness the numerous speakers of color the first two nights, beginning with the high-profile South Carolinians Nikki Haley and Tim Scott, who talked like mainstream Republicans from twenty years ago. And then there were Afro-Americans Vernon Jones, a Trump-supporting D state rep from Georgia (who’s somewhat controversial down his way, as one learns here); Kim Klacik, the sacrificial R candidate in Maryland’s 7th CD (but whose critique of the way the Democrats have governed cities was not without merit, so argued TNR’s progressive staff writer Osita Nwanevu); 1980s-90s football star Herschel Walker, who spoke of his 37-year friendship with Trump, who, he reliably informed us, does not only not have a racist bone in his body but downright likes black people (who knew?); and convicted bank robber Jon Ponder, who found God and Jesus and became a Good Man—and whom Trump pardoned live during the convention (one wonders if Ponder would have been invited to speak to the RNC—and received his presidential pardon—had he taken his righteous path but in finding Allah and Muhammad instead). As far as publicity stunts go, the Ponder pardon was pretty shameless, as was the immigrant naturalization ceremony at the White House (the immigrants not knowing they were going to be RNC props). But while the Republicans’ diversity mise en scène may have been “all tip and no iceberg,” as a TDB piece by commentator-author Sophia A. Nelson headlined, it was likely effective with at least some of its target audience, which was suburban Republican women who had drifted away from Trump, particularly over his management of the pandemic and then George Floyd and BLM, and are looking to “come home,” but with assurances that he is not a racist. So if there’s a post-convention Trump bounce, this is where it’s coming from. To this one may add the small, but not negligible, number of black men who have been giving Trump favorable ratings, more so than they normally would a Republican.

There was much comment on the Republicans, for the first time ever for any party, not publishing a platform at their convention. But it is, in fact, not the case that they do not have a platform or program, as David Frum explained in The Atlantic. They very much do; they’re just afraid to make it public and to have to defend it, as they know full well that even many of their own voters don’t agree with it, not to mention potential swing voters.

One of the best analyses I’ve read of the RNC, published after its second day, is by the excellent Eric Levitz in New York magazine, “The RNC has made a compelling case for America’s imminent collapse.”

On Dems shitting bricks (direct quote from a friend, who says she’s doing just that) over a perceived tightening of the race and Kenosha rebounding to Trump’s favor, there have been urgent entreaties from all sorts of people that Biden must speak out forcefully against violence by rioters, that he needs to have a “Sister Souljah moment,” if not a “Sister Souljah month,” even while Trump continues to pour gasoline on the fire and cheer on armed vigilante militias, otherwise Slow Joe will lose. The mythical white backlash (which we haven’t actually seen in 50+ years). The fact is, Biden has been speaking out against violence—on all sides—and will continue to do so, but if he were to look like he’s focusing particular attention on rioters—who naturally need to be deplored—and not on where it belongs—on the police and MAGA militias—then he will risk alienating part of his own base, which he can hardly afford to do—but without impressing hypothetical panicky white folks fleeing to Trump. As Jean-Marie Le Pen used to usefully remind us, voters will always prefer the original to the copy.

A reminder: protestors and looters/arsonists are not the same people. And there is, so far as I’ve read, nothing to suggest that Kenosha is an exception. But there is a big problem in Kenosha—and countless other municipalities across America—with law enforcement, witness the police chief there, not to mention the county sheriff (see this video by John Oliver from 9:50, though the whole thing is worth watching), who is—and I weigh my words carefully—an outright Nazi. This cannot last.

À propos, see the column just posted in NY magazine by the liberal, not-left-wing Jonathan Chait, “How Trump brought Nazis into Republican politics.”

In conclusion—for the moment—here’s a tweet by The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent:

Any Dem who hand-wrings to the media about how violence will help Trump is him/herself helping Trump. You’re feeding the storyline that violence is good for him, ie that voters will see him as “strong,” and not as part of the problem, w/o doing a damn thing that’s constructive.

Here’s a better idea, hand-wringers. Draw more attention to the fact that a top strategist for Trump openly and explicitly declared that violence is “better” for him politically, and to the fact that Trump is a *total failure* on safety and law and order.

À suivre.

UPDATE: Joe Biden’s speech in Pittsburgh yesterday (Aug. 31st) was excellent (watch here). He said exactly what needed to be said.

See the spot-on opinion piece in The Washington Post (Sep. 1st) by the Lincoln Project’s Stuart Stevens, “No, Wisconsin won’t make Democrats lose.”

Ex-GOPers Max Boot and Jennifer Rubin, in their WaPo columns (here and here), also tell it like it is.

2nd UPDATE: Joshua Shanes, who is associate professor of Jewish studies and director of the Center for Israel Studies at the College of Charleston, has an essay in Slate (Aug. 28th) that is well worth the read, “This was the week American fascism reached a tipping point.”

3rd UPDATE: The Brennan Center for Justice has report (Aug. 27th) by its Liberty & National Security fellow Michael German, “Hidden in plain sight: Racism, white supremacy, and far-right militancy in law enforcement.”

4th UPDATE: A friend has asked what I think of Andrew Sullivan’s August 28th blog post “The trap the Democrats walked right into: If law and order are what this election is about, they will lose it.” Sullivan, pour mémoire, is famous for his “Henny-Penny, the sky is falling!” reactions to fast-moving political events (e.g. one recalls his despairing that Barack Obama had thrown away his re-election prospects in 2012 after his counter-performance in the first debate with Mitt Romney). In this latest piece, he positively flips out. E.g. he offers this:

All this reassurance played out against a backdrop of Kenosha, which was burning, and Minneapolis, where a suicide led to a bout of opportunistic looting, and Washington DC, where mobs of wokesters went through the city chanting obscenities, invading others’ spaces, demanding bystanders raise fists in solidarity, with occasional spasms of violence. These despicable fanatics, like it or not, are now in part the face of the Democrats [emphasis added]: a snarling bunch of self-righteous, entitled bigots, chanting slogans rooted in pseudo-Marxist claptrap, erecting guillotines — guillotines! — in the streets as emblems of their agenda. They are not arguing; they are attempting to coerce. And liberals, from the Biden campaign to the New York Times, are too cowardly and intimidated to call out these bullies and expel them from the ranks [emphasis added].

To call Sullivan’s words here wildly over-the-top would be an understatement. What he says is simply bonkers. If Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity & Co. want to present looters, arsonists, and smashers—who, FYI, do not have known political views, let alone any that can be characterized as “left-wing”—as a face of the Democratic Party, then that is what they will do. There’s not much one can do about it. And the last thing the Biden campaign needs to do is to run a fool’s errand and try to refute the right’s charge. Talk about an exercise in futility.

A fundamental rule of politics, and particularly of electoral campaigns: Do not play your opponents’ game or wade onto their terrain; do not let them dictate your agenda or seize the initiative; do not respond to their demagogic questions; do not let them lead you around by the nose.

This also applies, by the way, to unsolicited advice from media and other pundits.

As for rowdy 20-year-old “wokesters” who importune restaurant patrons in Adams-Morgan, they have, until proof to the contrary, nothing whatever to do with the Democratic Party, so there are no ranks to expel them from.

The guillotine street theater stunt: I found that amusing.

Further down in Sullivan’s jeremiad is this morsel:

And let’s be frank about this and call this by its name: this is very Weimar. The center has collapsed. Armed street gangs of far right and far left are at war on the streets.

That there are armed street gangs of the far right—militias—is an empirical fact. But on the left? Did the protestors and partiers in Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland—or Kenosha—parade around with AR-15s and other such long guns? (As for the 48-year-old wanker in Portland who shot the Patriot Prayer militiaman, he looks to be an outlier with some personal issues). Sullivan’s both-sidesism not only makes no sense but is unacceptable.

The bed-wetting pundit concludes:

But Biden, let’s face it, is weak and a party man to his core, and has surrendered to the far left at almost every single turn — from abortion to immigration to race. You’d be a fool I think, to believe he could resist their fanaticism in office, or that if he does, he won’t be toast in a struggle to succeed him. He remains the only choice in this election. But on the central question of civil order, he blew it last week and so did the Dems. Biden needs a gesture of real Sister Souljah clarity to put daylight between him and the violent left. He has indeed condemned the riots, with caveats. But at some point, the caveats have to go. And the sooner the better.

Sullivan’s characterization of Biden is, to put it charitably, wide of the mark. As I’ve written on the Democratic nominee more than once on AWAV, I don’t need to do so again here. And to speak of a fanaticized left inside the Democratic Party—and to whom Biden will be unable to resist—is so unhinged and disconnected from actual reality that I will not dignify the assertion with a refutation.

On “a gesture of real Sister Souljah clarity,” please read the post on the Wonkette website by Stephen Robinson, “No, white people, Joe Biden doesn’t need a ‘Sister Souljah moment’.” And do take the time to watch the video at the very end.

An impressive woman she was Sister Souljah. Unfortunate that she was cancelled three decades back.

At the present moment (Sep. 2nd), there is no indication that Kenosha is rebounding in Trump’s favor. Au contraire. See, e.g., David A. Graham in The Atlantic, “Kenosha could cost Trump the election: The president thinks that inflaming racial tension and provoking violence will aid his campaign. The numbers suggest otherwise.”

Also see the “Letter from Wisconsin” in Politico by JR Ross, “Trump claims he saved Kenosha. Wisconsin voters aren’t buying it: Wisconsinites might be souring on protests, but so far, they aren’t embracing Trump.”

5th UPDATE: Washington resident Lauren Victor has an op-ed in WaPo (Sep. 4th) that is worth the read: “I was the woman surrounded by BLM protesters at a D.C. restaurant. Here’s why I didn’t raise my fist.” Somehow I doubt that her experience with the wokesters will cause her to vote for Trump.

As to the cris d’orfraie of certain conservatives who have been shocked—shocked I tell you!—at the wokester guillotine stunts, right-leaning libertarian Cathy Young has gone so far as to commit a lengthy blog post, “Guillotine Chic: The new fad on the far left is not cool or funny. Here’s the real story of what it celebrates,” in which she offers up a history of the French Revolution during its momentous 1793-94 period (Young, who grew up in the Soviet Union, says she’s been a “French Revolution nerd since the age of 14,” which I can see, as while I teach the subject as part of survey courses—devoting some 6 to 8 hours to it—she is clearly more intimate with the nitty-gritty details than am I).

While nerd Young must have enjoyed writing her history—it’s always fun to go to town on things we’re passionate about—if her target audience was wokesters or other guillotine apologists, I think she was wasting her time, as (a) it is unlikely that any will have seen and read it (or, if they did, would at all be impressed or rethink their attitude), and (b) the history of France in the 1790s is quite simply irrelevant to anything happening today (and particularly in the USA). As for “la veuve,” given that capital punishment was universal across the world back in those days (though Robespierre was personally opposed, as I imagine just about everyone reading this is), the guillotine was, so I tell my students (American undergrads), invented as a humane way to execute people. It’s swift and does the job 100% of the time. There have, to my knowledge, never been any screw-ups (e.g. of the blade only partially sectioning the neck). Seriously, I ask my students, if you had to be judicially killed, what method would you prefer: the hangman, firing squad, electric chair, gas chamber, chemical injection, or the guillotine? If I had to bite the bullet, as it were, and choose, I think I’d go with “la veuve.” And you, dear reader?

Another thing about the guillotine stunt. Young and other conservatives are taking it literally but for the wokesters, I do think it was, to use a French expression, second degré.

70 days to go

This is a couple of days late, as usual. Last week was the Democratic National Convention, as one is likely aware. Had it not been for the goddamned pandemic, I would have been there, in Milwaukee in mid-July, staying with my childhood best friend in Shorewood. And I surely would have been able to obtain a pass to access the convention floor (as a journalist/blogger or in some other capacity). I was planning on and looking forward to it, particularly as it’s been 19 years since I was last there. It was alas not to be. I grew up in Milwaukee, living there from K through 6th grade, though visiting many times after moving away. I have tender feelings for that city, which I loved as a boy. It is also where I came of age politically, in 1964. I was with my parents when they voted that November 3rd (long paper ballots), at the Hartford Avenue School polling station, which is also where I went to school that year (3rd grade). I recall my indignation overhearing two boys in my class, named Ted and James, saying they (i.e. their parents) were for Goldwater, and being disappointed (following my parents, obviously) at the loss of John Reynolds (D) to Warren Knowles (R) in the Wisconsin gubernatorial election.

And then there was 1968. We were naturally for Eugene McCarthy, for whom I passed out leaflets on at least one occasion (at the UWM campus, where my parents taught; I was in the 6th grade at Campus Elementary School). Lots of vivid political memories of that year: the Tet offensive, LBJ’s address to the nation withdrawing his candidacy for reelection, the King and RFK assassinations, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, and the DNC in Chicago, which we had on TV while my father was packing us up to move (to Ankara, Turkey).

Voilà a trip down memory lane. In the here and now, I managed to watch some of last week’s convention en différé, which I thought the Democrats pulled off very well in view of the circumstances. Taking the speeches in order (the ones I watched), I thought Bernie Sanders was absolutely excellent, underscoring the authoritarian danger posed by Trump and reiterating his full-throttled support of Joe Biden. He said exactly what needed to be said (if one didn’t see it, watch here). I find the genuine bond between these two elderly men—their manifest appreciation for one another—almost moving. Following Bernie on Monday was Michelle Obama, whose speech (here) was, as everyone knows, rightly praised to the high heavens. If she’s game for it, she’ll be Biden’s logical pick to succeed RBG on the SCOTUS. It will be tough for the Senate Repubs to try to block that one.

On Tuesday, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez got her one minute (96 seconds, in fact), to second Bernie Sanders’ pro forma nomination (required by DNC rules), which she was asked to do (and she was typically tops). Lots of lefties were indignant and upset that the D party establishment looked to be giving her the short shrift—dissing her, in effect—but, while I love AOC, I think the role she played was the right one. There were clearly political considerations, with AOC being a lightning rod for Fox News and the US social media réacosphère; as one pundit put it, the Democrats’ convention spectacle was targeted at the median voter, not the median Democratic Party voter. Given AOC’s star power, a longer speech by her would have drowned out the others and distracted from them. And she is, after all, only finishing her second year in the House. She’ll play a bigger role in 2024 and beyond.

John Kerry, focusing on America and the world (here), was fine, and Bill Clinton was finer (here). There was some objection to the latter even speaking at all, with #MeToo, Jeffrey Epstein, and whatever. Come on, he was a two-term Democratic President of the United States, for crying out loud. And he’s frigging Bill Clinton! GMAB. It was nice to hear from Jimmy and Roselynn Carter (he America’s best former president), now in their mid 90s. But the real star on Tuesday, for me at least, was Jill Biden (here). First time I’ve seen her. She was so impressive. I loved her. What a wonderful teacher she must be. She’ll be a terrific First Lady. As for comparisons with the present one, no comment.

Wednesday’s power lineup included Elizabeth Warren (here), who never disappoints; Nancy Pelosi (here), who was fine; and Hillary Clinton (here), whom various pundits and others dumped on but who I thought was good, as she invariably is. Hillary-bashing continues unabated on the right, center, and left, but which I will never partake in. As for Kamala Harris’s speech (here), I thought she aced it, though there was evidently not unanimity on this. E.g. John Judis, writing on his Facebook page, panned Harris, calling her speech “abysmal” and “cliched,” which even made him “wince.” His thumbs down review of Harris attracted over a hundred comments, with many—including well-known journalists and other names—agreeing with him (though The Nation’s Katha Pollitt, echoing a thought I had, observed that almost all of those who were dumping on Ms. Harris happened to be men). None of the criticisms caused me to rethink my assessment one iota. I like Kamala Harris and was happy that Biden picked her as his running mate—and his putative successor—as she had been my n°1 choice for V-P since it became clear that Biden would be the nominee. Pour mémoire, I wrote about Harris on July 4, 2019, in my post on the Democrats’ first debate. Money quote:

There is a near-total consensus that she was the breakout star of the debate, via her now-famous exchange with Joe Biden but also supremely self-confident, in-charge demeanor. She showed herself to be the prosecutor that she once was. In a debate with Trump, she’ll cut him into little pieces. Some think that her attack on Biden was too calculated—as if politicians on the campaign trail don’t calculate—or overly aggressive (a charge that would likely not be leveled if she were male). (…) As for her positioning within the D party, she’s somewhere between the progressive and establishment/centrist wings. She’s waffled on issues or quickly adapted her position (e.g. on health care). The left is wary of her on account of her record as San Francisco DA and California Attorney General, with a NYT op-ed from January by law professor Lara Bazelon slamming that record—as not progressive—being widely circulated by lefties on social media (also here and here). Harris will need to respond to the critiques. I assume, or at least hope, that she acquits herself well and quels the left. It will not be good if her candidacy hits a wall, because if Warren doesn’t make it, we must have Harris.

After posting the above, I came across a couple of pieces that further increased my esteem for Harris, one by Jocelyn Sears on her personal history, “13 trailblazing facts about Kamala Harris,” the other by Courtney Swanson defending her record as prosecutor, “‘The research on her record: Why Kamala’s time as a prosecutor and Attorney General are a damn good thing’.” There was also the enquête by Ben Terris, “Who is Kamala Harris, really? Ask her sister Maya.”

There have obviously been a slew of articles on Harris since Biden announced his pick two weeks ago. The one in The Washington Post by Dan Morain, a well-known journalist in California, is worth the read: “America is about to see what smart Republicans saw in Kamala Harris years ago.” And the post, which has gone viral, “Kamala Harris’ impression of her Jewish mother-in-law is worthy of an Oscar,” is a must.

I like what TNR’s Walter Shapiro had to say in his “The unlikely bond between Joe Biden and Kamala Harris: She’s a natural talent at American politicking, just like he is.” He begins:

What many forget about Kamala Harris’s presidential campaign was that, for the most part, she was a happy warrior. Sure, her slash-and-burn attack on Joe Biden over busing in their first debate last June has become seared in our brains through constant repetition on cable TV.

But that was the exception.

What I remember is a different and more upbeat candidate on the campaign trail, a senator who gleefully laughed at her own jokes. In a speech to a largely Black audience in Florence, South Carolina, in early July of last year, Harris talked about how everyone was “going through individual and group therapy,” trying to grasp what Donald Trump was doing to America.

Instead of rage, Harris offered her own version of hope: “We’re going to be fine.” She harked back to the Founding Fathers and their concept of checks and balances as she stressed, “This is a nation that was founded anticipating a moment just like this.” And her dramatic example was the late John McCain casting a crucial Senate vote to break with Trump and Republican orthodoxy to save the Affordable Care Act.

This is a view of politics that Biden shares. They believe that not all Republicans are beyond salvation—and that our democracy and our values can be saved through individual acts of courage like McCain’s.

Many volumes will be written about why Biden chose Harris. But the truest bond between them may be the simplest: They are both politicians in the best sense of the word. They understand elections, Capitol Hill, and how to be tough without losing your sense of humor.

Could one possibly say such a thing about any Republican today?

Historians Thomas Meaney and Samuel Moyn have a piece in The Guardian, “Kamala Harris is Obama’s natural heir: another moderate child of radical parents.”

And Barack Obama. What to say about his speech on Wednesday? Any number of speeches he’s given over the past sixteen years have been said to be his best ever, and which more than a few are saying about this one. It is indeed possible, as he said what he felt he needed to say, in his trademark understated tone, about the stakes in this election and the grave threat to American democracy in the unthinkable event of a Trump reelection. I am not nostalgic for Obama’s presidency—there were too many frustrations and we needed to move on—but when it comes to gravitas, no American politician in my lifetime rises above him.

On the last day, Thursday, I went straight to the main event, which was, of course, Joe Biden’s acceptance speech. The reviews were unanimous, which is that he hit it out of the park. He couldn’t have been better. I was, as AWAV readers know, opposed to his candidacy until Warren dropped out, on account of his age, having been around too long, and lacking a rationale. But Mr. Biden proved me wrong. He is indeed, at this present moment, l’homme qu’il faut. He has achieved the singular feat of uniting his party behind him. There are no unhappy Democrats right now. Joe Biden is, as I’ve been saying to everyone, a good person (emphasis added). In this, among many other things, he is the utter antithesis of the current resident of the White House. And politically speaking, he is exactly where the Democratic Party needs to be as the general election campaign kicks off.

A note on Tuesday’s roll call vote (here), which I thought came off very well (funner to watch than at a real convention): of the 70-odd persons who spoke from the 57 state and other delegations, around 25 by my count were “white,” which is to say, close to two-thirds were what in America are called “persons of color.” As for the gender ratio, it was 50-50. Just an observation.

As for a platform, the Democrats do indeed have one. They do have policy policy positions. I’ll address that later. in the meantime, see the piece from last May by Vox’s Matthew Yglesias on Joe Biden’s “transformative” policy agenda.

95 days to go

The fire devil. A president sets fire to his country.

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below] [5th update below] [6th update below] [7th update below] [8th update below]

Ninety-four days actually, until we vote the orange-haired idiot out of office and send him to the proverbial trash heap of history. Everyone knows the polls, which all have Biden winning haut la main, though cautious people naturally caution that things could change over the coming three months, the Electoral College remains skewed in the idiot’s favor, and it ain’t over till it’s over. Sure. But as I’ve been insisting for over two years now—and repeat when asked, which is more than once a week—if every registered voter in the USA—including those who seek to register in good faith before their state’s registration deadline—who wishes to vote on November 3rd—in person or by mail—and is able to do so, and whose ballot is properly tabulated, Biden will win and Trump will lose. Period. It won’t even be close. I say this not based on wishful thinking but on polling data that has been consistent over Trump’s entire term, which has had the idiot’s pre-pandemic job approval rating at 41-43% (according to FiveThirtyEight.com) and has since fallen to 40-41% (and with his disapproval now at 55-56%). There is simply no way an incumbent presidential candidate can win reelection with these poll numbers—and, moreover, with his opponent at a steady 8-9% lead at this stage in the race and hovering at 50-51% (and please don’t bring up Michael Dukakis’s ephemeral post-DNC bounce in July ’88). C’est du jamais vu.

This presupposes, of course, that the election is fair, i.e. that the Republicans do not succeed in their manifold efforts at voter suppression in swing states. This is a risk, though I have been doubtful that they’ll get away with it, as, among other things, the Democrats, whose activist army will be mobilized to the hilt and which is flush with financial resources, will not let that happen. But now there are alarming reports of a real danger to the integrity of the election, involving manipulating the US Postal Service—presently headed by a Trump crony (America really is in Banana Republic territory now)—with the aim of invalidating mail-in ballots (see here and here). Again, I have a hard time imagining that the Republicans will be able to pull this off if it comes to that—la ficelle est une peu grosse and the Democrats will be ready for it—but the danger is there. Trump and the Republican plutocracy will pull out all the stops to stave off defeat, one may be sure of that. What a country the USA has turned out to be.

In lieu of going on with my own thoughts, which would mainly involve repeating what I’ve already said about the orange-haired idiot over the past four years, I will link to two articles in The Atlantic. One is by James Fallows—who has long been one of America’s best longform journalists—”The 3 weeks that changed everything: Imagine if the National Transportation Safety Board investigated America’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.” I had missed it when it was posted on June 29th but then my friend Claire Berlinski tweeted it earlier this week, with this comment:

[I]n my view this is the best article that’s so far been published about the Trump era…If I were an American history teacher in the year 2120, and if I had to choose one and only one article from the Trump era to introduce the period to my students, I’d pick this one.

The piece is long but well worth the read.

The other, by Anne Applebaum, is dated July 23rd, “Trump is putting on a show in Portland: The president is deploying the kind of performative authoritarianism that Vladimir Putin pioneered.” It may seem passé now that Trump has beat a retreat—the “big loser of the ‘battle’ of Portland,” as Le Monde put it—but is useful in understanding what he was up to in sending federal paramilitaries in their ridiculous jungle fatigues to confront his Blue America enemies.

If one is not familiar with it, I want to highly recommend the Never Trumper webzine The Bulwark, which was founded in 2018 after the demise of The Weekly Standard and whose singular mission is destroying Trump and the Trumpized Republican Party—a party with which almost all of its writers long identified. These folks are not my ideological comrades-in-arms but we are presently objective allies. I receive The Bulwark’s email newsletter two or three times a day and, unlike so many other newsletters that clutter my inbox, I always open this one and read it. I have to hand it to these conservative polemicists—notably Jonathan V. Last, Charlie Sykes, and Tim Miller—they’re terrific writers, have a sense of humor, and, like the Lincoln Project, they have Trump’s number. They know the Republican beast in the way that ex-Communists in the 1950s and ’60s knew theirs. I just hope they’re moving to the center in their views on welfare state issues (e.g. as laid out here by Geoffrey Kabaservice). We’ll see after next January 20th, inshallah.

UPDATE: Watch this 4½-minute ABC News interview (August 4th) with John Thompson, former US Census Bureau chief, on the possible consequences of the Trump regime’s moving up by one month the deadline for completing the 2020 census.

2nd UPDATE: Yale University law and history professor Samuel Moyn has a review essay in The New Republic (August 4th) on how “The Never Trumpers have already won.” The lede: “They’re not trying to save the GOP from a demagogue. They’re infiltrating the Democratic Party.” The book he reviews is Never Trump: The Revolt of the Conservative Elites, by Robert P. Saldin and Steven M. Teles (Oxford University Press, 2020).

3rd UPDATE: The NYT has an enquête (August 6th) by David Leonhardt and Lauren Leatherby on “The unique U.S. failure to control the virus.” The lede: “Slowing the coronavirus has been especially difficult for the United States because of its tradition of prioritizing individualism and missteps by the Trump administration.”

4th UPDATE: If one has the stomach for it, read the bone-chilling explanation in The Bulwark (August 6th) by Dmitri Mehlhorn—an attorney, investor, entrepreneur, and co-founder of Investing in US—on “How to steal an election: Four ways Trump can still win, 89 days out.”

See likewise the report in TNR (August 3rd) by journalists Matthew Phelan and Jesse Hicks, “Inside the Project Veritas plan to steal the election.” The lede: “James O’Keefe’s group is part of a sprawling campaign to delegitimize mail-in balloting in the fall—a campaign being led by the White House.”

5th UPDATE: Robert P. Saldin and Steven M. Teles—who teach political science at the University of Montana and Johns Hopkins, respectively—respond in TNR (August 7th) to Samuel Moyn’s above-mentioned review essay: “Don’t blame Never Trumpers for the left’s defeat.” The lede: “Anti-Trump conservatives didn’t bring down Bernie Sanders. There are other forces pulling the Democratic Party to the center.”

6th UPDATE: William Saletan’s story in Slate (August 9th), “The Trump pandemic: A blow-by-blow account of how the president killed thousands of Americans,” is being praised across the board on social media.

And this by science writer Ed Yong, in the September issue of The Atlantic: “How the pandemic defeated America: A virus has brought the world’s most powerful country to its knees.”

7th UPDATE: With 85 days to go (August 10th), Richard North Patterson, writing in The Bulwark, cogently evaluates “The ravings of Mad King Trump: On the pandemic, the economy, health care, and his 2020 opponent, he is utterly detached from reality.”

8th UPDATE: If one hasn’t already, do read the lengthy article in the May 11th New Yorker by Evan Osnos, “How Greenwich Republicans learned to love Trump: To understand the President’s path to the 2020 election, look at what he has provided the country’s executive class.” This is one of the most important reports on the Trump electorate to date: of a significant portion of it, of well-to-do, heretofore moderate Republicans who have lurched right.

Christopher Dickey, R.I.P.

I was going to post this on Friday. When I learned of his death in the early hours that morning, via this TDB article posted on Twitter, I let out a loud “What?! Oh my god!” I was genuinely shocked and deeply saddened by the news, as were numerous people I know—friends and persons with whom I am friendly, all Anglophone journalists who live or have lived in Paris. It was so sudden, apparently a heart attack; he was 68, which is too young to go, and in full form. I had seen him, as it were, only a few hours earlier on social media. Chris Dickey was the dean of the American press corps in Paris, the longtime grand reporter of Newsweek, then world editor of The Daily Beast, and with frequent appearances on MSNBC and the English service of France 24. He was an excellent reporter, a sharp political analyst—and with an impeccable political outlook—and so well-spoken. I only met him once, in 1994, at the Ritz Bar on the Place Vendôme, where he invited me for drinks, no doubt to talk about Algeria, though we communicated off and on over the years, via telephone, email, and Facebook—and in more recent years, on Twitter, where we followed one another and periodically commented on one another’s tweets. He was present almost daily on Twitter, commenting on the news of the day, regularly posting articles of interest with a simple “Read this,” with me dutifully clicking on the link, and offering his professional-quality photos of Paris.

To get an idea of how devastated people who knew him are, here are a few of the reactions from some of those whom I know, posted on social media:

Leela Jacinto (France 24):

RIP Christopher Dickey. The loss, for me and a whole generation of journalists, is immeasurable. I still can’t believe it even though, over the past few months, I had a heightened awareness of just how much of a treasure, a beloved living icon he was to me, and that this gift I had of his time – of being able to call him & always get a prompt response, superb feedback & so much support – was finite. But his legacy lives on and I’m richer, like so many others, for having known him. Sympathies to his beloved wife, Carol, son, James & the grand-kids.

Vivienne Walt (Time magazine):

Utterly gutted at the loss of Christopher Dickey and I know so many feel the same right now. My thoughts are with all of them. He was my friend, colleague, fellow TV panelist, fellow Overseas Press Club board member, my travel mate in the Iraq War, Egypt revolution, and so many other major stories, my fellow Parisian, and the greatest drink companion after our TV nights. And above that he was the most fantastic, brilliant, insightful journalist one ever could find. All that came from being a great human being. Deep condolences to Carol, his family, the grandkids he adored, and friends and colleagues across the world.

RIP dear Chris. You are irreplaceable. The world is a less sparkly, fun, intelligent place without you.

Craig Pyes:

I’ve just heard the stunning news that my friend and colleague, Christopher Dickey, died suddenly of a heart attack in Paris, where he lived. Chris was a brilliant foreign correspondent, a facile writer, and a superb editor. His father was the poet James Dickey (Deliverance). We initially met in El Salvador in 1982 covering the war, and we remained in touch ever since. In Salvador we bonded over what we called “Garch” (as in Oligarch) jokes, dark humor about the death squads. When I moved to Paris, we saw each other often. And we remained in touch over FB. Life is short, folks. Live it!

Claire Berlinski:

I’m so shocked. I fully expected more lunches with him, more wine, more gossip, more stories. When I last saw him he was as healthy and vibrant as could be. I’m weeping.

Mira Kamdar (formerly of The New York Times):

Shocking. A real loss for journalism and for we Paris anglophone writers. Thanks @csdickey for your curiosity, passion, integrity. Also, I’ll miss your random photos of Paris, a city you so loved.

The NYT obituary is here and from The Washington Post here. And here’s a 4-minute tribute by Brian Williams on MSNBC.

John Lewis, R.I.P.

Everyone is extolling his memory today. Even the Idiot-in-Chief, after a 14-hour silence, felt compelled to have a staffer tweet condolences in his name. That John Lewis was a true American hero goes without saying. To get a sense of his heroism, do set aside two hours of your time and watch the powerful 2010 PBS American Experience documentary Freedom Riders, directed by Stanley Nelson, which may be seen in full on YouTube—and which I just watched myself, having only learned about the film today, via a recommendation on social media.

As one may surmise, its subject is the 1961 Freedom Rides through the South—based on the book by historian Raymond Arsenault—in which John Lewis played a leading role. What incredible courage of the young freedom riders, who knew they were literally taking their lives into their hands once they crossed into Alabama and Mississippi, but refused to cower to the white terror mobs and the local apparatus of state terror that had the mobs’ back. The attitude of the Kennedys—JFK and RFK—toward the Freedom Riders was initially ambiguous, as one knows, but they finally came through in bringing the power of the federal government to bear on Bull Connor, Ross Barnett & Co. One shudders to imagine how matters would have unfolded if Trump and William Barr had been at the helm back then.

There is obviously a slew of articles on Lewis today. The one by The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer is good: “John Lewis was an American founder: Without activists like Lewis and C. T. Vivian, America would remain a white republic, not a nation for all its citizens.” C.T. Vivian, with whom I am not so familiar, was a Freedom Rider with Lewis—he figures in the PBS documentary—and, as fate would have it, also died yesterday.

The Élysée is making sure to recirculate a video tweet by Emmanuel Macron, dated April 25, 2018, showing him warmly hugging John Lewis during a visit to Washington. Sympa.

Mrs. America

[update below]

On this Fourth of July, I want to strongly recommend this absolutely excellent nine-episode miniseries that aired this spring on FX on Hulu (in France, on Canal+). The subject is the 1970s campaign against the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, a campaign that was entirely conceived and led by the conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly—the protagonist of the series—whose success in scuttling the ERA—which would not have happened without her—consecrated her as one of the most consequential personalities on the right wing of the Republican Party of the past fifty years. Schlafly’s single-minded campaign crystallized the right-wing backlash of the time against the challenges (legal, political, and cultural) to gender hierarchies and the emergence of second-wave feminism (“women’s lib”). The anti-ERA movement was, along with the founding in the mid-1970s of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, an important factor in the polarization of societal/cultural issues in American politics along partisan lines—and of moving the Republican Party sharply to the right on these—and to a heretofore unseen extent. Schlafly’s campaign was, in effect, the opening salvo in the culture war that the American right has been waging against liberals and the left ever since.

Similar left-right divisions existed elsewhere at the time, e.g. in France over the Loi Veil, but attenuated. In the United States, it was the opposite, with the culture wars becoming a salient partisan cleavage.

The series begins in 1971 and ends in 1980, with the election of Ronald Reagan. Any American of age in that decade and who had a minimal political consciousness will remember well Phyllis Schlafly (played by Cate Blanchett, who’s terrific in the role), her anti-ERA campaign, and the feminist supporters of the ERA—for Schlafly, the enemy—depicted in the series, notably Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne), Betty Friedan (Tracey Ullman), Bella Abzug (Margo Martindale), Shirley Chisholm (Uzo Aduba), and Jill Ruckelshaus (Elizabeth Banks). The series is indeed as much about them—the “libbers”—as it is of Schlafly and her forces. The casting is impeccable. Absolutely excellent. Likewise with the screenplay and writing. There’s obviously fictionalization of some of the characters and situations, not to mention the dialogue—and a few small anachronisms—but the series hues closely to historical events (and one recalls many of them).

A few comments. First, Schlafly was a well-known personality on the hard right flank of the Republican Party—she wrote a best-selling book in support of Barry Goldwater in 1964—but the GOP of the era was a big tent party that included a sizable moderate wing (plus a liberal one), incarnated in the series by Jill Ruckelshaus—one recalls her husband William, a casualty of Nixon’s October 1973 “Saturday night massacre” at the DOJ—who was a supporter of the ERA—along with most of the GOP when the ERA was initially adopted—and adversary of Schlafly. Ronald Reagan himself hedged on the issue; Schlafly, who strongly supported Reagan’s candidacy in the 1980 Republican primary campaign (after initially backing Phil Crane), was angling to be appointed ambassador to the United Nations, but was passed over by Reagan in favor of the Democrat—and ERA supporter—Jeane Kirkpatrick. A Jill Ruckelshaus or wishy-washy Reagan are obviously inconceivable in today’s Republican Party.

Second, the series shows the importance of Republicans in the South to the anti-ERA campaign, which meant confederate flags, the KKK, and references to white supremacy. Schlafly (who was from downstate Illinois) and others around her were uncomfortable with this and tried to hush it up—as they did with members of the John Birch Society in their ranks—but did not repudiate or try to quash it.

Third, Schlafly, who died in September 2016, was a strong supporter of Trump’s candidacy. The title of her final book: The Conservative Case for Trump. Among other things, she saw Trump as defending and incarnating family values. Of course.

The series trailer is here and here.

UPDATE: To get an idea of what America was like in the mid-1970s—on the matter of race, not gender, and in New York City (not Alabama)—watch the video in this NYT article I came across after posting the above.

Municipal elections 2020. Second round. (source: Le Monde)

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

The second round of the French municipal elections happened on Sunday, if one didn’t know—which was the case with the near-totality of persons outside France (and no doubt a few inside France as well). E.g. I spoke on Sunday with a friend in the US, who is geopolitically well-informed and knows France well; he had no idea about the elections. Some background. The elections in the country’s 36,000-odd communes—85% of which have a population of less than 2,000—were scheduled for March 15th (first ballot) and March 22nd (runoff). Municipal elections, which happen every six years, are considered France’s most important after the presidential and legislative, generating a high level of interest and with a normally high participation rate (as mayors are the elected officials in closest proximity to citizens and, according to the polls, are the most appreciated). The elections are always a big deal. This one was going to be, entre autres, a particular test for the party Emmanuel Macron created ex nihilo in 2016, La République en Marche (REM), to show that it could sink roots at the local level, which it has entirely lacked. But then the pandemic hit and which dominated the news and public attention during the two week official campaign that preceded the first round, with the government exhorting citizens to wear masks and practice social distancing. The wisdom of even holding the election was called into question and with the government seriously considering postponement, but, receiving the green light from its science and health advisers, decided to go ahead with the first round, mandating mask-wearing and hand-washing in polling stations.

I worked a local polling station that whole day as an assesseur (titulaire), which I’ve done some twenty-five times since becoming a French citizen fifteen years ago. But this time I really had to do it, pandemic or not, as I was a candidate on the united list of the left in my (very right-wing) commune, led by the Parti Socialiste (PS) and with six other left formations (ballot below)—though I had no chance, let alone desire, of being elected to the city council (I also did this in 2008, in my capacity as a member of la société civile, to get an idea from the inside of the dynamics of local elections in France and compare them to my US experiences, and also as I’m friendly with the local Socialists).

Ballot, first round, 15 March 2020.

As it happens, we didn’t break the 10% threshold to qualify outright for the second round (for the first time ever, I believe) and, as negotiations to merge with the ecologists’ list, which qualified by a wide margin, for the second round didn’t work out (not their fault; see below for an explanation of the peculiar electoral system), I was not an assesseur on Sunday. I went to vote, mask and all, c’est tout.

Back to the March 15th first round, the abstention rate hit a historic high at 55% (the previous record, in 2014, was 38%). Not surprisingly, a lot of voters, particularly elderly ones, prudently stayed home on account of the pandemic. How much the low turnout skewed the results can only be speculated on, though it stands to reason that there was some effect. As always happens, the election outcome was settled outright in the first round in the vast majority of communes—86% of them, to be precise—with the winning list surpassing 50%, leaving the remaining 5,000 or so—accounting for some 35% of the electorate, most in the larger municipalities (and almost all the major cities)—to be settled in the second round.

(source: Le Monde)

As the nation was preoccupied with the pandemic, the first round results were an afterthought the next day, mentioned in passing on the news and relegated to the back pages of the papers; when President Macron announced that evening that the confinement, or lockdown, would begin at noon the following day, that obviously meant that the second round could not take place the next Sunday, so it was postponed sine die—though which posed a tricky legal issue, as, according to election law, if the second round is postponed, this annuls the results of the first, meaning the whole thing would have to be done over. The Conseil d’État ultimately ruled that if the second round were held before the end of June, then the results of the first could stand, so it was thus scheduled for June 28th—which looked to be the right thing to do in view of the success (so far) of the deconfinement and flattening of the curve of SARS-CoV-2 infections. The sanitary conditions for the polling stations were even stricter than for the first round, with mandatory masks, only three voters at a time, screens separating the assesseurs, etc. Things went smoothly, so it was okay.

There are three big takeaways from Sunday’s result. The first is the abstention rate, which set another new record. Of the 16.5 million voters eligible for the second round, 59% didn’t turn out—and particularly in cities. The pandemic was clearly a factor but not the only one. The interest was not there for many voters—and despite the uncertain outcomes and high stakes in many races—on account of the disruption to peoples’ lives by the pandemic and the long fifteen weeks separating the first round—which relatively few paid attention to to begin with—but also an increasing alienation from electoral politics. Rising abstention has been a secular trend over the past three decades. As this disproportionately concerns the couches populaires—the lower classes—and young people, it necessarily shaped the outcome on Sunday.

The second was the stunning success of the lists led by Europe Écologie-Les Verts (EELV), and in some of France’s largest cities: Lyon, Strasbourg, Bordeaux, Grenoble (won in 2014), Tours, Annecy, Besançon, Poitiers, Colombes, plus others; the écolos likewise participated in left victories in other cities, including Paris and Montpellier (the outcome in Marseille is presently uncertain), and came within a hair of winning Lille. The victories in Lyon and Bordeaux were particularly amazing. In Lyon, where the EELV annihilated the REM, the result was a humiliating repudiation of mayor Gérard Collomb, an erstwhile PS centrist-turned-macroniste, who ran the city hegemonically since 2001, and had, moreover, entered into a post first round pact with the hard-right regional council president, Laurent Wauquiez, of the hard-right lurching Republican party (LR), to block an ecologist victory. Major fail. The result in Bordeaux was closer, with the EELV-led left-wing list edging out the LR-REM alliance, giving the city its first mayor of the left since 1947.

A few remarks about the écolo “green wave.” 1. The newly-elected EELV mayors—some of them newcomers to politics—were unknowns outside their cities before Sunday. The EELV has almost completely renewed its leading personnel, with the high media profile écolo politicians of 15-20 years ago now out of politics. This is not common with French political parties. 2. Yannick Jadot, who led the EELV’s successful campaign in last year’s European election—and has presidential dreams for 2022—has been avoiding the “left” label—seeking to transcend the left-right cleavage—but the winning EELV lists on Sunday all situated themselves decidedly on the left, and most in alliance with the PS and other left formations. There is no ambiguity about where the EELV situates itself on the political spectrum. But it is also clear that the party is decidedly closer to the PS (moderate left) than to the gauche radicale (La France Insoumise et al). The fact that the EELV is now responsible for governing some of France’s largest (and most prosperous) cities will necessarily impose a certain pragmatism. Looking ahead to 2021 (regional and departmental elections) and 2022 (presidential and legislative), there will almost certainly be an EELV-PS alliance, but with the former no longer playing junior partner to the latter. 3. The EELV’s “green wave” will indeed reshape the left in the coming period but its importance should not be exaggerated. Prior to Sunday, the écolos governed four of France’s 270 cities with a population of 30,000 and over. Now they will govern fifteen. The fact is, the EELV is still pretty small and, when it comes to local power, nowhere near the still convalescing PS. And the écolos have a history of performing well in intermediate elections but biting the dust in the presidential and legislative. Polls for 2022 presently have Yannick Jadot in the single digits and there is no a priori reason to believe he will go higher. Moreover, the high abstention rate on Sunday did facilitate the “green wave,” as the ecologists’ millennial and Gen Y CSP+ voters (educated, professional, urban) turned out in higher numbers than did the couches populaires.

The third big takeaway of the election was the abject failure of the REM, which won practically nothing. The only mayor of a commune with a population of 30K+ elected under the sole REM label was LR-defector Gérald Darmanin in Tourcoing. All the other centrist victories were by Emmanuel Macron’s MoDem and UDI allies, e.g. François Bayrou in Pau. PM Édouard Philippe may have won a landslide reelection in Le Havre but while having quit LR, he has not joined the REM. The REM is an empty vessel, existing solely to anchor Macron’s personal ambitions (now his reelection in 2022) and with the Great Helmsman making his party’s every last decision. The party has no autonomy whatever from the Élysée. It would be one thing if Macron were a brilliant political strategist, but he demonstrated yet again in this electoral episode his pathetic political skills, the showcase being his imposing the arrogant, imperious Benjamin Griveaux—who manifestly has more enemies than friends—as the REM candidate for mayor of Paris—which Macron really believed he could win—and when Griveaux got caught up in the miserable sextape affair, replacing him with non-politician Agnès Buzyn, who quit her post as minister of health as the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic was making its way to France—and who later admitted that she knew as early as January that the pandemic would indeed hit France and with a fury, was worried sick about it, informed Macron, but publicly revealed nothing. The Buzyn fiasco was epitomized by the fact that she failed to even win a seat for herself in the Paris city council. Also contributing to the REM’s rout was its/Macron’s decision to ally the party with LR, i.e. the right, in a number of cities in the second round, with the express purpose of trying to block the ecologists. Not only did the strategy fail but it definitively confirmed that the REM, a centrist formation at its foundation—and with a significant center-left flank—is now solidly anchored on the center-right. And it’s not going back; e.g. one learns that now ex-REM left-leaning deputies, led by Aurélien Taché (who’s taken good positions on issues, notably immigration), will be forming a new center-left party, #NousDemain. Whatever the REM’s future as a center-right party—the center-right political space already being crowded and with plenty of political pros not in the REM—it definitely has none without Emmanuel Macron.

A quick rundown of the results of the other parties.

The Socialists: The 2014 elections being a historic catastrophe for the PS—which I detailed at the time here, here, and here, if anyone’s interested—it was hard to see it losing even more ground. Sunday’s bilan was not bad at all, with the party easily holding on to its major cities, including Paris, Nantes, Rennes, Dijon, Clermont-Ferrand, Avignon, and Rouen, though Martine Aubry in Lille won the narrowest of victories (vs. EELV). The PS also picked up Montpellier, Nancy (a longtime center-right bastion), and Saint-Denis, and may yet Marseille—which would be huge—but given the specific electoral system for the three largest cities (Paris-Lyon-Marseille), that won’t be known until the newly-elected city council meets on Friday (as no list there has a majority of seats). Paris was the big one, of course, with Anne Hidalgo—allied with EELV in the second round—easily defeating her main rival, LR’s Rachida Dati. Hidalgo has not been overly popular—though several of my Parisian friends love her—but she’s redoutable. I’m not enamoured with her myself—as a banlieuesard, I have issues with her anti-automobile measures—and find her to be a dull, plodding speaker—I’ve seen her more than once—but she’s solid. And she is, at this given moment, the PS’s preeminent political figure. And as the PS has no obvious candidate for 2022—First Secretary Olivier Faure is a good man but it can’t be him, and Bernard Cazeneuve is nowhere to be seen—eyes will inevitably start to turn toward Hidalgo. She says she’s not interested and I can’t see it myself, but who knows? As Ségolène Royal is intimating that she may jump in the 2022 race—which will dismay, if not alarm, many on the left—the pressure on Hidalgo may consequently become intense. On verra.

The Communists: The PCF took a big hit in 2014, losing many of its longtime bastions in Paris’s famous “red belt” (working class banlieues—now heavily immigrant—ringing the city to the north, east, and south), to both the PS and the right. The party won back a few—notably Bobigny, Noisy-le-Sec, and Villejuif, and picked up Corbeil-Essonnes—but lost even more, including Saint-Denis—its last city of over 100K inhabitants, and which had been Communist since 1944—Aubervilliers, Champigny-sur-Marne (where Georges Marchais lived), Villeneuve-Saint-Georges, Valenton, and Choisy-le-Roi; and down south, Arles and Gardanne. The PCF continues its slow descent to oblivion.

As for Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise, it won practically nothing, mainly because it contested practically nothing (though even if it had, it still would have won practically nothing). LFI is little more than a vehicle for JLM’s megalomaniacal delusions of grandeur. JLM must have had a tough time swallowing the specter of Philippe Poutou, chef de file of the historically Trotskyist Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste, winning an impressive 9.3% in Bordeaux (of all places). LFI didn’t attain that score anywhere outside a few left-leaning communes in the Île-de-France. It is even being said that the mere fact that LFI was part of the left-wing coalition in Toulouse caused defections of some voters there to the incumbent LR-led right-wing list, which won a narrow victory.

Les Républicains: LR were the big winners in 2014, controlling the mairies in over half the communes with populations of 30K+. There was no significant change this year. The heir of neo-Gaullism won a few (Metz, Orléans, Auxerre, Biarritz, Lorient) but also saw some big ones slip through its hands. And losing Bordeaux—where Jacques Chaban-Delmas and Alain Juppé reigned for almost all of the past 75 years—was tough; if Marseille—ruled by Jean-Claude Gaudin since 1995—is lost in the “third round” on Friday, that will be tougher still.

Rassemblement National: Last but not least. The ex-Front National’s breakthrough on the municipal level was in 2014, when it won eleven mairies, which was a big deal for the FN but, in the larger scheme of things, not that much of one. In view of Marine Le Pen’s trajectory since then, one could expect her renamed RN make further gains this time, but such did not happen at all. The party of the extreme right continues to experience great difficulty in recruiting competent activists and sympathizers to fill its lists at the local level, and then to retain those it does who are eventually elected to municipal councils. The drop-out rate—of counselors who stop showing up—is significant. In 2014, the FN managed to run lists in 369 communes with populations of 10,000 and over. This year the RN managed to do so in only 262. And whereas the FN broke 10% of the vote in 317 of those 362 lists in 2014—thus qualifying for the second round—on this March 15th, such only happened in 136 communes (source here). That said, the RN won outright first round victories in six of its 2014 communes, including Hénin-Beaumont (Steeve Briois), Fréjus (David Rachline), and Béziers (mayor Robert Ménard is informally allied with the RN, though is distancing himself from the party and Marine LP). On Sunday the RN lost three mairies, including Mantes-la-Ville (in the Île-de-France) and the 7th sector of Marseille, but picked up three new ones: Moissac, Bruay-la-Buissière, and, above all, Perpignan, the first city of over 100,000 won by the FN/RN since Toulon in 1995. Perpignan’s new mayor, Louis Aliot (Marine LP’s ex), is a first-tier RN personality and has been working that city for many years. He also downplayed the RN label during the campaign, to the point where it didn’t even appear on the candidate’s posters. Perpignan, with its large population of rapatriés from Algeria—there’s even a pro-OAS stele in a cemetery there—is ready-made terrain for the RN, so Aliot’s victory was hardly a surprise.

Conclusion: in local politics in France, the long-established parties—LR, successor constituents of the ex-UDF, PS, PCF—continue to dominate.

I mentioned above that I would have a description of the electoral system (mode de scrutin) for municipal elections. I’ll add that later as an update, so if anyone is interested, please revisit this post tomorrow.

UPDATE: Here’s the electoral system for municipal elections (adapted from an official website, translated, and edited):

The lists must be composed of as many women as men, with compulsory alternation between women and men or vice versa.

In the first round, the list which obtains the absolute majority of the votes cast receives a number of seats equal to half of the seats to be filled. The other seats are distributed by proportional representation (highest average) among all the lists having obtained more than 5% of the votes cast, according to the number of votes obtained.

In an eventual second round, only the lists having obtained in the first round at least 10% of the votes cast are allowed to remain. They may be subject to modifications, in particular by merging with other lists, which may be maintained or merged. Indeed, the lists having obtained at least 5% of the votes cast may merge with a list having obtained more than 10%. The distribution of seats is then as in the first round.

In Paris, Lyon, and Marseille, lists are constituted at the level of the arrondissement (in Marseille, in sectors grouping two arrondissements), each with their own mayor and council, with designated counselors in the latter being seated in the city-wide council. A ‘third round’ vote of the newly elected city council selects the city’s mayor.

The number of seats in the municipal councils—and thus the size of the lists—depends on their population, ranging from 15 for communes of 1,,000 to 1,499 inhabitants to 69 for those over 300K.

Commentary: no one in France sees anything problematic with this mixed majoritarian-proportional electoral system. I have never come across a single critique of it. But it is a terrible system IMHO. First, it gives a super majority to the winning list, including those that win with a narrow plurality in a triangulaire or even quadrangulaire (three or four-way race) in a second round run-off. Lists that finish behind the winner get a symbolic handful of seats but are reduced to impotent opposition. A fundamental principle of proportional representation—the necessity of forming coalitions, as a single party almost never wins an outright majority—is rendered inoperative. Second, the municipal councils are way too big. They’re bloated. E.g. there are 49 members of the one in my commune, which has a population of some 75,000. Except for the counselors (in my commune, a third of the 49) who have a délégation (i.e. are in charge of a particular file, e.g. sanitation, street maintenance, pre-school education, culture) assigned by the mayor—and who thus become deputy mayors (adjoints au maire)—they are mostly useless (and don’t get paid, so it’s not even a part-time job). Third, the mayor—the n° 1 on the list—has too much power and almost no political checks on it (unless the elected counselors on his/her list split into dissident factions, which does happen). Fourth, the lists being voted at-large means that, excepting highly politicized citizens and local actors (business and other) who closely follow local politics, most people do not know their local elected representatives apart from the mayor.

The six-year term is also way too long. For local elections, the term should be four years maximum.

2nd UPDATE: The well-known, very smart political scientist Jean-François Bayart has a must-read post on his Mediapart blog that is sharply critical of Anne Hidalgo’s action as mayor of Paris. Among other things, he slams the pedestrian malling of the city’s central arrondissements, of turning Paris into a playground for tourists and the youthful CSP+ crowd. He also rightly deplores Paris’s organizing the 2024 Olympics, which Hidalgo led the campaign for. It is well worth the read for anyone who lives in Paris or spends time in the city.

3rd UPDATE: The newly-elected Marseille city council selected Michèle Rubirola, who led the broad left-wing coalition, as mayor (July 4th), in circumstances that may only be described as rocambolesque. Big win for the left, big loss for LR.

And police racism. The George Floyd murder and subsequent protest movement have reverberated across the globe, as one is likely aware, and particularly in France, beginning with the big June 2nd anti-police violence rally on the esplanade of the Paris Tribunal—organized via social media by a committee led by the family of Adama Traoré, a black man who died in police custody in 2016 (details here)—and followed up by the comparably large June 13th demo at the Place de la République. The June 2nd event took everyone by surprise; and few Parisians would have come across it, the Paris Tribunal being on the periphery of the city (at Porte de Clichy). As Le Canard Enchaîné reported in its June 10th issue, the intelligence service of the Paris Police Prefecture was blindsided by the unauthorized demo, getting wind of it only that morning and projecting an eventual crowd size of 500 to 1,000, when some 23,000 ultimately showed up. Sociologist Abdellali Hajjat, in a Mediapart post reflecting on France’s racism problem, remarked that the June 2nd and 13th events were the largest anti-racism rallies in France since the final day of the famous 1983 March for Equality and Against Racism. Now that’s noteworthy.

So France’s answer to #BlackLivesMatter is now a durable reality, as is the debate over statues and other historical symbols regarding France’s history of colonialism and slavery. As Abdellali Hajjat observes in his Mediapart post, the American protest movement has spawned an internationalization of the antiracist cause. What is striking here in France is the somewhat panicky reaction of politicians and mainstream media commentators, from the right to center-left, with their hoary invocations of the universal values of the hallowed French republican model, which does not recognize the existence of race or ethnicity—unlike the “modèle communautariste anglo-saxon” of the French imagination—so whatever racism that exists in France can only be epiphenomenal, not at all structural. French politicos and pundits—and French people in general—have a hard time dealing with race and ethnicity when it relates to France’s colonial past—epitomized most recently by the disgraceful manner in which Emmanuel Macron spoke on the matter in his televised address this past Sunday (and which 14 prominent scholars with specialized knowledge of the subject properly shredded in a collective tribune in the June 23rd Le Monde).

When it comes to police violence, French commentators are right to say that France is not the USA; as I wrote in my June 3rd post on the George Floyd protests, there is no comparison between the two countries on this score. French police behave in many nasty ways but do not draw their guns and pull the trigger as do their US counterparts. Swarthy and dark-skinned persons in France may experience humiliations or indignities when encountering flics—the contrôle au faciès, which I wrote about eight years ago and is the subject of a Human Rights Watch report released just last week, is an old and never-ending story, and police violence is a reality (and concerns not only members of visible minorities)—but, notwithstanding bavures that end in a fatality, French POCs do not fear for their lives as do their counterparts outre-Atlantique (for the latest account on this, see the powerful NYT op-ed by Ishmael Reed).

While the French police are less violent than the American—at least when it comes to killing people—they are no less racist in their attitudes; e.g. the well-known pollster and political analyst Roland Cayrol, who is hardly a woke gauchiste, insisted on this himself on France 5 a couple of weeks back. With 54% of French cops reportedly having voted for Marine Le Pen in the 1st round of the 2017 presidential election (she received 21% nationally), why would it be otherwise? In a tribune in the June 10th Le Monde, social scientist Rachid Benzine and Catholic priest Christian Delorme—who was an initiator of the above-mentioned 1983 march–weighed in on the causes of the hostile relationship between the police and the younger generation of France’s visible minorities. Comparing France and the USA, they observe [N.B. for the benefit of non-Francophone readers, the passages below have been fed through Google Translate and edited]:

And even if, in effect, Emmanuel Macron’s France is not Donald Trump’s America, and if the police of the two countries cannot be equated, what is happening in America works like a magnifying mirror of our own reality.

On the quasi impunity of the police, which in France appears almost to be greater than in the USA:

No government in any country in the world can afford to have its police against it, and that is why, almost every time when violence or racist behavior is reported by members of the security forces, the tendency of political authorities is to almost systematically let them off the hook. The judiciary itself, which cannot too strongly oppose the police as an institution, which is its “armed wing,” also cannot allow itself to too harshly sentence police officers or gendarmes [prosecuted for violent behavior].

Overly flagrant behavior is sanctioned on rare occasions and “bad apples” punished, but for forty years there has been, on the part of government officials and the national police [which is under the authority of the Ministry of Interior], a refusal to question the depth of the dysfunctions in the relationship between the police and “youths of the suburbs” (jeunes des banlieues), a euphemism for young blacks and North Africans.

Benzine and Delorme do observe that the police in France, quite unlike their US counterparts, are often afraid to go into the banlieues, less because they fear for own physical integrity than they might wound or kill someone themselves.

They conclude:

It is therefore urgent to call into question the root causes of this divide between the jeunes des banlieues and the police. These are obviously multiple, notably linked to economic disparities and urban segregation. But they have, above all, a historical foundation: that of a French police force which, after the Second World War, was constructed in the fight against Algerians in France who agitated for Algerian independence.

Since 1954 [when the Algerian war of independence began], the relationship between the police and “visible minorities” has not changed. And whether we like it or not, there is a link between the Algerians who were thrown to the Seine on October 17, 1961, by the police, then headed by the sinister Prefect Maurice Papon, and the black or North African victims of recurrent police “blunders.”

It is a legacy issue. It is a problem of colonial and post-colonial culture. It goes beyond individuals and is thus not a matter of indiscriminately condemning people. But if you close your eyes too much about it, the Republic is, as it were, hitting a wall. As we know: fear leads to violence.

The legacy of Algeria. À propos, I am looking at a (448 page) book on a shelf in my study by political scientist Emmanuel Blanchard, La police parisienne et les Algériens (1944-1962) (Paris: Nouveau Monde Éditions, 2011). Vast subject.

It’s possible that I’ve missed it but I have heard or seen no mention in the media debate over the past three weeks of last fall’s hit film, Les Misérables, the subject of which is precisely the relationship between the police and youthful members of visible minorities (mainly black) in the banlieues. The film is, as I’ve written elsewhere, the best in the North/Sub-Saharan African immigrant-populated banlieue ghetto genre in years, if not ever. It was a box office success, with over 2 million tix sold (a lot for France); received stellar reviews; won the Jury Prize ex æquo at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival and the 2020 César award for Best Film; was nominated for an Oscar for Best International Feature Film; and was just one of those movies people saw and talked about. If one wants to know about the interface between the police and the “jeunes des banlieues,” the scene in the trailer (at the 0:16 mark) sums it up. Such happens every day somewhere in France and has been experienced by countless youthful members of visible minorities.

The film depicts the day in the life of three cops of the BAC (Brigade Anti-Criminalité), whose beat is the Cité des Bosquets in Montfermeil, a Paris banlieue in the Seine-Saint-Denis (the famous “neuf-trois”: the poorest and most heavily-immigrant populated department in France): the rookie good cop (actor Damien Bonnard, always first-rate), the bad cop (Alexis Manenti, who won the César award for Most Promising Actor), and the POC cop (Djebril Zonga), who grew up in a cité (public housing project) himself (and POC cops being a recent phenomenon in France). The BAC, which specializes in muscular interventions in “quartiers sensibles,” i.e. cités in the banlieues, has a terrible reputation with the youths who encounter it; anthropologist Didier Fassin, who gained authorization to embed himself with a BAC unit in the Paris region for 15 months (in 2006-07)—and wrote a book based on his field work—witnessed up close the unit’s “racist discourse,” “discriminatory practices,” “scenes of humiliation,” “abusive contrôles au faciès,” and the like. As for Montfermeil’s Cité des Bosquets, which has been labelled the “worst ghetto in the Seine-Saint-Denis,” director Ladj Ly grew up there, so knows it rather well. Montfermeil is also particular, as it is, minus the Bosquets, one of the most well-to-do (and “white”) communes in the “neuf-trois.” It has also been (along with neighboring Clichy-sous-Bois, where the 2005 riots started), poorly served by public transportation (until the long-awaited extension of the T4 tram line six months ago), thus isolating it from Paris (and employment prospects for Bosquets residents).

I was interested in the Bosquets/Montfermeil side of the film, as I visited that cité once, in 1998, during the campaign for the regional elections that March. I accompanied a candidate, Jamel Sandjak—a well-known personality in the soccer world of the Île-de-France and an activist in the center-left PRG (an eternal junior ally of the Socialist party)—on a campaign foray into the Bosquets. Three things struck me about the place. First, its spatial isolation. We parked the car in a quartier pavillonnaire—a neighborhood of nice, single-family homes—and walked a half kilometer or so, through open terrain, to reach the cité. It was another world from the main part of the town. Second, as it was a Saturday morning and market day, the commercial center of the Bosquets was bustling, with lots of people out and about. No one looked to be ethnically French. I saw one or two “white” persons—who were probably Portuguese or something, not Français de souche—but everyone else was of North or Sub-Saharan African origin (with maybe some Turks and Sri Lankans). The ambiance was North African-Middle Eastern, not at all French. I indeed had the strange sentiment that I was not in France. Thirdly, the physical state of the cité was terrible. It was run down; in short, a slum—and in contrast to the buildings of the bordering cité (Chêne Pointu) in Clichy-sous-Bois, which were freshly painted and looked not bad. In France, the physical upkeep of public housing projects is the responsibility of local government. So whereas Clichy-sous-Bois had a Socialist mayor, who put money into the maintenance of public housing in his commune, Montfermeil’s ultra right-wing mayor, named Pierre Bernard, did the opposite. A royalist and for whom Jean-Marie Le Pen was too moderate (I’m not kidding), Mayor Bernard—who ran on the partisan label divers droite, which signifies way out there on the right—did absolutely nothing for the Bosquets, needless to say. I was reliably informed that young people who ventured in to the center of Montfermeil were made not to feel welcome—the attitude being ‘get back to your ghetto!’

Bernard’s successor in the Montfermeil mairie—who has seven children and hails from the Vendée (you can’t make these things up)—doesn’t look more moderate. And if what one sees in ‘Les Misérables’ reflects reality, the physical state of the Bosquets has, if anything, gotten even worse. One of the salutary aspects of the film is that it doesn’t focus exclusively on les jeunes but also gives attention to their elders. So one sees the BAC cops interacting correctly with the older men—mid 30s and 40s—who run the local kebab joint or have other above ground jobs—or maybe not—many of whom have done time in prison and almost all of whom have found religion (i.e. Islam). The men are the cops’ informal informants as to what’s going down in the cité. The relationship is uneasy but what choice is there. And then there are the bearded, djellaba-wearing salafists—the heavies—who clearly exercise authority in the cité, moral and maybe otherwise, with the cheeky teenage boys behaving deferentially in their presence, and respectfully listening to their entreaties to come to the mosque and learn about religion. As they are key social actors, the cops also have to deal with them. Again, no choice.

What is so exasperating about the maddening French polemicizing over communautarisme—a bogus neologism devoid of social scientific value—is that while politicians and pundits go on about the supposed existence of this phantasm chez les Anglo-saxons and how un-republican French it is, the very thing they execrate has been happening right under their noses in France for decades, and for which those who head the French state have no response apart from empty ideological exhortations and even emptier promises to fight discrimination. Emmanuel Macron and other politicians can denounce “communautarisme“—and now “separatisme,” whatever that’s supposed to mean—but they have no idea what to do about it. They have not a clue as how to change the reality of the Bosquets or all the other such ghetto cités.

If the French political class were serious about tackling the problems in the banlieues, and particularly the execrable relationship between the police and les jeunes, one positive step would be to legalize the consumption and sale of cannabis and other soft drugs, as the French state’s futile, unwinnable war on drugs is responsible for much of the police-jeunes tension (abusive identity checks, muscular interventions of the BAC, etc; again, see the beginning of the film’s trailer linked to above), not to mention the drug-trafficking gangs that rule the roost in so many cités, and with the consequent criminalization of so many youths, who end up with police records, do prison time, and you name it. But for incomprehensible reasons, the very debate over legalizing, or even decriminalizing, the recreational consumption of cannabis—as has happened in many countries and American states—has remained a near taboo subject in France. Emmanuel Macron endorsed decriminalization during the 2017 campaign but dropped the idea once elected. Even the PS has been skittish on the question.

The portrait of France depicted in the film is not all somber. It begins with footage of the wild celebrations that followed France’s victory in the World Cup final on July 15, 2018—and is the image chosen for the film’s poster—which united Frenchmen and women of all origins. As I posted at the time, the jeunes of immigrant origin waved the French tricolore, not the flags of their parents’ countries. It was a gratifying multiracial/multiethnic moment of communion and celebration.

‘Les Misérables’ has naturally been compared to Mathieu Kassovitz’s 1995 landmark film La Haine, which it does take after (and particularly the final scene). ‘La Haine’, which I’ve seen three or four times, was one of the first in the genre and generated a lot of buzz when it came out: PM Alain Juppé deemed it so important that he held a screening at the Matignon and invited his ministers to attend, and Jodie Foster was so impressed with it that she supervised the English subtitling (she’s a perfect Francophone) and fast-tracked its US distribution. The pic has much to recommend it IMO (e.g. the scene of the three buddies venturing into Paris and their behavior at the vérnissage is brilliant), but I am not an unconditional fan. First, the wellsprings of “the hate” that is the film’s theme are not made clear. Second, the fact that the three buddies were multiracial—black-blanc-beur (black-white-North African)—privileged a social class reading of the cleavage over an ethno-racial one, when the reality in the banlieues is the precise opposite. Third, the Vincent Cassel character—the “white”—overwhelmed the two others. Moreover, he was Jewish; I’m sorry but the image of the angry banlieue Jew just won’t fly. It’s not credible. There are plenty of Jews (Sephardi, from North Africa) in banlieue cités (notably in Sarcelles and Créteil)—though their numbers are declining as they move/flee to other parts of the Paris region (and some to Israel)—but their teenage sons tend not to hang out with groups of beurs et blacks. ‘La Haine’ was already surpassed in the genre by Abdelllatif Kechiche’s excellent 2003 ‘L’Esquive’ (English title: Games of Love and Chance) and has definitely been by ‘Les Misérables’.

The 1983 March for Equality and Against Racism, mentioned above, also received cinematic treatment, with the 2013 film La Marche, by Belgian director-actor-screenwriter Nabil Ben Yadir and with an ensemble cast of well-known actors and actresses, including Olivier Gourmet, Jamel Debbouze, Hafsia Herzi, Lubna Azabal, and Vincent Rottiers. The film’s release was timed to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the final week of the march, which arrived in Paris on December 3rd and with tens of thousands having joined in, seven weeks after the original 17 marchers set out from Marseille. It received buzz in view of the anniversary and I naturally saw it right away, but it was a box office failure and received middling reviews (here’s a positive US one), with many criticizing distortions or fictionalizations of the event, plus the fact that the film ended with the December 3rd Paris rally and famous audience/photo op with President Mitterrand at the Élysée (this scene from newsreel footage), when this was only the opening act in a new social movement of French-born children of immigrants from the Maghreb. The film did specify at the outset that it was “inspired” by the veritable history of the march, so there was inevitably going to be some fictionalization (notably with the characters’ names), but I thought it hued fairly closely to the historical record, so far as I’ve read about it at least. Lots has been written on the event but, from a social scientific standpoint, the reference is Abdellali Hajjat’s La Marche pour l’égalité et contre le racisme (Paris: Éditions Amsterdam, 2013). Excellent book. As for the film, I didn’t think it bad. If one has any interest in the subject, it may certainly be seen.

I will resist the temptation to go on further on the 1983 march, which was a seminal event. Just a few points. First, the catalyst of the march was the abusive or violent behavior of the police toward les jeunes des banlieues (the epicenter at the time being the big cités in the satellite towns east of Lyon). Thirty-seven years later, nothing has changed on that score. Second, the march may have brought the Maghrebi second-generation (les beurs) to the attention of public opinion, and in dramatic fashion, but the political activism of young Franco-Maghrebis was already intense at the time (and a significant part involving the offspring of Harkis, whose situation had its specificities). Associational life in the banlieues—a good part of which was linked to the radical left—was teeming, though associational activists, notably in the Lyon area, were cool to the march. There was, initially at least, not a groundswell of militant support for it. Third, once the march gained media coverage, the political class, both left and right—save the Front National (1983 was its breakout year)—expressed sympathy for the marchers. That the left was in power was important (the Socialists’ efforts to co-opt and tame the elan of the movement came later). Fourth, the historiques of the 1983 march saw their action as following in the footsteps of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. One may also note that the 17 original marchers included two Catholic priests—one the engagé Father Delorme—and a Protestant pastor, and that the Lyon chapter of the historically Protestant humanitarian NGO Cimade played a key role. There was little mention of Islam during the march. Matters are somewhat different today.

À suivre.

De Gaulle

He’s a leading story in the news today, in France at least. If one needs reminding, today is the 80th anniversary of the Appel du 18 juin, the brief address of the great general—though who was not too well known at that moment—to the French people, from London over the airwaves of the BBC, calling on France to continue resisting the German invaders and not capitulate in suing for an armistice—which is what the newly-appointed prime minister, Philippe Pétain, did four days later (de Gaulle returned to BBC HQ on that day to rerecord the address; listen to it here). As we know, hardly anyone in France heard the address and no recording of the original remains, but, as British historian Julian Jackson states in the opening paragraph of his 928-page biography of the general—called “monumental” and “magisterial” on both sides of the Channel and Atlantic—it was with this that De Gaulle “entered history,” ultimately becoming the greatest Frenchman of the 20th century—though as Jackson reminded the audience on France Inter this morning, it could not have happened without Winston Churchill.

There’s so much to say about Charles de Gaulle—I spend several classes on him in courses I teach on France and 20th century Europe: WWII, Algeria, the Fifth Republic and the 1960s—but will just mention the movie here. Churchill got his with director Joe Wright’s  riveting 2017 Darkest Hour—for which Gary Oldman justly won the Academy Award for Best Actor—entirely set in May 1940, when Churchill, almost seul contre tous, refused to capitulate to Hitler. De Gaulle receives like treatment in Gabriel Le Bomin’s biopic, simply entitled De Gaulle, which opened here on March 4th—two weeks before the beginning of the confinement, when all theaters shut down. The film covers the catastrophic seven weeks of the Fall of France, in May-June 1940, and of de Gaulle, literally seul contre tous, refusing capitulation to Hitler. It’s a movie for the masses and a tad hagiographic—de Gaulle is portrayed as both defender of the honor of France and a devoted husband and father (which he was)—but I liked it all the same. On the Allociné scale, I rated it 4.0 (very good). The historical details are accurate and the acting first-rate, notably Lambert Wilson as de Gaulle, Isabelle Carré as wife Yvonne, and Olivier Gourmet as the hapless PM Paul Reynaud. It’s a well-done film, which did not merit the mixed reviews of US film critics I otherwise hold in high esteem. With cinemas reopening next Monday, its run in France will resume. Trailer with English s/t is here.

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