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The inevitable Brexit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

À suivre.

The tyke with a toque

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

East Germany, 1989.

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

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

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

 

[update below]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lock him up!

Magnet on my refrigerator

[update below]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

À suivre.

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

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

 

Describing Trump

This one has been making the rounds on social media, and which merits reposting on AWAV. Someone on the popular question-and-answer website Quora asked, “Why do some British people not like Donald Trump?” A witty and insightful writer from England named Nate White wrote the response below, which is as spot-on a description of Trump-the-man as one will find:

A few things spring to mind.

Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem.

For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed.

So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.

Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever.

I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility – for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman.

But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

Trump is a troll. And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs; he only crows or jeers.

And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults – he actually thinks in them. His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness.

There is never any under-layer of irony, complexity, nuance or depth. It’s all surface.

Some Americans might see this as refreshingly upfront.

Well, we don’t. We see it as having no inner world, no soul.

And in Britain we traditionally side with David, not Goliath. All our heroes are plucky underdogs: Robin Hood, Dick Whittington, Oliver Twist.

Trump is neither plucky, nor an underdog. He is the exact opposite of that.

He’s not even a spoiled rich-boy, or a greedy fat-cat.

He’s more a fat white slug. A Jabba the Hutt of privilege.

And worse, he is that most unforgivable of all things to the British: a bully.

That is, except when he is among bullies; then he suddenly transforms into a snivelling sidekick instead.

There are unspoken rules to this stuff – the Queensberry rules of basic decency – and he breaks them all. He punches downwards – which a gentleman should, would, could never do – and every blow he aims is below the belt. He particularly likes to kick the vulnerable or voiceless – and he kicks them when they are down.

So the fact that a significant minority – perhaps a third – of Americans look at what he does, listen to what he says, and then think ‘Yeah, he seems like my kind of guy’ is a matter of some confusion and no little distress to British people, given that:

  • Americans are supposed to be nicer than us, and mostly are.
  • You don’t need a particularly keen eye for detail to spot a few flaws in the man.

This last point is what especially confuses and dismays British people, and many other people too; his faults seem pretty bloody hard to miss.

After all, it’s impossible to read a single tweet, or hear him speak a sentence or two, without staring deep into the abyss. He turns being artless into an art form; he is a Picasso of pettiness; a Shakespeare of shit. His faults are fractal: even his flaws have flaws, and so on ad infinitum.

God knows there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid.

He makes Nixon look trustworthy and George W look smart.

In fact, if Frankenstein decided to make a monster assembled entirely from human flaws – he would make a Trump.

And a remorseful Doctor Frankenstein would clutch out big clumpfuls of hair and scream in anguish:

‘My God… what… have… I… created?

If being a twat was a TV show, Trump would be the boxed set.’

Brilliant.

On a somewhat sobering note, Peter Beinart’s latest, typically insightful piece in The Atlantic is entitled, “The two psychological tricks Trump is using to get away with everything: His brazen attempts to redefine the norms of acceptable conduct work for a reason.”

IMHO Trump will not get away with this, i.e. what he will be impeached for. His luck will run out. Inshallah.

The impeachment inquiry

I was going to offer my initial thoughts on the impeachment inquiry ten days ago but got distracted by Jacques Chirac (see previous post). Two immediate comments. First, it’s about time. Finally. Second, the (flawed) arguments by pundits and skittish Democrats against trying to impeach Trump—that it would be opposed by a majority of the public, surely fail in the Senate, and end up reinforcing the Mad King and his reelection chances—are now obsolete. They have been overtaken by events. One thing is certain: like Brexit, we have no idea how this thing is going to play out. But one other thing is also certain, which is that there will necessarily be a succession of revelations during the House inquiry that are highly damaging to Trump—as a sociopath and lifelong con man who should have been sent to the slammer many years ago, how will it be otherwise?—making impeachment an all but foregone conclusion. And does anyone seriously believe even at this early stage—with support for impeachment spiking in the polls and Trump melting down daily and flailing hysterically—that even in the event that the Senate does not vote to convict—which looks like the probable outcome at present but who knows?—that Trump will come out of the process politically strengthened? And moreover, given that he is piling on the provocations and manifest illegality daily, is certainly clinically psychotic—and likely in the early stages of dementia—and with a staff of bootlickers, lickspittles, and lackeys; in short, people who are, objectively speaking, not very smart? Or, as they would say over here, qui ne sont pas des fins stratèges ou des flèches? Come on.

It is now well understood by erstwhile impeachment skeptics that, with the revelation of the Trump-Zelensky telephone conversation, Nancy Pelosi had no choice but to finally open an impeachment inquiry. And all the more so as even non-Never Trump conservatives suggested that the Ukraine affair has pushed Trump into impeachment territory. The consequences of a Democratic failure to act would have been disastrous, signaling to Trump that he could commit unconstitutional or illegal acts with impunity—and with the Democrats looking like castrated eunuchs and Trump’s fanaticized supporters exulting. As Will Wilkinson—the very smart vice-president of the libertarian Niskanen Center think tank—put it in an excellent NYT op-ed, impeachment simply became “imperative.”

In one of the best essays of the past week, the conservative lawyer George T. Conway III (husband of Trump spinmeistresse Kellyanne, if one didn’t know), writing in The Atlantic, submitted quite simply that Trump is “unfit for office” and with his malignant “narcissism mak[ing] it impossible for him to carry out the duties of the presidency in the way the Constitution requires.” Conway’s piece is long but essential reading.

On how the impeachment inquiry endgame may play out, writer and ex-SCOTUS clerk Dean Gloster, who represented two “high-functioning narcissistic sociopaths” in his former career as a lawyer—who describes himself as “the guy the awful people came to after they’d screwed up so badly in front of federal judges with their first lawyers and wanted saving”—offered some experience-based thoughts in a must-read Twitter storm, and with some pointers for Trump’s flunkies and henchmen whom Adam Schiff will be serving with subpoenas. In his view, it will be sauve qui peut.

As to how Adam Schiff’s committee should pursue the hearings, Trump-loathing onetime Republican operative Rick Wilson, who’s always a pleasure to read, has these recommendations in his September 25th Daily Beast column, entitled “Five simple rules for impeaching our president: Battle on and for TV, ignore the old rules, expect the worst from Republicans, cause pain, and let the pros work.”

Rule 1: This is a battle by, for, and of television.

Donald Trump is a reality-TV star. It’s all he understands. It’s the only thing that penetrates that gigantic bone dome concealing his tiny lizard brain. The hearings must be public, televised, media-friendly, and done in a way that emphasizes the scope and intensity of this investigation. Remember, America elected this orange jackhole in large measure because they saw him pretending to be a CEO on a reality-TV show. If Congress provides moments of critical gravity on-air, preferably live, Trump’s brain will melt.

Rule 2: Ignore the old rules. Trump certainly will.

The first rule of Trump Fight Club is that there are no rules. The real battle to come is one of spectacle, drama, loud noises, and made-for-TV confrontations, not careful legal proceedings and meticulous fact-finding. Democrats shouldn’t be trying to make an air-tight legal case; they should be making a vivid, powerful, political and public case against Trump’s lawbreaking, greed, and sleaze. Don’t get caught up in the petty details; work the big, brash picture.

Trump is playing to his strength. As a man without shame, his only goal is to create a larger explosion, a bigger shock, a more powerful emotional response. He’s playing to his base; if Democrats are playing to the New York Times editorial board, they’re fucked.

Rule 3: Expect fuckery from the Republicans.

Play back every hearing in the past year where Fredo Nunes, Jim Jordan, Matt Gaetz, Mark Meadows, or any other member of the Deep State Douche Caucus rolled out some bizarre attack utterly unrelated to the actual investigation.

They’re going to ramp this up by a factor of a million, using every procedural trick in the book to blow up every hearing. The chairmen of these hearings need to drop the goddamn hammer on these jerkoffs, and hard. Suspend rules, crack skulls, cut corners—just keep the conversation and the camera on the Trump scumbags in the dock for questioning.

Don’t expect any heroes from the GOP; Republican members view him with more fear than loathing, and that’s the ballgame. Some true believers will be there to detonate themselves in service to the Dear Leader; they’re the Trumphadi caucus, and guys like Gym Jordan are one televised hissy fit from strapping on a bomb vest and charging the gate at Chappaqua. Once the filing deadlines for the GOP primaries have passed, you might have a little more luck but, until then, expect nothing but trouble.

Rule 4: Cause pain.

So far, no one from Trump’s world has felt the slightest bit of pressure or pain from contempt, lying, withholding information, evading subpoenas or being a Trumpian cocknozzle. When sinister Trump-world shitbird Corey Lewandowski lied his ass off before the House Judiciary Committee and verbally abused members of Congress, he did everything but take a dump on Jerry Nadler’s desk, and still walked away scot-free. If the shoe was on the other partisan foot, Lewandowski would have been perp-walked out of the room and strip-searched in the Rotunda.

If “inherent contempt” isn’t in the Democrats’ playbook right now, then forget impeachment and plan for a season of stonewalling. So what if the law is vague or there’s going to be a big old habeas corpus fight? You’re looking for the video clip of some Trump fuckwit being heaved off his feet and dragged out of the hearing room in contempt, not a legal-eagle panel on MSNBC nodding sagely.

You have to attack Trump’s weak spots; his money, his taxes, and his kids. Raise the stakes for all of them. Press harder. Be more cruel and more determined, because the other side most certainly has decided to lie and stonewall until you lose patience. Drag all of them, even the most tangential characters in Trumpworld.

Rule 5: Let the professionals work.

I know every member of Congress wants to be the star of the impeachment hearings. That’s not how this game works. They need to treat this like a televised trial, not like a goddamn press availability at the East Bumfuck Rotary Club.

The Democrats need to get professional, outside prosecutors to serve as the lead interrogators for every Trump witness. Pipe-swinging attorneys asking meaningful and high-risk questions to the Trump witnesses is better television, better lawyering, and better at wrecking Trump’s headspace than the five-minute-rule boredom of normal hearings.

And one more rule, mostly for the press: Stop taking the bait.

The president of the United States of America is, as you may have noticed by now, a lying liar who lies. The people around him are more of the same.

You’re not required to edit his word salad into coherent video or quotes. You’re not required to cover every one of his lunatic accusations as if it were gospel fact. If Trump makes an outrageous claim, he depends on the reporters around him to merely amplify what he said and not to call bullshit. This is how Trump has hacked the media system to his advantage. Even his lies, when reported, are believed as truth.

It’s past time for the press to call bullshit. No one is required to report verbatim the details of the president’s outrageous lies, only that he told them.

Those are the new roles, to win a fight that is going to be long, bloody, and painful. We’re still at the beginning of the beginning, as much as we may wish otherwise.

Trump deserves impeachment. America deserves a Democratic Party that has the strength, discipline, focus, and determination to carry it off.

In his follow-up October 2nd column, “Trump is going to burn down everything and everyone, and Republicans, that means you,” Wilson begins:

Donald Trump’s Oval Office performance-art masterpiece Wednesday was one for the ages, a pity-party, stompy-foot screech session by President Snowflake von Pissypants, the most put-upon man ever to hold the highest office in the land. If you watched his nationally televised press conference, Trump’s shrill, eye-popping hissy fit scanned like the end of a long, coke-fueled bender where the itchy, frenzied paranoia is dry-humping the last ragged gasps of the earlier party-powder fun.

Between calling Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) a panoply of Trumpish insults (and for the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee to be held for treason), engaging in his usual hatred of the press, talking about Mike Pompeo’s intimate undergarments, and quite obviously scaring the shit out of Finnish President Sauli Niinisto—who looked like he was the very unwilling star of an ISIS hostage video—Trump spent the day rapidly decompensating, and it was a hideous spectacle. All the Maximum Leader pronunciamentos won’t change the reality that Donald John Trump, 45th president of the United States, has lost his shit.

In private, Republicans are in the deepest despair of the Trump era. They’ve got that hang-dog, dick-in-the-dirt fatalism of men destined to die in a meaningless battle in a pointless war. They’ve abandoned all pretense of recapturing the House, their political fortunes in the states are crashing and burning, and the stock-market bubble they kept up as a shield against the downsides of Trump—“but muh 401(k)!”—is popping.

You want to know why so few Republicans have held town-hall meetings since early 2017? Because Trump is the cancer they deny is consuming them from the inside out. They see the political grave markers of 42 of their GOP House colleagues—and several hundred down-ballot Republicans—booted from office since 2017 and know that outside of the deepest red enclaves, they’re salesmen for a brand no one is buying.

How I wish I could write with such flair. To read the rest of Wilson’s column, you’ll have to plunk down $29/year or whatever it is to get behind The Daily Beast’s paywall (it’s worth it).

One big question—and over which there is much disagreement—is the scope of the impeachment inquiry, of whether or not it should be narrowly focused on the Ukraine affair or expanded to take up the countless number of impeachable offenses Trump has committed. I’m undecided, as there are strong arguments for both. Basically I’ll go with whatever it takes to get the SOB out of there (and preferably in handcuffs). Another question, which many had not thought of (myself included), is what will happen in the Senate if Trump is impeached. It has been assumed that the Senate will hold a trial, as it is presumably supposed to under Article II Section 4 of the constitution, but certain analysts have said that Mitch McConnell, as majority leader, could decide to not hold one, to simply ignore the House’s articles of impeachment. McConnell has assured that Senate rules do obligate it to take up impeachment but still, he could try to quickly dispatch with the matter. In a lengthy interview with the excellent Dahlia Lithwick, who writes on courts and the law for Slate, Walter Dellinger—former acting solicitor general and emeritus professor at Duke Law School—specified that the presiding officer at a Senate trial would be Chief Justice John Roberts, not Moscow Mitch, which would engender a different dynamic. And several Republican senators in purple states facing potentially tight reelection races next year—in IA, CO, AZ, ME, NC—may deem it prudent not to go on record as trying to nip in the bud a Senate trial before it has run its course. So what happens in the Senate could be quite interesting.

There’s much more to say about this obviously but I’ll leave it there for now. À suivre.

Map tweeted by Trump and response.

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