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Trump, race, and nationalism

There have been countless articles and analyses since Trump announced his presidential candidacy way back when of the white race consciousness, a.k.a. racism, driving his hardcore supporters—who constitute a quarter to a third of the American electorate. One of the best I’ve seen of late is the essay (Nov. 20th) by Adam Serwer, senior editor at The Atlantic, “The nationalist’s delusion: Trump’s supporters backed a time-honored American political tradition, disavowing racism while promising to enact a broad agenda of discrimination.” It’s an exceptional piece, a tad long—some 10,000 words—but well worth the read.

Also in The Atlantic is a piece (Nov. 22nd) by staff writer Vann R. Newkirk II, “Donald Trump’s eternal feud With blackness: In a presidency defined by its unpredictability, one of the few constants is the president’s eagerness to attack black people for failing to show deference.” Money quote

Apart from their political effectiveness, though, Trump’s feuds serve another purpose: They obscure the fact that he is a politician otherwise without identity. Without people of color to serve as a foil, there is no Trumpism. If not for his attacks on the Central Park Five, his birtherism, his slanders of immigrants, his “what the hell do you have to lose” exhortations, the travel bans, and his autonomic reactions against prominent black people, it’s hard to see how Trump ever could have been elected in the first place.

If one missed it, see the contribution (Nov. 20th) to The Washington Post’s ‘Inspired Life’ page, by writer/novelist Gail Lukasik, “My mother spent her life passing as white. Discovering her secret changed my view of race — and myself.” Breathtaking to read such an account in our day and age.

Bonne lecture.

 

On neoliberalism

Everyone is against neoliberalism. If there is anyone with the slightest politically progressive inclination who is not, I would like to know his or her name. If one is for neoliberalism, that makes one ipso facto not progressive. On the other side of the barricade. De l’autre bord. The term is tossed around a lot, though—a little too much, in fact—and particularly the further left on the spectrum one travels. It lacks precision. Gauchistes will censoriously label as “neoliberal” the most modest, tentative reform of a totally Étatiste economy. This is not right IMHO. Now Dani Rodrik, who requires no identification for AWAV readers, has a terrific “long read” essay in The Guardian, dated November 14th, that clears up the matter, “The fatal flaw of neoliberalism: it’s bad economics.” The lede: “Neoliberalism and its usual prescriptions – always more markets, always less government—are in fact a perversion of mainstream economics.”

Voilà, c’est tout.

The Weinstein fallout


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

The lead story in yesterday’s France 2 evening news was the latest report on the prevalence of sexual harassment in French workplaces, here among medical personneli.e. doctors–in hospitals. It is amazing, almost stunning, the fallout that the Harvey Weinstein revelations six weeks ago has had: in France, the US of course, and all sorts of other places. It  has naturally been a big topic of conversation in my family (wife and daughter), among friends, and in social media. Weinstein is, ça va de soi, a despicable human being, as are all the other harassers and rapists who have been outed and richly deserve their public disgrace—and, for some, their inevitable judicial prosecution. No reasonable person will disagree.

But in the midst of the legitimate outcry and indignation have been moments of excess with the #MeToo and #BalanceTonPorc campaigns, which was the subject of an L.A. Times tribune, dated November 1st, by Cathy Young—contributing editor at the libertarian Reason magazine—”Is ‘Weinsteining’ getting out of hand?” I thought it was a pretty good piece myself, so posted it on Facebook, and which led to a, shall we say, spirited exchange among several of my friends, including women whose feminist credentials are ironclad and who happened to agree with Young. Following this was an extensive, ongoing email exchange with several friends, over a lengthy, quite excellent essay that one of them has written on the matter, developing her viewpoint expressed on my FB thread (and which I will post as an update below as soon as it finds a publisher, hopefully in the coming days).

I hadn’t intended to write on any of this but was prompted to by one of the now daily rebondissements, which is the reopening, by liberal pundits seeking to prove their evenhandedness in the midst of the revelations about Roy Moore in Alabama and ensuing tumult within the Republican Party, of the Bill Clinton dossier from the 1990s. Among these pundits are two of my favorites, whose bylines are a mark of quality: Michelle Goldberg, who wrote in the NYT the other day, “I believe Juanita;” and Vox’s Matthew Yglesias, who opined that “Bill Clinton should have resigned: What he did to Monica Lewinsky was wrong, and he should have paid the price.” How disappointing to read such balderdash from two otherwise smart, level-headed political analysts. To borrow from Jacques Chirac, Mme Goldberg et M. Yglesias ont perdu une bonne occasion de se taire. That is to say, they should have just STFU.

I am not going to relitigate the Clinton-Lewinsky affair—more accurately labeled the Kenneth Starr scandal—except to say that there was no reason whatever for Bill Clinton to have resigned, or even be personally condemned and shamed, as he did nothing to warrant this. There was no scandal on his part. What happened between Clinton and Ms. Lewinsky was a private matter between two consulting adults—and initiated by Lewinsky, pour mémoire, who kept their tryst going—which they both desperately sought to keep private. It was no one’s business but their own (and perhaps Bill’s wife, but that was between him and her). And Kenneth Starr’s witch hunt was precisely that. The whole thing—Starr, the media feeding frenzy, the congressional Republicans, et j’en passe—was an outrage. Case closed.

As for the other Clinton affairs involving women, there were manifest contradictions, anomalies, and outright falsehoods in the accounts of Kathleen Willey and Paula Jones—and with the latter a pawn in an intricately knit conspiracy (dixit Ann Coulter) to destroy Clinton and his presidency. None of the damaging accusations leveled at Clinton were proven. As for Juanita Broaddrick—who stayed silent for over two decades—we’ll never know. If more women during that general period (late ’70s-’80s) had surfaced with similar accusations against Clinton, Broaddrick’s story would naturally need to be taken seriously. But there weren’t.

What is common to all the harasser/rapist men who have been outed over the years is that the initial revelation was followed by others, with several abused women, even dozens, coming forward, and with accounts that were/are precise, entirely credible, and not part of some plot hatched by the harasser/rapists’ political enemies (in France, e.g. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Denis Baupin, Tariq Ramadan…). When it comes to harassing/raping men, there’s no smoke without fire. This was simply not the case with Bill Clinton, however much of a horndog he may have otherwise been.

Susan Bordo, the well-known scholar of gender and women’s studies, wrote the following on her Facebook page yesterday in response to the press conference by the junior senator—and 2020 prospect—from New York

Kirsten Gillibrand says Bill Clinton should have resigned over the Lewinsky affair. Since she is too young, apparently, to have “been around” when it happened, I’d like to remind her that Monica Lewinsky was not an “accuser,” but betrayed by a woman she thought a friend, harassed by Ken Starr, and terrorized by the FBI into admitting she had a relationship with Clinton. If we’re going to believe women, maybe we should start with her. She has always said the relationship was consensual, in fact describes herself as the pursuer. According to some definitions, she was still the victim of sexual harassment, because of the power imbalance. But in no way was she the victim of assault or even unwanted physical advances. These attempts to put Clinton, Trump, Moore, Franken in the same pot do a disservice to the women involved—not to mention others who have been raped, assaulted, abused when children/teens.

And if we’re suddenly so attuned to the treatment of women in this culture, maybe we should have a fresh look at the election, too!

On Al Franken, I go with The Nation’s Joan Walsh, who asked “What should Democrats do about [him]?” Kate Harding, author of the book Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture – And What We Can Do about It, likewise makes good points in a Washington Post op-ed, “I’m a feminist. I study rape culture. And I don’t want Al Franken to resign.” The testimonies of former Franken female staffers are also pertinent.

Another spot-on commentary on the WaPo opinion page is a column by Paul Waldman, “Sorry. There’s no equivalence between Republicans and Democrats on sexual harassment.” Don’t miss the commentary by TDB senior editor Erin Gloria Ryan, “After Al Franken and Roy Moore, we are dangerously close to botching the #MeToo moment.” Also the one by The Guardian’s Anne Perkins, dated November 6th, “I know how demeaning harassment is. But weaponising the past is not the answer.”

Returning to the Tariq Ramadan affair, mentioned above. Not being a fan of TR, I can’t say I’m devastated to learn that, in his behavior with women, he has been as insidious and loathsome as Weinstein et al. I’m not going to linger on his specific case here—except to say that the hit to his public reputation is well-deserved—but rather on a collateral damage victim of the revelations—whose public reputation has most undeservedly taken a hit in certain quarters—which is my friend Bernard Godard, a career functionary (now retired) of the French state and who spent the latter part of his career in the Ministry of Interior as the state’s top expert on Islam and Muslims in France. There is not a person of any consequence in the world of French Islam—the legal part of it, at least—or who works on it in any capacity (academia, journalism, etc) who Bernard Godard does not know personally. In an interview with L’Obs—and sensationalized by Marianne—after the TR affair broke, Bernard was quoted saying that he had heard rumors and stories over the years about TR and women—and that may have even involved violence—but not about actual rape, which thus put Bernard in the spotlight for not having spoken out. The story was then taken up the other day by the Islamophobic website Jihad Watch, which suggested that Bernard, as an agent of the French state, sought to “protect Tariq Ramadan’s public image from being sullied.”

This is rubbish. I knew right off the bat that Bernard had misspoken in his L’Obs interview, that his words were maladroit, that he had no knowledge of any criminal act (i.e. rape) committed by TR, and thus had no standing to speak out publicly on the matter or alert his superiors. Such would have been illegal on his part. Moreover, neither he nor the French government has the slightest reason to “protect” TR’s public image. The very notion is ridiculous, as the French state and political class in its totality have long refused to deal with TR (quite unlike governments and politicians elsewhere in Europe and further afield); as for Bernard himself, I know for a fact—as I know him personally—that TR is not his cup of tea and while they may know one another and have crossed paths, that he does not deal with him. Bernard has, in any case, responded to the accusations in this YouTube interview (saying much the same as what he told me himself when we talked about it recently).

The TR revelations have also led to a nasty public spat between Charlie Hebdo and Mediapart—specifically, the respective editors-in-chief of the two publications, Riss and Edwy Plenel—which one may read about here. It is a distressing polemic, as Oxford historian Sudhir Hazareesingh put it, about which I will say nothing—for the moment at least—except to assert that Riss, in his editorial in last Wednesday’s Charlie Hebdo, distorted Plenel’s words. Riss accused Plenel of saying something very serious—and potentially dangerous—that Plenel did not in fact say. For Plenel’s actual words, go here. And if one has twelve minutes to spare, watch Plenel’s BFM interview of November 5th, in which he discusses the TR brouhaha. Voilà, c’est tout.

À suivre, évidemment.

UPDATE: The très engagé Daily Kos has a post (November 19th) on the Al Franken flap that could alter the narrative of the story, “More photos emerging from Franken & Tweeden’s USO tour. They speak for themselves.”

2nd UPDATE: The New Yorker’s Masha Gessen gets it right (November 19th) in saying that “‘Should Al Franken resign?’ is the wrong question.”

3rd UPDATE: Getting a little off the main topic here but, for those interested, Jean-Pierre Mignard—a prominent Parisian lawyer, essayist/author, and longtime behind-the-scenes mover and shaker in the PS (and now with Emmanuel Macron)—had a good take on the Charlie Hebdo-Mediapart conflict in an interview (November 20th) with Léa Salamé on France Inter, “Charlie et Mediapart sont du même du bon côté de la barricade.”

Henda Ayari & Tariq Ramadan

The Trump regime: year one

[update below]

A year ago on this date I was still in a state of shock—as was the totality of my US friends, the near totality of US family and relatives, and no doubt the great majority of those reading this—over the disaster two nights prior. On the eve of the first anniversary of that catastrophic night, my sentiments were dark. The Nation’s Katha Pollitt, writing in the NYR Daily on her ongoing rage toward all those who did not vote for Hillary Clinton, or who did so reluctantly and after having bashed her throughout the campaign, expressed some of these. Okay, Pollitt was being a little harsh—personally speaking, I am not angry at my Hillary-bashing pro-Bernie friends, so long as they did the right thing on that November 8th de sinistre mémoire—but I know where she’s coming from. Michelle Goldberg, for her part, struck the right tone in her NYT column on the “anniversary of the apocalypse.”

But then there was the outcome of the elections in Virginia on Tuesday, plus those in New Jersey and other localities where one had no idea a vote was even taking place. It’s amazing how one’s feelings about a situation can suddenly lurch from despondency and pessimism to exhilaration and optimism. Andrew Sullivan spoke for just about everyone here

I was wrong! Thank God Almighty, I was wrong!

You probably felt the same thing I did last Tuesday night: a euphoric whiplash as deepening dread turned suddenly into a wave of intense relief in the off-year results from Virginia. I’m still riding it. I hope you are too. Almost every surprise since last November has been a soul-crushing one. I feared yet another one. But Tuesday night’s string of decisive victories by Democrats dispelled the gloom and was the first time since Trump’s election that hope appeared a little more realistic than despair.

In point of fact, the Democrats have been surging in special elections all year but still, no one expected Tuesday’s outcome, of all “the women, people of color, and LGBTQ candidates who made history,” not to mention the “socialists and leftists [who] performed well in races around the country.” Now I can see a turbaned Sikh being elected mayor of Hoboken NJ—Hoboken has been multi-culti for the past four decades—but a Liberian refugee in Helena MT? And a self-proclaimed socialist defeating a powerful Republican in the Virginia House of Delegates, and from a district with no college campus to boot? My, how America is changing. And how totally gratifying. If we can just get through the next year without anything nightmarish happening, e.g. the Republicans enacting their tax bill, a SCOTUS justice dying, Trump starting a nuclear war… The Dems now have a real shot at taking back at least the House in the 2018 midterms, as, dixit FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten, “there is no reason to think Republicans will be in better shape a year from now.” And if Trump drops four or five more points in the polls in the next year, thus pulling GOP candidates down with him, the Dems will have a good chance at taking the Senate too. Inshallah.

Trump’s present approval rating is 38%, which is historically low for a POTUS after a year in office, so it is said, but strikes me as appallingly high given that it is, after all, Trump—the “Ubu president,” as Charles Simic has aptly labeled him. It will be excellent if he does drop to at least the low 30s, though one should probably not count on this, as his hardcore base is rock solid and will manifestly remain that way no matter what. One has probably seen the remarkable “Letter from Pennsylvania” by Politico’s Michael Kruse, reporting from the heart of the Rust Belt: “Johnstown never believed Trump would help; they still love him anyway.” The famous white working class in all its splendor. Do read the piece and to the end, as the clincher is there (what “NFL” is really an acronym for).

The Dems should, of course, continue to pitch an economic message to this sizable cohort of the electorate, in the hopes of maybe peeling off some of its voters, but otherwise they’re lost to the Repubs.

On Trump maybe starting a nuclear war, my dear friend Adam Shatz has an essay—typically excellent—in the latest issue of the London Review of Books, “The President and the Bomb.” Read it and be afraid.

À la prochaine.

UPDATE: Liberals, progressives, and other Never Trumpers have been buoyed and exhilarated by the Virginia vote but there have, however, been some douches froides, notably articles and analyses of the breakneck pace with which Trump has been nominating judges to the federal courts—all ultra-conservative and with some downright unqualified and holding views that are shocking when not crazy—who have been dutifully approved by the Senate Republicans and with the prospect that far right control of the federal judiciary could be locked in for a generation or longer. If such comes to pass, future Democratic administrations will find it difficult to impossible to undo the damage Trump and the Republicans have wrought. The consequences for American democracy and the credibility of its institutions will, needless to say, be terrible.

Daron Acemoğlu has a sobering piece (Nov. 15th) in Foreign Policy, “It’s too early to celebrate the survival of American democracy: One year after Donald Trump’s elections, the U.S. political system is proving resilient – and giving false comfort.” The US political system may have indeed shown resilience–some–over the past year but the body blows to political norms and institutions (the federal civil and judiciary, to name but two) leveled by Trump and the Republicans—the latter quite independently of the former—will take a possibly permanent toll. If American democracy is to be saved, it will not be by its institutions but rather civil society. And within that civil society, the Resistance.

See Thomas B. Edsall’s latest column (Nov. 16th) in the NYT, “White-on-White voting: When an area is more than 85 percent white, support for President Trump skyrockets — and that makes all the difference.”

The Bolshevik Revolution

[update below]

Today is the 100th anniversary, if one didn’t know. The Bolshevik Revolution was a reference for me in my 1970s gauchiste youth. All self-respecting gauchistes back then studied the Revolution closely and positioned themselves vis-à-vis what happened in Russia in that year and after, specifically as to when the Revolution started to go wrong. For the slavish pro-Soviet members or fellow travelers of the CPUSA, it never did. For Maoists, it went wrong in 1956, after Khrushchev’s secret speech (Maoists upholding Stalin’s legacy). Trotskyists asserted that the Revolution went off the rails in 1925-27, when Stalin consolidated power and sent their hero into exile. Those of us who read Gramsci tended to see the crushing of the 1921 Kronstadt rebellion as a turning point.

It should be clear to any sentient person nowadays that, in point of fact, it all went wrong in October (November 7th new style), that the good revolution was in February. Period.

To mark the anniversary, I am linking to one piece and one only, which is a review essay by Martin Amis of books on “Lenin’s deadly revolution,” in The New York Times three weeks ago. It’s good.

BTW, on the slavishly pro-Soviet CPUSA of Gus Hall and Angela Davis fame, I happen to know its current chairman. We went to the same college, are the same age, lived across the hall one quarter, took a couple of classes together, talked/debated politics. C’est drôle, non?

UPDATE: Anne Applebaum has an essay in The Washington Post (November 6th) that is well worth reading: “100 years later, Bolshevism is back. And we should be worried.”

The Balfour Declaration

By United Kingdom Government, signed by Arthur Balfour (Public Domain)

[update below] [2nd update below]

I hadn’t intended to mark yesterday’s centennial of the Balfour Declaration, as I have nothing in particular to say about it. And not being a Jew, and thus neither a Zionist nor anti-Zionist, I do not have personal or identitarian sentiments on the matter. As for the Palestinians, one may understand their collective view of Balfour, though without sympathizing with their fixation on the Declaration a century after the fact—e.g. the laughably absurd demand that the British issue an apology—as if the Balfour Declaration could possibly be abrogated or reversed—and which, in any case, did not ineluctably lead to the Nakba or other future calamities that befell the Palestinians (or which they brought upon themselves, as the case may be).

I did come across one essay, in the Financial Times, by the historian Simon Schama on Balfour and the birth of Israel, which I think is worth reading. Schama mentions, among other things, the predicament of the Jews caught between the Austro-Hungarian and Russian armies in the final years of the First World War, and then caught between the Whites and Red Army in Russian civil war that followed. If there was ever an argument for the necessity of a Jewish homeland, it was then, precisely when the Declaration was issued.

France was a good country for Jews at the time—Glücklich wie Gott in Frankreich—then was not twenty-five years later, and then became so again. The situation nowadays is complex. Institutionally and with the larger society, there is no problem, but for many Jews in everyday life, it is getting worse, as detailed in the headline story in Le Monde dated today: “En France, l’antisémitisme ‘du quotidien’ s’est ancré et se propage.” The lede: “Insultes, intimidations, violences physiques, tags… Des juifs racontent des agressions devenues banales et qui se multiplient depuis 2000.” Jews, particularly in the Paris banlieue, are increasingly subjected to intimidation, including physical, in public space and even in their homes, for the sole fact of being Jews. As for the perpetrators, they are, as always, lumpen youths of post-colonial immigrant origin. It is an outrageous situation, which, for the present moment at least, is overwhelming the public authorities and the Jewish community itself.

Adding to the outrage, one learns that the stele of Ilan Halimi in Bagneux—the banlieue where he was sequestered and tortured for three weeks in the winter of 2006, in the most horrific antisemitic crime in France since the Second World War to that date—was profaned in the early hours of November 1st (and not for the first time). Now I am opposed to the death penalty but would maybe make an exception for the perpetrators of such a heinous act, as they deserve no less—or, better yet, that they be subjected to the same calvaire as was Halimi at the hands of the gang des barbares.

On this subject, a feature-length film, Tout, tout de suite (in English: Everything Now), directed by the well-known actor/director/screenwriter Richard Berry, came out in May 2016. It was the second film on Ilan Halimi and the gang des barbares, the first being Alexandre Arcady’s 24 Days, which came out two years prior and on which I had a blog post at the time. Arcady’s film was recounted from the perspective of Ilan’s mother, Ruth, and focused on the police investigation. Berry’s version, though, reenacted what happened to Ilan and in excruciating detail. To call it a horror film is almost an understatement. The Youssouf Fofana character (actor Steve Achiepo) was the most terrifying sadistic psychopath I’d seen on the big screen since Javier Bardem in the Coen Brothers’ ‘No Country for Old Men’. I was originally going to include Berry’s film in my post on recent French films on terrorism, because a terrorist act it was. The pic is almost impossible to watch at points, with the violence, sadism of the gang des barbares, and knowing what is going to happen. It was no doubt for this reason that the film was an utter, total box office failure. It sold some 16,000 tickets, i.e., next to nothing, before vanishing from the salles. I saw it on the first Friday night after it opened, at the MK2 Bibliothèque multiplex. There were maybe twenty people in the theater. Now much of the target audience was at home that night, but Jews—who were traumatized by what happened to Ilan Halimi—clearly decided in their totality that they really didn’t need to spend two hours watching a nice young Jewish man be tortured to death by lowlife antisemitic dregs, and for the sole crime of being Jewish. Conclusion: Richard Berry should have never made the film in the first place.

Ilan Halimi is buried in Jerusalem, as his family knew that, in France, his tombstone would be under permanent threat of profanation. Given what happened to the stele the other day, their fears were well-founded.

UPDATE: Joann Sfar—the well-known comic artist, novelist, and film director—in linking to the Le Monde article mentioned above, offered this commentary on his Facebook page

Je ne sais pas si on se le raconte aussi clairement mais les tueries de Merah ont marqué un tournant dont la façon dont la communauté juive parle des agressions. Avant ce drame, chacun avait à coeur de faire connaître les agressions lorsqu’elles avaient lieu. Depuis, c’est l’inverse. Pour une raison simple: On a découvert que chaque attaque suscitait des vocations. Je voudrais qu’on rappelle les messages anonymes infects qu’a reçue l’école Ozar Hatorah après les massacres. Je me souviens que le carré juif du cimetière de Nice, celui où repose ma mère, a été profané quelques jours après. On se souvient, tous, enfin, que ces tueries ont été le point de départ d’une recrudescence de ces violences antijuives. Donc oui, de plus en plus, lorsqu’ils rentrent chez eux le pardessus recouvert de crachats, les juifs religieux ferment leurs gueules. Et les juifs qui n’ont pas l’air juifs ne savent plus comment se planquer. On leur a dit que les écoles publiques n’étaient plus pour eux. On ne compte plus ces réunions honteuses durant lesquelles des chefs d’établissements annoncent officieusement aux familles qu’il vaudrait mieux scolariser les enfants ailleurs. Puis il y a eu Merah et les écoles privées sont devenues elles aussi un lieu de danger. Depuis deux ans ce sont les agressions aux domiciles, qui se multiplient. Pourquoi mes mots? Pour insister sur le fait que contrairement à ce que croient trop de gens, les juifs ne passent pas leur temps à dénoncer, ou à pleurnicher. Au contraire. Sur ces affaires, la plupart des victimes ferment leurs gueules, se font le plus petites possibles, en espérant que l’orage passe, pour ne pas donner des idées à d’autres salopards. Il ne va pas passer, l’orage. Tout le monde a très bien compris. Qu’est-ce qu’on doit faire? Chaque réponse qui me vient me donne envie de me cogner la tête contre un mur. Je n’ose plus dire aux victimes que je croise que “la solution est l’éducation”. Si je dis ça je prends une baffe. Ce n’est pas aux victimes de faire quelque chose ou de trouver des solutions.

2nd UPDATE: Martin Kramer, for whom I have high regard as a historian of the Middle East, has two articles in Mosaic Magazine, dated June 5th and 28th: “The forgotten truth about the Balfour Declaration” and “The Balfour Declaration was more than the promise of one nation.”

Reports from the heartland

I’ve read several exceptional investigative reports of late on some of the calamities that have hit working and lower class white people in the United States. They’re must-reads, journalism at its best, which I will simply link to here sans commentaire. One is from the June 5 & 12 issue of The New Yorker, “The addicts next door,” by NYer staff writer Margaret Talbot, on how opioid addiction has ravaged rural West Virginia. This passage is noteworthy

“The Changing Face of Heroin Use in the United States,” a 2014 study led by Theodore Cicero, of Washington University in St. Louis, looked at some three thousand heroin addicts in substance-abuse programs. Half of those who began using heroin before 1980 were white; nearly ninety per cent of those who began using in the past decade were white. This demographic shift may be connected to prescribing patterns. A 2012 study by a University of Pennsylvania researcher found that black patients were thirty-four per cent less likely than white patients to be prescribed opioids for such chronic conditions as back pain and migraines, and fourteen per cent less likely to receive such prescriptions after surgery or traumatic injury.

But a larger factor, it seems, was the despair of white people in struggling small towns. Judith Feinberg, a professor at West Virginia University who studies drug addiction, described opioids as “the ultimate escape drugs.” She told me, “Boredom and a sense of uselessness and inadequacy—these are human failings that lead you to just want to withdraw. On heroin, you curl up in a corner and blank out the world. It’s an extremely seductive drug for dead-end towns, because it makes the world’s problems go away. Much more so than coke or meth, where you want to run around and do things—you get aggressive, razzed and jazzed.”

Peter Callahan, a psychotherapist in Martinsburg, said that heroin “is a very tough drug to get off of, because, while it was meant to numb physical pain, it numbs emotional pain as well—quickly and intensely.” In tight-knit Appalachian towns, heroin has become a social contagion. Nearly everyone I met in Martinsburg has ties to someone—a child, a sibling, a girlfriend, an in-law, an old high-school coach—who has struggled with opioids. As Callahan put it, “If the lady next door is using, and so are other neighbors, and people in your family are, too, the odds are good that you’re going to join in.”

And this

The Eastern Panhandle is one of the wealthier parts of a poor state. (The most destitute counties depend on coal mining.) Berkeley County is close enough to D.C. and Baltimore that many residents commute for work. Nevertheless, Martinsburg feels isolated. Several people I met there expressed surprise, or sympathy, when I told them that I live in D.C., or politely said that they’d like to visit the capital one of these days. Like every other county in West Virginia, Berkeley County voted for Donald Trump.

Martinsburg is some 80 miles from Washington DC but, for many of the locals, had might as well be 800. As for voting for Trump, but of course.

Michael Chalmers is the publisher of an Eastern Panhandle newspaper, the Observer. It is based in Shepherdstown, a picturesque college town near the Maryland border which has not succumbed to heroin. Chalmers, who is forty-two, grew up in Martinsburg, and in 2014 he lost his younger brother, Jason, to an overdose. I asked him why he thought that Martinsburg was struggling so much with drugs. “In my opinion, the desperation in the Panhandle, and places like it, is a social vacancy,” he said. “People don’t feel they have a purpose.” There was a “shame element in small-town culture.” Many drug addicts, he explained, are “trying to escape the reality that this place doesn’t give them anything.” He added, “That’s really hard to live with—when you look around and you see that seven out of ten of your friends from high school are still here, and nobody makes more than thirty-six thousand a year, and everybody’s just bitching about bills and watching these crazy shows on reality TV and not doing anything.”

On a major culprit behind the opioid scourge, see the lengthy report by New Yorker staff writer Patrick Radden Keefe in the October 30 issue, “The family that built an empire of pain.” The lede: “The Sackler dynasty’s ruthless marketing of painkillers has generated billions of dollars—and millions of addicts.”

One learns, entre autres, that the Sacklers—whose privately held company, Purdue Pharma, patented the opioid OxyContin—”are now one of America’s richest families, with a collective net worth of thirteen billion dollars—more than the Rockefellers or the Mellons.”

Another first-rate report, this on the functioning of finance capitalism in our era, is in The New York Times, dated October 14, by reporter Farah Stockman, “Becoming a steelworker liberated her. Then her job moved to Mexico.” The lede: “Workers like Shannon Mulcahy took pride in their jobs at the Rexnord factory in Indianapolis. The bearings they made were top-notch. In the end, it didn’t matter.”

One comprehends why many workers in industry were seduced by Trump’s rhetoric against NAFTA and free trade agreements. Not that Trump will make good on it—whether or not he should is another matter—or that even if he does, it will change a thing for these workers. It’s 21st century capitalism, stupid.

The Democrats obviously need to craft a credible economic message—and backed by grassroots organizing—that can win over at least some of these working class citizens who went for Trump or don’t bother to vote. Can this happen in the absence of a robust labor movement? I’m not optimistic.

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