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Voyage to Algeria

alger-place-des-martyrs-casbah

This is a post that should have gone up six months ago. Better late than never. I spent two weeks in Algeria last May-June, my first trip there in twenty-five years. I had originally intended to write a lengthy commentary on my impressions of the country after such a long absence; in lieu of that, I will simply link to two albums of photos I took (N.B. the above pic is not mine). The first album here is of Algiers and environs, where I spent most of the two weeks. The second here is of a three-day road trip I took with my friend Hacene, who lives in the Paris area but happened to be in Algeria when I was there—he’s an Algiers native and has an entrepreneurial activity there—and informed me that he was going to take me out east, to show me a part of Algeria I didn’t know. So we went to Constantine (not my first time there), then to Batna, in the Aurès, where we spent the night, and then the next day to nearby Timgad, which has to be the least visited large Roman ruin on the African continent (and to which Carthage does not hold a candle). From there we headed to Biskra via the secondary route, past the Balcons de Ghoufi—the Ghoufi canyon—which, again, has to be one of the more spectacular natural sites that practically no one has seen, as Algeria has never encouraged tourism and has no tourist infrastructure to speak of. Even Hacene, who did part of his military service in Batna in the 1970s, had never been to the Ghoufi canyon. To go there one needs a car but also for it to be a destination.

From Biskra, where we spent the night, we headed back to Algiers along the edge of the Sahara, stopping in Tolga—which is one of the larger palm groves in the country—and then via the High Plateau, briefly stopping in Bou Saâda. I’ve added legends to the photos, which may be seen in small print on the bottom or in clicking on the info icon on the top right.

I have much to say about Algeria, of course, but will limit myself here to five short comments. First, the country is safe. And it feels so. The security forces are everywhere. Their presence in no way feels sinister or oppressive (as was, e.g., the case in Syria on my visits there in years past). They’re there to protect the population. And the state, of course.

Second—and in this vein—Algeria is politically stable (and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise). There is little to no prospect, in the foreseeable future at least, that the country will witness state collapse or descend once again into the civil strife and violence such as it experienced in the 1990s. Algerians are traumatized by that decade—which they call “the years of terrorism,” during which 40 to 60,000 persons suffered violent death—and are not about to repeat the experience. The society is conservative and religiously pious but there is no threat from jihadist or other extremist groups, which—apart from armed bands in the desert and other remote areas—have been smashed or brought to heel. In this respect, the situations in Tunisia and Morocco—with the sizable numbers of jihadists returning from the Middle East—are more preoccupying. When Algeria’s current president finally passes away, an orderly succession will be organized. And life will go on.

Third, the status of women has evolved significantly since my time in the country in the late 1980s-early 1990s and for the better. Women are present in public space in a way they weren’t in the past, and not just in the capital but in the interior of the country as well (e.g. even in Batna one sees groups of women in outdoor cafés, which was inconceivable two decades ago). And while the great majority cover their hair and wear some kind of hijab (in gay colors)—but with a visible minority in Algiers not veiling—the haïk (face veil) has all but disappeared and the somber black salafist jilbab is a rarity. And old codes of honor in regard to the virginity of women at marriage are a thing of the past for much of urban society.

Fourth, the country remains totally dependent on rentier income from hydrocarbon (oil and natural gas) exports. There is no economic dynamic otherwise, despite significant liberalization and dismantling of public enterprises. But while there’s the usual corruption a sizable portion of the rent finds its way to the population at large. There is no grinding poverty in Algeria such as one sees in Morocco. And the entire country appears to be a construction site. There are chantiers everywhere, even in hamlets in the middle of nowhere. Also, the country’s catastrophic water shortages are a distant memory. The water flows in fountains in Algiers, something one did not see way back when.

Fifth, there has been a marked decline in the French language. When I lived in Algiers in 1989-90, practically everyone spoke French at some level, and with many speaking it fluently. Algeria was the most Francophone country in the world where French was not the native language of the population. One did not need to speak Arabic at all to communicate with people, in Algiers, Oran, and other large cities at least (and in the Kabylie of course). Such is no longer the case. The younger generation—which, for me, means those under age 45—no longer speaks French with any degree of proficiency, and particularly in the interior of country. But somewhat paradoxically, French is much more visible than in the past. From the 1970s through the ’90s—when the language issue was highly politicized, of Arabophones vs. Francophones—French was largely proscribed in signage and advertising (such as this existed in the era of  “specific socialism”). But that ended when Abdelaziz Bouteflika—an unrepentant Francophone—acceded to the presidency in 1999. So all stores now have bilingual signs, even in places like Biskra, where hardly anyone actually speaks French.

There is much more to say about all of this. I’ll come back to the subject at a future date.

algeria_phy

Happy F—king New Year

Reina, Ortaköy, Istanbul

Reina, Ortaköy, Istanbul

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

2016 was a shitty year, we can all agree. The shittiest year in years. And with the terrorist attack in Istanbul ringing in the new year, 2017 promises to be even shittier yet. I learned of the atrocity around 1:30am, while at a new year’s eve party, in a news flash on my phone. The party—which was pretty good, actually—became less fun from that point on, for me at least. Terrorist atrocities are horrific no matter where they happen but are just that much more so when they hit close to home. And this one felt close to home. Istanbul is a city I know and love—as I do the Ortaköy neighborhood, where the attack happened—and where I have friends. My daughter spent the 2014-15 academic year at Galatasaray University, which is in Ortaköy, and tells us today that, on that new year’s eve, she was at a party just next to the Reina nightclub. The attack hit particularly close to home for my friend Claire Berlinski as well, who just posted her reaction on the Ricochet blog, “2017: #We Are Already Reina.” Claire, as usual, says it better than I.

C’est tout ce que j’ai à dire.

UPDATE: My friend Monica Marks, who is an academic specialist of Tunisia presently residing in Istanbul, posted this on Facebook:

All my condolences to friend Khedija Arfaoui, a well-known Tunisian advocate for women’s rights and outspoken opponent of terrorism who lost her son and daughter-in-law in last night’s terrorist attack on the Istanbul nightclub. Her son, Mohamed Ali Azzabi, and his wife Senda, are pictured here. They were on holiday in Istanbul and left behind a baby and many loving family and friends.

What a goddamned f—king tragedy.

2nd UPDATE: Istanbul writer Kaya Cenç has an op-ed (Jan. 1st) in the NY Times, “Istanbul: First darkness, then terror.”

3rd UPDATE: Ezgi Başaran, who is a journalist and academic visitor at St Antony’s College, Oxford University, has an op-ed (Jan. 3rd) in The Washington Post, “Secular citizens of Turkey have never felt so alone,” that is one of the saddest I’ve read on that country.

Trump and Putin

Created by: Greg Palmer

Created by: Greg Palmer

[update below] [2nd update below]

And the pipelines to nowhere. That’s the title of an article I just read today, in Medium, dated December 15th (h/t Jamie Meyerfeld), that offers the most convincing explanation IMO as to why Trump and Putin are hooking up, as it were. In short, it’s all about oil and the politics of climate change, i.e. raw economic interest, i.e. money. The author of the article, previously unknown to me—I admittedly do not know who is who in this field—is Alex Steffen, who is a “planetary futurist” and author of three books. He clearly knows what he’s talking about.

On this general subject, also see the must-read two-part article in the December 8th and 22th New York Review of Books, by David Kaiser and Lee Wasserman—who are, respectively, president and director of the Rockefeller Family Fund—”The Rockefeller Family Fund vs. Exxon,” and “The Rockefeller Family Fund Takes on ExxonMobil.” The name Rex Tillerson comes up more than once. After reading these articles you will—unless you’re already an authority on the subject—have a better understanding of what’s going on than you did before reading them.

UPDATE: Putin-apologizing Americans of both left and right have been furiously pushing back at the well-founded accusations of Russian implication in the DNC email hack, one being Glenn Greenwald—who is often right about things but often not, and is always a dickhead regardless—who has gone so far as to make common cause with Fox News talking heads on the matter. À propos, lefty journalist Bill Weinberg has a great post (Dec. 31st) on his Facebook page, “Yes, the Russians. Wake up and smell the vodka.” And Democratic Party activist David Atkins has a good post (Dec. 31st) on the Washington Monthly’s Political Animal Blog, “Even Glenn Greenwald and his fans should fear the Trump-Putin alliance.”

2nd UPDATE: Masha Gessen, who is hardly a Putinophile, clarifies matters in a post (Jan. 9th 2017) in NYR Daily, “Russia, Trump & flawed intelligence.”

Best (and worst) movies of 2016

In keeping with AWAV’s annual end-of-year tradition, I offer my list of the best and worst movies of the year (for last year’s, see here). The movies here opened in theaters this year in France or the U.S. Some have dedicated blog posts, the others will in due course, inshallah. N.B. Several well-reviewed Hollywood movies—and that figure on the “best of” lists of US critics—are opening in France after the new year, so I have yet to see them (e.g. Moonlight, La La Land, Loving). And not being a Pedro Almodóvar fan, I did not see his latest, Julieta, which has been praised to the heavens by all and sundry.

TOP 10:
Apprentice
Aquarius
As I Open My Eyes (على حلة عيني)
Embrace of the Serpent (El abrazo de la serpiente)
Graduation (Bacalaureat)
Hedi (نحبك هادي)
Paterson
Spotlight
The Salesman (فروشنده)
Toni Erdmann

HONORABLE MENTION:
A War (Krigen)
Hell or High Water
Ma’Rosa
Manchester by the Sea
Tangerines (მანდარინები Mandariinid)

BEST MOVIE FROM JORDAN:
Theeb (ذيب)

BEST MOVIE FROM EGYPT:
Clash (إشتباك)

BEST MOVIE FROM CUBA:
Behavior (Conducta)

BEST MOVIE FROM MEXICO:
A Monster with a Thousand Heads (Un monstruo de mil cabezas)

BEST MOVIE FROM ARGENTINA:
The Clan (El Clan)

SECOND BEST MOVIE FROM ARGENTINA:
Paulina (La patota)

BEST MOVIE FROM ICELAND:
Sparrows (Þrestir)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE MAINLY SET IN ICELAND:
The Aquatic Effect (L’Effet aquatique)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE MAINLY SET IN GREENLAND:
Journey to Greenland (Le Voyage au Groenland)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE MAINLY SET IN POLAND:
The Innocents (Les Innocents)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE MAINLY SET IN GERMANY:
Frantz

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE MAINLY SET IN CYPRUS:
The Stopover (Voir du Pays)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE MAINLY SET IN CHAD:
The White Knights (Les Chevaliers blancs)

MOST IDIOTIC MOVIE FROM FRANCE MAINLY SET IN FRENCH GUIANA:
La Loi de la jungle

MOST FEEL-GOOD MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH AN ALGERIA THEME:
Good Luck Algeria

MOST HILARIOUS MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH AN ALGERIA THEME:
One Man and His Cow (La Vache)

MOST TOUCHING MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH AN ALGERIA THEME:
Two Birds, One Stone (D’une pierre deux coups)

MOST INTERESTING DOCUMENTARY FROM FRANCE WITH AN ALGERIA THEME:
Algérie du possible

MOST IN-YOUR-FACE DOCUMENTARY FROM FRANCE ABOUT JIHADIST TERRORISTS:
Salafistes

MOST AMUSING ENGAGÉ DOCUMENTARY FROM FRANCE ON HOW A WORKER GOT THE BETTER OF HIS EX-BOSS AND MADE HIM LOOK RIDICULOUS WHILE HE WAS AT IT:
Thanks Boss! (Merci Patron!)

MOST AMAZING FRANCO-IRAQI DOCUMENTARY ON IRAQ IN THE PERIOD PRECEDING THE 2003 AMERICAN INVASION:
Homeland: Iraq Year Zero: Part 1 (وطن: العراق السنة صفر: جزء ١)

MOST AMAZING FRANCO-IRAQI DOCUMENTARY ON IRAQ IN THE PERIOD FOLLOWING THE 2003 AMERICAN INVASION:
Homeland: Iraq Year Zero: Part 2 (وطن: العراق السنة صفر: جزء ٢)

MOST GRATIFYING FRANCO-GERMAN-IRANIAN DOCUMENTARY ON IRANIAN WOMEN WHO ARE DETERMINED TO PLAY MUSIC AND SING WHETHER THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC LIKES IT OR NOT:
No Land’s Song (آواز بی‌سرزمین)

MOST SURPRISINGLY ENGAGING THREE HOUR DOCUMENTARY WITH NO NARRATION ON A MULTI-ETHNIC IMMIGRANT NEIGHBORHOOD IN NEW YORK CITY:
In Jackson Heights

BEST DOCUMENTARY FROM ITALY ON THE CURRENT MIGRATION CRISIS IN EUROPE:
Fire at Sea (Fuocoammare)

BEST DOCUMENTARY EVER ON THE FUNCTIONING OF THE EUROPEAN UNION:
Democracy (Democracy: Im Rausch der Daten)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE ON ISLAMIST SELF-RADICALIZATION IN THE WEB 2.0 ERA:
Heaven Will Wait (Le Ciel attendra)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE ABOUT BADASS DRUG-DEALING CHICKS IN A GHETTO HOUSING PROJECT:
Divines

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE ABOUT BADASS DRUG-DEALING DUDES IN A GHETTO HOUSING PROJECT:
Chouf

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE ABOUT A WALLISIAN RUGBY PLAYER FROM NEW CALEDONIA WHO ENDS UP IN THE LOT-ET-GARONNE:
Mercenary (Mercenaire)

BEST MOST POWERFUL HOLLYWOOD MOVIE ON THE HORRORS OF WAR:
Hacksaw Ridge

BEST HOLLYWOOD MOVIE SHOWING HOW RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN GAY WOMEN ARE REALLY QUITE DIFFERENT FROM RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN GAY MEN:
Carol

BEST INDY MOVIE ON THE DILEMMAS OF GENTRIFICATION:
Little Men

BEST MOVIE FROM CHINA ABOUT THE LEGACY OF THE CULTURAL REVOLUTION:
Red Amnesia (闯入者)

BEST MOVIE FROM CAMBODIA ABOUT RURAL MIGRANT YOUTH FINDING THEIR WAY IN THE BIG CITY:
Diamond Island (កោះពេជ្រ)

BEST MOVIE FROM INDIA ABOUT LOWER CLASS WOMEN IN GUJARAT WHO ARE FED UP WITH MISOGYNY:
Parched (पार्चड)

BEST MOVIE FROM INDIA ABOUT UPPER CLASS WOMEN IN GOA WHO ARE FED UP WITH MISOGYNY:
Angry Indian Goddesses (ऐंग्री इंडियन गोड्डेस्सेस)

BEST MOVIE FROM RUSSIA ABOUT A TEENAGE RELIGIOUS FANATIC AND HIS MILITANTLY SECULAR TEACHER:
The Student (Ученик)

MOST COMPLEX MOVIE FROM IRAN:
Nahid (ناهید)

MOST ABSORBING MOVIE FROM GERMANY ABOUT A HEROIC NAZI-HUNTING PUBLIC PROSECUTOR:
The People vs. Fritz Bauer (Der Staat gegen Fritz Bauer)

MOST HEARTWARMING TRIFLE OF A MOVIE FROM FINLAND:
The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki (Hymyilevä mies)

MOST OVERRATED MOVIE FROM GREAT BRITAIN:
45 Years

MOST OVERRATED MOVIE FROM SOUTH KOREA:
The Handmaiden (아가씨)

MOST BLOATED MOVIE FROM ROMANIA:
Sieranevada

BLEAKEST MOVIE FROM ROMANIA:
Dogs (Câini)

DARKEST MOVIE FROM BELGIUM:
The Ardennes (D’Ardennen)

MOST EXCRUCIATINGLY PAINFUL TO WATCH MOVIE FROM FRANCE REENACTING A HORRIFIC ANTISEMITIC CRIME COMMITTED BY A GANG OF LOWLIFE DREGS IN A PARIS BANLIEUE:
Tout, tout de suite

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH ISABELLE HUPPERT IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Elle

SECOND BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH ISABELLE HUPPERT IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Things to Come (L’Avenir)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH FRANÇOIS CLUZET IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Irreplaceable (Médecin de campagne)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH NICOLAS DUVAUCHELLE IN THE LEAD ROLE:
A Decent Man (Je ne suis pas un salaud)

BEST HOLLYWOOD MOVIE WITH BRIE LARSON IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Room

BEST HOLLYWOOD MOVIE WITH BRYAN CRANSTON IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Trumbo

BEST HOLLYWOOD MOVIE WITH MERYL STREEP AND HUGH GRANT IN THE LEAD ROLES:
Florence Foster Jenkins

BEST BRITISH MOVIE WITH EDDIE REDMAYNE AND ALICIA VIKANDER IN THE LEAD ROLES:
The Danish Girl

MOST UNSATISFYING PALESTINIAN MOVIE WITH HIAM ABBASS IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Dégradé (ديچرادي)

BEST MOVIE BY ALEJANDRO G. IÑÁRRITU:
The Revenant

BEST MOVIE BY KEN LOACH:
I, Daniel Blake

BEST NOT BAD MOVIE BY WOODY ALLEN:
Café Society

BEST TEENAGE ROAD MOVIE BY FATIH AKIN:
Tschick

BEST CROWD-PLEASING MOVIE BY CLINT EASTWOOD:
Sully

BEST MOVIE BY JEAN-PIERRE & LUC DARDENNE THAT IS NOT THEIR BEST MOVIE:
The Unknown Girl (La Fille inconnue)

MOST ENTERTAININGLY INSIGNIFICANT MOVIE BY RICHARD LINKLATER:
Everybody Wants Some!!

MOST SKIPPABLE MOVIE BY JEFF NICHOLS:
Midnight Special

MOST TRIVIAL MOVIE BY JOEL & ETHAN COEN:
Hail, Caesar!

MOST MAUDLIN MOVIE BY NAOMI KAWASE:
Sweet Bean (あん)

MOST TEDIOUS MOVIE BY REBECCA ZLOTOWSKI:
Planetarium

MOST WASTE OF TIME OF A MOVIE BY OLIVIER ASSAYAS:
Personal Shopper

MOST DESPICABLE MOVIE BY QUENTIN TARANTINO:
The Hateful Eight

WORST MOVIE OF THE YEAR PERIOD BY XAVIER DOLAN:
It’s Only the End of the World (Juste la fin du monde)

paterson-2016-movie-poster

I loved this movie. Don’t ask me to offer a detailed explanation as to why or to analyze it at length. It simply moved me and on more than one level: the contemplative protag, Paterson (Adam Driver), driving a city bus for a living—in Paterson NJ: Paterson in Paterson—and writing poetry à ses heures—his reference being William Carlos Williams, who wrote poems on Paterson—and his daily routine: walking his bulldog, named Marvin, in the evening, stopping at the local tavern for a beer, and with all the offbeat characters and dialogues one gets in a Jim Jarmusch film. And, above all, his couple relationship with his lovely wife, Laura, played by the sublime Golshifteh Farahani, who is beautiful, fabulous, wonderful, and you name it (I admittedly say this about her after every film I see her in, e.g. here and here). They have such a loving relationship. What a lucky guy to have a companion like her. And the pic has an impeccable, typically Jarmuschian ending. In short, this is Jarmusch’s best movie in a decade (since ‘Broken Flowers’). Reviews in the US and France are typically good. Trailer is here. C’est tout ce que j’ai à dire.

Every year since launching AWAV I have had a post on Woody Allen’s latest film, which goes up almost right after I see it. For some reason I didn’t get around to doing so this time, though I did see his latest, Café Society, shortly after it came out last May. Perhaps I didn’t say anything about it because I found it to be a generally good, entertaining pic, with a fine cast and nothing in particular to object to, though which I didn’t give a whole lot of thought to after leaving the cinoche. Usually when I see a Woody Allen film to which I give the thumps up, I’ll merely say I that I liked it and leave it at that, as with, e.g. Magic in the Moonlight, To Rome with Love, and Midnight in Paris. It’s when I strongly disliked the film that I go to town with the critique, e.g. Irrational Man and Blue Jasmine. This latest one goes with the first group. Voilà.

cafe-society

On the subject of directors followed by the cinephile set, I will mention, strictly for the record, the Coen brothers’ last film, Hail, Caesar!, which I saw when it came out in February. I had nothing whatever to say about it. On leaving the theater with my friend, I said “Je n’ai rien à dire sur ce film.” Walou. Nada. Rien du tout. Neither did my friend, so far as I recall, and she’s always bubbling with insights about movies. It’s not that I didn’t like it; it just left no impression on me. I thought nothing of it and gave it even less thought the next day. In view of the tepid audience critiques on Allociné, I was likely not alone. C’est tout ce que j’ai à dire.

BTW, during the summer I saw, with the same friend, a restored 20th anniversary print of the Coen bros’ Fargo, at a great new cinema in town that specializes in new prints of film classics. It was at least the fourth time I’ve seen it. A chef d’œuvre. A masterpiece. One of the greatest films in the history of cinema. Period.

Hail Caesar

Continuing with cinephile directors, there’s Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!!, which hit the salles here last spring. After seeing the great Boyhood in 2014 and catching up with the rest of Linklater’s œuvre, I wasn’t going to miss this one, particularly as it was said to be a “spiritual sequel” to his implicitly autobiographical 1993 high school coming-of-age movie, Dazed and Confused, which is set in precisely 1976. So this one takes place in August 1980, at a (fictitious) south Texas state university, as the students arrive on campus for fall semester and get set up before classes begin. This is my generation—the students being three or four years younger than I—so I could, in principle, personally relate to the film.

The pic is generally entertaining—it’s a comedy, of course (trailer is here)—and retains one’s attention, but won’t make my Top 10 list of the year (due out in a couple of days). Positive facets: it’s a nice depiction of the era, with impeccable attention to detail; the soundtrack is great; and the girls are pretty, bien entendu, and particularly the love interest (Zoey Deutch) of the protag (Blake Jenner). Negative facets: it’s a trivial, irrelevant film, a self-indulgent trip down memory lane of the director. Personal reaction: the college experience depicted certainly wasn’t mine—not that mine was at all representative (I know for a fact that it was several standard deviations from the norm)—and I did not hang out with a crowd like the one in the pic. In fact, I am dubious as to the accuracy of a lot of what one sees in it, notably the casualness of the sex. My college in the 1970s was as freewheeling a place as one could possibly find but it wasn’t like what one sees in the film on this score. Linklater is no doubt embellishing his memories.

One great scene is the guys in the car singing The Sugarhill Gang’s 1979 hit “Rappers Delight.” Now it is unlikely that a bunch of white jocks in Texas back then would have listened to such music, let alone been able to sing it in unison, but that’s okay. It’s just a movie.

everybody wants some

0.23, 0.73, 0.77

Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania (photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images)

Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania (photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images)

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

Those are the percentages by which Hillary Clinton lost Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, respectively. Wisconsin—the state of my birth and childhood to age 12, and with which I maintain an affective attachment—ended up being the tipping state, sending Trump over 270 EVs and to victory. La honte. I am quite sure that not a single person anywhere predicted this one. A shift of 77,787 votes in the three states, properly distributed—amounting to 0.057% of the 136,489,372 cast nationally—and Hillary would have won the election with 278 EVs—and we would be spared the ongoing intra Dem party polemics over what a terrible candidate she supposedly was and how badly her campaign was run. Not to mention, of course, the four-year national nightmare that awaits us.

The intra Dem polemics and other recriminations have intensified with the popular vote count finally certified—which HRC won, as one knows, by 2,864,974 votes: 48.06% and a historic margin of 2.09% for a losing candidate—and the Electoral College inevitably confirming Trump’s victory. Bernie Sanders supporters have been having a field day on social media with their Hillary-bashing and we-told-you-so’s. A case in point is the column in the New York Daily News by Shaun King, “Obama and the Clintons still have no earthly idea why the Democratic Party lost the presidential election,” which has been making the rounds. Among other things, King asserts

Hillary Clinton was a terrible candidate to run against Donald Trump. Of course the Obama and Clinton families will never say this, but she was. I honestly believe that she may have been the only leading Democrat that Donald Trump could’ve beaten. Next to him, she was among the least popular politicians to ever run for president. Her weaknesses and challenges counterbalanced those of Trump time after time after time. Trump is a rich, unethical liar with major character problems. To beat him, you run the opposite of that. Clinton, true or not, was not seen as the opposite, but the Democratic equivalent.

Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, or even Joe Biden or Cory Booker would’ve all matched up better against Trump and his weaknesses, but you couldn’t tell the Democratic Party that. They had it all figured out from the very beginning.

This is monnaie courante among the Bernie bros and sœurs. Even lucid, hard-headed analysts have said much the same, e.g. my dear friend Adam Shatz, who, in a post-election commentary in the LRB, asserted that “it was increasingly clear that Clinton should never have been the Democratic candidate.” Two things are in order here. First, Elizabeth Warren did not run for the nomination, nor did Joe Biden. They made the sovereign decision not to enter the race. That they would have been stronger candidates against Trump than was Hillary is unknowable and a waste of time to be speculating over (though personally, I’m dubious). It is neither here nor there. They didn’t run, that’s it. The only candidates who declared apart from Bernie were Martin O’Malley, Lincoln Chafee, and Jim Webb, and we know how long they lasted.

Secondly, Bernie—who, pour mémoire, is not a Democrat—ran a spirited campaign against Hillary and lost. She received 16.9 million primary and caucus votes (55.2%) to his 13.2 million (43.1%). Hillary decisively defeated Bernie and with landslide numbers. And no absence of alleged favoritism or putative shenanigans on the part of the DNC toward the former would have shifted any of those primary or caucus votes. Hillary won the nomination race fair and square. End of story.

But if, for the sake of argument, Bernie had been the nominee, would he have fared better against Trump, i.e. beat him? Il ne faut pas se leurrer: the well-oiled Republican attack machine, which was chomping at the bit to run against a self-proclaimed “socialist,” would have cut Bernie into little pieces. Bernie would have been shredded. The Grand Old Party would have chewed him up and spat him out. John Judis, in his “final thoughts on the 2016 election,” is fairly sure that Bernie’s proposals for free college tuition and single-payer health care would have gotten him tarred with the “tax and spend” label. As one knows, Americans like “free stuff” just so long as they don’t have to pay for it.

But that’s not all the Repubs would have hit Bernie with. As Newsweek’s Kurt Eichenwald wrote in a piece last month,”The myths Democrats swallowed that cost them the presidential election,” Sanders would have been framed as a 1960s communist hippie and weirdo to boot, an image that, believe me, would not have played in Canonsburg PA, Stevens Point WI, or elsewhere in l’Amérique profonde:

I have seen the opposition book assembled by Republicans for Sanders, and it was brutal. The Republicans would have torn him apart. And while Sanders supporters might delude themselves into believing that they could have defended him against all of this, there is a name for politicians who play defense all the time: losers.

Here are a few tastes of what was in store for Sanders, straight out of the Republican playbook: He thinks rape is A-OK. In 1972, when he was 31, Sanders wrote a fictitious essay in which he described a woman enjoying being raped by three men. Yes, there is an explanation for it—a long, complicated one, just like the one that would make clear why the Clinton emails story was nonsense. And we all know how well that worked out.

Then there’s the fact that Sanders was on unemployment until his mid-30s, and that he stole electricity from a neighbor after failing to pay his bills, and that he co-sponsored a bill to ship Vermont’s nuclear waste to a poor Hispanic community in Texas, where it could be dumped. You can just see the words “environmental racist” on Republican billboards. And if you can’t, I already did. They were in the Republican opposition research book as a proposal on how to frame the nuclear waste issue.

Also on the list: Sanders violated campaign finance laws, criticized Clinton for supporting the 1994 crime bill that he voted for, and he voted against the Amber Alert system. His pitch for universal health care would have been used against him too, since it was tried in his home state of Vermont and collapsed due to excessive costs. Worst of all, the Republicans also had video of Sanders at a 1985 rally thrown by the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua where half a million people chanted, “Here, there, everywhere/the Yankee will die,’’ while President Daniel Ortega condemned “state terrorism” by America. Sanders said, on camera, supporting the Sandinistas was “patriotic.”

The Republicans had at least four other damning Sanders videos (I don’t know what they showed), and the opposition research folder was almost 2-feet thick. (The section calling him a communist with connections to Castro alone would have cost him Florida.) In other words, the belief that Sanders would have walked into the White House based on polls taken before anyone really attacked him is a delusion built on a scaffolding of political ignorance.

Right.

On Hillary and her campaign, yes, they made mistakes and didn’t do things they should have, like pay more attention to Michigan and Wisconsin. And Hillary shooting off her mouth about the “deplorables” was certainly not helpful. We all know this—though one does want to ask if Bernie supporters and other millennials in the aforementioned states who didn’t bother to vote, or did so for Jill Stein, should not be held at least partly responsible for the debacle. But here’s the bottom line: had it not been for the Comey letter eleven days before the election, Hillary would have won. Period. Sam Wang has crunched the numbers and these are categorical: Hillary dropped four points in the polls in the wake of the letter’s release, and though she recovered two of the points before election day, the two that were lost made all the difference in PA, MI, and WI—also likely also in Florida, which she lost by 1.2%. It is now definitive that the letter caused undecided voters to break heavily for Trump. Had Hillary won the four aforementioned states, her EV total would have been 307. Moreover, the Dems would have probably picked up the PA Senate seat and possibly the WI one too (though I am informed by a political operative friend there that Russell Feingold ran a pathetically bad campaign), allowing for a razor-thin Senate majority with Tim Kaine the tie-breaker.

Minus Comey’s October Surprise and his gratuitous declarations before the House Oversight Committee last July 7th, plus the Vladimir Putin-Julian Assange dirty tricks—all of which were bigly damaging to HRC—and she wins the PV by five points, if not more, and racks up a veritable EC landslide, taking NC, AZ, and the NE 2nd CD, for a total of 334 EVs. And who knows, maybe she would have won GA too, pushing the EV count to 350. Hélas.

Ah yes, but she was such bad, awful candidate, so everyone says, ran such a miserable campaign, and failed to speak to the economic anxiety of the famous white working class. This has been repeated so many times ad infinitum—and not just by the usual suspect Hillary-bashers—that it almost goes without saying. But how was she bad? What was it about Hillary Clinton that made her an awful candidate? Now it is true that she is not a great stump speaker. She doesn’t fire up crowds. To which I say: so what? Since when does the ability to deliver barn-burning speeches become a prerequisite for winning election to high office? In point of fact, only a minority of US presidents in our era—Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama—have been objectively impressive public speakers and able to affectively connect with big audiences. Most politicians, including those in the top-tier, are not memorable public orators. E.g. Angela Merkel, who is now the titular leader of the Free World, is not superior to Hillary Clinton when it comes to public speaking, at least not so far as I have seen.

Hillary, in fact, reminds one of Michel Rocard, who disliked speaking to big crowds, much preferring smaller groups and with interaction with the audience. This is clearly Hillary’s preference as well and which she excels at—and that won her the New York senate race in 2000, her first-ever foray into electoral politics (at age 52, which is late to be starting any kind of new career). Something else about Hillary’s political skills: she is not known to have political enemies. She worked well with her colleagues in Congress and including Republicans, who appreciated her. And her staff—people who work under her authority—are fiercely loyal to her. This should speak well of her, no?

As for the Clinton campaign’s message—or supposed lack of one—and alleged inability to speak to the WWC, this is poppycock. Hillary talked about jobs, workers, and economy more than anything else, so Vox’s David Roberts informs us in a content analysis of her speeches. But one could be forgiven for having no idea of this, as all the media wanted to talk about was her emails. Those damn emails, dixit Bernie Sanders.

Seriously, WTF was Hillary Clinton supposed to do or say that she didn’t? And what could she have done about the broadcast media’s disinterest in anything she had to say about policy?

Conclusion: Hillary Clinton was a good candidate in view of what she was up against. This comment by reader Christina Wos Donnelly on the Mother Jones Facebook page a week ago gets it right:

…HRC was campaigned against by 3 Democrats, 1 Independent, all 19 Republicans, 1 Libertarian, 1 Green Partier, the RNC, 2 Russian spy agencies and a whole factory of paid trolls, Breitbart & the alt-right, Julian Assange & Wikileaks, a hostile media, a deluge of dark money, AND the FBI, all trying to take a piece out of her, and STILL she won the popular vote by millions. 3 million to date. Take out vote suppression all across the South, TX and the swing states, and you’ve got your double digit lead. Donald Trump won by a mere 80,000 votes spread across 3 states, that’s one half of one percent.

To which one could add the obsessive 25-year campaign by the right to tear her down and destroy her reputation—and with which many on the left were complicit.

Additional comments:

The final election polls were not way off. The final RCP average had HRC at +3.2, a mere 1.1% difference from her actual score. That does not constitute a massive polling failure. As for the key swing state polls: the final ones in PA showed it very close; in MI, they had HRC up +5, though one had Trump at +2; in WI there was bizarrely no polling in the last week; and in FL the race was essentially tied. Also: it turns out that the USC/LA Times tracking poll had a marked Trump skew after all, with its final number showing him up by 3. Way off base.

Many 2012 Obama voters who went for Trump invoked the “change” theme. The “need for change” was a leitmotif among these voters. This is classic in elections in which the incumbent party has been in office for two terms.

Trump has been insisting that he could have won the popular vote if he had wanted to, that if the POTUS were elected by direct PV he would have campaigned in California, New York state, and other blue states, augmenting his vote totals there. John Judis has made similar arguments in this vein. But if this were the case, HRC would have campaigned throughout the Deep South and Texas, where there are troves of potentially untapped Dem voters. So the final result would have likely been a wash—and with HRC maintaining her margin of victory.

There was finally no drop in turnout in this election. It was, in fact, higher than in 2012. Many prior abstainers clearly came out of the woodwork to vote for Trump, while some Dem voters—mainly Afro-Americans—stayed home. To increase black turnout in the future, the Democrats may need to systematically have a black on the ticket. Just as Trump putting Pence on his ticket brought in the evangelicals in force, had Hillary chosen Cory Booker instead of Tim Kaine—good man that he was—this may have done the trick in PA, MI, and WI. Just speculating.

UPDATE: The NYT’s number cruncher Nate Cohn has a must-read analysis (Dec. 23rd) on The Upshot page, “How the Obama coalition crumbled, leaving an opening for Trump.” It turns out that defections of WWC 2012 Obama voters to Trump in the Rust Belt states were more significant than thought, as were defections by educated urban Republican voters to Clinton (e.g. one learns that every precinct in Winnetka IL—an upscale Chicago North Shore suburb that I know fairly well—voted for Clinton, which I find amazing). Something I’ve been thinking: it is doubtful that Hillary—or any other Democrat—could have done anything to prevent those normally Democratic-leaning WWC voters from succumbing to Trump’s juggernaut. Trump was a once-in-a-generation phenomenon, a populist billionaire strongman with the ability to viscerally connect with WWC voters in the heartland—to appeal to their id on a range of issues (notably trade and globalization)—and provoke a cascade effect. No other Republican candidate could have attracted that portion of the WWC electorate in the way he did.

BTW, if one didn’t see it, New Yorker contributor Alex Ross had an excellent article, dated Dec. 5th, on how “the Frankfurt School knew Trump was coming.”

2nd UPDATE: The Atlantic’s Richard Brownstein had a premonitory article dated November 2nd, that I seemed to have missed at that time, on the danger to the Clinton firewall in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, “Is Donald Trump outflanking Hillary Clinton? The Democratic nominee faces the risk that she has overestimated her hold on the states most central to her strategy.”

3rd UPDATE: Le Monde’s Yves Eudes has had two very good reportages on 2012 Obama voters (or abstainers) who defected to Trump, one from Pennsylvania (Nov. 24th), the other from Michigan (Dec. 27th).

4th UPDATE: The Washington Post’s polling manager Scott Clement says (Dec. 30th) that “The 2016 national polls are looking less wrong after final election tallies.”

5th UPDATE: Vox has posted a must-read piece (Jan. 11th 2017) by policy and election analysts Sean McElwee, Matt McDermott, and Will Jordan, “4 pieces of evidence showing FBI Director James Comey cost Clinton the election: And yes, it still matters.”

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The coming apocalypse

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This is my first post in over a month on the unspeakable US president-elect. Not that I haven’t been following the election aftermath quasi obsessively and with much to say about it, but we’re all reading the same analyses and are in entire agreement that what is happening in the United States is, for us Americans at least, the biggest political catastrophe of our lifetimes, so what’s the point of little AWAV weighing in every other day with his 2¢? Also, thoughts I have one day seem dépassé the next. E.g. I had the idea in the week after the election that maybe the unspeakable president-elect would moderate somewhat—this after his meeting with Obama in the Oval Office—that he would possibly surprise us and that we should maybe wait and see. So much for that ephemeral fancy. The only thing one can say right now is that, yes, we are headed for the apocalypse, that it’s going to be worse than we could have ever imagined. As my friend Adam Shatz put it, “the president-elect has formed a cabinet so outlandishly right-wing that not even the Onion could have invented it.” And on that cabinet, one may add the most reactionary in American history and likely to be the most authoritarian.

The bottom line: all that stands between America descending into fascism—not precisely of the 1930s European variety but one specifically American and 21st century—is a handful of Republicans in the Senate who will, inshallah, decide not to go the full Vichy: who, for their own reasons, will align with the Democrats on given issues and to thwart the president of their party. I wanted to add that a robust civil society uncompromisingly hostile to the unspeakable president-elect will also be necessary—and that civil society is indeed there, comprised of the tens of millions of Americans who are outraged by the president-elect and his illegitimate victory—but don’t think the unspeakable one and those in his entourage will give a shit about that. These people are illiberal, do not believe in democracy or in the legitimacy of the opposition—of any opposition—and are in a pure rapport de force. They will seek no compromises and will not hesitate to use the considerable institutional means at their disposal to crush anyone who stands in their way. Which does not mean that we should not stand in their way and on everything. Americans on the center and left side of the political spectrum, plus lingering #NeverTrump Republicans, will feel what it’s like to be a secularist in Erdoğan’s Turkey, or a liberal in Putin’s Russia. Or to live in any one of the illiberal regimes sprouting up in countries that are supposed to be democracies (e.g. Hungary, Poland, the Philippines, take your pick). Hell, the Trump regime could even end up resembling the pouvoir in Algeria.

I will come back to this subject later—there will be many occasions to do so—but in the meantime want to post a personal story by my friend Adria Zeldin, an attorney in Washington, whom I’ve known for some forty years, and who sent it to me this week:

At 61 years old, life has told me it is time to deal with a trauma that occurred to me 42 years ago when I was 19 and in college. I was raped on campus one night in 1974. A man raped me, a townie, who knew he could wander onto campus, find his victim, and be fairly sure that nothing would ever happen to him.  The culture of women’s politics in the 1970s was such that we did a lot of consciousness raising among ourselves and at the women’s center on campus, but had very little support or understanding from the college administration, the police, or hospitals. I was not treated well by any of these institutions and instead I was left to deal with the trauma in my own personal way, the best a 19-year-old young woman could. I was young and politically idealistic and felt I had my whole life ahead of me.

Over the many years since, however, news stories of sexual assaults on college campuses, and depictions of rape in movies and books, all caused me trauma and have been difficult for me to handle. But not until recent years have I truly felt retraumatized and revictimized. First it was the stories of so many women who accused Bill Cosby of rape.  Then the trial of Brock Turner in California and Judge Persky’s shamefully lenient sentence. The moving statement of the rape survivor in that case, read to the courtroom and circulated online, brought so many tears to my eyes. I read her powerful statement over and over and cried so hard. Certainly this would help me heal and be cathartic. But then the 2016 presidential campaign took an ugly turn with statements about women and their bodies, about women being abused and ridiculed by a male candidate.  The revelation of his statements bragging about sexual assault made me angry but also traumatized me once again.

When I woke up on November 9, 2016, to learn that this man, who bragged to the nation about sexual assault, was going to be our president, I cried on and off for days. How could this happen? I felt like I was in a nightmare and that I would soon wake up and it would all have been a bad dream.

So how do I go on living? The inauguration of the President-elect is only weeks away and as it gets closer, the more scared I become.  I live in the Washington DC area and work only a few blocks from the White House where this misogynist will be living the next four years.  I am back in therapy, trying once again to deal with my personal trauma of 42 years ago. I practice meditation and engage in other activities that I have found are good for my soul. And I go on living because I must. For all the survivors of sexual assault I go on living. For all the young women in college and older women who have survived, I go on living. But I want to do more. I want to effect some change and awareness of how our society and legal system disrespects women. Why are judges like Persky still on the bench? How do they get on the bench to begin with and remain there so long? Why are felony rapists given shorter sentences than other felons? Why is a female victim of sexual assault treated as the criminal, rather than given the comfort and respect a rape victim deserves?  And what will the next four years mean for women and all the gains we have made over the past 42 years, since I was that young idealistic 19-year-old college student?

If one missed it, see the excellent and gratifying tweet storm of civil rights activist Danielle Muscato against Trump, that went viral.

Also see the essay (Nov. 27th) by a citizen named N Ziehl, “Coping with chaos in the White House,” published on Medium.com, in which he discusses his decades-long experience dealing with narcissistic personality disorder and how this helps understand the man who will soon be working out of the Oval Office (what a hideous image).

On the psychology of the president-elect—but also of his supporters—the Financial Times has a fascinating discussion (Dec. 9th) with the writer Michael Lewis, on the “American psyche” and “the triumph of irrational thinking.”

For yet more on the workings of the president-elect’s addled brain, Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio has an op-ed (Dec. 9th) in the NY Daily News, “Critics of Trump’s nasty Twitter attacks miss the point: He simply cannot stop even if he wanted to.”

And here’s a great essay (Dec. 13th) by Jacob T. Levy, a savant at McGill University, “The defense of liberty can’t do without identity politics,” published on the Niskanen Center website. There have been several good responses to the insufferable attacks on the “identity politics” practiced by the Democratic Party—e.g. by Michelle Goldberg and Matthew Yglesias, and as if the Republicans don’t practice such politics as well and with their own version of “political correctness” to boot—but Levy’s may be the best.

À suivre.

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