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Trump’s attempted autocoup

Credit here

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

Like hundreds of millions of people—maybe more—I was glued to the TV all Wednesday night and into the early hours of the morning, watching slack-jawed the spectacle at the US Capitol as it unfolded, not quite knowing how to process it. The sparse police presence was stunning, particularly as the action of fanaticized Trump mobs on this day—with Congress meeting to ratify the Electoral College result—was so utterly predictable. Politico’s Tim Alberta—who comes from conservative media and knows the Republican Party comme sa poche—asserted, in a must-read article, that “Jan. 6 was 9 weeks—and 4 years—in the making,” specifying that having “spent the last election cycle immersed in the metastasizing paranoia behind Wednesday’s assault on Congress[, n]obody should be surprised by what just happened.” And indeed on what other day than January 6th?

Talk of Trump trying stage an autocoup d’État had been intensifying, as one is likely aware, and with prescient warnings from those who have witnessed the phenomenon up close, notably the brilliant sociologist Zeynep Tufekci—whose every published word is essential reading—her compatriot, author Ece Temelkuran, and The New Yorker’s Masha Gessen. There is disagreement as to whether or not the Trumpenproletariat mob assault constituted a bona fide coup attempt. Political scientist and friend Stathis Kalyvas said no, tweeting à chaud that coups require others to take advantage of this type of disruption and to move swiftly, immediately, and decisively, but with nothing indicating that such dynamics were at play as the mob invested the Capitol.

As for that mob, while its assault was shocking and alarming, there was also a farcical side to it, as could be seen in the images of the insurrectionists inside the building, lending credence to the notion that if this were indeed a coup attempt, it wasn’t a very serious one. Mike Davis thus wrote in his email newsletter yesterday morning that the assault

constituted an ‘insurrection’ only in the sense of dark comedy. What was essentially a big biker gang dressed as circus performers and war surplus barbarians, including the guy with a painted face posing as horned bison in a fur coat, stormed the ultimate country club, squatted on Pence’s throne, chased Senators into the sewers, casually picked their noses and rifled files and, above all, shot endless selfies to send to the dudes back home in white peoples’ country. Otherwise they didn’t have a clue. The aesthetic was pure Bunuel and Dali…

In this vein, The Atlantic’s Tom McTague wrote that what the world saw “was a bunch of angry people in costume, as if a Village People convention had turned ugly.” Bolsheviks storming the Winter Palace these were not. “Redneck Visigoths,” dixit Rick Wilson, who observed that

The invasion and seizure of the Capitol was a perfect extension of the nihilist trolling operation that’s replaced the Republican Party. They weren’t there to hold the territory. They weren’t there to find evidence of fraud, or force reluctant legislators to listen to their catalog of grievances; they were there for the lulz. They were there because Trump sent them.

As to why Trump sent them, we can’t know what was going on in his addled brain when he exhorted his fanaticized cultists to march on the Capitol and “be wild,” though it stands to reason that, at minimum, he hoped they could somehow stop the ceremony in the Senate, or maybe terrorize the Republicans there into rejecting the EC results in enough states to hand Trump the victory. Listening to Trump’s psychotic one-hour telephone conversation/monologue with Georgia Secretary of State Ben Raffensperger four days prior, there can be no doubt that Trump was desperate to reverse the election outcome and stay in power, i.e. to stage an autocoup. The early refusal of the Pentagon to authorize the deployment of the National Guard suggests that the lame duck Pentagon shake-up, and installation of Trump flunkies in key top positions, was done to lay the groundwork for an autocoup.

But even if a coup in the US could be pulled off institutionally, Trump is simply too scatterbrained and stupid to successfully execute one. And as The Atlantic’s Graeme Wood usefully reminds us in a five lesson take away from the coup attempt, Trump is also a coward and has always been. E.g. he instructed his cultists to march on the Capitol and said he would be with them, but then slunk back to the White House to watch the event on television. Trump has never exhibited courage, physical or otherwise. When he famously fires people, he never informs them in person. He trash talks subordinates, weaklings, and toadies but never anyone his equal. When confronted with someone who goes toe-to-toe with him or whom he cannot intimidate, he shrinks. To fully follow through with an autocoup in a country like the United States—in the face of the fury of the majority of its population and its educated elite—requires an intrepidness that Trump simply does not have.

Back to the Capitol mob, it may have had its absurd side but it was a still a mob—and mobs are dangerous, particularly when they’re composed of extreme right-wing fanatics living in an alternate reality of conspiracy theories. And looking to inflict harm on members of society they demonize. À propos, we learn that many of the insurrectionists were wearing body armor and helmets, a few were carrying zip ties, and with an undetermined number armed. And then there were the gallows outside the Capitol, graffiti reading “murder the media,” and you get the idea.

On those fanatics in the Capitol and their Weltanschauung, take a look at this Twitter thread by sociologist Kathleen Belew, who specializes in these movements. One does not want to imagine what would have happened had the insurrectionists penetrated the Capitol en masse before the Congresspersons and Senators had been evacuated; had they come face-to-face with Nancy Pelosi, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Ilhan Omar, plus Mitt Romney and all sorts of others, and with no cops around.

For all we know, this lurid scenario may have percolated in Trump’s fevered imagination: a bloodbath on Capitol Hill decapitating a branch of the  US government, thereby enabling him to declare martial law, blame it on Antifa, or even the Democrats, arrest Biden, shut down CNN and MSNBC, et on en passe. Again, for all we know.

FWIW, a report has it that “[s]ome among America’s military allies believe Trump deliberately attempted a coup and may have had help from federal law enforcement officials.”

The very real specter of a catastrophe in the Capitol, and orchestrated by Trump, no doubt scared the daylights out of Mitch McConnell and other now erstwhile Trump sycophants and lickspittles (Lindsey Graham et al), causing their sudden change of tune. As Mike Davis submitted in his newsletter

something unexpectedly profound happened: a deus ex machina that lifted the curse of Trump from the careers of conservative war hawks and rightwing young lions whose ambitions until yesterday had been fettered by the presidential cult. Today was the signal for a long awaited prison break. The word ‘surreal’ has been thrown around a lot, but it accurately characterizes last night’s bipartisan orgy with half of the most hardcore Senate election-denialists channeling Biden’s call for a ‘return to decency’ and vomiting up vast amounts of noxious piety.

And then there was the huge happening that just preceded the MAGA mob’s Capitol assault, which was the double victory in Georgia of Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, thereby enabling the Democrats to take back the Senate contre toute attente. This exhilarating outcome—which, until the MAGA mob emerged from its cave, made Wednesday the most gratifying day since Biden’s victory was formally proclaimed on November 7th—was eclipsed by the Capitol rampage, but must have shocked McConnell & Co and figured in their calculations, as they certainly weren’t expecting it. Most Democrats weren’t expecting it either (I was hopeful but not too). It’s a run-off election in frigging Georgia after all! Republicans always win these races down there, and particularly if the Democratic candidates happen to be liberal to progressive (not to mention Black or Jewish). That Warnock and Ossoff won, and outside the recount margin, is a very big game-changer, as not only does it give Biden and the Ds control of the Senate, however narrowly, but starkly demonstrates to the Republican Party establishment that Trump is an electoral loser. Sure, at the top of the ticket he can mobilize the R base, add 11 million votes to the 2016 total, and help down-ballot candidates, but he causes moderate R defections and mobilizes the D base even more, with Biden thus adding 15 million votes to what Hillary Clinton won. But when Trump is not on the ballot, the D base remains mobilized—against him—but the R base less so. Mixing my metaphors, the Georgia run-off was a bright silver lining in what were otherwise dark clouds for the Democrats in the November 3rd down-ballot elections.

One thing is quasi certain, which is that the divide in the Republican Party after January 20th—between well-mannered hard-right conservatives and extreme-right Trumpist populists—will be far deeper than the moderates/liberals vs. progressives cleavage among the Democrats. Mike Davis again:

Let me be clear: the Republican Party has just undergone an irreparable split. (…)

There should no illusion that ‘moderate Republicans’ have suddenly been raised from the grave; the emerging project will preserve the core alliance between Christian evangelicals and economic conservatives and presumably defend most of the Trump era legislation. Institutionally, Senate Republicans, with a strong roster of young talents, will rule the post-Trump camp and via vicious darwinian competition – above all, the successor to McConnell – bring about a generational succession, probably before the Democrats’ octogenarian oligarchy has left the scene.  (The major internal battle on the post-Trump side in the next few years will probably center on foreign policy and the new cold war with China.)

That’s one side of the split. The other is more dramatic: the True Trumpists have become a de facto third party, bunkered down heavily in the House of Representatives. As Trump embalms himself in bitter revenge fantasies, reconciliation between the two camps will probably become impossible, although individual defections may occur. Mar-a-Lago will become base camp for the Trump death cult which will continue to mobilize millions of zombified plain folk to terrorize Republican primaries and ensure the preservation of a large die-hard contingent in the House as well as in red state legislatures. (Republicans in the Senate, accessing huge corporation donations, are far less vulnerable to such challenges.)

If Trump runs for president in 2024 (assuming he’s not in prison or otherwise ineligible), it will blow the R party apart. The Senate wing will not only pull out all the stops to block him—harsh critics who become bootlickers and return to being harsh critics will not revert once again to bootlicking—but may be counted on to run a third party candidate if he somehow wins the R nomination. But if Trump is blocked, he will certainly run under the label of his new MAGA party.

Whatever happens—and as countless analysts and observers have asserted—Trumpism is not going to fade and, echoing Mike Davis, a large portion of the Republican electorate will retain its cult-like devotion to him after he leaves office. And it’s not just the rubes and the yahoos in flyover country. E.g. see these recent tweets by the lobbyist spouse of the longest serving justice on the Supreme Court. There are lots of upper crust Republicans like her,

Speaking for all those not in the cult, political scientist and specialist of populism Jan-Werner Mueller, writing in Project Syndicate, argues simply that Trump must be impeached, removed from office, and permanently excluded from political life. To which one may add: prosecuted, convicted, and sent to the slammer, and, while we’re at it, stripped of his assets and his name effaced from every edifice. Inshallah.

À suivre.

UPDATE: The incontournable Adam Shatz has an à chaud take (Jan. 8th) in the LRB, “The four-year assault.”

2nd UPDATE: 48+ hours after the storming of the Capitol, people (so I’ve been seeing on Twitter) are beginning to understand that what happened on Wednesday was far graver than we initially realized. As MSNBC’s Chris Hayes remarked on Twitter, it is under appreciated how very close things came on Wednesday to a massacre. Watch his report of last night (Friday) here.

In the report, Hayes plays a clip from a video taken by an insurrectionist inside the Capitol named JAYDENX. To get an idea of the Zeitgeist of the mob, the whole thing (39 minutes) may be viewed here. One notes, entre autres, that 95% of the mob is male (and with >95% of them white, of course) and that the women among them are completely unhinged.

See also the bone-chilling piece in Slate by Dan Kois, “They were out for blood: The men who carried zip ties as they stormed the Capitol weren’t clowning around.”

3rd UPDATE: In an alarming report, The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent informs us that the “The far-right Trump insurgency just scored a huge propaganda coup” with its Wednesday assault.

NBC News, for its part, reports on its website that “Extremists made little secret of ambitions to ‘occupy’ Capitol in weeks before attack.”

4th UPDATE: Matthew Levitt, director of the Reinhard program on counterterrorism and intelligence at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has an opinion piece on the NBC News website asserting that “Trump’s aiding Capitol violence as world watches shows U.S. is now exporting extremism.” Money quote:

Over the course of the Trump administration, the United States has increasingly been seen as a kind of a haven for far-right extremism. In much the same way the U.S. and others pressed Saudi Arabia to take tangible action to curb the spread of jihadist ideology from the kingdom to countries around the world in the years after 9/11, the international community today is pressing America to address the growth of far-right fanaticism here and its transfer abroad.

And just as Western countries expressed little sympathy when Riyadh asked for patience as it slowly began to address an issue that presented the kingdom with uncomfortable religious, social and legal challenges, the international community today is impatient when Washington points to the religious, social and legal hurdles it faces in curbing domestic terrorist activities and extremist ideologies.

How do they say “l’arroseur arrosé” in American?

Best (and worst) movies of 2020

Voilà AWAV’s annual list (for last year’s, go here). This year’s will be shorter than usual, with the pandemic forcing the closing of cinemas in France for over five months all told, in view of the successive lockdowns/confinements: from March 17th to June 22nd and now since October 30th (they may or may not reopen on January 7th). And few American movies opened from June onward—and with only one big-budget Hollywood movie (Christopher Nolan’s ‘Tenet’, which, needless to say, I did not see). I also did not manage to catch a few well-reviewed French and other movies before the sudden imposition of the second confinement. But I did see enough to constitute a list (and which includes Netflix exclusives).

TOP 10:
A Son (بيك نعيش)
Abou Leila (ابو ليلا)
Adam (آدم)
Corpus Christi (Boże Ciało)
Just Mercy
Love Trilogy: Chained (טרילוגיה על אהבה: עיניים שלי)
My Donkey, My Lover & I (Antoinette dans les Cévennes)
Queen & Slim
Song Without a Name (Canción sin nombre)
The Wall Between Us (Zwischen uns die Mauer)

BEST MOVIE FROM ALBANIA:
The Delegation (Delegacioni)

BEST MOVIE FROM ROMANIA:
The Whistlers (La Gomera)

BEST MOVIE FROM SAUDI ARABIA:
The Perfect Candidate (المرشحة المثالية)

BEST MOVIE FROM IRAN:
Yalda, a Night for Forgiveness (يلدا)

BEST OFFBEAT MOVIE FROM MONGOLIA:
Öndög

BEST OFFBEAT MOVIE FROM MOROCCO:
The Unknown Saint (سيد المجهول)

BEST MOVIE FROM SPAIN WITH A SPANISH CIVIL WAR THEME:
While at War (Mientras dure la guerra)

BEST MOVIE FROM MEXICO WITH A CLASS STRUGGLE THEME:
Workforce (Mano de obra)

BEST MOVIE FROM GUATEMALA WITH A MEMORY OF THE 1980s MAYAN GENOCIDE THEME:
La Llorona

BEST MOVIE FROM CHILE WITH A RAGGAETON DANCING THEME:
Ema

BEST MOVIE FROM COLOMBIA ABOUT A SINGLE WORKING MOTHER WHO HAS TO DO IT ALL:
Litigante

BEST HOLLYWOOD MOVIE ABOUT THE SEAMY SIDE OF AN INSIDIOUS RIGHT-WING CABLE NEWS TELEVISION NETWORK:
Bombshell

BEST HOLLYWOOD COMEDY MAKING SPORT OF AMERICAN POLITICAL CONSULTANTS:
Irresistible

BEST REMAKE FROM GERMANY OF AN EVEN BETTER SPANISH POLICE THRILLER:
Lands of Murders (Freies Land)

BEST NOT BAD MOVIE FROM GERMANY ABOUT AN IRAQI-KURDISH GERMAN SOLDIER WHO GOES TO IRAQI KURDISTAN TO LOOK FOR HER LONG-LOST COMBATTANT SISTER:
Sisters Apart (Im Feuer)

BEST NETFLIX WAR MOVIE BASED ON ACTUAL EVENTS ABOUT AN INTREPID SWAT TEAM OF IRAQI POLICEMEN WHO STOP AT NOTHING TO TAKE BACK THEIR CITY FROM THE ISLAMIC STATE:
Mosul

BEST NOT BAD ALBEIT OVERLY VIOLENT ALGERIAN WAR OF INDEPENDENCE MOVIE FROM FRANCE SET IN EASTERN ALGERIA IN 1960:
The Breitner Commando (Qu’un sang impur…)

BEST NOT BAD MOVIE FROM CANADA INSPIRED BY A SOPHOCLES TRAGEDY ABOUT AN ALGERIAN KABYLE FAMILY IN MONTREAL WHICH IS HAVING INTEGRATION PROBLEMS:
Antigone

BEST QUASI-ETHNOGRAPHIC AMERICAN INDIE MOVIE ABOUT A CROSS-CULTURAL MULTI-GENERATIONAL FAMILY IN CONTEMPORARY CHINA:
The Farewell

BEST NOT BAD QUASI-ETHNOGRAPHIC MOVIE FROM BRITAIN ABOUT IMMIGRANT-ORIGIN TEENS IN LONDON:
Rocks

BEST COMING-OF-AGE MOVIE FROM FRANCE ABOUT AN 11-YEAR-OLD FRANCO-SENEGALESE GIRL IN PARIS NAVIGATING BETWEEN TWO CULTURES:
Cuties (Mignonnes)

BEST COMING-OF-AGE MOVIE FROM FRANCE ABOUT AN 11-YEAR-OLD FRANCO-RWANDAN BOY IN BURUNDI DURING THE GENOCIDE IN RWANDA:
Small Country (Petit pays)

BEST COURTROOM DRAMA FROM FRANCE SET IN THE LOIRE-ATLANTIQUE:
The Girl with a Bracelet (La Fille au bracelet)

BEST DRAMA FROM FRANCE ABOUT INDENTURED SERVITUDE AMONG ILLEGAL CHINESE MIGRANTS IN PARIS:
La Nuit venue

BEST BIOPIC FROM FRANCE ABOUT A GREAT FRENCH WORLD WAR II HERO:
De Gaulle

BEST BIOPIC FROM BRITAIN ABOUT A GREAT FRANCO-POLISH SCIENTIST:
Radioactive

BEST OKAY HOLLYWOOD BIOPIC ABOUT A ONCE GREAT AMERICAN SINGER NO ONE LISTENS TO ANYMORE:
Judy

MOST PLEASANT LIGHT ITALIAN COMEDY ABOUT THREE RETIREE BUDDIES IN ROME LOOKING FOR A CHANGE OF SCENE:
Citizens of the World (Lontano lontano)

MOST AMUSING LIGHT FRANCO-TUNISIAN COMEDY ABOUT A FRANCO-TUNISIAN PSYCHOANALYST FROM PARIS WHO MOVES HER PRACTICE TO TUNISIA:
Arab Blues (Un divan à Tunis)

MOST FEEL-GOOD FRENCH COMEDY ABOUT A MILLENNIAL WHO RECOUNTS HIS LIFE VIA 25 YEARS OF HOME MOVIES:
Play

MOST NOT-ALL-THAT-FUNNY FRENCH COMEDY ABOUT A BLACK FRENCH HUMORIST-RAP SINGER POKING FUN AT HOW FRENCH PERSONS-OF-COLOR TALK ABOUT THEMSELVES:
Tout simplement noir

MOST NOT FUNNY FRENCH COMEDY ABOUT THREE ECCENTRICS IN PARIS WHO EMBARK ON A HELTER-SKELTER QUEST TO FIND A LONG-LOST CHILD:
Bye Bye Morons (Adieu les cons)

MOST UTTERLY NOT FUNNY FRENCH COMEDY ABOUT THREE WHACK JOBS IN THE HAUTS-DE-FRANCE WHO TAKE ON THE GAFAS:
Delete History (Effacer l’historique)

BEST POLICE DRAMA FROM FRANCE WITH VIRGINIE EFIRA AND OMAR SY IN THE LEAD ROLES:
Police

BEST NOT BAD POLICE COMEDY FROM FRANCE WITH ISABELLE HUPPERT IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Mama Weed (La Daronne)

BEST ROHMERESQUE ROMANTIC COMEDY FROM FRANCE WITH CAMÉLIA JORDANA IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Love Affair(s) (Les Choses qu’on dit, les choses qu’on fait)

BEST MARRIAGE THRILLER FROM FRANCE SET IN VIENNA WITH KARIN VIARD IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Appearances (Les Apparences)

MOST NOT TOO GOOD DRAMA FROM FRANCE SET IN BOSNIA WITH ADÈLE HAENEL IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Heroes Don’t Die (Les Héros ne meurent jamais)

MOST MILDLY AMUSING FLAWED COMEDY FROM FRANCE WITH VINCENT LINDON AND FRANÇOIS DAMIENS IN THE LEAD ROLES:
Mon cousin

MOST POWERFUL DOCUMENTARY ON POLICE VIOLENCE IN FRANCE:
The Monopoly of Violence (Un pays qui se tient sage)

MOST OVERLY LONG BUT NOT UNINTERESTING 11-HOUR 4-PART ROAD MOVIE-DOCUMENTARY BY AN EX-COMMUNIST FRANCO-ALGERIAN FILMMAKER THAT WILL LIKELY NEVER BE SHOWN IN ALGERIA:
Israël, le voyage interdit

MOST FRUSTRATING DOCUMENTARY ON CUBA BY A LEFTIST AUSTRIAN DIRECTOR THAT IS DEVOID OF A GUIDING THREAD OR ANALYSIS:
Epicentro

MOST CURIOUS DOCUMENTARY FROM FRANCE ON THE LIFE AND TIMES OF A YOUTHFUL EXTREME RIGHT-WING ACTIVIST IN THE SOMME:
La Cravate

MOST TOUCHING DOCUMENTARY FROM FRANCE ON HOW REALLY HARD IT IS TO BE A FARMER NOWADAYS:
Cyrille, agriculteur, 30 ans, 20 vaches, du lait, du beurre, des dettes

MOST PEDAGOGICAL DOCUMENTARY BY THOMAS PIKETTY CRITIQUING FINANCE CAPITALISM:
Capital in the Twenty-First Century

BEST MOVIE BY GRETA GERWIG:
Little Women

BEST MOVIE BY SAM MENDES:
1917

BEST MOVIE BY CLINT EASTWOOD:
Richard Jewell

BEST MOVIE BY AARON SORKIN:
The Trial of the Chicago 7

BEST MOVIE BY TODD HAYNES INDICTING CORPORATE MALFEASANCE:
Dark Waters

BEST MOVIE BY AGNIESZKA HOLLAND ABOUT THE NIGHTMARE OF THE SOVIET UNION DURING THE STALIN ERA:
Mr Jones

BEST MOVIE BY CHRISTIAN PETZOLD INSPIRED BY A 19th CENTURY GERMAN FAIRYTALE NOVELLA:
Undine

BEST COLD WAR POLITICAL THRILLER BY OLIVIER ASSAYAS:
Wasp Network

MOST OVERRATED MOVIE BY SPIKE LEE:
Da 5 Bloods

MOST OVERRATED MOVIE BY FRANÇOIS OZON:
Summer of 85 (Été 85)

MOST FRANKLY UNINTERESTING MOVIE BY DAVID FINCHER:
Mank

WORST MOVIE SEEN THIS YEAR BY AWAV:
Jojo Rabbit

A friend (Franco-Algerian) has asked me for my take on the rapprochement between Morocco and Israel, and the role of the United States, i.e. of Trump and his recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara (neither of these developments have been warmly received by Algerians, needless to say). As for the Israel-Morocco aspect of the matter, the reestablishment of diplomatic ties between the two states is normal and hardly necessitated US mediation, as they have enjoyed a close, unofficial relationship since the early 1960s—and which became official in 1994 with the opening of liaison offices in their respective capitals (Tel Aviv for the Moroccan one), and while closed by Morocco in 2000, during the second intifada, did not fundamentally change anything. Ronen Bergman has a piece in the NYT on the ongoing 60-year relationship and Yossi Melman writes in Haaretz on how the Mossad, over the same period, built “perhaps the most steadfast clandestine relationship between Israel and any Arab state.”

Morocco’s rich Jewish past and present is obviously the bridge between the two countries—and with Morocco valorizing and promoting that heritage. As one knows, Morocco had, along with Iraq, the largest pre-1948 Jewish population in the Arab world (around 250K), but, unlike Iraq, with Moroccan Jews emigrating pacifically (albeit surreptitiously in the decade after 1956) to Israel over time, with no pressure to leave or flight on account of persecution. And as one equally knows, Israelis with personal or family ties to Morocco (some 10-15% of Israel’s Jewish population) maintain an affectionate relationship with the country and freely travel there—which is unique to Israelis with roots in MENA lands (and despite the fact that the status of Jews in Morocco to the early 20th century was not significantly better than in Eastern Europe). For this reason alone, it makes total sense that the two states would have diplomatic and commercial relations, with tourism, direct flights, and all.

As for the Palestinians, I argued in a social media exchange (with Algerians) that the Israel-Morocco rapprochement won’t change a thing one way or another, though it was observed in a very good 40-minute International Crisis Group podcast conversation—with Rob Malley, Richard Atwood, Dahlia Scheindlin, and Riccardo Fabiani—on “Trump’s Morocco-Israel transaction,” that this will further comfort Netanyahu & Co in their calculation that Israel can normalize with Arab states—as it already has with the UAE, Bahrain, and Sudan—without conceding a thing to the Palestinians. Good point. It is increasingly evident, however, that no state—even a powerful one like the USA—or coalition of states can compel Israel to make substantial concessions to the Palestinians that it doesn’t want to make—that it believes will compromise its security and/or be rejected by Israeli pubic opinion. E.g. when I visited the Beit El settlement on the West Bank in 2009 and talked to a few people there, it became clear to me that no Israeli government will ever get those settlers out of there were it to try, that there would be refusal and resistance, and that such would be the case with just about every settlement in the occupied territories. Israel is content with the status quo—which I argued over eight years ago—as are most Arab states in regard to the Palestinians, alas.

N.B. The normalization with Israel by Arab states may not only not prejudice the Palestinians but even work to their benefit, with the UAE and other Gulf states financially supporting the Palestinian Authority, investing, and the like (and which may be part of the deal with the Israelis, who will have an interest in that).

The American aspect of the Morocco-Israel deal is another matter. Not only was the US role superfluous—it was thoroughly unnecessary—but the US got nothing whatever out of it. No tangible US interest is advanced in the two states reopening liaison offices and establishing direct flights. Trump was simply doing Netanyahu’s bidding, to reinforce the latter’s election prospects and further solidify Trump’s evangelical base as he tries to stage an autogolpe before January 20th. Not only can this not be considered a foreign policy triumph for Trump—and it’s likewise with the UAE-Bahrain-Sudan deals—but, in recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara, it’s a big foreign policy blunder and setback for the US. The US thus becomes the first Western state (Albania excepted, if that counts) to recognize Morocco’s annexation of the Western Sahara.

À propos, one notes with interest the left-right consensus on Trump’s action among the handful of US academic and policy specialists of the Western Sahara question. E.g. on the left, the engagé University of San Francisco political scientist (and friend), Stephen Zunes—who’s co-authored a book on the subject—fired off a Washington Post op-ed arguing that “Trump’s deal on Morocco’s Western Sahara annexation risks more global conflict.” Human Rights Watch—which is not stricto sensu on the left (though I’d be most surprised if a single one of its American staff members did not vote for Biden-Harris)—issued a communiqué (in which acting HRW-MENA director and good friend Eric Goldstein is quoted) stating that “US recognition of Moroccan sovereignty doesn’t change territory’s status.” And FWIW, in the Uber-gauchiste Jacobin, Madrid-based writer Eoghan Gilmartin asserted that “Donald Trump has just traded Western Sahara like a Victorian colonialist.”

The left-leaning Scholars’ Circle Interviews has a worthwhile one-hour podcast conservation on the “Western Sahara conflict towards peaceful resolution,” with academics R. Joey Huddleston, Randi Irwin, Stephen Zunes, and Jacob Mundy.

Particularly interesting are the reactions from Republicans. James A. Baker III, who was the UN Secretary-General’s personal envoy for Western Sahara from 1997 to 2004, penned a Washington Post op-ed bluntly stating that “Trump’s recognition of Western Sahara is a serious blow to diplomacy and international law.” And then there’s John Bolton, who knows the WS dossier comme sa poche, with a strongly worded piece in Foreign Policy, “Biden must reverse course on Western Sahara: Trump’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty dangerously undermines decades of carefully crafted U.S. policy.”

Accompanying Bolton on the GOP right-wing is the ultra-conservative Oklahoma senator James Inhofe, who has long felt strongly about the Western Sahara and been a strong supporter of Polisario, and who pronounced Trump’s action “shocking and deeply disappointing,” declaring himself “saddened that the rights of the Western Sahara people have been traded away.” As one learns in an informative dispatch in Axios by Tel Aviv-based reporter Barak Ravid, it appears that a recent dispute between Trump and Inhofe—who otherwise 100% supports the SOB—paved the way for Trump’s gift to Morocco.

Another Western Sahara/Polisario supporter way out there on the Republican right-wing is the longtime Washington conservative operative David Keene—who also happens to be Algeria’s well-remunerated Washington lobbyist—who ran an op-ed in the Washington Times (which is read exclusively on the right) explaining “Why Trump’s deal with Morocco is immoral and shamefully cynical: The people of the Western Sahara had no say in it’s making, another blow against self-determination.”

I find it intriguing that these right-wing Republicans are so harshly critical of Morocco—which has always been such a faithful ally of the United States and the West—favorable toward Algeria—which has had correct to good relations with the US but, while a leader of the non-aligned movement, tilted toward the Eastern bloc during the Cold War—and supportive of Polisario, which has otherwise been a Third World movement of national liberation and identified with the tiersmondiste camp (and with an always large stand at the French Communist Party’s annual Fête de l’Humanité; for pics of the stand, go here and scroll way down). And that these America-firster conservatives should care so much about a sparsely, exclusively Muslim-populated patch of desert in Africa—and as they have not objected to land-grabs elsewhere (e.g. Israel and its neighbors). There is not a single right-wing person in France who would break ranks with Morocco on this question or touch Polisario with a ten-foot pole. Perhaps Polisario has had an effective US lobbying operation (for the anecdote, I was acquainted with Polisario’s Washington representative back in the mid-80s, who was romantically involved with a college friend of mine; he must have been doing a good job).

The most reliable establishment commentary on Trump’s action IMHO is by Christopher Ross, who served as the UN Secretary General’s personal envoy on Western Sahara from 2009 to 2017. Ross was a US Foreign Service officer, spending most of his career in the Arab world (he’s a fluent Arabic-speaker), including as US ambassador to Algeria from 1988 to 1991. Those were my years in Algiers and I saw him a number of times (I was on a Fulbright grant but otherwise had no relationship with the US embassy), at events and dinners, plus a few tête-à-têtes, at the residence and in his office, with him inviting me in to discuss the political situation in Algeria (we were much on the same page, particularly in regard to the rise of the Islamist FIS). Chris Ross represented the best of the US Foreign Service. Voilà his commentary on Trump’s action, posted by Stephen Zunes (Dec. 13th) on his Facebook page:

This foolish and ill-considered decision flies in the face of the US commitment to the principles of the non-acquisition of territory by force and the right of peoples to self-determination, both enshrined in the UN Charter. It’s true that we have ignored these principles when it comes to Israel and others, but this does not excuse ignoring them in Western Sahara and incurring significant costs to ourselves in terms of regional stability and security and our relations with Algeria.

The argument that some in Washington have been making for decades to the effect that an independent state in Western Sahara would be another failed mini-state is false. Western Sahara is as large as Great Britain and has ample resources of phosphates, fisheries, precious metals, and tourism based on wind surfing and desert excursions. It is much better off than many mini-states whose establishment the US has supported. The Polisario Liberation Front of Western Sahara has demonstrated in setting up a government-in-exile in the Western Saharan refugee camps in southwestern Algeria that it is capable of running a government in an organized and semi-democratic way. The referendum proposal that the Polisario put forward in 2007 foresees very close privileged relations with Morocco in the event of independence. It has answered the claim that it could not possibly defend the vast territory of Western Sahara from terrorist or other threats by stating that it would request the help of others until its own forces were fully in place.

It is true that the US has always expressed support for both for the UN facilitated negotiating process and, since 2007, for Morocco’s autonomy plan as ONE possible basis for negotiation. The word ONE is crucial because it implies that other outcomes might emerge and thus ensures that the Polisario stays in the negotiating process instead of retreating into a resumption of the open warfare that prevailed from 1976 to 1991. It was in that year that Morocco and the Polisario agreed to a UN settlement plan that promised a referendum in exchange for a ceasefire. Thirteen years were spent trying to reach agreement on a list of eligible voters, the last seven of them under the supervision of James Baker. In the end, these efforts failed because Morocco decided that a referendum was contrary to its (claims of) sovereignty and, in doing so, got no push back from the Security Council. In 2004, this caused Baker to resign.

The Security Council then substituted direct negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario as an alternative approach. Chaired by three successive UN envoys from the Netherlands (van Walsum), the U.S. (yours truly), and Germany (Kohler), thirteen rounds of face-to-face talks in the presence of Algeria and Mauritania took place from 2007 to 2019. To date, these efforts have also failed because neither party has been prepared to alter its position in the name of compromise. With the resignation of the most recent envoy in 2019 “for health reasons” but more likely out of disgust for Morocco’s lack of respect and efforts to impede his work (as they did with me), the UN Secretary-General is looking for yet another envoy. Those approached to date have demurred, probably because they recognize that Morocco wants someone who will in effect become its advocate instead of remaining neutral and that, as a result, they would be embarking on ‘mission impossible.’

If we are ever to arrive at a settlement, it will be through a drawn-out negotiating process of some kind. President Trump’s decision to recognize Moroccan sovereignty destroys any incentive for the Polisario to remain in that process. It also threatens US relations with Algeria, which supports the right of Western Saharans to decide their own future through a referendum, and undercuts the growth of our existing ties in energy, trade, and security and military cooperation. In sum, President Trump’s decision ensures continued tension, instability, and disunion in North Africa.

Pour l’info, my principal source of knowledge on the Western Sahara is Western Sahara: The Roots of a Desert War, by Tony Hodges (Lawrence Hill Books, 1983). It’s a terrific book (reviewed here in the NYRB), the first one to read on the subject, in which one learns, among many other things, that Morocco has no legitimate claim to the WS—historically or legally—and that the Sahraoui people, historically mostly pastoral nomads, were largely sedentarized by the early 1970s, had developed a national consciousness under Spanish colonialism, and possessed all the attributes of a nation deserving self-determination. Whether or not Morocco will ever surrender the WS—I have my doubts—is another matter, but the conflict remains,

The parallel between the Moroccan occupation of the WS and the Israelis in the West Bank-Gaza is evident (Moroccans naturally go ballistic over the comparison). There are similarities and clear differences (e.g. the cultural proximity of Moroccans and Sahraouis is obviously closer), but on the level of human rights violations, Stephen Zunes, whose left-wing credentials are ironclad, asserted on his Facebook page last week that these are “much worse” in the Western Sahara than in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Returning to the subject of Moroccan Jews and Israel, I want to briefly mention two feature-length films I’ve seen on the subject over the past several years. One is the 2010 ‘Où vas-tu Moshé?’ (Where Are You Going, Moshe?), directed by Hassan Benjelloun, who recounts-reenacts the sudden, literally overnight exodus in 1963 of the Jewish community in his town in the Atlas mountains, which he witnessed as a boy. There was no particular problem between the communities, which co-existed cordially, but the deeply religious Jews dreamed of aliyah to the ‘land of Zion’, of which they concretely knew little, and as emigration to Israel was not authorized at the time, the collective departure was organized clandestinely by the Jewish Agency. So one day the townspeople woke up to find that the local Jews were all gone and with their shops shuttered, having slipped out of town en masse in buses in the middle of the night. It’s an interesting, original film, needless to say.

I read about the film when it opened—it came and went—but heard more about it in 2011 from a former Franco-Moroccan student of mine, who happened to be in Israel-Palestine (working with a Palestinian-oriented NGO), who was so impressed with the film (which she had seen in Canada, where it was co-produced) that she took the initiative to promote it in Israel and organize screenings, particularly in localities with sizable Moroccan communities. It received an enthusiastic reception and showed at the 2011 Maghreb film festival in Ashdod, which saw a good turnout.

The other film is a 2012 documentary, Tinghir-Jerusalem, Echoes from the Mellah, by Kamal Hachkar, a Franco-Moroccan public school teacher in Paris, whose family hailed from Tinghir, a town in southern Morocco, from which Kamal’s parents emigrated to France shortly after his birth in 1979 but which he regularly visited on family vacations while growing up. On one visit he learned, to his surprise, that Tinghir had had a Jewish community but which suddenly departed in the 1960s, to Israel, and which the younger generation in the town knew almost nothing about. Fascinated by the discovery, Hachkar decided to research his ancestral town’s Jewish past and make a documentary—he talked about it at a screening I attended in 2013 and heavily promoted the film on Facebook—which involved interviewing inhabitants of Tinghir about their memories of the town’s Jews, then tracking down the latter in Israel and traveling there to meet them. This part is quite interesting. The Tinghir Jews imagined they were going to a mythical Jerusalem in the mythical land of Zion but when they arrived in Israel they were settled in apartment blocks in soulless development towns. It wasn’t what they were expecting. When Hachkar met the Tinghir old-timers in Israel, who spoke with him in Tamazight, they welcomed him like a long-lost member of the family (watch the moving segment here of one of them on a Skype conversation with Hachkar’s father). It’s too bad it’s not likewise with other Israeli MENA Jews and their countries of origin.

Hachkar’s film was shown on Moroccan television in 2012 and screened publicly, provoking a firestorm, with Hachkar and the film denounced by Islamists and others in the anti-normalization crowd, and which was perhaps stoked by Hachkar’s rather manifest philo-semitism. Jamal Bahmad, who teaches at Mohammed V University in Rabat, has an informative post on this from February 2013 in Africultures, “Tinghir-Jerusalem-Tangier: The Jew, the imam and the camera in Morocco.” But that’s all in the past, so says Hachkar—who now lives in Morocco—in an interview last week in the Moroccan Le 360 website, with the film and its message of fraternity no longer arousing controversy. C’est bien.

He was buried today, the funeral being a private family affair as he wished (though it would have happened that way in any case given the confinement and pandemic rules). His death late Wednesday evening has naturally been the nº 1 story here the past two days, with the usual retrospectives on TV and dossiers in the press. He was a consequential president of the republic—as all French presidents of the Fifth Republic have been (with some maybe a little less so)—having come to power at the precise end of the trente glorieuses—the “thirty glorious years” (actually more like twenty-five) of postwar economic expansion—and the beginning of the seemingly endless era of slow economic growth and high unemployment, though this was not apparent when he was elected in May 1974, at age 48, following the short campaign after Georges Pompidou’s death—narrowly defeating François Mitterrand, no doubt thanks to his zinger in the first-ever French presidential debate (voilà the whole thing here).

One of the leitmotifs of pundits and the press for Giscard’s presidency is “modern”: he was a président moderne, or at least billed himself as such. And he did indeed set about to modernize France—hitting the ground running—in the early years of his septennat, instituting economic (read: neoliberal) reforms, which the left (then strong) naturally opposed, and societal ones, which the left could only support. The latter are well-known and enumerated like a laundry list: lowering the voting age to 18, legalizing abortion (in the face of the hostility of much of his political camp), no-fault divorce, full reimbursement of oral contraception by the Sécu—though one Giscard-inspired reform has been overlooked in the retrospectives: ending the censorship of films X; so when I came to Paris in 1975, ‘Gorge profonde‘ was playing at the otherwise mainstream theater (Gaumont Alésia) in my quartier. And then there were important political reforms (which, again, the left could hardly oppose): empowering a quorum of parliamentary deputies or senators to refer cases to the Constitutional Council, proposing the direct election of the mayor of Paris (for the first time since 1793; enabling Giscard’s by then enemy, Jacques Chirac, to gain a formidable power base), equally proposing direct election by universal suffrage to the European parliament in Strasbourg (realized in 1979), loosening (though not ending) state control over the broadcast media. To these may be added the creation of the collège unique (a single middle school for all 6th to 9th graders), which considerably democratized access to high schools tracking to higher education.

In the cultural realm, Giscard saved the Gare d’Orsay from being razed, wishing it to be transformed into a museum. For this, it is presently being speculated that the Musée d’Orsay may be renamed after him.

Giscard’s “modern” image didn’t last, with his arrogance, haughtiness, and royalist impulses getting the better of his attempts to connect with regular people (on this score, he couldn’t compete with Chirac), which, along with economic austerity (“rigueur” it was called) at a time of stagflation, made him unpopular in the latter years of the septennat. He was still sure that he would defeat François Mitterrand again in their 1981 rematch, though, and with elite opinion thinking likewise. E.g. the NYT’s Paris-based foreign affairs columnist, Flora Lewis, predicted a Giscard victory prior to the 2nd round, because, as everyone knew, “the Frenchman’s heart is on the left but his pocketbook is on the right, and when in the voting booth, he votes his pocketbook” (the election outcome happily buried that cliché forever). But if Giscard “won” the 1974 debate with Mitterrand, the latter clearly did the one in 1981, and getting in his own zinger while he was at it, though would have likely won anyway, as the score was not close. Giscard’s eight-minute farewell address to the French people—made while still in a state of shock—is probably his most famous (go here and, if impatient, skip to 7:30; I used to reenact the end in front of my American students, which was fun).

My own observations of Giscard are mainly from the years after his presidency—when I started to live here permanently—as he remained a high-profile political personality into the ’00s. I generally disliked him, for some of his positions (on which more below) and his persona, though readily acknowledged his brilliance. When he published a front-page tribune in Le Monde, I read it without fail. His style and the methodical manner in which he constructed his arguments were simply very impressive—though we would hardly expect less of one who graduated at the top of his class at both the École Polytechnique and ENA. I saw him speak twice, the first time in April 2005 before a packed amphitheater at the École Militaire (which seats some 600), six weeks before the referendum on the European Constitutional Treaty, which was the subject of his talk. He was simply excellent, rien à dire. And since he was Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, he concluded with a quote from Benjamin Franklin, prefacing it by telling the audience that since they were all perfect Anglophones he was going to give the quote in English, with no translation. Only in France could a politician get away with something like that. Imagine the reaction on Fox News et al if Barack Obama, even out of office, were to conclude a speech with a quote by Montesquieu or Rousseau and in the original French (not that he speaks French or any other foreign language).

There was a report on the TV news a decade or so ago of Giscard in China with a delegation of some sort, showing him give a speech in what looked to be fluent Chinese. Now that was impressive.

The second time I saw him speak was in late 2011 at the Institut Catholique de Paris, one of the establishments of higher education at which I teach, where he gave a talk on the crisis in Europe. A smaller auditorium and no quotes  in foreign languages. I regretted that he didn’t speak longer.

In my book, Giscard, in his post-presidential years, had one big strike against him and one big one for. The strike against was his discourse on immigration, crystalized in his September 1991 tribune in Figaro-Magazine, in which he referred to immigration (read: from the African continent) as an “invasion” and called for an end to jus soli in French nationality law. Giscard’s discourse shocked a lot of people, including in his own political family in Europe, as it was one normally associated with the far right (in France at least). Giscard was a moderate conservative—an ‘Orléanist’ in René Remond’s typology of the French right; in the USA he would have been an Eisenhower-Nixon Republican—but his rhetoric pointed to a more conservative side. In this respect, it may be noted that while jeunes giscardiens of the 1970s ended up moderately conservative (Jean-Pierre Raffarin, Dominique Bussereau) or centrist (Marielle de Sarnez), the older members of VGE’s political inner circle were well to the right, e.g. Michel Poniatowski, who appeared publicly with the radioactive pariah Jean-Marie Le Pen in the 1990s. And à propos, VGE himself had cordial relations with Le Pen, the two men being elected to the National Assembly in 1958 with the very conservative CNIP, in whose parliamentary group they sat together for four years. And while Giscard supported De Gaulle on Algerian independence, his entourage was replete with nostalgics for Algérie française. As for the party he formed in 1962, the Républicains Indépendants, it and its successors covered the spectrum from moderate to very conservative. Pas ma tasse de thé.

The strike in Giscard’s favor was the central role he played in the construction of Europe, from his presidency of the French Republic—during which he forged a close relationship with West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt (whom I have an R.I.P. post on)—to his presidency of the Convention on the Future of the European Union, which met in Brussels from February 2002 to July 2003 and produced the European Constitutional Treaty mentioned above. Giscard’s appointment to preside the European Convention—essentially imposed by President Chirac and PM Lionel Jospin, who both, for their own reasons, wanted to get VGE out of Paris—was ridiculed by other Europeans (particularly the Brits), who saw the French ex-president as a has-been over-the-hill dinosaur from another era, but he turned out to be the right person for the job. The European Convention was a model of democracy and transparency, VGE’s leadership was dynamic, and the treaty was a good one, and it was a damned shame that it was rejected by the French electorate in the referendum that Chirac stupidly organized (as he was under no obligation to do so). I’ve already written about the ECT and May 2005 referendum here so won’t go over it again, except to assert that the nefarious culprit in the ECT’s unfortunate demise was the French radical and extreme left (toward whom I developed a special loathing during this episode). The ECT’s demise also confirmed that referendums are almost always a bad idea (I’ll grant Switzerland as an exception), as most people have no idea what the hell they’re voting on (there, I said it!). If referendums must be held, they should never offer the voters a simple one-word binary choice (yes/no, remain/leave). Make the question complex.

John Lichfield has a good piece in Politico.eu comparing Emmanuel Macron to VGE and on what the former can learn from the experience of the latter. The two men have much in common, as more than one has observed: from well-to-do families (in VGE’s case, very well-to-do), brilliant parcours scolaire, grandes écoles (ENA, of course) and graduating in la botte, brilliant early career in the grands corps de l’État (Inspection Générale des Finances for both), intellectually brilliant and imbued with high culture, strong supporters of Europe, elected to the Élysée at a young age and with a modernizer schtick that ended up not wearing well, insufferably arrogant and full of themselves…

There are naturally a few differences: VGE was a first-tier politician and with a long record (as Minister of Finance) when he acceded to the presidency, whereas Macron was unknown to the public three years before his election and had never run for public office. VGE had a political party in 1974 and sponsored the creation of a larger structure while he was president—the UDF: a confederation of five distinct centrist and conservative formations—to serve as his power base and a counterweight on the right to Chirac’s neo-Gaullists, and which outlasted his 1981 defeat, whereas Macron’s République en Marche is an empty shell that will most certainly vanish if Macron is defeated in 2022. Like VGE, Macron is expecting/hoping for a rematch with his 2nd round opponent in the previous election, albeit with a different outcome. If it comes to that—which will be really terrible for the political health of France—we can only hope that Macron—however one feels about him—will not suffer VGE’s fate in 1981. Otherwise, le déluge.

Art Goldhammer posted an à chaud remembrance of VGE at Tocqueville 21 and Jim Hoagland, who was based in Paris during VGE’s presidency (and interviewed him more than once), has an obituary in The Washington Post.

March for Freedoms

And against freedom-killing laws. I went into Paris yesterday afternoon, my first time in the city in almost a month, to attend this all-important demo. The Paris Prefecture of Police had initially banned it—ostensibly for sanitary reasons, France being under lockdown (confinement) since October 30th, though which has been “lightened up” (allégé) beginning this weekend—but with an administrative court annulling the interdiction late Friday. Given the explosive political context, though, the demo would have happened anyway, banning or not. The context is the government’s proposed law (Proposition de loi relative à la sécurité globale), currently under debate in the parliament, that would further reinforce the surveillance powers of the police (notably via drones) and, in the bill’s now infamous article 24, criminalize the Internet posting of photos and videos taken—by journalists or ordinary citizens—of the police going about their work—even when that work involves brutalizing people just for the hell of it. This is seemingly the umpteenth initiative by the right-lurching Emmanuel Macron—who we were led to believe was an American-style liberal during his presidential election run—to further constrict civil liberties—and with his Minister of Interior, the unambiguously right-wing Gérald Darmanin, playing the Top Cop with particular zealousness. Darmanin, an early defector from the LR party to Macron’s République en Marche and whom Macron appointed to the Place Beauvau in July, was/is a protégé of Nicolas Sarkozy, in both political orientation and personal ambition, which is as much as one needs to know about his views on the police and law-and-order. The proposed law (and its article 24) is his œuvre (and Macron’s obviously).

On the matter of civil liberties—of their being undermined—this is the law too many. If it passes, it will confirm that France is on a truly alarming political trajectory (for an elaboration on this in English, see James McAuley in The Washington Post, Adam Nossiter in The New York Times, Mira Kamdar in The Atlantic, and Art Goldhammer in Tocqueville 21. [UPDATE: Also see Cole Stangler in Jacobin and Jeremy Harding in the London Review of Books]). In an interview in Le Monde dated Nov. 26th, the prominent Paris lawyer Patrice Spinosi—who pleads before the Conseil d’État and Cour de Cassation—asserted that, with this proposed law on sécurité globale, a future “Trump à la française“—who could possibly be elected President of the Republic in 2022 (and we know who she would be)—would have the legal framework already in place to impose major restrictions on civil liberties and political opposition.

Journalists and media organs across the political spectrum—and that includes the right—have been up in arms over the proposed law, with rallies organized in front of the National Assembly on Nov. 17th and at Trocadéro on Nov. 21st. Then last Monday night there was the brutal police action against the migrant camp that had been set up that day at the Place de la République—of desperate refugees and asylum-seekers (Afghans and Eritreans the largest contingents) who have been wandering the streets without shelter for months, and for whom the authorities are doing nothing—which even minister Darmanin claimed to find “shocking.” If it hadn’t been for the videos of the police action posted on the Internet, of course, there wouldn’t have been a story. And then there was the beating of Michel Zecler—of the gratuitous violence of the police and with racism thrown in, and their brazen lies to their hierarchical superiors about it—that was revealed on Twitter last Thursday, and which was the nº 1 story on the news for two days running. Again, if it hadn’t been for videos posted on social media (if one hasn’t seen them, go here and here) there would not only have been no story but Michel Zecler is the one who would have found himself in trouble—on a trumped-up charge of outrage à agent public—and not the four police functionaries, who will most certainly be severely sanctioned. With Macron, Darmanin, and just about everyone in the political class saying how revulsed and shocked they are—shocked, I tell you!—by the violence visited upon Michel Zecler—as if the French police haven’t been doing this kind of thing often and since forever—they will thus want the four flics to be held out to dry pour l’exemple. And the flics are indeed in very hot water.

I don’t participate in demos much but decided yesterday morning that I would this one. The last one I went to—to observe but finally participate in—was the November 10, 2019, march against Islamophobia, the turnout for which was some 15,000 (deemed a success; I posted pics of it on Facebook at the time, which may be viewed here if one is interested). According to the Ministry of Interior, some 46,000 attended yesterday’s march—which means it was likely more than that—making it a big success, particularly in view of the pandemic and ongoing limitations on movement linked to the confinement. It was the lead story on the evening news, which is not common for demos in Paris (demos being a banal occurrence in this city).

The rendez-vous for the demo was Place de la République at 2:00 PM, with the destination Place de la Bastille. A classic route for marches of the left (I doubt the right has ever, even once in history, had a manif in this part of the city). I went straight to Bastille, arriving around 3:30, to meet the head of the march as it proceeded down Avenue Beaumarchais. Here are pics I took, with commentary.

The people heading toward the march from this direction were clearly not at the République and, so it appeared, had their own motives for wanting to meet up with it.

Something is on fire up ahead, with billows of black smoke and periodic explosions. I couldn’t see what it was but figured it was a car or motorcycle that had been torched. The demonstration up ahead, that was heading down the avenue, was clearly blocked. There was no movement for at least 15 minutes.

The explosions continued but I couldn’t see what they were or where they were coming from.

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Renée Levine, R.I.P.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Renée Levine

An obituary is here.

The deliverance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

À suivre.

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

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

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

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

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

Dont acte.

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

General Post-Election Thoughts (LONG):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biden-Trump: the call

[update below]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few comments on the EC:

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

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

Voilà.

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

2 days

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

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

Kindred spirits?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After all, what other choice will we have?

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

10 days

[update below] [2nd update below]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Killing to Heal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Jay Lifton M.D.

À suivre.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emily in Paris

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

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

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

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

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

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

25 days to go

[update below] [2nd update below]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Civil war, anyone?

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

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

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

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

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

Likewise with Fox, OANN, Newsmax, etc etc.

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

À suivre.

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

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

30 days to go

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

[update below]

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

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

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

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

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

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

On n’est pas sorti de l’auberge.

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

35 days to go

[update below]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, R.I.P.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

À suivre.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

55 days to go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued.

UPDATE: Takis Pappas responded to me on Facebook:

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

And my rejoinder (Sep. 10th):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

65 days to go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

À suivre.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The guillotine street theater stunt: I found that amusing.

Further down in Sullivan’s jeremiad is this morsel:

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

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

The bed-wetting pundit concludes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

70 days to go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that was the exception.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

95 days to go

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

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

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

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

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

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

The piece is long but well worth the read.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christopher Dickey, R.I.P.

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

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

Leela Jacinto (France 24):

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

Vivienne Walt (Time magazine):

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

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

Craig Pyes:

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

Claire Berlinski:

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

Mira Kamdar (formerly of The New York Times):

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

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

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