Mitterrand the American

Ottawa G7 summit meeting, 21 July 1981 (photo: Georges Bendrihem/AFP)

Ottawa G7 summit meeting, 21 July 1981 (photo: Georges Bendrihem/AFP)

This is the title of well-known filmmaker-author Patrick Rotman’s most interesting 55 minute documentary—en V.O., ‘Mitterrand l’Américain’—on François Mitterrand’s friendship with the United States, which aired on France 5 this past Sunday. Mitterrand, the first Socialist president of the French Fifth Republic—and who brought Communists into the government immediately after his election in May 1981, at the height of the Cold War—was Washington’s best ally during his fourteen years in power, so one learns. Rotman indeed portrays Mitterrand as an outright pro-American. This is not exactly the impression one has gathered from other sources, e.g. Ronald Tiersky’s biography but also in some of Mitterrand’s own pre-1981 writings. As Rotman’s principal informants were Mitterrand’s closest foreign and defense policy advisers in the Élysée—Jacques Attali, Hubert Védrine, and Admiral Jacques Lanxade, who are interviewed throughout—his depiction of the relationship is compelling.

Much of the story has been told over the years, e.g. the Americans’ alarm at the appointing of the four Communist ministers to Socialist prime minister Pierre Mauroy’s first government, President Reagan dispatching Vice-President Bush to Paris to find out what the French were up to, and Bush returning to Washington satisfied with Mitterrand’s assurances. This we know. What was said in private by the principal actors is most interesting, though. Védrine recounts that Mitterrand told Bush that there were no greater adversaries on the French political scene than the Socialists and the Communists, that the two rival left-wing parties were separated by, among many other things, fundamentally different conceptions of the “philosophie de l’homme” and of “la place de l’homme dans la société et l’État.” In Attali’s account, Mitterrand explained to Bush that the only way to reduce the weight of the Communist party in French society—the PCF representing 20-25% of the electorate from 1945 to the 1981 election—was to ally with it—with the unavowed goal of stripping it of its voters.

Attali, in recounting Bush’s June 1981 visit to the Élysée, said that the US vice-president was “intellectually a European” and with Mitterrand and his advisers having the sentiment that, in the company of Bush and his entourage, they were with “Europeans.” Well! Like father, not like son. A veritable friendship between Mitterrand and Bush was forged at this moment. Védrine described Bush as an “elegant and distinguished” man, one of the rare American presidents who possessed a “culture internationale” before acceding to executive office, that Bush exhibited “great consideration” for Mitterrand, and with the two men “appreciat[ing] one another greatly.”

As for Ronald Reagan, he and Mitterrand would become, in Rotman’s words, thick as thieves (“ils vont s’entendre comme larrons en foire“) and despite all that separated them politically. Between the French Parti Socialiste and US Republican Party, there wasn’t a whole lot in common. Reagan was wary of Mitterrand when the latter was elected—less than four months after Reagan’s inauguration—but changed his attitude, and particularly after they met at the Ottawa G7 summit in July ’81. The two developed a “warm relationship,” as Védrine tells it, adding that the common view of Reagan as an “idiot” was “totally false,” that he was “un homme simple, intelligent, perspicace,” and also “sympa et accueillant.” Attali, for his part, said that Mitterrand was fascinated by Reagan and they got along “marvelously well,” that Reagan was “warm and charming” and always telling “funny stories” during their down time together. When with Ron, François and his advisers “laughed a lot.” How about that. The Mitterrand-Reagan/Bush relationships were, along with perhaps that of Georges Pompidou and Richard Nixon, the closest of a French and American president(s) in our time.

The relationship was, of course, ultimately based less on personality than national interest and geopolitics. There were points of divergence here—and with tension in the Franco-American relationship ensuing—over the Euro-Siberian gas pipeline, French arms sales to Nicaragua, France’s refusal to include its nuclear force de frappe in any East-West arms control negotiations, and the 1986 US bombing of Libya (this not mentioned in the documentary), to name a few, but these were secondary, fleeting disputes and did not undermine the convergence over the really big issue—the Soviet Union—on which Mitterrand and Reagan were in complete agreement. That Mitterrand would be a faithful ally of the US vis-à-vis the Soviet Union was understood by Reagan at the Ottawa summit, when Mitterrand informed him of the Farewell Dossier, which Reagan’s National Security Advisor of the time, Richard Allen—interviewed in the documentary—called a “remarkable gift from France.” As Védrine put it, the Farewell Dossier was, for Reagan, proof of France’s “fiabilité, efficacité, et utilité” as an ally.

The proof in the pudding was, however, the Euromissile crisis. As it happens, last week I took my American students on a field trip to the Socialist Party HQ on the Rue de Solférino, where we were kindly received by a member of the PS National Secretariat, who gave us an informal talk about the party, past and present. During the discussion of the Mitterrand years I mentioned France’s alignment with the US on the Euromissiles and relative insignificance of the early 1980s “peace” movement here—unlike in Great Britain and West Germany at the time—to which he quoted Mitterrand’s famous words—seen in the documentary—that “pacifism is in the West whereas the SS-20s are in the East.”

Mitterrand’s hard line on the Soviets should not have been surprising in view of his own political past as an anti-communist, and who entered into the short-lived Common Program with the PCF for purely opportunistic reasons—as, in the 1970s, it was the only way for Mitterrand and the left to have a chance at winning national elections—but also, as mentioned above, for strategic ones, to crush the communists by embracing them. In this regard, the documentary reveals declassified cables from the US embassy in Paris detailing the secret contacts Mitterrand established with the US in the 1960s and ’70s, to assure the Americans of his indefatigable support for the Atlantic alliance. Mitterrand, who was an habitué of the Avenue Gabriel, told his American interlocutors that, once in power, he would junk Gaullism and lead a pro-American foreign policy, and that such had been his position since the Fourth Republic. And when Mitterrand entered into the circumstantial alliance with the PCF in the 1970s, he felt more than ever that he needed the United States.

Moving ahead to the Bush 41 administration, the documentary looks at the Mitterrand-Bush interactions in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, in which the convergence of views is highlighted more than the well-known disagreements, notably over the looming reunification of Germany (as Mitterrand and Margaret Thatcher were rather less enthusiastic over the prospect than was Bush). The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait was, of course, the overriding geopolitical issue in the latter half of 1990 and with Mitterrand deciding from the very outset that force would have to be used against Saddam Hussein if he did not unconditionally withdraw his troops. For Védrine, the French position was crystal clear, which is that it was quite simply impossible for the international community to allow a state to invade a neighboring state—and that was a member of the United Nations—and annex it outright. The Iraqi action could not be allowed to stand, as allowing it to would open all sorts of Pandora’s Boxes. As a consequence, Saddam would have to execute a complete withdrawal from Kuwait or be compelled to do so by the force of arms, period (my own personal position at the time was identical, BTW).

Védrine, emphasizing Mitterrand’s “profound attachment to the international order,” says that there was no pressure on this whatever from the Americans. For Mitterrand, however, military action against Iraq necessitated a UN Security Council resolution—which was forthcoming—and a broad international coalition, which was also forthcoming. As Admiral Lanxade, who was Mitterrand’s military chief-of-staff at the Élysée at the time and liaison with National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft in the White House, tells it, Mitterrand’s political entourage did not favor a close alignment with the United States over Iraq and that there was “reticence” to France participating in the impending military action. Lanxade does not name names, though one presumes that the reticent ones included Jean-Pierre Chevènement (obviously), Roland Dumas, Pierre Joxe, Paul Quilès, and perhaps Jack Lang. According to Lanxade, Mitterrand, faced with the qualms, informed the Council of Ministers in one meeting that “we may disagree with the Americans at times but we cannot be anti-American.” Boom! Fin de discussion.

Lanxade recounts the telephone conversation between Mitterrand and Bush on the eve of the international coalition’s military action against Iraq, on January 15th 1991. He calls the conversation “extraordinary” in tone and solemnity, recalling that of FDR and Winston Churchill on the eve of the D-Day landings. No less. Lanxade concludes that the quality of the Franco-American relationship in the early 1990s was “exceptional.”

The documentary ends with Bush’s departure from the White House and does not treat the two-plus years of Bill Clinton’s presidency that overlapped with Mitterrand’s. There probably isn’t much of note to recount, as it was the fin de règne for Mitterrand, who was in a cohabitation with the right and dying of prostate cancer. That he was disappointed that Bush was not reelected goes without saying. But it was not only on account of their personal relationship, as when it came to American presidents, the French, until the 1990s, systematically preferred Republicans to Democrats. And in 1992, no one in France knew Clinton—and whom the French political class, media, and public opinion did not take to until his persecution during the Monica Lewinsky affair in 1998, when he became hugely popular here. On this, the French were totally right.

The documentary may be watched until Sunday here (in France at least; it may or may not be viewable abroad). And here it is on YouTube.

As it so happens, François Mitterrand was born 100 years ago today. Joyeux anniversaire, tonton!

Clinton & Trump at UNLV

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Alhamdulillah the debates are done with and I don’t have to ever again subject myself to watching Donald Trump bloviate—save for his concession speech on November 8th in the event he gives one. Numerous pundits have said that last night’s debate was his strongest of the three, that he was even incisive at points early on, and only started to melt down after the first half hour or so—as opposed to ten minutes earlier in the previous two. If stringing together grammatically correct sentences is the criteria here, then yes, this was perhaps a better debate for him, but that is really setting the bar low. In fact, he did not utter a single coherent, informed thought at any moment. He was Donald Trump from the get go: an ignorant, mendacious, immature, bullying asshole of an idiot who doesn’t know anything about anything, who has no idea WTF he’s talking about on any question that is put to him, and quite simply has no business running for president of the United States. E.g. his response to Chris Wallace’s question on Syria and Iraq, which was that of a 9th grader talking off the top of his head during a class presentation he hadn’t prepared for. That a major party presidential candidate could blather uninformed bullshit to that degree was an embarrassing moment for the American nation. As I’ve said more than once, the fact that Trump has gotten this far, that he is the presidential nominee of one of the two major parties and is viewed favorably, on this October 20th 2016, by some 35% of the electorate, reflects some serious, systemic flaws in the American political system—indeed in the US constitution (a flawed document as it is)—and is a damning indictment of a part of American society. Anyone who cheered on Trump last night—who found his behavior worthy of a president of the United States—is as much of an ignorant idiot as he is, point barre.

It is now banal to call Trump a fascist or dictator-in-waiting, to observe that he is running not only against Hillary Clinton but against democracy itself, that he has no understanding of or respect for the institutions of American government, and that his rise represents, as Princeton historian Sean Wilentz wrote last week, a veritable “national emergency.” This is uncontroversial even among Republicans. But fewer Trump detractors—in the punditocracy at least—have come out and said en noir et blanc what is now patently obvious, which is that Trump is mentally ill. He is, as Slate’s William Saletan came out and asserted in a post-debate commentary, a clinical paranoiac. The man is psychotic. The Washington Post’s conservative columnist Michael Gerson—who’s been on an anti-Trump tear—wrote the other day about Trump’s “ideological psychosis” but stopped short of labeling that psychosis psychiatric. In view of Trump’s indisputable mental condition, if he were to, by some calamitous scenario, win on November 8th—and with the imminent prospect of getting his little fingers on the nuclear codes—he would clearly have to be stopped, if not by a sufficient defection of faithless electors when the Electoral College meets on December 19th, then by a version à l’américaine of the Wolf’s Lair operation in East Prussia on July 20th 1944, except with this one succeeding, suivez mon regard. Fortunately it won’t come to that, as Trump is not going to win the election. Not a snowball’s chance in hell.

As for Trump’s intimation that he may not accept the result of the election—if he loses, of course—everyone is saying that this was the key moment of the debate, when Trump definitively lost it. Even Fox News talking heads found Trump’s words unacceptable. But while what Trump said was shocking and unprecedented in American history, I tend to agree with the otherwise unspeakable William Kristol—whom I would normally not link to positively—who, in a tweet storm after the debate, asserted that Trump may say whatever he pleases about the election but that if the latter is recognized as legitimate by the American people in its great majority—as it will be—and certified by election officials, then Trump can’t do a thing about it. His stomping and screaming will have no effect, and all the more so as, continuing in Kristol’s vein, establishment Republican Party politicians will accept the election outcome to a man and woman. Trump will look even more the unhinged crackpot that he is. He will be utterly isolated. And the republic will survive.

As for his hardcore supporters, who are numerous, lots of people are alarmed and worried about their eventual reaction to the inevitable defeat. Civil disorder, even violence, is feared. Trump’s legions are indeed crazy—and with a cult-like adoration of their guru—and driven by a virulent hatred of a large part of their society. This is a serious problem for America and will not be resolved anytime soon. The hatred of the Trumpistas of people not like themselves is of a degree that, in other contexts, can lead to civil war and massacres. And Trump’s supporters, unlike Hillary’s, are armed, even heavily. This is nothing to be dismissive of. But if Trump dead-enders try to do anything illegal after November 8th, e.g. engage in violent action, they will bring the fury of the American state down on them. The FBI will arrest them en masse. And if they resist by the force of arms, the federal government will repress them violently, i.e. the Trumpistas will be liquidated. Terminated with extreme prejudice. So let them try.

I’ve written over nine hundred words here already and hardly said a thing about Hillary Clinton. While Trump was the Grand Guignol of last night’s debate, Hillary was the vedette. She was a star: absolutely excellent, poised, articulate, in command of everything, with precisely the right positions on 95% of the issue questions that were posed to her, who played Trump like a violin, et j’en passe. No one gets the better of Hillary Clinton in a debate. And there is no one out there in American political life who is more qualified than she to be POTUS. If the Dems win a majority in both the Senate and House—which is not an outlandish scenario at this date—then she will have the potential to be a great president. Lingering Hillary-hating Bernie supporters need to rethink their attitude.

Now Hillary’s debate performance, while earning overwhelming praise from pundits, was critiqued on a couple of points, notably her dodging the questions on open borders and the Clinton Foundation. But her dodges were adroit, IMO, as she would have needed more than her allotted two minutes to adequately answer them, to give the questions the necessarily complex responses they would have entailed, and that would have likely been over the heads of intellectually-challenged voters and, moreover, provided out-of-context sound bites and other ammunition for Trump propaganda. So better to avoid and move on.

On Hillary’s brilliance in playing Trump, see TNR senior editor Jeet Heer’s post-debate commentary, “Hillary Clinton destroyed Trump in the debates just by being a grown-up.” Money quote:

There’s been a powerful gender subtext running through all the debates. As a pathbreaking woman proving herself in a man’s world, Clinton used the familiar strategy of women in this situation of studying hard and being as professional as possible. Trump, by contrast, was constantly reverting to his natural state of toxic masculinity. It’s not uncommon in the corporate world for a well-prepared woman to compete against a man who thinks he can wing it. That was the fundamental dynamic of the presidential debates.

Yet thanks to her hard work and Trump’s fecklessness, Clinton ended up displaying all the traits that men are traditionally supposed to have for the presidency—the steadiness, the unflappability, the steeliness under pressure and assault. He came across with traits of a stereotypical “female,” all the reasons they were once thought to be “unfit” for jobs like this. He couldn’t control his emotions, he personalized everything, he whined. You almost came out of these debates thinking, “Are men fit to be president?” She “proved” a woman is fit, and how she reduced him to acting like a little boy (or, more in popular stereotype, like a girl).

Trump acting “like a girl.” A sure-fire guarantee to get under his thin skin, c’est sûr. Heer continues

Earlier in the week, Melania Trump had defended her husband’s behavior in the infamous “Access Hollywood” video where he boasted of sexual assaults by saying that the Republican nominee was basically a big child. As she told Anderson Cooper, “I have two boys at home, I have my young son and my husband.”

Hillary Clinton’s genius in the debates has been to constantly troll Trump into reverting to that intrinsic state of childishness—most memorably when he muttered “such a nasty woman” toward the end of Wednesday’s debate, while Clinton was answering a question about entitlements. His peevishness left her by default as the adult in the room. By constantly being above it all, smiling as he engaged in insults, keeping calm while he hovered behind her in the second debate like a would-be stalker, she proved she had presidential mettle. Her steel nerves and unflappability, which had earlier been displayed in the marathon grilling of the Benghazi hearings, were deeply impressive.

Yes, she’s impressive. If anyone wishes to disagree, please explain your reasoning.

On Trump’s base, the pseudonymous David Wong, who is executive editor of Cracked.com, has a personalistic post dated October 12th on “How half of America lost its f**king mind,” which focuses on the small town-urban divide and with economic precariousness an undercurrent. Effectively countering this view is Dylan Matthews spot-on post in Vox, dated October 15th, “Taking Trump voters’ concerns seriously means listening to what they’re actually saying.” And what they’re saying is less about the economy than good old-fashioned racialist white rage.

As for Hillary’s voters, who, pour mémoire, do exist in sizable numbers, Vox’s Matthew Yglesias weighed in yesterday with a post, “There’s a new silent majority’, and it’s voting for Hillary Clinton.”

And while we’re on Vox writers—it’s really a great website—see Ezra Klein’s post-debate reax, “Hillary Clinton’s 3 debate performances left the Trump campaign in ruins: Donald Trump didn’t just destroy himself. Hillary Clinton destroyed him.”

A couple of more pieces. Slate’s Jeremy Stahl has a most interesting one asking “Why is Donald Trump whining about a rigged election? Mark Cuban has an interesting theory.” In short, it’s about Breitbart playing Trump for its own post-election ends. Trump is Stephen Bannon’s useful idiot, which makes sense, as the latter is definitely smarter than the former.

The other is Matt Taibi’s October 14th reportage in Rolling Stone, “The fury and failure of Donald Trump.” The lede: “Win, lose or drop out, the Republican nominee has laid waste to the American political system. On the trail for the last gasp of the ugliest campaign in our nation’s history.” There’s a tenacious idea out there that Hillary is a structurally weak candidate who would certainly be defeated by any other Republican candidate but Trump. Taibi—who’s a great writer—pretty effectively rubbishes that notion in the way he describes the 17-candidate clown bus in the 2016 GOP primary campaign. Hillary would have been able to handle any of these jokers. A must-read.

À suivre.

UPDATE: The Huffington Post has compiled some of the #TrumpBookReport tweets, that were spawned on Twitter in response to Trump’s clueless debate answers. Hilarious.

2nd UPDATE: Washington Post senior editor Marc Fisher has a sobering analysis (October 22nd) in which he asks “What is the long-term effect of Donald Trump?” In short, Trumpism is not going anywhere after the election nor is Trump, even if he is buried in a landslide on November 8th. Trumpism will remain a large, festering boil on the American body politic.

If Trumpism cannot be vanquished in the coming years, Trump himself certainly can be. His brand needs to be destroyed and he financially ruined. And if he can be indicted and convicted for any of his countless legal transgressions, so much the better. This can all happen and, inshallah, it will.

3rd UPDATE: On the zeitgeist of the present-day GOP, a YouGov/Huffington Post poll published on October 18th shows that “Most Republicans don’t think sexual assault would disqualify Trump from the presidency.”

4th UPDATE: For more on the GOP zeitgeist, see the breathtaking report in Politico (October 20th) by Julia Ioffe, who watched the debate with Trump supporters, “Debate night with the unswayables.” The lede: “In North Carolina, local Republicans have their own way of seeing what just happened—and arguing back.”

À propos—and telling us what we have kind of suspected—WaPo’s Philip Bump, in a commentary dated October 15th, observes that “Americans now live in two worlds, each with its own reality.”

5th UPDATE: Stanford University professor of communications Jeff Hancock explains, on the CNN Money website (October 17th), “Trump’s bullsh*t: Why his supporters don’t care that he’s lying.”

6th UPDATE: Conservative attorney and National Review staff writer has a stunning piece—or perhaps not so stunning—dated October 21st, “The price I’ve paid for opposing Donald Trump.” The lede: “Trump’s alt-right trolls have subjected me and my family to an unending torrent of abuse that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.”

It is perhaps not surprising that Trump’s fanatics would target other conservatives. Such happened on the left during the early decades of the Soviet Union—notably during the Comintern’s “Third Period” following its 6th congress in 1928—when Soviet-aligned communists aimed their fire at social democrats, Trotskyists, and others on the left who didn’t tow the Soviet line.

As it happens, the onetime-leftist-turned-conservative historian Ronald Radosh had a piece in TDB, dated August 22nd, entitled “Steve Bannon, Trump’s top guy, told me he was ‘a Leninist’ who wants to ‘destroy the state’.” The lede: “The Breitbart executive director turned GOP leader boasted at a party about his goal of destroying the conservative establishment.”

7th UPDATE: George Washington University law professor Neil H. Buchanan has spot on essay, reposted in Newsweek Europe (October 15th), rhetorically asking “Why is the press ganging up on Hillary Clinton? Why does the press not challenge the conventional wisdom that Clinton is untrustworthy?”

In this vein, see Paul Waldman’s Washington Post column, dated September 5th, “Trump’s history of corruption is mind-boggling. So why is Clinton supposedly the corrupt one?”

8th UPDATE: The NYT’s Max Fisher, who co-authors the paper’s The Interpreter column, informs readers (October 23rd) that “Donald Trump’s threat to reject election results alarms scholars,” the scholars in question being political scientists who study authoritarian regimes. I should perhaps not be so dismissive of Trump’s threat not to concede defeat if/when he loses, as the longer term effects of such an action could well be deleterious.

9th UPDATE: Vox’s Ezra Klein says (October 21st) that it’s “The best conversation I’ve had about the election, with Molly Ball.” It goes for 1 hour 13 minutes and is definitely worth listening to (here). I learned things from it. Molly Ball, who writes for The Atlantic, is one of America’s best political reporters.

10th UPDATE: Freelance writer at FiveThirtyEight and self-described millennial Milo Beckman has a nice essay—addressed to fellow millennials—at Medium (October 19th), “The leftist case for Hillary Clinton.”

11th UPDATE: The Atlantic’s Molly Ball reports (October 25th) from the Florida retirement archipelago on “Trump’s graying army,” which is the Republican candidate’s strongest demographic. One wonders how these good senior citizens who wax nostalgic for the 1950s would react to the report in TDB (October 25th) by journalist and author Michael Gross, who’s been covering Trump for the past thirty years, “Inside Donald Trump’s one-stop parties [in the 1990s]: Attendees recall cocaine and very young models.” A fashion photographer quoted in the lede thus reminisced, “I was there to party myself. It was guys with younger girls [as young as 14], sex, a lot of sex, a lot of cocaine, top-shelf liquor…” Question: is there a statute of limitation for prosecuting people who organize sex parties with minors? How nice it would be if some those then-teenagers were to come forth with their stories.

Hillary Clinton,Donald Trump

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I just finished watching the debate on YouTube, on this Monday afternoon. Qu’est-ce que vous voulez que je dise? Clinton was excellent and from beginning to end. She killed it, point barre. Who were the nitwit pundits who said that she is a “weak candidate” (which I have read so often that I’ve lost touch of the number of nitwits who’ve said it)? As Michelle Goldberg titled her instant analysis, Hillary “was a model of grace and poise throughout a disgusting ordeal.” To call the debate disgusting is to put it most mildly. It is beyond comprehension how pundits—of whom there are a certain number—could declare that Trump somehow “won” it, or at least scored a tie, and to assert that Hillary did not do what she had to do, that she failed to take advantage of this or that opportunity, or whatever. Bollocks. Trump was more odious and reprehensible than two weeks ago at Hofstra, if that’s possible, and demonstrated for the 870,000th time that he doesn’t know anything about anything—having to do with policy and the institutions of the US government—and that he is a complete and total idiot and for whom literally every thought he utters is incoherent and/or an outright lie. Watching the debate in the faculty lounge at the ICP between classes, I put it on pause at one moment—when Trump was railing on with ignorant bullshit about Syria, ISIS, and Mosul (a city he had likely not heard of before his debate prep and couldn’t locate on a map even if one threatened to blow up the Trump Tower)—telling a bemused colleague that the French have no idea of the calamity that has befallen the American political system, that Marine Le Pen is Aristotle compared to Trump and that I would vote for her in a nanosecond over the GOP’s unspeakable candidate if a gun were put to my head. My god, I would even vote for (gulp) Sarkozy if presented with such a Sophie’s choice. Trump was indeed deemed by certain pundits to have “won”—or at least “stanched the bleeding”—because he uttered a few more grammatically correct sentences—with subjects and predicates, and verbs, adjectives, and prepositions properly aligned—than in the first debate. The bar has been set ever lower in American electoral politics. The ‘banana republicanization’ of the United States.

On America becoming a ‘banana republic’ if Trump wins and has Hillary prosecuted and thrown in the slammer, as he promised last night, see the comments by Slate’s excellent Jamelle Bouie, Vox’s Ezra Klein—who wrote that “[a]t Sunday’s debate, Donald Trump revealed that he is not running to be America’s president so much as its dictator”—WaPo’s editorial board, and, above all, the libertarian Niskanen Center’s vice president Will Wilkinson, who, in a NYT op-ed, concluded with this

[Trump] said, in a widely watched televised presidential debate, that if he became president, he would put political opponents in cages. That’s dictator talk. But it’s not Mr. Trump’s open contempt for the norms of liberal democracy that made my blood run cold. It was the applause that came after. It is the fact that it’s no longer assured that you automatically lose a presidential debate in which you promise to jail your political rival.

Trump’s deplorables loved what he said. And those deplorables—a.k.a. the Republican Party base—are a sizable portion of the American electorate. Large numbers of Americans out there—almost all Republicans—want a dictator, preferably fascist. Even if the bottom falls out from under Trump and Hillary ends up winning in a landslide—a now plausible hypothesis that I scoffed at even a week ago—Trump will still receive a minimum of 45 million votes, probably more. That’s a lot of Americans who are fine with dictatorship. Chilling, en effet.

As for the Republican Party’s craven politicians, on whom abuse is being rightly heaped, see Jamelle Bouie’s excellent commentary, “The horror is everything the GOP could tolerate about Trump, and why: Republicans supported his vision of a whites-only America until he posed a threat to the voters the party needs.” Bouie discusses, entre autres, Trump’s breathtaking words on the Central Park Five. And à propos if one missed it, see the piece by The Guardian’s Oliver Laughland of last February, “Donald Trump and the Central Park Five: the racially charged rise of a demagogue.”

One nice thing about the GOP’s Trump disaster is the prise de conscience by a minority of right-wingers who are appalled and sickened by the orange haired one, including columnists George Will and and Jennifer Rubin, whom I heretofore disdained but are now fun to read (e.g. see their latest here and here). Also TWS’s Jonathan Last, who had a pithy post-debate comment. One conservative friend of mine is so revolted and repulsed by Trump that she informed me the other day that “[she is] beginning to sound like an unhinged Sanders supporter” and that this election “has actually radicalized [her].” Sois la bienvenue ma chère!

One group that is also coming around is heretofore Hillary-hating gauchiste Bernie supporters—and believe me, I have many such friends, real life and virtual—who have, as I have been noting on my Facebook news feed, been ever less critical of Hillary, when not downright positive in their attitudes toward her—and to the point where the latest Wikileaks dump, that revealed excerpts of Hillary’s speeches to Wall Street, provoked little to no reaction. Tant pis, Julian Assange and Vladimir Putin. Bad timing and too late. C’est bien. (As for my assessment on the email revelations, I largely agree with Kevin Drum and Matthew Yglesias).

C’est tout ce que j’ai à dire, pour le moment au moins.

UPDATE: Former NFL player Chris Kluwe, who spent most of his career as a punter with the Minnesota Vikings, has an absolutely excellent, fantastically written, must-read piece in Vox, “Dear Donald Trump: I played in the NFL. Here’s what we really talk about in the locker room.” Lots of great lines, e.g. on how Trump has “plummet[ed] past the morass of gross incivility into the abyss of depraved sociopathy.” Every Trump supporter should be obliged to read Kluwe’s piece and to the very last word.

2nd UPDATE: Conservative pundit Michael Gerson, who served in the Bush 43 administration, has a great column in The Washington Post on the Trump debacle, “Republicans deserve their sad fate.” I don’t agree with the bit about the Democrats in the 1990s but will let that slide.

3rd UPDATE: Slate associate editor Laura V. Anderson has a nice post (October 12th) on Slate’s “XX Factor: What Women Really Think” blog, “Forget this ‘Hillary is unlikable’ stuff. Hillary is downright inspiring.”

4th UPDATE: The New Yorker’s John Cassidy has a good commentary (October 12th) on the WikiLeaks dump, “The illuminating but unsurprising content of Clinton’s paid speeches.”

5th UPDATE: I watched Trump’s October 13th speech in West Palm Beach on C-SPAN, all 49 minutes of it. The face of American fascism. Ça coupe le souffle. For a shorter demonstration (under two minutes) of Trump’s fascism—and of the profound danger he poses—watch this.

In case one missed it last May, do read my favorite neocon Robert Kagan’s WaPo column, “This is how fascism comes to America.”

6th UPDATE: If one didn’t see Michelle Obama’s great speech yesterday (October 13th) in Manchester NH—certainly the best of the campaign and by anyone—watch it here.

Trump: crashing and burning?


[update below]

Last February I wrote the following on social media, in an impatient response to numerous Democratic Party-voting worrywart friends who were losing sleep over Trump’s surge

Can I say something? At some point this year – in two weeks or eight months – Trump is going to crash and burn. It *will* happen – this is a certainty – and be a sight to behold. I just hope, for purely partisan reasons, that it happens after he gets the GOP nomination, and brings the wanker party in Congress down with him in the process. But there is not a snowball’s chance in hell that the American people will elect this loudmouthed, narcissistic egomaniac president of the United States. It will not happen. So I ask my liberal-lefty friends to please stop wringing their hands, fretting, spooking themselves, and getting all frantic and bent out of shape over this impossibility.

Now I did express less certainty last month over this confident assertion but, with Trump’s 2005 hot mic video, maybe we are indeed, at long last, witnessing the crashing and burning of his insane candidacy. How wonderful that would be. Inshallah.

It would also be nice if we could ban the expression “locker room talk,” which refers to the way men are thought to talk about women in the privacy of exclusively male company (and that mainly happens outside locker rooms). Now men, among themselves, often do talk about women in ways that they would not if their female companions or friends were present—and with women doing likewise when talking about men—but, personally speaking, I can’t think of any male friend of mine, since my early 20s at least, who has talked about women in the way that Trump did in the 2005 video—and when he was 59 years old—and of not only using vulgar language in referring to women but mirthfully recounting how he sexually assaults them. If this doesn’t cause his candidacy to crash and burn, then nothing will.

Everyone knows that Clinton’s poll numbers have dramatically improved since the first debate, with heretofore panic-stricken Dems now confident that she’ll win and handily. The numbers I’m tracking in particular are her and Trump’s favorable/unfavorable ratings and the spread between the two. Hillary’s position here has improved over the past week (see above graph). If the spread widens, as it no doubt will, the election is all but over. It’s in the bag.

It has been said countless times by pundits that Hillary’s negative favorable/unfavorable numbers are the worst in polling history for a presidential nominee, with the exception of Trump himself, and that such would normally be the electoral kiss of death. But Hillary’s present -9.5 favorable/unfavorable spread isn’t shabby at all when compared to that of French politicians with presidential ambitions, most of whom would die to have her numbers. The latest IPSOS-Le Point baromètre politique, which is the French polling gold standard for this ranking, reveals that only one top-tier French politico has favorable numbers, which is Alain Juppé, whose spread is +12 (48% favorable/36% unfavorable). Everyone else is in negative territory, and some breathtakingly so. E.g. François Hollande is at -65 (15/80)—which is not his record (he was at 13/83 in September 2014)—and with PM Manuel Valls—who may well jump into the PS’s January primary in the (likely) event that Hollande throws in the towel on seeking reelection—is at -48 (23/71). As these two men are the executives of an exceptionally unpopular government, they are thus being judged on their actual job performance. But Hollande’s two loudest detractors, Nicolas Sarkozy and Marine Le Pen—who have been doing nothing but shoot off their mouths—are hardly better off, with both showing identical numbers: -43 (26/69). This is quite something (and Sarkozy’s worst number ever, which is one reason why he cannot and will not win the LR primary next month, and also why Marine LP cannot and will not be elected president of the republic next spring). For the record, two other top-tier politicians, Jean-François Copé and Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, are also at -43 (18/61 and 24/67, respectively). The French electorate really doesn’t like its politicians these days, but which, contrary to popular belief, is not working to the benefit of Gallic Donald Trump wannabes.

So Hillary and Dem voters can take heart that it could really be a lot worse for her, i.e. she could be French.

UPDATE: TDB editor-in-chief John Avlon, who labels himself a centrist and independent, has an excellent commentary on how “Donald Trump just lost the election.”

Ditto for Ezra Klein’s latest in Vox, “A Donald Trump presidency would bring shame on this country: At long last, have we no decency?”


The vice-presidential debate


[update below]

I didn’t bother watching the V-P debate in 2012 (Biden-Ryan, pour mémoire) but given the peculiar nature of this election, felt that I should this one, so caught it on YouTube this Wednesday morning. It was the first time I’d seen Mike Pence apart from a couple of minutes of his remarks when Trump announced his pick (and leaving the press conference as Pence began to speak). Tim Kaine I’d seen only a couple of times, one being his great speech when Clinton rolled out his nomination, so had a positive impression of him. The early consensus among pundits is that Pence “won” the debate and Kaine “lost” it, and with instant polls apparently giving Pence the advantage. N’importe quoi. Neither won nor lost. Both men did what they had to do. I thought Kaine was very good; he was articulate, crisp, and sharp, and didn’t miss a beat. Certain pundits tweeted—I didn’t keep track of who said what—that he was “over-rehearsed,” “tense,” kept repeating his “talking points” (whatever the hell a “talking point” is), blah blah. The degré zéro of instant punditry. Kaine’s two-part mission in the debate was to promote Hillary to the hilt and tear down Trump, doing the latter by repeating several times the gross, outrageous, racist, sexist statements Trump has made about women, Mexicans, blacks, the handicapped, and other groups. Gotta keep reminding people of that, including Pence and Republicans, and not let it go. I thought Kaine succeeded in all this. However… he undermined himself by continually interrupting Pence, particularly during the first third of the debate. It was irritating. At one point I blurted out to him, via the computer screen, “shut up! let him finish!” Pence also started to interrupt as the debate progressed and with Kaine doing it less, but as first impressions are invariably the ones that stick, Kaine will be seen as the main interrupter, which never helps. This is not to say that he “lost” the debate, just that he by no means “won” it.

As for Pence, he was good on form: calm and generally collected, i.e. the anti-Trump. And while he repeatedly shook his head when Kaine reminded him of Trump’s words—all 100% true—his body language was not off-putting IMO. On substance, he was a mix of langue de bois, untruths, and Republican hot air. Mainstream Republican voters were surely happy with what they saw, and with the party establishment certainly regretting that he’s not the one at the top of the ticket. It was almost breathtaking how Pence both denied that Trump had said things that had indeed said and refrained from defending him at several points, and, moreover, taking positions on foreign policy that Trump has never expressed. E.g. Pence, expressing consternation over Aleppo, said that “what America ought to do right now is immediately establish safe zones” in Syria to which the “vulnerable” and “families with children” could move to, that the “provocations by Russia need to be met with American strength,” and that “the United States of America should be prepared to use military force to strike military targets of the Assad regime, to prevent them from this humanitarian crisis that is taking place in Aleppo…”

Wow! Has Donald Trump ever so much as hinted at any of this? Even indirectly? And the bit about “deploy[ing] a missile defense shield to the Czech Republic and Poland”? Has Trump even mentioned those countries during the campaign, let alone a missile defense shield? This is Pence’s policy—and the establishment GOP’s—not that of the party’s candidate. Really too bad Kaine didn’t point this out, or ask Pence about it. A golden opportunity missed.

The American “deep state” will be reassured, that’s for sure. Pence is a mainstream conservative Republican, a Ted Cruz on Valium. If Trump wins the election and, heaven forbid, something happens to him—suivez mon regard—Pence will be, for the “deep state,” perfectly acceptable in the Oval Office. And the congressional GOP will be aux anges.

As for the rest of us, ce sera le cauchemar…

The bottom line: neither candidate moved a single vote. Both were speaking to their respective party’s base and shoring it up. And both no doubt succeeded. They did what they had to do.

And what they did will all be forgotten after Sunday’s town hall debate between Clinton and Trump, which will be a doozy, sans aucun doute.

A few good instant analyses I’ve come across:

Jamelle Bouie in Slate, “This wasn’t a debate. This was a national gaslighting: If Mike Pence ‘won,’ it’s because he was shameless about denying reality.”

David Corn in Mother Jones, “Mike Pence and the failure of the Republican establishment: In their hearts, they know they are wrong.”

Kevin Drum, also in MoJo, “Mike Pence lied constantly last night. So how can he be the winner of the debate?”

Joan Walsh in The Nation, “Tim Kaine rubbed Mike Pence’s nose in Trump’s crazy: Kaine interrupted his way to the truth at the vice-presidential debate.”

Paul Waldman in The Washington Post, “When 2016 is over, the GOP will pretend Donald Trump never existed.”

UPDATE: Voilà a few more good commentaries:

Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker, “Mike Pence, dancing with Trump: In the Vice-Presidential debate, Pence demonstrated the scale of the denial and self-delusion of those aligned with Donald Trump.”

Jonathan Chait in New York magazine, “Mike Pence lost the debate because he lied about the wrong stuff: Never lie about statements that are on video.” À propos, check out the great attack ad (in the article) that the Clinton campaign rolled out shortly after the debate.

Mark Joseph Stern in Slate, “Mike Pence is a coward and an extremist: He’s the perfect face of the GOP.”


Everyone has been talking about the apparent revelation of her veritable identity, published simultaneously, as one knows, in five different countries (in the US, in the NY Review of Books; in France, in Mediapart). Ça défraye la chronique. As for the reaction to the revelation, it’s been heavily negative, as reported in the press and that I have also noted on social media (though some argue that the revelation was both inevitable and not a bad thing). Now when I say “everyone” knows about this, it’s because everyone—i.e. everyone in my socio-educational stratum—has either read Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, is presently doing so, or intends to. And, BTW, this includes Hillary Clinton, who recently revealed that she loves reading Ferrante and finds the Neapolitan novels “hypnotic” (kind of like Barack Obama telling a journalist during the 2008 campaign that his favorite TV series was ‘The Wire’: a reminder to part of his base that “I’m one of you; I share your highbrow cultural tastes”).

If, by chance, one does not yet know about the Neapolitan novels—which is actually a single novel in four parts—go here. I recently finished the second one, so still have two to go (the third, so I have been told by several friends, is the chef d’œuvre of the four). I am not a big literature person, as those who know me know, but love reading Ferrante—as do 98.5% of my friends, colleagues, and acquaintances who have read her. The last series of novels I so enjoyed was David Lodge’s campus trilogy, and that was some time ago. My Brilliant Friend is a page turner from page 1, so one gets into it right away (and my wife, who is a literature person, wholly agrees; she just started the first one en français and is already half way through; and the French translation is excellent, so she says, as I find the English). It is not only a vividly recounted story of the relationship between two women, from childhood onward, and with all the supporting characters, but also brilliantly depicts a society and culture at a particular moment in history, here—through the first two books—the (southern) Italian working class in the 1950s and ’60s. As social science, I find it fascinating. And it’s all very Italian, like so many epic Italian films—if I were to draw up a list, it would go into the double digits—that follow a person or group of friends over a lifetime, or a family over generations, and with repères of modern Italian history. It’s an Italian genre.

So if one has not yet read Ferrante, take this as a recommendation to do so.


Shimon Peres, R.I.P.


[update below]

I hadn’t intended to write an R.I.P. post on him, as I didn’t have anything in particular to say. I had a generally positive view of him during the ’80s and particularly into the ’90s and Oslo, viewing him as a man of peace and all that—I was initially taken in by his overhyped vision of a “new Middle East”—but changed my view in 1996 with Operation Grapes of Wrath and the Qana massacre. I could never have sentiments of sympathy toward Shimon Peres after that—and particularly after he blew the ’96 election, turning what should have been an easy win in the aftermath of the Rabin assassination into a defeat at the hands of the ghastly Bibi Netanyahu. Grapes of Wrath was all for naught, as was the assassination of Yahya Ayyash—which Peres ordered and for manifestly electoralist reasons—which triggered the wave of Hamas revenge terror attacks, thereby causing the Israeli electorate to lurch right. Peres could have waited for a more opportune moment to give Ayyash his just desserts. Hélas.

If Peres had won the ’96 election, would the Oslo peace process have culminated in a final status agreement? Likely not. Peres did head the Israeli delegation at the Taba talks in January 2001, during which the Israelis made unprecedented concessions, but there was no follow-up and with the outlines of an agreement discussed at Taba rejected by Yasser Arafat and received coolly by Ehud Barak. The two sides were too far apart—the best deal the Israelis could have offered the Palestinians was not one they would accept—so the final status negotiations were doomed to fail, regardless of the identity of the Israeli prime minister.

In lieu of going on with my thoughts, I will link to worthwhile commentaries on Peres I’ve read over the past few days. A particularly interesting one is by Uri Avnery, “The Saga of Sisyphus,” posted on his Gush Shalom website four days before Peres’s death. Peres and Avnery were the same age—born 39 days apart—and both arrived in Israel at age 10—Avnery from Germany, Peres from Poland—and met for the first time at age 30. Avnery knew Peres well and for over sixty years. And he didn’t like him too much, though, in his telling, not many people did. Lots of good stuff in his piece.

One episode Avnery gets in to is Peres’s close relationship with France during the 1950s. This is a well-known story here, where Peres was always respected and received as a friend, and by both the left—the PS and Israeli Labor Party being fraternal members of the Socialist International—and the right. And his spoken French wasn’t bad—something that is always appreciated here—though he had forgotten how to conjugate verbs, as I noted in the early ’90s during one of his television interviews. I think he did his interviews in Hebrew after that one…

Other remembrances:

Gershom Gorenberg in The American Prospect, “The Reinventor: Which Shimon Peres will be remembered depends on what his successors do.”

Adam Garfinkle on the Foreign Policy Research Institute website, “Shimon Peres (1923-2016): A man of contradictions?”

Aaron David Miller on the CNN website, “Why Israel will miss Shimon Peres.”

And these commentaries:

Akiva Eldar in Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse, “Fulfilling vision of Peres requires dismantling settlements.”

Lisa Goldman in +972, “The subtle nuances of Obama’s eulogy for Shimon Peres.”

Gideon Levy in Haaretz, “Shimon Peres, outsider who wanted so much to be loved.”

Leila Shahid offers a perspective from the Palestinian peace camp in an interview in L’Obs, “‘Shimon Peres a aussi contribué à tuer le camp de la paix’.” Curious view, as Shahid reproaches Peres for having abandoned the cause of peace by serving as Ariel Sharon’s foreign minister in 2001-02—during the Second Intifada, when it was precisely the Palestinians who were delivering body blows to the Israeli peace camp—and not Peres’s actions in 1996.

I haven’t yet seen any remembrances or good commentaries by French analysts or political actors. If I do, will post.

UPDATE: Hanan Ashrawi, who had ongoing dealings with Peres during the Oslo process, assesses his legacy a NYT op-ed (October 3rd), “Shimon Peres: The peacemaker who wasn’t.”

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