Archive for July, 2016

Can he win?

Trump RNC Cleveland 07-21-2016

[updates below]

It’s day 4 of the DNC, which, after some early bad humor by a handful of Bernie dead-enders, has been going swimmingly—with, as I read, one good to excellent speech after another (so far I’ve only watched Michelle Obama’s from beginning to end)—contrasting with the disgrace of the shambolic Trump convention last week, which I did not watch at all, save for a brief YouTube or two (e.g. Laura Ingraham’s boilerplate red meat harangue, which was said to crystallize the Trump Weltanschauung). I decided to watch Trump’s acceptance speech three days after the fact but stopped after 13 minutes. Pure, raw, fascist fear-mongering demagoguery—at the most fascist and populist convention in memory, as historian Federico Finchelstein called it—and terrifying to hear in America from a major party presidential candidate. But this is a banal reaction and that has been made by countless pundits and commentators, including numerous Republicans (and conservative ones, not just “moderates”). When the Über-mainstream, centrist, neocon-friendly Washington Post Editorial Board proclaims that “Donald Trump is a unique threat to American democracy,” well, ça veut dire ce que ça veut dire. Quoting Matthew Yglesias, so much has been written and said about Donald Trump’s manifest unfitness for office—and the fear the mere prospect of his victory arouses—that at this point there’s hardly any reason to dwell further on it. Except to emphasize that the problem is not merely Trump but the Republican Party as a whole, including its putatively mainstream, moderate personalities.

Canadian author Terry Glavin, writing on how “America faces a banana republic moment,” nicely summed up the RNC

The Republican Party is gone. Its national convention in Cleveland was a four-day carnival of shrieking vulgarity, a meticulously stage-managed incitement of the lowest and ugliest impulses in the American political character. Its climax was something almost unimaginable only a year or so ago. The Republican nominee for the Office of the President of the United States of America is the loudmouth caudillo Donald Trump.

On Trump’s fascism (small f), or caudilloishness, the parallel with Mussolini has been made by many, including historians way out on the right, but these sorts of assertions are futile and sterile, as Trump is a sui generis, very American phenomenon—among other things, he’s much more of a philistine and overall intellectual idiot than any strongman he could be compared to—and who wouldn’t be able to rule like a fascist dictator even if he could somehow get around the US constitution. As Slate’s Michelle Goldberg put it after Trump’s mess of a convention

All of this bodes ill for Trump’s ability to govern a country. Nevertheless, we should be glad for his indiscipline, because the one thing standing between Trumpism and full-blown fascism is Trump’s lack of organizational skills. He has no cadres or shock troops. There’s just him, a few lackeys, and the mob of atomized voters who’ve elevated him.

The most obvious contemporary comparison of Trump is with Silvio Berlusconi, made most recently by the FT’s Edward Luce, in a good column dated July 17th, “Trump leads the west’s flight from dignity: The most troubling aspect of his rise is how he is licensing society’s darkest instincts.” Money quote

Comparisons between Mr Trump and Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi are far more apt. A leading Italian scholar, Luigi Zingales, recalls an event at which the country’s former prime minister taunted an embarrassed young woman by making repeated schoolboyish puns about orgasms. The shocking part was not Mr Berlusconi’s boorishness but the audience’s wild applause.

“Such approval would have been unimaginable before the rise of Berlusconi,” said Mr Zingales. “There is no way of measuring the degree to which he has debased public life in Italy.” The same applies to the Trump effect.

Here in France I’ve compared Trump to Jean-Marie Le Pen—with a little Sarkozy and Bernard Tapie mixed in—though this falls short, as, entre autres, JMLP is far more cultivated and erudite than is the Donald. But one comparison that is 100% accurate is that of the Trump phenomenon—of the discourse and those attracted to it—and Le Pen’s Front National. I’ve been saying since last year that the rhetoric and world-view of Trump supporters translated into French is precisely that of FN voters, as one may see, e.g., in this Frank Luntz focus group. In France, these good Americans are FN voters to a tee.

Another striking parallel between Trump and FN voters: I’ve been reading of late about a new book, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by Marine Corps veteran and recent Yale Law School graduate J.D. Vance, who hails from a poor family in southern Ohio (see the excerpt in WaPo). Rod Dreher—senior editor of The American Conservative—has a must-read interview with Vance (h/t Laurie Lewis) dated July 22nd, “Trump: Tribune of poor white people,” which he prefaces with this

The book is an American classic, an extraordinary testimony to the brokenness of the white working class, but also its strengths. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read…  for Americans who care about politics and the future of our country, Hillbilly Elegy is the most important book of 2016. You cannot understand what’s happening now without first reading J.D. Vance. His book does for poor white people what Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book did for poor black people: give them voice and presence in the public square.

When Trump said in his convention speech “I am your voice,” he was speaking directly to the poor Appalachian whites Vance speaks about:

Trump’s candidacy is music to their ears.  He criticizes the factories shipping jobs overseas.  His apocalyptic tone matches their lived experiences on the ground.  He seems to love to annoy the elites, which is something a lot of people wish they could do but can’t because they lack a platform.

Further down, Vance says

To me…condescension is a big part of Trump’s appeal.  He’s the one politician who actively fights elite sensibilities, whether they’re good or bad.  I remember when Hillary Clinton casually talked about putting coal miners out of work, or when Obama years ago discussed working class whites clinging to their guns and religion.  Each time someone talks like this, I’m reminded of [my grandmother’s] feeling that hillbillies are the one group you don’t have to be ashamed to look down upon.  The people back home carry that condescension like a badge of honor, but it also hurts, and they’ve been looking for someone for a while who will declare war on the condescenders.  If nothing else, Trump does that.  

This is where, to me, there’s a lot of ignorance around “Teflon Don.”  No one seems to understand why conventional blunders do nothing to Trump.  But in a lot of ways, what elites see as blunders people back home see as someone who–finally–conducts themselves in a relatable way.  He shoots from the hip; he’s not constantly afraid of offending someone; he’ll get angry about politics; he’ll call someone a liar or a fraud.  This is how a lot of people in the white working class actually talk about politics, and even many elites recognize how refreshing and entertaining it can be!  So it’s not really a blunder as much as it is a rich, privileged Wharton grad connecting to people back home through style and tone.  Viewed like this, all the talk about “political correctness” isn’t about any specific substantive point, as much as it is a way of expanding the scope of acceptable behavior.  People don’t want to believe they have to speak like Obama or Clinton to participate meaningfully in politics, because most of us don’t speak like Obama or Clinton.

Je dis tout haut ce que vous pensez tout bas (translation here), as populist demagogue extraordinaire Le Pen père would tell his adoring fans. The way Vance presents it, this sizable cohort of Trump voters will be impervious to any and all attempts by the Democrats or anyone else to tear down their candidate, as the election is finally about more than him. Reading Vance, I thought of working class voters in the dying industrial towns of northern and eastern France, who are a core constituency of the Front National. The FN can say just about anything and run candidates for office whom no one has heard of, but it doesn’t matter to its voters, for whom the Le Pen name and FN label is one big projectile to be hurled at the elites—political and cultural, and of both left and right—who run France, and whom FN voters despise.

So can Trump channel the alienation and anger to defeat Hillary? Numerous friends and stateside family members and relatives have been in near panic mode the past week, with the post RNC polls showing Trump taking the lead and, in particular, over an apocalyptic July 21st post by Michael Moore on his website, “5 reasons why Trump will win,” which has people freaking out. More on that below. As for the polls, the RCP average of the eight taken during and after the RNC have Trump up by 0.9% over HRC. As far as post-convention “bumps” go, this is not too impressive. It’s comparable to Romney’s ephemeral one in 2012 and less consequential than McCain’s in 2008; in the latter, the 12 polls taken after the Palin pick had McCain leading in seven—by 2 to 10%—and tied in three, with Obama retaking the lead after two weeks (and before the Lehman Brothers collapse). Unless Hillary’s speech tonight is a dud, she will necessarily get a bump—maybe even a big bounce—in next week’s polls. And unless there’s a damaging revelation or story about her—which, in view of Russian dirty tricks, is not to be totally excluded—she won’t be looking back.

As for Michael Moore’s “5 reasons,” let’s go through them one by one:

1. “Midwest Math, or Welcome to Our Rust Belt Brexit.” Moore believes that Trump is going to go all out to win four Midwestern states: Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, thus giving him a razor-thin 270 Electoral College majority (though any bets on how many of his electors break the faith and vote for HRC, especially if she wins the popular vote?). Before seeing Moore’s piece I was thinking much the same thing, that Trump’s path to victory—his only realistic one—would be to launch a full-throttle assault to pick off Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania—plus holding 2012 red state North Carolina—that would give him a 273-265 majority in the EC. It’s theoretically possible but, in point of fact, not too likely. Here’s what the polls say:

Ohio: The two post-RNC polls have Trump and Hillary in a tie, with the current RCP spread at +0.8 for HRC. Of the 16 polls taken this year, Trump has led in 2, HRC in 9, and with 5 a dead heat. If HRC regains her national lead next week and maintains it, it stands to reason that she will widen her lead in Ohio, not lose ground there.

Pennsylvania: People have been fixated on PA as low-hanging fruit for Trump, even though the GOP has not won the state in a presidential election since 1988. The current RCP spread—there have been no polls in the state for almost three weeks—has HRC at +3.2. Of the 14 polls taken there this year, Trump has had the lead in exactly one (by 2%). This is not a sign of strength. And if he launches an ad blitz in the state, one may be sure that the HRC campaign will respond in kind and then some.

Michigan: Like PA, MI has not gone GOP since 1988. In 2012 Obama won it with an almost 10 point margin. In the 9 polls taken this year, HRC has led in all (by 3 to 16%). Her current RCP spread is 5.2%. There is no objective reason to believe that Trump can put MI into play. If he does and then wins it, it will be in the context of a larger national victory, in which he wins a slew of blue states. Dream on.

Wisconsin: Ditto. WI has not voted Republican since the ’84 Reagan landslide. It looked to be trending GOP in 2000 and 2004 but trended back Dem in the Obama elections. All 11 polls taken this year have had HRC in the decisive lead (4 to 14%). Her current RCP spread is 5.6%. Bottom line: Trump is not going to win Wisconsin. Jamais de la vie.

As for Florida, the ultimate swing state: The current RCP spread has Trump at +0.3, i.e. a dead heat. Of the 18 polls taken this year, HRC led in 11 and Trump in 6. FL is a demographically dynamic state, so its electorate this year won’t be the same as in 2012. But one may be sure that Hispanics/Latinos there—whose proportion of the FL electorate has not declined—will vote for HRC in greater numbers than they did for Obama. And then there are all those Jewish retirees, who are certain to vote Trump in far fewer numbers than they did Romney (who received around 30% of the Jewish vote nationally; Trump won’t get anywhere near that). If Trump is going to win FL, he’ll have to go all out to do so, with a sophisticated ground game and tons of $$ for TV—and which the HRC campaign will be doing too. Anyone think Trump is capable of that and outdoing Hillary’s effort while he’s at it?

And North Carolina: The current RCP spread has HRC at +2.0. Of the 13 polls taken in the state this year, HRC has led in 6 (including the last three) and Trump in 6 as well. Obama lost NC by 2% in 2012. HRC has an excellent chance of winning the state. In fact, she will win the state.

Conclusion: On his reason #1, Michael Moore did not make his case.

2. “The Last Stand of the Angry White Man.” Yes, there are lots of angry white men out there, particularly those without college degrees. This is the Trump electorate. Problem for him, it’s his only electorate (apart from conservative Republicans who will vote for their party’ candidate no matter what). As every minimally informed person knows, Trump is being massacred in almost every other demographic, e.g. white men with college degrees, women with degrees or not, Hispanics/Latinos, blacks, Catholics, Jews, Asian-Americans, poor people… Now it is indeed the case that white men without college degrees are a sizable demographic and it is not inconceivable that Trump may do better among them than did Romney in 2012. But given the certain defection of Republican-leaning voters in the other demographics, Trump will have to rack up unprecedented numbers of these white men in order to have a chance of winning. To do this, his campaign will need a sophisticated GOTV operation, plus an organization to identify all those lower-class men—particularly those J.D. Vance talks about—who may not be registered to vote, and then get them registered in time for the election. Needless to say, Trump does not have that organization in place and there is no sign at this late date that he’ll be able to.

Conclusion: There are not enough angry white men out there to swing this election to Trump.

3. “The Hillary Problem.” Yes, she is very unpopular. We know that. Lots of people out there simply despise her. I have long been mystified by the Hillary-hatred but it’s a fact. C’est comme ça. And it is indeed a problem. Three things. First, the HuffPost Pollster has HRC’s popularity at +39.3/-55.4 (and with the portion of the negatives who strongly dislike her very high). But this is the worst it’s ever been for her. Until the email affair broke in March 2015 HRC’s numbers had been been positive and since 2009. And she took an additional hit with the conclusion of the FBI report earlier this month. Barring anything new, her numbers are sure to rise, particularly if she gives a good speech tonight and gets that post-convention “bounce.”

Second, the HuffPost Pollster aggregate of Trump’s current popularity is +37.8/-56.9, which approaches Hillary’s but is still worse. And it’s his highest, or least bad, number ever. One may wager that with his increasingly unhinged behavior and the borderline treason regarding Russia—and all sorts of things yet to come that we can’t imagine—that his numbers won’t be going higher. In short, this is as good as it gets for him.

Third, Democratic and left voters who dislike Hillary will hold their noses and vote for her nonetheless—and particularly in swing states—as they will be, to a man and woman, terrified by the prospect of a Trump victory. Many Republican voters who dislike Trump will likewise hold their noses and vote for him nonetheless, as they simply hate Hillary and the Democrats. But a certain number of Republican voters are so appalled by Trump—and while disliking Hillary, are not terrified by her—that they will sit out the election, vote for Gary Johnson, or even go for HRC. I have no numbers to back this up but am certain that more Republican voters will defect from Trump than Democratic voters from Hillary. On France Inter this morning a French-speaking nitwit American reporter in Philadelphia opined that Jill Stein could attract herds of Bernie dead-enders and get up to 11% of the vote. Bollocks! N’importe quoi!

Conclusion: So long as HRC is less unpopular than Trump, her bad poll numbers won’t undermine her on November 8th.

4. “The Depressed Bernie Vote.” Moore concedes that Bernie voters will, out of Trump fear, go out and vote Hillary—and they will indeed—but that they will do so without enthusiasm, and that the lack of this will depress turnout among young people. If the election had suddenly been held last weekend this would have likely been the case. But the election is happening in three months, during which time presently dejected Bernie supporters will have had time to focus on the actual choice on November 8th. A few big rallies with Hillary, Bernie, and maybe even Obama (Barack or Michelle) in Madison WI, Ann Arbor MI, Boulder CO, Cleveland, maybe Chapel Hill NC, and the young people will be sufficiently fired up come election day, c’est sûr et certain.

Conclusion: Young voters will vote in the same proportion as in 2012.

5. “The Jesse Ventura Effect.” Moore says that we should not “discount the electorate’s ability to be mischievous or underestimate how any millions fancy themselves as closet anarchists once they draw the curtain and are all alone in the voting booth” and that voters sometimes like to play a “good practical joke on a sick political system.” Perhaps, but this is an election for the President of the United States and leader of the Free World, not governor of a state in l’Amérique profonde. And while Jesse Ventura was a colorful personality and an unlikely candidate for executive office, he was not an unhinged, mentally unstable, rabble-rousing, racist demagogue. Come on, Michael.

Conclusion: The will be no “Jesse Ventura effect.” Not in this election.

A couple more things. First, President Obama’s job approval rating is presently around 50-51%. This is hugely important for Hillary’s chances. If Obama were unpopular, this would be a serious, even fatal, problem for any Democratic nominee. But the Democratic POTUS only gets more popular by the month. By the time he leaves office, even Republicans will be regretting him. Second, the unemployment rate is 5.5%. Sure, wages have been stagnant (for over three decades now), the workplace participation rate is dropping, and there are all the other problems. But the objective conditions are simply not there at this historical moment for the American electorate to put a populist demagogue in the White House.

I have a lot more to say on all this. La prochaine fois.

UPDATE: In my first post-election post, dated November 9th and entitled “Disaster,” I wrote the following:

One person in particular merits kudos for his prescient analysis, which is Michael Moore, who, in a widely circulated post on his website last July, enumerated the “5 reasons why Trump will win,” the first reason labeled “Midwest math, or welcome to our Rust Belt Brexit,” in which he asserted that Trump would win Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. In a blog post shortly after, I devoted several paragraphs to rubbishing Moore’s piece. What to say, Michael was right and AWAV was à côté de la plaque.

2nd UPDATE: J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy has come in for some criticism from the left, e.g. Bob Hutton in Jacobin (Oct. 1, 2016), “Hillbilly elitism;” Sarah Jones in the New Republic (Nov. 17, 2016), “J.D. Vance, the false prophet of Blue America;” and Jared Yates Sexton in Salon (March 3, 2017), “Hillbilly sellout: The politics of J. D. Vance’s ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ are already being used to gut the working poor.” Also see the article by Alec MacGillis in the Sep. 2016 issue of The Atlantic, “The original underclass: Poor white Americans’ current crisis shouldn’t have caught the rest of the country as off guard as it has.”

3rd UPDATE: LSU historian Nancy Isenberg, who authored the 2016 White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, has a review essay of J.D. Vance’s book and related titles in the June 28, 2018, issue of the NYRB.

4th UPDATE: Stanley Greenberg has an excellent longform essay (January 8, 2019) in The American Prospect, “Unlearning the lessons of Hillbilly Elegy.” The lede: “America’s beleaguered poor and working class have a host of problems, but the culture of irresponsibility that J.D. Vance says they’re prey to isn’t one of them.”

5th UPDATE: Dwight B. Billings, who is emeritus professor of sociology and Appalachian studies at the University of Kentucky, has a trenchant critique (May 3, 2019) of J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy in the Lexington Herald-Leader, “Once upon a time in ‘Trumpalachia’.”

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Turkey: the coup attempt

Taksim Square, Istanbul, July 16th (Photo: AP/Emrah Gurel)

Taksim Square, Istanbul, July 16th (Photo: AP/Emrah Gurel)

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Two old friends in the US have written to me asking what I think of the now failed coup attempt. So voilà. When I heard the news late last night, my immediate, visceral reaction was to hope that the coup would succeed, thereby ridding Turkey and the world of the unspeakable Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. But I quickly got intellectual control of myself, objectively understanding that it was a very bad thing and with terrible potential consequences regardless of the outcome. If the coup succeeded, it would plunge Turkey into open-ended instability, indeed chaos, as a military regime would be angrily rejected—and indeed actively resisted—by the large portion of the population that supports the current president and his party—and particularly if it were to arrest RTE, proscribe the AKP, and throw thousands in prison. This would be a disaster. There is no way the opposition parties (CHP, MHP, HDP) could possibly support this, lest they be complicit in the suspension of democracy—as RTE and the AKP were indeed democratically elected, which no one contests—and plunging Turkey into possible civil war—which, given the already deteriorating security situation (IS, PKK) and the conflicts on its borders, is the last thing the country needs. And there is no way the US or the EU could possibly acquiesce in the action of the military or formally recognize its regime.

What were the Turkish military putschists thinking? Plus their sympathizers outside Turkey? This is 2016. One doesn’t go around overthrowing elected governments in modern, sophisticated countries and that have one of the top 20 largest economies in the world. The putschists embarked on a fuite en avant: a rash course of action the consequences of which were not at all thought out. Not smart at all.

But now that the coup attempt has failed, the consequences will no doubt also be terrible. RTE will certainly come out of this reinforced and vengeful. He will redouble his efforts to modify the constitution—to, in effect, make him sultan-for-life—and likely succeed. Turkey will descend further into authoritarianism, if not outright dictatorship, and with all the instability that will entail. As Walter Russell Mead wrote last night in his Turkey coup live blog, the near 100-year Kemalist era in Turkey has, with the coup attempt, come to an end. Despite the problems and shortcomings of Kemalism, this is not to be celebrated.

I’ve mainly been getting information and analysis via social media (Facebook and Twitter). Georgetown University political science MENA specialist and personal friend Dan Brumberg—whose analyses are always smart and well-considered—posted the following on Facebook yesterday:

Coup supporters in the US [such as, e.g., this one] are now trotting out the usual suspect excuses for backing the coup in Turkey:

1) The Military has always been the guarantor of Turkish democracy and secularism.

Not true. The military saw its role as the ultimate guarantor of Ataturk’s legacy and his ideology. That ideology was not only authoritarian, it was not “secular.” Under the state that Ataturk created the clerics and their institutions became employees and extensions of the state. Friday khutbas (sermons) were an important device in the efforts of successive governments to rally support. Moreover, at key points—in the eighties for example—the military invoked Islamic themes, a dynamic that had wider echoes in the region.

2) Military coups were designed to “restore democracy” and achieved this aim.

Also not true. Military coups were often undertaken against elected governments (as was the case today). Opponents of such actions were repressed. This is not democracy.

3) Under Erdogan, the Turkish state imposed an Islamist ideology and system, or was well on its way to achieving this aim.

Not true again. Under Erdogan, the government did push for Islamist policies of various kinds, and secular Turks had good reason to be worried. But as anyone who has visited Turkey in the last year or two will tell you, Erdogan and his ruling party did not succeed in uprooting the still vibrant sectors of urban secular Turkish society.

Erdogan’s primary goal is to enhance his personal power. There is little doubt that he seeks to build an electoral autocracy. That is the essential problem, and the essential challenge.

4) The only and perhaps even most effective way to prevent the creation of an electoral autocracy is via a military coup.

A familiar position but also very dubious. If the coup succeeds what will follow will be an onslaught of repression (see Egypt). If the coup fails, you can be sure that this act of folly was provide Erdogan and his allies precisely the justification they need for advancing their project.

Following up, Dan—who needs a blog—had this

Whatever its many faults, this Turkish Government was elected and has every right to remain in place and resist this coup.

See the interview in Slate with Jenny White, who teaches at Stockholm University’s Institute for Turkish Studies: “How Turkey came to this: The attempted military coup isn’t the country’s first. But this time is different.”

Turkey specialist Claire Sadar, who co-edits the Muftah website, made this important observation earlier today

Since the last full coup in 1980, Turkish society has changed dramatically. In the wake of the coup, the Turkish economy was opened up to the outside world, and so was Turkish society. Turks are more wealthy, educated and cosmopolitan than they have ever been. They are also more fiercely committed to preserving democracy, even if that means supporting a leader that they genuinely despise. Over the course of the coup attempt, I heard the same line repeated over and over again by liberal, secular Turks who regularly criticize the government: We don’t like Erdogan, but we can’t support has removal by undemocratic means like a coup. The lack of support from even the large proportion of Turks who are unhappy with the direction the country is headed in, combined with what appears to be the lack of a comprehensive government takeover plan, meant that this coup attempt was doomed from the start.

More to follow.

UPDATE: The excellent Vox website has a number of articles and interviews with Turkey specialists, all grouped in a category on “Turkey’s coup.” Among them:

[Harvard University] expert [Dani Rodrik] tries to explain what the hell is going on.”

[Brookings Institution] Turkish politics expert [Ömer Taşpınar] on why it looks like a failed attempt.”

Turkey has had several military coups in its modern history…[Columbia University] historian [Richard Bulliet] explains why.”

Why Turkey’s coup failed, according to…[political science] expert Naunihal Singh [of the University of Notre Dame].”

The Gülen Movement, explained.”

I’ve had several posts on Fethullah Gülen in past years and with links to numerous articles. To see them all, go here (and follow the links in the first paragraph).

2nd UPDATE: Graham E. Fuller, formerly of the CIA and who knows Turkey well, agrees that the attempted coup was a “lose-lose” proposition.

3rd UPDATE: MENA specialist and friend Steven A. Cook, who’s at the Council on Foreign Relations, has a piece in WaPo, “Turkey has had lots of coups. Here’s why this one failed.”

See also the post on WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog by Syracuse University political scientist Yüksel Sezgin, “How Erdogan’s anti-democratic government made Turkey ripe for unrest.”

4th UPDATE: BuzzFeed News Middle East correspondent Borzou Daragahi has a dispatch from Diyarbakir on “Why the failed coup will hurt Turkey in coming months.” Quoting specialist Henri Barkey: “This is a coup where everyone loses.” Hélas.

5th UPDATE: Sabancı University political science professor Ayşe Kadıoğlu, writing in OpenDemocracy, asks if the coup d’état attempt is “Turkey’s Reichstag fire.” The lede: “We are witnessing the consolidation of a new form of authoritarianism with a populist streak.”

6th UPDATE: Dani Rodrik—who is worth reading on any subject he writes about—has a commentary in Project Syndicate, “Turkey’s baffling coup.”

7th UPDATE: The well-known journalist and commentator Cengiz Çandar, writing in Al-Monitor’s Turkey Pulse, asks the question that’s on many minds: “Was Turkey’s coup attempt just an elaborate hoax by Erdogan?” One should naturally be wary of conspiracy theories—and which are a dime a dozen in Turkey and elsewhere in that part of the world—but sometimes there are conspiracies. If such was the case with the attempted coup—and which does indeed smell a little fishy—the truth will come out, and probably sooner rather than later.

8th UPDATE: Philip Giraldi—executive director of the Council for the National Interest, former CIA officer, and Turkey-watcher—has an interesting piece in The American Conservative (July 18th), “A very predictable coup? Opponents of Turkey’s strongman have only solidified his position,” in which he suggests that Erdoğan may have had wind of the plot.

9th UPDATE: The well-known intellectual Cengiz Aktar, presently a senior scholar at the Istanbul Policy Center, has a tribune (July 18th) in Le Monde, “Les putschistes ont offert à Erdogan le régime présidentiel dont il rêve.”

10th UPDATE: Cihan Tuğal, who teaches sociology at the University of California at Berkeley, weighs in with an essay (July 18th) in OpenDemocracy, “Turkey coup aftermath: between neo-fascism and Bonapartism.” The lede: “Predictions about the consequences of Turkey’s failed coup focus on how it fulfils Erdoğan’s desire for an omnipotent presidency. But the danger that awaits is much greater than that.”

11th UPDATE: Voilà three “snapshot” analyses in Foreign Affairs:

Erdogan’s prophecy: The coup attempt will leave him stronger,” by Michael J. Koplow (July 18th).

Where the Turkish military fails, Egypt’s succeeds: Here’s why,” by Steven A. Cook (July 19th).

Turkey’s troubling turn: Terrorism and security after the attempted coup,” by Soner Cagaptay (July 19th).

12th UPDATE: Claire Berlinski, writing in City Journal (July 20th), asks “Who planned Turkey’s coup?” The answer: “It probably wasn’t President Erdoğan.”

Also see Claire’s piece in The American Interest (July 20th), co-authored with Izmir-based blogger Ali Kincal, “Dark days ahead: The plot against Erdoğan has laid bare dangerous undercurrents in Turkey.”

On the Ricochet blog, Claire has reproduced an English-language version of an interview her friend and colleague Okan Altiparmak—an Istanbul-based filmmaker and Turkey director of the website Muslim World Today—gave to an Iranian publication on the attempted coup.

13th UPDATE: Aaron Stein—Resident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East—has a post (July 20th) in the War on the Rocks blog entitled “Inside a failed coup and Turkey’s fragmented military.” Monica Marks—a sharp doctoral candidate at Oxford University and with specialized knowledge of Turkey—writes on social media that this is “by far the most detailed account [she’s] seen in Turkish or English of how Friday’s coup attempt transpired and its implications for the Turkish military. Well worth reading and spot on…”

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The Nice atrocity


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It was such a nice fête nationale yesterday, for both me personally—spent part of the day going around Paris with a visiting friend and his daughter—and France, with a spectacular end to the Bastille Day parade on the Champs-Élysées. And now this. I watched the reports on TV late last night as the news came in, hoping, praying that the number killed—said to be around 30—would turn out to be exaggerated. But now it’s 84 as I write (10am) and counting.

A few instant reactions.

First, my dominant sentiment—as it was last November 13th—is one of horror, of thinking of the victims of the atrocity, their families, and friends. If my daughter—who lives in the south of France and is presently down that way—had been in Nice last night, she would have no doubt been on or near the Promenade des Anglais with friends (and she has indeed informed me that she attended last night’s fireworks display in the city where she’s on holiday). One feels horror at all terrorist atrocities but just that much more so when they hit close to home. And I emphasize horror. Numerous persons on social media this morning have been expressing anger and rage, with these apparently being their prevailing sentiments (pressing that ‘angry’ Facebook emoticon). Sure, who isn’t angry at the terrorists? Who doesn’t want to terminate them with extreme prejudice? But not only do I not understand this being the overriding emotion to such an outrage but also find it potentially dangerous, as an enraged people will want and expect that the state respond to that. And so in anticipation of that rage, President Hollande has already announced that France will reinforce its military action in Syria and Iraq, and extend the état d’urgence (state of emergency). If one can explain to me how Rafales dropping more bombs around Raqqa will contribute to the security of the French people, I’d like to hear it. And also how prolonging the liberty-undermining état d’urgence—which didn’t prevent last night’s attack, or any other known attack in the works—will do this.

Second—and contributing to the horror—is the nature of the attack—committed with a truck, which any low IQ idiot can procure and put to use as a weapon to kill dozens—and the victims. As on November 13th, those targeted for death or maiming were not just ordinary random people but people having fun. Enjoying life. And they were mainly younger people and parents with children. If there has ever been as evil an apocalyptic death cult as the Islamic State, it does not come to mind.

Third, one learns that the truck had mowed down people for almost two kilometers before being neutralized. This is insane. How the hell could this happen?! Questions: How was a truck of this size even allowed to circulate in the center of Nice at that hour of night, let alone enter the Promenade des Anglais with so many people gathered there? And, above all, how was it that the mad driver was not quickly neutralized, i.e. shot and killed, that he was able to pursue his course folle for two goddamned kilometers?! Where were the police? Where were the soldiers one sees all over the place, toting their automatic weapons? This is, needless to say, a catastrophic failure of the French police and the security scheme it has put in place since last year’s terrorist attacks. All the soldiers in their jungle fatigues patrolling the metro stations, the security guards hired à la va vite (and no doubt paid the SMIC) to check people’s bags at malls and schools (a total joke)… C’est parfaitement inutile.

Fourth, certain analysts have already been speculating on the political fallout of the latest outrage, one being my blogging confrère Arthur Goldhammer, who has gone so far as to assert, in a blog post à chaud, that

It is becoming increasingly likely that Marine Le Pen will be elected next year. The government seems helpless, and little by little minds are being prepared to accept an authoritarian xenophobic response as the only conceivable next step.

On va un peu vite en besogne. It’s a little early to be advancing such lurid hypotheses, particularly when we still don’t have all the facts. E.g. at the present moment, as I write, we know nothing about the terrorist apart from his name, that he was Franco-Tunisian, and had a police record for delinquency. We don’t yet know if the act was hatched in Raqqa—which could fuel public anger—or if he was a “lone wolf” à la Orlando, which would perhaps lend itself more to public despair and helplessness. It would also be advisable to get away from the reflexive notion that terrorist acts will automatically benefit demagogic right-wing politicians or parties. In point of fact, this has not happened up to now, in either France (November 13th, Charlie Hebdo-Hyper Cacher, Mohammed Merah, 1995, 1986) or the US (Orlando, 9/11, etc). In the case of Marine Le Pen, her popularity rating upticked four points (27% to 31%) in the IPSOS barometer after November 13th—along with every other national politician, most of whom witnessed larger gains—but dropped back a month later. Her numbers are presently 25% favorable/70% unfavorable. Poll-wise, she’s even worse off than Donald Trump. There will have to be a historic, unprecedented improvement in her polling numbers if she’s going to have a chance at winning the second round of a presidential election.

In any case, one expects—or at least hopes—that the French public, confronted with such an open-ended domestic security threat—will elect as leaders men and women who are experienced, of steady temperament, with nerves of steel and a sense of the state, and can bring people together, over those who are febrile, frenetic, polarizing, bereft of executive experience, and/or given over to trash-talking demagoguery. Such has been the case up to now. There is no a priori reason it should change.

UPDATE: Jason Burke has a piece in The Guardian, “Why does France keep getting attacked?,” which is worth the read. The lede: “France is historically seen as standard bearer of western secular liberalism and has been singled out by Isis as a key target.”

See also George Packer in The New Yorker, “The tragic and unsurprising news from Nice.” His analysis is good except for the assertion about Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump in the next-to-last paragraph, which I address above.

2nd UPDATE: For those who think that successive jihadist terror attacks will worsen ethno-confessional relations in France—and even provoke a veritable “civil war,” as certain excitable writers with vivid imaginations have ventured—do take a look at the data in the Pew Research Center’s latest study on “What France thinks of multiculturalism and Islam.”

3rd UPDATE: Franco-American anthropologist Scott Atran, who has researched and written extensively on terrorism and Islamism, has a sobering post in the NYR Daily, “ISIS: The durability of chaos.”

4th UPDATE: A number of people on social media have taken the MSM and politicians to task for designating the Nice atrocity an IS operation—before the IS had claimed any responsibility for it—and the perpetrator a terrorist, when almost nothing was known about him or his motives—and at the present moment (July 17th), little is still known. But for research scholar and MENA specialist Jean-Pierre Filiu, there is little doubt that it was an IS terrorist attack, as he explains in an interview in this weekend’s Libération, “‘La France est le seul pays pour qui Daech est une priorité’.”

Also in Libé is a tribune by the Moroccan-Dutch economist Fouad Laroui, “Arrêtons de crier au calife comme on crie au loup,” plus an article by Emmanuel Fansten and Ismaël Halissat on the apparent powerlessness of the state to anticipate attacks of this nature, “Face à la menace, l’impuissance maximale.”

5th UPDATE: The very smart geopolitical analyst François Heisbourg has an op-ed (July 15th) in the Financial Times, “Attack in Nice: The French response to terror remains muddled.”

6th UPDATE: Not that it changes anything but, as it happens, over a third of those killed in the Nice attack were Muslims.

7th UPDATE: Middlebury College political science professor Erik Bleich has an op-ed in The Washington Post (July 18th) on “Why France keeps getting attacked, while its neighbours don’t.”

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Bastille Day 2016

I watched the Bastille Day parade on the Champs-Élysées this morning (on TV, comme d’hab’). It’s the greatest parade in the world, as I’ve said countless times. The rendition of La Marseillaise—the greatest national anthem in the world—at the end, by 460 middle and high school students plus the army chorus, is one of the most beautiful and moving I’ve seen and heard. Watch it and in full screen (it’s 5½ minutes, as they sing three verses, but worth it). Vive la France!

Australia and New Zealand were the guests of honor this year, to commemorate their participation in the Battle of the Somme. Check out the Maori soldiers in traditional garb (here, images 13-15).

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Euro 2016

France-Germany, Marseille, July 7th (photo: Tribune Sports)

France-Germany, Marseille, July 7th (photo: Tribune Sports)

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This is my first post on the Euro 2016—which I’ve been following for the past month, watching most of the games in whole or in part—and, if France loses to Portugal in the final tonight, will be my last. But Les Bleus should logically not lose, as France is the host country of the tournament, the game’s at the Stade de France, the nation is entirely behind them, and the victories against valiant Iceland and, above all, formidable Germany were just so thrilling. Les Bleus have the mo’. And it would just be so terribly disappointing if they lost. Also, Portugal isn’t what it used to be. Except for the semifinal against Wales, the games the Seleção won were won ugly. They have not have impressed. Voilà: Allez les Bleus!

The Wall Street Journal Europe’s sports editor Joshua Robinson has a good, informative piece, dated July 6th, on “The French soccer revolution.” The lede: “Unlike France’s last title-winning team, its Euro 2016 side features a core of key players who developed outside the country’s prestigious academy system.” As I don’t follow club soccer—i.e. I pay only passing attention to the professional leagues—I wasn’t aware of the particular parcours of Antoine Griezmann, Dimitri Payet, Olivier Giroud, and other new stars of the national team.

In this vein, also see the piece in Mediapart by Michaël Hadjenberg, “Griezmann, une histoire française.” The lede: “Bien peu de gens le savent mais Antoine Griezmann est en partie à l’origine de ‘l’affaire des quotas’.”

Soccer scholar Laurent Dubois, who teaches in the history department at Duke University, has a nice post, dated July 9th, “Paul Pogba’s joyful, exuberant moment of brilliance [in the France-Germany semi-final] was the play of Euro 2016,” on Slate’s soccer blog. Also see his June 29th post, “How football can explain a divided Europe.”

Some random comments on the tournament:

Did anyone not adore plucky Iceland and all its supporters who flew over from Reykjavik? One-tenth of that country’s population came to France to support their team. And who couldn’t love TV announcer Guðmundur Benediktsson (a.k.a. Gummi Ben)?

But the Irish fans were the greatest, no?

Les Bleus clearly didn’t miss Karim Benzema. The brouhaha over his and Hatem Ben Arfa’s non-selection—of whether or not this reflected anti-Arab racism by the FFF—was hugely overblown. In view of the sordid affair in which Benzema has found himself—and in which he is no doubt guilty—there was simply no way Didier Deschamps could have selected him. It would have been a big distraction and the French public would not have accepted it. And as the tournament was at home, the team needed the public 100% behind it. End of story.

Les Bleus are still multicultural and multiconfessional, bien évidemment.

The knockout stage bracket was too imbalanced, one consequence of expanding the tournament to 24 teams (it should have remained at 16). Too bad Germany-Italy happened in the quarterfinal (a consequence of the imbalanced bracket).

Germany’s Mesut Özil is one class act. I like the Mannschaft. A great team with cool players. Glad they lost.

Was disappointed for Belgium. France-Belgium in the final: ça aurait été beau.

Felt for England, which is normally my default team (after France). To be humiliated by little Iceland, that’s tough.

Lots of Portugal flags on display in the Paris area, including in my banlieue, where there is a sizable Portuguese community. People have no problem with Franco-Portuguese supporting the old country team. Can one imagine the political reaction if a similar number of Algerian flags were in view for a France-Algeria match? Hah.

UPDATE: A frustrating final. It started well for Les Blues but Cristiano Ronaldo’s injury—leaving the match on a stretcher and in tears—put a damper on things. The Bleus outplayed the Seleção and in all categories during regulation time but were ineffective in the penalty area. Once in overtime the Seleção took control and the Blues came apart. They were just kicking the ball around, unable to do anything. When Eder scored his excellent goal at the 110th minute, it was over. Dommage pour la France et félicitations au Portugal.

2nd UPDATE: Franklin Foer, writing in Slate’s soccer blog after last night’s game, does not mince words in observing that “Portugal’s turgid victory was the dreadful ending this terrible European championships deserved.” Can’t disagree with a thing he says.

3rd UPDATE: France’s defeat may have been disappointing—for supporters of France at least—but was not disgraceful, as no host country of a European championship or World Cup since 1980 has won the title…except for France. The historical record:

Euro 2016 – France: lost the final
World Cup 2014 – Brazil: lost semi-final
Euro 2012 – Poland & Ukraine: eliminated in group stage
World Cup 2010 – South Africa: eliminated in group stage
Euro 2008 – Austria & Switzerland: eliminated in group stage
World Cup 2006 – Germany: lost semi-final
Euro 2004 – Portugal: lost the final
World Cup 2002 – Japan & South Korea: lost in round of 16 & in semi-final
Euro 2000 – Belgium & Netherlands: eliminated in group stage & lost semi-final
World Cup 1998 – France: WORLD CHAMPION!
Euro 1996 – England: lost semi-final
World Cup 1994 – USA: lost in round of 16
Euro 1992 – Sweden: lost semi-final
World Cup 1990 – Italy: lost semi-final
Euro 1988 – West Germany: lost semi-final
World Cup 1986: Mexico: lost quarter-final
Euro 1984 – France: EUROPEAN CHAMPION!
World Cup 1982 – Spain: eliminated in second round
Euro 1980 – Italy: lost third place playoff

Arun's balcony, July 10th

Arun’s balcony, July 10th

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Dallas, July 7th (photo: Laura Buckman/AFP/Getty Images)

Dallas, July 7th (photo: Laura Buckman/AFP/Getty Images)

No commentary on the latest killings—in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights MN, and Dallas. I’ve already said everything I have to say on the issue of guns in America (see the sidebar category ‘USA: guns’). One commentator who always has something to say on the subject—and who says it better than just about anyone—is The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik, whose latest is entitled “The horrific, predictable result of a widely armed citizenry.” It begins

The killings in Dallas are one more reminder that guns are central, not accessory, to the American plague of violence. They were central fifty-plus years ago, when a troubled ex-Marine had only to send a coupon to a mail-order gun house in Chicago to get a military rifle with which to kill John F. Kennedy—that assassin-sniper also fired from a Dallas building onto a Dallas street. They are central now, when the increased fetishism of guns and carrying guns has made such horrors as last night’s not merely predictable but unsurprising. The one thing we can be sure of, after we have mourned the last massacre, is that there will be another. You wake up at three in the morning, check the news, and there it is.

We don’t yet know exactly by whom and for what deranged “reason” or mutant “cause” five police officers were murdered last night, but, as the President rightly suggested, we do know how—and the how is a huge part of what happened. By having a widely armed citizenry, we create a situation in which gun violence becomes a common occurrence, not the rarity it ought to be and is everywhere else in the civilized world. That this happened amid a general decline in violence throughout the Western world only serves to make the crisis more acute; America’s gun-violence problem remains the great and terrible outlier.

Continue reading it here.

Also in The New Yorker is a commentary by staff writer Evan Osnos, “The silence and the violence of the N.R.A.”

The NYT reports that the Dallas sniper, Micah Johnson, “kept an arsenal in his home that included bomb-making materials.” Totally insane that it should be legal to do this, don’t you think?

Dahlia Lithwick and Mark P. McKenna—writer on the law and law professor, respectively—have a piece in Slate, “More guns, more fear, more killings:
It’s a vicious cycle, and there’s no end in sight.” Obviously. Why would it be otherwise?

Also in Slate is a piece by staff writer Leon Neyfakh, in which he asks “Are conservatives coming to terms with racism in American policing?” If so, that would be nice.

Alexandra Filindra, who teaches political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, had a post last month in WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog on “How racial prejudice helps drive opposition to gun control.”

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Michel Rocard, R.I.P.


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His death has been a leading story in the news here the past two days, which is to be expected, as he was one of the major personalities in French political life of the past five decades. As my blogging confrère Arthur Goldhammer has written a fine remembrance of him, I will refer the reader to his in lieu of offering my own, except to say that Michel Rocard was the French politician for whom I had the most admiration in the course of my adult life: from the mid 1970s—when I started to follow French politics—to the ’00s, when he retired from the electoral arena (though continued to write and intervene in the public square to the end). I entirely identified with Rocard politically and ideologically: in my college days, with his PSU legacy—the concept of autogestion being in vogue in my gauchiste circles of the time—and later on, in the ’80s and ’90s, with the deuxième gauche inside the PS that he incarnated, i.e. of a moderate left social democratic sensibility that recognized the permanence of the market economy and certain constraints imposed by globalization, and of the necessity of compromises between labor and capital (though capital nowadays doesn’t want to compromise over anything). In the PS of the Mitterrand era, this was, ideologically speaking, not the majority position.

I saw Rocard in person once, in November 1980, at a three-day conference in Washington (at the Capital Hilton) on Euro-socialism, hosted by the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (the future DSA)—the American affiliate of the Socialist International and that functioned as a caucus within the Democratic Party—and with numerous stars from Europe present, e.g. Willy Brandt, Olaf Palme, Tony Benn, Mário Soares, Felipe González, and, from France, François Mitterrand (six months before he was elected president), Rocard, Jacques Attali, and others. A group of friends and I drove down from New York, where I was living at the time, to attend it. It was quite an event: all these European socialist luminaries meeting two blocks from the White House less than two weeks after Reagan’s victory, entirely unknown and unnoticed in the Washington political world. Rocard spoke at a session (not plenary) with the then mayor of Minneapolis, Donald Fraser. I have no recollection of what was said but remember being highly impressed with both, and particularly Rocard (and whose English was impeccable; Mitterrand, who addressed the plenary session, spoke in French).

In the 1980s I had visions of Rocard succeeding Mitterrand as president of the republic after the latter’s first septennat, though that was clearly not in the cards. I did view Mitterrand favorably into the early ’90s, though altered that once I settled here, started to follow French politics daily, and became more aware of the political differences between the two men, their mutual detestation, and Mitterrand’s darker side. When it came to political and personal integrity, Mitterrand was not on the same level with Rocard, loin s’en faut (for my overall assessment of Mitterrand, go here). Mitterrand’s 1991 sacking of Rocard as prime minister and for no good reason—he was one of the best PMs of the Fifth Republic, not to mention the most popular with public opinion—seemed incomprehensible. And his successful maneuver to scuttle Rocard’s presidential ambitions for 1995—in launching the Bernard Tapie “missile” in the 1994 European elections—was one of Mitterrand’s more loathsome acts—and he had several—in the twilight years of his presidency.

France Inter’s Thomas Legrand had an excellent editorial this morning on Rocard, Mitterrand, and what differentiated their political world-views and, more fundamentally, their whole approach to politics (listen to and/or read it here). Legrand says that Rocardism (as an “ism”) was fundamentally about ideas, not a strategy of acquiring power. In addition to being a politician, Rocard was an intellectual, and a brilliant one. See, e.g., the discussion between Rocard and Paul Ricœur, “Justice et marché,” published in January 1991 in Esprit (h/t Marc-Olivier Padis). There are not too many politicians in France nowadays—don’t even talk about the US—who could carry on an exchange at that level. I certainly couldn’t.

UPDATE: Frédéric Martel—writer, intellectual, and youthful rocardien—has an excellent essay in Slate.fr, “Quand Rocard couvait la deuxième génération de la seconde gauche.”

2nd UPDATE: Here’s Le Monde’s obituary, by Jean-Louis Andreani and Raphaëlle Bacqué: “Michel Rocard, l’homme de la ‘deuxième gauche’.”

Also in Le Monde is an op-ed by economist Daniel Cohen and Gilles Finchelstein of the Fondation Jean-Jaurès, “Michel Rocard, un esprit réaliste, voulant réconcilier la gauche et l’économie.”

3rd UPDATE: Libération’s Jean Quatremer has a remembrance, which is well worth reading, of “Michel Rocard, l’homme que les socialistes ont humilié.”

4th UPDATE: The Cimade has posted on its website a must-read explanation of what Michel Rocard meant when he uttered his famous 1989 line “La France ne peut accueillir toute la misère du monde…”

5th UPDATE: In June 2014 Michel Rocard published a tribune in Le Monde expressing his exasperation with British obstructionism in the EU. It was translated by The Guardian under the title “A French message to Britain: get out of Europe before you wreck it.” The lede: “The European Union is on its knees but you, the British, want to block even small steps to democratic legitimacy.”

6th UPDATE: Political journalist Geoffroy Clavel writes, in Le HuffPost, that “Avant sa mort, Michel Rocard a légué au PS un ultime avertissement.”

7th UPDATE: France Inter’s Thomas Legrand, in an editorial on Tuesday, argues that Manuel Valls and Emmanuel Macron are not the true hiers of rocardisme.

8th UPDATE: In Jeune Afrique: “Quand Michel Rocard dénonçait l’horreur des camps de déplacés en Algérie.” The lede: “Il était l’homme de l’«autre gauche» en France. Mais Michel Rocard, décédé samedi à 85 ans, avait également été un farouche opposant à la guerre d’Algérie. À la fin des années 1950, il avait notamment écrit un rapport très critique sur la gestion des camps de déplacés par l’armée française.”

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Elie Wiesel at Yad Vashem, 18 December 1986 (photo: AFP/Archives/Sven Nackstrand)

Elie Wiesel at Yad Vashem, 18 December 1986 (photo: AFP/Archives/Sven Nackstrand)

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I have nothing in particular to say about him that isn’t being said by everyone else. One salutes him as a witness to the Holocaust and for the role he played in instilling the memory of this—of the greatest crime in the history of the modern world—in the collective consciousness (in Europe and North America at least). As it happens, I am presently teaching a section on the Second World War in France—in which I naturally cover the Holocaust and history of antisemitism—in a course for American undergraduates on a summer program in Paris. The day before yesterday we went to the Père Lachaise cemetery, mainly to see the steles and memorials to the wartime deportees and other victims of Nazi barbarism. We lingered for a minute at the stele to the memory of those who perished at the Auschwitz III-Monowitz Buna slave labor camp, where Elie Wiesel was deported to at age 15, before the transfer to Buchenwald in the final months of the war.

Wiesel was not without blemishes, taking regrettable positions on a number of issues, e.g. supporting the Iraq war, uncritically apologizing for Israel. As Peter Beinart, entre autres, has covered that well, I won’t. The obituary in The Forward by Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum, “Elie Wiesel, the moral force who made sure we will never forget evil of Holocaust,” is worth reading. Note, in particular, Berenbaum’s discussion of Wiesel’s Francophilia

Offered French citizenship upon his arrival [in France in 1945], Wiesel did not understand the question and consequently refused the invitation. His statelessness and the intricacies of traveling without a passport was the reason he stated for becoming an American citizen a decade later. Thus, unlike many survivors who immigrated to the United States, Wiesel regarded France – and not America – as the land in which he rebuilt his life in freedom.

Those who worked with him in France remembered his intense desire to learn French and to absorb French literature and the thrills of Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, the purveyors of French existentialism. He had a passion for music, and earned his meager living by leading a choir and to his final days he loved to sing. He was determined to master the language. Jack Kolbert wrote that “Wiesel chose to write in French just as a convert chooses a new religion.”

Wiesel wrote: “I owe France my secular education, my language and my career as a writer… It was in France that I found compassion and humanity. It was in France that I found generosity and friendship. It was in France that I discovered the other side, the brighter side of mankind.”

Wiesel was kinder than many French Jews – and even many contemporary Frenchmen and women – who recoil at the French cooperation with the Germans in the deportation of Jewish children and the betrayal of non-citizens and even French Jews.

Like Samuel Beckett, Wiesel chose to write in his adopted language French – neither Yiddish even though Yiddish was his native tongue, nor Hebrew, the sacred tongue in which he pursued his journalistic career. And not even English, the language of the land in which he lived for more the last three score years of his life.

Also see the obituary in The New York Times by Joseph Berger.

UPDATE: I asked Holocaust scholar and friend Marc Masurovsky for his thoughts on Elie Wiesel. His response:

Elie Wiesel? He created a persona and fell into the trap of that persona. I give him tremendous credit for having put into accessible words the trauma that he survived. But I fault him for not having done enough for the cause of restitution. In fact, he never spoke out on behalf of those who sought looted art. If he had, I believe that Holocaust educational institutions would have been placed in an uncomfortable position and would have had to choose whether or not to heed his message. That’s how influential he has been and will continue to be. I do credit him for having dissented with the pre-Holocaust museum board for having presented a more spiritual vision of what a Museum should look like. But then, that’s why we don’t put poets in charge of policy and politics.

Following up

One more point. The US Holocaust Memorial Council almost threw Elie out because he threw his support behind the first iteration of the New York-based Museum for Jewish Heritage, at a time when the USHMM was not even built. Also, he supported a competing design for the museum, proposed by Israeli architects which would have been a superb memorial, devoid of content.

2nd UPDATE: The well-known gauchiste political scientist Corey Robin, playing the empêcheur de tourner en rond, has fired off a dissenting view on Elie Wiesel on his blog.

3rd UPDATE: Another Holocaust scholar friend of mine, who asked not to be named here—as he doesn’t wish to publicly debate the issue—wrote this to me about Elie Wiesel:

I deliberately didn’t post anything on Wiesel, besides the Beinart piece from Haaretz. Weisel was blind to the nature and extent of Israel’s mistreatment of the Palestinians, and what made this so lamentable was the fact that he was the public face of defending human rights and “never again.” The letters to Weisel by Arthur Hertzburg reveal the hypocrisy or lack of moral clarity on Weisel’s part. Regarding Holocaust Studies, among specialists Weisel was regarded as a pop culture bullshit artist, claiming he had read everything there is on the subject, while remaining pretty shallow when he appeared in academic forums. Of course, there was his personal experience on which to draw, but not much more than that (despite a huge expanse of scholarly analysis). On television, he was always predictable with that studied sad, perplexed expression. One of my close friends was on the original Holocaust Museum committee, and almost quit over how much campaigning there had been to get Weisel a Nobel prize, sometimes side tracking the work at hand. During the last Gaza war, I tried to get a few of the younger Holocaust scholars to join me in addressing an open letter to Weisel, very much along the lines that Hertzberg already had laid out. No one dared to do so, though they were embarrassed by Weisel’s silence and deflecting the crucial moral issues regarding how a Jewish state, born of the Holocaust, could act with such indifference to the taking of innocent lives. That said, before the Holocaust had become a major issue and a field of study, Weisel stood almost alone in keeping the subject from passing into oblivion like so much of what had happened to civilians during World War Two. Weisel personified and embodied Jewish suffering in Europe; he was an important symbol. Eventually, in my view, his moment had passed, but he could not accommodate himself to a place outside the limelight. I tended to switch the channel whenever he was on television, rather than endure his repetitions and posturing.

4th UPDATE: Writer, business consultant, and liberal Zionist Bernard Avishai has a remembrance of Elie Wiesel in The New Yorker. Money quote

Remarkably, however, there is not a word in the Times obituary about the occupation of the Palestinian territories. That is not an oversight. To the dismay of Israeli peace activists, and their supporters abroad, who’ve seen Wiesel’s unique international stature grow over two generations—and sought his support—he rarely if ever publicly raised his voice against any Israeli actions: not the bombings of Beirut in 1982; not the subsequent massacre, by Lebanese Phalangists, at Sabra and Shatila, within the perimeter held by the Israeli Army; not the disgraceful behavior of settlers in Hebron; not the encirclement by Israeli ministries of Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood; not the obstacles placed before international efforts to restore potable water and electricity to the residents of Gaza. Many of us who admired him in our youth became increasingly impatient with his inability to see the occupation for what it was. Primo Levi, also a survivor of Auschwitz, condemned Menachem Begin’s war in Lebanon as “success achieved with an unprincipled use of arms.” For Levi, evil was too explicably human to be absolute: “I feel indignant toward those who hastily compare the Israeli generals to Nazi generals, and yet I have to admit that Begin draws such judgments on himself . . . I fear that this undertaking [in Lebanon], with its frightening cost in lives, will inflict on Judaism a degradation difficult to cure . . . I sense in myself, not without surprise, a profound emotional bond to Israel, but not to this Israel.”

5th UPDATE: Riki Lippitz, cantor of the Oheb Shalom Congregation in South Orange NJ—with whom I was acquainted in high school (I was, and remain, friends with her sister, Lori)—shared her personal memories of Elie Wiesel on WNYC News.

6th UPDATE: Lebanese-American writer and pundit Hussein Ibish—who is presently Senior Resident Scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington—writes in Foreign Policy that “Elie Wiesel’s moral imagination never reached Palestine: The great writer’s humanitarianism knew no bounds — except where it met his nationalism.”

See also the op-ed in Haaretz by Simone Zimmerman and Jacob Plitman—both activists in progressive Jewish organizations—”Remembering Elie Wiesel means recognizing Palestinian suffering even if he never could.”

7th UPDATE: Two pieces on Wiesel from past years, which have been making the rounds on social media: Sara Roy, senior research scholar at Harvard University’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies, “Response to Elie Wiesel [on his statement on Hamas],” in the gauchiste CounterPunch (September 9, 2014); and Arthur Hertzberg, “An open letter to Elie Wiesel [in regard to his declarations on the Intifada],” in The New York Review of Books (August 18, 1988) (h/t Eric Goldstein).

Père Lachaise cemetery , Paris

Père Lachaise cemetery , Paris

Père Lachaise cemetery, Paris

Père Lachaise cemetery, Paris

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