Archive for February, 2017

2017 Oscars


The list of nominees is here. For only the second time in my now long life I’ve managed to see all the films in the top categories. I so far have blog posts on none—having slacked off on film reviews over the past year—but intend to get one up soon on the foreign nominees and a couple of the documentaries. For the others, here’s my capsule assessment, beginning with the Best Picture nominees.

Moonlight: What to say, I loved this film. It’s a chef d’œuvre. It’s mesmerizing, the cinematography is beautiful, the pacing impeccable, and the casting perfect, and with the characters sharply drawn: Mahershala Ali (best supporting actor nominee) and Trevante Rhodes are excellent, and Janelle Monáe and Naomie Harris are first-rate actresses and beautiful too. Hats off to director Barry Jenkins. As for an analysis of the film, see Adam Shatz’s excellent essay in The Paris Review, to which I have nothing to add. Also the one by The New Yorker theater critic Hilton Als. [UPDATE: Novelist and playwright Darryl Pinckney has a review essay of ‘Moonlight’ in the April 20th issue of The New York Review of Books.]

Manchester by the Sea: I was eagerly looking forward to seeing this, in view of the stellar reviews—a 96 score on Metacritic and 4.5/4.2 on Allociné—and dithyrambic reactions on social media. But then a highbrow New York-based intello-cinephile friend—whose views I take with the utmost seriousness—told me that it was “terribly overrated.” My reply to him after seeing: “It’s not a chef d’œuvre but I wouldn’t say it’s overrated—let alone hugely so—this implying that it’s not that good. It’s an engaging film—which, for me, means that I didn’t start checking the time on my phone half way through—and well acted. It won’t make AWAV’s Top 10 of the year but could make Honorable Mention [which it did].” After reading novelist Francine Prose’s essay on the film in the NYR blog, I emailed him that “[m]y estimation of Manchester is increasing…” But then I received this from a faithful Provence-based AWAV reader: “Interesting movie, great acting, sensible directing, but spoiled right in the middle [in the scene of the house burning] by a horrible mistake: the lengthy, insisting, emphatic, pompous, pathetic extract from Adagio d’Albinoni pasted wall to wall, several minutes of it, over the most dramatic silent scene in the movie… I couldn’t believe it! Not even a stupid producer would dare to ask that from a director.” Well! I didn’t fixate on the musical score myself, though can see the objection. Chacun son goût, comme on dit.

La La Land: I can’t remember the last time a movie was both so hyped and aroused such wildly diverging reactions from friends and colleagues on both sides of the ocean, ranging from gushing thumbs way up—with some loving it (e.g. a highbrow academic friend informed his thousands of social media fans that it was “enchanting”)—to vehement thumbs way down: e.g. one French journalist/Facebook friend so hated the pic that he fired off a 1,000-word diatribe ripping it to smithereens. Ouf! FYI, it’s a big hit in France, with an impressive 4.3/4.4 score on Allociné, though there does appear to have been a backlash against the film among some Anglophone critics. Now I normally do not care for musicals myself and tend to avoid them, though, in view of the hype, was certainly going to see this one. A highbrow cinesnob friend in the DC area who always likes a good musical (‘Singin’ in the Rain’ is his all-time favorite)—but otherwise rubbishes 85% of the films he sees—nonetheless dumped on ‘La La Land’, calling it “forgettable” and predicting that I would share his viewpoint.

Upon seeing it—with my 86-year-old mother, a lifelong cinephile herself and who grew up with musicals—I emailed the following to my cinesnob friend: “I started out not liking it… [b]ut then my attitude changed half way through, as the story started to come together—of [the protags’] relationship—and I came to appreciate some of the music—notably the band’s score in the nightclub—and choreography. And then talking about the movie with my mother, who liked it and, as is her wont, launched into a lengthy analysis (and which continued at home; and my mother’s film analyses are [on your highbrow level]). So my final verdict is a moderate thumbs up… Oh yes, my mother was also impressed with Ryan Gosling—whom she hadn’t seen before—of his talent as a musician and dancer. And found him physically graceful, reminding her of Marlon Brando. I was also impressed with his musical talent (on the keyboards).”

And then there was this reaction from my aforementioned New York-based intello-cinephile friend—and who has published articles on jazz, among many other subjects: “I liked it much more than I expected to. Sure, the jazz stuff is a bit silly, but it’s not a film about jazz, or about anything meant to resemble reality: it’s an ode to old Hollywood musicals, to the city of Los Angeles, and jazz is but a backdrop. To argue over the use of John Legend in the film is also to take the film too seriously. The two principals are charming, their relationship is believable and sympathetic, the use of color and setting striking. The music isn’t memorable, a weakness, except for that one song he sings and then later plays solo on piano. The film is not perfect, but for the most part I found it absorbing and delightful in an old-fashioned sort of way.” I’ll go along with that. [UPDATE: My mother has a review of ‘La Land Land’ on her blog here that is well worth reading (March 6th).]

Hidden Figures: I was moved by this film. I had no idea about the story, of the Afro-American female mathematicians at NASA in the early years of the space program. Crazy that Jim Crow laws were respected at federal facilities in the South, and as late as the early 1960s. The pic’s a crowd-pleaser, pulling at your strings and pushing all the buttons, but I’m a sucker for that sort of thing. And I’m clearly not the only one, in view of the 4.4 audience score on Allociné. The three lead actresses—Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer (best supporting actress nominee), and Janelle Monáe—are terrific. The humiliation and general bullshit that black Americans have had to put up with in America never ceases to revulse. Writer Stacia L. Brown has an interesting analysis in the New Republic, “Hidden Figures and the ambitious working mother.” [UPDATE: See the review essay, “Calculating Women,” by Yale University astronomy and physics professor Priyamvada Natarajan, in the May 25th issue of The New York Review of Books.] [2nd UPDATE: My mother has a lengthy essay on ‘Hidden Figures’ on her blog, which is quite excellent (October 4th).]

Fences: I went into this pic clueless, with no idea about the story or knowing that it had been a highly regarded Broadway play and by a famous playwright—August Wilson—and that Denzel Washington and Viola Davis (best actor and supporting actress nominees, respectively) had been in the play. Even without knowing that, it became obvious in short order that the film was originally made for the stage. It took a while to get in to it—to see where the non-stop talking was leading—but I got increasingly absorbed in the second hour. Denzel’s performance is amazing. An Afro-American friend of my mother’s in North Carolina, named Joe, who’s in his 70s and was a lieutenant-colonel in the U.S. Air Force, emailed her his personal commentary on the film: “Powerful, outstanding! Captured so much of what the working black family’s life was like in many venues during that period. Struck close to home really in some ways, especially in the ‘I-ain’t-got-no-time-for-anything-but-real-stuff’ attitude of the dad – no time for, or concern with, or investment in sentiment, feelings, love, caring, etc. etc. – no place for that.” Joe caught a couple of anachronisms related to the son’s military service but which did not detract from his appreciation of the film.

Arrival: I had zero interest in seeing this when it came out here in December—under the title ‘Premier contact’—and despite the top reviews (4.1/4.1 in Allociné), as it looked to be a science fiction film, a genre I normally avoid. And I didn’t get any word-of-mouth on it (and still haven’t, apart from a shrug by a student). But in view of its Oscar nominations I decided I had to check it out, persuading an academic friend with whom I periodically see movies to come along. Now my friend—who is intellectually brilliant and analyzes films on a rather higher level than I—knew absolutely nothing about it, so went into it blind, as was more or less the case with me. We were immediately impressed that the salle at the UGC Ciné Cité Les Halles multiplex was packed and two months after its sortie, signifying positive word-of-mouth. And we were impressed leaving the theater at the end, this time with the film itself, which surprised us both. It is, on the surface, a science fiction movie but is way more than that. It is a philosophical meditation on temporality and language, a “beautiful, astonishing, incredibly sophisticated film,” to paraphrase my friend. I am not capable of textually recounting her typically sophisticated analysis, nor my own thoughts at that moment—it was four weeks ago—so will simply link to the excellent review essay by the well-known science and technology writer-author James Gleick in The New York Review of Books, which is all one needs to read on the film.

Hell or High Water: Of the best picture nominees, this one is the most thoroughly entertaining, not to mention the most madcap contribution to the Texas-is-one-crazy-place genre in at least four years (since Killer Joe and Bernie). The portrayal of Texas gun culture is positively second degree, almost cartoon-like. One appreciates the social critique—of banks ripping off regular folk who are barely getting by—as the more indirect one about that part of Texas (and Oklahoma), where the pic takes place, having once been Indian lands that were violently expropriated a century-and-a-half back; thus the original title of the film (and actual one in France), Comancheria. The acting is terrific, notably Jeff Bridges (best supporting actor nominee). À voir absolument.

Lion: I saw this just last night. The salle at UGC Opéra was almost full to capacity, which is not surprising in view of the manifestly positive word-of-mouth (reflected in the 4.5 audience score on Allociné). It’s a crowd-pleaser. One is totally caught up in the first half of the film, in India, and with one’s heart melting for the little Saroo all alone on the streets of Calcutta. Ça crève le cœur. One wants to take him into one’s arms and hug him to death. But the second half, in Australia, is less satisfying. I’m a sucker for sentimentality but it was laid on a little too heavily here. My tears were not jerked. And while Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman are nominees for best supporting actor and actress, respectively, I was not bowled over by their performances. The cinematography is impressive, though. And of course it has a happy ending, so one leaves the theater feeling good. The pic, while hardly a chef d’œuvre, may be seen.

Hacksaw Ridge: It’s good. I’ll discuss it in a future post on WWII films.

And then there are these:

Loving: A well-done, understated film, about a SCOTUS ruling everyone knows but the details of the personalities involved I will admit to not having known, which is to say, I did not know that the felicitously-named Loving couple were just simple, rural folk. I would have liked more of a courtroom drama but understand why director Jeff Nichols chose not to do this, focusing instead on the couple, who were not political and did not seek to politicize their case. They just loved one another. An effective choice. Ruth Negga’s best actress nomination is merited. [UPDATE: My mother has a longish review of ‘Loving’ on her blog (April 18th 2019).]

Nocturnal Animals: A gripping film noir/drame psychologique, though excruciating to watch for a stretch—at least for the overly sensitive and faint-hearted comme moi—during the interminable sequence of the family’s middle-of-the-night encounter with the men in the car. (A comment on the scene: one noted that the men in the car were not armed and that there was no traffic whatever on Interstate 10, neither of which would have been likely in the non-movie world). A contribution to the Texas-is-one-fucked-up-place sub-genre. Great cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon (best supporting actor nominee), Amy Adams. French critics were somewhat lukewarm on the pic but audiences gave it the thumbs up.

Captain Fantastic: I didn’t bother with this one when it came out—and despite the 4.4 Allociné audience rating—catching up with it on account of Viggo Mortensen’s best actor nomination. What to say, it’s a good, entertaining movie and with fine acting. I enjoyed it. And it is by far the most sophisticated Hollywood movie ever made in the way it treats left-wing politics, at least on the level of rhetoric. Hollywood invariably bombs when it comes to this but not this movie. Director-screenwriter Matt Ross knows the left, that’s for sure.

Florence Foster Jenkins: I thought that this would be anticlimactic after Xavier Giannoli’s 2015 Marguerite, which was inspired by the life of Florence FJ, but not at all. Having seen ‘Marguerite’ I knew the story, but was entertained nonetheless. The acting is excellent and with Meryl Streep more than deserving her best actress nomination. Too bad Simon Helberg wasn’t nominated for best supporting actor. The depiction of mid 1940s New York City is also impeccable. Voilà, c’est tout.

Jackie: I didn’t feel overly compelled to see this one, doing so mainly on account of Natalie Portman (best actress nominee)—for whom I have a well-known soft spot—playing the lead role. Director Pablo Larraín, who’s Chilean (he directed the terrific film No, among others), apparently said that he wouldn’t do the film if Portman didn’t take the role. She is, needless to say, perfectly cast as Jackie Kennedy. The pic is all Natalie P., and she’s great. Other than that, it left me indifferent. I gave it no thought after leaving the cinoche. Not even Natalie.

Sully: This received one nomination, for a category I have no opinion on (best sound editing). A perfect popcorn movie (though I never buy popcorn in movie theaters myself). Clint Eastwood’s most entertaining movie since ‘Invictus’. And Tom Hanks is impeccable in the lead role. French critics and audiences alike gave it the thumbs up, which is hardly a surprise (3.8/4.2 on Allociné). C’est tout ce que j’ai à dire.

My vote:

BEST PICTURE: ‘Moonlight’.
No hesitation on this, though I wouldn’t be surprised if the crowd-pleasing ‘Hidden Figures’ wins. I will be disgusted if it’s ‘La La Land’, which ranks close to last of the nine nominees.

BEST DIRECTOR: Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge).
A politically incorrect choice, I know. I was impressed with this film, however, and found the reenactment of the Battle of Okinawa to be a directorial feat. Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) and Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) are tied for a close second.

BEST ACTOR: Denzel Washington (Fences).
Denzel has played his role here dozens of times on the stage but it’s a tour de force nonetheless. The other nominees are meritorious.

BEST ACTRESS: Natalie Portman (Jackie).
This is a close one. Isabelle Huppert is stellar in ‘Elle’ but this is not an American film and she already won the César for it yesterday. Meryl Streep is tops in ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’ but for her to get it would be like the New England Patriots winning the Super Bowl. Deserved but happens all the time. Ruth Negga in ‘Loving’: I wouldn’t rank her first here. Emma Stone in ‘La La Land’ did not knock my socks off.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight).
He’s awesome in this. Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals) and Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water) are tied for second.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures).
All the nominees here, Nicole Kidman (Lion) excepted, are credible winners.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: ‘The Salesman’ by Asghar Farhadi.
In view of the political context, I would be shocked if this didn’t win. Maren Ade’s ‘Toni Erdmann’ is very good. I haven’t seen the other nominees.

This is the only one I’ve seen, and it’s good. I have been reliably informed that ‘I Am Not Your Negro’, ‘O.J.: Made in America’, and ’13th’ are all amazing but I haven’t seen them yet. When they come to France, I will illico.

Table showing 2017 Oscar nominees in top categories. TNS 2017

Table showing 2017 Oscar nominees in top categories. TNS 2017


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2017 César awards


[update below]

France’s Oscars. The ceremony is tomorrow (Friday)—two days before the US Academy Awards comme d’hab’—at the Salle Pleyel. The full list of nominees is here. Leading with eleven nominations each are Elle and Frantz, Ma Loute (Slack Bay) has nine, Mal de pierres (From the Land of the Moon) eight, Divines seven, Juste la fin du monde (It’s Only the End of the World) and La Danseuse (The Dancer) six each, and Chocolat and Victoria (In Bed with Victoria) five a piece. As it happens, I don’t have blog posts on any—I haven’t written too much on cinema over the past year—but will soon enough, inshallah. But as I have seen the movies, I possess the necessary qualifications to cast a virtual ballot. So voilà:

BEST FILM: Les Innocentes (The Innocents).
It’s a toss-up between this and Frantz. There was, in fact, no really outstanding French film last year. A number were good, indeed quite—such as these two—but there were no chefs d’œuvre. Elle is a gripping drame psychologique but I had somewhat mixed feelings about it leaving the theater. As for Divines, see the ‘best first film’ category below. Three of the seven nominees, it should be said, do not belong: Ma Loute (screwball comedy that critics liked far more than did the unwashed public, of which I am a part), Mal de pierres (bof), and Victoria (frivolous waste-of-time rom-com).

BEST DIRECTOR: Anne Fontaine for Les Innocentes.
François Ozon for Frantz is equally worthy. If Xavier Dolan wins for his execrable Juste la fin du monde, I will forever lose respect for the Académie des Arts et Techniques du Cinéma.

BEST ACTOR: Nicolas Duvauchelle in Je ne suis pas un salaud (A Decent Man).
There are any number of worthy winners, e.g. Omar Sy in Chocolat and François Cluzet in Médecin de campagne (Irreplaceable) but Duvauchelle is a very good actor and deserves it for his role in this engaging film.

BEST ACTRESS: Isabelle Huppert in Elle.
She’s France’s greatest living actress. And her performance here is a tour de force. Other nominees are certainly meritorious: Marina Foïs is powerful as a sociopathic stalker in Irréprochable (Faultless), as is Judith Chemla in Une vie (A Woman’s Life) as an early 19th century bourgeois woman trapped in the gender roles of the era. And the sublime Marion Cotillard is tops in the otherwise unexceptional Mal de pierres. I did not, however, care for Sidse Babett Knudsen in La Fille de Brest (150 Milligrams).

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: James Thierrée in Chocolat.
Laurent Lafitte in Elle is the runner-up. If Vincent Cassel wins for his role in the atrocious Juste la fin du monde—or for any role in any film—I will be sorely tempted to commit an unlawful act…

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Déborah Lukumuena in Divines.
She is memorable in her role in this, just a little more so than the other nominees in theirs.

MOST PROMISING ACTOR: Corentin Fila in Quand on a 17 ans (Being 17).
The other nominees are worthy but he gets the edge.

MOST PROMISING ACTRESS: Oulaya Amamra in Divines.
Absolutely totally. A Star Is Born.

Hands down. A very good movie. One of the best in years in the banlieue racaille genre.

BEST DOCUMENTARY: Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea).
I’ve only seen one of the others in this category but this one is very good and, in view of the subject matter, deserves to win IMHO.

BEST FOREIGN FILM: Graduation by Cristian Mungiu.
Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann is a close runner-up, followed by Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Aquarius. Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake is certainly the top gauchiste film of the year. The Dardenne brothers’ The Unknown Girl is honorable but not their best. Manchester by the Sea? Nah. If Xavier Dolan’s abominable Juste la fin du monde wins, I think I’ll…

UPDATE: The list of the winners is here. I nailed it on half the categories above, including the trifecta for ‘Divines’.  ‘Elle’ won for best film, which was hardly a surprise. Gaspard Ulliel winning best actor for the detestable ‘Juste la fin du monde’ was incomprehensible, as was Xavier Dolan for best director. My respect for the AATC is definitively lost.


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Photo: Reuters/Jean-Paul Pélissier

Photo: Reuters/Jean-Paul Pélissier

In September 2014 I had a post entitled “Can Marine Le Pen win in ’17?,” in which I answered my rhetorical question with a categorical no. Absolutely not. Don’t even think about it. And I have repeated this on numerous occasions since—on AWAV and in social media exchanges—and dismissing while I was at it the hand-wringers and nervous Nellies who fretted that yes, Henny Penny the sky is falling!, she can win—though without any of these Cassandras offering scenarios as to how this could happen. My confident assertions as to the impossibility of Marine Le Pen being elected president of the republic have been based on her disastrous poll numbers over the past seven years—her favorable/unfavorable rating consistently being one of the worst in the French political class (and far worse than Donald Trump’s at any point)—and the fact that in order for her to prevail in the 2nd round of a presidential election, large numbers of voters who otherwise despise and loathe her, and tell pollsters that they would never under any circumstances vote for her, would then go out and do just that: vote for her. Presidential 2nd rounds have the highest turnout of any election in the French system, averaging—minus one unique, very particular exception—83% since universal suffrage was instituted for the office in 1965. So if Marine were to win, some 20 million voters would likely have to vote for her. To date, the highest number of votes the Front National has ever received is 6.8 million in the 2nd round of the 2015 regional elections (with a 58.5% turnout). Somehow I can’t see this skyrocketing to 20M, particularly as MLP’s popularity ratings (deeply negative) have not moved even slightly in the course of the campaign.

But… circumstances do change. The situation evolves. And when circumstances change and situations evolve, I adjust my analyses accordingly. While I still consider a Marine LP victory to be highly unlikely, I no longer categorically rule it out. Anyone reading this is likely aware that Marine is at the top of the 1st round polls, at around 25%, and with three-fourths of those who say they will vote for her definitive in their choice. She is nigh certain to make it to the 2nd round on May 7th. Everyone takes this for granted at this point. The polls show her losing big in the 2nd, but polls change and her projected 2nd round score is creeping upwards. Whatever happens, she will most certainly break 40%.

So how could she win? Here are the scenarios:

  • François Fillon, who, as one knows, is seriously damaged politically, nonetheless manages to rally the LR party base and squeak past Emmanuel Macron and into the 2nd round. Fillon will probably defeat Marine, as a sufficient number of left voters (myself included)—so terrified by the prospect of a Marine victory—will probably vote for him while holding their noses. But large numbers of left voters will not bring themselves to do this, and particularly if Fillon is mis en examen—and he now insists that he’s staying in the race regardless—and doubles down on his Sarkozy-like, hard right rhetoric on immigration and security. The revulsion against Fillon is massive on the left (in a way it was not for Chirac in 2002). If masses of left voters nullify their ballots or stay home, and with a certain number of working class ones who voted Mélenchon in the 1st actually voting for Marine in the 2nd—and one may be sure that she will appeal to this latter cohort in the final phase of the campaign—she could possibly win in a cliffhanger, and particularly if enough conservative LR voters disgusted by Fillon also decide to go for her.
  • Benoît Hamon pulls off a shocker and makes it to the 2nd. In this scenario, Fillon’s support would plunge into the mid-teens, with LR voters defecting to Nicolas Dupont-Aignan or to Marine LP herself, who reaches 30% in the 1st. Likewise with Macron, whose serial flip-flopping, trying to be too many things to too many people, and finally revealed as a political Nowhere Man having benefited from a bulle médiatique would prompt his erstwhile center-left supporters to go with Hamon after all—or to François Bayrou if he enters the race. If Bayrou gets in—and he’ll be making an announcement on this tomorrow—he will most certainly peel off voters from Macron, possibly reaching 10% in the 1st round. In the 2nd round, the left would vote as a block for Hamon but LR voters, who so despise the left—and will simply not accept five more years of the PS in power—will go massively for Marine, particular as she will sweet-talk them to death entre les tours. If centrist voters vote blanc/nul or abstain, Marine may well gain enough votes to break 50%.
  • The nightmare scenario: Fillon’s and Macron’s numbers go south for the aforementioned reasons and with Hamon losing ground on the left to Jean-Luc Mélenchon. With the four candidates all bunched in the mid-teens—and Marine at 30%—Mélenchon ekes out a narrow second place finish and goes on to face MLP on May 7th. The right votes as one for Marine and with centrist and center-left voters emigrating en masse to Canada or maybe killing themselves. And Marine wins.

And there’s more. One thing I have insisted on over the years is that even if, in some outlandish scenario, Marine Le Pen were elected president of the republic, there is no way the FN could possibly win the legislative elections in June. Marine would almost immediately find herself in a cohabitation—and, as one knows, during cohabitations power constitutionally shifts to the prime minister and away from the president. This assertion of mine needs revision. If elected on May 7th, Marine’s first act will be to appoint a prime minister. I guarantee that the man or woman she names will not be from her party. She’ll ask a high-profile hard-right personality from LR, e.g. Laurent Wauquiez, who shares her views on just about everything save Europe (and even then). If she offers the post to Wauquiez, of course he’ll accept. To win over LR support, she’ll compromise on Europe, e.g. by postponing the promised referendum on the euro. Marine’s overtures, not to mention the mere fact of her being at the summit of the state, will blow LR apart, with the right-wingers—Sarkozyistes, Copéistes, most Fillonistes—endorsing an alliance with the FN, and the more moderate conservatives—Juppéistes, some Fillonistes—refusing collaboration, rendering inevitable a breakup of the party. The government constituted by a prime minister Wauquiez will include ministers from the FN, LR, DLF, and MPF, i.e. it will be a coalition of the hard and extreme-right, assembled into an enlarged Rassemblement Bleu Marine (RBM). Some hypothetical ministerial appointments: Florian Philippot (economy/finance), Steeve Briois (interior), Gilbert Collard (justice), Thierry Mariani (foreign affairs), Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (European affairs), Gérard Longuet (defense), Eric Ciotti (education), Philippe de Villiers (culture), Robert Ménard (communication), Valérie Boyer (social affairs), Geoffroy Didier (immigration and integration), Lydia Guirous (cities/youth and sports), David Rachline (government spokesman)…

With Marine’s election and such a government in place, the FN would go into the June legislative elections with a head of steam. Given the fragmentation of the political field—with candidates of LR-UDI, the PS, La France Insoumise/PCF, and whatever remains of En Marche!—the number of triangulaires would be exceptionally high, particularly if the turnout is likewise (reaching, say, 70%). Withdrawal accords between FN and pro-FN LR candidates would almost certainly guarantee an RBM majority in the National Assembly. And the rest would be history. Marine Le Pen and the FN would rule France for the next five years. And there’s not a thing the left or anyone else could do about it.

This would be a disaster, needless to say. Marine Le Pen is Donald Trump without the crazy, as James Traub pithily put it, and which thus makes her more dangerous. She knows exactly where she wants to take France and, as president of the republic and with a legislative majority, would have more instruments at her disposal than does Trump in the US, as there are fewer checks on executive power in France hors cohabitation. And her government, such as hypothesized above, would not be made up of kooks and whack jobs à la Trump but rather of seasoned political pros. I will speculate at a later date as to what Marine would do in her first few months in power but, trust me, it would be bad. Very very bad.

The one candidate who can most certainly beat Marine, and handily, is Emmanuel Macron. I’m a little unsettled about him at the moment—I think he’s making some mistakes—but have to hope that his campaign does not falter in the coming two months, that he finishes strongly, and moves into the 2nd round. The fate of the republic may depend on it.

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The Trump regime: week 4


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

After the inauguration I had intended to have a post a week on the new regime in Washington, with links to good articles I’d read and maybe a thought or two. But that idea went out the window with the daily deluge on my social media news feeds and the websites I follow, and with everyone obsessed and talking about little else. It’s too much. Trying to keep up with the insanity outre-Atlantique plus the wild-and-crazy presidential campaign in France—in which a heretofore unthinkable outcome can no longer be dismissed out of hand—I am, to borrow from my friend Laurie L., mentally exhausted. We’ve gone from No-Drama Obama to drama all the time. It’s the “fog of Trump,” as FP’s David Rothkopf put it: the chaos of  the new regime is such that you start to follow one crazy thing Trump said or did and maybe plan to write about it, but then, within the day, there’s some crazy new thing that causes you to forget about the previous one.

And since I started writing this post, there was Trump’s press conference… And with his response to questions like this one. Just watch it.

Donald Trump is a despicable human being. And any Trump fan who can watch his response to the Ami magazine reporter and remain a fan is equally despicable.

How long can this go on?

Andrew Sullivan, in a great essay in New York magazine last week, “The madness of King Donald,” concluded with this observation

With someone like [Trump] barging into your consciousness every hour of every day, you begin to get a glimpse of what it must be like to live in an autocracy of some kind. Every day in countries unfortunate enough to be ruled by a lone dictator, people are constantly subjected to the Supreme Leader’s presence, in their homes, in their workplaces, as they walk down the street. Big Brother never leaves you alone. His face bears down on you on every flickering screen. He begins to permeate your psyche and soul; he dominates every news cycle and issues pronouncements — each one shocking and destabilizing — round the clock. He delights in constantly provoking and surprising you, so that his monstrous ego can be perennially fed. And because he is also mentally unstable, forever lashing out in manic spasms of pain and anger, you live each day with some measure of trepidation. What will he come out with next? Somehow, he is never in control of himself and yet he is always in control of you.

One of the great achievements of free society in a stable democracy is that many people, for much of the time, need not think about politics at all. The president of a free country may dominate the news cycle many days — but he is not omnipresent — and because we live under the rule of law, we can afford to turn the news off at times. A free society means being free of those who rule over you — to do the things you care about, your passions, your pastimes, your loves — to exult in that blessed space where politics doesn’t intervene. In that sense, it seems to me, we already live in a country with markedly less freedom than we did a month ago. It’s less like living in a democracy than being a child trapped in a house where there is an abusive and unpredictable father, who will brook no reason, respect no counter-argument, admit no error, and always, always up the ante until catastrophe inevitably strikes. This is what I mean by the idea that we are living through an emergency.

Being ruled by a malignant narcissistic megalomaniac—who barges into your consciousness every hour of the day—can lead one to darkly fantasize about him being terminated with extreme prejudice; and one feels justified in this fantasizing when learning that the unhinged ruler has near unilateral power to launch a nuclear war. Intellectual polymath and dear personal friend Adam Shatz described such fantasies in a post on the LRB blog earlier this week. Adam begins by relating a discussion he had in Paris last summer with an American political scientist friend he called Laxminarayan—not his real name—who expressed the hope that the American “Deep State” would intervene to thwart a looming Trump victory. Hmmm, I wonder who that Laxminarayan could be?…

Speaking for myself, I did write before the election about the Deep State—the military, intelligence, and foreign policy establishment part of it—and my conviction that it would pull out the stops to prevent Trump from winning if such looked possible in the final month of the campaign—though I did not think for an instant that this would—let alone should—happen with the committing of a capital crime. I had in mind leaking Trump’s tax returns or damaging information on his dealings with Russia, that sort of thing. This obviously didn’t happen—or, rather, another sector of the Deep State intervened and in favor of Trump—but looks like it could be underway now.

One wishes the Deep State well in its efforts. But these will absolutely not involve assassination. Call me naïve but I consider it inconceivable that even a rogue faction inside the USG would try to commit such an act, as, entre autres, it would be too complicated to successfully pull off, the plotters would all be arrested, and, in the end, administered lethal injections at the USP Terre Haute. Conspiracies do happen but, in countries with a semblance of democracy and a free press, they’re uncovered sooner or later, and usually sooner. Always. (And yes, Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone).

For the first two weeks of the new regime I was, along with a few tens of millions of others, in a state of despair. The Jan. 21st march was exhilarating but mass demos don’t, on their own, change a thing. The fact is, Trump is POTUS for the next four years, his top policy advisers in the White House are outright fascists—and that’s not a word I toss around lightly—the extreme right-wing Republican Party is in the driver’s seat—in Washington and the majority of state governments—and the 2018 midterm elections are not going to change that. The Democrats are in a deep hole, as the NYT’s Timothy Egan reminded us the other day. As one knows, the only way Trump can be terminated is via impeachment/conviction or the invoking of Amendment XXV, Section 4. But the Vichy Republicans are not going to do either: not so long as their party base continues to support Trump. His approval rating may be a historically low 40% for a POTUS after a month in office, but that 40% is of the entire adult population, and the only figure that matters to the Vichy Republicans is of their own voters—and for the moment, that one is in the 80-90% approval range. If that number starts to plummet—to François Hollande levels—then they’ll impeach. But not before.

À propos, a Facebook friend, writing on a comments thread on Trump’s unhinged press conference, had this observation

I think it is extremely important to realize that there are many, many voters in the rural areas who think that Trump is doing a perfectly fine job and who never see anything of the news apart from bits and bobs on Fox News or hear from Limbaugh and Hannity on the radio. (I know these people, I talk to these people, I take them seriously.) I say this because…his confidence and TV-tested delivery appeal to millions of voters, and when excerpted and framed by right-wing news outlets, he looks just fine to those people…

And those people don’t give a shit what liberals, Democrats, and Never Trump Republicans like David Brooks think. And their ranks go well beyond hicks in the sticks. Perusing the comments threads of two of my right-leaning, anti-Trump Facebook friends—well-known journalists on that side of the political spectrum, so with several thousand fans, almost all with some kind of university diploma (which is obvious from randomly checking their profiles)—one is left sans voix. To get an idea, take a look at the comments that follow this essay by the well-known conservative-libertarian legal scholar Richard Epstein, in which he calls on Trump to resign. Note that Epstein’s piece was posted on the Hoover Institution’s Defining Ideas forum, not some loopy website in the alt-right fachosphère. Breathtaking.

NYT journalist Josh Katz had a bone-chilling post earlier this week on The Upshot page, informing us that “Older judges and vacant seats give Trump huge power to shape American courts.” If Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer don’t make it to 2021, the boulevard will be clear for the Republicans to abrogate the Voting Rights Act, destroy the labor movement, dismantle what remains of the welfare state, and deal multiple body blows to constituencies in the Democratic Party base. One-party Republican rule will be locked in for decades. And America will, in effect, cease to be a democracy.

While this apocalyptic scenario is entirely realistic, I have become somewhat less pessimistic of late that it will come to pass. Everyone who didn’t vote for the idiot has been impressed with and gratified by the mass resistance to the new regime. As the very smart and always interesting Yascha Mounk, who teaches in the government department at Harvard, put it in one of his recent columns in Slate

Since Trump got elected, one of my great fears has been that most American citizens might cling to a false sense of security, brought on by decades of prosperity and stability, while the president slowly and surely subverts our democracy. But between Trump’s spectacular assault on democratic norms and the furious response it has already unleashed, I no longer worry about a quiet death. The American republic won’t go down without putting up a hell of a fight.

A third of the American electorate may be fine being ruled by a dictator but the other two-thirds are not fine with it at all. America’s new opposition is robust and will only become more so. It will fight to the bitter end. And then there’s institutional resistance from the states (on this, see, e.g., the article in Politico on how New York’s attorney general Eric Schneiderman “is emerging as the leader of the Trump resistance.”). And the media, not to mention late-night comedy, will not let Trump go.

In this respect, America cannot be compared to other polities in the Western world where liberal democracy is under assault or has collapsed in the past. Cf. Italy in the 1920s and the Weimar Republic: neither Italy nor Germany had had a long tradition of liberal democracy at the time they descended into dictatorship. The Vichy regime in France could have never happened without the German occupation. Victor Orbán’s Hungary and Poland under the PiS today: neither of these countries had known liberal democracy before the 1990s. Ditto for Russia and Turkey. Moreover, the four aforementioned countries witnessed the decimation of their elites—the multiethnic forces vives of their societies, who would have otherwise constituted the pillars of a liberal order—in the course of the 20th century: by war, genocide, emigration, and/or decades of totalitarian rule. America’s cosmopolitan, liberally minded cultural and intellectual elites are intact. And they’re not going anywhere.

Another cause for relative optimism—or at least not sinking into deep pessimism—is the sheer incompetence of the Trump White House. Trump apart, take the case of Stephen Bannon, who’s seen as some kind of evil genius, who has everything figured out, including the resistance to Trump, which is said to be but another pièce maîtresse in his grand strategy. GMAB! Bannon is a crackpot and a crank. Were it not for the fact that he does, for the moment, hold some institutional power, he would be viewed as a laughable joke. On this, see the post by the Brookings Institution’s Quinta Jurecic on the Lawfare blog, “Bannon in Washington: A report on the incompetence of evil.” And when you’ve read that, check out LA Weekly film critic April Wolfe on “The story behind Steve Bannon’s hilariously terrible movie about the horrors of climate science.” What a nutcase.

The upshot: there is no way a cabal of far right kooks, even ensconced in the White House, will cause the “system” to come crashing down or be able to impose their will. The American republic will survive them.

If one missed it, see the must-read interview with Garry Kasparov in Vox last week. Kasparov, who knows something about life in an authoritarian regime, has pertinent advice for resisting Trump. Entre autres, make him look like a loser and before his fan base. If that image takes hold in l’Amérique profonde, he’s toast.

À la prochaine.

UPDATE: The website Motherboard has a must-read article, dated January 28th, “The data that turned the world upside down,” by Hannes Grassegger and Mikael Krogerus, that was originally published in German in December 2016, in the Swiss Der Magazin. The lede: “Psychologist Michal Kosinski developed a method to analyze people in minute detail based on their Facebook activity. Did a similar tool help propel Donald Trump to victory? Two reporters from Zurich-based Das Magazin went data-gathering.” The piece, entre autres, focuses on an outfit called Cambridge Analytica, a board member of which is Stephen Bannon and whose largest single investor is the far right hedge fund manager Robert Mercer.

2nd UPDATE: Martin Robbins, who is a columnist at VICE and blogs for The Guardian and the New Statesman, writes on the Little Atoms website (January 30th) that it is a “myth that British data scientists won the election for Trump.”

And back on December 8th, Bloomberg View columnist Leonid Bershidsky asserted that “No, big data didn’t win the U.S. election: Don’t believe the hype that a U.K. company deserves credit for Donald Trump’s victory.” Dont acte.

3rd UPDATE: Dave Gold of Bouchard Gold Communications has a piece in Politico (February 9th) entitled “‘Data-driven’ campaigns are killing the Democratic Party.” The lede: “Over four straight cycles, Democrats have suffered historic losses. Why? Because they learned all the wrong lessons from Obama’s success.”

4th UPDATE: See the article in The Guardian (February 26th) by Carole Cadwalladr, “Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media.” The lede: “With links to Donald Trump, Steve Bannon and Nigel Farage, the rightwing US computer scientist is at the heart of a multimillion-dollar propaganda network.”


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and with Penelopegate—or, rather, Françoisgate—dominating the news. This past week has been the craziest in French politics in I don’t know how long. What is clear: François Fillon, who looked to be an all but shoo-in after his brilliant, amazing victory in November’s LR primary—a victory absolutely no one foresaw even three weeks beforehand—is now toast. Il est mort. And with the French Republican party—the largest in the country, which looked set to govern France for the next five years, following the debacle of François Hollande’s quinquennat—now reeling and in disarray, and eleven weeks before the 1st round of the presidential election. This is a disaster for the French parliamentary right and deeply unsettling for the French political system. Thanks to the venerable Le Canard Enchaîné—the honor of the French press—and the investigative reports in its January 25th and February 1st issues of the egregious nepotism practiced by Fillon over a dozen years, the presidential race has been completely upended—and with the 2007 interview with Penelope Fillon, unearthed by France 2 last Thursday (watch here), looking to be the coup de grâce. And if not, the latest revelation, this in today’s Le Monde, should do it.

Fillon is defiant, first railing on about conspiracies hatched by unnamed cabals and saying that he would quit the race only if magistrates deemed that his nepotistic practices were in violation of the law—which we won’t know for weeks, if not months—then with his press conference this afternoon, in which he apologized to the French people for “errors” committed in the past regarding the employment of his family, though which was entirely legal. But whether or not the nepotism was, in fact, legal—which it may possibly have been—it doesn’t matter. Fillon’s sober, upright, squeaky clean image—a man of integrity and probity: one of his big selling points—has been shattered—and with voters of his own party, not to mention the larger electorate. Seriously: how can one call for belt-tightening and budgetary blood, sweat, and tears when one has been revealed to have shamelessly enriched one’s own family—i.e. oneself—at taxpayer expense? I don’t see how Fillon recovers from this. If he maintains his candidacy—and only he can decide to renounce, which he appears determined not to do—he will most certainly be eliminated in the 1st round on April 23rd—and the latest polls are already projecting this (here and here). Most LR voters will, out of partisan loyalty, vote for him—and an IFOP-JDD poll out yesterday shows 64% of those voters continuing to support his candidacy—but enough will defect—to Marine Le Pen, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, or Emmanuel Macron—nullify their ballots, or stay home, thus killing his chances.

What is striking in this affair is Fillon’s cluelessness. Though he sounded contrite at his press conference, he manifestly did not understand even ten days after the affair broke that politicians can’t get away with this kind of thing anymore. Political mores in France are no longer what they used to be. Until recently politicians would explain away such corruption as a natural product of France being a “Latin country”—as opposed to an “Anglo-Saxon” or “Nordic” one (and, as I have noted over the years, people really do believe these cultural clichés). As a politician of the right once said in waving off affairs of corruption, “si la France était la Suède, ça se saurait” (if France were Sweden, we would know it). I remember listening on the radio, back in the ’90s, to the conservative journalist Philippe Tesson justifying the time-honored practice of government ministers annually receiving, as a perk, thick envelopes of public cash, with which they could do whatever they pleased and with no accountability. Autre temps, autres mœurs.

The drama for the LR party—whose leadership, looking into the electoral abyss, has been desperately hoping that Fillon would withdraw his candidacy—is that it has no procedure for selecting a new candidate. It’s too late to organize another primary, that’s a certainty. But what legitimacy would a candidate designated à la va-vite by the party’s Political Bureau or National Council carry in the eyes of the party membership? And who would that candidate be? Primary runner-up Alain Juppé has ruled himself out, which is a good thing. The conservative LR base doesn’t want him, which is why he was buried in a landslide by Fillon in the primary’s 2nd round. Making the loser the winner won’t fly. And in a field of candidates born in the 1960s and ’70s, Juppé would look out of place. His moment has passed. Nicolas Sarkozy? LOL.

That leaves the younger generation. François Baroin would seem a good compromise choice except for the bad blood between him and Juppé, and though he’s a well-spoken, eternally boyish-looking 51-years-old, has been in politics for so long that he seems old and, moreover, has no demonstrated appeal outside the core LR electorate. And his poll numbers aren’t too good: +24/-36 favorable/unfavorable in the latest IPSOS baromètre politique, and with 40% having no opinion of him. Il ne marque évidemment pas les esprits. Xavier Bertrand wouldn’t be bad but, like Baroin, lacks notoriety and is probably too moderate and gauche-friendly for many LR voters. Laurent Wauquiez: too right-wing. C’est un vrai réac celui-là. Valérie Pécresse: she could have a certain appeal but, frankly, I can’t see her being it. And her IPSOS fave/unfave rating, presently at +25/-45, is also not brilliant. Senate president and filloniste Gérard Larcher’s name has been advanced. Problem: if he were to walk through the Forum des Halles, down the Canebière, or across the Place Bellecour, most people wouldn’t recognize him. Just as most people don’t know what his voice sounds like. He has never been on anyone’s list of présidentiables. His notoriety, or lack thereof, is such that his name doesn’t even figure in the IPSOS baromètre. So scratch that one.

The LR party is in a truly bad situation. Even if Fillon throws in the towel and a replacement candidate is designated by some hasty procedure—and this would have to happen very soon—s/he will have to put together a program and discourse in short order—it can’t and won’t be 100% Fillon’s—and then try sell it to a party base in a state of shock and disarray, not to mention a larger right-of-center electorate so disgusted by LR that a sizable portion of it will have already defected to Macron (or Marine LP). And then, if s/he were to somehow make it to the 2nd round, would have to attract a sufficient number of left voters to defeat Marine. What a calamity. No one has any idea of how this is going to play out.

As for the Socialists, they’re looking in better shape than LR at the moment, which is quite amazing. Benoît Hamon’s victory over Manuel Valls the Sunday before last was as decisive as victories can get—and with participation crossing the 2 million threshold, carried legitimacy. Hamon is the best possible candidate for the PS right now: he’s smart and well-spoken, which was demonstrated in his stellar debate performance of Jan. 25th; is relatively young (age 49) but with a long political career; was a frondeur—i.e. party dissident these past three years—so doesn’t have Hollande’s bilan hanging around his political neck; and best incarnates the current état d’esprit of the PS median voter. A certain number of Valls militants and supporters are defecting to Macron, which is inevitable. But if the polarizing Valls had been the primary victor, the exodus of Hamon voters to other candidates—Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Yannick Jadot, even Macron—would have been greater. Valls was more unacceptable to Hamon supporters—and which includes those who voted for Arnaud Montebourg and Vincent Peillon—than vice-versa. E.g. Valls’ authoritarian, intransigent laïcité de combat discourse—and demagoguery on the issue against Hamon—so repulsed many PS and other left voters (myself included) that they would not have voted for him under almost any circumstance.

And then there’s an issue that may seem secondary but is actually significant, both symbolically and practically, which is the legalization of cannabis. France has been way behind the curve on this compared to other European countries (and also the US), for reasons I have not entirely comprehended. The right but also the PS has refused to even debate the question of decriminalizing cannabis and other soft drugs, maintaining a repressive posture from another era that, entre autres, diverts law enforcement and the judicial system in a hugely expensive and time-wasting endeavor that is doomed to failure. Hamon and others on the left and center—including Mélenchon and Macron—now advocate legalization, but not Valls. The latter’s tough guy, Sarkozy-like posture just doesn’t fly on the left and it’s hard to see where he goes politically from here. The future of the French Socialist Party—or what remains of it after this election cycle—is with Benoît Hamon and those who have rallied to him.

As for Hamon’s signature issue, the revenu universel—that the right, center, and Valls-supporting Socialists dismiss as harebrained pie-in-the-sky—I said last time that I don’t pay much attention to Santa Claus-type promises from presidential candidates. As for whether or not the revenu universel is realistic, I don’t know and have neither the time nor interest in delving into the issue to find out, though I do note that brilliant, high-profile economists, such as Daniel Cohen and Thomas Piketty, have endorsed some form of what Hamon is advocating. What is important with grandiose proposals such as the revenu universel—which may sound unrealistic (one thinks of Bernie Sanders and single-payer health care or tuition-free college)—is not that they will necessarily see the light of day right away—Hamon, in the most unlikely event he were elected president of the republic and obtained a legislative majority, would certainly compromise on his scheme or scale it back—but rather express the candidate’s world-view and point in the direction s/he wants to take the country. (BTW and for the record, Hamon is much more akin to Bernie than he is to Jeremy Corbyn; the latter’s French kindred spirit is Mélenchon).

Left voters are clearly happy with Hamon’s victory, in view of the sharp spike in his poll numbers. The Cevipof-IPSOS-Sopra Steria-Le Monde mega poll of mid-January had him at 7% in the event he were the PS candidate. He’s now as high as 18%—in fourth place, just behind Macron and Fillon—and with his favorable numbers way up. It’s clear that Hamon is taking votes from Mélenchon; such is reflected not only in the latter’s significant polling drop—down to 9-10%—but is also what I’ve been hearing from people. Hamon is an attractive alternative for leftist voters otherwise furious at the Socialists’ record in power over the past five years but doubtful over JLM’s ability to reach the 2nd round, let alone win (and the mere thought of a Marine LP-Mélenchon run-off—a scenario out of the Twilight Zone—is enough to strike terror and sleepless nights in persons like myself). JLM may be running a good campaign and, with his hologram, packing the meeting halls but, as I’ve said many times, there is a ceiling to his support, of 14% of the electorate max. And I will wager here and now that he will not match his 11.1% score of 2012. As for Hamon’s score: if the écolo Jadot withdraws his candidacy and throws his support to Hamon, it is not totally out of the question that he could finish third. Making it to the 2nd round is another matter. I doubt anyone in the PS thinks that one is realistic.

The candidate best situated to make it to the 2nd and face Marine LP—and her qualification is, at this point, an all but foregone conclusion—is Emmanuel Macron. Those of my general political parti pris are, in any case, crossing their fingers that Macron makes it. He has taken off in the polls, as one is likely aware, and, with the Fillon debacle, is a serious contender to be elected president of the republic. I watched part of his speech at the big rally in Lyon on Saturday—streamed live online (thanks to Art Goldhammer for posting the site on social media)—which went for an hour and forty minutes. Monsieur Macron has a lot to say. He made sure to cover all the bases and press all the buttons in his catch-all appeal to voters spanning the center-left to the center-right. There was something in it for everyone—and nothing major that would turn anyone off—in that sizable segment of the political spectrum he seeks to occupy. It was the first time I’ve watched him speak at length. Mediapart’s Mathieu Magnaudeix called his tone that of a “drowsy televangelist.” He sounded good to me, and the crowd at the overflowing arena clearly felt likewise. He has yet to reveal his detailed program but the outline, indeed much of the content, is clear. He’s a social-libéral on the economy and a North American-style liberal on questions de société. On my personal litmus tests—laïcité, migrants and immigration, depenalization of cannabis—he passes. And he’s pro-Europe. His invitation to American scientists fleeing the Trump regime is also appreciated.

Lefties—including personal friends and family members—are bashing Macron, labeling him a right-winger, an ultra-libéral—a grievous insult for French gauchistes—and purveyor of an “Uberized” economy, entre autres. This is excessive, IMO, if not downright silly. One promise I find in the prospect of a Macron presidency is in an area in which he has so far not expressed himself, which is introducing a measure of proportional representation in legislative elections, of perhaps even half the seats in the National Assembly. Small parties are for it, the big ones—PS and LR—against, and as Macron is not of the latter, he has no a priori reason not to favor such a change. François Bayrou, who will announce by mid month whether or not he’ll jump in the race, has long advocated a dose of PR. Bayrou has been critical of Macron but implicitly left the door open to him in an interview late last month on France Inter. If Macron incorporates PR into his program, it could prompt Bayrou—who is polling in the mid single digits—not to run and to endorse Macron, which would increase ever more the latter’s chances of making it to the 2nd round. And if Macron were to hint that he would appoint Bayrou prime minister—which would be entirely logical—that could clinch the deal with a lot of people. This is admittedly idle speculation on my part. On verra.

I’ll have a post on Macron’s program when he fully releases it. In the meantime, he is sure to become an increasing target of Russian dirty tricks and no doubt from the Stephen Bannon White House too. As both the Putin and Trump regimes want to see Marine Le Pen in the Élysée, Macron sera l’homme à abattre

As for Marine—who released her dystopian, Trumpian campaign platform yesterday—I’m not going to talk about her right now, except to say two things.

First, as mentioned above, she is all but certain to make it to the 2nd round and, if current polling holds, finish in first place, with up to 25%, even more. She has her own potential scandals—plus real ones—but, as a populist candidate, they’re not affecting her standing in the polls. Her supporters, like Trump’s outre-Atlantique, don’t care. And insofar as many of them get their information from the fachosphère (French alt-right)—and the FN has a sophisticated internet operation, with troll armies and all—they will dismiss what is reported in the soi-disant mainstream media. Moreover, Marine appears to be attracting increasing interest among voters in social categories that have heretofore been allergic to the extreme right, such as Muslims, domiens, young people, and seniors.

Second, I have been dismissive of MLP’s chances of winning the presidency, on account of her disastrous favorable/unfavorable numbers: +23/-71 in the IPSOS baromètre, signifying that in order for her to win, a lot of people, mainly on the left, who hate her would nonetheless have to vote for her. And while I will continue to insist that the prospect of her winning is minimal, I no longer categorically rule it out. These are crazy times and with populism on the march. France will likely be saved by its electoral system—a victorious presidential candidate needs 50.01% of the vote, and participation rates in the 2nd round are always high: with a single, unique exception, it has never dropped below 79% in a presidential election—but given the discredit of the parties of government, particularly the PS, and the Fillon debacle, all sorts of scenarios can be credibly envisaged, even those considered outlandish two months ago. If Macron runs into trouble, then I will get worried. This election is wide open.

À suivre.

Emmanuel Macron, Lyon, 4 February 2017

Emmanuel Macron, Lyon, 4 February 2017

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