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Archive for July, 2020

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

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

Leela Jacinto (France 24):

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

Vivienne Walt (Time magazine):

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

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

Craig Pyes:

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

Claire Berlinski:

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

Mira Kamdar (formerly of The New York Times):

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

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

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John Lewis, R.I.P.

Everyone is extolling his memory today. Even the Idiot-in-Chief, after a 14-hour silence, felt compelled to have a staffer tweet condolences in his name. That John Lewis was a true American hero goes without saying. To get a sense of his heroism, do set aside two hours of your time and watch the powerful 2010 PBS American Experience documentary Freedom Riders, directed by Stanley Nelson, which may be seen in full on YouTube—and which I just watched myself, having only learned about the film today, via a recommendation on social media.

As one may surmise, its subject is the 1961 Freedom Rides through the South—based on the book by historian Raymond Arsenault—in which John Lewis played a leading role. What incredible courage of the young freedom riders, who knew they were literally taking their lives into their hands once they crossed into Alabama and Mississippi, but refused to cower to the white terror mobs and the local apparatus of state terror that had the mobs’ back. The attitude of the Kennedys—JFK and RFK—toward the Freedom Riders was initially ambiguous, as one knows, but they finally came through in bringing the power of the federal government to bear on Bull Connor, Ross Barnett & Co. One shudders to imagine how matters would have unfolded if Trump and William Barr had been at the helm back then.

There is obviously a slew of articles on Lewis today. The one by The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer is good: “John Lewis was an American founder: Without activists like Lewis and C. T. Vivian, America would remain a white republic, not a nation for all its citizens.” C.T. Vivian, with whom I am not so familiar, was a Freedom Rider with Lewis—he figures in the PBS documentary—and, as fate would have it, also died yesterday.

The Élysée is making sure to recirculate a video tweet by Emmanuel Macron, dated April 25, 2018, showing him warmly hugging John Lewis during a visit to Washington. Sympa.

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Mrs. America

[update below] [2nd update below]

On this Fourth of July, I want to strongly recommend this absolutely excellent nine-episode miniseries that aired this spring on FX on Hulu (in France, on Canal+). The subject is the 1970s campaign against the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, a campaign that was entirely conceived and led by the conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly—the protagonist of the series—whose success in scuttling the ERA—which would not have happened without her—consecrated her as one of the most consequential personalities on the right wing of the Republican Party of the past fifty years. Schlafly’s single-minded campaign crystallized the right-wing backlash of the time against the challenges (legal, political, and cultural) to gender hierarchies and the emergence of second-wave feminism (“women’s lib”). The anti-ERA movement was, along with the founding in the mid-1970s of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, an important factor in the polarization of societal/cultural issues in American politics along partisan lines—and of moving the Republican Party sharply to the right on these—and to a heretofore unseen extent. Schlafly’s campaign was, in effect, the opening salvo in the culture war that the American right has been waging against liberals and the left ever since.

Similar left-right divisions existed elsewhere at the time, e.g. in France over the Loi Veil, but attenuated. In the United States, it was the opposite, with the culture wars becoming a salient partisan cleavage.

The series begins in 1971 and ends in 1980, with the election of Ronald Reagan. Any American of age in that decade and who had a minimal political consciousness will remember well Phyllis Schlafly (played by Cate Blanchett, who’s terrific in the role), her anti-ERA campaign, and the feminist supporters of the ERA—for Schlafly, the enemy—depicted in the series, notably Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne), Betty Friedan (Tracey Ullman), Bella Abzug (Margo Martindale), Shirley Chisholm (Uzo Aduba), and Jill Ruckelshaus (Elizabeth Banks). The series is indeed as much about them—the “libbers”—as it is of Schlafly and her forces. The casting is impeccable. Absolutely excellent. Likewise with the screenplay and writing. There’s obviously fictionalization of some of the characters and situations, not to mention the dialogue—and a few small anachronisms—but the series hues closely to historical events (and one recalls many of them).

A few comments. First, Schlafly was a well-known personality on the hard right flank of the Republican Party—she wrote a best-selling book in support of Barry Goldwater in 1964—but the GOP of the era was a big tent party that included a sizable moderate wing (plus a liberal one), incarnated in the series by Jill Ruckelshaus—one recalls her husband William, a casualty of Nixon’s October 1973 “Saturday night massacre” at the DOJ—who was a supporter of the ERA—along with most of the GOP when the ERA was initially adopted—and adversary of Schlafly. Ronald Reagan himself hedged on the issue; Schlafly, who strongly supported Reagan’s candidacy in the 1980 Republican primary campaign (after initially backing Phil Crane), was angling to be appointed ambassador to the United Nations, but was passed over by Reagan in favor of the Democrat—and ERA supporter—Jeane Kirkpatrick. A Jill Ruckelshaus or wishy-washy Reagan are obviously inconceivable in today’s Republican Party.

Second, the series shows the importance of Republicans in the South to the anti-ERA campaign, which meant confederate flags, the KKK, and references to white supremacy. Schlafly (who was from downstate Illinois) and others around her were uncomfortable with this and tried to hush it up—as they did with members of the John Birch Society in their ranks—but did not repudiate or try to quash it.

Third, Schlafly, who died in September 2016, was a strong supporter of Trump’s candidacy. The title of her final book: The Conservative Case for Trump. Among other things, she saw Trump as defending and incarnating family values. Of course.

The series trailer is here and here.

UPDATE: To get an idea of what America was like in the mid-1970s—on the matter of race, not gender, and in New York City (not Alabama)—watch the video in this NYT article I came across after posting the above.

2nd UPDATE: On the John Birch Society—then and now—see the article (March 8, 2021) in The New Republic by Rick Perlstein and Edward H. Miller, “The John Birch Society never left: Why it’s foolish to think the modern GOP will ever break with its lunatic fringe.”

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