Archive for October, 2020

10 days

[update below] [2nd update below]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Killing to Heal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Jay Lifton M.D.

À suivre.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Emily in Paris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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25 days to go

[update below] [2nd update below]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Civil war, anyone?

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

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

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

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

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

Likewise with Fox, OANN, Newsmax, etc etc.

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

À suivre.

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

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

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30 days to go

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

[update below]

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

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

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

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

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

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

On n’est pas sorti de l’auberge.

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

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