Archive for November, 2020

And against freedom-killing laws. I went into Paris yesterday afternoon, my first time in the city in almost a month, to attend this all-important demo. The Paris Prefecture of Police had initially banned it—ostensibly for sanitary reasons, France being under lockdown (confinement) since October 30th, though which has been “lightened up” (allégé) beginning this weekend—but with an administrative court annulling the interdiction late Friday. Given the explosive political context, though, the demo would have happened anyway, banning or not. The context is the government’s proposed law (Proposition de loi relative à la sécurité globale), currently under debate in the parliament, that would further reinforce the surveillance powers of the police (notably via drones) and, in the bill’s now infamous article 24, criminalize the Internet posting of photos and videos taken—by journalists or ordinary citizens—of the police going about their work—even when that work involves brutalizing people just for the hell of it. This is seemingly the umpteenth initiative by the right-lurching Emmanuel Macron—who we were led to believe was an American-style liberal during his presidential election run—to further constrict civil liberties—and with his Minister of Interior, the unambiguously right-wing Gérald Darmanin, playing the Top Cop with particular zealousness. Darmanin, an early defector from the LR party to Macron’s République en Marche and whom Macron appointed to the Place Beauvau in July, was/is a protégé of Nicolas Sarkozy, in both political orientation and personal ambition, which is as much as one needs to know about his views on the police and law-and-order. The proposed law (and its article 24) is his œuvre (and Macron’s obviously).

On the matter of civil liberties—of their being undermined—this is the law too many. If it passes, it will confirm that France is on a truly alarming political trajectory (for an elaboration on this in English, see James McAuley in The Washington Post, Adam Nossiter in The New York Times, Mira Kamdar in The Atlantic, and Art Goldhammer in Tocqueville 21. [UPDATE: Also see Cole Stangler in Jacobin and Jeremy Harding in the London Review of Books]). In an interview in Le Monde dated Nov. 26th, the prominent Paris lawyer Patrice Spinosi—who pleads before the Conseil d’État and Cour de Cassation—asserted that, with this proposed law on sécurité globale, a future “Trump à la française“—who could possibly be elected President of the Republic in 2022 (and we know who she would be)—would have the legal framework already in place to impose major restrictions on civil liberties and political opposition.

Journalists and media organs across the political spectrum—and that includes the right—have been up in arms over the proposed law, with rallies organized in front of the National Assembly on Nov. 17th and at Trocadéro on Nov. 21st. Then last Monday night there was the brutal police action against the migrant camp that had been set up that day at the Place de la République—of desperate refugees and asylum-seekers (Afghans and Eritreans the largest contingents) who have been wandering the streets without shelter for months, and for whom the authorities are doing nothing—which even minister Darmanin claimed to find “shocking.” If it hadn’t been for the videos of the police action posted on the Internet, of course, there wouldn’t have been a story. And then there was the beating of Michel Zecler—of the gratuitous violence of the police and with racism thrown in, and their brazen lies to their hierarchical superiors about it—that was revealed on Twitter last Thursday, and which was the nº 1 story on the news for two days running. Again, if it hadn’t been for videos posted on social media (if one hasn’t seen them, go here and here) there would not only have been no story but Michel Zecler is the one who would have found himself in trouble—on a trumped-up charge of outrage à agent public—and not the four police functionaries, who will most certainly be severely sanctioned. With Macron, Darmanin, and just about everyone in the political class saying how revulsed and shocked they are—shocked, I tell you!—by the violence visited upon Michel Zecler—as if the French police haven’t been doing this kind of thing often and since forever—they will thus want the four flics to be held out to dry pour l’exemple. And the flics are indeed in very hot water.

I don’t participate in demos much but decided yesterday morning that I would this one. The last one I went to—to observe but finally participate in—was the November 10, 2019, march against Islamophobia, the turnout for which was some 15,000 (deemed a success; I posted pics of it on Facebook at the time, which may be viewed here if one is interested). According to the Ministry of Interior, some 46,000 attended yesterday’s march—which means it was likely more than that—making it a big success, particularly in view of the pandemic and ongoing limitations on movement linked to the confinement. It was the lead story on the evening news, which is not common for demos in Paris (demos being a banal occurrence in this city).

The rendez-vous for the demo was Place de la République at 2:00 PM, with the destination Place de la Bastille. A classic route for marches of the left (I doubt the right has ever, even once in history, had a manif in this part of the city). I went straight to Bastille, arriving around 3:30, to meet the head of the march as it proceeded down Avenue Beaumarchais. Here are pics I took, with commentary.

The people heading toward the march from this direction were clearly not at the République and, so it appeared, had their own motives for wanting to meet up with it.

Something is on fire up ahead, with billows of black smoke and periodic explosions. I couldn’t see what it was but figured it was a car or motorcycle that had been torched. The demonstration up ahead, that was heading down the avenue, was clearly blocked. There was no movement for at least 15 minutes.

The explosions continued but I couldn’t see what they were or where they were coming from.


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Renée Levine, R.I.P.

This is a remembrance of my friend Renée Levine, who passed away on November 2nd, at age 95, in a retirement home in Asheville, North Carolina. I met Renée in 2002 here in Paris, at the first meeting I attended of a newly formed University of Chicago alumni reading group (still going strong), of which she became a pillar, though she was not a U of C graduate herself, that distinction going to her beloved (second) husband, Harold, who survives her. Renée was born in Berlin in 1925, where she lived until her parents sent her and her brother to England following Hitler’s accession to power in 1933, though the parents stayed behind (the photo above is of Renée on her first day of school, in 1931). She visited her parents in Germany for the last time in 1936—part of her family perished in the Holocaust—and was sent from England to the United States in 1941, where she lived until moving to France in the mid 1990s with Harold, after his retirement from a career in the mathematics department at Brandeis University and hers in the administration of the Boston public school system.

Renée self-published her memoir, One-Way Tickets, which she wrote over a number of years and for her American grandchildren, so they would understand their German-Jewish grandmother and her world. Its first print run in 2007 was limited—she wasn’t interested in royalties or glory—but as it sold like hotcakes at the Anglophone bookstores in Paris—notably The Red Wheelbarrow, then in the Marais, where Renée volunteered her time—more copies were printed (The Red Wheelbarrow’s reopening last year, across from the Jardin du Luxembourg, was partly funded by Renée). It’s a marvelous book. The description on the back cover reads:

The author, born in 1925, in Berlin of German-Jewish professional parents, writes the story of three generations who left home never to return, It is the story of a time when loss of family and the transplanting of lives was commonplace. Her own one-way tickets took her from Berlin to Munich to Breslau, the North Sea coast, to London, to Los Angeles, to Boston, to arrive finally in Paris.

The description of each of these displacements is accompanied by photographs taken at the time.

There was a final one-way ticket, when Renée and Harold moved to Asheville in 2010, to be close to her three daughters (from her first marriage), two of whom lived in North Carolina. I saw her once after that, when they came back to Paris for a visit, but otherwise stayed in touch via email and an annual phone call when in the US.

A few things about Renée. She was without doubt the most avid reader—primarily of fiction—I’ve ever known. As I wrote in a post about her in 2011, in AWAV’s first week of existence, she certainly read more books—highbrow, obviously—than anyone I am likely to meet. I was permanently in awe of this. Though I only met her when she was in her mid 70s, I know that she was active in the good causes of the 1960s and ’70s (civil rights, Vietnam, women’s movement). Politically we were on the same page pretty much across the board. She and Harold were also world travelers and into their 80s, seeing more countries than I ever will at this point; e.g. they took a trip to Uzbekistan in the mid ’00s, just the two of them. No package tour or anything. This was par for the course for them (à propos, I am grateful for Renée’s having recommended to me this maison d’hôtes in the Tangiers Kasbah, where my wife and I went for our 20th wedding anniversary). I remember her talking of how she and Harold, in decades past, hopped a freighter in East Asia somewhere, taking it across the Pacific to the United States. I fantasized in my own decades past about doing such a thing, a fantasy that alas will never be realized.

Renée became an American in her teens and, sabbatical years excepted, lived in the United States her entire adult life to age 70, but she didn’t take to the US or American society, so she conveyed to me. She remained profoundly European and attached to German culture, and despite the Nazis and the Holocaust. When she and Harold arrived in France in the mid ’90s—they owned a house in a village on the Loire, near Orléans, and rented an apartment in Paris (11th arr.)—they knew few people, but within a few years had built up a social network (joining reading groups and other such activities). E.g. in 2004 or thereabouts, Renée invited me and my wife to a social gathering at their place, where there were some 15-20 guests, almost all French retirees (of their educational-cultural level), whose acquaintance they had made over the preceding years. I was impressed that they had been able to meet so many people in a city they were relatively new to and not being in the working world.

Renée kept an occasional blog. Here is her final post, titled “Making Choices: Election Day,” which she sent to me and others on October 22nd. It is well worth the read:

Last month I wrote about Labor Day. Today I’m writing about elections and Choice. The big election for the president of the country is ahead of us. The candidate of your choice is waiting for your vote.

Making choices is really what living is about. We try to get our choice in every task of living from that very first yell when we accept the contract to live with a cry that escapes with our first breath. You elect to live. Our lives are made to a large extent, by our own choices. We make choices from the very start when we cry for milk or yell because we do not want it.

I have now arrived at the place where we are making our last choices. I live in an old age home which I chose for valid reasons. My husband suffers from dementia and here we can live under one roof but in separate quarters. When we moved in, we were given a pamphlet called “Last Wishes” which offers the residents end of life choices in case we are not always competent to exercise these choices at the end.

But of course, choosing has been going on since the very beginning. By your choices you write your life, you make yourself, you invent the person you become. You write the story, you color the themes, you choose the cover, you select your role. You live with that image and you are seen as you present yourself.

This resembles planning for a trip. You start designing your life’s journey when you are very small: you plan for the unexpected and you organize the stopping places to be able to take in those sights upon which you wish to linger. You find the company that will help and enhance the experience. You hope the maps are adequate, you hope the intellectual preparations were sufficient so that you were able to appreciate both the company and the sites.

I have arrived at the last stop on my travel/life itinerary. The planning part of the journey is finished. I am looking over those choices, those that were actually my own. I did not choose to be the child of people who chose to separate just when I needed them. I did not vote for fascism just when my country plunged deeply into a vile dictatorship. I did not choose to leave behind my language, my friends or my parents at age 6. However, inside these major changes, I began to form a character, to make habits, smiling and crying, being kind and being critical. I learned to be afraid of the dark. I did not smile easily. I learned to be on my guard, not to trust easily. I began to shape myself into this woman who is now trying to understand her need to be left alone, but who also longs for company, to be clear about what she wants, how she thinks and whom and how she loves.

My choices were not always well informed. I was too inexperienced, I had not done my homework, I had not known enough about how to be a wife and a mother and remain a person I could admire. It is easier to plan a trip, to do the research, pack a well-planned suitcase, speak the necessary languages and carry a good map. Physical travel is voluntary, life choices are not so open. You cannot choose the outer circumstances. But you can choose how you address them unless they are too big for your canvas.

The climate, the virus, the political background, those test your character, they offer you a world with which you need to whet your character and learn to make your choices.

~Renée Levine

An obituary is here.

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The deliverance

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below] [5th update below] [6th update below] [7th update below]

How gratifying Saturday was: when the election was called for Joe Biden (we’ll all remember where we were at the moment we learned; I was in the local Carrefour supermarket when my daughter called with the news), watching the celebrations on television (saturation coverage on the French all-news stations), and then the victory celebration in Wilmington (for which I stayed up past 3 AM). Great speeches by Kamala Harris and Biden. She’s terrific and he does not cease to pleasantly surprise. The reaction on Twitter was quasi unanimous: what a relief to once again have a president of the United States who is normal, well-spoken, and level-headed—and is just a fundamentally good person.

As for the unspeakable orange-haired one, he’s going to poison the well in a big way in the coming days and weeks, and likely years—we are definitely entering a dangerous period (more on that below)—but he will be gone from the White House come January 20th, along with his miserable family and regime of rogues, grifters, lickspittles, whack jobs, and other fascists. Alhamdulillah.

Though it’s been clear since Wednesday that Biden was headed for victory, I decided to wait for the confirmation before offering my post-mortem. And I didn’t want to be a killjoy following the exhilarating confirmation. as I have decidedly mixed feelings about the election result, and despite the overriding imperative of defeating Trump having been achieved. The fact is, this is a bittersweet victory and which puts paid to any dreams, or illusions, we may have had for the coming two/four years. A few brief thoughts.

First, on Biden’s victory itself. The collective feeling on election night was disappointment that it was going to be much closer than the polls suggested, let alone what we were all hoping—and particularly when it appeared early on that Trump was going to win Florida fairly easily (on account of Biden’s unexpected counter-performance in Miami-Dade)—and despite Bernie Sanders, among others, having warned two weeks earlier that the election night results were necessarily going to be misleading (the ‘red mirage’ to the ‘blue shift’). With that in mind, I decided that I wasn’t going to comment on the national numbers until all the ballots are counted and we have the final results, which may not be until December (California takes weeks for this). The way it looks now, Biden’s margin in the national popular vote could reach 5% at the end of the day (compared to Hillary Clinton’s 2.1% in 2016; FWIW, Nate Silver has predicted +4.3). This signifies that the weighted mean of the national polls was off but not hugely so (and with polling errors of such a magnitude a regular, unsurprising occurrence). And while some of the state-level polling misfired—with much closer margins than expected, particularly in the famous three Rust Belt states—there have been no big surprises. With Biden set to win 290 or 306 EVs, there’s little cause at this date to be bellyaching at the pollsters.

On the subject, my virtual friend Dahlia Scheindlin—a political scientist, professional pollster, and writer for the excellent progressive Israeli webzine +972—has an op-ed (Nov. 8th) in Haaretz, “Trump lost. Biden won. Now stop persecuting the pollsters.” See also the never uninteresting Zeynep Tufekci’s Nov. 1st NYT op-ed, which Dahlia links to, “Can we finally agree to ignore election forecasts?”

On Trump’s showing: it is clear beyond the shadow of a doubt that his furious campaigning in the home stretch—barnstorming the swing states in the final two weeks, with up to five events a day, boundless energy, and after having apparently recovered from Covid—succeeded in whipping his base into a frenzy, as we saw with the Trump pick-up truck caravans and the miles-long traffic jams to get to his rallies. To this may be added the painstaking, years-long efforts of the Republican Party to register millions of new voters in rural/small town America, who, embedded in MAGA family and friendship networks, went to the polls on election day. In short, Trump and the Republicans achieved maximum base turnout—and which more than compensated for defections of 2016 Trump voters to Biden (whose numbers may not have been as large as we had counted on). To comprehend how it was that Trump narrowed the polling gap and gained a net 8 million votes and counting from his 2016 total, and how the Republicans performed so unexpectedly well in congressional and down-ballot races, one need look no further than this.

As for actually enlarging the base, that’s less apparent. Numerous observers, citing exit polls, have it that Trump significantly increased his black support over that of 2016, with the exit polls—which are dodgy in the best of years and now even more so with the massive early and mail-in voting—showing him to have won 12% of the black vote, compared to 8% in 2016. The more reliable AP VoteCast survey, along with Ruy Teixeira’s “States of Change” study, shows no increase in the black vote for Trump, however. But even if there was indeed a four-point uptick, this would simply restore the black vote to what it was for Republican presidential candidates prior to 2008 and Barack Obama (in the low teens; data here). In this respect, some need reminding that if it weren’t for the Southernization of the Republican Party, its racist dog whistles, and anti-government discourse, a lot of socially conservative and/or entrepreneurially-inclined Afro-Americans, who are many, would vote for the GOP.

As for the Latino vote (or “Latino” vote; that artificial, grab bag category should be expunged from the political and polling lexicon), Trump clearly did outperform his 2016 numbers, and not just among Miami Cubans. I’ll have a separate post on this in the next couple of days.

The Jewish vote: the AP VoteCast survey shows 30% for Trump, which is par for the course for a Republican candidate. Somewhat surprisingly—and to the dismay of Americans with MENA roots I see on social media—the survey reveals that 35% of self-identified Muslims (<1% of the electorate) went for Trump. If accurate, this signifies that Trump’s pro-business social conservatism trumped, as it were, his anti-Muslim outbursts and actions in regard to Israel and the Palestinians,

It was almost an article of faith among liberals/progressives—voters and pundits alike—during the campaign that Trump would take a big hit for his calamitous response to the pandemic and the 200K+ Covid deaths, not to mention its economic consequences. I was dubious about this, as it was not reflected in Trump’s job approval rating, which increased in the early weeks of the pandemic before settling back to where it had been at the beginning of the sanitary crisis, after Trump’s incompetence and mismanagement became manifest. It seemed clear that even his soft supporters were not holding him personally responsible for a pandemic and economic crisis that was afflicting the entire planet. This has been cogently explained by The Atlantic’s Annie Lowrie in a Nov. 6th piece, “Why the election wasn’t a Biden landslide: Despite a pandemic and an abysmal recession, five economic factors spared the incumbent from a more lopsided loss.”

All this said, Trump did underperform among voters over 65 and whites without a college degree, and which contributed to Biden winning back the Rust Belt states lost in 2016. À propos, Peter Beinart has a pertinent Nov. 7th post in the NYRB on “How Trump lost.” The lede: “If he’d governed as he ran in 2016, as an economic populist, he would likely have been reelected. Instead, he reverted to the same old Republican playbook.”

Had there been no SARS-CoV-2 or Covid-19, I am absolutely not convinced that Trump would have coasted to reelection, as many on social media have been asserting. Based on his job approval rating over the course of his term, there is no objective reason to think this. The dynamics of the campaign would have obviously been different—with the Democrats running a normal campaign, with rallies, mass door-knocking GOTV, and all, and which would have worked to their advantage—but we would likely be seeing much the same result.

On the goût amer of the election outcome, it was obviously the Democrats’ failure to retake the Senate, of the easy victories of R incumbents the Ds were supposed to knock off (Susan Collins, Joni Ernst) and even easier R victories in races into which the Ds pumped so much money now down the drain (Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham). With Thom Tillis in North Carolina, who trailed in the polls, likely to win reelection. the Ds now have to pin their hopes on the two January 5th run-offs in Georgia. One would normally be pessimistic, though it’s possible. Never say never. But even if we win both of these, that will leave the Senate at 50-50, with VP Harris the tie-breaker. A razor-thin majority means that so much we were so hoping for—abrogating Trump’s tax cuts for the wealthy, reinforcing the ACA and with the public option, beefing up the Voting Rights Act, comprehensive immigration reform (including regularization for the 11 million undocumented), nuking the filibuster, expanding the SCOTUS and federal courts, statehood for DC and Puerto Rico, etc, etc—will be off the table, and for the foreseeable future if the Republicans make gains in the 2022 midterms.

If the Rs maintain their majority and with McConnell in control, then Biden and the Ds won’t be able to do a thing beyond executive orders (e.g., DACA, lifting the “Muslim ban”). Certain pundits are even predicting that McConnell will block cabinet and other nominations, though this is less likely IMHO, as at least a few R senators (e.g. Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney) will (hopefully) not be on board with obstructing Biden to this extent. Whatever the case, it will be bad.

And then there are the setbacks in House—with the Ds set to lose at least 5 seats net, maybe even up to a dozen—plus the down-ballot races, with the Ds unable to flip a single chamber of a single state legislature, thereby heralding another decade of extreme partisan gerrymandering in favor of the Rs. Regarding the outcome in the House, not only was this not supposed to happen but the Ds were supposed to gain seats. The House Ds will now have the narrowest of majorities—the brilliant 2018 victory now squandered—and which will be bigly threatened in 2022.

New York magazine’s invariably excellent Eric Levitz has a pessimistic take on this (Nov. 5th) and to which I adhere, “The 2020 election has brought progressives to the brink of catastrophe.”

One has likely read about the salvos from frustrated moderate House Democrats, notably Amy Spanberger and Conor Lamb, aimed at progressives—read: the “Squad”—whom they want to hold responsible for their near defeats, what with supposed progressive talk of “socialism,” defunding the police, fracking (for Lamb), and whatnot. This is both pathetic and absurd, as not a single Democratic candidate or official even mentioned socialism or defunding police (as for fracking, that’s an issue in Lamb’s specific district, which he should bring up with the President-elect). Talk about straw men! Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who was clearly in her moderate colleagues’ sights, settled the matter in a Twitter riposte, followed by a must-read interview in the NYT. The WaPo digital opinions editor, James Downie, submitting that “Democratic leaders [are] play[ing] a ridiculous blame game with progressives.” likewise called Spanberger et al to order. So time for everyone to STFU, stay united, and move forward,

In point of fact, the only people who went on about “socialism” during the campaign were Trump and his propaganda apparatus, who not only accused the Democratic Party—with Kamala Harris as the right’s new épouvantail—of being “socialists” but outright “communists.”

On Trump continuing to poison the well, which I mentioned above, I think we all know that while he will be out of the White House come January 20th, he will not go gentle into that good night. Trump will be the Silvio Berlusconi of American politics: plotting his return in the next election, maintaining intact his adoring cult base and hold over his party, reminding us daily of his existence (via television appearances, rallies, and of course tweeting), fending off judges, staying physically healthy into his 80s, and simply refusing to kick the bucket. And if Melania leaves him, he’ll have bunga-bunga parties, and the base will love it. It will be America’s fate for the next decade, and possibly beyond.

If one hasn’t seen it, the always brilliant Adam Shatz has his à chaud post-election commentary in the LRB, titled simply “Why go high?”

À suivre.

UPDATE: Pollster Dahlia Scheindlin (see above) has emailed me the following on FiveThirtyEight:

[T]he polls in the weeks ahead of Nov 3rd were quite clear about how worried we all should have been…if one knows something about how to read them, which, increasingly I’m convinced Nate Silver does not. Amazing skill he has, predicting the pop vote margin …after election day. But on Nov 1, 538 showed 8.5 for Biden, RCP showed 7.2. The truth will be closer to 4 or 5, it seems.

Let’s be honest: Silver’s forecasts were extremely misleading; & his poll aggregates based on his ranking/weighting system led to errors on state polling significantly larger than simple RCP averages. I know because I tracked RCP state avgs over October, compared them to 538, compared both to actual results, obsessively, so you don’t have to. Silver failed to notice or emphasize obvious tightening of the Biden lead in battlegrounds – he discussed it briefly in PA at the very end, but seemed oblivious to declines elsewhere, as if he doesn’t know the simple fact about campaign dynamics: trajectories matter as much as final-day (or any-day) snapshot avgs.

I think one main problem is that he refuses to admit Trafalgar polls. I hate Trafalgar too b/c I always advocate ignoring polls if the methodology is not transparent. However they display almost as much about methodology as most polling agencies, just with a few undisclosed techniques & surely weighting tactics, which no one reveals. And there’s no denying they were much more accurate (also in 2016) & partly as a result, RCP avgs did much better. Sadly, I also suspect that beyond professional reasons to ignore Trafalgar, the main reason is that Silver & his followers were unable to tolerate information that goes against our wishful thinking.

So it’s really time for people to wean themselves off of Silver – the main things he offers, forecast models & his personally-designed special-sauce polling averages, don’t work. Frankly I wish he would admit this instead of deflecting blame onto polls, which were somewhat off but really not as badly as his analysis.

Dont acte.

2nd UPDATE: Sean Freeder, who is a very smart and insightful political science Ph.D. candidate at UC-Berkeley, has posted this on Facebook (Nov. 11th). It is well worth the read:

General Post-Election Thoughts (LONG):

1) I’m seeing a lot of “I’m happy Biden won, but I was really expecting to see a total repudiation of Trump by the voters, and instead we got a pretty close election.” Why? Why on earth would you think this? I get that the election is closer than the polls had predicted (by about 3-4 points), but in what universe was the country about to overwhelmingly turn against Trump? Through the Mueller Report, kids in cages, impeachment, gassing the public for a photo op, failing to control the pandemic, and literally more than 20,000 lies, his approval rating has been frozen permanently between 40-43%. Does that look like a responsive public to you?

Trump is going to be with us for a long time. For a not insignificant portion of Republicans, the party will effectively cease to matter to them over the next several years. They are now Trumpers. They will follow his every reaction on Twitter. They will support any candidates he names. They will go after any politician who he slanders. They believe anything he says. They will watch his network, presuming that is forthcoming, as if it is a tenet of their religion.

2) I can’t say with any confidence whether this is a good or bad thing for Republicans. On one hand, they are now free in theory to at least attempt to not make everything they do about his whims and wishes. On the other hand, Trump has now stolen their base, and they may feel compelled to continue associating him with their brand. On one hand, they may now have a chance to win the votes of Never Trump Republicans and independents generally. On the other hand, without Trump on the ballot, it isn’t clear that the massive wave of first-and-second-time voters who showed up solely because of Trump will be there to support the Republicans who replace him.

3) What I do expect is that Republicans are going to tear themselves apart over the next four years. Some will try to become the clear leaders of the anti-Trump wing of their party (Romney? Sasse?). Others will move quickly to become the heir apparent to the Trump throne (Jordan? Gaetz? Hawley? Cotton?). The majority will try to remain as silent as possible, and hope that it somehow all blows over without affecting them. But it won’t. For every single Republican running in primary in 2022, the first question they’ll face from the voters will be “do you support Trump?”. Their answer will determine their ability to survive the primary AND the general. I think it’s very likely that an abnormal number of Republicans will be slaughtered in their primaries, and their replacements will go on to be slaughtered in the general.

4) Democrats are about to tear themselves apart too. You’ve probably heard about the Democratic Caucus conference call last week, where moderate and left-wing members were at each other’s throats. That’s what happens in a successful-but-disappointing election – each side can fairly claim that their beliefs are vindicated. Moderates think Congressional losses can be attributed to rhetoric about “socialism” and “defunding the police”. The left thinks that weak performances can be attributed to their unwillingness to activate their base by leading with their base-preferred policies, and not compromising them away. There’s probably truth to both of these claims. The strategic question here is legitimately difficult, and if you go forward thinking about this debate strictly in terms of which type of policies you’d prefer, you’re doing your side a tremendous disservice.

5) I’m begging the left wing of the party, which I consider myself firmly a part of, to genuinely consider strategy over the next several years. There’s a really good chance Democrats won’t control the Senate. Therefore, there’s a really good chance they won’t be able to get virtually anything of value done. Even if they do control the Senate, Manchin has already made it clear that he will not be on board with many of the party’s big ticket initiatives. Biden, whose instincts would always have been to play things cautiously, will likely advance incremental improvements that will disappoint the base but could have a chance of passing.

Again, whether Democrats should be bold in order to win the trust of the left-wing, or cautious in the hopes of generating actual policy accomplishments, is a genuine and extremely difficult question of strategy. If you can’t see why there is no slam-dunk, obvious solution to this, and you are only able to process the other side as “hacks” or “extremists”, you’re honestly not even trying, and it’d be best for all of us if you remove yourself from the rhetoric pool.

6) Nevertheless, the double-runoff Georgia Senate elections on January 5 are only slightly less important than the defeat of Trump. If you really care about politics, it’s all-hands-on-deck time. The Democrats should both be expected to lose, but this race is also going to be completely insane. Expect $400m dumped into Georgia in the next 70 days. Expect record turnout for a special election. The Democratic party needs to live in Georgia for the next two months. The city of Atlanta should have a 150-ft inflatable Mitch McConnell floating over the city until the election ends (I’m only like a quarter joking). Donate, volunteer, blah blah blah. The difference it will make to the Biden agenda is incalculable.

7) The losses Democrats took this year among black and latino voters should be instructive – people of color are firmly in the Democratic coalition, but they are not locks, and should not be treated as such. Latinos, in particular, are not monolithic across nationality or geography. Neither are asians (Vietnamese appear to have almost voted majority Trump). Democrats will have to continue to work hard to keep them in the coalition. Pointing out that the Republican party is racist is NOT working, and it’s incredibly lazy to think that’s all that has to be done. Building coalitions means engaging in coalition maintenance, and that means being highly responsive to policy concerns, and putting boots on the ground in the right places when the time comes. Miami-Dade, I am looking at you.

3rd UPDATE: Adam Shatz has an LRB podcast conversation with Randall Kennedy and Mike Davis on the election (here) which is well worth an hour of one’s time.

4th UPDATE: I wrote above that I would have a separate post on the Latino vote but, in lieu of that, will just link to a few analyses here. Vox’s always interesting Matthew Yglesias had an à chaud take (Nov. 5th), arguing that “Trump’s gains with Hispanic voters should prompt some progressive rethinking: Racial politics doesn’t always work how white liberals think it should.” Yglesias, among other things, raises questions about the use of the term “Latinx.”

In a post dated Nov, 6th on “Rio Grande Valley Republicans,” Mike Davis explains the unexpected gains Trump made among Tejanos in South Texas, which he happened to see coming.

In the same vein, The Washington Post’s Arelis R. Hernández and Brittney Martin have a piece (Nov. 10th) on “Why Texas’s overwhelmingly Latino Rio Grande Valley turned toward Trump.”

For background, see the very good in-depth article by journalist-anthropologist Cecilia Ballí in the November 2020 Texas Monthly, “Don’t call Texas’s Latino voters the ‘sleeping giant’: They’re not disengaged—they’re waiting to be heard, and fully understood.”

5th UPDATE: More on the Latino vote. Northwestern University history professor Geraldo L. Cadava, writing in The Atlantic (Nov. 9th), explains “How Trump grew his support among Latinos: He understood what motivated his voters, and he made sure they knew he did.” FYI, Cadava is the author of The Hispanic Republican: The Shaping of an American Political Identity, from Nixon to Trump (HarperCollins/Ecco, 2020). In Cadava’s piece are links to two sobering pre-election articles on Latino voters by Atlantic editor Christian Paz (and who had one in January 2020 warning that “Democrats should be worried about the Latino vote“).

In a dispatch (Nov. 9th) datelined Phoenix, NYT national politics reporter Jennifer Medina writes on “How Democrats missed Trump’s appeal to Latino voters: The election was a referendum on Trump’s America, but plenty of Latino voters liked it just fine.”

Ed Morales, who is a journalist and lecturer at Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race, has an op-ed (Nov. 16th) on the CNN website on “What the 2020 election reveals about Latino voters.”

Immigration reporter Jack Herrera writes in Politico (Nov. 17th) that “Trump didn’t win the Latino vote in Texas. He won the Tejano vote.” The lede: “Understanding the difference will be key to Democrats moving past their faltering, one-size-fits-all approach to Hispanics.”

The NYT’s Miami bureau chief Patricia Mazzei weighs in (Nov. 21st) on “How Hispanic voters swung Miami right.” The lede: “Many expected that liberal young Hispanic voters would propel a Democratic wave. But Miami, a city where Hispanics hold the levers of power, confounded expectations.”

FiveThirtyEight (Nov. 23rd) analyzes “What we know about how White and Latino Americans voted in 2020: The urban-rural and education divides are stronger than they were in 2016.”

6th UPDATE: Yet more links on the Latino vote. The well-known French political scientist Vincent Tiberj (of Sciences Po Bordeaux) has a data-driven analysis (Dec. 23rd) in The Conversation, “Fact check US: Has Donald Trump really made a breakthrough in the Latino electorate?” Answer: not necessarily.

In conclusion, these dynamics do not support the Republican party. Trump may have succeeded in mobilizing some Latino Americans who feel “less Latino” and less discriminated, by using highly divisive, anti-immigrant rhetoric. But the Latino population’s increasing strength nationwide is shifting Republican states to the Democrat camp. Such was the case of New Mexico under Obama. This year, Arizona flipped, whose population is 19% Latino. Texas, at 23%, looks to be next.

Stephania Taladrid of The New Yorker “[Deconstructs] the 2020 Latino vote.” (Dec. 31st)

And this from the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (Jan. 19th): “Latino voters were decisive in 2020 presidential election: UCLA report dispels notion of broad Latino swing toward President Trump.”

7th UPDATE: Archiving links here.

By Jennifer Medina in the NYT (March 5, 2021): “A vexing question for Democrats: What drives Latino men to Republicans?” The lede: “Several voters said values like individual responsibility and providing for one’s family, and a desire for lower taxes and financial stability, led them to reject a party embraced by their parents.”

By Eric Garcia in The Washington Post Magazine (Mar. 22nd): “Trump, my dad and the rightward shift of Latino men: Why are Latino men moving away from Democrats? And how can liberals win them back? For me, it’s a topic that hits close to home.”

By Eric Levitz in New York magazine (Apr. 8th), on a report by Equis Research, a progressive data firm dedicated to analyzing Hispanic voters: “Latinas drove Trump’s gains with Hispanic voters in 2020.” In the piece, Levitz links to an interview datelined March 3rd with David Shor, head of data science at the progressive nonprofit OpenLabs (and “our favorite socialist proponent of ruthlessly poll-driven campaigning”),”on why Trump was good for the GOP and how Dems can win in 2022.”

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Biden-Trump: the call

[update below]

Just about every American I know—not to mention many millions I don’t—is totally stressed out on this election eve and will likely have difficulty sleeping tonight. The trauma of 2016 is intact and with the prospect of four more years of that unspeakable person in the White House just too horrible to contemplate. Sure, there are the polls but polls can misfire. Polling failures do happen, and have in modern times. And, in addition to the very real threats to the integrity of the vote count, the Electoral College, even in the (highly unlikely) event of a clean, untainted election in every state, could be even more skewed toward the Republicans than our calculations have it. The sight of the great unwashed and other deplorables in MAGA world whipped into a frenzy these past weeks, with their “Trump trains” and cultish rallies in the midst of a pandemic, has also been deeply unsettling, The tribal phenomenon of Trumpism—of the hatred that MAGA world feels toward Blue America—is truly frightening.

And then there’s the very real threat of violence in the coming days and weeks (and perhaps months and even years). On this, take 8-minutes to watch the video on the NYT website, “‘I am on your side’: How the police gave armed groups a pass in 2020.” It is downright terrifying. And the armed groups—and the support they receive from law enforcement (or, rather, “law enforcement”)—will not slither back under their rocks after the election, regardless of the outcome. To the contrary. One seriously fears the worst for America.

So am I nervous? Yeah, I am, just because. But I have to be lucid and scientific, and focus on the numbers and other objective indicators, notably the polls. Friends and AWAV readers know that I have been dismissive of Trump’s reelection prospects for well over two years now, as it has been clear for his entire term that he has been uninterested in and incapable of expanding his political base—apart perhaps from marginal gains among black men—beyond what it was in November 2016. And his job approval rating has been remarkably, indeed astonishingly, stable over his term, lingering in the 41-42% range for much of it. On this election eve, it is at a relative high of 44.5%, which is nonetheless a near kiss of death for an incumbent president—and particularly one seeking reelection against an opponent whose personal popularity rating is close to 20 points higher than his.

And as I have reiterated on numerous occasions, when examining the breakdown in individual polls of Trump’s job approval rating by intensity of sentiment, the percentage of those who “strongly approve”—i.e. who love the man—tops out at a third of the electorate, whereas those who “strongly disapprove”—i.e. who hate the SOB—are in the mid to high 40s, sometimes over 50%. The spread between the two extreme sentiments is invariably 15% in all the polls.

As for the head-to-head polls, ten days ago Biden was at +9.1 at FiveThirtyEight. At the present moment, he is at +8.4 (and +6.8 at Real Clear Politics). And Biden has notably never dropped below 50% (whereas Hillary Clinton never broke 50%). As for the EC, RCP’s no toss ups map presently has Biden winning with 319 EVs. Quite seriously, for Trump to pull off an untainted EC victory in the face of these numbers would signify a polling failure of historic proportions. Possible but most unlikely.

So based on the hard data plus my pifomètre, here’s how I’m calling it:

PV: Biden 53%, Trump 45.5%
EV: Biden 359, Trump 179 (see map above)
Turnout: 155 million

N.B. Trump, in losing the election, will nonetheless have won more votes (70M) than Obama’s historic high (69M) in 2008, and represent a remarkable gain over his 2016 result (63M). Those new Trump voters will almost entirely come from rural/small town folk who didn’t vote in 2016 (as there is no Clinton-to-Trump phenomenon), but won’t compensate for the significant defections of 2016 Trump voters to Biden.

A few comments on the EC:

  • Pennsylvania: As I wrote on September 20, 2016: “The election all comes down to Pennsylvania. Whoever wins PA wins the nation. If Trump wins PA, it will necessarily mean that he has also won Florida and Ohio, plus held on to North Carolina, putting him over 270 EVs. If Hillary takes PA, she wins, as Trump has no realistic path to victory without it.” No change in 2020. Lots of people are worried about PA, though the great majority of polls have had Biden at +5 or more. Even if he ends up winning it by 2 points, it’s still a win.
  • Florida: The polls give Biden a slight edge but I don’t feel good about the state in view of its demographics (well-to-do retirees, large military population, more Republican-voting Latinos, etc). The Republicans at the state level have also perfected voter suppression to a greater extent than elsewhere.
  • Texas: I’m rolling the dice here in giving it to Biden, in view of its Blue-trending demographics and huge early voter turnout. Texas may be the Blue surprise this year, in the way Virginia was in 2008.
  • Georgia: Likewise. The heavy early voter turnout and two Senate races could give it to Biden.
  • North Carolina: I’m a little biased on this one, as this is the state in which I vote. Demographically it’s moving in the right direction.
  • Ohio and Iowa: Biden’s campaign stop in the latter makes sense in view of the Senate race there but as for the former, he’s wasting his time IMHO. These states are pretty red at this point.

As for the Senate, the Ds look like they’ll gain a net three at minimum, making VP Kamala Harris the tie-breaker. They need more than that.


UPDATE: The conservative policy intellectual Henry Olsen, who writes a column for The Washington Post and is a senior fellow at the conservative Ethics and Policy Center, has his election predictions that are markedly similar to mine.

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2 days

I learned just this weekend about the phenomenon of “Trump trains,” which have become a thing in l’Amérique profonde during this campaign. Everyone has seen by now the footage of the Trump train ambush of the Biden-Harris campaign bus in Texas. There have been numerous such incidents across the country, including in solidly blue parts.

The images of the Trump trains naturally cause one to think of this:

Kindred spirits?

The prospect of violence this week and beyond is very real, as everyone is aware: in a presidential election in the United States of America—the leader of the Free World (which some people still call it). Amazing, The International Crisis Group, which, as its name suggests, issues reports (high quality) on crisis spots around the globe, has one out on the USA: “The U.S. Presidential Election: Managing the Risks of Violence.” The lede: “The 2020 U.S. presidential election presents risks not seen in recent history. It is conceivable that violence could erupt during voting or protracted ballot counts. Officials should take extra precautions; media and foreign leaders should avoid projecting a winner until the outcome is certain.”

America: in the same category as Belarus and Kyrgyzstan. The America of Trump

Many who are reading this are likely losing sleep over the imminent denouement of this unbearable election season. If one has an hour to spare between now and Tuesday night, do listen to Adam Shatz’s podcast conversation, “Catholics and lumpen-billionaires,” with the brilliant, iconoclastic, polymath writer and thinker Mike Davis, on the London Review of Books website, posted October 27th. The intro:

Adam Shatz talks to Mike Davis about some of the underlying and long-term political shifts at play in next week’s US elections. They discuss both traditional and emerging swing voters, the obstacles to majority rule, the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett as the latest move in an ongoing civil war within the Catholic Church in the United States, the critical failure of the left to challenge the philosophy of the Reagan revolution, the death cult at the core of today’s Republican base, the importance of Bernie Sanders’s presidential run and the Black Lives Matter movement, and why, fifteen years ago, Davis predicted an age of pandemics.

It is such an interesting, learned conversation. You won’t regret listening. Trust me.

If one didn’t see it, Never Trumper and erstwhile “neocon” Robert Kagan had a great column, dated October 30th, in The Washington Post, “It’s up to the people to foil Trump’s plot against democracy.” In evoking the prospect that the Trump regime and its henchmen (SCOTUS etc) will pull out all the stops to steal the election—and possibly succeed—Kagan offers this:

A stolen election will bring tens of millions into the streets, possibly for weeks and months. The nation will have descended into an extra-constitutional civil conflict, with each side using the tools available to try to prevail.

There’s something gratifying about this—of this former Republican asserting that we will not accept the legitimacy of a tainted Trump victory—and a Trump victory can only be that—and that we will resist.

After all, what other choice will we have?

I’ll have my election prediction, FWIW, tomorrow.

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