Archive for November, 2021


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He formally—and finally—announced his presidential candidacy today, in a ten-minute video posted on social media that one really must watch and behold. It is, as a Paris-based American journalist aptly characterized on Twitter, “totally wild over the top rococo opera of greatness and resentment,” in addition to being “insane and hilarious and bizarre and beautiful and stirring and frightening all at once” (and to which I added “apocalyptic, totally bonkers, and you name it”).

A couple of AWAV readers have asked when I’m going to write something about him. My response (which I’ve already given in previous posts): in due course, soon, in an article that will be linked to on AWAV. But when I mentioned Éric Zemmour on the phone with a close stateside family member the other day, she replied: who? In fact, for those outside France and who don’t keep up with politics in this beau pays, it is not surprising that they wouldn’t have heard of EZ, however much he may have dominated political news in the Hexagon over the past several months—and who has been without doubt the most high-profile journalist-pundit-intellectual (some will contest this one) here over the past fifteen years, and with a sizable fan base on the right. So as a public service to non-Francophone AWAV readers, here are a few recent articles in English on the man who, rest assured, will not be the next president of the French republic.

For those who can access them, The Economist’s Paris correspondent, Sophie Pedder, has two good articles, “Who is Eric Zemmour, France’s wannabe Donald Trump? The populist, anti-immigrant provocateur is outflanking Marine Le Pen” & “Far-right ideas are gaining a renewed respectability in France: They have a deep and troubling history,” both linked to in this Twitter thread.

Writing in The Local, John Lichfield, who knows France better than any foreign journalist, has two pieces, “Zemmour won’t worry Macron, but he should worry France,” and “Zemmour’s fake French history has a dark and long-term motive.”

If you have an hour to spare, the podcast discussion with John Lichfield & Anne-Élisabeth Moutet, “A storm named Éric Zemmour,” is worth the listen.

In The Nation: “The face of the new French right: The pundit Éric Zemmour is leading a confident and radicalized conservative movement,” by Harrison Stetler.

On the LRB Blog, the always excellent Adam Shatz offered his thoughts on “The Zemmour effect.”

And not to be missed is “French toast: A review of Éric Zemmour’s latest,” by David Berlinski (father of Claire, who is well known to AWAV readers) in The Cosmopolitan Globalist substack site. The review is mordant and witty. E.g.

Just recently, Zemmour debated Jean-Luc Mélenchon on French television. Mélenchon is a cultivated, well-read man. When confronted by Zemmour’s declaration that either we get rid of them [the Muslims] or they get rid of us, he responded with the by-now expected objurgation: vous êtes un raciste, a gesture as useful as that of a peacock in spreading its tail feathers before a boa constrictor.

Going back to February 2019, Elisabeth Zerofsky had feature article on Zemmour in The New York Times Magazine, “The right-wing pundit ‘hashtag triggering’ France: The pop historian Éric Zemmour has fashioned himself as an evangelist of French culture — and become a driving force for French conservatism.”

And going back further, to December 2014, Christopher Caldwell had a sympathetic portrait of Zemmour, “French curtains,” in The Weekly Standard.

À suivre.

UPDATE: John Lichfield has a typically spot-on analysis in UnHerd (Dec. 1st) of Zemmour’s announcement, “The world according to Éric Zemmour: He is more interested in being himself than president.”

Also in UnHerd (Nov. 29th) is an English translation of a commentary by the historian Simon Epstein that was much circulated here earlier in the month, “How Zemmour exploits his Jewishness: He uses my work to pour scorn on the Left.”

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Following up from my post last week on the Democrats’ setback in Virginia and New Jersey, which caused consternation and dismay in my segment of the political spectrum, the lead article on the NYT website yesterday—which made the rounds among my stateside political friends—was a veritable douche froide: “Democrats thought they bottomed out in rural, white America. It wasn’t the bottom.” The lede: “Republicans ran up the margins in rural Virginia counties, the latest sign that Democrats, as one lawmaker put it, ‘continue to tank in small-town America’.” It’s a sobering read. E.g.

In the jigsaw puzzle that is electoral politics, Democrats have often focused their energy on swingy suburbs and voter-rich cities, content to mostly ignore many white, rural communities that lean conservative. The belief was, in part, that the party had already bottomed out there, especially during the Trump era, when Republicans had run up the numbers of white voters in rural areas to dizzying new heights.

Virginia, however, is proof: It can get worse.

In 2008, there were only four small Virginia counties where Republicans won 70 percent or more of the vote in that year’s presidential race. Nowhere was the party above 75 percent. This year, Mr. Youngkin was above 70 percent in 45 counties — and he surpassed 80 percent in 15 of them.

Politico has a piece on the same theme: “Rural Democrats stare into the abyss after Virginia.” Money quote:

“What happened in Virginia and New Jersey is a warning sign for what will happen in every statewide election, either U.S. Senate or any statewide office, because the only way you win statewide in a red or purple state is by getting at least 30 to 40 percent of the rural vote. And we used to be able to get that,” said Jane Kleeb, Nebraska Democratic Party chair. “Why don’t we anymore? We’ve completely lost touch with them.”

Or, more bluntly: “Wine moms won’t save us. Need the beer moms,” said Irene Lin, who is managing Outagamie, Wisconsin, County Executive Tom Nelson’s Senate campaign.

It’s an especially serious, long-term problem for the party right now because it will be difficult, if not impossible, to hold on to majorities in the Senate, which is dominated by rural states, and many state legislatures without at least some rural support. 

In this vein, see likewise the interview in the NYT last December, “Senator Jon Tester on Democrats and rural voters: ‘Our message is really, really flawed’.”

Also from last December is a must-read reportage from rural Robeson County NC, by Politico’s Michael Kruse, which I circulated at the time: “How Trump won one of America’s most diverse counties — by a lot: In North Carolina, a rainbow coalition of voters shifted sharply to the GOP this year. Can the party hold onto them for good?”

The fundamental problem with the Democrats in the boondocks: they don’t show up; they’re nowhere to be seen.

And then there’s ressentiment. A longtime Talking Points Memo reader thus wrote last Wednesday:

I live in Madison County in Central Virginia, about 80 miles southwest of DC. Charlottesville and Albemarle County excepted, this is industrial-strength Trump country… Yesterday’s election unsettled me, a lot. Despite decisive wins across the board a palpable, consuming rage drives Republican energy here, a rage that mere victory will not sate.

There’s a savagery in the opposition to President Biden and to the Democratic Party and its voters that seems to bubble up from a deeper well. I’d describe it as men’s rights anger, a desire for a type of conservative male dominance over all aspects of society, government, and culture, rooted in a specific strain of white evangelical arrogance. … It’s Trumpism distilled to 150 proof, what with its celebration and gaslighting of January 6th, barely concealed threats of violence, and constant invocations of Marjorie Taylor Greene’s “1776 moment.”

Basically, it boils down to the idea that white conservative men can do whatever, whenever, and to whomever they want without consequences as just compensation for the world stolen from them by the effete, barely human Democrat Party-liberal-Marxist-communists, all of whom must be jailed and tried for treason (they’re deadly serious about this). It’s much more than “toxic masculinity,” it’s fascism. And it’s here openly and unabashedly.

I don’t know where this is headed, but it’s nowhere good. And it scares the shit out of me.

It’s not clear what the Democrats can do about this, what with the toxic media ecosystem and social media bubbles in which Republican voters are ensconced, the primacy of culture war issues, the nationalization of elections, and the bias toward rural America in the electoral system and structure of representation (and aggravated by extreme gerrymandering).

The rural-urban cleavage in American politics is, moreover, an old story. I recently reread parts of John Higham’s 1955 classic Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860-1925, in which the rising anti-immigration sentiment during the time period covered in the book is presented as a revolt of Anglo Protestant rural America against the expanding urban metropolises populated by Catholic and Jewish immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, with their alien, urban cultures and political machines. Rural and small town Anglo Protestants felt deeply threatened by this, and, more generally, by the new industrial society that cities were giving rise to. The parallels between America then and now are striking.

Rural America, lest one forget, ultimately won the big cultural battle of the era, with Congressional legislation that banned immigration from Asia and which culminated in the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act, that all but closed the door to immigration from southern and eastern Europe.

In the nightmarish event the Republicans take back Congress and then the White House in 2024, all sorts of horrible, awful things will happen, but in the domain of immigration, there will, apart from mean-spirited executive orders, be no major change from the current status quo, which is to say, there will be no Congressional legislation such as that in 1924. The threats will be elsewhere.

The TPM reader above mentioned a “strain of white evangelical arrogance.” On this, Peter Wehner—who is an evangelical and conservative himself, but anti-Trump—has an interesting and informative article in The Atlantic, “The evangelical church is breaking apart.”

Also interesting and informative is a commentary by another anti-Trump conservative evangelical, David French, “The threat from the anti-woke right,” posted on Bari Weiss’s Substack site.

Just as I was about to post this, I received, from a close family member stateside, an essay published today in Tablet by Michael Lind, “The Bush Restoration: The populist wave is receding, leaving neoliberal elites in charge of both parties and a beleaguered working class out in the cold.” My family member was upset by Lind’s essay and wonders if he is accurately describing America’s political future. I could weigh in at length on the essay, which is definitely worth the read, but will refrain for the moment, except to say that it’s typical, iconoclastic Michael Lind: he has interesting insights and is right about a number of things, but is wide of the mark on others, when not dead wrong. If others wish to comment on it, be my guest. If so, I will respond.

UPDATE: Watch the 14-minute video by the NYT’s Johnny Harris and Binyamin Appelbaum, “Blue states, you’re the problem: Why do states with Democratic majorities fail to live up to their values?”

2nd UPDATE: Thomas B. Edsall has a worthwhile discussion of the Critical Race Theory issue in his Nov. 10th NYT column, “Republicans are giddy. But Democrats aren’t helpless.”

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I’ve put American politics on the back burner over the past couple of months, with my primary attention shifting to the French presidential election campaign—already in near full swing, and with still over five months to go before the first round—and the irruption of Eric Zemmour, whose Trump-like candidacy is a near certainty. I have much to say about current events in France, which I will do in due course. As a sneak preview, this tweet expresses my general sentiment.

Sound familiar? I tuned back in to the US scene over the past couple of days, as it looked like the Republicans might score an upset in the Virginia gubernatorial race, and which has indeed come to pass. This, plus the utterly unexpected cliffhanger in New Jersey, do not auger well for next year’s midterms, to say the least. As the headline of the instant analysis of The Atlantic’s staff writers Elaine Godfrey and Russell Berman expressed it, “If Democrats can lose in Virginia, they can lose almost anywhere.” If Congress fails to pass a voting rights bill, then the Democrats are definitely fcked in ’22 and beyond (and if Manchin or Sinema sink Biden’s already stripped down domestic policy package, then they are definitively fcked). The Trumpified Republicans have shown that, by running on culture war issues, they can win without Trump—and powered by a media ecosystem that does not (and cannot) have a counterpart on the Democratic side. The imbalance is huge:

Every last pundit who writes on US politics is weighing in on yesterday’s vote and what it means for the Democrats. This instant analysis, by one of the best, is on target:

Writing in The Atlantic, Zachary D. Carter—a writer in residence at Omidyar Network—argues that “The Democratic unraveling began with schools: Republican victories in Virginia show how COVID-19 has fundamentally changed American politics.”

On the schools issue—and the fabricated issue of “critical race theory”—do read the guest post by the conservative Never Trumper David French, “The threat from the anti-woke right,” published yesterday on Bari Weiss’s Substack site.

Anti-Trump ex-Republicans are, as I’ve been saying for some time now, among the sharpest analysts of US partisan politics, e.g. this instant analysis by Tim Miller in The Bulwark, “Virginia results: Giving up on rural America is proving a nightmare for Democrats.”

The post mortem by New York magazine’s indispensable (and progressive) Eric Levitz, “The GOP got away with all of it,” is essential reading, however depressing it may be. It begins: “Things are as bad as they look.”

As for how bad things are for the Dems:

Back to The Washington Post’s indispensable Greg Sargent:

À suivre.

UPDATE: On the New Jersey truck driver mentioned in Dave Wasserman’s tweet above, who won his race, watch this.

2nd UPDATE: Data journalist G.Elliott Morris, who writes on US politics for The Economist, posted this analysis on Twitter on what he sees to be the direction US politics is headed (and which doesn’t look too good for the Democrats).

3rd UPDATE: Ryan Lizza conducts an interview in Politico (Nov. 5th) that is worth reading: “The surprising strategy behind Youngkin’s stunner: Glenn Youngkin’s top strategists Jeff Roe and Kristin Davison helped pull off one of the great upsets in modern politics. Here’s how they did it.” Conclusion: the quality of candidates matters greatly.

Among other things, the interview suggests that what the Republicans did in Virginia may be difficult to replicate in other states.

4th UPDATE: Sean Trende at Real Clear Politics, who is no leftist, tweets this (Nov. 8th): “While it is good news for Republicans that they claimed control of the Virginia House of Delegates, we shouldn’t forget that these maps were drawn to elect almost 70 Republicans. The Republican collapse in the suburbs hasn’t been reversed.”

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