Archive for the ‘USA: politics’ Category

Everyone who follows American politics closely has probably heard about this terrific one-and-a-half-hour documentary, which is streaming on Netflix (the only place to see it; en France il est sous-titré). Its subject is the 2018 primary campaigns of four insurgent female candidates promoted by the progressive PACS Brand New Congress and, above all, Justice Democrats: Cori Bush in Missouri (against the incumbent Democrat, in the CD that includes Ferguson), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York, Paula Jean Swearengin in West Virginia (running against Joe Manchin), and Amy Vilela in Nevada (in a CD that includes part of Las Vegas, held by a Republican at the time). Voilà the story, as described on the film’s website:

When tragedy struck her family in the midst of the financial crisis, Bronx-born Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had to work double shifts in a restaurant to save her home from foreclosure. After losing a loved one to a preventable medical condition, Amy Vilela didn’t know what to do with the anger she felt about America’s broken health care system. Cori Bush was drawn into the streets when the police shooting of an unarmed black man brought protests and tanks into her neighborhood. Paula Jean Swearengin was fed up with watching her friends and family suffer and die from the environmental effects of the coal industry.

At a moment of historic volatility in American politics, these four women decide to fight back, setting themselves on a journey that will change their lives and their country forever. Without political experience or corporate money, they build a movement of insurgent candidates challenging powerful incumbents in Congress. Their efforts result in a legendary upset.

The upset was, of course, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning defeat of incumbent Joseph Crowley in the New York primary on 26 June 2018. As AOC was the only one of the four to win–and has since rocketed to star status–much of the documentary naturally focuses on her. She’s fantastic. I just love her (does any minimally progressive-minded person not?). And her story is moving, particularly at the end, on the night of the primary and then with her in front of the Capitol, talking about her father’s final words to her (he died when she was in college). Reviews of the pic are tops, as one would expect (et en France aussi, par ex., ici et ici). The trailer is here. And here is a 23-minute interview with director Rachel Lears—who, pour l’info, has a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from NYU—by Cenk Uygur, on the making of the documentary. Do see it, even if you don’t subscribe to Netflix (which may be had for a free one-month trial). This is the future of the Democratic Party.

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That’s the title of an excellent commentary in the LRB Online by my dear friend Adam Shatz on the aftermath of the April 9th Israeli election. Adam touches on a number of issues on which I have things to say myself, e.g. the salutary debate underway in the Democratic Party over Israel-Palestine. I will take this up, plus the BDS issue (on which I had a post a few years back), à l’occasion.

If one missed it, Adam had a must-read review essay in the August 30, 2018, issue of the LRB on Anshel Pfeffer’s biography, Bibi: The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu.

Of the numerous analyses of the Israeli election I’ve come across, two merit posting here. One is by Haaretz columnist Chemi Shalev, “13 lessons from Netanyahu’s victory for Democrats hoping to beat Trump in 2020.” The lede: “Israel and the United States may be oceans apart, but both are led by wily nationalists-populists who stop at nothing.”

The other is by Haggai Matar of the indispensable +972 website, “Five reasons why voting for Netanyahu was a rational choice for Jewish Israelis.” The lede: “Yes, Netanyahu is facing corruption probes and is practically annexing the West Bank. But for many Jewish Israelis, he has also provided relative security, a better economy, and growing international legitimacy — which makes the unknown alternative much worse.”

To these may be added a pertinent piece by The Times of Israel’s Avi Issacharoff, “For Hamas, Netanyahu’s reelection offers prospects of long-term deal.” The lede: “Prior to the vote, Egyptian mediators made it clear to Gaza’s rulers that if Netanyahu won, an arrangement would be forthcoming — but the calm still faces many pitfalls.”

Issacharoff, who is the best Israeli journalist on the Palestinian beat, is, as one may know, the co-creator of the Israeli TV series ‘Fauda’, whose two seasons I recently binged-watched on Netflix. It’s a very good series, which I will have a post on soon.

À suivre.

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This just opened in France. The reviews are good to very good—better than in the US—and with friends asking what I think of it (as I saw it in the US last month). My succinct take: the film is brilliantly cast and acted—particularly Christian Bale, whose performance is exceptional—the politics are impeccable—Dick Cheney was/is a right-wing reactionary de la pire espèce, not to mention a despicable human being—and is well-done overall and entertaining, but it’s just a little too un-nuanced and heavy-handed. The pic is a red meat crowd-pleaser for liberals and lefties: agitprop for that very sizable portion of America’s citizenry—of which I am a part—who despised and loathed the Bush-Cheney administration, indeed the Republican Party tout court (don’t even talk about the Trump regime).

Journalist-writer James Mann—who authored the most important book on the war cabinet of Bush-Cheney’s first term—had a spot-on critique of the film, dated December 28th, in The Washington Post, “The Dick Cheney of ‘Vice’ just craves power. The reality was worse.” The lede: “The former veep’s ideological agenda did far more damage than his quest for clout.” The film does indeed focus mainly on personality and gives short-shrift to key historical moments, e.g. the 1990-91 Gulf War—which is barely mentioned—as well as to Cheney’s ideological motivations, which, as we know, were deep, and on domestic policy as well as foreign.

I also had a problem with the implicit suggestion that the Iraq war was driven by oil and Halliburton contracts, which was not only nonsense but stupid, boneheaded nonsense (for my own view of the Iraq war, go here). In short, while Adam McKay’s film may certainly be seen, my assessment of it is mixed.

Another movie about US politics I’ve seen of late is Jason Reitman’s The Front Runner, about the sudden demise of Gary Hart’s presidential campaign in May 1987. The film opened in France in mid-January, vanishing from the salles obscures after two weeks (I caught it in the nick of time). Hollywood movies on subjects of little interest to the French public (e.g. baseball, US politicos almost no one has heard of or remembers) usually linger a little longer. The film is based on journalist Matt Bai’s 2014 book All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid, which chronicles what was the first-ever media-fabricated sex scandal (or “scandal”) that felled a presidential candidate. Bai’s book—which the NYT’s reviewer called “a miniclassic of political history”—is also an indictment of the behavior of the media—the Miami Herald and Washington Post in particular—during the miserable episode. Bai is still indignant three decades later at the media feeding frenzy that ended the political career of the Democratic Party’s most promising politician of the time—and certainly one of the smartest—and its strongest candidate by far going into the 1988 presidential campaign. Hart’s downfall, as Bai wrote in the NYT Magazine, forever changed American politics. And not for the better.

Bai is not the first author to take on the media for its role in Hart’s fall. John Judis published an enquête, “The Hart Affair,” in the July-August 1987 issue of the Columbia Journalism Review—unfortunately not online—which begins:

Sooner or later Gary Hart would probably have destroyed his own candidacy. Hart, the Washington Post‘s Meg Greenfield wrote in retrospect, was “living a life he could not justify or reveal.” But the inevitability of Hart’s political demise does not justify the press’s singular role in precipitating it. In reporting about Hart, the mainstream press departed from its past standards in covering a candidate’s private life and displayed unwonted recklessness in reporting what it had discovered.

We’ll obviously never know if Hart would have self-destructed if he had never crossed paths with Donna Rice in Florida. Perhaps, but perhaps not.

Before the 1984 presidential campaign I was aware that Hart was a senator from Colorado but didn’t know much about him until he emerged as a serious candidate, unexpectedly winning the New Hampshire primary and giving Walter Mondale a run for his money. I wished Hart well at the time—though voted for Jesse Jackson in the Illinois primary in March—as I didn’t find Mondale—a good man and decent liberal—too inspiring, and doubted his chances against Reagan. I was an enthusiastic Hart supporter from the summer of 1986, as he prepared his candidacy for ’88, though was pretty much alone in this among my lefty friends in Chicago, where I was living at the time, who thought of him as a neoliberal (which was absolutely not the case). The one time I saw Hart speak was at a Citizen Action convention in September ’86, at a hotel near O’Hare airport. The reception was indifferent. I remember him speaking, getting no questions, and leaving unnoticed. And needless to say, I was stunned and incensed by the media feeding frenzy over the Donna Rice/Monkey Business business and its denouement, as there was no evidence that Hart had done anything wrong or unethical, let alone illegal. Quel gâchis.

I was reminded of the Hart debacle last November, before hearing about ‘The Front Runner’, in reading an article in that month’s issue of The Atlantic by James Fallows, “Was Gary Hart set up? What are we to make of the deathbed confession of the political operative Lee Atwater, newly revealed, that he staged the events that brought down the Democratic candidate in 1987?” Now James Fallows is quite simply one of America’s best journalists—and has been for decades—whose signature is a mark of quality, and whom I will read on any subject. And while I am allergic to conspiracy theories of any sort, if Fallows is speculating that Hart was indeed a victim of a plot in 1987—that the Monkey Business was a Republican dirty tricks operation and with there being no evidence that anything happened with Donna Rice—then I need to take that seriously. And John Judis, who was a Hart supporter when the thing happened, informs me that a number of level-headed observers have indeed suspected all along that it was a set-up.

I would certainly like to believe the theory but in reviewing the affair after seeing the movie, I don’t know. Hart was, after all, a reputed coureur and there was no reason for the comely Ms. Rice, who had no known political convictions at the time (nowadays she’s a conservative evangelical and Trump supporter), to have paid him a visit at his Capitol Hill townhouse except for we know what. But whatever. It was their private business and no one else’s. In point of fact, the biggest mistake Hart made during the media frenzy was to have abandoned his candidacy, particularly as public opinion was with him. If he had stonewalled the reporters and continued campaigning, he would have likely survived intact—as did Bill Clinton five years later after the Gennifer Flowers eruption.

As for the movie, which covers the final three weeks of the ill-fated campaign, it’s not bad. Hugh Jackman is well-cast as Hart, as is Vera Farmiga as his wife, Lee (portrayed by the media at the time as a silently suffering martyr). Leaving the theater I wondered what the point was in making the film, particularly today. Perhaps as a reminder to the Fourth Estate that it is not exempted from critique—for its herd mentality, obsession with ratings, etc—while we’re all celebrating it—and rightly so—in this age of Trump? Whatever the reason, one thing we do know—and do not regret—is that it is no longer conceivable that an American presidential candidate could be driven from a race for having had a sexual relationship with someone who was not his (or her) spouse. Good for that.

Another Hollywood movie with a US politics theme I’ve seen of late is the biopic of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, On the Basis of Sex, directed by Mimi Leder. This one has had more success at the box office in France than ‘The Front Runner’, perhaps in part because of its title, Une femme d’exception (which is superior to the English one), even though not too many here know who RBG is. The reviews have also been positive, including among Allociné spectateurs, whereas they were mixed in the US. It’s a perfectly serviceable biopic, beginning with RBG—ably played by Felicity Jones—at Harvard Law School in the 1950s as one of the tiny handful of female students, and who had a baby to boot; then the sexism she had to confront in the 1960s, being rejected by major law firms despite her brilliant law school record; career as a professor at Rutgers Law School, where she pioneered the study of gender discrimination; and which ends with her victory in the SCOTUS’s 1975 landmark ruling in the Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld case, for which she wrote the brief. It’s a feel-good movie about a remarkable person, and which, entre autres, shows that women can indeed “have it all”—how I hate that expression—of leading an exceptional career and doing great things, and while raising a family (having a loving, supportive husband certainly helped).

Someone on Twitter last month made a tongue-in-cheek comment about how nice it would be if we could all subtract one day from our respective lives and add it to Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s (which would certainly prolong it into the next millennium). We’re all crossing our fingers that she remains in good health to at least January 2021…

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Far from me to speak positively of a Republican president but of the six in my politically conscious lifetime, he was the least bad. And unlike the others (Gerald Ford excepted), I never actively disliked him, let alone despised. I naturally voted for Michael Dukakis in 1988—who was my candidate from the outset of that primary season—and was thrilled with Bill Clinton’s victory in ’92. On that 1988 campaign, Bush carries the stain of the Willie Horton ad—and of having hired his racist campaign manager, Lee Atwater, in the first place, who hatched the ad—and demagoguing the ACLU, entre autres. But when it came to domestic policy during his administration, he was pretty good for a Republican, as Matthew Yglesias reminds us, e.g. signing the Americans With Disabilities Act, a law expanding legal immigration, amendments to the Clean Air Act that tightened regulation of air pollution, running afoul of the NRA (and whose membership he renounced in 1995), and, of course, approving a tax increase when this needed to happen. Utterly inconceivable for a GOPer after his presidency, not to mention today. Bush was a moderate Republican, an honorable political species that is now all but extinct. Like many moderate Republicans he voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, which, for a lifelong Republican, was an honorable thing to do.

It was, of course, in foreign policy where Bush stood out. Borrowing from Georges Marchais (albeit in a different context), le bilan était globalement positif, i.e. the record was largely positive. I personally supported the 1989 Panama invasion at the time, though felt differently about it later in view of the civilian casualties. I did not, however, feel differently later on about the 1990-91 Gulf intervention, during which I entirely, 100% supported the Bush 41 administration. As I’ve already written about this I won’t elaborate here, except to recount how, in October ’90, I informed a group of Saddam Hussein-supporting youths on an Algiers street, who were trying to get my goat (they were from my neighborhood, so knew me), that Bush would squash Saddam like a bug, and then stomped my foot on the ground like I was squashing a bug, specifying that I was Bush and the imaginary bug was Saddam. Not an adult-like reaction but, hey, it made me feel good. I did change my mind later—in 1998, to be precise—on the sanctions regime imposed on Iraq, i.e. that it should be unilaterally ended, in view of the catastrophic effects it was having on the Iraqi people, but that was under the Clinton administration’s watch.

Bush père is also to be commended for his even-handed policy toward Israel, in opposing settlement construction in the occupied territories and refusing to be intimidated by the pro-Israel lobby in Washington. Above all, though, was the role he played at the end of the Cold War, specifically the fall of the Berlin wall and inevitable reunification of Germany. Bush’s leadership on this—on unequivocally endorsing reunification—was critical, and contrasted with the, shall we say, unhelpful attitudes of François Mitterrand and Margaret Thatcher. In foreign policy, Bush was, in Walter Russell Mead’s four school schema, a Hamiltonian, befitting his elite East Coast pedigree: internationalist, Europe-oriented, and strongly adhering to a free trade regime, American participation in multilateral institutions, and close relationships with longstanding allies. In the Hamilton world-view, the prosperity of Europe and the world is in the interest of America, as it contributes to the prosperity of America and, concomitantly, to peace and stability. It is the opposite of zero-sum, which is to say, the world-view of the present occupant of the White House. Bush was indeed the kind of American president most appreciated in chancelleries in Western Europe, and most definitely in Paris. George H.W. Bush was the last Hamiltonian president of the Republican Party we are likely to see.

Stephen Walt summed it up in this tweet:

Tim Naftali, a clinical associate professor of history and public service at NYU, has an obituary in Slate that is worth the read, “The overlooked president: We should thank George H.W. Bush for many of the successes attributed to Reagan and Clinton.” And see the seven-minute video from Vox, “The George H.W. Bush promise that changed the Republican Party.”

Conclusion: GHW Bush was the kind of Republican whose election we would be disappointed by though without fearing catastrophe. Or worse.

And, needless to say, he was far better than his son.

UPDATE: David Greenberg—who teaches history, journalism, and media studies at Rutgers University—has a critical article in Politico, “Is history being too kind to George H.W. Bush? The 41st president put self-interest over principle time and time again,” that views Bush differently from Tim Naftali, linked to above.

2nd UPDATE: Voilà Bruce Bartlett, writing in The Baffler, “Death and taxes: George H. W. Bush was right about taxes, but he broke the Republican Party.”

3rd UPDATE: Andrew Nagorski writes in The Daily Beast that “Reagan brought down the Berlin Wall, but it was George H.W. Bush who unified Germany.” The lede: “A united Germany might not have emerged at all without the consummate skill that the late president displayed.”

4th UPDATE: Here’s a critical assessment by Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch, “George H.W. Bush was a family man and war hero who gave America its horribly destructive politics.”

5th UPDATE: Never Trumper ex-neocon Max Boot calls George H.W. Bush “the anti-Trump.”

6th UPDATE: The New Republic’s Jeet Heer writes on “The whitewashing of George H. W. Bush: Elite nostalgia and anti-Trump sentiment are leading to one-sided reminiscences.”

7th UPDATE: John Judis has a post in TPM on “George H.W. Bush and the quest for a realistic foreign policy.”

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[update below] [2nd update below]

It’s been almost two weeks since the elections and I remain riveted to the post-mortem analyses, particularly as the results continue to come in (only in America is the outcome of an election not only not definitive by the following day but takes weeks before all the ballots are counted and the final numbers known). Call it what you will—a blue wave in slow motion, a blue tide—the midterms were a big victory for the Democratic Party—and given the structural disadvantages the Democrats were up against, not to mention egregious gerrymandering the likes of which have never before been seen in the history of the republic, the victory was even more impressive than those of the Republicans in 1994 and 2010.

There were disappointments of course, notably Florida—the one 2016 purple state where Trump has not lost ground, and which was thus going to be tough, and all the more so in the face of voter suppression—and some weak spots, as Nate Cohn, raining on the parade, pointed out. But the bright spots were more numerous, e.g. in suburbs everywhere; the Mountain West, notably Arizona and Colorado, which are now purple to blue; onetime Republican strongholds in California that are now blue, most remarkably Orange County; in swathes of the South—where the blue wave was blunted by gerrymandering but where a different kind of Democratic Party is rising—and particularly North Carolina, where the Democrats may succeed in overcoming the Republicans even at the state level by 2022; and across the Rust Belt, e.g. the blue tsunami in Michigan, and even in Ohio, which looked to have turned into an outright red state in the immediate aftermath of the election but, in analyzing the data, in fact remains purple, i.e. competitive for the Dems in 2020. And then there’s Texas and Beto O’Rourke’s exceptional campaign; as the sober, level-headed Thomas B. Edsall, who is no Dem Party Pollyanna, wrote in a must-read column last week, a blue Texas could actually happen, and particularly with Trump in the White House. Edsall’s analysis reminds one of what was said about rock-ribbed Republican Virginia—a state that simply never voted for a Democrat at the national level—in the mid ’00s, that it was destined to become a swing state by 2016, maybe even 2012. But, lo and behold, VA went for Obama in ’08 and is now solidly blue. If/when Texas votes for a Democratic presidential candidate, it’s ‘game over’ for the Republican Party.

The Cook Political Report editor David Wasserman’s tweet on Saturday pretty much sums it up:

And this by Nate Silver:

See the full thread of Silver’s tweet—which is a must-read—here.

So one feels good about the Dems, particularly in perusing the image up top, posted by Robert Reich on his Facebook page and in which he rhetorically asked to spot the difference.

University of Washington political theory professor Jamie Mayerfeld had a nice post on Facebook, which I am taking the liberty of copying-and-pasting:

I am a Democrat. I have always been a Democrat (…). My identification with the Democratic party has waxed and waned, but at the moment it is intense. Right now, we face an existential danger – an emboldened extreme-right anti-planet xenophobic Orwellian racist political movement that has seized control of the Republican party. We need to fight it in an organized manner. That organized resistance has a name, and it is the Democratic party.

It’s 2018. The Democratic party is not what it was in 1876 or 1996. (Remember this: in 1981, 48 Democratic representatives and 37 Democratic senators voted for Reagan’s tax bill, whereas in 2017 zero Democratic representatives and zero Democratic senators voted for Trump’s tax bill. My thanks to Corey Robin for making this point.) On a wide range of issues, the Democratic party has been transformed, thanks to the hard-fought battles of (among others) LGBT activists, immigrant rights activists, and Black Lives Matter. Let us not throw away the hard-fought victories of these movements now. I agree that there is still a lot of room for improvement; we must demand continued improvement from the Democratic party.

My gratitude to the Democratic party is reinforced when I compare the United States to many other countries, such as the UK, where the main alternative to Theresa May is a party whose leader refuses to oppose Brexit and who echoes pro-Putin and pro-Assad propaganda. Or France, where the left is demoralized and divided. Or Italy, where its electoral presence has plunged to new lows. One can’t take it for granted that in a country of over 300 million people a politically viable party somewhat approximates one’s policy preferences. And yet I’m pretty sure that the Democratic party roughly approximates – or provides a major platform for – the policy preferences of many self-styled progressives. We are, in one respect, very lucky.

Jamie is on the mark in his comparison of the US Democrats to their center-left/progressive counterparts in Europe, which are in a pitiful and/or calamitous state (but that’s a discussion for another day).

Some three months ago I categorically asserted that “barring major voter suppression in key swing states (emphasis added), Trump will not and cannot win in 2020,” and explained why. I will categorically assert this even more forcefully today, adding that I don’t think even voter suppression—in the states where it is brazen—will save Trump. Even lucid conservatives, staring reality in the face, know this, e.g. Commentary magazine’s John Podhoretz, who, in a post-mortem analysis, remarked that “[t]his election is very bad for the GOP, and harbingers ill for 2020.’ He concludes:

In 2006 and 2008, Democrats romped in Republican areas and came to believe the country’s ideological complexion had changed forever—and after aggressively passing expensive statist bills, they were set on their heels [in 2010] by voters who didn’t want the country to change that much or spend that much. And yet Barack Obama won in 2012.

But the analogy breaks down here, because Obama lost 4.5 million votes between 2008 and 2012 and still managed to win—because his margin of victory had been so huge originally. Trump got 63 million votes in 2016 and cannot afford to lose a single voter—indeed, he needs to gain voters. Where are the voters he’s going to gain? What has he done to expand out his base? Nothing—indeed, it looks increasingly like his “base play” in the last week may have delivered a death blow to Republican Senate candidates in Arizona and Nevada and might have hurt in several House races. This would suggest Trump’s electoral instincts are bad, not good, and that next time he needs to look at the situation with a colder and clearer eye. But who’s going to tell him? And does anyone think he would listen?

Can Trump change between now and 2020? Or ever? The question answers itself, as we know full well that he cannot and will not change. At a talk-debate on the midterms that I attended today, Stanford University/Hoover Institution political scientist David Brady said—and more than once—that Trump will only become more “trumpier” from here on out. It will be his reflex and the only thing he knows how to do. He will feed a steady diet of red meat to his fanaticized base—the quarter to a third of the electorate who will continue adoring him even if he shoots someone—but will not expand it, as he can’t and it’s quite simply impossible at this point. Seriously, who will vote for Trump in 2020 who did not in 2016? And at least some of his 2016 voters will not recidivate in ’20, that’s for sure. It will be miraculous if Trump reaches even 45% of the popular vote, and all the more so as turnout promises to be historic (at the talk-debate today, Stanford University political scientist/YouGov CEO Doug Rivers spoke of a possible 150 million voters in ’20; cf. 136.7 million in 2016 and 129 million in 2012).

And then there’s the Electoral College. It looks nigh certain that the 2020 campaign will be waged almost entirely in maybe eight or nine states, all of which Trump won in 2016, and where the Democratic candidate, whoever s/he may be—and it really doesn’t matter—will have the advantage. The Dems will start by locking down Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin—where Trump will not stun the world a second time with razor-thin victories—and obviously target Florida (where the 1.4 million newly enfranchised ex-felons will be a game changer), plus North Carolina and Arizona, which are low-hanging fruit at this point. And the map will be expanded to Georgia and Texas—the Big Enchilada—which Trump will thus have to fight to keep. Ohio and Iowa, though within reach, will be more difficult, though it’s hard to see the Dems not making a play for them.

As for Trump, he may make forays into Minnesota, New Hampshire, Nevada, and—if every electoral vote counts—the Maine 2nd CD, and which the Dems will thus not be able to take for granted, but does anyone seriously think he has a chance of winning any of these? (okay, perhaps the ME 2nd; la belle affaire). The bottom line: the Democratic candidate’s paths to victory will be numerous, whereas Trump—whose paths are exceedingly narrow—will be playing defense. La messe est dite. Voilà.

UPDATE: Nate Silver has an important analysis (November 20th) on the wave election and how “Trump’s base isn’t enough,” i.e. for him to win in 2020.

2nd UPDATE: Thomas B. Edsall has a column dated November 29th, “Donald Trump’s dimming prospects: Two years is an eternity in politics, but the president has a lot to worry about,” in which he says pretty much what I do above.

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

This will be a brief one, as everyone has read countless analyses and commentaries by this point (6pm EST)—and Trump, seeking to change the subject, has, in firing Jeff Sessions—to whom one says ‘good riddance!’—already pushed the election results off the headlines. I had mixed feelings about the outcome last night and much of today. Though I was naturally relieved that the Democrats won the House, as was expected, I was hoping for a little more of a blue wave. A pick up of 34 seats, or whatever it will be, is un peu ric-rac (cf. the Republican blowouts of 1994 and 2010). And while I know how to read polls and am not Pollyannaish, I did have hopes/fantasies that the Dems could maybe win the Senate. Losing a net of two seats—and maybe three once the AZ and FL races are called—does not alter the status quo but will make winning a majority in 2020 that much steeper of a climb. Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Donnelly, and Claire McCaskill—all in deep red states—were not favored to win but still. Andrew Gillum’s unexpected loss was a big disappointment—and particularly to the Trump acolyte Ron DeSantis—as well as Stacey Abrams’s apparent one to the fascistic Brian Kemp, and it’s a pity that Beto O’Rourke didn’t stun the insidious Ted Cruz. But the mere fact that all three—who are progressives and two of them persons of color—came within a hair of winning—and the latter two in states where Democrats simply no longer win statewide races—is, objectively speaking, a feat in itself. And the defeats of the loathsome Scott Walker and even more awful Kris Kobach, entre autres, were particularly gratifying (in September of last year I predicted that Kobach would be the GOP’s post-Trump presidential nominee, but it now looks like I will be happily wrong on that).

So after the early disappointment, I’m feeling a little bit better about the Dems’ performance, and generally subscribe to the instant takes of EJ Dionne Jr, Ezra Klein, Kevin Drum, Nate Cohn, and Jim Newell, who see the outcome as a Democratic victory and a major setback for Trump. Given the state of the economy—the growth and unemployment rates being what they are—and with American soldiers not dying in a futile war that has nothing to do with the security of the homeland, it is quite exceptional that the opposition party would nonetheless win the popular by seven or eight points. Trump may be able to whip his deplorable base into a frenzy but he cannot expand it. It is a minority of the electorate and will remain as such. It only wins because of the structural distortions of representation (in the House and, above all, the Senate), gerrymandering, and voter suppression by GOP state governments.

While the Dems may finally feel okay about the outcome and with this manifestly representing a repudiation of Trump, that does not necessarily mean the latter is unhappy about it. Matthew Yglesias, in his instant analysis, sees Trump as one of yesterday’s winners, and he’s not wrong. The House may now be able to thwart Trump’s legislative agenda, except that Trump does not have such an agenda. He doesn’t care about legislation, particularly now that the Republicans have their tax cut for the 1%. Trump’s main interest is his judicial, cabinet, and other nominees, for which he needs the Senate. And that he has in his pocket—and all the more so as he pulled out the stops in the home stretch to campaign for GOP Senate candidates in close races. As for House investigations and subpoenas, Trump will stonewall, obstruct, and generally tell Nancy Pelosi and her colleagues to go to hell. A prediction: if a House committee subpoenas Trump’s tax returns, he will refuse to turn them over, even if the Supreme Court rules that he must (which it may or may not do). The only recourse for the House will be impeachment, with the full knowledge that the Senate will not convict. And in the meantime, Trump will spend the next two years on the campaign trail, feeding his frenzied deplorables and bashing the House Democrats nonstop. And he’ll love every minute of it, as will his deplorables. That is what awaits us.

Certain pundits last night on Twitter, including the most serious among them, were mentioning Beto O’Rourke as a prospect for the Democrats in 2020. Pourquoi pas?

UPDATE: The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer has a spot-on post-election piece—in which he says what I’ve been for some time—”America’s problem isn’t tribalism—it’s racism.” The lede: “Only one of America’s major political parties relies on stoking hatred and fear against those outside its coalition.”

2nd UPDATE: The Democrats on Tuesday made major gains at the state level, as one may read here and here. As the second link, by Bryce Covert, tells us, “[f]orget Congress. State legislatures are where real progressive action is most likely to happen.”

3rd UPDATE: The always interesting Thomas B. Edsall’s latest in the NYT opinion page is entitled, “The polarizer-in-chief meets the midterms.” The lede: “Democrats and Republicans continue to move farther apart. Trump wouldn’t have it any other way.”

4th UPDATE: Never Trumper ex-Republican Rick Wilson, whose writing style I love, had a typically terrific opinion piece in The Daily Beast, dated October 24th, which I just came across, on Trump’s rally in Houston two days earlier. It begins:

On Monday night, Donald Trump shoved the nationalist needle into the veins of millions of his followers, and slammed the plunger home. He finally said what we’ve known all along: He’s a nationalist.

He sent a signal to his alt-right allies that it’s time to rally to his side once again, just ahead of the midterm elections. It was one more knife into the moldering corpse of the GOP, which with every Trump rally has looked more and more like some clapped-out third-world claque of the Glorious Leader’s sycophants, and less like a modern political institution.

By the time the rally was over, David Duke was praising Donald Trump, delighted to hear the sound of a whistle that deafened every dog within a thousand miles. For the Tiki-Torch-and-Polo-Shirt Mafia, it was like finally having sex with a live, uncompensated human female.

If only I could write with such flair. Read the whole thing here.

5th UPDATE: Slate’s William Saletan has “Ten takeaways from Tuesday’s results,” one being that the Brett Kavanaugh hearings—with Christine Blasey Ford and all—hurt the Republicans (not the Democrats).

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This is a follow-up to my post of last night. I am taking the liberty of copying-and-pasting part of an email news bulletin sent yesterday, via The Action Network, by Michael Podhorzer, the (quite brilliant) political director of the AFL-CIO, which naturally concerns the midterms:

Normalizing Threats to Democracy

We cannot let a House win create the illusion that democracy worked. So, it’s worth recapping some of the most egregious threats to democracy:

  • Gerrymandering – This morning, 538 gives Democrats an 85.6 percent chance of winning the House. It’s left completely without comment that there’s virtually no chance that the Democrats will lose the national House vote. And, while there’s a very good chance that House Democrats will win their highest share of the midterm vote in 32 years, there’s no chance that their number of seats will reflect that. The same thing will be true in dozen of state legislative chambers.
  • The Senate – This morning, 538 gives Democrats only a 14.4 percent chance of winning control of the Senate, and projects that it’s just as likely that they will lose two seats. Yet, no matter what the outcome, it will be true that the 100 senators seated next January will have received more Democratic than Republican votes.
  • Rigging the rules – Georgia is certainly the most egregious case. Brian Kemp has run the table – seeing nothing wrong with supervising his own election, he’s done everything he could to disenfranchise African American voters, and even warned his supporters of the dangers of them “exercising their voting rights.” And yesterday, without any evidence, he accused the Georgia Democratic Party of attempting to hack the voter registration data base – something he had erroneously accused Obama of doing before. Here’s the post-election problem: If Abrams wins, that will be used to argue that voter suppression didn’t matter. If Abrams loses, the country will move on. (See Bush v. Gore.) This report by the Brennan Center provides a very comprehensive review of recent voter suppression efforts.

In his newsletter, Podhorzer highly recommends the new book by A-list political scientists John Sides, Michael Tesler & Lynn Vavreck, Identity Crisis: The 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Battle for the Meaning of America, which is the subject of a piece in Vox yesterday by Ezra Klein, “How identity politics elected Donald Trump: And how it explains the Republican Party’s 2018 strategy.”

John Sides et al also had an op-ed in yesterday’s NYT, “It’s not easy to predict how immigration will affect the midterms.” The lede: “Trump’s unrelenting focus on migrants may prove ineffective because voters have already sorted themselves out along partisan lines.”

Regardless of what happens today, this is, as The New Republic’s Alex Shephard informs us, “[a] hopeless election: No matter the outcome…American politics will only get worse.”

Shephard concludes his depressing commentary with this: “What happens in 2020 is anyone’s guess, but the final scene of Reservoir Dogs comes to mind.” Here is that final scene.

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