Archive for the ‘USA: politics’ Category

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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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The New York Times has an article today reminding us that America’s 250th birthday is coming up in five years, and that the battles over the narratives of America’s founding are certain to be fierce. On this 245th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, there’s not a lot to feel good about in regard to the state of the American nation IMO. If one has not yet seen it, please take 40 minutes to watch the NYT’s exceptional, gut-punching video investigation, “Inside the Capitol riot,” in which “The Times analyzed thousands of videos from the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol Building to understand how it happened—and why.” We’ve all seen videos of the event but this one is on another level. To watch the enraged, fanaticized, and very determined lynch mob—and yes, it was a lynch mob—of regular, ordinary middle-aged American men—white of course, and with the vast majority indeed men—storming the Capitol is quite terrifying, reminding us once again that we came thisclose to catastrophe on that Wednesday in January, but also as the mob did not issue from a small minority of American society. This was the Republican Party base, constituting a good third of the American electorate. And the January 6th mob was not an American equivalent of the French Gilets Jaunes, of hard-working middle aged persons barely getting by, and whose rage was economically driven. As we know, the Republican/Trump base is, income-wise, solidly middle class—they are not les damnés de la terre—and the wellsprings of their rage are cultural insecurity and status anxiety, and whose target is not the political/economic ruling class (as it was for the Gilets Jaunes) but a good half of American society—of those Americans who form the base of the Democratic Party.

À propos, see the article in the American Political Science Review, “Activating Animus: The Uniquely Social Roots of Trump Support,” by Lilliana Mason (Johns Hopkins University), Julie Wronski (University of Mississippi), and John V. Kane (NYU), published online on June 30, 2021.

The January 6th mob is the face of American fascism—and which may well come to power in 2022/24, in view of the anti-majoritarianism of the American electoral system, anti-democratic flaws—possibly fatal—in the institutional architecture of the US government as elaborated in the constitution, voter suppression laws being enacted at the state level, and the simple fact that the Republican Party itself—its elected officials and representatives—is increasingly resembling that January 6th mob. It is not totally out of the question that Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar could rise to leadership positions in the House of Representatives in the coming years. If such were to come to pass, I’m not sure what could be done about it.

Watching the NYT’s January 6th video and observing the reaction of the Congressional Republicans to it after the fact confirms, pour moi au moins, that the United States of America is not one nation and, for most of its history, has never been. To the Civil War it was two nations, the North and the South, which I wrote on in my post on the 1619 Project two years ago. There was an attempt to forge one nation after 1865 but with the failure of Reconstruction—and the effective posthumous victory of the South—that myth could only be sustained by the exclusion of the former slaves and their descendants, along with other persons of color, from the rights of citizenship, and thus the American nation. With the civil rights movement and consequent legislation of the 1960s, there was a serious effort to make America one nation but with the rise of the right wing of the Republican Party—of the party’s Southernization—and which culminated in Trump and January 6th, it has clearly not worked out. Defining a nation in the Renanian sense—of a generally shared national narrative and the will to live together—this simply does not obtain in the United States of America today. Personally speaking—and I know I speak for so many others on this—I feel no national affinity whatever with that part of America that stormed the Capitol on January 6th. And vice-versa. Not only do I find them alien but see them as the enemy. And vice-versa. But whereas I deeply fear the consequences—for the country, the world, and even myself—if they return to power, and with a vengeance, they have nothing to fear from the likes of me and the party I vote for. Nuance.

The always interesting Rick Perlstein has a cover story in the July 5th issue of New York magazine, “The Long Authoritarian History of the Capitol Riot,” in which he discusses the right-wing MAGA world cult of outsized motor vehicles, which are not merely means of transportation but expressions of virility and vehicular domination—and are transformed into weapons to intimidate (e.g. the practice of “rolling coal”) and even kill people. Money quote:

What Democrats have been slow to understand is that this is an insurgency against democracy with parliamentary and paramilitary wings. The parliamentary wing is represented by [Kevin] McCarthy and others who have voted to overturn a free and fair election as well as lawmakers who have passed or proposed laws in nine state legislatures since the 2020 election shielding drivers from liability if they plow vehicles into protesters. These abet the work of the paramilitary wing’s latest tactical innovation: vehicular assault. Everyone knows about the 20-year-old Nazi sympathizer who killed Heather Heyer by driving his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of counter-protesters at the white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 — the incident was a national outrage. A near-identical event this past month — a white man accelerated his Jeep into a crowd protesting a police shooting in Minneapolis, killing a mother of two — received far less attention. A University of Chicago researcher tracked 72 such attacks, in 52 separate cities, in a six-week period in 2020 alone.

The violent menace displayed at the Capitol riot, in Trump’s anti-immigrant fantasies, and in these vehicular attacks has been coded into conservative politics for a long time. In 2003, right-wingers won a demagogic campaign to recall California governor Gray Davis less than a year after his reelection. The campaign was driven by frantic claims on talk radio that Davis wanted to grant undocumented immigrants driver’s licenses. The candidate who won the election to replace him was best known for starring in films in which he clocked body counts in the dozens. He was also the first prominent civilian to bring the military-grade SUV known as the Hummer to American streets and, in 1992, had even persuaded its manufacturer to sell them on the mass market so anxious Americans could purchase vehicles that looked just like the ones the military used to patrol riot zones in Los Angeles that year. Arnold Schwarzenegger helped inaugurate the phenomenon of cars as bodily threats.

Rush Limbaugh was another conservative who loved big cars. He was downright reverential toward giant SUVs and their power to dominate the “little cracker boxes” liberals allegedly wanted all of us to drive in order to “make everybody equally at risk for injury on the road because it’s simply unfair.” He added, “There’s a bias against SUVs. They’re killers by virtue of their very existence.”

Pickup trucks, which used to have gently rounded corners and were advertised with communitarian images worthy of an Amish barn-raising, are now bulldozers with cliff faces at the front end that guarantee a child on a bicycle or a snowflake in a Prius can’t even be seen, let alone avoided; painted black with tinted windows and a “Punisher” decal on the back, it’s Trumpism with a ten-cylinder engine.

On the right-wing MAGA world cult of virility—common to all fascist movements, though which extends well beyond this in America—Jeet Heer, writing on the occasion of Donald Rumsfeld’s death, has a must-read post (July 3rd) on his Substack site, “The forgotten history of ‘Rumsfeld the Stud’: The consequences of the media, both mainstream and rightwing, praising Donald Rumsfeld as a sex god.”

An equally must-read piece is the well-known UC-Berkeley economist J. Bradford DeLong’s spot-on commentary in Project Syndicate (June 30th) on “MAGA Maoism.” The lede: “What could possess one of America’s two main political parties to transform itself into a cult of personality in which obsequiousness trumps merit? An examination of the Communist Party of China during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution suggests some striking parallels.”

For those wondering how a fascistic phenomenon can be compared to a communist one, this is one of those instances when the political extremes do indeed meet.

In the meantime, for those stateside, do enjoy your 4th of July.

UPDATE: On Paul Gosar, whose name I mentioned above, see the NYT article (July 5th), “Far-right extremist finds an ally in an Arizona congressman: Representative Paul Gosar’s association with the white nationalist Nick Fuentes is the most vivid example of the Republican Party’s growing acceptance of extremism.”

See likewise Thomas B. Edsall’s important guest essay (July 7th), “Trump’s cult of animosity shows no sign of letting up,” the subject of which is the “‘schadenfreude’ electorate — voters who take pleasure in making the opposition suffer — that continues to dominate the Republican Party, even in the aftermath of the Trump presidency.”

2nd UPDATE: A Washington Post op-ed to read (July 9th), by New School professor of history Federico Finchelstein: “Donald Trump has blurred the line between populism and fascism in a dangerous way.” The lede: “Populists traditionally abided by electoral results, while fascists scorned the will of the majority. Trump has changed that.”

3rd UPDATE: And this important piece in The Atlantic (July 9th), by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, both of the government department at Harvard: “The biggest threat to democracy is the GOP stealing the next election: Unless and until the Republican Party recommits itself to playing by democratic rules of the game, American democracy will remain at risk.”

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Biden’s 100 days

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It’s become banal to say how pleasantly surprised we are by him—by his rhetoric and actions—since he took the oath of office on January 20th. By “we” I refer to those of us who supported Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders and were dismissive of Biden and his candidacy before he suddenly, contre toute attente, surged in March 2020 and then clinched the nomination in April. And while we warmed to him over the subsequent months, not too many had high hopes of what he would or could set out to achieve once elected. Being rid of Trump was almost enough.

Progressives’ pleasant surprise of the past three months has literally transformed into gushing enthusiasm since Biden’s address to Congress on Wednesday, with even the most Biden-skeptic gauchistes giving the speech the thumbs way up on social media. In my social media world, there is now a near total consensus that, in economic and social policy, Sleepy Joe is indeed the Real Deal.

The title of an article by Anand Giridharadas in The Atlantic (April 14th) summed up the matter: “Welcome to the new progressive era: Progressives thought they knew what a Biden presidency would look like. How did they get him so wrong?” It begins:

Washington in the first days of the Biden administration is a place for double takes: A president associated with the politics of austerity is spending money with focused gusto, a crisis isn’t going to waste, and Senator Bernie Sanders is happy.

People like to tell you they saw things coming. But as I talked to many of the campers in Joe Biden’s big tent, particularly those who, like me, were skeptical of Biden, I found that the overwhelming sentiment was surprise. Few of us expected that this president—given his record, a knife’s-edge Congress, and a crisis that makes it hard to look an inch beyond one’s nose—would begin to be talked about as, potentially, transformational.

If there are any doubts as to the Biden administration’s progressive cred, see the piece (April 28th) in the People’s World—the more or less official organ of the CPUSA, in Popular Front mode these days—by its editor-in-chief, “Biden to unveil proposals for radical reform of the economy.” John Bachtell, former CPUSA chairman (2014-19) and a contemporary of mine in college (we were dorm neighbors, took a seminar together on the thought of Antonio Gramsci, and talked/debated/sparred over politics), thus introduced it on Facebook:

When you take all of the Biden Administration accomplishments and initiatives so far – the American Rescue Plan and tackling the coronavirus, the hundred or so executive orders affecting policy across the board, the American Jobs Plan, and commitment to radically transform energy production, transport, and other sectors to reduce GGH by 50%, shifting the tax burden to the wealthy, the diverse cabinet and its connections to mass democratic movements, and now the American Families Plan – we are talking about a potentially transformative era in U.S. history perhaps not seen since the Civil Rights era, Great Depression, and Reconstruction. Not to speak of the democratic reforms contemplated by Biden and the Democratic-led Congress, i.e., the ProAct, For the People Act, Citizenship Act, LGBTQ Equality Act, and DC Statehood. It’s an agenda that’s desperately needed and can unite a majority of the country, and the broad political left and center. But unless it passes, all may be for naught and this illustrates the urgency of the mass democratic movements to unite behind the agenda. Winning it will also open new space for wider and more radical economic and political reforms. My colleague John Wojcik lays it out here.

The CPUSA’s French counterpart, the PCF, is on the same page:

Fox News will have a field day with this if they find out about it but that’s okay. C’est la bonne guerre.

One observer who foresaw Biden’s progressive shift over a year ago is Peter Suderman, an editor at the right-leaning libertarian Reason, who had a commentary dated March 4, 2020, “Joe Biden is no moderate: [He] is a classic big-government liberal,” which I linked to in a post at the time. It’s a premonitory analysis and worth (re)reading.

Also worth reading is John F. Harris’ post-speech commentary in Politico, “Biden just gave the most ideologically ambitious speech of any Democratic president in generations: With his vow to spend money on blue-cotllar jobs and tax the rich, Biden’s program aims to splinter the Trump Coalition.”

As for what President Biden’s predecessor—whom Twitter so thankfully cancelled—is up to these days, this has been making the rounds on social media:

Biden may deserve a grade of A so far on economic and social policy but on foreign policy he gets but a B (I’ll raise it when he reverses Trump’s actions on Iran and Cuba). And while I’m taking a wait-and-see attitude on immigration, so far I give him a B–/C+. More on that soon.

UPDATE: Robert Reich has a typically spot-on commentary (May 2nd) in The Guardian, “The first 100 days of Biden were also the first 100 without Trump – that’s telling: The new president is benefiting not just from bold proposals and actions but from his predecessor’s catastrophic record.”

2nd UPDATE: James Traub writes in Foreign Policy (May 7th) that “America is becoming a social democracy: The Biden administration is accomplishing what was once thought historically impossible.”

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And the fascistic Republican Party. Eons ago, before January 6th, I had pledged to focus less on American politics after the inauguration—and a consequent return to a semblance of normalcy in the White House, which we have indeed been happily observing; so far the Biden administration gets a grade of ‘A’ —and direct AWAV’s attentions to other pressing subjects, notably what’s happening in France as she enters a presidential election year. No such luck. I do indeed closely follow politics chez moi but have continued to do so obsessively with unfolding events outre-Atlantique, most recently of the impeachment trial, which I watched in part on CNN. The video footage of the January 6th insurrection exhibited by the House impeachment managers, which everyone has seen by now (if not, here and here), is devastating, confirming how close we were on that day to a bloodbath in the Capitol that would have, among many other things, decapitated the line of succession to the presidency—with the murder of Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi—thereby upending the certification of the Electoral College vote by the Senate, and paving the way for Trump to proclaim martial law. It was really that close.

It continues to defy belief that an insurrectionary mob—and one that was armed to boot—was able to reach the Capitol and then penetrate it. Even on the most violent days of the Gilets Jaunes movement in France, GJs were not allowed to approach the Élysée palace, Palais Bourbon, or regalian ministries. Had any tried, the police would have employed any and all means to prevent them from doing so.

That the Republican Party in its overwhelming majority could continue to support Trump after January 6th, not to mention promote the QAnon adept Marjorie Taylor Greene, shows how far down the road to outright fascism that party has travelled. If one missed it, the conservative Michael Gerson, who was George W. Bush’s speechwriter, matter of factly observed in a Washington Post column dated February 1st that “Trumpism is American fascism.” No less.

On the question of fascism in America, Vox’s Sean Illing interviewed Yale University philosopher Jason Stanley, who has recently published a book on the broad topic, on how “American fascism isn’t going away.” In a course I teach to American undergraduates on European history, I devote part of a lecture on the interwar period to fascism and how to understand it, in which I stress, as does Jason Stanley, that it is less an ideology or regime type—though it can of course be this—than a world-view and way of doing politics, of an overriding will to power. Fascism, like populism, is a syndrome. In the lecture I enumerate sixteen features of fascism, adding, as an aside, that all but three or four applied in large part or in whole to the Trump phenomenon.

And then there is fascism’s mass base. The lead article in the February 11th issue of The New York Review of Books, “‘Be Ready to Fight’,” by Mark Danner, is on the January 6th insurrection. The lede: “Trumpism is driven by cruelty and domination even as its rhetoric claims grievance and victimization. The attack on the Capitol showed that Donald Trump’s army of millions will not just melt away when he leaves office.” This passage merits quoting:

Deafening paroxysms of jubilation and rage greeted this doctrinal statement of Trumpism, for who could better summarize the philosophy, such as it was, in fewer words? Trump as Rambo, as tank commander, motorcycle gang leader, and on and on. The imagery of Trumpism is about strength and cruelty and dominance even as the rhetoric is about loss and grievance and victimization: about what was taken and what must be seized back by strength. And we would have to bring that strength, for certain it was that the politicians would turn out to be traitors, just like all the rest. From that fateful ride down the gilt staircase in the pink-marbled lobby of Trump Tower five years before—Trumpism’s March on Rome—it had been about this: “Taking back the country.” Taking it back from the rapists and the killers, the undocumented and the illegitimate, the Black and the brown from “shithole countries” who should go back “where they came from.” Now it had all come down to this.

And this:

Donald Trump is not Caesar, but he has a will to power and a malignancy that our degraded institutions and corrupted politicians have been wholly unable to contain. His army of millions will not melt away. They will remain as a lurking poison in the political bloodstream, politicized and angry, ready to be activated, and their nihilistic rejection of the country’s institutions and laws will only grow more venomous. Millions of them are armed. Those who died in the coup will become the movement’s martyrs. Those arrested will become its heroes.

For more on the Zeitgeist of the January 6th mob, see the report in ProPublica on “what the Parler videos reveal,” plus this Twitter thread from Insider News “decod[ing] the symbols that Trump supporters brought with them, revealing some ongoing threats to US democracy.”

The NYT report on “Trump’s legacy: Voters who reject democracy and any politics but their own,” may also be read with profit.

France 2’s weekly news magazine Envoyé Spécial aired a 25-minute report on January 21st on Trump’s hardcore supporters—”les irréductibles”—with the reporter interviewing several, in Florida, Georgia, and Colorado, and following them around, listening to them vent their anger—an emotion strongly felt by all—resentments and hatreds, not to mention conspiracy theories and a view of the world and reality that is, needless to say, utterly antithetical to mine and no doubt to anyone reading this. It’s one of the best reports I’ve seen on Trump’s base and which may be viewed here.

Objectively speaking, these Trump people have nothing to be angry about or any good reason to hate people like us (i.e. me and AWAV readers). They lead reasonably comfortable middle class lives, with the financial resources to purchase their homes, high end pick-up trucks, arsenals of weapons, and whatever else they may fancy. And many of them live very well indeed, thank you very much. These are not Gilets Jaunes, who live from paycheck to paycheck and barely make it to the end of the month. As The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer underscored, the Trumpist mob on January 6th was not “low class.”

In terms of Weltanschauung and general intellect, the Trump base is naturally at one with Marjorie Taylor Greene, whose level of culture générale may be grasped in this video here. Not to sound like an intellectual snob or anything but seriously, how can people—particularly those who run for public office—be so f*cking stupid?? And for the House Republicans to put such an abject, thoroughly uneducated ignoramus on the Committee on Education?

The ignorance and stupidity—and penchant for fascism—could not attain the level that it has on the American right without the conservative media ecosystem, a.k.a. the Trumpist/Republican propaganda apparatus fostering an alternate reality, which has no equivalent in other Western democracies save a couple. A recent case in point (watch the video):

Jason Stanley, in the interview linked to above, says he thinks Tucker Carlson is a “likely future president.” No comment.

One big feature of the Trump/Republican base—and which was heavily represented on January 6th—is the evangelicals. We fully understand their weight as voters but I admit to having difficulty grasping their presence as shock troops in a violent insurrectionary movement. But such is indeed the case. See, e.g., this Vice News report on Christian imagery on January 6th, by a team of Columbia University researchers.

Rod Dreher, who is senior editor at The American Conservative—and is culturally and religiously conservative (he’s a Catholic convert to the Eastern Orthodox Church) but not a Trumper—had a most interesting report on “what [he] saw at the Jericho March” in Washington on December 12th (if you don’t know what the Jericho March is, see here).

It’s one thing to have to deal with the reality of a mass fascist mob in your polity, but when they’re religious fanatics brandishing the Bible (or Qur’an, or Torah, etc)—and are heavily armed—that makes them that much more dangerous and frightening.

One more piece, by historian Matthew Avery Sutton of Washington State University, in TNR: “The Capitol riot revealed the darkest nightmares of White evangelical America: How 150 years of apocalyptic agitation culminated in an insurrection.”

Back to the impeachment trial, it was a foregone conclusion that there weren’t going to be 17 Republican votes to convict. The Democrats certainly could have adopted a different approach to impeachment and “that could have made Republicans squirm,” as Stanford Law School professor Michael W. McConnell spelled out in an opinion piece in the NYT. But as David Frum convincingly argued, the efforts of the House impeachment managers “[will] do.” Whatever this or that pundit or Trump sycophant may opine, Trump—now definitively banished from Twitter (ٱلْحَمْدُ لِلَّٰهِ‎)—is toast. There’s not a chance he’ll make a successful comeback in 2024.

As for those House impeachment managers, there were some real revelations, for me and many others, notably the brilliant Jamie Raskin—who has serious lefty cred—and likewise brilliant Stacey Plaskett, who is an argument in itself for the US Virgin Islands becoming the 53rd state (after the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico).

Cf. the whack jobs and crackpottery of Trump’s defense lawyers. When it comes to human capital, we are just so far superior to them.

À suivre.

UPDATE: The NYT has an article (Feb. 15th) on Adam Kinzinger, one of the ten Republican congresspersons who voted to impeach Trump. It begins:

As the Republican Party censures, condemns and seeks to purge leaders who aren’t in lock step with Donald J. Trump, Adam Kinzinger, the six-term Illinois congressman, stands as enemy No. 1 — unwelcome not just in his party but also in his own family, some of whom recently disowned him.

Two days after Mr. Kinzinger called for removing Mr. Trump from office following the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, 11 members of his family sent him a handwritten two-page letter, saying he was in cahoots with “the devil’s army” for making a public break with the president.

“Oh my, what a disappointment you are to us and to God!” they wrote. “You have embarrassed the Kinzinger family name!”

The author of the letter was Karen Otto, Mr. Kinzinger’s cousin, who paid $7 to send it by certified mail to Mr. Kinzinger’s father — to make sure the congressman would see it, which he did. She also sent copies to Republicans across Illinois, including other members of the state’s congressional delegation.

“I wanted Adam to be shunned,” she said in an interview.

The article has the letter in PDF. Do read it. It’s breathtaking.

2nd UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan has a very good post mortem on the impeachment trial, “Convict him: This really shouldn’t be hard,” which I read after posting.

See also New School for Social Research history professor Eli Zaretsky’s LRB blog post, “The big lie.”

3rd UPDATE: The Atlantic’s Emma Green has an interview with Eric Metaxas—who, if one doesn’t know, is an NYC-based radio host, prolific author of savant-sounding books, a devout Christian, and Trump acolyte—who is convinced, entre autres, that the Democrats are pulling America in the direction of Nazi Germany. Sans blague. Metaxas is also a graduate of an Ivy League university (Yale), as are other high-profile Trump acolytes, e.g. Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton, Kris Kobach—which all goes to show that one can be an excellent student and very bright but nonetheless be intellectually unhinged and generally off one’s rocker.

What all of these men have in common is devout religious faith—and which borders on fanaticism in the case of Metaxas and Hawley, and maybe the others too. It is the intense religiosity of close to half of the Republican electorate—and a large number of the party’s elected officials and representatives—that differentiates that party from conservative parties of government in other Western polities. And which—along with the gun culture—makes the Republican Party that much more dangerous.

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Credit here

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Like hundreds of millions of people—maybe more—I was glued to the TV all Wednesday night and into the early hours of the morning, watching slack-jawed the spectacle at the US Capitol as it unfolded, not quite knowing how to process it. The sparse police presence was stunning, particularly as the action of fanaticized Trump mobs on this day—with Congress meeting to ratify the Electoral College result—was so utterly predictable. Politico’s Tim Alberta—who comes from conservative media and knows the Republican Party comme sa poche—asserted, in a must-read article, that “Jan. 6 was 9 weeks—and 4 years—in the making,” specifying that having “spent the last election cycle immersed in the metastasizing paranoia behind Wednesday’s assault on Congress[, n]obody should be surprised by what just happened.” And indeed on what other day than January 6th?

Talk of Trump trying to stage an autocoup d’État had been intensifying, as one is likely aware, and with prescient warnings from those who have witnessed the phenomenon up close, notably the brilliant sociologist Zeynep Tufekci—whose every published word is essential reading—her compatriot, author Ece Temelkuran, and The New Yorker’s Masha Gessen. There is disagreement as to whether or not the Trumpenproletariat mob assault constituted a bona fide coup attempt. Political scientist and friend Stathis Kalyvas said no, tweeting à chaud that coups require others to take advantage of this type of disruption and to move swiftly, immediately, and decisively, but with nothing indicating that such dynamics were at play as the mob invested the Capitol.

As for that mob, while its assault was shocking and alarming, there was also a farcical side to it, as could be seen in the images of the insurrectionists inside the building, lending credence to the notion that if this were indeed a coup attempt, it wasn’t a very serious one. Mike Davis thus wrote in his email newsletter yesterday morning that the assault

constituted an ‘insurrection’ only in the sense of dark comedy. What was essentially a big biker gang dressed as circus performers and war surplus barbarians, including the guy with a painted face posing as horned bison in a fur coat, stormed the ultimate country club, squatted on Pence’s throne, chased Senators into the sewers, casually picked their noses and rifled files and, above all, shot endless selfies to send to the dudes back home in white peoples’ country. Otherwise they didn’t have a clue. The aesthetic was pure Bunuel and Dali…

In this vein, The Atlantic’s Tom McTague wrote that what the world saw “was a bunch of angry people in costume, as if a Village People convention had turned ugly.” Bolsheviks storming the Winter Palace these were not. “Redneck Visigoths,” dixit Rick Wilson, who observed that

The invasion and seizure of the Capitol was a perfect extension of the nihilist trolling operation that’s replaced the Republican Party. They weren’t there to hold the territory. They weren’t there to find evidence of fraud, or force reluctant legislators to listen to their catalog of grievances; they were there for the lulz. They were there because Trump sent them.

As to why Trump sent them, we can’t know what was going on in his addled brain when he exhorted his fanaticized cultists to march on the Capitol and “be wild,” though it stands to reason that, at minimum, he hoped they could somehow stop the ceremony in the Senate, or maybe terrorize the Republicans there into rejecting the EC results in enough states to hand Trump the victory. Listening to Trump’s psychotic one-hour telephone conversation/monologue with Georgia Secretary of State Ben Raffensperger four days prior, there can be no doubt that Trump was desperate to reverse the election outcome and stay in power, i.e. to stage an autocoup. The early refusal of the Pentagon to authorize the deployment of the National Guard suggests that the lame duck Pentagon shake-up, and installation of Trump flunkies in key top positions, was done to lay the groundwork for an autocoup.

But even if a coup in the US could be pulled off institutionally, Trump is simply too scatterbrained and stupid to successfully execute one. And as The Atlantic’s Graeme Wood usefully reminds us in a five lesson take away from the coup attempt, Trump is also a coward and has always been. E.g. he instructed his cultists to march on the Capitol and said he would be with them, but then slunk back to the White House to watch the event on television. Trump has never exhibited courage, physical or otherwise. When he famously fires people, he never informs them in person. He trash talks subordinates, weaklings, and toadies but never anyone his equal. When confronted with someone who goes toe-to-toe with him or whom he cannot intimidate, he shrinks. To fully follow through with an autocoup in a country like the United States—in the face of the fury of the majority of its population and its educated elite—requires an intrepidness that Trump simply does not have.

Back to the Capitol mob, it may have had its absurd side but it was a still a mob—and mobs are dangerous, particularly when they’re composed of extreme right-wing fanatics living in an alternate reality of conspiracy theories. And looking to inflict harm on members of society they demonize. À propos, we learn that many of the insurrectionists were wearing body armor and helmets, a few were carrying zip ties, and with an undetermined number armed. And then there were the gallows outside the Capitol, graffiti reading “murder the media,” and you get the idea.

On those fanatics in the Capitol and their Weltanschauung, take a look at this Twitter thread by sociologist Kathleen Belew, who specializes in these movements. One does not want to imagine what would have happened had the insurrectionists penetrated the Capitol en masse before the Congresspersons and Senators had been evacuated; had they come face-to-face with Nancy Pelosi, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Ilhan Omar, plus Mitt Romney and all sorts of others, and with no cops around.

For all we know, this lurid scenario may have percolated in Trump’s fevered imagination: a bloodbath on Capitol Hill decapitating a branch of the  US government, thereby enabling him to declare martial law, blame it on Antifa, or even the Democrats, arrest Biden, shut down CNN and MSNBC, et on en passe. Again, for all we know.

FWIW, a report has it that “[s]ome among America’s military allies believe Trump deliberately attempted a coup and may have had help from federal law enforcement officials.”

The very real specter of a catastrophe in the Capitol, and orchestrated by Trump, no doubt scared the daylights out of Mitch McConnell and other now erstwhile Trump sycophants and lickspittles (Lindsey Graham et al), causing their sudden change of tune. As Mike Davis submitted in his newsletter

something unexpectedly profound happened: a deus ex machina that lifted the curse of Trump from the careers of conservative war hawks and rightwing young lions whose ambitions until yesterday had been fettered by the presidential cult. Today was the signal for a long awaited prison break. The word ‘surreal’ has been thrown around a lot, but it accurately characterizes last night’s bipartisan orgy with half of the most hardcore Senate election-denialists channeling Biden’s call for a ‘return to decency’ and vomiting up vast amounts of noxious piety.

And then there was the huge happening that just preceded the MAGA mob’s Capitol assault, which was the double victory in Georgia of Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, thereby enabling the Democrats to take back the Senate contre toute attente. This exhilarating outcome—which, until the MAGA mob emerged from its cave, made Wednesday the most gratifying day since Biden’s victory was formally proclaimed on November 7th—was eclipsed by the Capitol rampage, but must have shocked McConnell & Co and figured in their calculations, as they certainly weren’t expecting it. Most Democrats weren’t expecting it either (I was hopeful but not too). It’s a run-off election in frigging Georgia after all! Republicans always win these races down there, and particularly if the Democratic candidates happen to be liberal to progressive (not to mention Black or Jewish). That Warnock and Ossoff won, and outside the recount margin, is a very big game-changer, as not only does it give Biden and the Ds control of the Senate, however narrowly, but starkly demonstrates to the Republican Party establishment that Trump is an electoral loser. Sure, at the top of the ticket he can mobilize the R base, add 11 million votes to the 2016 total, and help down-ballot candidates, but he causes moderate R defections and mobilizes the D base even more, with Biden thus adding 15 million votes to what Hillary Clinton won. But when Trump is not on the ballot, the D base remains mobilized—against him—but the R base less so. Mixing my metaphors, the Georgia run-off was a bright silver lining in what were otherwise dark clouds for the Democrats in the November 3rd down-ballot elections.

One thing is quasi certain, which is that the divide in the Republican Party after January 20th—between well-mannered hard-right conservatives and extreme-right Trumpist populists—will be far deeper than the moderates/liberals vs. progressives cleavage among the Democrats. Mike Davis again:

Let me be clear: the Republican Party has just undergone an irreparable split. (…)

There should no illusion that ‘moderate Republicans’ have suddenly been raised from the grave; the emerging project will preserve the core alliance between Christian evangelicals and economic conservatives and presumably defend most of the Trump era legislation. Institutionally, Senate Republicans, with a strong roster of young talents, will rule the post-Trump camp and via vicious darwinian competition – above all, the successor to McConnell – bring about a generational succession, probably before the Democrats’ octogenarian oligarchy has left the scene.  (The major internal battle on the post-Trump side in the next few years will probably center on foreign policy and the new cold war with China.)

That’s one side of the split. The other is more dramatic: the True Trumpists have become a de facto third party, bunkered down heavily in the House of Representatives. As Trump embalms himself in bitter revenge fantasies, reconciliation between the two camps will probably become impossible, although individual defections may occur. Mar-a-Lago will become base camp for the Trump death cult which will continue to mobilize millions of zombified plain folk to terrorize Republican primaries and ensure the preservation of a large die-hard contingent in the House as well as in red state legislatures. (Republicans in the Senate, accessing huge corporation donations, are far less vulnerable to such challenges.)

If Trump runs for president in 2024 (assuming he’s not in prison or otherwise ineligible), it will blow the R party apart. The Senate wing will not only pull out all the stops to block him—harsh critics who become bootlickers and return to being harsh critics will not revert once again to bootlicking—but may be counted on to run a third party candidate if he somehow wins the R nomination. But if Trump is blocked, he will certainly run under the label of his new MAGA party.

Whatever happens—and as countless analysts and observers have asserted—Trumpism is not going to fade and, echoing Mike Davis, a large portion of the Republican electorate will retain its cult-like devotion to him after he leaves office. And it’s not just the rubes and the yahoos in flyover country. E.g. see these recent tweets by the lobbyist spouse of the longest serving justice on the Supreme Court. There are lots of upper crust Republicans like her,

Speaking for all those not in the cult, political scientist and specialist of populism Jan-Werner Mueller, writing in Project Syndicate, argues simply that Trump must be impeached, removed from office, and permanently excluded from political life. To which one may add: prosecuted, convicted, and sent to the slammer, and, while we’re at it, stripped of his assets and his name effaced from every edifice. Inshallah.

À suivre.

UPDATE: The incontournable Adam Shatz has an à chaud take (Jan. 8th) in the LRB, “The four-year assault.”

2nd UPDATE: 48+ hours after the storming of the Capitol, people (so I’ve been seeing on Twitter) are beginning to understand that what happened on Wednesday was far graver than we initially realized. As MSNBC’s Chris Hayes remarked on Twitter, it is under appreciated how very close things came on Wednesday to a massacre. Watch his report of last night (Friday) here.

In the report, Hayes plays a clip from a video taken by an insurrectionist inside the Capitol named JAYDENX. To get an idea of the Zeitgeist of the mob, the whole thing (39 minutes) may be viewed here. One notes, entre autres, that 95% of the mob is male (and with >95% of them white, of course) and that the women among them are completely unhinged.

See also the bone-chilling piece in Slate by Dan Kois, “They were out for blood: The men who carried zip ties as they stormed the Capitol weren’t clowning around.”

3rd UPDATE: In an alarming report, The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent informs us that the “The far-right Trump insurgency just scored a huge propaganda coup” with its Wednesday assault.

NBC News, for its part, reports on its website that “Extremists made little secret of ambitions to ‘occupy’ Capitol in weeks before attack.”

4th UPDATE: Matthew Levitt, director of the Reinhard program on counterterrorism and intelligence at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has an opinion piece on the NBC News website asserting that “Trump’s aiding Capitol violence as world watches shows U.S. is now exporting extremism.” Money quote:

Over the course of the Trump administration, the United States has increasingly been seen as a kind of a haven for far-right extremism. In much the same way the U.S. and others pressed Saudi Arabia to take tangible action to curb the spread of jihadist ideology from the kingdom to countries around the world in the years after 9/11, the international community today is pressing America to address the growth of far-right fanaticism here and its transfer abroad.

And just as Western countries expressed little sympathy when Riyadh asked for patience as it slowly began to address an issue that presented the kingdom with uncomfortable religious, social and legal challenges, the international community today is impatient when Washington points to the religious, social and legal hurdles it faces in curbing domestic terrorist activities and extremist ideologies.

How do they say “l’arroseur arrosé” in American?

5th UPDATE: The New York Times has a lengthy investigative report (Jan. 31st), “77 days: Trump’s campaign to subvert the election.” The lede: “Hours after the United States voted, the president declared the election a fraud — a lie that unleashed a movement that would shatter democratic norms and upend the peaceful transfer of power.”

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The deliverance

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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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10 days

[update below] [2nd update below]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Killing to Heal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Jay Lifton M.D.

À suivre.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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25 days to go

[update below] [2nd update below]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Civil war, anyone?

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

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

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

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

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

Likewise with Fox, OANN, Newsmax, etc etc.

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

À suivre.

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

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

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30 days to go

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

[update below]

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

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

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

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

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

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

On n’est pas sorti de l’auberge.

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

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35 days to go

[update below]

Thirty-four, to be precise. On last night’s “debate”: I didn’t watch it live, as it was at 3AM my time, though woke up at 5, just after it ended, and read through the instant commentaires on my Twitter and Facebook feeds. The universal consensus being that it was a ‘shitshow’, ‘chaotic’, a ‘disaster’, a ‘disgrace to American democracy’, an ’embarrassment to the United States of America’, and quite simply ‘the worst presidential debate in history’—not to mention a ‘dumpster fire’, ‘train wreck’, ‘grotesque spectacle’, et on en passe—I thought at first that I wouldn’t bother catching it on YouTube and subject myself to 90-minutes of a Trump even more unhinged and wretched than usual. As one friend put it on Facebook, Trump “once again challenged the English language,” as we long ago ran out of adjectives to describe his abject odiousness as a human being, who is devoid of a single redeeming quality. But I finally did watch it and am glad, as one should always form one’s own opinion about these things.

One of the social media refrains, from pundits, fellow academics, and friends alike, was that Biden was ‘weak’ and ineffective—one lefty friend called him “an establishment geezer long past his prime”—and that Chris Wallace was terrible as moderator. On Wallace and losing control of the debate: I thought he did as good a job as he could have given the circumstances. If there was a single potential moderator out there who could have gotten control of an out-of-control loud-mouthed bully with the maturity of a 3-year-old like Trump—and who happens to be President of the United States, so commands a minimum of respect in such a situation—I would like to know his or her name (it could likely never be a her).

As for Biden, I thought he acquitted himself quite well, again given the circumstances. We were all nervous that he would have a senior moment, fumble over his words, or commit one of his famous gaffes, but he didn’t. His responses were lucid and were as they should have been. And telling the idiot to ‘shut up’ and calling him a ‘clown’ were pitch perfect and impeccably timed, as was his body language in the face of Trump’s bullshit and lies. I also liked that Biden avoided answering the question about abolishing the filibuster and enlarging the Supreme Court. And the ‘inshallah’ he let out was cool; I had seen mention of it on Twitter though didn’t catch it during the debate, but he did indeed say it (as I do on most days myself BTW). Calling Antifa an idea, not an organization, was also spot-on. Biden’s keeping his cool while constantly being interrupted was admirable, as I doubt I could have had I been in his place (while watching the spectacle I continually blurted out “You are such as asshole!” whenever Trump opened his trap out of turn and wouldn’t STFU). Some on social media regretted that it wasn’t Warren or Sanders who was squaring off against the idiot, that these two would have landed one body blow after another, maybe even a K.O. punch. That’s possible, even likely, but it’s not clear that a proactive reaction—which would have delighted the liberal-progressive gallery—would have been more effective with moderate Republican women in the suburbs of Philadelphia or Charlotte than Biden’s more understated approach—such voters being one of his targets as he looked straight at the camera—and not at the idiot—as he spoke. And on being more aggressive, one knows the old adage about wrestling with a pig.

The huge takeaway from the “debate” was Trump’s refusal to condemn white supremacy, his calling on the Proud Boys to “stand by,” and declaring that he will both not recognize the election result and seek to disrupt the vote unless he wins. On Trump possibly winning legitimately, Thomas Edsall’s cold shower column last week, “Five things Biden and his allies should be worried about,” spelled out possible reasons why the election may end up being a lot closer than the polls currently suggest—and with a Trump Electoral College victory—without voter suppression—in the realm of the possible. But as Biden remains at +7 to 8 in the FiveThirtyEight poll of polls and with solid leads in the key swing states—the stability in the polls is striking, and what happened last night won’t be changing that (not in Trump’s favor at least)—it looks most unlikely that Trump will be able to pull off a clean EC victory (FWIW, FiveThirtyEight presently rates that a 21% probability). And à propos, we were informed in The New York Times the day after Edsall’s column appeared that “Trump faces challenges even in red states, [the NYT/Siena College] poll shows, as women favor Biden: Close races in Georgia, Iowa and Texas show President Trump’s vulnerability and suggest that Joseph Biden has assembled a formidable coalition.”

On Trump’s threats to stage a coup d’État, everyone has by now read Barton Gellman’s bone-chilling essay in The Atlantic, “The election that could break America: If the vote is close, Donald Trump could easily throw the election into chaos and subvert the result. Who will stop him?” It’s a scary piece, in which even those with deep knowledge of American politics learned new things about the workings of the Electoral College (and which further confirmed a thought I’ve had for a while now—which I’ll maybe develop in the future—that the USA has a terrible constitution, which should serve as an anti-model for incipient democracies). If Trump, enabled by the Senate Republicans and right-wing majority on the SCOTUS, succeeds in his projected coup d’État and rules as a dictator, the constitution will not save us. We are entering a truly dangerous period.

On the Republican Party, I read an NYR Daily article just the other day dated August 12th, by historian of Italian fascism Ruth Ben-Ghiat, “Co-opt & corrupt: How Trump bent and broke the GOP.” It’s a must.

The fundamental problem in American politics, however, goes beyond Trump and GOP. It is summed up in the title of the post-debate commentary by The Bulwark’s Jonathan V. Last: “The president is a sociopath. And 60 million Americans like it.”

I have much more to say but will leave it there for now. À suivre.

UPDATE: Steven Waldman, who is president and co-founder of Report for America, has an interesting contrarian take on the debate on his Facebook page:

I thought the debate was great. And Chris Wallace was outstanding, too.

Since I know pretty much everyone is saying that both the debate and the moderator were global embarrassments, let me explain. The purpose of a debate is to reveal useful things about the candidates. We pretend that we learn by observing a careful exchange of policy positions, and sometimes that happens. But has there ever been a debate where one of the candidates revealed more about himself than this one? Wasn’t it far more clarifying than most debates?

And Chris Wallace was, for that reason, pretty perfect. He inserted himself enough to clarify that Trump was breaking the rules. That was hard to do; he defiantly, on the spot, did not engage in false equivalence. The fact Trump blew right past him was great for the country – because we got to see Trump in his rawest, truest sense. We didn’t learn about the differences in approaches to health policy – but we did learn about character, temperament and personality.

We also got to see how Biden handled such a volatile situation. He mostly showed self restraint and calm. Isn’t that more telling than a few more minutes of him explaining his buy America procurement rules?

Debates should help voters make their decisions. This one provided a deluge of useful information.

Journalists are sometimes criticized for not ‘nailing’ the subjects that they interview. That misunderstands the journalist’s role. The job is often to reveal not rebut. If I’m really honest, I have to admit that when I do interviews, especially for print publications, I will intentionally let subjects continue to say stupid or offensive things, without challenge – because that is far more revealing than if I pointed out their stupidity and thereby prompted them to clarify.

I feel the same way about debates. The point is not to catch the candidates; it’s to reveal them. In that sense, this was the best debate in modern American history.

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg, R.I.P.

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below]

I have nothing to say personally about this remarkable woman and her remarkable life, apart from what I briefly wrote in my February 2019 post on the biopic of her, ‘On the Basis of Sex’ (go here and scroll down). For remembrances that I’ve come across since her death yesterday, see in particular the ones by historian Heather Cox Richardson (in her indispensable daily newsletter ‘Letters from an American’), The New Yorker’s Jill Lepore, and (via Twitter) Elizabeth Warren.

This is the eventuality that liberals and progressives have been dreading since November 9, 2016, of Trump filling a liberal vacancy on the Supreme Court—Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer are ones we’ve worried about—and thereby locking in an ultra-conservative majority for a generation—and with consequences too horrible to contemplate (repealing Roe v. Wade, returning to the Lochner era in regard to business regulation, gutting environmental legislation, further reinforcing the anti-majoritarianism of the electoral system, undermining civil liberties, and you name it). Mitch McConnell may well get away with it, though this is not etched in stone. There is an outside chance that four or more Republican senators (we know their names) may not agree to hold a vote before the election, or during the lame duck session, to replace RBG. The situation is fluid, as The Nation’s Jeet Heer concluded in a trenchant Twitter commentary; we can’t know today how this is going to play out—except that it has, as Politico headlines, “[blown] up the 2020 campaign,” and with, as Ryan Lizza submits, the prospect of “turbocharg[ing] the politics of procedural radicalism.”

The Bulwark’s Jonathan V. Last, in a typically sharp analysis, says that RBG’s death 45 days before the election “may be—forgive the mixed metaphor—the black swan that breaks America’s back.” In this vein, Last’s Bulwark associate, Charlie Sykes, writing in his ‘Morning Shots’ newsletter on “RBG and the coming crisis: We could avoid the bloodbath but we probably won’t,” offers these thoughts:

Just when we thought 2020 couldn’t possibly get worse, we are about to see one of the ugliest political fights of our lifetime. It will leave scars not just on our politics, but also on the culture, and the legitimacy of the Court itself.

If you’ve been working on your ‘Worst Case Scenarios,” you’re going to have tear up and start over. If you’ve been playing at home, it’s possible that your 2020 Apocalypse Bingo card is nearly filled up.

The court vacancy obviously has long term consequences for abortion, voting rights, the environment, immigration, and the next generation of jurisprudence. But TrumpWorld is already gaming out the implications of 4-4 or 5-3 split in a contested election this year. All the planets and meteors of death are coming into alignment.

Of course, the coming bloodbath could be avoided if calmer, reasonable heads prevailed. But who are we kidding? This is 2020 and these fights always seem to bring out of very worst. (…).

Never Trumper Sykes does take care to avoid both-sidesism, as the very worst will, as we know, come exclusively from one side. There is no dirty pool on the D side of the aisle, not on this matter at least. But if Trump and McConnell succeed in ramming through RBG’s replacement before January 21st, the Democrats, should they win back both the White House and Senate—a prospect that may well be further enhanced by D voter rage and mobilization—will have no choice but to enlarge the SCOTUS, plus expand the lower federal courts by 70 to 100 new judgeships, as John Dean (of Watergate fame) has tweeted. Dean and others are talking about 2 extra SCOTUS justices, bringing the total to 11, though Norm Ornstein correctly calls for 13 justices, i.e. adding 4, to “right the wrongs from Garland and RBG.”

Will Biden, Schumer & Co have it in them to play hardball with the Republicans? To enact any of the Dems’ program, they will most certainly have no choice. And they’ll have to strike early in a Biden administration and start adding the justices, while offering the Republicans a deal: to stop at 2 if the Repubs agree to end life terms of all SCOTUS and federal judges, including those currently serving (I read a savant article some time ago by a jurist—I’ll have to find the reference—positing that such a reform would not require a constitutional amendment). I’ve been arguing the principle for years, posting on it a couple of times 8-9 years ago. Most of those who share my view call for a single 18-year term. I go for 12-year renewable terms (and a mandatory retirement age of 75), with nominations staggered every year or two—and beginning immediately, with current justices up for renewal (or retirement) in order of seniority. I can’t imagine that anyone could object to such a reform on principle.

À suivre.

UPDATE: Harold Pollack, a well-known policy maven who teaches social service administration at the University of Chicago, has posted on social media a piece he wrote in Politico in 2016 on term limits for SCOTUS justices.

Heather Cox Richardson, in her September 20th newsletter, weighs in on the “history behind this [Supreme Court] fight that explains just why it is so heated… and what is at stake.”

Brian Beutler, who is editor-in-chief of the smart webzine Crooked, argues that “After Ginsburg Dems must choose radicalism or failure.”

And don’t miss the opinion piece on the NBC News website by the very smart University of Washington political scientist Scott Lemieux—and co-author of Judicial Review and Democratic Theory: Power, Domination, and the Courts (Routledge, 2017)—”Trump and McConnell’s Supreme Court plan justifies anything the Democrats do in 2021: Packing the court, ending the filibuster and giving Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico statehood should all be on the table, if all norms are off the table.”

2nd UPDATE: Matt Bruenig, a founder of the People’s Policy Project, has a must-read piece in Jacobin, “What exactly is the liberal position on the Supreme Court?” The lede: “The Supreme Court is way too powerful — and its power shouldn’t be wielded for good, it should be permanently undermined. Many liberals are close to coming around to this position, but few articulate it clearly.”

Also in the must-read category, and following in Bruenig’s vein, is the piece by The Week’s Ryan Cooper, “Democrats have a better option than court packing.”

And summing things up is the excellent column by the NYT’s Jamelle Bouie, “Down with judicial supremacy! The Supreme Court was never meant to be the only arbiter of the meaning of the Constitution.”

3rd UPDATE: The Atlantic’s Russell Berman, writing on life terms for SCOTUS and federal judges, says that “No other Western democracy allows this: Only in America does so much power rest in the hands of elderly judges.”

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55 days to go

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below]

Fifty-four days, in fact. Political scientist and well-known specialist of populist movements Takis S. Pappas, who is presently at the University of Helsinki, has published an essay on his blog, “Why Trump is likely to get re-elected: A populism expert’s view,” and which he posted on his Facebook page. I had to respond to it (before reading me, please read him). I’ve said much of this before but here goes:

Your last sentence is key: “since no two cases in history are exactly the same, no history’s rule is binding.” The USA differs from the other 8 cases you cite, in that, among others, it has had regularly scheduled, quadrennial elections for the past 230 years and the results of which have been accepted as legitimate. To include the USA in a study of “lands of populism” is debatable (if the USA, why not the UK too, what with Brexit and the Trump admirer Boris Johnson?) In regard to the populist candidate’s victory in 2016, it cannot be stressed enough that this was a *freak accident*. Though a small number of clairvoyant persons predicted a Trump victory, absolutely no one foresaw him winning the electoral college, and by the margin he did, while losing the national popular vote by over 2%. This was unprecedented in US history. To repeat, no pollster, politico, pundit, or political scientist saw this one coming.

Since 2016, Trump’s populist party (the Republicans) has lost almost every intermediate and other by-election. If it weren’t for the anti-majoritarian features of the American electoral system—notably the electoral college, which now structurally favors the Republicans—Trump’s defeat this November would be a foregone conclusion. Since taking office in January 2017, Trump has never, not once, exceeded 47% approval in the polls (the average of them at a given moment). His approval rating has flat-lined at 40-43% for most of the past 3½ years, with the percentage disapproving of him (and strongly so) 10 to 15 points higher. An incumbent in a presidential system simply cannot win reelection with numbers like these—unless the opponent is an extremist and even more unpopular (e.g. France in 2002, and even that was an accident) or the system is rigged.

In this respect, if every registered voter who wishes to cast a vote in the November election is able to do so, and whose ballot is then properly tabulated, Biden will win and Trump will lose. This is a near certainty. The only way Trump can win is through voter suppression (with methods perfected by the Republican Party in a number of states, including key swing ones, not to mention manipulation of the US Postal Service; a phenomenon that makes the USA a true outlier among liberal democracies). For Trump to win 270+ electoral votes without voter suppression, he would have to lose the national popular vote by 3% or less, which is conceivable, though would have to be preceded by a dramatic shift in public opinion in his favor in the closing stretch of the campaign, which is, objectively speaking, most unlikely (particularly in the absence of a scandal or major negative revelation concerning Biden). Unless the polling on Trump over the past four years has been way off (which it was not in 2016, so why would it be now?), Biden is on track to win the national popular vote—provided the election is fair across the board—by at least 4 to 5 points, which will all but guarantee victory in the electoral college. If Biden maintains his present margin—7.8% today at FiveThirtyEight.com (which, FYI, is 0.1% greater than George Bush’s margin over Michael Dukakis in 1988)—he will win an electoral college landslide.

N.B. Since Biden declared his candidacy a year-and-a-half ago, he has never not led Trump in the polls, and by several points. And since early June, he has been at 50% or higher (something Hillary Clinton never achieved in 2016).

On your enumeration of Biden’s weaknesses, I don’t think any of them withstand scrutiny. The Democratic Party has its usual divisions—as a big tent party of the center and left, since when has it not?—but they are not so pronounced this year. The unity of the party behind Biden has, in fact, been quite remarkable (see, e.g., Bernie Sanders’ full-throttled support of Biden at the DNC). On Biden not being “charismatic,” so what? Since when has it taken charisma to beat charisma? As for Trump’s “law and order” demagoguery, there is, at least so far, no sign that this is working for him. In fact, it may well be working against him. And on the “vision thing” (borrowing from G.H.W. Bush), Biden and the Democrats have a detailed program for change (which Trump & Co are trying to tar as “radical left”). However one wants to see Biden on this, what vision is Trump offering except for four more years of himself? As he is the incumbent, the election will be about that and him.

On the chance of a Biden electoral college win if he wins the popular vote by X points, Nate Silver, in a Sep. 2nd tweet, has this:

0-1 points: just 6%!
1-2 points: 22%
2-3 points: 46%
3-4 points: 74%
4-5 points: 89%
5-6 points: 98%
6-7 points: 99%

To be continued.

UPDATE: Takis Pappas responded to me on Facebook:

The trouble, as I see it, is that Trump’s “vision thing” resonates among that “society thing” that America has become in recent years. The country is quite different from what it used to be during most of the past 230 years of political liberalism (which BJ still respects, hence the difference with Trump). I don’t know if Trump’s 2016 win was a “freak accident,” as you say. What I do know, though, if that the four years of his rule have been freakish and have cultivated a freakish mentality that that will get expressed in this freakish election. Pollsters cannot capture most of that! On the other hand, one can easily predict that, in typical populist fashion, Trump has planned his campaign around winning swing states for attaining 270+ electoral votes. To this purpose, he will employ the state mechanism and his powers for discouraging voters from voting, suppressing, and any other type of electoral trickery. Polarization is only to his advantage. Anyways, if Trump’s America is comparable to other known cases of populism, as I believe and have written some about, then I also think that there there are lessons to be learned.

And my rejoinder (Sep. 10th):

You’re right about one thing, which is that the Trump campaign is entirely focused on crossing the 270 EV threshold—Trump’s henchmen know that he has no chance of winning the popular vote—and will pull out all the stops to get there, including voter suppression, trickery, breaking norms and even laws, abject demagoguery, and you name it. As more than one pundit has observed, Trump is not so much trying to win reelection as he is to stay in power, as the personal consequences to him of losing—in view of the almost countless lawsuits that will await him—are potentially calamitous. It is likewise for the Republican Party and its plutocratic donor class, for whom a loss of the Senate, in addition to the White House, is almost unthinkable. So it looks like we don’t differ on Trump’s sole path to victory.

You’re also right in suggesting that pollsters can’t capture everything. There’s a fair amount of guesswork in the likely voter screens and we’ve learned that certain major polling institutes were underestimating the number of less educated white voters. The latter has been rectified, presumably at least. But like I said, it is really very unlikely that the polls (the mean as calculated by 538) are seriously misfiring, e.g. having Biden at, say, +7 when he may, in fact, only be at +2.

American society is certainly different from what it was 60 years ago but when it comes to the party system, the big change has taken place within the Republican Party, which has gone from a big tent party spanning the center to the hard right, to one entirely dominated by the hard right, with its erstwhile liberal and moderate conservative wings having vanished and mainstream conservatives capitulated to the reactionaries and populists. How this came about I discussed in my September 2017 post “How the Republican Party went crazy.”

What has in effect happened to the Republican Party is that it has become “Southernized,” assuming the ethos and world-view of the Old South. One cannot make sense of American politics without understanding the specificity of the South—i.e. the states of the Confederacy—which has been hostile terrain for liberal values and where one-party rule has always been the norm. The American South has not only been an outlier among democracies but was the most quasi-feudal region in the western world into the 20th century. All one needs to do is look at voter participation rates before the 1965 Voting Rights Act; e.g. in presidential elections in South Carolina to the 1940s, the percentage of the adult population that voted was in the single digits (and with the Democratic candidate receiving in the mid to high 90%), signifying that not only were black voters disenfranchised but many (poor) whites as well. Until the civil rights era, the Solid South was, of course, dominated by the Democratic Party. In the national party, though, the Southern Democrats were only one bloc among others. But when southern whites defected to the Republicans—and with a dominant GOP replacing the Democrats at the state level—their world-view eventually became hegemonic in the party, far more so than it was in the pre-1960s D party. This is the reality of American politics today and will remain so for a long while to come.

If one hasn’t seen it, do read the op-ed (Sep. 8th) by NYT editorial board member Jesse Wegman, “The Electoral College will destroy America.”

2nd UPDATE: With 50 days to go (Sep. 13th), Biden is maintaining his lead at +7.2. Unless there’s a big game-changer between now and November 3rd—an October Surprise is always possible, of course (e.g. the Comey letter in 2016)—Biden is likely to win the popular vote by more or less this margin. One thing that has not been much mentioned in election analyses is third-party or other candidates, who were a factor in 2016. Here is the cumulative total vote as a percentage for minor party candidates in the past five elections:
2016: 5.7%
2012: 1.7%
2008: 1.4%
2004: 1.0%
2000: 3.7%

The figure this year will no doubt be much closer to that of 2012 than 2016—and with potential third-party votes going to the candidate challenging the unpopular incumbent, as tends to happen. In 2016, 136M people voted. If we assume that 150M vote this year—a big “if” given the pandemic, though an otherwise realistic prediction in view of the 2018 midterm turnout—we’re looking at a Biden-Trump result on the order of 52.5%/45.5% (and ≈ 78M/68M votes; N.B. Obama won 52.9% of the popular vote in 2008 and 51.1% in 2012). With this margin Biden will obviously win the Electoral College in a walk, netting 350 EVs if he takes every state that Hillary Clinton came within 5 percentage points of winning. Realistic? On verra.

3rd UPDATE: Writing in The Guardian (Sep. 13th), John S. Gardner, who was special assistant to George H.W. Bush and deputy assistant to George W. Bush, reviews (favorably) historian Heather Cox Richardson’s How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America (Oxford University Press, 2020). See also historian Randall J. Stephens’ review of Richardson’s book in The Washington Post. And if one has some time, listen to discussions with Richardson on C-Span and Bill Moyers on Democracy.

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65 days to go

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

Sixty-three days, actually. The Republican national convention has come and gone, with Democrats—including many friends and family—wringing their hands, wetting their beds, and otherwise flipping out over a modest Trump “bounce” in two post-convention polls, plus dreadly fearing that masses of white people across the heartland will flee into his arms following the unrest in Kenosha, a smallish city that the vast majority of Americans outside the state of Wisconsin and maybe northern Illinois had never heard of ten days ago.

First, the RNC, which I watched some of the speeches of, mainly the first two nights (though not Trump; that’s asking too much). Richard North Patterson, writing in The Bulwark on the RNC’s “[f]our days of staggering cynicism and deceit,” thus began his take:

Though Donald Trump preens like an ersatz Mussolini, to compare his convention to fascist theater from the 1930s would be to stretch responsible historical analogy. But they share a depressingly familiar fusion of lies, anger, paranoia, erasures of reality, toxic insularity, and blind fervor for a nihilistic leader who brooks no dissent.

Over four evenings, we witnessed a cult of personality rooted in mythologizing a mendacious pseudo-populist so irretrievably self-obsessed that he is redefining our democracy by inflaming the basest instincts of his followers.

To get an idea of the “basest instincts.” just watch Kimberly Guilfoyle’s screamfest, followed shortly after by that of her boyfriend, Donald Trump Jr, who IMHO should work on his delivery if he’s going to succeed his father as GOP caudillo (ex-GOPer Rick Wilson, remarking that “cocaine” was trending on Twitter during Don Jr’s speech, observed that he does indeed give the impression of having had “too much blow”). Then there was the gun-toting McCloskey couple from St. Louis, whose address to the convention is a must-see in order to fully grasp the Zeitgeist of today’s Republican Party. The Le Pens—père, fille, and petite-fille—would certainly find the McCloskey’s prestation a little on the extreme side.  And to get an idea of the R party’s future, check out the speech by Angry Young Male Charlie Kirk (who, oy vey, is almost exactly the same age as my daughter), whom many liberals and progressives have likely never heard of but is a mega-star in the MAGA world.

In a commentary in The Bulwark, “Who was Trump talking to? Hint: Probably not you,” #NeverTrump Lincoln Project co-founder Reed Galen submitted:

The Republican convention featured mostly Donald Trump, his family members, and his most obsequious aiders and abettors—Mike Pompeo, Kellyanne Conway, Matt Gaetz. The RNC had no interest in reaching Democrats, independents, or anyone who might be persuadable. The rhetoric was so over the top that they weren’t even trying to reach Trump-skeptical Republicans.

So whom were they speaking to? Exactly the same 28 percent to 32 percent of the country who live in the Trump-Fox-Bannon-Limbaugh flywheel of doom. That’s it. Trump has literally no interest beyond those who follow him unconditionally. Anyone else, to his gangster’s mind, is not worthy of his attention. Just ask blue state residents.

It was, in fact, not precisely the case that the Republican convention was addressing the sole MAGA world, witness the numerous speakers of color the first two nights, beginning with the high-profile South Carolinians Nikki Haley and Tim Scott, who talked like mainstream Republicans from twenty years ago. And then there were Afro-Americans Vernon Jones, a Trump-supporting D state rep from Georgia (who’s somewhat controversial down his way, as one learns here); Kim Klacik, the sacrificial R candidate in Maryland’s 7th CD (but whose critique of the way the Democrats have governed cities was not without merit, so argued TNR’s progressive staff writer Osita Nwanevu); 1980s-90s football star Herschel Walker, who spoke of his 37-year friendship with Trump, who, he reliably informed us, does not only not have a racist bone in his body but downright likes black people (who knew?); and convicted bank robber Jon Ponder, who found God and Jesus and became a Good Man—and whom Trump pardoned live during the convention (one wonders if Ponder would have been invited to speak to the RNC—and received his presidential pardon—had he taken his righteous path but in finding Allah and Muhammad instead). As far as publicity stunts go, the Ponder pardon was pretty shameless, as was the immigrant naturalization ceremony at the White House (the immigrants not knowing they were going to be RNC props). But while the Republicans’ diversity mise en scène may have been “all tip and no iceberg,” as a TDB piece by commentator-author Sophia A. Nelson headlined, it was likely effective with at least some of its target audience, which was suburban Republican women who had drifted away from Trump, particularly over his management of the pandemic and then George Floyd and BLM, and are looking to “come home,” but with assurances that he is not a racist. So if there’s a post-convention Trump bounce, this is where it’s coming from. To this one may add the small, but not negligible, number of black men who have been giving Trump favorable ratings, more so than they normally would a Republican.

There was much comment on the Republicans, for the first time ever for any party, not publishing a platform at their convention. But it is, in fact, not the case that they do not have a platform or program, as David Frum explained in The Atlantic. They very much do; they’re just afraid to make it public and to have to defend it, as they know full well that even many of their own voters don’t agree with it, not to mention potential swing voters.

One of the best analyses I’ve read of the RNC, published after its second day, is by the excellent Eric Levitz in New York magazine, “The RNC has made a compelling case for America’s imminent collapse.”

On Dems shitting bricks (direct quote from a friend, who says she’s doing just that) over a perceived tightening of the race and Kenosha rebounding to Trump’s favor, there have been urgent entreaties from all sorts of people that Biden must speak out forcefully against violence by rioters, that he needs to have a “Sister Souljah moment,” if not a “Sister Souljah month,” even while Trump continues to pour gasoline on the fire and cheer on armed vigilante militias, otherwise Slow Joe will lose. The mythical white backlash (which we haven’t actually seen in 50+ years). The fact is, Biden has been speaking out against violence—on all sides—and will continue to do so, but if he were to look like he’s focusing particular attention on rioters—who naturally need to be deplored—and not on where it belongs—on the police and MAGA militias—then he will risk alienating part of his own base, which he can hardly afford to do—but without impressing hypothetical panicky white folks fleeing to Trump. As Jean-Marie Le Pen used to usefully remind us, voters will always prefer the original to the copy.

A reminder: protestors and looters/arsonists are not the same people. And there is, so far as I’ve read, nothing to suggest that Kenosha is an exception. But there is a big problem in Kenosha—and countless other municipalities across America—with law enforcement, witness the police chief there, not to mention the county sheriff (see this video by John Oliver from 9:50, though the whole thing is worth watching), who is—and I weigh my words carefully—an outright Nazi. This cannot last.

À propos, see the column just posted in NY magazine by the liberal, not-left-wing Jonathan Chait, “How Trump brought Nazis into Republican politics.”

In conclusion—for the moment—here’s a tweet by The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent:

Any Dem who hand-wrings to the media about how violence will help Trump is him/herself helping Trump. You’re feeding the storyline that violence is good for him, ie that voters will see him as “strong,” and not as part of the problem, w/o doing a damn thing that’s constructive.

Here’s a better idea, hand-wringers. Draw more attention to the fact that a top strategist for Trump openly and explicitly declared that violence is “better” for him politically, and to the fact that Trump is a *total failure* on safety and law and order.

À suivre.

UPDATE: Joe Biden’s speech in Pittsburgh yesterday (Aug. 31st) was excellent (watch here). He said exactly what needed to be said.

See the spot-on opinion piece in The Washington Post (Sep. 1st) by the Lincoln Project’s Stuart Stevens, “No, Wisconsin won’t make Democrats lose.”

Ex-GOPers Max Boot and Jennifer Rubin, in their WaPo columns (here and here), also tell it like it is.

2nd UPDATE: Joshua Shanes, who is associate professor of Jewish studies and director of the Center for Israel Studies at the College of Charleston, has an essay in Slate (Aug. 28th) that is well worth the read, “This was the week American fascism reached a tipping point.”

3rd UPDATE: The Brennan Center for Justice has report (Aug. 27th) by its Liberty & National Security fellow Michael German, “Hidden in plain sight: Racism, white supremacy, and far-right militancy in law enforcement.”

4th UPDATE: A friend has asked what I think of Andrew Sullivan’s August 28th blog post “The trap the Democrats walked right into: If law and order are what this election is about, they will lose it.” Sullivan, pour mémoire, is famous for his “Henny-Penny, the sky is falling!” reactions to fast-moving political events (e.g. one recalls his despairing that Barack Obama had thrown away his re-election prospects in 2012 after his counter-performance in the first debate with Mitt Romney). In this latest piece, he positively flips out. E.g. he offers this:

All this reassurance played out against a backdrop of Kenosha, which was burning, and Minneapolis, where a suicide led to a bout of opportunistic looting, and Washington DC, where mobs of wokesters went through the city chanting obscenities, invading others’ spaces, demanding bystanders raise fists in solidarity, with occasional spasms of violence. These despicable fanatics, like it or not, are now in part the face of the Democrats [emphasis added]: a snarling bunch of self-righteous, entitled bigots, chanting slogans rooted in pseudo-Marxist claptrap, erecting guillotines — guillotines! — in the streets as emblems of their agenda. They are not arguing; they are attempting to coerce. And liberals, from the Biden campaign to the New York Times, are too cowardly and intimidated to call out these bullies and expel them from the ranks [emphasis added].

To call Sullivan’s words here wildly over-the-top would be an understatement. What he says is simply bonkers. If Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity & Co. want to present looters, arsonists, and smashers—who, FYI, do not have known political views, let alone any that can be characterized as “left-wing”—as a face of the Democratic Party, then that is what they will do. There’s not much one can do about it. And the last thing the Biden campaign needs to do is to run a fool’s errand and try to refute the right’s charge. Talk about an exercise in futility.

A fundamental rule of politics, and particularly of electoral campaigns: Do not play your opponents’ game or wade onto their terrain; do not let them dictate your agenda or seize the initiative; do not respond to their demagogic questions; do not let them lead you around by the nose.

This also applies, by the way, to unsolicited advice from media and other pundits.

As for rowdy 20-year-old “wokesters” who importune restaurant patrons in Adams-Morgan, they have, until proof to the contrary, nothing whatever to do with the Democratic Party, so there are no ranks to expel them from.

The guillotine street theater stunt: I found that amusing.

Further down in Sullivan’s jeremiad is this morsel:

And let’s be frank about this and call this by its name: this is very Weimar. The center has collapsed. Armed street gangs of far right and far left are at war on the streets.

That there are armed street gangs of the far right—militias—is an empirical fact. But on the left? Did the protestors and partiers in Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland—or Kenosha—parade around with AR-15s and other such long guns? (As for the 48-year-old wanker in Portland who shot the Patriot Prayer militiaman, he looks to be an outlier with some personal issues). Sullivan’s both-sidesism not only makes no sense but is unacceptable.

The bed-wetting pundit concludes:

But Biden, let’s face it, is weak and a party man to his core, and has surrendered to the far left at almost every single turn — from abortion to immigration to race. You’d be a fool I think, to believe he could resist their fanaticism in office, or that if he does, he won’t be toast in a struggle to succeed him. He remains the only choice in this election. But on the central question of civil order, he blew it last week and so did the Dems. Biden needs a gesture of real Sister Souljah clarity to put daylight between him and the violent left. He has indeed condemned the riots, with caveats. But at some point, the caveats have to go. And the sooner the better.

Sullivan’s characterization of Biden is, to put it charitably, wide of the mark. As I’ve written on the Democratic nominee more than once on AWAV, I don’t need to do so again here. And to speak of a fanaticized left inside the Democratic Party—and to whom Biden will be unable to resist—is so unhinged and disconnected from actual reality that I will not dignify the assertion with a refutation.

On “a gesture of real Sister Souljah clarity,” please read the post on the Wonkette website by Stephen Robinson, “No, white people, Joe Biden doesn’t need a ‘Sister Souljah moment’.” And do take the time to watch the video at the very end.

An impressive woman she was Sister Souljah. Unfortunate that she was cancelled three decades back.

At the present moment (Sep. 2nd), there is no indication that Kenosha is rebounding in Trump’s favor. Au contraire. See, e.g., David A. Graham in The Atlantic, “Kenosha could cost Trump the election: The president thinks that inflaming racial tension and provoking violence will aid his campaign. The numbers suggest otherwise.”

Also see the “Letter from Wisconsin” in Politico by JR Ross, “Trump claims he saved Kenosha. Wisconsin voters aren’t buying it: Wisconsinites might be souring on protests, but so far, they aren’t embracing Trump.”

5th UPDATE: Washington resident Lauren Victor has an op-ed in WaPo (Sep. 4th) that is worth the read: “I was the woman surrounded by BLM protesters at a D.C. restaurant. Here’s why I didn’t raise my fist.” Somehow I doubt that her experience with the wokesters will cause her to vote for Trump.

As to the cris d’orfraie of certain conservatives who have been shocked—shocked I tell you!—at the wokester guillotine stunts, right-leaning libertarian Cathy Young has gone so far as to commit a lengthy blog post, “Guillotine Chic: The new fad on the far left is not cool or funny. Here’s the real story of what it celebrates,” in which she offers up a history of the French Revolution during its momentous 1793-94 period (Young, who grew up in the Soviet Union, says she’s been a “French Revolution nerd since the age of 14,” which I can see, as while I teach the subject as part of survey courses—devoting some 6 to 8 hours to it—she is clearly more intimate with the nitty-gritty details than am I).

While nerd Young must have enjoyed writing her history—it’s always fun to go to town on things we’re passionate about—if her target audience was wokesters or other guillotine apologists, I think she was wasting her time, as (a) it is unlikely that any will have seen and read it (or, if they did, would at all be impressed or rethink their attitude), and (b) the history of France in the 1790s is quite simply irrelevant to anything happening today (and particularly in the USA). As for “la veuve,” given that capital punishment was universal across the world back in those days (though Robespierre was personally opposed, as I imagine just about everyone reading this is), the guillotine was, so I tell my students (American undergrads), invented as a humane way to execute people. It’s swift and does the job 100% of the time. There have, to my knowledge, never been any screw-ups (e.g. of the blade only partially sectioning the neck). Seriously, I ask my students, if you had to be judicially killed, what method would you prefer: the hangman, firing squad, electric chair, gas chamber, chemical injection, or the guillotine? If I had to bite the bullet, as it were, and choose, I think I’d go with “la veuve.” And you, dear reader?

Another thing about the guillotine stunt. Young and other conservatives are taking it literally but for the wokesters, I do think it was, to use a French expression, second degré.

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70 days to go

This is a couple of days late, as usual. Last week was the Democratic National Convention, as one is likely aware. Had it not been for the goddamned pandemic, I would have been there, in Milwaukee in mid-July, staying with my childhood best friend in Shorewood. And I surely would have been able to obtain a pass to access the convention floor (as a journalist/blogger or in some other capacity). I was planning on and looking forward to it, particularly as it’s been 19 years since I was last there. It was alas not to be. I grew up in Milwaukee, living there from K through 6th grade, though visiting many times after moving away. I have tender feelings for that city, which I loved as a boy. It is also where I came of age politically, in 1964. I was with my parents when they voted that November 3rd (long paper ballots), at the Hartford Avenue School polling station, which is also where I went to school that year (3rd grade). I recall my indignation overhearing two boys in my class, named Ted and James, saying they (i.e. their parents) were for Goldwater, and being disappointed (following my parents, obviously) at the loss of John Reynolds (D) to Warren Knowles (R) in the Wisconsin gubernatorial election.

And then there was 1968. We were naturally for Eugene McCarthy, for whom I passed out leaflets on at least one occasion (at the UWM campus, where my parents taught; I was in the 6th grade at Campus Elementary School). Lots of vivid political memories of that year: the Tet offensive, LBJ’s address to the nation withdrawing his candidacy for reelection, the King and RFK assassinations, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, and the DNC in Chicago, which we had on TV while my father was packing us up to move (to Ankara, Turkey).

Voilà a trip down memory lane. In the here and now, I managed to watch some of last week’s convention en différé, which I thought the Democrats pulled off very well in view of the circumstances. Taking the speeches in order (the ones I watched), I thought Bernie Sanders was absolutely excellent, underscoring the authoritarian danger posed by Trump and reiterating his full-throttled support of Joe Biden. He said exactly what needed to be said (if one didn’t see it, watch here). I find the genuine bond between these two elderly men—their manifest appreciation for one another—almost moving. Following Bernie on Monday was Michelle Obama, whose speech (here) was, as everyone knows, rightly praised to the high heavens. If she’s game for it, she’ll be Biden’s logical pick to succeed RBG on the SCOTUS. It will be tough for the Senate Repubs to try to block that one.

On Tuesday, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez got her one minute (96 seconds, in fact), to second Bernie Sanders’ pro forma nomination (required by DNC rules), which she was asked to do (and she was typically tops). Lots of lefties were indignant and upset that the D party establishment looked to be giving her the short shrift—dissing her, in effect—but, while I love AOC, I think the role she played was the right one. There were clearly political considerations, with AOC being a lightning rod for Fox News and the US social media réacosphère; as one pundit put it, the Democrats’ convention spectacle was targeted at the median voter, not the median Democratic Party voter. Given AOC’s star power, a longer speech by her would have drowned out the others and distracted from them. And she is, after all, only finishing her second year in the House. She’ll play a bigger role in 2024 and beyond.

John Kerry, focusing on America and the world (here), was fine, and Bill Clinton was finer (here). There was some objection to the latter even speaking at all, with #MeToo, Jeffrey Epstein, and whatever. Come on, he was a two-term Democratic President of the United States, for crying out loud. And he’s frigging Bill Clinton! GMAB. It was nice to hear from Jimmy and Roselynn Carter (he America’s best former president), now in their mid 90s. But the real star on Tuesday, for me at least, was Jill Biden (here). First time I’ve seen her. She was so impressive. I loved her. What a wonderful teacher she must be. She’ll be a terrific First Lady. As for comparisons with the present one, no comment.

Wednesday’s power lineup included Elizabeth Warren (here), who never disappoints; Nancy Pelosi (here), who was fine; and Hillary Clinton (here), whom various pundits and others dumped on but who I thought was good, as she invariably is. Hillary-bashing continues unabated on the right, center, and left, but which I will never partake in. As for Kamala Harris’s speech (here), I thought she aced it, though there was evidently not unanimity on this. E.g. John Judis, writing on his Facebook page, panned Harris, calling her speech “abysmal” and “cliched,” which even made him “wince.” His thumbs down review of Harris attracted over a hundred comments, with many—including well-known journalists and other names—agreeing with him (though The Nation’s Katha Pollitt, echoing a thought I had, observed that almost all of those who were dumping on Ms. Harris happened to be men). None of the criticisms caused me to rethink my assessment one iota. I like Kamala Harris and was happy that Biden picked her as his running mate—and his putative successor—as she had been my n°1 choice for V-P since it became clear that Biden would be the nominee. Pour mémoire, I wrote about Harris on July 4, 2019, in my post on the Democrats’ first debate. Money quote:

There is a near-total consensus that she was the breakout star of the debate, via her now-famous exchange with Joe Biden but also supremely self-confident, in-charge demeanor. She showed herself to be the prosecutor that she once was. In a debate with Trump, she’ll cut him into little pieces. Some think that her attack on Biden was too calculated—as if politicians on the campaign trail don’t calculate—or overly aggressive (a charge that would likely not be leveled if she were male). (…) As for her positioning within the D party, she’s somewhere between the progressive and establishment/centrist wings. She’s waffled on issues or quickly adapted her position (e.g. on health care). The left is wary of her on account of her record as San Francisco DA and California Attorney General, with a NYT op-ed from January by law professor Lara Bazelon slamming that record—as not progressive—being widely circulated by lefties on social media (also here and here). Harris will need to respond to the critiques. I assume, or at least hope, that she acquits herself well and quels the left. It will not be good if her candidacy hits a wall, because if Warren doesn’t make it, we must have Harris.

After posting the above, I came across a couple of pieces that further increased my esteem for Harris, one by Jocelyn Sears on her personal history, “13 trailblazing facts about Kamala Harris,” the other by Courtney Swanson defending her record as prosecutor, “‘The research on her record: Why Kamala’s time as a prosecutor and Attorney General are a damn good thing’.” There was also the enquête by Ben Terris, “Who is Kamala Harris, really? Ask her sister Maya.”

There have obviously been a slew of articles on Harris since Biden announced his pick two weeks ago. The one in The Washington Post by Dan Morain, a well-known journalist in California, is worth the read: “America is about to see what smart Republicans saw in Kamala Harris years ago.” And the post, which has gone viral, “Kamala Harris’ impression of her Jewish mother-in-law is worthy of an Oscar,” is a must.

I like what TNR’s Walter Shapiro had to say in his “The unlikely bond between Joe Biden and Kamala Harris: She’s a natural talent at American politicking, just like he is.” He begins:

What many forget about Kamala Harris’s presidential campaign was that, for the most part, she was a happy warrior. Sure, her slash-and-burn attack on Joe Biden over busing in their first debate last June has become seared in our brains through constant repetition on cable TV.

But that was the exception.

What I remember is a different and more upbeat candidate on the campaign trail, a senator who gleefully laughed at her own jokes. In a speech to a largely Black audience in Florence, South Carolina, in early July of last year, Harris talked about how everyone was “going through individual and group therapy,” trying to grasp what Donald Trump was doing to America.

Instead of rage, Harris offered her own version of hope: “We’re going to be fine.” She harked back to the Founding Fathers and their concept of checks and balances as she stressed, “This is a nation that was founded anticipating a moment just like this.” And her dramatic example was the late John McCain casting a crucial Senate vote to break with Trump and Republican orthodoxy to save the Affordable Care Act.

This is a view of politics that Biden shares. They believe that not all Republicans are beyond salvation—and that our democracy and our values can be saved through individual acts of courage like McCain’s.

Many volumes will be written about why Biden chose Harris. But the truest bond between them may be the simplest: They are both politicians in the best sense of the word. They understand elections, Capitol Hill, and how to be tough without losing your sense of humor.

Could one possibly say such a thing about any Republican today?

Historians Thomas Meaney and Samuel Moyn have a piece in The Guardian, “Kamala Harris is Obama’s natural heir: another moderate child of radical parents.”

And Barack Obama. What to say about his speech on Wednesday? Any number of speeches he’s given over the past sixteen years have been said to be his best ever, and which more than a few are saying about this one. It is indeed possible, as he said what he felt he needed to say, in his trademark understated tone, about the stakes in this election and the grave threat to American democracy in the unthinkable event of a Trump reelection. I am not nostalgic for Obama’s presidency—there were too many frustrations and we needed to move on—but when it comes to gravitas, no American politician in my lifetime rises above him.

On the last day, Thursday, I went straight to the main event, which was, of course, Joe Biden’s acceptance speech. The reviews were unanimous, which is that he hit it out of the park. He couldn’t have been better. I was, as AWAV readers know, opposed to his candidacy until Warren dropped out, on account of his age, having been around too long, and lacking a rationale. But Mr. Biden proved me wrong. He is indeed, at this present moment, l’homme qu’il faut. He has achieved the singular feat of uniting his party behind him. There are no unhappy Democrats right now. Joe Biden is, as I’ve been saying to everyone, a good person (emphasis added). In this, among many other things, he is the utter antithesis of the current resident of the White House. And politically speaking, he is exactly where the Democratic Party needs to be as the general election campaign kicks off.

A note on Tuesday’s roll call vote (here), which I thought came off very well (funner to watch than at a real convention): of the 70-odd persons who spoke from the 57 state and other delegations, around 25 by my count were “white,” which is to say, close to two-thirds were what in America are called “persons of color.” As for the gender ratio, it was 50-50. Just an observation.

As for a platform, the Democrats do indeed have one. They do have policy policy positions. I’ll address that later. in the meantime, see the piece from last May by Vox’s Matthew Yglesias on Joe Biden’s “transformative” policy agenda.

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95 days to go

The fire devil. A president sets fire to his country.

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Ninety-four days actually, until we vote the orange-haired idiot out of office and send him to the proverbial trash heap of history. Everyone knows the polls, which all have Biden winning haut la main, though cautious people naturally caution that things could change over the coming three months, the Electoral College remains skewed in the idiot’s favor, and it ain’t over till it’s over. Sure. But as I’ve been insisting for over two years now—and repeat when asked, which is more than once a week—if every registered voter in the USA—including those who seek to register in good faith before their state’s registration deadline—who wishes to vote on November 3rd—in person or by mail—and is able to do so, and whose ballot is properly tabulated, Biden will win and Trump will lose. Period. It won’t even be close. I say this not based on wishful thinking but on polling data that has been consistent over Trump’s entire term, which has had the idiot’s pre-pandemic job approval rating at 41-43% (according to FiveThirtyEight.com) and has since fallen to 40-41% (and with his disapproval now at 55-56%). There is simply no way an incumbent presidential candidate can win reelection with these poll numbers—and, moreover, with his opponent at a steady 8-9% lead at this stage in the race and hovering at 50-51% (and please don’t bring up Michael Dukakis’s ephemeral post-DNC bounce in July ’88). C’est du jamais vu.

This presupposes, of course, that the election is fair, i.e. that the Republicans do not succeed in their manifold efforts at voter suppression in swing states. This is a risk, though I have been doubtful that they’ll get away with it, as, among other things, the Democrats, whose activist army will be mobilized to the hilt and which is flush with financial resources, will not let that happen. But now there are alarming reports of a real danger to the integrity of the election, involving manipulating the US Postal Service—presently headed by a Trump crony (America really is in Banana Republic territory now)—with the aim of invalidating mail-in ballots (see here and here). Again, I have a hard time imagining that the Republicans will be able to pull this off if it comes to that—la ficelle est une peu grosse and the Democrats will be ready for it—but the danger is there. Trump and the Republican plutocracy will pull out all the stops to stave off defeat, one may be sure of that. What a country the USA has turned out to be.

In lieu of going on with my own thoughts, which would mainly involve repeating what I’ve already said about the orange-haired idiot over the past four years, I will link to two articles in The Atlantic. One is by James Fallows—who has long been one of America’s best longform journalists—”The 3 weeks that changed everything: Imagine if the National Transportation Safety Board investigated America’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.” I had missed it when it was posted on June 29th but then my friend Claire Berlinski tweeted it earlier this week, with this comment:

[I]n my view this is the best article that’s so far been published about the Trump era…If I were an American history teacher in the year 2120, and if I had to choose one and only one article from the Trump era to introduce the period to my students, I’d pick this one.

The piece is long but well worth the read.

The other, by Anne Applebaum, is dated July 23rd, “Trump is putting on a show in Portland: The president is deploying the kind of performative authoritarianism that Vladimir Putin pioneered.” It may seem passé now that Trump has beat a retreat—the “big loser of the ‘battle’ of Portland,” as Le Monde put it—but is useful in understanding what he was up to in sending federal paramilitaries in their ridiculous jungle fatigues to confront his Blue America enemies.

If one is not familiar with it, I want to highly recommend the Never Trumper webzine The Bulwark, which was founded in 2018 after the demise of The Weekly Standard and whose singular mission is destroying Trump and the Trumpized Republican Party—a party with which almost all of its writers long identified. These folks are not my ideological comrades-in-arms but we are presently objective allies. I receive The Bulwark’s email newsletter two or three times a day and, unlike so many other newsletters that clutter my inbox, I always open this one and read it. I have to hand it to these conservative polemicists—notably Jonathan V. Last, Charlie Sykes, and Tim Miller—they’re terrific writers, have a sense of humor, and, like the Lincoln Project, they have Trump’s number. They know the Republican beast in the way that ex-Communists in the 1950s and ’60s knew theirs. I just hope they’re moving to the center in their views on welfare state issues (e.g. as laid out here by Geoffrey Kabaservice). We’ll see after next January 20th, inshallah.

UPDATE: Watch this 4½-minute ABC News interview (August 4th) with John Thompson, former US Census Bureau chief, on the possible consequences of the Trump regime’s moving up by one month the deadline for completing the 2020 census.

2nd UPDATE: Yale University law and history professor Samuel Moyn has a review essay in The New Republic (August 4th) on how “The Never Trumpers have already won.” The lede: “They’re not trying to save the GOP from a demagogue. They’re infiltrating the Democratic Party.” The book he reviews is Never Trump: The Revolt of the Conservative Elites, by Robert P. Saldin and Steven M. Teles (Oxford University Press, 2020).

3rd UPDATE: The NYT has an enquête (August 6th) by David Leonhardt and Lauren Leatherby on “The unique U.S. failure to control the virus.” The lede: “Slowing the coronavirus has been especially difficult for the United States because of its tradition of prioritizing individualism and missteps by the Trump administration.”

4th UPDATE: If one has the stomach for it, read the bone-chilling explanation in The Bulwark (August 6th) by Dmitri Mehlhorn—an attorney, investor, entrepreneur, and co-founder of Investing in US—on “How to steal an election: Four ways Trump can still win, 89 days out.”

See likewise the report in TNR (August 3rd) by journalists Matthew Phelan and Jesse Hicks, “Inside the Project Veritas plan to steal the election.” The lede: “James O’Keefe’s group is part of a sprawling campaign to delegitimize mail-in balloting in the fall—a campaign being led by the White House.”

5th UPDATE: Robert P. Saldin and Steven M. Teles—who teach political science at the University of Montana and Johns Hopkins, respectively—respond in TNR (August 7th) to Samuel Moyn’s above-mentioned review essay: “Don’t blame Never Trumpers for the left’s defeat.” The lede: “Anti-Trump conservatives didn’t bring down Bernie Sanders. There are other forces pulling the Democratic Party to the center.”

6th UPDATE: William Saletan’s story in Slate (August 9th), “The Trump pandemic: A blow-by-blow account of how the president killed thousands of Americans,” is being praised across the board on social media.

And this by science writer Ed Yong, in the September issue of The Atlantic: “How the pandemic defeated America: A virus has brought the world’s most powerful country to its knees.”

7th UPDATE: With 85 days to go (August 10th), Richard North Patterson, writing in The Bulwark, cogently evaluates “The ravings of Mad King Trump: On the pandemic, the economy, health care, and his 2020 opponent, he is utterly detached from reality.”

8th UPDATE: If one hasn’t already, do read the lengthy article in the May 11th New Yorker by Evan Osnos, “How Greenwich Republicans learned to love Trump: To understand the President’s path to the 2020 election, look at what he has provided the country’s executive class.” This is one of the most important reports on the Trump electorate to date: of a significant portion of it, of well-to-do, heretofore moderate Republicans who have lurched right.

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That’s the title of a typically excellent essay by my dear friend Adam Shatz, posted on the LRB website on June 5th (it will be in the June 18th issue), in which he weighs in on the events in the US over the past two weeks—and, more generally, on the subject of race in America, on which his knowledge is deep. I would normally say that I could have signed the piece myself, though Adam, as is his wont, includes numerous literary and historical references that are beyond my culture intellectuelle.

One literary personality Adam cites at several points is James Baldwin, which prompted me to rewatch Raoul Peck’s powerful documentary I Am Not Your Negro (available on Netflix in France; in the US, on Amazon Prime and maybe other platforms), which I first saw en salle when it opened here in May 2017. If one doesn’t know the pic, it was inspired by James Baldwin’s unfinished memoir, Remember This House, of his friendship with Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr, plus letters and notes of his from the 1970s. It’s a reflection on the Black experience in America through the words of Baldwin (narrated by Samuel L. Jackson; in the French version, by Joey Starr), and with impressive archival footage—much of it devastating images of the violence, verbal and physical, visited upon Afro-Americans throughout history by the police and white mobs. I know this history pretty well but still, seeing the latter—the hatred of white mobs, particularly aimed at Black children integrating schools—is quite shocking. I can think of no other comparable experience in any other country.

On this score, Baldwin recounts a story from his youth, in the 1940s or ’50s, of a friendship he had with a blond white girl in New York City, of them going to the movies—in Manhattan mind you, not some town in Tennessee—but how they had to go to the theater separately, as they could not walk on the street or take the subway together; to be seen together in public would have put both at great risk, at the hands of the police or just passers-by.

In no other country would this have obtained (South Africa and maybe a couple of others excepted), and certainly not in France. France has been no stranger to racism, bien évidemment, but there has never been a taboo on interracial love. The documentary has a segment of Baldwin on the Dick Cavett Show, in 1968, where he is contradicted in his views on race in America by Yale philosophy professor Paul Weiss. Baldwin tells him:

The years I lived in Paris [from 1948] did one thing for me: they freed me from that particular social terror which is not the paranoia of my own mind but is visible on the face of every cop, every boss, everybody…

Further along, there are these words by Baldwin (accompanied by the video of Rodney King being pummelled by L.A.’s finest):

I sometimes feel it to be an absolute miracle that the entire Black population of the United States of America has not long ago succumbed to raging paranoia. People finally say to you, in an attempt to dismiss the social reality, “But you’re so bitter!” Well, I may or may not be bitter but if I were, I would have good reasons for it, chief among them that American blindness or cowardice, which allows us to pretend that life presents no reasons for being bitter.

If you haven’t seen ‘I Am Not Your Negro’, this is as good a time as any to do so.

UPDATE: Conservative Never Trumper David French has a post on his blog recounting how he discovered the reality of systemic racism in America.

The founder of the New York real estate company Harlem Lofts, Robb Pair, who hails from rural Virginia—and is the husband of a cousin of mine—has posted a heartfelt video statement on Facebook, “My apology to Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, et al.”

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USA: failed state

Seoul (credit here)

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It’s not yet but is on the way—and will definitely become one in the unthinkable event that the orange-haired idiot manages to steal the November election and/or his political party keeps control of the Senate and tightens its grip on the federal judiciary. I fortunately live in a robust state, which, one may be sure, will never fail. Last night Emmanuel Macron addressed the French nation—watched by 25 million (over half the adult population)—his first since the pandemic began. He spoke for 26 minutes, which was twice as long as he needed to (a common affliction of French people, particularly highly educated male ones), but was good and reassuring. Frenchmen and women know that their government is 100% mobilized over the crisis and is acting calmly and professionally.

As for the United States, it is, of course, another matter altogether. On this, please read Julia Ioffe in GQ “on how hollowing out the government has endangered America”: “Trump voters wanted to blow up the system. Well, here we go.”

When you finish that, go to the brilliant essay in New York magazine by David Wallace-Wells, “Coronavirus shows us America is broken.” This one is a must.

If Wallace-Wells somehow doesn’t convince, please meditate on the post in Digby’s Hullabaloo blog, “The CDC Director is a hard core wingnut Trumpie.”

The USA may not yet be a failed state but it is definitely becoming a banana republic.

And à propos of banana republics, when you have 37 minutes to spare, watch the documentary released by Brave New Films last September, “Suppressed: The Fight to Vote,” on how the fascistic Republican Brian Kemp successfully suppressed hundreds of thousands of votes in the 2018 election in his bid to become governor of Georgia. Voter suppression is, it should be said, an old story in the United States, practiced in the present era—and the US here is alone among advanced democracies—exclusively by the Republican Party and in many states it controls—and without which it would lose many of those states.

On Trump stealing the election (see above), this is how it will happen.

Banana republic, like I said.

UPDATE: Continuing in the above vein, see the piece by The New Republic’s excellent staff writer Alex Pareene, “The dismantled state takes on a pandemic.” The lede: “Conservatives won their war on Big Government. Their prize is a pandemic.”

Also check out the analysis by Aleem Maqbool on the BBC website, “Coronavirus: Why systemic problems leave the US at risk.” The lede: “As the coronavirus spreads across the US, tens of millions of Americans may not seek medical help either because they are uninsured or undocumented. That puts everyone in society at greater risk.”

2nd UPDATE: On the tightening Republican grip on the federal judiciary, The New York Times has an important investigative report (March 14th) by reporters Rebecca R. Ruiz, Robert Gebeloff, Steve Eder, and Ben Protess, “A conservative agenda unleashed on the federal courts.” The lede: “President Trump’s imprint on the nation’s appeals courts has been swift and historic. He has named judges with records on a range of issues important to Republicans — and to his re-election.”

Also see Dahlia Lithwick’s column (March 13th) in Slate, “Former judge resigns from the Supreme Court Bar: In a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts, he detailed why he’s lost faith in the court.”

3rd UPDATE: Slate editor and writer Dan Kois has a gratifying slash-and-burn piece (March 14th) asserting that “America is a sham,” in which he details how “[a]ll over America, the coronavirus is revealing, or at least reminding us, just how much of contemporary American life is bullshit”…

4th UPDATE: Anne Applebaum—who leans to the center-right—has a powerful essay in The Atlantic (March 15th) on how “The coronavirus called America’s bluff: Like Japan in the mid-1800s, the United States now faces a crisis that disproves everything the country believes about itself.”

5th UPDATE: Following in Anne Applebaum’s vein, see Never Trumper ex-Republican Max Boot’s column (March 18th) in The Washington Post, “The coronavirus shows how backward the United States has become.”

6th UPDATE: The Foreign Affairs website has a must-read article dated September 25, 2019, by Thomas Carothers (who’s invariably excellent) and Andrew O’Donohue, “How Americans were driven to extremes: In the United States, polarization runs particularly deep.”

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