Archive for the ‘USA: politics’ Category

Photo credit: Amanjeev (via War on the Rocks)

Photo credit: Amanjeev (via War on the Rocks)

I can hardly keep up with the news these days, what with obsessively reading I don’t know many articles a day about the new regime in Washington plus following the French presidential campaign, which is the wildest and craziest ever. It’s too much. I’ll intend to post something on US politics but if I sit on it for more than a day, it’s already old news. Passé. E.g. Trump’s latest psychotic meltdown on Twitter, but which we’ll likely have already moved on from by tomorrow.

I’m not going to offer any personal thoughts here. Just links, in particular to two excellent articles I read just today. The first is entitled “‘Bring everything crashing down’: Bannon’s reactionary guard and U.S. national security,” posted Feb. 27th on the War on the Rocks blog (h/t Claire B.). The author, previously unknown to me, is Iskander Rehman, Senior Fellow at the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy at Salve Regina University in Newport RI, and who received all his degrees from Sciences Po Paris. He’s a sharp analyst and with numerous insights, e.g. on the Vichy regime and parallels to Washington today—and quoting historian Henry Rousso, who had some problems at Houston airport last week—and on Stephen Bannon’s Weltanschauung, which, for Rehman, has five clear components—class resentment, millenarianism, decadentism, ethnotribalism, and illiberalism—none of which, Rehman contends, have a place in traditional American conservatism. Peut-être.

Rehman links to several good articles, one from last November, in Politico, by Jedediah Purdy of the Duke Law School, “The anti-democratic worldview of Steve Bannon and Peter Thiel.”

The other first-rate piece read today is Emily Bazelon’s in the current NYT Magazine, “Department of Justification.” The lede: “Stephen Bannon and Jeff Sessions, the new attorney general, have long shared a vision for remaking America. Now the nation’s top law-enforcement agency can serve as a tool for enacting it.” I personally think—today at least—that Trump’s sinister henchmen will fail to enact their vision—the resistance of America’s robust civil society, plus the courts, will prevent that from happening—but it’s chilling stuff nonetheless.

On 45’s SOTU address last Tuesday—now ancient history—which certain media organs normally critical of the SOB shamefully praised, Vox’s Matthew Yglesias had a brilliant analysis in case one missed it, “Trump is performing the role of president, not doing the job: He doesn’t want to be president, he just wants to play one on TV.” Also see the commentaries in Slate by Michelle Goldberg—who is consistently tops—and William Saletan. The one by Never Trump Republican Max Boot in FP is also good, “Don’t believe the new Trump: He’s still the same old, uninformed, easily manipulated, egomaniac—surrounded by second-raters, lickspittles, and extremists.” Lickspittles: love that!

Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce has the most gratifying piece of the week: “Why I’ll never sympathize with regretful Trump voters: They brought this disaster on themselves. They must own it.” That’s right. Qu’ils aillent se faire foutre. FN voters in France too.

C’est tout ce que j’ai à dire.

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The Trump regime: week 4


After the inauguration I had intended to have a post a week on the new regime in Washington, with links to good articles I’d read and maybe a thought or two. But that idea went out the window with the daily deluge on my social media news feeds and the websites I follow, and with everyone obsessed and talking about little else. It’s too much. Trying to keep up with the insanity outre-Atlantique plus the wild-and-crazy presidential campaign in France—in which a heretofore unthinkable outcome can no longer be dismissed out of hand—I am, to borrow from my friend Laurie L., mentally exhausted. We’ve gone from No-Drama Obama to drama all the time. It’s the “fog of Trump,” as FP’s David Rothkopf put it: the chaos of  the new regime is such that you start to follow one crazy thing Trump said or did and maybe plan to write about it, but then, within the day, there’s some crazy new thing that causes you to forget about the previous one.

And since I started writing this post, there was Trump’s press conference… And with his response to questions like this one. Just watch it.

Donald Trump is a despicable human being. And any Trump fan who can watch his response to the Ami magazine reporter and remain a fan is equally despicable.

How long can this go on?

Andrew Sullivan, in a great essay in New York magazine last week, “The madness of King Donald,” concluded with this observation

With someone like [Trump] barging into your consciousness every hour of every day, you begin to get a glimpse of what it must be like to live in an autocracy of some kind. Every day in countries unfortunate enough to be ruled by a lone dictator, people are constantly subjected to the Supreme Leader’s presence, in their homes, in their workplaces, as they walk down the street. Big Brother never leaves you alone. His face bears down on you on every flickering screen. He begins to permeate your psyche and soul; he dominates every news cycle and issues pronouncements — each one shocking and destabilizing — round the clock. He delights in constantly provoking and surprising you, so that his monstrous ego can be perennially fed. And because he is also mentally unstable, forever lashing out in manic spasms of pain and anger, you live each day with some measure of trepidation. What will he come out with next? Somehow, he is never in control of himself and yet he is always in control of you.

One of the great achievements of free society in a stable democracy is that many people, for much of the time, need not think about politics at all. The president of a free country may dominate the news cycle many days — but he is not omnipresent — and because we live under the rule of law, we can afford to turn the news off at times. A free society means being free of those who rule over you — to do the things you care about, your passions, your pastimes, your loves — to exult in that blessed space where politics doesn’t intervene. In that sense, it seems to me, we already live in a country with markedly less freedom than we did a month ago. It’s less like living in a democracy than being a child trapped in a house where there is an abusive and unpredictable father, who will brook no reason, respect no counter-argument, admit no error, and always, always up the ante until catastrophe inevitably strikes. This is what I mean by the idea that we are living through an emergency.

Being ruled by a malignant narcissistic megalomaniac—who barges into your consciousness every hour of the day—can lead one to darkly fantasize about him being terminated with extreme prejudice; and one feels justified in this fantasizing when learning that the unhinged ruler has near unilateral power to launch a nuclear war. Intellectual polymath and dear personal friend Adam Shatz described such fantasies in a post on the LRB blog earlier this week. Adam begins by relating a discussion he had in Paris last summer with an American political scientist friend he called Laxminarayan—not his real name—who expressed the hope that the American “Deep State” would intervene to thwart a looming Trump victory. Hmmm, I wonder who that Laxminarayan could be?…

Speaking for myself, I did write before the election about the Deep State—the military, intelligence, and foreign policy establishment part of it—and my conviction that it would pull out the stops to prevent Trump from winning if such looked possible in the final month of the campaign—though I did not think for an instant that this would—let alone should—happen with the committing of a capital crime. I had in mind leaking Trump’s tax returns or damaging information on his dealings with Russia, that sort of thing. This obviously didn’t happen—or, rather, another sector of the Deep State intervened and in favor of Trump—but looks like it could be underway now.

One wishes the Deep State well in its efforts. But these will absolutely not involve assassination. Call me naïve but I consider it inconceivable that even a rogue faction inside the USG would try to commit such an act, as, entre autres, it would be too complicated to successfully pull off, the plotters would all be arrested, and, in the end, administered lethal injections at the USP Terre Haute. Conspiracies do happen but, in countries with a semblance of democracy and a free press, they’re uncovered sooner or later, and usually sooner. Always. (And yes, Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone).

For the first two weeks of the new regime I was, along with a few tens of millions of others, in a state of despair. The Jan. 21st march was exhilarating but mass demos don’t, on their own, change a thing. The fact is, Trump is POTUS for the next four years, his top policy advisers in the White House are outright fascists—and that’s not a word I toss around lightly—the extreme right-wing Republican Party is in the driver’s seat—in Washington and the majority of state governments—and the 2018 midterm elections are not going to change that. The Democrats are in a deep hole, as the NYT’s Timothy Egan reminded us the other day. As one knows, the only way Trump can be terminated is via impeachment/conviction or the invoking of Amendment XXV, Section 4. But the Vichy Republicans are not going to do either: not so long as their party base continues to support Trump. His approval rating may be a historically low 40% for a POTUS after a month in office, but that 40% is of the entire adult population, and the only figure that matters to the Vichy Republicans is of their own voters—and for the moment, that one is in the 80-90% approval range. If that number starts to plummet—to François Hollande levels—then they’ll impeach. But not before.

À propos, a Facebook friend, writing on a comments thread on Trump’s unhinged press conference, had this observation

I think it is extremely important to realize that there are many, many voters in the rural areas who think that Trump is doing a perfectly fine job and who never see anything of the news apart from bits and bobs on Fox News or hear from Limbaugh and Hannity on the radio. (I know these people, I talk to these people, I take them seriously.) I say this because…his confidence and TV-tested delivery appeal to millions of voters, and when excerpted and framed by right-wing news outlets, he looks just fine to those people…

And those people don’t give a shit what liberals, Democrats, and Never Trump Republicans like David Brooks think. And their ranks go well beyond hicks in the sticks. Perusing the comments threads of two of my right-leaning, anti-Trump Facebook friends—well-known journalists on that side of the political spectrum, so with several thousand fans, almost all with some kind of university diploma (which is obvious from randomly checking their profiles)—one is left sans voix. To get an idea, take a look at the comments that follow this essay by the well-known conservative-libertarian legal scholar Richard Epstein, in which he calls on Trump to resign. Note that Epstein’s piece was posted on the Hoover Institution’s Defining Ideas forum, not some loopy website in the alt-right fachosphère. Breathtaking.

NYT journalist Josh Katz had a bone-chilling post earlier this week on The Upshot page, informing us that “Older judges and vacant seats give Trump huge power to shape American courts.” If Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer don’t make it to 2021, the boulevard will be clear for the Republicans to abrogate the Voting Rights Act, destroy the labor movement, dismantle what remains of the welfare state, and deal multiple body blows to constituencies in the Democratic Party base. One-party Republican rule will be locked in for decades. And America will, in effect, cease to be a democracy.

While this apocalyptic scenario is entirely realistic, I have become somewhat less pessimistic of late that it will come to pass. Everyone who didn’t vote for the idiot has been impressed with and gratified by the mass resistance to the new regime. As the very smart and always interesting Yascha Mounk, who teaches in the government department at Harvard, put it in one of his recent columns in Slate

Since Trump got elected, one of my great fears has been that most American citizens might cling to a false sense of security, brought on by decades of prosperity and stability, while the president slowly and surely subverts our democracy. But between Trump’s spectacular assault on democratic norms and the furious response it has already unleashed, I no longer worry about a quiet death. The American republic won’t go down without putting up a hell of a fight.

A third of the American electorate may be fine being ruled by a dictator but the other two-thirds are not fine with it at all. America’s new opposition is robust and will only become more so. It will fight to the bitter end. And then there’s institutional resistance from the states (on this, see, e.g., the article in Politico on how New York’s attorney general Eric Schneiderman “is emerging as the leader of the Trump resistance.”). And the media, not to mention late-night comedy, will not let Trump go.

In this respect, America cannot be compared to other polities in the Western world where liberal democracy is under assault or has collapsed in the past. Cf. Italy in the 1920s and the Weimar Republic: neither Italy nor Germany had had a long tradition of liberal democracy at the time they descended into dictatorship. The Vichy regime in France could have never happened without the German occupation. Victor Orbán’s Hungary and Poland under the PiS today: neither of these countries had known liberal democracy before the 1990s. Ditto for Russia and Turkey. Moreover, the four aforementioned countries witnessed the decimation of their elites—the multiethnic forces vives of their societies, who would have otherwise constituted the pillars of a liberal order—in the course of the 20th century: by war, genocide, emigration, and/or decades of totalitarian rule. America’s cosmopolitan, liberally minded cultural and intellectual elites are intact. And they’re not going anywhere.

Another cause for relative optimism—or at least not sinking into deep pessimism—is the sheer incompetence of the Trump White House. Trump apart, take the case of Stephen Bannon, who’s seen as some kind of evil genius, who has everything figured out, including the resistance to Trump, which is said to be but another pièce maîtresse in his grand strategy. GMAB! Bannon is a crackpot and a crank. Were it not for the fact that he does, for the moment, hold some institutional power, he would be viewed as a laughable joke. On this, see the post by the Brookings Institution’s Quinta Jurecic on the Lawfare blog, “Bannon in Washington: A report on the incompetence of evil.” And when you’ve read that, check out LA Weekly film critic April Wolfe on “The story behind Steve Bannon’s hilariously terrible movie about the horrors of climate science.” What a nutcase.

The upshot: there is no way a cabal of far right kooks, even ensconced in the White House, will cause the “system” to come crashing down or be able to impose their will. The American republic will survive them.

If one missed it, see the must-read interview with Garry Kasparov in Vox last week. Kasparov, who knows something about life in an authoritarian regime, has pertinent advice for resisting Trump. Entre autres, make him look like a loser and before his fan base. If that image takes hold in l’Amérique profonde, he’s toast.

À la prochaine.


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My America

Washington, January 21st 2017 {photo credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Washington, January 21st 2017 {photo credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

I arrived back in France yesterday after two weeks in the US, chez la famille in North Carolina and with visits to Washington coming and going. I was in DC on Saturday and participated bien évidemment in the Women’s March—which was, of course, a march for everyone, a march of citizens resolutely opposed to the new tenant in the White House and all that he and his extreme right-wing party—now in control of two of the three branches of government (and soon the third)—represent—not to mention to what he and they say they want to do now that they have been blessed with the divine surprise of November 8th. The march was exhilarating. It was clear beforehand that it would be huge, and it was. In my social milieu everyone planned to participate, in Washington or, if they couldn’t make the trip, the cities where they live. Everyone has seen images of the event, and just about everyone who was there took photos on their smartphones. I took a few dozen, which I’ve put in an album that may be viewed here. And, if one somehow missed it, I was interviewed on France 24 on the Mall (video here).

America is a deeply divided society, as one knows, more so than France nowadays. I feel no connection to or affinity with that part of America that voted for Trump. I have nothing to do with those people. And they have and want nothing to do with people like me. For them, I and just about everyone I know are, if not the enemy, the Other. Those who participated in Saturday’s marches—in person or in spirit—are the Americans with whom I identify. This is my America. And I felt this viscerally the Sunday before last, at a rally of some two hundred people in Raleigh NC to defend the Affordable Care Act. I took a few pics of this, which may be viewed here. L’Amérique progressiste et ouverte. L’Amérique qu’on aime. Mon Amérique.

I spent five days in Washington on my arrival in the US two weeks before D-Day, visiting with friends, old and newer. The political catastrophe that has befallen America—and the world—was, of course, a major topic of discussion.The DC friends I saw work for NGOs, labor unions, think tanks, are federal civil servants (at the Justice Department and the Pentagon), academics and scholars, social workers, lawyers… Everyone said the same thing: they were devastated by the election result, could not wrap their heads around the imminence of the unspeakable one’s accession to the presidency, had no idea what was going to happen, and feared the worst. And this was the view of everyone they knew. And now that the unthinkable has happened—with the unspeakable person now in the White House—the worst is underway.

À suivre, malheureusement.

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Trump and Putin

Created by: Greg Palmer

Created by: Greg Palmer

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

And the pipelines to nowhere. That’s the title of an article I just read today, in Medium, dated December 15th (h/t Jamie Meyerfeld), that offers the most convincing explanation IMO as to why Trump and Putin are hooking up, as it were. In short, it’s all about oil and the politics of climate change, i.e. raw economic interest, i.e. money. The author of the article, previously unknown to me—I admittedly do not know who is who in this field—is Alex Steffen, who is a “planetary futurist” and author of three books. He clearly knows what he’s talking about.

On this general subject, also see the must-read two-part article in the December 8th and 22th New York Review of Books, by David Kaiser and Lee Wasserman—who are, respectively, president and director of the Rockefeller Family Fund—”The Rockefeller Family Fund vs. Exxon,” and “The Rockefeller Family Fund Takes on ExxonMobil.” The name Rex Tillerson comes up more than once. After reading these articles you will—unless you’re already an authority on the subject—have a better understanding of what’s going on than you did before reading them.

UPDATE: Putin-apologizing Americans of both left and right have been furiously pushing back at the well-founded accusations of Russian implication in the DNC email hack, one being Glenn Greenwald—who is often right about things but often not, and is always a dickhead regardless—who has gone so far as to make common cause with Fox News talking heads on the matter. À propos, lefty journalist Bill Weinberg has a great post (Dec. 31st) on his Facebook page, “Yes, the Russians. Wake up and smell the vodka.” And Democratic Party activist David Atkins has a good post (Dec. 31st) on the Washington Monthly’s Political Animal Blog, “Even Glenn Greenwald and his fans should fear the Trump-Putin alliance.”

2nd UPDATE: Journalist Peter Savodnik has a must-read piece (Dec. 12th) in Vanity Fair, “Why angry white America fell for Putin.”

3rd UPDATE: Masha Gessen, who is hardly a Putinophile, clarifies matters in a post (Jan. 9th 2017) in NYR Daily, “Russia, Trump & flawed intelligence.”

4th UPDATE: Rachel Maddow has an absolutely must-watch 20 minute investigative report (Jan. 11th) on her MSNBC show, “Exxon needs US policy change to cash in on big bet on Russia.” The lede: “Rachel Maddow shows ExxonMobil’s heavy investment in Russia, which it has yet to be able to exploit because of U.S. sanctions on Russia over the annexation of Crimea, and how a change in that policy could means hundreds of millions of dollars for ExxonMobil.” The name Rex Tillerson naturally comes up in the report.

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0.23, 0.73, 0.77

Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania (photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images)

Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania (photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images)

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below] [5th update below] [6th update below] [7th update below] [8th update below] [9th update below]

Those are the percentages by which Hillary Clinton lost Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, respectively. Wisconsin—the state of my birth and childhood to age 12, and with which I maintain an affective attachment—ended up being the tipping state, sending Trump over 270 EVs and to victory. La honte. I am quite sure that not a single person anywhere predicted this one. A shift of 77,787 votes in the three states, properly distributed—amounting to 0.057% of the 136,489,372 cast nationally—and Hillary would have won the election with 278 EVs—and we would be spared the ongoing intra Dem party polemics over what a terrible candidate she supposedly was and how badly her campaign was run. Not to mention, of course, the four-year national nightmare that awaits us.

The intra Dem polemics and other recriminations have intensified with the popular vote count finally certified—which HRC won, as one knows, by 2,864,974 votes: 48.06% and a historic margin of 2.09% for a losing candidate—and the Electoral College inevitably confirming Trump’s victory. Bernie Sanders supporters have been having a field day on social media with their Hillary-bashing and we-told-you-so’s. A case in point is the column in the New York Daily News by Shaun King, “Obama and the Clintons still have no earthly idea why the Democratic Party lost the presidential election,” which has been making the rounds. Among other things, King asserts

Hillary Clinton was a terrible candidate to run against Donald Trump. Of course the Obama and Clinton families will never say this, but she was. I honestly believe that she may have been the only leading Democrat that Donald Trump could’ve beaten. Next to him, she was among the least popular politicians to ever run for president. Her weaknesses and challenges counterbalanced those of Trump time after time after time. Trump is a rich, unethical liar with major character problems. To beat him, you run the opposite of that. Clinton, true or not, was not seen as the opposite, but the Democratic equivalent.

Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, or even Joe Biden or Cory Booker would’ve all matched up better against Trump and his weaknesses, but you couldn’t tell the Democratic Party that. They had it all figured out from the very beginning.

This is monnaie courante among the Bernie frères and sœurs. Even lucid, hard-headed analysts have said much the same, e.g. my dear friend Adam Shatz, who, in a post-election commentary in the LRB, asserted that “it was increasingly clear that Clinton should never have been the Democratic candidate.” Two things are in order here. First, Elizabeth Warren did not run for the nomination, nor did Joe Biden. They made the sovereign decision not to enter the race. That they would have been stronger candidates against Trump than was Hillary is unknowable and a waste of time to be speculating over (though personally, I’m dubious). It is neither here nor there. They didn’t run, that’s it. The only candidates who declared apart from Bernie were Martin O’Malley, Lincoln Chafee, and Jim Webb, and we know how long they lasted.

Secondly, Bernie—who, pour mémoire, is not a Democrat—ran a spirited campaign against Hillary and lost. She received 16.9 million primary and caucus votes (55.2%) to his 13.2 million (43.1%). Hillary decisively defeated Bernie and with landslide numbers. And no absence of alleged favoritism or putative shenanigans on the part of Debbie Wasserman Schultz or other DNC operatives toward the former would have shifted any of those primary or caucus votes to the latter. Hillary won the nomination race fair and square. End of story.

But if, for the sake of argument, Bernie had been the nominee, would he have fared better against Trump, i.e. beat him? Il ne faut pas se leurrer: the well-oiled Republican attack machine, which was chomping at the bit to run against a self-proclaimed “socialist,” would have cut Bernie into little pieces. Bernie would have been shredded. The Grand Old Party would have chewed him up and spat him out. John Judis, in his “final thoughts on the 2016 election,” is fairly sure that Bernie’s proposals for free college tuition and single-payer health care would have gotten him tarred with the “tax and spend” label. As one knows, Americans like “free stuff” just so long as they don’t have to pay for it.

But that’s not all the Repubs would have hit Bernie with. As Newsweek’s Kurt Eichenwald wrote in a piece last month,”The myths Democrats swallowed that cost them the presidential election,” Sanders would have been framed as a 1960s communist hippie and weirdo to boot, an image that, believe me, would not have played in Canonsburg PA, Stevens Point WI, or elsewhere in l’Amérique profonde:

I have seen the opposition book assembled by Republicans for Sanders, and it was brutal. The Republicans would have torn him apart. And while Sanders supporters might delude themselves into believing that they could have defended him against all of this, there is a name for politicians who play defense all the time: losers.

Here are a few tastes of what was in store for Sanders, straight out of the Republican playbook: He thinks rape is A-OK. In 1972, when he was 31, Sanders wrote a fictitious essay in which he described a woman enjoying being raped by three men. Yes, there is an explanation for it—a long, complicated one, just like the one that would make clear why the Clinton emails story was nonsense. And we all know how well that worked out.

Then there’s the fact that Sanders was on unemployment until his mid-30s, and that he stole electricity from a neighbor after failing to pay his bills, and that he co-sponsored a bill to ship Vermont’s nuclear waste to a poor Hispanic community in Texas, where it could be dumped. You can just see the words “environmental racist” on Republican billboards. And if you can’t, I already did. They were in the Republican opposition research book as a proposal on how to frame the nuclear waste issue.

Also on the list: Sanders violated campaign finance laws, criticized Clinton for supporting the 1994 crime bill that he voted for, and he voted against the Amber Alert system. His pitch for universal health care would have been used against him too, since it was tried in his home state of Vermont and collapsed due to excessive costs. Worst of all, the Republicans also had video of Sanders at a 1985 rally thrown by the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua where half a million people chanted, “Here, there, everywhere/the Yankee will die,’’ while President Daniel Ortega condemned “state terrorism” by America. Sanders said, on camera, supporting the Sandinistas was “patriotic.”

The Republicans had at least four other damning Sanders videos (I don’t know what they showed), and the opposition research folder was almost 2-feet thick. (The section calling him a communist with connections to Castro alone would have cost him Florida.) In other words, the belief that Sanders would have walked into the White House based on polls taken before anyone really attacked him is a delusion built on a scaffolding of political ignorance.


On Hillary and her campaign, yes, they made mistakes and didn’t do things they should have, like pay more attention to Michigan and Wisconsin. And Hillary shooting off her mouth about the “deplorables” was certainly not helpful. We all know this—though one does want to ask if Bernie supporters and other millennials in the aforementioned states who didn’t bother to vote, or did so for Jill Stein, should not be held at least partly responsible for the debacle. But here’s the bottom line: had it not been for the Comey letter eleven days before the election, Hillary would have won. Period. Sam Wang has crunched the numbers and these are categorical: Hillary dropped four points in the polls in the wake of the letter’s release, and though she recovered two of the points before election day, the two that were lost made all the difference in PA, MI, and WI—also likely also in Florida, which she lost by 1.2%. It is now definitive that the letter caused undecided voters to break heavily for Trump. Had Hillary won the four aforementioned states, her EV total would have been 307. Moreover, the Dems would have probably picked up the PA Senate seat and possibly the WI one too (though I am informed by a political operative friend there that Russell Feingold ran a pathetically bad campaign), allowing for a razor-thin Senate majority with Tim Kaine the tie-breaker.

Minus Comey’s October Surprise and his gratuitous declarations before the House Oversight Committee last July 7th, plus the Vladimir Putin-Julian Assange dirty tricks—all of which were bigly damaging to HRC—and she wins the PV by five points, if not more, and racks up a veritable EC landslide, taking NC, AZ, and the NE 2nd CD, for a total of 334 EVs. And who knows, maybe she would have won GA too, pushing the EV count to 350. Hélas.

Ah yes, but she was such bad, awful candidate, so everyone says, ran such a miserable campaign, and failed to speak to the economic anxiety of the famous white working class. This has been repeated so many times ad infinitum—and not just by the usual suspect Hillary-bashers—that it almost goes without saying. But how was she bad? What was it about Hillary Clinton that made her an awful candidate? Now it is true that she is not a great stump speaker. She doesn’t fire up crowds. To which I say: so what? Since when does the ability to deliver barn-burning speeches become a prerequisite for winning election to high office? In point of fact, only a minority of US presidents in our era—Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama—have been objectively impressive public speakers and able to affectively connect with big audiences. Most politicians, including those in the top-tier, are not memorable public orators. E.g. Angela Merkel, who is now the titular leader of the Free World, is not superior to Hillary Clinton when it comes to public speaking, at least not so far as I have seen.

Hillary, in fact, reminds one of Michel Rocard, who disliked speaking to big crowds, much preferring smaller groups and with interaction with the audience. This is clearly Hillary’s preference as well and which she excels at—and that won her the New York senate race in 2000, her first-ever foray into electoral politics (at age 52, which is late to be starting any kind of new career). Something else about Hillary’s political skills: she is not known to have political enemies. She worked well with her colleagues in Congress and including Republicans, who appreciated her. And her staff—people who work under her authority—are fiercely loyal to her. This should speak well of her, no?

As for the Clinton campaign’s message—or supposed lack of one—and alleged inability to speak to the WWC, this is poppycock. Hillary talked about jobs, workers, and economy more than anything else, so Vox’s David Roberts informs us in a content analysis of her speeches. But one could be forgiven for having no idea of this, as all the media wanted to talk about was her emails. Those damn emails, dixit Bernie Sanders.

Seriously, WTF was Hillary Clinton supposed to do or say that she didn’t? And what could she have done about the broadcast media’s disinterest in anything she had to say about policy?

Conclusion: Hillary Clinton was a good candidate in view of what she was up against. This comment by reader Christina Wos Donnelly on the Mother Jones Facebook page a week ago gets it right:

…HRC was campaigned against by 3 Democrats, 1 Independent, all 19 Republicans, 1 Libertarian, 1 Green Partier, the RNC, 2 Russian spy agencies and a whole factory of paid trolls, Breitbart & the alt-right, Julian Assange & Wikileaks, a hostile media, a deluge of dark money, AND the FBI, all trying to take a piece out of her, and STILL she won the popular vote by millions. 3 million to date. Take out vote suppression all across the South, TX and the swing states, and you’ve got your double digit lead. Donald Trump won by a mere 80,000 votes spread across 3 states, that’s one half of one percent.

To which one could add the obsessive 25-year campaign by the right to tear her down and destroy her reputation—and with which many on the left were complicit.

Additional comments:

The final election polls were not way off. The final RCP average had HRC at +3.2, a mere 1.1% difference from her actual score. That does not constitute a massive polling failure. As for the key swing state polls: the final ones in PA showed it very close; in MI, they had HRC up +5, though one had Trump at +2; in WI there was bizarrely no polling in the last week; and in FL the race was essentially tied. Also: it turns out that the USC/LA Times tracking poll had a marked Trump skew after all, with its final number showing him up by 3. Way off base.

Many 2012 Obama voters who went for Trump invoked the “change” theme. The “need for change” was a leitmotif among these voters. This is classic in elections in which the incumbent party has been in office for two terms.

Trump has been insisting that he could have won the popular vote if he had wanted to, that if the POTUS were elected by direct PV he would have campaigned in California, New York, and other blue states, augmenting his vote totals there. John Judis has made a similar assertion in this vein. But if this had been the case, HRC would have campaigned throughout the Deep South and Texas, where there are troves of potentially untapped Dem voters. Moreover, she would have campaigned in safe blue states as well, driving up her numbers among voters who, knowing their state was already in the bag, cast ballots for third candidates or didn’t bother to vote. So the final result would have likely been a wash—and with HRC maintaining her margin of victory.

There was finally no drop in turnout in this election. It was, in fact, higher than in 2012. Many prior abstainers clearly came out of the woodwork to vote for Trump, while some Dem voters—mainly Afro-Americans—stayed home. To increase black turnout in the future, the Democrats may need to systematically have a black on the ticket. Just as Trump putting Pence on his ticket brought in the evangelicals in force, had Hillary chosen Cory Booker instead of Tim Kaine—good man that he was—this may have done the trick in PA, MI, and WI. Just speculating.

UPDATE: The NYT’s number cruncher Nate Cohn has a must-read analysis (Dec. 23rd) on The Upshot page, “How the Obama coalition crumbled, leaving an opening for Trump.” It turns out that defections of WWC 2012 Obama voters to Trump in the Rust Belt states were more significant than thought, as were defections by educated urban Republican voters to Clinton (e.g. one learns that every precinct in Winnetka IL—an upscale Chicago North Shore suburb that I know fairly well—voted for Clinton, which I find amazing). Something I’ve been thinking: it is doubtful that Hillary—or any other Democrat—could have done anything to prevent those normally Democratic-leaning WWC voters from succumbing to Trump’s juggernaut. Trump was a once-in-a-generation phenomenon, a populist billionaire strongman with the ability to viscerally connect with WWC voters in the heartland—to appeal to their id on a range of issues (notably trade and globalization)—and provoke a cascade effect. No other Republican candidate could have attracted that portion of the WWC electorate in the way he did.

BTW, if one didn’t see it, New Yorker contributor Alex Ross had an excellent article, dated Dec. 5th, on how “the Frankfurt School knew Trump was coming.”

2nd UPDATE: The Atlantic’s Richard Brownstein had a premonitory article dated November 2nd, that I seemed to have missed at that time, on the danger to the Clinton firewall in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, “Is Donald Trump outflanking Hillary Clinton? The Democratic nominee faces the risk that she has overestimated her hold on the states most central to her strategy.”

3rd UPDATE: Le Monde’s Yves Eudes has had two very good reportages on 2012 Obama voters (or abstainers) who defected to Trump, one from Pennsylvania (Nov. 24th), the other from Michigan (Dec. 27th).

4th UPDATE: The Washington Post’s polling manager Scott Clement says (Dec. 30th) that “The 2016 national polls are looking less wrong after final election tallies.”

5th UPDATE: Justin Gest, who teaches public policy at George Mason University, has a new book, entitled The New Minority: White Working Class Politics in an Age of Immigration and Inequality. On the book’s website are links to the author’s numerous articles and interviews this year on the election, Trump, and the white working class.

6th UPDATE: Harry Enten at FiveThirtyEight has an important, data-driven analysis (Jan. 5th 2017) on how “Registered voters who stayed home probably cost Clinton the election.”

7th UPDATE: Vox has posted a must-read piece (Jan. 11th 2017) by policy and election analysts Sean McElwee, Matt McDermott, and Will Jordan, “4 pieces of evidence showing FBI Director James Comey cost Clinton the election: And yes, it still matters.”

8th UPDATE: See the electoral analysis (Jan. 26th 2017), which has lots of data, by Rhodes Cook, senior columnist at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, “The 2016 presidential vote: A look down in the weeds.”

9th UPDATE: Jonathan Rodden, who teaches political science at Stanford University, has a two-part analysis (Feb. 14th 2017) in WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog,” ‘Red’ America is an illusion: Postindustrial towns go for Democrats,” and “This is why Democrats lose in ‘rural’ postindustrial America.” And the “why” is: lower turnout among Democratic voters.



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The coming apocalypse


This is my first post in over a month on the unspeakable US president-elect. Not that I haven’t been following the election aftermath quasi obsessively and with much to say about it, but we’re all reading the same analyses and are in entire agreement that what is happening in the United States is, for us Americans at least, the biggest political catastrophe of our lifetimes, so what’s the point of little AWAV weighing in every other day with his 2¢? Also, thoughts I have one day seem dépassé the next. E.g. I had the idea in the week after the election that maybe the unspeakable president-elect would moderate somewhat—this after his meeting with Obama in the Oval Office—that he would possibly surprise us and that we should maybe wait and see. So much for that ephemeral fancy. The only thing one can say right now is that, yes, we are headed for the apocalypse, that it’s going to be worse than we could have ever imagined. As my friend Adam Shatz put it, “the president-elect has formed a cabinet so outlandishly right-wing that not even the Onion could have invented it.” And on that cabinet, one may add the most reactionary in American history and likely to be the most authoritarian.

The bottom line: all that stands between America descending into fascism—not precisely of the 1930s European variety but one specifically American and 21st century—is a handful of Republicans in the Senate who will, inshallah, decide not to go the full Vichy: who, for their own reasons, will align with the Democrats on given issues and to thwart the president of their party. I wanted to add that a robust civil society uncompromisingly hostile to the unspeakable president-elect will also be necessary—and that civil society is indeed there, comprised of the tens of millions of Americans who are outraged by the president-elect and his illegitimate victory—but don’t think the unspeakable one and those in his entourage will give a shit about that. These people are illiberal, do not believe in democracy or in the legitimacy of the opposition—of any opposition—and are in a pure rapport de force. They will seek no compromises and will not hesitate to use the considerable institutional means at their disposal to crush anyone who stands in their way. Which does not mean that we should not stand in their way and on everything. Americans on the center and left side of the political spectrum, plus lingering #NeverTrump Republicans, will feel what it’s like to be a secularist in Erdoğan’s Turkey, or a liberal in Putin’s Russia. Or to live in any one of the illiberal regimes sprouting up in countries that are supposed to be democracies (e.g. Hungary, Poland, the Philippines, take your pick). Hell, the Trump regime could even end up resembling the pouvoir in Algeria.

I will come back to this subject later—there will be many occasions to do so—but in the meantime want to post a personal story by my friend Adria Zeldin, an attorney in Washington, whom I’ve known for some forty years, and who sent it to me this week:

At 61 years old, life has told me it is time to deal with a trauma that occurred to me 42 years ago when I was 19 and in college. I was raped on campus one night in 1974. A man raped me, a townie, who knew he could wander onto campus, find his victim, and be fairly sure that nothing would ever happen to him.  The culture of women’s politics in the 1970s was such that we did a lot of consciousness raising among ourselves and at the women’s center on campus, but had very little support or understanding from the college administration, the police, or hospitals. I was not treated well by any of these institutions and instead I was left to deal with the trauma in my own personal way, the best a 19-year-old young woman could. I was young and politically idealistic and felt I had my whole life ahead of me.

Over the many years since, however, news stories of sexual assaults on college campuses, and depictions of rape in movies and books, all caused me trauma and have been difficult for me to handle. But not until recent years have I truly felt retraumatized and revictimized. First it was the stories of so many women who accused Bill Cosby of rape.  Then the trial of Brock Turner in California and Judge Persky’s shamefully lenient sentence. The moving statement of the rape survivor in that case, read to the courtroom and circulated online, brought so many tears to my eyes. I read her powerful statement over and over and cried so hard. Certainly this would help me heal and be cathartic. But then the 2016 presidential campaign took an ugly turn with statements about women and their bodies, about women being abused and ridiculed by a male candidate.  The revelation of his statements bragging about sexual assault made me angry but also traumatized me once again.

When I woke up on November 9, 2016, to learn that this man, who bragged to the nation about sexual assault, was going to be our president, I cried on and off for days. How could this happen? I felt like I was in a nightmare and that I would soon wake up and it would all have been a bad dream.

So how do I go on living? The inauguration of the President-elect is only weeks away and as it gets closer, the more scared I become.  I live in the Washington DC area and work only a few blocks from the White House where this misogynist will be living the next four years.  I am back in therapy, trying once again to deal with my personal trauma of 42 years ago. I practice meditation and engage in other activities that I have found are good for my soul. And I go on living because I must. For all the survivors of sexual assault I go on living. For all the young women in college and older women who have survived, I go on living. But I want to do more. I want to effect some change and awareness of how our society and legal system disrespects women. Why are judges like Persky still on the bench? How do they get on the bench to begin with and remain there so long? Why are felony rapists given shorter sentences than other felons? Why is a female victim of sexual assault treated as the criminal, rather than given the comfort and respect a rape victim deserves?  And what will the next four years mean for women and all the gains we have made over the past 42 years, since I was that young idealistic 19-year-old college student?

If one missed it, see the excellent and gratifying tweet storm of civil rights activist Danielle Muscato against Trump, that went viral.

Also see the essay (Nov. 27th) by a citizen named N Ziehl, “Coping with chaos in the White House,” published on Medium.com, in which he discusses his decades-long experience dealing with narcissistic personality disorder and how this helps understand the man who will soon be working out of the Oval Office (what a hideous image).

On the psychology of the president-elect—but also of his supporters—the Financial Times has a fascinating discussion (Dec. 9th) with the writer Michael Lewis, on the “American psyche” and “the triumph of irrational thinking.”

For yet more on the workings of the president-elect’s addled brain, Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio has an op-ed (Dec. 9th) in the NY Daily News, “Critics of Trump’s nasty Twitter attacks miss the point: He simply cannot stop even if he wanted to.”

And here’s a great essay (Dec. 13th) by Jacob T. Levy, a savant at McGill University, “The defense of liberty can’t do without identity politics,” published on the Niskanen Center website. There have been several good responses to the insufferable attacks on the “identity politics” practiced by the Democratic Party—e.g. by Michelle Goldberg and Matthew Yglesias, and as if the Republicans don’t practice such politics as well and with their own version of “political correctness” to boot—but Levy’s may be the best.

À suivre.

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America’s Deep State


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

I saw Snowden the other day. It’s good entertainment, as Oliver Stone’s movies tend to be, and with solid acting—notably Joseph Gordon-Levitt, excellently cast as Edward Snowden—though is not without flaws. E.g. way too much time is given over to Snowden’s relationship with his GF, Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley), the portrayal of which conforms to classic Hollywood conventions. And the political subtext is typical simple-minded Stone, uniquely skewering the United States for engaging in action—here, mass surveillance of the world’s population—that any state would engage in if it had the technical capacity to do so. There’s no morality in this domain. States are states. And, as we have learned since the Snowden affair broke in 2013, Germany, France, and the UK, among others, have indeed engaged in technological eavesdropping à la NSA (my posts on the NSA/Snowden are here and here).

Watching the film I naturally thought of the current political drama in the US and its unspeakable president-elect. In depicting the NSA/CIA surveillance apparatus, such as Snowden informed the world about, I had a thought: the American state knows everything relevant about any person—and particularly any American citizen—it wishes to know about. The American state—its national security apparatus—knows all about Donald Trump. It has the goods on him: maybe not of every last p*ssy he’s grabbed but of his foreign dealings—with the Russians et al—his finances, tax returns, shady persons he’s been associated with, you name it. There is necessarily something in Trump’s life over the decades—just one little thing—that is seriously comprising, not only to himself legally but eventually to the national security of the United States. Trump, America’s commander-in-chief to be, knows nothing about America’s national security apparatus and precious few of his handful of advisers do either, a flake or two excepted, but the apparatus knows about him. So my question is: over the next four years, who will have the ascendancy over whom in matters of the national security: the ignoramus president or the apparatus?

IMHO, I believe it will be the latter. Trump will be boxed in. The apparatus will dominate him—inform him of what he can and cannot do—rather than the other way around. For this reason, I am somewhat less concerned about Trump’s foreign policy than his actions on the home front.

One comment about Stone’s film. President Obama is shown defending the NSA and condemning Snowden’s whistleblowing. Likewise Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail. Knowing Stone’s political parti pris, the effect on the spectator is clearly intended to be one of disapproval. But in view of the posts Obama and Clinton occupied in the state, does one seriously expect that they would have reacted otherwise, that their public statements would have been to condemn the NSA and praise Snowden? Allez.

Having seen Stone’s movie, I’m going to rewatch Laura Poitras’s very good documentary, Citizenfour, which I saw when it opened in Paris last year. It may be viewed free on the web here.

UPDATE: The Economist had a critical review of ‘Snowden’, which it said “fails to give movie-goers the whole truth.”

2nd UPDATE: On the NSA and the election, see Esquire journalist Charles P. Pierce’s Nov. 16th piece, “Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election is growing by the day: Now the NSA director admits Russia used Wikileaks to meddle in the campaign.”

3rd UPDATE: Here’s an email exhange I had on ‘Citzenfour’ with Adam Shatz back in April 2015, which I had forgotten about. First, Adam:

Edward Snowden was impressive, and not at all like the Thoreau-ian caricature presented by Packer and others; but that the film was flawed in some ways. Aesthetically it’s striking, perhaps a bit too much so: too cool and sleek for its own good. The film lacks dialectical tension. It treats critics as unworthy; their arguments aren’t even put forward, really, except by government officials who are lying. I’m not saying I sympathize with their views all that much but they are views, and they should be taken as such. All governments collect information, after all. The result is a sometimes wearying monologue, with a Pynchonesque vision of sinister government conspiracy, not wholly unconvincing of course but somewhat one-dimensional and…dull. Greenwald, whom I find irritating and grandiose, impressed me for once with his command of the facts and his determination. Anyway, it’s a good film, but not a great one.


It’s a well-made documentary and convinces, IMO. And I agree with you, Adam, that Glenn Greenwald, who normally irritates me too, impressed for once with his command of his subject. But I don’t know if I follow your critique of the film “lacking dialectical tension” (I’m not sure what you mean by this) or that it treats critics as unworthy. The critics it did show are government people but who, as the film also shows, brazenly lied during Congressional hearings. It wasn’t Laura Poitras’s mission to give equal time to all parties to the debate. The film certainly convinced me that what Edward Snowden revealed should be taken more seriously than I did when the affair first broke (my attitude was mostly bof). Now the question I’m trying to resolve in my head is if Snowden should be granted political asylum in France (as lefties here, including some I respect, have been arguing). Unless he clearly revealed specific state secrets to the Russians and that could compromise US security, I think he probably should be.

Offering asylum to Snowden could be François Hollande’s parting shot before leaving office. His final poll ratings would spike, no doubt about it.

4th UPDATE: Princeton University historian Sean Wilentz had a lengthy must-read article in TNR, dated January 19th 2014, “Would you feel differently about Snowden, Greenwald, and Assange if you knew what they really thought?”

5th UPDATE: The February 9th 2017 issue of The New York Review of Books has a review essay by Charlie Savage, who is a New York Times correspondent in Washington, of Oliver Stone’s ‘Snowden’, “Was Snowden a Russian agent.” Money quote

Stone’s movie, which premiered in September, presents a comic-book version of the pro-Snowden narrative in which a wunderkind super-hacker takes on Big Brother. In telling that story, Stone mixes accurate material with fiction, while simplifying away complexities. His movie steps on the genuine privacy issues raised by Snowden’s disclosures with melodramatic embellishments, such as a scene in which an invented senior NSA official, his Orwellian face filling a floor-to-ceiling screen, casually reveals that he knows whether the Snowden character’s girlfriend is sleeping with another man. It omits actual Snowden disclosures whose individual privacy rationale was debatable, such as when he showed the South China Morning Post documents about the NSA’s hacking into certain institutional computers in China. And its discussion of the volume of Internet metadata the NSA collects from equipment inside the United States ignores any distinction between truly domestic e-mails and foreign-to-foreign messages that are merely traveling across domestic network switches.

Savage also reviews—negatively—Edward Jay Epstein’s book How America Lost Its Secrets: Edward Snowden, the Man and the Theft.


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