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Deplorables

One of the features of the dystopian Trump regime is the rogues’ gallery of personalities in its inner circle, who have flocked to Trump like flies to fecal matter. They are not just deplorable in their political values but are truly loathsome on the human level. I have come across portraits of two just today. One is by NYT columnist Charles M. Blow, of Omarosa Manigault Newman, Trump’s White House “director of African-American outreach,” who has apparently been sacked. Blow’s revulsion toward this abject woman is manifest from his opening words. One shares the revulsion. Yech.

The other is a 4½-minute educational video, “Who is Stephen Miller?,” narrated by actress and HIV/AIDS activist Debra Messing. I’ve read enough about Miller to know that he is a despicable human being but this makes him look even worse. A question to women reading this: can you imagine going out with this guy? My good friend Frank Adler, who posted the video on Facebook, labeled Miller a “fascist pig.” Tout court. As Frank is a well-known academic authority on fascism, I know he chose his words carefully.

And then there’s this report I read today in Slate, about a 100% Trumpian family that is not in the White House but could have been a heartbeat away from it had the 2008 election gone badly wrong, or had Trump chosen the Wasilla whack job as his running mate, which he had contemplated doing: “Sarah Palin’s son, Track, punches through window, beats up armed dad in dispute over a truck.”

What a trashy family. What trashy people there are on the American right.

À propos, James Traub has a pertinent essay just up on the Foreign Policy website, “The United States of America is decadent and depraved: The problem isn’t Donald Trump – it’s the Donald Trump in all of us.” Well, the current problem is Donald Trump and the Republican Party but Traub’s point is well taken. There is indeed a larger problem with the United States of America. And decadence and depravity are the maîtres-mots.

C’est tout ce que j’ai à dire ce soir.

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If one didn’t see it, uber-pundit Fareed Zakaria, who epitomizes a centrist inside-the-Beltway sensibility, had a column last week in The Washington Post in which he argued that “The GOP tax bill may be the worst piece of legislation in modern history.” No less. Now headlines often exaggerate or misstate the content of the article or column—such as the click bait one on this post—but not here. Zakaria is serious. And he’s right, of course, as, entre autres, the Republican Party no longer even pretends to be acting in the interests of even its own electorate—don’t even think about that of the opposition party, let alone the broader interest of America—but is simply doing the bidding of its plutocratic billionaire donor class. There can be no dispute over this at this point. Democracy in America is off the rails.

À propos of this general topic, Robert Kuttner has a must-read review essay, “The Man from Red Vienna,” in the Dec. 21st issue of the NYRB, on a newly published biography of Karl Polanyi. Money quote

The great prophet of how market forces taken to an extreme destroy both democracy and a functioning economy was not Karl Marx but Karl Polanyi. Marx expected the crisis of capitalism to end in universal worker revolt and communism. Polanyi, with nearly a century more history to draw on, appreciated that the greater likelihood was fascism.

As Polanyi demonstrated in his masterwork The Great Transformation (1944), when markets become “dis-embedded” from their societies and create severe social dislocations, people eventually revolt. Polanyi saw the catastrophe of World War I, the interwar period, the Great Depression, fascism, and World War II as the logical culmination of market forces overwhelming society—“the utopian endeavor of economic liberalism to set up a self-regulating market system” that began in nineteenth-century England. This was a deliberate choice, he insisted, not a reversion to a natural economic state. Market society, Polanyi persuasively demonstrated, could only exist because of deliberate government action defining property rights, terms of labor, trade, and finance. “Laissez faire,” he impishly wrote, “was planned.”

Polanyi believed that the only way politically to temper the destructive influence of organized capital and its ultra-market ideology was with highly mobilized, shrewd, and sophisticated worker movements. He concluded this not from Marxist economic theory but from close observation of interwar Europe’s most successful experiment in municipal socialism: Red Vienna, where he worked as an economic journalist in the 1920s. And for a time in the post–World War II era, the entire West had an egalitarian form of capitalism built on the strength of the democratic state and underpinned by strong labor movements. But since the era of Thatcher and Reagan that countervailing power has been crushed, with predictable results.

I read The Great Transformation in graduate school, in the early ’80s. It’s one of the most important books I’ve read—an important book being one that changes the way I think about something. In view of what’s happening these days, I think I should read it again.

Back to Orwell-land, one has no doubt read about the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the list of forbidden words: “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

I try to remain optimistic and tell myself that the nightmare will end, that the Democrats will retake Congress next year and then the White House in 2020, and will painstakingly reverse or repair the damage that has been done. Inshallah. But even if this perhaps Pollyannaish scenario comes to pass, America’s shattered reputation in the world will not be restored. Maybe somewhat but not entirely. America will never live down Donald Trump and the Trumpized Republican Party.

UPDATE: Politico’s Susan B. Glasser has a podcast interview (Dec. 18th) with two charter leaders of the #NeverTrump movement, Max Boot and Eliot Cohen, who assess Year One of the Trump regime. They say that if Trump were operating in a country without America’s constitutional checks and balances, “He would probably be a dictator by now.”

2nd UPDATE: Last week, after the exhilarating victory in Alabama—which had liberals, progressives, and Never Trumpers rapturous, thinking that, yes, maybe the Trump regime’s days are indeed numbered after all—Vox’s Ezra Klein had a sobering commentary on “Why Doug Jones’s narrow win is not enough to make me confident about American democracy.” In it, he writes

The most important concept for understanding what has gone wrong in American politics is political scientist Julia Azari’s observation that this is an age of weak parties and strong partisanship. I have come to think of this as a flaw in the software of American democracy, a vulnerability that can be exploited to send malware ricocheting through the system.

Unfortunately no institutional anti-virus program exists that could remove that political malware from the system.

3rd UPDATE: Will Wilkinson of the smart libertarian Niskanen Center gets it exactly right in a NYT op-ed (Dec. 20th), “The tax bill shows the G.O.P.’s contempt for democracy.”

In the op-ed, Wilkinson links to a lengthy piece by writer John Ganz on the website of the interesting lefty publication The Baffler (Dec. 15th), “The forgotten man: On Murray Rothbard, philosophical harbinger of Trump and the alt-right.”

4th UPDATE: Dissent magazine published an online article (May 23rd 2016) entitled “Karl Polanyi for President,” by Patrick Iber (historian) and Mike Konczal (specialist in finance). It begins

Should health care and education be rights, or products that those with enough money can purchase in markets? About seventy-five years ago, in response to the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt offered, through the programs of the New Deal, an expanded definition of freedom founded on economic security—immortalized as “freedom from want” in his famous speech of 1941. In our own time, severe inequality and the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression have once again brought the issue of what should count as a right to the surface of political debate.

One candidate, Bernie Sanders, has argued explicitly that health care and education—two things that the New Deal mostly left alone—should be rights and therefore accessible to all. While public policy pundits fight over the specifics, they miss that Sanders, by discussing these things as rights instead of just policies, has changed the nature of the debate. This key distinction helps explain why tens of thousands have turned out to Sanders rallies across the country—not to mention the millions who have supported him online and at the polls—demonstrating enthusiasm for a politics that he explicitly identifies as “democratic socialism.” But what kind of socialism?

The vast majority of Sanders’s supporters are not Marxists clamoring for a dictatorship of the proletariat or the nationalization of industry. Most are, probably without knowing it, secret followers of Karl Polanyi. Polanyi’s classic, The Great Transformation, was published in 1944—the same year that FDR promised a “Second Bill of Rights” guaranteeing employment, housing, social security, medical care, and education to all Americans. Today, Polanyian arguments are once again in the air. Since his ideas seem to be everywhere but he is rarely mentioned, a (re-)introduction to his thinking, and its relevance to politics in 2016, is in order.

Continue reading here.

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There have been countless articles and analyses since Trump announced his presidential candidacy way back when, of the white race consciousness, a.k.a. racism, driving his hardcore supporters—who constitute a quarter to a third of the American electorate. One of the best I’ve seen of late is the essay (Nov. 20th) by Adam Serwer, senior editor at The Atlantic, “The nationalist’s delusion: Trump’s supporters backed a time-honored American political tradition, disavowing racism while promising to enact a broad agenda of discrimination.” It’s an exceptional piece, a tad long—some 10,000 words—but well worth the read.

Also in The Atlantic is a piece (Nov. 22nd) by staff writer Vann R. Newkirk II, “Donald Trump’s eternal feud with blackness: In a presidency defined by its unpredictability, one of the few constants is the president’s eagerness to attack black people for failing to show deference.” Money quote

Apart from their political effectiveness, though, Trump’s feuds serve another purpose: They obscure the fact that he is a politician otherwise without identity. Without people of color to serve as a foil, there is no Trumpism. If not for his attacks on the Central Park Five, his birtherism, his slanders of immigrants, his “what the hell do you have to lose” exhortations, the travel bans, and his autonomic reactions against prominent black people, it’s hard to see how Trump ever could have been elected in the first place.

If one missed it, see the contribution (Nov. 20th) to The Washington Post’s ‘Inspired Life’ page, by writer/novelist Gail Lukasik, “My mother spent her life passing as white. Discovering her secret changed my view of race — and myself.” Astonishing to read such an account in our day and age.

Bonne lecture.

UPDATE: On the broad subject of race in America, ICYMI earlier this year, is the stunning book by James Q. Whitman of Yale Law School, Hitler’s American Model The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law. See the review essays on Whitman’s breathtaking work by the University of Houston’s David Mikics in Tablet Magazine, “Was Nazi Germany made in America?” and Columbia University’s Ira Katznelson in The Atlantic, “What America taught the Nazis.” And do read Bill Moyers’ conversation with Whitman, “How the Nazis used Jim Crow laws as the model for their race laws.”

2nd UPDATE: This is somewhat off the topic of this post but in regard to important political books that have come out in recent months, there is Duke University historian Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, whose subject is the Nobel Prize-winning libertarian economist James M. Buchanan (d. 2013), who, MacLean contends, has been one of the most consequential intellectual forces behind the radical right’s campaign to the destroy what exists of the American welfare state and to undermine American democracy itself. MacLean has elaborated on her argument in interviews in Slate, “What is the far right’s endgame? A society that suppresses the majority;” and in Moyers & Company, “The deep history of the radical right’s stealth plan for America.” And there are lengthy reviews with her by Sam Tanenhaus in The Atlantic, “The architect of the radical right: How the Nobel Prize–winning economist James M. Buchanan shaped today’s antigovernment politics;” and Roosevelt Institute economist Marshall Steinbaum in Boston Review, “The book that explains Charlottesville.”

The pushback on MacLean’s book from libertarians and others on that side of the political spectrum has, not surprisingly, been fierce. But they’re not the only ones. E.g. the non-conservative political scientists Henry Farrell (George Washington University) and Steven Teles (Johns Hopkins) shredded MacLean in Vox, “Even the intellectual left is drawn to conspiracy theories about the right: Resist them,” opining that the book is an example of “How not to write about ‘radical’ libertarians.” Farrell, piling it on, further tweeted that “Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains is a bad and untrustworthy book.” MacLean responded to her critics in The Chronicle of Higher Education, saying that “Such rhetorical bullying would be laughable if it weren’t part of a pattern on the right,” but I have to admit that the critique by Farrell, who is no intellectual slouch and carries social science cred, cooled my ardor for the book (which I have yet to even see, let alone read).

But then one reads the review of MacLean’s book by Diane Ravitch in the December 7th issue of the NYRB, “Big money rules,” which she unreservedly praises. As for the many attacks on it, Ravitch argues that these in no way undermine MacLean’s central message about the plutocrat-driven agenda and intellectual role played by Buchanan and his protégés in crafting this. As I am a great admirer of Ravitch—who, pour mémoire, was a longtime moderate Republican and served in the Bush 41 administration—that clinches it for me. Between her and Farrell, I’ll go with her hands down.

3rd UPDATE: Will Wilkinson, the vice-president for policy at the Niskanen Center (smart libertarian Washington think tank), discusses Nancy MacLean’s book in a remarkable essay dated November 3rd, “How libertarian democracy skepticism infected the American right.” Money quote

MacLean argues that Buchanan, animated by Southern segregationist impulses and backed by dark Koch-brothers cash, quietly and effectively sought to undermine democracy — to put it “in chains” — to keep America safe for white supremacist plutocracy.

Scholars sympathetic to Buchanan’s project have swarmed. They say MacLean’s book is a slanderous, poorly argued, thinly sourced, intellectually shabby conspiracy theory. MacLean is overly fond of Infowars-style dot-connecting, but I’m not going to pile on. Instead, I’d like to focus on a couple of big things MacLean gets right: the libertarian-influenced American right is hostile to democracy, and it is a big problem.

Wilkinson’s piece is most interesting. Read the whole thing.

4th UPDATE: The Atlantic (Dec. 15th) annotates the above-linked “nationalist’s delusion,” in which Adam Serwer explains how his argument came together.

5th UPDATE: Vox’s German Lopez has a post (Dec. 15th) explaining that “The past year of research has made it very clear: Trump won because of racial resentment.” The lede: “Another study produces the same findings we’ve seen over and over again.”

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The Trump regime: year one

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A year ago on this date I was still in a state of shock—as was the totality of my US friends, the near totality of US family and relatives, and no doubt the great majority of those reading this—over the disaster two nights prior. On the eve of the first anniversary of that catastrophic night, my sentiments were dark. The Nation’s Katha Pollitt, writing in the NYR Daily on her ongoing rage toward all those who did not vote for Hillary Clinton, or who did so reluctantly and after having bashed her throughout the campaign, expressed some of these. Okay, Pollitt was being a little harsh—personally speaking, I am not angry at my Hillary-bashing pro-Bernie friends, so long as they did the right thing on that November 8th de sinistre mémoire—but I know where she’s coming from. Michelle Goldberg, for her part, struck the right tone in her NYT column on the “anniversary of the apocalypse.”

But then there was the outcome of the elections in Virginia on Tuesday, plus those in New Jersey and other localities where one had no idea a vote was even taking place. It’s amazing how one’s feelings about a situation can suddenly lurch from despondency and pessimism to exhilaration and optimism. Andrew Sullivan spoke for just about everyone here

I was wrong! Thank God Almighty, I was wrong!

You probably felt the same thing I did last Tuesday night: a euphoric whiplash as deepening dread turned suddenly into a wave of intense relief in the off-year results from Virginia. I’m still riding it. I hope you are too. Almost every surprise since last November has been a soul-crushing one. I feared yet another one. But Tuesday night’s string of decisive victories by Democrats dispelled the gloom and was the first time since Trump’s election that hope appeared a little more realistic than despair.

In point of fact, the Democrats have been surging in special elections all year but still, no one expected Tuesday’s outcome, of all “the women, people of color, and LGBTQ candidates who made history,” not to mention the “socialists and leftists [who] performed well in races around the country.” Now I can see a turbaned Sikh being elected mayor of Hoboken NJ—Hoboken has been multi-culti for the past four decades—but a Liberian refugee in Helena MT? And a self-proclaimed socialist defeating a powerful Republican in the Virginia House of Delegates, and from a district with no college campus to boot? My, how America is changing. And how totally gratifying. If we can just get through the next year without anything nightmarish happening, e.g. the Republicans enacting their tax bill, a SCOTUS justice dying, Trump starting a nuclear war… The Dems now have a real shot at taking back at least the House in the 2018 midterms, as, dixit FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten, “there is no reason to think Republicans will be in better shape a year from now.” And if Trump drops four or five more points in the polls in the next year, thus pulling GOP candidates down with him, the Dems will have a good chance at taking the Senate too. Inshallah.

Trump’s present approval rating is 38%, which is historically low for a POTUS after a year in office, so it is said, but strikes me as appallingly high given that it is, after all, Trump—the “Ubu president,” as Charles Simic has aptly labeled him. It will be excellent if he does drop to at least the low 30s, though one should probably not count on this, as his hardcore base is rock solid and will manifestly remain that way no matter what. One has probably seen the remarkable “Letter from Pennsylvania” by Politico’s Michael Kruse, reporting from the heart of the Rust Belt: “Johnstown never believed Trump would help; they still love him anyway.” The famous white working class in all its splendor. Do read the piece and to the end, as the clincher is there (what “NFL” is really an acronym for).

The Dems should, of course, continue to pitch an economic message to this sizable cohort of the electorate, in the hopes of maybe peeling off some of its voters, but otherwise they’re lost to the Repubs.

On Trump maybe starting a nuclear war, my dear friend Adam Shatz has an essay—typically excellent—in the latest issue of the London Review of Books, “The President and the Bomb.” Read it and be afraid.

À la prochaine.

UPDATE: Liberals, progressives, and other Never Trumpers have been buoyed and exhilarated by the Virginia vote but there have, however, been some douches froides, notably articles and analyses of the breakneck pace with which Trump has been nominating judges to the federal courts—all ultra-conservative and with some downright unqualified and holding views that are shocking when not crazy—who have been dutifully approved by the Senate Republicans and with the prospect that far right control of the federal judiciary could be locked in for a generation or longer. If such comes to pass, future Democratic administrations will find it difficult to impossible to undo the damage Trump and the Republicans have wrought. The consequences for American democracy and the credibility of its institutions will, needless to say, be terrible.

Daron Acemoğlu has a sobering piece (Nov. 15th) in Foreign Policy, “It’s too early to celebrate the survival of American democracy: One year after Donald Trump’s elections, the U.S. political system is proving resilient – and giving false comfort.” The US political system may have indeed shown resilience–some–over the past year but the body blows to political norms and institutions (the federal civil and judiciary, to name but two) leveled by Trump and the Republicans—the latter quite independently of the former—will take a possibly permanent toll. If American democracy is to be saved, it will not be by its institutions but rather civil society. And within that civil society, the Resistance.

See Thomas B. Edsall’s latest column (Nov. 16th) in the NYT, “White-on-White voting: When an area is more than 85 percent white, support for President Trump skyrockets — and that makes all the difference.”

2nd UPDATE: Frank Rich, raining on the parade, has a sobering essay (Nov. 13th) in New York magazine, “After Trump.” The sobering lede: “Liberals ecstatic over this month’s election must not forget: Even after this demagogue is finished, a new one will rise in his place.”

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(Via Salon)

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Or, rather, how it went from being a big-tent party of the American right—with centrists (liberal Republicans), moderate conservatives, conservatives tout court, and hard-rightists/reactionaries—to one composed overwhelmingly of the very last of these, with the first having vanished altogether and the second all but. The GOP has become America’s Front National, a party driven by populism and white ethno-nationalism. Lots of people have been trying to understand how this happened, most lately E.J. Dionne Jr., Norm Ornstein, and Thomas E. Mann, who have come out with a new book on the subject and with an excerpt in The Atlantic, in which they explain how “[t]he Republican Party laid the groundwork for dysfunction long before Donald Trump was elected president.”

Also trying to figure it out is my friend Claire, who situates herself on the center-right and has been as distraught by Trump as everyone to her left. Last weekend Claire posted on social media a Newsweek commentary by the Milwaukee-based former right-wing shock jock-turned-never-Trumper Charles Sykes, “How the right lost its mind and embraced Donald Trump,” which provoked a lively exchange among her social media followers—some conservatives critical of Trump and not over the edge, others deplorable and way out there—with me the one lefty weighing in. Claire liked a piece I posted on the thread by The New Republic’s Jeet Heer, “The post-literate American presidency,” which she saw as comforting her view that Republicans were largely sane until the current period but “that some sort of rapid process of de-civilization is at work” that has made Americans collectively stupid, thus paving the way for Trump. I replied that Trump is the logical culmination of a process that has been underway in the Republican Party for five decades, during which its hard right/reactionary wing—which was always there—went from being a loud minority prior to the 1980s to achieving its present-day hegemony. In the face of her skepticism, I told her I would explain the stages in this process. So as not to be long-winded—which I am sometimes reproached for—here it is in bullet points (and with key personalities in the five-decades descente aux enfers highlighted in italics):

  • The process, as all are likely aware, began with Goldwater winning the Deep South in 1964 and which paved the way for Nixon’s Southern Strategy. White Southerners hostile to the civil rights movement defected to the Republicans, who embraced them and played the race card accordingly, via coded and, now with Trump, not-so-coded language. The segregationist, onetime Southern Democrat Jesse Helms—remember him?—became the leading personality on the GOP hard right from the 1970s on and with the gravity of the GOP moving to the white South, which is reactionary not only on race but on just about everything—and confirmed for the umpteenth time in last Tuesday’s primary victory of the theocratic lunatic, certified extremist, and bigot who will likely be the new Republican senator from Alabama, and fully embraced by his party.
  • The politicization of Protestant evangelicals and fundamentalists, via the emergence of Jerry Falwell in the mid 1970s and founding of the Moral Majority, driven by the evolution in sexual mores and gender hierarchies (and that went way beyond Roe v. Wade). Thus the GOP’s intransigence on abortion and wild-and-crazy positions on issues having to do with sex (e.g. abstinence-only sex education), that one finds in no other conservative party in the Western world. And, it should be said, race was also a motivating issue for the (heavily Southern) Christian right.
  • The National Rifle Association and the 1977 “Revolt at Cincinnati,” which transformed the NRA from a non-political association of sportsmen to a lavishly funded far right-wing lobby with an extreme interpretation of the Second Amendment that had heretofore never had currency among jurists or judges—but which gained currency as a consequence of Republican administrations from Reagan on packing the federal courts and SCOTUS with conservative ideologues (and with the 2008 SCOTUS Heller ruling the outcome). As the GOP lost its urban voters and became a party of rural/small-town America and the South, near unlimited gun rights—including that of private individuals to constitute arsenals of assault weapons—became a marker of its identity. An American exception in the Western world.
  • Grover Norquist and his 1986 Taxpayer Protection Pledge, an imperative mandate signed on to by the near-totality of Republicans in Congress—and to a private citizen (Norquist) no less—which has been instrumental in pushing the Republican Party toward an Ayn Randian hostility to the very principle of social insurance, redistribution, and state-organized social solidarity. Out of this one gets the prevalent Ayn Randian discourse on the American right of the “moocher class,” Mitt Romney’s 47%, Arthur C. Brooks’ “30% coalition,” Rand-adept Paul Ryan as the top Republican in Congress, among others. Again, this is without equivalent in other conservative parties in the Western world.
  • The Reagan Administration’s 1987 repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, which paved the way for AM talk radio—pioneered by Rush Limbaugh from 1988—and the founding of Fox News by Rupert Murdoch in 1996. The existence of high-profile, hyper-partisan broadcast media on the right, and that has become the sole source of information via the airwaves for many Republican voters—there is no such equivalent for Democratic Party voters (as such media would never catch on with them)—once again makes America an outlier (along with Italy, to an extent) in the Western world.
  • Newt Gingrich and the Republican victory in 1994. Gingrich inaugurated a heretofore unprecedented hyper-partisanship in the House of Representatives, nationalized Congressional elections, imposed a Leninist-like discipline on the House Republican conference, and around a hard-right wing platform. And he set about to undermine the political norms that had prevailed in the Congress and American politics in general—which is explicated in detail in the Dionne-Ornstein-Mann article—and with his œuvre carried on by his successors and others (Tom DeLay, Dennis Hastert and the “Hastert rule,” Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan et al).
  • The 2000 SCOTUS Bush v. Gore ruling, which sent Bush 43 and his Rasputin political adviser Karl Rove to the White House, the latter with his single-minded focus on the GOP “base” and view of America as a 53-47 country—of Republicans and Democrats, respectively—and whose strategy was to lock in the Republicans’ hold on power, feed the “base,” and entirely ignore the Democratic-voting 47%. At this point the GOP ceased to have any pretense that, when in power, it represented all Americans or would seek to transcend the partisan divide. The Republicans govern for their base voters only. Obama’s sincere (and naïve) efforts to reach across the aisle would find no response on the other side.
  • By the end of Bush’s presidency, liberal Republicans were extinct and Gerald Ford/Bush 41-type moderate conservatives, a.k.a. RINOs, a dying species. They are, in fact, pretty much dead. One of the more or less “moderates” did win the GOP nomination in 2008, despite being hated by the party base. To energize the latter, he put Sarah Palin on the ticket, who became the GOP star, outshone him and everyone else in the party during ’08 campaign, and, after the election, give rise to the reactionary, populist Tea Party and a host of Palin-like GOP congressional candidates in the 2010 midterms and after. Palin represented the triumph of anti-intellectualism—indeed hostility to knowledge—in the GOP electorate and of a populist ressentiment, against liberals and anyone else not way out on the right. Beginning in 2012, the Republican Party presidential candidate field became a clown bus of Palin-like kooks and whack jobs.
  • The clincher: the 2010 SCOTUS Citizens United ruling, which opened the floodgates of unlimited money into the political process, giving birth to a donor class of far right-wing billionaires—the Koch brothers, Robert Mercer and his daughter, Sheldon Adelson et al—who underwrite the GOP and dictate its agenda—which can run counter to the interests of party voters themselves (thus the need—via talk radio, Fox, Breitbart, etc—to toss ever more populist, race- and liberal-baiting red meat to the base). The most flagrant case of late of donors inciting GOP legislative action was the failed Graham-Cassidy ACA repeal bill. Henceforth no Republican presidential candidate who is not a billionaire him/herself stands a chance without kissing the rings of the extremist plutocrats.

There, in a nutshell, is the five-decade descent of the Republicans into collective psychosis. There’s obviously more to it than this, e.g. the design flaws in the American political process—and the institutional architecture of American government locked in by the constitution (structure of the Senate and SCOTUS, electoral college, etc)—as spelled out in a smart piece in Vox by political scientist Lee Drutman—and which has yielded a “tyranny of the minority,” as Michelle Goldberg put it in her terrific first column for the NYT. Some of these flaws afflict the Democrats as well (e.g. the generalization of primaries for all elective offices), though not with the same deleterious consequences. As Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann—paragons of a diminishing inside-the-Beltway centrist sensibility—argued well before Trump, the Republican Party is the exclusive problem in American politics.

And at the root of the Republican Party’s problem is the people who vote for it. If one still has any doubt that the Republican Party’s voters are over the cliff, see the latest Quinnipiac University poll, which has 78% of Republican voters approving of the way Trump is handling his job as president—and with 59% strongly approving—78% saying that Trump shares their values, 79% that he’s honest, and a full 84% calling him fit to serve as president… And this nine months after the man took office…

Elaborating on the point above about populist ressentiment, at some point in the last decade, Republican voters had developed such a hatred for Democratic Party voters/liberals—which is unrequited, it must be said; liberals/lefties may be scornful and contemptuous of conservatives but do not obsessively hate them—that they came to support any position opposed by Democrats/liberals and vice-versa, and to celebrate any act deplored by them. E.g. the “rolling coal” phenomenon: with ecology and environmental protection now pegged as liberal/left, right-wingers blow polluting black smoke into the air and support gutting the EPA, even though such will not improve the lives of any GOP voters (who don’t have a lot money invested in polluting industries). Why? Because it pisses off liberals, c’est tout. Michelle Goldberg, writing last month in Slate on Trump’s pardon of Joe Arpaio, had this reflection

One of the uniquely horrifying things about the presidency is that Trump was put there to torment us, and by us, I mean the majority of Americans who voted against him. His strongest supporters revel in his instability, in the terror he evokes and the suffering he causes. He is, to use one of his own epithets, an enemy of the American people. We’ve all lived through presidents that we hate… But this is the first president who hates us even more, and that may be the ultimate source of his power. [Trump supporting former West Virginia columnist Don] Surber concluded his celebration [on his blog] of Arpaio’s freedom: “At any rate, pardon my laughter.”

Given what the Republican Party and its voters have become, one may sure and certain that it won’t be over when Trump is gone. The GOP’s post-Trump presidential nominee—and I will make a single, symbolic €5 bet on this—will be Kris Kobach, the Kansas Attorney General who is presently spearheading the GOP’s efforts to strip Americans in Democratic Party-leaning demographic cohorts of their voting rights—something that would happen in no other consolidated democracy in the world—as well as leading the campaign to sharply reduce legal immigration. If one missed Ari Berman’s NYT Magazine portrait of Kobach last June, do read it. Kobach is a smart Trump, without the grossness or vulgarity, with a Harvard B.A. (where he studied under Samuel Huntington), Yale J.D., and Oxford D.Phil. He published two academic books before age 30, Political Capital: The Motives, Tactics, and Goals of Politicized Businesses in South Africa (University Press of America, 1989)—probably his Harvard senior thesis—and his doctoral thesis, The Referendum: Direct Democracy in Switzerland (Dartmouth Publishing Co Ltd, 1993). I’ve looked at the latter and read parts of it. It’s a serious work of political science, with most of the citations and references from German-language sources. Monsieur Kobach est peut être un réac mais ce n’est pas un con. He’s no dummy.

C’est tout ce que j’ai à dire, pour le moment au moins.

UPDATE: I want to make an additional comment to the first bullet point, about the Southern Strategy. The defection of white Southerners to the GOP occurred in the same era as the expansion of the welfare state via the Great Society programs, some the key ones involving redistribution toward poor people (Medicaid, the “War on Poverty,” Food Stamps, AFDC, etc). Insofar as these were perceived on the right—and among white Southerners in particular—as primarily benefiting racial minorities in northern cities, it reinforced the GOP’s rightward lurch on welfare state-related issues.

2nd UPDATE: In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma hitting Houston, there was much talk (heavily negative) in social media of the evangelical preacher Joel Osteen—whom I had not heard of—and his Lakewood Church in Houston, which is one of the largest megachurches in the country. Osteen is America’s leading preacher of the “prosperity gospel,” which is widespread among American evangelicals and is a peculiarly American interpretation of Christianity—and antithetical to the teachings of the Catholic church and most mainline Protestant denominations—and explains in good part the easy accommodation of the American Christian right to the prevailing Ayn Randian, social Darwinist Weltanschauung of the contemporary Republican Party. One will, needless to say, not find a trace of the “prosperity gospel” in the doctrines of European Christian Democratic parties.

Vox has a good explanation of the phenomenon by its religion staff writer Tara Isabella Burton, “The prosperity gospel, explained: Why Joel Osteen believes that prayer can make you rich.” The lede: “The long, strange history of a quintessentially American theology.” Also see the piece in BuzzFeed by Laura Turner, “The Joel Osteen fiasco says a lot about American Christianity.”

3rd UPDATE: If one needs further proof that the Republican Party sans Trump is out on the lunatic fringe, mediate on the case of Mick Mulvaney, former congressman (R-SC) and present director of the Office of Management and Budget. Two articles: one in Politico by Michael Grunwald, “Mick the Knife: Meet Mick Mulvaney, who proudly calls himself a ‘right-wing nutjob’ and is quietly—and radically—trying to dismantle the federal bureaucracy;” the other by Justin Miller in The American Prospect, “The Freedom Caucus’s man on the inside.” The lede: “Mick Mulvaney has his dream job as director of OMB. Given the general chaos in Trump-world, what can he make of it?”

4th UPDATE: A reader on social media has informed me of a relevant book published in 2013, which I hadn’t seen, Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, From Eisenhower to the Tea Party, by the moderate Republican Geoffrey Kabaservice, who is research director for Republican Main Street Partnership in Washington. It looks good. For my part, I recommend White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement, by American University political historian Allan J. Lichtman.

5th UPDATE: My friend Claire (see second paragraph above) responded to my post on social media. I have taken the liberty of copying-and-pasting it below. My response follows.

I read it carefully and found it interesting. I assigned much less significance to these events at the time. Jesse Helms seemed a marginal figure; Jerry Falwell seemed a national joke. The evangelical Christians I knew (and know) were decent, thoughtful people who walked the walk. (My personal experiences with evangelicals were extremely positive, especially in developing countries. They were the ones, in Laos, for example, who were building wells, bringing medical care to villages, learning the language, and using the funds given them in ways that made sense to me – whereas the UNDP was an obvious racket that served only to enrich the international consultants.) I saw the Norquist movement as basically healthy – one wants that sentiment to be part of the mix, I thought; and a lively skepticism about certain federal spending programs struck me as warranted. The Fairness Doctrine seemed to me as an unjustifiable intrusion upon freedom of expression. (It *is* an intrusion on freedom of expression; that’s inarguable. So I’ve come to wonder whether my commitment to freedom of expression has been misplaced. Your friend Alexander Price [AWAV: see first comment below] is correct to draw a parallel with Russia’s Communist Party, pre-Gorbachev: It’s utterly shocking to me to be doubting that freedom of expression is an unalloyed good, but I think you’re probably right to trace some part of this to the lifting of censorship.) In any event, the GOP now seems to be growing crazier exponentially, almost by the minute. I understand the argument you’re making, but the key question to my mind is how and why these figures and ideas escaped the party fringes and became the mainstream. What we’re seeing now still doesn’t seem to me a logical and natural evolution.

Claire, point by point. First, Jesse Helms. I’m surprised you saw him as a marginal figure, when it was manifest for anyone who followed American politics from the 1970s on that he was a central personality on the right-wing of the GOP, indeed the most high profile on that wing into the ’90s. For the anecdote, my first memory of seeing him on TV was his speech at the 1976 RNC—supporting Reagan against Ford—which galvanized the delegates in the arena. His Senate reelection campaigns—all of which were hard-fought, close affairs (with the margins of victory in the single digits)—mobilized the Republican Party base and money-raising machine, notably in 1984 against Jim Hunt and in 1990 and ’96 vs Harvey Gantt (and with egregious race-baiting in the latter). And he was a big wheel in the Senate, particularly on foreign policy (spearheading the campaign against the Panama Canal treaty during the Carter administration, trashing the United Nations, etc etc). It wasn’t for nothing that he was the Republican that Democrats/liberals most loved to hate.

Jerry Falwell: I think there’s a generational issue here, of me mid-Baby Boom and you a Gen Xer, who likely didn’t follow politics too closely when Falwell and his Moral Majority burst onto the scene in the 1970s and was an important player in the coalition that brought Reagan to power in 1980. Falwell was no joke back then. His star faded in the course of the ’80s but he was instrumental in the politicization of the evangelicals and fundamentalists, and making the Christian right a central component of the GOP base—and of pulling the GOP to the right on social issues.

On evangelicals being nice people and who do good works: sure, but that’s not the issue. The problem is their action in the partisan political realm. And it’s a very big problem indeed, for those who don’t agree with them politically or share their world-view at least.

And in regard to the action of American evangelicals abroad, it has been far from positive. E.g. the Efraín Ríos Montt dictatorship in Guatemala—which committed numerous atrocities during its counter-insurgency campaign—was supported to the hilt by the evangelicals. They also played an important role in influencing US foreign policy toward Sudan—under both Republican and Democratic administrations—notably in supporting the secession of South Sudan, which finally happened and the consequences of which have been catastrophic (and certainly worse than if the secession hadn’t happened). And then there’s the attitude of the evangelicals toward Israel and the Palestinian issue, which is pernicious, period.

On the UNDP being a racket: I hear you, having worked myself as a consultant for UNESCO in the mid ’90s. At the end of my experience I concluded that the Reagan administration was right to have quit that organization.

Grover Norquist: his (in)famous Pledge is not a mere “sentiment” that is “part of the mix.” It is a rigid position that brooks no compromise and that is doctrine in the Republican Party, and with any Republican politico who defies it being targeted for political death. Insofar as compromise is essential to a democracy, the refusal of this—and particularly on issues regarding the economy and who gets what—necessarily undermines democracy (and certainly its spirit).

The Fairness Doctrine: I find your response odd, as the Doctrine in no way undermined free speech. It simply enjoined news and public affairs programming in the broadcast media—of stations operating under license from the FCC—to provide balance in editorial viewpoints. It in no way prevented particular viewpoints from being expressed, au contraire. With the AM and FM bands finite, but four TV news organizations (cable was in its infancy), and before anyone had heard of the internet, this was eminently reasonable in its time (and I believe it still is). In any case, I wasn’t making an argument for the Fairness Doctrine, just saying what the political consequences were of its abrogation.

I really don’t see what your difficulty is in understanding how the crazies, i.e. movement conservatives, took control of the party. Five decades ago this was the Goldwater wing of the Republican Party. It was a loud minority. Now it’s hegemonic. And Trump is its man. I tried to show the stages by which this came about. If you have another explanation, I’m all ears.

6th UPDATE: Energy and climate change writer David Roberts has a piece in Vox (October 29th) on the “rolling coal” phenomenon: “This one quote shows what angry white guys mean when they talk about government overreach.” N.B. the interview with conservative intellectual Avik Roy linked to in the text.

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[update below] [2nd update below]

I have not read the book—and am not sure that I will—though have been reading plenty about it. And also listening/watching, e.g. this 51 minute interview with Vox’s Ezra Klein, which confirms for the umpteenth time that Hillary Clinton is so smart and thoughtful, knows policy like no one else in the American political system, is excellent on all domestic policy issues I can think of, is a good person, would have made a great president, and that it’s just one huge goddamned tragedy that the unspeakable idiot who presently occupies the White House was elected on that calamitous night last November 8th and not she.

Hillary Clinton also explains ‘What Happened’, in two podcasts, to The New Yorker’s David Remnick here.

Can anyone imagine that idiot in the White House right now giving such an interview?

Slate’s Michelle Goldberg has a review of HRC’s book, rhetorically asking
Why isn’t Hillary Clinton even angrier?”

As for all those people out there—right and left alike—who have been dumping on Mme Clinton since her book came out—and repeating the same crap they have for the past 25+ years—they can go f— themselves.

More later.

UPDATE: The Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg offers a contradictory perspective in a review essay, dated September 21st, in The American Prospect, “How she lost.” The lede: “Malpractice cost Clinton the election, but her ambivalence on big issues was produced by big structural factors that affect all Democrats.”

2nd UPDATE: Thomas B. Edsall’s October 5th column in the NYT has an interesting data-backed account on “How immigration foiled Hillary.” In my view there is little the Democrats can do to win over rural and working class voters suffering from cultural insecurity over demographic change in their midst. There is no policy response to this. Insofar as voters are defecting from the Democrats over the immigration issue—and it’s doubtful the numbers here are significant—the main thing the party needs to do is to redouble its efforts to mobilize its base voters (blacks, Latinos, young people et al).

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Le Monde, 15-16 August 2017

It’s been two weeks since the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally, which, with its aftermath, continues to occupy a sizable part of my social media news feeds. Last week was, to quote the NYT’s Frank Bruni, the worst in a cursed—or, rather, accursed—presidency and, echoing Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce, the bleakest moment for America in my lifetime. But, as Pierce reminds us, it’s not as if what has happened is a surprise to anyone who’s been following Trump over the past two years. As everyone with any personal connection to America has been riveted to Charlottesville and the fallout, I’m not going not to drone on with an extended commentary. Just a few random thoughts I’ve had since the thing began.

First, on the neo-Nazis. Many on this side of the pond, but also stateside, were stunned by the spectacle of the march, that such could even happen—and with one expat American friend expressing shock that Nazis were actually “a thing” back home. On the march being allowed to take place, this would clearly not happen in France, where Nazism is illegal, the law proscribing hate speech is regularly invoked sans état d’âme, and the state can ban a street demonstration if the Ministry of Interior (the tutelary authority of the national police) determines that it will disturb public order (i.e. cause a riot). Freedom of opinion and expression are inscribed in articles 10 and 11 of the hallowed 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen—which figures in the preamble of the constitution—but there are the bits about disturbing public order and abusing such freedoms—the parameters being set by administrative courts (and eventually the Constitutional Council)—that allow for the enactment of hate speech laws and outlawing extremist groups, which would be impossible in the US on account of the First Amendment. Personally speaking, I can understand and sympathize with the French attitude toward Nazis—the historical context requires no explanation and Nazi bans hardly make France a less free country than America—but remain a First Amendment purist nonetheless—though not an unqualified one. Defending the right of fascists to spew their venom does not obligate a city, university, or other public or private establishment to give them a venue to do so. If there is good cause to believe that a public procession of neo-Nazi goons will result in violence—and overstretch the ability of the police to deal with it—then a city (or university) should have the right to deny the Nazis or other extremist groups a permit to march or hold an event in a given space—and particularly at night and by torchlight, in view of what that symbolizes and obvious dangers involved (fire causing fires).

I’ve seen American Nazis on occasion over the years (the most memorable in Washington in 1975, when I perceived from a bus window two men in full Nazi uniform—with swastikas and all—tranquilly handing out leaflets on the corner of Connecticut & K, at 5:00 PM on a weekday; it is most unlikely they would dare do so today) and have come across its literature more often. However jarring this may be, the fact is, neo-Nazis in America are, in the larger scheme of things, irrelevant; they’re pathetic losers, angry white men who may be dangerous as individuals—in which case they become an affair for law enforcement—but, on their own, pose no political threat.

If Charlottesville were akin to Skokie 1977, I would say let the wankers have their march and ignore them. What made Charlottesville different from Skokie, however, was the Second Amendment (post-Heller). It was the weapons, of legally parading with (presumably loaded) semi-automatic rifles. This is insane. Paraphrasing the conservative Canadian-American David Frum writing in The Atlantic, in no other advanced democracy could a private militia armed with weapons of war even be legally constituted, let alone allowed to hold a public march and with those weapons, and, moreover, chant slogans that are manifest calls to violence and concretely threaten the physical integrity of persons observing the parade and chanting counter slogans back. As for the constitutionality of this, Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern argued in Slate that there was a clear clash in Charlottesville between the First and (post-Heller) Second Amendments, and with the latter winning out. The First Amendment is necessarily undermined when those exercising it are confronted by a hostile paramilitary force of persons carrying machine guns and backed by open-carry and “stand-your-ground” laws. Those who argue that armed extremists enjoy a First Amendment right to hold a parade even in these circumstances—and wherever and whenever they feel like doing so—are dodging a fundamental issue here.

The counter-demonstrators could, of course, bring weapons themselves. Constitute their own militia. Great. If Americans want Lebanon or Somalia, then Lebanon or Somalia they will get. This, however, poses the question as to the equity, as it were, of the Second Amendment. Quoting David Frum from the aforelinked article

As David Graham has observed here at The Atlantic, the right to carry arms is America’s most unequally upheld right. Ohio is an open-carry state. Yet Tamir Rice, a black 12-year-old, was shot dead in Cleveland within seconds of being observed carrying what proved to be a pellet gun. John Crawford was shot dead for moving around an Ohio Walmart with an air rifle he had picked up from a display shelf. Minnesota allows concealed-carry permit-holders to open carry if they wish—yet Minnesotan Philando Castile was killed after merely telling a police officer he had a legal gun in his car.

On the other hand, every white man who played vigilante in Charlottesville this weekend went home unharmed to his family, having successfully overawed the police—and having sent a chilling message of warning to lawful protesters.

One shudders to imagine what would happen if the neo-Nazis were to cross paths with, say, Black Lives Matter organized as a paramilitary force.

I mentioned Lebanon and Somalia. À propos, Robin Wright had a piece in The New Yorker last week that provoked much comment on social media, asking “Is America headed for a new kind of civil war?” Certain preconditions for civil war in the USA do indeed exist: the American political system is deeply polarized in a way it hasn’t been since, well, the Civil War, with one of the two parties of government extreme right-wing, populist, illiberal, and inimical to democracy—and is likely to remain so—and rejecting the legitimacy of the other party and its voters (the “moocher class,” Mitt Romney’s 47%…). If a Democratic Party candidate is elected president in 2020, does anyone honestly believe that the Republican Party base voters and media (Fox, Breitbart, AM talk radio, etc) will accept the election outcome and legitimacy of his or her presidency? Americans of the right and liberal/left do not see the world in the same way and, when it comes to politics—a subject hard to avoid—have nothing to say to one another. And N.B.: there is no symmetry here between the two sides of the political spectrum. The problem is exclusively on one. And that’s not going to change for the foreseeable future.

But there is not going to be a civil war in the US and for at least two reasons. First, only one of the sides is armed (and we know which side that is). If there is an armed conflict between Democratic and Republican Party base voters, it will be over quickly (and with many of my friends, associates, and relatives seeking political asylum in France, Canada and other civilized countries). Second, and more importantly, civil wars are waged over one of two things—control of the state or secession—and with the state and its armed force invariably actors in the conflict (though there are particular cases and exceptions, e.g. Lebanon 1975-90). If the American state is a party to a civil war, it will be to put down an insurrection, in which case the war will be over as soon as it starts. No militia is going to try to seize the American state (quelle idée!) and an eventual secession of some part of the country (Texas? California?) seems far-fetched, to put it mildly.

On Trump—on whom I have not had a post in almost six months—and his reaction to Charlottesville, New York-based writer Eyal Press had a good comment on his Facebook page

On second thought, Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville, his refusal to condemn the bigotry and violence of a neo-Nazi mob, much less to utter the phrase “white supremacist terrorism,” is welcome. Just imagine if Trump had listened to some of his advisors and issued an insincere statement denouncing the violence and calling for unity. The pundits would have swooned, telling us, yet again, that he was now “Presidential,” that the dignity of the office he holds had been restored, even as his Justice Department continued to roll back minority rights and the likes of Bannon and Gorka walked the halls of the White House. For once, Trump did not dissemble. He showed the nation his true colors, revealing to his critics and supporters exactly who he is and where his sympathies lie.

Trump was Trump. I am not going to go on about him here or say anything I haven’t already said countless times, as his utter abjectness—politically and as a human being—and unfitness to be president of the United States is known—his lizard-brained fans excepted—to all. The American Prospect’s Adele M. Stan, in her latest column, thus expressed the sentiment of countless millions

There comes a point during the unfolding of a relentless, long-form catastrophe that one fears running out of adjectives to describe it. Watching President Donald J. Trump’s disgusting Tuesday night rally [in Phoenix], this writer finds the majesty of the English language failing her with means adequate to convey the depths of her disgust and dismay.

Haaretz’s US editor and correspondent Chemi Shalev, in writing about the sentiments of American Jews, also expressed those of tens of millions of non-Jewish Americans

Trump is different. His tenure could be a quantum leap, from strife to schism. Jewish liberals and doves may have detested George Bush and conservatives and right-wingers may have despised Barack Obama, but no U.S. president in the modern era has sparked such widespread fear and loathing in the American Jewish community as Trump. For many Jews, Trump is the worst thing that has happened to America in their lifetimes. Their fear, hostility and revulsion are so strong that they encompass not only Trump but anyone who seems to comfort and support him, to give him aid and succor, to be blind to his awfulness, which seems so obvious to his detractors. That includes Trump’s Jewish friends and supporters in the U.S. as well as the State of Israel, which has embraced him.

That’s right: “anyone who seems to comfort and support him, to give him aid and succor, to be blind to his awfulness”…

Just one thought. Since Charlottesville we have witnessed the already minimal acquiescence the Trump regime enjoyed among sectors of the American elite—notably corporate CEOs and the military—evaporate. A few hedge fund managers and media barons aside, Trump has been abandoned, if not outright repudiated, by the forces vives of American society. And this now includes the GOP congressional leadership. Even pro-Trump intellos—minuscule in number to begin with—and commentators on high-profile rightist websites are jumping ship. It is, needless to say, unprecedented for a president to be so thoroughly isolated—and only seven months into his term—for the elites of every sector of the economy, state, and society to consider unfit to hold office. It’s a dangerous situation, évidemment. Quoting Matt Taibbi’s latest in Rolling Stone

Because of [Trump’s] total inability to concentrate or lead, he will likely never do anything meaningful with the real governmental power he possesses – if he had a tenth of the managerial skills of Hitler, we’d be in impossibly deep shit right now. But as an enabler of behavior, as a stoker of arguments and hardener of resentments, he has no equal. Under Trump, racists become more racist, the woke necessarily become more woke, and areas of compromise among all quickly dwindle and disappear. He has us arguing about things that weren’t even questions a few minutes ago, like, are Nazis bad?

Trump has shown, once again, that his power to bring out the worst in people is limitless. And we should know by now that he’s never finished, never beaten. Historically, he’s most dangerous when he’s at his lowest. And he’s never been lower than now.

Which raises the question that we’ve been rhetorically posing almost since January 20th, which is “how long can this go on?” That it could until January 20th 2021 is quite simply inconceivable.

I’m going to go out on a limb and make a prediction, which is that, sooner rather later, maybe before the end of the year, something will happen, Trump will say or do something, that will prompt the GOP congressional leadership—McConnell, Ryan et al—to decide to quickly impeach and convict him. Swiftly, inside a week. Get rid of the SOB and swear Pence into office. Boom, comme ça. The Republicans will bite the bullet and just do it. Their base will go ballistic but the leadership will deal with it and hope the storm passes—and in time for the 2018 midterms. Voilà.

Over the past two weeks people have been hearing and reading about the “antifa” movement—and which has become the right’s latest leftist bogeyman. The term “antifa” seemed to come out of nowhere. I first saw Americans (on the left) use it on Facebook threads last winter, when the Milo Yiannopoulos event at Berkeley was cancelled following the Black Bloc riot, though when I asked people where it came from, no one had a response. In fact, the first time I heard the word “antifa” was here in France some two years ago, on the hard right radio station Radio Courtoisie (which I occasionally listen to in my car; it’s not an uninteresting station and, in tone, bears no resemblance to AM talk radio in the US), and then from a couple of my right-wing French students, who uttered it in class. I have never seen or heard it used on the French left (or the mainstream media). So as far as I’m concerned—and until proof to the contrary—the term “antifa” is a French right-wing invention—so rightists don’t have to pronounce the full word “fascist” in a context in which the finger is pointed at them—and that has made its way outre-Atlantique (and been unwittingly adopted by the left).

David Remnick has a good commentary in the current issue of The New Yorker on “Donald Trump’s true allegiances,” in which he writes

“We’ve seen this coming,” [Barack Obama] said [last November]. “Donald Trump is not an outlier; he is a culmination, a logical conclusion of the rhetoric and tactics of the Republican Party for the past ten, fifteen, twenty years. What surprised me was the degree to which those tactics and rhetoric completely jumped the rails.”

For half a century, in fact, the leaders of the G.O.P. have fanned the lingering embers of racial resentment in the United States. Through shrewd political calculation and rhetoric, from Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy” to the latest charges of voter fraud in majority-African-American districts, doing so has paid off at the ballot box. “There were no governing principles,” Obama said. “There was no one to say, ‘No, this is going too far, this isn’t what we stand for.’ ”

On the GOP and race, the NYT’s Charles M. Blow had a must-read column last week, “The other inconvenient truth: The Republican Party should acknowledge how it has fueled white supremacy.” Money quote

It is possible to trace this devil’s dance back to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the emergence of Richard Nixon. After the passage of the act, the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln to which black people felt considerable fealty, turned on those people and stabbed them in the back.

In 1994 John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s domestic-policy adviser and a Watergate co-conspirator, confessed this to the author Dan Baum:

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

Charles Blow’s latest column, “Donald Trump, ‘King of Alabama’?,” is an absolute must-read, if one hasn’t already.

Novelist and radio host Kurt Andersen has a most interesting article in the September issue of The Atlantic, “How America lost its mind.” Entre autres, he offers an analysis of the evolution the Republican Party over the past five decades—leading in an almost straight line to Trump—that is similar to my own.

ICYMI, my dear friend Adam Shatz had an à chaud commentary on Charlottesville, “Trump set them free,” on the LRB blog.

On the Confederate statues issue, Columbia University history professor Eric Foner’s NYT op-ed, “Confederate statues and ‘our’ memory,” is excellent.

Likewise University of Chicago history professor Jane Dailey’s piece in Huffpost, “The Confederate general who was erased.”

Swarthmore College political science professor Richard Valelly, writing in The American Prospect, asks the excellent question, “How about erecting monuments to the heroes of Reconstruction?”

Roger Berkowitz—who is Academic Director of the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities and Associate Professor of Politics, Human Rights, and Philosophy at Bard College—was interviewed last week by Deutsche Welle on “What philosopher Hannah Arendt would say about Donald Trump.”

C’est tout ce que j’ai à dire, pour le moment au moins.

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