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College campus follies

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American college campus follies, to be precise. Hardly two weeks goes by, or so it seems of late, without some crazy story from a US college or university about an identity-related incident or protest by performative woke student activists. The latest we’ve learned about, which actually happened in 2018, is described in detail in a front page article in The New York Times, dated Feb. 25th, by national reporter Michael Powell—whose beat includes “issues around free speech and expression, and stories capturing intellectual and campus debate”—that carried the click-bait title “Inside a battle over race, class and power at Smith College: A student said she was racially profiled while eating in a college dorm. An investigation found no evidence of bias. But the incident will not fade away.” A great elite liberal arts college in a wonderful town (if I had had a proper academic career, I would have loved to have taught there). The student in question was a woman of Malian immigrant origin—who is clearly 100% assimilated into the American Gen-Z woke culture—and with the persons who were “cancelled,” as it were, being (white) members of the custodial and food services staff. Right-wing media, e.g. Fox News (and of course Tucker Carlson), NY Post, National Review, and Commentary, naturally had a field-day with the story (which they were on to well before NYT readers learned about it). One may also add the conservative Bret Stephens’ NYT column (Mar. 1st), “Smith College and the failing liberal bargain,” which is actually not bad (and likewise, one may add, with Stephens’ Mar. 9th column, “California’s ethnic studies follies“).

Last month, before the NYT’s Smith College report, I was reminded of a similar-type story, from 2017, at Evergreen State College in Olympia WA (background here), by a stateside Francophile friend, who forwarded a 52-minute YouTube documentary that had been sent to him, titled “Evergreen et les dérives du progressisme,” with my friend saying that it looked to be the “film choc à alimenter la polémique actuelle en France” (my friend likes to mix up English and French with me), further adding that what one sees in the documentary is an “American freak show” and “fodder for a forthcoming AWAV.” Effectivement. And as a progressive US intello friend—who had not heard about the 2017 affair and to whom I thus sent the video—emailed me after watching: “MADNESS!!!!!!! This Evergreen stuff.” The film consists of footage from YouTube documentaries on the Evergreen affair culled and spliced—but not in an inaccurate or distorted manner—by a French social media personality who goes by the sobriquet “Sanglier Sympa” (Amiable Wild Boar)—and who’s pretty clearly on the right—and with his own narration, concluding with a warning that what one saw at Evergreen in 2017 risks coming to France (it being a leitmotif in France that whatever starts in America will eventually make its way here). In view of the current hysteria over “islamo-gauchisme” and denunciations (from Emmanuel Macron on down) of pernicious theories (post-colonialism, intersectionality, etc) and other identitarian threats from American and other “Anglo-Saxon” universities that are infecting French academia, le message tombe à pic.

The film is well worth the watch and with the narration, while excessive at points, not wide-of-the-mark. If one can’t follow French, then there are the English originals, notably the three-part series (1½ hours total) by filmmaker Mike Nanya, with the experience of professors Bret Weinstein & Heather Heying—the couple (evolutionary biologists both) that was constrained to resign from their tenured posts and leave the college—at the center; the 43-minute video “Evergreen madness: Why Bret Weinstein left;” and Bret Weinstein’s Congressional testimony in 2018. For those who are appalled by the spectacle of what happened at Evergreen—which I cannot imagine would not include anyone over a certain age, regardless of political views—Weinstein is the hero of the affair.

Watching the Evergreen videos I had a sense of déjà vu, as it recalled the student activism and protests of my undergraduate years at Antioch College in the mid to late 1970s, Antioch being a small liberal arts college in a bucolic village and which was, at the time, certainly the most “woke” in the country (along with Hampshire, Goddard, Evergreen, Reed, UC-Santa Cruz)—and which ultimately led to the college’s demise (well-described in a 2007 lead article in The Weekly Standard, linked to here). But the 2017 Evergreen protest was on another level altogether compared to 1970s Antioch. First, the shocking disrespect the Evergreen protesters displayed toward administrators and faculty—whom they all knew (there’s no anonymity in these small colleges)—and their copious use of obscenities; my memory may be faulty but I do not recall Antioch students addressing their elders (assembled) in such an insolent manner or using foul language during heated politicized confrontations. Second, the greater implication of the Evergreen faculty and (above all) the university administration on the side of the protesting students, some out of sympathy but more because they were cowed. The Evergreen spectacle gives an idea of what China must have been like during the Cultural Revolution—though with a slight difference: in China, teachers and other adults who ran afoul of teenaged Red Guards were in danger of physical mutilation or worse, whereas any Evergreen adult who stood up to the student mob risked little more than a screaming torrent of verbal abuse. From the student mob, at least. And if one needs reminding, the Chinese Red Guards were unleashed by adults, who then put an end to them when they decided to.

In this respect, the Evergreen protest and its outcome—as at Smith and countless other such incidents—points to the main culprit in what’s going off the rails in American higher education, which are the university administrations, which systematically cave in to the students and do not defend their professors or staff (in almost any dispute involving students). US universities are also pris au piège—entrapped—by their business model, of tuition-paying students and America’s customer-is-king ethos; they have become businesses and run by administrators from the business world—or, if they were initially academics, have assimilated the ethos and values of that world—and with the commensurate private sector salaries (whereas teaching is increasingly carried out by adjuncts who are more poorly paid than three decades ago). More on this below.

The Evergreen affair reinforced a thought I had after reading the long 2016 article on Oberlin College in The New Yorker—a sort of case study of the woke culture in liberal arts colleges—”The new activism of campus life: On trigger warnings, allyship, intersectionality, and what’s really eating Oberlin.” It seemed to me that the complicating factor in the toxic political climate on these campuses—and I say this at the risk of being “cancelled”—is the central role of students of color, women, and LGBTQs in the protest movements. If the woke student vanguard were made up of straight white dudes, the colleges could deal with them, and probably would forthrightly. But when women and/or persons of color are in the forefront, matters become more delicate, for administrators and professors alike, and which causes a modulated reaction on their part.

Another “cancel culture” brouhaha last month—this involving woke high school students—was the Donald McNeil/New York Times affair, which happened in 2019 but only came to public light in the last six weeks, following the exposés by reporters Maxwell Tani and Lachlan Cartwright in The Daily Beast, the titles and ledes telling you what you need to know. The first, on Jan. 28th: “Star NY Times reporter accused of using ‘N-Word,’ making other racist comments: The paper’s top COVID reporter joined a group of students on a trip to Peru in 2019. Participants alleged he repeatedly made racist comments;” and the second on Feb. 3rd: “NY Times staffers send ‘outraged’ letter to bosses demanding reporter apologize for racial slur: More than 150 employees excoriated paper brass for what they said was an insufficient response to allegations that a top reporter made racist comments on a 2019 trip with students.” The journalist, Donald McNeil, who was/is 67-years-old, had been at the NYT since 1976, and was the paper’s top science and health reporter—and with the Covid-19/pandemic beat over the past year—suffered the same fate as Bret Weinstein at Evergreen: forced to resign, here by the NYT “brass.”

As this latest instance in “cancel culture” involved The New York Times, it became a big media story last month, with reporting and/or commentary—for those not riveted to Twitter and who thus may have missed it—by, among others, Nancy Rommelmann in Newsweek, Jonathan Chait in New York magazine, Aaron Sibarium in the conservative Washington Free Beacon, and Erik Wemple and Sarah Ellison & Jeremy Barr in The Washington Post. As for the NYT itself, Bret Stephens wrote a column on the McNeil ouster that the paper’s higher-ups spiked, which was subsequently obtained and published by the NY Post as “the column the New York Times didn’t want you to see.” NYT staff reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones—who created the 1619 Project—was interviewed in Slate “on Donald McNeil’s resignation, what the reporting got wrong, and how she was involved.” And the NYT’s smart media columnist, Ben Smith, explained “Why the morality plays inside the Times won’t stop.”

On “cancel culture,” which is not a phenomenon I think actually exists—as people have been “cancelling” or been “cancelled,” and across the political spectrum, since forever; there’s nothing new in it—Peter Beinart had an excellent post dated Mar. 1st on his Substack site.

Last month, I participated in an extended exchange on the NYT/McNeil affair with an informal email discussion group I’m a part of, of mainly US (and New York)-based intellos (writers, journalists, NGO executives, academics), almost all Gen-Xers and Boomers, and all politically progressive (Sanders and Warren supporters during the Democratic Party nomination campaign). Trying to figure out what had happened inside the NYT (and with some having inside sources), a general consensus formed that while McNeil may be a curmudgeon and with a style—personal and as a reporter—that’s a throwback to a now bygone era in journalism (and in American culture), he had hardly committed a fireable offense. Losing his job over what reportedly transpired with the students on the 2019 Peru trip was unjust.

One thing that cannot be emphasized enough is that woke-related and “cancel culture” episodes do not cleave along left vs. right or liberal/progressive vs. conservative lines. The conflict is not ideological but rather generational. Solidly left-wing Boomer and Gen-X professors—and I know quite a few—have little patience for the performative wokeness one sees on college campuses (which Marxists of my day would label ‘ultra-leftism’, seen as an infantile disorder). The conservative anti-Trumper Charlie Sykes picked up on this recently in recounting, in The Bulwark, a story from Madison WI, which he said

exposes an under-appreciated aspect of the woke wars: the targets are not always retrograde conservatives. In woke precincts, it is actually far more likely that the targets will instead be other progressives who are insufficiently woke.

On Mar. 1st—after our discussion group exchange on the McNeil/NYT affair had wound up (and some 80 emails later)—McNeil offered his version of what had happened, in a very long and detailed four-part post published on Medium (Medium calculates that all four posts are an 81-minute read). Reading/skimming through his (convincing) explanation, with his detailed description of the interactions with the students on the Peru trip—almost all white and from exclusive prep schools—it’s hard not to side with him. A right-leaning friend was indeed so indignant and irate after reading it that she tweeted:

The NYT is in the hands of people who are both stupid and vicious. The idea that they would even for a moment take seriously the complaints of these pampered, self-righteous little shits is depressing.

And adding for good measure:

Pampered, ignorant, spoiled children, callow and ignorant of life, are now running the cultural show. The adults—who are supposed to teach them and set limits on behavior like this—are instead cowed by them, turning them into petty tyrants.

My friend’s ire was misdirected IMO, not to mention excessive in its censoriousness toward the behavior of a handful of 16-17-year-olds (who are not running a cultural show or anything else; and something I insist on: high school students are not “children;” post-pubescent juridical minors are adolescents, or teenagers, and should be referred to as such; they are not children). Among other things, McNeil in no way suggested that he held the students responsible for his termination at the NYT. Neither they nor the organism that sponsored the trip demanded his firing or had anything to do with what happened to him a year-and-a-half after the fact. As his account makes clear, the exclusive responsibility for his termination lay with the adults who run The New York Times—just as it was the Evergreen administration, not the screaming students, who forced Bret Weinstein’s resignation.

Returning to the Evergreen psychodrama and the warning by “Sanglier Sympa” that what one saw there presaged the future in universities in France: this is most unlikely given the centralization of the French educational system—and with the ministry of higher education at the pinnacle—and the fact that university professors (the ones with stable posts) are fonctionnaires (civil servants) and with full union rights. A Bret Weinstein-like story is not possible here. This said, the Red Guard-like mob dynamics of the woke Evergreen vanguard have long been present in French student movements, as they have everywhere.

I discussed my thoughts on this a week ago with a brilliant sociologist friend, who’s taught for some twenty years at the Université Paris-8 (Saint-Denis)—which is the most “woke” university in France (and the polar opposite of the institution I teach at)—was a Trotskyist (LCR) militant in his youth (wasn’t everyone?), and is a specialist of social movements and collective action. Prior to the discussion, I asked him to watch the Evergreen video (he has no personal experience with American universities, so found the Evergreen spectacle jarring; he joked that I had him watch the video to give him a “nightmare”). While appalled by the Evergreen students and their antics, he found them almost gentillet (nice, sweet) compared to student movements in France, which involve hardened militants, with barricades, occupation of university buildings (and the vandalism that ensues), and the real threat of violence—and with the engagement of non-student elements: of anarchists and other currents of the ultra-left, who infiltrate the movements and with the aim of clashing with the police (French universities—which are not residential—being fully a part of their urban environments; e.g. Paris-8 is at the terminus of a metro line and a stop on the tramway that plies the Seine-Saint-Denis). For this reason, university presidents confronted with occupations—and with the identity of the occupiers uncertain—will nonetheless not request police intervention, lest all hell break loose. And as my friend pointed out, university presidents also have to take care not to alienate the students or enter into a frontal conflict with them, as students (and the highly politicized national student federations: UNEF etc) are a component of the electoral college that elects those presidents to their posts—so thus a constituency to be courted. But my friend did agree that the outcome of the Evergreen protest is not possible in France, as there are too many institutional guard rails (note, e.g., the recent incident at Sciences Po Grenoble, of the two professors accused of “Islamophobia,” which was quickly nipped in the bud). And students themselves (not the anarchists, black blocs, and other outside agitators), unlike their woke American cousins, are not so ill-behaved and foul-mouthed in dialogue with administrators and professors.

There is also, at present, the prevailing political climate in France, which is hostile to eventual identity-type revindications expressed by the woke Evergreen student counterparts here. And the intellectuals fueling that hostility are highly organized and with a supportive audience in the centers of power that count.

I mentioned above that I would have more to say about US university administrations. On this, The Chronicle of Higher Education published an excellent essay (May 19, 2020) by François Furstenberg, who teaches in the history department at Johns Hopkins University, titled “University leaders are failing: The pandemic reveals ineptitude at the top. Change is needed.” The essay may be read for free following registration. It’s well worth it.

UPDATE: My French sociologist friend wishes to add two points to what I roughly quoted him saying above. One is that while the Evergreen students may be “gentillet” compared to their French counterparts in their action (which in France invariably includes non-students of the ultra-left), there is, as he put it, a psychological violence in their behavior and words that can be traumatizing to those on the receiving end, and which may be experienced as a threat of actual physical violence. The second is that the situation in France in regard to the issues discussed here can change very quickly. Social media mobs, as with real mobs, are dynamic and unpredictable.

N.B. I have edited and modified parts of this post since initial publication, notably the sixth paragraph, so as to avoid misunderstanding or misinterpretation.

A further thought, on the intemperate, foul-mouthed Evergreen media arts professor one sees in the videos, who has manifest anger management issues (and eventually resigned from her tenured position): I find it inconceivable that such behavior would be tolerated from a colleague in a French university.

2nd UPDATE: On “cancel culture,” which certain progressive friends assure me does indeed exist, Tim Miller of The Bulwark has a take (Mar. 21st) worth reading, “Let’s talk about ‘cancelling’: People are conflating one real problem with two fake ones.” And Michelle Goldberg, reminding us that “cancel culture” is more a thing on the right than the left (and which is definitely the case in France, BTW), had a must-read column in the NYT dated Feb. 26th, “The campaign to cancel wokeness: How the right is trying to censor critical race theory.”

Also note Thomas B. Edsall’s NYT column dated Mar. 17th, “Biden wants no part of the culture war the G.O.P. loves.” Another salutary position by President Biden, as I have been uncompromising in my insistence that politicians should stay out of culture wars and identity-related issues (beyond defending 1st and 14th amendment rights). Let these play themselves out in the cultural and societal realms (and eventually in the courts).

3rd UPDATE: On “cancel culture” primarily being a phenomenon of the right—as a weapon in the American right’s assault on higher education, among other domains of American life—what is happening in the state of Idaho is a case study (Idaho, along with other states in the mountain west, having experienced an important in-migration of conservatives from California since the 1990s). See the disquieting report (Mar. 15th) by The Chronicle of Higher Education’s senior reporter Emma Pettit, “A county turns against its college: In Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, as in places across America, disdain for higher education is thriving.” The college that is being turned against is not a big university with lots of leftists but the local community college. A quote:

What’s happening at North Idaho [College], while it reflects an increasingly common antipathy toward higher education, is also unusual. Even harsh critics of the sector, research has shown, tend to feel positive about their local campuses. But in Kootenai County, once dubbed the most Republican county in the most Republican state, many on the right have focused their ire not on the state flagship hours away but on the community college down the street.

And on the subject, see also Michelle Goldberg’s March 26th column, “The social justice purge at Idaho colleges: Republican lawmakers try to cancel diversity programs.”

4th UPDATE: From The Chronicle of Higher Education (Mar. 25th), a table with data on “Executive compensation at public and private colleges.” Obscene. What we also need is data on compensation for adjunct professors.

5th UPDATE: Blake Smith, a Harper Schmidt Fellow at the University of Chicago, has a provocative article in Tablet (Apr. 5th), “The Woke Meritocracy: How telling the right stories about overcoming oppression in the right way became a requirement for entering the elite credentialing system.” (h/t David A. Bell)

6th UPDATE: Jesse Singal, a contributing writer at New York magazine, has a lengthy piece (Apr. 5th) in the libertarian webzine Reason, “A professor pushed back against ‘white fragility’ training. The college investigated her for 9 months.” The lede: “The chaos at Lake Washington Institute of Technology is by no means an isolated occurrence.” The professor in question has some issues—notably her dodgy political views—but what happened to her was unacceptable. (h/t Jamie Mayerfeld)

Robin DiAngelo, the author of the NYT bestseller White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism (Beacon Press, 2018) and who appeared in the Evergreen story, also figures in this one. Her “diversity training” workshops sound like political reeducation camps in Maoist China or post-1975 Vietnam.

7th UPDATE: The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Emma Pettit has another report (Apr. 5th) from Idaho, “‘Anti-American,’ pushing ‘Marxism,’ and more: Do you recognize your college here? A free-market group escalates its war against higher ed, one robocall at a time.” It begins:

If you live in Idaho and you’ve recently flipped on the radio or picked up a landline phone when it rang, you may have heard a confident male voice on the other end, painting an ugly portrait of higher education in the Gem State. Public colleges are teaching students “to hate America,” the voice says, in at least one version of the recorded message. These institutions are promoting Marxism and socialism. They’re “attacking law enforcement, the Second Amendment,” and “pushing the cancel culture that threatens all of us.”

It’s time, the voice insists, to take a stand, and for Idaho to become the first state to stop “leftist indoctrination” on college campuses. “Will it work?” the voice asks before it answers in the affirmative: “We say, Yes.”

The “we” saying yes is Idaho Freedom Action. It’s the advocacy arm of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, which describes itself as a free-market think tank. Idaho Freedom Action’s campaign says it is an effort to “Fix Idaho Colleges” by pressuring state lawmakers to end “anti-American programs” on campuses, and says Idaho students are being conditioned to “apologize for being white” and “shut up because of their gender or race.” (The campaign lists more grievances, but you get the idea.) So far, Freedom Action has spent thousands of dollars on radio ads to reach “freedom-loving Idahoans” and placed tens of thousands of phone calls to inform citizens about “social justice on campus,” it says in a recent campaign email.

This culture war we’re in is not going to end anytime soon. And particularly with elected officials such as this.

8th UPDATE: More on the right’s assault on higher education—and free speech—this from the Miami Herald (Apr. 6th), “Florida GOP targets ‘intellectual diversity’ on campus with survey about beliefs.” It begins:

In a push against so-called cancel culture, the Republican majority in the Florida Legislature is ready to pass legislation that would require public colleges and universities to survey students, faculty and staff about their beliefs and viewpoints.

The survey is part of a broader measure that would also bar university and college officials from limiting speech that “may be uncomfortable, disagreeable or offensive,” and would allow students to record lectures without consent to support a civil or criminal case against a higher-education institution.

The objective, according to the bill sponsors, is to protect the “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” on state campuses. But university faculty members worry the proposal, House Bill 233, is likely to send a chilling effect on their freedom of speech.

N.B. The assault is only beginning.

9th UPDATE: I received this comment in an email (Apr. 7th), from a professor at an elite university:

[S]ome quick reactions. Basically, I think that the campus “follies” are mostly just that. The college kids – or faculty – get riled up about something and have a big protest. Usually, although not always, this happens when someone deliberately provokes them. And it usually passes. The kids forget about it, graduate, and there is no suite. A reign of terror it isn’t.

To give one example from my own university. This past summer, in the middle of the BLM protests, a group of several hundred faculty got together and signed a provocative letter to the administration. It called for all sorts of “woke” measures, including, most provocatively, the formation of a new disciplinary body to police faculty scholarship for signs of racism, sexism, etc. There was huge pushback from other faculty, including me. The letter was immediately cited throughout the media as a sign of the new cancel culture on campus. But what happened? Nada. There was never any danger of this new disciplinary body being created. And in fact, absolutely none of the measures proposed were ever enacted. It was performance art, not a reign of terror.

I don’t want to minimize the effects. The fear of being targeted does have a chilling effect. For people who are called out by the “woke mob,” the consequences can occasionally be very bad, although nearly all of the people targeted at places like Yale and Princeton (e.g. [a conservative colleague of mine]) are still fully ensconced in their protected, tenured positions. And there are a few places, like Evergreen, where the effects are worse. But even at Oberlin, the protests tend to have little suite. A few years ago, at Oberlin (where my daughter was studying music), a black student group called for the immediate firing of a dozen faculty and staff members they said were racist. They called for the immediate tenuring of all non-tenured black faculty. They demanded that all classical music students be required to study jazz, since the jazz students had to study classical music. What came of all this? Absolutely nothing. On the other hand, a (black) non-tenured faculty member who was found to have been posting anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on social media was fired.

The other point is that none of this stuff really compares with the much more traditional, conservative form of cancel culture which really does threaten far more American academics. A friend of mine, a non-tenured faculty member at a Texas public college, tweeted about Mike Pence’s “demon eyes” during the VP debate last fall – and she was fired. Various state legislatures are moving ahead with bills banning the teaching of “critical race theory.” There’s lots more of this sort of thing on. Conservative members of congress and state legislatures targeting academics have real power, unlike student groups or faculty.

10th UPDATE: Another excellent piece (Apr. 8th) by François Furstenberg of Johns Hopkins University in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “The era of artificial scarcity: Administrators have rushed to embrace austerity measures. The faculty should call their bluff.” In detailing the recent actions of the administration of his university, he describes “how fully a Wall Street mind-set had captured the nation’s university leadership,” and how their behavior is akin to that of “private-equity titans after a hostile acquisition.”

11th UPDATE: The typically smart and thoughtful Ezra Klein, in his NYT column (Apr. 18th), puts forth “A different way of thinking about cancel culture.”

12th UPDATE: Bret Weinstein, who now lives in Portland OR, reports in the UnHerd websize (Apr. 19th) on how ultra-leftists—the kind of people who tormented and verbally abused him at Evergreen State College—are wreaking havoc in that city.

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John Lewis, R.I.P.

Everyone is extolling his memory today. Even the Idiot-in-Chief, after a 14-hour silence, felt compelled to have a staffer tweet condolences in his name. That John Lewis was a true American hero goes without saying. To get a sense of his heroism, do set aside two hours of your time and watch the powerful 2010 PBS American Experience documentary Freedom Riders, directed by Stanley Nelson, which may be seen in full on YouTube—and which I just watched myself, having only learned about the film today, via a recommendation on social media.

As one may surmise, its subject is the 1961 Freedom Rides through the South—based on the book by historian Raymond Arsenault—in which John Lewis played a leading role. What incredible courage of the young freedom riders, who knew they were literally taking their lives into their hands once they crossed into Alabama and Mississippi, but refused to cower to the white terror mobs and the local apparatus of state terror that had the mobs’ back. The attitude of the Kennedys—JFK and RFK—toward the Freedom Riders was initially ambiguous, as one knows, but they finally came through in bringing the power of the federal government to bear on Bull Connor, Ross Barnett & Co. One shudders to imagine how matters would have unfolded if Trump and William Barr had been at the helm back then.

There is obviously a slew of articles on Lewis today. The one by The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer is good: “John Lewis was an American founder: Without activists like Lewis and C. T. Vivian, America would remain a white republic, not a nation for all its citizens.” C.T. Vivian, with whom I am not so familiar, was a Freedom Rider with Lewis—he figures in the PBS documentary—and, as fate would have it, also died yesterday.

The Élysée is making sure to recirculate a video tweet by Emmanuel Macron, dated April 25, 2018, showing him warmly hugging John Lewis during a visit to Washington. Sympa.

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Mrs. America

[update below] [2nd update below]

On this Fourth of July, I want to strongly recommend this absolutely excellent nine-episode miniseries that aired this spring on FX on Hulu (in France, on Canal+). The subject is the 1970s campaign against the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, a campaign that was entirely conceived and led by the conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly—the protagonist of the series—whose success in scuttling the ERA—which would not have happened without her—consecrated her as one of the most consequential personalities on the right wing of the Republican Party of the past fifty years. Schlafly’s single-minded campaign crystallized the right-wing backlash of the time against the challenges (legal, political, and cultural) to gender hierarchies and the emergence of second-wave feminism (“women’s lib”). The anti-ERA movement was, along with the founding in the mid-1970s of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, an important factor in the polarization of societal/cultural issues in American politics along partisan lines—and of moving the Republican Party sharply to the right on these—and to a heretofore unseen extent. Schlafly’s campaign was, in effect, the opening salvo in the culture war that the American right has been waging against liberals and the left ever since.

Similar left-right divisions existed elsewhere at the time, e.g. in France over the Loi Veil, but attenuated. In the United States, it was the opposite, with the culture wars becoming a salient partisan cleavage.

The series begins in 1971 and ends in 1980, with the election of Ronald Reagan. Any American of age in that decade and who had a minimal political consciousness will remember well Phyllis Schlafly (played by Cate Blanchett, who’s terrific in the role), her anti-ERA campaign, and the feminist supporters of the ERA—for Schlafly, the enemy—depicted in the series, notably Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne), Betty Friedan (Tracey Ullman), Bella Abzug (Margo Martindale), Shirley Chisholm (Uzo Aduba), and Jill Ruckelshaus (Elizabeth Banks). The series is indeed as much about them—the “libbers”—as it is of Schlafly and her forces. The casting is impeccable. Absolutely excellent. Likewise with the screenplay and writing. There’s obviously fictionalization of some of the characters and situations, not to mention the dialogue—and a few small anachronisms—but the series hues closely to historical events (and one recalls many of them).

A few comments. First, Schlafly was a well-known personality on the hard right flank of the Republican Party—she wrote a best-selling book in support of Barry Goldwater in 1964—but the GOP of the era was a big tent party that included a sizable moderate wing (plus a liberal one), incarnated in the series by Jill Ruckelshaus—one recalls her husband William, a casualty of Nixon’s October 1973 “Saturday night massacre” at the DOJ—who was a supporter of the ERA—along with most of the GOP when the ERA was initially adopted—and adversary of Schlafly. Ronald Reagan himself hedged on the issue; Schlafly, who strongly supported Reagan’s candidacy in the 1980 Republican primary campaign (after initially backing Phil Crane), was angling to be appointed ambassador to the United Nations, but was passed over by Reagan in favor of the Democrat—and ERA supporter—Jeane Kirkpatrick. A Jill Ruckelshaus or wishy-washy Reagan are obviously inconceivable in today’s Republican Party.

Second, the series shows the importance of Republicans in the South to the anti-ERA campaign, which meant confederate flags, the KKK, and references to white supremacy. Schlafly (who was from downstate Illinois) and others around her were uncomfortable with this and tried to hush it up—as they did with members of the John Birch Society in their ranks—but did not repudiate or try to quash it.

Third, Schlafly, who died in September 2016, was a strong supporter of Trump’s candidacy. The title of her final book: The Conservative Case for Trump. Among other things, she saw Trump as defending and incarnating family values. Of course.

The series trailer is here and here.

UPDATE: To get an idea of what America was like in the mid-1970s—on the matter of race, not gender, and in New York City (not Alabama)—watch the video in this NYT article I came across after posting the above.

2nd UPDATE: On the John Birch Society—then and now—see the article (March 8, 2021) in The New Republic by Rick Perlstein and Edward H. Miller, “The John Birch Society never left: Why it’s foolish to think the modern GOP will ever break with its lunatic fringe.”

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[update below]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The George Floyd protests

Mauerpark, Berlin

I’ve been riveted to the fast-moving events in the US over the past several days, as has the rest of the world. Here in France, they have (thankfully) knocked the coronavirus and déconfinement from the lead story on the evening news. America looks to be in free fall, as Michelle Goldberg has submitted, an observation reinforced by the gesticulations and rantings of the unspeakable resident of the White House, though one is filled with hope (some at least) when watching the live televised reports from the large, peaceful, multiracial marches of young people in cities across the country. There are so many aspects of this to discuss, though the bull in the china shop—Trump—I will save for another time, except to repeat what I’ve been saying to people over the past two/three years, which is that we’ve run out of adjectives to describe his and his regime’s abjectness (as for his deplorable supporters, we’ll stick with that attribute).

Just before starting this post, I watched the video in the New York Times article, “8 minutes and 46 seconds: How George Floyd was killed in police custody.” If you haven’t yourself, please do so. There is, if one somehow didn’t know, a problem with the police in America—and with racism in the police. Linking to the NYT video in an essay in the Never Trump webzine The Bulwark, “How many bad apples are we really talking about?,” executive editor Jonathan V. Last observed that

The Minneapolis police department has 800 officers. If you can randomly select four cops out of that group and have all of them be bad, then the overall percentage of bad cops as part of the whole isn’t trivial. For a sense of scale, imagine the odds of picking four red marbles out of a bag of 800 marbles when 5 percent of the marbles are red. It’s 1-in-160,000.

This all fits within our varying definitions of “bad” police, because every one of the four cops involved in the Floyd death is acting, at best, in what should be regarded as a criminally unprofessional manner.

I know that Minnesota is not much different from the rest of the Upper Midwest and that Trump came close to winning the state in 2016 (as did Bush in 2000 and 2004), but have always had a positive image of it as a liberal bastion (Democratic-Farmer-Labor-Party, Walter Mondale, Paul Wellstone, social democratic mayors in the Twin Cities, welcoming Somali refugees in the 1990s, etc). That image is necessarily undermined, however, when reading accounts such as this one on the Minneapolis police, posted on Twitter last Saturday by a citizen there named Lynnell Mickelsen, which greatly helps in understanding what happened last week:

My dental office in the Linden Hills neighborhood of southwest Minneapolis is boarding up their windows this afternoon. We are a long way from the protests, so let’s be clear about what’s going on here. We don’t have a protest problem. We have a policing problem. 1/

Minneapolis police do NOT appear to be under the command or control, of our mayor or our excellent police chief. So it seems like a lot of cops have apparently decided to stop doing their jobs until their notorious union chief, Bob Kroll, tells them to go back to work. 2/

Ever since George Floyd was murdered, the police response to peaceful protests has been to:
1) wildly escalate the situation with tear gas and rubber bullets;
2) watch as looters – a very different group than the protesters – move in;
3) Vanish and let the chaos reign. 3/

Their strategy seems to be: “Either we get to kill Black men when we feel like it with no criticism from you people……..or you don’t get any law enforcement it all. Nice little city you got there, pity if something happens to it? Do you miss us yet?” 4/

For context, the Minneapolis police force is overwhelmingly white and male. Ninety-two percent of them live in the suburbs–often the far suburbs. Their union chief, Bob Kroll, is a huge Trump supporter and open white supremacist. 5/

In short, a big subset of our police department looks (and acts) like they were recruited directly from a Trump rally. They literally seem to hate this progressive city and most of our residents. And they especially hate Black people. 6/

We all live in our own little bubble. The police have been killing unarmed Black men in Minneapolis for years and getting away with it Their first account of George Floyd’s death was to announce that he had a “medical” issue while being arrested and alas, died. 7/

The police didn’t mention the whole knee-on-neck thingy. So they seemed caught off-guard by the cell-phone video and then the public response to it. They were furious that the four officers involved with killing George Floyd were immediately fired because this rarely happens. 8/

The police were furious that they were being directly criticized by the mayor and governor (both Democrats), which rarely happens. They’ve been furious at the protests. So the cops have sort of gone on strike here. 9/

With the police openly refusing to do their jobs, they have basically invited the criminals to break into anything they want. It’s a very cynical move to change the discussion away from police misconduct to the need for cops to come in and break heads and have law and order. 10/

Hence, lots of businesses are putting up plywood. What else are they supposed to do? The Minneapolis police have basically invited criminals to “have at us.”

It’s really bad and a little scary. We’re being policed by a force with cold contempt for the city and its people. 11/

The arrest of the Derek Chauvin, the cop who kneeled on George Floyd’s neck, is a good first step. But it’s only a baby step. We need to fire a lot of police officers in order to create a policing model that actually works to protect the city residents. 12/

Creating a truly effective and very different police force will be a long, hard slog of a task. Our local politicians are going to need a lot of support and wind at their sails if they attempt it. Let’s begin. End/

Ms. Mickelsen said something important and that I have insisted on in past AWAV posts on riots—or protests that get labeled as riots—but that has been largely ignored by the media and others, which is that protesters and rioters—the arsonists, looters, pillagers, and smashers—are not the same people. The “riot” in Minneapolis resembled the one in Baltimore in 2015 (the murder of Freddie Gray by the police, which I wrote about here), as it did a typical riot or disturbance in France, the latter happening with regularity over the past four decades. In France, as in the US and elsewhere, these invariably begin as a spontaneous protest by youthful members of visible minorities enraged at the behavior of the police, with the two clashing—hurling projectiles, tear gas, etc—and the looting and arson committed by apolitical opportunists and profiteers joining the melee to steal or just raise hell (I’ve written about French riots herehere, and here; and the 2011 London rioting here). But the ultimate responsible party—the culprit—in setting off the events is almost always the police.

There are, it should be said, some differences between the US, on the one hand, and France and other advanced democracies, on the other. On France 5’s (very good) public affairs talk show ‘C dans l’air’ on Monday, which was consecrated to the events in the US, the former Washington correspondent of the conservative daily Le Figaro, Laure Mandeville—whose political outlook clearly aligns with that of the paper she writes for—spoke of her personal observations of the “extremely violent” culture of American policing, of the hair-trigger reflex of police officers to draw their pistols—and when they pull the trigger, to pump the person with bullets, aiming at the upper part of the body, not the legs—which almost never happens in France. French flics behave in all sorts of odious ways but they do not draw their weapons, even in tense confrontations. French police officials who visit the US are “shocked” by the “brutality” of the procedures of their American counterparts, Mandeville recounted—though she did specify that America is a heavily-armed society and that the police fear, not unreasonably, being shot themselves (watch here from 00:16:50).

One question that has been preoccupying hand-wringing Democrats is if the televised images of disorder will benefit Trump in November. A number of people I follow on social media posted last week an interview in The New Yorker with Princeton political science professor Omar Wasow, who has researched the 1960s black protests/riots and the impact these had on white voting behavior, notably in the 1968 presidential election, with Wasow arguing that the violent protests of 1967-68 caused a significant defection of white voters to the law-and-order candidate Richard Nixon, thus facilitating his victory. Among those favorably posting the Wasow interview was the well-known journalist and author John Judis, prompting me to comment on his Facebook thread that comparing 1968 to 2020 was a stretch, as in the intervening seven months between the April ’68 riots (following the Martin Luther King assassination) and the election, there was the Robert Kennedy assassination, the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and what happened there (demos, police riot, a nominee—Hubert Humphrey—who hadn’t run in a single primary anointed by party bosses in a smoke-filled room), the Vietnam war going badly, a snowballing antiwar movement (and rowdy demos on university campuses), an unpopular Democratic president, and George Wallace’s candidacy, among others.

Judis’s response to me was largely expressed in his post on the Talking Points Memo website, fretting, with reference to 1968, that the “Violent protests could be a gift to Trump.” Also fretting was political sociologist Ruy Teixeira (whose electoral and polling analyses I closely follow), who admonished Democrats on his blog for not sufficiently condemning the looters and pillagers. fearing that this failure could prompt potential Trump-to-Biden voters to stay with the orange-haired idiot.

On the 1968 analogy and the Wasow interview, I came across on Monday a Facebook comment by UCLA law professor Jonathan Zasloff, which precisely echoed my view:

The work of Princeton’s Omar Wasow has rightfully been getting a lot of attention in recent days. Wasow found that in the 1960’s, violent protests sparked a white backlash that helped the election of Richard Nixon. It serves as a very stark warning about the events of the last few days.

But there are many reasons to believe that the current protests will not have the same effect:

1) Richard Nixon could capitalize on the 1967-68 violent protests because he was not in power: Democrats were. As much as Caligula wants to disclaim responsibility for the daily disaster of his term in office, he cannot escape the brute fact that he is sitting in the Oval Office and Joe Biden is not. (An additional tweak is Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey, a genuinely committed fighter for civil rights, was hemmed in by an increasingly-unhinged LBJ in terms of what he could advocate: Biden is not). The last time there was an outpouring of urban race riots was in 1992: it didn’t help the Republican administration then in power.

2) The 1967-68 protests happened over months. They dominated several news cycles, and in an era where the news cycle developed much more more slowly. Today, news cycles change much more rapidly. One week at this time we were talking about hydroxychloroquine. So it stands to reason to any one event will not have as much of an effect.

3) Video is powerful, but unlike in 1968, where all one saw was the burning and the looting, now, we have actually seen the video where Derek Chauvin lynched George Floyd. (And also Philando Castile, and Sandra Bland, etc.). That creates a different narrative. It is underlined by the images of police shooting and arresting journalists, police cars driving into peaceful protesters, etc. And I think importantly there are many journalists of color who get it in a visceral way that white journalists in the 60’s could not. (I was struck, while watching KCBS tape of their coverage of the 1965 Watts riot, that Black journalists were not even allowed to be on screen).

4) Nixon could capitalize on the violence not only because he was out of power, but because he could argue that he would be a peacemaker. It was nonsense, but he could play one on television. Caligula can’t even play peacemaker in his own addled brain. He is psychologically incapable of even feigning maturity and empathy. This also goes to the news cycle point: Caligula cannot help but say stupid, racist, and inflammatory things that undercuts his message. (Biden, on the other hand, can stand as the representative of a popular former administration – as Nixon could, actually).

5) Nixon could also play peacemaker because he could stand between the Humphrey and George Wallace, who was then running on a 3rd Party American Independent line. Caligula actually *is* Wallace, even quoting him (“when the looting starts, the shooting starts”).

6) There is one issue in the news cycle that cannot be pushed out of it: COVID-19, which will kill people day in, day out, inexorably, like a giant glacier tearing through mountains. The death toll will continue to rise, particularly in red states. The best analogy to that from 1968 is of course Vietnam. But back to point #1: Vietnam was the administration’s – and thus the Democrats’ – responsibility. COVID-19 is Caligula’s and the Republicans.

7) America is a very different country today than it was in 1968, thank God, in no small part due to the Hart-Celler Immigration Act pushed through by Democrats. It is younger and far more diverse. It could very well react differently, or at least in a much more muted way, than the far whiter, older, and more rural electorate of 1968. And just about every survey of white attitudes on race has shown a significant and positive difference in the last five decades.

Absolutely none of this means that Democrats (not to mention democrats) should be sanguine about the political impact of violence. And of course, violence is bad for its own sake on many, many levels. But while it is crucial to make appropriate historical comparisons, it is vital to highlight the differences as well.

Some other differences. America was a much more racially polarized society in 1968 than it is today. What white Americans saw back then were “race riots,” and it scared them. What one sees today are peaceful, multiracial marches—there look to be as many whites as persons of color—with disorder ensuing when the police intervene or “bad elements” (as the CNN reporters have taken to calling them) arrive to loot and smash. If Fox News wants to portray chaos and mayhem, there’s not much Democrats or anyone else can do about that.

It’s been hard so far to get a grasp on the actual degree of damage and destruction caused by the arsonists and smashers since the protest movement began, but it has been nothing on the scale of the 1960s, when hundreds of buildings in single cities were burned to charred hulks and long stretches of city blocks devastated. The 14th Street corridor in NW Washington, which was badly hit in 1968, did not begin to recover until the 1980s. East 63rd Street in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood, which had been a bustling commercial artery, was likewise devastated in 1968, and continued to look bombed-out, along with the surrounding blocks, through the 1980s (I lived nearby for several years, so knew it personally). And then there were the deaths, again on a scale that we cannot imagine today: in the 1965 Watts riot, 34 were killed; in 1967, it was 43 in Detroit and 26 in Newark (and then there were the 63 killed in L.A. in 1992).

There is also no “silent majority” nowadays. The majority is us. There are more of us than there are of them. But even with “them,” there is not unanimity. À propos, I spoke last weekend with a graduate school-era friend, who is a full-time labor organizer in Ohio and whose work brings him into contact with Trump supporters. He told me that a not insignificant number with whom he has spoken were shocked by the George Floyd murder and expressed sympathy with the demonstrations. And he added that he’s heard likewise on the right-wing call-in talk radio shows. An account of Trump supporters sympathizing with the marches—even joining one—was also relayed to me the other day by a family member in North Carolina. Whether this will last, who knows, but there was nothing comparable in the late 1960s.

The POTUS in 1968 was also not a Caligula (dixit Jonathan Zasloff) who threw gasoline on the fire and then fanned the flames. I’ll have to see ironclad polling data before I believe that there are any voters outside the MAGA-Fox News-Rush Limbaugh netherworld who believe that four more years of Trump will bring law, order, and stability, rather than chaos and discord.

Thomas B. Edsall’s NYT column today, “The George Floyd election,” is worth the read, if one hasn’t seen it.

À suivre.

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Pandemic lockdown: week 6

Paris, Bd Montmartre (Grands Boulevards),
Tuesday April 21st, 2:30 PM

[update below]

Or is it week 7? Each week resembles the previous one, as it does the next, and will until the May 11th D-Day, when the confinement will end, so Emmanuel Macron solemnly announced to the nation on April 13th. Not that life will revert to the status quo ante, of course; with restaurants, cafés, and cinemas closed until further notice, and with the continued necessity of social distancing (so no dinner parties anytime soon), I personally will not be venturing into the city too often.

As it happens, I went into Paris this past Tuesday, for the first time since the confinement began on March 17th, to take my wife in the car to her place of work, in the heart of the city (2nd arrondissement), where she had to pick up some IT equipment for her telework at home. I normally never, ever drive into the center of Paris during the week, let alone in the mid-afternoon, what with traffic, the near impossibility of parking, and simply the convenience of public transportation. As the traffic was light, to say the least, the voyage door-to-door took half an hour (normally it would be two to three times that). Driving through the empty city on a weekday afternoon, with everything closed and hardly anyone walking about—and despite the beautiful weather: sunny in the 70s F/mid-20s C, which is what it’s been for much of the month—was eerie, borderline apocalyptic. It’s as if the city had been hit by a neutron bomb. I know that it is likewise most everywhere else in the world but Paris is my city and where I live. Here are some images, taken by my wife from the car.

Hôtel de Ville

Rue de Rivoli (at the Louvre)

Boulevard Montmarte

Bd des Italiens & Bd Haussmann

Place de la Bourse

Rue Saint-Antoine

Place de la Bastille

My overriding sentiment at the apocalyptic spectacle of the empty city was sadness mixed with dread fear—for the future and of everything: the world economy and the consequences of the pandemic for humanity, France, Europe, America, my family (in the US and here: e.g. my 26-year-old daughter recently started her first career-type job and which is a good one, with a small company whose business is heavily dependent on international mobility and a strong globalized economy), for my own self and personal finances…

My anxieties and fears are that of several billion other people, that’s for certain.

Like everyone, I read numerous articles daily on the pandemic and watch/listen to the usual news programs and talk shows (for me, French public radio and TV). I can barely stand to read savant and other pundit speculation about what will happen down the road, as it only adds to the anxiety, but do nonetheless. E.g. one bleak piece read this weekend, which is surely on target in its prognostications, is by Jonathan V. Last, executive editor of The Bulwark (a new mouthpiece for anti-Trump conservatives, mainly orphans of the defunct Weekly Standard), “We cannot ‘reopen’ America.” The lede: “No matter when government stay-at-home orders are revoked, the American economy will not reopen. Because the source of the economic shock is not government orders. It’s the pandemic.” Last focuses on just two probable consequences of the pandemic: on the city of Las Vegas and on movie theaters, the former entirely dependent on tourism—and of the kind for which social distancing is not possible—the latter with the narrowest of profit margins even in the best of times. In short, Las Vegas risks being wiped out, with all the social consequences for the people there. Vegas will be an extreme case but towns and cities—whole countries—the world over whose economies are so dependent on tourism—Paris and France among them—will find themselves in much the same boat. As for movie theaters, most of them in America will likely not survive the pandemic. Such will hopefully not be the case in France, as the state may be counted on to save them. Hopefully.

Another bleak piece read this weekend is Andrew Sullivan’s weekly column in New York magazine, “We can’t go on like this much longer.” Sullivan, who has already had experience with pandemics (HIV), is despairing for the future. He begins:

I began to lose it this week.

And concludes:

[Trump] is an incoherent, malevolent mess of a human being. I used to be disgusted by him. I am now incandescent with rage at him and the cult that enables his abuse of all of us.

And so we wait. Absent a pharmaceutical miracle, we are headed, if we keep this up [i.e. Trump’s leadership], toward both a collapse in the economy and an inevitable second wave that will further cull the population. Yes, I’m a catastrophist by nature. I hope and pray something intervenes to save us from this uniquely grim future. But I learned something from the AIDS years: Sometimes it is a catastrophe. And sometimes the only way past something is through it.

France is fortunate not to be led by a madman like Trump, though the failings of Macron and the French state have been considerable. More on that another time,

In the same vein as Jonathan Last and Andrew Sullivan, Politico’s John F. Harris has a not-too-optimistic commentary, “Stop looking on the bright side: We’ll be screwed by the pandemic for years to come.” The lede: “Unfortunately, the history of the past generation justifies pessimism about the next one.”

In an academic vein, the very smart Columbia University historian Adam Tooze has a lengthy essay in the April 16th issue of the LRB, “Shockwave,” in which he weighs in “on the pandemic’s consequences for the world economy.” His closing words:

The worst is just beginning.

Also in the April 16th LRB is the latest very smart essay by dear friend Adam Shatz, “Shipwrecked,” in which he discusses Covid-19 in America through the prism of Franco-Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf’s latest book, Le Naufrage des civilisations.

And in the vein of relevant contributions by dear friends, Human Rights Watch MENA division Deputy Director Eric Goldstein was interviewed on the HRW website (April 16th), “When health care is decimated by war: COVID-19 in the Middle East and North Africa.”

There is so much more to say.

La prochaine fois.

UPDATE: The morning after posting, I learned of the death to Covid-19 of Henri Weber (age 75), who was a major figure on the French left of the past five decades: in May ’68, then the Trotskyist LCR, before joining the PS in the 1980s and converting to social-democracy. I had the opportunity to speak with him on the phone in 2017—a mutual friend put me in touch—to seek his help in organizing a visit for one of my classes (American students) to PS HQ on Rue de Solférino. He was warm and friendly and made the visit happen. A good man (and with good politics). When the bookstores reopen for business, I’ll pick up a copy of his autobiography, Rebelle jeunesse. R.I.P.

Follow-up: Laurent Joffrin has a remembrance in Libération, “Henri Weber, cheville ouvrière de la social-démocratie.” And Thomas Legrand in his Édito politique on France Inter.

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Pandemic lockdown: week 1

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

We’re still in the first week of confinement here in the Hexagon, which went into effect on Tuesday at noon. One can still go out but only with this form issued by the Ministry of Interior (printed out or copied by hand), checking the box of one of five authorized reasons: to go to work (if you can’t telework from home, and with a certificate from your employer), go food shopping or to the pharmacy (and close to home), for health reasons (to see a doctor or veterinarian; we’ve already had to do the latter), for “imperative” family reasons (to aid elderly or infirm family members or take children to a sitter), or to engage in solitary physical activity close to home (or walk a dog). My wife and I are teleworking (me teaching my classes via the Moodle platform, to students who are now mainly back in the US), as is my daughter (now 26) and her bf in their small one-bedroom apartment in Paris. As I already had my own personal lockdown seven years back—not stepping outside for five weeks—this is not a new experience for me.

I’m not going to linger on my own situation or thoughts, as everyone is in the same boat and thinking largely the same things. As for my worries and fears—for the economy (local and global), family and friends, and my own situation and future (not rosy)—they are shared by several billion people across the planet (the news today says that one billion are presently on lockdown). This is the biggest black swan event of the lifetime of everyone reading this. However the pandemic plays out, it is a certainty that the world will not be the same afterward.

Speculating on what the post-pandemic world may look like, the very smart and always interesting intellectual and writer Pankaj Mishra had a must-read two-part column in Bloomberg Opinion earlier this week: “Get ready, a bigger disruption is coming: The Covid-19 pandemic reflects a systemic crisis akin to the seminal crashes of the 20th century” & “Coronavirus will revive an all-powerful state: Much maligned in recent years, big government will come back—and with it, the potential for both greater good and evil.” If one can’t open the links to Mishra’s important piece, please let me know and I’ll copy-and-paste the text in the comments thread below.

Historian Adam Tooze, who is equally very smart and always interesting, has an equally must-read op-ed in The Guardian, “Coronavirus has shattered the myth that the economy must come first.” The lede: “Since the 1990s, faith in ‘the market’ has gone unchallenged. Now even public shopping has become a crime against society.”

Journalist and Politico founding editor John F. Harris—who is also smart—had a good column the other day, which spoke in particular to the current generation of university students, “The pandemic is the end of Trumpism: For a rising generation, a crisis fueled by frightening science foreshadows the coming conflicts.”

In Politico also see the forum, “Coronavirus will change the world permanently. Here’s how.” The lede: “A crisis on this scale can reorder society in dramatic ways, for better or worse. Here are 34 big thinkers’ predictions for what’s to come.”

Shifting gears to the here and now, one has perhaps read about the 180° flip this past week of Trump State Television, a.k.a. Fox News, in its coverage of the coronavirus (watch here). As to the chutzpah of Fox’s propagandists, of them doing this 180° with straight faces, David Frum, in his latest column in The Atlantic, drew an apt historical parallel with the American Communist party (and other Comintern affiliates) during the Stalin era changing the party line 180° from one day to the next on WWII following the June 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union (and, prior to that, in 1935 with the call to form anti-fascist ‘popular fronts’ with social democratic parties—heretofore tarred as “social fascists”—and in August 1939 with the proclamation of neutrality toward Nazi Germany following the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact). Moscow-line CPs never felt it necessary to explain, or even acknowledge, their revirements, let alone apologize for their past positions. The party line had changed and that was that. Likewise in Trump World.

Haaretz’s excellent US editor Chemi Shalev, in an analysis of Benjamin Netanyahu’s brazen power grab presently underway, speculated on the possible action of Bibi’s American alter ego, “Americans beware: Trump could emulate Netanyahu’s coronavirus coup.” The lede: “The United States is facing greater coronavirus upheavals than Israel, led by a president who has less respect for democracy and the rule of law.” Money quote:

But even if someone other than Trump was president, and he or she had not wasted precious weeks preparing for the coronavirus onslaught, the United States would still be facing an uphill battle, compared to Israel, in containing the plague. It is an immeasurably larger country with a far more dispersed and diverse population. Its public health system is a sham and a shame.

And unlike Israeli society, which can be described as permanently mobilized and has experienced national mobilization and country-wide lockdowns in its recent past – weathering Iraqi missiles with no response in the 1991 Gulf War comes to mind – Americans have never experienced such a direct threat to their homeland, not even in World War II. And while Israelis may grumble about their government, they see no alternative. Millions of Americans, on the other hand, truly view the federal authorities as their enemy.

It was enough to hear a Washington Times columnist on Fox News last week praising a coronavirus-inspired rush on guns and ammunition in Midwestern states as a “healthy sign” to realize that while it is Israelis who are seen as unruly and undisciplined, parts of the United States may simply be unmanageable. Corona is bound to come knocking at their door.

Given these two factors – a leader who rejects any check on his presidential authority and a coronavirus crisis that could soon grow out of control – Americans should beware a Trump who decides to emulate Netanyahu. The U.S. president, who now fancies himself a “Wartime President” with all the emergency powers that accompany the title, will go farther and more radical than Netanyahu would ever dare. But if the Israeli prime minister’s flirtation with tyranny inspires Trump, the battle to maintain American democracy and rule of law will be far fiercer than anything Israel is set to experience.

Scary.

Everyone is aware of the labeling of the coronavirus by the Trump regime and its propaganda organs as the “Chinese virus.” Not to diminish or relativize this blatant racism and xenophobia, but one must not ignore the responsibility of the Chinese regime in the coronavirus becoming a global pandemic, as Brookings Institution senior fellow Shadi Hamid writes in The Atlantic, “China is avoiding blame by trolling the world: Beijing is successfully dodging culpability for its role in spreading the coronavirus.”

I’ll write next time about the French state and the pandemic. In the meantime, I recommend the blog of Parisian Claire Berlinski, who lives in the heart of the city and is in lockdown comme tout le monde.

UPDATE: Yuval Noah Harari—whose Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind everyone has read—has a ‘long read’ essay in the FT on “the world after coronavirus” that everyone needs to read. The lede: “This storm will pass. But the choices we make now could change our lives for years to come.” Money quote:

In this time of crisis, we face two particularly important choices. The first is between totalitarian surveillance and citizen empowerment. The second is between nationalist isolation and global solidarity.

 

2nd UPDATE: Sofia-based political scientist Ivan Krastev—who is always worth reading—has a worthwhile essay in the New Statesman, “The seven early lessons of the global coronavirus crisis: Governments will eventually be forced to choose between containing the spread of the pandemic at the cost of destroying the economy, or tolerating a higher human cost to save the economy.”

3rd UPDATE: The Foreign Affairs website has several articles that should be read, one by the well-known economist Branko Milanovic, “The real pandemic danger is social collapse: As the global economy comes apart, societies may, too.”

Another is MIT economist Daron Acemoglu’s “The coronavirus exposed America’s authoritarian turn: Independent expertise always dies first when democracy recedes.”

4th UPDATE: Naomi Klein—whom I have not been a fan of—has a very good 27-minute video in which she “[m]akes the case for transformative change amid [the] coronavirus pandemic.”

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On the coronavirus pandemic

Credit here

If you want to read something that will make your day, take a look at the ‘long-read’ piece in the online magazine spiked (h/t John Judis), by the very smart Princeton University economist Ashoka Mody, “Italy: the crisis that could go viral. Coronavirus threatens to turn Italy’s economic and financial crisis into a global one.”

This coronavirus pandemic is getting quite scary, less for the eventual public health consequences—not to minimize these—than for its impact on the world economy—and on the lives of each and everyone of us.

To this may be added what is looking like an overreaction, albeit inevitable, of the public authorities in France and elsewhere. As my (Paris-based) friend Claire Berlinski tweeted yesterday:

The coronavirus mass hysteria reminds me of the aftermath of 9/11. Wouldn’t it be good to remember that overreactions to real but manageable threats can be far more dangerous than the threat itself?

The (under)reaction of the regime in Washington and its propaganda apparatus is another matter entirely.

The United States will face some particular challenges when the epidemic starts spreading, as The Atlantic’s Amanda Hull explains, “The problem with telling sick workers to stay home: Even with the coronavirus spreading, lax labor laws and little sick leave mean that many people can’t afford to skip work.”

Also independent journalist Carl Gibson in The Guardian: “Millions of uninsured Americans like me are a coronavirus timebomb: I haven’t gone to the doctor since 2013. When you multiply my situation by 27.5 million, that’s a scary prospect.”

Medicare-for-all and a labor code à la française anyone?

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The 1619 Project

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If one doesn’t know it:

The 1619 Project is a major initiative from The New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.

I read all the articles this past week—those so far published, 17 by my count (the series is ongoing)—some 100 pages printed out (PDF is here), authored by well-known academics (historians and social scientists) and journalists. It’s an incredible series. Historian, Holocaust specialist, and old friend Marc Masurovsky described it well on his Facebook page:

A must-read, you have to read this special issue of the New York Times magazine…

It’s a shattering assessment of the history of America—white America—built on the blood of African slaves since 1619. A searing indictment of how American economic growth, political machines, and judicial decisions were rooted in the enslavement of millions of men, women and children. Generations of white businessmen, politicians, scholars, scientists, lawyers and judges, breathed and ate and drank segregationist and racist views…up to this day… and shaped and molded Federal and State policies to satisfy the segregationist agenda.

It makes one rethink what being American really means. And it’s simply frightening and appalling.

Oh, I know! We know the story of slavery and racism. But we really don’t. Please read this! You owe it to yourselves, to our African-American brothers and sisters. I am frankly ashamed that we have to bear this legacy. It’s bad to have committed genocide against the first inhabitants of what came to be known as America. If that wasn’t enough, we had to build the foundations of American democracy on the blood, flesh and tears of slaves. It makes you really wonder who the Bill of Rights was really written for and what that Declaration of Independence really means and for whom.

And no, I wasn’t born yesterday.

As Marc indicates, you may think you know the history of slavery and its legacy but, after reading The 1619 Project series, you realize you really don’t, at least not fully. There’s so much you don’t know or haven’t realized. And to call slavery America’s “original sin,” which just about everyone does, is too easy. It’s a throwaway line. Slavery was America’s crime: it was constitutive of the founding of the United States of America and the legacy of which weighs heavily today—and which is incarnated in the world-view of one of America’s two major political parties. As one reads in the series, the nature of American capitalism, the ideological rejection of universal social insurance schemes (a.k.a. the welfare state) by one of the major parties and the on-going battle over voting rights—making the US an outlier among advanced democracies—et on en passe, is a legacy of slavery and the century of apartheid that followed its abolition.

Sure, lots of countries had chattel slavery—Brazil, the islands of the Caribbean, Arabia, large parts of Africa, Thailand, etc—and which profoundly marked their politics and social structure (Brazil today is a big case in point) but we’re talking about the United States of America here, and where slavery and its legacy had some unique features.

Conservatives have unsurprisingly been flipping out over the 1619 series (a few reactions have been measured, though it’s obvious that most of those who are trashing the series have hardly read any of it). In responding to the conservative attacks, the NYT’s excellent columnist Jamelle Bouie (who has an article in the series) argues that “slavery was not a secondary part of our history: in America, liberty and bondage have always been intertwined.” And The Nation’s Jeet Heer observes that “conservatives’ freakout over The 1619 Project reveals their fear of America’s actual past.” Or, we should say, fear of a changing narrative of America’s past. E.g. some of the series authors refer to plantations as “forced-labor camps,” or “slave-labor camps,” and with all calling slave-owners “enslavers.” I will wager that in a generation, say twenty years from now, this nomenclature will be the prevailing one. An old Southern plantation doesn’t look the same if it’s labeled a “slave-labor camp.” This is, needless to say, deeply threatening to the conservative narrative—and largely white Southern—of American history.

On the question of historical narratives, the NYT published an op-ed on August 21st by writer and cultural critic Lewis Hyde, “How nationalism can destroy a nation,” in which he discusses Ernest Renan’s famous 1882 speech at the Sorbonne, “Qu’est-ce qu’une nation?” (What is a nation?)—which is the classic French republican statement on the question—and whose central idea is that of historical narrative and the will of the members of a nation—the nation being an abstraction—to live together (Renan’s “daily plebiscite”). And central to historical narratives, for Renan, is “forgetting,” of an implicit decision by the gatekeepers of the national narrative to gloss over parts of the past—or bury them altogether—that caused members of the nation to kill one another (Renan’s example for France was the 1572 St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre, i.e. the 16th century religious wars of Catholics vs. Protestants). In America, this was slavery and the Civil War. As David Blight and other historians have written, the reconciliation of the North and South was predicated on black Americans—the former slaves—being written out of the American national narrative, and of the Southern view of slavery as a benign institution becoming the dominant one—of the North, in effect, being southernized.

This narrative was blown apart by the civil rights movement, the formal end of legal apartheid in the 1960s, and the according of full rights of citizenship—of belonging to the American nation—to Afro-Americans. And with that, America has once again become a deeply divided society—with a reactionary, southernized Republican Party leading the resistance to this change—such as it has not been since, well, the Civil War.

A few months ago, here in a Paris, I was browsing in a recently-opened far right-wing bookstore. One book I leafed through was a paean to the antebellum South, by the late neo-fascist writer-historian Dominique Venner, the title of which translates as ‘The white sun of the defeated: the epic history of the South and the Civil War, 1607-1865’. In the book he explicitly refers to the United States as being comprised of “two nations”: the North and the South. He was certainly not wrong in describing it that way for the period covered in his book and, I dare say, he would not be totally wrong in it today.

A historical reminder: the United States of America was founded as a nation of white people. The 1790 Naturalization Act, which limited American citizenship to “free white person[s],” was explicit on this. Excluded from American citizenship were, of course, persons of African descent but also the indigenous population (the latter were only granted American citizenship in 1924, with the Indian Citizenship Act). Grounding the race-based conception of American nationality in law was, among others, the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act; the 1917 Asiatic Barred Zone Act, with the provisions reaffirmed in the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act; the 1922 SCOTUS ruling Takao Ozawa v. United States, which refused naturalization to Japanese immigrants on the grounds that they were not part of the “Caucasian race;” and the 1923 SCOTUS ruling United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind, which likewise prohibited South Asian Indians, decreed as non-white, from acquiring American citizenship. The raced-based exclusions of Asians from naturalization were only repealed in 1943 (for Chinese), 1946 (Filipinos and Indians), and 1952 (for all others).

Today is the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Paris in WWII by the Free French and United States. Le Monde has a five-minute video on its website entitled ‘Liberation of Paris: why was there not a single black soldier in the military parades?’, even though there were over 3000 African soldiers—principally Senegalese tirailleurs—in General Leclerc’s elite 2nd Armored Division, which spearheaded the liberation of the city. The answer: pressure on the French from the Americans to remove the black soldiers from General Leclerc’s forces.

One of the preoccupations of the US Army during WWII in regard to its black soldiers—as historian Raffael Scheck, interviewed in the above Le Monde video, reminds us—was fraternization with European women—there being no taboo on interracial intimacy in France, Britain, or anywhere on this side of the ocean—and the measures that were taken to prevent this (including court martials and execution of black soldiers for rape, even when more than a few of the accused rapes were, in fact, consensual relationships). The actual consequence of interracial affairs involving black American soldiers was cinematically depicted in the powerful 2017 Netflix film Mudbound, which is set in rural Mississippi in the aftermath of WWII. What happened to the black soldier returning from Europe when his love affair with a woman in Germany was discovered by the local white men was utterly real. Such happened countless times to black men in the South. The excruciating scene toward the end of the film—which is almost unbearable to watch—crystallizes America’s experience with slavery and its legacy. And, one may add, the evil of the white American South.

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

UPDATE: The (surprisingly good) Trotskyist World Socialist Web Site has published lengthy interviews with James McPherson, James Oakes, and Gordon Wood (here, here, and here), who are strongly critical of the 1619 Project. These three are, if one doesn’t know, major historians of the Civil War (McPherson, Oakes) and 18th century America (Wood), so their views on the question are to be read and pondered.

2nd UPDATE: On the controversy over the 1619 Project—with Sean Wilentz leading the attack—see Adam Serwer in The Atlantic (December 23), “The fight over the 1619 Project is not about the facts: A dispute between a small group of scholars and the authors of The New York Times Magazine’s issue on slavery represents a fundamental disagreement over the trajectory of American society.”

3rd UPDATE: Sean Wilentz, writing in The Atlantic (January 22, 2020), continues his attack: “A matter of facts: The New York Times’ 1619 Project launched with the best of intentions, but has been undermined by some of its claims.”

4th UPDATE: In the Boston Review (January 24, 2020), David Waldstreicher—Distinguished Professor of History at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York—weighs in on “The hidden stakes of the 1619 controversy.” The lede: “Seeking to discredit those who wish to explain the persistence of racism, critics of the New York Times’s 1619 Project insist the facts don’t support its proslavery reading of the American Revolution. But they obscure a longstanding debate within the field of U.S. history over that very issue—distorting the full case that can be made for it.”

5th UPDATE: Northwestern University history professor Leslie M. Harris, writing in Politico (March 6, 2020), says “I helped fact-check the 1619 Project. The Times ignored me.” The lede: “The paper’s series on slavery made avoidable mistakes. But the attacks from its critics are much more dangerous.”

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The border

Tijuana, Baja California

[update below]

The article at the top of The New York Times website late yesterday was headlined “Border at ‘breaking point’ as more than 76,000 migrants cross in a month.” Trump’s histrionics over his famous wall have clearly not deterred migrants and asylum-seekers south of the US-Mexico border from reaching and trying to enter the United States. Asylum-seekers need to be emphasized here, as, according to the NYT article, more than 90% of the new arrivals are from Guatemala. Some of these are no doubt “economic migrants” fleeing poverty and seeking a better life tout court, but one may be reasonably certain that a larger number are quite literally fleeing for their lives.

On this, the March 7th issue of The New York Review of Books has an absolute must-read article by the Italian journalist and writer Roberto Saviano, entitled “The Migrant Caravan: Made in USA,” though on the NYRB cover it is simply headlined “The nightmare they’re fleeing.” The nightmare is in the Northern Triangle of Central America—Guatemala, El Salvador, and, above all, Honduras—where the levels of violence and death are comparable to countries in the midst of full-fledged civil wars. The organized crime and gang phenomenon—the maras—in the three countries are well-understood, with Saviano, who has gained fame for his work on the Neapolitan Camorra—and at some risk to his life—well-qualified to inquire into the situation there—and Honduras in particular—and further our understanding. In becoming a narco state, Honduras is, in effect, witnessing state collapse, where ordinary people are left to fend for themselves in the face of daily danger to their and their families’ lives. Thus the flight to the United States. And the United States, Saviano emphasizes, bears huge responsibility for the catastrophic situation, in view of its insatiable domestic demand for cocaine and other narcotics, the militarized War on Drugs, flooding the region with weapons during the US-sponsored counterinsurgencies of the 1980s, deporting back to the region young men who had fled to the US during the 1980s and were initiated into the Los Angeles gang culture, et j’en passe. Insofar as the nightmarish situation in the Northern Triangle is largely of American making, the US has a moral obligation in addition to a legal one—if international conventions on refugees and asylum-seekers mean anything—to be generous with Hondurans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans arriving at US ports of entry.

Saviano’s article should be obligatory reading for any American who has the slightest interest in what’s happening on the southern border. Or even if s/he has no interest but votes. If you, dear reader, haven’t read it, do so. Now.

In a similar vein is an enquête in Le Monde (Feb. 2nd) by correspondent Angeline Montoy reporting from San Pedro Sula, “Au Honduras, l’exode pour seul horizon.” The lede: “Les caravanes de migrants en route pour les Etats-Unis fuient la misère, la violence et la répression politique de l’Etat d’Amérique centrale.”

And there’s this piece in the NYT yesterday, “Border patrol facilities put detainees with medical conditions at risk.” The lede: “The deaths of two children in Border Patrol custody point to shortfalls in health care provided to migrants, who sometimes arrive with serious illness and injury.”

And this from the NYT (Mar. 3rd): “‘You have to pay with your body’: the hidden nightmare of sexual violence on the border.” The sexual violence is, of course, not only at the border but at every point along the way. And back home.

Seriously, anyone with the slightest sympathy for Trump’s position, or who otherwise favors an ungenerous policy toward Central American asylum-seekers, is a moral midget who should be ashamed of him or herself.

À propos, I recently read a lengthy article in the March 2016 issue of the American Journal of Sociology, “Why border enforcement backfired,” by Douglas S. Massey (who is the leading social science specialist of Mexican migration to the US), Karen A. Pren—both of Princeton University—and Jorge Durand, of the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas in Mexico City. The abstract:

In this article the authors undertake a systematic analysis of why border enforcement backfired as a strategy of immigration control in the United States. They argue theoretically that border enforcement emerged as a policy response to a moral panic about the perceived threat of Latino immigration to the United States propounded by self-interested bureaucrats, politicians, and pundits who sought to mobilize political and material resources for their own benefit. The end result was a self-perpetuating cycle of rising enforcement and increased apprehensions that resulted in the militarization of the border in a way that was disconnected from the actual size of the undocumented flow. Using an instrumental variable approach, the authors show how border militarization affected the behavior of unauthorized migrants and border outcomes to transform undocumented Mexican migration from a circular flow of male workers going to three states into an 11 million person population of settled families living in 50 states.

What Massey et al definitively demonstrate in their study has been known for some time, which is that restrictionist immigration policies do not only not significantly reduce migrant or refugee flows—their effect is minimal—but have perverse, unintended consequences, which include dramatically increasing the size of the undocumented migrant population by effectively shutting down longstanding circular migratory practices, increasing the costs to the migrants (and thus considerably lowering their standard of living), and fostering criminal networks (of gangs who lend the migrants the substantial sums of money for their voyage, cross-border smugglers, and the like).

As the article is behind a paywall (accessible for free for those with university accounts), here are a few passages:

By any standard, the surge in border enforcement after 1986 constituted a massive policy intervention into the workings of a vast and complex social and economic system that had evolved since the 1940s in response to changing social and economic circumstances on both sides of the border (Massey et al. 2002). Critically, this massive intervention was undertaken for domestic political purposes and not based on a rational assessment of the forces actually driving undocumented migration or a reasoned consideration of how one might manage it. Whenever a policy is derived in a climate of fear without any real understanding of the actual workings of the social or economic system it aspires to influence, the stage is set for unintended consequences. (p.1563)

And this

Although U.S. policies may have decreased expected net earnings gain from undocumented migration by lowering wages and increasing crossing costs, the net differential in expected earnings between Mexico and the United States never came close to being eliminated. Under these circumstances, the changes induced by U.S. policies functioned less to deter undocumented migration than to compel migrants to work longer to earn back the costs of crossing and make the trip profitable. Moreover, having experienced the risks of a desert border crossing migrants would logically be loath to relive the experience. Finally, given longer stays north of the border and more attachments formed to people and places in the United States, permanent settlement is expected to become more likely. Given these changed circumstances at the border and within U.S. labor markets, we hypothesize little effect on the decision to depart for the United States without documents but strong effects on the decision of undocumented migrants to return to Mexico. (p. 1582)

And the conclusion begins

The principal substantive finding of our analysis is that border enforcement was not an efficacious strategy for controlling Mexican immigration to the United States, to say the least. Indeed, it backfired by cutting off a long-standing tradition of migratory circulation and promoting the large scale settlement of undocumented migrants who otherwise would have continued moving back and forth across the border. This outcome occurred because the strategy of border enforcement was not grounded in any realistic appraisal of undocumented migration itself but in the social construction of a border crisis for purposes of resource acquisition and political mobilization. Although these arguments have been made previously, never before have instrumental variable methods been applied to such a wide range of border outcomes and migrant behaviors to assess the causal effect of U.S. border enforcement.

How Border Enforcement Failed

Our estimates reveal that the rapid escalation of border enforcement beginning in 1986 had no effect on the likelihood of initiating undocumented migration to the United States but did have powerful unintended consequences, pushing migrants away from relatively benign crossing locations in El Paso and San Diego into hostile territory in the Sonoran Desert and through Arizona, increasing the need to rely on paid smugglers, and substantially increasing the costs and risks of undocumented migration. The increase in border enforcement, meanwhile, had only a modest effect on the likelihood that an undocumented migrant would be apprehended during a crossing attempt, one substantially mitigated by the greater use of coyotes and higher quality of services they offered, and no effect at all on the likelihood of gaining entry over a series of attempts.

The combination of increasingly costly and risky trips and the near certainty of getting into the United States created a decision-making context in which it still made economic sense to migrate but not to return home to face the high costs and risks of subsequent entry attempts. (…) (p. 1590)

And some policy options

Aside from doing nothing, however, there were other policy options available to officials beyond attempting to suppress migration through police actions at the border. One such option would be to accept Mexican migration as a natural component of ongoing economic integration under the North American Free Trade Agreement. Between the agreement’s implementation in 1994 and 2010, for example, total trade between Mexico and the United States rose 5.3 times, while according to data from the U.S. Office of Immigration Statistics (2014) entries by business visitors increased 3.6 times, exchange visitors 6.2 times, tourists 12.1 times, intracompany transferees 17.4 times, and treaty investors more than a thousand times. Within an integrated economy, people inevitably will be moving.

As the experience of recent decades has shown, however, in practical terms it appears to be difficult if not impossible to integrate markets for goods, commodities, capital, services, and information while keeping labor markets separate (Massey et al. 2002). A more realistic option would have been to manage migration in ways that benefit both nations while protecting to the degree possible the rights and interests of both migrants and natives, much as the European Union did with the creation of its internal labor market (Fernandez-Kelly and Massey 2007; Massey 2008, 2009). Ironically, a more open border would likely have produced less permanent immigration and slower Mexican population growth in the United States by facilitating cross-border circulation. Indeed, the recent analysis of Massey, Durand, and Pren (2015) shows that documented migrants are now the ones circulating back and forth between the two nations, even as undocumented migrants remain trapped or “caged in” north of the border.

Rather than blocking the revealed preference of the typical Mexican to move back and forth temporarily for work in the United States, policies could have been implemented to encourage return migration, such as lowering the cost and risk of remitting U.S. earnings, paying tax refunds to returned migrants, making legal immigrants eligible for U.S. entitlements even if they return to Mexico, and cooperating with Mexican authorities to create attractive options for savings and investment south of the border. The billions of dollars wasted on counterproductive border enforcement would have been better spent on structural adjustment funds channeled to Mexico to improve its infrastructure for public health, education, transportation, communication, banking, and insurance to build a stronger, more productive, and more prosperous North America and eliminate the motivations for migration currently lying in ineffective markets for insurance, capital, and credit (Massey 2008). (…) (p. 1595)

The Washington Post has a report (Feb. 7th) from Nogales, Arizona & Sonora: twin cities divided by a border but that have always existed in symbiosis, with families on both sides, people crossing back and forth freely… Until the militarization of the border, with a wall and concertina wire separating the two cities as in a war zone. According to the Post, the city of Nogales AZ—which has had no say in the matter—has had enough. Borrowing from Ronald Reagan, “Mr. Trump, tear down this wall!”

UPDATE: On circular migration, see the paper by Patrick Weil, “All or nothing? What the United States can learn from Europe as it contemplates circular migration and legalization for undocumented immigrants,” published in 2010 by the German Marshall Fund of the United States in its Immigration Papers Series.

Nogales, AZ (credit: Jonathan Clark/Nogales International/AP)

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Is #MeToo going too far?

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In my post three weeks ago on ‘The Weinstein fallout,’ I mentioned “an extensive, ongoing email exchange with several friends, over a lengthy, quite excellent essay that one of them has written on the matter, developing her viewpoint expressed on my FB thread (and which I will post as an update below as soon as it finds a publisher, hopefully in the coming days).” Well, the essay is finally up, as of yesterday (December 6th), in The American Interest, and that I am posting here (and not as an update on the old post). The author is my friend Claire Berlinski and her piece is entitled “The Warlock Hunt: The #MeToo moment has now morphed into a moral panic that poses as much danger to women as it does to men.” At some 5,700 words, it’s lengthy but well worth the read.

My friend Abbie Fields—who works and writes professionally on trauma and sexual violence—has read Claire’s essay and posted this comment on my Facebook page

I do think that when a man like Al Franken–one of the only sane, decent and enlightened voices in the US Senate–is forced by his Democratic party to resign for mostly unpublicized offenses, no doubt similar to making lewd jokes (at the expense of a female colleague) as a comedian and planting an overzealous (and unwanted) kiss on her lips during a performance, we have crossed (or perhaps blurred) a line. I am a feminist, I have dedicated my life to working against sexual violence and alleviating the trauma caused by it, and I am dumbfounded by what is happening. Natalie Portman’s quote is haunting (“I was like, wow, I’m so lucky I haven’t had this… but then I went from thinking I don’t have a story to thinking I have 100 stories…”). We are conflating sexual violence (an expression of male dominance and power, supposedly taboo in our society, which can have devastating and long-lasting impacts on its victims) with all of the other micro- (or macro) cultural expressions of male dominance and power that have been normalized in almost every sphere of our daily lives and realities (including but not limited to sexual harassment). This is in no way a justification of sexual harassment, and I join women in fighting it. But I fear that this conflation will ultimately serve to minimize the very profound and life-altering trauma caused to the victims/ survivors of rape and sexual abuse. At a minimum, some nuancing is warranted in the way we define and analyze sexual harassment and its impacts, and perhaps its perpetrators deserve just a bit of due process…

If one missed it, see the review in the December 7th NYRB of Gretchen Carlson’s Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back, “Kick against the pricks,” by Northwestern University professor Laura Kipnis.

UPDATE: Masha Gessen has a pertinent comment in The New Yorker (Dec. 7th), “Al Franken’s resignation and the selective force of #MeToo.”

2nd UPDATE: Denise C. McAllister, a Charlotte NC-based journalist heretofore unknown to me, has a post (Dec. 12th) in The Federalist—a conservative webzine that is, intellectually speaking, a notch above others on that end of the political spectrum—that is guaranteed to raise hackles, “Can we be honest about women?” The lede: “Here’s a little secret we have to say out loud: Women love the sexual interplay they experience with men, and they relish men desiring their beauty.” Personally speaking, I think the “Hot-Crazy Matrix” video McAllister links to is hilarious—impeccable second degree humor—but that’s probably because I’m a dude…

3rd UPDATE: Check out Elizabeth Drew’s piece in the New Republic (Dec. 13th), “Backlash.” The lede: “The implications of sending Al Franken packing are starting to become clear on Capitol Hill. And they are troubling.”

4th UPDATE: The New York Times has published a letter to the editor (Dec. 15th), “How #MeToo threatens equality,” by Wendy Kaminer—presumably the well-known feminist lawyer and author—that is, in effect, a two paragraph summary of Claire Berlinki’s essay.

5th UPDATE: Also in The New York Times is an op-ed (Dec. 15th) by Shanita Hubbard, who teaches criminal justice, “Russell Simmons, R. Kelly, and why black women can’t say #MeToo.”

6th UPDATE: Don’t miss ‘The Big Idea’ piece in Politico Magazine (Dec. 10th) by Emily Yoffe, “Why the #MeToo movement should be ready for a backlash.” The lede: “As a much-needed reckoning happens in the workplace, look to college campuses for a note of caution.”

7th UPDATE: Bloomberg View columnist Megan McArdle says (Dec. 18th) that “The current sex panic harks back to the era of coddling women.” The lede: “The outcome of #BelieveAllWomen is no utopia. We’ve seen such a repressive regime before.”

8th UPDATE: My old stateside friend, Don—whose political analyses I hold in the highest regard—has emailed me (Dec. 19th) this reaction to Claire Berlinski’s article

As the saying goes, I’ll defend her right to publish it but, geez, maybe in a year or two. A few men may be treated unfairly but rarely do we get such a learning lesson. Yeah, a few will be thrown under the bus, but revolutions are messy, and that is how women I know I regard this – a revolt. Plus Berlinksi seems to like some attention, while I could think of many women who would not want their “bum” grabbed. She is too clever by half.

On the bum grabbing anecdote, I responded to him

sure, except that it involved someone she knew well and with whom she had a good relationship. And it was at Oxford, after all. Context does matter.

À propos, Rebecca Traister has an important article in the Dec. 11th issue of New York magazine, “This moment isn’t (just) about sex. It’s really about work.”

9th UPDATE: Here’s an interview in Slate (Nov. 13th) with Barbara Ehrenreich, who explains that “Worker abuse is rampant, and sexual harassment is just the start.”

10th UPDATE: Journalist Kathy Lally has a piece in The Washington Post (Dec. 15th), in which she recounts personal experience, on “The two expat bros who terrorized women correspondents in Moscow.” The lede: “Matt Taibbi and Mark Ames trafficked in hideous stereotypes and body-shaming.” I’ve been a big fan of Matt Taibbi’s writing, particularly in this age of Trump. How hugely disappointing to learn what a disgusting sexist shithead he is.

11th UPDATE: Bret Stephens, the well-known Never Trumper—formerly with the WSJ, now with the NYT, whom I disliked until he started dumping on Trump—has a spot-on column (Dec. 20th), “When #MeToo goes too far.”

12th UPDATE: Here’s a good commentary (Dec. 20th), by Shikha Dalmia—who calls herself a “progressive libertarian”—in The Week, “#MeToo run amok.”

13th UPDATE: Marilyn Katz, a political activist and founder of Chicago Women Take Action, has a good opinion piece (Dec. 29th) in the Uber-progressive In These Times, “The ‘Me Too’ movement and the rights of the accused: Have the men and women accused of sexual harassment lost their right to a fair hearing?”

14th UPDATE: Novelist and critic Daphne Merkin has a fine op-ed (Jan. 5th 2018) in The New York Times, “Publicly, we say #MeToo. Privately, we have misgivings.”

15th UPDATE: Historian and psychoanalyst Elisabeth Roudinesco has a worthwhile tribune (Oct. 31st 2018) in Le Monde, “#metoo: ‘Jamais une explosion de rage, fût-elle nécessaire, ne doit devenir un modèle de lutte’.” The lede: “Si le mouvement a permis à des femmes de sortir de la honte et du silence, les réseaux sociaux ne peuvent pour autant se substituer aux magistrats.”

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The Weinstein fallout


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The lead story in yesterday’s France 2 evening news was the latest report on the prevalence of sexual harassment in French workplaces, here among medical personneli.e. doctors—in hospitals. It is amazing, almost stunning, the fallout that the Harvey Weinstein revelations six weeks ago has had: in France, the US of course, and all sorts of other places. It  has naturally been a big topic of conversation in my family (wife and daughter), among friends, and in social media. Weinstein is, ça va de soi, a despicable human being, as are all the other harassers and rapists who have been outed and who richly deserve their public disgrace—and, for some, their inevitable judicial prosecution. No reasonable person will disagree.

But in the midst of the legitimate outcry and indignation have been moments of excess with the #MeToo and #BalanceTonPorc campaigns, which was the subject of an L.A. Times tribune, dated November 1st, by Cathy Young—contributing editor at the libertarian Reason magazine—”Is ‘Weinsteining’ getting out of hand?” I thought it was a pretty good piece myself, so posted it on Facebook, and which led to a, shall we say, spirited exchange among several of my friends, including women whose feminist credentials are ironclad and who happened to agree with Young. Following this was an extensive, ongoing email exchange with several friends, over a lengthy, quite excellent essay that one of them has written on the matter, developing her viewpoint expressed on my FB thread (and which I will post as an update below as soon as it finds a publisher, hopefully in the coming days).

I hadn’t intended to write on any of this but was prompted to by one of the now daily rebondissements, which is the reopening, by liberal pundits seeking to prove their evenhandedness in the midst of the revelations about Roy Moore in Alabama and ensuing tumult within the Republican Party, of the Bill Clinton dossier from the 1990s. Among these pundits are two of my favorites, whose bylines are a mark of quality: Michelle Goldberg, who wrote in the NYT the other day, “I believe Juanita;” and Vox’s Matthew Yglesias, who opined that “Bill Clinton should have resigned: What he did to Monica Lewinsky was wrong, and he should have paid the price.” How disappointing to read such balderdash from two otherwise smart, level-headed political analysts. To borrow from Jacques Chirac, Mme Goldberg et M. Yglesias ont perdu une bonne occasion de se taire. That is to say, they should have just STFU.

I am not going to relitigate the Clinton-Lewinsky affair—more accurately labeled the Kenneth Starr scandal—except to say that there was no reason whatever for Bill Clinton to have resigned, or even be personally condemned and shamed, as he did nothing to warrant this. There was no scandal on his part. What happened between Clinton and Ms. Lewinsky was a private matter between two consulting adults—and initiated by Lewinsky, pour mémoire, who kept their tryst going—which they both desperately sought to keep private. It was no one’s business but their own (and perhaps Bill’s wife, but that was between him and her). And Kenneth Starr’s witch hunt was precisely that. The whole thing—Starr, the media feeding frenzy, the congressional Republicans, et j’en passe—was an outrage. Case closed.

As for the other Clinton affairs involving women, there were manifest contradictions, anomalies, and outright falsehoods in the accounts of Kathleen Willey and Paula Jones—and with the latter a pawn in an intricately knit conspiracy (dixit Ann Coulter) to destroy Clinton and his presidency. None of the damaging accusations leveled at Clinton were proven. As for Juanita Broaddrick—who stayed silent for over two decades—we’ll never know. If more women during that general period (late ’70s-’80s) had surfaced with similar accusations against Clinton, Broaddrick’s story would naturally need to be taken seriously. But there weren’t.

What is common to all the harasser/rapist men who have been outed over the years is that the initial revelation was followed by others, with several abused women, even dozens, coming forward, and with accounts that were/are precise, entirely credible—in France, e.g. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Denis Baupin, and Tariq Ramadan—and not part of some plot hatched by the harasser/rapists’ political enemies. When it comes to harassing/raping men, there is no smoke without fire. This was simply not the case with Bill Clinton, however much of a horndog he may have otherwise been.

Susan Bordo, the well-known scholar of gender and women’s studies, wrote the following on her Facebook page yesterday in response to the press conference by the junior senator—and 2020 prospect—from New York

Kirsten Gillibrand says Bill Clinton should have resigned over the Lewinsky affair. Since she is too young, apparently, to have “been around” when it happened, I’d like to remind her that Monica Lewinsky was not an “accuser,” but betrayed by a woman she thought a friend, harassed by Ken Starr, and terrorized by the FBI into admitting she had a relationship with Clinton. If we’re going to believe women, maybe we should start with her. She has always said the relationship was consensual, in fact describes herself as the pursuer. According to some definitions, she was still the victim of sexual harassment, because of the power imbalance. But in no way was she the victim of assault or even unwanted physical advances. These attempts to put Clinton, Trump, Moore, Franken in the same pot do a disservice to the women involved—not to mention others who have been raped, assaulted, abused when children/teens.

And if we’re suddenly so attuned to the treatment of women in this culture, maybe we should have a fresh look at the election, too!

On Al Franken, I go with The Nation’s Joan Walsh, who asked “What should Democrats do about [him]?” Kate Harding, author of the book Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture – And What We Can Do about It, likewise makes good points in a Washington Post op-ed, “I’m a feminist. I study rape culture. And I don’t want Al Franken to resign.” The testimonies of former Franken female staffers are also pertinent.

Another spot-on commentary on the WaPo opinion page is a column by Paul Waldman, “Sorry. There’s no equivalence between Republicans and Democrats on sexual harassment.” Don’t miss the commentary by TDB senior editor Erin Gloria Ryan, “After Al Franken and Roy Moore, we are dangerously close to botching the #MeToo moment.” Also the one by The Guardian’s Anne Perkins, dated November 6th, “I know how demeaning harassment is. But weaponising the past is not the answer.”

Returning to the Tariq Ramadan affair, mentioned above. Not being a fan of TR, I can’t say I’m devastated to learn that, in his behavior with women, he has been as insidious and loathsome as Weinstein et al. I’m not going to linger on his specific case here—except to say that the hit to his public reputation is well-deserved—but rather on a collateral damage victim of the revelations—whose public reputation has most undeservedly taken a hit in certain quarters—which is my friend Bernard Godard, a career functionary (now retired) of the French state and who spent the latter part of his career in the Ministry of Interior as the state’s top expert on Islam and Muslims in France. There is not a person of any consequence in the world of French Islam—the legal part of it, at least—or who works on it in any capacity (academia, journalism, etc) who Bernard Godard does not know personally. In an interview with L’Obs—and sensationalized by Marianne—after the TR affair broke, Bernard was quoted saying that he had heard rumors and stories over the years about TR and women—and that may have even involved violence—but not about actual rape, which thus put Bernard in the spotlight for not having spoken out. The story was then taken up the other day by the Islamophobic website Jihad Watch, which suggested that Bernard, as an agent of the French state, sought to “protect Tariq Ramadan’s public image from being sullied.”

This is rubbish. I knew right off the bat that Bernard had misspoken in his L’Obs interview, that his words were maladroit, that he had no knowledge of any criminal act (i.e. rape) committed by TR, and thus had no standing to speak out publicly on the matter or alert his superiors. Such would have been illegal on his part. Moreover, neither he nor the French government has the slightest reason to “protect” TR’s public image. The very notion is ridiculous, as the French state and political class in its totality have long refused to deal with TR (quite unlike governments and politicians elsewhere in Europe and further afield); as for Bernard himself, I know for a fact—as I know him personally—that TR is not his cup of tea and while they may know one another and have crossed paths, that he does not deal with him. Bernard has, in any case, responded to the accusations in this YouTube interview (saying much the same as what he told me himself when we talked about it recently).

The Tariq Ramadan revelations have also led to a nasty public spat between Charlie Hebdo and Mediapart—specifically, the respective editors-in-chief of the two publications, Riss and Edwy Plenel—which one may read about here. It is a distressing polemic, as Oxford historian Sudhir Hazareesingh put it, about which I will say nothing—for the moment at least—except to assert that Riss, in his editorial in last Wednesday’s Charlie Hebdo, distorted Plenel’s words. Riss accused Plenel of saying something very serious—and potentially dangerous—that Plenel did not in fact say. For Plenel’s actual words, go here. And if one has twelve minutes to spare, watch Plenel’s BFM interview of November 5th, in which he discusses the TR brouhaha. Voilà, c’est tout.

À suivre, évidemment.

UPDATE: The très engagé Daily Kos has a post (November 19th) on the Al Franken flap that could alter the narrative of the story, “More photos emerging from Franken & Tweeden’s USO tour. They speak for themselves.”

2nd UPDATE: The New Yorker’s Masha Gessen gets it right (November 19th) in saying that “‘Should Al Franken resign?’ is the wrong question.”

Henda Ayari & Tariq Ramadan

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Reports from the heartland

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I’ve read several exceptional investigative reports of late on some of the calamities that have hit working and lower class white people in the United States. They’re must-reads, journalism at its best, which I will simply link to here sans commentaire. One is from the June 5 & 12 issue of The New Yorker, “The addicts next door,” by NYer staff writer Margaret Talbot, on how opioid addiction has ravaged rural West Virginia. This passage is noteworthy

“The Changing Face of Heroin Use in the United States,” a 2014 study led by Theodore Cicero, of Washington University in St. Louis, looked at some three thousand heroin addicts in substance-abuse programs. Half of those who began using heroin before 1980 were white; nearly ninety per cent of those who began using in the past decade were white. This demographic shift may be connected to prescribing patterns. A 2012 study by a University of Pennsylvania researcher found that black patients were thirty-four per cent less likely than white patients to be prescribed opioids for such chronic conditions as back pain and migraines, and fourteen per cent less likely to receive such prescriptions after surgery or traumatic injury.

But a larger factor, it seems, was the despair of white people in struggling small towns. Judith Feinberg, a professor at West Virginia University who studies drug addiction, described opioids as “the ultimate escape drugs.” She told me, “Boredom and a sense of uselessness and inadequacy—these are human failings that lead you to just want to withdraw. On heroin, you curl up in a corner and blank out the world. It’s an extremely seductive drug for dead-end towns, because it makes the world’s problems go away. Much more so than coke or meth, where you want to run around and do things—you get aggressive, razzed and jazzed.”

Peter Callahan, a psychotherapist in Martinsburg, said that heroin “is a very tough drug to get off of, because, while it was meant to numb physical pain, it numbs emotional pain as well—quickly and intensely.” In tight-knit Appalachian towns, heroin has become a social contagion. Nearly everyone I met in Martinsburg has ties to someone—a child, a sibling, a girlfriend, an in-law, an old high-school coach—who has struggled with opioids. As Callahan put it, “If the lady next door is using, and so are other neighbors, and people in your family are, too, the odds are good that you’re going to join in.”

And this

The Eastern Panhandle is one of the wealthier parts of a poor state. (The most destitute counties depend on coal mining.) Berkeley County is close enough to D.C. and Baltimore that many residents commute for work. Nevertheless, Martinsburg feels isolated. Several people I met there expressed surprise, or sympathy, when I told them that I live in D.C., or politely said that they’d like to visit the capital one of these days. Like every other county in West Virginia, Berkeley County voted for Donald Trump.

Martinsburg is some 80 miles from Washington DC but, for many of the locals, had might as well be 800. As for voting for Trump, but of course.

Michael Chalmers is the publisher of an Eastern Panhandle newspaper, the Observer. It is based in Shepherdstown, a picturesque college town near the Maryland border which has not succumbed to heroin. Chalmers, who is forty-two, grew up in Martinsburg, and in 2014 he lost his younger brother, Jason, to an overdose. I asked him why he thought that Martinsburg was struggling so much with drugs. “In my opinion, the desperation in the Panhandle, and places like it, is a social vacancy,” he said. “People don’t feel they have a purpose.” There was a “shame element in small-town culture.” Many drug addicts, he explained, are “trying to escape the reality that this place doesn’t give them anything.” He added, “That’s really hard to live with—when you look around and you see that seven out of ten of your friends from high school are still here, and nobody makes more than thirty-six thousand a year, and everybody’s just bitching about bills and watching these crazy shows on reality TV and not doing anything.”

On a major culprit behind the opioid scourge, see the lengthy report by New Yorker staff writer Patrick Radden Keefe in the October 30 issue, “The family that built an empire of pain.” The lede: “The Sackler dynasty’s ruthless marketing of painkillers has generated billions of dollars—and millions of addicts.”

One learns, entre autres, that the Sacklers—whose privately held company, Purdue Pharma, patented the opioid OxyContin—”are now one of America’s richest families, with a collective net worth of thirteen billion dollars—more than the Rockefellers or the Mellons.”

Another first-rate report, this on the functioning of finance capitalism in our era, is in The New York Times, dated October 14, by reporter Farah Stockman, “Becoming a steelworker liberated her. Then her job moved to Mexico.” The lede: “Workers like Shannon Mulcahy took pride in their jobs at the Rexnord factory in Indianapolis. The bearings they made were top-notch. In the end, it didn’t matter.”

One comprehends why many workers in industry were seduced by Trump’s rhetoric against NAFTA and free trade agreements. Not that Trump will make good on it—whether or not he should is another matter—or that even if he does, it will change a thing for these workers. It’s 21st century capitalism, stupid.

The Democrats obviously need to craft a credible economic message—and backed by grassroots organizing—that can win over at least some of these working class citizens who went for Trump or don’t bother to vote. Can this happen in the absence of a robust labor movement? I’m not optimistic.

UPDATE: Vox’s Sean Illing has an interview (March 13, 2018) with Robert Wuthnow, “[a] Princeton sociologist [who] spent 8 years asking rural Americans why they’re so pissed off. Hint: it’s not about the economy.”

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The Middlebury hecklers

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

In 2011 I had a post on hecklers—prompted by the disruption of Michael Oren’s talk at UC-Irvine—in which I expressed my hatred of this subspecies of humanity (though, for the record, I did issue an exception in a post in 2013). Everyone’s read about what happened at Middlebury College last Thursday, of author Charles Murray being shouted down at the talk he was about to give, run out of town on a rail, and with his host, Middlebury professor Allison Stanger, physically assaulted in the process. Now I am not a fan of Murray’s—and certainly not of his reprehensible work on blacks and IQ—but he is a prominent conservative intellectual and with the requisite credentials to give a public lecture at an establishment of higher education, so what happened to him was quite simply outrageous. The commentaries in The Atlantic by Peter Beinart and Conor Friedersdorf say what needs to be said. As for the hecklers, they should/must be sanctioned and with the perpetrators of the assault on Prof. Stanger expelled from the college outright.

BTW, my attitude was the same in regard to the disruption of Milo Yiannopoulos’s event at UC-Berkeley last month. Now Milo Y. is not a scholar, loin de là, and should have probably not been invited to speak at the UCB campus in the first place, but once he was, he should have been allowed to proceed without disruption. As for the violence from outside-agitating black bloc voyous, this was unacceptable and could only play into Milo Y.’s hands. On the matter, UCB graduate student Sean Freeder, writing on Facebook, had one of the more intelligent commentaries I saw at the time.

When confronted with beyond-the-pale speakers, people should take a leaf from my alma mater, Antioch College, in 1964, when George Lincoln Rockwell came to campus. Students packed Kelly Hall, listened to him in silence, and when he finished, rose as one and silently walked out. Rockwell said later that it was the worst reception he ever received. If Milo Y. had been copiously ignored at UCB, he would have no doubt felt likewise.

UPDATE: Yale Law School professor Stephen L. Carter has a tribune (March 6th) in Bloomberg View, “The ideology behind intolerant college students.” And that ideology, if one wants to call it that, is Herbert Marcuse’s 1965 essay on “repressive tolerance,” which, as it happens, was in vogue during my day at Antioch College. In fact, I clearly remember a Marxist philosophy professor approvingly invoke the notion at an event in the aforementioned Kelly Hall in 1974 or ’75. Autres temps, mêmes mœurs.

2nd UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan weighs in on the Middlebury affair in his weekly essay in New York magazine (March 10th), in which he asks “Is intersectionality a religion?”

3rd UPDATE: Professor Allison Stanger writes in The New York Times (March 13th) on “Understanding the angry mob at Middlebury that gave me a concussion.”

4th UPDATE: Aaron R. Hanlon, who teaches English at Colby College, advances a worthwhile proposal in the New Republic (December 28th), “The decline of debate on college campuses: The real intellectual crisis in higher education is not over free speech, but the quality of speech.”

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Protest at the French embassy, London, August 25th (photo credit: Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images)

Protest at the French embassy, London, August 25th
(photo credit: Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images)

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It is now mid September and the burkini brouhaha, which had France in a state of hysteria the entire month of August, has yet to abate. The story doesn’t end, in large part because it’s about much more than the burkini. The brouhaha over this banal article of clothing is merely the latest installment in the never-ending obsession in France over the visibility of Islam and public display of religious identity by a minority of French Muslims—and with the very real threat of terrorism by Muslims fueling public fear and anxiety, and offering irresistible temptations for demagogic politicians to capitalize on this.

The reaction outside of France as to what’s happening here is also attracting attention, notably the New York Times article of September 2nd that gave voice to hijab-wearing Muslim women in France and Belgium, and that the Times had the excellent idea to translate into French, guaranteeing that it would be widely read in France. And it was, getting under a lot of peoples’ skins in the process, including that of PM Manuel Valls—a warrior for laïcité de combat who wants the burkini banned—who felt compelled to respond to the NYT, penning a piece in Le Huffington Post (September 5th)—translated into English under the title “In France, women are free“—which, in turn, provoked a rejoinder from the NYT but also from Le Monde, which referred to Valls’s “charge bancale” (shaky accusation) against the Times.

Then, last Tuesday, Libération’s Brussels correspondant Jean Quatremer unleashed a diatribe on his Libé blog against the reaction of the “Anglo-Saxons” to the burkini affair, “Burkini, voile: les racines religieuses des leçons de ‘tolérance’ anglo-saxonne,” which was followed on Wednesday morning by France Inter’s political analyst Thomas Legrand, whose daily political editorial was consecrated to the apparent “Anglo-Saxon” incomprehension of French-style laïcité: “Laïcité, la France et les Etats-Unis ne se comprennent pas.” (Oh, how nice it would be if the French could cease talking about “les Anglo-Saxons,” of reflexively throwing the United States and Great Britain—two countries that differ on a myriad of domains—into the same sack, and then seeing them as a repoussoir…).

Now Messrs. Quatremer and Legrand so happen to be among my favorite French journalists and for many years now: Quatremer for his excellent reporting on the European Union, plus other things (e.g. he was one of the first journalists to call out DSK for his unacceptable behavior toward women and denounce the omertà of his colleagues in the media on the matter); Legrand for his brilliant analyses of French politics, with which I am in full agreement 98.5% of the time. I listen to his three-minute “édito politique” every weekday morning at 7:45, and if I’m still in my beauty sleep at that moment, I catch up with it on the France Inter web site. When it comes to analyzing French politics, Legrand is the best. Point barre. These two gentlemen are my heros in French journalism. So understand my dismay in reading/listening to their above mentioned back-to-back commentaries, which were quite simply awful. Legrand’s was the worst I’ve ever heard by him and Quatremer’s was ten times worse than that. It was a disaster. As we are Facebook friends, I informed him on his comments thread last Wednesday that he was “à côté de la plaque,” “[qu’il s’est trompé] de A à Z,” and that I would take apart his piece point by point. We had a good exchange—he didn’t seem ruffled by my bad humor (though some of his FB friends were)—with me promising to respond to him at length on my blog, and him saying he looked forward to that (je lui ai dit que j’allais le faire en français, même si ça me prendrais plus de temps, mais il m’a dit qu’il n’y avait pas de problème si j’écrivais en anglais, donc j’ai mélangé les deux).

So here it is, followed by my critique of Legrand’s editorial. N.B. I write here in a fraternal spirit, as my admiration for these two gentlemen and their journalism is in no way diminished by their commentaries on this one question.

M. Quatremer writes: 

Ne nous y trompons pas : le débat va bien au-delà de la place de la religion musulmane (dans sa version islamiste) en France, les critiques étant tout aussi virulentes à l’égard de la politique française à l’égard des sectes, aucun Anglo-saxon ne comprenant pourquoi l’Église de scientologie, pour ne citer qu’elle, n’est pas reconnue comme une Église comme une autre.

M. Quatremer, you are laboring under some misconceptions here. En effet, ce que vous dites est sans fondement. First, on the Church of Scientology, with which I have been personally familiar since precisely 1973 (as Scientologists used to proselytize in public in my Chicago suburb and, in my adolescent naïveté, I would engage them in conversation): I have never—not once, ever, not a single time in my now long life—heard about an American—let alone met one—who considered the Scientologists to be anything other than a bizarre cult (en français, une secte bizarre). I guarantee you that no American who is not him or herself a Scientologist—or maybe a friend of Tom Cruise or John Travolta—considers this “church” to be a legitimate religion comme les autres. Everyone views it as a cult (une secte). When I tell my American students in Paris—niveau bac+2, en France pour un semestre d’études—about the French campaign against the Scientologists—which I have occasion to do when teaching the subject of laïcité à la française—not one expresses disapproval of the French attitude. And they all think the Scientologists are a weird cult.

So why are the Scientologists considered a religion in the US and with the US government scolding the French and Germans for their anti-Scientology campaigns? There’s a story to this. First, the one organ of the American state that may formally accord the status of a religion to a group claiming this what it is is the Internal Revenue Service (le fisc fédéral). Organized religions (les cultes) in the US have tax-exempt status, which only the IRS can accord. From the founding of the Church of Scientology until 1993, the IRS rejected the Scientologists’ repeated requests for tax-exempt status, insisting—correctly—that this so-called church was in reality a profit-making enterprise. So what the Scientologists—who are not nice people—did was to initiate an underhanded campaign of intimidation against the agents of the IRS who were handling the Scientology dossier. Ils ont lancé une guerre d’usure contre le fisc. And as the Scientologists had a lot of money—with all the Hollywood stars and other rich people they had succeeded in indoctrinating—they could and did intimidate the press and anyone else who stood in their way, via lawsuits and outright personal harassment (and engaging highly-paid lawyers when hit with lawsuits themselves). Pour avoir la paix, the IRS, in 1993, threw in the towel—il a jeté l’éponge—and gave the Scientologists the tax-exemption they had sought (it is also possible—and this is pure speculation on my part—that there may have been some quiet lobbying of the Clinton administration by personalities in the motion picture industry toward this end, with Hollywood having had close ties to both Clinton’s entourage and the Scientologists; for more on all this, see the lengthy 1997 enquête in The New York Times).

The second part of the story is the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which was cooked up by the Republican-controlled Congress of the time, enacted with a veto-proof majority, and signed into law by President Clinton. The Act made the promotion of religious freedom an objective of US foreign policy and, entre autres, obligated the State Department to submit an annual report to Congress on the state of religious freedom in every country in the world. So in conformity with the law, the US embassy in Paris has reported annually to its hierarchical superiors in Washington on the state of religious freedom in France—and noting the status in France of the Church of Scientology, recognized as a religion in the US—which the State Department has dutifully noted in turn in its obligatory report, and with the US government—conforming to the law—expressing its pro forma concerns on the matter to the French government. And with the French government taking the American letter of concern and throwing it in the poubelle—and with no one saying anything more about it.

I guarantee you, M. Quatremer, that no one in Washington or at the embassy in Paris could have cared less about the anti-Scientology lawsuits in France or the French state considering the Scientologists to be a profit-making enterprise and not a religion.

As for “virulent” critiques of France’s policy toward sectes (i.e. cults), from whom? Who has been “virulent” about this? Do you have any examples?

Again, M. Quatremer, I guarantee you that no one in Washington, London, or anywhere else in the “Anglo-Saxon” world, who is not him or herself a member of a secte, cares what happens in France on this score.

En France, les défenseurs du droit des femmes musulmanes intégristes à couvrir leur corps à la plage ou ailleurs

M. Quatremer, serait-il possible d’éviter le mot “intégriste” quand vous parlez de l’islam? Ce terme est polémique et péjoratif, et qui ne veut rien dire en ce qui concerne l’islam. Aucun spécialiste—universitaire ou journalistique—de l’islam ou des musulmans ne le utilise. Et il ne se traduit même pas en anglais (par ex., “intégrisme catholique”—which is the only legitimate use of the term—is called “Catholic traditionalism” in English).

As for Muslim (and other) women having the right to cover their bodies on the beach and elsewhere, well, that is their right, is it not? I mean, France is not only a free country but also a civilized one, which is not going to tell women what clothes they may or may or not wear when they venture out of their homes. Et on ne va certainement pas les obliger à exposer des parties de leur corps sur la plage qu’elles n’ont pas envie d’exposer. N’est-ce pas? One certainly hopes not.

Seriously, this burkini hysteria in France is completely ridiculous. It is an only-in-France affair.

C’est moins le débat sur le burkini ou le voile qui m’intéresse ici que les raisons sous-jacentes aux critiques de la presse anglo-américaine… elle a manifesté là une gigantesque incompréhension de ce qu’est le modèle français

Question: what precisely is this famous “modèle français”? The law of 1905? If this is the model you have in mind, there no “incompréhension” whatever. The 1905 has its specificities but is entirely comprehensible to any “Anglo-Saxon.”

Let us continue:

et les Français qui se sont réjouis de ces critiques n’ont pas mesuré à quel point le modèle britannique et américain est différent du nôtre, un système dont ils ne voudraient par ailleurs à aucun prix : place de la religion, liberté d’expression, relativisme culturel, autant d’éléments qu’il faut prendre en compte si l’on veut comprendre la nature profondément différente du débat en France, en Grande-Bretagne ou aux Etats-Unis.

In point of fact, the American and British “models” of church-state relations differ more from one another than the American does from the French. The United Kingdom has an official church—the Church of England—whereas in the United States of America church and state are separated. As France also separates church and state, the USA and France are on the same side and against the Brits. Les Amérloques sont plus proches aux Frenchies qu’ils ne sont aux Rosbifs… Sérieux!

D’abord, la place qu’occupe la religion dans le monde anglo-saxon est particulière : la laïcité à la française n’y existe tout simplement pas.

Ça c’est vrai. La laïcité à la française ne peut pas exister aux USA ou ailleurs, pour la simple raison qu’elle est française. La laïcité à la française ne peut exister qu’en France, de même que, par ex., la laïcité à la turque (laiklik) ne peut exister qu’en Turquie, et la laïcité à l’américaine (secularism) ne peut exister qu’aux États Unis d’Amérique. Et ainsi de suite. Les relations entre l’État et les cultes sont spécifiques à chaque pays. They are a product of each country’s history and culture.

Certes, l’État est séparé de l’Église, mais en ce sens qu’il est neutre à l’égard des religions, qu’il n’en favorise aucune en particulier. Mais, la religion est partout. Toutes les religions sont autorisées en vertu du premier amendement de 1791 : «le Congrès ne fera aucune loi qui touche l’établissement ou interdise le libre exercice d’une religion».

Religion is indeed more present in the USA, as is the overall level of religiosity in American society. But this is cultural. It has nothing to do with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the constitution—which you cite—which defines the relationship between religion and the state. Just as Article 1 of the 1905 law—”La République assure la liberté de conscience. Elle garantit le libre exercice des cultes sous les seules restrictions édictées ci-après dans l’intérêt de l’ordre public.”—defines the relationship between the French state and religion, though does not speak to society. That French society may be non-practicing or atheist in its majority or, rather, deeply religious—as was the case for a sizable portion of Frenchmen in 1905—is immaterial in regard to the 1905 law. The 1905 law, as with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the US constitution, speaks to law, not to culture. And the Establishment Clause and Article 1 of the 1905 law—the bit about “ordre public” aside—are really very similar.

Depuis 1956, la devise officielle est «in god we trust» et elle figure même sur la monnaie américaine.

This has been deemed constitutional, as it refers to god, who is common to all and not to a specific religion. Those who don’t believe in god may, for good reason, object to this. Quant à moi, en tant qu’athée—et depuis ma petite enfance, n’ayant eu aucune instruction religieuse de mes parents (athée et agnostique)—je m’en fous. La devise “In God we trust” est purement symbolique, sans conséquence aucune. Son inscription sur la monnaie me laisse totalement indifférent, comme pour le plus grand nombre d’athées outre-Atlantique. C’est du folklore américain.

Mieux, le président américain prête dans la quasi-totalité des cas serment sur la Bible (mais c’est une pratique non obligatoire).

This is a French classic, à soulever le fait que les présidents américains prêtent serment sur le Bible (quoique cette pratique, comme vous dites, n’est pas obligatoire). À propos, in 2005 I attended a colloquium in Paris, at the Palais de la Justice, on French and American conceptions of laïcité/secularism, with prominent specialists of church-state relations in the USA present, among them the well-known constitutional law professors Sanford Levinson and Marci Hamilton. During the intermission I had the opportunity to ask these two august scholars about the constitutionality of the president swearing the oath of office on the Bible. They both told me that, in their well-considered view, this did indeed violate the letter of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and certainly did its spirit. Voilà. But so long as a citizen did not file a formal lawsuit against a newly elected president doing this, there would be no jurisprudence on the question.

Résultat, même les sectes les plus extrémistes y ont droit de cité (des Mormons de l’Utah aux Amishs, en passant par les Témoins de Jéhovah, les Scientologues, etc).

What precisely is a “secte” (in English, a cult)? Juridically speaking, the term is not defined, either in France or the US. So here’s how I define it: a group calling itself a religion (a) that is small in number, (b) that is led by a guru figure with an all-powerful hold over his faithful, (c) that espouses beliefs that are far removed from the mainstream and are considered bizarre or weird by just about everyone outside the group, (d) in which members disconnect from, or outright sever relations with, persons outside the group, including their families, and (e) where there are severe costs, including threats, against members who wish to leave the group. If one accepts this definition of a cult, the Mormon church—a religion with some 15 million mostly prosperous adherents worldwide—is decidedly not one (as for the Amish, this is an Anabaptist community dating from the 16th century, so please don’t call it a secte; and likewise for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who’ve been around since the 19th century). And none of these three can be qualified as “extremist,” whatever one means by this.

Vous avez certainement entendu la vieille boutade, qu’une religion est une secte qui a réussi…

On compte aux États-Unis plus de 450.000 églises et ce n’est pas demain la veille qu’un président officiellement athée pourra se faire élire.

450,000 churches in the US, a country of 320 million inhabitants? Is that a lot? In France—whose population is one-fifth of the US’s—the number of religious edifices is around 100,000. On an atheist being elected president of the United States, who knows? Ten years ago who could have imagined that a métis—seen in the USA as black—and with a middle name of Hussein could have possibly been elected president? Pas moi. Things don’t happen until they happen.

De toute façon, je parierai qu’il y aura un président athée ou areligieux aux USA avant que la France laïque n’élise un président de la République d’identité musulmane…

À cela s’ajoute le respect absolu de la liberté d’expression, pendant de la liberté religieuse totale : on peut proférer toutes les opinions même les plus extrémistes, qu’elles soient racistes, antisémites, négationnistes, etc. L’existence officielle du KKK et d’autres groupes suprématistes blancs sont là pour le montrer.

On frise la basse polémique ici. Je ne vois pas le rapport entre le KKK, groupes antisémites etc, et la question de la laïcité. M. Quatremer, vous savez pertinemment que la liberté d’expression aux USA est dans le premier amendment de la constitution et que ses paramètres sont définis par les arrêts de la Cour suprême, pas par le législateur. C’est une particularité du système américain. Ça on le sait.

En outre, la société britannique reste une société de classe strictement hiérarchisée où chacun fait ce qui lui plait dans sa classe sociale tant que l’ordre social n’est pas perturbé.

Voilà une caricature d’une autre époque de la société britannique. Ce cliché était exagéré même il y a deux générations—en fait, il a toujours été exagéré—mais en 2016?… Allons.

By the way, do you believe that class consciousness has been less important in France than in Great Britain? Or that the hierarchies in British society are steeper? Academic studies of the question (e.g. this) have, in fact, shown the opposite, that France is a more hierarchically ordered society than Great Britain. Just saying.

Enfin, outre-Manche, tout comme outre-Atlantique, la liberté d’expression y est quasi absolue, héritage de la rupture avec Rome et ses dogmes. Cette liberté a néanmoins ses limites, des limites marquées au coin de la religion : pendant longtemps, l’homosexualité a été durement réprimée (alors que la polygamie des sectes était admise)

Until very recently homosexuality was repressed everywhere, not just outre-Manche et Atlantique. As for polygamy, this has always been illegal in the United States. In this respect, the state of Utah, which was founded by the Mormons, could not be admitted into the union (which it was in 1896) until the Mormon church formally abolished polygamy.

et, comme dans une banale théocratie, les États américains n’hésitent pas à s’inviter dans le lit de leurs citoyens. Ainsi l’Alabama a interdit, jusqu’en 2014, la fellation et la sodomie, même au sein des couples hétérosexuels, la Virginie interdit de faire l’amour en pleine lumière ou encore le Dakota du Sud impose que les hôtels aient des chambres à lits jumeaux séparés de 60 centimètres si le couple réserve pour une seule nuit. Il est même précisé qu’il est formellement interdit de faire l’amour au sol, entre les deux lits… Les lois et pratiques de la plupart des États américains sur les atteintes à la pudeur n’ont rien à envier aux pays musulmans.

M. Quatremer, the United States of America is a big country—the size of a continent—with a large population and a federal system of government. And there are countless jurisdictions, each of which enacts local ordinances (arrêtés municipaux) on all sorts of things. America is a country and society where one finds everything and its opposite. Aux USA, on a tout et son contraire. In America, if you look for it, you will find it. The laws and ordinances you mention were enacted a long time ago—many in the 19th century—and most have been long forgotten. In any case, none of these silly laws in any way affects the lives of the near totality of the American population.

rappelons le scandale du Nipplegate

Ouf. I’d forgotten about that one. So what’s the point?

Allons un peu plus loin et rappelons à nos amis américains que la ségrégation à l’égard des Noirs, peuple fondateur des États-Unis d’Amérique, n’est pas si lointaine – en considérant même qu’elle ait vraiment cessé — et que les États-Unis n’ont pas hésité, il y a 70 ans à enfermer dans des camps tous les Américano-japonais parce que soupçonnés d’être génétiquement des ennemis…

Vous frisez encore la basse polémique. Je ne vois absolument pas le rapport entre la ségrégation raciale du passé, ou le traitement des Japonais-américains pendant la seconde guerre mondiale, et le sujet de départ de votre article. Où voulez-vous en venir?

Par ailleurs, si on veut parler des méfaits des USA du passé, parlons de ceux de la France aussi, par ex., de son histoire coloniale et les massacres qu’elle a commises—particulièrement en Algérie, le pays d’origine de la majorité des musulmans en France—et, tant qu’on y est, l’implication de l’État français dans la déportation des juifs pendant la guerre… Si on veut parler de l’Histoire, parlons de l’Histoire.

Better yet, let’s just stick to the subject at hand.

Si une femme musulmane française voilée affirme sans rire qu’elle est moins bien traitée qu’un chien alors qu’une autre se demande si on ne va l’obliger à «porter une lune pour être reconnue» (heu, ça n’est justement pas le but du voile ?), que pourraient dire les Afro-américains, eux, qui peuplent les geôles américaines et qui n’ont pas intérêt à avoir affaire à la police blanche s’ils ne veulent pas être abattus…

Encore la basse polémique. What do imprisoned Afro-Americans have to do with the personal opinion of one Muslim woman on the way she feels treated in France? Personally speaking, I do not see the connection.

Enfin, rappelons que ce sont les Anglo-américains qui se sont jetés à corps perdu dans des guerres contre des pays musulmans avec les résultats que l’on voit, ce qui accroît le sentiment d’une guerre entre le monde occidental et le monde musulman. Les leçons de tolérance des Américains sont assez étonnantes à l’heure où le candidat républicain, Donald Trump, veut interdire l’accès du territoire aux Musulmans, ce qui est autrement plus grave que quelques interdictions municipales du burkini. Faut-il aussi rappeler que la ville de New York s’est opposée à la construction d’une mosquée à proximité du mémorial du 11 septembre ? Et on n’a guère entendu les Anglo-saxons lorsque tous les pays d’Europe de l’Est ont refusé d’accueillir des réfugiés parce que musulmans. Mais le burkini, voilà une atteinte intolérable aux droits des femmes musulmanes…

M. Quatremer, l’article du New York Times vous a manifestement mis de mauvaise humeur, as you’re throwing everything at it but the kitchen sink (expression américaine): the Iraq war, the Ground Zero mosque, Donald Trump… Ouf!

Allez, none of these have anything to do with the subject of the NYT article.

And by the way, you are mistaken that the ville de New York opposed the Ground Zero mosque. The mayor of the time, Michael Bloomberg, strongly supported the project, as did the Manhattan borough president and many other local elected officials, plus the current mayor, Bill de Blasio.

Il ne s’agit pas de dire que le modèle français est parfait, ce qui n’est manifestement pas le cas, mais qu’il est différent : la liberté d’expression n’est pas totale (diffamation, lois mémorielles, répression du racisme et de l’antisémitisme)

Freedom of expression—a value that I think we are all deeply attached to—is not total anywhere. E.g. the Official Secrets Act in the United Kingdom is far more severe than its equivalent in the US, as are British libel laws. And commercial speech in the US is not protected by the First Amendment. As for lois mémorielles in France, I think these are terrible, as I have written on more than one occasion (if one is interested, see here, here, here, and here).

l’espace public est étroitement réglementé

Qu’est-ce que vous voulez dire par “l’espace public”? La rue? Si oui, vous avez tort, car celle-ci n’est pas étroitement réglementé en France. La France est un pays libre—et heureusement—où les gens peuvent s’habiller en public comme bon leur semble (pourvu qu’ils ne dissimulent pas le visage, bien entendu).

la séparation de l’Église et de l’État est absolue (sauf en Alsace-Moselle)

The Alsace-Moselle exception. Guyane aussi. Ce n’est pas rien. In America, there are no exceptions to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. And in France, there are several domains where the church-state separation is not total, e.g. the state subsidizing confessional schools (Loi Debré)—which is impossible in the United States—and paying for the upkeep of places of worship built before 1905 (provided for in the 1905 law). Some ten years ago, when my daughter was in collège (public) we received a letter informing us of the school’s service d’aumônerie (chaplain services). I was astonished to learn this existed in public schools in laïque France, as such is impossible in public schools in the US, laïcité à l’américaine oblige (and with, par ailleurs, public schools in the US educating a higher percentage of school children [90%] than the public system in France).

And then there’s the Bureau Central des Cultes in the Ministry of Interior. There is no such official interlocutor with organized religion at any level of the American state.

Conclusion: les États-Unis d’Amérique sont, à maints égards, plus laïque que la France. Je ne rigole pas.

l’Église catholique ayant été renvoyée dans ses églises avec une violence dont on n’a pas idée aujourd’hui

Vous exagérez. Le conflit entre les deux France autour de la loi de 1905 était âpre mais le sang n’a pas coulé dans les rues. Je ne crois pas qu’il y ait eu mort d’homme.

Même la langue française a un statut incompréhensible pour le reste du monde (c’est la seule langue admise par la Constitution et une Académie veille à sa pureté)

Many countries in the world have an official language and which is inscribed in its constitution. This is incomprehensible to no one.

Bref, invoquer l’exemple de «tolérance» anglo-américain est donc un non-sens puisqu’il ne se découpe pas en tranche et qu’elle est religieuse. Est-ce de ce modèle dont nous voulons ?

I have no idea what you’re talking about here. And believe me, no one is proposing that France exchange its precious “model” for another.

N.B.: Il y a 7,5 % de musulmans en France, le pays occidental qui en compte le plus, 4,6 % en Grande-Bretagne et 0,8 % aux Etats-Unis. Même s’ils sont à prendre avec d’infinies précautions, ces chiffres de 2011 restent intéressants, car ils montrent aussi la spécificité de la France qui accueille forte communauté non chrétienne.

France has the largest Muslim population in the Western world—in both percentage and absolute number—on account of its colonial past. Some 85-90% of Muslims in France have roots in former French colonies. And France’s complex history with its largest Muslim colony—Algeria—explains at least in part its neurotic relationship with Islam and its present Muslim population. But that’s for another discussion.

Moving on to Thomas Legrand’s editorial (if one is still with me…). It begins with a question by Patrick Cohen, followed by M. Legrand’s response:

Vous revenez sur la polémique entre le New York Times et Manuel Valls à propos de la condition réservée en France aux femmes voilées..

Oui, le quotidien new yorkais a donné la parole à des musulmanes, françaises ou vivant en France. Précisons que ce n’est pas une enquête journalistique mais un appel à témoignage. Ces femmes ont des mots très durs, parlent de ségrégation et dépeignent une société française largement hostile. Manuel Valls a réagi à cet énième portrait d’une France raciste. Il estime que ne pas avoir donné la parole à des Françaises musulmanes qui ne portent pas le voile (l’immense majorité) produit une image déformée de notre pays. Il l’a écrit au journal, qui lui a d’ailleurs répondu. Cet échange entre le 1er Ministre et le NYT montre, encore une fois, le mal que nous avons à faire comprendre à l’étranger notre rapport collectif à la religion. L’idée que l’Etat, ou même la société politique, puisse contester à la religion le droit de vouloir édicter des règles de vie sociale est une idée totalement incomprise, singulièrement dans le monde anglo-saxon.

A couple of remarks. First, if Manuel Valls and other Frenchmen who adhere to his conception of laïcité have a hard time being understood by non-French people, maybe it’s because their arguments are not good. Maybe Valls & Co are trying to defend something—the right of the state to interfere in the decisions of women as to what clothes they may or may not wear—that is, in fact, almost impossible to defend before non-Frenchmen.

What M. Legrand says here reminds me of something I read two or three years ago by the conservative American intellectual Walter Russell Mead, who, writing on his visit to Europe (including France), sighed about the difficulty he had in trying to explain to uncomprehending Europeans the attachment of Americans to the Second Amendment of the US constitution (sur les armes à feu) and, as he put it, the preference of the American people for “small government.” My reaction in reading Mead on this was that if his European interlocutors couldn’t comprehend him, maybe it was because what he was arguing was, objectively speaking, incomprehensible to European sensibilities—and, one may add, to those of a very large number of Americans too. No European who is not slightly batty can comprend the unrestricted, over-the-counter sale of semi-automatic rifles and other weapons of war such as exists in large parts of the United States, and of the legal right of people to parade around in public with these, including in schools and stores. Yes, the world-view of the National Rifle Association is indeed a difficult one to explain in Europe (and including in Anglo-Saxon Great Britain, where the consensus view is that Americans are crazy when it comes to firearms).

As for “small government,” if Mead means by this that Americans prefer that the government not organize social insurance schemes such as health insurance and old-age pensions—that this be left up to the private sector and not be obligatory—then, yes, Europeans will not understand this, and rightly so (what Mead suggested about the preferences of Americans also happens not to be true, but that’s another matter).

So back to Manuel Valls and those who support his laïcité de combat, yes, they will indeed have a difficult time explaining to non-Frenchmen that the state should have the right to tell women what clothes they may or may not wear. If you’re trying to sell an objectively shitty product—here, a conception of laïcité that is liberticide and that, in effect, discriminates against believers of one religion in particular—people are not going to buy it.

Second remark. No religion in France is “dictating the rules of social life” to anyone. M. Legrand implicitly essentializes Islam and then implies that it is telling women what to do and wear. But no one has any evidence that Muslim women in France who wear a headscarf or burkini are being ordered to do this, that anyone is telling them to do anything.

The editorial continues:

Manuel Valls est-il le mieux placé pour mener ce débat ?

En France, pourquoi pas, même si l’on peut considérer qu’il est parfois un peu raide sur le sujet, le 1er Ministre, chef de la majorité, est tout indiqué es-qualité pour donner sa définition de la laïcité, en débattre et, le cas échéant, proposer au parlement de préciser, adapter la loi dans l’esprit, du moins, du consensus patiemment établi depuis 1905. Mais ça, les Américains ne le comprennent pas. Ils sont organisés en communautés agrégées (ont la même prétention universaliste que nous) et n’admettent pas que l’Etat se mêle des préceptes d’une religion. Et pour eux, quand le chef du gouvernement se préoccupe des droits (et devoirs) des femmes musulmanes, il empiète forcément sur les libertés d’une communauté et donc sur les droits de l’Homme.

Americans organized in “communautés agrégées”… Voilà, le fameux communautarisme anglo-saxon… This is one of the most hackneyed clichés (clichés éculés) in the French ideological repertoire. It is a French fantasy. A figment of the French imagination. And a tremendous French conceit, as Frenchmen who speak about “communautarisme anglo-saxon”—which is never defined or explained—are implicitly asserting the superiority of the supposedly universal French model over that of the imagined “Anglo-Saxon.”

In fairness to the French, it should be pointed out that French academic specialists of the United States never employ the term “communautarisme”—a neologism devoid of social scientific value—in their work on the US.

Non, M. Legrand, les Américains ne sont pas organisés en “communautés agrégées.” Ils sont tous des citoyens avec les mêmes droits et devoirs. Comme en France.

Continuing

Il est très difficile d’expliquer aux Américains l’individualisme positif des Lumières, le fait que la République française ne reconnaisse qu’une seule communauté, la communauté nationale composée d’individus émancipés. C’est d’autant plus difficile qu’objectivement, tous les Français ne sont pas égaux et que la consonance des noms des citoyens discriminés n’y est pas pour rien. Qu’une religion impose, par une forme d’aliénation qui écrase le libre arbitre, un accoutrement qui cache et soumette la femme, nous choque autant que les Américains sont choqués de voir un 1er Ministre s’occuper de ces questions. Vu d’une grande partie du reste du monde, Manuel Valls est un blanc, chrétien qui veut soumettre des minorités. Je me souviens d’une discussion avec des confrères américains quand Lionel Jospin était 1er ministre. Aucun de mes interlocuteurs ne me croyait quand je leur disais que personne en France n’accordait aucune importance au fait que Lionel Jospin soit protestant et que d’ailleurs quasiment personne ne le savait. En réalité, nous n’en avons pas conscience, mais notre modèle laïc, auquel nous tenons, est une spécificité dans le monde. Il faudra trouver les moyens de le préserver, sans qu’il puisse être perçu, à l’étranger, pour ce qu’il n’est pas : un repli identitaire…

I have much to say about this passage, which has a number of problems, but will limit myself to two comments: First, if, as suggested above, a Frenchman is having difficulty in making an argument about France to educated foreigners—and particularly to those from the Western world—then maybe his argument is flawed. Maybe he needs to rethink his argument. Second, Americans are as open-minded as anyone else, and certainly as much so as Frenchmen. And intellectually speaking, they are also products of l’Âge des Lumières. Educated Americans are not so different from educated Frenchmen or other Europeans. If you explain something to them and do it well—including the story about Lionel Jospin (which I have also done many times to Americans)—they will understand you. Believe me.

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

UPDATE: In case one missed it, the best analysis that has appeared on the bigger picture of what the burkini hysteria is all about is the tribune by Farhad Khosrokhavar in Le Monde, dated September 9th, “‘Le fondamentalisme laïc fragilise la France des droits de l’homme et de la femme’.”

2nd UPDATE: Financial Times Paris bureau chief Anne-Sylvaine Chassany has a good article, dated September 15th, “France: Islam and the secular state.” The lede: “The burkini bans have exposed historic tensions that are dividing Muslims and threatening French unity.”

3rd UPDATE: France Culture’s Sylvain Bourmeau had an absolutely excellent, must-listen half-hour discussion, September 24th, with sociologist Fabrice Dhume-Sonzogni, entitled “Le communautarisme, cette chimère toxique,” on France Culture’s ‘La suite dans les idées’ program he produces. The lede: “Au terme d’une longue enquête, le sociologue Fabrice Dhume montre comment le mot épouvantail ‘communautarisme’ n’est précisément que cela: un épouvantail planté au milieu de notre espace public.” This is the first time I have ever heard such an argument in France on the bogus notion of “communautarisme” and with Dhume-Sonzogni saying almost exactly what I have since the neologism took off in French public discourse in the 1990s. Listen to it here.

The occasion of the France Culture interview was the publication of Dhume-Sonzogni’s latest book, Communautarisme: Enquête sur une chimère du nationalisme français, prefaced by Eric Fassin. It is certainly a must-read.

See also Dhume-Sonzogni’s article, “L’émergence d’une figure obsessionnelle: comment le «communautarisme» a envahi les discours médiatico-politiques français,” on the academic TERRA-HN website (July 2013) and blogger Ossman Zamime’s post, “Vous avez dit ‘communautarisme’?,” in Mediapart (March 6, 2016).

An update to this update (October 31st): Philippe Blanchet, who teaches sociolinguistics at Université Rennes 2 and is a member of the Ligue des Droits de l’Homme, has an excellent review, on his Mediapart blog, of Dhume-Sonzogni’s book, “‘Communautarisme’: attention aux retours de manivelle!”

4th UPDATE: Journalist Aude Lorriaux has a first-rate enquête (September 30th) in Slate.fr, entitled “Les femmes musulmanes sont-elles forcées à porter le voile, comme on l’entend dire?” The lede: “De nombreux hommes politiques affirment ou suggèrent que la plupart des femmes voilées subissent des pressions et sont contraintes de porter le foulard, comme Manuel Valls, dans un tribune intitulée «En France, les femmes sont libres». Notre enquête démontre que ces faits sont très minoritaires.” The article is long but well worth the read.

5th UPDATE: Another enquête, this one in L’Obs (October 6th), by David Le Bailly et Caroline Michel, “Burkini, histoire d’une manipulation.” The lede: “Au cœur du mois d’août, l’interdiction sur certaines plages du maillot de bain intégral islamique a provoqué une controverse qui a frôlé l’hystérie. Qui a sciemment alimenté la polémique? Quel rôle a joué l’entourage de Nicolas Sarkozy? Révélations.”

6th UPDATE: Emile Chabal—a smart historian at the University of Edinburgh—has an excellent, salutary, necessary, and long overdue essay (September 18, 2017), published on the highbrow intello website Aeon, simply entitled “Les Anglo-Saxons.” The lede: “Not just American or British, the Anglo-Saxon is a mirror to Frenchness: the country’s alter-ego and most feared enemy.” Hopefully Chabal’s essay will be translated into French—I’ve suggested it to him—and be made required reading for everyone in France who refers to Americans and Brits as “les Anglo-Saxons”…

7th UPDATE: L’article d’Emile Chabal cité ci-dessus a été traduit en français et publié dans Courrier International, le 2 janvier 2018, sous le titre “Le terme ‘Anglo-Saxons’, miroir des peurs françaises.”

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The SIG MCX, a.k.a. the “Black Mamba.” That’s the assault weapon Omar Mateen used to commit his massacre. And which he, of course, purchased legally. Over the counter. As just about any person may in the state of Florida, as in much of the United States, even if he is a hate-spewing psychopath—as Mateen manifestly was—and/or has expressed an affinity with radical Islamist groups. To see what this rifle is about, watch the videos here. Anyone who can defend the freedom to acquire such weapons over the counter is not one with whom I can have any sort of dialogue. Repeating for the umpteenth time, what happened in Orlando is a uniquely American tragedy. Israeli journalist Anshei Pfeffer argued as much in the JDF, observing that though there are similarities between Islamic State-inspired or organized terrorist attacks in the US and those in Europe, these similarities end when it comes to the availability of weapons of war to civilians, which, he asserted

is inconceivable to outsiders. Not just the ease with which a “civilian version” of a military assault rifle can be bought over the counter, but the possibility of loading it with customized magazines holding 100 bullets, more than three times the number even armies use. The potential for bloodshed by one isolated and individual attacker is so much greater.

This availability of weapons enables isolated American Muslims with anger management problems—the Muslim population in America otherwise being well-to-do and thoroughly integrated—to express their rage in freelance bloodbaths such as the one yesterday in Orlando, whereas such is much more difficult in Europe, where Muslim populations contain larger numbers of extremists but who necessitate mobilization into cells of transnational terrorist organizations in order to commit mayhem, as in Paris and Brussels. If the US had stricter gun legislation, it would face no domestic jihadist terrorist threat.

On “lone wolf” terrorists, see Isaac Chotiner’s must-read interview in Slate with political scientist Jeffrey D. Simon, author of the 2013 book Lone Wolf Terrorism: Understanding the Growing Threat.

Academic blogger Juan Cole has an instant analysis, “Omar Mateen and rightwing homophobia: Hate crime or domestic terrorism?” See also sociologist Mark Juergensmeyer’s blog post, “Orlando massacre: ISIS inspired or homophobic attack?”

France 24 reporter-blogger and friend Leela Jacinto, who has reported extensively from Afghanistan over the years, has been looking into the curious case of the Orlando shooter’s father, Seddique Mateen, “Sins of the father do not apply to the Orlando nightclub attacker.” Money quote

By all accounts Mateen Senior is bombastic, delusional, prolix and probably dyslexic. In some crazy phase of his prolific, self-made media career, he proclaimed himself president of Afghanistan. That’s how batty he is.

But like many parents of kids who have jumped on the Daesh/Islamic State (IS) group killing train, he has never advocated killing people who disagree with him.

This is consistent with the generational break we are witnessing between immigrant parents who have left their native lands and their children who have a limited, at best, grasp of their parents’ countries of birth.

Leela quotes Barnett Rubin of Columbia University, the world’s leading political science authority on Afghanistan, who has also been on the Omar Mateen père story

As Barnett Rubin, a leading expert on Afghanistan, tweeted, “Orlando shooter’s dad Seddique Mateen doesn’t support Taliban or anything but himself. No wonder his son was unstable. Look at his FB page.”

After examining what he deliciously called Mateen’s “logorrhean FB page,” Rubin not surprisingly concludes, “He is a nut”.

Not nearly as much as his son, alas.

As for the fallout on the US presidential campaign, there will be none, except perhaps to reinforce Hillary and make the specter of Trump in the White House that much more alarming. If terrorism becomes an issue in the fall campaign, Hillary can only benefit. More on this another time.

UPDATE: See the powerful “Reflections on Orlando” by New York LGBT blogger Michael Bouldin.

2nd UPDATE: On the matter of guns, Huff Post foreign affairs reporter Jessica Schulberg has a piece explaining “what happened when a terrorist attacked LGBT people in a country with strict gun laws.” The country in question is Israel. The lede: “There’s no right to bear arms in Israel, and the death count in recent terror attacks is much lower than in terror-inspired U.S. mass murders.” Right-wing Americans who adhere to the NRA (and AIPAC) viewpoint are invited to read this and, if they care to do so, respond to it.

3rd UPDATE: Watch Vox’s extraordinary seven-minute video, “America’s gun problem, explained.”

4th UPDATE: WaPo reporters Kevin Sullivan and William Wan have a must-read portrait (June 17th) of Omar Mateen, “Troubled. Quiet. Macho. Angry. The volatile life of the Orlando shooter.” It wasn’t sympathy for the Islamic State which drove him to commit mass murder, that’s for sure.

Also see the report (June 18th) by TDB’s Shane Harris, Brandy Zadrozny, and Katie Zavadski, “The unhinged home that raised Orlando killer Omar Mateen.” Talk about a dysfunctional family, and for whom religion was clearly not central.

5th UPDATE: Slate’s Isaac Chotiner, in an Orlando-related piece (June 22nd), “The Islamization of radicalism,” interviews Olivier Roy “on the misunderstood connection between terror and religion.”

New York Daily News_June 13 2016

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Muhammad Ali, R.I.P.

When We Were Kings

My social media timeline was covered with tributes when he died a week ago. I didn’t put up anything myself, as I was off the blog for two weeks and with limited Internet access—on a voyage that I will write about soon—but also as I didn’t have anything of interest to say about him. But as today is his funeral, and with a part of America honoring his memory, I will add my 1¢ here, namely to say that he was one of those public personalities whom I knew, as it were, for most of my life, notwithstanding my zero interest in boxing. Muhammad Ali was a character whom one found amusing and interesting, not least for his political views, such as expressed here and here in regard to the Vietnam war. And his Chicago mansion—on the 4900 block of S.Woodlawn—being in my neighborhood in the 1980s, I would make a point to show it to visiting out-of-town friends (though Muhammad Ali didn’t actually spend much time there; pour l’info, Barack & Michelle Obama’s Chicago home—where they no longer spend much time either—is nearby, on the 5000 block of S.Greenwood). And he was certainly one of the better known Americans abroad, at least in Muslim countries in the 1960s and ’70s; I have memories of his name coming up with people when I lived in Turkey back then. And then there was the Rumble in the Jungle, which was the subject of the excellent documentary, When We Were Kings (see here and here). I think I’ll watch it again.

Slate has passages of “The best stories ever written about Muhammad Ali.” The full text of Murray Kempton’s is here.

UPDATE: President Obama has an exceptional tribute to Muhammad Ali, posted on the White House website. Watch Valerie Jarrett read it at the funeral here.

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Yale, Mizzou, and free speech

safe-space-campus-protest-r

[update below] [2nd update below]

I’ve been following the brouhahas at Yale and the U. of Missouri like most others who have some link to US academia and, like other right-thinking people, was appalled by the behavior of the students—and, at Mizzou, members of the faculty—who sought to thwart the free speech rights of others and/or acted in an unacceptable manner. As I had lengthy exchanges on the subject yesterday on social media—with most of the participating (left-of-center) friends agreeing with me—I will not repeat them here. But I do want to link to some of the better analyses and commentaries I’ve come across, which have (naturally) buttressed my position.

On the Yale incident, this was the video—of the student screaming at the professor about ‘safe spaces’—that teed me off. Whatever the grievance, it is totally, utterly unacceptable for a student to address a professor or campus administrator in this manner. Period.

These are good, informative commentaries:

Yale’s big fight over sensitivity and free speech, explained,” in Vox.

James Kirchick in Tablet, “Growing up at Yale: A recent controversy over potentially offensive Halloween costumes at the Ivy League campus makes me ask: Where are the adults?”

Mark Oppenheimer in Tablet, “Person up, Yale students: The problem with the protests isn’t that they’re radical, but that they’re not radical enough.”

Daniel Drezner in WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog, “A clash between administrators and students at Yale went viral. Why that is unfortunate for all concerned.”

On the University of Missouri business, the first piece I saw—and which got me all worked up (watch the video)—was by Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic, “Campus activists weaponize ‘safe space’: A journalist at the University of Missouri is mobbed by a crowd insisting he is the aggressor.” And then there’s this one in the NYT.

New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait had a spot on riposte, “Can we start taking political correctness seriously now?”

More than one friend posted on social media a response to Chait by Salon’s Amanda Marcotte, “Quit with the ‘PC’ hysteria: College kids are not trying to steal your freedom of speech.” Marcotte is a good analyst of US partisan politics—I tweet her often—but she’s way off base on this one.

Todd Gitlin, writing in Quartz, explained why “Mizzou protesters are safer with a free press than without one.”

If one didn’t see it, the communications “professor at [the] center of [the] Missouri university protest video“—who actively tried to block student photographer/journalist Tim Tai from doing his job—has offered her “sincere apologies” for her behavior. Of course she did. As an assistant professor who likely does not have tenure, profusely apologizing was sort of the obvious thing for her to do.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an important commentary by Bruce Joshua Miller and Ned Stuckey-French, which provides critical context for understanding what happened at Mizzou: “In Missouri, the downfall of a business-minded president.” In short, private sector operators—who know nothing about higher education—took control of a public university, and were backed by a political party whose name need not be mentioned. And Mizzou is hardly alone here. Whatever the transgressions of college students and a few professors, the takeover of universities by MBAs and their world-view is the real problem in American higher education today.

UPDATE: TDB reporter Emily Shire has a must-read piece, “Inside Yale’s ‘whites-only’ panic.” The lede: “A professor is screamed at by a student, while claim and counterclaim surround an alleged ‘white girls only’ party—what has led the Ivy League university to the race precipice?” I have, in fact, been skeptical of the veracity of the accounts—all unsubstantiated so far—of black students being turned away from supposedly “whites only” fraternity/sorority parties, and other alleged incidents of racism on campus. Not that overt racism doesn’t exist among college students—e.g. the University of Oklahoma incident earlier this year—but its frequency is no doubt overblown. This reminds me of the racial/identity politics at my liberal arts college in the 1970s, where black students could and did make accusations of racism toward the institution—which were bullshit—and never be frontally challenged (no one dared). Honestly, there was a lot of crap uttered by militant black students back then—who were coddled and indulged by the college in all sorts of ways (and given an uncritical free pass by bleeding heart leftist whites). And there was social pressure from black students on fellow black students who had white friends not to continue with those friendships (I knew this for a fact). There was pressure for conformity and to fall into line (Emily Shire in her article mentions one such incident at Yale). It was likewise with the radical feminists and gays (some of them). My detestation of identity politics—which I’ve never considered to be a marker of leftism—dates from this period.

2nd UPDATE: Vox’s Max Fisher has an equally must-read post, based on his personal experience from a decade ago, “When the campus PC police are conservative: why media ignored the free speech meltdown at William & Mary.” Comment: If the general climate on university campuses suddenly became as right-wing as it is left today—with, e.g., College Republicans and Young Americans for Freedom the center of ideological gravity, and with the faculty correspondingly conservative—there would no doubt be even greater intolerance toward deviating (here, leftist) political views.

U. of Missouri Communications prof Melissa Click, November 9th

U. of Missouri Communications prof Melissa Click, November 9th

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America’s immigrants

Algerian man, Ellis Island, circa 1907 (photo: Augustus Sherman)

Algerian man, Ellis Island, circa 1907 (photo: Augustus Sherman)

WaPo’s Wonkblog has a great post, dated October 24th, on “What America’s immigrants looked like when they arrived on Ellis Island,” with amazing photos taken between 1892 and 1907 by amateur photographer Augustus Sherman, who worked as the chief registry clerk on Ellis Island. Check it out. I’d be curious to know what happened to the immigrants one sees in Sherman’s photos and their successive generations (and particularly the Algerian, who was possibly the first immigrant from that land to set foot in America). A great country America is, to have absorbed, and then integrated/assimilated, so many people from so many cultures—and which, pace Donald Trump and others in his party, continues apace today.

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Angola State Penitentiary, Louisiana (photo credit: Lori Waselchuk & TMN)

Angola State Penitentiary, Louisiana (photo credit: Lori Waselchuk & TMN)

This is the title of the excellent, first-rate, must-read lead article by Ta-Nehisi Coates in the October 2015 issue of The Atlantic. The lede: “American politicians are now eager to disown a failed criminal-justice system that’s left the U.S. with the largest incarcerated population in the world. But they’ve failed to reckon with history. Fifty years after Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s report ‘The Negro Family’ tragically helped create this system, it’s time to reclaim his original intent.” Coates emphasizes that “this system”—of mass incarceration of Afro-Americans—has been a bipartisan endeavor, with liberal Democratic politicians every bit as culpable as their Republican counterparts (entre autres, in the unlikely event that Martin O’Malley is the Democratic party presidential nominee next year, I will have a tough time supporting him; and if Joe Biden enters the race—and one hopes he will—he will have some explaining to do and profuse mea culpas to issue).

Coates’s article is the most important I’ve read on the general subject in a long time. It’s lengthy—some 19,000 words—but should be read off the screen and not printed out, in view of the embedded footnotes and videos. It is thankfully divided into chapters (nine), to facilitate the task for those who won’t get through it in one shot.

Coates ends his piece with a link to his lengthy 2014 essay on reparations, which I have yet to read. I will in the coming days sans faute.

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