On capitalism and democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading here.

Is #MeToo going too far?

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below] [5th update below] [6th update below] [7th update below] [8th update below] [9th update below] [10th update below] [11th update below] [12th update below] [13th update below] [14th update below]

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 good, 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.”


Johnny Hallyday, R.I.P.

When I learned early this morning that he had died—which I wasn’t expecting, as I had forgotten that he had terminal cancer—I knew that there would be practically no other story on the news here today. This is one of those deaths that millions of people—99.9% of them French—genuinely feel saddened by—including my wife, who said this morning that “Johnny” was almost like “un membre de la famille.” C’est-à-dire, la famille des Français. A friend of mine I saw today—a lawyer in his 60s with highbrow cultural tastes—concurred with my wife’s sentiments, saying that he had seen “Johnny” at least six times in concert over the decades. Almost everyone publicly commenting today is calling him a French “icon,” which is true. (If one is not French and thus doesn’t know much about this icon, see the obits in The New York Times and The Guardian).

Quant à moi, I have mentioned “Johnny” exactly once in the history of AWAV, in a post in May 2011 that was mainly on Bernard-Henri Lévy, in which, entre autres, I linked to a piece by the US libertarian journalist Matt Welch that skewered the French pseudo-philosopher. I thought Welch was witty and on-the-mark in his takedown of BHL, except for his very last sentence: “And another reminder that BHL is 10 times the national embarrassment to France than Jerry Lewis or even Johnny Hallyday ever was.” On the French-and-Jerry Lewis cliché, I have definitively settled that one here. As for Johnny Hallyday, this was my response to Welch

[The Johnny Hallyday] cliché—that he’s a cheap French imitation of Elvis Presley, not very good, and generally a joke—seems to be more English than American (as Americans mostly have no idea who he is). I actually used to think the same thing, and would roll my eyes and snicker every time my wife and French friends—almost all of them—would tell me how great a singer “Johnny” is. But then I realized that I didn’t really know his music. I’d never bothered to listen to it. He just seemed too weird of a personality. And too bizarre looking. But eight years ago, when Johnny turned 60 and had a concert at the Parc des Princes to mark the event—before 60,000 fans and a live TV audience of millions—I decided to open my mind and give him a look. It went for three hours and I watched it to the end. It was great! Johnny is a great rock ‘n’ roller! And a great stage performer too. Voilà. Now I understand why he is so beloved in this country (even if he is still a weird guy). Matt Welch and other Anglo-Saxon Johnny snickerers have no doubt never listened to his music. If they like rock and roll, they should.

The more I’ve listened to Hallyday’s music over the years—on my favorite music radio station and CDs we own—the more I will assert that he was indeed very good, and that it’s too bad the musically protectionist Anglo-Americans were not exposed to him. Check out this YouTube playlist. And for the social scientifically minded, see the analysis in Le Monde by sociologist Jean-Louis Fabiani, “‘Pourquoi Johnny Hallyday, c’était la France’.” Also this homage by my favorite conservative politician, Jean-Pierre Raffarin. If there’s anyone who could unite Frenchmen and women across the political spectrum, it was “Johnny.”

The Tariq Ramadan Affair

[update below] [2nd update below]

Here’s a shout out to my dear friend Adam Shatz and his latest piece, on the fallout from the Tariq Ramadan rape scandal, which was posted yesterday on The New Yorker website. For those who missed it, I discussed the Ramadan affair in my post two weeks ago on the Weinstein fallout, notably the brawl that ensued between Charlie Hebdo and Mediapart, in which both parties have greatly exaggerated their differences, as CERI-Sciences Po’s Denis Lacorne insisted in a spot on tribune (Nov. 25th) in Le Monde, “‘La polémique entre Charlie Hebdo et Edwy Plenel participe à la brutalisation du débat public’.”

It is indeed possible to be a fan of Mediapart but to have also loudly proclaimed ‘Je suis Charlie’ in January 2015. In this vein, Jean-Pierre Mignard—a prominent Parisian lawyer, essayist/author, and longtime behind-the-scenes mover and shaker in the PS (and who is now with Emmanuel Macron)—had a good take on the Charlie Hebdo-Mediapart bagarre in an interview with Léa Salamé (Nov. 20th) on France Inter, “Charlie et Mediapart sont du même du bon côté de la barricade.”

À suivre.

UPDATE: Sylvain Cypel, a former journalist and editor at Le Monde, has a post just up (Nov. 30th) in the NYRB’s NYR Daily, “France, Islam & the Ramadan Affair.” The Washington Post’s fine Paris correspondent, James McAuley, also has a dispatch (Nov. 27th) on Ramadan, “France’s Weinstein scandal is also about Islam.”

Et tant qu’on y est, il convient de lire, si on l’a loupé, le post dans Mediapart (18 nov.) de l’excellentissime Jean Bauberot, “Laïcité et démocratie, l’enjeu de la polémique Charlie,Valls, Mediapart.” Voir également la tribune (22 nov.) dans L’Humanité, par la très gauchiste politiste (IEP Lyon) Philippe Corcuff, “Charlie, Mediapart, Valls, Filoche et les autres: la gauche déboussolée.”

2nd UPDATE: Edwy Plenel, in a 22-minute interview on BFMTV-RMC (Dec. 1st), asserted that “there cannot be a war between Charlie Hebdo and Mediapart” and regretted that some of his language vis-à-vis Charlie Hebdo earlier last month had been excessive. At one point in the interview, journalist Jean-Jacques Bourdin insinuated that Plenel had not shared the ‘Je suis Charlie’ sentiment in January 2015 and was not present at the big march in Paris on the 11th. What nonsense. Don’t people do their homework? Mediapart was, in fact, in total solidarity with Charlie Hebdo following the massacre and called on all to participate in the Jan. 11th march (Plenel was in Berlin that day, so participated in the rassemblement at the Brandenburg Gate). On this, see the Jan. 10th Mediapart tribune by Plenel and François Bonnet, “Manifester pour un réveil citoyen,” plus the update to this AWAV post.

Trump, race, and nationalism

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

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

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

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

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

Bonne lecture.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On neoliberalism

[update below]

Everyone is against neoliberalism. If there is anyone with the slightest politically progressive inclination who is not, I would like to know his or her name. If one is for neoliberalism, that makes one ipso facto not progressive. On the other side of the barricade. De l’autre bord. The term is tossed around a lot, though—a little too much, in fact—and particularly the further left on the spectrum one travels. It lacks precision. Gauchistes will censoriously label as “neoliberal” the most modest, tentative reform of a totally Étatiste economy. This is not right IMHO. Now Dani Rodrik, who requires no identification for AWAV readers, has a terrific “long read” essay in The Guardian, dated November 14th, that clears up the matter, “The fatal flaw of neoliberalism: it’s bad economics.” The lede: “Neoliberalism and its usual prescriptions—always more markets, always less government—are in fact a perversion of mainstream economics.”

Voilà, c’est tout.

UPDATE: Kemal Derviş has a typically smart piece (Nov. 14th) in Project Syndicate, “Democracy beyond the nation state,” that takes off from Dani Rodrik’s latest book, Straight Talk on Trade: Ideas for a Sane World Economy.

The Weinstein fallout

[update below] [2nd update below]

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 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, and not part of some plot hatched by the harasser/rapists’ political enemies (in France, e.g. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Denis Baupin, Tariq Ramadan…). When it comes to harassing/raping men, there’s 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 TR 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

%d bloggers like this: