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The Lahore massacre

Lahore, March 28 2016 (AFP Photo/Arif Ali)

Lahore, March 28 2016 (AFP Photo/Arif Ali)

As with the massacre in Brussels last week, I have no original thoughts of my own on this latest terrorist atrocity, so will link to others. For the moment, just one piece, by Maajid Nawaz, co-founder and chairman of the London-based think tank Quilliam and founder of Khudi Pakistan, writing in The Daily Beast (March 28th), “What the slaughter of Christians in Lahore says about the global jihad.” The lede: “We cannot pretend that the extremism driving jihadist terror around the world has nothing to do with Islam.”

More links will follow.

UPDATE: The New Yorker’s Rozina Ali has a short post on “A crisis for minorities in Pakistan.” (March 29th).

2nd UPDATE: South Asia specialists C. Christine Fair and Sumit Ganguly—who teach at Georgetown and Indiana University, respectively—have an article in the Winter 2016 issue of The Washington Quarterly, “Five Dangerous Myths about Pakistan.”

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Of the many reasons why there is no chance—none whatever—that Donald Trump will be elected president of the United States, this is a big one. Even Republicans agree. Tons have been written on this subject over the past several months, of course, but the piece by Franklin Foer in Slate (March 24th), in case one missed it, “Donald Trump hates women: It’s the one position he’s never changed,” brings it all together. See also Michelle Goldberg’s March 24th Slate piece, “Trump’s attack on Heidi Cruz is the scummy low of a scummy campaign,” plus her March 11th “If Michelle Fields isn’t safe from Trump’s smear machine, no woman is.”

If one believes Trump to be an outlier in the Republican party in his general attitude toward women, see Amanda Marcotte’s post (March 25th) in Salon, “Rush loves catcalling: Limbaugh’s defense of street harassment shows why Donald Trump’s political rise was inevitable.” The lede: “Limbaugh bitterly defends sexual harassment, and shows why so many conservatives love Trump in doing so.”

Rush Limbaugh, as one knows, has been one of the most influential, high-profile personalities on the American right over the past twenty-five years, with Republican politicians lining up to kiss his ring and apologizing profusely after imprudently speaking out of turn and upsetting him. Now I have a question to those Republicans who consider Donald Trump to be some kind of space alien who has come out of nowhere to hijack their party: Please explain how Rush Limbaugh’s attitude toward women—and his grossness and vulgarity more generally—differs in any way, shape, or form from that of Trump? Just asking.

UPDATE: The subject of the latest column (March 25th) by the NYT’s Gail Collins is “Trump, Cruz, Kasich and the ladies.” Reagan, Bush 41, and Jack Kemp adviser Bruce Bartlett’s sobriquet for the GOP, “the wanker party,” is more apt than ever.

The Brussels massacre

LE SOIR_TENIR BON

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Tenir bon. English translation: ‘hang in there’, or ‘remain steadfast’. I have nothing original to say about the Islamic State’s latest outrage except to express horror and the sentiment that people need to remain steadfast and not succumb to fear. And, obviously, hope that European states adopt effective strategies to smash the clandestine infrastructure of the Islamic State and kindred terrorist organizations. On this, I read one interesting article today, “What to do about Brussels” by freelance journalist Joshua Hersh in TNR. The lede: “Going to war won’t solve Europe’s homegrown terrorism problem.” See also the piece linked to in the article that the author published in BuzzFeed in December.

À suivre.

UPDATE: Historian and Morocco/Maghreb specialist Pierre Vermeren, who teaches at Université Paris 1, has had several illuminating op-eds and interviews of late on the Rifians—the Berbers of Morocco’s Rif region, who predominate in the North African Muslim immigrant population in Belgium (as well as the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region in France and the Netherlands)—Rifians being the ethnic group of most of the terrorists implicated in the Paris and Brussels attacks: “Arrestation de Salah Abdeslam: Comment Molenbeek est devenu un État dans l’État,” in Le Figaro (March 18th, originally published in November 2015); “Pierre Vermeren: ‘La Belgique, foyer djihadiste et plaque tournante de la drogue’,” in Le Figaro (March 22nd); and “‘La Belgique est devenue un trou noir sécuritaire’,” in Le Monde (March 23rd).

2nd UPDATE: François Heisbourg, who chairs the council of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, has a typically smart commentary in Le Huffington Post (March 22nd), “Attentats de Paris-Bruxelles: Parler d’armée et de guerre concernant Daech, c’est se tromper de combat.”

3rd UPDATE: Malise Ruthven has an excellent review essay of three excellent-looking books in the April 7th issue of the NYRB, “Inside Obedient Islamic Minds.” The piece is in the comments thread below for those who can’t get behind the wall.

4th UPDATE: The Guardian’s Jason Burke says (March 23rd) that “It is no surprise siblings with past crimes carried out attacks on Brussels.” The lede: “The el-Bakraoui brothers highlight the links between terrorism and criminal records, and the strength of family in Islamic militancy.”

5th UPDATE: The Guardian’s Martin Chulov has an article (March 25th) on “How Isis laid out its plans to export chaos to Europe.” The lede: “Before the Paris attacks, leaders of the terror group gathered to hear its new strategy: spreading fear through European capitals.” And here’s a piece from the FT dated last November 19th on “Belgium’s arms bazaar.” The lede: “Black market in guns has made the country an operational centre for jihadis, but officials are cracking down.” Thankfully the NRA does not have a lobby in Brussels.

6th UPDATE: Joost Hilterman of the International Crisis Group has an absolutely must-read interview in the NYR Daily (March 24th) with Belgian terrorism researcher Didier Leroy, “Why Belgium?” This is one of the best analyses I’ve come across on the subject at hand.

7th UPDATE: Farhad Khosrokhavar of the EHESS in Paris, who knows the subject better than just about anyone, has a most important op-ed in Le Monde (March 25th), “Les profils pluriels du djihadisme européen.”

8th UPDATE: Washington Post foreign affairs writer Ishaan Tharoor has a piece (March 23rd) on “The Saudi origins of Belgium’s Islamist threat.”

9th UPDATE: The sharp, insightful British writer Kenan Malik has a sharp, insightful op-ed in the NYT (March 30th) on “The little we know about the jihadists in our midst.” The lede: “The more we learn about homegrown terrorism, the more our official explanations look like fiction.”

10th UPDATE: Julia Lynch, who teaches political science at the University of Pennsylvania, has an informative post in WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog (April 5th) on “why so many of Europe’s terrorist attacks come through this one Brussels neighborhood,” the neighborhood, of course, being Molenbeek.

11th UPDATE: The NYT has a lengthy article (April 11th) on “A Brussels mentor who taught ‘gangster Islam’ to the young and angry,” by reporters Andrew Higgins and Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura.

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Can Bernie beat Trump?

(Image credit: Fivethirtyeight.com)

(Image credit: Fivethirtyeight.com)

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I originally wrote this as an update to my previous post but am posting it separately. There was somewhat of a contradiction in my argument on Hillary and Trump—which I was well aware of while writing it and that the zealous Hillary-hater I quoted in the first paragraph indeed picked up on, expressing it in a comment on social media—which was my asserting that there is no way Donald Trump can possibly be elected president, period, but then going on to argue that Hillary would be the stronger candidate against him than Bernie. Well, if Trump’s a sure-fire loser, then it stands to reason, one may retort, that Bernie would also beat him handily, no? To push this further, one could argue that any Democratic candidate this November would beat any Republican, as in a high turnout election—i.e. high for America, meaning some 60% of the eligible electorate (≈140 million voters) going to the polls—which is almost certain this year, the Democrat will win, period, and which lucid conservatives understand; on this, see writer-pundit Mark Steyn’s analysis of the GOP’s predicament in presidential elections, “The Math and the Map.”

My response: Sure, Bernie would no doubt defeat Trump—this is what the polls, for what they’re worth at this stage, have been saying all along—but here’s my thing: A general election pitting Bernie Sanders—a self-proclaimed socialist—against a Donald Trump is so improbable, so beyond any understanding I have of American politics and history, that I cannot intellectually wrap my head around the prospect. It would be one thing to have one of the two major political parties appropriated or hijacked by an insurgent candidate who has not historically been identified with that party, but for such to happen to both parties in the same cycle just seems crazy to me. Not that I’m equating Bernie and Trump, don’t get me wrong; there is no comparison whatever between the two in terms of what they represent or on anything. But the fact is, Bernie is not a Democrat and enjoys even less institutional support in that party than Trump does in the GOP (though it is indeed the case that there is far more alarm over Trump and rejection of him inside the GOP than there is toward Sanders in the Democratic party).

Institutional support is important. Now Bernie has been in Congress for twenty-five years and, aligning with the Democratic party caucus, has made a reputation for himself as an active legislator, and who has productively worked with Republicans on issues of common concern, as the NYT’s Jennifer Steinhauer and Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi wrote this week. When it comes to political experience and accomplishments, Bernie is ten thousand times more qualified than Trump to be president of the United States. But still, the fact that he’s been an independent—not a Democrat—for his entire political career means that he knows few Democratic office holders and party officials outside Congress and his home state (the 49th most populous). As Michael Tomasky argued in a column back in January, the fact that Bernie has no roots in the party under whose label he is running—and which he is doing for reasons of pure opportunity (as one can go so much further as a Democrat than an independent)—could be a serious liability in the general election campaign, and particularly if he were to run into difficulty, as the party would not go to the mat for him. He would be bereft of institutional support. And this is not a minor matter. Facing a crazy demagogue like Trump would be one thing. But if Bernie were to arrive at the convention in Philadelphia with the nomination locked up but the Republicans in Cleveland the previous week having brokered Paul Ryan as their candidate, I would be exceedingly nervous, even anxiety-ridden, about the general election campaign in the fall. When I said in my previous post that a Bernie general election candidacy would be risky, this is what I had  in mind.

And then there’s the not minor matter of the seriousness of Bernie’s candidacy—of his pretensions of actually trying to win the Democratic party nomination and being the person to square off against the Republican in November—which, I am sorry to say, I have a hard time taking seriously (I know I’ll be dragged through the mud for this and otherwise drawn and quartered, but so be it). Pour moi, Bernie is a protest candidate, who is running to make a point and influence the debate, not to actually be nominated and then elected POTUS. Bernie Sanders in the White House? I’m sorry but I simply do not see it. Hillary Clinton? Yes, I do. Totally. On this, see the column dated January 18th by The Boston Globe’s Michael A. Cohen, who expresses my qualms about Bernie better than I can.

But don’t get me wrong here. I do like Bernie, as I’ve said countless times, think his candidacy is salutary, and that he should stay in the race for as long as his money holds out, as the Hillary campaign needs his presence, so that she is not tempted to tack right in her discourse or choice of running mate. That’s Bernie’s function, IMO, and I wish him well in it.

To those who say it’s not over, that Bernie could still overtake Hillary: Yes, this is mathematically possible but is most unlikely at this point. Voilà.

UPDATE: Peter Dreier, who teaches politics at Occidental College, has an article (March 17th) in The American Prospect, “Paul Ryan: The GOP’s Next Presidential Nominee?” The lede: “The House speaker has said he’s not interested in the presidency, but he’s united his bickering party once before, and may do so again.”

I say that Ryan will do so again. To repeat: If Trump does not have a majority of delegates going in to Cleveland, he won’t get the nomination. Ryan will be the man. And the nature of the race will change. If it’s Clinton-Ryan, Clinton will very likely win. But if it’s Sanders-Ryan, I don’t know. I don’t want to contemplate it. It could end in disaster for the Dems, even if Trump launches an independent candidacy (which he may or may not do). The hugely funded Republican attack machine would shred Bernie into pieces and, for reasons spelled out above and in the previous post, it is doubtful he would respond in kind (even if he had the means to do so, which he won’t). So let’s not go there.

2nd UPDATE: Paul Ryan has declared (April 12th) that he will not accept the GOP nomination if offered. His announcement sounds categorical and definitive. This makes sense, one supposes, as accepting the nomination in a chaotic, brokered convention would be a fool’s errand and likely tarnish his reputation among many Republicans. He is likely counting on the GOP holding the House even with a landslide Trump defeat and has thus decided to bide his time for 2020. Voilà.

Can Hillary beat Trump?

(Credits: G Herbert/AP, A Diaz/AP, T Dejak/AP, S Nesius/Reuters, A Josefczyk/Reuters, B Chwedyk/Daily Herald)

Super Tuesday III (Photo credits here)

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Yes, of course. She can beat him. And she will. All sorts of people, however—particularly Bernie supporters I see on social media every day—think she cannot. I’ve been having exchanges on this for weeks now, the latest one earlier today, with a particularly zealous Hillary-hating academic gauchiste, who informed me that “[s]he can’t beat Trump.” Period. Another Hillary-hating academic gauchiste, with whom I periodically exchange contradictory viewpoints—who has a bee in his bonnet about Mme Clinton, making her sound like the worst person in American politics, if not in the Western world tout court (sorry, but that distinction goes to Nicolas Sarkozy)—has been going on for weeks about how Bernie would be a much stronger candidate against Trump than would Hillary.

Now I may have voted (absentee) for Hillary in yesterday’s Illinois primary but am indeed well aware of her weaknesses as a candidate: entre autres, her high negatives—dangerously high for a presidential candidate—with many Democratic voters and even more independents strongly disliking her; her political opportunism and clumsy triangulation, of seeming to change her positions on issues to keep up with public opinion (the latest case in point being her flip-flop on the TPP); the coziness with Wall Street and 1% more generally, whose world she and her family very much belong to; and the simple fact that she’s been around for too long a time, recalling the 1990s and a centrist neoliberalism that increasing numbers of Democratic party voters reject. As I told a colleague yesterday, Hillary gives the impression of a candidate who is past her sell-by date.

Well, no politician is perfect. Hillary’s vulnerabilities as a candidate are well-known and will certainly be exploited to the max by whomever the Republican nominee may be, not just Trump. But, as I wrote on a third-party comments thread three weeks ago, Trump—assuming he’s the GOP nominee—is sure to be so vulgar, sexist, and below the belt in his attacks on Hillary that it will likely backfire on him, turn off a lot of people, and increase the resolve of Democratic voters. Seriously, given the way Trump reflexively talks about women, does one expect him to pull his punches with Hillary? Moreover, it is uncertain that Trump, as the anti-GOP establishment candidate, will have the well-oiled GOP attack machine at his disposal, with its army of consultants and hired guns. Some will no doubt sign on but as Trump will likely continue to trash the GOP establishment during his campaign—or, at minimum, keep his distance from it, and it from him—he’ll pretty much be on his own. And Trump is such an extreme narcissist and loose cannon that it’s hard to see him heading the kind of disciplined campaign necessary to wage a successful presidential election campaign.

Continuing with my thoughts of three weeks ago—which were in response to an opinion piece by writer-lawyer-sociologist Nathan J. Robinson, who argued that “unless the Democrats [were to] run Sanders, a Trump nomination [would mean] a Trump presidency”—those who assert that Trump will prevail over Hillary ignore the certain full-throttle negative campaign that Hillary—who will have a ton of money—and her super PACs will unleash on Trump. If Hillary has her vulnerabilities, so does Trump, and then some—the bottom line: he has no qualifications or credibility to be president of the United States, not to mention leader of the Free World, and which are obvious to the majority of voters outside his high school educated fan base—but for which he received a free pass during the GOP campaign until the past two weeks, with none of the other candidates going after him until it was too late.

Such will not be the case with Hillary. Because if the GOP has its attack machine, so do the Democrats. The airwaves across the nation—and not just in the swing states—will be flooded with attack ads tearing down Trump, and which will be augmented with an onslaught by Hillary’s countless surrogates, plus some Republicans and cable TV piling on. The Hillary campaign will have a field day with Trump. Never will an American presidential election have witnessed a candidate who, to use a French expression, is dragging as many casseroles as is Trump. Donald Trump is an opposition researcher’s dream candidate (e.g. this, among countless other things he will be hit with). Trump will witness an assault from the Hillary campaign such that he’s never experienced in his life and, given how thin-skinned he is, he probably won’t take it well, having a nervous breakdown or blowing his fuses, which will further undermine his credibility. Negative ads do work and “can and will stop Trump,” as the Über-conservative blogger Erick Erickson asserted two weeks back. And then there will be the debates, where Hillary will mop the floor with Trump. As James Fallows noted after the last GOP candidate debate, Trump “does not know anything about government or policy…[H]e has less preparation than any nominee in U.S. history for the subject matter and responsibilities of the job.” Trump will likely make Sarah Palin look like a veritable policy wonk.

Another thing: As indicated above, the Hillary campaign will have a lot of money, and certainly more than Trump. Her campaign and super PACs will be inundated with cash. Trump will get small contributions from his fans but will basically have to self-finance his campaign, burning through a chunk of his (no doubt exaggerated) fortune. And there will be no Chapter 11 for him after he loses. And with his brand name degraded to boot (any bets on how many tenants will move out of his various Trump towers?).

In Nathan J. Robinson’s piece linked to above, it is asserted that “Trump’s populism will have huge resonance among the white working class in both red and blue states; he might even peel away her black support.” To this, I say nonsense! The white working class—in the US and elsewhere—will not defect en masse to a loud-mouthed demagogue. And in the US, that angry, right-leaning segment of the laboring classes is simply not numerous enough to swing a national election. In France, the Front National has been the nº1 party among working class voters since the late 1980s, with the FN’s support reaching a little over a third of that electorate. But that’s been the ceiling. And it will be for Trump too (Trump’s French equivalent being Jean-Marie & Marine Le Pen). And normally Democratic working class voters who defect to him will be more than compensated by educated Republicans who will vote Hillary or sit out the election, as historian Varad Mehta, in arguing that Trump cannot win the White House, wrote on the conservative Federalist website last month. And there is no way significant numbers of black voters will defect to Trump (and any who do will be more than offset by normally GOP or non-voting Latinos who will go to Hillary).

The bottom line here: Trump is the most unpopular of any of the candidates in the presidential race—in either party—and with the widest gap between his negative and positive poll numbers. Since last August he has flatlined at 36-37% popularity (and is now dropping), and with the spread presently at a whopping –29 (Clinton’s, by contrast, is at –12). Trump is, as The Weekly Standard’s Jonathan Last wrote in its latest issue, “the most disliked general election candidate since pollsters started testing favorability.” No one gets elected to anything with Trump’s current numbers. Hillary’s are also negative, of course, though less so, and this dates only from last March, when the email story broke. Before that, her poll numbers were positive. She is perfectly capable of closing the gap. And with voters concentrating their minds on the prospect of a President Trump, she will.

As for Bernie Sanders—who, in view of yesterday’s results, will, sauf miracle, not be the Dem nominee—one wonders if he would have it in him to attack Trump in the way Trump and the GOP would attack him—if he would be temperamentally capable of going after all of Trump’s manifest vulnerabilities and weaknesses in a costly, national TV campaign—and responding in kind to the inevitable Republican offensive, as the  prospect of a “socialist” president would mobilize GOP super PACs big time (Koch brothers et al), including those that hate Trump. Knowing Bernie’s modus operandi, one has a hard time seeing him do this. And his core base within the Democratic party, not to mention outside of it, is simply too narrow. And then there’s the money, as Bernie wouldn’t have the Democratic establishment behind him or the army of super PACs ready to tear down Trump. And Bernie’s army of small donors wouldn’t do it. For these reasons, I have been nervous about Bernie being the Democratic nominee. It has been my conviction that a Bernie general election candidacy would be extremely risky and may not work out—that it could possibly be a fiasco, particularly if the GOP nominee is someone other than Trump (see below)—and harm the Dems down the ticket on November 8th.

But this is purely hypothetical, as Hillary is, barring unforeseen disaster or debacle, going to be the Dem nominee. And, like I said above, she will beat Trump on November 8th, as there is not a snowball’s chance in hell that the American people will elect that vulgar, loudmouthed, sexist, racist, narcissistic, egomaniacal ignoramus president of the United States—and absolutely not if the other candidate on offer is a solid, mainstream centrist whom not a single person doubts is qualified to be POTUS. It will not happen. And it will doubly not happen because Hillary will have the entire Democratic party united behind her—and with current Bernie supporters in swing states voting for her to a man and woman—whereas Trump will not the have the Republican party—a sizable chunk of which is horrified by the success his candidacy—united behind him. And in an election between a united party and a divided party, the united party wins. Always. So liberal-lefties and other worrywarts need to stop wringing their hands, fretting, spooking themselves, and getting all frantic and bent out of shape over the possibility of Trump winning, as it ain’t gonna happen.

This all assumes, of course, that Trump will  indeed be the GOP nominee. He’s certainly in the driver’s seat after Super Tuesday III but if he has not put 1,237 delegates in his column when the primary season ends in June, one may be sure that the GOP establishment will pull out all the stops to deprive him of the nomination at the convention in July. I have been wrong with too many of my predictions in this race but will bet that if this situation comes to pass, the GOP establishment succeeds. With its survival at stake, it will do absolutely everything in its power to stop Trump if he doesn’t have the nomination wrapped up before Cleveland. Cruz—who is even more unelectable than Trump—will obviously not be the man, nor will Kasich. If the GOP convention is brokered, Paul Ryan will be the nominee, je le dis d’ores et déjà. The convention will end in chaos and with an enraged Trump declaring an independent candidacy, but the GOP establishment won’t care, as it would rather lose in November with one of its own (Ryan), but limiting its losses in Congress, than witness a debacle with Trump, and definitely losing the Senate in the process and with a sharply reduced majority in the House. As for an independent Trump candidacy, he’ll have to expend his own fortune to finance it—spending money he may not have—and he may not get on the ballot in all fifty states (the GOP will try to block him everywhere they can). As a third candidate, he will most certainly not attain anything approaching Ross Perot’s score in 1992. On n’en est pas là mais on verra bien.

UPDATE: Correcting myself on the prospect of Trump launching an independent candidacy if he is deprived the nomination at the RNC in Cleveland (July 18-21), this would, in fact, be almost impossible in view of the filing deadlines in the states and signature requirements, which are stringent in a number of them (see here and here). So there’s almost no chance it will happen. (March 19th)

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

It’s been all Trump all the time this week, on my social media news feeds and the US publications and websites I follow. Even here in France Trump is the first thing people bring up in conversation. I’ve read dozens of articles on the GOP’s crack-up over the past several days and made several categorical assertions on social media—which have led to spirited exchanges—and with the intention of developing into longer blog posts. As I’m on R&R this week, however (here at the present moment), I’ve actually had less time to write than usual. I’ll try to find it in the coming days. In the meantime, here’s one of the more important pieces I’ve read on the Trump phenomenon, and specifically on his voters, “The rise of American authoritarianism,” by Amanda Taub, posted March 1st on the Vox website. The lede: “A niche group of political scientists may have uncovered what’s driving Donald Trump’s ascent. What they found has implications that go well beyond 2016.” The article is long—maybe overly so—and somewhat repetitive, but is essential. And the conclusion is sobering, indeed worrisome, and particularly for Republicans distraught at Trump’s hostile takeover of their party (see, in particular, the article’s part V).

One good piece read in the past couple of hours: John Cassidy, “The Problem with the ‘Never Trump’ moment,” in The New Yorker (March 3rd). Make sure to read Reihan Salam’s analysis in Slate of the GOP’s predicament that Cassidy links to, which is one of the best I’ve seen on the subject.

Another instructive analysis read today: “Researchers have found strong evidence that racism helps the GOP win,” by Max Ehrenfreund, in WaPo’s Wonkblog (March 3rd).

BTW, the reaction in France to Trump—in my own experience, at least—has been one of comprehension and commiseration, as, after three-plus decades of Le Pen (père et fille) and double-digit election scores of the Front National—the festering boil of French politics—people here know the phenomenon well.

À suivre.

UPDATE: Political scientists Wendy Rahn and Eric Oliver have a must-read piece (March 9th) on WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog, “Trump’s voters aren’t authoritarians, new research says. So what are they?,” in which they summarize an academic paper of theirs (which is linked to) which empirically demonstrates that Trump supporters are no more authoritarian than those of Cruz or Rubio (with Cruz supporters, in fact, being even more authoritarian). What distinguishes Trump supporters from those of other Republican candidates is anti-elitism, i.e. populism. Take a look at the bar graph figure on “how supporters of the candidates compare on four key psychological traits” (Sanders supporters are particularly noteworthy here).

See also Thomas B. Edsall’s post (March 8th) in the NYT opinion page, “Donald Trump, the winning wild card.”

2nd UPDATE: Political scientist and geopolitical forecaster George Friedman has a worthwhile analysis (March 7th) of “The roots of Trump’s strength,” on a website called Mauldin Economics. Those roots, he says, are in the white lower-middle class.

3rd UPDATE: Political analyst and historian Thomas Frank—of What’s the Matter with Kansas? fame—has an opinion piece in The Guardian (March 8th) that merits consideration, “Millions of ordinary Americans support Donald Trump: Here’s why.” The lede: “When he isn’t spewing insults, the Republican frontrunner is hammering home a powerful message about free trade and its victims.”

2016 Oscars

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I’ve seen all but three of the films in the top categories. The list of nominees is here. Some of them I have blog posts on: Bridge of Spies (tops), Spotlight (excellent), The Big Short (good), The Hateful Eight (sucked), The Martian (very good). As for the more numerous among them that I haven’t posted on, here’s my brief take on each, starting with the Best Picture nominees:

Brooklyn: A good movie about emigration, love, commitment, loss, and not being able to go home again, set in early 1950s Ireland and New York City, and based on the novel by the well-known writer Colm Tóibín. Best Actress nominee Saoirse Ronan is meritorious but I’m not voting for her, and I would be most surprised if it won Best Picture. Those who have not seen it should by all means do so, however, as it is worth the while.

Mad Max: Fury Road: I have not seen this. It did not occur to me to see it when it opened last May, not even for a split second, and despite the stellar reviews. Not that I have a principled objection to seeing movies like this, but it’s just not my genre. And one can’t see everything. Noting that it made the “best of” list of the year of practically every Le Monde and New York Times critic, however, I thought that maybe I’d open my mind and catch it on DVD. But that thought was quashed after watching the trailer. Not a chance I’ll sit through such a film for two hours (and send my wife fleeing while I’m at it). As for its ten Oscar nominations, I don’t doubt that it deserves some of the technical ones but as for Best Picture, this I cannot imagine for a split second.

Room: I haven’t seen this one either, as it hasn’t opened in France yet. When it does (next month), I will.

The Revenant: Is there anything to be said about this movie that has not already been? It is, of course, great Hollywood genre entertainment—the classic revenge story of two men, only one of whom will survive to the end—notable for the extreme climatic conditions under which it was shot, which everyone has heard or read about by now. It is a directorial tour de force by Alejandro G. Iñárritu and, above all, Leonardo DiCaprio’s role of a lifetime. Amazing to think that he actually did the things one sees him doing in the film, that it wasn’t special effects.  [UPDATE: Gilles Havard, director of research at the CNRS and member of the Centre d’Études Nord-Américaines, has an essay (March 14th) in the intello/academic webzine La Vie des Idées, “Le trappeur, fantôme d’Hollywood: À propos du film d’Alejandro González Iñárritu.” And there’s an essay in Le Monde’s Culture & Idées supplement (dated February 20th) by Marc-Olivier Bherer, “Dans ‘The Revenant’, un méchant à l’accent délicieusement français,” in which Gilles Havard’s new book Histoire des coureurs de bois is reviewed.]

And then there are these:

45 Years: Critics fell over themselves with dithyrambic praise for this film but I’m going to come straight out and say that I didn’t like it. Sure, the acting and all that is fine, and with Charlotte Rampling’s Best Actress nomination no doubt deserved, but I simply did not relate to the story, which is the discomfort, bordering on jealously, of Rampling’s character when her husband of 45 years—and it’s been a reasonably successful, trouble-free marriage, so we understand—has sudden occasion to think and reminisce about the first love of his life, tragically deceased before he met his wife, and whom he would have married had she lived. So people have a past. La belle affaire. I simply do not see how a partner in a decades-long marriage could get all upset about such a thing and into his or her 70s no less. This is alien to my way of being. C’est tout c’que j’ai à dire.

Carol: The reviews of this were even more stellar than for the one above, and with everyone I know who saw it praising it to the heavens. I thought it wasn’t bad, though won’t say it knocked my socks off when I saw it. The depiction of early 1950s America was, for me at least, easily the most impressive aspect of the film. This was really good. But I was not initially convinced by the story, of the relationship of the Cate Blanchett (Best Actress nominee) and Rooney Mara (Best Supporting Actress nominee) characters. A discussion of the film with a young female colleague, however, prompted me to rethink my reaction, as she convincingly explained that the lesbian relationship of the two women was credible and well-portrayed, that the dynamics between two gay women are quite different from those between men (which I have no problem believing). Looking at the film in a slightly different light, I now think more highly of it. And it does merit comparison to ‘Brokeback Mountain’—a chef d’œuvre IMO—as a portrayal of a relationship between two gay women in an era before such became socially acceptable.

Creed: I would not have seen this had it not been for Sylvester Stallone’s Oscar nomination (for Best Supporting Actor). Now I knew this one was related to the films in the Rocky series—of which, believe it or not, I had not seen a single one—but I did not realize going in to the cinoche that it was a sequel, that the pic was, in effect, Rocky VII. Moreover, this was only the second film I had ever seen starring Stallone—the previous one, ‘Fist’, dating from 1978 (I also watched part of ‘First Blood’ in a bar in Tel Aviv in 1985). Crazy, no? Now I did know something about the Rocky series, as it’s been part of popular culture for four decades now, but not all the details and characters. I must have been the only person in the salle in this situation. Three short comments: First, seeing this movie was not a judicious use of my time. Second, if one has not seen the other Rocky movies, there’s no point in seeing this one. Third, Stallone’s Oscar nomination has to be purely sentimental, as he looks to be playing his stock character. Voilà, c’est tout.

Joy: I saw this for one reason and one reason only, which is Jennifer Lawrence’s Best Actress nomination. What to say, it’s light Hollywood entertainment, a biopic about a person, Joy Mangano, a rags-to-riches born entrepreneur in my adult lifetime, whom I had not heard of before seeing it, and played by Lawrence (Mangano apparently liked Lawrence’s performance, despite an age difference). I thought it was an okay movie—I don’t sign on to the mixed reviews of it—made watchable by Lawrence, who’s very good. The end was not satisfying, though: Joy is a struggling, near-failed businesswoman for almost the entire film, but does not give up, finally achieving wealth and fame in the end. I thought this part was sort of by the numbers. It is, however, a film that may be seen (at home, on the small screen) if one wants something light and that won’t tax brain cells or critical faculties.

Steve Jobs: This is not a conventional biopic, if one doesn’t know the film. It is structured into three acts, of the behind-the-scenes psychodrama (professional and personal) in the hour preceding Steve Jobs’s presentation at the formal roll-out of three products of companies he headed at the time (Apple and NeXT): the Macintosh (1984), NeXTcube (1990), and iMac (1998). Michael Fassbender (Best Actor nominee) is very good as Jobs—though the latter was, it seems, not as odious of a prick as he’s made out to be here (which would be the doing of Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay)—as is Kate Winslet (Best Supporting Actress nominee) as Jobs’s right-hand woman Joanna Hoffman. The film does not evoke Jobs’s pre-Apple years, except in one scene, where, at a restaurant, he points out to an associate the restaurant’s owner, who Jobs says is his biological father. The restaurateur, Abdulfattah “Abed” Jandali—who hailed from Homs, Syria—had no idea at that moment that Jobs was his son. For the anecdote, my parents were friends with Abed Jandali and his first wife, Joanne Simpson, during the 1950s in Madison, Wisconsin. My mother has written on her blog about Abed & Joanne. If one is interested in reading her account, go here and scroll down several paragraphs.

The Danish Girl: I was initially not going to see this and despite the Oscar nominations—Eddie Redmayne for Best Actor, la belle Alicia Vikander for Best Supporting Actress—as I am not interested in transgender as a subject (apologies to any transgender persons out there mais c’est comme ça). But I was persuaded to see it by a colleague—the above-mentioned one, who got me to modify my view of ‘Carol’—who gave it the enthusiastic thumbs up. And she was pretty much right, as I liked the movie more than I had expected to. It’s beautifully shot and tells a moving story. My attitude was also perhaps influenced by the fact that I got a crush on Alicia Vikander while watching it (which can happen). The film is apparently riddled with inaccuracies and other distortions. Perhaps. I wouldn’t know. It’s just a movie.

Trumbo: Haven’t seen it. It opens in France in April.

My vote:

BEST PICTURE: ‘Spotlight’.
No two ways about it. ‘Bridge of Spies’ is the second choice, ‘The Martian’ third.

BEST DIRECTOR: Alejandro G. Iñárritu (‘The Revenant’).
He got it last year (for ‘Birdman’) and deserves it again.

BEST ACTOR: Leonardo DiCaprio (‘The Revenant’).
This is so obvious that nothing more need be said.

BEST ACTRESS: Jennifer Lawrence (‘Joy’).
It seems to be a foregone conclusion that Brie Larson will win this one for her role in ‘Room’ but I haven’t seen it, so have to go with Lawrence here. [UPDATE: Having now seen ‘Room’ (March 20th), I will confirm that Brie Larson deserved to win the best actress award; she’s very good, as is the film.]

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Mark Ruffalo (‘Spotlight’).
He’s a good actor and deserves it. Tom Hardy (‘The Revenant’) is nº 2.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Alicia Vikander (‘The Danish Girl’).
But of course (see above). Kate Winslet (‘Steve Jobs’) is a close second.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: Son of Saul.
The criteria for selecting the pics in this category are, of course, ridiculous but one goes with what one gets. Mustang and ‘Embrace of the Serpent’ are also credible winners. I haven’t seen ‘Theeb’ or ‘A War’.

BEST DOCUMENTARY: ‘The Look of Silence’.
I have seen none of the others in this category but don’t imagine that any could rise above Joshua Oppenheimer’s mind-blowing masterpiece on the memory of the 1965-66 bloodbath in Indonesia. Will eventually have a post on it.

Table showing 2016 Oscar nominees in top categories. TNS 2016

Table showing 2016 Oscar nominees in top categories. TNS 2016

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