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.
In yesterday’s post I dumped all over Woody Allen’s latest film, which I saw last night. In the interest of cinematic fairness and balance, I want to give a shout out to this first-rate thriller by French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, which I saw three nights ago. If one doesn’t know by now—as the pic opened in the US last month to wide release—it’s about Mexican drug cartels and US law enforcement, set in Arizona, Texas, and across the border in Mexico (sicario means ‘hitman’ in Mexican drug cartel slang). It’s high-octane, edge-of-your-seat, with one great set piece after another, and excellent acting: Emily Blunt is terrific as straight arrow FBI agent Kate Macer—she should receive at least an Oscar nomination for her performance—Benicio del Toro as the shadowy killer Alejandro, who works with the Americans (and for himself); and Josh Rogin as the equally shadowy secret agent Matt Graver (CIA? who knows?). And the pic has no significant flaws, except for maybe the traffic jam scene at the border (isn’t there a VIP lane on that bridge?). There have been a number of Mexican drug cartel movies over the years—some quite good (e.g. Miss Bala)—and that graphically depict the violence and cruelty of the Mexican gangs—whom ISIS has nothing over when it comes to this—but this one is much the best, as it also has an implicit political theme: of the lawless behavior of the US government and its agents as they pursue the (endless, impossible) war against the drug cartels. It’s not par hasard that several of the badass US agents served in Iraq, the link between the war over there and the one here being made more than once. As the cynical Matt Graver informs the naïve Kate Macer, it’s a new world out there and with new rules, i.e. none really.
US reviews of the film are tops (81 on Metacritic; see, in particular, the ones by Todd McCarthy in The Hollywood Reporter and Scott Foundas in Variety), as well as in France (4.0/4.0 on Allociné). Trailer is here.
I saw and liked Villeneuve’s 2010 ‘Incendies’ but missed his last film, ‘Prisoners’. I think I should now see it.
I just saw this. This very evening, at my local cinéma municipal (there was a line). Woody Allen has a film a year and that I see without fail—I’ve seen all 47 or whatever films he’s directed—usually in the week or two after it comes out (this one arrived in France ten days ago). I see them all because I am a lifelong Woody Allen fan (since age 16, to be precise) and have not joined the legions of cinesnobs who decreed in the ’90s that Woody Allen had gone downhill, that his films were ergo sans intérêt, and that they (the cinesnobs) would ergo no longer deign to see. Now of Woody A.’s 47 or whatever films since the mid ’60s, there are seven or eight that I disliked, and with a larger number—particularly among those from the early ’90s onward—that were watchable or not bad but of which I remembered little to nothing not long after seeing them. And he has not had an incontestable chef d’œuvre since the mid ’80s (‘Hannah and Her Sisters’). But I give the thumbs up to most of his films, including those of the past ten years, with three or four exceptions (okay, that’s 30-40% thumbs down or bof, but still).
As for this latest one, I will say categorically: I hated it. It may well be—in my book at least—Woody A.’s worst film ever. I started to dislike the pic from the opening scene, with the dislike increasing as the film progressed, and culminating in outright hate at the end. Storming out of the cinoche, I declared to the ticket-seller: “C’est le plus mauvais film de Woody Allen que j’ai jamais vu, et je les ai tous vu! C’était nul!” On the opening scene: Joaquin Phoenix’s character, a tortured but reputedly brilliant philosophy professor named Abe Lucas, who has a new job at a fictional liberal arts college in Newport RI, arrives in his Volvo (what else?), dressed like a slob, drinking whiskey (single malt Scotch) from a flask (which he does all day), and acts like a jerk (though which does not seem to rub any of his campus colleagues the wrong way). At least four clichés from the get go. Lucas may be an insufferable asshole and with a dad bod already in his early 40s—though he’s unmarried and not a dad—but nonetheless has a reputation as a Casanova and with women on campus inevitably swooning over him, notably Rita (Parker Posey), the wife of one of his colleagues—who hits on him and demands sex almost immediately—and earnest, ingénue student Jill (Emma Stone), who has a nice, devoted b.f., Roy (Jamie Blackley), but finds her philo prof just so brilliant and interesting and irresistible and is just dying to have an affair with him—even though he is, objectively speaking, a poseur and a creep. And, of course, she does, as does Rita. They both know about the other but, hey, pas de problème. And while b.f. Roy is au courant, he doesn’t raise a stink for the longest time. Right.
Problem 1 with the film: The campus affairs/sex part is bullshit. As I’ve written before (go here and to the 2nd and 3rd paragraphs) this is a fantasy of middle-aged male screenwriters—and, en l’occurrence, an octogenarian film director toujours porté sur la chose—who have never been university professors. Problem 2: Professor Lucas is supposed to be brilliant but his class lectures, as depicted in the film, are a café de commerce. Early on he tells his students that most philosophy is bullshit; to listen to him throughout is confirmation. When it comes to philo talk, Woody Allen cannot rival Eric Rohmer (cf. the discussion of Pascal’s Wager in ‘Ma nuit chez Maud’). Moreover, Lucas says at one point that he’s writing a book on Heidegger and “fascism” (no, it would be “Nazism”) and, at another, he mispronounces Husserl’s name. Problem 3: The whole depiction of small, Northeastern liberal arts college life is way off. The dialogues are insipid and contrived, the campus situations implausible, and the students too preppy. It rings false. Or, to put it another way, it is false. And Emma Stone, who is 26 and looks it, is too old to be playing an undergraduate. She’s a fine actress but wasn’t right for this role. And then there’s Lucas deciding to suddenly quit his (presumably tenured) position and move to Europe to teach (city, country, or university not specified) and which raises no eyebrows at the college (yeah, sure, as if a philosophy professor at a liberal arts college can, job-wise, write his own ticket; also, if Lucas were up there with, say, Slavoj Žižek or Alain Badiou, he wouldn’t be at some little college to begin with). Problem 4: The pic’s central plot, if one wants to call it that, of Lucas committing what he thinks is the perfect crime and that suddenly enables his tortured soul to find meaning in life—and for him to finally get it up and fuck with abandon—and that he explains via his bullshit philosophy, is grotesque and perverse. Whatever Woody A. was trying to say here—about life, moral choices, or whatever—just rubbed me the wrong way. At the end of the film, I was disgusted. Point barre.
French reviews of the film are good overall (3.7/3.6 on Allociné), which is not surprising, though US ones are mixed (53 on Metacritic). I don’t read reviews of Woody Allen films—and haven’t of this one—though am quite sure the negative US ones are more on the mark. C’est tout c’que j’ai à dire.
UPDATE: I decided to read a few reviews of the pic on Metacritic. The one by the NY Post’s Lou Lumenick, who calls it “the worst movie of [Woody Allen’s] career,” nails it (though I differ with Lumenick on Woody A.’s ‘Magic in the Moonlight’, which I liked).
In case one missed it, John Judis has an article on the National Journal website, dated October 2nd, “The Return of the Middle American Radical: An intellectual history of Trump supporters,” that is one of the best I’ve read on the Trump phenomenon. Judis’s analysis is inspired by a little-known 1976 book by the relatively little-known, now deceased sociologist Donald Warren, who coined the category “Middle American Radicals” (MARS) to designate the voters who supported George Wallace’s presidential candidacy in 1968 and ’72—the type of voters who, Judis says, supported Ross Perot and Patrick Buchanan in the 1990s, and are Donald Trump’s base today. Warren, in Judis’s words, described the 1970s MARS as
a group who defied the usual partisan and ideological divisions. These voters were not college educated; their income fell somewhere in the middle or lower-middle range; and they primarily held skilled and semi-skilled blue-collar jobs or sales and clerical white-collar jobs. At the time, they made up about a quarter of the electorate. What distinguished them was their ideology: It was neither conventionally liberal nor conventionally conservative, but instead revolved around an intense conviction that the middle class was under siege from above and below.
“MARS [were] distinct in the depth of their feeling that the middle class has been seriously neglected, [seeing] government as favoring both the rich and the poor simultaneously.” Like many on the left, MARS were deeply suspicious of big business: Compared with the other groups [Warren] surveyed—lower-income whites, middle-income whites who went to college, and what Warren called “affluents”—MARS were the most likely to believe that corporations had “too much power,” “don’t pay attention,” and were “too big.” MARS also backed many liberal programs: By a large percentage, they favored government guaranteeing jobs to everyone; and they supported price controls, Medicare, some kind of national health insurance, federal aid to education, and Social Security.
But if these positions were liberal-sounding, the MARS were very conservative on issues relating to poverty, race (i.e. they didn’t like black people; and today, Latino immigrants), and law-and-order. And they were strongly nationalistic (thus the present-day allergy to free trade and globalization). They were also the voting group the most distrustful of the federal government, though wanted a strongman in the White House. On this, Judis writes
[I]n subtle and not so subtle ways, [Wallace, Buchanan, Perot, and Trump] have also endorsed a more powerful executive at the top. Wallace, who had thoroughly dominated Alabama’s politics, was seen by critics as a potential “dictator.” Buchanan, who had served Richard Nixon through Watergate, touted the legacy of his former boss. Perot called for plebiscites to determine key economic policies—which would have had the effect of establishing a direct relationship between the people and the president, thereby bypassing Congress. For his part, Trump envisages the president acting as the “deal-maker in chief.” In a 1982 essay, “Message from MARS,” Sam Francis, who would later advise Buchanan during his campaigns, called this outlook “Caesarism”; it is also reminiscent of Latin American populists like Juan Peron.
Caesarism, a.k.a. Bonapartism, as I titled my post on Trump early last month. And continuing with French analogies, the French equivalent of MARS is exactly, precisely the kind of voters who support the Front National (père and fille alike).
Judis puts the MARS at some 20% of the American electorate and 30-35% of the GOP’s. It has been my conviction—and I’m hardly alone on this—that Trump’s poll numbers will decline as the campaign progresses and that he won’t go the distance. But who knows? I don’t dare hazard predictions on the GOP race. If Trump does fade or drop out at some point—which is no sure thing—I have been assuming that many of his supporters will shift to Ted Cruz. But in view of the Warren/Judis profile of the MARS, this assumption needs revising. In point of fact, if one looks at what the exit polls said about Perot’s vote in ’92 and ’96—and, in France, of the behavior of Le Pen voters in the second rounds of presidential elections since 1988—a certain number of MARS voters—a fifth to a third—would (or did) end up voting for the candidate of the liberal-left (US Democrat, French Socialist) if their champion was not on the ballot, and with a sizable portion—up to a third—staying home. So if Trump were to leave the race, his supporters would likely disperse in several directions, including abstention.
Also in the National Journal is a commentary, dated October 19th, by its editorial director, Richard Brownstein, that continues in Judis’s vein, “Donald Trump’s Lead Explained in Two Sentences.” Brownstein begins
The blue-collar wing of the Republican primary electorate has consolidated around one candidate.
The party’s white-collar wing remains fragmented.
That may be the most concise explanation of the dynamic that has propelled Donald Trump to a consistent and sometimes commanding lead in the early stages of the GOP presidential nomination contest.
Both national and state polls show Trump opening a substantial lead among Republican voters without a college education almost everywhere. And in almost all cases, Trump is winning more support from noncollege Republicans than any candidate is attracting from Republican voters with at least a four-year education. “It’s a challenge to Republicans that nobody has consolidated the college-graduate vote against Trump,” says Glen Bolger, a longtime GOP pollster skeptical of the front-runner.
In other words, Trump is cementing a strong blue-collar base, while the white-collar voters relatively more resistant to him have yet to unify around any single alternative. That disparity is critical because in both the 2008 and 2012 GOP nomination fights, voters with and without a four-year college degree each cast almost exactly half of the total primary votes, according to cumulative analyses of exit poll results by ABC pollster Gary Langer. With the two wings evenly matched in size, Trump’s greater success at consolidating his “bracket” explains much of his advantage in the polls.
The incarnation of the GOP white-collar candidate, Jeb Bush, is the subject of a comment Elizabeth Drew posted on the NYRB’s blog, “The Big Bush Question” (October 21st). When it became clear last spring that Jeb would be entering the race, I peremptorily proclaimed him the near-certain GOP nominee for ’16. How silly of me.
[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below]
I have been aware, like any geopolitically informed person, that Canada was going to have a national election this fall, though didn’t realize it was happening this Monday until it was already underway. And like any person with left-of-center views, I was pleased by the smashing victory of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals (though would have been equally pleased if the New Democrats had won it). Normally those of us south of the border or outre-Altantique ou Pacifique don’t care much which party wins a Canadian election, regardless of our political parti pris. But this one was different, in view of Canada’s PM, Stephen Harper, who pulled the Conservative party there to the right during his nine years in office. When US Republicans start praising Canada and its prime minister, then you know something’s not right. And nine years is long enough for a head of government anyway.
Not being familiar with Canadian websites or knowing which political commentators and pundits there are good, I asked my friend Andrew Griffith in Ottawa, who is a retired Canadian civil servant and diplomat—and has an excellent blog in his area of expertise, and on which he posts daily, Multicultural Meanderings: Working site on citizenship and multiculturalism issues—if he could send me links on the election result. And he did. Here are the ones not behind a paywall:
“Ping pongs and unforced errors: How Trudeau won,” by L. Ian MacDonald, who is editor of Policy, a bi-monthly magazine of Canadian politics and public policy.
“The re-engineering of Canada is finally over,” by Lawrence Martin, a public affairs columnist at The Globe and Mail.
“Justin Trudeau’s first day as future prime minister,” by Aaron Wherry, who covers the House of Commons in Ottawa for McLean’s.
And here’s the YouTube of Trudeau’s victory speech on Monday night. First time I’ve seen him. Always nice to watch Canadian prime ministers go back and forth between English and French.
Also see Andrew’s blog for posts on visible minorities, Muslims, and the election.
Muslim veiling (hijab, niqab) was a significant issue during the election campaign and that Vox’s Matthew Yglesias says contributed to Harper’s defeat, as his “Islamophobic gambit backfired,” causing many voters in Quebec to defect from the NDP to the Liberals, thereby giving the latter its majority (one has to read Yglesias’s explanation on this, which makes sense).
One analysis I came across is by the Canadian-American conservative pundit David Frum, “Canada lurches to the left,” in which he informs the reader that
scripted and unscripted, Justin Trudeau has conveyed a consistent message: The government he leads will repudiate the legacy not only of the incumbent Conservative prime minister, Stephen Harper, but the neoliberal Liberals of the 1990s.
Très bien. Frum concludes
Even before 2014-15, however, the populist anger expressed by [Bernie] Sanders and [Jeremy] Corbyn could be heard in Canada, too. Canada has done a better job than the United States of sharing the proceeds of economic growth. Yet even in comparatively egalitarian Canada, rewards have tended to concentrate at the top of the income distribution. Earlier in the decade, resentment among middle-income Canadians toward the more affluent was offset by relief when Canadians compared themselves to Americans. As time has passed, however, the relief has waned and the resentment has intensified. It was those feelings that Trudeau harnessed, by condemning many small-business owners as tax cheats and telling Canadian business leaders that if they didn’t accept higher taxation now, they’d face even more radical claims in the future.
Trudeau’s strategy succeeded brilliantly, at least in electoral terms. His Liberals have won at least 40 percent of the popular vote, in their best performance since 1997. Leaders of other center-left parties around the world will note the success. Imitation and emulation will follow—across the Atlantic and across the 49th parallel.
Check out the election numbers. The combined vote of the center-left (Liberals-NDP-Greens) is almost 63%, with the Tories a paltry 32%. If only we could have such results south of that 49th parallel…
UPDATE: Andrew forwarded me two commentaries today (October 22nd): one by longtime NDP operative Robin V. Sears, “Ottawa returns to normal after Stephen Harper’s dark decade,” that Andrew says is “a bit over the top [but] captures the atmosphere well;” the other by Chantal Hébert, whom Andrew informs me is one of Canada’s best political journalists, “Liberal comeback headed for history books.”
Heather Mallick, a columnist for The Toronto Star, has a good op-ed in the NYT, “Justin Trudeau: Low expectations, high relief.”
And watch this video of Justin Trudeau dressed in a shudh desi kurta-pyjama and dancing to Punjabi bhangra beats at an India-Canada Association of Montreal event during the campaign. Cool dude he is, no doubt about it.
2nd UPDATE: Roger Cohen has good column in today’s NYT (October 23rd), “Camelot comes to Canada.” Money quote
In short, a positive campaign won. Killer politics lost. Trudeau likes to talk about finding “common ground,” where Harper was all about winner take all. At a time when American politics are dismally polarized, this other North American political story is interesting, perhaps even instructive. [AWAV: Obama did try to find common ground with the opposition during his first term but they weren’t interested].
Republicans still seem to believe the unlikely proposition that elections are won on the angry margins. The two leading Republican candidates, Donald Trump and Ben Carson, try to outgun each other in attacking, respectively, Mexican immigration and the idea of a Muslim president in the White House (don’t hold your breath). The Trudeau story suggests limits to the bullying politics of anger and fear.
Further down, Cohen opines that Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Grégoire, have “razzmatazz.” On this, he’s not the only one who has taken note. Justin & Sophie are definitely the best-looking couple at the summit of the state, in any country anywhere.
Paul Krugman, for his part, says in his column today that “Keynes comes to Canada.” If only he could come to Berlin and Brussels too…
3rd UPDATE: The Nation’s John Nichols had a good day-after analysis, in which he argues that “Justin Trudeau just showed American Democrats how to win the next election.” See Trudeau’s great campaign TV ad that Nichols links to and discusses.
La Tribune’s Romaric Godin—whose columns on the Greek crisis I linked to in my posts in July—also had a very good day-after commentary on the election, “Les leçons du Canada à l’Europe,” in which he says much the same thing as Paul Krugman (though before Krugman did).
TNR’s Jeet Heer weighed in on the election with a fine piece (October 22nd), “Why is Canada’s Liberal Party so dominant?” The lede: “Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper made it his goal to kill the party. The opposite happened.”
The National Post’s Andrew Coyne has a worthwhile column (October 23rd), “Liberals aren’t the only winners in this election.” The other winner: Democracy itself. Coyne demonstrates, entre autres, that—unlike in the US—a first-past-the-post electoral system can still generate competitive races in most constituencies and involve more than two national parties.
This is not a post on last Tuesday’s Democratic presidential debate, which is old news by now. I’ve tweeted numerous analyses/commentaries of it over the past five days that I thought were on target and/or interesting, so one knows—if one read them, of course—that I agree with the MSM pundits that Hillary Clinton was very good and Bernie Sanders too. It was a fine debate. I’ve been nervous about Hillary—in view of her high negatives in the polls and the visceral dislike of her by many Democratic voters (and notably on the left; I see gauchiste Hillary hate every day on social media)—but am now less so. I’m confident she’ll be a good candidate in the general election—and barring stunning new scandal or major, game-changing revelation in the email business, she will be the Dems’ nominee—and if voters turn out on Nov. 8th ’16 in the same proportions as they did in ’12 and ’08, she will most certainly win (yep, I just said it). As for Bernie, I like him and am glad he’s running—to pull the debate to the left and energize young people—but he ain’t gonna be the Dem nominee. Not a chance. O’Malley and Webb: I hope they raise their profiles and do respectably in the early primaries and caucuses, so as to position themselves as plausible running mates for Hillary (and particularly O’Malley; I can’t see a Hillary-Bernie ticket and for a variety of reasons). Before the debate I was hoping that Biden would enter the race—mainly out of Hillary nervousness—but now think it would probably be better if he didn’t.
One moment in the debate that attracted attention was Bernie saying that America “should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people.” Of course. America should naturally look to the experiences of the Scandinavian countries—and to France, Germany, and other advanced democracies—to see what can be learned from them (and what should not be learned). And vice-versa. Politicians and policy-makers should always study other countries.
Bernie’s Denmark comment provoked the inevitable snarky reactions on the right, e.g. this one by the National Review’s Kevin Williamson, which misses Bernie’s point; it is, as we say here, à côté de la plaque. There has, however, been one reaction from that side of the spectrum—and which inspired this post—that I find most interesting, “Double-edged Denmark,” by Will Wilkinson, who is vice-president for policy at the Niskanen Center, a libertarian think tank in Washington founded last year. Wilkinson seconds the observation by Williamson and other rightists that Denmark, despite its robust welfare state, has embarked on major free market reforms to the point where it is now more “capitalistic” than the US (a development Williamson suggests that Bernie ignores, which is nonsense). This is well-understood by anyone with a cursory knowledge of that country’s politics, including in France, where the Danish “flexicurity” model has been studied by policy intellectuals and politicians, with its applicability to the French context provoking debate, notably on the left (e.g. in the pages of Le Monde, Alternatives Économiques, and other such publications). But Wilkinson sees a symbiotic relationship between Denmark’s free market reforms and its strong social safety net that other conservatives miss. Money quotes
Right-leaning arguments about the free-market marvel that is Denmark cut both ways. Denmark shows us that a much larger public sector and a much more robust social-insurance system need not come at the expense of a dynamic market economy. In other words, Denmark shows us that capitalism and a large welfare state are perfectly compatible and possibly complementary. (…)
The lesson free-marketeers need to learn is that Denmark may be beating the U.S. in terms of economic freedom because it’s easier to get people to buy in to capitalism when they’re well-insured against its downside risks. That’s the flipside irony of free-market “socialism.” (…)
The possibility that generous social insurance can bolster support for capitalism is worth taking seriously, not only because the truth (whatever it is) is important in its own right, but because the truth of the matter could have profound implications for other libertarian policy priorities. (…)
So if one wants a bona fide neoliberal free market economy, Wilkinson suggests, the trade-off—in an advanced democracy at least—is a strong social safety net. It’s not every day one gets such insights from a libertarian—though Friedrich Hayek, who did not object to state-organized social insurance schemes, would possibly say much the same thing if he were around today.
Vox’s Matthew Yglesias—who is no libertarian—has also weighed in on the Danish model (October 16th), in answering “9 questions about Denmark, Bernie Sanders’s favorite socialist utopia.”
UPDATE: Paul Krugman’s NYT column today (October 19th) is on Denmark.
That’s the title (in English) of an op-ed in Le Monde (issue dated 11-12 October), by Sciences Po international relations professor Jean-Baptiste Jeangène Vilmer, and with which I entirely agree. For those too lazy to click on the link, here’s the full text, with notable passages on the Libya intervention in bold (a subject on which I have periodic contradictory exchanges) [UPDATE: Jeangène Vilmer has a piece with Olivier Schmitt—who teaches political science at the University of Southern Denmark—dated 14 October on the War on the Rocks blog, “Frogs of War: Explaining the new French military interventionism.”]
Avec le chaos en Libye, l’emprise de Daech en Irak et en Syrie, et la progression des talibans en Afghanistan, il est de bon ton de s’en prendre à l’interventionnisme occidental des quinze dernières années, dont les crises actuelles ne seraient que les contrecoups. Il est certainement nécessaire de tirer les leçons de nos échecs, mais il faut le faire sans céder à la simplification.
Premièrement, cet examen de conscience ne doit pas être une excuse pour amalgamer des interventions plus ou moins légales et légitimes : l’invasion de l’Irak (2003) reste un cas à part, une guerre de choix non autorisée par le Conseil de sécurité, contrairement aux autres.
Comparer, pour la décrédibiliser, l’intervention en Libye (2011) à cette agression illégale est faire fi de la résolution 1973 qui, contrairement à un préjugé répandu, n’a pas été dévoyée. Elle n’autorisait certes pas le changement de Continue Reading »