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Trump and Putin

Created by: Greg Palmer

Created by: Greg Palmer

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

And the pipelines to nowhere. That’s the title of an article I just read today, in Medium, dated December 15th (h/t Jamie Meyerfeld), that offers the most convincing explanation IMO as to why Trump and Putin are hooking up, as it were. In short, it’s all about oil and the politics of climate change, i.e. raw economic interest, i.e. money. The author of the article, previously unknown to me—I admittedly do not know who is who in this field—is Alex Steffen, who is a “planetary futurist” and author of three books. He clearly knows what he’s talking about.

On this general subject, also see the must-read two-part article in the December 8th and 22th New York Review of Books, by David Kaiser and Lee Wasserman—who are, respectively, president and director of the Rockefeller Family Fund—”The Rockefeller Family Fund vs. Exxon,” and “The Rockefeller Family Fund Takes on ExxonMobil.” The name Rex Tillerson comes up more than once. After reading these articles you will—unless you’re already an authority on the subject—have a better understanding of what’s going on than you did before reading them.

UPDATE: Putin-apologizing Americans of both left and right have been furiously pushing back at the well-founded accusations of Russian implication in the DNC email hack, one being Glenn Greenwald—who is often right about things but often not, and is always a dickhead regardless—who has gone so far as to make common cause with Fox News talking heads on the matter. À propos, lefty journalist Bill Weinberg has a great post (Dec. 31st) on his Facebook page, “Yes, the Russians. Wake up and smell the vodka.” And Democratic Party activist David Atkins has a good post (Dec. 31st) on the Washington Monthly’s Political Animal Blog, “Even Glenn Greenwald and his fans should fear the Trump-Putin alliance.”

2nd UPDATE: Journalist Peter Savodnik has a must-read piece (Dec. 12th) in Vanity Fair, “Why angry white America fell for Putin.”

3rd UPDATE: Masha Gessen, who is hardly a Putinophile, clarifies matters in a post (Jan. 9th 2017) in NYR Daily, “Russia, Trump & flawed intelligence.”

4th UPDATE: Rachel Maddow has an absolutely must-watch 20 minute investigative report (Jan. 11th) on her MSNBC show, “Exxon needs US policy change to cash in on big bet on Russia.” The lede: “Rachel Maddow shows ExxonMobil’s heavy investment in Russia, which it has yet to be able to exploit because of U.S. sanctions on Russia over the annexation of Crimea, and how a change in that policy could means hundreds of millions of dollars for ExxonMobil.” The name Rex Tillerson naturally comes up in the report.

Best (and worst) movies of 2016

In keeping with AWAV’s annual end-of-year tradition, I offer my list of the best and worst movies of the year (for last year’s, see here). The movies here opened in theaters this year in France or the U.S. Some have dedicated blog posts, the others will in due course, inshallah. N.B. Several well-reviewed Hollywood movies—and that figure on the “best of” lists of US critics—are opening in France after the new year, so I have yet to see them (e.g. Moonlight, La La Land, Loving). And not being a Pedro Almodóvar fan, I did not see his latest, Julieta, which has been praised to the heavens by all and sundry.

TOP 10:
Apprentice
Aquarius
As I Open My Eyes (على حلة عيني)
Embrace of the Serpent (El abrazo de la serpiente)
Graduation (Bacalaureat)
Hedi (نحبك هادي)
Paterson
Spotlight
The Salesman (فروشنده)
Toni Erdmann

HONORABLE MENTION:
A War (Krigen)
Hell or High Water
Ma’Rosa
Manchester by the Sea
Tangerines (მანდარინები Mandariinid)

BEST MOVIE FROM JORDAN:
Theeb (ذيب)

BEST MOVIE FROM EGYPT:
Clash (إشتباك)

BEST MOVIE FROM CUBA:
Behavior (Conducta)

BEST MOVIE FROM MEXICO:
A Monster with a Thousand Heads (Un monstruo de mil cabezas)

BEST MOVIE FROM ARGENTINA:
The Clan (El Clan)

SECOND BEST MOVIE FROM ARGENTINA:
Paulina (La patota)

BEST MOVIE FROM ICELAND:
Sparrows (Þrestir)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE MAINLY SET IN ICELAND:
The Aquatic Effect (L’Effet aquatique)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE MAINLY SET IN GREENLAND:
Journey to Greenland (Le Voyage au Groenland)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE MAINLY SET IN POLAND:
The Innocents (Les Innocents)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE MAINLY SET IN GERMANY:
Frantz

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE MAINLY SET IN CYPRUS:
The Stopover (Voir du Pays)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE MAINLY SET IN CHAD:
The White Knights (Les Chevaliers blancs)

MOST IDIOTIC MOVIE FROM FRANCE MAINLY SET IN FRENCH GUIANA:
La Loi de la jungle

MOST FEEL-GOOD MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH AN ALGERIA THEME:
Good Luck Algeria

MOST HILARIOUS MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH AN ALGERIA THEME:
One Man and His Cow (La Vache)

MOST TOUCHING MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH AN ALGERIA THEME:
Two Birds, One Stone (D’une pierre deux coups)

MOST INTERESTING DOCUMENTARY FROM FRANCE WITH AN ALGERIA THEME:
Algérie du possible

MOST IN-YOUR-FACE DOCUMENTARY FROM FRANCE ABOUT JIHADIST TERRORISTS:
Salafistes

MOST AMUSING ENGAGÉ DOCUMENTARY FROM FRANCE ON HOW A WORKER GOT THE BETTER OF HIS EX-BOSS AND MADE HIM LOOK RIDICULOUS WHILE HE WAS AT IT:
Thanks Boss! (Merci Patron!)

MOST AMAZING FRANCO-IRAQI DOCUMENTARY ON IRAQ IN THE PERIOD PRECEDING THE 2003 AMERICAN INVASION:
Homeland: Iraq Year Zero: Part 1 (وطن: العراق السنة صفر: جزء ١)

MOST AMAZING FRANCO-IRAQI DOCUMENTARY ON IRAQ IN THE PERIOD FOLLOWING THE 2003 AMERICAN INVASION:
Homeland: Iraq Year Zero: Part 2 (وطن: العراق السنة صفر: جزء ٢)

MOST GRATIFYING FRANCO-GERMAN-IRANIAN DOCUMENTARY ON IRANIAN WOMEN WHO ARE DETERMINED TO PLAY MUSIC AND SING WHETHER THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC LIKES IT OR NOT:
No Land’s Song (آواز بی‌سرزمین)

MOST SURPRISINGLY ENGAGING THREE HOUR DOCUMENTARY WITH NO NARRATION ON A MULTI-ETHNIC IMMIGRANT NEIGHBORHOOD IN NEW YORK CITY:
In Jackson Heights

BEST DOCUMENTARY FROM ITALY ON THE CURRENT MIGRATION CRISIS IN EUROPE:
Fire at Sea (Fuocoammare)

BEST DOCUMENTARY EVER ON THE FUNCTIONING OF THE EUROPEAN UNION:
Democracy (Democracy: Im Rausch der Daten)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE ON ISLAMIST SELF-RADICALIZATION IN THE WEB 2.0 ERA:
Heaven Will Wait (Le Ciel attendra)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE ABOUT BADASS DRUG-DEALING CHICKS IN A GHETTO HOUSING PROJECT:
Divines

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE ABOUT BADASS DRUG-DEALING DUDES IN A GHETTO HOUSING PROJECT:
Chouf

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE ABOUT A WALLISIAN RUGBY PLAYER FROM NEW CALEDONIA WHO ENDS UP IN THE LOT-ET-GARONNE:
Mercenary (Mercenaire)

BEST MOST POWERFUL HOLLYWOOD MOVIE ON THE HORRORS OF WAR:
Hacksaw Ridge

BEST HOLLYWOOD MOVIE SHOWING HOW RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN GAY WOMEN ARE REALLY QUITE DIFFERENT FROM RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN GAY MEN:
Carol

BEST INDY MOVIE ON THE DILEMMAS OF GENTRIFICATION:
Little Men

BEST MOVIE FROM CHINA ABOUT THE LEGACY OF THE CULTURAL REVOLUTION:
Red Amnesia (闯入者)

BEST MOVIE FROM CAMBODIA ABOUT RURAL MIGRANT YOUTH FINDING THEIR WAY IN THE BIG CITY:
Diamond Island (កោះពេជ្រ)

BEST MOVIE FROM INDIA ABOUT LOWER CLASS WOMEN IN GUJARAT WHO ARE FED UP WITH MISOGYNY:
Parched (पार्चड)

BEST MOVIE FROM INDIA ABOUT UPPER CLASS WOMEN IN GOA WHO ARE FED UP WITH MISOGYNY:
Angry Indian Goddesses (ऐंग्री इंडियन गोड्डेस्सेस)

BEST MOVIE FROM RUSSIA ABOUT A TEENAGE RELIGIOUS FANATIC AND HIS MILITANTLY SECULAR TEACHER:
The Student (Ученик)

MOST COMPLEX MOVIE FROM IRAN:
Nahid (ناهید)

MOST ABSORBING MOVIE FROM GERMANY ABOUT A HEROIC NAZI-HUNTING PUBLIC PROSECUTOR:
The People vs. Fritz Bauer (Der Staat gegen Fritz Bauer)

MOST HEARTWARMING TRIFLE OF A MOVIE FROM FINLAND:
The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki (Hymyilevä mies)

MOST OVERRATED MOVIE FROM GREAT BRITAIN:
45 Years

MOST OVERRATED MOVIE FROM SOUTH KOREA:
The Handmaiden (아가씨)

MOST BLOATED MOVIE FROM ROMANIA:
Sieranevada

BLEAKEST MOVIE FROM ROMANIA:
Dogs (Câini)

DARKEST MOVIE FROM BELGIUM:
The Ardennes (D’Ardennen)

MOST EXCRUCIATINGLY PAINFUL TO WATCH MOVIE FROM FRANCE REENACTING A HORRIFIC ANTISEMITIC CRIME COMMITTED BY A GANG OF LOWLIFE DREGS IN A PARIS BANLIEUE:
Tout, tout de suite

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH ISABELLE HUPPERT IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Elle

SECOND BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH ISABELLE HUPPERT IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Things to Come (L’Avenir)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH FRANÇOIS CLUZET IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Irreplaceable (Médecin de campagne)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH NICOLAS DUVAUCHELLE IN THE LEAD ROLE:
A Decent Man (Je ne suis pas un salaud)

BEST HOLLYWOOD MOVIE WITH BRIE LARSON IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Room

BEST HOLLYWOOD MOVIE WITH BRYAN CRANSTON IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Trumbo

BEST HOLLYWOOD MOVIE WITH MERYL STREEP AND HUGH GRANT IN THE LEAD ROLES:
Florence Foster Jenkins

BEST BRITISH MOVIE WITH EDDIE REDMAYNE AND ALICIA VIKANDER IN THE LEAD ROLES:
The Danish Girl

MOST UNSATISFYING PALESTINIAN MOVIE WITH HIAM ABBASS IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Dégradé (ديچرادي)

BEST MOVIE BY ALEJANDRO G. IÑÁRRITU:
The Revenant

BEST MOVIE BY KEN LOACH:
I, Daniel Blake

BEST NOT BAD MOVIE BY WOODY ALLEN:
Café Society

BEST TEENAGE ROAD MOVIE BY FATIH AKIN:
Tschick

BEST CROWD-PLEASING MOVIE BY CLINT EASTWOOD:
Sully

BEST MOVIE BY JEAN-PIERRE & LUC DARDENNE THAT IS NOT THEIR BEST MOVIE:
The Unknown Girl (La Fille inconnue)

MOST ENTERTAININGLY INSIGNIFICANT MOVIE BY RICHARD LINKLATER:
Everybody Wants Some!!

MOST SKIPPABLE MOVIE BY JEFF NICHOLS:
Midnight Special

MOST TRIVIAL MOVIE BY JOEL & ETHAN COEN:
Hail, Caesar!

MOST MAUDLIN MOVIE BY NAOMI KAWASE:
Sweet Bean (あん)

MOST TEDIOUS MOVIE BY REBECCA ZLOTOWSKI:
Planetarium

MOST WASTE OF TIME OF A MOVIE BY OLIVIER ASSAYAS:
Personal Shopper

MOST DESPICABLE MOVIE BY QUENTIN TARANTINO:
The Hateful Eight

WORST MOVIE OF THE YEAR PERIOD BY XAVIER DOLAN:
It’s Only the End of the World (Juste la fin du monde)

paterson-2016-movie-poster

I loved this movie. Don’t ask me to offer a detailed explanation as to why or to analyze it at length. It simply moved me and on more than one level: the contemplative protag, Paterson (Adam Driver), driving a city bus for a living—in Paterson NJ: Paterson in Paterson—and writing poetry à ses heures—his reference being William Carlos Williams, who wrote poems on Paterson—and his daily routine: walking his bulldog, named Marvin, in the evening, stopping at the local tavern for a beer, and with all the offbeat characters and dialogues one gets in a Jim Jarmusch film. And, above all, his couple relationship with his lovely wife, Laura, played by the sublime Golshifteh Farahani, who is beautiful, fabulous, wonderful, and you name it (I admittedly say this about her after every film I see her in, e.g. here and here). They have such a loving relationship. What a lucky guy to have a companion like her. And the pic has an impeccable, typically Jarmuschian ending. In short, this is Jarmusch’s best movie in a decade (since ‘Broken Flowers’). Reviews in the US and France are typically good. Trailer is here. C’est tout ce que j’ai à dire.

Every year since launching AWAV I have had a post on Woody Allen’s latest film, which goes up almost right after I see it. For some reason I didn’t get around to doing so this time, though I did see his latest, Café Society, shortly after it came out last May. Perhaps I didn’t say anything about it because I found it to be a generally good, entertaining pic, with a fine cast and nothing in particular to object to, though which I didn’t give a whole lot of thought to after leaving the cinoche. Usually when I see a Woody Allen film to which I give the thumps up, I’ll merely say I that I liked it and leave it at that, as with, e.g. Magic in the Moonlight, To Rome with Love, and Midnight in Paris. It’s when I strongly disliked the film that I go to town with the critique, e.g. Irrational Man and Blue Jasmine. This latest one goes with the first group. Voilà.

cafe-society

On the subject of directors followed by the cinephile set, I will mention, strictly for the record, the Coen brothers’ last film, Hail, Caesar!, which I saw when it came out in February. I had nothing whatever to say about it. On leaving the theater with my friend, I said “Je n’ai rien à dire sur ce film.” Walou. Nada. Rien du tout. Neither did my friend, so far as I recall, and she’s always bubbling with insights about movies. It’s not that I didn’t like it; it just left no impression on me. I thought nothing of it and gave it even less thought the next day. In view of the tepid audience critiques on Allociné, I was likely not alone. C’est tout ce que j’ai à dire.

BTW, during the summer I saw, with the same friend, a restored 20th anniversary print of the Coen bros’ Fargo, at a great new cinema in town that specializes in new prints of film classics. It was at least the fourth time I’ve seen it. A chef d’œuvre. A masterpiece. One of the greatest films in the history of cinema. Period.

Hail Caesar

Continuing with cinephile directors, there’s Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!!, which hit the salles here last spring. After seeing the great Boyhood in 2014 and catching up with the rest of Linklater’s œuvre, I wasn’t going to miss this one, particularly as it was said to be a “spiritual sequel” to his implicitly autobiographical 1993 high school coming-of-age movie, Dazed and Confused, which is set in precisely 1976. So this one takes place in August 1980, at a (fictitious) south Texas state university, as the students arrive on campus for fall semester and get set up before classes begin. This is my generation—the students being three or four years younger than I—so I could, in principle, personally relate to the film.

The pic is generally entertaining—it’s a comedy, of course (trailer is here)—and retains one’s attention, but won’t make my Top 10 list of the year (due out in a couple of days). Positive facets: it’s a nice depiction of the era, with impeccable attention to detail; the soundtrack is great; and the girls are pretty, bien entendu, and particularly the love interest (Zoey Deutch) of the protag (Blake Jenner). Negative facets: it’s a trivial, irrelevant film, a self-indulgent trip down memory lane of the director. Personal reaction: the college experience depicted certainly wasn’t mine—not that mine was at all representative (I know for a fact that it was several standard deviations from the norm)—and I did not hang out with a crowd like the one in the pic. In fact, I am dubious as to the accuracy of a lot of what one sees in it, notably the casualness of the sex. My college in the 1970s was as freewheeling a place as one could possibly find but it wasn’t like what one sees in the film on this score. Linklater is no doubt embellishing his memories.

One great scene is the guys in the car singing The Sugarhill Gang’s 1979 hit “Rappers Delight.” Now it is unlikely that a bunch of white jocks in Texas back then would have listened to such music, let alone been able to sing it in unison, but that’s okay. It’s just a movie.

everybody wants some

0.23, 0.73, 0.77

Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania (photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images)

Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania (photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images)

[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]

Those are the percentages by which Hillary Clinton lost Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, respectively. Wisconsin—the state of my birth and childhood to age 12, and with which I maintain an affective attachment—ended up being the tipping state, sending Trump over 270 EVs and to victory. La honte. I am quite sure that not a single person anywhere predicted this one. A shift of 77,787 votes in the three states, properly distributed—amounting to 0.057% of the 136,489,372 cast nationally—and Hillary would have won the election with 278 EVs—and we would be spared the ongoing intra Dem party polemics over what a terrible candidate she supposedly was and how badly her campaign was run. Not to mention, of course, the four-year national nightmare that awaits us.

The intra Dem polemics and other recriminations have intensified with the popular vote count finally certified—which HRC won, as one knows, by 2,864,974 votes: 48.06% and a historic margin of 2.09% for a losing candidate—and the Electoral College inevitably confirming Trump’s victory. Bernie Sanders supporters have been having a field day on social media with their Hillary-bashing and we-told-you-so’s. A case in point is the column in the New York Daily News by Shaun King, “Obama and the Clintons still have no earthly idea why the Democratic Party lost the presidential election,” which has been making the rounds. Among other things, King asserts

Hillary Clinton was a terrible candidate to run against Donald Trump. Of course the Obama and Clinton families will never say this, but she was. I honestly believe that she may have been the only leading Democrat that Donald Trump could’ve beaten. Next to him, she was among the least popular politicians to ever run for president. Her weaknesses and challenges counterbalanced those of Trump time after time after time. Trump is a rich, unethical liar with major character problems. To beat him, you run the opposite of that. Clinton, true or not, was not seen as the opposite, but the Democratic equivalent.

Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, or even Joe Biden or Cory Booker would’ve all matched up better against Trump and his weaknesses, but you couldn’t tell the Democratic Party that. They had it all figured out from the very beginning.

This is monnaie courante among the Bernie frères and sœurs. Even lucid, hard-headed analysts have said much the same, e.g. my dear friend Adam Shatz, who, in a post-election commentary in the LRB, asserted that “it was increasingly clear that Clinton should never have been the Democratic candidate.” Two things are in order here. First, Elizabeth Warren did not run for the nomination, nor did Joe Biden. They made the sovereign decision not to enter the race. That they would have been stronger candidates against Trump than was Hillary is unknowable and a waste of time to be speculating over (though personally, I’m dubious). It is neither here nor there. They didn’t run, that’s it. The only candidates who declared apart from Bernie were Martin O’Malley, Lincoln Chafee, and Jim Webb, and we know how long they lasted.

Secondly, Bernie—who, pour mémoire, is not a Democrat—ran a spirited campaign against Hillary and lost. She received 16.9 million primary and caucus votes (55.2%) to his 13.2 million (43.1%). Hillary decisively defeated Bernie and with landslide numbers. And no absence of alleged favoritism or putative shenanigans on the part of Debbie Wasserman Schultz or other DNC operatives toward the former would have shifted any of those primary or caucus votes to the latter. Hillary won the nomination race fair and square. End of story.

But if, for the sake of argument, Bernie had been the nominee, would he have fared better against Trump, i.e. beat him? Il ne faut pas se leurrer: the well-oiled Republican attack machine, which was chomping at the bit to run against a self-proclaimed “socialist,” would have cut Bernie into little pieces. Bernie would have been shredded. The Grand Old Party would have chewed him up and spat him out. John Judis, in his “final thoughts on the 2016 election,” is fairly sure that Bernie’s proposals for free college tuition and single-payer health care would have gotten him tarred with the “tax and spend” label. As one knows, Americans like “free stuff” just so long as they don’t have to pay for it.

But that’s not all the Repubs would have hit Bernie with. As Newsweek’s Kurt Eichenwald wrote in a piece last month,”The myths Democrats swallowed that cost them the presidential election,” Sanders would have been framed as a 1960s communist hippie and weirdo to boot, an image that, believe me, would not have played in Canonsburg PA, Stevens Point WI, or elsewhere in l’Amérique profonde:

I have seen the opposition book assembled by Republicans for Sanders, and it was brutal. The Republicans would have torn him apart. And while Sanders supporters might delude themselves into believing that they could have defended him against all of this, there is a name for politicians who play defense all the time: losers.

Here are a few tastes of what was in store for Sanders, straight out of the Republican playbook: He thinks rape is A-OK. In 1972, when he was 31, Sanders wrote a fictitious essay in which he described a woman enjoying being raped by three men. Yes, there is an explanation for it—a long, complicated one, just like the one that would make clear why the Clinton emails story was nonsense. And we all know how well that worked out.

Then there’s the fact that Sanders was on unemployment until his mid-30s, and that he stole electricity from a neighbor after failing to pay his bills, and that he co-sponsored a bill to ship Vermont’s nuclear waste to a poor Hispanic community in Texas, where it could be dumped. You can just see the words “environmental racist” on Republican billboards. And if you can’t, I already did. They were in the Republican opposition research book as a proposal on how to frame the nuclear waste issue.

Also on the list: Sanders violated campaign finance laws, criticized Clinton for supporting the 1994 crime bill that he voted for, and he voted against the Amber Alert system. His pitch for universal health care would have been used against him too, since it was tried in his home state of Vermont and collapsed due to excessive costs. Worst of all, the Republicans also had video of Sanders at a 1985 rally thrown by the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua where half a million people chanted, “Here, there, everywhere/the Yankee will die,’’ while President Daniel Ortega condemned “state terrorism” by America. Sanders said, on camera, supporting the Sandinistas was “patriotic.”

The Republicans had at least four other damning Sanders videos (I don’t know what they showed), and the opposition research folder was almost 2-feet thick. (The section calling him a communist with connections to Castro alone would have cost him Florida.) In other words, the belief that Sanders would have walked into the White House based on polls taken before anyone really attacked him is a delusion built on a scaffolding of political ignorance.

Right.

On Hillary and her campaign, yes, they made mistakes and didn’t do things they should have, like pay more attention to Michigan and Wisconsin. And Hillary shooting off her mouth about the “deplorables” was certainly not helpful. We all know this—though one does want to ask if Bernie supporters and other millennials in the aforementioned states who didn’t bother to vote, or did so for Jill Stein, should not be held at least partly responsible for the debacle. But here’s the bottom line: had it not been for the Comey letter eleven days before the election, Hillary would have won. Period. Sam Wang has crunched the numbers and these are categorical: Hillary dropped four points in the polls in the wake of the letter’s release, and though she recovered two of the points before election day, the two that were lost made all the difference in PA, MI, and WI—also likely also in Florida, which she lost by 1.2%. It is now definitive that the letter caused undecided voters to break heavily for Trump. Had Hillary won the four aforementioned states, her EV total would have been 307. Moreover, the Dems would have probably picked up the PA Senate seat and possibly the WI one too (though I am informed by a political operative friend there that Russell Feingold ran a pathetically bad campaign), allowing for a razor-thin Senate majority with Tim Kaine the tie-breaker.

Minus Comey’s October Surprise and his gratuitous declarations before the House Oversight Committee last July 7th, plus the Vladimir Putin-Julian Assange dirty tricks—all of which were bigly damaging to HRC—and she wins the PV by five points, if not more, and racks up a veritable EC landslide, taking NC, AZ, and the NE 2nd CD, for a total of 334 EVs. And who knows, maybe she would have won GA too, pushing the EV count to 350. Hélas.

Ah yes, but she was such bad, awful candidate, so everyone says, ran such a miserable campaign, and failed to speak to the economic anxiety of the famous white working class. This has been repeated so many times ad infinitum—and not just by the usual suspect Hillary-bashers—that it almost goes without saying. But how was she bad? What was it about Hillary Clinton that made her an awful candidate? Now it is true that she is not a great stump speaker. She doesn’t fire up crowds. To which I say: so what? Since when does the ability to deliver barn-burning speeches become a prerequisite for winning election to high office? In point of fact, only a minority of US presidents in our era—Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama—have been objectively impressive public speakers and able to affectively connect with big audiences. Most politicians, including those in the top-tier, are not memorable public orators. E.g. Angela Merkel, who is now the titular leader of the Free World, is not superior to Hillary Clinton when it comes to public speaking, at least not so far as I have seen.

Hillary, in fact, reminds one of Michel Rocard, who disliked speaking to big crowds, much preferring smaller groups and with interaction with the audience. This is clearly Hillary’s preference as well and which she excels at—and that won her the New York senate race in 2000, her first-ever foray into electoral politics (at age 52, which is late to be starting any kind of new career). Something else about Hillary’s political skills: she is not known to have political enemies. She worked well with her colleagues in Congress and including Republicans, who appreciated her. And her staff—people who work under her authority—are fiercely loyal to her. This should speak well of her, no?

As for the Clinton campaign’s message—or supposed lack of one—and alleged inability to speak to the WWC, this is poppycock. Hillary talked about jobs, workers, and economy more than anything else, so Vox’s David Roberts informs us in a content analysis of her speeches. But one could be forgiven for having no idea of this, as all the media wanted to talk about was her emails. Those damn emails, dixit Bernie Sanders.

Seriously, WTF was Hillary Clinton supposed to do or say that she didn’t? And what could she have done about the broadcast media’s disinterest in anything she had to say about policy?

Conclusion: Hillary Clinton was a good candidate in view of what she was up against. This comment by reader Christina Wos Donnelly on the Mother Jones Facebook page a week ago gets it right:

…HRC was campaigned against by 3 Democrats, 1 Independent, all 19 Republicans, 1 Libertarian, 1 Green Partier, the RNC, 2 Russian spy agencies and a whole factory of paid trolls, Breitbart & the alt-right, Julian Assange & Wikileaks, a hostile media, a deluge of dark money, AND the FBI, all trying to take a piece out of her, and STILL she won the popular vote by millions. 3 million to date. Take out vote suppression all across the South, TX and the swing states, and you’ve got your double digit lead. Donald Trump won by a mere 80,000 votes spread across 3 states, that’s one half of one percent.

To which one could add the obsessive 25-year campaign by the right to tear her down and destroy her reputation—and with which many on the left were complicit.

Additional comments:

The final election polls were not way off. The final RCP average had HRC at +3.2, a mere 1.1% difference from her actual score. That does not constitute a massive polling failure. As for the key swing state polls: the final ones in PA showed it very close; in MI, they had HRC up +5, though one had Trump at +2; in WI there was bizarrely no polling in the last week; and in FL the race was essentially tied. Also: it turns out that the USC/LA Times tracking poll had a marked Trump skew after all, with its final number showing him up by 3. Way off base.

Many 2012 Obama voters who went for Trump invoked the “change” theme. The “need for change” was a leitmotif among these voters. This is classic in elections in which the incumbent party has been in office for two terms.

Trump has been insisting that he could have won the popular vote if he had wanted to, that if the POTUS were elected by direct PV he would have campaigned in California, New York, and other blue states, augmenting his vote totals there. John Judis has made a similar assertion in this vein. But if this had been the case, HRC would have campaigned throughout the Deep South and Texas, where there are troves of potentially untapped Dem voters. Moreover, she would have campaigned in safe blue states as well, driving up her numbers among voters who, knowing their state was already in the bag, cast ballots for third candidates or didn’t bother to vote. So the final result would have likely been a wash—and with HRC maintaining her margin of victory.

There was finally no drop in turnout in this election. It was, in fact, higher than in 2012. Many prior abstainers clearly came out of the woodwork to vote for Trump, while some Dem voters—mainly Afro-Americans—stayed home. To increase black turnout in the future, the Democrats may need to systematically have a black on the ticket. Just as Trump putting Pence on his ticket brought in the evangelicals in force, had Hillary chosen Cory Booker instead of Tim Kaine—good man that he was—this may have done the trick in PA, MI, and WI. Just speculating.

UPDATE: The NYT’s number cruncher Nate Cohn has a must-read analysis (Dec. 23rd) on The Upshot page, “How the Obama coalition crumbled, leaving an opening for Trump.” It turns out that defections of WWC 2012 Obama voters to Trump in the Rust Belt states were more significant than thought, as were defections by educated urban Republican voters to Clinton (e.g. one learns that every precinct in Winnetka IL—an upscale Chicago North Shore suburb that I know fairly well—voted for Clinton, which I find amazing). Something I’ve been thinking: it is doubtful that Hillary—or any other Democrat—could have done anything to prevent those normally Democratic-leaning WWC voters from succumbing to Trump’s juggernaut. Trump was a once-in-a-generation phenomenon, a populist billionaire strongman with the ability to viscerally connect with WWC voters in the heartland—to appeal to their id on a range of issues (notably trade and globalization)—and provoke a cascade effect. No other Republican candidate could have attracted that portion of the WWC electorate in the way he did.

BTW, if one didn’t see it, New Yorker contributor Alex Ross had an excellent article, dated Dec. 5th, on how “the Frankfurt School knew Trump was coming.”

2nd UPDATE: The Atlantic’s Richard Brownstein had a premonitory article dated November 2nd, that I seemed to have missed at that time, on the danger to the Clinton firewall in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, “Is Donald Trump outflanking Hillary Clinton? The Democratic nominee faces the risk that she has overestimated her hold on the states most central to her strategy.”

3rd UPDATE: Le Monde’s Yves Eudes has had two very good reportages on 2012 Obama voters (or abstainers) who defected to Trump, one from Pennsylvania (Nov. 24th), the other from Michigan (Dec. 27th).

4th UPDATE: The Washington Post’s polling manager Scott Clement says (Dec. 30th) that “The 2016 national polls are looking less wrong after final election tallies.”

5th UPDATE: Justin Gest, who teaches public policy at George Mason University, has a new book, entitled The New Minority: White Working Class Politics in an Age of Immigration and Inequality. On the book’s website are links to the author’s numerous articles and interviews this year on the election, Trump, and the white working class.

6th UPDATE: Harry Enten at FiveThirtyEight has an important, data-driven analysis (Jan. 5th 2017) on how “Registered voters who stayed home probably cost Clinton the election.”

7th UPDATE: Vox has posted a must-read piece (Jan. 11th 2017) by policy and election analysts Sean McElwee, Matt McDermott, and Will Jordan, “4 pieces of evidence showing FBI Director James Comey cost Clinton the election: And yes, it still matters.”

8th UPDATE: See the electoral analysis (Jan. 26th 2017), which has lots of data, by Rhodes Cook, senior columnist at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, “The 2016 presidential vote: A look down in the weeds.”

9th UPDATE: Jonathan Rodden, who teaches political science at Stanford University, has a two-part analysis (Feb. 14th 2017) in WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog,” ‘Red’ America is an illusion: Postindustrial towns go for Democrats,” and “This is why Democrats lose in ‘rural’ postindustrial America.” And the “why” is: lower turnout among Democratic voters.

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The coming apocalypse

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This is my first post in over a month on the unspeakable US president-elect. Not that I haven’t been following the election aftermath quasi obsessively and with much to say about it, but we’re all reading the same analyses and are in entire agreement that what is happening in the United States is, for us Americans at least, the biggest political catastrophe of our lifetimes, so what’s the point of little AWAV weighing in every other day with his 2¢? Also, thoughts I have one day seem dépassé the next. E.g. I had the idea in the week after the election that maybe the unspeakable president-elect would moderate somewhat—this after his meeting with Obama in the Oval Office—that he would possibly surprise us and that we should maybe wait and see. So much for that ephemeral fancy. The only thing one can say right now is that, yes, we are headed for the apocalypse, that it’s going to be worse than we could have ever imagined. As my friend Adam Shatz put it, “the president-elect has formed a cabinet so outlandishly right-wing that not even the Onion could have invented it.” And on that cabinet, one may add the most reactionary in American history and likely to be the most authoritarian.

The bottom line: all that stands between America descending into fascism—not precisely of the 1930s European variety but one specifically American and 21st century—is a handful of Republicans in the Senate who will, inshallah, decide not to go the full Vichy: who, for their own reasons, will align with the Democrats on given issues and to thwart the president of their party. I wanted to add that a robust civil society uncompromisingly hostile to the unspeakable president-elect will also be necessary—and that civil society is indeed there, comprised of the tens of millions of Americans who are outraged by the president-elect and his illegitimate victory—but don’t think the unspeakable one and those in his entourage will give a shit about that. These people are illiberal, do not believe in democracy or in the legitimacy of the opposition—of any opposition—and are in a pure rapport de force. They will seek no compromises and will not hesitate to use the considerable institutional means at their disposal to crush anyone who stands in their way. Which does not mean that we should not stand in their way and on everything. Americans on the center and left side of the political spectrum, plus lingering #NeverTrump Republicans, will feel what it’s like to be a secularist in Erdoğan’s Turkey, or a liberal in Putin’s Russia. Or to live in any one of the illiberal regimes sprouting up in countries that are supposed to be democracies (e.g. Hungary, Poland, the Philippines, take your pick). Hell, the Trump regime could even end up resembling the pouvoir in Algeria.

I will come back to this subject later—there will be many occasions to do so—but in the meantime want to post a personal story by my friend Adria Zeldin, an attorney in Washington, whom I’ve known for some forty years, and who sent it to me this week:

At 61 years old, life has told me it is time to deal with a trauma that occurred to me 42 years ago when I was 19 and in college. I was raped on campus one night in 1974. A man raped me, a townie, who knew he could wander onto campus, find his victim, and be fairly sure that nothing would ever happen to him.  The culture of women’s politics in the 1970s was such that we did a lot of consciousness raising among ourselves and at the women’s center on campus, but had very little support or understanding from the college administration, the police, or hospitals. I was not treated well by any of these institutions and instead I was left to deal with the trauma in my own personal way, the best a 19-year-old young woman could. I was young and politically idealistic and felt I had my whole life ahead of me.

Over the many years since, however, news stories of sexual assaults on college campuses, and depictions of rape in movies and books, all caused me trauma and have been difficult for me to handle. But not until recent years have I truly felt retraumatized and revictimized. First it was the stories of so many women who accused Bill Cosby of rape.  Then the trial of Brock Turner in California and Judge Persky’s shamefully lenient sentence. The moving statement of the rape survivor in that case, read to the courtroom and circulated online, brought so many tears to my eyes. I read her powerful statement over and over and cried so hard. Certainly this would help me heal and be cathartic. But then the 2016 presidential campaign took an ugly turn with statements about women and their bodies, about women being abused and ridiculed by a male candidate.  The revelation of his statements bragging about sexual assault made me angry but also traumatized me once again.

When I woke up on November 9, 2016, to learn that this man, who bragged to the nation about sexual assault, was going to be our president, I cried on and off for days. How could this happen? I felt like I was in a nightmare and that I would soon wake up and it would all have been a bad dream.

So how do I go on living? The inauguration of the President-elect is only weeks away and as it gets closer, the more scared I become.  I live in the Washington DC area and work only a few blocks from the White House where this misogynist will be living the next four years.  I am back in therapy, trying once again to deal with my personal trauma of 42 years ago. I practice meditation and engage in other activities that I have found are good for my soul. And I go on living because I must. For all the survivors of sexual assault I go on living. For all the young women in college and older women who have survived, I go on living. But I want to do more. I want to effect some change and awareness of how our society and legal system disrespects women. Why are judges like Persky still on the bench? How do they get on the bench to begin with and remain there so long? Why are felony rapists given shorter sentences than other felons? Why is a female victim of sexual assault treated as the criminal, rather than given the comfort and respect a rape victim deserves?  And what will the next four years mean for women and all the gains we have made over the past 42 years, since I was that young idealistic 19-year-old college student?

If one missed it, see the excellent and gratifying tweet storm of civil rights activist Danielle Muscato against Trump, that went viral.

Also see the essay (Nov. 27th) by a citizen named N Ziehl, “Coping with chaos in the White House,” published on Medium.com, in which he discusses his decades-long experience dealing with narcissistic personality disorder and how this helps understand the man who will soon be working out of the Oval Office (what a hideous image).

On the psychology of the president-elect—but also of his supporters—the Financial Times has a fascinating discussion (Dec. 9th) with the writer Michael Lewis, on the “American psyche” and “the triumph of irrational thinking.”

For yet more on the workings of the president-elect’s addled brain, Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio has an op-ed (Dec. 9th) in the NY Daily News, “Critics of Trump’s nasty Twitter attacks miss the point: He simply cannot stop even if he wanted to.”

And here’s a great essay (Dec. 13th) by Jacob T. Levy, a savant at McGill University, “The defense of liberty can’t do without identity politics,” published on the Niskanen Center website. There have been several good responses to the insufferable attacks on the “identity politics” practiced by the Democratic Party—e.g. by Michelle Goldberg and Matthew Yglesias, and as if the Republicans don’t practice such politics as well and with their own version of “political correctness” to boot—but Levy’s may be the best.

À suivre.

Visiting Cuba: an account

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Today is Fidel Castro’s funeral. In my post a week ago, after his death, I described the evolution of my own views on the Cuban Revolution in an earlier phase of my life. I’ve never been to Cuba, though would love to visit the place. Un de ces jours, inshallah. Not too many Americans or Europeans saw Cuba before the 1990s, though plenty have since then, one being my cousin Sanjeen Payne-Kumar, who traveled there several times in the ’90s, not as a holiday-maker or revolutionary tourist on a package tour, but on business, as a young accounts manager with a large British company in the petroleum sector, which had a joint-venture operation in the country. Last weekend I asked Sanjeen—who, pour l’info, is British and lives in bucolic southwestern England, with his lovely wife and teenage children—if he could write about his impressions of Cuba, which he had told me about at the time. And so he did:

Mid 1990s. Landing in Havana I was rather pensive. The flight from Madrid had been an odd one with two fellow passengers, middle-aged Spanish men, having spent much of the journey poring over a book of photos of beautiful Cuban girls. It had transpired that they were selecting their company for a week’s vacation and, as the wine flowed, had become increasingly vocal on their options. I was not a virgin traveler, having been to over 50 countries—I was in my late 20s at the time—but their description of how a struggling economy was leading to rationing, desperation and increasing prostitution options was both despicable and, alas, realpolitik.

The following morning, having observed an angry Austrian businessman unsuccessfully try to get the hotel reception to remove the fact he had had temporary company in his room (an extra room charge was levied), I found myself at our company’s Cuban HQ. The first thing that struck me as I studied my itinerary was how every meal was to be spent at my hotel with pretty much all the staff and their families. My protest that I didn’t actually eat that much was met with a stoic smile and an explanation that with food rationing, many Cubans were struggling with hunger. The one place where there was plentiful food was at the international hotels, but unless accompanied by a US$-paying foreign guest, Cubans were banned from entering these hotels. Thus, over the following days, I would occasionally sit back at the dining table outside in the glorious sunshine, smoking a cigarette, while watching families eat as much as they could and secret away food from overflowing buffets for later. Seeing the smile on a 5-year-old face biting into an apple is an image I can’t forget.

My trip required a visit to Santiago de Cuba not far from Guantánamo. Visiting an oil company, I was struck mute by a huge photo in the GM’s office. The black and white image showed a young Fidel and Che in combat fatigues grinning unbelievingly as they stood in the entrance of the refinery following the revolution. My regret is that I didn’t buy this piece of history, but then again, such an offer would have been gauche. Even so…

In a bar one afternoon while in Santiago, I saw an incongruous sight; a beautiful young family – handsome husband, stunning wife and young toddler, accompanied by a middle-aged man from England. I knew he was English from his lack of sartorial elegance and his unmistakable Birmingham accent. A few days later, at the same bar, I saw the man, somewhat worse for wear, with just the wife this time. My curiosity was too much and I wandered over and began to chat to him. It turned out that he had an ordinary job and family back in Britain, but had some years before bought a house in this area. On a rotating basis, he would select couples to move in rent free and would take all of his vacations here, when the rent would be paid, in the form of conjugal rights with the wife. You couldn’t make this up.

The following weekend, I turned down the opportunity to visit Cuba’s tourist hub in Varadero, instead accepting a generous offer to queue for several hours for rice and to meet a colleague’s charming grandma. Grandma was stoic despite her undoubted suffering, saying things were hard, but they would improve. Her greatest fear was what would happen once Fidel died and those “cowards from Miami returned and life returned to pre-revolution days of Cuba as a plaything for the damned Yankees.”

The irony of Cuba was typified in my host’s meeting Fidel and Raúl at a business reception during my stay. I worked for a company called Castrol. Seeing his name badge with company name, Fidel said that when he died, Castrol would need to pay the state a large “tax”. Grinning at my host’s shocked expression, Fidel added “well, my name is everywhere in Cuba – just go paint an “L” at the end – very cheap and effective advertising for you!”

My final night in the country and I could not sleep. I wandered at midnight along the Malecón and eventually leaned on the wall watching the moon reflect on a serene sea. The previous night, I had been to dinner with a colleague and his wife and he had made the most unusual request. He had asked that when Fidel died, would my wife and I fly in to Havana? He would arrange for a quick pair of marriage ceremonies, my wife to him and me to his wife. Armed with marriage certificates, we would then quickly depart the country before the insanity ensued.

As I gazed at the sea, lost in my thoughts I was startled as a voice right by my side asked “what do you see?” I turned and saw a beautiful mulatta observing me. I took a deep breath and began to describe the myriad of my observations; the suffering, yet a pride in who Cubans knew they were. The ingenuity to make ends meet. The incomparable sense of humour – all exemplified by the serene sea and its unseen turbulence before us. Finally I asked what she saw. She smiled and after a minute pointed out to sea. “Miami is 90 miles that way. I see freedom.”

One interesting report from Cuba is by the freelance American journalist, Michael J. Totten, “The last communist city: A visit to the dystopian Havana that tourists never see,” in the spring 2014 issue of City Journal.

As long as I’m writing about Cuba, I should mention a Cuban film I saw last spring, whose title in Spanish is Conducta (in English: Behavior; in France: Chala, une enfance cubaine), by director Ernesto Daranas, and which was Cuba’s official submission to the Academy Awards in 2014. The story is about a 12-year-old boy named Chala, who lives in a Havana tenement with his drug addict, occasional prostitute mother. As she barely provides for him, he raises pigeons on the roof for sale, plus feeds fighting dogs owned by the man who may be his father, to get by. Chala is difficult at school and on the verge of being expelled and packed off to a re-education facility, but is saved by his heroic, elderly teacher, Carmela, as well by the girl, Yeni, whom he has a crush on. The film has a subtle critique of the system, with the dedicated Carmela, who has only the interest of the children at heart, going up against the hard-ass principal—incarnating the bureaucracy—who wants to push her into retirement. The theme is not totally original but it’s a good film nonetheless. I liked it. And French audiences downright loved it. Writer-blogger Eve Tushnet has a thumbs up review of the film in, of all places, The American Conservative. Trailer is here.

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France: the state of the race

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[update below]

I feel badly for Alain Juppé. It was clear that he was going to lose the 2nd round and in a landslide—i.e. by a margin > than 10 points—but this was a rout. He’s an honorable man and did not merit such a drubbing. So the French right now has an uncontested champion in François Fillon, around whom the entire LR party has united and that will likely be followed by a large portion of the UDI as well. As I have written in previous posts, Fillon, politically speaking, is at the midpoint of the mainstream right side of the French political spectrum, in that large space between the centrist fringe of the Socialists and the Front National. And as I have equally written, Fillon has the personal stature and temperament to be President of the Republic, which no one even on the left would dispute (quite unlike Nicolas Sarkozy or François Hollande, whose temperamental and stature issues necessitate no explanation). Fillon, at this stage of the race, has to be seen as the front-runner in next spring’s presidential election: to qualify for the 2nd round, which goes without saying, and then to win it.

As to whether or not he will in fact win it, all sorts of pundits and commentators outre-Atlantique and outre-Manche have been weighing in with hypotheses and speculation. Among those handicapping the race is my blogging confrère Arthur Goldhammer—the outre-Atlantique French politics specialist whose analyses I look to before any other—who has a post-2nd round commentary up in The American Prospect, portentously entitled “Will Marine Le Pen become France’s next president?” A good piece, comme d’hab’, and with Art correctly concluding that “[he has] no idea what’s going to happen [a]nd neither does anyone else.” In the first paragraph, though, he says that Fillon’s victory “makes the election of the Front National’s Marine Le Pen more likely.” I’m not sure about that. We’re getting a little ahead of ourselves here IMHO.

Three points. First, with five months to go to the 1st round—the precise date is April 23rd—it is simply too early to be making predictions. Things are likely to change in the course of the campaign and with surprises in store. This likelihood is readily revealed by a cursory examination of the previous presidential elections of the Fifth Republic. As one will note, the only prior election where the final outcome more or less mirrored the state of the race five months before the first vote was cast was the last one, in 2012. In late November-early December 2011, Hollande was killing Sarkozy in the polls and, of course, ended up defeating the incumbent president in the end (though his 3.2% margin of victory was far narrower than what all the earlier polls had presaged). As for the other elections, here’s a quick run-down in inverse chronological order:

  • 2007 — In early December 2006, Ségolène Royal—fresh off a blowout 1st round victory in the PS primary—was at parity in the polls with Nicolas Sarkozy. They were exactly equal. The outcome: Sarkozy won handily (53-47).
  • 2002 — In late 2001, both Jacques Chirac and Lionel Jospin were at 25-30% in the polls, and with not a soul in France and Navarre doubting that the two would face off in the 2nd round. Jean-Marie Le Pen, for his part, was in the single digits. The outcome: Jospin received but 16.18% on that 21 avril de funeste mémoire and was shockingly overtaken by Le Pen (at 16.86%). As for Chirac, his 1st round score was a paltry 19.88%. The 2nd round was a foregone conclusion (and with the French people, in effect, deprived of a presidential election).
  • 1995 — In late autumn 1994 PM Édouard Balladur was flying high in the polls and with Chirac going nowhere. Conventional wisdom was that Balladur all but had it in the bag. As for the Socialists—who, at the end of President Mitterrand’s interminable second septennat, were as discredited then as they are today—they didn’t even have a candidate after their great hope Jacques Delors announced, on precisely December 11th, that he wasn’t interested in running. The PS organized a quick primary for January—France’s first ever (a closed one, for card-carrying party members only)—and with two declared candidates: the PS’s gauchiste First Secretary Henri Emmanuelli and Lionel Jospin, who unexpectedly emerged from the political wilderness and to much mockery. Almost no one in the punditocracy or political class took Jospin seriously as a presidential candidate, even after his surprising 2 to 1 landslide victory in the primary. The CW was that he would be eliminated in the 1st round and with the 2nd pitting Balladur against Chirac. The outcome: Jospin finished an unexpected first in the 1st round (23%), going on to lose against Chirac, who had bested Balladur, in the 2nd but with a respectable 47.4% of the vote (thus making him the uncontested chef de file of the PS for the next seven years, that absolutely no one foresaw in late ’94).
  • 1988 — In late 1987 Raymond Barre was polling in the mid 20s and ahead of PM Chirac, and with his 2nd round poll numbers against President Mitterrand showing a relatively close race (52-48 for Mitterrand). The outcome: Chirac decisively overtook Barre in the 1st round (and proceeded to be buried in the 2nd by Mitterrand, 54-46).
  • 1981 — In December 1980 President Giscard d’Estaing had a solid lead in the polls over François Mitterrand and was seen by all and sundry as headed to reelection. The outcome: Mitterrand stuns Giscard in the 2nd round (52-48) on that glorious 10 mai 81.
  • 1974 — At the beginning of the short five week campaign following President Pompidou’s death, the historic Gaullist Jacques Chaban-Delmas had the edge over Valéry Giscard d’Estaing in the contest on the right as to who would square off against the unity candidate of the left, François Mitterrand. The outcome: Giscard easily distanced Chaban in the 1st round (and squeaking by Mitterrand in the 2nd).
  • 1969 — At the onset of the five week campaign following De Gaulle’s resignation, the centrist Alain Poher—president of the senate and acting president of the republic—was level with Georges Pompidou. The outcome: The left having been eliminated in the 1st round, Pompidou went on to pummel Poher in the 2nd (58-42).
  • 1965 — The IFOP poll just three weeks before the vote had President de Gaulle winning outright on the 1st ballot, with 60%. The outcome: CDG, netting a mere 44.65% of the vote, was forced into a 2nd round against François Mitterrand (whom he defeated 55-45: a great score for just about any mortal candidate but for a man of de Gaulle’s stature, somewhat of an échec).

The moral of the story: it is best to avoid handicapping or predicting in November an election scheduled for the following April.

Second point. On Marine Le Pen, I have insisted I don’t know how many times that so long as she remains the most unpopular major political figure in France—with an favorable/unfavorable rating on the order of +25/-71 (in the latest IPSOS baromètre)—she will have no chance—I repeat, no chance whatever—of winning the 2nd round of a presidential election. And even less so against a candidate whose fave/unfave numbers are far less negative than hers. If MLP is Donald Trump (who is actually far more popular in his country than she is in hers), Fillon is not Hillary Clinton: voters of the left don’t like his positions on the issues but there is no visceral loathing and hatred of his person such as that heaped on Hillary following decades of demonization by the Republican/right-wing attack machine. The mass detestation of the left toward Sarkozy has not transferred to Fillon. The notion that voters of the left, faced with a Sophie’s Choice between Fillon and Le Pen, will hold their noses in the fetid stench and vote for the latter because her campaign rhetoric is a little more social makes no sense at all. Working class and other voters from the couches populaires—not to mention fonctionnaires (teachers et al)—who still vote for the left are not going to suddenly defect to the extreme right and vote for a candidate named Le Pen. For Marine LP to win in a 2nd round against Fillon—the candidate of the mainstream right, supported by every last courant in the LR party—well over half of her vote would necessarily have to come from the left, from those who habitually vote for the PS and Front de Gauche; from people who hate the FN and all it stands for, who consider Marine LP to be a danger to democracy and the republic.

This is crazy. C’est du grand n’importe quoi. What will, in fact, happen if it’s Fillon vs. Le Pen in the 2nd is that a few contrarian left voters will go for the latter, with more—out of Front Républicain reflex—holding their noses and voting Fillon to block MLP, and the sizable rest voting blanc or nul, or simply staying home.

Another thing. If Marine LP’s campaign rhetoric accents the social—if she tries to outflank Fillon on the left by playing up her attachment to the famous modèle social français—a potentially consequential number of FN voters in the south will defect to Fillon. Part of the FN’s vote may be populaire and living in conditions of précarité but an equal part is bourgeois, Catholic, and/or ultra-conservative—i.e. not far removed from Fillon’s core voters. FN voters in the Var, Vaucluse, and across the Mediterranean basin do not have precisely the same concerns—or the same socio-economic profile—as those in the Nord, Pas-de-Calais, and elsewhere in France’s northeastern Rust Belt. So MLP will have to think hard and fast before trying to rob Pierre to pay Paul.

As for the left, Jean-Luc Mélenchon will be the unique candidate of the gauche de la gauche (the NPA and LO candidates are each worth 1% max, thus irrelevant). Mélenchon’s 1st round ceiling is 14%, as the addition of votes of all candidates to the left of the PS’s in presidential elections has, from 1988 on, never exceeded that. As for the total vote of the left, I mentioned the IFOP poll in my Nov. 23rd post, which put voters who identify with the left at 48% of the electorate, i.e. almost half, though the total stock of left votes in the 1st round—of all left candidates added up—has not reached this number since ’88 (as a small percentage of left-identifying working class voters have voted Le Pen in the 1st round). In order to win a presidential election, the 1st round stock for the left has to reach 43% (in 2012 it was 44.5%). If the left is at 40%, the PS candidate loses respectably. Unless there is a significant abstention of left voters in next April’s 1st round—or if a François Bayrou candidacy siphons center-left votes—the left stock should attain that number. That means that if there are but two major candidates occupying the space between Mélenchon and Fillon, i.e. the PS candidate and Bayrou or Emmanuel Macron—one of the two will have a good chance of overtaking Marine LP to make it to the 2nd round (as for Yannick Jadot and Sylvie Pinel—if she goes the distance—the two are worth 3% max together, thus negligible). If there are three candidates—PS, Macron, Bayrou—then MLP will almost surely make the 2nd round but, for the moment, I don’t see that happening. On n’en est pas là.

Bayrou: if he runs and Macron desists, I will support him in an instant. He will occupy a sizable space from the center-left to the center-right, and with a positioning on a range of issues that will appeal to a good fifth of the electorate, including those of my general bent (and, pour l’info, I have not been a fan of Bayrou’s in the past or felt affinity with his Christian Democratic world-view). He is also very smart and, given his longevity in the upper tier of the political class, has the stature to be president of the republic. But… I do not—not today at least—see him taking the plunge. It would be his fourth presidential run in a row, his party (MoDem) doesn’t amount to a hill of beans, he does not have a conflictual relationship with Fillon, and if Fillon co-opts the UDI, which appears likely, Bayrou’s political space will shrink comme une peau de chagrin. Malheureusement, I think M. Bayrou’s moment on the presidential scene may have passed.

As for Macron, he’s too green: too young and politically inexperienced to credibly aspire to the Élysée, and bereft of a party to boot. Having a high IQ and being bardé de diplômes does not, in itself, qualify one to be president of the French Republic  Sure, he can run—provided he obtains the 500 signatures to make the ballot—but I don’t see him going past the 1st round. In the highly unlikely event he were to make it to the 2nd, François Fillon would make short work of him. It would be a replay of the Chirac-Laurent Fabius debates in the run-up to the 1986 legislative elections, which the former dominated.

That leaves the Socialists. For better or worse, the front line candidate to face Fillon will most probably come from the ranks of the party that has been in power the past five years, which is the PS. President Hollande will announce any day now—maybe this weekend, no later than Dec. 15th—whether or not he’ll run for a second term. It has been my utter certainty for well over a year, even two, that he’ll throw in the towel, that his poll numbers are simply too catastrophically low for him to have the slightest chance of rallying enough voters on the left to even make it to the 2nd round, let alone be reelected. This has just seemed so obvious to me. But numerous pundits and politicos have been convinced that, yes, he will indeed do it—and with some submitting that he will even bypass the PS’s “Belle Alliance Populaire” primary in January (which would be the shortest political suicide note in modern French history, for both Hollande and his party).

We’ll know soon enough. If Hollande does announce his candidacy—which will, at minimum, constitute definitive proof that his personality is almost as narcissistic as that of the US president-elect—he will go up against at least five candidates in the primary, with Arnaud Montebourg looking to be the strongest. In that event, Montebourg will most certainly win. Seriously, why wouldn’t he? The mere chance that President Hollande would risk such humiliation renders it almost inconceivable that he will run for a second term. But crazier things have happened in history. On verra. If Hollande bows out, then Manuel Valls will certainly leap in, setting up a confrontation between him and Montebourg. The interest engendered by this match-up will certainly insure a relatively high turnout in the primary, probably not on the same level as the right’s (4.3 million) but perhaps equaling that of the PS primary in 2011, with 2.8 million voting in the 2nd round. And the candidate who emerges victorious from that will go up against Marine LP in the 1st round, to determine who faces Fillon in the 2nd. On this, scroll up and reread what happened in 1995.

Third point. Fillon’s program is, as one knows by now, très libéral. It is a program designed to win the core LR electorate but not one that will attract many new adepts in a 2nd round campaign, or even a 1st. The promise to axe 500,000 posts in the fonction publique and significantly increase out-of-pocket costs in the health care system will not fly with a large portion of the electorate, and beyond the part that votes for the left. The question is whether or not Fillon will modify some of his campaign promises to rally 51% of 2nd round voters, particularly if he faces the PS candidate. Some commentators, e.g. the panel of A-team pundits on France 5’s ‘C dans l’air’ two days ago, think Fillon will stick to his guns, that he won’t modify a thing, that it’s the program that won him a landslide victory in the high turnout primary, that it’s his marque de fabrique, he’s going to run on it, and voilà c’est tout. But other commentators, e.g. France Inter’s très libéral economic editorialist Dominique Seux, think that Fillon’s program will witness modifications in the imperative of broadening his base. Raising the retirement age and scrapping the 35 heures will remain, as will abolishing the ISF. But there will be flexibility on Sécu reimbursements and, above all, on axing the 500K public sector jobs, which, the free-marketeer Seux asserts, is “impossible.” Personally speaking, I think Fillon is sufficiently pragmatic that he will take the latter course, that he will inch a bit toward the center. On verra bien.

In conclusion, here’s a tribune posted Monday, “Meet the conservative leader who might become France’s next president,” by Arthur Prévôt, who was a student of mine—Master 2 at the ICP—two years ago. Arthur is a militant in the LR party, politically very conservative, has lived in America, is favorable to Russia, was a part of Sarkozy’s foreign policy team during the primary campaign, and for whom he wrote speeches. We profoundly disagree on just about everything political but he’s bright and was a pleasure to have as a student. He’ll have a brilliant political career if that’s what he decides to do.

ADDENDUM: I just came across a piece, dated Nov. 30th, in Politico.eu, “Why Marine Le Pen won’t win,” by Jacques Lafitte and Denis MacShane. The particulars of their analysis differ from mine but they arrive at the same conclusion.

UPDATE: I watched President Hollande’s address last night (Dec. 1st). I was nervous while he was talking and when it was over, went “wow!” It was a historic moment. Showing my age, I was reminded of LBJ’s address to the American nation on March 31st 1968, which occurred in circumstances similar to the predicament faced by Hollande today. Not only would Hollande have been a certain loser in the election, being eliminated in the 1st round, but most certainly a loser in the PS primary as well. After Sarkozy’s humiliation on Nov. 20th—plus Juppé’s last Sunday—Hollande’s defeat at the hands of Montebourg, Valls, or whoever would have been a foregone conclusion. Listening to the commentaries and reactions after the address, I am astonished at the surprise of pundits and politicos who expected Hollande to run for a second term and despite his execrable poll numbers (e.g. see the latest polling data linked to in this WaPo op-ed, dated Nov. 30th, by Christine Ockrent). What political planet do these people live on? As of today, it looks like the Belle Alliance Populaire primary will be a battle between Valls and Montebourg (though a third man or woman could, of course, emerge). There will be more adepts on the left for Montebourg’s dirigiste-like economic proposals than Valls’s relative libéralisme—and whose identification with the El Khomri law will be a handicap—but the latter’s tough guy pose and intransigent republicanism will likely swing the vote his way. Valls, like Ségolène Royal in the 2006 PS primary, will find his base with Français moyen PS voters in the provinces. That’s the way I see it today, at least.

Repeating what I have said above and over the past two weeks, if both Macron and Bayrou run it is difficult to see how the PS candidate—with Mélenchon gnawing at his heels—will be able to overtake Marine LP to qualify for the 2nd round. But if Bayrou does not take the plunge or Macron fails to land 500 parrainages, then Valls, with a vote in the low 20s, will have a good chance of beating MLP to make it to the 2nd (where he will then lose to Fillon). As usual, the maître-mot is: on verra.

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