Mantes-la-Jolie, 6 December 2018

It’s complicated. There is mass indignation over the images and video of the manner in which the police detained demonstrating high school (lycée) students yesterday in Mantes-la-Jolie, a city some 50 km west of Paris. Lycée students have joined the social movement launched by the Gilets Jaunes last month, protesting reforms in secondary education, notably regarding the baccalaureate. It happens often in France: one category of the work force or general population will launch a social movement over an issue or issues, and other, entirely different categories will then enter the fray and with their own revindications. What the police did with the students in Mantes-la-Jolie was inexcusable, though they (the police) have their own explanation of what happened, of students—or youths who were not students—torching cars, smashing, and seeking confrontation with them. And it does indeed seem that up to 150 casseurs infiltrated the student demos—which can hardly be a surprise, as half of Mantes-la-Jolie’s 42K inhabitants live in the one of the largest public housing complexes (cités) in France.

As it happens, I witnessed a confrontation between police and faux students this morning devant chez moi: in front of my apartment building in my otherwise peaceful banlieue, where nothing newsworthy ever happens. Not that the incident today made the news: it was no big deal, though could have been. At around 8:30 AM we heard lots of chanting, shouting, and general noise from the street. Looking out the window, it was immediately clear that students at the high school down the block had congregated, as part of the national protest movement. At the intersection up the street were eight or so cops with riot equipment, who had blocked traffic—it’s a through street—going toward the lycée.

As for the lycée, I know it well, as not only can we see it from our balcony but our daughter went there (graduating six years ago). And during her years at the lycée, there was a student mobilization, in 2010, during the national trade union-led movement against the Sarkozy-Fillon government’s pension reforms. Not that the reform had a thing to do with high school students but, this being France, they got involved anyway, blocking the entrance to schools, striking (i.e. forcing the cancellation of classes), and demonstrating.

It was frankly preposterous. The movement at the lycée was led by a tiny handful students with advanced political consciousness—one being a girl in my daughter’s class, who got straight As and was aiming to go to Sciences Po, so I learned—who manned the barricade, so no one could enter the school, and chanted slogans with bullhorns. As my daughter said at the time, the near totality of the students (herself included) had no opinion whatever on the pension reforms, let alone knowledge (“hey, we’re 16-years-old, what do we know about politics, or anything?”). But within two weeks, lots of kids were supporting the strike and expressing resolute opposition to Sarkozy’s policies (my daughter included, though she said later that they were all just happy not to have to go to class).

So this morning, seeing the gathering of students at the lycée gate, I figured it was the same thing as in 2010, except I have no memory of a significant police presence then. The presence of the police out in force does change the dynamic. And so a pack of some thirty kids this morning started to march past our building toward the police barricade, yelling and chanting slogans, e.g. ‘Macron démission!’.

And the police responded by firing smoke grenades.

The police then suddenly got in their cars and left, so the youths, exuberant and chanting, headed back to the intersection and, seeing a flat-bed truck—that just happened to be there, waiting to turn left—piled in the back. I noted from the bedroom window that while there were a few girls, almost all the youths were boys (mid-late teens).

They were whooping it up and having a fine time but I found the ambiance unsettling. The boys got off the truck at the lycée, started to drag empty garbage containers into the middle of the street, and then set fire to them, throwing other combustible material in (including a fire extinguisher). I decided to go down to the street, at 10:00, and get a closer look.

I tried to ask a couple of boys why the hell they were doing this but no one even looked at me. It was pretty clear that they were not, in fact, students at the lycée. I know the profile of kids at that school—which is a lycée général et technologique, tracking students to higher education—and these were not it. They were manifestly from the nearby cité, with its sizable population of families of North and sub-Saharan African origin (but also others, including regular “white” French). Des renois et rebeus, et des petits blancs. Et tous des petits cons. Une bande des branleurs dans toutes ses couleurs. A mob in the making, with zero political consciousness and who don’t know anything about anything. I was afraid that one of the wankers would have the brilliant idea to torch a car, which would lead others to do likewise. It does happen. That’s how mobs work.

The fact is this: student movements—university and particularly lycée—are always infiltrated by casseurs and/or black blocs, who couldn’t care less about the political or social questions behind the movement, who come to loot, pillage, smash, commit arson, and clash with the police—and also to rob from legitimate student demonstrators. Ils n’en ont rien à foutre. It never fails to happen (and, pour l’info, this was equally the case in May ’68, when there was serious degradation inside the Sorbonne committed by hordes of non-students).

I went to the intersection, where a few municipal cops were watching the scene from a distance, to ask when the sapeurs-pompiers (firemen) were going to arrive. When I told one of the cops that the youths were certainly not students at the lycée, he agreed, saying that they were déscolarisé (school drop-outs). I also asked when the regular police were going to come back and deal with the situation—even though their initial presence may have made the situation that much more tense in the first place. The relationship between the police and youths of post-colonial immigrant origin is toxic, as one knows, and with the behavior of the police hugely to blame (I’ve written about it at some length here).

The pompiers finally arrived, and not a minute too soon.

And the police too, with flash balls and other riot equipment (but no firearms visible; France is not the United States ٱلْـحَـمْـدُ للهِ‎). And as the pompiers put out the fire they slowly advanced on the chanting mob (who numbered maybe fifty or sixty).

And the mob dispersed, without the police resorting to tear gas or cracking skulls. Ouf. By 10:45 it was over.

It was finally no big deal. Nothing to write home about. But it could have been far worse. Holding my breath for tomorrow.

Rochefort, 24 November 2018 (credit: Xavier Leoty/AFP)

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I’ve been closely following the Gilets Jaunes movement over the past two-three weeks, reading analyses—several very good, by social scientists and historians—in the press and various websites, and trying to understand it. I intend to write something on the subject, by next weekend inshallah. In the meantime, stateside friends, family members, and relatives, who have seen dramatic televised images, have been asking me about it. In lieu of my own take, which will come, here are some good reports in English that I came across today.

One is the latest dispatch by The Washington Post’s invariably excellent Paris correspondent, James McAuley, “In France, the pain behind the ‘yellow vest’ protests is felt mostly outside Paris.”

Another is by veteran Paris correspondent John Lichfield, who writes in The Local that “The savage violence which erupted in Paris on Saturday was not a protest, it was an insurrection.”

The images of the violence and destruction in Paris yesterday were shocking indeed, not to mention outrageous. Whatever the legitimacy of the revindications of the Gilets Jaunes, these cannot be served by rioting, arson, and destruction.

As for who was responsible for this, Lichfield writes

I was on the avenues and streets surrounding the Arc de Triomphe most of the day. The “casseurs” (thugs) were, actively or by consent, the overwhelming majority of the 10,000 gilets jaunes (yellow vests) in the capital.

At least 70 per cent, by my reckoning, were not urban guerrillas from the ultra-right or from the anarchist left. They were amateur provincial guerrillas. They came from the radical parts of the gilets jaunes movement in suffering areas of northern or western France or from the outer Paris suburbs. They were mostly men in their 20s and 30s but there were many older men and some women.

Lichfield may have been there—whereas I was chez moi in my banlieue flat, catching up in the evening via reports on the télé—but I do not believe, until definitive proof to the contrary, that the majority of casseurs were bona fide Gilets Jaunes. The televised images after the fact showed many of the casseurs to be the usual hooligans who profit from such movements to loot, pillage, and torch cars. As for casseurs who were wearing a gilet jaune (yellow vest), any wanker can put one on. Hell, I could put one on myself—I have a gilet jaune in the trunk of my car, as does every car owner in France (it’s the law), and they can be purchased in any supermarket—but that would not ipso facto make me a #GiletJaune.

There were certainly radicalized elements from the provinces who came to Paris to raise hell—we know this, as quite a few were arrested yesterday—but I will wager that they did not participate in the first big Gilet Jaune demos on November 17th, or even the 24th. Those in the image up top were far more representative. And they are not the rioting, smashing types. There has certainly been a bandwagon effect over the past two weeks. And it is incontestable that ultra-left and ultra-right groupuscules played an important part in yesterday’s rioting (antifa and alt-right joining forces, if you will).

And then there were faux Gilets Jaunes, e.g. this well-known hard-right activist—from the 2013 anti-gay marriage movement—who slipped on a yellow vest and was interviewed as a legitimate Gilet Jaune by Russia Today (whose reporter wore a helmet, as if in a war zone):

Don’t miss Arthur Goldhammer’s latest post on the Tocqueville 21 blog, “‘Ce peuple est encore dangereux’.”

À bientôt.

UPDATE: Mediapart editor-publisher Edwy Plenel has an excellent commentary, which has been translated into English, “The ‘gilets jaunes’ protests: the battle for equality.” Hopefully Mediapart will lift the subscriber wall for it.

2nd UPDATE: See Arthur Goldhammer’s latest post (December 4th), “Did Macron’s Tax Reforms Spark the Riots?,” which is based on this piece in the FT.

3rd UPDATE: Emile Chabal—a Reader in History at the University of Edinburgh—has an op-ed in The Hindu (December 6th), “United colours of the ‘yellow vests’,” that is one of the best analyses of the Gilets Jaunes I’ve seen so far in English.

Also see Adam Nossiter’s report (December 5th) in the NYT, “How France’s ‘yellow vests’ differ from populist movements elsewhere.”

4th UPDATE: Le Monde editorial director Sylvie Kauffmann writes in the NYT (December 6th) on “Macron’s moment of truth.” The lede: “Weeks of violent protest by France’s angry working poor are testing a president who promised the people reform but has failed to govern with them, rather than over them.”

5th UPDATE: Paris-based journalist Cole Stangler, who leans to the left, has a good piece (December 7th) in The Nation, “What’s really behind France’s Yellow Vest protest?” The lede: “It’s not just about the fuel tax; it’s about anger at ever-increasing burdens on the working class.”

6th UPDATE: Hudson Institute fellow Benjamin Haddad, a onetime UMP activist who strongly supported Emmanuel Macron from the outset of his presidential campaign, weighs in (December 7th) on “Macron’s moment of reckoning” in Politico.eu. The lede: “Protests are part of France’s DNA. These are different.”

7th UPDATE: Claire Berlinski, who’s a friend, has a piece (December 7th) in the right-leaning City Journal, “Riots in Paris: The police underestimated the madness of the crowd.” N.B. Contrary to what Claire writes, the regular army has not been deployed and there are no tanks on the streets of Paris.

8th UPDATE: Adam Gopnik, who knows France well, has his take (December 6th) in The New Yorker, “The Yellow Vests and why there are so many street protests in France.” He errs on a couple of historical details but gets the big picture right.

9th UPDATE: The Financial Times has a ‘Big Read’ article (December 7th) by reporters Harriet Agnew and Ben Hall, “‘Look at me, I exist’: French protesters send message to Macron.” The lede: “‘Gilets jaunes’ demonstrations have become a rallying point for a legion of disaffected workers.”

And the FT’s Paris correspondent, Simon Kuper, had a tweet storm (December 8th) with his “quick thoughts on what’s happening in France.”

10th UPDATE: See the 3-minute WSJ YouTube video, “What is France’s ‘Gilets Jaunes’ or ‘Yellow Vests’ protest movement?”

Better yet is the 5-minute interview (December 8th) with Arthur Goldhammer on France 24, “‘Yellow vest’ protests: What can Emmanuel Macron say to turn things around?”

11th UPDATE: I’ve copied-and-pasted in the comments thread below a lengthy take (December 11th) on the Gilets Jaunes by anthropologist Hannah Davis Taïeb.

George H.W. Bush, R.I.P.

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Far from me to speak positively of a Republican president but of the six in my politically conscious lifetime, he was the least bad. And unlike the others (Gerald Ford excepted), I never actively disliked him, let alone despised. I naturally voted for Michael Dukakis in 1988—who was my candidate from the outset of that primary season—and was thrilled with Bill Clinton’s victory in ’92. On that 1988 campaign, Bush carries the stain of the Willie Horton ad—and of having hired his racist campaign manager, Lee Atwater, in the first place, who hatched the ad—and demagoguing the ACLU, entre autres. But when it came to domestic policy during his administration, he was pretty good for a Republican, as Matthew Yglesias reminds us, e.g. signing the Americans With Disabilities Act, a law expanding legal immigration, amendments to the Clean Air Act that tightened regulation of air pollution, running afoul of the NRA (and whose membership he renounced in 1995), and, of course, approving a tax increase when this needed to happen. Utterly inconceivable for a GOPer after his presidency, not to mention today. Bush was a moderate Republican, an honorable political species that is now all but extinct. Like many moderate Republicans he voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, which, for a lifelong Republican, was an honorable thing to do.

It was, of course, in foreign policy where Bush stood out. Borrowing from Georges Marchais (albeit in a different context), le bilan était globalement positif, i.e. the record was largely positive. I personally supported the 1989 Panama invasion at the time, though felt differently about it later in view of the civilian casualties. I did not, however, feel differently later on about the 1990-91 Gulf intervention, during which I entirely, 100% supported the Bush 41 administration. As I’ve already written about this I won’t elaborate here, except to recount how, in October ’90, I informed a group of Saddam Hussein-supporting youths on an Algiers street, who were trying to get my goat (they were from my neighborhood, so knew me), that Bush would squash Saddam like a bug, and then stomped my foot on the ground like I was squashing a bug, specifying that I was Bush and the imaginary bug was Saddam. Not an adult-like reaction but, hey, it made me feel good. I did change my mind later—in 1998, to be precise—on the sanctions regime imposed on Iraq, i.e. that it should be unilaterally ended, in view of the catastrophic effects it was having on the Iraqi people, but that was under the Clinton administration’s watch.

Bush père is also to be commended for his even-handed policy toward Israel, in opposing settlement construction in the occupied territories and refusing to be intimidated by the pro-Israel lobby in Washington. Above all, though, was the role he played at the end of the Cold War, specifically the fall of the Berlin wall and inevitable reunification of Germany. Bush’s leadership on this—on unequivocally endorsing reunification—was critical, and contrasted with the, shall we say, unhelpful attitudes of François Mitterrand and Margaret Thatcher. In foreign policy, Bush was, in Walter Russell Mead’s four school schema, a Hamiltonian, befitting his elite East Coast pedigree: internationalist, Europe-oriented, and strongly adhering to a free trade regime, American participation in multilateral institutions, and close relationships with longstanding allies. In the Hamilton world-view, the prosperity of Europe and the world is in the interest of America, as it contributes to the prosperity of America and, concomitantly, to peace and stability. It is the opposite of zero-sum, which is to say, the world-view of the present occupant of the White House. Bush was indeed the kind of American president most appreciated in chancelleries in Western Europe, and most definitely in Paris. George H.W. Bush was the last Hamiltonian president of the Republican Party we are likely to see.

Stephen Walt summed it up in this tweet:

Tim Naftali, a clinical associate professor of history and public service at NYU, has an obituary in Slate that is worth the read, “The overlooked president: We should thank George H.W. Bush for many of the successes attributed to Reagan and Clinton.” And see the seven-minute video from Vox, “The George H.W. Bush promise that changed the Republican Party.”

Conclusion: GHW Bush was the kind of Republican whose election we would be disappointed by though without fearing catastrophe. Or worse.

And, needless to say, he was far better than his son.

UPDATE: David Greenberg—who teaches history, journalism, and media studies at Rutgers University—has a critical article in Politico, “Is history being too kind to George H.W. Bush? The 41st president put self-interest over principle time and time again,” that views Bush differently from Tim Naftali, linked to above.

2nd UPDATE: Voilà Bruce Bartlett, writing in The Baffler, “Death and taxes: George H. W. Bush was right about taxes, but he broke the Republican Party.”

3rd UPDATE: Andrew Nagorski writes in The Daily Beast that “Reagan brought down the Berlin Wall, but it was George H.W. Bush who unified Germany.” The lede: “A united Germany might not have emerged at all without the consummate skill that the late president displayed.”

4th UPDATE: Here’s a critical assessment by Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch, “George H.W. Bush was a family man and war hero who gave America its horribly destructive politics.”

5th UPDATE: Never Trumper ex-neocon Max Boot calls George H.W. Bush “the anti-Trump.”

6th UPDATE: The New Republic’s Jeet Heer writes on “The whitewashing of George H. W. Bush: Elite nostalgia and anti-Trump sentiment are leading to one-sided reminiscences.”

7th UPDATE: John Judis has a post in TPM on “George H.W. Bush and the quest for a realistic foreign policy.”

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It’s been almost two weeks since the elections and I remain riveted to the post-mortem analyses, particularly as the results continue to come in (only in America is the outcome of an election not only not definitive by the following day but takes weeks before all the ballots are counted and the final numbers known). Call it what you will—a blue wave in slow motion, a blue tide—the midterms were a big victory for the Democratic Party—and given the structural disadvantages the Democrats were up against, not to mention egregious gerrymandering the likes of which have never before been seen in the history of the republic, the victory was even more impressive than those of the Republicans in 1994 and 2010.

There were disappointments of course, notably Florida—the one 2016 purple state where Trump has not lost ground, and which was thus going to be tough, and all the more so in the face of voter suppression—and some weak spots, as Nate Cohn, raining on the parade, pointed out. But the bright spots were more numerous, e.g. in suburbs everywhere; the Mountain West, notably Arizona and Colorado, which are now purple to blue; onetime Republican strongholds in California that are now blue, most remarkably Orange County; in swathes of the South—where the blue wave was blunted by gerrymandering but where a different kind of Democratic Party is rising—and particularly North Carolina, where the Democrats may succeed in overcoming the Republicans even at the state level by 2022; and across the Rust Belt, e.g. the blue tsunami in Michigan, and even in Ohio, which looked to have turned into an outright red state in the immediate aftermath of the election but, in analyzing the data, in fact remains purple, i.e. competitive for the Dems in 2020. And then there’s Texas and Beto O’Rourke’s exceptional campaign; as the sober, level-headed Thomas B. Edsall, who is no Dem Party Pollyanna, wrote in a must-read column last week, a blue Texas could actually happen, and particularly with Trump in the White House. Edsall’s analysis reminds one of what was said about rock-ribbed Republican Virginia—a state that simply never voted for a Democrat at the national level—in the mid ’00s, that it was destined to become a swing state by 2016, maybe even 2012. But, lo and behold, VA went for Obama in ’08 and is now solidly blue. If/when Texas votes for a Democratic presidential candidate, it’s ‘game over’ for the Republican Party.

The Cook Political Report editor David Wasserman’s tweet on Saturday pretty much sums it up:

And this by Nate Silver:

See the full thread of Silver’s tweet—which is a must-read—here.

So one feels good about the Dems, particularly in perusing the image up top, posted by Robert Reich on his Facebook page and in which he rhetorically asked to spot the difference.

University of Washington political theory professor Jamie Mayerfeld had a nice post on Facebook, which I am taking the liberty of copying-and-pasting:

I am a Democrat. I have always been a Democrat (…). My identification with the Democratic party has waxed and waned, but at the moment it is intense. Right now, we face an existential danger – an emboldened extreme-right anti-planet xenophobic Orwellian racist political movement that has seized control of the Republican party. We need to fight it in an organized manner. That organized resistance has a name, and it is the Democratic party.

It’s 2018. The Democratic party is not what it was in 1876 or 1996. (Remember this: in 1981, 48 Democratic representatives and 37 Democratic senators voted for Reagan’s tax bill, whereas in 2017 zero Democratic representatives and zero Democratic senators voted for Trump’s tax bill. My thanks to Corey Robin for making this point.) On a wide range of issues, the Democratic party has been transformed, thanks to the hard-fought battles of (among others) LGBT activists, immigrant rights activists, and Black Lives Matter. Let us not throw away the hard-fought victories of these movements now. I agree that there is still a lot of room for improvement; we must demand continued improvement from the Democratic party.

My gratitude to the Democratic party is reinforced when I compare the United States to many other countries, such as the UK, where the main alternative to Theresa May is a party whose leader refuses to oppose Brexit and who echoes pro-Putin and pro-Assad propaganda. Or France, where the left is demoralized and divided. Or Italy, where its electoral presence has plunged to new lows. One can’t take it for granted that in a country of over 300 million people a politically viable party somewhat approximates one’s policy preferences. And yet I’m pretty sure that the Democratic party roughly approximates – or provides a major platform for – the policy preferences of many self-styled progressives. We are, in one respect, very lucky.

Jamie is on the mark in his comparison of the US Democrats to their center-left/progressive counterparts in Europe, which are in a pitiful and/or calamitous state (but that’s a discussion for another day).

Some three months ago I categorically asserted that “barring major voter suppression in key swing states (emphasis added), Trump will not and cannot win in 2020,” and explained why. I will categorically assert this even more forcefully today, adding that I don’t think even voter suppression—in the states where it is brazen—will save Trump. Even lucid conservatives, staring reality in the face, know this, e.g. Commentary magazine’s John Podhoretz, who, in a post-mortem analysis, remarked that “[t]his election is very bad for the GOP, and harbingers ill for 2020.’ He concludes:

In 2006 and 2008, Democrats romped in Republican areas and came to believe the country’s ideological complexion had changed forever—and after aggressively passing expensive statist bills, they were set on their heels [in 2010] by voters who didn’t want the country to change that much or spend that much. And yet Barack Obama won in 2012.

But the analogy breaks down here, because Obama lost 4.5 million votes between 2008 and 2012 and still managed to win—because his margin of victory had been so huge originally. Trump got 63 million votes in 2016 and cannot afford to lose a single voter—indeed, he needs to gain voters. Where are the voters he’s going to gain? What has he done to expand out his base? Nothing—indeed, it looks increasingly like his “base play” in the last week may have delivered a death blow to Republican Senate candidates in Arizona and Nevada and might have hurt in several House races. This would suggest Trump’s electoral instincts are bad, not good, and that next time he needs to look at the situation with a colder and clearer eye. But who’s going to tell him? And does anyone think he would listen?

Can Trump change between now and 2020? Or ever? The question answers itself, as we know full well that he cannot and will not change. At a talk-debate on the midterms that I attended today, Stanford University/Hoover Institution political scientist David Brady said—and more than once—that Trump will only become more “trumpier” from here on out. It will be his reflex and the only thing he knows how to do. He will feed a steady diet of red meat to his fanaticized base—the quarter to a third of the electorate who will continue adoring him even if he shoots someone—but will not expand it, as he can’t and it’s quite simply impossible at this point. Seriously, who will vote for Trump in 2020 who did not in 2016? And at least some of his 2016 voters will not recidivate in ’20, that’s for sure. It will be miraculous if Trump reaches even 45% of the popular vote, and all the more so as turnout promises to be historic (at the talk-debate today, Stanford University political scientist/YouGov CEO Doug Rivers spoke of a possible 150 million voters in ’20; cf. 136.7 million in 2016 and 129 million in 2012).

And then there’s the Electoral College. It looks nigh certain that the 2020 campaign will be waged almost entirely in maybe eight or nine states, all of which Trump won in 2016, and where the Democratic candidate, whoever s/he may be—and it really doesn’t matter—will have the advantage. The Dems will start by locking down Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin—where Trump will not stun the world a second time with razor-thin victories—and obviously target Florida (where the 1.4 million newly enfranchised ex-felons will be a game changer), plus North Carolina and Arizona, which are low-hanging fruit at this point. And the map will be expanded to Georgia and Texas—the Big Enchilada—which Trump will thus have to fight to keep. Ohio and Iowa, though within reach, will be more difficult, though it’s hard to see the Dems not making a play for them.

As for Trump, he may make forays into Minnesota, New Hampshire, Nevada, and—if every electoral vote counts—the Maine 2nd CD, and which the Dems will thus not be able to take for granted, but does anyone seriously think he has a chance of winning any of these? (okay, perhaps the ME 2nd; la belle affaire). The bottom line: the Democratic candidate’s paths to victory will be numerous, whereas Trump—whose paths are exceedingly narrow—will be playing defense. La messe est dite. Voilà.

UPDATE: Nate Silver has an important analysis (November 20th) on the wave election and how “Trump’s base isn’t enough,” i.e. for him to win in 2020.

2nd UPDATE: Thomas B. Edsall has a column dated November 29th, “Donald Trump’s dimming prospects: Two years is an eternity in politics, but the president has a lot to worry about,” in which he says pretty much what I do above.

Midterm elections: post-mortem

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This will be a brief one, as everyone has read countless analyses and commentaries by this point (6pm EST)—and Trump, seeking to change the subject, has, in firing Jeff Sessions—to whom one says ‘good riddance!’—already pushed the election results off the headlines. I had mixed feelings about the outcome last night and much of today. Though I was naturally relieved that the Democrats won the House, as was expected, I was hoping for a little more of a blue wave. A pick up of 34 seats, or whatever it will be, is un peu ric-rac (cf. the Republican blowouts of 1994 and 2010). And while I know how to read polls and am not Pollyannaish, I did have hopes/fantasies that the Dems could maybe win the Senate. Losing a net of two seats—and maybe three once the AZ and FL races are called—does not alter the status quo but will make winning a majority in 2020 that much steeper of a climb. Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Donnelly, and Claire McCaskill—all in deep red states—were not favored to win but still. Andrew Gillum’s unexpected loss was a big disappointment—and particularly to the Trump acolyte Ron DeSantis—as well as Stacey Abrams’s apparent one to the fascistic Brian Kemp, and it’s a pity that Beto O’Rourke didn’t stun the insidious Ted Cruz. But the mere fact that all three—who are progressives and two of them persons of color—came within a hair of winning—and the latter two in states where Democrats simply no longer win statewide races—is, objectively speaking, a feat in itself. And the defeats of the loathsome Scott Walker and even more awful Kris Kobach, entre autres, were particularly gratifying (in September of last year I predicted that Kobach would be the GOP’s post-Trump presidential nominee, but it now looks like I will be happily wrong on that).

So after the early disappointment, I’m feeling a little bit better about the Dems’ performance, and generally subscribe to the instant takes of EJ Dionne Jr, Ezra Klein, Kevin Drum, Nate Cohn, and Jim Newell, who see the outcome as a Democratic victory and a major setback for Trump. Given the state of the economy—the growth and unemployment rates being what they are—and with American soldiers not dying in a futile war that has nothing to do with the security of the homeland, it is quite exceptional that the opposition party would nonetheless win the popular by seven or eight points. Trump may be able to whip his deplorable base into a frenzy but he cannot expand it. It is a minority of the electorate and will remain as such. It only wins because of the structural distortions of representation (in the House and, above all, the Senate), gerrymandering, and voter suppression by GOP state governments.

While the Dems may finally feel okay about the outcome and with this manifestly representing a repudiation of Trump, that does not necessarily mean the latter is unhappy about it. Matthew Yglesias, in his instant analysis, sees Trump as one of yesterday’s winners, and he’s not wrong. The House may now be able to thwart Trump’s legislative agenda, except that Trump does not have such an agenda. He doesn’t care about legislation, particularly now that the Republicans have their tax cut for the 1%. Trump’s main interest is his judicial, cabinet, and other nominees, for which he needs the Senate. And that he has in his pocket—and all the more so as he pulled out the stops in the home stretch to campaign for GOP Senate candidates in close races. As for House investigations and subpoenas, Trump will stonewall, obstruct, and generally tell Nancy Pelosi and her colleagues to go to hell. A prediction: if a House committee subpoenas Trump’s tax returns, he will refuse to turn them over, even if the Supreme Court rules that he must (which it may or may not do). The only recourse for the House will be impeachment, with the full knowledge that the Senate will not convict. And in the meantime, Trump will spend the next two years on the campaign trail, feeding his frenzied deplorables and bashing the House Democrats nonstop. And he’ll love every minute of it, as will his deplorables. That is what awaits us.

Certain pundits last night on Twitter, including the most serious among them, were mentioning Beto O’Rourke as a prospect for the Democrats in 2020. Pourquoi pas?

UPDATE: The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer has a spot-on post-election piece—in which he says what I’ve been for some time—”America’s problem isn’t tribalism—it’s racism.” The lede: “Only one of America’s major political parties relies on stoking hatred and fear against those outside its coalition.”

2nd UPDATE: The Democrats on Tuesday made major gains at the state level, as one may read here and here. As the second link, by Bryce Covert, tells us, “[f]orget Congress. State legislatures are where real progressive action is most likely to happen.”

3rd UPDATE: The always interesting Thomas B. Edsall’s latest in the NYT opinion page is entitled, “The polarizer-in-chief meets the midterms.” The lede: “Democrats and Republicans continue to move farther apart. Trump wouldn’t have it any other way.”

4th UPDATE: Never Trumper ex-Republican Rick Wilson, whose writing style I love, had a typically terrific opinion piece in The Daily Beast, dated October 24th, which I just came across, on Trump’s rally in Houston two days earlier. It begins:

On Monday night, Donald Trump shoved the nationalist needle into the veins of millions of his followers, and slammed the plunger home. He finally said what we’ve known all along: He’s a nationalist.

He sent a signal to his alt-right allies that it’s time to rally to his side once again, just ahead of the midterm elections. It was one more knife into the moldering corpse of the GOP, which with every Trump rally has looked more and more like some clapped-out third-world claque of the Glorious Leader’s sycophants, and less like a modern political institution.

By the time the rally was over, David Duke was praising Donald Trump, delighted to hear the sound of a whistle that deafened every dog within a thousand miles. For the Tiki-Torch-and-Polo-Shirt Mafia, it was like finally having sex with a live, uncompensated human female.

If only I could write with such flair. Read the whole thing here.

5th UPDATE: Slate’s William Saletan has “Ten takeaways from Tuesday’s results,” one being that the Brett Kavanaugh hearings—with Christine Blasey Ford and all—hurt the Republicans (not the Democrats).

This is a follow-up to my post of last night. I am taking the liberty of copying-and-pasting part of an email news bulletin sent yesterday, via The Action Network, by Michael Podhorzer, the (quite brilliant) political director of the AFL-CIO, which naturally concerns the midterms:

Normalizing Threats to Democracy

We cannot let a House win create the illusion that democracy worked. So, it’s worth recapping some of the most egregious threats to democracy:

  • Gerrymandering – This morning, 538 gives Democrats an 85.6 percent chance of winning the House. It’s left completely without comment that there’s virtually no chance that the Democrats will lose the national House vote. And, while there’s a very good chance that House Democrats will win their highest share of the midterm vote in 32 years, there’s no chance that their number of seats will reflect that. The same thing will be true in dozen of state legislative chambers.
  • The Senate – This morning, 538 gives Democrats only a 14.4 percent chance of winning control of the Senate, and projects that it’s just as likely that they will lose two seats. Yet, no matter what the outcome, it will be true that the 100 senators seated next January will have received more Democratic than Republican votes.
  • Rigging the rules – Georgia is certainly the most egregious case. Brian Kemp has run the table – seeing nothing wrong with supervising his own election, he’s done everything he could to disenfranchise African American voters, and even warned his supporters of the dangers of them “exercising their voting rights.” And yesterday, without any evidence, he accused the Georgia Democratic Party of attempting to hack the voter registration data base – something he had erroneously accused Obama of doing before. Here’s the post-election problem: If Abrams wins, that will be used to argue that voter suppression didn’t matter. If Abrams loses, the country will move on. (See Bush v. Gore.) This report by the Brennan Center provides a very comprehensive review of recent voter suppression efforts.

In his newsletter, Podhorzer highly recommends the new book by A-list political scientists John Sides, Michael Tesler & Lynn Vavreck, Identity Crisis: The 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Battle for the Meaning of America, which is the subject of a piece in Vox yesterday by Ezra Klein, “How identity politics elected Donald Trump: And how it explains the Republican Party’s 2018 strategy.”

John Sides et al also had an op-ed in yesterday’s NYT, “It’s not easy to predict how immigration will affect the midterms.” The lede: “Trump’s unrelenting focus on migrants may prove ineffective because voters have already sorted themselves out along partisan lines.”

Regardless of what happens today, this is, as The New Republic’s Alex Shephard informs us, “[a] hopeless election: No matter the outcome…American politics will only get worse.”

Shephard concludes his depressing commentary with this: “What happens in 2020 is anyone’s guess, but the final scene of Reservoir Dogs comes to mind.” Here is that final scene.

Midterm elections: the eve

All I know is what I read in the papers and at FiveThirtyEight.com, which is that the Democrats should win the House (87.6% probability, dixit Nate Silver & Co) but not the Senate (a mere 19% chance for the Dems, d’après 538; though I will personally not be surprised if Beto O’Rourke pulls off a stunning upset against the unspeakable Ted Cruz). I’ve been optimistic all along for the Democrats: given Trump’s unpopularity, the succession of special election victories—or narrow losses in heavily red CDs—since the wanker was inaugurated and with impressive candidates, the unprecedented mobilization of the resistance, and the simple fact that there are more of “us” then there are of “them,” it has stood to reason that the Dems would make substantial gains this November 6th. Also, the consequences of Trump keeping his congressional majority for another two years have simply been too hideous to contemplate—not to mention what lessons he and the Republicans would draw from a Democratic Party midterm failure, and how this would impact their future action. The disaster of another two years of what we’ve been living through these past two necessitates no elaboration.

But like just about everyone, I’m nervous, if not anxious, about tomorrow. Though it is unlikely that we’ll lose, it is not totally out of the question. These are midterm elections, after all, so turnout is a big question mark (and despite the impressive early voting numbers). And even if Dem voters—including younger ones—turn out in unprecedented numbers, gerrymandering and other distortions in representation, could dilute the surge, e.g. the Dems rolling up majorities à la soviétique in CDs like the NY 14th but falling short in, say, the IL 6th and other toss-ups. To this, one may add egregious voter suppression in states with critical races (e.g. GA, ND, TNTX, WI)

Then there’s Trump’s barnstorming across the heartland, whipping up his deplorable cult voters—a granite-solid quarter to a third of the electorate, plus fellow travelers—with a level of demagoguery and rank racism the likes of which we have never witnessed from an American president. Trump is going the full fascist, and his base loves it. In an (uninteresting, uninsightful) op-ed in today’s NYT, contributing opinion writer Christopher Buskirk—who is editor and publisher of the pro-Trump journal American Greatness, and thus what passes for a Trumpian intellectual, which has to be the sole reason the NYT has engaged him, as it’s not clear what else he brings to the table—argued that the Democrats—whom he unsurprisingly predicts will be sorely disappointed by tomorrow’s outcome—committed a strategic error with their “failed character assassination” of Brett Kavanaugh, as this, among other things, both enraged and energized Republican Party voters.

I’ve heard this from progressive friends as well, who think the Dems blew it during the Kavanaugh hearings. Now it is incontestable that at least some pro-Trump voters were roused from their torpor by Kavanaugh’s counter-attack against Christine Blasey Ford. And there is no doubt that the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee did not handle the situation well, as they could have gone after Kavanaugh much more forcefully than they did. But when Blasey Ford’s account inevitably came to light in the course of the summer, it was inevitable that she would testify before the committee once she agreed to do so. And so she did—and many, myself included, found her convincing, though others did not—and which enabled Kavanaugh—who, one may surmise, received free advice from the Republican Party’s top political professionals—to go on the offensive and whip up the Trump base. His strategy could not have been anticipated—and, in any case, it was not—the thing took the course that it did, and it is not apparent what the Democrats could have done otherwise.

Some recommended articles I’ve read over the past few days:

Jonathan Chait in New York magazine, “However the midterms go, the Republican Party is going to get more extreme.”

Michael Tomasky in The Daily Beast, “This Republican campaign is the most racist, dishonest ever.” The lede: “Republicans used to be able to pretend that racism was tangential to their electoral success. With this campaign, those days are long gone.”

David Roberts in Vox, “The caravan ‘invasion’ and America’s epistemic crisis: The far right’s xenophobic fantasies now involve the actual US military.”

Joshua Zeitz in Politico Magazine, “Democrats aren’t moving left. They’re returning to their roots.” The lede: “Many on both sides are worried about the party’s leftward swing. They say it’s a deviation from the mainstream. It’s not.”

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