Digesting the disaster

Hillary Clinton supporters, Tuesday night (AFP)

Hillary Clinton supporters, Tuesday night (AFP)

[update below] [2nd update below]

Yesterday was tough. For me and everyone. I couldn’t listen to my usual radio news programs and did not turn on the idiot box to watch the news. And I couldn’t bring myself to open Le Monde. The banner headline: “Donald Trump Président des États-Unis.” Quel cauchemar. Today is a little bit better but not really. I have been reading post-mortem analyses, though, plus examining the results and exit poll data. Here’s some of what one learns:

  • Everyone knows by now that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. She’s presently at 47.7% and Trump at 47.5%, with an advance of some 280K votes. But once all the mail-in and provisional ballots are tabulated—notably in deep blue California and Washington state—her lead will widen to perhaps 1.5 million votes, even 2M. Her percentage will break 48 and with Trump’s dropping below Mitt Romney’s 47.2 in 2012. The spread between Hillary and Trump will be wider than that of Gore over Bush in 2000 (539K votes and 0.5%). Now this won’t change a thing in terms of the result of course, but it is nonetheless important to know that the election was not a repudiation of Hillary. And with Trump on track to underperform Romney’s numbers—60.9M votes, with Trump presently at 59.8M—one can hardly argue that the American electorate has jumped on the populist bandwagon. And there is no indication, at least not yet, that Trump attracted large numbers of new voters or habitual abstainers, unlike Ross Perot in 1992, whose candidacy caused voter participation to spike, with 13M more voters casting ballots than four years prior. The final turnout number of this election will be below that of 2012 (129M).
  • Hillary underperformed Obama’s 2012 score (51.1%) by some 3% and, projecting to the definitive result, by around 5 million votes (Obama received 65.9M). Some of Obama 2012 voters no doubt stayed home—blacks and millennials; we don’t yet know the extent—but much of Hillary’s shortfall, as one may see in this great NYT map, came from white working class voters in the Rust Belt who defected to Trump. It was a failure of pollsters, but also of the Clinton campaign and its internal polling—or algorithm—that the scale of this movement wasn’t detected.
  • It had been an assumption for much of the campaign, including by myself, that significantly more Republican voters would not vote for their candidate than Democratic voters defecting from theirs. But not only did Republican voters return to the fold (90%) but did so more than Democrats who voted for Clinton (89%). And while defecting Democrats no doubt voted in their overwhelming majority for Trump, many #NeverTrump Republicans look to have voted for Gary Johnson or stayed home rather than cast a ballot for Hillary.
  • The numbers make it clear: there was no Trump wave. His voters were those who always vote Republican plus a sufficient number of white working class Democratic defectors to put him over the top in Rust Belt states that were part of Hillary’s supposed firewall. And Hillary lost because her campaign failed to recognize the danger to that firewall. The bottom line: Trump was elected, as Scott Lemieux reminds us, exclusively on account of America’s archaic, nonsensical electoral system, a.k.a. the electoral college.

A few of the many worthwhile postmortem commentaries:

New York mag’s Jonathan Chait, “Republicans won power, but they didn’t win America.” Not that Republicans care about the latter, of course. The former is what’s essential.

The Nation’s Joan Walsh, “Everything we thought we knew about politics was wrong: The country will survive, probably. But it could fundamentally change.”

Vanessa Williamson of the Brookings Institution, “What the Tea Party tells us about the Trump presidency.”

My friend Monica Marks posted an excellent commentary today on her Facebook page, on the white working class, which I am copying-and-pasting below. Monica, who currently resides in Istanbul and is completing a doctoral thesis at Oxford University on the Islamists in Tunisia, hails from a working class family in eastern Kentucky, so has a unique personal perspective on some of Trump’s voters:

Democrats lost because the “liberal elite” forgot the white working class. This narrative casts bigotry & misogyny as symptoms of neoliberalism, the underlying disease. But is it accurate?

If I didn’t hail from America’s white working class, I’d probably be an ardent purveyor of this narrative. But I come from America’s WWC, and it rankles me. Here are a few reasons why:

(1) Studies of Trump supporters’ median income, which may or may not reflect the final statistics, indicate the average Trump supporter is better off than most Americans, with an annual income of approximately $72,000.

We’re waiting on the final data, but we know from last night’s voting patterns that many well-off Americans in wealthy districts voted for Trump, too. Many white people of all economic backgrounds voted for Trump. Whiteness, not income, may be the dominant unifying factor, indicating that other variables, like racist outlooks, education, geography, etc. may have had more explanatory power.

(2) Besides letting the white middle and upper classes off the hook, this narrative really obscures a lot of good work that Democrats’ policies have done for the white working class, and lets the WWC off the hook for having really bad judgment.

Disclaimer: I’m acutely aware of my own subjectivity here, because my class background powerfully shapes (and perhaps muddles) my views on these issues. I’m a product of the WWC. My father is a floor cleaner & window washer. My mother was a housewife, but since divorcing eight years ago works a caretaker & house cleaner. Neither finished high school. They earn about $25K and $17K respectively. They do not and have never received any government benefits. They live in eastern Kentucky, an epicenter of white poverty.

I’ve seen first-hand how Democrats’ policies help my own parents. Obama’s Affordable Care Act provided both my parents with health insurance for the first time in their lives. The premiums were high, and there were flaws in the system, but it was definitely progress. The ACA helped WWC families like mine– it was a signature achievement of the Obama administration, and one the GOP is now very determined to roll back (they might succeed, leaving my parents uninsured again).

Democrats have also articulated more policies aimed at economically rejuvenating Appalachia’s coal fields than Republicans. HRC’s website articulated a thoughtful plan for retooling workers in coal country. Trump had no plan at all.

Instead of feeding pablum to the masses — Islamophobia, racism, fear of “the other” writ large, religiously inflected opioids — Democrats offer real policies, many of which could improve WWC lives. Though life has transported me some distance, I still feel deeply tethered to the WWC. I’m less inclined to make excuses for them and to pity than my friends raised in middle and upper middle class backgrounds. I don’t expect them to read the New York Times every day. I do expect them to see through the nonsense the GOP — and especially Trump — has fed to them. And I definitely, definitely expect decency from them. Decency which Trump so obviously didn’t have.

Many liberals and leftists today will be asking themselves where they went wrong. That’s not just good, it’s absolutely necessary. Facts may uphold the neoliberalism / abandoned WWC thesis. I’m very open to the possibility that I’m blinded by my own subjectivities here. It’s personal for me to the extent that I find it extremely difficult to distill cogent analysis from my still-percolating anger at the folks I grew up with, who I always wished would rechannel their rage from away from the phantasm whipping boys of Islam/ LGBT people/ “feminazis”/ “godlessness” etc towards economic policies that actually shape their realities.

But perhaps it’s also possible that, in a liberal/leftist rush to self-blame and find neoliberalism lurking around every corner, we’re denying these people, my people, their racist & misogynistic agency.

This election might not have been entirely defined by bigotry, but bigotry does seem to have played a huge role. As did other factors that aren’t necessarily economic, like being a low-information voter/ reliant on conspiracy theories & rumour-laden blogs; being socially and/or geographically distant from minority communities most vulnerable to Trumpism, etc.

Just a small contribution to a complex discussion surrounding the “why” of all this. We should also remember that we cannot separate the conversation re: Trump’s election from Brexit, or from the rise of racist & anti-immigration / anti-globalization far right parties elsewhere in Europe.

À suivre.

UPDATE: WaPo reporter Chris Cillizza examines “The 13 most amazing findings in the 2016 exit poll.” And these 13 are:

  • Trump won the white vote by a record margin.
  • There was no surge of female voters.
  • There was no surge of Latino voters.
  • Education mattered yugely in your vote choice.
  • Trump did better with white evangelicals than Romney.
  • Trump didn’t bring lots of new voters to the process.
  • The economy was the big issue and Clinton won it.
  • This was a change election. And Trump was the change candidate.
  • Obamacare was a wind beneath Trump’s wings.
  • Trump’s personal image was and is horrible.
  • Clinton’s email hurt her.
  • This was a deeply pessimistic electorate.
  • People didn’t think Trump lost the debates as badly as I did.

N..B. There is disagreement over the Latino vote, with the Latino Decisions Election Eve poll finding that Latinos backed Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by a 79-18% margin (as opposed to the 65-29% margin in the National Election Pool exit poll).

2nd UPDATE: To the above 13 findings above may be added the huge turnout in rural America for Trump. On this, see the analyses in the NYT’s The Upshot, “The election highlighted a growing rural-urban split,” and  in Politico, “Revenge of the rural voter.”



It is 8:00am CET (2:00am EST) Wednesday and I am writing this on no sleep. I decided to turn off the computer and télé around 5, when the debacle was near certain, and go to bed but to no avail—and my sleeplessness was not helped by the two strong espressos I had had after midnight (to say awake through the returns) plus three shots of vodka (to calm my nerves). Speaking as an American, this is the biggest political catastrophe of my life—which now spans six decades—and certainly the biggest to befall the United States since the Civil War. I am alarmed, terrified, worried sick, near panic-stricken, and you name it, for the future of America but also the world.  No need to explain why—as everyone reading this understands perfectly—but I simply cannot wrap my head around the reality that Donald Trump will be in the White House for the next four years and with the extreme right-wing Republican Party in control of Congress and, in short order, the Supreme Court—and with the calamitous consequences this will have on almost every domain of policy and the equally calamitous impact on the lives of countless millions (for starters: the environment and climate change, health care, immigration, voting rights, the global economy, America’s standing in the world…). And there’s nothing to be done about it. One feels the same helplessness and despair as did the people of Paris on June 14, 1940, watching the Germans march down the Champs-Élysées. Now I am not suggesting that Trump is akin to the Nazis—though we can talk about that—but the German presence back then lasted four years, was aided by a collaborationist regime (cf. GOP) that had a strong political base, and led to outright civil war (Free French vs. Vichy). The consequences for French society were terrible.

It’s unlikely Americans will start killing one another—in greater numbers than they already do—but the divisions and animosities will only worsen. Slate’s Jamelle Bouie, one of my favorite political journalists, tweeted this thought a few hours ago

I didn’t quite understand how much white people hated us, or could at least live with that hate. Now I do.

If Trump makes good on his pledge to punish his political detractors, have opponents thrown in prison, and opposition media put out of business, then all bets are off.

I have communicated with numerous friends over the past several hours, via Facebook and email, and everyone’s sentiments are identical. Everyone in my social class—that class of educated people connected into or open to the world beyond America’s borders and who are allergic to populism and blood-and-soil nationalism—is devastated by Trump’s utterly unexpected victory and fearful for the future. Around 3:00am I posted a comment on Facebook that I was having the same sinking feeling as the night of the Brexit vote, when the statistical models had the probability of a ‘remain’ victory melting like snow on a warm day. The first states to be called, Indiana and Kentucky, at 1:00am already caused a little alarm in my head to go off. Those who have watched presidential election returns over the years know that if Indiana—which is rock-ribbed Republican—is called as soon as the polls there close, this signifies that the Republican candidate is going to win or that the national result will be extremely close. If the state is announced too close to call, that points to a good night for the Democrats. Last night Indiana was called right away.

What is stunning—just unbelievable—is Trump winning Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, plus the 8½ point margin of victory in Ohio.  It was predicted that he’d take OH but absolutely no one foresaw MI and WI. The breathtaking collapse of Hillary’s firewall. This has to be the biggest polling failure in election history. Absolutely no one saw this outcome coming. Even Frank Luntz was predicting a Clinton victory at 8:00pm EST. So much for the Princeton Election Consortium’s random drift/Bayesian probability at >99. And so much for sophisticated GOTV operations and TV ad budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars. This is deeply unsettling, as it upends everything we know or understand about how election campaigns are run, or at least supposed to be run—and, moreover, with the upending being done by a demagogic, mentally unstable billionaire populist caudillo wannabe with no organization to speak of and who attracts millions of adoring supporters—and tens of millions of voters—through the sheer force of his dark persona. That such could happen in a rich and powerful country like America is quite terrifying.

If the polls were disastrously wrong, there was one that turned out not to be: the USC Dornsife/L.A. Times Daybreak tracking poll, which consistently had Trump up over Clinton throughout the campaign. It seemed obvious that the poll was an outlier and not to be taken seriously, but lo and behold. My old friend Don, who has had a long and illustrious career working on labor and grassroots campaigns in the Midwest, posted this comment on social media a few hours ago

USC/LA Times polled 3,200 same people every week and always had Trump ahead…I talked to their pollster and I said if your large sample, panel study is right you’ll be famous… NYT and Nate Silver criticized their methodology but it seemed pretty solid. I just refused to believe it. It did not fit with my opinion nor my hope.

That’s right, I also dismissed the poll’s numbers, mainly because I did not like them (though the thought did occur to me two days ago—which I quickly banished from my head—that perhaps this one could be right and all the others wrong).

One person in particular merits kudos for his prescient analysis, which is Michael Moore, who, in a widely circulated post on his website last July, enumerated the “5 reasons why Trump will win,” the first reason labeled “Midwest math, or welcome to our Rust Belt Brexit,” in which he asserted that Trump would win Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. In a blog post shortly after, I devoted several paragraphs to rubbishing Moore’s piece. What to say, Michael was right and AWAV was à côté de la plaque.

These are random, sleep-deprived thoughts, which I have more of. Maybe I’ll offer them later, or in a few days, if I’m up to it. I have to go to town now to teach a 2½-hour class, to American undergrads, one of whom is Latino and has been deeply worried for weeks over the prospect of a Trump victory. This will be tough.

June 14, 1940

June 14, 1940

June 14, 1940

June 14, 1940

Clinton & Trump: the call

LeBron & Hillary, Cleveland, November 6th (photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters)

LeBron & Hillary, Cleveland, November 6th (photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters)

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

It’s election eve and thus time for my prediction of how it’s all going to turn out, which has been my personal tradition since 1992 (and 2002 for French presidential elections; for my call in the 2012 US presidential, go here). Before I get to that, though, I need to link to the essay my friend Claire Berlinski—who is conservative and normally not inclined to vote for Democrats—posted on the conservative Ricochet blog today, “Why I Voted for Hillary: Ten Essays.” It’s great—Claire is so smart and such a good writer—so please read the whole thing, but here are a few money quotes:

I do not think Trump is Hitler, if only because historical analogies are always flawed. But the analogy is correct enough in some respects that who would want to see whether it holds in the most relevant respects? Trump has this in common with Hitler (and with all garden-variety despots, too; it is a fixed personality type): enamorment of conspiracy theories, raving speech, anti-intellectualism, unprincipled opportunism, clownishness, bluster, threats, certainty that there are simple solutions to complex problems, vulgarity, palingenetic fantasies, appeals to ethno-nationalism, an obsession with “strength,” “stamina,” health, and physical perfection, a hatred of women, an instinct to mock the weak and the crippled, a disgust with “losers,” a hysterical fear of germs and contamination, literal and metaphoric. He invokes foreign cancers that must be excised before they metastasize and destroy a body politic weakened by traitors. He believes that winners and the strong enjoy the moral right to rule. He holds that the nation can be saved only through the singular genius and energy of a “great personality,” as Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf or a “great temperament,” as Trump read in Mein Kampf. “I alone can fix it” says Trump. “I am your voice.” He is visibly excited by talk of violence; his mental map of the world is one of perpetual conflict. His bragging, ranting, and perseverating, his disconnect from reality, his millenarianism, his hatred of liberals, conservatives, and the press, his fascination with dictators, thugs, lowlifes and creeps, past and present — for goodness sake, must he bark in German before the analogy is alarming enough? Trump is not just an oaf and not just a bully. These words are naive. Our imaginations and vocabularies have become hollowed out. He exemplifies a specific mindset, temperament, and ideology: it is a fascist one.

No, it is not absurd to invoke fascism; it’s absurd to deny it. He has not said, outright, that he has no use for democracy and the law, but his contempt for both is clear enough. This is a good enough definition of the fascist minimum: 

… a genuinely revolutionary, trans-class form of anti-liberal, and in the last analysis, anticonservative nationalism. … a populist mass movement through a liturgical style of politics and a programme of radical policies which promised to overcome the threat posed by international socialism, to end the degeneration affecting the nation under liberalism, and to bring about a radical renewal of its social, political and cultural life as part of what was widely imagined to be the new era being inaugurated in Western civilization. The core mobilizing myth of fascism which conditions its ideology, propaganda, style of politics, and actions is the vision of the nation’s imminent rebirth from decadence.

“Fascism is a political ideology whose mythic core in its various permutations is a palingenetic form of populist ultra-nationalism” … “fascists advocated a mixed economy aimed at achieving autarky through protectionism and interventionism … ” a solution of “anti-socialism, dirigiste economics and social policy, imperialism, militarism, leader cult, [and] the compromise with traditional conservatism” …  “We will no longer surrender this country, or its people, to the false song of globalism.” (“Does not our bourgeoisie rise in moral indignation when it hears from the lips of some miserable tramp that he doesn’t care whether he is German or not, that he feels at home anywhere, as long as he has enough to live on?”) To the victors go the spoils. The casual promise that he will order the military to commit murder, transforming America from the country that hanged war criminals at Nuremberg into one whose criminals will need hanging. “They won’t refuse, they’re not going to refuse me — believe me.”

Our system is proof against that? The one helmed by Paul Ryan von Papen and Ted Cruz Hindenburg? If it is an insult to memory too readily to make comparisons Germany in the 1930s, it is also one to refuse, when it is warranted, to make them at all — or even to ask if they’re warranted.

Nice characterization of Ryan and Cruz.

Further down:

I’ve learned from this election that my mainstream, center-conservative political opinions and outlook aren’t mainstream. Perhaps they were when I was growing up, but clearly there is no significant constituency anymore, if ever there was, for conservatism as I imagined it – a solution of common sense and gratitude for America’s blessings coupled with a belief in the efficiency of markets, a preference for private property, a dedication to the idea of enumerated rights, limited government, and the Constitution. That was me and a handful of people on Ricochet. It wasn’t the rest of the country. There seems to be a very large constituency for authoritarian nationalism, however, and many people who have good reason to want to bet it all on an impossibly long shot or burn it all down.

The hostility Trump supporters feel for urban people — whom they call liberal elites or the GOPe or globalists — makes sense, too, looking at the numbers and the maps. But I’m not going to kid myself. These are not my familiar, fellow conservatives. They’re people who hate me because I live in the city. Their repurposed quasi-Bolshevism — elites, Establishment, cosmopolitans — frightens me: I don’t want to find out if it’s the sort that ends in exterminating the kulaks and everyone with eyeglasses.

The kind of conservatism I believed in may have once been a reality, or I may have been kidding myself. But my instincts for self-preservation, if nothing else, tells me it’s best to enter a defensive alliance with the decent center-left against the extremists on either side. Because there is no center-right in America anymore.

Sois la bienvenue, Claire.

Sarah Palin, and the cult of personality that quickly arose around her, should have been my biggest warning sign. Before Palin, and I remember this well, Republican anti-intellectualism was an affectation. Eisenhower styled himself as a friendly dope, but this was the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe; he had planned and overseen the successful invasion of France and Germany from the Western front; he was the first Supreme Commander of NATO. His knowledge of national security affairs was unparalleled. Palin, however, was an authentic nitwit. I didn’t see that sign for the ominous thing it really was.

My obliviousness is no tragedy; the world does not revolve around my amour-propre. But such a deep tragedy for mankind is now well underway. Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party caps a long period of foreign policy ineptitude with the spectacle of the United States becoming ridiculous, and, because no country as powerful as the United States can be purely ridiculous, frightening. His nomination effectively declares that a significant number of Americans no longer understand or care about even giving the appearance of decency, or liberal democracy, still less in the importance of American power and dignity abroad or the role America played in the world’s imagination. If he wins, America’s reputation in the world will be shattered. No one will take America seriously as a model, as a nation that leads the free world — there will no longer, really, be a free world; there will be a world of managed democracies.

I naturally have a few quibbles with Claire here and there—e.g. in some of her characterizations of Hillary and Obama—but that’s okay. Read her whole essay here.

On America looking ridiculous in the world—or, rather, alarming, if not terrifying—see Stephen M. Walt’s column (Nov. 4th) in Foreign Policy, “Will America’s good name survive the 2016 election? The campaign shenanigans might end on Nov. 8, but the damage done to America’s reputation could be insurmountable.”

Now for my call. Unlike last time, in 2012, I’m not going to get into a lengthy explanation of my reasoning, as I’ve already been doing this in the course of my posts on the election. The bottom line: Hillary’s poll numbers have been rising today in the major aggregators (RCP, 538…), the early voting reports are overwhelmingly positive and with Latino turnout surging, the Dem ground game is tops and with Trump’s campaign a circus being run by amateurs, and Hillary has been leading in the polls pretty much all along. So:

PV: Clinton 49%, Trump 43%, Johnson 4%, Stein <2%
EV: Clinton 341, Trump 197
Participation rate: Let’s say 135 million

In the EC, Clinton takes all of Obama’s 2012 states minus Iowa but plus North Carolina. She’s been down in Ohio but a late poll there is good and she’s been campaigning in the state to the last day, so I’ll give it to her. I would also like to give her Arizona but that looks out of reach.

A reminder: Barack Obama was up by exactly 1 point on the eve of the 2012 election and ended up winning it by almost 4. Hillary goes into election day with a 3 to 4 point lead nationally. If pollsters’ likely voter screens have been underweighting Latinos and Republican shy Hillary voters, then her lead may well be on the order of 5 to 6 points. So I’m rolling the dice on that.

And the Senate: the Democrats win it, with victories in WI, IL, IN, PA, NH, NC, MO, and NV. I realize I’m going out on a limb in regard to IN and MO, and perhaps NC, but as the Dem candidates in those states have been in the lead at various points in the past month, I would say they have a good chance of winning if Hillary’s margin of victory is 5 to 6 points.

As for the House, not this year.

With that, I leave you, dear reader, with Dylan Thomas’ essay in Vox, “Hillary Clinton’s quiet revolution: Nobody’s noticed, but she’s running on an ambitious plan to remake the American social compact,” and Chimamanda Adichie’s in The Atlantic, “What Hillary Clinton’s fans love about her: Her supporters are drawn to her intelligence, her industriousness, and her grit.”

À demain.

ADDENDUM: Prediction: Trump will concede tomorrow and graciously. It will be a business decision, to save his brand, as if he doesn’t exit the election on a relatively high note, the brand will tank.

UPDATE: Vox’s Ezra Klein has an important essay (Nov. 7th), “Donald Trump’s success reveals a frightening weakness in American democracy.” The lede: “Trump found a flaw in our political system, and we have no way to fix it.” The flaw in question is the weakness of parties in the American political system but with an exceptionally high degree of partisanship. There are, in fact, ways to fix this—theoretically at least—e.g. requiring candidates in primaries, and for all offices (national, state, local), to collect a certain number of signatures from elected officials—members of congress, governors, mayors, state legislators, etc.—in order to participate, rendering it difficult for extremist or fantastical candidates to run under the banner of one of the two major parties (if such persons want to run for office, they can do so as independents or with another party). There is little chance such a fix will ever be considered, let alone adopted, but it does exist.

2nd UPDATE: Please read Paul Waldman’s column (Nov. 7th) in This Week, “Hillary Clinton has been a phenomenal candidate. Seriously.” This passage merits quoting:

That doesn’t mean it’s impossible for [Clinton] to lose. But if she does, it won’t be her fault.

While it seems like every liberal has been legally required for the last year to say that Clinton is a deeply flawed candidate as a bit of throat-clearing before they defend or compliment her, the truth is that she has performed extremely well throughout this campaign. She beat back a surprisingly strong challenge from Bernie Sanders and built up a formidable organization that has excelled in nearly every task a modern presidential campaign requires. She’s been disciplined and dogged, committing very few mistakes and maximizing the opportunities she was presented with. And most of what has held her back or hurt her is not of her own making.

But what about those emails, you say! Isn’t that all her fault?

The answer is that that there may never have been such a campaign mountain made out of such a tiny molehill. Clinton’s greatest vulnerability, the biggest knock on her, the thing her opponent has presented as the sum total of why she not only shouldn’t be president and for which Republicans at all levels now believe she should be impeached or jailed, is mostly bogus — and there’s nearly nothing she could have done about it.

Yes, using a private email account instead of a state.gov account was a violation of departmental policy. But it’s the politicians’ equivalent of a speeding ticket, and Republicans have succeeded in blowing this minor misstep into the Crime of the Century. They’ve done so with the help of a credulous media that takes any story related to Hillary Clinton that can have the word “email” attached to it and mashes it together into one gigantic front-paged amalgam of dark innuendo and implied criminality.

Just about everyone I know, or so it seems, has spoken of Hillary being a “flawed” or “bad” candidate. I am quite fed up with hearing this, as I think it not to be the case. I’ll come back to the subject after the election.

3rd UPDATE: Political scientist Scott Lemieux has a pertinent piece (Nov. 7th) in TAP,  “On election day, a stark choice when it comes to policy.” The lede: “Policy issues have drawn remarkably little notice in this sensation-driven election, but the two candidates’ platforms are as starkly divergent as they have been in a generation.”

4th UPDATE: See “[i]n one tweet, the chilling result of Trump’s media attacks.” Yes, it can happen here.

5th UPDATE: Voilà an important article on WaPo’s Wonkblog (Nov. 4th), “Something has been going badly wrong in the neighborhoods that support Trump.” That something is expensive mortgage interest payments.

Two days to go

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

Ouf, I can’t wait for this wretched campaign to be over. Vivement mercredi. These past ten days have been the most politically stressful of my entire life. After the third debate I was serenely confident, as were many, that Hillary had it in the bag—and with everything I’ve been saying since the winter as to how the election would play out being confirmed—but was then blindsided, like everyone, by the FBI’s attempted coup d’état à blanc—and which was not just the doing of a rogue faction in the bureau but of James Comey himself. In mid-September, when Hillary was alarmingly dropping in the polls, I opined that if, in the final stage of the campaign, it looked like she may lose, the American Deep State—the national security and foreign policy establishment parts of it—would deliver one October surprise after another to prevent Trump from winning. Well, it looks like I got this precisely backwards and was, moreover, mistaken about what part of the Deep State would go into action.

I have not been panic-stricken over the possibility that Trump could win; not only is such unthinkable—a prospect simply too nightmarish to contemplate—but that a lead of 5 to 6 points—which is what Hillary’s was on the eve of the FBI’s October surprise—could vanish comme ça simply made no sense, and over a bullshit story no less—which is, il faut le dire, what the entire email “scandal” has been, as Vox’s Matthew Yglesias precisely characterized it in a must-read piece the other day—and that should settle the matter once and for all. For such a lead to melt away over just a few days would be unprecedented in the history of presidential elections. But still. This past week has been like flying through an electrical storm and with heavy turbulence; intellectually you know the odds, that the plane will most certainly land, but are very nervous nonetheless. And sometimes planes that hit storms do crash…

I’m less nervous now, particularly with the reports from the early voting states, which are very good for Hillary and the Democrats. And the Clinton win probability at Sam Wang’s Princeton Election Consortium—with the random drift at >99% and Bayesian at >99% (please don’t ask me to explain what these mean)—is reassuring. Par contre, I’m fed up with 538, admittedly because I don’t like its numbers. There are too many polls, they’re all over the place, and with too much noise. Hillary’s favorable/unfavorable numbers at RCP have dropped a worrisome 6 points since the FBI’s October surprise—and with Trump’s rising, as fence-sitting Republican voters return to the fold—but Gallup, which has been polling daily on this, has shown no movement at all, with Hillary’s spread a steady +14 over Trump.

The bottom line: the only way Hillary can lose is if there is an epic failure of the Democrats’ lavish ground game on Tuesday, a consequential sharp drop in black and millennial turnout compared to 2012, and with more Democratic voters defecting to Trump than Republican voters to Clinton. This is really hard to imagine at this point. Black turnout in early voting does appear to be down—notably in NC and FL, due at least in part to GOP voter suppression—but this does not speak to what will happen on Tuesday. Cf. French elections, where turnout may be lackluster in the first round but unexpectedly surge in the second (as, e.g., happened in last year’s regional elections, when voters of the left came out of their slumber in the second round to block the Front National and give the Socialists a boost; and many of those voters were young people).

As for 2012 Obama voters defecting to Trump, I have seen no polling data indicating that their numbers are higher than Republicans voting for Hillary. In fact, it is indeed possible that the latter are more numerous than the polls have been picking up on. Anecdotally, my friend Claire—who is an editor at the “Ricochet: Conservative Conversation and Community” website, is horrified by Trump, and voting for Hillary—told me yesterday that several Ricochet members had written to her saying that they’re “secretly” voting for Hillary. Shy Clinton voters. And during an informal class discussion on the election two days ago, one of my American undergraduate students, who hails from South Carolina, said that she grew up in a conservative family and her parents are lifelong Republicans, but who are both voting for Hillary on Tuesday. Encouraging to hear that.

The broadsides by anti-Trump Republican commentators and pundits have made for great reading. E.g. The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin and Michael Gerson have been first-rate in their eviscerations of their party’s candidate; see, e.g., the latter’s latest column, “One final election plea, on the behalf of U.S. ideals.” Conservative journalist James Kirchick had a particularly strong piece in Tablet, dated Nov. 2nd, “Who Goes Trump?” The lede: “What ultimately determines support for the GOP nominee isn’t race, class, or political ideology. It’s character.” One may also read Kirchick’s Oct. 15th op-ed in the New York Daily News, “Black voters vs. populism: Why African-Americans so powerfully resisted the siren song of Donald Trump—and before him, Bernie Sanders.” Also in the NY Daily News is an op-ed (Nov. 5th; h/t Claire) by Naval War College professor Tom Nichols, “What Trump has already cost America: And how much steeper the price will grow if he wins.” And then there’s Robert Kagan, my favorite neocon (or “neocon,” as the neologism doesn’t mean anything anymore), who explained in WaPo (Oct. 11th) “Why we shouldn’t forgive the Republicans who sold their souls [to Trump].”

On populism, Trump’s Republicans, the Democrats, and the future, I assume that everyone has seen George Packer’s must-read enquête in the Oct. 31st New Yorker, “Hillary Clinton and the populist revolt.” The lede: “The Democrats lost the white working class. The Republicans exploited it. Can Clinton win it back?”

And if one missed it, there’s Jonathan Chait’s essential piece (Oct. 30th)—one of the best I’ve read lately—in New York magazine, “The GOP’s age of authoritarianism has only just begun: And it will not end with a Clinton presidency.”

Also in NY mag is associate editor Eric Levitz’s column (Nov. 1st), “Trump thrives in small towns that are becoming less white in a hurry.” It has been well established that Trump’s core voters are not les damnés de la terre, losers in the globalized economy or of free trade agreements and/or have lost their jobs to Mexican illegal aliens. The mean income of a mean Trump voter (pun not intended) is above the national. When it comes to their personal finances, they’re doing okay. Their anxiety is not economic but rather ethnic/racial and with immigration from south of the border the fixation point. As I’ve said more than once, Trump’s voters are the precise mirror image of Front National voters in France.

How can the political system accommodate this collective anxiety on the part of the population? The short response: it cannot, and should not try. Economic anxieties must be addressed—that’s what politics is about—but the political system cannot process ethnic/racial/cultural anxieties—and when it tries, it renders an already toxic situation that much worse. A political wall must be built around these existential anxieties. They must be contained. With time, they will attenuate.

On this, my friend Bob forwarded me a must-read commentary (Nov. 4th), on the Social Europe website, by economist Anatole Kaletsky, “End of the backlash against modernity if Trump loses,” in which he compares the present US psychodrama to the one in the UK over Brexit. In short, the populist moment in our polities—driven as it is by an inherently unstable alliance of authoritarian nationalists and economic neoliberals—may be short-lived.

In emailing me Kaletsky’s piece, Bob asked, “the poll that blew my mind: how can Americans think…that Hillary is LESS trustworthy than Trump?” The short answer: Trump’s America thinks this because it exists in an alternate media universe that drenches it with propaganda and lies. À propos, The Economist’s Nov. 5th issue has a good article, “White voters: Support for Donald Trump from working class whites is not what it seems.”  This passage is pertinent

Another enabling factor is that [Trump’s] bullshit was already familiar to millions of whites, because of the decline of another important institution, the mainstream media. Many of Mr Trump’s supporters are more likely to get their information from right-wing blogs and talk-radio shows, which for the past two decades have been pushing hateful slanders against liberals, immigrants, and non-whites. It can be disconcerting at Mr Trump’s rallies to hear how thoroughly their nonsense is believed. “I can’t think of anything Trump could do that would stop me from voting for him,” said Suzy Carter, a computer programmer in Delaware, who was convinced that Clinton had had “over 100” people killed, which made her decision to vote for Trump an easy one.

In explaining the Trump phenomenon here in France, I tell my French interlocutors that in America the political terrain a été bien labouré—the political soil has been prepared—for a mass movement of the extreme right—which is what the GOP has become—over the past three decades, and in phases. The timeline, in short: the Reagan administration’s abrogation of the Fairness Doctrine, the subsequent emergence of AM talk radio (Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing shock jocks, for which there is no equivalent in France), Fox News (24 hour cable TV news arriving late in France and with brazenly partisan networks not possible—at least not yet). By the time blogs and social media burst on to the Internet, the American right-wing was already living in an alternate media universe. And it wasn’t just les petits blancs and other rubes in the heartland: Several years ago SCOTUS justice Antonin Scalia said—I read it in a mainstream source—that he had stopped reading The Washington Post, as it was too “liberal,” and with The Washington Times his sole morning paper. And it was reported during the Bush administration years that Republicans in Washington did not read The New York Times and, moreover, looked askance at associates who did (I don’t have the citation handy so please take my word for it). Epistemic closure. There you have it.

Here’s a thought by Garrison Keillor, posted on social media recently:

I must admit that I can’t imagine any friend of mine pulling the lever for Donald Trump for president. It’s just beyond my imagination. I can love sinners of many kinds, but I don’t know what to think about people who want to destroy this country. I never felt this way before. He simply is beyond the pale.

How can one have civil interaction with someone who supports a demagogic, fascistic, racist, misogynist candidate for president? A candidate who tells breathtaking lies such as Trump did yesterday about Obama (if you didn’t see it, watch here)? This is beyond belief.

Is America one nation? I’m not sure.

More tomorrow.

UPDATE: Jon Ralston, Nevada’s dean of political journalism, recounts in Politico (Nov. 6th) “How the Harry Reid machine may have killed Trump’s chances: By bringing Hispanics out in droves in early voting, the Senate minority leader is trying to turn Nevada into a bellwether for a Clinton win.”

2nd UPDATE: Esquire’s Charles E. Pierce, meditating on Trump’s latest breathtaking lie (see above), says “I’ve finally had it with Trump: I don’t know why, but this was the gross public lie that broke the camel’s back.”

3rd UPDATE: Journalist Jake Whitney has an excellent, must-read article in TDB (Nov. 6th), “How the right destroyed the truth,” that totally makes my argument above on the Big Lie alternative universe that the American right now inhabits in its large majority. The lede: “Trump’s lies are just the beginning. Over two decades, right-wing media has degraded the credibility of the entire media and also degraded the idea that objective facts even exist.”

For an illustration of this—that I just came by—see the Facebook comments thread of this post (setting is public) by the journalist Michael J. Totten—who, politically speaking, could loosely be labeled a libertarian “neocon”—and, in particular, the back-and-forth exchange with his FB friend named Grant in the sub-thread below Totten’s comment “We vote by mail in my state.” My mouth was agape reading it. Grant is a living-and-breathing example of an American conservative who lives in that alternative universe.


Mitterrand the American

Ottawa G7 summit meeting, 21 July 1981 (photo: Georges Bendrihem/AFP)

Ottawa G7 summit meeting, 21 July 1981 (photo: Georges Bendrihem/AFP)

This is the title of well-known filmmaker-author Patrick Rotman’s most interesting 55 minute documentary—en V.O., ‘Mitterrand l’Américain’—on François Mitterrand’s friendship with the United States, which aired on France 5 this past Sunday. Mitterrand, the first Socialist president of the French Fifth Republic—and who brought Communists into the government immediately after his election in May 1981, at the height of the Cold War—was Washington’s best ally during his fourteen years in power, so one learns. Rotman indeed portrays Mitterrand as an outright pro-American. This is not exactly the impression one has gathered from other sources, e.g. Ronald Tiersky’s biography but also in some of Mitterrand’s own pre-1981 writings. As Rotman’s principal informants were Mitterrand’s closest foreign and defense policy advisers in the Élysée—Jacques Attali, Hubert Védrine, and Admiral Jacques Lanxade, who are interviewed throughout—his depiction of the relationship is compelling.

Much of the story has been told over the years, e.g. the Americans’ alarm at the appointing of the four Communist ministers to Socialist prime minister Pierre Mauroy’s first government, President Reagan dispatching Vice-President Bush to Paris to find out what the French were up to, and Bush returning to Washington satisfied with Mitterrand’s assurances. This we know. What was said in private by the principal actors is most interesting, though. Védrine recounts that Mitterrand told Bush that there were no greater adversaries on the French political scene than the Socialists and the Communists, that the two rival left-wing parties were separated by, among many other things, fundamentally different conceptions of the “philosophie de l’homme” and of “la place de l’homme dans la société et l’État.” In Attali’s account, Mitterrand explained to Bush that the only way to reduce the weight of the Communist party in French society—the PCF representing 20-25% of the electorate from 1945 to the 1981 election—was to ally with it—with the unavowed goal of stripping it of its voters.

Attali, in recounting Bush’s June 1981 visit to the Élysée, said that the US vice-president was “intellectually a European” and with Mitterrand and his advisers having the sentiment that, in the company of Bush and his entourage, they were with “Europeans.” Well! Like father, not like son. A veritable friendship between Mitterrand and Bush was forged at this moment. Védrine described Bush as an “elegant and distinguished” man, one of the rare American presidents who possessed a “culture internationale” before acceding to executive office, that Bush exhibited “great consideration” for Mitterrand, and with the two men “appreciat[ing] one another greatly.”

As for Ronald Reagan, he and Mitterrand would become, in Rotman’s words, thick as thieves (“ils vont s’entendre comme larrons en foire“) and despite all that separated them politically. Between the French Parti Socialiste and US Republican Party, there wasn’t a whole lot in common. Reagan was wary of Mitterrand when the latter was elected—less than four months after Reagan’s inauguration—but changed his attitude, and particularly after they met at the Ottawa G7 summit in July ’81. The two developed a “warm relationship,” as Védrine tells it, adding that the common view of Reagan as an “idiot” was “totally false,” that he was “un homme simple, intelligent, perspicace,” and also “sympa et accueillant.” Attali, for his part, said that Mitterrand was fascinated by Reagan and they got along “marvelously well,” that Reagan was “warm and charming” and always telling “funny stories” during their down time together. When with Ron, François and his advisers “laughed a lot.” How about that. The Mitterrand-Reagan/Bush relationships were, along with perhaps that of Georges Pompidou and Richard Nixon, the closest of a French and American president(s) in our time.

The relationship was, of course, ultimately based less on personality than national interest and geopolitics. There were points of divergence here—and with tension in the Franco-American relationship ensuing—over the Euro-Siberian gas pipeline, French arms sales to Nicaragua, France’s refusal to include its nuclear force de frappe in any East-West arms control negotiations, and the 1986 US bombing of Libya (this not mentioned in the documentary), to name a few, but these were secondary, fleeting disputes and did not undermine the convergence over the really big issue—the Soviet Union—on which Mitterrand and Reagan were in complete agreement. That Mitterrand would be a faithful ally of the US vis-à-vis the Soviet Union was understood by Reagan at the Ottawa summit, when Mitterrand informed him of the Farewell Dossier, which Reagan’s National Security Advisor of the time, Richard Allen—interviewed in the documentary—called a “remarkable gift from France.” As Védrine put it, the Farewell Dossier was, for Reagan, proof of France’s “fiabilité, efficacité, et utilité” as an ally.

The proof in the pudding was, however, the Euromissile crisis. As it happens, last week I took my American students on a field trip to the Socialist Party HQ on the Rue de Solférino, where we were kindly received by a member of the PS National Secretariat, who gave us an informal talk about the party, past and present. During the discussion of the Mitterrand years I mentioned France’s alignment with the US on the Euromissiles and relative insignificance of the early 1980s “peace” movement here—unlike in Great Britain and West Germany at the time—to which he quoted Mitterrand’s famous words—seen in the documentary—that “pacifism is in the West whereas the SS-20s are in the East.”

Mitterrand’s hard line on the Soviets should not have been surprising in view of his own political past as an anti-communist, and who entered into the short-lived Common Program with the PCF for purely opportunistic reasons—as, in the 1970s, it was the only way for Mitterrand and the left to have a chance at winning national elections—but also, as mentioned above, for strategic ones, to crush the communists by embracing them. In this regard, the documentary reveals declassified cables from the US embassy in Paris detailing the secret contacts Mitterrand established with the US in the 1960s and ’70s, to assure the Americans of his indefatigable support for the Atlantic alliance. Mitterrand, who was an habitué of the Avenue Gabriel, told his American interlocutors that, once in power, he would junk Gaullism and lead a pro-American foreign policy, and that such had been his position since the Fourth Republic. And when Mitterrand entered into the circumstantial alliance with the PCF in the 1970s, he felt more than ever that he needed the United States.

Moving ahead to the Bush 41 administration, the documentary looks at the Mitterrand-Bush interactions in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, in which the convergence of views is highlighted more than the well-known disagreements, notably over the looming reunification of Germany (as Mitterrand and Margaret Thatcher were rather less enthusiastic over the prospect than was Bush). The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait was, of course, the overriding geopolitical issue in the latter half of 1990 and with Mitterrand deciding from the very outset that force would have to be used against Saddam Hussein if he did not unconditionally withdraw his troops. For Védrine, the French position was crystal clear, which is that it was quite simply impossible for the international community to allow a state to invade a neighboring state—and that was a member of the United Nations—and annex it outright. The Iraqi action could not be allowed to stand, as allowing it to would open all sorts of Pandora’s Boxes. As a consequence, Saddam would have to execute a complete withdrawal from Kuwait or be compelled to do so by the force of arms, period (my own personal position at the time was identical, BTW).

Védrine, emphasizing Mitterrand’s “profound attachment to the international order,” says that there was no pressure on this whatever from the Americans. For Mitterrand, however, military action against Iraq necessitated a UN Security Council resolution—which was forthcoming—and a broad international coalition, which was also forthcoming. As Admiral Lanxade, who was Mitterrand’s military chief-of-staff at the Élysée at the time and liaison with National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft in the White House, tells it, Mitterrand’s political entourage did not favor a close alignment with the United States over Iraq and that there was “reticence” to France participating in the impending military action. Lanxade does not name names, though one presumes that the reticent ones included Jean-Pierre Chevènement (obviously), Roland Dumas, Pierre Joxe, Paul Quilès, and perhaps Jack Lang. According to Lanxade, Mitterrand, faced with the qualms, informed the Council of Ministers in one meeting that “we may disagree with the Americans at times but we cannot be anti-American.” Boom! Fin de discussion.

Lanxade recounts the telephone conversation between Mitterrand and Bush on the eve of the international coalition’s military action against Iraq, on January 15th 1991. He calls the conversation “extraordinary” in tone and solemnity, recalling that of FDR and Winston Churchill on the eve of the D-Day landings. No less. Lanxade concludes that the quality of the Franco-American relationship in the early 1990s was “exceptional.”

The documentary ends with Bush’s departure from the White House and does not treat the two-plus years of Bill Clinton’s presidency that overlapped with Mitterrand’s. There probably isn’t much of note to recount, as it was the fin de règne for Mitterrand, who was in a cohabitation with the right and dying of prostate cancer. That he was disappointed that Bush was not reelected goes without saying. But it was not only on account of their personal relationship, as when it came to American presidents, the French, until the 1990s, systematically preferred Republicans to Democrats. And in 1992, no one in France knew Clinton—and whom the French political class, media, and public opinion did not take to until his persecution during the Monica Lewinsky affair in 1998, when he became hugely popular here. On this, the French were totally right.

The documentary may be watched until Sunday here (in France at least; it may or may not be viewable abroad). And here it is on YouTube.

As it so happens, François Mitterrand was born 100 years ago today. Joyeux anniversaire, tonton!

Clinton & Trump at UNLV

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Alhamdulillah the debates are done with and I don’t have to ever again subject myself to watching Donald Trump bloviate—save for his concession speech on November 8th in the event he gives one. Numerous pundits have said that last night’s debate was his strongest of the three, that he was even incisive at points early on, and only started to melt down after the first half hour or so—as opposed to ten minutes earlier in the previous two. If stringing together grammatically correct sentences is the criteria here, then yes, this was perhaps a better debate for him, but that is really setting the bar low. In fact, he did not utter a single coherent, informed thought at any moment. He was Donald Trump from the get go: an ignorant, mendacious, immature, bullying asshole of an idiot who doesn’t know anything about anything, who has no idea WTF he’s talking about on any question that is put to him, and quite simply has no business running for president of the United States. E.g. his response to Chris Wallace’s question on Syria and Iraq, which was that of a 9th grader talking off the top of his head during a class presentation he hadn’t prepared for. That a major party presidential candidate could blather uninformed bullshit to that degree was an embarrassing moment for the American nation. As I’ve said more than once, the fact that Trump has gotten this far, that he is the presidential nominee of one of the two major parties and is viewed favorably, on this October 20th 2016, by some 35% of the electorate, reflects some serious, systemic flaws in the American political system—indeed in the US constitution (a flawed document as it is)—and is a damning indictment of a part of American society. Anyone who cheered on Trump last night—who found his behavior worthy of a president of the United States—is as much of an ignorant idiot as he is, point barre.

It is now banal to call Trump a fascist or dictator-in-waiting, to observe that he is running not only against Hillary Clinton but against democracy itself, that he has no understanding of or respect for the institutions of American government, and that his rise represents, as Princeton historian Sean Wilentz wrote last week, a veritable “national emergency.” This is uncontroversial even among Republicans. But fewer Trump detractors—in the punditocracy at least—have come out and said en noir et blanc what is now patently obvious, which is that Trump is mentally ill. He is, as Slate’s William Saletan came out and asserted in a post-debate commentary, a clinical paranoiac. The man is psychotic. The Washington Post’s conservative columnist Michael Gerson—who’s been on an anti-Trump tear—wrote the other day about Trump’s “ideological psychosis” but stopped short of labeling that psychosis psychiatric. In view of Trump’s indisputable mental condition, if he were to, by some calamitous scenario, win on November 8th—and with the imminent prospect of getting his little fingers on the nuclear codes—he would clearly have to be stopped, if not by a sufficient defection of faithless electors when the Electoral College meets on December 19th, then by a version à l’américaine of the Wolf’s Lair operation in East Prussia on July 20th 1944, except with this one succeeding, suivez mon regard. Fortunately it won’t come to that, as Trump is not going to win the election. Not a snowball’s chance in hell.

As for Trump’s intimation that he may not accept the result of the election—if he loses, of course—everyone is saying that this was the key moment of the debate, when Trump definitively lost it. Even Fox News talking heads found Trump’s words unacceptable. But while what Trump said was shocking and unprecedented in American history, I tend to agree with the otherwise unspeakable William Kristol—whom I would normally not link to positively—who, in a tweet storm after the debate, asserted that Trump may say whatever he pleases about the election but that if the latter is recognized as legitimate by the American people in its great majority—as it will be—and certified by election officials, then Trump can’t do a thing about it. His stomping and screaming will have no effect, and all the more so as, continuing in Kristol’s vein, establishment Republican Party politicians will accept the election outcome to a man and woman. Trump will look even more the unhinged crackpot that he is. He will be utterly isolated. And the republic will survive.

As for his hardcore supporters, who are numerous, lots of people are alarmed and worried about their eventual reaction to the inevitable defeat. Civil disorder, even violence, is feared. Trump’s legions are indeed crazy—and with a cult-like adoration of their guru—and driven by a virulent hatred of a large part of their society. This is a serious problem for America and will not be resolved anytime soon. The hatred of the Trumpistas of people not like themselves is of a degree that, in other contexts, can lead to civil war and massacres. And Trump’s supporters, unlike Hillary’s, are armed, even heavily. This is nothing to be dismissive of. But if Trump dead-enders try to do anything illegal after November 8th, e.g. engage in violent action, they will bring the fury of the American state down on them. The FBI will arrest them en masse. And if they resist by the force of arms, the federal government will repress them violently, i.e. the Trumpistas will be liquidated. Terminated with extreme prejudice. So let them try.

I’ve written over nine hundred words here already and hardly said a thing about Hillary Clinton. While Trump was the Grand Guignol of last night’s debate, Hillary was the vedette. She was a star: absolutely excellent, poised, articulate, in command of everything, with precisely the right positions on 95% of the issue questions that were posed to her, who played Trump like a violin, et j’en passe. No one gets the better of Hillary Clinton in a debate. And there is no one out there in American political life who is more qualified than she to be POTUS. If the Dems win a majority in both the Senate and House—which is not an outlandish scenario at this date—then she will have the potential to be a great president. Lingering Hillary-hating Bernie supporters need to rethink their attitude.

Now Hillary’s debate performance, while earning overwhelming praise from pundits, was critiqued on a couple of points, notably her dodging the questions on open borders and the Clinton Foundation. But her dodges were adroit, IMO, as she would have needed more than her allotted two minutes to adequately answer them, to give the questions the necessarily complex responses they would have entailed, and that would have likely been over the heads of intellectually-challenged voters and, moreover, provided out-of-context sound bites and other ammunition for Trump propaganda. So better to avoid and move on.

On Hillary’s brilliance in playing Trump, see TNR senior editor Jeet Heer’s post-debate commentary, “Hillary Clinton destroyed Trump in the debates just by being a grown-up.” Money quote:

There’s been a powerful gender subtext running through all the debates. As a pathbreaking woman proving herself in a man’s world, Clinton used the familiar strategy of women in this situation of studying hard and being as professional as possible. Trump, by contrast, was constantly reverting to his natural state of toxic masculinity. It’s not uncommon in the corporate world for a well-prepared woman to compete against a man who thinks he can wing it. That was the fundamental dynamic of the presidential debates.

Yet thanks to her hard work and Trump’s fecklessness, Clinton ended up displaying all the traits that men are traditionally supposed to have for the presidency—the steadiness, the unflappability, the steeliness under pressure and assault. He came across with traits of a stereotypical “female,” all the reasons they were once thought to be “unfit” for jobs like this. He couldn’t control his emotions, he personalized everything, he whined. You almost came out of these debates thinking, “Are men fit to be president?” She “proved” a woman is fit, and how she reduced him to acting like a little boy (or, more in popular stereotype, like a girl).

Trump acting “like a girl.” A sure-fire guarantee to get under his thin skin, c’est sûr. Heer continues

Earlier in the week, Melania Trump had defended her husband’s behavior in the infamous “Access Hollywood” video where he boasted of sexual assaults by saying that the Republican nominee was basically a big child. As she told Anderson Cooper, “I have two boys at home, I have my young son and my husband.”

Hillary Clinton’s genius in the debates has been to constantly troll Trump into reverting to that intrinsic state of childishness—most memorably when he muttered “such a nasty woman” toward the end of Wednesday’s debate, while Clinton was answering a question about entitlements. His peevishness left her by default as the adult in the room. By constantly being above it all, smiling as he engaged in insults, keeping calm while he hovered behind her in the second debate like a would-be stalker, she proved she had presidential mettle. Her steel nerves and unflappability, which had earlier been displayed in the marathon grilling of the Benghazi hearings, were deeply impressive.

Yes, she’s impressive. If anyone wishes to disagree, please explain your reasoning.

On Trump’s base, the pseudonymous David Wong, who is executive editor of Cracked.com, has a personalistic post dated October 12th on “How half of America lost its f**king mind,” which focuses on the small town-urban divide and with economic precariousness an undercurrent. Effectively countering this view is Dylan Matthews spot-on post in Vox, dated October 15th, “Taking Trump voters’ concerns seriously means listening to what they’re actually saying.” And what they’re saying is less about the economy than good old-fashioned racialist white rage.

As for Hillary’s voters, who, pour mémoire, do exist in sizable numbers, Vox’s Matthew Yglesias weighed in yesterday with a post, “There’s a new silent majority’, and it’s voting for Hillary Clinton.”

And while we’re on Vox writers—it’s really a great website—see Ezra Klein’s post-debate reax, “Hillary Clinton’s 3 debate performances left the Trump campaign in ruins: Donald Trump didn’t just destroy himself. Hillary Clinton destroyed him.”

A couple of more pieces. Slate’s Jeremy Stahl has a most interesting one asking “Why is Donald Trump whining about a rigged election? Mark Cuban has an interesting theory.” In short, it’s about Breitbart playing Trump for its own post-election ends. Trump is Stephen Bannon’s useful idiot, which makes sense, as the latter is definitely smarter than the former.

The other is Matt Taibi’s October 14th reportage in Rolling Stone, “The fury and failure of Donald Trump.” The lede: “Win, lose or drop out, the Republican nominee has laid waste to the American political system. On the trail for the last gasp of the ugliest campaign in our nation’s history.” There’s a tenacious idea out there that Hillary is a structurally weak candidate who would certainly be defeated by any other Republican candidate but Trump. Taibi—who’s a great writer—pretty effectively rubbishes that notion in the way he describes the 17-candidate clown bus in the 2016 GOP primary campaign. Hillary would have been able to handle any of these jokers. A must-read.

À suivre.

UPDATE: The Huffington Post has compiled some of the #TrumpBookReport tweets, that were spawned on Twitter in response to Trump’s clueless debate answers. Hilarious.

2nd UPDATE: Washington Post senior editor Marc Fisher has a sobering analysis (October 22nd) in which he asks “What is the long-term effect of Donald Trump?” In short, Trumpism is not going anywhere after the election nor is Trump, even if he is buried in a landslide on November 8th. Trumpism will remain a large, festering boil on the American body politic.

If Trumpism cannot be vanquished in the coming years, Trump himself certainly can be. His brand needs to be destroyed and he financially ruined. And if he can be indicted and convicted for any of his countless legal transgressions, so much the better. This can all happen and, inshallah, it will.

3rd UPDATE: On the zeitgeist of the present-day GOP, a YouGov/Huffington Post poll published on October 18th shows that “Most Republicans don’t think sexual assault would disqualify Trump from the presidency.”

4th UPDATE: For more on the GOP zeitgeist, see the breathtaking report in Politico (October 20th) by Julia Ioffe, who watched the debate with Trump supporters, “Debate night with the unswayables.” The lede: “In North Carolina, local Republicans have their own way of seeing what just happened—and arguing back.”

À propos—and telling us what we have kind of suspected—WaPo’s Philip Bump, in a commentary dated October 15th, observes that “Americans now live in two worlds, each with its own reality.”

5th UPDATE: Stanford University professor of communications Jeff Hancock explains, on the CNN Money website (October 17th), “Trump’s bullsh*t: Why his supporters don’t care that he’s lying.”

6th UPDATE: Conservative attorney and National Review staff writer has a stunning piece—or perhaps not so stunning—dated October 21st, “The price I’ve paid for opposing Donald Trump.” The lede: “Trump’s alt-right trolls have subjected me and my family to an unending torrent of abuse that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.”

It is perhaps not surprising that Trump’s fanatics would target other conservatives. Such happened on the left during the early decades of the Soviet Union—notably during the Comintern’s “Third Period” following its 6th congress in 1928—when Soviet-aligned communists aimed their fire at social democrats, Trotskyists, and others on the left who didn’t tow the Soviet line.

As it happens, the onetime-leftist-turned-conservative historian Ronald Radosh had a piece in TDB, dated August 22nd, entitled “Steve Bannon, Trump’s top guy, told me he was ‘a Leninist’ who wants to ‘destroy the state’.” The lede: “The Breitbart executive director turned GOP leader boasted at a party about his goal of destroying the conservative establishment.”

7th UPDATE: George Washington University law professor Neil H. Buchanan has spot on essay, reposted in Newsweek Europe (October 15th), rhetorically asking “Why is the press ganging up on Hillary Clinton? Why does the press not challenge the conventional wisdom that Clinton is untrustworthy?”

In this vein, see Paul Waldman’s Washington Post column, dated September 5th, “Trump’s history of corruption is mind-boggling. So why is Clinton supposedly the corrupt one?”

8th UPDATE: The NYT’s Max Fisher, who co-authors the paper’s The Interpreter column, informs readers (October 23rd) that “Donald Trump’s threat to reject election results alarms scholars,” the scholars in question being political scientists who study authoritarian regimes. I should perhaps not be so dismissive of Trump’s threat not to concede defeat if/when he loses, as the longer term effects of such an action could well be deleterious.

9th UPDATE: Vox’s Ezra Klein says (October 21st) that it’s “The best conversation I’ve had about the election, with Molly Ball.” It goes for 1 hour 13 minutes and is definitely worth listening to (here). I learned things from it. Molly Ball, who writes for The Atlantic, is one of America’s best political reporters.

10th UPDATE: Freelance writer at FiveThirtyEight and self-described millennial Milo Beckman has a nice essay—addressed to fellow millennials—at Medium (October 19th), “The leftist case for Hillary Clinton.”

11th UPDATE: The Atlantic’s Molly Ball reports (October 25th) from the Florida retirement archipelago on “Trump’s graying army,” which is the Republican candidate’s strongest demographic. One wonders how these good senior citizens who wax nostalgic for the 1950s would react to the report in TDB (October 25th) by journalist and author Michael Gross, who’s been covering Trump for the past thirty years, “Inside Donald Trump’s one-stop parties [in the 1990s]: Attendees recall cocaine and very young models.” A fashion photographer quoted in the lede thus reminisced, “I was there to party myself. It was guys with younger girls [as young as 14], sex, a lot of sex, a lot of cocaine, top-shelf liquor…” Question: is there a statute of limitation for prosecuting people who organize sex parties with minors? How nice it would be if some those then-teenagers were to come forth with their stories.

Hillary Clinton,Donald Trump

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below] [5th update below] [6th update below]

I just finished watching the debate on YouTube, on this Monday afternoon. Qu’est-ce que vous voulez que je dise? Clinton was excellent and from beginning to end. She killed it, point barre. Who were the nitwit pundits who said that she is a “weak candidate” (which I have read so often that I’ve lost touch of the number of nitwits who’ve said it)? As Michelle Goldberg titled her instant analysis, Hillary “was a model of grace and poise throughout a disgusting ordeal.” To call the debate disgusting is to put it most mildly. It is beyond comprehension how pundits—of whom there are a certain number—could declare that Trump somehow “won” it, or at least scored a tie, and to assert that Hillary did not do what she had to do, that she failed to take advantage of this or that opportunity, or whatever. Bollocks. Trump was more odious and reprehensible than two weeks ago at Hofstra, if that’s possible, and demonstrated for the 870,000th time that he doesn’t know anything about anything—having to do with policy and the institutions of the US government—and that he is a complete and total idiot and for whom literally every thought he utters is incoherent and/or an outright lie. Watching the debate in the faculty lounge at the ICP between classes, I put it on pause at one moment—when Trump was railing on with ignorant bullshit about Syria, ISIS, and Mosul (a city he had likely not heard of before his debate prep and couldn’t locate on a map even if one threatened to blow up the Trump Tower)—telling a bemused colleague that the French have no idea of the calamity that has befallen the American political system, that Marine Le Pen is Aristotle compared to Trump and that I would vote for her in a nanosecond over the GOP’s unspeakable candidate if a gun were put to my head. My god, I would even vote for (gulp) Sarkozy if presented with such a Sophie’s choice. Trump was indeed deemed by certain pundits to have “won”—or at least “stanched the bleeding”—because he uttered a few more grammatically correct sentences—with subjects and predicates, and verbs, adjectives, and prepositions properly aligned—than in the first debate. The bar has been set ever lower in American electoral politics. The ‘banana republicanization’ of the United States.

On America becoming a ‘banana republic’ if Trump wins and has Hillary prosecuted and thrown in the slammer, as he promised last night, see the comments by Slate’s excellent Jamelle Bouie, Vox’s Ezra Klein—who wrote that “[a]t Sunday’s debate, Donald Trump revealed that he is not running to be America’s president so much as its dictator”—WaPo’s editorial board, and, above all, the libertarian Niskanen Center’s vice president Will Wilkinson, who, in a NYT op-ed, concluded with this

[Trump] said, in a widely watched televised presidential debate, that if he became president, he would put political opponents in cages. That’s dictator talk. But it’s not Mr. Trump’s open contempt for the norms of liberal democracy that made my blood run cold. It was the applause that came after. It is the fact that it’s no longer assured that you automatically lose a presidential debate in which you promise to jail your political rival.

Trump’s deplorables loved what he said. And those deplorables—a.k.a. the Republican Party base—are a sizable portion of the American electorate. Large numbers of Americans out there—almost all Republicans—want a dictator, preferably fascist. Even if the bottom falls out from under Trump and Hillary ends up winning in a landslide—a now plausible hypothesis that I scoffed at even a week ago—Trump will still receive a minimum of 45 million votes, probably more. That’s a lot of Americans who are fine with dictatorship. Chilling, en effet.

As for the Republican Party’s craven politicians, on whom abuse is being rightly heaped, see Jamelle Bouie’s excellent commentary, “The horror is everything the GOP could tolerate about Trump, and why: Republicans supported his vision of a whites-only America until he posed a threat to the voters the party needs.” Bouie discusses, entre autres, Trump’s breathtaking words on the Central Park Five. And à propos if one missed it, see the piece by The Guardian’s Oliver Laughland of last February, “Donald Trump and the Central Park Five: the racially charged rise of a demagogue.”

One nice thing about the GOP’s Trump disaster is the prise de conscience by a minority of right-wingers who are appalled and sickened by the orange haired one, including columnists George Will and and Jennifer Rubin, whom I heretofore disdained but are now fun to read (e.g. see their latest here and here). Also TWS’s Jonathan Last, who had a pithy post-debate comment. One conservative friend of mine is so revolted and repulsed by Trump that she informed me the other day that “[she is] beginning to sound like an unhinged Sanders supporter” and that this election “has actually radicalized [her].” Sois la bienvenue ma chère!

One group that is also coming around is heretofore Hillary-hating gauchiste Bernie supporters—and believe me, I have many such friends, real life and virtual—who have, as I have been noting on my Facebook news feed, been ever less critical of Hillary, when not downright positive in their attitudes toward her—and to the point where the latest Wikileaks dump, that revealed excerpts of Hillary’s speeches to Wall Street, provoked little to no reaction. Tant pis, Julian Assange and Vladimir Putin. Bad timing and too late. C’est bien. (As for my assessment on the email revelations, I largely agree with Kevin Drum and Matthew Yglesias).

C’est tout ce que j’ai à dire, pour le moment au moins.

UPDATE: Former NFL player Chris Kluwe, who spent most of his career as a punter with the Minnesota Vikings, has an absolutely excellent, fantastically written, must-read piece in Vox, “Dear Donald Trump: I played in the NFL. Here’s what we really talk about in the locker room.” Lots of great lines, e.g. on how Trump has “plummet[ed] past the morass of gross incivility into the abyss of depraved sociopathy.” Every Trump supporter should be obliged to read Kluwe’s piece and to the very last word.

2nd UPDATE: Conservative pundit Michael Gerson, who served in the Bush 43 administration, has a great column in The Washington Post on the Trump debacle, “Republicans deserve their sad fate.” I don’t agree with the bit about the Democrats in the 1990s but will let that slide.

3rd UPDATE: Slate associate editor Laura V. Anderson has a nice post (October 12th) on Slate’s “XX Factor: What Women Really Think” blog, “Forget this ‘Hillary is unlikable’ stuff. Hillary is downright inspiring.”

4th UPDATE: The New Yorker’s John Cassidy has a good commentary (October 12th) on the WikiLeaks dump, “The illuminating but unsurprising content of Clinton’s paid speeches.”

5th UPDATE: I watched Trump’s October 13th speech in West Palm Beach on C-SPAN, all 49 minutes of it. The face of American fascism. Ça coupe le souffle. For a shorter demonstration (under two minutes) of Trump’s fascism—and of the profound danger he poses—watch this.

In case one missed it last May, do read my favorite neocon Robert Kagan’s WaPo column, “This is how fascism comes to America.”

6th UPDATE: If one didn’t see Michelle Obama’s great speech yesterday (October 13th) in Manchester NH—certainly the best of the campaign and by anyone—watch it here.

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