Will she win?

Hillary Clinton_DNC_July 28 2016_Ali Shaker Voice of America_via Wikimedia Commons

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

Yes, of course she will. Her post-convention “bounce” has been significant, as everyone knows, and while the numbers may possibly dip in the coming weeks—or, more likely, may not—it is more than unlikely that Trump could turn it into a horse race, let alone take the lead, barring some mega-revelation about Hillary. And even then. One has likely seen the latest poll from Georgia, that has Hillary leading Trump by four points. If this is at all accurate and the numbers hold—i.e. if Georgia is in play—then this thing is over. The only question is the scale of the landslide.

To know that Trump is all but toast—that he is, in the words of a top aide to Mitt Romney in 2012, “a neutron bomb that has gone off in the Republican Party“—one may merely read the latest commentaries by conservative pundits, most decades-long Hillary-haters, e.g. Peggy Noonan in the WSJ (August 4th), on “The week they decided Donald Trump was crazy.” Money quote

Here is a truth of life. When you act as if you’re insane, people are liable to think you’re insane. That’s what happened this week. People started to become convinced he was nuts, a total flake.

WaPo’s Charles Krauthammer said much the same in his column (August 4th), “Donald Trump and the fitness threshold

This is beyond narcissism. I used to think Trump was an 11-year-old, an undeveloped schoolyard bully. I was off by about 10 years. His needs are more primitive, an infantile hunger for approval and praise, a craving that can never be satisfied. He lives in a cocoon of solipsism where the world outside himself has value — indeed exists — only insofar as it sustains and inflates him.

Krauthammer’s equally right-wing colleague, George F. Will, has been on anti-Trump tear of late. In his column (August 3rd), “Trump’s shallowness runs deep,” he makes this pertinent observation

[Trump’s] speeches are, of course, syntactical train wrecks, but there might be a method to his madness. He rarely finishes a sentence (“Believe me!” does not count), but perhaps he is not the scatterbrain he has so successfully contrived to appear. Maybe he actually is a sly rascal, cunningly in pursuit of immunity through profusion.

He seems to understand that if you produce a steady stream of sufficiently stupefying statements, there will be no time to dwell on any one of them, and the net effect on the public will be numbness and ennui. So, for example, while the nation has been considering his interesting decision to try to expand his appeal by attacking Gold Star parents, little attention has been paid to this: Vladimir Putin’s occupation of Crimea has escaped Trump’s notice.

Trump’s words on geopolitics, and particularly on America’s NATO allies, prompted the Trump-loathing Über-conservative blogger-commentator Erick Erickson to fire off an incendiary broadside, aimed at Trump-supporting fellow conservatives, on his website The Resurgent (August 4th), “Donald Trump can go to hell and if you defend his statement, so can you.” Aïe!

And then there’s David Brooks’s latest (August 5th) on the GOP’s “70-year-old man-child” candidate, which is worth quoting at length

Trump has shown that he is not a normal candidate. He is a political rampage charging ever more wildly out of control. And no, he cannot be changed.

He cannot be contained because he is psychologically off the chain. With each passing week he displays the classic symptoms of medium-grade mania in more disturbing forms: inflated self-esteem, sleeplessness, impulsivity, aggression and a compulsion to offer advice on subjects he knows nothing about.

His speech patterns are like something straight out of a psychiatric textbook. Manics display something called “flight of ideas.” It’s a formal thought disorder in which ideas tumble forth through a disordered chain of associations. One word sparks another, which sparks another, and they’re off to the races. As one trained psychiatrist said to me, compare Donald Trump’s speaking patterns to a Robin Williams monologue, but with insults instead of jokes.

Trump insults Paul Ryan, undermines NATO and raises the specter of nuclear war. Advisers can’t control Trump’s brain because Trump can’t control it himself.

He also cannot be contained because he lacks the inner equipment that makes decent behavior possible. So many of our daily social interactions depend on a basic capacity for empathy. But Trump displays an absence of this quality.

He looks at the grieving mother of a war hero and is unable to recognize her pain. He hears a crying baby and is unable to recognize the infant’s emotion or the mother’s discomfort. He is told of women being sexually harassed at Fox News and is unable to recognize their trauma.

The same blindness that makes him impervious to global outrage makes it impossible for him to make empathetic connection. Fear is his only bond.

Some people compare Trump to the great authoritarians of history, but that’s wrong. They were generally disciplined men with grandiose plans. Trump is underdeveloped and unregulated.

He is a slave to his own pride, compelled by a childlike impulse to lash out at anything that threatens his fragile identity. He appears to have no ability to experience reverence, which is the foundation for any capacity to admire or serve anything bigger than self, to want to learn about anything beyond self, to want to know and deeply honor the people around you.

N.B. These are the assessments of conservative, Republican-voting commentators. The bottom line: there is no way—not a snowball’s chance in hell—that the American electorate will send a man to the White House who is manifestly mentally ill. That Trump is this is obvious to anyone who doesn’t get 100% of his or her information from Fox News, right-wing talk radio, and/or the American Internet réacosphère.

On sources of information, writer George Saunders, in his long, must read article in The New Yorker last month, “Who are all these Trump supporters?,” had this observation

Where is all this anger coming from? It’s viral, and Trump is Typhoid Mary. Intellectually and emotionally weakened by years of steadily degraded public discourse, we are now two separate ideological countries, LeftLand and RightLand, speaking different languages, the lines between us down. Not only do our two subcountries reason differently; they draw upon non-intersecting data sets and access entirely different mythological systems. You and I approach a castle. One of us has watched only “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” the other only “Game of Thrones.” What is the meaning, to the collective “we,” of yon castle? We have no common basis from which to discuss it. You, the other knight, strike me as bafflingly ignorant, a little unmoored. In the old days, a liberal and a conservative (a “dove” and a “hawk,” say) got their data from one of three nightly news programs, a local paper, and a handful of national magazines, and were thus starting with the same basic facts (even if those facts were questionable, limited, or erroneous). Now each of us constructs a custom informational universe, wittingly (we choose to go to the sources that uphold our existing beliefs and thus flatter us) or unwittingly (our app algorithms do the driving for us). The data we get this way, pre-imprinted with spin and mythos, are intensely one-dimensional. (As a proud knight of LeftLand, I was interested to find that, in RightLand, Vince Foster has still been murdered, Dick Morris is a reliable source, kids are brainwashed “way to the left” by going to college, and Obama may yet be Muslim. I expect that my interviewees found some of my core beliefs equally jaw-dropping.)

Not that there’s symmetry between LeftLand and RightLand. One is delusional and unhinged, the other is not. No need to specify which is which.

As for Trump’s fans, certain observers have said that we need to listen to them, to hear them out, try to understand where they’re coming from, maybe feel their pain, alienation, and anger. Right. I’ve done that, with Saunders’s piece and others. And I’ve had enough of reading about those people. The NYT video of the crowds at Trump’s rallies, which everyone has seen by now, was it. These people are politically and morally depraved. Erick Erickson, referenced above, did well in telling them to go to hell, as did Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce in so many words, in a July 14th tirade, in which he correctly asserted that “anyone who supports Donald Trump is a traitor to the American idea.” Allen Clifton—a Texas-based blogger and co-founder of the Forward Progressives website, both unknown to me before today—has a commentary (August 5th) that gets it exactly right. It begins

When it comes to Donald Trump’s campaign, I’ve honestly reached a point where I have to remind myself that this is a legitimate Republican presidential candidate who may very well become our next president. This whole circus has become so outrageously bizarre that it’s hard for me to mentally grasp the reality that tens of millions of people are actually supporting this buffoon.

Before this election, I typically avoided calling people “stupid” for supporting a particular presidential candidate. In 2012, I might have thought Mitt Romney had no business being president, but I didn’t feel as if someone had to be mentally unhinged to support him.

However, when it comes to Trump supporters, I have no qualms in saying I completely believe that someone has to be an absolute imbecile to think he should be our next president. I’ve never seen a candidate blatantly treat his supporters like bumbling idiots — yet they love him for it.

His entire campaign has been a joke. I’ve often said that Donald Trump is what the comments section of a right-wing blog would look and sound like if it could run for president. All he’s done his entire campaign is tell his hostile, rabid and ignorant supporters exactly what they want to hear, even if most of what he’s been telling them hasn’t contained a shred of truth.

Though I feel a tweet he sent out late Thursday evening perfectly exemplifies how factually devoid and delusional his entire campaign has been:

To read that tweet and the rest of Clifton’s spot-on piece, go here.

Précision: We’re talking here about Trump’s die-hard fans, who will stick with him even if he literally shoots someone on Fifth Avenue. But a certain number of his supporters, even in the famous white working class, have been soft and are now falling away. Not everyone who voted Trump in the primaries was an idiot. Some of these voters are realizing—if they haven’t already—that they’ve been played by Trump, that his promises on trade and the economy are worthless, that he is not a credible messenger for his populist discourse. Perhaps some knew it all along but were consciously casting a protest vote. Sending a message to the Republican and Democratic Party establishments alike, something like that. I am reminded here of a poll that was taken in France after the 2002 presidential election—the one that saw Jean-Marie Le Pen, in a shocker, overtake Prime Minister Lionel Jospin in the first round to square off against President Jacques Chirac in the second ballot two weeks later—in which fully half of Le Pen’s voters said that they would not have voted for him had they thought he had any chance of actually being elected (Chirac won with 82%). One may hypothesize that some of Trump’s dropping numbers may be attributed to this, to some of his voters getting cold feet when they saw him running neck-and-neck with Hillary in the polls after the RNC.

Now, for the sake of argument, what would happen if, by some crazy turn of events, Trump pulled even with Hillary in the final stretch of the campaign—and despite bailing out of the debates, which I consider likely (as he knows she’ll shred him into little pieces)—and looked like he had a serious chance of winning? At the risk of provoking the paranoia of Trump and his supporters, one may be sure that America’s Deep State—particularly in the military, intelligence, and foreign policy establishments—will pull out all the stops to prevent this, beginning with the leak of his tax returns to Julian Assange—or, if he’s in cahoots with Trump, to another outlet. And if that doesn’t do the trick in sinking Trump, the “Deep State” will come up with something else. They will do all they can to insure his defeat. And if it comes down to that, I wish the powers-that-be well in their efforts.

To push it further, what would happen in the unthinkable, utterly unlikely event that Trump pulled off his three state strategy (FL-OH-PA) and won a 273-265 Electoral College victory? Answer: chaos and unprecedented constitutional crisis. First, his narrow EC victory would certainly be accompanied by a decisive defeat in the popular vote. Seriously: it is beyond inconceivable that Trump could possibly overtake Hillary Clinton in the popular vote in what will certainly be a high turnout election, with over 130 million voters going to the polls. 65 million Americans—or even 60—are not going to vote for Donald Trump. The legitimacy of a narrow Trump EC victory would be rejected by a very sizable portion of American society, and would more than likely prompt a sufficient number of Trump electors—it would just take three or four—to break the faith when the Electoral College meets on December 19th and throw the election to the House—which would generate a legitimacy crisis of its own. The shock in the UK and among British elites after the Brexit vote—and consequent fallout in financial markets—would pale in comparison to what the US would experience in such an event.

Secondly, Trump would not be able to govern. Another comparison with France and the 2002 election: a few months after that one, I advanced a hypothesis to a haut fonctionnaire—specifically, a member of the Cour des Comptes—with whom I was acquainted that if Le Pen had won the presidential election, the grand corps de l’État—the men and women who run the French state and are seconded to ministerial staffs—would decline to collaborate with his administration, the shameful experience of the Vichy regime—and disgrace of the French state—very much in mind. He agreed, saying that he would not serve or collaborate with a Le Pen presidency, nor would his other colleagues, so he believed. Such would certainly be the case with Trump in the White House. With the American “Deep State,” indeed the entire Washington establishment—civil service, media, think tanks, you name it—hostile to him, Trump wouldn’t be able to do a thing. He would issue executive orders and throw temper tantrums but nothing would happen. One can barely even imagine him trying to fill the six thousand vacancies in the top echelons of the federal government. It would be crazy and impossible. The Banana-Republicification of the United States.

But this is politique-fiction, as it’s not going to happen.

All sorts of people have been wondering about the reaction of Trump’s supporters if he denounces his inevitable election loss as the product of fraud and rigging, fretting over the prospect of civil unrest, or worse. GMAB. When Trump gets pummeled on November 8th and denounces fraud and rigging— though without a shred of evidence—what, pray, are his brigades of dead-ender yahoo supporters going to do? Riot in the streets of Oklahoma City and Chattanooga? Launch an armed insurrection? N’importe quoi! The most they’ll do is unleash a torrent of incendiary tweets. The institutions of American democracy will withstand that.

So what’s a Republican voter appalled by Trump to do? Borrowing again from the French experience, there are two options. One: do what left voters did in the second round of the 2002 presidential election, which was to vote en masse for the right-wing Chirac—whom left voters had long despised, even calling him an outright fascist in the early years of his political career—to bar the route to Le Pen. Left voters went to their polling stations and just did it. GOP voters can just do it too: vote Hillary. Option two: do what many left voters—myself included—may well end up doing in round two of the presidential election next May, which is to vote blanc, i.e. drop an empty envelope into the ballot box. Not vote for anyone. In the US, that would mean passing on the presidential race and voting only down-ballot. Or, alternatively, voting for Gary Johnson. Le choix est clair.

Readers who are still with me will note that, after 2,700 words, I have hardly discussed Hillary. This has been all about Trump. It’s been all Trump all the time. Trump’s ability to monopolize media coverage is simply breathtaking. Since the end of the DNC nine days ago the US politics posts on my social media news feeds have been 95% Trump, with Hillary barely an afterthought. E.g. the bizarre New York Post cover photos of Melania in the nude, which were clearly authorized by Trump: the only manifest purpose was to keep the focus on Trump and divert attention from Hillary, even if the photos would not be well-received on the right.

The sharp anthropologist Sarah Kendzior has a fine essay in Foreign Policy (August 3rd) on how, win or lose in November, Trump’s “toxic legacy will live on.” And that toxic legacy will include the unabated rise of white extremist and hate groups, the linking of economic discontent with white populism and ressentiment, and the continued debasement of the media, for whom Trump has been so lucrative to their declining bottom lines. As Kendzior says

When the Trump train grinds to a halt, mainstream outlets will see more lost funding and more layoffs, leading to poor coverage of the new administration and an even more fractured political discourse. The media has learned that the exploitation of violence, riots, and bigotry brings clicks and cash. This is not a new lesson — as the old saying goes, “if it bleeds, it leads” — but the 2016 campaign has shown the mainstreaming of extremism to be uniquely lucrative.

On Hillary: in addition to dominating Trump in the polls, her personal popularity numbers are now in the mid 40s (RCP presently has it at+43/-53, with Trump at +33.8/-60.8). As Bernie Sanders voters continue to coalesce around Hillary—and with Bernie issuing strong statements supporting her—her numbers are sure to rise a few points more. A certain number of Hillary haters will cease hating (and regardless of clumsy responses she gives to time-wasting questions from reporters on the irrelevant email business, which will be a non-issue by the fall).

Let me recommend just two articles, both by Vox’s Ezra Klein: “It’s time to admit Hillary Clinton is an extraordinarily talented politician” (June 7th) and “Understanding Hillary: Why the Clinton America sees isn’t the Clinton colleagues know” (July 11th). The latter one is particularly worth reading. I do believe that Hillary Clinton, in the uncertain event she obtains a working majority in Congress, has the potential to be a great president.

And in case one missed it, see these two pieces from June: “The most thorough, profound and moving defense of Hillary Clinton I have ever seen,” by a writer named Michael Arnowitz, and “I was one of the most ardent Hillary haters on the planet…until I read her emails,” by Karoli Kuns, managing editor of the Crooks and Liars website.

Three final links. Do check out writer David Auerbach’s lengthy but most interesting essay (July 26th) in the academic blog Crooked Timber, “Donald Trump: Moosbrugger for President.” And definitely don’t miss the piece in Vox (July 18th) by the indispensable Norman Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann, “The Republicans waged a 3-decade war on government. They got Trump.” And if one has not seen Jane Mayer’s amazing article in the July 25th issue of The New Yorker, “Donald Trump’s ghostwriter tells all,” read it. Now.

À suivre.

UPDATE: Cognitive linguist George Lakoff, who teaches at UC-Berkeley, had a must read piece in HuffPost, dated July 22nd, on “Understanding Trump,” or, more specifically, on understanding Trump’s supporters. Hint: it’s about the authoritarian personality.

2nd UPDATE: If one is still interested in the Hillary email affair and wants to read just one piece on it, then see Fred Kaplan’s in Slate (July 6th), “The Hillary Clinton email scandal was totally overblown.”

If one wants another piece, go to Eli Lake’s Bloomberg View column (July 5th), “The conservative case for letting Clinton skate.”

3rd UPDATE: A friend has sent me a post, dated July 31st, on Slate’s language blog Lexicon Valley, devoted to a single sentence Donald Trump uttered in a speech in South Carolina ten days earlier. Watch or read it and marvel. Sarah Palin is almost Demosthenes in comparison.

4th UPDATE: Reihan Salam, the youthful, thinking-outside-the-box conservative intellectual, has a column in Slate (August 4th) on one possible upside to the Trump phenomenon, which is how “Donald Trump is liberating the GOP from its most deeply held beliefs.” The lede: “He’s against the Iraq war. He’s for big government spending. He’s anti–Wall Street.”

I’m dubious, though, as Trump is against (or for) something one day, then for (or against) it the next. He has no fixed beliefs or positions on anything. And it’s rather unlikely that the GOP will modify its tenacious positions on issues like taxes and “small government” just because of Trump—and particularly if he suffers decisive defeat in November.

5th UPDATE: Vox’s Matthew Yglesias had a piece on July 28th, before Hillary Clinton’s DNC speech, observing that she “is bad at speeches for the exact reasons she’d be a good president.” Among the factors that make her not a great orator, but would an effective president, is the value she attaches to collaborative work. Interesting argument, and no doubt valid.

6th UPDATE: New York magazine writer-at-large Rebecca Traister had a good article, dated May 30th, that I missed at the time, “Hillary Clinton vs. Herself: There’s nothing simple about this candidacy—or candidate.”

Can he win?

Trump RNC Cleveland 07-21-2016

It’s day 4 of the DNC, which, after some early bad humor by a handful of Bernie dead-enders, has been going swimmingly—with, as I read, one good to excellent speech after another (so far I’ve only watched Michelle Obama’s from beginning to end)—contrasting with the disgrace of the shambolic Trump convention last week, which I did not watch at all, save for a brief YouTube or two (e.g. Laura Ingraham’s boilerplate red meat harangue, which was said to crystallize the Trump Weltanschauung). I decided to watch Trump’s acceptance speech three days after the fact but stopped after 13 minutes. Pure, raw, fascist fear-mongering demagoguery—at the most fascist and populist convention in memory, as historian Federico Finchelstein called it—and terrifying to hear in America from a major party presidential candidate. But this is a banal reaction and that has been made by countless pundits and commentators, including numerous Republicans (and conservative ones, not just “moderates”). When the Über-mainstream, centrist, neocon-friendly Washington Post Editorial Board proclaims that “Donald Trump is a unique threat to American democracy,” well, ça veut dire ce que ça veut dire. Quoting Matthew Yglesias, so much has been written and said about Donald Trump’s manifest unfitness for office—and the fear the mere prospect of his victory arouses—that at this point there’s hardly any reason to dwell further on it. Except to emphasize that the problem is not merely Trump but the Republican Party as a whole, including its putatively mainstream, moderate personalities.

Canadian author Terry Glavin, writing on how “America faces a banana republic moment,” nicely summed up the RNC

The Republican Party is gone. Its national convention in Cleveland was a four-day carnival of shrieking vulgarity, a meticulously stage-managed incitement of the lowest and ugliest impulses in the American political character. Its climax was something almost unimaginable only a year or so ago. The Republican nominee for the Office of the President of the United States of America is the loudmouth caudillo Donald Trump.

On Trump’s fascism (small f), or caudilloishness, the parallel with Mussolini has been made by many, including historians way out on the right, but these sorts of assertions are futile and sterile, as Trump is a sui generis, very American phenomenon—among other things, he’s much more of a philistine and overall intellectual idiot than any strongman he could be compared to—and who wouldn’t be able to rule like a fascist dictator even if he could somehow get around the US constitution. As Slate’s Michelle Goldberg put it after Trump’s mess of a convention

All of this bodes ill for Trump’s ability to govern a country. Nevertheless, we should be glad for his indiscipline, because the one thing standing between Trumpism and full-blown fascism is Trump’s lack of organizational skills. He has no cadres or shock troops. There’s just him, a few lackeys, and the mob of atomized voters who’ve elevated him.

The most obvious contemporary comparison of Trump is with Silvio Berlusconi, made most recently by the FT’s Edward Luce, in a good column dated July 17th, “Trump leads the west’s flight from dignity: The most troubling aspect of his rise is how he is licensing society’s darkest instincts.” Money quote

Comparisons between Mr Trump and Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi are far more apt. A leading Italian scholar, Luigi Zingales, recalls an event at which the country’s former prime minister taunted an embarrassed young woman by making repeated schoolboyish puns about orgasms. The shocking part was not Mr Berlusconi’s boorishness but the audience’s wild applause.

“Such approval would have been unimaginable before the rise of Berlusconi,” said Mr Zingales. “There is no way of measuring the degree to which he has debased public life in Italy.” The same applies to the Trump effect.

Here in France I’ve compared Trump to Jean-Marie Le Pen—with a little Sarkozy and Bernard Tapie mixed in—though this falls short, as, entre autres, JMLP is far more cultivated and erudite than is the Donald. But one comparison that is 100% accurate is that of the Trump phenomenon—of the discourse and those attracted to it—and Le Pen’s Front National. I’ve been saying since last year that the rhetoric and world-view of Trump supporters translated into French is precisely that of FN voters, as one may see, e.g., in this Frank Luntz focus group. In France, these good Americans are FN voters to a tee.

Another striking parallel between Trump and FN voters: I’ve been reading of late about a new book, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by Marine Corps veteran and recent Yale Law School graduate J.D. Vance, who hails from a poor family in southern Ohio (see the excerpt in WaPo). Rod Dreher—senior editor of The American Conservative—has a must-read interview with Vance (h/t Laurie Lewis) dated July 22nd, “Trump: Tribune of poor white people,” which he prefaces with this

The book is an American classic, an extraordinary testimony to the brokenness of the white working class, but also its strengths. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read…  for Americans who care about politics and the future of our country, Hillbilly Elegy is the most important book of 2016. You cannot understand what’s happening now without first reading J.D. Vance. His book does for poor white people what Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book did for poor black people: give them voice and presence in the public square.

When Trump said in his convention speech “I am your voice,” he was speaking directly to the poor Appalachian whites Vance speaks about:

Trump’s candidacy is music to their ears.  He criticizes the factories shipping jobs overseas.  His apocalyptic tone matches their lived experiences on the ground.  He seems to love to annoy the elites, which is something a lot of people wish they could do but can’t because they lack a platform.

Further down, Vance says

To me…condescension is a big part of Trump’s appeal.  He’s the one politician who actively fights elite sensibilities, whether they’re good or bad.  I remember when Hillary Clinton casually talked about putting coal miners out of work, or when Obama years ago discussed working class whites clinging to their guns and religion.  Each time someone talks like this, I’m reminded of [my grandmother’s] feeling that hillbillies are the one group you don’t have to be ashamed to look down upon.  The people back home carry that condescension like a badge of honor, but it also hurts, and they’ve been looking for someone for a while who will declare war on the condescenders.  If nothing else, Trump does that.  

This is where, to me, there’s a lot of ignorance around “Teflon Don.”  No one seems to understand why conventional blunders do nothing to Trump.  But in a lot of ways, what elites see as blunders people back home see as someone who–finally–conducts themselves in a relatable way.  He shoots from the hip; he’s not constantly afraid of offending someone; he’ll get angry about politics; he’ll call someone a liar or a fraud.  This is how a lot of people in the white working class actually talk about politics, and even many elites recognize how refreshing and entertaining it can be!  So it’s not really a blunder as much as it is a rich, privileged Wharton grad connecting to people back home through style and tone.  Viewed like this, all the talk about “political correctness” isn’t about any specific substantive point, as much as it is a way of expanding the scope of acceptable behavior.  People don’t want to believe they have to speak like Obama or Clinton to participate meaningfully in politics, because most of us don’t speak like Obama or Clinton.

Je dis tout haut ce que vous pensez tout bas (translation here), as populist demagogue extraordinaire Le Pen père would tell his adoring fans. The way Vance presents it, this sizable cohort of Trump voters will be impervious to any and all attempts by the Democrats or anyone else to tear down their candidate, as the election is finally about more than him. Reading Vance, I thought of working class voters in the dying industrial towns of northern and eastern France, who are a core constituency of the Front National. The FN can say just about anything and run candidates for office whom no one has heard of, but it doesn’t matter to its voters, for whom the Le Pen name and FN label is one big projectile to be hurled at the elites—political and cultural, and of both left and right—who run France, and whom FN voters despise.

So can Trump channel the alienation and anger to defeat Hillary? Numerous friends and stateside family members and relatives have been in near panic mode the past week, with the post RNC polls showing Trump taking the lead and, in particular, over an apocalyptic July 21st post by Michael Moore on his website, “5 reasons why Trump will win,” which has people freaking out. More on that below. As for the polls, the RCP average of the eight taken during and after the RNC have Trump up by 0.9% over HRC. As far as post-convention “bumps” go, this is not too impressive. It’s comparable to Romney’s ephemeral one in 2012 and less consequential than McCain’s in 2008; in the latter, the 12 polls taken after the Palin pick had McCain leading in seven—by 2 to 10%—and tied in three, with Obama retaking the lead after two weeks (and before the Lehman Brothers collapse). Unless Hillary’s speech tonight is a dud, she will necessarily get a bump—maybe even a big bounce—in next week’s polls. And unless there’s a damaging revelation or story about her—which, in view of Russian dirty tricks, is not to be totally excluded—she won’t be looking back.

As for Michael Moore’s “5 reasons,” let’s go through them one by one:

1. “Midwest Math, or Welcome to Our Rust Belt Brexit.” Moore believes that Trump is going to go all out to win four Midwestern states: Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, thus giving him a razor-thin 270 Electoral College majority (though any bets on how many of his electors break the faith and vote for HRC, especially if she wins the popular vote?). Before seeing Moore’s piece I was thinking much the same thing, that Trump’s path to victory—his only realistic one—would be to launch a full-throttle assault to pick off Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania—plus holding 2012 red state North Carolina—that would give him a 273-265 majority in the EC. It’s theoretically possible but, in point of fact, not too likely. Here’s what the polls say:

Ohio: The two post-RNC polls have Trump and Hillary in a tie, with the current RCP spread at +0.8 for HRC. Of the 16 polls taken this year, Trump has led in 2, HRC in 9, and with 5 a dead heat. If HRC regains her national lead next week and maintains it, it stands to reason that she will widen her lead in Ohio, not lose ground there.

Pennsylvania: People have been fixated on PA as low-hanging fruit for Trump, even though the GOP has not won the state in a presidential election since 1988. The current RCP spread—there have been no polls in the state for almost three weeks—has HRC at +3.2. Of the 14 polls taken there this year, Trump has had the lead in exactly one (by 2%). This is not a sign of strength. And if he launches an ad blitz in the state, one may be sure that the HRC campaign will respond in kind and then some.

Michigan: Like PA, MI has not gone GOP since 1988. In 2012 Obama won it with an almost 10 point margin. In the 9 polls taken this year, HRC has led in all (by 3 to 16%). Her current RCP spread is 5.2%. There is no objective reason to believe that Trump can put MI into play. If he does and then wins it, it will be in the context of a larger national victory, in which he wins a slew of blue states. Dream on.

Wisconsin: Ditto. WI has not voted Republican since the ’84 Reagan landslide. It looked to be trending GOP in 2000 and 2004 but trended back Dem in the Obama elections. All 11 polls taken this year have had HRC in the decisive lead (4 to 14%). Her current RCP spread is 5.6%. Bottom line: Trump is not going to win Wisconsin. Jamais de la vie.

As for Florida, the ultimate swing state: The current RCP spread has Trump at +0.3, i.e. a dead heat. Of the 18 polls taken this year, HRC led in 11 and Trump in 6. FL is a demographically dynamic state, so its electorate this year won’t be the same as in 2012. But one may be sure that Hispanics/Latinos there—whose proportion of the FL electorate has not declined—will vote for HRC in greater numbers than they did for Obama. And then there are all those Jewish retirees, who are certain to vote Trump in far fewer numbers than they did Romney (who received around 30% of the Jewish vote nationally; Trump won’t get anywhere near that). If Trump is going to win FL, he’ll have to go all out to do so, with a sophisticated ground game and tons of $$ for TV—and which the HRC campaign will be doing too. Anyone think Trump is capable of that and outdoing Hillary’s effort while he’s at it?

And North Carolina: The current RCP spread has HRC at +2.0. Of the 13 polls taken in the state this year, HRC has led in 6 (including the last three) and Trump in 6 as well. Obama lost NC by 2% in 2012. HRC has an excellent chance of winning the state. In fact, she will win the state.

Conclusion: On his reason #1, Michael Moore did not make his case.

2. “The Last Stand of the Angry White Man.” Yes, there are lots of angry white men out there, particularly those without college degrees. This is the Trump electorate. Problem for him, it’s his only electorate (apart from conservative Republicans who will vote for their party’ candidate no matter what). As every minimally informed person knows, Trump is being massacred in almost every other demographic, e.g. white men with college degrees, women with degrees or not, Hispanics/Latinos, blacks, Catholics, Jews, Asian-Americans, poor people… Now it is indeed the case that white men without college degrees are a sizable demographic and it is not inconceivable that Trump may do better among them than did Romney in 2012. But given the certain defection of Republican-leaning voters in the other demographics, Trump will have to rack up unprecedented numbers of these white men in order to have a chance of winning. To do this, his campaign will need a sophisticated GOTV operation, plus an organization to identify all those lower-class men—particularly those J.D. Vance talks about—who may not be registered to vote, and then get them registered in time for the election. Needless to say, Trump does not have that organization in place and there is no sign at this late date that he’ll be able to.

Conclusion: There are not enough angry white men out there to swing this election to Trump.

3. “The Hillary Problem.” Yes, she is very unpopular. We know that. Lots of people out there simply despise her. I have long been mystified by the Hillary-hatred but it’s a fact. C’est comme ça. And it is indeed a problem. Three things. First, the HuffPost Pollster has HRC’s popularity at +39.3/-55.4 (and with the portion of the negatives who strongly dislike her very high). But this is the worst it’s ever been for her. Until the email affair broke in March 2015 HRC’s numbers had been been positive and since 2009. And she took an additional hit with the conclusion of the FBI report earlier this month. Barring anything new, her numbers are sure to rise, particularly if she gives a good speech tonight and gets that post-convention “bounce.”

Second, the HuffPost Pollster aggregate of Trump’s current popularity is +37.8/-56.9, which approaches Hillary’s but is still worse. And it’s his highest, or least bad, number ever. One may wager that with his increasingly unhinged behavior and the borderline treason regarding Russia—and all sorts of things yet to come that we can’t imagine—that his numbers won’t be going higher. In short, this is as good as it gets for him.

Third, Democratic and left voters who dislike Hillary will hold their noses and vote for her nonetheless—and particularly in swing states—as they will be, to a man and woman, terrified by the prospect of a Trump victory. Many Republican voters who dislike Trump will likewise hold their noses and vote for him nonetheless, as they simply hate Hillary and the Democrats. But a certain number of Republican voters are so appalled by Trump—and while disliking Hillary, are not terrified by her—that they will sit out the election, vote for Gary Johnson, or even go for HRC. I have no numbers to back this up but am certain that more Republican voters will defect from Trump than Democratic voters from Hillary. On France Inter this morning a French-speaking nitwit American reporter in Philadelphia opined that Jill Stein could attract herds of Bernie dead-enders and get up to 11% of the vote. Bollocks! N’importe quoi!

Conclusion: So long as HRC is less unpopular than Trump, her bad poll numbers won’t undermine her on November 8th.

4. “The Depressed Bernie Vote.” Moore concedes that Bernie voters will, out of Trump fear, go out and vote Hillary—and they will indeed—but that they will do so without enthusiasm, and that the lack of this will depress turnout among young people. If the election had suddenly been held last weekend this would have likely been the case. But the election is happening in three months, during which time presently dejected Bernie supporters will have had time to focus on the actual choice on November 8th. A few big rallies with Hillary, Bernie, and maybe even Obama (Barack or Michelle) in Madison WI, Ann Arbor MI, Boulder CO, Cleveland, maybe Chapel Hill NC, and the young people will be sufficiently fired up come election day, c’est sûr et certain.

Conclusion: Young voters will vote in the same proportion as in 2012.

5. “The Jesse Ventura Effect.” Moore says that we should not “discount the electorate’s ability to be mischievous or underestimate how any millions fancy themselves as closet anarchists once they draw the curtain and are all alone in the voting booth” and that voters sometimes like to play a “good practical joke on a sick political system.” Perhaps, but this is an election for the President of the United States and leader of the Free World, not governor of a state in l’Amérique profonde. And while Jesse Ventura was a colorful personality and an unlikely candidate for executive office, he was not an unhinged, mentally unstable, rabble-rousing, racist demagogue. Come on, Michael.

Conclusion: The will be no “Jesse Ventura effect.” Not in this election.

A couple more things. First, President Obama’s job approval rating is presently around 50-51%. This is hugely important for Hillary’s chances. If Obama were unpopular, this would be a serious, even fatal, problem for any Democratic nominee. But the Democratic POTUS only gets more popular by the month. By the time he leaves office, even Republicans will be regretting him. Second, the unemployment rate is 5.5%. Sure, wages have been stagnant (for over three decades now), the workplace participation rate is dropping, and there are all the other problems. But the objective conditions are simply not there at this historical moment for the American electorate to put a populist demagogue in the White House.

I have a lot more to say on all this. La prochaine fois.

Turkey: the coup attempt

Taksim Square, Istanbul, July 16th (Photo: AP/Emrah Gurel)

Taksim Square, Istanbul, July 16th (Photo: AP/Emrah Gurel)

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Two old friends in the US have written to me asking what I think of the now failed coup attempt. So voilà. When I heard the news late last night, my immediate, visceral reaction was to hope that the coup would succeed, thereby ridding Turkey and the world of the unspeakable Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. But I quickly got intellectual control of myself, objectively understanding that it was a very bad thing and with terrible potential consequences regardless of the outcome. If the coup succeeded, it would plunge Turkey into open-ended instability, indeed chaos, as a military regime would be angrily rejected—and indeed actively resisted—by the large portion of the population that supports the current president and his party—and particularly if it were to arrest RTE, proscribe the AKP, and throw thousands in prison. This would be a disaster. There is no way the opposition parties (CHP, MHP, HDP) could possibly support this, lest they be complicit in the suspension of democracy—as RTE and the AKP were indeed democratically elected, which no one contests—and plunging Turkey into possible civil war—which, given the already deteriorating security situation (IS, PKK) and the conflicts on its borders, is the last thing the country needs. And there is no way the US or the EU could possibly acquiesce in the action of the military or formally recognize its regime.

What were the Turkish military putschists thinking? Plus their sympathizers outside Turkey? This is 2016. One doesn’t go around overthrowing elected governments in modern, sophisticated countries and that have one of the top 20 largest economies in the world. The putschists embarked on a fuite en avant: a rash course of action the consequences of which were not at all thought out. Not smart at all.

But now that the coup attempt has failed, the consequences will no doubt also be terrible. RTE will certainly come out of this reinforced and vengeful. He will redouble his efforts to modify the constitution—to, in effect, make him sultan-for-life—and likely succeed. Turkey will descend further into authoritarianism, if not outright dictatorship, and with all the instability that will entail. As Walter Russell Mead wrote last night in his Turkey coup live blog, the near 100-year Kemalist era in Turkey has, with the coup attempt, come to an end. Despite the problems and shortcomings of Kemalism, this is not to be celebrated.

I’ve mainly been getting information and analysis via social media (Facebook and Twitter). Georgetown University political science MENA specialist and personal friend Dan Brumberg—whose analyses are always smart and well-considered—posted the following on Facebook yesterday:

Coup supporters in the US [such as, e.g., this one] are now trotting out the usual suspect excuses for backing the coup in Turkey:

1) The Military has always been the guarantor of Turkish democracy and secularism.

Not true. The military saw its role as the ultimate guarantor of Ataturk’s legacy and his ideology. That ideology was not only authoritarian, it was not “secular.” Under the state that Ataturk created the clerics and their institutions became employees and extensions of the state. Friday khutbas (sermons) were an important device in the efforts of successive governments to rally support. Moreover, at key points—in the eighties for example—the military invoked Islamic themes, a dynamic that had wider echoes in the region.

2) Military coups were designed to “restore democracy” and achieved this aim.

Also not true. Military coups were often undertaken against elected governments (as was the case today). Opponents of such actions were repressed. This is not democracy.

3) Under Erdogan, the Turkish state imposed an Islamist ideology and system, or was well on its way to achieving this aim.

Not true again. Under Erdogan, the government did push for Islamist policies of various kinds, and secular Turks had good reason to be worried. But as anyone who has visited Turkey in the last year or two will tell you, Erdogan and his ruling party did not succeed in uprooting the still vibrant sectors of urban secular Turkish society.

Erdogan’s primary goal is to enhance his personal power. There is little doubt that he seeks to build an electoral autocracy. That is the essential problem, and the essential challenge.

4) The only and perhaps even most effective way to prevent the creation of an electoral autocracy is via a military coup.

A familiar position but also very dubious. If the coup succeeds what will follow will be an onslaught of repression (see Egypt). If the coup fails, you can be sure that this act of folly was provide Erdogan and his allies precisely the justification they need for advancing their project.

Following up, Dan—who needs a blog—had this

Whatever its many faults, this Turkish Government was elected and has every right to remain in place and resist this coup.

See the interview in Slate with Jenny White, who teaches at Stockholm University’s Institute for Turkish Studies: “How Turkey came to this: The attempted military coup isn’t the country’s first. But this time is different.”

Turkey specialist Claire Sadar, who co-edits the Muftah website, made this important observation earlier today

Since the last full coup in 1980, Turkish society has changed dramatically. In the wake of the coup, the Turkish economy was opened up to the outside world, and so was Turkish society. Turks are more wealthy, educated and cosmopolitan than they have ever been. They are also more fiercely committed to preserving democracy, even if that means supporting a leader that they genuinely despise. Over the course of the coup attempt, I heard the same line repeated over and over again by liberal, secular Turks who regularly criticize the government: We don’t like Erdogan, but we can’t support has removal by undemocratic means like a coup. The lack of support from even the large proportion of Turks who are unhappy with the direction the country is headed in, combined with what appears to be the lack of a comprehensive government takeover plan, meant that this coup attempt was doomed from the start.

More to follow.

UPDATE: The excellent Vox website has a number of articles and interviews with Turkey specialists, all grouped in a category on “Turkey’s coup.” Among them:

[Harvard University] expert [Dani Rodrik] tries to explain what the hell is going on.”

[Brookings Institution] Turkish politics expert [Ömer Taşpınar] on why it looks like a failed attempt.”

Turkey has had several military coups in its modern history…[Columbia University] historian [Richard Bulliet] explains why.”

Why Turkey’s coup failed, according to…[political science] expert Naunihal Singh [of the University of Notre Dame].”

The Gülen Movement, explained.”

I’ve had several posts on Fethullah Gülen in past years and with links to numerous articles. To see them all, go here (and follow the links in the first paragraph).

2nd UPDATE: Graham E. Fuller, formerly of the CIA and who knows Turkey well, agrees that the attempted coup was a “lose-lose” proposition.

3rd UPDATE: MENA specialist and friend Steven A. Cook, who’s at the Council on Foreign Relations, has a piece in WaPo, “Turkey has had lots of coups. Here’s why this one failed.”

See also the post on WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog by Syracuse University political scientist Yüksel Sezgin, “How Erdogan’s anti-democratic government made Turkey ripe for unrest.”

4th UPDATE: BuzzFeed News Middle East correspondent Borzou Daragahi has a dispatch from Diyarbakir on “Why the failed coup will hurt Turkey in coming months.” Quoting specialist Henri Barkey: “This is a coup where everyone loses.” Hélas.

5th UPDATE: Sabancı University political science professor Ayşe Kadıoğlu, writing in OpenDemocracy, asks if the coup d’état attempt is “Turkey’s Reichstag fire.” The lede: “We are witnessing the consolidation of a new form of authoritarianism with a populist streak.”

6th UPDATE: Dani Rodrik—who is worth reading on any subject he writes about—has a commentary in Project Syndicate, “Turkey’s baffling coup.”

7th UPDATE: The well-known journalist and commentator Cengiz Çandar, writing in Al-Monitor’s Turkey Pulse, asks the question that’s on many minds: “Was Turkey’s coup attempt just an elaborate hoax by Erdogan?” One should naturally be wary of conspiracy theories—and which are a dime a dozen in Turkey and elsewhere in that part of the world—but sometimes there are conspiracies. If such was the case with the attempted coup—and which does indeed smell a little fishy—the truth will come out, and probably sooner rather than later.

8th UPDATE: Philip Giraldi—executive director of the Council for the National Interest, former CIA officer, and Turkey-watcher—has an interesting piece in The American Conservative (July 18th), “A very predictable coup? Opponents of Turkey’s strongman have only solidified his position,” in which he suggests that Erdoğan may have had wind of the plot.

9th UPDATE: The well-known intellectual Cengiz Aktar, presently a senior scholar at the Istanbul Policy Center, has a tribune (July 18th) in Le Monde, “Les putschistes ont offert à Erdogan le régime présidentiel dont il rêve.”

10th UPDATE: Cihan Tuğal, who teaches sociology at the University of California at Berkeley, weighs in with an essay (July 18th) in OpenDemocracy, “Turkey coup aftermath: between neo-fascism and Bonapartism.” The lede: “Predictions about the consequences of Turkey’s failed coup focus on how it fulfils Erdoğan’s desire for an omnipotent presidency. But the danger that awaits is much greater than that.”

11th UPDATE: Voilà three “snapshot” analyses in Foreign Affairs:

Erdogan’s prophecy: The coup attempt will leave him stronger,” by Michael J. Koplow (July 18th).

Where the Turkish military fails, Egypt’s succeeds: Here’s why,” by Steven A. Cook (July 19th).

Turkey’s troubling turn: Terrorism and security after the attempted coup,” by Soner Cagaptay (July 19th).

12th UPDATE: Claire Berlinski, writing in City Journal (July 20th), asks “Who planned Turkey’s coup?” The answer: “It probably wasn’t President Erdoğan.”

Also see Claire’s piece in The American Interest (July 20th), co-authored with Izmir-based blogger Ali Kincal, “Dark days ahead: The plot against Erdoğan has laid bare dangerous undercurrents in Turkey.”

On the Ricochet blog, Claire has reproduced an English-language version of an interview her friend and colleague Okan Altiparmak—an Istanbul-based filmmaker and Turkey director of the website Muslim World Today—gave to an Iranian publication on the attempted coup.

13th UPDATE: Aaron Stein—Resident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East—has a post (July 20th) in the War on the Rocks blog entitled “Inside a failed coup and Turkey’s fragmented military.” Monica Marks—a sharp doctoral candidate at Oxford University and with specialized knowledge of Turkey—writes on social media that this is “by far the most detailed account [she’s] seen in Turkish or English of how Friday’s coup attempt transpired and its implications for the Turkish military. Well worth reading and spot on…”

The Nice atrocity


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It was such a nice fête nationale yesterday, for both me personally—spent part of the day going around Paris with a visiting friend and his daughter—and France, with a spectacular end to the Bastille Day parade on the Champs-Élysées. And now this. I watched the reports on TV late last night as the news came in, hoping, praying that the number killed—said to be around 30—would turn out to be exaggerated. But now it’s 84 as I write (10am) and counting.

A few instant reactions.

First, my dominant sentiment—as it was last November 13th—is one of horror, of thinking of the victims of the atrocity, their families, and friends. If my daughter—who lives in the south of France and is presently down that way—had been in Nice last night, she would have no doubt been on or near the Promenade des Anglais with friends (and she has indeed informed me that she attended last night’s fireworks display in the city where she’s on holiday). One feels horror at all terrorist atrocities but just that much more so when they hit close to home. And I emphasize horror. Numerous persons on social media this morning have been expressing anger and rage, with these apparently being their prevailing sentiments (pressing that ‘angry’ Facebook emoticon). Sure, who isn’t angry at the terrorists? Who doesn’t want to terminate them with extreme prejudice? But not only do I not understand this being the overriding emotion to such an outrage but also find it potentially dangerous, as an enraged people will want and expect that the state respond to that. And so in anticipation of that rage, President Hollande has already announced that France will reinforce its military action in Syria and Iraq, and extend the état d’urgence (state of emergency). If one can explain to me how Rafales dropping more bombs around Raqqa will contribute to the security of the French people, I’d like to hear it. And also how prolonging the liberty-undermining état d’urgence—which didn’t prevent last night’s attack, or any other known attack in the works—will do this.

Second—and contributing to the horror—is the nature of the attack—committed with a truck, which any low IQ idiot can procure and put to use as a weapon to kill dozens—and the victims. As on November 13th, those targeted for death or maiming were not just ordinary random people but people having fun. Enjoying life. And they were mainly younger people and parents with children. If there has ever been as evil an apocalyptic death cult as the Islamic State, it does not come to mind.

Third, one learns that the truck had mowed down people for almost two kilometers before being neutralized. This is insane. How the hell could this happen?! Questions: How was a truck of this size even allowed to circulate in the center of Nice at that hour of night, let alone enter the Promenade des Anglais with so many people gathered there? And, above all, how was it that the mad driver was not quickly neutralized, i.e. shot and killed, that he was able to pursue his course folle for two goddamned kilometers?! Where were the police? Where were the soldiers one sees all over the place, toting their automatic weapons? This is, needless to say, a catastrophic failure of the French police and the security scheme it has put in place since last year’s terrorist attacks. All the soldiers in their jungle fatigues patrolling the metro stations, the security guards hired à la va vite (and no doubt paid the SMIC) to check people’s bags at malls and schools (a total joke)… C’est parfaitement inutile.

Fourth, certain analysts have already been speculating on the political fallout of the latest outrage, one being my blogging confrère Arthur Goldhammer, who has gone so far as to assert, in a blog post à chaud, that

It is becoming increasingly likely that Marine Le Pen will be elected next year. The government seems helpless, and little by little minds are being prepared to accept an authoritarian xenophobic response as the only conceivable next step.

On va un peu vite en besogne. It’s a little early to be advancing such lurid hypotheses, particularly when we still don’t have all the facts. E.g. at the present moment, as I write, we know nothing about the terrorist apart from his name, that he was Franco-Tunisian, and had a police record for delinquency. We don’t yet know if the act was hatched in Raqqa—which could fuel public anger—or if he was a “lone wolf” à la Orlando, which would perhaps lend itself more to public despair and helplessness. It would also be advisable to get away from the reflexive notion that terrorist acts will automatically benefit demagogic right-wing politicians or parties. In point of fact, this has not happened up to now, in either France (November 13th, Charlie Hebdo-Hyper Cacher, Mohammed Merah, 1995, 1986) or the US (Orlando, 9/11, etc). In the case of Marine Le Pen, her popularity rating upticked four points (27% to 31%) in the IPSOS barometer after November 13th—along with every other national politician, most of whom witnessed larger gains—but dropped back a month later. Her numbers are presently 25% favorable/70% unfavorable. Poll-wise, she’s even worse off than Donald Trump. There will have to be a historic, unprecedented improvement in her polling numbers if she’s going to have a chance at winning the second round of a presidential election.

In any case, one expects—or at least hopes—that the French public, confronted with such an open-ended domestic security threat—will elect as leaders men and women who are experienced, of steady temperament, with nerves of steel and a sense of the state, and can bring people together, over those who are febrile, frenetic, polarizing, bereft of executive experience, and/or given over to trash-talking demagoguery. Such has been the case up to now. There is no a priori reason it should change.

UPDATE: Jason Burke has a piece in The Guardian, “Why does France keep getting attacked?,” which is worth the read. The lede: “France is historically seen as standard bearer of western secular liberalism and has been singled out by Isis as a key target.”

See also George Packer in The New Yorker, “The tragic and unsurprising news from Nice.” His analysis is good except for the assertion about Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump in the next-to-last paragraph, which I address above.

2nd UPDATE: For those who think that successive jihadist terror attacks will worsen ethno-confessional relations in France—and even provoke a veritable “civil war,” as certain excitable writers with vivid imaginations have ventured—do take a look at the data in the Pew Research Center’s latest study on “What France thinks of multiculturalism and Islam.”

3rd UPDATE: Franco-American anthropologist Scott Atran, who has researched and written extensively on terrorism and Islamism, has a sobering post in the NYR Daily, “ISIS: The durability of chaos.”

4th UPDATE: A number of people on social media have taken the MSM and politicians to task for designating the Nice atrocity an IS operation—before the IS had claimed any responsibility for it—and the perpetrator a terrorist, when almost nothing was known about him or his motives—and at the present moment (July 17th), little is still known. But for research scholar and MENA specialist Jean-Pierre Filiu, there is little doubt that it was an IS terrorist attack, as he explains in an interview in this weekend’s Libération, “‘La France est le seul pays pour qui Daech est une priorité’.”

Also in Libé is a tribune by the Moroccan-Dutch economist Fouad Laroui, “Arrêtons de crier au calife comme on crie au loup,” plus an article by Emmanuel Fansten and Ismaël Halissat on the apparent powerlessness of the state to anticipate attacks of this nature, “Face à la menace, l’impuissance maximale.”

5th UPDATE: The very smart geopolitical analyst François Heisbourg has an op-ed (July 15th) in the Financial Times, “Attack in Nice: The French response to terror remains muddled.”

6th UPDATE: Not that it changes anything but, as it happens, over a third of those killed in the Nice attack were Muslims.

7th UPDATE: Middlebury College political science professor Erik Bleich has an op-ed in The Washington Post (July 18th) on “Why France keeps getting attacked, while its neighbours don’t.”

Bastille Day 2016

I watched the Bastille Day parade on the Champs-Élysées this morning (on TV, comme d’hab’). It’s the greatest parade in the world, as I’ve said countless times. The rendition of La Marseillaise—the greatest national anthem in the world—at the end, by 460 middle and high school students plus the army chorus, is one of the most beautiful and moving I’ve seen and heard. Watch it and in full screen (it’s 5½ minutes, as they sing three verses, but worth it). Vive la France!

Australia and New Zealand were the guests of honor this year, to commemorate their participation in the Battle of the Somme. Check out the Maori soldiers in traditional garb (here, images 13-15).

Euro 2016

France-Germany, Marseille, July 7th (photo: Tribune Sports)

France-Germany, Marseille, July 7th (photo: Tribune Sports)

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This is my first post on the Euro 2016—which I’ve been following for the past month, watching most of the games in whole or in part—and, if France loses to Portugal in the final tonight, will be my last. But Les Bleus should logically not lose, as France is the host country of the tournament, the game’s at the Stade de France, the nation is entirely behind them, and the victories against valiant Iceland and, above all, formidable Germany were just so thrilling. Les Bleus have the mo’. And it would just be so terribly disappointing if they lost. Also, Portugal isn’t what it used to be. Except for the semifinal against Wales, the games the Seleção won were won ugly. They have not have impressed. Voilà: Allez les Bleus!

The Wall Street Journal Europe’s sports editor Joshua Robinson has a good, informative piece, dated July 6th, on “The French soccer revolution.” The lede: “Unlike France’s last title-winning team, its Euro 2016 side features a core of key players who developed outside the country’s prestigious academy system.” As I don’t follow club soccer—i.e. I pay only passing attention to the professional leagues—I wasn’t aware of the particular parcours of Antoine Griezmann, Dimitri Payet, Olivier Giroud, and other new stars of the national team.

In this vein, also see the piece in Mediapart by Michaël Hadjenberg, “Griezmann, une histoire française.” The lede: “Bien peu de gens le savent mais Antoine Griezmann est en partie à l’origine de ‘l’affaire des quotas’.”

Soccer scholar Laurent Dubois, who teaches in the history department at Duke University, has a nice post, dated July 9th, “Paul Pogba’s joyful, exuberant moment of brilliance [in the France-Germany semi-final] was the play of Euro 2016,” on Slate’s soccer blog. Also see his June 29th post, “How football can explain a divided Europe.”

Some random comments on the tournament:

Did anyone not adore plucky Iceland and all its supporters who flew over from Reykjavik? One-tenth of that country’s population came to France to support their team. And who couldn’t love TV announcer Guðmundur Benediktsson (a.k.a. Gummi Ben)?

But the Irish fans were the greatest, no?

Les Bleus clearly didn’t miss Karim Benzema. The brouhaha over his and Hatem Ben Arfa’s non-selection—of whether or not this reflected anti-Arab racism by the FFF—was hugely overblown. In view of the sordid affair in which Benzema has found himself—and in which he is no doubt guilty—there was simply no way Didier Deschamps could have selected him. It would have been a big distraction and the French public would not have accepted it. And as the tournament was at home, the team needed the public 100% behind it. End of story.

Les Bleus are still multicultural and multiconfessional, bien évidemment.

The knockout stage bracket was too imbalanced, one consequence of expanding the tournament to 24 teams (it should have remained at 16). Too bad Germany-Italy happened in the quarterfinal (a consequence of the imbalanced bracket).

Germany’s Mesut Özil is one class act. I like the Mannschaft. A great team with cool players. Glad they lost.

Was disappointed for Belgium. France-Belgium in the final: ça aurait été beau.

Felt for England, which is normally my default team (after France). To be humiliated by little Iceland, that’s tough.

Lots of Portugal flags on display in the Paris area, including in my banlieue, where there is a sizable Portuguese community. People have no problem with Franco-Portuguese supporting the old country team. Can one imagine the political reaction if a similar number of Algerian flags were in view for a France-Algeria match? Hah.

UPDATE: A frustrating game. It started well for Les Blues but Cristiano Ronaldo’s injury—leaving the match on a stretcher and in tears—put a damper on things. The Bleus outplayed the Seleção and in all categories during regulation time but were ineffective in the penalty area. Once in overtime the Seleção took control and the Blues came apart. They were just kicking the ball around, unable to do anything. When Eder scored his excellent goal at the 110th minute, it was over. Dommage pour la France et félicitations au Portugal.

2nd UPDATE: Franklin Foer, writing in Slate’s soccer blog after last night’s game, does not mince words in observing that “Portugal’s turgid victory was the dreadful ending this terrible European championships deserved.” Can’t disagree with a thing he says.

3rd UPDATE: France’s defeat may have been disappointing—for supporters of France at least—but was not disgraceful, as no host country of a European championship or World Cup since 1980 has won the title…except for France. The historical record:

Euro 2016 – France: lost the final
World Cup 2014 – Brazil: lost semi-final
Euro 2012 – Poland & Ukraine: eliminated in group stage
World Cup 2010 – South Africa: eliminated in group stage
Euro 2008 – Austria & Switzerland: eliminated in group stage
World Cup 2006 – Germany: lost semi-final
Euro 2004 – Portugal: lost the final
World Cup 2002 – Japan & South Korea: lost in round of 16 & in semi-final
Euro 2000 – Belgium & Netherlands: eliminated in group stage & lost semi-final
World Cup 1998 – France: WORLD CHAMPION!
Euro 1996 – England: lost semi-final
World Cup 1994 – USA: lost in round of 16
Euro 1992 – Sweden: lost semi-final
World Cup 1990 – lost semi-final
Euro 1988 – West Germany: lost semi-final
World Cup 1986: Mexico: lost quarter-final
Euro 1984 – France: EUROPEAN CHAMPION!
World Cup 1982 – Spain: eliminated in second round
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Arun's balcony, July 10th

Arun’s balcony, July 10th

Dallas, July 7th (photo: Laura Buckman/AFP/Getty Images)

Dallas, July 7th (photo: Laura Buckman/AFP/Getty Images)

No commentary on the latest killings—in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights MN, and Dallas. I’ve already said everything I have to say on the issue of guns in America (see the sidebar category ‘USA: guns’). One commentator who always has something to say on the subject—and who says it better than just about anyone—is The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik, whose latest is entitled “The horrific, predictable result of a widely armed citizenry.” It begins

The killings in Dallas are one more reminder that guns are central, not accessory, to the American plague of violence. They were central fifty-plus years ago, when a troubled ex-Marine had only to send a coupon to a mail-order gun house in Chicago to get a military rifle with which to kill John F. Kennedy—that assassin-sniper also fired from a Dallas building onto a Dallas street. They are central now, when the increased fetishism of guns and carrying guns has made such horrors as last night’s not merely predictable but unsurprising. The one thing we can be sure of, after we have mourned the last massacre, is that there will be another. You wake up at three in the morning, check the news, and there it is.

We don’t yet know exactly by whom and for what deranged “reason” or mutant “cause” five police officers were murdered last night, but, as the President rightly suggested, we do know how—and the how is a huge part of what happened. By having a widely armed citizenry, we create a situation in which gun violence becomes a common occurrence, not the rarity it ought to be and is everywhere else in the civilized world. That this happened amid a general decline in violence throughout the Western world only serves to make the crisis more acute; America’s gun-violence problem remains the great and terrible outlier.

Continue reading it here.

Also in The New Yorker is a commentary by staff writer Evan Osnos, “The silence and the violence of the N.R.A.”

The NYT reports that the Dallas sniper, Micah Johnson, “kept an arsenal in his home that included bomb-making materials.” Totally insane that it should be legal to do this, don’t you think?

Dahlia Lithwick and Mark P. McKenna—writer on the law and law professor, respectively—have a piece in Slate, “More guns, more fear, more killings:
It’s a vicious cycle, and there’s no end in sight.” Obviously. Why would it be otherwise?

Also in Slate is a piece by staff writer Leon Neyfakh, in which he asks “Are conservatives coming to terms with racism in American policing?” If so, that would be nice.

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