The Las Vegas massacre

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

There is nothing to say about it—after the ritualistic expressions of horror—except that (a) America will witness more such massacres—this is, as James Fallows asserts in The Atlantic, a certainty—and (b) nothing will be done about it, as former congressman Steve Israel (D-NY) writes in the NYT. Which is to say, Congress will do nothing, as it is controlled by the Republican Party, which is, so I wrote the other day, over the extreme right-wing edge on a whole range of issues, including that of guns. And the Republicans in Congress will do nothing despite the fact that, as we learn, the shooter Stephen Paddock had a veritable arsenal in his hotel room, of at least 23 rifles, all legally acquired expect maybe the automatic one. Insofar as the massacre happened because a private citizen was able to legally procure such an arsenal—as a consequence of the Republican Party refusing to make this legally difficult or impossible—then we may say that the Republican Party is ultimately responsible for what happened in Las Vegas on Sunday night. The Republican Party has blood on its hands. There, I said it.

The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik invariably has the most incisive, powerful commentaries after such atrocities à l’américaine and does not disappoint with his one on this, “In the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, there can be no truce with the Second Amendment.”

On this American exception, The Nation’s Joan Walsh says that “The American impulse to equate guns with freedom and masculinity with violence is killing us.”

Vox has several pieces on this uniquely American problem among developed countries, with two by Zack Beauchamp, one reminding us that “America doesn’t have more crime than other rich countries, it just has more guns“—and thus homicides, suicides, and massacres—and another on how “Australia confiscated 650,000 guns, [after which] murders and suicides plummeted.” German Lopez explains “Gun violence in America…in 17 maps and charts,” and Jennifer Williams correctly calls “White American men…a bigger domestic terrorist threat than Muslim foreigners.”

On the iniquity of the Republicans and the NRA, see the report in Mother Jones on the “gun lobby’s quiet push [in Congress] to deregulate silencers.”

Just crazy.

UPDATE: New York magazine’s Eric Levitz informs us that “If only non–gun owners voted, Clinton would have won 48 states” in the 2016 election—and that if only gun-owners voted, Trump would have won with a 49 state blowout—demonstrating, not for the first time, that the cleavage over guns is the deepest in American politics.

Haaretz has posted the must-watch 5½ minute video of President Obama explaining, at a PBS town hall in June 2016, “why do mass shootings keep happening in the U.S.” Excellent. Boy, how we miss having such a smart, thoughtful, well-spoken president.

2nd UPDATE: Thomas Friedman nails it in his first post-Las Vegas column, “If only Stephen Paddock were a Muslim.”

3rd UPDATE: See Matt Taibbi’s latest, “The gun lobby is down to its last, unconvincing excuse.” Terrific.

4th UPDATE: Scientific American has an article in its October 2017 issue by science writer Melinda Wenner Moyer, “More guns do not stop more crimes, evidence shows.” The lede: “More firearms do not keep people safe, hard numbers show. Why do so many Americans believe the opposite?” This has long been obvious but it’s still good to have the hard data to back it up.

The Catalonia referendum

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

Everyone, or so it seems, was appalled by the behavior of the Spanish police in Catalonia yesterday, not to mention by the attitude of PM Mariano Rajoy. Now I personally deplore the notion of Catalan independence, as I am vigorously opposed to all secessionist movements in advanced democracies (Scotland, Quebec, Flanders). I don’t see why multinational states can’t work when cultural and language rights are recognized and upheld, and there is no discrimination against or barriers to advancement—in the political system and other domains—of members of the constituent nations. But if I were a Catalan opposed to independence, I don’t know what I would think after what happened yesterday. If the prime minister in Madrid is going to start acting like Slobodan Milošević, then that’s a problem—and could ultimately lead to the breakup of Spain, which would be disastrous, for Spain and for Europe.

I am not an expert on Spain, loin s’en faut, so am trying to inform myself like all other non-specialists. In lieu of sounding off with my personal opinions, I will link to good analyses by specialists and other knowledgeable persons that I’ve come across in the past two or three days.

One that is particularly good is by two researchers, Nafees Hamid and Clara Petrus, at the social scientific research organization Artis International, who have a piece in The Atlantic, “How Spain misunderstood the Catalan independence movement.” The lede: “Rather than resisting the vote, it could have supported it and demonstrated its faith in democracy.” Indeed.

Also in The Atlantic is an explanation by senior editor Krishnadev Calamur explaining “The Spanish court decision that sparked the modern Catalan independence movement.” The lede: “The community has a long history of autonomy—but one incident in particular helped set the stage for Sunday’s referendum.”

Isaac Chotiner of Slate has an informative interview with Sebastiaan Faber, who teaches Hispanic studies at Oberlin College, “What happened in Catalonia? Why the independence referendum turned violent.” Faber is the author of a worthy-looking forthcoming book, Memory Battles of the Spanish Civil War: History, Fiction, Photography.

David Mathieson, a Madrid-based historian and founder of Spanish Sites—whose historical tours of Madrid and environs look very cool—asserts in the New Statesman that “Like Brexit, the Catalan independence vote isn’t quite as democratic as it seems.” The lede: “The regional government isn’t blameless for the chaos ahead of Sunday’s referendum.”

Omar G. Encarnación,who teaches politics at Bard College, explains in Foreign Affairs “Why Catalan independence won’t happen anytime soon.”

NYT Spain correspondent Raphael Minder has a good NYT op-ed/news analysis, “The fight for Catalonia, whatever that means.”

In a tribune in Le Monde, writer Javier Cercas, who teaches Spanish literature at the University of Girona—a Catalan nationalist stronghold—submits that “L’indépendantisme catalan est un populisme.”

Also in Le Monde is a tribune by  University of Perpignan public law professor Jacobo Rios-Rodriguez, who insists that “Le droit international n’autorise pas l’indépendance de la Catalogne.”

Bernard Guetta’s Géopolitique commentary on France Inter this morning, “La catastrophe barcelonnaise,” was pretty good.

For background—and from a pro-independence standpoint—I found in my archives an article in Foreign Affairs from September 2014 by Princeton University political scientist Carles Boix and J.C. Major, founder of the Col·lectiu Emma/Explaining Catalonia website, “The view from Catalonia: The ins and outs of the independence movement.”

Finally, read Yascha Mounk’s latest column in Slate, “History returns in Catalonia.” The lede: “The weekend’s scenes in Barcelona send a troubling message about the future of liberal democracy.”

UPDATE: Barcelona-based reporter Stephen Burgen has a rather interesting report in The Guardian, “In Catalonia’s ‘red belt’ leftwing veterans distrust the separatists.” The lede: “Nationalism is not the answer to Spain’s problems, say an older generation who fought against General Franco.”

2nd UPDATE: This is worth reading: “El País analyzes 10 claims commonly made by separatists to support their cause.” Some of it is a little over the top but it’s convincing on the whole.

3rd UPDATE: Sebastiaan Faber and Bécquer Seguín, of Oberlin College and Johns Hopkins University respectively, have a commentary (October 4th) in The Nation, “The Spanish government just energized Catalonia’s independence movement.”

4th UPDATE: Le Monde has a dispatch, datelined October 7th, “Le réveil de la ‘majorité silencieuse’ catalane: Les opposants à l’autodétermination de tous bords politiques devaient se retrouver dimanche, à Barcelone.” À propos, Le Monde had a noteworthy article, datelined September 29th, “En Catalogne, la grande angoisse de la majorité silencieuse opposée à l’indépendance,” in which the reader learns that “[l]a population hostile au référendum essuie pressions et insultes.” To put it in simple English, persons opposed to Catalan secession—more numerous before the referendum than those for it, according to polls—were being showered with insults and shunned by the pro-independence camp, including by friends and family. Reminds one of the social media treatment meted out to Hillary Clinton supporters by the Bernie Bros. If partisans of Catalan independence resemble the latter in their (in)tolerance for the opposing viewpoint—and this looks to be the case—then my opposition to independence and support for Spanish unity, malgré Rajoy, is further reinforced.

While one is at it, also see the interview in Le Monde, datelined September 29th, with Barbara Loyer, who is a specialist of Spain and director of the Institut Français de Géopolitique at the Université Paris-VIII, “‘La Catalogne est depuis longtemps le maillon faible de l’Espagne’.”

5th UPDATE: Bard College’s Omar G. Encarnación has another informative article, this in Foreign Policy (October 5th), “The ghost of Franco still haunts Catalonia.” The lede: “Mariano Rajoy’s use of violence against separatists wasn’t an aberration. It was an authentic expression of Spanish conservatism.”

(Via Salon)

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

Or, rather, how it went from being a big-tent party of the American right—with centrists (liberal Republicans), moderate conservatives, conservatives tout court, and hard-rightists/reactionaries—to one composed overwhelmingly of the very last of these, with the first having vanished altogether and the second all but. The GOP has become America’s Front National, a party driven by populism and white ethno-nationalism. Lots of people have been trying to understand how this happened, most lately E.J. Dionne Jr., Norm Ornstein, and Thomas E. Mann, who have come out with a new book on the subject and with an excerpt in The Atlantic, in which they explain how “[t]he Republican Party laid the groundwork for dysfunction long before Donald Trump was elected president.”

Also trying to figure it out is my friend Claire, who situates herself on the center-right and has been as distraught by Trump as everyone to her left. Last weekend Claire posted on social media a Newsweek commentary by the Milwaukee-based former right-wing shock jock-turned-never-Trumper Charles Sykes, “How the right lost its mind and embraced Donald Trump,” which provoked a lively exchange among her social media followers—some conservatives critical of Trump and not over the edge, others deplorable and way out there—with me the one lefty weighing in. Claire liked a piece I posted on the thread by The New Republic’s Jeet Heer, “The post-literate American presidency,” which she saw as comforting her view that Republicans were largely sane until the current period but “that some sort of rapid process of de-civilization is at work” that has made Americans collectively stupid, thus paving the way for Trump. I replied that Trump is the logical culmination of a process that has been underway in the Republican Party for five decades, during which its hard right/reactionary wing—which was always there—went from being a loud minority prior to the 1980s to achieving its present-day hegemony. In the face of her skepticism, I told her I would explain the stages in this process. So as not to be long-winded—which I am sometimes reproached for—here it is in bullet points (and with key personalities in the five-decades descente aux enfers highlighted in italics):

  • The process, as all are likely aware, began with Goldwater winning the Deep South in 1964 and which paved the way for Nixon’s Southern Strategy. White Southerners hostile to the civil rights movement defected to the Republicans, who embraced them and played the race card accordingly, via coded and, now with Trump, not-so-coded language. The segregationist, onetime Southern Democrat Jesse Helms—remember him?—became the leading personality on the GOP hard right from the 1970s on and with the gravity of the GOP moving to the white South, which is reactionary not only on race but on just about everything—and confirmed for the umpteenth time in last Tuesday’s primary victory of the theocratic lunatic, certified extremist, and bigot who will likely be the new Republican senator from Alabama, and fully embraced by his party.
  • The politicization of Protestant evangelicals and fundamentalists, via the emergence of Jerry Falwell in the mid 1970s and founding of the Moral Majority, driven by the evolution in sexual mores and gender hierarchies (and that went way beyond Roe v. Wade). Thus the GOP’s intransigence on abortion and wild-and-crazy positions on issues having to do with sex (e.g. abstinence-only sex education), that one finds in no other conservative party in the Western world. And, it should be said, race was also a motivating issue for the (heavily Southern) Christian right.
  • The National Rifle Association and the 1977 “Revolt at Cincinnati,” which transformed the NRA from a non-political association of sportsmen to a lavishly funded far right-wing lobby with an extreme interpretation of the Second Amendment that had heretofore never had currency among jurists or judges—but which gained currency as a consequence of Republican administrations from Reagan on packing the federal courts and SCOTUS with conservative ideologues (and with the 2008 SCOTUS Heller ruling the outcome). As the GOP lost its urban voters and became a party of rural/small-town America and the South, near unlimited gun rights—including that of private individuals to constitute arsenals of assault weapons—became a marker of its identity. An American exception in the Western world.
  • Grover Norquist and his 1986 Taxpayer Protection Pledge, an imperative mandate signed on to by the near-totality of Republicans in Congress—and to a private citizen (Norquist) no less—which has been instrumental in pushing the Republican Party toward an Ayn Randian hostility to the very principle of social insurance, redistribution, and state-organized social solidarity. Out of this one gets the prevalent Ayn Randian discourse on the American right of the “moocher class,” Mitt Romney’s 47%, Arthur C. Brooks’ “30% coalition,” Rand-adept Paul Ryan as the top Republican in Congress, among others. Again, this is without equivalent in other conservative parties in the Western world.
  • The Reagan Administration’s 1987 repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, which paved the way for AM talk radio—pioneered by Rush Limbaugh from 1988—and the founding of Fox News by Rupert Murdoch in 1996. The existence of high-profile, hyper-partisan broadcast media on the right, and that has become the sole source of information via the airwaves for many Republican voters—there is no such equivalent for Democratic Party voters (as such media would never catch on with them)—once again makes America an outlier (along with Italy, to an extent) in the Western world.
  • Newt Gingrich and the Republican victory in 1994. Gingrich inaugurated a heretofore unprecedented hyper-partisanship in the House of Representatives, nationalized Congressional elections, imposed a Leninist-like discipline on the House Republican conference, and around a hard-right wing platform. And he set about to undermine the political norms that had prevailed in the Congress and American politics in general—which is explicated in detail in the Dionne-Ornstein-Mann article—and with his œuvre carried on by his successors and others (Tom DeLay, Dennis Hastert and the “Hastert rule,” Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan et al).
  • The 2000 SCOTUS Bush v. Gore ruling, which sent Bush 43 and his Rasputin political adviser Karl Rove to the White House, the latter with his single-minded focus on the GOP “base” and view of America as a 53-47 country—of Republicans and Democrats, respectively—and whose strategy was to lock in the Republicans’ hold on power, feed the “base,” and entirely ignore the Democratic-voting 47%. At this point the GOP ceased to have any pretense that, when in power, it represented all Americans or would seek to transcend the partisan divide. The Republicans govern for their base voters only. Obama’s sincere (and naïve) efforts to reach across the aisle would find no response on the other side.
  • By the end of Bush’s presidency, liberal Republicans were extinct and Gerald Ford/Bush 41-type moderate conservatives, a.k.a. RINOs, a dying species. They are, in fact, pretty much dead. One of the more or less “moderates” did win the GOP nomination in 2008, despite being hated by the party base. To energize the latter, he put Sarah Palin on the ticket, who became the GOP star, outshone him and everyone else in the party during ’08 campaign, and, after the election, give rise to the reactionary, populist Tea Party and a host of Palin-like GOP congressional candidates in the 2010 midterms and after. Palin represented the triumph of anti-intellectualism—indeed hostility to knowledge—in the GOP electorate and of a populist ressentiment, against liberals and anyone else not way out on the right. Beginning in 2012, the Republican Party presidential candidate field became a clown bus of Palin-like kooks and whack jobs.
  • The clincher: the 2010 SCOTUS Citizens United ruling, which opened the floodgates of unlimited money into the political process, giving birth to a donor class of far right-wing billionaires—the Koch brothers, Robert Mercer and his daughter, Sheldon Adelson et al—who underwrite the GOP and dictate its agenda—which can run counter to the interests of party voters themselves (thus the need—via talk radio, Fox, Breitbart, etc—to toss ever more populist, race- and liberal-baiting red meat to the base). The most flagrant case of late of donors inciting GOP legislative action was the failed Graham-Cassidy ACA repeal bill. Henceforth no Republican presidential candidate who is not a billionaire him/herself stands a chance without kissing the rings of the extremist plutocrats.

There, in a nutshell, is the five-decade descent of the Republicans into collective psychosis. There’s obviously more to it than this, e.g. the design flaws in the American political process—and the institutional architecture of American government locked in by the constitution (structure of the Senate and SCOTUS, electoral college, etc)—as spelled out in a smart piece in Vox by political scientist Lee Drutman—and which has yielded a “tyranny of the minority,” as Michelle Goldberg put it in her terrific first column for the NYT. Some of these flaws afflict the Democrats as well (e.g. the generalization of primaries for all elective offices), though not with the same deleterious consequences. As Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann—paragons of a diminishing inside-the-Beltway centrist sensibility—argued well before Trump, the Republican Party is the exclusive problem in American politics.

And at the root of the Republican Party’s problem is the people who vote for it. If one still has any doubt that the Republican Party’s voters are over the cliff, see the latest Quinnipiac University poll, which has 78% of Republican voters approving of the way Trump is handling his job as president—and with 59% strongly approving—78% saying that Trump shares their values, 79% that he’s honest, and a full 84% calling him fit to serve as president… And this nine months after the man took office…

Elaborating on the point above about populist ressentiment, at some point in the last decade, Republican voters had developed such a hatred for Democratic Party voters/liberals—which is unrequited, it must be said; liberals/lefties may be scornful and contemptuous of conservatives but do not obsessively hate them—that they came to support any position opposed by Democrats/liberals and vice-versa, and to celebrate any act deplored by them. E.g. the “rolling coal” phenomenon: with ecology and environmental protection now pegged as liberal/left, right-wingers blow polluting black smoke into the air and support gutting the EPA, even though such will not improve the lives of any GOP voters (who don’t have a lot money invested in polluting industries). Why? Because it pisses off liberals, c’est tout. Michelle Goldberg, writing last month in Slate on Trump’s pardon of Joe Arpaio, had this reflection

One of the uniquely horrifying things about the presidency is that Trump was put there to torment us, and by us, I mean the majority of Americans who voted against him. His strongest supporters revel in his instability, in the terror he evokes and the suffering he causes. He is, to use one of his own epithets, an enemy of the American people. We’ve all lived through presidents that we hate… But this is the first president who hates us even more, and that may be the ultimate source of his power. [Trump supporting former West Virginia columnist Don] Surber concluded his celebration [on his blog] of Arpaio’s freedom: “At any rate, pardon my laughter.”

Given what the Republican Party and its voters have become, one may sure and certain that it won’t be over when Trump is gone. The GOP’s post-Trump presidential nominee—and I will make a single, symbolic €5 bet on this—will be Kris Kobach, the Kansas Attorney General who is presently spearheading the GOP’s efforts to strip Americans in Democratic Party-leaning demographic cohorts of their voting rights—something that would happen in no other consolidated democracy in the world—as well as leading the campaign to sharply reduce legal immigration. If one missed Ari Berman’s NYT Magazine portrait of Kobach last June, do read it. Kobach is a smart Trump, without the grossness or vulgarity, with a Harvard B.A. (where he studied under Samuel Huntington), Yale J.D., and Oxford D.Phil. He published two academic books before age 30, Political Capital: The Motives, Tactics, and Goals of Politicized Businesses in South Africa (University Press of America, 1989)—probably his Harvard senior thesis—and his doctoral thesis, The Referendum: Direct Democracy in Switzerland (Dartmouth Publishing Co Ltd, 1993). I’ve looked at the latter and read parts of it. It’s a serious work of political science, with most of the citations and references from German-language sources. Monsieur Kobach est peut être un réac mais ce n’est pas un con. He’s no dummy.

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

UPDATE: I want to make an additional comment to the first bullet point, about the Southern Strategy. The defection of white Southerners to the GOP occurred in the same era as the expansion of the welfare state via the Great Society programs, some the key ones involving redistribution toward poor people (Medicaid, the “War on Poverty,” Food Stamps, AFDC, etc). Insofar as these were perceived on the right—and among white Southerners in particular—as primarily benefiting racial minorities in northern cities, it reinforced the GOP’s rightward lurch on welfare state-related issues.

2nd UPDATE: In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma hitting Houston, there was much talk (heavily negative) in social media of the evangelical preacher Joel Osteen—whom I had not heard of—and his Lakewood Church in Houston, which is one of the largest megachurches in the country. Osteen is America’s leading preacher of the “prosperity gospel,” which is widespread among American evangelicals and is a peculiarly American interpretation of Christianity—and antithetical to the teachings of the Catholic church and most mainline Protestant denominations—and explains in good part the easy accommodation of the American Christian right to the prevailing Ayn Randian, social Darwinist Weltanschauung of the contemporary Republican Party. One will, needless to say, not find a trace of the “prosperity gospel” in the doctrines of European Christian Democratic parties.

Vox has a good explanation of the phenomenon by its religion staff writer Tara Isabella Burton, “The prosperity gospel, explained: Why Joel Osteen believes that prayer can make you rich.” The lede: “The long, strange history of a quintessentially American theology.” Also see the piece in BuzzFeed by Laura Turner, “The Joel Osteen fiasco says a lot about American Christianity.”

3rd UPDATE: If one needs further proof that the Republican Party sans Trump is out on the lunatic fringe, mediate on the case of Mick Mulvaney, former congressman (R-SC) and present director of the Office of Management and Budget. Two articles: one in Politico by Michael Grunwald, “Mick the Knife: Meet Mick Mulvaney, who proudly calls himself a ‘right-wing nutjob’ and is quietly—and radically—trying to dismantle the federal bureaucracy;” the other by Justin Miller in The American Prospect, “The Freedom Caucus’s man on the inside.” The lede: “Mick Mulvaney has his dream job as director of OMB. Given the general chaos in Trump-world, what can he make of it?”

4th UPDATE: A reader on social media has informed me of a relevant book published in 2013, which I hadn’t seen, Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, From Eisenhower to the Tea Party, by the moderate Republican Geoffrey Kabaservice, who is research director for Republican Main Street Partnership in Washington. It looks good. For my part, I recommend White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement, by American University political historian Allan J. Lichtman.

5th UPDATE: My friend Claire (see second paragraph above) responded to my post on social media. I have taken the liberty of copying-and-pasting it below. My response follows.

I read it carefully and found it interesting. I assigned much less significance to these events at the time. Jesse Helms seemed a marginal figure; Jerry Falwell seemed a national joke. The evangelical Christians I knew (and know) were decent, thoughtful people who walked the walk. (My personal experiences with evangelicals were extremely positive, especially in developing countries. They were the ones, in Laos, for example, who were building wells, bringing medical care to villages, learning the language, and using the funds given them in ways that made sense to me – whereas the UNDP was an obvious racket that served only to enrich the international consultants.) I saw the Norquist movement as basically healthy – one wants that sentiment to be part of the mix, I thought; and a lively skepticism about certain federal spending programs struck me as warranted. The Fairness Doctrine seemed to me as an unjustifiable intrusion upon freedom of expression. (It *is* an intrusion on freedom of expression; that’s inarguable. So I’ve come to wonder whether my commitment to freedom of expression has been misplaced. Your friend Alexander Price [AWAV: see first comment below] is correct to draw a parallel with Russia’s Communist Party, pre-Gorbachev: It’s utterly shocking to me to be doubting that freedom of expression is an unalloyed good, but I think you’re probably right to trace some part of this to the lifting of censorship.) In any event, the GOP now seems to be growing crazier exponentially, almost by the minute. I understand the argument you’re making, but the key question to my mind is how and why these figures and ideas escaped the party fringes and became the mainstream. What we’re seeing now still doesn’t seem to me a logical and natural evolution.

Claire, point by point. First, Jesse Helms. I’m surprised you saw him as a marginal figure, when it was manifest for anyone who followed American politics from the 1970s on that he was a central personality on the right-wing of the GOP, indeed the most high profile on that wing into the ’90s. For the anecdote, my first memory of seeing him on TV was his speech at the 1976 RNC—supporting Reagan against Ford—which galvanized the delegates in the arena. His Senate reelection campaigns—all of which were hard-fought, close affairs (with the margins of victory in the single digits)—mobilized the Republican Party base and money-raising machine, notably in 1984 against Jim Hunt and in 1990 and ’96 vs Harvey Gantt (and with egregious race-baiting in the latter). And he was a big wheel in the Senate, particularly on foreign policy (spearheading the campaign against the Panama Canal treaty during the Carter administration, trashing the United Nations, etc etc). It wasn’t for nothing that he was the Republican that Democrats/liberals most loved to hate.

Jerry Falwell: I think there’s a generational issue here, of me mid-Baby Boom and you a Gen Xer, who likely didn’t follow politics too closely when Falwell and his Moral Majority burst onto the scene in the 1970s and was an important player in the coalition that brought Reagan to power in 1980. Falwell was no joke back then. His star faded in the course of the ’80s but he was instrumental in the politicization of the evangelicals and fundamentalists, and making the Christian right a central component of the GOP base—and of pulling the GOP to the right on social issues.

On evangelicals being nice people and who do good works: sure, but that’s not the issue. The problem is their action in the partisan political realm. And it’s a very big problem indeed, for those who don’t agree with them politically or share their world-view at least.

And in regard to the action of American evangelicals abroad, it has been far from positive. E.g. the Efraín Ríos Montt dictatorship in Guatemala—which committed numerous atrocities during its counter-insurgency campaign—was supported to the hilt by the evangelicals. They also played an important role in influencing US foreign policy toward Sudan—under both Republican and Democratic administrations—notably in supporting the secession of South Sudan, which finally happened and the consequences of which have been catastrophic (and certainly worse than if the secession hadn’t happened). And then there’s the attitude of the evangelicals toward Israel and the Palestinian issue, which is pernicious, period.

On the UNDP being a racket: I hear you, having worked myself as a consultant for UNESCO in the mid ’90s. At the end of my experience I concluded that the Reagan administration was right to have quit that organization.

Grover Norquist: his (in)famous Pledge is not a mere “sentiment” that is “part of the mix.” It is a rigid position that brooks no compromise and that is doctrine in the Republican Party, and with any Republican politico who defies it being targeted for political death. Insofar as compromise is essential to a democracy, the refusal of this—and particularly on issues regarding the economy and who gets what—necessarily undermines democracy (and certainly its spirit).

The Fairness Doctrine: I find your response odd, as the Doctrine in no way undermined free speech. It simply enjoined news and public affairs programming in the broadcast media—of stations operating under license from the FCC—to provide balance in editorial viewpoints. It in no way prevented particular viewpoints from being expressed, au contraire. With the AM and FM bands finite, but four TV news organizations (cable was in its infancy), and before anyone had heard of the internet, this was eminently reasonable in its time (and I believe it still is). In any case, I wasn’t making an argument for the Fairness Doctrine, just saying what the political consequences were of its abrogation.

I really don’t see what your difficulty is in understanding how the crazies, i.e. movement conservatives, took control of the party. Five decades ago this was the Goldwater wing of the Republican Party. It was a loud minority. Now it’s hegemonic. And Trump is its man. I tried to show the stages by which this came about. If you have another explanation, I’m all ears.

6th UPDATE: Energy and climate change writer David Roberts has a piece in Vox (October 29th) on the “rolling coal” phenomenon: “This one quote shows what angry white guys mean when they talk about government overreach.” N.B. the interview with conservative intellectual Avik Roy linked to in the text.

Hillary Clinton: What Happened

[update below] [2nd update below]

I have not read the book—and am not sure that I will—though have been reading plenty about it. And also listening/watching, e.g. this 51 minute interview with Vox’s Ezra Klein, which confirms for the umpteenth time that Hillary Clinton is so smart and thoughtful, knows policy like no one else in the American political system, is excellent on all domestic policy issues I can think of, is a good person, would have made a great president, and that it’s just one huge goddamned tragedy that the unspeakable idiot who presently occupies the White House was elected on that calamitous night last November 8th and not she.

Hillary Clinton also explains ‘What Happened’, in two podcasts, to The New Yorker’s David Remnick here.

Can anyone imagine that idiot in the White House right now giving such an interview?

Slate’s Michelle Goldberg has a review of HRC’s book, rhetorically asking
Why isn’t Hillary Clinton even angrier?”

As for all those people out there—right and left alike—who have been dumping on Mme Clinton since her book came out—and repeating the same crap they have for the past 25+ years—they can go f— themselves.

More later.

UPDATE: The Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg offers a contradictory perspective in a review essay, dated September 21st, in The American Prospect, “How she lost.” The lede: “Malpractice cost Clinton the election, but her ambivalence on big issues was produced by big structural factors that affect all Democrats.”

2nd UPDATE: Thomas B. Edsall’s October 5th column in the NYT has an interesting data-backed account on “How immigration foiled Hillary.” In my view there is little the Democrats can do to win over rural and working class voters suffering from cultural insecurity over demographic change in their midst. There is no policy response to this. Insofar as voters are defecting from the Democrats over the immigration issue—and it’s doubtful the numbers here are significant—the main thing the party needs to do is to redouble its efforts to mobilize its base voters (blacks, Latinos, young people et al).

The Venerable W.

I am presently riveted newswise to Hurricane Irma, which is heading toward Florida as I write, though am reading about other calamitous events across the globe as well, one being the communal conflict in Burma and campaign of ethnic cleansing there against the Rohingya Muslim minority in the western part of the country. It is a tragedy and a crime against humanity, and which has been in the works for years, indeed decades. On the matter, I saw earlier this summer a bone-chilling documentary that opened theatrically in France, The Venerable W., by the well-known Swiss filmmaker Barbet Schroeder, the subject of which is the fanatical, high-profile (in Burma) Buddhist monk, Ashin Wirathu, who unabashedly preaches hatred against Burma’s Muslims in terms that would put Radovan Karadžić and Pamela Geller to shame. His rhetoric is borderline genocidal, expressed openly to Schroeder and without mincing words. And as one sees in the film, his following in Burma is not insignificant. Buddhism, in stereotyped ways of viewing things, is supposed to be about peace and love, whereas Islam is seen as the opposite, but here the clichés are turned on their heads. The uttarasanga-wearing Burmese monks are as fanaticized as any given bunch of Salafists or alt-rightists outre-Atlantique.

For more on the film, see the reviews by Jay Weissberg in Variety, Jordan Mintzer in The Hollywood Reporter, and Lee Marshall in Screen Daily, all of whom saw it at Cannes. One may also read the 2013 Time magazine cover story on “The face of Buddhist terror.” Trailer is here (where one will, entre autres, see Wirathu praising Trump).

The film, as one reads, completes Schroeder’s “Trilogy of Evil,” the first being the 1974 Général Idi Amin Dada: autoportrait—which I saw in the summer of that year at Le Cinéma Saint-André des Arts, with family and friends—and the second the 2007 L’Avocat de la terreur, on the sulfurous Paris lawyer Jacques Vergès. Of the three, Ashin Wirathu may certainly be considered the most dangerous.

Schroeder’s film touches on the troubled role—or non-role—played by Aung San Suu Kyi in the Burmese communal bloodletting. I am not sufficiently well-informed to have a viewpoint on the question but have the sentiment that she’s not a player in the conflict, that the military and radical Buddhist nationalists are in control of the campaign against the Rohingyas. As a longtime admirer of Aung San Suu Kyi, as everyone else has likewise been, I hope this is the case.


Le Monde, 15-16 August 2017

It’s been two weeks since the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally, which, with its aftermath, continues to occupy a sizable part of my social media news feeds. Last week was, to quote the NYT’s Frank Bruni, the worst in a cursed—or, rather, accursed—presidency and, echoing Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce, the bleakest moment for America in my lifetime. But, as Pierce reminds us, it’s not as if what has happened is a surprise to anyone who’s been following Trump over the past two years. As everyone with any personal connection to America has been riveted to Charlottesville and the fallout, I’m not going not to drone on with an extended commentary. Just a few random thoughts I’ve had since the thing began.

First, on the neo-Nazis. Many on this side of the pond, but also stateside, were stunned by the spectacle of the march, that such could even happen—and with one expat American friend expressing shock that Nazis were actually “a thing” back home. On the march being allowed to take place, this would clearly not happen in France, where Nazism is illegal, the law proscribing hate speech is regularly invoked sans état d’âme, and the state can ban a street demonstration if the Ministry of Interior (the tutelary authority of the national police) determines that it will disturb public order (i.e. cause a riot). Freedom of opinion and expression are inscribed in articles 10 and 11 of the hallowed 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen—which figures in the preamble of the constitution—but there are the bits about disturbing public order and abusing such freedoms—the parameters being set by administrative courts (and eventually the Constitutional Council)—that allow for the enactment of hate speech laws and outlawing extremist groups, which would be impossible in the US on account of the First Amendment. Personally speaking, I can understand and sympathize with the French attitude toward Nazis—the historical context requires no explanation and Nazi bans hardly make France a less free country than America—but remain a First Amendment purist nonetheless—though not an unqualified one. Defending the right of fascists to spew their venom does not obligate a city, university, or other public or private establishment to give them a venue to do so. If there is good cause to believe that a public procession of neo-Nazi goons will result in violence—and overstretch the ability of the police to deal with it—then a city (or university) should have the right to deny the Nazis or other extremist groups a permit to march or hold an event in a given space—and particularly at night and by torchlight, in view of what that symbolizes and obvious dangers involved (fire causing fires).

I’ve seen American Nazis on occasion over the years (the most memorable in Washington in 1975, when I perceived from a bus window two men in full Nazi uniform—with swastikas and all—tranquilly handing out leaflets on the corner of Connecticut & K, at 5:00 PM on a weekday; it is most unlikely they would dare do so today) and have come across its literature more often. However jarring this may be, the fact is, neo-Nazis in America are, in the larger scheme of things, irrelevant; they’re pathetic losers, angry white men who may be dangerous as individuals—in which case they become an affair for law enforcement—but, on their own, pose no political threat.

If Charlottesville were akin to Skokie 1977, I would say let the wankers have their march and ignore them. What made Charlottesville different from Skokie, however, was the Second Amendment (post-Heller). It was the weapons, of legally parading with (presumably loaded) semi-automatic rifles. This is insane. Paraphrasing the conservative Canadian-American David Frum writing in The Atlantic, in no other advanced democracy could a private militia armed with weapons of war even be legally constituted, let alone allowed to hold a public march and with those weapons, and, moreover, chant slogans that are manifest calls to violence and concretely threaten the physical integrity of persons observing the parade and chanting counter slogans back. As for the constitutionality of this, Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern argued in Slate that there was a clear clash in Charlottesville between the First and (post-Heller) Second Amendments, and with the latter winning out. The First Amendment is necessarily undermined when those exercising it are confronted by a hostile paramilitary force of persons carrying machine guns and backed by open-carry and “stand-your-ground” laws. Those who argue that armed extremists enjoy a First Amendment right to hold a parade even in these circumstances—and wherever and whenever they feel like doing so—are dodging a fundamental issue here.

The counter-demonstrators could, of course, bring weapons themselves. Constitute their own militia. Great. If Americans want Lebanon or Somalia, then Lebanon or Somalia they will get. This, however, poses the question as to the equity, as it were, of the Second Amendment. Quoting David Frum from the aforelinked article

As David Graham has observed here at The Atlantic, the right to carry arms is America’s most unequally upheld right. Ohio is an open-carry state. Yet Tamir Rice, a black 12-year-old, was shot dead in Cleveland within seconds of being observed carrying what proved to be a pellet gun. John Crawford was shot dead for moving around an Ohio Walmart with an air rifle he had picked up from a display shelf. Minnesota allows concealed-carry permit-holders to open carry if they wish—yet Minnesotan Philando Castile was killed after merely telling a police officer he had a legal gun in his car.

On the other hand, every white man who played vigilante in Charlottesville this weekend went home unharmed to his family, having successfully overawed the police—and having sent a chilling message of warning to lawful protesters.

One shudders to imagine what would happen if the neo-Nazis were to cross paths with, say, Black Lives Matter organized as a paramilitary force.

I mentioned Lebanon and Somalia. À propos, Robin Wright had a piece in The New Yorker last week that provoked much comment on social media, asking “Is America headed for a new kind of civil war?” Certain preconditions for civil war in the USA do indeed exist: the American political system is deeply polarized in a way it hasn’t been since, well, the Civil War, with one of the two parties of government extreme right-wing, populist, illiberal, and inimical to democracy—and is likely to remain so—and rejecting the legitimacy of the other party and its voters (the “moocher class,” Mitt Romney’s 47%…). If a Democratic Party candidate is elected president in 2020, does anyone honestly believe that the Republican Party base voters and media (Fox, Breitbart, AM talk radio, etc) will accept the election outcome and legitimacy of his or her presidency? Americans of the right and liberal/left do not see the world in the same way and, when it comes to politics—a subject hard to avoid—have nothing to say to one another. And N.B.: there is no symmetry here between the two sides of the political spectrum. The problem is exclusively on one. And that’s not going to change for the foreseeable future.

But there is not going to be a civil war in the US and for at least two reasons. First, only one of the sides is armed (and we know which side that is). If there is an armed conflict between Democratic and Republican Party base voters, it will be over quickly (and with many of my friends, associates, and relatives seeking political asylum in France, Canada and other civilized countries). Second, and more importantly, civil wars are waged over one of two things—control of the state or secession—and with the state and its armed force invariably actors in the conflict (though there are particular cases and exceptions, e.g. Lebanon 1975-90). If the American state is a party to a civil war, it will be to put down an insurrection, in which case the war will be over as soon as it starts. No militia is going to try to seize the American state (quelle idée!) and an eventual secession of some part of the country (Texas? California?) seems far-fetched, to put it mildly.

On Trump—on whom I have not had a post in almost six months—and his reaction to Charlottesville, New York-based writer Eyal Press had a good comment on his Facebook page

On second thought, Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville, his refusal to condemn the bigotry and violence of a neo-Nazi mob, much less to utter the phrase “white supremacist terrorism,” is welcome. Just imagine if Trump had listened to some of his advisors and issued an insincere statement denouncing the violence and calling for unity. The pundits would have swooned, telling us, yet again, that he was now “Presidential,” that the dignity of the office he holds had been restored, even as his Justice Department continued to roll back minority rights and the likes of Bannon and Gorka walked the halls of the White House. For once, Trump did not dissemble. He showed the nation his true colors, revealing to his critics and supporters exactly who he is and where his sympathies lie.

Trump was Trump. I am not going to go on about him here or say anything I haven’t already said countless times, as his utter abjectness—politically and as a human being—and unfitness to be president of the United States is known—his lizard-brained fans excepted—to all. The American Prospect’s Adele M. Stan, in her latest column, thus expressed the sentiment of countless millions

There comes a point during the unfolding of a relentless, long-form catastrophe that one fears running out of adjectives to describe it. Watching President Donald J. Trump’s disgusting Tuesday night rally [in Phoenix], this writer finds the majesty of the English language failing her with means adequate to convey the depths of her disgust and dismay.

Haaretz’s US editor and correspondent Chemi Shalev, in writing about the sentiments of American Jews, also expressed those of tens of millions of non-Jewish Americans

Trump is different. His tenure could be a quantum leap, from strife to schism. Jewish liberals and doves may have detested George Bush and conservatives and right-wingers may have despised Barack Obama, but no U.S. president in the modern era has sparked such widespread fear and loathing in the American Jewish community as Trump. For many Jews, Trump is the worst thing that has happened to America in their lifetimes. Their fear, hostility and revulsion are so strong that they encompass not only Trump but anyone who seems to comfort and support him, to give him aid and succor, to be blind to his awfulness, which seems so obvious to his detractors. That includes Trump’s Jewish friends and supporters in the U.S. as well as the State of Israel, which has embraced him.

That’s right: “anyone who seems to comfort and support him, to give him aid and succor, to be blind to his awfulness”…

Just one thought. Since Charlottesville we have witnessed the already minimal acquiescence the Trump regime enjoyed among sectors of the American elite—notably corporate CEOs and the military—evaporate. A few hedge fund managers and media barons aside, Trump has been abandoned, if not outright repudiated, by the forces vives of American society. And this now includes the GOP congressional leadership. Even pro-Trump intellos—minuscule in number to begin with—and commentators on high-profile rightist websites are jumping ship. It is, needless to say, unprecedented for a president to be so thoroughly isolated—and only seven months into his term—for the elites of every sector of the economy, state, and society to consider unfit to hold office. It’s a dangerous situation, évidemment. Quoting Matt Taibbi’s latest in Rolling Stone

Because of [Trump’s] total inability to concentrate or lead, he will likely never do anything meaningful with the real governmental power he possesses – if he had a tenth of the managerial skills of Hitler, we’d be in impossibly deep shit right now. But as an enabler of behavior, as a stoker of arguments and hardener of resentments, he has no equal. Under Trump, racists become more racist, the woke necessarily become more woke, and areas of compromise among all quickly dwindle and disappear. He has us arguing about things that weren’t even questions a few minutes ago, like, are Nazis bad?

Trump has shown, once again, that his power to bring out the worst in people is limitless. And we should know by now that he’s never finished, never beaten. Historically, he’s most dangerous when he’s at his lowest. And he’s never been lower than now.

Which raises the question that we’ve been rhetorically posing almost since January 20th, which is “how long can this go on?” That it could until January 20th 2021 is quite simply inconceivable.

I’m going to go out on a limb and make a prediction, which is that, sooner rather later, maybe before the end of the year, something will happen, Trump will say or do something, that will prompt the GOP congressional leadership—McConnell, Ryan et al—to decide to quickly impeach and convict him. Swiftly, inside a week. Get rid of the SOB and swear Pence into office. Boom, comme ça. The Republicans will bite the bullet and just do it. Their base will go ballistic but the leadership will deal with it and hope the storm passes—and in time for the 2018 midterms. Voilà.

Over the past two weeks people have been hearing and reading about the “antifa” movement—and which has become the right’s latest leftist bogeyman. The term “antifa” seemed to come out of nowhere. I first saw Americans (on the left) use it on Facebook threads last winter, when the Milo Yiannopoulos event at Berkeley was cancelled following the Black Bloc riot, though when I asked people where it came from, no one had a response. In fact, the first time I heard the word “antifa” was here in France some two years ago, on the hard right radio station Radio Courtoisie (which I occasionally listen to in my car; it’s not an uninteresting station and, in tone, bears no resemblance to AM talk radio in the US), and then from a couple of my right-wing French students, who uttered it in class. I have never seen or heard it used on the French left (or the mainstream media). So as far as I’m concerned—and until proof to the contrary—the term “antifa” is a French right-wing invention—so rightists don’t have to pronounce the full word “fascist” in a context in which the finger is pointed at them—and that has made its way outre-Atlantique (and been unwittingly adopted by the left).

David Remnick has a good commentary in the current issue of The New Yorker on “Donald Trump’s true allegiances,” in which he writes

“We’ve seen this coming,” [Barack Obama] said [last November]. “Donald Trump is not an outlier; he is a culmination, a logical conclusion of the rhetoric and tactics of the Republican Party for the past ten, fifteen, twenty years. What surprised me was the degree to which those tactics and rhetoric completely jumped the rails.”

For half a century, in fact, the leaders of the G.O.P. have fanned the lingering embers of racial resentment in the United States. Through shrewd political calculation and rhetoric, from Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy” to the latest charges of voter fraud in majority-African-American districts, doing so has paid off at the ballot box. “There were no governing principles,” Obama said. “There was no one to say, ‘No, this is going too far, this isn’t what we stand for.’ ”

On the GOP and race, the NYT’s Charles M. Blow had a must-read column last week, “The other inconvenient truth: The Republican Party should acknowledge how it has fueled white supremacy.” Money quote

It is possible to trace this devil’s dance back to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the emergence of Richard Nixon. After the passage of the act, the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln to which black people felt considerable fealty, turned on those people and stabbed them in the back.

In 1994 John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s domestic-policy adviser and a Watergate co-conspirator, confessed this to the author Dan Baum:

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

Charles Blow’s latest column, “Donald Trump, ‘King of Alabama’?,” is an absolute must-read, if one hasn’t already.

Novelist and radio host Kurt Andersen has a most interesting article in the September issue of The Atlantic, “How America lost its mind.” Entre autres, he offers an analysis of the evolution the Republican Party over the past five decades—leading in an almost straight line to Trump—that is similar to my own.

ICYMI, my dear friend Adam Shatz had an à chaud commentary on Charlottesville, “Trump set them free,” on the LRB blog.

On the Confederate statues issue, Columbia University history professor Eric Foner’s NYT op-ed, “Confederate statues and ‘our’ memory,” is excellent.

Likewise University of Chicago history professor Jane Dailey’s piece in Huffpost, “The Confederate general who was erased.”

Swarthmore College political science professor Richard Valelly, writing in The American Prospect, asks the excellent question, “How about erecting monuments to the heroes of Reconstruction?”

Roger Berkowitz—who is Academic Director of the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities and Associate Professor of Politics, Human Rights, and Philosophy at Bard College—was interviewed last week by Deutsche Welle on “What philosopher Hannah Arendt would say about Donald Trump.”

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

Jerry Lewis, R.I.P.

Receiving the Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur,
from Minister of Culture Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, Paris, 16 March 2006

I had no intention of marking his passing, as I never cared about him and don’t recall having ever seen any of his comedies from beginning to end. There is, as one knows, a tenacious myth among Americans that the French love (present tense) Jerry Lewis—which I’ve pushed back against here (third paragraph down) and here (in comments thread)—and that won’t die. The well-known journalist Pascal Riché has a piece up in L’Obs, “Pourquoi les Américains pensent que Jerry Lewis est idolâtré en France,” that pretty much settles the matter. The lede: “Aux Etats-Unis, Jerry Lewis est bizarrement considéré comme l’idole absolue des Français. Une légende née d’un engouement populaire et intellectuel dans les années 1960…”

Maybe now I’ll get around to seeing ‘The Nutty Professor’ (in France: Docteur Jerry et Mister Love), which is said to be hilarious.

%d bloggers like this: