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The Middlebury hecklers

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

In 2011 I had a post on hecklers—prompted by the disruption of Michael Oren’s talk at UC-Irvine—in which I expressed my hatred of this subspecies of humanity (though, for the record, I did issue an exception in a post in 2013). Everyone’s read about what happened at Middlebury College last Thursday, of author Charles Murray being shouted down at the talk he was about to give, run out of town on a rail, and with his host, Middlebury professor Allison Stanger, physically assaulted in the process. Now I am not a fan of Murray’s—and certainly not of his reprehensible work on blacks and IQ—but he is a prominent conservative intellectual and with the requisite credentials to give a public lecture at an establishment of higher education, so what happened to him was quite simply outrageous. The commentaries in The Atlantic by Peter Beinart and Conor Friedersdorf say what needs to be said. As for the hecklers, they should/must be sanctioned and with the perpetrators of the assault on Prof. Stanger expelled from the college outright.

BTW, my attitude was the same in regard to the disruption of Milo Yiannopoulos’s event at UC-Berkeley last month. Now Milo Y. is not a scholar, loin de là, and should have probably not been invited to speak at the UCB campus in the first place, but once he was, he should have been allowed to proceed without disruption. As for the violence from outside-agitating black bloc voyous, this was unacceptable and could only play into Milo Y.’s hands. On the matter, UCB graduate student Sean Freeder, writing on Facebook, had one of the more intelligent commentaries I saw at the time.

When confronted with beyond-the-pale speakers, people should take a leaf from my alma mater, Antioch College, in 1964, when George Lincoln Rockwell came to campus. Students packed Kelly Hall, listened to him in silence, and when he finished, rose as one and silently walked out. Rockwell said later that it was the worst reception he ever received. If Milo Y. had been copiously ignored at UCB, he would have no doubt felt likewise.

UPDATE: Yale Law School professor Stephen L. Carter has a tribune (March 6th) in Bloomberg View, “The ideology behind intolerant college students.” And that ideology, if one wants to call it that, is Herbert Marcuse’s 1965 essay on “repressive tolerance,” which, as it happens, was in vogue during my day at Antioch College. In fact, I clearly remember a Marxist philosophy professor approvingly invoke the notion at an event in the aforementioned Kelly Hall in 1974 or ’75. Autres temps, mêmes mœurs.

2nd UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan weighs in on the Middlebury affair in his weekly essay in New York magazine (March 10th), in which he asks “Is intersectionality a religion?”

3rd UPDATE: Professor Allison Stanger writes in The New York Times (March 13th) on “Understanding the angry mob at Middlebury that gave me a concussion.”

Paris, March 5th 2017 (photo: Jacques Demarthon/AFP via RTL)

Paris, March 5th 2017 (photo: Jacques Demarthon/AFP via RTL)

[update below]

François Fillon’s “Grand rassemblement populaire” at the Trocadéro this afternoon. It was make or break for his candidacy, or so they were saying in his LR party: if fewer than 50,000 showed up, he was dead in the water, with no choice but to drop out of the race. If there were more than 50K, then he stays. For now, at least. Fillon and his supporters say there were 200K; the police figure—invariably accurate—is 40 to 50K. I went, just to observe and take pics. It was hard to get a sense of the crowd size except that it seemed big, as it was impossible to enter the square. It was a le peuple de droite: mainly older conservative bourgeois Catholics. Fillon’s hardcore base. He was on the France 2 news this evening for 20 minutes, playing the victim and insisting that he’s maintaining his candidacy. Alain Juppé will be making a statement tomorrow morning and the LR Comité Politique—comprised of the party’s top heavyweights—meets at 6pm. If Fillon hasn’t withdrawn from the race by Tuesday, that means he’s in to the bitter end. And the French Republican party crashes and burns on April 23rd.

A couple dozen of my photos of the rally—with commentary—are in an album here.

À suivre.

UPDATE: The central role played in the organization of the Trocadéro rally by Sens Commun—the political emanation of the anti-gay marriage “Manif pour tous” movement of 2013—has been observed by many, not to mention the hard-right demographic of the rally itself, and of Fillon’s hardcore conservative base more generally. The May 8th Le Canard Enchaîné has a short item on this.

FillonTrocadero

The Trump regime: week 6

Photo credit: Amanjeev (via War on the Rocks)

Photo credit: Amanjeev (via War on the Rocks)

I can hardly keep up with the news these days, what with obsessively reading I don’t know many articles a day about the new regime in Washington plus following the French presidential campaign, which is the wildest and craziest ever. It’s too much. I’ll intend to post something on US politics but if I sit on it for more than a day, it’s already old news. Passé. E.g. Trump’s latest psychotic meltdown on Twitter, but which we’ll likely have already moved on from by tomorrow.

I’m not going to offer any personal thoughts here. Just links, in particular to two excellent articles I read just today. The first is entitled “‘Bring everything crashing down’: Bannon’s reactionary guard and U.S. national security,” posted Feb. 27th on the War on the Rocks blog (h/t Claire B.). The author, previously unknown to me, is Iskander Rehman, Senior Fellow at the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy at Salve Regina University in Newport RI, and who received all his degrees from Sciences Po Paris. He’s a sharp analyst and with numerous insights, e.g. on the Vichy regime and parallels to Washington today—and quoting historian Henry Rousso, who had some problems at Houston airport last week—and on Stephen Bannon’s Weltanschauung, which, for Rehman, has five clear components—class resentment, millenarianism, decadentism, ethnotribalism, and illiberalism—none of which, Rehman contends, have a place in traditional American conservatism. Peut-être.

Rehman links to several good articles, one from last November, in Politico, by Jedediah Purdy of the Duke Law School, “The anti-democratic worldview of Steve Bannon and Peter Thiel.”

The other first-rate piece read today is Emily Bazelon’s in the current NYT Magazine, “Department of Justification.” The lede: “Stephen Bannon and Jeff Sessions, the new attorney general, have long shared a vision for remaking America. Now the nation’s top law-enforcement agency can serve as a tool for enacting it.” I personally think—today at least—that Trump’s sinister henchmen will fail to enact their vision—the resistance of America’s robust civil society, plus the courts, will prevent that from happening—but it’s chilling stuff nonetheless.

On 45’s SOTU address last Tuesday—now ancient history—which certain media organs normally critical of the SOB shamefully praised, Vox’s Matthew Yglesias had a brilliant analysis in case one missed it, “Trump is performing the role of president, not doing the job: He doesn’t want to be president, he just wants to play one on TV.” Also see the commentaries in Slate by Michelle Goldberg—who is consistently tops—and William Saletan. The one by Never Trump Republican Max Boot in FP is also good, “Don’t believe the new Trump: He’s still the same old, uninformed, easily manipulated, egomaniac—surrounded by second-raters, lickspittles, and extremists.” Lickspittles: love that!

Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce has the most gratifying piece of the week: “Why I’ll never sympathize with regretful Trump voters: They brought this disaster on themselves. They must own it.” That’s right. Qu’ils aillent se faire foutre. FN voters in France too.

C’est tout ce que j’ai à dire.

2017 Oscars

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The list of nominees is here. For only the second time in my now long life I’ve managed to see all the films in the top categories. I so far have blog posts on none—having slacked off on film reviews over the past year—but intend to get one up soon on the Afro-American themed films, plus another on the Second World War one (along with others on that topic). I’ll also have a special one on films set in Texas. And the foreign ones too. For the others, here’s my capsule assessment, beginning with the Best Picture nominees.

Manchester by the Sea: I was eagerly looking forward to seeing this, in view of the stellar reviews—a 96 score on Metacritic and 4.5/4.2 on Allociné—and dithyrambic reactions on social media. But then a highbrow New York-based intello-cinephile friend—whose views I take with the utmost seriousness—told me that it was “terribly overrated.” My reply to him after seeing: “It’s not a chef d’œuvre but I wouldn’t say it’s overrated—let alone hugely so—this implying that it’s not that good. It’s an engaging film—which, for me, means that I didn’t start checking the time on my phone half way through—and well acted. It won’t make AWAV’s Top 10 of the year but could make Honorable Mention [which it did].” After reading novelist Francine Prose’s essay on the film in the NYR blog, I emailed him that “[m]y estimation of Manchester is increasing…” But then I received this from a faithful Provence-based AWAV reader: “Interesting movie, great acting, sensible directing, but spoiled right in the middle [in the scene of the house burning] by a horrible mistake: the lengthy, insisting, emphatic, pompous, pathetic extract from Adagio d’Albinoni pasted wall to wall, several minutes of it, over the most dramatic silent scene in the movie… I couldn’t believe it! Not even a stupid producer would dare to ask that from a director.” Well! I didn’t fixate on the musical score myself, though can see the objection. Chacun son goût, comme on dit.

La La Land: I can’t remember the last time a movie was both so hyped and aroused such wildly diverging reactions from friends and colleagues on both sides of the ocean, ranging from gushing thumbs way up—with some loving it (e.g. a highbrow academic friend informed his thousands of social media fans that it was “enchanting”)—to vehement thumbs way down: e.g. one French journalist/Facebook friend so hated the pic that he fired off a 1,000-word diatribe ripping it to smithereens. Ouf! FYI, it’s a big hit in France, with an impressive 4.3/4.4 score on Allociné, though there does appear to have been a backlash against the film among some Anglophone critics. Now I normally do not care for musicals myself and tend to avoid them, though, in view of the hype, was certainly going to see this one. A highbrow cinesnob friend in the DC area who always likes a good musical (‘Singin’ in the Rain’ is his all-time favorite)—but otherwise rubbishes 85% of the films he sees—nonetheless dumped on ‘La La Land’, calling it “forgettable” and predicting that I would share his viewpoint.

Upon seeing it—with my 86-year-old mother, a lifelong cinephile herself and who grew up with musicals—I emailed the following to my cinesnob friend: “I started out not liking it… [b]ut then my attitude changed half way through, as the story started to come together—of [the protags’] relationship—and I came to appreciate some of the music—notably the band’s score in the nightclub—and choreography. And then talking about the movie with my mother, who liked it and, as is her wont, launched into a lengthy analysis (and which continued at home; and my mother’s film analyses are [on your highbrow level]). So my final verdict is a moderate thumbs up… Oh yes, my mother was also impressed with Ryan Gosling—whom she hadn’t seen before—of his talent as a musician and dancer. And found him physically graceful, reminding her of Marlon Brando. I was also impressed with his musical talent (on the keyboards).”

And then there was this reaction from my aforementioned New York-based intello-cinephile friend—and who has published articles on jazz, among many other subjects: “I liked it much more than I expected to. Sure, the jazz stuff is a bit silly, but it’s not a film about jazz, or about anything meant to resemble reality: it’s an ode to old Hollywood musicals, to the city of Los Angeles, and jazz is but a backdrop. To argue over the use of John Legend in the film is also to take the film too seriously. The two principals are charming, their relationship is believable and sympathetic, the use of color and setting striking. The music isn’t memorable, a weakness, except for that one song he sings and then later plays solo on piano. The film is not perfect, but for the most part I found it absorbing and delightful in an old-fashioned sort of way.” I’ll go along with that. [UPDATE: My mother has a review of ‘La Land Land’ on her blog here that is well worth reading (March 6th).]

Arrival: I had zero interest in seeing this when it came out here in December—under the title ‘Premier contact’—and despite the top reviews (4.1/4.1 in Allociné), as it looked to be a science fiction film, a genre I normally avoid. And I didn’t get any word-of-mouth on it (and still haven’t, apart from a shrug by a student). But in view of its Oscar nominations I decided I had to check it out, persuading an academic friend with whom I periodically see movies to come along. Now my friend—who is intellectually brilliant and analyses films on a rather higher level than I—knew absolutely nothing about it, so went into it blind, as was more or less the case with me. We were immediately impressed that the salle at the UGC Ciné Cité Les Halles multiplex was packed and two months after its sortie, signifying positive word-of-mouth. And we were impressed leaving the theater at the end, this time with the film itself, which surprised us both. It is, on the surface, a science fiction movie but is way more than that. It is a philosophical meditation on temporality and language, a “beautiful, astonishing, incredibly sophisticated film,” to paraphrase my friend. I am not capable of textually recounting her typically sophisticated analysis, nor my own thoughts at the moment—it was four weeks ago—so will simply link to the excellent review essay by the well-known science and technology writer-author James Gleick in The New York Review of Books, which is all one needs to read on the film.

Lion: I saw this just last night. The salle at UGC Opéra was almost full to capacity, which is not surprising in view of the manifestly positive word-of-mouth (reflected in the 4.5 audience score on Allociné). It’s a crowd-pleaser. One is totally caught up in the first half of the film, in India, and with one’s heart melting for the little Saroo all alone on the streets of Calcutta. Ça crève le cœur. One wants to take him into one’s arms and hug him to death. But the second half, in Australia, is less satisfying. I’m a sucker for sentimentality but it was laid on a little too heavily here. My tears were not jerked. And while Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman are nominees for best supporting actor and actress, respectively, I was not bowled over by their performances. The cinematography is impressive, though. And of course it has a happy ending, so one leaves the theater feeling good. The pic, while hardly a chef d’œuvre, may be seen.

And then there are these:

Captain Fantastic: I didn’t bother with this one when it came out—and despite the 4.4 Allociné audience rating—catching up with it on account of Viggo Mortensen’s best actor nomination. What to say, it’s a good, entertaining movie and with fine acting. I enjoyed it. And it is by far the most sophisticated Hollywood movie ever made in the way it treats left-wing politics, at least on the level of rhetoric. Hollywood invariably bombs when it comes to this but not this movie. Director-screenwriter Matt Ross knows the left, that’s for sure.

Florence Foster Jenkins: I thought that this would be anticlimactic after Xavier Giannoli’s 2015 Marguerite, which was inspired by the life of Florence FJ, but not at all. Having seen ‘Marguerite’ I knew the story, but was entertained nonetheless. The acting is excellent and with Meryl Streep more than deserving her best actress nomination. Too bad Simon Helberg wasn’t nominated for best supporting actor. The depiction of mid 1940s New York City is also impeccable. Voilà, c’est tout.

Jackie: I didn’t feel overly compelled to see this one, doing so mainly on account of Natalie Portman (best actress nominee)—for whom I have a well-known soft spot—playing the lead role. Director Pablo Larraín, who’s Chilean (he directed the terrific film No, among others), apparently said that he wouldn’t do the film if Portman didn’t take the role. She is, needless to say, perfectly cast as Jackie Kennedy. The pic is all Natalie P., and she’s great. Other than that, it left me indifferent. I gave it no thought after leaving the cinoche. Not even Natalie.

Sully: This received one nomination, for a category I have no opinion on (best sound editing). A perfect popcorn movie (though I never buy popcorn in movie theaters myself). Clint Eastwood’s most entertaining movie since ‘Invictus’. And Tom Hanks is impeccable in the lead role. French critics and audiences alike gave it the thumbs up, which is hardly a surprise (3.8/4.2 on Allociné). C’est tout ce que j’ai à dire.

My vote:

BEST PICTURE: ‘Moonlight’.
No hesitation on this, though I wouldn’t be surprised if the crowd-pleasing ‘Hidden Figures’ wins. I will be disgusted if it’s ‘La La Land’, which ranks close to last of the nine nominees.

BEST DIRECTOR: Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge).
A politically incorrect choice, I know. I was impressed with this film, however, and found the reenactment of the Battle of Okinawa to be a directorial feat. Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) and Berry Jenkins (Moonlight) are tied for a close second.

BEST ACTOR: Denzel Washington (Fences).
Denzel has played his role here dozens of times on the stage but it’s a tour de force nonetheless. The other nominees are meritorious.

BEST ACTRESS: Natalie Portman (Jackie).
This is a close one. Isabelle Huppert is stellar in ‘Elle’ but this is not an American film and she already won the César for it yesterday. Meryl Streep is tops in ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’ but for her to get it would be like the New England Patriots winning the Super Bowl. Deserved but happens all the time. Ruth Negga in ‘Loving’: I wouldn’t rank her first here. Emma Stone in ‘La La Land’ did not knock my socks off.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight).
He’s awesome in this. Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals) and Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water) are tied for second.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures).
All the nominees here, Nicole Kidman (Lion) excepted, are credible winners.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: ‘The Salesman’ by Asghar Farhadi.
In view of the political context, I would be shocked if this didn’t win. Maren Ade’s ‘Toni Erdmann’ is very good. I haven’t seen the other nominees.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: ‘Fire at Sea’.
This is the only one I’ve seen, and it’s good. I have been reliably informed that ‘I Am Not Your Negro’, ‘O.J.: Made in America’, and ’13th’ are all amazing but I haven’t seen them yet. When they come to France, I will illico.

Table showing 2017 Oscar nominees in top categories. TNS 2017

Table showing 2017 Oscar nominees in top categories. TNS 2017

 

2017 César awards

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[update below]

France’s Oscars. The ceremony is tomorrow (Friday)—two days before the US Academy Awards comme d’hab’—at the Salle Pleyel. The full list of nominees is here. Leading with eleven nominations each are Elle and Frantz, Ma Loute (Slack Bay) has nine, Mal de pierres (From the Land of the Moon) eight, Divines seven, Juste la fin du monde (It’s Only the End of the World) and La Danseuse (The Dancer) six each, and Chocolat and Victoria (In Bed with Victoria) five a piece. As it happens, I don’t have blog posts on any—I haven’t written too much on cinema over the past year—but will soon enough, inshallah. But as I have seen the movies, I possess the necessary qualifications to cast a virtual ballot. So voilà:

BEST FILM: Les Innocentes (The Innocents).
It’s a toss-up between this and Frantz. There was, in fact, no really outstanding French film last year. A number were good, indeed quite—such as these two—but there were no chefs d’œuvre. Elle is a gripping drame psychologique but I had somewhat mixed feelings about it leaving the theater. As for Divines, see the ‘best first film’ category below. Three of the seven nominees, it should be said, do not belong: Ma Loute (screwball comedy that critics liked far more than did the unwashed public, of which I am a part), Mal de pierres (bof), and Victoria (frivolous waste-of-time rom-com).

BEST DIRECTOR: Anne Fontaine for Les Innocentes.
François Ozon for Frantz is equally worthy. If Xavier Dolan wins for his execrable Juste la fin du monde, I will forever lose respect for the Académie des Arts et Techniques du Cinéma.

BEST ACTOR: Nicolas Duvauchelle in Je ne suis pas un salaud (A Decent Man).
There are any number of worthy winners, e.g. Omar Sy in Chocolat and François Cluzet in Médecin de campagne (Irreplaceable) but Duvauchelle is a very good actor and deserves it for his role in this engaging film.

BEST ACTRESS: Isabelle Huppert in Elle.
She’s France’s greatest living actress. And her performance here is a tour de force. Other nominees are certainly meritorious: Marina Foïs is powerful as a sociopathic stalker in Irréprochable (Faultless), as is Judith Chemla in Une vie (A Woman’s Life) as an early 19th century bourgeois woman trapped in the gender roles of the era. And the sublime Marion Cotillard is tops in the otherwise unexceptional Mal de pierres. I did not, however, care for Sidse Babett Knudsen in La Fille de Brest (150 Milligrams).

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: James Thierrée in Chocolat.
Laurent Lafitte in Elle is the runner-up. If Vincent Cassel wins for his role in the atrocious Juste la fin du monde—or for any role in any film—I will be sorely tempted to commit an unlawful act…

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Déborah Lukumuena in Divines.
She is memorable in her role in this, just a little more so than the other nominees in theirs.

MOST PROMISING ACTOR: Corentin Fila in Quand on a 17 ans (Being 17).
The other nominees are worthy but he gets the edge.

MOST PROMISING ACTRESS: Oulaya Amamra in Divines.
Absolutely totally. A Star Is Born.

BEST FIRST FILM: Divines.
Hands down. A very good movie. One of the best in years in the banlieue racaille genre.

BEST DOCUMENTARY: Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea).
I’ve only seen one of the others in this category but this one is very good and, in view of the subject matter, deserves to win IMHO.

BEST FOREIGN FILM: Graduation by Cristian Mungiu.
Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann is a close runner-up, followed by Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Aquarius. Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake is certainly the top gauchiste film of the year. The Dardenne brothers’ The Unknown Girl is honorable but not their best. Manchester by the Sea? Nah. If Xavier Dolan’s abominable Juste la fin du monde wins, I think I’ll…

UPDATE: The list of the winners is here. I nailed it on half the categories above, including the trifecta for ‘Divines’.  ‘Elle’ won for best film, which was hardly a surprise. Gaspard Ulliel winning best actor for the detestable ‘Juste la fin du monde’ was incomprehensible, as was Xavier Dolan for best director. My respect for the AATC is definitively lost.

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Marine Le Pen: can she win?

Photo: Reuters/Jean-Paul Pélissier

Photo: Reuters/Jean-Paul Pélissier

In September 2014 I had a post entitled “Can Marine Le Pen win in ’17?,” in which I answered my rhetorical question with a categorical no. Absolutely not. Don’t even think about it. And I have repeated this on numerous occasions since—on AWAV and in social media exchanges—and dismissing while I was at it the hand-wringers and nervous Nellies who fretted that yes, Henny Penny the sky is falling!, she can win—though without any of these Cassandras offering scenarios as to how this could happen. My confident assertions as to the impossibility of Marine Le Pen being elected president of the republic have been based on her disastrous poll numbers over the past seven years—her favorable/unfavorable rating consistently being one of the worst in the French political class (and far worse than Donald Trump’s at any point)—and the fact that in order for her to prevail in the 2nd round of a presidential election, large numbers of voters who otherwise despise and loathe her, and tell pollsters that they would never under any circumstances vote for her, would then go out and do just that: vote for her. Presidential 2nd rounds have the highest turnout of any election in the French system, averaging—minus one unique, very particular exception—83% since universal suffrage was instituted for the office in 1965. So if Marine were to win, some 20 million voters would likely have to vote for her. To date, the highest number of votes the Front National has ever received is 6.8 million in the 2nd round of the 2015 regional elections (with a 58.5% turnout). Somehow I can’t see this skyrocketing to 20M, particularly as MLP’s popularity ratings (deeply negative) have not moved even slightly in the course of the campaign.

But… circumstances do change. The situation evolves. And when circumstances change and situations evolve, I adjust my analyses accordingly. While I still consider a Marine LP victory to be highly unlikely, I no longer categorically rule it out. Anyone reading this is likely aware that Marine is at the top of the 1st round polls, at around 25%, and with three-fourths of those who say they will vote for her definitive in their choice. She is nigh certain to make it to the 2nd round on May 7th. Everyone takes this for granted at this point. The polls show her losing big in the 2nd, but polls change and her projected 2nd round score is creeping upwards. Whatever happens, she will most certainly break 40%.

So how could she win? Here are the scenarios:

  • François Fillon, who, as one knows, is seriously damaged politically, nonetheless manages to rally the LR party base and squeak past Emmanuel Macron and into the 2nd round. Fillon will probably defeat Marine, as a sufficient number of left voters (myself included)—so terrified by the prospect of a Marine victory—will probably vote for him while holding their noses. But large numbers of left voters will not bring themselves to do this, and particularly if Fillon is mis en examen—and he now insists that he’s staying in the race regardless—and doubles down on his Sarkozy-like, hard right rhetoric on immigration and security. The revulsion against Fillon is massive on the left (in a way it was not for Chirac in 2002). If masses of left voters nullify their ballots or stay home, and with a certain number of working class ones who voted Mélenchon in the 1st actually voting for Marine in the 2nd—and one may be sure that she will appeal to this latter cohort in the final phase of the campaign—she could possibly win in a cliffhanger, and particularly if enough conservative LR voters disgusted by Fillon also decide to go for her.
  • Benoît Hamon pulls off a shocker and makes it to the 2nd. In this scenario, Fillon’s support would plunge into the mid-teens, with LR voters defecting to Nicolas Dupont-Aignan or to Marine LP herself, who reaches 30% in the 1st. Likewise with Macron, whose serial flip-flopping, trying to be too many things to too many people, and finally revealed as a political Nowhere Man having benefited from a bulle médiatique would prompt his erstwhile center-left supporters to go with Hamon after all—or to François Bayrou if he enters the race. If Bayrou gets in—and he’ll be making an announcement on this tomorrow—he will most certainly peel off voters from Macron, possibly reaching 10% in the 1st round. In the 2nd round, the left would vote as a block for Hamon but LR voters, who so despise the left—and will simply not accept five more years of the PS in power—will go massively for Marine, particular as she will sweet-talk them to death entre les tours. If centrist voters vote blanc/nul or abstain, Marine may well gain enough votes to break 50%.
  • The nightmare scenario: Fillon’s and Macron’s numbers go south for the aforementioned reasons and with Hamon losing ground on the left to Jean-Luc Mélenchon. With the four candidates all bunched in the mid-teens—and Marine at 30%—Mélenchon ekes out a narrow second place finish and goes on to face MLP on May 7th. The right votes as one for Marine and with centrist and center-left voters emigrating en masse to Canada or maybe killing themselves. And Marine wins.

And there’s more. One thing I have insisted on over the years is that even if, in some outlandish scenario, Marine Le Pen were elected president of the republic, there is no way the FN could possibly win the legislative elections in June. Marine would almost immediately find herself in a cohabitation—and, as one knows, during cohabitations power constitutionally shifts to the prime minister and away from the president. This assertion of mine needs revision. If elected on May 7th, Marine’s first act will be to appoint a prime minister. I guarantee that the man or woman she names will not be from her party. She’ll ask a high-profile hard-right personality from LR, e.g. Laurent Wauquiez, who shares her views on just about everything save Europe (and even then). If she offers the post to Wauquiez, of course he’ll accept. To win over LR support, she’ll compromise on Europe, e.g. by postponing the promised referendum on the euro. Marine’s overtures, not to mention the mere fact of her being at the summit of the state, will blow LR apart, with the right-wingers—Sarkozyistes, Copéistes, most Fillonistes—endorsing an alliance with the FN, and the more moderate conservatives—Juppéistes, some Fillonistes—refusing collaboration, rendering inevitable a breakup of the party. The government constituted by a prime minister Wauquiez will include ministers from the FN, LR, DLF, and MPF, i.e. it will be a coalition of the hard and extreme-right, assembled into an enlarged Rassemblement Bleu Marine (RBM). Some hypothetical ministerial appointments: Florian Philippot (economy/finance), Steeve Briois (interior), Gilbert Collard (justice), Thierry Mariani (foreign affairs), Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (European affairs), Gérard Longuet (defense), Eric Ciotti (education), Philippe de Villiers (culture), Robert Ménard (communication), Valérie Boyer (social affairs), Geoffroy Didier (immigration and integration), Lydia Guirous (cities/youth and sports), David Rachline (government spokesman)…

With Marine’s election and such a government in place, the FN would go into the June legislative elections with a head of steam. Given the fragmentation of the political field—with candidates of LR-UDI, the PS, La France Insoumise/PCF, and whatever remains of En Marche!—the number of triangulaires would be exceptionally high, particularly if the turnout is likewise (reaching, say, 70%). Withdrawal accords between FN and pro-FN LR candidates would almost certainly guarantee an RBM majority in the National Assembly. And the rest would be history. Marine Le Pen and the FN would rule France for the next five years. And there’s not a thing the left or anyone else could do about it.

This would be a disaster, needless to say. Marine Le Pen is Donald Trump without the crazy, as James Traub pithily put it, and which thus makes her more dangerous. She knows exactly where she wants to take France and, as president of the republic and with a legislative majority, would have more instruments at her disposal than does Trump in the US, as there are fewer checks on executive power in France hors cohabitation. And her government, such as hypothesized above, would not be made up of kooks and whack jobs à la Trump but rather of seasoned political pros. I will speculate at a later date as to what Marine would do in her first few months in power but, trust me, it would be bad. Very very bad.

The one candidate who can most certainly beat Marine, and handily, is Emmanuel Macron. I’m a little unsettled about him at the moment—I think he’s making some mistakes—but have to hope that his campaign does not falter in the coming two months, that he finishes strongly, and moves into the 2nd round. The fate of the republic may depend on it.

The Trump regime: week 4

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After the inauguration I had intended to have a post a week on the new regime in Washington, with links to good articles I’d read and maybe a thought or two. But that idea went out the window with the daily deluge on my social media news feeds and the websites I follow, and with everyone obsessed and talking about little else. It’s too much. Trying to keep up with the insanity outre-Atlantique plus the wild-and-crazy presidential campaign in France—in which a heretofore unthinkable outcome can no longer be dismissed out of hand—I am, to borrow from my friend Laurie L., mentally exhausted. We’ve gone from No-Drama Obama to drama all the time. It’s the “fog of Trump,” as FP’s David Rothkopf put it: the chaos of  the new regime is such that you start to follow one crazy thing Trump said or did and maybe plan to write about it, but then, within the day, there’s some crazy new thing that causes you to forget about the previous one.

And since I started writing this post, there was Trump’s press conference… And with his response to questions like this one. Just watch it.

Donald Trump is a despicable human being. And any Trump fan who can watch his response to the Ami magazine reporter and remain a fan is equally despicable.

How long can this go on?

Andrew Sullivan, in a great essay in New York magazine last week, “The madness of King Donald,” concluded with this observation

With someone like [Trump] barging into your consciousness every hour of every day, you begin to get a glimpse of what it must be like to live in an autocracy of some kind. Every day in countries unfortunate enough to be ruled by a lone dictator, people are constantly subjected to the Supreme Leader’s presence, in their homes, in their workplaces, as they walk down the street. Big Brother never leaves you alone. His face bears down on you on every flickering screen. He begins to permeate your psyche and soul; he dominates every news cycle and issues pronouncements — each one shocking and destabilizing — round the clock. He delights in constantly provoking and surprising you, so that his monstrous ego can be perennially fed. And because he is also mentally unstable, forever lashing out in manic spasms of pain and anger, you live each day with some measure of trepidation. What will he come out with next? Somehow, he is never in control of himself and yet he is always in control of you.

One of the great achievements of free society in a stable democracy is that many people, for much of the time, need not think about politics at all. The president of a free country may dominate the news cycle many days — but he is not omnipresent — and because we live under the rule of law, we can afford to turn the news off at times. A free society means being free of those who rule over you — to do the things you care about, your passions, your pastimes, your loves — to exult in that blessed space where politics doesn’t intervene. In that sense, it seems to me, we already live in a country with markedly less freedom than we did a month ago. It’s less like living in a democracy than being a child trapped in a house where there is an abusive and unpredictable father, who will brook no reason, respect no counter-argument, admit no error, and always, always up the ante until catastrophe inevitably strikes. This is what I mean by the idea that we are living through an emergency.

Being ruled by a malignant narcissistic megalomaniac—who barges into your consciousness every hour of the day—can lead one to darkly fantasize about him being terminated with extreme prejudice; and one feels justified in this fantasizing when learning that the unhinged ruler has near unilateral power to launch a nuclear war. Intellectual polymath and dear personal friend Adam Shatz described such fantasies in a post on the LRB blog earlier this week. Adam begins by relating a discussion he had in Paris last summer with an American political scientist friend he called Laxminarayan—not his real name—who expressed the hope that the American “Deep State” would intervene to thwart a looming Trump victory. Hmmm, I wonder who that Laxminarayan could be?…

Speaking for myself, I did write before the election about the Deep State—the military, intelligence, and foreign policy establishment part of it—and my conviction that it would pull out the stops to prevent Trump from winning if such looked possible in the final month of the campaign—though I did not think for an instant that this would—let alone should—happen with the committing of a capital crime. I had in mind leaking Trump’s tax returns or damaging information on his dealings with Russia, that sort of thing. This obviously didn’t happen—or, rather, another sector of the Deep State intervened and in favor of Trump—but looks like it could be underway now.

One wishes the Deep State well in its efforts. But these will absolutely not involve assassination. Call me naïve but I consider it inconceivable that even a rogue faction inside the USG would try to commit such an act, as, entre autres, it would be too complicated to successfully pull off, the plotters would all be arrested, and, in the end, administered lethal injections at the USP Terre Haute. Conspiracies do happen but, in countries with a semblance of democracy and a free press, they’re uncovered sooner or later, and usually sooner. Always. (And yes, Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone).

For the first two weeks of the new regime I was, along with a few tens of millions of others, in a state of despair. The Jan. 21st march was exhilarating but mass demos don’t, on their own, change a thing. The fact is, Trump is POTUS for the next four years, his top policy advisers in the White House are outright fascists—and that’s not a word I toss around lightly—the extreme right-wing Republican Party is in the driver’s seat—in Washington and the majority of state governments—and the 2018 midterm elections are not going to change that. The Democrats are in a deep hole, as the NYT’s Timothy Egan reminded us the other day. As one knows, the only way Trump can be terminated is via impeachment/conviction or the invoking of Amendment XXV, Section 4. But the Vichy Republicans are not going to do either: not so long as their party base continues to support Trump. His approval rating may be a historically low 40% for a POTUS after a month in office, but that 40% is of the entire adult population, and the only figure that matters to the Vichy Republicans is of their own voters—and for the moment, that one is in the 80-90% approval range. If that number starts to plummet—to François Hollande levels—then they’ll impeach. But not before.

À propos, a Facebook friend, writing on a comments thread on Trump’s unhinged press conference, had this observation

I think it is extremely important to realize that there are many, many voters in the rural areas who think that Trump is doing a perfectly fine job and who never see anything of the news apart from bits and bobs on Fox News or hear from Limbaugh and Hannity on the radio. (I know these people, I talk to these people, I take them seriously.) I say this because…his confidence and TV-tested delivery appeal to millions of voters, and when excerpted and framed by right-wing news outlets, he looks just fine to those people…

And those people don’t give a shit what liberals, Democrats, and Never Trump Republicans like David Brooks think. And their ranks go well beyond hicks in the sticks. Perusing the comments threads of two of my right-leaning, anti-Trump Facebook friends—well-known journalists on that side of the political spectrum, so with several thousand fans, almost all with some kind of university diploma (which is obvious from randomly checking their profiles)—one is left sans voix. To get an idea, take a look at the comments that follow this essay by the well-known conservative-libertarian legal scholar Richard Epstein, in which he calls on Trump to resign. Note that Epstein’s piece was posted on the Hoover Institution’s Defining Ideas forum, not some loopy website in the alt-right fachosphère. Breathtaking.

NYT journalist Josh Katz had a bone-chilling post earlier this week on The Upshot page, informing us that “Older judges and vacant seats give Trump huge power to shape American courts.” If Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer don’t make it to 2021, the boulevard will be clear for the Republicans to abrogate the Voting Rights Act, destroy the labor movement, dismantle what remains of the welfare state, and deal multiple body blows to constituencies in the Democratic Party base. One-party Republican rule will be locked in for decades. And America will, in effect, cease to be a democracy.

While this apocalyptic scenario is entirely realistic, I have become somewhat less pessimistic of late that it will come to pass. Everyone who didn’t vote for the idiot has been impressed with and gratified by the mass resistance to the new regime. As the very smart and always interesting Yascha Mounk, who teaches in the government department at Harvard, put it in one of his recent columns in Slate

Since Trump got elected, one of my great fears has been that most American citizens might cling to a false sense of security, brought on by decades of prosperity and stability, while the president slowly and surely subverts our democracy. But between Trump’s spectacular assault on democratic norms and the furious response it has already unleashed, I no longer worry about a quiet death. The American republic won’t go down without putting up a hell of a fight.

A third of the American electorate may be fine being ruled by a dictator but the other two-thirds are not fine with it at all. America’s new opposition is robust and will only become more so. It will fight to the bitter end. And then there’s institutional resistance from the states (on this, see, e.g., the article in Politico on how New York’s attorney general Eric Schneiderman “is emerging as the leader of the Trump resistance.”). And the media, not to mention late-night comedy, will not let Trump go.

In this respect, America cannot be compared to other polities in the Western world where liberal democracy is under assault or has collapsed in the past. Cf. Italy in the 1920s and the Weimar Republic: neither Italy nor Germany had had a long tradition of liberal democracy at the time they descended into dictatorship. The Vichy regime in France could have never happened without the German occupation. Victor Orbán’s Hungary and Poland under the PiS today: neither of these countries had known liberal democracy before the 1990s. Ditto for Russia and Turkey. Moreover, the four aforementioned countries witnessed the decimation of their elites—the multiethnic forces vives of their societies, who would have otherwise constituted the pillars of a liberal order—in the course of the 20th century: by war, genocide, emigration, and/or decades of totalitarian rule. America’s cosmopolitan, liberally minded cultural and intellectual elites are intact. And they’re not going anywhere.

Another cause for relative optimism—or at least not sinking into deep pessimism—is the sheer incompetence of the Trump White House. Trump apart, take the case of Stephen Bannon, who’s seen as some kind of evil genius, who has everything figured out, including the resistance to Trump, which is said to be but another pièce maîtresse in his grand strategy. GMAB! Bannon is a crackpot and a crank. Were it not for the fact that he does, for the moment, hold some institutional power, he would be viewed as a laughable joke. On this, see the post by the Brookings Institution’s Quinta Jurecic on the Lawfare blog, “Bannon in Washington: A report on the incompetence of evil.” And when you’ve read that, check out LA Weekly film critic April Wolfe on “The story behind Steve Bannon’s hilariously terrible movie about the horrors of climate science.” What a nutcase.

The upshot: there is no way a cabal of far right kooks, even ensconced in the White House, will cause the “system” to come crashing down or be able to impose their will. The American republic will survive them.

If one missed it, see the must-read interview with Garry Kasparov in Vox last week. Kasparov, who knows something about life in an authoritarian regime, has pertinent advice for resisting Trump. Entre autres, make him look like a loser and before his fan base. If that image takes hold in l’Amérique profonde, he’s toast.

À la prochaine.

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