The Runoff

On yesterday’s elections: 1. the French have rejected both traditional parties in an election for the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic. And 2. the pollsters largely got it right, which is more than can be said for their British and American counterparts these last couple years.

While the next two weeks are potentially fraught, for the moment the idea of a functioning European project survives. But headlines like

“Macron to ‘blow Le Pen out of the water’ in final round of French election – Not even a terrorist attack could increase Front National’s chances, experts believe”

in this morning’s Independent are exactly what forces of moderation don’t want to see over the next two weeks. Because, as Der Spiegel explains,

“if only a fraction of those who believe that Macron’s victory is a given end up staying home on May 7, then Le Pen has a shot at becoming France’s next president. Because there is one certainty that has survived: Front National supporters will turn out in force.”

While the periphery frays (Brexit, the Turkish referendum), you can at least make an argument this morning that the core still believes in the European idea. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves with this ‘blow her out of the water’ kind of loose talk. Two delicate weeks lie ahead for an entirely untested would-be leader in a world full of surprises.

On Trump, and Where We Are Now

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It’s hard to see what’s out there.

We live in a most pregnant moment. Outside cosseted liberal circles (where I live), one may not become unpregnant. Change will come.

There is a Great Blue Rush to understand the white working class.

A hero of the moment is J D Vance, whose Hillbilly Elegy is all the rage just now. Having lived in Appalachia for fifteen years (the very buckle of the bible belt, we like to say), I caution against taking Mr. Vance too seriously. As soon as I picked up his book, it struck me as lacking in empathy for the people he describes.

Vance is mean. He castigates his kin and their fellows, and he ascribes their predicament to flaws in their own character.

In fact, the largest single cause of underperformance around here is that all of the jobs in this part of the world have left this part of the world. Until not long ago there was a garment factory near our home. Now there are none, save for chicken processing plants largely employing immigrant labor. High school kids can’t wait to graduate and get the hell out of here. Methamphetamine is the local plague.

Rather than Vance, to get yourself thinking I recommend on the left, Roy Greenslade’s Is liberalism really to blame for Britain’s (and America’s) ills? and on the right, Joan C Williams’s What so many people don’t get about the US working class. It is not impossible to understand that white working class men (this is Williams) “aren’t interested in working at McDonald’s for $15 per hour instead of $9.50.”

It’s honor. And dignity.

After the election I watched PBS pundits answer “guilty as charged” to dissing that dignity in using the shorthand “non-college educated voters.” I would add “fly over country” and, as Sherrod Brown pointed out, “rust belt” to the slurs that surely stuck in the collective craw of the Trump electorate.

So we are off on our period of Blue Guilt. In the rush of excitement to embrace globalization, Blue World has been called out. While those of us not left behind celebrate the hundreds of millions of people lifted from poverty – China, Bangladesh, Pakistan – we stand naked and guilty as charged of overlooking our own countrymen, our neighbors.

Does anyone listen to globalization’s poster boy, Tom Friedman, anymore? If so, why?

And yet: While we may be suffering from a patch of Blue Guilt, it is not emollient to embrace the entire suite of Red Resentments, particularly the unwelcome antagonism toward the very Latin American migrants who do the essential, grinding work of our country, and do it willingly, even gratefully.

Hand in unfortunate hand with the fear and resentment of that particular “other” elides the fear of Islam, because of its perceived threat of terror. Whatever your politics, it is hard to avoid that at least since the overthrow of Saddam, the United States has had a large(r than Trump’s) hand in the disruption of the Islamic neighborhood. We dodge responsibility, but we should not.

So many innocent shattered lives, in the name of humanity, deserve safe harbor. Up until now our decent and welcoming land, a land of immigrants, would have been expected to understand, and lend a hand.

Apparently no more, because now is the time of Trump.

It may be, as Mr. Greenslade suggests, that painstaking education (ever the tiresome, long term corrective, ever with the lefty whiff of condescension) is the long term answer. This election has shown that the body politic is no longer willing to wait.

In a revolution, you have to know who you can trust. Half the country trusts, half the country doesn’t, both ways.

In the tumult of lefty thought there is no guidance. Some want to close ranks, for the good of the country. Others demand that Trump fail, and fast. For the good of the country.

We know our country must heal. And we wait, on knife’s edge.

The New Populism

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The world has been waiting for Donald Trump since 9 November, 1989. It’s not often we can calculate the end of a political era to the exact day, but the breach of the Berlin Wall on that date set off a dénouement to the Cold War, a 776 day countdown to the final dissolution of the authoritarian model represented by the Soviet Union.

The ensuing interregnum had its own name, the Post Cold War period, highlighted but not defined by the 9/11 attacks. Its defining events were the Yugoslav wars, the GWOT and the continued strong dominance of neo-liberalism in the United States, which many believe led to the other defining event of the period, the 2008 financial crisis.

donald_trump_make_america_safe_again_sign_-_fred_shinn__terrie_frankel

During the Post Cold War period political scientists grew impatient for the world to get on with things, to get past this pause in history. Now the new era is well and truly here; out with the old, a half century’s balance of power between representative government and authoritarianism, in with the new populism.

Few get to watch an inchoate new era take form, and that is our great good fortune. I look forward to reading future writing about the underlying dynamics that set this unnamed new era in motion. It will earn its own name in due time, but whatever we call it, who on earth would have thought one of its founding fathers would be Donald Trump?

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Berlin Wall photo from EarthPhotos.com. Other photo from Wikimedia Commons.