John Lanchester from his new book, The Wall:
“I fell for a moment into a reverie, a kind of guided dream, in which I imagined baby members of the elite being born from chrysalises, already wearing their shiny suits, their ties pre-knotted, their first clichés already on their lips, being wiped down of cocoon matter and pushed toward a podium, ready to make their first big speech, spout their first platitude, lose their virginity at lying. They’d be made to do that before they were given any food or drink or comfort, just to make sure it was the thingthey knew first and best, the think that came most naturally.”
My due diligence for a trip to southeast Asia has taken me down an obscure path. Exploring French efforts to regain their Indochinese colony after WWII has led me to Theodore White’s Fire in the Ashes: Europe in Mid Century. Teddy White went on to write the Making of the President series of books starting with the 1960 Kennedy election, books that made his career.
He started his book with a lengthy description of intercontinental air travel because then, few people had had that experience. He wrote, “in our years almost as many men cross the great ocean by wings as travel it by boat,” revealing not only a no longer acceptable sexism (“men” cross the ocean) but also that when the book came out in 1953, more people still traveled across the Atlantic by ship.
But the quote I mean to highlight comes a few pages later:
“It is obvious that new leadership in both America and Russia is now wrenching the whole course of world affairs into new patterns and perspectives. What is less obvious is that in this wrenching process Europe, forgotten through the postwar years as a factor in power, must contribute as greatly as either of the two new titans.”
The Americans have urged the Europeans to take more responsibility for their own defense for as long as I’ve been grown up. Here is an exhortation to Europe to rise up and carry its weight in world affairs that is sixty-six years old.
There is a debate this afternoon about whether the president’s speech tonight should be aired by the broadcast networks (the cable channels will carry it). I believe there is a more important topic for discussion. If the president uses the speech tonight to declare a state of emergency, go and immediately read this.
Want to share what I think is an insightful article on the current state of politics in Poland in The American Interest. It’s by Gazeta Wyborcza columnist Katarzyna Wężyk. Read it here.
Here are some quotes:
Polish “Neo-authoritarianism … accepts democratic elections. But … only as a way to give the majority a mandate to govern unencumbered by minority rights.”
“We ‘normal’ people have to stick together, the pitch goes, form an impenetrable front against dangerous outside forces, and not let our unity be eroded by pity for the undeserving.”
“Polish neo-authoritarianism is … based on shared hostility toward the elites and the weak—women, refugees, those with ‘pathology’ (that is, the poorest, people with alcohol or drug problems, broken families)—and bound by the sense that “normal” people have a right to dominate these groups.
The figure of a refugee— the ultimate Other, so different as to be barely recognizable as human and thus dangerous—was significant in ensuring a PiS (Law and Justice Party) victory. (PiS leader Jarosław) Kaczyński warned during the campaign that migrants carry ‘all sorts of parasites and protozoa, which, while not dangerous in the organisms of these people, could be dangerous here.’”
“Law and Justice gave its supporters … a kind of empowerment, albeit an empowerment that comes from the ability to humiliate, belittle, and bully others, and then to feel justified in so doing. It offers a surface narrative of regaining dignity, acquiring national pride, and restoring justice; but its underside exudes darker undertones of punishment, exclusion, and contempt.”
Warsaw, Poland and the Vistula River
when we talk about the loss of decorum around the presidency.
The Three Baltic States
Le Monde reported last week (here’s an English report) that when Baltic leaders Dalia Grybauskaitė of Lithuania, Kersti Kaljulaid of Estonia and Raimonds Vējonis of Latvia met at the White House with Donald Trump on April 3rd of this year, the president chastised the leaders “for starting wars in the 1990s that lead to the break-up of Yugoslavia.”
It’s not unreasonable for lay people to confuse the Baltics and Balkans. Both regions are made up of small countries at the periphery of Europe. But one might hope that the American president had been briefed (forget about his reading on his own) a little more closely. Especially since one of his potential briefers, his wife, was born in Yugoslavia.
Maps from Wikimedia Commons.
A great graphic from Bloomberg (click the graphic for a larger view and the article) showing the intractable, uncoalitionable mess in the Swedish parliament, as another try at coalition building failed today. The country has had a caretaker government since September elections. Here’s what happened today.
More Sweden photos here at EarthPhotos.com.