Monday, October 29, 2018


The mid-terms next week are very important. They will give an indication of the sustainability of the Trump agenda. The outcome is still hard to predict because the campaigns do not follow the usual scenario of choice and concrete alternative.

The president has let loose a war machine against precedent and civility. As a result, this country is split in parts. Recent events and international discomfort continue to take the glamor out of America. The rampage in the Pittsburgh synagogue, the "bomb stuff" (quote from Trump) against prominent Democrats are a clear indication of an overall mental health crisis in this post-2016 United States. The advancing "caravan" in Mexico is like the chorus in a Sophocles play which carries the weight of everything that is unjust.  The immigration problem should be managed by way of a multilateral approach and legal, medical supportive measures. It needs an existential empathy rather than the repeat of Trump's preferred cage "solution" . 

The American order lies in agony. The administration's fracking boom is ruining the landscape. The battle against access to the ballot box is yet another takeover of the democratic process. The voters are psychologically tired and existentially disgusted. The danger is real that many might prefer to have nothing to do with this downfall, experienced by many as irreversible. The permanent attack against the media is slowly weakening the only pillar (almost) that withstands the onslaught.

Trump's base (the so-called frustrated white blue-collar males)  gets its daily witches brew from Fox News and the truth killer- in-chief. There are individual Democrats and former Republicans who are formidable, but an overall counter punch message is absent. Michael Avenatti (running in 2020 for the presidency?) said in non-ambiguous terms that only a slingshot might work against Trump.  A sledgehammer might be better...

It is to be hoped that this internal negative will not lead to miscalculation externally. In foreign affairs, Trump & Co. have nothing to brag about. Foes and allies are equally perplexed by this American nightmare which feels more like a spasm than a muscle. The parade of visiting favorite strong men and clowns in the White House goes on and the the Saudi "roadblock" will not deter Trump from continuing on his chosen path as long as it is paved with nefarious intentions.

If the Democrats take over the House, life for this administration will become difficult but Trump cannot be discounted. A win in the Senate would be close to miraculous but god is on holiday. If the president were able to keep a majority in both houses hell will break loose. He might change his cabinet anyway and get rid of the Mueller investigation. His primary instincts would bring up the "bouncer" in him, with all the unpleasant consequences here and there.

The Republican party should change its name. Was McCain the last Republican?  Even the reasonable ones--Senators Flake, Collins, Murkowski --bend and Romney, waiting in the corridor, is in hiding. The GOP is dead, long live the DOA (death on arrival), where the enablers come home to roost.


Tuesday, October 23, 2018


Trump is a god send for comedians.  Americans who can excel in political satire "laugh" while the clown-in-chief is in the White House. Humor can be a form of exorcism, a catharsis of sorts. It is also the ultimate illusion, that "laughing at" equals "getting rid of the cause". Comedians are polymaths who can address many issues--without solving any.  They are relief doctors. Their role is relevant, but oh so relative.

Too often the public that has a chuckle is under the illusion that a problem democratized by way of a shared smirk is a problem half-solved. The communal laughter becomes a placebo for a trauma cured.

In reality nothing is further from the truth. Larger issues were never solved or in the long-term alleviated by humor. Revolutions--also the welcome ones--are mostly serious if not painful. The great changes in history were not the result of wit.  They were pushed by dour men or catastrophic events. Beaumarchais might have hinted of looming corrections but they were enacted by often unpleasant characters . The American independence is supposed to have been the outcome of an enlightened Zeitgeist--as verbalized by Thomas Jefferson--but it was enacted upon by less lofty considerations and actors. And one could go on.

Often one hears that the American comedians have taken hold of the counter- narrative. As much as one should applaud their role one should also remain cognizant that the situations they lambast continue and amplify, unhindered. The real opposition must come from the ranks of institutions scorned or demonized, from the intelligentsia which is in de facto exile and from the motivation of voters. Comedy can help fight the fever but it cannot cure the illness. One should be aware of the perverse ambiguity of political humor.  In the end it can boomerang, normalizing the aberration and prolonging the lifespan of a disease it is supposed to cure. It ends up trivializing, by repeating over and over an argument which loses its pertinence because of fatigue. By the way, the same can be said of the opposite.

America needs a cognitive recovery. Comedians do help, but the answer is more complex than a sound bite or a bon mot. Besides, one might ask oneself if this "resistance" by way of humor remains pertinent, given that Trump's maniacal assaults spare nobody and nothing. Now that the LBGTQ community is under attack and that the "caravan" of refugees might encounter Trump's genocidal wrath, the culture war is getting harsher. The mid-term elections will only further polarize an America in a civil war by stealth.

Saturday, October 20, 2018


Most Europeans are repulsed by the behavior of this American president who acts more like a bouncer than as a statesman. The erratic is overtaking the rational. In less than one week, Trump overruled decency (yet again) in the Saudi "Ekaterinburg" nightmare, hit multilateralism in another bilateral trade blackmail with Japan, departed from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty without real NATO consultation, and let the gutter rule his vocabulary. Americans will have no better alternative than to run for opiates if the mid-term elections were not to bring some form of solace.

European disgust is hard to disguise but it cannot be allowed to divert from ominous developments closer to home. The populist tide is rising and tensions in hard-core EU--the Franco/German arc--are multiplying. The Brexit talks are stuck along the Irish border issue and the skills of the EU negotiator Michel Barnier cannot overcome the political impasse Theresa May finds herself in. As a consequence, the EU also looks stuck, all the more so in that Claude Juncker, president of the Commission, lacks both charisma and empathy. Another president--Margrethe Vestager?--, and a more aggressive Commission are urgently needed.

In the short term only Benelux, the Nordics, and Greece are able to stem the contrarian waves, but for how long? Anyway the Franco German engine must continue to lead, be it with a French accent. Unfortunately President Macron has more IQ than an inclusive touch. In Europe too, "Fake News" and alternative truths, multiplied by covert action (from Russia) and histrionics from Trump, rule the waves. Rightist pressure groups multiply and a toxic air starts to invade the corridors of power and the transparent ways of democratic debate. If there is no short term intervention, the Italian or Polish scenario may well proliferate. Nobody will miss Juncker (who?) but the repetition of the scenario of Churchill or de Gaulle's sendings off - for who or what under the present circumstances - would be disastrous. Also, Europe cannot let itself be lead on the anti-American path, which would accommodate the agenda of many. At present it has no other alternative than to consolidate its own profile, proximity, identity, and projection until the Trump/Pence "Strindberg couple" is demoted.

In the future the Atlantic "Commonwealth" of ideas, values and interests needs to be revisited. This can only be done between mature, informed, professional partners. The United States must address this current cultish take and the EU had better handle its internal Fourth French Republic-like problems and looks. A future waiting /cool off period is needed so that both sides can come to terms with the damage done. In America, the Trump/Cromwell coup will have longer term consequences before the governance can return to normal. Too much has been sabotaged or overtaken. The territorial gains of the extreme right will be difficult to fight. The memory of a country was given away to a pawn shop.

Europe has not come to terms with the absolute nihilism of Brexit, which is creating such a headache because it was the result of a hangover, not the qualitative algorithm for history books. The withdrawal is heart- and brain- breaking because the outcome is too bleak for all to imagine. There is no Shadenfreude in watching Theresa May veering from panic to denial. Besides, this will be a deal between two losers. The United Kingdom lost an empire. It need not lose its dignity. Europe without the UK will miss a debatable but certifiable expertise, more familiar with the world at large. Former Prime Minister David Cameron tried to play Faust but lost. One cannot fool the devil.

The near future might hold unpleasant surprises for a divided West and events will be closely monitored by mainly (but not exclusively) two onlookers--China and Russia--who see Trump stumbling and Europe repeating the usual soliloquy made by Donald Tusk, president of the European Council. Bad movies are hard to watch. Bad actors might hasten their unhappy end.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018


The case of the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi after he entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul is giving rise to shifting story lines which contradict each other by the minute. The gruesome speculations resembled a Stephen Sondheim "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" scenario. Now they start to look more like the perfect vehicle for an Eric Ambler "Dimitrios/Colonel Haki" crime story.

Of course, given the overlapping interests of Trump & Co. with Mohammed bin Salman, the White House tries to salvage this connection by every means conceivable, the last being the "rogue killers" fable. The attempt for cover-up is the more ludicrous after the Saudis repeatedly said that Kashoggi had left the Consulate safely.

Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State is in Riyadh, probably more concerned about billions of dollars of weapon sales to the Saudis, than to embarrass them. Turkey, which pretends to have graphic evidence, has not come clear regarding the sharing thereof.

The American president is always reluctant to criticize his "soul mates": Putin, Duterte, Erdogan, al Sisi, Mohammed bin Salman, and the new flirts in North Korea or Brazil.  His inclinations follow a temperament which is transactional and non-normative as well as an insecure nouveau riche psyche, with a Midas touch. These United States are all about short-term gains devoid of any philosophical consideration. Former larger alliances based on shared principles are experienced as cumbersome and costly. Trump chose likewise a cabinet of mostly saboteurs who are supposed to hasten the end of rules and policies which might stand in the way of the quick gain and buck. Climate, health care, environment, education, energy, culture, justice, housing, have been given over to professional political euthanasia proponents who slash, disinvest and kill.

It is doubtful that this latest episode will resonate with the electorate at large. Republicans have no appetite for the exotic or the far abroad. They will look at the Saudi's "Embarrassment of Riches" like some episode of Aladdin and forget all about it.  Congress might show some discontent but Republicans, being what they are will, as in the Kavanaugh episode, turn the page. Under Trump, nothing lasts but the decibels.

Saturday, October 6, 2018


Brett Kavanaugh is the new justice on the Supreme Court. Trump has let, yet again, another icon of the American system fall prey to his creepy agenda. Kavanaugh certainly has the intellectual and professional qualifications for one of the highest functions in the land, nobody disputes that. However, he lacks gravitas and character. Instead of filling a vacancy, he will further undermine one of the pillars of the American democracy. The former Alistair Cook epic saga regarding America is now definitively a thing of the past. True, he was an Englishman, hence an "immigrant", unfit for the current Zeitgeist.

Trump gambled and won,  turning the tables and altering the discourse, hijacking the topic and replacing it by an ersatz. His base followed suit, sacrificing truth for another cultural take-over. Women in general got a black eye, while Melania was sent to Africa (in Tintin/Indiana Jones gear) and Ivanka was under house arrest. 

In Trump-land the insubstantial rules. More seriously, this Supreme Court might have to deliberate on very existential issues at a time when the independence of the judges--both Democrats and Republicans--is in doubt. Presidents George W. Bush and Johnson tried to fill vacancies on the Court with some very dubious personalities. President Obama made sure that more liberal--albeit highly qualified--judges were considered. Here, a judge morphed into a partisan hack in real time.

Trump's strategy works in this American Gotterdammerung. The relentless war against "the other", in and outside, accelerates, with the support of alliances built on quick gains or partisan agendas.

Former groupings built on principle give way to moves rooted in whims. At the current pace the world might be a total different universe after six (?) more years of Trump. Part of America is in denial because of the positive economic data, but the country nevertheless often looks like some old radio found in the garbage bin. The numbers do not translate in new A.I., infrastructure, environment, salaries or health care. This structural gap between numbers and facts will bite some day, with a vengeance. The Trump base (the "white blue collar worker") will find out, too late, that coal sucks, that pollution kills, that a Neanderthal slogan only leads to the consolidation of alienation.

In theory it should not be difficult to predict the outcome of the mid-term elections in November. The Democrats should win and retake control of the House (if not of the Senate), but Trump is a good poker player and a formidable campaigner. His vocabulary might be limited, his facts false, but his arsenal of chosen taunts is deadly.  However it remains doubtful that many Republican women will rally around Kavanaugh's beer and puke performance, so wholeheartedly embraced by the cultural warrior-in-chief.

Democrats had better get back into attack mode and return to the only issue wherein they might have the upper-hand: the Russia connection. Republicans will resort to any trick and alternative to distract from an issue which is potentially deadly for Trump & Co. The major scandal of the nexus between a corrupt gang of too many and the shadow of Putin cannot be relegated to a second tier. The press will not allow this to happen, but the Democrats may yet again choose the wrong battle!