Monday, December 30, 2019


Year's end leads to the usual cortege of banalities and predictions.  2019 is already buried under the usual prayers and thoughts. Some risk a form of intellectual steeple chase about the deeper meaning of the past months. It would make more sense to recognize that a page was turned. 

Some are tempted to blame Trump for the bonfire which engulfs the world. This is giving to much credit to an individual who is the anti- intellectual per se. His impulses are not unique, they just receive more attention since what happens in America is magnified and ends up affecting the world at large. There is a new brand of leaders who share his approach but do not receive the "credit". This new Internationale shares the same diffuse paranoia of "one against the rest."  Modi's policies might look different but they obey to the same impulses of Trump's ghostwriters (the two Steves--Bannon and Miller). The same goes for Italy's Matteo Salvini. Boris Johnson is more ambiguous and actually more sophisticated than the sum of his histrionics.

Basically, we have entered the age of a-morality. There is no longer a pole star which presides, repairs, attracts or frightens. Nowadays anything goes as long as the stock market grows. It is becoming out of fashion to question the meaning of the ruling economical choice, wherein few benefit while the majority is stuck in stagnation. Everything now is based on "feeling good" on the back of reality. All is linked to a rush and a high with zero connection to measurable progress.

North Korea became a feel-good country, since it provided Trump with a "decor."  Merkel's Germany doesn't pass the feel-good test, since the Chancellor refuses to play the dupe. Macron tried at first to enter in the charade of Beauty and the Beast, but gave up when he smelled the coffee.

Next year will be the age of the rat.  How appropriate. This other new age ahead of us will be strife with petty but important battles between selfish interest rather than ideology. It is all about tariffs, Huawei's 5G offerings or Putin's charm offensives by way of oil. Nobody talks that much about human rights anymore. After all, Trump indulges in karaoke with the boss of Manila.

Europe's claim to moral leadership had better get ready for a hard-landing after Poland and Hungary reset the democratic clock into reverse. China is implementing its own version of the Monroe Doctrine in the South China Sea and is projecting more booby-trapped soft-power by the day. Mentioning the treatment of the Uighurs in Xinjiang is considered almost gauche when compared to the "benefits" of China's Belt Road initiative. The alternative to every fact wins. Kellyanne Conway is the ringleader of this fake spectacle.

The world has entered a new Ice Age wherein leaders take heart in each other's compliments. They feel good among look- alikes and act-alikes. This new era is "over-personalized." It might not outlive its leaders. They will fail because sooner or later they will be found out. The proof will be in the pudding they fabricate. The customer will be repelled both by this deception and inversion of expectations.  Even the confetti will feel like acid rain.  Bonne annee!

Tuesday, December 24, 2019


Some thought that the Kulturkampf was a thing of the past. Too many happenings everywhere show for all who want to see that this optimistic allegation is false. It is not just the Western world which feels trapped in a self-made permanent settling of scores. The former "exotic" utopia, far from Cartesian thought, of the likes of Walter Spies, Gustave Flaubert, Paul Gauguin, Lawrence of Arabia or Victor Segalen, look almost out of place now.  Edward Said saw it coming!

One is too self-absorbed to pay attention to the aberrations that are currently sending Aladdin crashing. The exoticism, which allowed the West to idealize for a while the "otherness", is no longer.  Today, Jerome's "the snake charmer" might as well carry a Kalashnikov. The cultural landscape of yesterday's far abroad has become a battlefield wherein dreams meet their Waterloo.

The language of culture got lost in the chaos of mistaken identification. The travel culture became just another fast food phenomenon. The female explorers (Gertrude Bell, Hester Stanhope) of yesterday's  wonders do not stand a chance today. Now, Christiane Amanpour needs body-guards... 

The "exotic" was often a colonial byproduct and was corrected later on: "decolonized". Still, the old pathetic fantasy looks quaint when compared with the turmoil which is currently setting the world on the path of deconstruction.

In Western Europe the vicious short-circuits are generally hidden from view, compared to i.a. the United States, Brazil and the former Mittel EuropaNevertheless, the fracture in society is real. The ultra-right no longer hides a racist, bigoted agenda. Accepted norms and values are under attack. The railings are being dismantled while civil society is being assaulted through a strategy of occupation of all the intermediary stops (justice, health care...) which were supposed to protect civil liberties.

Both the suicidal choices in the West and the illusion of Arab and other "springs" led to the post hurricane landscape of today. With the exception of some pockets of change for the better, the former Bandung group is no longer. Europe and the Western Hemisphere (with the exception of Canada) can hardly maintain the past success story of the late-20th Century. Today Russia and China upstart their "revenge", while the West blinks and most of the rest sinks.

Mythologies became a fake currency that buys time and only delays bankruptcy. Benign exoticism was replaced by politically more correct diversity. Yesterday's pearl fishers of Massenet muted into today's guerrillas. The former idealization of Castro and Mandela looks almost out of place in a world, orphaned of idealism.

One can still be mesmerized by Angkor Vat ...after surviving the assault of cars, traffic and hotels for all tastes. One can still be impressed by New York's hauteur or Paris' elegance if one can abstract the homeless or the yellow jackets. Still, the French and the Canadians have leaders one might envy. The EU could still regain momentum.

Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations is all too right. The Balkanisation of the world is an agreed conclusion because of the collision between cultural tectonic plates. More attention should be given to the cracks which appear inside the various factions that are no longer monolithic. In tragedy yesterday, parents have devoured their children.  In life today, the terrorist is no longer the frightening, forbidden often foreign or alien recognizable other. He is the neighbor next door, the white supremacist who shops at Walmart and is a climate change denier.

After the decolonization fiasco, the second Iraq war laid bare the cynicism and corruption of an arrogant super power which is no longer able or willing to assume its historical responsibility. Around the widening black hole, spectators watch how towers collapse and how everything turns into rags. They don't realize that they might be the next in line.

Saturday, December 14, 2019


Boris Johnson scored a great victory in the United Kingdom. Labour lost, deservedly. This Conservative wave should not hide the reality of the permanence of the many unsolved problems which besiege the UK. The Brexit issue remains a Gordian knot and the country's divisions stand in stark contrast with the P.M.'s wishful "hit and run" strategy.

Voters everywhere are exasperated. They seem anxious to turn the repetitive pages they are served. They vote more out of "lassitude", to get over it, than out of conviction. They just want a bad dream to go away.  Johnson, Trump, Orban, Netanjahu, i.a. share a common denominator. They are farceurs, matinee idols with a measured lifespan.

Public opinion is as unreliable as the competing political  programs in play. Mood swings are molded by innuendos and social media. Hence the rise of the comedian, the jester, the consultant of appearances. The political map no longer belongs to the statesman/woman, if he or she forgoes the thrill of the cheap shot or the demagogy of the jab. Johnson, who is a product of the elite schools and the establishment, did not hesitate to play I Love Lucy slapstick, which he handled with brio. The Trump guidebook to hearts and minds (of some) can make all the difference. Truth has been sent to the emergency room.

The coherence of message from former days will have to wait for a "come back". Even the impeachment debate in Congress falls victim to the tactics of the Republicans who resort to any form of derision and trivialization to deflect, deny or come up with a headline for Fox prime time. This reductive tactic works. It pushes the voter to forgo reality for ersatz, to abdicate intellectual or moral conviction ... Je vote donc j'oublie. Primal and tribal instincts beat choice. He or she who addresses the gut, wins.

This ruling disenchantment is dangerous since it has become an equalizer between opposite poles and ends up favoring rush over rationality. Between conviction and its alternative, the former wins as long as the story provides some form of euphoria for the masses.  From the rallies in the 1930's in Germany to the Trump meetings now, the technique doesn't change.

Trump descending his gilded escalator in his tower did not waste time, breaking all the rules of civility, letting the rot corrupt the political discourse. The gold was just mold, painted over.  He spoke about "American carnage" in his inaugural.  He implements it with relish.

Roland Barthes writes somewhere: "Tout d'un coup, il m'est devenu indifferent de ne pas etre moderne "...the message is clear.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019


Oswald Spengler's Der Untergang des Abendlandes should be the right best-seller fitting Europe's gloom. The Americans for their part are retrieving Mister Rogers from their former innocent TV days, when kids went to school, dads to work and housewives did their hair. Tom Hanks wears the iconic zip-up sweater with brio.  To each his own. Europeans look for metaphysics to dress up their losses. Americans go back to some form of kitchen-cookie tales to still their panic. 

There the Brexit advances but there is no Siegfried in sight. Here the anticipation of four more years of Trump is creating a type of Angst that is out of Mr. Rogers' hands.

Indeed, the West as a whole watches the train of progress and harmony pass by. Chris Patten wrote that the Americans and British were cousins and strangers. Yesterday's British might as well forget the latter and retain the former. As much as Brexit deepened the English Channel, it also enlarged the span of the Atlantic. A bilateral trade deal with the US will be a band-aid, nothing else.

Europe compensates its irrelevance by some form of sexiness. Unfortunately it is becoming hard to rediscover allure or magic when the cruise ships invade St. Marks Place or The Game of Thrones junkies take over Dubrovnik. The same goes for America. Broadway, the former toast of creativity, is overrun by the cabbies of Andrew Lloyd Weber Cats. The hordes wearing MAGA and other caps have replaced the sophisticated theater-goers of better days. This is not an attack against democracy. It is a reaction against capitalism cheating, selling cat food for delicatessen and fooling the common man.

In France, President Macron does not try to cheat or to fool. He might be defeated in the end. In America the Trump/Barnum machine is successfully distracting observation by a variety of tricks which camouflage the dismantling of democracy inside and the murky deals outside. The way this White House & Co. deal with impeachment is brillant by the way, right out of a Bertolt Brecht playbook. 

It looks as if two great women might be at the helm in the EU and the US.  Ursula von der Leyen awaits a formidable  challenge. Nancy Pelosi should be the "Person of the Year" in American politics. The country relies on her. Without her , the Democrats would just be a pathetic flock. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2019


The NATO meeting looks like some other Gunpowder plot with Trump in the role of Guy Fawkes. It makes Hitler's Munich moment look almost benign. It would be interesting to guess what the ugly American might have said to Prince Charles. After all, he has good tips regarding Jeffrey Epstein.

More seriously, this London "happy birthday party" is a disaster. It is especially a bad omen if this American season in hell might be prolonged by four more years of outrage and dismemberment. The spat between Presidents Trump and Macron has laid bare fundamental political differences, which can always be expected--be it in a minor tone--but it also revealed mutual loathing.

Yesterday's alliance is no longer.  If re-elected, Trump might well choose to leave it. The man is totally devoid of moral and philosophical fibre. As others before him dealt with ideas, he sits deep in the mortar of his cheap construction empire, indulging in his nouveau riche illusions of grandeur.

Unfortunately, the acceleration of the Western sunset benefits only Putin. The mystery of his hold over Trump remains unanswered. While the Russian is a sophisticated observer of the cyclones which affect balance of power and history, the American is a clueless psychopath. Hence his inability to strike a "normal" conversation which might navigate abstraction or ideas.  He needs triggers in order to engage. They are not hard to find for the ones who seek a quick response to their calculated and calibrated indulgence. 

European traditional partners are used to the former level  playing field and are not tempted to lower the mutually agreed standards of yesterday. The second Iraq war continues to be an existential and strategic mistake which is hard to forgive. The current piling up of transgressions and affronts only reopens old wounds and prejudices. Unfortunately this is not a Jane Austin novel.  There is nowhere in these United States a Darcy to be seen.  Accordingly, it will only get worse.

Trump and Putin might as well have their little Yalta. After all, the United Kingdom chose the role of an island over the responsibility of a player. On the continent President Macron might feel that intelligence can be a solitary hazard. I hope that the ones who fear the "four more years" prediction might be proven wrong, but the prevailing American Zeitgeist is one wherein short-term parochial egoism trumps every other uplifting ambition.

The new pharaonic NATO building in Brussels might as well consider the EU as its next tenant,  in case.   Keep it in mind.

Monday, December 2, 2019


L'OTAN fete ses 70 ans. L'alliance, articulee autour d'un concept de solidarite devient de jour en jour plus affaire de transaction. Du concept a l'origine il reste peu. Trump a vide l'alliance de toute consideration philosophique ou morale. Il la remplace par un autre quid pro quo (dont il a le secret) ,base sur un troc securite contre contribution financiere. Le burden sharing a toujours fait l'objet de discusions au sein de l'alliance, mais il n'a jamais ete utilise comme moyen de pression / chantage, comme cela est devenu le cas aujourd'hui. Le president Macron a accuse l'alliance de s'etre egaree dans un etat comateux. Il n'a pas tort, mais les alternatives font defaut. 

L'Europe n'a pas la volonte politique de se doter d'une dimension militaire credible. Ses ambitions n'emeuvent personne. Il faudra encaisser d'autres mavaises humeurs du president americain ne fut ce que pour tranquiliser les etats Baltes trop proches de la "zone d'influence" russe. 

Ce sommet risque de n'etre qu'un  marche deguise ou l'autant sera plus important que l'OTAN.