Patriotism vs. nationalism – Why words matter


Dear Partners in thought,
While celebrating the end of WW1 in Paris among the longest list of heads of states, President Macron stressed a key note befitting the moment and our times. He stressed patriotism vs. nationalism making words matter as they should and giving the defenders of Western liberal values a crucial tool in the fight against the rise of populism. Words indeed matter. Patriotism is a positive and natural feeling reflecting the pride and love for one’s country’s history, culture and, yes, identity. Nationalism, especially in our times, while including some attributes of patriotism in the eyes of many of today’s nationalists and populists, also conveys feelings of isolationism, retranchement and xenophobia, all ingredients that do not bode well for any future and subtract rather than add to the “wealth of nations”.
Walter Russell Mead, the famed American historian just pointed out in the WSJ that patriotism was a Western European universal concept and that nationalism was a positive force at the end of WW1 in the creation of new countries in the midst of the falls of empires across Central & Eastern Europe. This is right and the Poles, Czechoslovaks and Lithuanians do remember. However it was 1918 and not 2018. Then nationalistic passions were necessary to reach a hard fought nationhood and had been much alive across the region as Alphonse Mucha’s beautiful Slav Epic shows us (on display in Prague’s City Hall until early 2019). Today nationalism is a force not for creating national communities but used very often for domestic political and electoral agendas and also bent on breaking the European project that has made European nations grow in peace and prosper, gradually together, as a community of partners since the 1950s. Nationalism today is also a phenomenon (some would also say a tool) much liked by certain countries that do not want to see Europe acting as a bloc while we live in an age of blocs while remaining patriots and proud of our own specific roots and history.
Macron struck the right tone, reminding us that words matter. He also gave a new and much revamped life to this old fashioned, often derided notion of patriotism.
We should all be patriots focused on the core values that made our nations if we are to succeed together and find a way to counter the easy rise of an ill-thought nationalism and its populist cousin.
Best regards,
Serge Desprat
PS: I think the dichotomy between patriotism vs. nationalism is also very apt for the “indispensable country” we all want to see back.


Serge Desprat- 14th November, 2018 (Prague)

The seven take aways from the midterms


Dear Partners in thought,

If I may I would suggest seven take aways for the recent midterms as follows:

1. Many Americans still support DT, definitely among GOP and conservative voters and thus vote GOP for reasons of their own very often not especially liking the man but supporting his policies and not usually seeing their impact on the world (and sadly onto the US and them)

2. DT and the GOP retain control of most red states but waver in some states which propelled DT to the White House. Not a good sign for DT

3. DT and the GOP are losing the affluent suburbs and gradually the women’s vote nation-wide. Not a good sign for DT

4. The GOP only kept control of and increased their seats in the Senate because of the particular seats on offer (the one third of the Senate to be renewed) these midterms. Bad timing if there was ever one

5. Although the Dems scored a major House victory that was not a foregone conclusion together with seizing a few Governorships, theirs was weakened by “symbolic” defeats especially with the short one in Florida (Governorship) but also in Texas (even if O’Rourke did far better than ever expected, all the more as it seemed he could win early on as votes were counted, creating a hope that was that night, quite late, shattered) and the (still?) unsettled status of the top Georgia race (Governorship)    

6. The DT press conference yesterday, putting aside any peculiar style, was Orwellian in nature where “defeat” was simply “victory” in what is becoming a gradually accepted norm

7. While DT is actually heavily weakened on a nationwide basis (excellent side analysis of Harvard Law’s Laurence Tribe today), a sure way for him is to benefit from a radicalised Democratic Party and House that would focus on investigations and impeachment proceedings over the next two years which may likely bring the political process to a standstill, allowing DT to do more finger pointing come 2020. And potentially win.

I know I am partial but I encourage you to read the excellent analysis of Ed Luce and his Insights in the FT on what is happening and may happen in American politics and after the midterms. Great insights and style indeed.

Warmest regards,


Serge Desprat- 8th November, 2018 (Prague)

What is wrong with Trump – The definitive list


Dear Partners in thought,

Having been born and raised in Paris in the land of Descartes, I like to think things always came naturally with some degree of clarity and logics to me (I hear some laughs), even if I was likely delusional and some of my countrymen arguably could not spell the philosophers’ name at various points of our history. As such, I thought it would be good to draw up a clear and Cartesian list of what most “men and women of good will” would object with DT as President of what is still and not fully yet was the leader of the free world. Strangely enough, while we are subjected daily to a deluge of DT news, usually worrying, I found very little by way of a summary that would show a full picture of why DT does not work for America and the world. Here is an attempt at a list that would have the merits of simplicity and clarity.

There are obviously two main “issue” areas to look for: personal and professional but as the two are rather intertwined in that type of role you will forgive me for doing just one list that will include both.

In order to be fair, I think it is good to state DT’s positive features (or perceived as such), that are very key to his core electoral base:

  • He is very clear, using simple, common, language and as such his voters and supporters understand him, probably better than they would the usual politicians. Even if what DT mainly wants is to be heard so he can please rather than to convey anything that is meaningful for America or the world, this preferably to ensure that his voters will keep backing him. He has the means without the ends.
  • He does what he says he will, this being the most crucial test of being a great politician for his base and which he passes with flying colours. The contents and outcomes of policies come second and those are not very well understood in any case. However a man who does what he says he would is a true leader for many and is a political rarity which is invaluable to most.
  •  He showed he won against all odds, this being a pet theme of the “left outs” be they in the Rust Belt or passed for promotion time and time again on Wall Street or in Big Tech. “Losers”, some very good but unlucky people, some squarely undeserving of success, unite behind Trump as he gives them free and easy hope. DT is proof that when “one wants, one can”, all the more slaughtering on the way the obviously rigged system. And if he has done it once, he will do it again, also showing the world his mettle.
  • He is actually lucky. The U.S. economy is showing strong developments, especially on the job fronts and DT can boast that he is responsible even if those developments are global and the result, for a good part, of pre-Trump policy decisions. Luck indeed favours the audacious and he has plenty of that blended with some good NY chutzpah.
  • He has a great hairdo. OK I wanted to make sure you were reading.

To be fair I am now at a loss to find other key redeeming features, hoping I do not fall into any partisan mindset (a hard one for sure considering the subject at hand…)

Looking at the negatives, the list sadly is a bit longer and heavier in substance: 

  • No role model.Stormy Daniels, the Playmate of the Month, the bus tape – just for illustration – all speak for themselves in terms of image as an individual. Respectable father and husband is arguably a bridge too far. Father of the nation he cannot be. He promotes no admirable values to the younger generations. He is a destroyer of Western and any values. He is the chief reducer of America’s standing in the world. He is transforming America into a continental island with limits aplenty. Nobody wants to be Trump. He is a killer of the American Dream. And fewer and fewer want to become American or even study there as leading graduate school enrolment shows since the 2016 election.
  • Leadership no more.
  • The opposite of a leader, he attacks allies and cajole enemies, destroying the system set up by America for America and the Western world as we know it. Who needs enemies when you have friends like DT? While international trade ensured countries did not make war, tearing it down and ultimately hurting Americans, has become great (in a short term MAGA kind of way, though wear the cap) as many of his voters like those war cries as if it were a soccer game where their team was “back” at long last. Instant gratification matters, forget about the rising tax cut-driven budget deficit that is too far down the road and we won’t pay for.
  • Putin forever. Time and time again, DT has professed admiration for the Russian leader, going out of his way to promote Russia, lastly at the G7 in Canada in forgetting Crimea, eastern Ukraine and the recent developments involving the resurgent Western foe. He is, unwittingly or not, the “useful idiot” (expression of another time, Soviet that one) aggressively helping Putin’s Russia to the surprise of his baffled but otherwise compliant party leadership too many of whom sold their soul for reelection. While one may understand why keeping a line with Russia has merits, DT’s over-the-top Russian drive is giving strange credence to the Manchurian candidate scenario and the existence of some file crafty people at Dzerzjinsky Square may have on him post-Moscow Universe pageant 2013. And it is hard to blame Russia not to enjoy the benefits of a friend in high Western places.
  • Poor language on steroids. As Timothy Snyder would agree, he is naturally aggressive very fast, using a style of language that demeans the political discourse and makes it gradually more acceptable societally. The latest post-G7 Tweets are clear examples. He casually abhors facts and actually makes them up, preferably using Twitter that allows for outbursts but not structured thought. What matters is not the message but his base as if the end was to feed them a daily dose of reassuring Trumpism in the appropriate and direct tongue and style, that does away with café society ways and shows that he is still manning the parapet for all of them at all time.
  • Incompetence as badge of honour.He does not know much about anything, which stresses he is no “expert” – very bad word in populist land and times – stressing his experience in real estate as his magic tool box as in “The Art of the Deal”. He does not listen much to advisers who by and large are (those who remain) not first rate (Yes, Larry Kudlow, his Chief Economist Adviser, whom we wish a prompt recovery, does not have any economics degree nor any graduate one and please do read his partner, hell raiser Peter Navarro, if you can and enjoy fiction). It would be fun to actually review DT’s grades and cursus at Wharton (also junior/senior college years and not an MBA by the way), if there were any traces left of his stay there, but then that check would be too elitist while emphasising the benefits of education and why it matters.
  • Erraticism as tested tactics He says one thing and changes his mind, to come later to his previous stance. It is a way of negotiating. He also displays uncertainty so the other side does not know where they stand, foes and friends alike. Being an ally has little value as it depends on which matter while being a rival, even a foe, gives better status and strangely consideration (maybe with the exception of Iran, the only true Evil Empire in DT’s world, which by the way is hard to reconcile with his Russian propensities but I am probably and unfairly thinking too much here).
  • Institutions matter sometimes.DT shows his little understanding of the institutional process and tolerate it only when it serves its purposes, flying hot and cold, depending on the week with the Mueller investigation, now promoting its lack of relevance and validity mainly for his core base, then ensuring that sacking he will not, but forgiving himself he could do technically, not caring about the impact on America and the world.
  • Actual results don’t matter. A really good result is when a document is signed with Kim whatever the contents and whether it is clear or not as long as it shows they talked and agreed on broad and noble goals. This Singapore outcome exemplifies what matters to DT: action more than substance, especially when well-timed after a less than positive G7, which was almost crafted that way for the likely benefit of Kim and ensuring he would not be another Justin Kim. Even if Kim gets a great deal with exposure and recognition (NK is no longer crazy) and concessions (no war games) for actually…what? The list of pet projects with no results that come up and down with the news is actually not small. Think the Wall or NAFTA. When we see results they usually are negative for all parties like the trade wars and the establishment of tariffs.
  • Unhinged and counter-productive ego. His outsized ego gives DT his drive – and some like that – while landing him into an appreciation of domestic and international developments in which he takes part mostly tainted by his role in having shaping them. The oddity for a President, who presumably would have little to prove, is that he has no problem stressing that he shapes events, something again more important than their substance or outcome. To be topical, think the Nobel Peace Prize he shouted he should get well ahead of any Kim meeting or listening to DT post Singapore Summit that Kim told him that he was the only President who could have made their summit a success. Again (his) form over substance is what matters.

It’s so good to review those points and, let’s admit it, frankly therapeutic. The list, though it claims to be definitive, may not be complete even if a good attempt at capturing the full picture. I have also tried to be fair and am aware that I can only come across as hard on DT. There must be a reason would surely say…Descartes.

Warmest regards, 


Serge Desprat- 31st July, 2018 (Prague)


Why the EU matters


Dear Partners in thought,

While I was much looking for a friendly Waterloo rematch and regardless of who wins the World Cup on Sunday, we know two things. The World Cup winners are Russia which did a great organisation of the event and also surprised on the field. And the other big winner is…the EU, with the four last teams standing being member states, still including England, if not the UK.

Thinking about this, I wanted to address a very sensitive matter in some quarters of Europe and of course Britain…”Why the EU matters”.

Having gone to bed listening to the early Gibraltar results, I woke up in disbelief at the news that Britain had voted at 52% to leave the EU back in late June 2016, more than two “long” and “painful” (for my British friends) years ago. It was hard to comprehend why a majority of otherwise very sensible British people went into the bloodiest self-inflicted wound in British history, at least from my European vantage point.

One could see that facts were scarce during the campaign (on both sides, though the additional GBP 350m a week to the National Health Service got the Oscar) and emotions ran high, with immigration and globalisation being key at the time, also due, for the former, to the shock of the great migration crisis and the erstwhile open door policy of Germany that looked for demographic solutions, also driven by the inner generosity of its leader. Without going back into details, it is fair to say that populism, with its easy answers to complex issues, as well as a return to a glorious, elusive and never directly experienced Victorian past (forgetting the electricity shortages of the 1970s) and part of the elite, notably on the elder well-off and slightly disconnected Tory side going for the imperial way, played major roles in the outcome. For the Remainers, the main question was: How can we best prosper economically as a nation?” while for the Leavers it was: “Who should govern us?”, making for a rather arduous, cross-purpose, conversation. After two years of facts sinking in and a debilitating Brexit process, I now hear from a few hard core Leave supporters that “it does not matter if we are a smaller country if we are sovereign in the end”, the feeling being driven by the leading and essential feeling that Britain somehow had lost its sovereignty to Brussels while the Brussels leadership “could not run a pub”. The fact is that Britain will suffer economically, with many Leave voters on the Labour side, in more economically desolate locations (in part of North England and Wales), will be prime victims, similarly to the core heartland Trump base will if trade wars go on. It is hard to imagine that a country is stronger or simply more viable while poorer. I feel personally very close to Britain, all the more given her stand alone sacrifice during WWII but also the very useful attachment to free markets and capitalism which Europe – and indeed the EU – always benefited from all the years when they were a member state. I would like to dream of ways whereby we could get it back, also for her sake as I deeply care for her.

Having voted No to the Maastricht treaty in 1992, still enamoured of dreams of national glory and basking in a strong Gaullist family past, I can only understand the drive of those who want to be, in their own minds, “who we truly are”. Identity is key and main trigger topics like immigration need to be carefully handled, not because voters are racist, but due to a common heritage that has made nations. However this need to be reconciled with daily historical, social and business reality. The EU is far from being perfect though should be reformed and not discarded to be replaced by one-on-one relations between states. The EU and its predecessors were set up for one main reason that people forget: Peace in Europe. My generation has grown without war on the continent (except in its outskirts like in the Balkans at a vivid transition time), something that should be remembered and is actually not the norm for all past generations. In times of the supremacy of mega-states, like the U.S., China or India and the emergence, albeit slow, of the African continent, Europe can only be strong as a bloc of nations, which its leading global trading status has shown (and even if common defense should be much strengthened, all the more given recent NATO developments). These two facts, added to all the smaller reasons we know, especially in the area of the economy and business (which the British discover daily with the dreadful negotiations process) are simply key. We tend to focus on lofty ideals while forgetting the “essential”, like with the tree and the forest. We can only be strong together, which does not mean a loss of national identity or a Federation even if all forms of togetherness can be reviewed among partners. We also need to explain the EU far better to the people forming it, even those who have greatly benefited from it (Think Poland and other Central European states). We need to take into account real issues like the immigration flood in Italy and not give lessons when we are not at the frontline. But we need to work together and keep peace and prosperity on our continent, putting the sirens of populism at bay through education and communication, avoiding all the suffering and costs of a divorce that can only be messy at all levels and particularly at the human one.

It is clear that there has been a majority in Britain for about nine months that no longer wants to leave, even if the famous “will of the people” may still conceptually prevail and keeps propelling the national ride to hell. It would be useful for the British to vote again, as democracy also means the possibility of changing one’s mind or for Parliament to get involved as it should have more freely in the past two years, if only to vote on the terms of any Brexit, the latter which we all know will be in name only, simply as Reason will prevail. I also believe that the EU should welcome back Britain with open arms and not penalise it for the last two years and wasted time as a clear show of restored unity and focus on the future.

Happy Bastille Day to all!

Warmest regards,


Serge Desprat – 14th July, 2018 (Boston)

Trump and Macron – A quick comparative review


Dear Partners in thought,

Having amply covered DT, directly and indirectly, and just focused on EM, I thought it was fun to see what brings them together and obviously separates them in terms of form, substance and approach both as man and State leader. Having a foot in both countries (and a third one in Central Europe, so still distant if only geographically) I thought I could try doing this quick review for your benefits. 

DT and EM look more alike than one would think even if they do not stand for the same values and world ideals.

On where they are today
They are both “improbables”. Both won presidential elections nobody thought they could. They initially had no party nor electoral base (even if DT had more time to build it given the longer primary process).

On their impact on the political landscape
They both transformed their own political landscape, EM by totally redefining it, DT in changing the ethos of the Republican Party that became the Trump Party.

On their social origins  
Both share a privileged background in their countries, EM the son of an upper middle class family, DT the son of a successful real estate developer. If anything DT is more the son of his father than EM is, while the latter is definitely a product of the French meritocratic system, enhanced by privileged childhood.   

On their personality 
They greatly differ. DT’s personal life, involving three marriages, is riddled with extra-marital affairs and a loutish behaviour. EM was married once to his former teacher, 22 years his junior, not known for any affairs and well known for a total respect of women, the latter that drove his drive for gender parity in government and parliament. EM and DT could not be more different in terms of persona.  

On their style
They greatly differ. DT speaks mostly about anything for its core base, to cement support and reassure, with little primary regard for actual facts. EM does not communicate much and could explain his policies more, which has been an issue lately though, when he does, focuses on policies that are aimed at reform rather than his political base. 

On their view of the world
They greatly differ. DT is a Palmerstonian where one has no permanent friends and only permanent interests, thus projecting a nationalistic policy that no living American can remember. EM is a defender of the Western world and values, believing in Truman’s NSC 68-based order where alliances do matter to ensure a stable world.  

What if we dreamed a bit? 
Give his profile and values, EM would be a great American President, which would benefit the U.S. and the world would love.  

Warmest regards,



Serge Desprat- July 7th, 2018 (Prague)

Why bookstores matter


Dear Partners in thought,
I wanted to make a point that is linked to the defence of our values today. Whilst we all love books as they convey our precious thoughts, make us escape and reflect, giving us as André Malraux, another annoying Frenchman (and a smuggler in his youth), called a sense of immortality, books for me are also intrinsically linked to bookstores. Bookstores are the receptacles of those wonderful media, amazing places, organised or not, at times shambolic, that have made us meander and, yes, browse, while looking for and discover that book that was eluding us. Bookstores have also made our cities, villages, neighbourhoods  and communities. Manhattan to me would be different if I could not lose myself in the alleys of Barnes & Nobles on Fifth and 45th. Bookstores, like our values, are also who we are. Whilst technological progress cannot and should not be fought, the sheer pleasure of ordering books on Amazon is not there, even if efficiency is clearly met. In addition, Amazon does not give us that thrill of browsing and discovery, just telling us to buy what we have already read and thus limiting our horizons. However the thought that my search for efficiency would drive to breaking up a key element of society and life that are bookstores is not acceptable. Bookstores are disappearing as they, like most retailers but a few, just cannot compete, which as a free market man I can understand. Having said that there is a duty and even more so a real pleasure in ensuring bookstores stay around so we also keep that element of humanity that is embedded in our values and who we are. It is up to each of us to build society as we see for ourselves based on our values.
Please, buy on Amazon (or Alibaba) but keep going to your bookstores. Go to Barnes. Go to Waterstones. Go to Luxor. Buy books. Touch them. Be human. Be who we are.
Warmest regards,

Serge Desprat- June 10, 2018 (Prague)