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Understanding the “rationale” behind Donald Trump’s unusual refusal to concede

16-11-20

Dear Partners in thought,

Now that Georgia was finally won by Joe Biden (making the two January Senatorial run-off races in the state all the more exciting) and Donald Trump winning North Carolina as expected, the race should be over. 306 delegates for Biden against 232 for Trump and a 5.5 million popular vote gap between the two. It seems like a closed case even if the President has not conceded, alleging voter fraud in a few states while his groundless legal challenges are dismissed by the courts one after the other. Even if there had been a few rare cases of fraud, the result could never change in a million years, a point that many Republican officials and pundits now make, even publicly like Karl Rove, the election strategist for George W. Bush. State certification of results we know is all but assured in December.

Only a few Republican Senators congratulated Joe Biden for his victory, some supporting (now less and less strongly) the Trump fraud claims, following the President’s line that “time will tell” (I wonder what John McCain would think today of his friend Lindsey Graham though his wife Cindy gave us a likely take). A few White House hardliners like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Attorney General Bob Barr, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and trade adviser Peter Navarro are clear that Donald Trump will be present on 21st January at his own inauguration ceremony for his second term. Most respectable US media now do not pay that much attention to Trump’s fraud claims and outlandish statements that he won the “legitimate” votes but are concerned, like most observers, about the current transition of executive power in America.

Putting aside the catastrophic multi-layered impact on transition (and the incoming administration) as stated by recent White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, the problem caused by Trump dragging his feet in relinquishing power by accepting defeat, in ways that have been the norm in presidential elections throughout history, is causing harm to the American institutions and its democratic process. This has been widely reported already. Trump will eventually have to concede before January 21st and indeed “do the right thing” according to famed New York veteran sensational journalist Geraldo Rivera, an old neighbourhood and Republican friend of the President. It would now be interesting to try understanding the rationale (a strange word for it) behind the President’s unusual stance at this point and who will pay for it.

The main victim of Trump’s refusal to concede and the means behind it is squarely the American democratic system. Such a move will please the core base of Trump’s electors who like his unusual style and see himself in him, a key demographic being the non-college white male group, particularly located in rural states, this fuelling the American divide even further going forward. To be sure, most Trump voters who are not into conspiracy theories, but abide by conservative values and party affinity for their own reasons, will not be swayed long-term by Trump’s move. However, Trump’s approach could please and indeed enthuse a few million individuals, especially among those wearing the MAGA hats at political rallies, not to mention vocal hard right extremists. The other victim of the Trump shenanigans will be eventually the Republican Party itself, which is losing ground nationally (not a good omen for future presidential races, also with demographic changes) and was highjacked by Trump early on in his presidency, gradually losing its soul in the process and likely being reduced to the status of a strong minority party for a very long time, in search for a Reagan-like revolution decades from now. To be sure the GOP decline will not happen overnight, also at the congressional and especially Senate levels as we can see now. The third victim is America’s leadership and standing in the world. Looking abroad and in spite of the many congratulatory notes to Joe Biden, usually from the usual Western leaders, many autocrats the world over rejoice at the American tragicomedy pointing that the country is no beacon for anything and that democracy is indeed over-rated as all can see. As for China and Russia especially, it is hard not to think that Beijing and Moscow do not see reasons to celebrate strategically, even if for the latter a different outcome was likely tactically preferred.

In spite of his appalling style and ways, Trump is anything but stupid, even if primarily driven by instincts (often bad ones). It is unlikely that he would want to seed the grounds of a second civil war. However, the refusal to go through a smooth transition process, as long as he can and his claims hold water, is likely driven by the future – or his future. We hear that Trump simply wants to cement his hold on the Republican Party going forward. Trump is also possibly looking at what Nigel Farage has done in the UK with his new “Reform UK” (following UKIP and the Brexit Party) and is exploring what kind of popular, or more aptly, populist movement he could establish post-White House. Were a third “party” be created, such a move, that could arguably hurt the prospects of the traditional GOP, would benefit from an eager market looking for such a product, which could even have lucrative angles for Trump (he is a businessman after all), softening the blows to his ego and some say paving the way for a White House run in 2024, “Trump party” or not. One could even see a scenario where the GOP would live with a primary-based Trump nomination to preserve the “integrity” of its voting base, avoiding the start of a road to national oblivion. Even if by then, to borrow from his arsenal of campaign quips, Trump himself might be a bit “tired”. Another reason for his incredibly bold stance is that he would need a group of die-hard supporters as he goes into a likely series of lawsuits in relation to his fragile business empire and tax issues or perhaps a bargaining tool to negotiate a presidential pardon from Joe Biden in due course (that is when, in Trump style, he would have exhausted the paths for pardoning himself before January’s end). One could of course hope that one of his close and admittedly bold advisers could mention to him the many merits of a lower profile early on, playing the constitutional game and spending more time on the green at Mar-a-Lago while mentoring Ivanka for great future designs for the brand.

What we see with President Trump’s antics is sad and not surprising. Let us hope than American democracy and institutions are strong enough to put a stop to them and soon restore “decency”, a word that was largely absent from 1600 Pennsylvania avenue for four long years. However, such a step might not be immediate, listening to some enlightened views on social media that, if you excluded California, Trump indeed won the presidency.

Warmest regards,

Serge

The (long-awaited) morning after and the need to reflect

7-11-20

Dear Partners in thought,

Election Day was not as we all thought it would be. Trump did way better than all the polls had told us making those wide pre-election gaps a worse repeat of the 2016 experience, but for the final outcome. To be fair to the pollsters, it is clear that given “Trump, the man”, many of his future voters preferred not to state publicly they would support him even though they saw him as a tool for many of their core concerns, like the change of the Supreme Court for the evangelicals. In parallel, pollsters were often seen as tools of the elite, given their backgrounds, so to be distrusted by many non-college-educated and often rural Trump supporters who found “Trump, the man” actually very appealing in his crude, so real, style as well as his populist rejection of the whole American establishment and usual standards of about anything, strengthening the feeling that “he is one of us”.

Having fuelled the American divide, Trump went out of his way to stress with obvious success law and order, the generalisation of the looting and absurdly paint Biden as a “socialist” (apparently with some success in Florida with the Cuban- and Venezuelan-Americans). It is also possible that such poll gaps were an extra-mobilisation factor for those not liking the Democrats and some of their stances whatever they may be. On this last matter and while being a sensitive one, it is clear that the Democrats’ reliance on the traditional black vote and “racial injustice” all the more in active BLM times, combined with street unrest, may have mobilised many unsympathetic white voters in a country where the black vote actually only represents a small fraction of the white one. Having said this and oddly enough, Trump did quite well with some minority voters, many ethnic groups being no longer homogeneous (especially Latinos) or voting according to ethnic origin expectations, showing that stereotypes may no longer apply in the America of the 2020s. Whatever the reason, in the end the Trump campaign benefited from an unexpected mass-participation that would wipe out most of the eight to ten-point gap seen over weeks in the national polls – even if Biden always held a massive national vote support, reminiscent of Hillary Clinton in 2016, a day after the election took place. Clearly early results were very good for the Trump camp as mail in votes and urban centres, both favouring Biden, were to be counted later, thus creating unwitting suspense and disappointment on both sides at different times of the process. (For those who want to know more about what happens in a “neutral” and “calm” way, please go to the GZero newsletter SIGNAL dated 5th November and after from New-York based political risk consultancy Eurasia Group led-founded by Ian Bremmer).

As some of you who read “2027” know, I made the point in its last chapter (Lessons to be Learned) that the US Electoral College is no longer an expression of true democracy. The “one man-one vote” (and yes, “woman” too) is indeed distorted in today’s America as seen in the 2016 presidential elections where Hillary Clinton lost even as she had 2.9 million more votes nationally than Trump. Biden had more than 4 million more votes than Trump in the end and yet it was deemed to be officially a close race. It is not acceptable that a vote from America’s rural areas would command more weight than a vote from city dwelling areas – the reverse being also true. It is time for America to revisit this Electoral College, realising that the America of the 2020s is not the one the Founding Fathers lived in. America cannot just be a republic as some argue is what matters. This reliance on Founding Father holiness does not make any sense today and is a denial of democracy, which for the leading democracy in the world and the Leader of the Free World is no longer acceptable. America should wake up, regardless of vested interests which have served the Republican Party well in recent years (Note: I am a Rockefeller Republican, that is from when the party projected real American values, pre-Trump era).

He finally lost (even if no concession, recounts likely underway and a few overseas military votes still potentially coming in). He largely lost due to his personality and ways at a time when Republicans did well in congressional races, also providing some solace to their voters. It is hard to believe that Donald Trump will soon vanish from our daily lives, almost creating a psychological vacuum for many. Most if not all media and editorialists will vividly feel a void so much he was a boon in terms of reporting and analysis. Trump, if anything, had been responsible for a rebirth of newspapers like The New York Times and others which saw their subscriptions rise during his tenure. He also created Trumpism, markedly beyond his own hopes for it, which is a coalition of voters who are very different but are comprising the usual populist supporters feeling disenfranchised the Western world over (usually non-college -educated) and individuals that would never stand him as an individual but would back him to see some of their key political objectives realised, whatever the risk involved with an erratic and value-less TV reality-formatted President. One reason for hope was that the group from which Biden made gains (while not winning it) was that of non-college-educated whites, especially in Georgia, Nevada, Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona, states that turned out for him unlike in 2016.

It is hard to believe that it almost took a deadly pandemic and its mismanagement for a majority of Americans to decide Trump’s time was up. And yet the pandemic was not a key factor in his voting booth demise, judging from his strong support from voters for whom the economy was more key (oddly as if Trump had been a creator of wealth for them). If not for Covid-19, which brought his incompetence and disastrous style to the fore even further, Trump could have been re-elected on the perception that the economy was doing fine as judged from the Dow Jones Index. Many Americans, faithful to their habits, would not have bothered to go to the polls as the customary low participation rate used to demonstrate. If not totally outrageous a statement, one could almost be forgiven to say that the Trump exit was the one positive aspect of this otherwise dreadful pandemic. It is nonetheless almost unbelievable that 70 million Americans (many of them decent individuals) – described as “patriots” by an otherwise graceful in defeat Fox News’s Laura Ingraham – supported such a flawed man and leader, vividly stressing the American divide and the renewed importance of revamping education in a general sense so people are better equipped to reach an independent judgment.

Many books will be written on his presidency and how such a flawed and incompetent individual (even in business, if looking at traditional standards of success) made it to the White House. Trump was a symptom of an America that lost itself, where individualism became exacerbated and the idea of nation had gradually been forgotten while capitalism rewarded mostly the wealthy. The social elevator (or lift) got broken in the last decades and the rise of tech and its amusement tools made many of the “have nots” and “have much less” think about other things than their true wellbeing, while empowering them to express vocally their disenfranchisements and target easy culprits via social media. America under Trump slid into the decadent Rome where “games of the circus” really mattered, founding values were for history books and perception mattered more than reality. One unwitting redeeming feature of this societal trap was that the usually low voting participation rose, even if for the wrong reasons and outcomes. While this assessment is largely based on feelings, all the much easier but perhaps more neutrally accurate as one is an observer from across the pond, the points should resonate among most decent Americans of good will across party affinities.

Joe Biden may not be the most fascinating politician but he was given a bad rap given his age and some of his more personal features, none of which rising to the bad level of a Trump. Even if having to work with a Red Senate (that to many Republican voters will provide some balance), Biden will get America back to where it was before in terms of presidential style and ways (even if we hear rightly this will not be really the same America policy-wise). Biden’s approach, unlike Trump’s, will also be a matter of traditional values that made America what it always was. Biden is likely to go back to a benevolent American leadership focused on win-win for Washington and its allies in the West and globally. This difference in style, combined with a different team around him where expertise and not only loyalty, will matter and have a deep impact on American policy-making. Results are likely to be affected positively by more sensible means that also reflect Western liberal values which have been the bedrock of America and the Western world since WW2. Dictators will no longer be supported on a misguided “enemy of my enemy is my friend” mantra even if realpolitik will understandably not disappear from American foreign policy. Rather than America on its own, the country will regain a welcome world leadership role of a Western block that needs to rise to the challenge presented by a more assertive and undemocratic China, with which a dialogue needs to be developed for the benefit of a more harmonious world. America, together with Europe, will face challenges like the India-China rivalry (that could lead to a new Cold War) or the disconnect between the West and countries directly or indirectly exploiting lone wolf Islamist terrorists that only multilateralism will help overcome through engaged and forceful dialogue.

In the short-term and while Trump lost, it is key that the transition period of the “lame duck” presidency not lead to decisions by his Administration leading to bad developments in the economic and foreign policy areas (besides the expected granting of pardons for all the individuals close to the President who were condemned by the courts). This transition period is always a murky era, all the more in the case of an unusual President whose values and style differed so greatly from his predecessors. One should hope that safeguards, institutional and otherwise, be put in place for the occasion. It is going to be interesting to hear from him over the next three months and likely thereafter (as he fights the many legal actions that will doubtless occur) about who was responsible for his demise. A good bet should be China that it might be said would have engineered Covid-19 in a lab or was purposefully slow to contain it earlier in the year when it could, this with a complicit Europe whose tourists flooded in New York City with a clear mission…It will be fascinating to hear the post-mortem offered by Trump on why he lost, all assuming he is leaving the scene gracefully and does not fight a trench war focused on the counting of “mail-in ballot frauds” and conspiracy theories.

On a personal note, this blog, which was started largely by the Trump ascent (and the self-wounding Brexit idiocy), as the President did not evolve in the role many of us had naively then hoped for, will keep focusing on who we are. Liberals in the classical political terminology (i.e. not radicals in the American sense) will need to keep developing a “muscled” message and prove great writer Adam Gopnik wrong in that “they cannot be found in bar fights”. Liberalism is not for the weak and the strong are not only found among populists. As populist movements and governments vividly show the limits of their abilities to govern sensibly, it is time for Western liberals to clearly make the points that were taken for granted for so long and that very few fought for in recent times. Desperate Measures, warts and all, will keep contributing to the decent fight.

Warmest regards,

Serge

When mutual respect and sovereignty both matter

31-10-20

Dear Partners in thought,

The beheading of Samuel Paty, a French history schoolteacher on 16th October in Greater Paris was horrible and cannot be excused by any religious belief whatever the offense felt by some extremists. This was an awful crime. Full stop.

The story was well reported given its dreadful features. A French history schoolteacher taught civics to his class that involved free speech, which is a tenet of French democracy. To make the point, Samuel Paty showed a couple of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed that had been published in the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo before the well-known January 2015 terror attack, one of which was in poor taste while both not respecting the Muslim religion that forbids any picturing of its Prophet. In doing so, Samuel Paty made the point that pupils of the Muslim faith, who could be offended, could avert their eyes or, some said, leave the classroom. Following the teaching on free speech, some parents of Muslim pupils complained to the school while others posted strong messages on social media (one with the assistance of a radical Islamist known to French intelligence), calling for administrative and more drastic reprisals against the teacher. The school undertook a review of the case and cleared Samuel Paty of any wrongdoings based on the rules and regulations of the ministry of education and the laws of the French Republic. On 16th October, an 18-year old Chechen, who had lived for ten years in France and whose family had been granted political asylum, made an 80 km trip to the school where Paty taught. He found him, beheaded him and posted the severed head on social media before shooting at and being killed by police officers on the scene.

While some may think that some sensitive subjects should be avoided as they offend a minority of extremists who do disservice to their own faith and fellow believers, France is an independent country where laicity and free speech are all but enshrined. Societies based on freedom should allow matters to be discussed respectfully among all individuals, while naturally being sensitive to some offensive aspects of any debate. It is clear that it is not easy to define where freedom of speech ends (something that a Charlie Hebdo has arguably tested to its limits) so as not to offend religious belief so the manner freedom of speech is used and its objective, like in that classroom two weeks ago, is key. The fact that France is definitely ruled by its own laws and historical values and is not a theocracy is also obviously a key element to consider.

One could argue that freedom of speech does not provide a passport to offend, at times gratuitously, just because anything can be said and printed. Charlie Hebdo paid a very heavy price in 2015 for sticking to its trademark of shocking audiences on the altar of the freedom of speech. One could argue that anti-Semitic rants would not be allowed (actually in this case by French law) in spite of the freedom of speech rule so one could also be more measured about not offending the faith and principles of Muslim believers frontally. And if they did, which may be their legal right, they might face retributions as Charlie Hebdo did. It seems a very sad lose-lose game whereas sensible self-restraint on what could be said and printed without losing any freedom of expression on all matters could be achieved. One should not gratuitously and carelessly offend, paving the way for irrational violence while one should also respect freedom of expression while abiding by the laws and values of the countries where they reside. In the case of Samuel Paty, there was no intent to offend but only to sensibly educate, making any opposition to his actions, not to mention his gruesome murder, indefensible on any grounds. And again, murder cannot be condoned under any circumstances whatever the beliefs-based offence

The condemnations by Turkey, its “anti-UAE ally” Qatar, Kuwait and now Iran, the theocratic paragon, and Pakistan (and oddly some criticism in one of the New York Times’ editorials) of the strong French response to the murder, however measured and targeted, aimed at President Macron were ill-thought as France could never tolerate murder of that kind and indeed the potential rise of gradually accepted violent intolerance within its midst, regardless of offences felt by religious extremists. Taking Turkey and aside of the challenging relations with its otherwise French ally (like in the Mediterranean), it could be said that such condemnations and boycotts had a domestic angle to them so some citizens of these countries could think less about their own leaderships and living conditions (seeing the current cost of living problems created by the sliding Turkish Lira and a lesser domestic appeal for Erdogan in large cities). Criticizing an “uncivilized” Macron whom he argued targeted Muslims and Islam for the crime of “one angry individual”, recent former Malaysian PM, 95-year old Mahathir Mohamad, went as far as arguing that, even if they would not follow an eye for an eye approach, the Muslims technically “had the right” to kill millions of French as the French had killed millions, many of them Muslims, in the course of their history, a strange and irrational comment that was widely condemned on social media the world over (the man has an established reputation for outrageous rants against Jews and the LGBT community). One would also have thought that fighting murderous extremism, religious or otherwise, and fostering mutual respect in all key societal matters should ideally be the objective of all governments even if some are less democratic than others.

The Muslim religion or any religion is not targeted in France, indeed the country of “the rights of men” (“and women”). The strong decisions by President Macron are not to stigmatise the French Muslim population or Islam in general. Their laudable objective is to fight unacceptable terrorism whatever its roots. It should be clear that the large Muslim population living in France (many of them not practising) is also made up of citizens who have nothing to do with terrorists and should feel at home in the country that is fully theirs. It is in their interest that terrorism be targeted and local spots and sources of extreme radicalism leading to terror be eradicated. Otherwise the main beneficiaries will be the extreme right parties, such as the National Rallye, which may one day gain power at the voting booth and will not be measured and discriminate in their handling of the matter if unsolved.

It is key that any individuals living in France or any country abide by the laws and regulations of that country, which will supersede any religious beliefs and teachings unless that country is indeed a theocracy, this whatever the faith involved. While France is arguably a culturally Catholic country, the Pope and his edicts do not rule the day. The laws of the French Republic, ultimately based on the will of its people, do. This key aspect should not prevent mutual respect and ensuring that non-Muslims respect the faith of a minority of its own people and act with sensitivity when addressing matters of faith, though without curtailing their own identity and values that have made their nation what it is. A modus vivendi needs to be found.

To the risk of shocking, there seems to be an unwitting and contrarian alliance of circumstances today between Western populists and Islamists, the former using the political religious extremism of the latter, and indeed their unacceptably violent ways, to foster its messages aimed at lawfully gaining power. The combination is a win-win for obscurantism and desolation. As discussed in another Interlude about the enablers of populism, un-education and social media (the latter as seen in the Paty murder) are also not helping to elevate the debate and find common grounds, this again regardless of perfectly acceptable religious beliefs at hand. While making no concession on what France is as a country, one of the ways to help gradually killing that “unholy” alliance and indeed reduce overall extremism is to improve the conditions of French Muslims and to keep integrating them better into French society as a project law in mid-December on Islam and freedom and subsequent associated measures will be aimed at.

Macron is right in saying that the whole matter surrounding the Paty murder is an existential threat to what France is, something that most countries should realise for themselves too, even if not sharing the inner laicity of the old, sovereign and tolerant Gallic country. France needs to ensure its values and laws are respected and that no more abhorrent events keep happening, a step that needs to be taken strongly and swiftly if only witnessing the copycat multiple terrorist murders in Nice so as to stop a mindless cycle of violence with terrible long-term consequences. In parallel it would be wise to adopt of a saner and more respectful approach to the civil discourse and its objectives, this without infringing upon fundamental rights and values that make us who we are.

Warmest regards,

Serge

On the deeply self-wounding delusion of soon-to-be over America First

27-10-20

Dear Partners in thought,

I grew up as a well-off Paris left bank kid who was born fifteen years after WW2 and enjoyed watching westerns and other Hollywood movies in his spare time. Actors like Gary Cooper, Gregory Peck or John Wayne projected features and values that seemed good like drive, honesty, righteousness, reliability and trustworthiness. The good guys were easy to find and so where the bad ones (and agreed, the Indians did not get at times the roles they deserved). The view of America I had from Europe was also admittedly romanticised thanks to the development of its unique soft power tools. And yes, even if Margaret Mitchell might have been the initial culprit, classics like Gone with the Wind made many of us like the roguish Rett Butler while finding these grey uniforms to be quite nice-looking, not caring much at the time about the plantation side shows, with due apologies to BLM (in our defence we equally liked Guess who’s Coming to Dinner Sydney Poitier, a pioneer in his own right). America was not perfect but we did not want to look for flaws, focusing on its inspiring sides. We simply liked it, to different degrees, as it was not only our saviour (so were the Soviets but there was no Russian version of The Longest Day while Central Europeans did not seem to enjoy the red rule), it was also the bearer of new refreshing things like modern-feeling democracy, benevolent leadership and sound universal values to a tired and old Europe which for kids like me did fit with a badly needed search for a New World-type rebirth. America was a welcome “cool” friend we wanted to spend time and grow up with. The two words that came to mind for us were not America First but American Dream, however naïve we might have been, and however possibly crafty the message makers.

America had initially been a reluctant leader, not backing the new-born League of Nations at the end of WW1, while already flirting with the populist concept of an America First during the 1930s courtesy of a Lindbergh who had otherwise helped bridged continents. Pearl Harbor changed the American approach, triggering an unavoidable one-way ticket to world leadership. America was smart as it found ways to both push its strategic interests astutely at all levels, while benefitting from a strong partnership backing from Western Europe and a Japan, itself on the road to redemption. America displayed universal values that ensured its leadership was accepted by the whole Western world and beyond, as all benefitted from it, even if it was always a softer and smarter interpretation of America First that simply was based on a true win-win for the US and its allies – all the more in the context of a Cold War. This approach, that some found to be deceptive, as hiding the true American agenda, worked even if developments like Vietnam went off-script. For my friends and me, America was not just a country, it was a state of mind – where all was possible through hard work and resolve. There were in our minds no limits to what Americans could achieve. We all wanted to be Americans, prompting many, like me, to want to study there and start rewriting a life scenario. Even if somewhat naïvely, we bought America even more than it sold itself, simply on the strength of its “soft power” message of hope for a better world and life which we could build “together”. All of this would have been impossible in the event of an America First approach which would have negated both Washington’s soft and hard powers, not to mention strategic objectives.

As with all populist slogans and movements, Trump’s America First astutely targeted deep grievances experienced by people who felt “left out” by the speed of the whole wide world, the perceived impact of its globalisation and at times the rise of the big cities and its detached elites who also related poorly, at their own costs, to another America. As with all populist movements the world over, those feeling left out had arguably valid reasons for their predicaments while their domestic nemesis did not understand their well-founded drivers like cultural identity or the need for respect. However, they went for easy elixir-like and feel good solutions to solve their complex problems, which the win only-focused populists had rightly found a very efficient way to get ahead. America First in an ironical twist of fate was indeed personified in a devilish fit by a man with no values and a terrible style, at times (rarely) with sound objectives but always with dreadful means at hand. In some ways America First could be seen by some liberal radicals as the foreign policy extension of a failed and ageing world leading construct where an appalling healthcare system and police brutality had become the norm and fairness now belonged in the dictionary. America First, the misnomer, as if any country was not driven by its own priorities, started to alienate its own allies (known as rivals or deadbeats), very often forgetting the very values it had successfully pushed forward and benefitted from for 70 years. America First eventually hurt America (including in real terms Trump’s support base, which did not seem to mind) and then the world while nobody really benefitted beyond the pleasure provided for some zealots by the strong slogans and the lively red cap gatherings. One of the direct victims of Trump’s America First globally was its soft power that had been a strategic tool far more powerful than its ICBMs and brand-named multinationals as a feeling of rejection was increasingly felt, especially among European millennials and even more so their younger followers.

America First will likely be gone following the November 3rd election, which while it could always bring surprises, is a done deal, so wide are the gaps between Trump and Biden at the national level as well as in most “battleground” states. The real question today is: will Texas go blue? While most media would agree with what is a foregone conclusion, a combination of “anything is possible” and a desire to keep writing and posting interesting pieces in newspapers and social media, while endlessly debating the race on TV shows, will hold sway until November 3rd – and some say beyond. It is likely that the landslide that will take place will include the US Senate, allowing Biden full control over America’s destiny over the short term. We should then see and hear the America First slogan being dropped, this to the benefit of America and the world. To the benefit of America as it suffered gradually from both self-harm and a loss of reputation for leadership and common sense, which was only vividly accentuated by the way President Trump managed the deadly pandemic. To the world as countries, whether friends or rivals of America, need a coherent and reliable US foreign policy driven by rationality and not grandstanding and tactically inept policies. To be fair some have said that Trump’s foreign policy was his best case for re-election (given the poor overall scorecard at hand) as seen with the largely symbolic UAE-Israel and Sudan-Israel agreements or forcing the Europeans to be more independent on defence (the latter which was not really his core motivation). Whereas Trump was at times right with his end goals, like ensuring China behaved fairly on trade and intellectual property matters, doing it alone and military style, without allies like the EU, was bound to fail as the widening trade deficit now shows while hurting his core base of Midwest exporting farmers as soya bean producers came to realise. America First policies often ended making everybody second, including the US.

The restoration of American leadership under President Biden and his team of seasoned foreign policy “experts” (let’s stress and welcome back the word) will likely mark the gradual end of America First and the return of a win-win approach for all within the Western bloc, all while foes and rivals will know more clearly what America means and what to expect. America will be a major driver on climate change and health matters, re-joining the Paris Agreement and the WHO, restarting a multilateral approach that served both the US and the world well for decades. Washington will seek more internationally-manageable solutions to the key issues of our times, be they dealing with Iran or the current pandemic, which will make them more successful in their outcomes. This work will involve repairing stressed relations with once solid allies like with European nations part of NATO, who will also be more inclined to participate more fully to their own defence via NATO and gradually through the EU. America will likely no longer cajole “personality compatible” dictators for the sake of elusive gains like in Asia. Not everything will go back to what they were under Barack Obama, who actually started a distancing from Europe through his Asia pivot, but the style, language and empathy will come back. While the international rules-based multilateral liberal order will benefit from the tone of old of a President Biden, America will benefit from a stronger network of its Western allies also at a time when China will keep developing its naturally-expected and at times assertive rise. Productive multilateralism will take over inefficient America First. A Biden era will bring America and the Western world back to a true win-win status, where unlike in the Trump administration lingo, not only one side (like China for them) wins and the benefits will grow mutually bigger.

I would like my American Dream back, warts and all.

Warmest regards,

Serge

Understanding and defeating the current enablers of populism

18-10-20

Dear Partners in thought,

As we approach the November 3rd US election, I thought it would be relevant to understand what happened in our democratic world and why populist-leaning leaders – some stronger than others, most still staying within the democratic institutional confines – were able to capture the interest of many “lost” voters and at times lawfully gain power.

This understanding process, that requires intellectual honesty, is a very sensitive one and its features could be offensive to many of the people who went for simple solutions to complex issues given an affinity with the message, a cultural closeness to the messenger or, in the American case, an overriding end-game. The conclusions of such a process may also today counter-productively strengthen the resolve of such voters who would react angrily to any adverse opinion by whom they see and reject as “experts” or members of the traditional elite. However, such a process should be carried out.

The rise to power of both Boris Johnson and Donald Trump are probably, given the key countries they lead and what happened under their terms in office, the most important Western electoral events of the new political century, alongside the rise of a more assertive China, the meanders of an unstable Middle East and the rear-guard battle of a struggling Russia, all while the European Union is still a work in progress. While there might still be a debate as to the qualities of a Boris Johnson, it is increasingly challenging to find any to a Donald Trump in terms of leadership, competence and values. Yet and putting aside the vagaries of the US electoral college process, he was elected President. So why?

The new times that we know, especially in the West, have been marked by a wider and more active involvement of people, many of whom have become very vocal about their beliefs on all things, including political, and who vote. Rationality or facts are no longer priorities for many as if critical thinking in the classical sense was no longer relevant. More people vote, which is their right and might be seen as a positive development, even if they are not equipped to make a rational decision and are influenced by the new age of media, social and otherwise, with its news flows where truth is harder to detect.

Populist leaders and their movements or parties, the latter often hijacked by the former (the Republican party in the US being a perfect case in point), have benefited from a unique convergence of the societal failures of the education system and the worst sides of otherwise positive tech developments that drove more societally-aggrieved people to access “comforting” news they really wanted, regardless of rationality or facts involved, so they could feel some form of vindication and express their deepest resentments and need for drastic change at the polling booth.

In a new world of tech, which has undeniably brought many positive developments to society, many people sadly have not tried to think critically anymore. They also have preferred to listen to what they wanted to hear by way of news, truth being unimportant, rather than being informed. They have vigorously put their views out on social media as if they were as valuable as any other under a perverse democratic sense of “one man one vote”, this without grounding in facts or knowledge. The relative lack of education of some of these newly tech-empowered individuals, which is not a crime in itself and is often a poor reflection of the fairness of our societies, compounded the problem in creating in too many individuals little or no historical memory and an absence of any understanding of the boring workings of government or the complex issues of our times, increasing the drive toward unusually and welcomingly simple but hollow solutions to societal problems and their frustrations. The convergence of un-education and tech has unleashed an irrational drive to find new ways to change the politics of our societies, even if allowing at times conspiracy theories to prevail and tested governance means to be under threat. The end result of this convergence logically created “majorities” (even if technically not in the US in 2016) for populist-leaning leaders who offered a different set of untested style and ideas that would change the status quo, to prevail at the electoral booth.

The dual solution to the rise of populism is first to ensure, especially in America but also across the world, that governments focus on education so their citizens are trained in independent thinking, which is a classical feature of Western civilization. The more people have the tools to think independently and critically, the less they will follow beliefs that are groundless and potentially dangerous to society and indeed the world. This strategic focus on education needs to involve a complete overhaul of the teaching profession in order to attract the highest quality candidates for the role. The parallel solution is then first to ensure that parents from an early age of their children structure their use and timing of tech tools like social media so they do not fall victims to cheap elixir salesmen at an early age and can grow up as independently-thinking adults. Additionally, Big Tech should be driven further by government regulators to take enhanced measures to prevent the display of blatant hate speech and fact-less news fed by any domestic or foreign party onto their popular tech tools. Democratic societies should always want more educated people who can think for themselves and make rational decisions at the polling booth.

Trump got there as its core support base comprised a large number of non-college graduates (male non-college graduates being one of his very few “majority segments” today) who liked simple solutions to complex issues and the finger-pointing at a combination of targets like foreigners stealing their jobs, the Deep State, the megalopolises or the experts and the establishment – all deemed responsible for a perception of being “left out”. In addition and this time regardless of their education levels, Trump was supported by many religious conservative, two-hand raising, evangelicals, a group numbering 60 million, 80% of which will likely vote for Trump (so ironically his other key “majority segment”), who never liked the individual but convinced themselves to tolerate the “baby Christian” as they saw him, whatever harm he might bring to America and the world as well as the presidential role, as long as he could change the Supreme Court and overturn landmark Western liberal decisions like Roe v. Wade. So crucial was their overriding Supreme Court goal that supporting evangelicals would not mind unwittingly undermining Christian values along the Trump way. Un-education allied with societally-motivated religion, the latter at its core also faith-based (however good principles it may also project), created an odd “enabling” and at times unwitting coalition for an unusual form of hidden or soft populism, that would be harmful to both America and the world, personified by an oddly value-less Donald Trump. In all fairness, it is clear that regardless of their shortcomings or end game, Trump supporters’ objective was not to weaken America and its standing in the world, incidentally furthering the agenda of rival and challenging powers. However, by backing easy populist solutions to complex issues, unbeknownst to them, they did, all while eventually not seeing their own core problems and frustrations solved (even if evangelicals would rightly argue that current Supreme Court nomination hearings proved them right, if only focusing on their narrow end game).

To be sure, not all non-college educated and evangelical Americans voted or will vote for Trump (some evangelical groups, a minority, are indeed rooting for Biden) but these two segments do form the bulwark of its support and voting base. Similarly, many college-educated and non-evangelical Americans also voted for Trump for ideological reasons, Republican party habit, or rejection of some of the left-leaning planks of the Democratic party (likely an even more acute aspect today) as well as the probably unfairly perceived “entitled” personality of the candidate in 2016. The convergence of non-college education (as well as the absence of any professional qualifications) and the advent of all-empowering, truth-blurred and easy-to-use tech tools created a large and active group of voters who decided that the societal status quo and its tested recipes could and should change and new solutions and even governing style be implemented.

One key point for Western liberals in addressing the roots of populism tainted of nationalism (or national-populism if the term was not a dreadful and overblown reminder of another age) is not to mock the increasingly tech-enabled and vocal un-educated “left outs” but respect them and understand the grievances explaining their electoral choices that may lead to leaders with autocratic tendencies at the helm of our Western democracies. As an example, cultural identity, often a key universal focus of the left outs, indeed matters and should not just be the remit of the populists. We should always show respect and debate peacefully, though strongly, with the supporters of these populist leaders and movements and keep trying pointing to the disconnect of their views through facts and rationality.

There is a reason to hope, which is based on results. While populist movements and leaders have been very good at seizing power electorally in recent years, their results have been rather poor and have not changed the lives of their core supporters for the better. These movements and leaders are not good at governing, which many see as an afterthought to winning. Governing is indeed painfully detailed and boring, involving more debates than grand-standing rhetoric, something that populist leaders are not good at as we now vividly see from the standpoints of an appalling US pandemic leadership to dreadful Brexit negotiations, both clear self-harming populist demonstrations.

While democratic societies need to focus on increased education budgets associated with richer programs, also involving a key overhaul of the teaching profession, and a more sensible role and responsible use of tech, there is reason to hope that the waves of nationalistic-favored populism that we have known in the last five years will recede due to the inability to deliver results when in power. Austria’s latest election is a timely case in point. And so should America’s in November.

Going beyond the debate about populism and its enablers, one of the key side aspects to ensure that this quasi-pandemic wave will not come back will also be to make or remake capitalism more human and better shared in its successes or, as Joe Biden recently said, “reward work” and not see economic success only through a Dow Jones index lens. While rewarding work more, democratic societies should keep ensuring that more voters are educated and trained for jobs to come so the smallest number of non-qualified individuals will be left on the roadside when robots come in and we finally need to introduce an inevitable Universal Basic Income as a new social security cushion in an inevitable future.

Warmest regards,

Serge

How a Martian (and I) would see the November US presidential election today

1.9.20

Dear Partners in thought,

As we are right after the first appalling Trump-Biden debate and looking at the developments of the US presidential election race, a neutral Martian observer could make the following remarks:

  1. In spite of his drastically different presidential style and management, Trump was likely winning before the pandemic on the back of a strong stock market and an earlier massive tax break programme, even if not benefitting all Americans.
  2. Trump’s core base of 20-25% located in Red states and rural areas would back him come what may, facts and presidential style not mattering. To many of those disaffected voters known as “left outs”, proud of their American heritage and away from cultureless urban megalopolises, Trump cares for them. However, possibly less and less looking at polls of key states like Ohio.
  3. To many Trump supporters, including the evangelicals, whose female members find Trump’s treatment of women a private matter, the key driver in their support is essentially altering the composition of the US Supreme Court so past landmark liberal legislations can be overturned.
  4. Many Republicans and older white male voters not liking him as an individual and a President due to his style and his value-less behaviour, would still back him on stock market grounds and desire for traditional societal order they have known and liked (even if the economy was going South due to Covid-19).
  5. The George Floyd murder and others that initiated and fuelled the Black Lives Matter protests of mid-2020, that often slid into riots and lootings (at times helped by hard right groups), enabled Trump to grab the Nixonian mantle of election-winning Law & Order as a “trump card” to offset his poll rating declines due to his widely perceived Covid-19 leadership-less mismanagement (sadly also going as far as not condemning white supremacists during the first debate).
  6. In addition to the “Law & Order” salvation message, Trump now focuses on “patriotism” and the roots of America, wanting to stress that what mattered was 1776 (arguably a strong majority of Americans agreeing) and not 1619, the year when the first Africans arrived in America, a year that was put forward by the New York Times “1619 Project” as a sensitive academic-like and public discussion follow-up to the BLM events.
  7. The treble drive of Trump is to appear as a traditionally patriotic, Law & Order-focused and economy-friendly candidate against a candidate who is prisoner of its African-American (and by and large minority) voter base and would lead to a revisionist view of what is America while taxing more its citizens and financially supporting at federal level unproductive elements of society.
  8. The key high wire act for Biden will be to support the plights of the minority groups, that traditionally support the Democrats, this through a set of gradual reforms eventually benefitting society “at large”, while not appearing as soft on order in the street and too willing to accommodate views linked to the destruction of statues and the reshaping of both American history and traditional ways and values.
  9. The world order and foreign policy issues, including on the Trump side the subject of nemesis China, are largely absent from the presidential race, putting aside the slots reserved to them in the three debates between Trump and Biden.
  10. One of the less addressed and key features of the November election will be the potential change of control of the US Senate which could give Biden, if elected, a Democratic Congress at least for two years, enabling him to roll back to an “old normal” in American affairs.

A Martian observer could indeed come to the above remarks. However, we are not from Mars and this election not only impacts Americans but all of us the world over, all the more in a changing world leading architecture, with an inexorably rising China. November 3rd matters to all of us.

The American presidential election is about programmes at all levels but also and essentially about values and style and ways to get the job done. Lincoln, FDR, JFK and Reagan made the point. Not all presidents are without flaws but they all treated the role and their country with the requisite and expected respect.

A key factor to remember is that this election is not about just a President but also about a team around him. The low quality of Trump’s inner circle was clearly and increasingly (when “the adults left the room”) on display with loyalty being the key feature. Joe Biden may be old and not as a great a debater as a JFK but he would bring competence and experts to the White House and the various departments managing the US. The world would be better off.

On a side but meaningful note, one over-riding feature for Trump’s re-election drive is not to face additional scrutiny and likely legal developments that could lead to jail sentences regarding alleged tax frauds, a subject the President was adamant to keep under wraps by the unusual non-public disclosure of his tax filings in the past.

Now let’s hope Americans massively vote like Europeans do for once – this safely (at all levels) by mail or in person. And let’s hope the strange electoral college process does not lead to what was arguably, in essence if not in form, an undemocratic outcome four years ago.

Warmest regards,

Serge

Bis repetita: « 2027 – A wild and crazy geopolitical journey into a post-pandemic Trumpian near future »

5-9-20

Dear Partners in thought,

Knowing that some of you may not have received this blog post on 24th August due to the “heavy” marketing cover in its text that could have sent the email to a SPAM trip, I wanted to make sure that all of you knew about my new book published on Amazon. Please forgive me if you already received this notification, all the more as I approached a few of you directly though a personal email.

“2027”, which describes a potential geopolitical near future, is a “timely” extension of the Desperate Measures blog which was started in 2018 as a reaction to the rise of populism and nationalism around the world, notably in the democratic West, with its easy answers to complex issues.

The 350 page book, which aims at being entertaining and original and provides views on the past from a vantage point of the year 2027, shows what could be and hopefully will not. It shows that electoral and policy decisions do have consequences and that the world order is fragile, all the more after a great pandemic. Major actors and blocs, together with detailed key developments and the shiftings of alliances will be covered creating a highly differentiated world. A detailed Case Study or indeed “book within the book” will also over key themes of the pandemic, also from a geopolitical standpoint. Lessons to be learned and thoughts on key features “that matter” will be drawn (like the importance of history, leadership, voting, mulltilateralism, education) all chapters mixing an analysis of the past with future historical fiction as seen in the eyes of a strong-minded Western liberal observer.

The book is also a scream for a return to an “old normal” which many of us had taken for granted. We live in an imperfect world but one that was held together by many actors that often, if not always, pursued national agendas with a focus on working together, a feature that may no longer be obvious for some leading nations. Lastly and importantly, a strong dose of crazy humour will be found in all chapters as we should always keep smiling and thriving for the best, calling on the better angels of our nature.

Without giving up the full story, I would like to give you a glimpse at the table of contents so you get a feel for the way the book is structured.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Preface

  1. New America
  2. Strange Britain
  3. Unlikely France
  4. Resurgent Germany
  5. Newfound Russia
  6. Resilient European Union
  7. Withdrawing China
  8. Other rising and declining powers
  9. Global challenges and narrow world
  10. Brave New Monde
  11. Old duel revisited
  12. Manifest Destiny redux
  13. Early backyard clashes
  14. The forgotten region
  15. The long overdue crisis
  16. Going MAD and to the brink
  17. Asian pivot sliding
  18. Crossing the line in the sand
  19. The final roll of the dice
  20. Lessons to be learned
    Case Study: The great pandemic shock of the century

This was a fun piece of work where I was able to bring to bear years of professional and actual and quasi-academic experiences in a way that created a piece of unusual geopolitical fiction. As I wrote and noticed the developments in the real world, I could not help but notice that reality at times was stronger than fiction, however outlandish my scenario.

If you wanted to read the book, I think the timing could not be better, especially with the US election in November and the meandering end ot the Brexit “process”. You will find it on Amazon in your respective geographic locations, either as a book or as Kindle. For completeness, the full references for Amazon US (amazon.com) are shown below:

ISBN – 13:8674933724
In paperback or Kindle
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B08GFPM71Y

However if not in the US, please order through your own Amazon, like amazon.de in Germany, amazon.co.uk in Britain, amazon.fr in France, etc. as Amazon US may not ship to certain countries and the shipping costs could be higher if they did.

Needless to say, self-publishing that I chose as agents were expectedly cautious in our pandemic times (not to mention the first writer syndrome), is an arduous process in terms of marketing, so I am very grateful for your network-targeted word of mouth and social media which could help greatly the dissemination of “2027”.

Trevor Marshall, my trusted fellow Western liberal values warrior and copy-editor, and I would like to thank you very much for your reading and support should you wish to take a wild and crazy ride, all the more before “November”.

Warmest regards,

Serge

2027 – A wild and crazy geopolitical journey into a post-pandemic Trumpian near future

25-8-20

Dear Partners in thought,

As you have noticed I have not been posting much during the pandemic era partly because the range of topics to be addressed were single-focused and amply covered by the media and the writing community. I took this opportunity to finish a book I had started before the Covid-19 era, which is now published on Amazon and Kindle.

“2027”, which describes a potential geopolitical near future, is an extension of the Desperate Measures blog which was started in 2018 as a reaction to the rise of populism and nationalism around the world, notably in the democratic West, with its easy answers to complex issues. It was also driven by a reaction to the two key historical events that were Brexit and the Trump ascent, both I felt were setbacks for the Western world and the whole world in general, which is now also dealing with a once in a century pandemic and its deep-rooted impacts on society at large.

The book, which provides views on the past from a vantage point of the year 2027, shows what could be and hopefully will not. It shows that electoral and policy decisions do have consequences and that the world order is fragile, all the more after a great pandemic. Major actors and blocs, together with detailed key developments and the shiftings of alliances will be covered creating a highly differentiated world. A detailed Case Study or indeed “book within the book” will also over key themes of the pandemic. Lessons to be learned and thoughts on key features that matter will be drawn, all chapters mixing an analysis of the past with future historical fiction as seen in the eyes of a strong-minded Western liberal observer.

The book is also a scream for a return to an “old normal” which many of us had taken for granted. We live in an imperfect world but one that was held together by many actors that often, if not always, pursued national agendas with a focus on working together, a feature that may no longer be obvious for some leading nations. Lastly and importantly, a strong dose of crazy humour will be found in all chapters as we should always keep smiling and thriving for the best, calling on the better angels of our nature.

Without giving up the full story, I would like to give you a glimpse at the table of contents so you get a feel for the way the book (350 pages) is structured.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Preface
1. New America
2. Strange Britain
3. Unlikely France
4. Resurgent Germany
5. Newfound Russia
6. Resilient European Union
7. Withdrawing China
8. Other rising and declining powers
9. Global challenges and narrow world
10. Brave New Monde
11. Old duel revisited
12. Manifest Destiny redux
13. Early backyard clashes
14. The forgotten region
15. The long overdue crisis
16. Going MAD and to the brink
17. Asian pivot sliding
18. Crossing the line in the sand
19. The final roll of the dice
20. Lessons to be learned
Case Study: The great pandemic shock of the century

This was a fun piece of work where I was able to bring to bear years of professional and actual and quasi-academic experiences in a way that created a piece of unusual geopolitical fiction. As I wrote and noticed the developments in the real world, I could not help but notice that reality at times was stronger than fiction, however outlandish my scenario.

At a time when US federal forces are sent to places like Portland and a new warming war is developing between the two world leading countries set on a collision course, the only hope we have is a return to an “old normal”, the first step being with Joe Biden in the White House. Joe may not be the youngest of leaders or the most in tune with our times but he knows the value of decent American leadership and, as we see, the cost of its absence to both the US and the world.

If you wanted to read the book, I think the timing could not be better. You will find it on Amazon in your respective geographic locations. For completeness, the full references for Amazon US (amazon.com) are shown below:

ISBN – 13:8674933724

In paperback or Kindle

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B08GFPM71Y

However if not in the US, please order through your own Amazon, like amazon.de in Germany, amazon.co.uk in Britain, amazon.fr in France, etc. as Amazon US may not ship to certain countries and the shipping costs could be higher if they did.

Needless to say, self-publishing that I chose as agents were expectedly cautious in our pandemic times (not to mention the first writer syndrome), is an arduous process in terms of marketing, so I am very grateful for your network-targeted word of mouth and social media which could help greatly the dissemination of “2027”.

Trevor Marshall, my trusted fellow Western liberal warrior and copy-editor, and I would like to thank you very much for your reading and support should you wish to take a wild and crazy ride, all the more before “November”.

Warmest regards,

Serge

Understanding the French Enigma

7-7-20

Dear Partners in thought,

I wanted to touch on a point that baffles many outside France about how the French irrationally behave in relation to their leaders throughout history but even more so today. 

We hear today that President Macron is unpopular unlike his departing prime minister Edouard Philippe, who saw his beard turning white in the midst of the Covid-19 fight and would enjoy an Himalayan popularity rating by Gallic standards of 57%. All while Jean Castex, his successor known for his technocratic competence at Matignon, home of the French premiers, is un-liked as he would be a “non-entity”, read not from the top of his class of the best schools like ENA and then the “grand corps” of the French state and thus the subject of a status-focused elitist rant from those who are but would never get the job as well as from those who hate those elite institutions in the first place but require leaders with top credentials. And at the same time, two health ministers are under investigation and some popular ire for what would be a less than stellar early management of the pandemic, in what would clearly have already sent Donald Trump to Alcatraz and Boris Johnson to the Tower of London in another age. Getting rid of politicians close to Macron in the latest municipal elections this past week, while the President has been struggling to find any rival that could replace him at the Elysée Palace in 2022, is so French, that there is a name  for it: “dégagisme” or “throwing out” which is a national pastime akin to eating croissants at the Paris cafés.  

The French are simply impossible people (I know being one of them). They are never happy, especially with those who govern them who are easy venting targets. The French like to rant, to demonstrate, to march and to scream as it is such a great feeling, especially post lockdown these days. The “Gilets Jaunes” (Yellow Vests) of the recent past were also a great example of people not liking their deal (some of them with some reason) in one of the most redistributive societies in Western history as if they did not want to look abroad. The French cut off the head of Louis XVI only as they could not bear an absolute king only to pave the way for an emperor who then wrote in a few years some of the glorious and bloody pages of French history and giving so many names of boulevards and avenues in Paris. Macron was elected as the French were fed up of what was a “normal president” as he liked to call himself. Who remembers François Hollande three years later? However when Macron invited Putin at Versailles and brought back the presidential pomp, critics started to rise as if the French live for picking fights with the established order in what they see as a rightful legacy of 1789. This is all irrational which is all the more disturbing for the country of Descartes. However this is France and the way it works. And it works well in the end when you look at where the country is in absolute and relative terms. 

The situation of that “condition”, akin to a sickness at times, worsened when France lost the battle of France (it should have easily won for those who have studied it) in a matter of weeks in May 1940. The stigma of the defeat and its underlying wound, in spite of the unlikely return to the tables of winners in 1945 due to Charles de Gaulle’s sleight of hand, would never disappear and keep shaping the relationship between the French and their leadership in modern times. Macron, who could be the son of Giscard d’Estaing, a premature leader for France given its times then, in the way he positioned himself at the centre and reshaped the French political spectrum, is the first leader who can change the country in spite of and for the French and their natural and angry, at times guilt-rooted, opposition. Macron is the only leader today who has had the courage in a humane manner to reform the jobs market while he will attack in the same way the multiple 1945 pension systems that need to live with their 21st century times. Macron is the first leader in modern times at a time of German transition, that can lead France to take the mantle of reforming the EU to make it stronger, more defence-focused and closer to its populations, a project that is key at a time of uncertain American leadership and aggressive Chinese rise. And yet, while history books years from now will stress Macron’s and France’s achievements in the 2020s, (some of) the French will have been in the street as it is what they do.  

Warmest regards,

Serge    

Beware of the “trump” card

4-6-20

Dear Partners in thought,

The recent and now universally-known wrongful chokehold death or indeed murder by a police officer of African-American George Floyd is adding another element, that was always if not historically societally simmering, to the challenges facing America in its pandemic and reelection times. It is a highly sensitive subject and I beg your forgiveness not simply for addressing it but for looking at it unemotionally, which is of course very hard when dealing with such a horrible death regardless of the potential chain reaction I would like to relay.

America was in the throes of one of its worst crises, like the world at large, likely since WW2 even with the Great Depression being also often mentioned as a good comparison as to its economic and financial impact. Then came unexpectedly the murder by police of George Floyd, a black man, in the midst of the great pandemic that had been incidentally very hard on the African-American community. This murder is one of a few cases involving black men having died in “police custody” or through police interaction (or even involving former officers) in the U.S. over the last ten years and are known for the names of their victims, like Trayvon Martin or very recently Ahmaud Arbery. These are terrible events that have to be condemned and may or do reflect the weight of history, also pinning a tiny minority of white men, usually feeling left out, not wanting to deal with black men, possibly rejecting the affirmative acton drive of these few decades or simply being racist. It is also possible that the death of George Floyd was triggered by the pandemic lockdown constraints and frustrations that saw a clear rise in mental illness and domestic violence and took its toll on an already unstable police officer, likely with racist tendancies. Whatever the reasons behind the act of knee-chocking somone’s throat for nine minutes, there is no defense and the crime is unspeakable, whether Mr. Floyd was a white, black or Asian American. The fact he was black added a dimension that led to race riots, sadly associated with looting and violence (the latter at times from all sides) while the protests may at times have been hijacked by extremist groups from both far-left and far-right, as well as professional knuckleheads” with their own political and/or looting agendas.

That the Floyd murder and ensuing riots took place in the great pandemic period was reminiscent of April 1968 after Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated and massive riots erupted across American cities all in a context of a pandemic-like Vietnam war with its rising death toll and questionable management, if not rationale then. The similarities did not escape Donald Trump as his polls started falling due to his unusual leadership style and management of the national Covid-19 containment not to mention his approach to pandemic geopolitics tainted by the November rendezvous. Donald Trump is undoubtedly aware that Richard Nixon was also elected in November 1968 on a law and order programme that was directly linked to the racial riots of 1968, admittedly while he was also claiming that he would put an honourable end to the pandemic of the time. Having lost the opportunity to face a Bernie Sanders and not counting on a great economy (even though we will hear about the V curve for 2021), there is little doubt that he will use this card to win in November and inverse the Covid 19-induced poll trends.

There is a fair chance that the many white voters, certainly older, male and female, could opt for societal safety in November regardless of their dislike for Trump as a person and a President if the riots kept degenerating and shops burning to the ground. Faced with this Trump 2 eventuality the black community leaders should be very careful unless they would existentially thrive on shouting only, to focus on “what matters” and the big picture in the current American context. It would be strange as America has lost in excess of 100,000 lives to Covid-19, for one death however horrible, to set the easy stage for a Trump re-election and four more years of instability for America and the world, with unforeseen negative consequences for all, not to mention the African-American community.

One of the first steps for the black community leaders should be to ensure a proper security approach to protests so extremists and looters are not allowed to highjack them and give a very bad name to a rightful expression of anger. The other step should be to listen more to Barack Obama, indeed showing the presidential leadership that America misses today, and follow his focus on actual programmes that make a difference like those he lauched un 2013 to ensure police officers were better trained. The need to be both careful and productive in the rightful expression of the anger and demands of the African-American community falls within their leaders today. Otherwise the death of George Floyd would have served the wrong agenda, not to say those that believe in a bygone age and like things as they were.

Warmest regards,

Serge