America Needs a de Gaulle

Charles de Gaulle
French president Charles de Gaulle gives a speech in Montréal, Canada, July 24, 1967 (Archives de Montréal)

Charles de Gaulle’s great achievement, to paraphrase his British biographer, Julian Jackson, was that he reconciled the French left to patriotism and the French right to democracy.

The history of France since 1789 has been a consistent struggle between a universalist left and the conservative right; between republic and monarchy; the Enlightenment and Catholicism; labor and capital; Paris and La France profonde.

History hasn’t ended. Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen embody opposite visions of France today. But de Gaulle narrowed the divide and helped Frenchmen and -women think of each other as opponents rather than enemies.

That America could use a whiff of Gaullism isn’t my idea. Ross Douthat, the conservative columnist of The New York Times, called for an American de Gaulle two years ago.

I suspect he envisaged an authority figure on the right. Instead we have Joe Biden. Can he play the same role? Read more “America Needs a de Gaulle”

Don’t Count on Republicans to Suddenly See the Light

United States Capitol
The sun rises on the United States Capitol in Washington DC (Shutterstock/Itzá Villavicencio Urbieta)

American centrists are optimistic. With Republicans likely to retain control of the Senate for at least the first two years of Joe Biden’s presidency — unless Democrats manage to flip not one, but two Georgia Senate seats in January — a new era of bipartisanship may be on the horizon.

Joe Manchin, the conservative Democratic senator from West Virginia, tells The New York Times he sees a “golden opportunity to bring the country back together and for us to work in the middle.”

James M. Curry and Frances E. Lee of the moderate center-right Niskanen Center argue unified government is overrated. Most legislation is passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Scott Lincicome of the conservative anti-Trump website The Dispatch finds that the economy tends to perform better when the parties split Congress and the presidency. Fortune magazine agrees.

This is the triumph of hope over experience. Read more “Don’t Count on Republicans to Suddenly See the Light”

How to Restore American Democracy After Trump

United States Capitol
The United States Capitol in Washington DC (Shutterstock/Brandon Bourdages)

Donald Trump’s presidency has exposed and exacerbated fundamental weaknesses in American democracy. He must be voted out in November, but that won’t be enough.

If Democrats gain power, they must make five reforms to restore fairness, restore balance between the three branches of government and reverse the polarization that has made it impossible for the two parties to compromise on everything from climate change to gun laws to health care to immigration:

  1. Abolish the Electoral College.
  2. Add states.
  3. Put Congress first.
  4. Make it easier to remove the president.
  5. Abolish the two parties. Read more “How to Restore American Democracy After Trump”

Media Bubbles Have Replaced the Blogosphere

Frederik deBoer:

So when I started blogging in 2008, a thing that would happen would be that a conservative writer would publish something on a conservative website, and then liberals at liberal publications would read those conservative websites, write up their own liberal responses and publish them on their liberal websites, and conservatives would write responses to responses, and so a decent number of people got to be employed.

And what I can’t scientifically say but which seems screamingly obvious to me is that this is almost unthinkable today. It just doesn’t happen. Liberals don’t even bother to read conservative publications, and they certainly don’t respond to them. I can’t say what conservatives do because, unlike in 2008, I barely read conservative publications anymore. It was a thing I felt honor-bound to do and now I just… don’t do it.

I remember that time, and it was nice!

But, like deBoer, I’ve stopped reading conservative blogs and websites that have turned into mouthpieces for Donald Trump. Nor do I read Jacobin or The New Republic. I make an effort to read left- and right-leaning publications, from Talking Points Memo and Vox to The Bulwark, The Dispatch and National Review, but they have to fall within what I consider to be parameters of reasonableness. Read more “Media Bubbles Have Replaced the Blogosphere”

To Trump, Blue America Is Expandable

Chicago Illinois
Chicago, Illinois at night (Unsplash/Max Bender)

Asked about riots in America’s major cities, Kellyanne Conway, President Donald Trump’s outgoing political advisor, told Fox News:

These are Democratically-led cities and most with Democratic governors. It’s not Donald Trump’s watch.

(That didn’t stop Trump from deploying federal troops to Portland over the objections of the city’s Democratic mayor and Oregon’s Democratic governor in June.)

The suggestion that the president isn’t responsible for the whole country, but only to those parts that are loyal to him, is outrageous.

But it is how Trump has governed. Read more “To Trump, Blue America Is Expandable”

Don’t Call Your Opponents Traitors

Donald Trump
American president Donald Trump attends a World War I memorial in Suresnes, France, November 11, 2018 (White House/Shealah Craighead)

American president Donald Trump and his supporters have learned one lesson of the Iraq War: To quash legitimate concerns about an ill-advised military operation, call the patriotism of your critics into question.

It sometimes works — but only briefly, and it hurts you more than helps in the end. Read more “Don’t Call Your Opponents Traitors”

Spain’s Response to Catalan Separatism Has Failed

View of the Palau Nacional from downtown Barcelona, Spain, December 29, 2013
View of the Palau Nacional from downtown Barcelona, Spain, December 29, 2013 (CucombreLibre)

Since I moved to Barcelona and started writing about Catalan independence three years ago, I’ve worried that Spain’s refusal to engage with the movement would radicalize it and hollow out the middle in Catalan politics.

This is now borne out by research. Read more “Spain’s Response to Catalan Separatism Has Failed”

Moderates in America Should Not Give Up on Political Reform

Washington DC
View of Washington DC with the United States Capitol in the distance, February 17, 2015 (Matt Popovich)

Regular readers know I believe the two-party system in America is one of the root causes of the country’s many political problems: extreme partisanship (but weak parties), polarization, a politicization of the judiciary and an unwillingness by lawmakers to rein in presidents of their own party, to name the four most urgent.

What are moderates to do? I propose reform.

Ideally, these various changes would break up the Democratic-Republican duopoly. Countries in Northwestern Europe prove that multiparty democracy produces better outcomes. Read more “Moderates in America Should Not Give Up on Political Reform”

What Catalonia Has in Common with the United States

A demonstration for Catalan independence in Perpignan, France, November 10, 2018
A demonstration for Catalan independence in Perpignan, France, November 10, 2018 (ANC)

Asked to judge such dirty tricks as spreading false information about an opponent or removing yard signs, both Democrats and Republicans in the United States are far more forgiving if their own party is to blame — and outraged if such misdeeds are perpetrated by the other side.

Partisanship colors how we interpret events. Catalonia could be another case study. Read more “What Catalonia Has in Common with the United States”

How We Talk About Our Opponents Matters

George Bush Dick Cheney
American president George W. Bush speaks with his vice president, Dick Cheney, at the White House in Washington DC, March 3, 2008 (National Archives)

Remember when George W. Bush was a fascist?

When he signed the PATRIOT Act and launched the Iraq War, reasonable left-wing Americans voiced reasonable objections. The far left reached for Hitler.

Republicans dismissed this as over the top, because it was. (And it made it easier for them to dismiss reasonable objections as well.) So when the real thing came along, and this time not only the far left but commentators on the center-right warned that Donald Trump had a lot in common with the worst leaders in European history, many Republican voters once again shrugged.

If anything, it made them support Trump more. As one voter told The Atlantic in 2016:

Give people the impression that you will hate them the same or nearly so for voting Jeb Bush as compared to voting for Trump and where is the motivation to be socially acceptable with Jeb?

The left continues to make this mistake — and so does the right. Read more “How We Talk About Our Opponents Matters”