Europe Doesn’t Need a Biden

Joe Biden
Ameican president Joe Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, February 5 (White House/Adam Schultz)

European leaders are “weak”, the American president is “bold”. It’s a trope so old, at this point it tells us more about the people who perpetuate it than elected officials on either side of the Atlantic.

Romano Prodi was “weak“. José María Aznar was “weak“. François Mitterrand was “weak“. His successor, Jacques Chirac, lacked “gravitas“.

A year before the election of Donald Trump, Robert Kaplan disparaged the “grey, insipid ciphers” who wandered Europe’s halls of power. An article in Foreign Affairs accused the continent’s “cowardly” leadership of rendering the EU “irrelevant”. A 2005 op-ed in The New York Times lamented the “weakness” of European leaders at the very time President George W. Bush called for a “renewal” in transatlantic relations. (The same George W. Bush who two years earlier had created the deepest crisis in transatlantic relations since the end of the Cold War by invading Iraq.)

Here we go again. Jef Poortmans, a commentator for Belgium’s Knack magazine, compares Joe Biden’s “zeal” with Europe’s “washed out” leaders. Timothy Garton Ash, whose expectations the EU has never met, argues the bloc faces “one of the biggest challenges of its life” (again). Philip Stephens contrasts Biden’s “ambition”, “audacity”, “energy” and “resolve” with the “defensive incrementalism” of his European counterparts, in particular Angela Merkel.

The “real significance” of Biden’s agenda, writes Stephens in the Financial Times — a $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue program and a $3 trillion education and infrastructure bill — “lies in a bold reassertion of the responsibilities of government.”

His mistake is to assume America and Europe are starting from the same point. Read more “Europe Doesn’t Need a Biden”

Fragmented Dutch Parliament Lacks Experience

Dutch parliament The Hague
Dutch lawmakers listen to a debate in parliament in The Hague, September 29, 2020 (Tweede Kamer)

Regular readers know I’m not a fan of two-party democracy. It reduces politics to simplistic either-or choices. It encourages parties to radicalize their supporters and appeal to the extremes rather than the center. Multiparty democracy, by contrast, engenders moderation and compromise.

Multiparty democracies are superior on almost every metric: their voters show higher trust in government and each other; their electoral systems are more responsive to changes in public opinion; their economies are more competitive and their societies less divisive.

But there is a tradeoff. When voters aren’t loyal — which is itself a good thing; they should judge parties on their performance — turnover in parliament can be high, which robs it of experience and expertise. Read more “Fragmented Dutch Parliament Lacks Experience”

Italy Shouldn’t Need Draghi

Mario Draghi
European Central Bank president Mario Draghi walks to a news conference in Frankfurt, October 25, 2018 (ECB/Martin Lamberts)

It’s not an endorsement of Italian democracy that the country needs another above-the-fray technocrat to pull it out of the mud.

If Mario Draghi, the former European Central Bank chief, wins the support of parliament, three of the last six Italian prime ministers will have been apolitical appointees.

I hope Ferdinando Giugliano is right and Draghi will succeed where his predecessors failed, but recent history — and Giugliano points this out too — does not inspire confidence. Neither Mario Monti nor Giuseppe Conte was able break the political logjam to enact much-needed reforms. Read more “Italy Shouldn’t Need Draghi”

Scotland Is a Country!

Scotland flag
The flag of Scotland (Paul Morgan)

My most recent article about Scottish independence, from last summer, got more than a hundred angry replies on Twitter today.

Not a lot of substantive comments, unfortunately, although I had good discussions with those Scots who argued I had overstated the risks of dissolution and underestimated the opportunities.

No, nearly all replies hounded me for describing Scotland as a “region” and not a “country”, which I know it is.

The reason I use “country” as well as “region” is that Scotland’s constitutional status — a country within a country — can be confusing to readers who aren’t familiar with the UK. That’s all. I meant no offense. Read more “Scotland Is a Country!”

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”

There’s Only So Much Race Can Tell Us

American voters
Voters listen to a speech by Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine in Davidson, North Carolina, October 12, 2016 (Hillary for America/Alyssa S.)

American journalists continue to parse the November electorate, specifically the Latino vote.

Matthew Yglesias, formerly of Vox, has a good newsletter about Donald Trump’s gains with Latino voters in which he links to Harry Enten’s analysis for CNN. It turns out Trump didn’t appeal to just Latinos of Cuban, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan descent, who may have been alarmed by Democratic flirtations with socialism given the experience in their home countries; he did better with Latinos of all backgrounds compared to four years ago.

This is fascinating to political junkies like us, but having just moved back to the Netherlands, where the campaign for the general election in March is slowly getting underway, I’m reminded that this sort of demographic analysis is almost entirely absent in Europe. Read more “There’s Only So Much Race Can Tell Us”

Race Is a Poor Predictor of How Americans Will Vote

Miami Florida
The skyline of Miami, Florida (Unsplash/Ryan Parker)

For years, it looked like Republicans were becoming the party of white, left-behind America and Democrats the party of upper-class whites and racial minorities.

Tuesday’s election hasn’t upended that narrative, but it has put a dent in it.

If you had to pick one characteristic to predict party affiliation, it would be education. The better educated Americans are, the more likely they are to vote Democratic.

Gender is another fair predictor. Women historically vote more Democratic than men. But relatively fewer men voted for Trump this year than in 2016, according to exit polls. Read more “Race Is a Poor Predictor of How Americans Will Vote”

One Clear Verdict from 2020 is That Trumpism Is Here to Stay

Donald Trump
American president Donald Trump arrives in Greenville, South Carolina, October 15 (White House/Shealah Craighead)

Former vice president Joe Biden could still win America’s presidential election, but Donald Trump’s performance in the wake of a deadly pandemic, hugely negative polls and a mainstream media almost universally hostile to him shows that cultural and political elites in the United States keep getting things wrong. Read more “One Clear Verdict from 2020 is That Trumpism Is Here to Stay”

Viktor Orbán’s Authoritarian Playbook

Viktor Orbán
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán arrives for a European Council meeting in Brussels, October 16 (European Council)

For too long has the European Union tolerated the formation of a self-proclaimed “illiberal democracy” in its midst. A recent European Court of Justice ruling underscores that Hungary is not only in beach of the rule of law, but violates the very rights and values on which the EU is founded.

The court ruled earlier this month that restrictions imposed on foreign universities — which forced the George Soros-funded Central European University to relocate from Budapest to Vienna — were “incompatible” with the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, a French member of the European Parliament and its rapporteur on the situation in Hungary, commented that the ruling “should send a warning to Viktor Orbán: that it’s time to step back from the brink of autocracy and reverse the Hungarian government’s undemocratic path.”

Orbán, prime minister since 2010, has come a long way. He started his political career as a liberal anticommunist and ended up the most right-wing, authoritarian government leader in the EU.

If the rest of the bloc is to rein him in, it must first understand how he has been able to gain, and keep, his power.

This is Viktor Orbán’s authoritarian playbook. Read more “Viktor Orbán’s Authoritarian Playbook”

Demographics of the American Election

Donald Trump supporters
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a speech in Phoenix, Arizona, October 29, 2016 (Gage Skidmore)

Donald Trump has lost support across demographics since 2016. The president is down with white voters and voters of color; men and women; Catholics and Jews; millennials and boomers.

National polls give the Republican an average of just 42 percent support against 52 percent for Joe Biden.

However, because Democrats cluster in big cities, which are underrepresented in the Electoral College, Biden needs to win by 3 points nationally to have an even chance of winning the election.

Trump’s hope is to keep his losses among four (partially overlapping) constituencies in the states which hold the balance in the Electoral College to a minimum: white voters with and without a college degree, women and Latinos. Read more “Demographics of the American Election”