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 constant 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”

Biden Plans $1.9 Trillion Coronavirus Rescue Program

United States Capitol
Workers drape a flag from the facade of the United States Capitol in Washington DC for Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony, January 9 (Victoria Pickering)

Joe Biden is planning to ask Congress for $1.9 trillion in the first weeks of his presidency to cope with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

Matthew Yglesias and Punchbowl News, a new Capitol Hill-focused newsletter, have the details:

  • $400 billion for health, including $50 billion for testing, $30 billion for protective gear and $20 billion for vaccinations.
  • Hire 100,000 public health workers.
  • A mandatory paid sick leave program.
  • $1,400 cheques to all Americans on top of the $600 cheques sent in December.
  • Extend federal unemployment benefits at $400 per week.
  • Extend the eviction moratorium.
  • $30 billion in rental assistance.
  • Raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.
  • Raise the child tax credit to as much $3,600 per year for families with young children.
  • $350 billion in financial relief for local, tribal and state governments. Read more “Biden Plans $1.9 Trillion Coronavirus Rescue Program”

Is the Republican Dam Breaking?

Donald Trump
American president Donald Trump attends a meeting in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018 (Office of the President of the Republic of Finland/Juhani Kandell)
  • Liz Cheney, the number-three Republican in the House of Representatives, will vote to impeach Donald Trump for inciting an attack on the United States Capitol to overturn the election of Joe Biden.
  • So will Representatives Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dan Newhouse of Washington; Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio; John Katko of New York, a former federal prosecutor; Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, an Air Force veteran; and Peter Meijer and Fred Upton of Michigan.
  • Charlie Baker, Larry Hogan and Phil Scott, the Republican governors of Massachusetts, Maryland and Vermont, support impeachment.
  • So does Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate. Read more “Is the Republican Dam Breaking?”

Cabinet Coup Would Give Trump His Own Dolchstoßlegende

1924 German National Peoples Party poster
1924 German National People’s Party election poster promotes the myth that socialists stabbed soldiers fighting in World War I in the back

Democrats in the United States are urging Vice President Mike Pence and members of the cabinet to remove Donald Trump from power under the Twenty-fifth Amendment to the Constitution.

This could be a mistake.

It would be constitutionally dubious. The Twenty-fifth Amendment allows a majority of the cabinet to replace a president who has become incapacitated. It wasn’t designed to topple a president who is still technically able to carry out his duties.

It can be argued Trump has proved himself “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” by inciting a mob of his supporters to storm the Capitol on Wednesday in an attempt to prevent the certification of Joe Biden’s election. But I can think of a dozen more examples of Trump’s behavior from the last year alone that proved his unfitness for office.

More worrisome than potentially setting a bad precedent is that a cabinet coup would add fuel to the fire of the stab-in-the-back myth Trump and his supporters are already writing. It could give the outgoing president just the pretext he needs to lead an insurgency against the next government of the United States. Read more “Cabinet Coup Would Give Trump His Own Dolchstoßlegende”

This Is a Putsch

Paris France riot
Rioters attack police in the Place de la Concorde of Paris during the attempted overthrow of the French government on February 6, 1934 (Wikimedia Commons)

I’m not sure how to describe what’s happening in Washington DC today as anything other than an attempted coup.

It’s like Berlin 1920 or Paris 1934. Right-wing militias, egged on by conservative politicians, storm parliament in an attempt to topple a democratically elected government. In this case, a president-elect: Joe Biden. Read more “This Is a Putsch”

Trump Supporters Storm Capitol During Readout of Election Results

United States Capitol protest
Donald Trump supporters demonstrate outside the United States Capitol in Washington DC, January 6 (Tyler Merbler)
  • Donald Trump supporters stormed the United States Capitol on Wednesday as Congress was debating the outcome of November’s presidential election.
  • Lawmakers were evacuated from their chambers. Shots were fired inside the House of Representatives. Four people died.
  • Police used teargas and pepper spray to disperse the mob.
  • Lawmakers had been debating a challenge to Arizona’s Electoral College votes for Joe Biden.
  • President Trump encouraged the riot in a speech outside the White House, saying, “Our country has had enough and we will not take it any more.” He later called on supporters to leave the Capitol grounds. Read more “Trump Supporters Storm Capitol During Readout of Election Results”

Be Wary of the Return of Big Government

Union Station Washington DC
South Front Entrance of Union Station in Washington DC, July 4, 2019 (Unsplash/Caleb Fisher)

Big government is back.

Massive rescue programs have prevented business failures and unemployment on the scale of the Great Depression, even though last year’s economic contraction was nearly as bad. The European Union agreed a €750 billion recovery fund, financed, for the first time, by EU-issued bonds. The money comes on top of national efforts. The United States Congress passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus, worth 10 percent of GDP, in March and added another $484 billion in April. An additional $900 billion in relief was included in this year’s budget.

Joe Biden, the incoming American president, wants to spend $2 trillion more over the next four years to transition the United States to a greener economy and create a public health insurance program. Corporate tax would go up from 21 to 28 percent.

In Spain, a socialist government has introduced the biggest budget in Spanish history — partly to cope with the impact of coronavirus, but also to finance digitalization, electric car and renewable energy subsidies, infrastructure and rural development. Taxes on income, sales and wealth are due to increase.

In the United Kingdom, the ruling Conservative Party is building more social housing and it might renationalize rail. Unlike during the last economic crisis, it does not propose to cut spending even though tax revenues are down.

Same in the Netherlands, where all the major parties agree the government needs to do more to reduce pollution and prevent people at the bottom of the social ladder from falling through the cracks.

I’m not opposed to more government per se. I’ve argued that the United States should imitate countries in Northern Europe to improve its public services, particularly child and health care and housing.

But let’s be careful not to throw “more government” at every problem. Sometimes government is the problem. Read more “Be Wary of the Return of Big Government”

What Biden Should Prioritize in His First Term

Joe Biden
Former American vice president Joe Biden gives a speech in Des Moines, Iowa, January 4, 2020 (Phil Roeder)

Joe Biden’s priority as president will be alleviating the COVID-19 pandemic, which the outgoing president, Donald Trump, has mismanaged. 350,000 Americans are dead. Nearly 11 million are unemployed. Republicans were slow to approve the latest stimulus, which Trump, seemingly without consulting lawmakers of his own party, threatened to veto and then signed anyway.

But the Democrat’s first-term goal must be to revitalize the American Dream, which is out of reach for most.

In the 47 years Biden has been in Washington, first as a senator, then as vice president, social mobility has declined to the point where Europeans are now more likely to grow out of poverty than Americans. Real incomes have been stagnant for everyone but the wealthy. Traditional middle-income jobs have been outsourced or made redundant by automation. Most job growth comes from established businesses, not startups, suggesting a decline in entrepreneurship. Housing is unaffordable in the very metro areas where those jobs are. There are fewer opportunities for workers without a college degree, and the cost of higher education has outpaced income growth. So have the costs of child care and health care, making it harder for families to combine childrearing and work.

America could learn from Nordic countries and the Netherlands, which combine competitive, free-market economies with generous social protections for the middle and working class.

Many of Biden’s policies would move America in that direction.

Here’s where I would start. Read more “What Biden Should Prioritize in His First Term”

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”