Friday 4 September, 2020

The Wall

A wall in Arles, July 2019, during the annual Festival of Photography

Quote of the Day

“I have never found, in a long experience of politics, that criticism is ever inhibited by ignorance.”

  • Harold Macmillan, Wall Street Journal, 1963

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Norah Jones – Mini Concert Live in the Home (15’36”)


One of the nicest discoveries of the lockdown.

Are we witnessing the beginning of the end of the American experiment with democracy?

Alarmist? Maybe. But even a normally level-headed outfit like the Economist is beginning to sound alarmed. Here’s a clip from its lead story:

If the election is close and there are delays in counting ballots on election night, it could well appear that Mr Trump is winning in some key states. He might then claim victory before the results were in, as he did in Florida’s 2018 mid-terms. As more postal votes are counted, the result could then shift in Mr Biden’s favour. America would have two candidates claiming victory. Electoral cases in multiple states might have to be heard in the courts. Protests would surely erupt, some of them armed. The president might call out the national guard, as he threatened to do this summer, or send federal agents into Democratic cities to police restive crowds, as happened in Portland. At this distance, it is easy to forget quite how wrenching a disputed presidential election was in 2000. And that dispute took place at a time of maximum American self-confidence, before 9/11, before the rise of China, before elections were fought on social media, and when the choice was between two men who would be considered moderate centrists by current standards.

Now imagine something like the Florida recount taking place in several states, after an epidemic has killed 200,000 Americans, and at a moment when the incumbent is viewed as both illegitimate and odious by a very large number of voters, while on the other side millions are convinced, regardless of the evidence, that their man would have won clearly but for widespread electoral fraud…

And here’s Farhad Manjoo with a piece in the NYT headed “I’m Doomsday Prepping for the End of Democracy”:

My wife, Helen, and I got into a quarrel the other day about how to plan for America’s bleak future. Our family needs to replace an aging car, but I’ve been hesitant, wary of making any new financial commitments as the nation accelerates into the teeth of political chaos or cataclysm. What if, after the election, we need to make a run for it? Why squander spare cash on a new car?

Helen thinks I’m being alarmist — that I’m LARPing “The Handmaid’s Tale,” nursing some revolutionary fantasy of escape from Gilead. But I think she — like a lot of other white, Gen X native-born Americans who’ve known mostly domestic peace and stability — is being entirely too blasé about the approaching storm.

As an immigrant who escaped to America from apartheid-era South Africa, I feel that I’ve cultivated a sharper appreciation for political trouble. To me, the signs on the American horizon are flashing blood red.

Armed political skirmishes are erupting on the streets, and scholars are tracking a rise in violence and instability as the election draws near. Gun sales keep shattering records. Mercifully, I suppose, there’s a nationwide shortage of ammo. Then there is the pandemic, mass unemployment, natural disasters on every coast, intense racial and partisan polarization, and not a little bit of lockdown-induced collective stir craziness.

There’s also this: Helen skipped the Republican convention. I watched it wall-to-wall, and it drove me to despair. In that four-night celebration of Trumpism, I caught a frightening glimpse of the ugly end of America, an authoritarian cult in full flower, and I am not keen to stick around much longer to see if my terrifying premonition pans out…

And here’s David Brooks, a conservative, in the same newspaper with a column headed “What Will You Do if Trump Doesn’t Leave?”.

On the evening of Nov. 3, Americans settle nervously in front of their screens to await elections results. In the early hours Donald Trump seems to be having an excellent night. Counting the votes cast at polling places, Trump is winning Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Those states don’t even begin processing mail-in ballots until Election Day, yet Trump quickly declares victory. So do many other Republican candidates. The media complains that it’s premature, but Trumpworld is ecstatic.

Democrats know that as many as 40 percent of the ballots are mail-in and still being counted, and those votes are likely to be overwhelmingly for Joe Biden, but they can’t control the emotions of that night. It’s a gut punch.

As the mail-in ballots are tallied, the Trump leads erode. But the situation is genuinely unclear. Trump is on the warpath, raging about fraud.

Within weeks there are lawsuits and challenges everywhere. It’s like Florida in 2000, but the chaos is happening in many states at once. Ballots are getting tossed because of problems with signatures, or not getting tossed, amid national frenzy.

Trump says he won’t let Democrats steal the election and declares himself re-elected. It’s an outrage, but as when he used the White House for a campaign prop during his convention, who’s going to stop him?

David Graeber RIP

This is really sad news. Britain’s best and most articulate polemicist has died at the age of 59. Drake Bennett has a generous tribute to him in Bloomberg News.

I profiled Graeber for Bloomberg Businessweek during Occupy Wall Street, and he was already starting to think about other things: Why were the fruits of technological innovation so lame? Why are so many jobs so unfulfilling? Why do we still work so much? He’d tackle these topics in future essays, books, and “work rants.” Were the arguments sometimes simplistic? Yes. Were straw men avoided and opposing points of view soberly weighed? They were not. Graeber was a polemicist, and a delightful one. To read his writing was to find oneself suddenly ping-ponging through thousands of years of history, so that the Hindu Vedas are in conversation with the stand-up comedian Steve Wright, the divorce proceedings of George W. Bush’s brother Neil open a window into the African Lele people’s concept of blood debt, and where corporations, emerging from Medieval canon law, “are the most peculiarly European addition to that endless proliferation of metaphysical entities so characteristic of the Middle Ages—as well as the most enduring.”

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