We’re off to the bear-flag republic to study the natives, after 3 months of puzzling and mercurial new president

Apr 20th, 2017 | By | Category: In Brief

On Throckmorton Avenue in Mill Valley, CA, where not many residents like Donald Trump.

This coming Saturday morning the entire staff here (except for Dominic Berry, who has a big date with his current squeeze at a local sporting event) will be boarding an airplane at YYZ, bound for our regular seminar with technical support staff currently residing in the land of the Golden State Warriors.

(They are now, for the somewhat longer term they say, headquartered in Mill Valley – “about 14 miles [23 km] north of San Francisco via the Golden Gate Bridge” – with additional offices in Jerry Brown’s beautiful downtown Oakland.)

We’ll be back in our old streetcar-suburb editorial offices here in Toronto, north of the Great Lakes, at some point during the first week of May. And someone among us will report on our latest California adventures then.

Meanwhile, we leave parting thoughts for the time being on four (and a half) subjects, that may or may not be somewhat related :

(1) FRENCH ELECTION APRIL 23, MAY 7. The first round of the presidential election in France will take place this coming Sunday, April 23, just as we are settling into Mill Valley.

French actress Isabelle Huppert accepts award for best actress in a motion picture drama for her role in the movie Elle at the Golden Globes in Beverly Hills, CA, on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017. (Paul Drinkwater/NBC via AP.)

If the helpful Wikipedia site “Opinion polling for the French presidential election, 2017” is any guide (and of course it may not be!), the extreme right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen might actually finish first among the 11 official first-round candidates.

But don’t get too worried just yet. The centre-left candidate Emmanuel Macron (vaguely Justin Trudeauesque in Canadian eyes) is at least likely to finish second (and may even be first). And he will go on to defeat Le Pen handily in the second round of voting between the top two first-round candidates on May 7. (While many may still wonder : what exact array of forces in the Assemblée nationale will Macron’s new movement try to govern with after he wins?)

Even the polling that may well be wrong, or at least misleading, also allows for some possibility that the scandal-plagued centre-right candidate François Fillon may finally do better than Macron (or Le Pen?).  And even the far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon – “who can make fools of his rivals in debate” – has been polling strongly. (In one survey from April 13—15 he actually beats Le Pen for second place on April 23, only two points behind Macron in first!) Marine Le Pen herself claims she will defy the polling altogether and finally win everything!

Dominic Berry just wishes this was him! In fact it’s Hollywood actor Dominic Sherwood with friends Katherine McNamara and Emeraude Toubia, waiting for the April 23 first round of the French election.

The eloquent Jeremy Harding had an engrossing April 10 piece on the London Review of Books Blog called ‘The Outsiders‘.  It drew attention to certain similarities between Le Pen on the far right and Mélenchon on the far left. They share “the ideological confusion that Europe is experiencing, with the new hard right and an older left refraining from objections to the Trump ascendancy, and to Brexit, on the grounds that the real enemy is liberal market ideology and the European behemoth that drives it.”

Whatever else, “It’s going to be a very interesting election” – as the puzzling and mercurial President Trump himself has prophesied, in an interview with the UK Financial Times.

* * * *

(2) TRUMP CONGRATULATES ERDOGAN ON WEAKENING DEMOCRACY IN TURKEY. Like many others we were concerned by both the recent referendum to strengthen presidential powers in Turkey, and by President Trump’s phone call to congratulate his fellow president on the narrow result.

Protesting against results of the referendum in Istanbul, Turkey, April 16, 2017. Credit : STRINGER/REUTERS.

See, eg : “Trump congratulates Erdogan on referendum result despite international concerns … Earlier Monday Trump’s State Department cited ‘observed irregularities’ on voting day in Turkey” ; “Turkish referendum: Erdogan’s narrow victory and the country’s deep divide … Turkey’s past in constant conflict with its future” (Nil Köksal) ; “The death of democracy in Turkey …  Adnan R. Khan reports from Turkey on the disputed referendum and the dangerous rise of the cult of President Erdogan” ; and “Joy-Ann Reid reports on … legitimacy of a Turkish referendum … authoritarian power grab seen in Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s win” (MSNBC).

All this is at least somewhat more poignant for we counterweights editors as a result of our earlier encounters with the place and the issue, reported on by the redoubtable Citizen X – “A Day in Istanbul,” Oct 25th, 2007 and “Istanbul Revisited 2013,” Jun 17th, 2013.

Istanbul 2007.

In some similar spirit we noted Haluk Demirbag’s April 17 tweet –  I do not recognize the President of #Turkey as my president. He & his mafia-AKP rigged the #teferendum. He has promulgated his #dictatorship.”

And we replied with : “Our sympathies and condolences. Best of luck in future. Turkey could be such an interesting and inspiring democracy!”

Who knows? The longer term future may finally show that Turkey doesn’t really need Recep Tayyip Erdogan, any more than the USA needs Donald Trump.

(3) CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’ SPRING 2017. Bound for the Golden State as we are – as dreamed of long ago by The Mamas & The Papas (who look so innocent today?) – we have already started to pay some attention to its regional and local news.

At first we thought one side-bar of our trip this time might involve a whimsical update on the California secessionist movement, as the presidency of Donald Trump settles in. (If that is in fact what is happening in these rather strange times ??)

Now the movement seems to be disintegrating even before our arrival. See, eg : “The author of the ‘Calexit’ initiative calls it quits on his proposal for a 2018 ballot measure” ; and “‘Calexit’ campaign dropped as leader bolts for Russia” (and note that the “author” and “leader” here are two different people : not all California secessionists are also mixed up with Russia!).

If memory serves, only President Obama’s birth state of Hawaii (and the District of Columbia?) was more opposed to Donald Trump than California in the 2016 election. Yet Scott Lucas on the Politico Magazine site has recently underlined another side to the bear-flag republic in “How California Gave Us Trumpism … Some of the president’s most hard-line advisers forged their beliefs in reaction to what they saw in their home state.”

We were struck, eg, by the story of Michael Anton – “an erudite high-level National Security Council aide” who “was raised in Northern California, including ultra-liberal Santa Cruz.” Anton “attended Berkeley” in his youth, where he “discovered Leo Strauss, a conservative German-American political theorist, through his student Allan Bloom’s book The Closing of the American Mind, a broadside against the campus culture wars.”

Scott Lucas carries on : “As a member of the Berkeley College Republicans, Anton grew disgusted with his fellow students’ culture of liberal protest over issues like South African apartheid, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and nuclear power. ‘I mean, you’ve got to understand, Berkeley is insane,’ he recently told the Atlantic.” (Perhaps insanity like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It does in any case seem strange to us for a Donald Trump supporter to be complaining about insanity in someone or something else!)


Helen Charman.

* Returning briefly to the London Review of Books Blog, Helen Charman, a young UK literary theorist (is that the right term?) has also recently written in an engaging way “about the problem of context and the portrayal of ‘rape fantasy’ in Paul Verhoeven’s Elle.”

* According to an Angus Reid poll, more than two-thirds of Canadians “say the issue of further reforming or abolishing the Senate is serious enough to merit re-opening Canada’s constitutional debate.” Our view is right on! Are any politicians listening? (And yes let’s look at Quebec, indigenous rights, the future of the British monarchy in Canada, and whatever else too.)

* Our nomination for quote of the week comes from recent Liberal Party of Canada fund-raising emails, alluding to the Trudeau government’s legalizing marijuana policy :  “It’s too easy for our kids to get marijuana. The Liberal government is going to change that with a smarter, safer plan.”

Isabelle Huppert in French movie Elle.

* Mark Kingwell, University of Toronto philosophy professor and sometime talking head on the much-abused CBC TV series about Canada , The Story of Us, has a suitably amusing (and apt) piece in the April 20 Globe and Mail called “The real story of us: We can’t agree on anything.”

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