Why did Clinton’s poll numbers drop?

Hillary Clinton has slipped in the latest polls. A CBS/New York Times poll released today has her tied with Trump, 40 percent to 40 percent, and a Quinnipiac poll released yesterday has her losing to Trump in Florida, 39 percent to 42 percent. The consensus, in the commentariat, is that she has stumbled because of the controversy over her use of a private email server while secretary of state. On July 5, FBI director James Comey announced in a high-profile speech that his agency had finished its investigation, and he detailed its findings, some of which contradicted longstanding claims by Clinton. A number of news reports ascribe her lower popularity, accordingly, to the FBI’s report. “Mrs. Clinton’s shifting and inaccurate explanations of her email practices at the State Department appear to have resonated more deeply with the electorate,” writes the New York Times. The Washington Post notes that the polls were “all taken during or after Clinton’s roughest week of the general election, with FBI Director James Comey’s rebuke over her emails.” In New York Magazine, the link between the email scandal and the CBS/NYTimes poll is made explicit:

The timing of this poll probably had a lot to do with the results: It was taken beginning the very day the FBI findings on Clinton’s email usage were revealed, subsequently dominating the news the whole time these pollsters were in the field.

Well, maybe. Maybe the American electorate was really stunned to hear, after a steady drip of news about Clinton’s emails for over a year, that it was “extremely careless” of her to use a private email server but that the FBI wasn’t going to recommend filing any criminal charges. Maybe. But give the reptile brain a little credit, people. My suspicion is that for most people, at this point, the Clinton email controversy is just a holding place for their feelings about Hillary Clinton more broadly considered.

New York magazine gets the chronology wrong, inadvertently pointing to what may be the real story. Canvassers began asking questions for the CBS News/NYTimes poll not on July 5, the day of the FBI’s report, as New York claims, but on July 8. Polling continued until July 12. In other words, voters were sampled while the news cycle was dominated not by Clintons’ emails but by the death of five police officers in Dallas at a Black Lives Matter rally, at the hands of an aggrieved black veteran.

It’s been well documented for years now, thanks largely to the real-life experiment known as 9/11 and the George W. Bush administration, that, as one Scientific American article puts it, “When people feel safe and secure, they become more liberal; when they feel threatened, they become more conservative.” And what could be more scary to voters, especially white voters, than the events in Dallas? As the Times reported this morning, Trump plays on and his campaign is fueled by whites’ racial fears. It seems possible to me that the sudden drop in support for Clinton might be owed to a psychic retrenchment caused by fear. The good news, for Clinton supporters: It might therefore not be lasting. The bad news: It could and probably will happen again, mass shootings having become a regular feature of American life.

(The Quinnipiac poll, by the way, was conducted between June 30 and July 11, which overlaps with both the Clinton email news cycle and the Dallas shooting news cycle, so maybe the cause there is more mixed.)

Tariffs are the new picket lines

Update: I now think that the caveats in the final paragraph of this blog post outweigh the points that I was trying to make in the post itself, and I’m going to try to explain in a new post.

A month and a half ago, during a wide-ranging email conversation with a friend about the kinds of madness and extremism that are at large this election season, I admitted that “I have been daydreaming about writing a long blog post about all the ways in which upper middle class liberals are blind to the hatred of them, and to the reasonable motivations for that hatred, experienced by people outside their class.”

I never did write that blog post, in part because my friend and I continued our conversation, and I put most of my ideas into one of my later emails to him. I offer the email here, as a fragment, because even though the issues remain current, I don’t seem to have the stomach to polish it up into even a proper blog post. The only change I’ve made to my original email is to add links to document some of the claims.

To follow the thread of the argument, all you really need to know is that my friend had suggested, in an earlier email, that the economic power of the highly educated was resented nowadays almost as if it were a kind of sorcery.

My reply:

I don’t think that what the symbolic class has done is in fact as mysterious to the working class as you’re describing. I think it’s pretty simple, actually: the symbolic class enriched itself by shipping offshore the manufacturing jobs that used to employ the working class here in America, thereby increasing profits for companies whose stocks the symbolic class owns, rendering cheaper the goods that the symbolic class still has the money to buy, and rewarding themselves with high salaries in recognition of their improvement of their employers’ bottom lines.

Piketty claimed that contra classic economics, the progress of capitalism has been widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots. The only rebuttal of Piketty that persuaded me was one that pointed out that although he’s right, empirically speaking, about what has happened in America and Western Europe, he’s wrong about what’s happening on a global scale. In other words, globally, the classic economic model remains valid: overall, financial inequality is diminishing with time. But what that means, on the ground, is that wealth in the BRIC nations is increasing at the expense of the wealth of the poor and middle classes in America and Western Europe. Globally the normal distribution of wealth still obtains, but in order for wealth to find its natural level, now that most of the dikes and dams that used to isolate the nations have fallen, the Chinese worker has to be paid more than he has been, and the American worker less.

I dissent from your idea that this looks like sorcery. In fact, I think everyone pretty much knows what’s been going on. Or rather, I think many working-class people know what’s going on, though perhaps some of the woolly-minded symbolic elite have preferred to look away. Classical economics claims that free trade always improves everyone’s lives, and that if some manufacturing jobs are lost to a low-wage competitor, new jobs will take their place. But lately there’s been some economic evidence of what everyone already knows: those jobs are service jobs, lower in prestige and status and pay than the manufacturing jobs that have been lost.

The elite have responded to their own perfidy in two ways: the brutal and cynical among them choose to see themselves as supermen, above the communal morality that restrains the herd. The more thoughtful of the elite believe that the shift they have helped to engineer, and that they have profited from at the expense of less-privileged fellow-citizens, was inevitable, because of globalization, but have the decency to feel that they do owe something to the peons they have dispossessed of their livelihood. And so they support expanding and strengthening the welfare state. Thus all the millionaires at Goldman Sachs and McKinsey who donate to Clinton. They feel a bit guilty, but the dispossession of the American working class was going to happen even if they themselves didn’t have a hand in it, and all they can really do is offer a bit of compensation in the way of affordable housing and pre-K programs. What these liberal elites don’t realize, or would prefer not to realize, is that their condescension is even more roundly hated by the people they have harmed than the brutal, openly avowed selfishness of their fellow expropriators. The displaced worker is upset about his loss of dignity, and he’d rather that his enemy reveled in the theft than patronized his victim with “concern.”

Is this rational on the part of the dispossessed worker? No. Rationally considered, his best option is to take whatever handouts he can get from the upper-bourgeois managerial class. But it sticks in his craw. He doesn’t want to be the “good” object of charity. He wants to be what he once was: the ambivalently regarded, somewhat menacing worker who was an independent source of economic value. He’d rather, if need be, be “bad,” in fact. Trump is offering to give this worker back his independence and dignity. He’s salted the offer with a bit of crypto-white grievance, which is what the elite liberals have focused on, but I think Trump’s main appeal is the (phantasmatic) restoration of dignity and place in society. Unions have been delegitimized, politically, in America, but Trump’s vow to restore tariffs has the appeal of making America’s national borders serve as a kind of massive proxy union. Tariffs become the new picket lines, as it were.

Postscript: A few corrections and for-the-recordses. Trump’s winking invocations of racism and political violence are of course dangerous and increasingly seem a central part of him. The trade wars he threatens to wage wouldn’t achieve what the unions of the early twentieth century achieved, and are instead likely to do great harm. It may well be, moreover, that the elite symbolic class was correct and that globalization couldn’t have been delayed, let alone dodged. A sign of the inevitability: offshoring is now happening even to white-collar jobs. And finally, confusingly, despite a dispossession of the white working class that has spiked deaths among them by suicide, alcoholism, and drug abuse, American manufacturing is at an all-time high, if measured in dollars rather than employees—thanks to robots.

A precedent for the violence at Trump’s rallies

There’s a precedent for the symbiotic relationship between Trump and his protesters. Here’s a description of ritualized violence at the rallies of the English Fascist Oswald Mosley in the 1930s:

Violence was implicit in every aspect of the movement from the day of its foundation. Apart from the para-military character of the whole organization, the system on which meetings were run was deliberately provocative. The speaker would arrive in uniform accompanied by a uniformed escort. As he mounted the rostrum his escort would greet him with the Fascist salute and then form up in front of him, facing the audience, and assume a truculent attitude. The speaker would then warn his audience that any attempt to disrupt the meeting would be met by force, and frequently it was. This technique reached its height at one of Mosley’s biggest demonstrations at Olympia. 15,000 tickets were sold, mostly through the theatre ticket booking agencies, with considerable publicity engineered through the Daily Mail and the rest of the Rothermere press. A phalanx of uniformed Fascists filled the steps of the main entrance and the hallway, checking tickets and frisking suspected members of the public. The aisles of the hall were lined with other members, whose function soon became apparent. Mosley appeared to a fanfare of trumpets and started to make his speech. Before he had completed his first sentence someone in the audience got up and shouted a protest. Mosley immediately stopped speaking, a spotlight picked up the offender in the darkened hall, and a body of stewards ran in, beat him up and carried him outside. This process continued for more than two hours. Outside the hall there was an opposition meeting of 100,000 protestors, with a force of 700 foot and mounted policemen attempting to keep the two factions apart. The atmosphere became increasingly tense as the interrupters were ejected: many of them showing clearly the injuries which they had suffered. The whole affair was not finally over before the early hours of the morning.

The description comes from Jason Gurney’s memoir Crusade in Spain (Faber, 1974).

Christiane Taubira’s eulogy for the Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Tignous

A controversial Charlie Hebdo cartoon depicting Christiane Taubira, France’s minister of justice, has come up often in debates this past week about whether PEN America is right to want to award the French newspaper an award for courage in free expression. The cartoon deploys racist imagery in an attempt to send an antiracist message—you can see it and read more about it on the Understanding Charlie Hebdo website—and it was drawn by Charb, the newspaper’s late editor-in-chief.

Taubira attended Charb’s funeral, but it so happens that at the funeral of one of Charb’s colleagues, Bernard Verlhac, known as
Tignous, Taubira not only attended but delivered a eulogy, at the invitation of the mother of Tignous’s children. In the interest of adding to the evidence about context available to English-speaking readers, I’m posting here my rough translation of Taubira’s words, which she delivered while standing beside Tignous’s coffin, which friends and colleagues had decorated with cartoons. [In the text below, notes inside brackets and in italics are my glosses.]

Our emotions are braided together. . . . I want to express to you, madam, my immense gratitude for the invitation to share this moment with you, with all of you.

We know Tignous’s affinity for the world of the judiciary. Recently, in an example of his generosity, he offered to one of my colleagues a drawing whose unconventional and polished wit shows the caustic and lucid gaze that he cast on the self-contained world of the prison. Representing prison overpopulation, he had some detainees say, “Evict us, it’s the winter moratorium.” [In France, renters can’t be evicted between November and March, a period known as “la trêve hivernale,” even if they’re behind on their rent.]

Since 2010, he has been going around to penitentiaries—he was doing this with Dominique Paganelli—and he had a plan to do reporting on the theme of human relationships while in detention. All relationships. He envisaged publishing a comic book about them. ([Aside to Tignous’s family.] This project must not remain unfinished. With your permission, the justice ministry will contribute to it, if necessary.) Tignous himself used to explain that he started drawing during a trial that he was involved in. Then, for Charlie Hebdo, he covered some trials. The trial of a party who liked to implicate journalists and bring them to court, an important trial for French society, a trial about Scientology. And of course the sensational trial of Yvan Colonna, which he published an album about, a trial where he made it possible for us to understand questions that are essential for our society. He attended 34 days of courtroom sessions. He received this prize that you mentioned just now.

He belongs to the high and great lineage of courtroom artists, because the ban on photography in courtrooms has made necessary the visual testimony that has transmitted to us images of great trials, such as the images of Renouard, for the Dreyfus trial, of Captain Dreyfus. Or also the trial of Émile Zola after the publication of his sensational “J’accuse.”

Tignous is a professional. Scrupulous. Rigorous. Impertinent, of course. Funny, obviously. He belonged to the Association of the Judiciary Press, which I went to pay my respects to recently, in their headquarters at the Superior Court building. It’s a hive. One senses that it’s a hive, even if on that day they were all sitting there calm, grave, sad, but so dignified in that sadness.

Tignous had that magic pencil of his with which he aimed to transmit to us the emotions of a trial. He succeeded. Succeeded in capturing the creaking sound when a trial topples over. He succeeded in transmitting to us these dramas, with their unforeseen twists, with their unforeseeable ones, with their unimaginable ones. He constantly sought the good drawing, the one that transmits truly but also leads to reflection. He said it himself: the drawing that makes people laugh but not only that; the drawing that makes people think but not only that; the drawing, too, that makes people ashamed of having laughed over a solemn fact or situation. This captures all the subtlety that he put into this work, this mission, above all this art, of saying so much through a drawing.

Of course when one is the cartoonist one can choose the cartoon. He had some great forerunners in political cartooning, such as Daumier, who mocked princes, power—Louis Phillippe, in those days. And Daumier paid for the liberties he took, because he was jailed. Censorship made no compromises. One doesn’t mock power. Tignous had the same itch for taking liberties, this itch mixed up with politics and justice. He knew how to sketch the way that politics arrives, in its misplaced way, to mix itself up in justice. I’m thinking of that very beautiful drawing of his concerning that declaration by a former president of the republic about a proposed elimination of the position of judge of inquiry from the judicial system. Tignous showed this president declaring, since he had decided to eliminate the judges of inquiry: “Henceforth, it’ll be me who does the inquiries.” And this drawing provoked a lot of laughter, circulated a great deal, and contributed, I’m convinced—and I was there at the time, I was a member of Parliament, but today I still remain convinced—that this drawing contributed to the very strong mobilization of the judiciary that compelled a retreat on the part of this false act of breaking faith. [In 2009, Nicolas Sarkozy, then the French president, proposed eliminating the position of “juge d’instruction,” whose function is to investigate cases before they are brought to trial, roughly analogous to the function of the grand jury in America. Literally, the words of Sarkozy in Tignous’s cartoon were “Henceforth, it’ll be me who gives the instructions.”]

Tignous made commitments. Deep ones. For him a commitment was not a vain word, it was not a pose. And so he took part in, he was associated with Cartooning for Peace, which was created by Plantu and Khofi Annan in 2006. This beautiful project of cartoons for peace, which consisted of mixing together perceptions, beliefs, cultures, but also of bringing solidarity, protection, support, assistance to women and men who cartooned in intolerant countries, to women and men who dared to express themselves through drawing, the universal lanaguage, in these difficult contexts. And Cartooning for Peace put together, drew up a table of taboos in the world. And captured some fairly remarkable taboos. Such as, for example, the ban on drawing anti-church cartoons in Russia. But these taboos revealed to us, as they were sketched by these cartoonists, revealed to us the fault lines of certain societies. Anti-church, in Russia: taboo. Representations of death, in Sweden: taboo. In Morocco it’s more prudent not to try to depict the king. And they asked, these humorists, these artists, these satirical cartoonists, they asked: but France, the country of Voltaire and of irreverence, is it a country where any taboos exist? Do taboos exist? Well, yes, according to them, it’s better to avoid drawing and caricaturing the CGT trade union for printers, for daily newspapers. [Laughter.] But otherwise no, no taboos. One can draw anything. Even a prophet. Because in France, in the France of Voltaire and of irreverence, one has the right to make fun of religions. A right. Yes, because a right, that’s what democracy is about. Democracy is the rule of law, according to the philosopher Alain.

Today is a day of good-bye. It’s a day of good-bye for Bernard Maris, for Elsa Cayat, for Wolinski. Yesterday was a day of good-bye for Cabu, and up to the twentieth . . . And today it’s good-bye to Tignous. Tignous and his from now on inseparable comrades. Journalists, cartoonists, economist, psychoanalyst, proofreader, guards—they were the sentinels, the watchmen, the lookouts even, who kept watch over democracy to make sure it didn’t fall asleep. Constantly, relentlessly denouncing intolerance, discrimination, simplification. Uncompromising. Armed only with their intelligence, with their sharp eyes, with this art of making it possible to see. Armed with only their pencils. Inseparable. United in irreverence, in a gentle cruelty. They brought about the awakening of three generations. The awakening of the consciences of three generations. They taught us, sometimes without our knowing it, about the virtues of freedom of thought and speech. They nurtured our capacity for indignation. And they led us sometimes into the dizzy pleasure of forbidden laughter. They were journalists, cartoonists—”wise-asses,” I’ll take the risk of saying, in order to be true to them. Tignous, Cabu, Charb, Wolinski, Honoré. And those who contributed. Bernard Maris, Elsa Cayat, Mustapha Ourrad, Michel Renaud, Frédéric Boisseau. They were police: Clarissa Jean-Philippe, Ahmed Merabet, Franck Brinsolaro. They were Jews: Philippe Braham, Yohan Cohen, François-Michel Saada, Yoav Hattab. They were the faces of France, hatefully assassinated for that. For what they were. The violence of these murders, of these assassinations, the barbarity of these crimes, the numbing, the stupefying horror, let us recognize it, has smashed our everyday sense of security, our routine, and, let us admit it, our drowsiness about these values, which we thought we had inherited from the Enlightenment, but about which we had forgotten that they carried with them the necessity of vigilance. And at the end of these horrible crimes, we can see that something was in the process of going lax in us. And this alarm reminds of our ambitions—which have been too long silent, too easily abandoned—for social justice, equality, education, and attention to others. We must find again that humanity and that uncompromising outlook that characterized Tignous.

To you, his four children, Marie, Jeanne, Solal, Saralou. To you, Chloé. To his family, to his friends, to those from Charlie. His day-to-day way of being in the world carried with it a number of lessons. Lessons that are perhaps summed up by these words of Paul Éluard: “The light is about to go out everywhere, but spring is here, which hasn’t ever finished.” On Sunday, four million people marched. People said it was a day without words, this January 11, because there weren’t any speeches. There were however words written on signs. There were pencils held up, promising so many drawings, and so many words. Above all, with everyone, at every step, there were of course these words from Paul Éluard, again, which spoke to the comrades of Tignous, to Tignous himself, in order to tell them, “You were dreaming of being free, and I continue you.” You were dreaming of being free, and I continue you.

[UPDATE, 10 May 2015: @Freak_Theory and Robert McLiam Wilson (@Parisbob2001) have fixed some of the errors in my translation and figured out how to upload the text as subtitles. Their subtitled version is now available on Youtube, and I’ve taken the liberty of incorporating here some of the corrections they made.]