Even the Republican ‘skinny’ relief bill failed. How is such unnecessary suffering justified?

The following is a repost from The Guardian, September 14. It is still timely. And I’m a bit more than biased about the quality of the writing as the author is my sister. Enjoy.

Margaret Somers

Republicans shouldn’t be immune from being called out for their inconsistency. Let’s not forget they once said cutting taxes on the wealthy would incentivize them to work harderMitch McConnell’s sounded ‘all but liberated from any more pressure to show compassion before the election’ after the failure of the ‘skinny’ Covid-19 relief bill.Mitch McConnell’s sounded ‘all but liberated from any more pressure to show compassion before the election’ after the failure of the ‘skinny’ Covid-19 relief bill. Photograph: Michael Brochstein/Sopa Images/Rex/ShutterstockMon 14 Sep 2020 08.44 EDT

The 31 million Americans struggling with unemployment today are not a whit less desperate and fearful now that Mitch McConnell’s “skinny” Covid-19 relief bill failed to pass the US Senate. Thursday’s performative theatrics did little more than provide cover to vulnerable Republicans and add one more day to the now six weeks since Senate Republicans refused to extend the extra $600 in Covid-related weekly jobless benefits. With McConnell sounding all but liberated from any more pressure to show compassion before the election, and the media’s attention pinned to shinier Trumpian objects, it is even more imperative to refocus on the crisis at hand and to dig beneath the hollow excuses for such demonstrable indifference on the part of lawmakers. It is time to find an answer to the question: how is such unnecessary suffering justified?The danger is now clear: Trump is destroying democracy in broad daylightJonathan FreedlandRead more

According to the Republicans, the aid is “too generous” and “disincentivizes” the unemployed from seeking work. So perverse are the effects of these benefits, they argue, that it is actually workers gaming the system who are slowing the economic recovery, not the Covid-driven loss of millions of jobs.

That these charges persist despite significant evidence to the contrarytestifies to the power of the conservative creed that few things in life are more perilous than excess government compassion: “unearned” income such as unemployment benefits perversely undermines recipients’ self-discipline and willingness to work, leaving them even worse off. It is a self-evident truth of human nature, conservatives avow, that relieving the suffering of those in need induces dependence and indolence, whereas deprivation incentivizes labor.Advertisementhttps://tpc.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

Here’s the secret sauce: since that which is “self-evident”, such as ideas about human nature, can be neither proved nor disproved, such truths are conveniently immune to debunking evidence. Thus they persist.

They should not, however, be immune from being called out for their stunning inconsistency. In 2017 these same Republicans trumpeted a radically different truth about human nature when they pronounced that cutting taxes on the wealthy would incentivize them to work harder, invest more and spur rapid economic growth.

But how is it that extra money incentivizes the rich to become paragons of moral virtue and economic rainmakers, whereas for working people it incentivizes them to become social parasites and economic saboteurs? How can there be one human nature for the 1%, and another for the rest of us?

It’s a question too rarely asked. So deeply rooted in Anglo-American political culture is this bifurcated view of human nature that it’s treated almost like natural law. In fact, it’s a product of history, originally designed to solve a problem not unlike our own, and tied to the early capitalist need for a new industrial workforce.

In the last decades of the 18th century, the English upper classes revolted against the tax burden of the centuries-old system of poor relief – so named not because it was welfare but because “the poor” were simply those who had to work for a living. As protection against cyclical structural unemployment, its recipients bore no stigma, and access to its benefits was considered a right.

When the need for jobless benefits escalated under the pressures of early industrialization, angry taxpayers found an advocate in Thomas Malthus, who turned centuries of social policy on its head by asserting that poverty was caused not by systemic unemployment but by government assistanceitself. Providing the template for today’s Steve Mnuchins and Lindsey Grahams, he explained that aid to the jobless perversely incentivized them not to seek work.

Malthus based his argument on a novel view of human nature: society consisted of two “races”: property owners and laborers. While the first embodied the high morality of Enlightenment rationality, the latter were not moral actors but motivated only by their biological instincts. When hungry, they were industrious; when full, they lazed. They did little more than think through their bodies.

As in the natural world, maintaining chronic scarcity was the necessary motor of the whole system. Since the pangs of hunger alone disciplined the poor to work, if you remove that scarcity by “artificial” means – and nothing was more artificial than government assistance – the incentive to work dissolves. But it was not enough to simply abolish public assistance, although Malthus is rightfully credited for his role in doing just that. He also railed apocalyptically against reducing scarcity through charity. Society’s very future depended on the unemployed being fully exposed to the harsh discipline of the labor market.

Malthus’s enduring contribution to social policy was thus to make hunger the virtuous suffering that underpins a productive workforce, and “too much” the virtuous luxury that unleashes the social contributions of the rich. Armed with these two views of humanity – the rich depicted as noble paragons, the poor as inherently indolent and parasitic – conservative social policy continues to declaim the unfounded “truth” that a strong economy depends on inflicting pain on workers while providing government largesse to the rich.

The most recent iteration began with Reagan’s massive tax cuts in tandem with his attacks on “welfare queens”. It continued through the derisive conservative trope of “makers and takers” to Mitt Romney’s infamous “47%” of “entitled” “tax shirkers” to former House speaker John Boehner’s 2014 claim that the jobless think “I really don’t have to work … I’d rather just sit around” to today’s tax-cutting Republicans, who announced that they will extend jobless benefits “over our dead bodies”.

To be sure, today’s policymakers would be hard pressed to name the Malthusian roots of their belief in the perils of compassion. But that makes it no less urgent to expose their policies as based on nothing more than historical fiction. For there is a darker message lurking within this view of human nature: Reducing working people to their bodily instincts robs them of their moral worth and, as we know from how our “essential” workers have been treated, makes them utterly disposable.

  • Margaret Somers is Professor of Sociology and History, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Her most recent book, co-authored with Fred Block, is The Power of Market Fundamentalism: Karl Polanyi’s Critique (Harvard, 2016)

Bonjour de Paris vide

Last Friday, my computer and my Wi-Fi stopped talking to each other. I have reached out to savvy techy friends and to Apple support. A bit like taking two entities to a therapy session in hopes they will start to get along again. No dice. They refuse. As frustration built—I know nothing about how these things work internally, but am completely dependent on my computer for my work—I hit a wall and just had to laugh. It was one thing after another. By Tuesday evening, I was ready to impulsively buy a new laptop from Apple and have it delivered—even though it wouldn’t be delivered until the end of May. Meanwhile, through extensive searching through way too much stuff, I found an itty bitty keyboard that works with my mini-iPad. Wednesday morning, I woke up and thought “Just use your iPad Sara, make do. Take the time to do some research. Apple stores will probably open up by end of May.” So that’s what I’m doing. This is doing for me what the virus did not do: slowing me down. I can’t get to many of my files. Security for sites like Dropbox is so good, it is next to impossible to jump through the hoops to get to your own work when using a different device. Each time I say a Grrrrrrrr, this is so frustrating, I remind myself that I’m choosing the iPad. No one is doing this to me.

The Louvre and the pyramid. Photo: Brigid Blanco

Having most of my time taken up with problem solving, I haven’t written a blog. Now for the first time, I’m using my what seems to me to be giant finger tips, to type on this itty bitty keyboard. And I’m going to make it easier on myself by showing something no one in my life time has ever seen before two months ago. An empty Paris. A Paris with no tourists bustling around. A Paris without the busyness of cars frantic to get from one side to the other. A Paris where ducks and geese are swimming in the Seine, a river without boats and bateaux mouches.

Walking along the Quai, right bank, towards The Louvre photo: Brigid Blanco

Another gorgeous, sunny Spring day is unfolding in Paris. The irony to me is that this is the earliest Spring we’ve had in many years and most of us are respecting the Confinement guidelines by only being outside for short periods at a time. I read an article in the Guardian that said the change in ocean noise since the lockdown began, is so profound that whales are calling out to each other more. The Belin whale, who are always stressed by the ocean noise, are now destressing. Another reminder of the overwhelming impact, not just the virus is having on us, but our response is having on the planet.

Walking bridge over the Seine looking towards The Louvre, photo: Brigid Blanco

D-Day (J-Jour) is coming on Monday. I wonder if I will have a chance to get into the center of Paris before people hit the streets. I walked up to M&S yesterday and the sidewalks in the 16th were full of people, about 3/4s wearing the recommended face masks. The shoe store near the Passy Poste was open with no one inside. The e-cigarette store on Av Mozart was open. I couldn’t see inside. Two florists near M&S were open for the first time. I bought a bouquet of peonies. The florist made me wait outside while he wrapped the flowers for me to carry home.

Rue de Rivoli – May 5,2020 Photo: Brigid
Pont Alexandre III. Photo: Jeff Waters
side street looking towards Pantheon. Photo: Jeff Waters
Metro station at St. Michel/Notre Dame. Photo: Jeff Waters

Stay strong, stay safe and use your head when deciding whether or not to stay at home.

A bientôt,

Sara

Just another day in confinement; Paris, France

I woke up at 7:30 after sleeping terribly. So badly that I’d pulled the bottom sheet away from it’s nice hospital corner tuck-in. Am I anxious? I don’t think so but I’ve never slept so badly that it appears I’ve been wrestling someone or something. I get out of bed yawning as I have for the last five mornings. After making coffee and filling a bowl with fruit and yogurt, I meander to my computer to read the latest bad news. I can’t watch the news. I have to read it. If I don’t like the headline I can scroll down. I can start with the sports pages or the culture pages if I want to and then scroll upward. What I read this morning was that the President of the United States of America said he would not send life-saving equipment to any state if the Governor “isn’t nice to me”. I started crying. I’m living in a nightmare. Maybe I hadn’t really awaken. My sister said yesterday that he was favouring red states over blue. She calls him malevolent.

A part of me wanted to crawl back in bed and have a re-do. Energy just seeped away from my body. I turned the television on, went to YouTube and clicked on Walk at Home with Leslie Sansone. I’ve seen more of Leslie in the past three weeks than any friend on Zoom. I chose a Boost Walk and hoped I could march away the blues. I walked and marched and swung my arms and stomped my feet and muttered.

The fun of walking at home with Leslie Sansone

Thirty minutes later, I sat down at my computer to work. I can’t catch up with work. I felt resentful. The Guardian, every day, has a list of movies and box set TV shows that we can binge watch since we have nothing else to do. HA! If I could watch every season of MASH, I might give up on work, writing these blogs, keeping up with e-mails and all the things my publicity agent wants me to do for my book which comes out May 12. I haven’t found MASH anywhere. If you, wonderful reader, know where I can stream MASH, please let me know.

MASH is no longer on Netflix but is now streamed on Hulu

I spoke with a close friend in California the other evening. She told me how she and her daughter are taking walks and respecting the six foot distance, how check out lines at the food stores have tape on the ground six feet apart and people respect that. I seemed to be hearing that she was spending a lot of time outside of the house. I told her I’d been out three times in the past two weeks. “You haven’t even taken a walk?” No I haven’t. So I told myself I would use my hour of outdoor time today to walk over to the Bois de Boulogne and back. Then I saw an interview with Bernie Sanders who told us, the listening audience, “stay at home unless you absolutely, without a doubt, have to go out.” I don’t think a walk falls in that category. I felt paralyzed. Go out, stay in. When in doubt, leave it out. I still haven’t completely given up the idea. In my heart, I know we are being given better instructions in France than in the US but then one friend writes about being at the beach and how beautiful it is and another about hiking on a lovely trail and another describes the eery, terrible, wonder of empty streets in the middle of the day.

Coronavirus Cases: 1,210,422 view by country

Deaths: 65,449 Recovered: 251,822

Thursday, as the US announced that the limits would last until May 3 and the newspaper publishes horrifying statistics of deaths doubling overnight (New York had almost 600 yesterday), it began to sink in that there was a good chance that we’d be in confinement for a minimum of another month and likely two months. Intellectually, I knew that that was probably going to happen but acceptance is a whole other feeling. That’s probably my nighttime tossing and turning. History books will describe this time in my lifetime as “unprecedented”. To me, it’s like trying to live one day at a time with the braille method, trying to sense what is the right thing to do for my own self-care but also for my fellow citizen of Paris. Hoping and praying that what I’m doing and saying will ultimately be the best that one can do. And isn’t that what we are all doing?: the best we can do with the information we are given.

In France24.com this morning, a reporter was confirming what most of us are already suspecting–that we are in this for a very long haul. He thinks that the lockdown limits will be lifted slowly but not all at one time. He pointed out that already China is getting a second wave as people travel around again. So government administrators will have to really be prepared to advise as to how to begin living our lives outside of our homes. “The prime minister cited the possibility of easing lockdown measures on a region-by-region basis and “subject to a new testing policy – depending, possibly, on age and other factors”. It’s a scenario similarly touted in Italy – one of the countries hit hardest by the virus – where Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has said that a “return to normalcy” will have to be achieved “gradually”-(France24). But it’s not going to happen for awhile.

police checking on the reason for a couple to be sitting in a British park

The Guardian says that in the UK, people are starting to rebel against the going-outside restrictions. I don’t think they get fined the way we do here in France. I’ve rebelled against limitations so much in my life but this time, I’m more scared of getting sick than of following the advised restrictions. Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, since 2018, is now live telling people if they don’t obey the restrictions and stop putting others’ lives at risk, all outdoors exercise will be banned. I think this might be called ‘lockdown fatigue’. I’m sure it is what I was feeling the other day.

“May you live in interesting times.” That is a Chinese curse. (There is actually no record of this being a Chinese saying or curse but an English saying from a translation. No one has ever found what it is supposed to have been translated from.) These are indeed interesting times, times when each one of us has to be creative, self-motivated to care for ourselves and others. Getting our high on being with others isn’t going to happen. The crowd euphoria of singing and dancing at a club isn’t going to happen. Taking a long hike in the beauty of our natural world isn’t going to happen. We have been challenged to find ways to entertain ourselves and our loved ones and live within the parameters set by our governments. I wish for everyone that they find their best selves within and call on that being hourly to stay safe, stay well, stay inside, wash your hands and don’t touch your face.

A bientôt,

Sara

What to do during a Pandemic or how I spent my Lockdown being happy!

The sun is out in Paris. It’s quite cold. It’s very quiet-except at 8 (20:00)H in the evening. Then we are all out on our balconies clapping and cheering. Day 7 of lockdown. People have been sending me wonderful videos that make me laugh out loud. Others are sending ideas of what to do with my time. I keeping a list of everything because I think that once I do all the cleaning and organizing that I haven’t down since…forever, I will want these pieces of advice.

Here are 450 Ivy League courses you can take online right now for free. https://www.freecodecamp.org/news/ivy-league-free-online-courses-a0d7ae675869/ I grew up in Princeton. When I went to university, Princeton was still boys only. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have gotten in anyway. But now I have a chance to get that Ivy League Diploma I’ve always wished I had!!!

My friend, Nancy, back in Oakland (and who faithfully reads this blog! Thank you, Nancy) sent an e-mail with many idea to while away the time. The one that jumped out at me was: “Take this time to declutter and reorganize your home or apartment!” I’m already doing that but if I can get advice that will help me get it down faster and make it less complicated, I will use it. Some of these require shopping and I do hate to make Jeff Bezos richer but Amazon is delivering: https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/tips/g2610/best-organizing-tips/?slide=3&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=5e727c0952ce250001ce37cc&utm_source=5bb3df034c091406e33e1941&agent_id=5bb3df034c091406e33e1941

Then, whether we are inside or out, the weather is going to get warmer so here’s how to prepare your clothes for winter storage: https://www.apartmenttherapy.com/storing-winter-clothes-36717824?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=5e727c0952ce250001ce37cc&utm_source=5bb3df034c091406e33e1941&agent_id=5bb3df034c091406e33e1941

My friend, Marjorie, who also is a devoted fan of this blog sent along a couple of real winners. First resources for free virtual museum tours: http://mcn.edu/a-guide-to-virtual-museum-resources/ She says the Vatican virtual tours are spectacular: http://www.museivaticani.va/content/museivaticani/en/collezioni/musei/tour-virtuali-elenco.1.html Do you want to see Giselle at the Paris Opera: https://www.operadeparis.fr/en/magazine/giselle-in-replay The Guardian has links to the best theatre and dance to watch on-line: https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2020/mar/17/hottest-front-room-seats-the-best-theatre-and-dance-to-watch-online as well as opera and music: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2020/mar/16/classical-music-opera-livestream-at-home-coronavirus

Movies….don’t have or want Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hulu, here are hundreds of free movies on-line: Classics, Noir, Westerns and Indies: http://www.openculture.com/freemoviesonline And while you are there, look at the thousands of other interesting and challenging things you can do.

But Sara, I do have Netflix and Amazon Prime. The New York Times updates its list of Best Of every day: https://www.nytimes.com/article/coronavirus-quarantine-what-to-watch.html I took one suggestion and binge watched “The Stranger” by Harlan Coben while I cleaned out a closet, re-organized my filing system, did filing and then re-organized the closet. The Guardian loves lists. The Best Books of 2020. The top 50 movies of the past decade.

I have to stop here. Everyone in the world must be on their computer. Mine is slower than a turltle in hot weather. So here’s your final tip. The Metropolitan Opera is streaming free every until it runs out of operas. And Neil Young will soon be streaming from his fireside. How cool is that: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2020/mar/22/standup-sistine-chapel-best-online-culture-self-isolation-coronavirus-live-streaming

Now turn the news off and enjoy this time!

A bientôt,

Sara

A month later……

Since my last post, I contracted the common cold and was laid low for two weeks. It is beyond my comprehension that we can cure so many ills but the common cold still does most of us in and it just has to run its course. It starts so slowly and shows no sign of being menacing. Blowing my nose every five minutes. In Paris, my nose starts running Nov. 1 and lasts until March 31st. It seems to be the price of walking outside so much–to get the metro, see friends in cafes, etc. So who knew that that day turned into two weeks of misery. I had to cancel almost everything. I had a scheduled flight to San Francisco and anyone who has flown with a congested head knows how miserable and painful that can be. I was determined to be well before the flight even if it meant never moving from my couch.

I planned a month long trip to Oakland to see doctor’s, do my taxes, clean and organise my home and probably do repairs. I wasn’t looking forward to the trip. Paris is my home now and going to Oakland is work not a vacation. I still find it painful to wake up there with the news in your face 24 hours a day and none of it good. Scandal after scandal. Who’s going to jail for what financial or political conspiracy? There was one piece of great news that made me jump up and down. Congress and Senate, both I believe, voted to protect millions of acres of National Park land, land that the Trump administration has been trying to get it’s hands on and destroy the protections that have been in place for years. When I ask friends ‘how do you stand it?, the news?’ They inevitably respond, ‘I no longer listen to the news.’ I understand BUT…..how many of us that want things different aren’t listening anymore or reading anymore? How do we stay informed when the media just eats up all the distractions and twittering? My way was to record The Late Show with Stephen Colbert each night and watch it the next day. He always has some political person on and makes it funny enough to be palatable. It helps that he and I are on the same side of the fence.

Then there is the matter of the weather. I picked February and March to be in Oakland in hopes that I would miss the worst of Paris winter. And what happens? Oakland has not had weather higher than 54o and rain most of the time. Not just a little rain, but gales and flooding and high winds. I’ve been dressed like a ski bunny most of the time. And Paris?—gorgeous weather — 20o/21o. I saw a photo of people sunbathing in the Place de Vosges! My timing is impeccable.


Gusty winds and rain will move across the Bay Area in time for the evening commute. Meteorologist Kari Hall has the details in the Microclimate Forecast.

I was in Oakland one week when I learned that a very good friend of this blog, Philippe Melot, had died suddenly. He was fit, rode his bike regularly and hard, ate well, didn’t smoke, didn’t drink. I was just stunned. I still am. But it reminded me to tell everyone I know how grateful I am for their presence in my life, their friendship. You just never know. It will be a shock all over again when I get back to Paris and realise I will never see Philippe again. It just breaks my heart. He loved Americans and was so kind and generous to all of us. He was, in my opinion, a very special man and special Frenchman.

RIP Philippe

The Gilets Jaunes have not slowed down. I am dependant on my friends in Paris to keep me informed of all the activities. One would think nothing happened in the rest of the world if only watching American news. Even NPR only gives the highlights. I subscribe to The Guardian and keep up with the Brexit antics but Les Gilets Jaunes just get small print. A week ago, my friend Barbara wrote: “Violent protests again in Paris on Saturday. Went to the library to return your book and could hear explosions everywhere and smoke everywhere. My eyes were burning at Rue General Camou. Of course the library was closed. I could see gilets jaunes and CRS everywhere. Losing all hope that this is ever going to end.” Now I’ve come to understand that the gilets jaunes are attacking jews. This just keeps getting worse. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/24/alain-finkielkraut-winds-of-antisemitism-in-europe-gilets-jaune

So for the time being, the rain falls in Oakland, the sun shines in Paris. Brexit may not happen until 2021, if at all. The Gilets Jaunes are being courted by the far right of Marine LePen and the Italian President and Prime Minister (both financially supported by Putin??). Meanwhile, they continue to destroy Paris and cost the French government billions of dollars. I do not think this is the way to win friends and influence people. But France is the land of protest. Life goes on except for my dear friend, Philippe, who I will miss terribly.

A bientôt,

Sara

Les Gilets Jaunes–part 2

Hi from Paris,

Many of you have written to me to make sure I am okay as the tv reports showed a Paris out of control and burning.  I am fine.  The protests, the demonstrations and rioting have been in the centre of Paris where tourist attractions are and the wealthiest streets are.  It has affected my ability to travel around Paris.  Yesterday, we were warned ahead of time that forty metro stations would be closed.  And, as a caution, all tourists sites were closed, all museums closed and the department stores on the Grands Boulevards were closed.

What started as a protest against a tax on diesel fuel has now escalated to a full-blown rage at the cost of living in France, hatred of President Macron as a president of only the rich and a general overflowing of suppressed anger at the things the average French person cannot control

I have friends on both sides.  A number of my french friends are disgusted with the Gillets Jaunes.  They feel they do not appreciate all the services that they do get for ‘free’. The French pay one of the highest taxes in Europe and those taxes are what support the French Healthcare System which is remarkable, maintenance of roads and highways–they are always up to date, and many days and evenings during the year when the average person can go to museums and monuments for free.

I also have friends who support the Gilets Jaunes.  They also believe that this protest has been hijacked by the hooligans and the far-right as well as the infamous ‘black bloc’.  Many believe that the Gilets Jaunes want a peaceful protest but as one french worker said, “if we protest peacefully, we get ignored.  If there is violence, they hear us and things change.” (that is not an exact quote).

For those of you who want to read a lot more detail, I’ve included articles from the NYTimes, The guardian and France24.

https://www.france24.com/en/20181208-live-hundreds-detained-paris-france-braces-new-anti-macron-riots

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/08/paris-police-flood-streets-gilets-jaunes?utm_term=RWRpdG9yaWFsX0d1YXJkaWFuVG9kYXlVS19XZWVrZW5kLTE4MTIwOQ%3D%3D&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GuardianTodayUK&CMP=GTUK_email

No one knows what will happen next.  Macron is supposed to talk to the country early this coming week.  Is he going to stick to his revolutionary plan or will he have listened and be willing to work with the French?  And interesting sideline is the comparison to the 1968 student riots that brought Paris to a complete standstill.   “In an interview with the Observer, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, one of the leaders of the May 1968 student riots and one of Macron’s friends and advisers, said the president and the government needed a “complete reset …and a tax revolution” to answer protesters’ demands.”

Thank you all for your concern,

A bientôt,

Sara

 

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy

Until five months ago, I had never heard of Ta-Nehisi Coates. I started seeing ads for his latest book We Were Eight Years in Power on my digital version of The New Yorker. Last week, I was sent an advance copy of the book to review (it hit bookstores on October 7th but I received an unedited version) and my world turned upside down.

This is not a scholarly review.  This is a review of a citizen of the United States living in Paris trying to understand how and why Trump happened.

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The book consists of eight essays that Coates wrote for the Atlantic where he is now a Senior Editor. Each essay represents one year that Barak Obama was President. He prefaces each one with a present day writing telling us specifics of why he wrote what he wrote and how he sees the article now, 2017. He ends with an Epilogue about President Trump “our first white president”. The Guardian review calls him “the laureate of black lives”.

I am a seventy year old white woman living in Paris, France. I was raised in academia, my father taught at Princeton University. I say that I was released from behind Ivy League walls at eighteen years old a very naive young woman. I have always considered myself a liberal (my sister says that is a four letter word) and always voted Democrat. Never have I felt more naive and uneducated about the realities of the class system in the United States than reading Coate’s book.

Coates has a unique way of presenting his material in a New Yorker-type style while searing you with some very unpleasant truths. Truths that, the minute I read them, I knew were true though I’ve had my head in the sand for a long time. The Guardian says “Coates has the rare ability to express (it) in clear prose that combines historical scholarship with personal experience of being black in today’s America.” He calls all types of slavery, the Klu Klux Klan, White Supremacy ‘Domestic Terrorism’ which, of course, it is. Slavery was outlawed over 150 years ago, Blacks have the right to vote and the Civil Rights movement, of which I partook, was supposed to have ended all the inequality. Yet Blacks are consistently murdered and the murderers not indicted. Laws have been passed to stop Blacks from voting at the polls. Coates probably sited 100 instances of domestic terrorism. Some I knew about, many I did not. All done in the name of keeping the White class the superior class.

His eighth chapter was specifically about Obama. What made Obama unique and able to become President of the United States was the fact that he was raised by three white people who adored him and let him know how much he was loved. He was not educated to be suspicious of white people. He was not cautioned about going into certain neighborhoods that were too dangerous for black people. He was encouraged to learn and encouraged to strive for the best. Coates stated that 71% of Republicans still believe he is Muslim and many still believe he was not born in the United States. Trump began his political career by openly challenging Obama to produce his birth certificate. For years, he stated everywhere he could be heard his “Birther” beliefs. Obama was our first black president. However, if he was not born in the US, then he couldn’t be president and for the majority of people who are threatened by the idea of a black president, the string of white presidents remains unbroken.

I couldn’t put Coate’s book down. I learned that he was a fellow at the American Library in Paris where he wrote parts of his last book “Between the World and Me” I didn’t join the Library until after he had left France and want to turn back the clock. I feel cheated. I have watched his interviews on YouTube and his presentations at ALP. He seems a soft spoken man who is very funny and still a bit overwhelmed by his fame. He told Chris Jackson, his editor and publisher of One World books, that it felt like being hit by a Mack Truck. A Mack Truck with money but still a Mack Truck!

Coates is a man who has a lot to be angry about. But he has chosen to channel that energy into educating people like me about “Reality”. He is not surprised by a Trump presidency. I was. We Were Eight Years in Power felt like a fist to my gut. It hurt. I needed the painful punch. I didn’t choose what color my skin is anymore than Coates did. I have been fortunate. A whole class of my compatriots have not been.

If you are interested in reading The Guardian review:                                                                 https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/oct/08/ta-nehisi-coates-our-story-is-a-tragedy-but-doesnt-depress-me-we-were-eight-years-in-power-interview

A bientôt,

Sara