Washington 2021 - Paris 1934 ?

Washington 2021 - Paris 1934 ?

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Paris - 1934

Right-wing protests in the aftermath of World War I, financial scandals and the depressed economic situation in the wake of the 1929 monetary crisis were dark events unfolding in an endless stream, marring the French society to the core

Reaching a fever-pitch on February 6, 1934, wild rioting in the aftermath of large street demonstrations and an attempt to enter the Chamber of Deputies (the French legislative body) – which went nowhere - scarred French political life in ways which could not be foreseen at the time

On Place de la Concorde (not so much) - Feb '34 - Wikpedia

The Cabinet, very recently appointed by Parliament, resigned – a first in French politics under pressure of street manifestations

Responsibilities after these sad events were disputed between political parties on the left and on the right and also went nowhere


Looking back, the protests are telling of the deep-seated frustrations of a country which had won a war fought mainly on its soil (and in Belgium), leaving 1.4 million soldiers dead and 4.3 million wounded, but which still ended up seeing itself as a loser in the peace settlement of Versailles (1919)

Playing out in slow motion over two decades, during the 1920’s and the 1930’s, French disillusionment only grew

The British were ambivalent in their reluctance to engage in what could (and would) be a renewed alliance to prepare another war

American aloofness was driven by strong isolationist strains, forever present in American politics

In the court of French public opinion, the failure to recover the reparations from Germany to compensate for all the destructions, a high bar set at the urging of the French in the Peace Treaty, initially unattainable by a bankrupt Germany and, later on, endlessly reviewed, added mightily to the gloom


Most telling, seen in retrospect, has been the inability of France, which was one of the major international powers before the first shots of war were fired in 1914, to find a common purpose in moving forward when the guns fell silent

On the contrary, it was a deeply demoralized country, clinging to its past glory, which muddled through some ill-conceived plans to hold back Germany’s irrepressible re-emergence on the European scene

Maginot fortified defenses -Wikipedia  

And yes, there even was a wall – the Maginot Line build in the 1930's along the frontier with Germany (and named after the Minister of Defense who launched the project) – absurd (two times over) as walls often are…

  • because the Line stopped short at the Belgian border - German invading troops went straight through Belgium in 1940 to invade France, just like they had done in 1914
  • because France concluded military alliances with the East European states in the 1930's, commitments which the country obviously could not, and would not, honor by hunkering behind the Maginot wall…

None of this should suggest that French troops lacked courage or willingness to sacrifice their lives - more than 100 000 did in the lightening German invasion of May 1940

The debacle had been long in the making, and the loss of a sense of common destiny sucked the country in a vortex of over-the-top mettle and breast-beating, negativity and self-denial


History looming in the background can only tell so much

It befalls the politician to inspire confidence and to find the words to counter the social currents ripping apart the tissue binding a nation, as they have times and again in human history

Much grief could be warded off


 ‘Control’ has many meanings...

Control over a country's destiny has more than one meaning, but in politics it may be advisable not to stick by the usual reading in seeking common purpose

Control over an elective body is even more dubious because an entity such as the U.S. Senate reflects in its diversity so many shades of closely held beliefs and such a wide range of opinions

To even suggest that "control" over the Senate by any party would justify the blind support of a preset political program is at best naïve

Though poor examples of properly functioning democratic institutions have been set in recent years in America, there is no reason to reject compromise per se – if only because politics in a democracy are a matter of compromise…


Senator McConnell, former Republican Majority Leader, put in plain words what he could have declared much earlier from the Senate dais

We cannot keep drifting apart into two separate tribes with a separate set of facts and separate realities, with nothing in common except our hostility toward each other and mistrust for the few national institutions that we all still share

This is so


The lack of majority within the U.S. Senate, with a balanced 50-50 political representation of Republicans and Democrats, is an arithmetically perfect path to compromise

None of this will be easy because too many politicians, leaning left and leaning right, have built a solid national following on anything but compromise

However, as it happens, Democratic Senators, representing conservative constituencies such as Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona or Jon Tester of Montana, will wield considerable influence over the presidential agenda, and prove likely, as well as able, to cement alliances with their Republican counterparts on a case-by-case basis

The tie-breaking vote held by the Vice-President, attesting Democratic ‘control’, may have to be relied upon occasionally, and unfortunately in a show of failed negotiations, but hardly as common practice


Aggrieved Democratic politicians may be loath to foreswear their impulse to - finally - get things done 'their way' and Republicans may be tempted to play to an electoral base which has found a sense of belonging in catchwords pandering to their uncertainties

This will not do for the hard work  - finding bipartisan ways to move forward on some of the hottest issues - immigration, medical care, taxation, rural America, on-boarding manufacturing...to name a few

To find common ground, a vision of America's future needs to be laid out that inspires confidence with the words to counter the social currents ripping apart the tissue binding a nation

Same story as ever...


Howling down the hallowed hallways

In democracies, the temptation to install the people's elected representatives in over-the-top, majestic surroundings is ever present, a far cry from Athen's roots

Nowhere is this tradition more emphatically asserted than in America, where the neoclassical monuments to the Republic sprout on Washington's Mall with in-your-face confidence, conceivably because its youthful institutions have not melted yet in the 1000-year tradition encumbering European - and Asian - memories...

This is what made Wednesday's rowdy occupation of the U.S. Capitol a singular moment, an odd mix-up of tragedy with multiple deaths, of criminal intent on the part of some individuals and of ridicule

Tragedy must be set right and criminal intent pursued lawfully by the American justice, as it undoubtedly will


Ridicule however, in full display during the forced entry on Capitol Hill with some comic strips characters making a name for themselves, and with the large crowd ambling about, gawking at the historic paintings of doubtful artistic value, and taking selfies with pale imitations of ancient Greek statuary, carried the highest cost to the reputation of Congress

The backlash could have been anticipated, but no observer could have conceived how the optics of American protesters staring around, under the Rotunda, as they would in a museum filled with meaningless paraphernalia, would shred the credibility of the American Congress...

The thought is uncomfortable and President Trump's tribal allegations bestow an escape route on politicians of all shades - and on public opinion - as an aberration, a one-time oddity

However, the behavior of the sitting President does not need to be vindicated to acknowledge the fact that out-of-touch legislators, immersed in political gaming, have drifted at the apex of power, leaving in their wake the anxieties of the communities they represent in theory...


With nowhere to hide, as President-elect Biden seems to acknowledge with his prudent posture, his Administration and the Congress have their work cut out to mend bridges with a nation distrustful of its institutions, apprehensive in the face of global forces and demoralized by the lack of common purpose

...not so different from France in 1934 but with a different outcome if history bears any lesson worth listening to...