The normally Republican-phobic continent is taking a surprising shine to the lead GOP candidate, which it sees as a champion against the fringe
Mitt Romney, the GOP forerunner, met with fanfare on his recent travel to Europe./ Reuters
The presidential primaries look a little different from across the Atlantic, and not necessarily in the way that you'd expect. The coverage isn't an Obama love-fest as it was early in his presidency, nor is it entirely GOP-bashing. That said, mainstream Europe -- whose open antagonism toward the Republican party appears to have faded somewhat since the Bush years ended, despite an uptick during the health care debates -- is clearly fascinated by the current split in the Republican party. And, in the split, thus far Europeans would prefer Romney.
The European media has presented a fairly clear narrative of the primary to date: Romney's the leader but he doesn't excite Republicans -- that's the basic message. Perhaps because there's been less discussion of individual polls, there's been less hype about the as-yet short-lived leads by Herman Cain, Ron Paul, or Rick Perry. That also means, though, that there's been less journalistic reveling in the wackiness of what European (as well as some American) publications tend to portray as the wild-eyed Republican fringe. There's a hint of wariness, but it's not the full-blown incomprehension, derision, and fear that has occasionally been expressed on Continental op-ed pages.
But what Europe really does seem interested in is the split in the Republican party. "The Iowa presidential primaries reveal deep divisions among the Republicans," proclaims German paper Die Welt. An opinion in French Le Monde riffs on "Mitt Romney and the fatwas of the Republican Party." Libérationdescribes the "Christian right" as "torn," while Spanish El Paíssuggests Obama may be "tak[ing] advantage" of the Republican divide.
Thus far, European media voices have also expressed a strong preference for Romney over the other contenders. Clemens Wergin, for example, writes for Die Welt that the results in Iowa "show how uncertain the conservative movement in America is of its own identity." Mitt Romney represents the "classic, pragmatic, business-oriented branch." Then there's the "Christian, archconservative" side represented by Rick Santorum. Ron Paul "stands for the anti-state, radical libertarian impulses of America and for many populist reflexes. At the same time he's the candidate from whom there is the most to fear."
If that wasn't clear enough, how about this summary: "the good news from Iowa is that in this highly social conservative and less diverse state the moderate Romney can still win." Wergin adds that the "bad news" is that Paul is still a factor at all:
The Paul phenomenon makes it clear that there is an eerie potential for anger in the current conditions in America [...] It is an anger that above all feeds on the fact that the classic midle class dream of mobility in America is being dashed. Even well-educated young Americans today have huge problems getting a job appropriate to their training. [...] The vote in Iowa shows that conservatives in America apparently still don't know what they want to be: culture warriors? Isolationists? Moralists? Tied to the economy? Anti-establishment populists? Thus the Republican primary system is still good for some surprises.
The editorial board of French paper Le Monde pulls even fewer punches: it sees the difficulty Romney is having gaining support as evidence of the "ultra-right drift" in the Republican party (El País, to compare,calls it "petrified on the right"). Write the editors: "This is worrying for the U.S. -- and the rest of the world."
The standard negative narrative for Romney in the U.S. is that he's a chameleon, changing positions according to political expediency. Most liberals in America didn't take his liberal drift while governor of Massachusetts any more seriously than Republicans take his conservative drift at present. But that's not the way Le Monde sees it. The French paper sees Romney fundamentally as a moderate who "is winning only by aligning himself with the new catechism of the [Republican] party."
Previously, this narrative goes, Romney was "a New England Patrician [...] He governed Massachusetts form the center, with talent. He installed a universal system of health insurance. He defended the rights of sexual minorities, as well as that of women to abortion. He practiced a balanced budget policy. He was careful to defend the environment." Now, "he has conformed to what The Economist calls a 'list of fatwas' making up the new Republican creed." Now, "Romney is no longer the centrist he was in Boston. He no longer believes in climate change. He's opposed to abortion and gay marriage."
This French offering may be the starkest and most anti-conservative of the prominent views, but it's worth noting that the point of the article isn't to glorify Obama in contrasts. Though the final sentence admits the Republican drift is probably good for Obama, "it's bad for American democracy."
Therein lies the key to understanding this kind of European thinking. While it's important to realize this is all analytical shorthand -- Europe as a whole does not think with one mind, and even opinions on the same general path tend to diverge on specifics -- it's hard not to read a common thread in some of the media coverage of the Republican primaries. Contrary to what some might think, the tone even in condemnations isn't one of pure disdain: this is not a case of Europeans looking down their noses at Americans' Tea Party antics, the unstated view being that they'd never occur in Europe.
Arguably, it's precisely because Europe has seen its own Tea Parties that the media is so wary of America's right wing. No, this is not just another Nazi comparison: people often forget that Hitler was hardly Europe's only brush with fascism or populism gone wild. There are the extreme examples -- the French Revolution, France's July Revolution of 1830, the Revolutions of 1848, the Paris Commune, and on. But there's also a Christian right in Europe today: for example, Jean-Marie Le Pen's Tea-Party-like opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage, and immigration. Despite the strong trend of European media wariness toward people like Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, and Ron Paul, European opinion and historical experience is clearly quite diverse. And that may be exactly what's informing the current across-the-water fascination with the Republican split.
Despite warnings, Trump gazed directly at the eclipse.
During the solar eclipse today, President Donald Trump stepped onto the White House balcony with his wife and his son Barron, and he looked up at the sun.
According to White House reporters, an aide shouted a warning that he should not look at the sun. Nevertheless, he persisted.
There were parts of the United States, along path of totality, that allowed people to look directly at the eclipse. But Washington, D.C., was not among them.
How much damage can a person do by staring at the sun for a few seconds?
As many children are warned, there is indeed no “safe” amount of time to stare directly at the sun. Note that no ophthalmologists recommend any amount of glancing or squinting at the eclipse. Against the energy of the sun, human eyelids are like a dam built of tissue paper.
Three Atlantic staffers discuss “Beyond the Wall,” the sixth episode of the seventh season.
Every week for the seventh season of Game of Thrones, three Atlantic staffers will discuss new episodes of the HBO drama. Because no screeners were made available to critics in advance this year, we'll be posting our thoughts in installments.
The past week brought violent conflict over symbols and values held sacred—and an act of sacrilege.
Taboo and sacredness are among the most important words needed to understand Charlottesville and its aftermath. Taboo refers to things that are forbidden for religious or supernatural reasons. All traditional societies have such prohibitions—things you must not do, touch, or eat, not because they are bad for you directly, but because doing so is an abomination, which may bring divine retribution. But every society also makes some things sacred, rallying around a few deeply revered values, people, or places, which bind all members together and make them willing to sacrifice for the common good. The past week brought violent conflict over symbols and values held sacred—and saw President Trump commit an act of sacrilege by violating one of our society’s strongest taboos.
The cartoonist defended the president in a podcast debate with Sam Harris. The portrait he painted of Trump supporters was not flattering.
Sam Harris, the atheist philosopher and neuroscientist, has recently been using his popular Waking Up podcast to discuss Donald Trump, whom he abhors, with an ideologically diverse series of guests, all of whom believe that the president is a vile huckster.
This began to wear on some of his listeners. Wasn’t Harris always warning against echo chambers? Didn’t he believe in rigorous debate with a position’s strongest proponents? At their urging, he extended an invitation to a person that many of those listeners regard as President Trump’s most formidable defender: Scott Adams, the creator of the cartoon Dilbert, who believes that Trump is “a master persuader.”
Their conversation was posted online late last month. It is one of the most peculiar debates about a president I have ever encountered. And it left me marveling that parts of Trump’s base think well of Adams when his views imply such negative things about them.
“Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him.”
Ever since it was first published in 1982, readers—including this one—have thrilled to “Total Eclipse,” Annie Dillard’s masterpiece of literary nonfiction, which describes her personal experience of a solar eclipse in Washington State. It first appeared in Dillard’s landmark collection, Teaching a Stone to Talk, and was recently republished in The Abundance, a new anthology of her work. The Atlantic is pleased to offer the essay in full, here, until the day after the ‘Great American Eclipse’ on August 21.
It had been like dying, that sliding down the mountain pass. It had been like the death of someone, irrational, that sliding down the mountain pass and into the region of dread. It was like slipping into fever, or falling down that hole in sleep from which you wake yourself whimpering. We had crossed the mountains that day, and now we were in a strange place—a hotel in central Washington, in a town near Yakima. The eclipse we had traveled here to see would occur early in the next morning.
A tour of the solar eclipse’s path reveals a nation that fought to maintain a different sort of totality.
Totality is everything, say those who chase solar eclipses. When the moon fully obscures the sun and casts its shadow on Earth, the result is like nothing you’ve seen before—not even a partial eclipse. A merely partial eclipse does not flip day to night, because the sun is bright enough to light our fields of vision with only a tiny fraction of its power. But when the sun and moon align just so, a little piece of Earth goes dark in the middle of the day. In this path of totality, night comes suddenly and one can see the shape of the moon as a circle darker than black, marked by the faint backlight of the sun’s corona. Astronomers and eclipse chasers chart carefully to be sure that they can watch from exactly the right place at the right time. They know that you cannot compromise with the sun. For a dark sky, the sun must be banished altogether.
“Medicare for all” is a popular idea, but for Americans, transitioning to such a system would be difficult, to say the least.
French women supposedly don’t get fat, and in the minds of many Americans, they also don’t get stuck with très gros medical bills. There’s long been a dream among some American progressives to truly live as the “Europeans1” do and have single-payer health care.
Republicans’ failure—so far—to repeal and replace Obamacare has breathed new life into the single-payer dream. In June, the majority of Americans told Pew that the government has the responsibility to ensure health coverage for everyone, and 33 percent say this should take the form of a single government program. The majority of Democrats, in that poll, supported single payer. A June poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation even found that a slim majority of all Americans favor single payer.
More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.
One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.”
Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”
The scientists are all talking like it’s a sure thing.
On August 21, the “moon” will pass between the Earth and the sun, obscuring the light of the latter. The government agency NASA says this will result in “one of nature’s most awe-inspiring sights.” The astronomers there claim to have calculated down to the minute exactly when and where this will happen, and for how long. They have reportedly known about this eclipse for years, just by virtue of some sort of complex math.
This seems extremely unlikely. I can’t even find these eclipse calculations on their website to check them for myself.
Meanwhile the scientists tell us we can’t look at it without special glasses because “looking directly at the sun is unsafe.”