Francois Hollande, who won the French presidential election this weekend, is part of a broader European movement against the EU and austerity.
Then-candidate Francois Hollande at an April event for his French presidential campaign. / Reuters
On Sunday, French voters struck back at President Nicolas Sarkozy's "anglo-saxonisme" policies of British-style austerity and free-market economics by electing socialist François Hollande to replace him. Ironically, in doing so, they are following a similar political path as those Anglo-Saxons across the English Channel. Hollande's win is also part of a larger European revival of left-wing politics, a reaction against the European Union's struggles.
As the French Socialist Party has gained ground against Nicolas Sarkozy's more conservative UMP, the Labour Party in Britain may be pulling ahead of the Conservative Party, which currently leads the UK's coalition government. What's more, in a set of polls from mid-April, Labour took its largest poll lead since the last election, while the right-wing UK Independence Party displaced the Liberal Democrats for the third place -- the UK Independence Party, like the similarly right-wing Front National that took third place in France, is strongly anti-E.U.
This weekend also saw German Chancellor Angela Merkel's party, the Christian Democrats (CDU), take their worst results in 50 years, in an election in Schleswig-Holstein. Their coalition partners, the Free Democrats, did poorly as well. That leaves the second-place Social Democratic Party taking roughly 30 percent of the vote, and able to form a coalition with the Greens.
Meanwhile, in Greece, New Democracy and its partner, the socialist Pasok party, failed to win a combined majority, losing ground to radical leftist coalition Syriza, which campaigned on rejecting the terms of the Greek bailout and freezing payments to creditors.
What do all these developments have in common? In France, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Greece right now, the tide is turning against austerity. François Hollande's election may be the most prominent example: Hollande succeeded on a platform that only a few months ago was still being attacked as a spendthrift's pipe dream. Clearly, though, France is not the only country where attitudes are shifting rapidly.
Another possibility to consider, looking at these results, is that these national politics are looking simultaneously more leftist and more nationalist -- in other words, more anti-European Union. In France, Hollande's popularity stemmed in part from his promise to stand up to German leadership and chart a new course for French participation in the European Union. In Germany, Merkel is the one standing for self-sacrifice and collective European action, and she's rapidly losing support. Greek Syriza's entire platform is built on the idea of ditching the EU-International Monetary Fund plan for Greek recovery.
Britain's political landscape is a little more complicated, because the Labour Party has traditionally been more pro-Europe than the Conservative Party. But it's still not so different: the simultaneous rise of UK Independence Party (UKIP), which advocates a withdrawal from the EU, shows the joint leftist-isolationist streak is strong in Britain as well. UKIP gained record results in a local election just last week.
The UK, France, Germany, and Greece do not by any means represent the whole of Europe. These four countries, though, are crucial actors right now, the first three for their economic and political clout, and Greece for its potential ability to pull Europe down with it. Voters in all four countries seem to want governments that will spend more money and attention on them, and a little less on their neighbors. That's an understandable position in a time of continued economic distress. It doesn't, however, seem to bode well for Europe as a whole. Even from the economic perspective, there are reasons to be worried. Many economists -- though this is a heavily political issue in the U.S. -- still believe spending more money can revive an economy. You'd be hard-pressed, however, to find one who felt that stiffer impediments to trade would be good for the European economic recovery.
The euro fell heavily Monday morning, dropping to a three-month low against the dollar and a three-and-a-half-year low against the pound. Europe's leftist leaders, should they continue to gain ground, will have their work cut out for them.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.
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.
“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.
The president’s defiance of the conventional wisdom on Afghanistan had been one of his strengths—but on Monday, he embraced the same approach as his predecessors.
On Monday evening, Donald Trump gave a speech about Afghanistan that we might have heard from any mainstream politician over the past 15 years.
In some realms, the idea of a “normal” presentation by Trump would be heartening. For instance, as I noted last week, among the usual expectations of a president is that at times of national shock or fear, he will speak to all of the people and reassert shared American values, hopes, and unifying ties. If Trump had managed to do that after the neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville—as FDR so famously did after Pearl Harbor, as Dwight Eisenhower did during the school desegregation crises of the 1950s, as John Kennedy did after the Bay of Pigs fiasco and during the Cuban Missile crisis, as nearly every president did, right through George W. Bush immediately after the 9/11 attacks and Barack Obama after the Charleston church shooting—his standing would be different today, and so probably would be the temper of the nation.