[The following is the English original of my interview with the French online magazine, Atlantico. The text has been lightly edited. The French translation was posted in Atlantico on June 14 at this link: https://www.atlantico.fr/article/decryptage/martin-gurri—que-tant-de-personnes-sensees-croient-voir-en-leurs-concitoyens-des-suppots-de-dictatures-potentielles-est-un-revelateur-de-la-psychose-politique-contemporaine-joe-biden-donald-trump-emmanuel-macron-democratie-citoyens-opinion]
1. From the outside, in recent months American society seems to have been transformed into a kind of Hollywood scenario where good has triumphed over evil. Is this scripting of history a reformulation of facts as the victors can do to the vanquished?
It would be amusing to compare the 78-year-old Joe Biden with some of the young protagonists of Western films – say, John Wayne in Stagecoach or Alan Ladd in Shane. It doesn’t work. Both of those cowboy heroes were supposed to be outlaws and underdogs. Biden is a privileged and reactionary member of an establishment that desperately wished to defeat first the anti-elite Bernie Sanders and then the semi-nihilist Trump. In the movies, he would have played the role of the aging cattle baron who burns down the cabins of poor settlers to make a little more room for his animals.
There has been no transformation in America. We are the same as always, part good, part bad, and mostly indifferent. The exorcism of Trump has removed a deafeningly loud voice from the political scene. Biden is unable, and probably unwilling, to fill that void. But the noise is still there. The fracturing of society into sectarian war-bands, the anger and the impulse to repudiation and revolt – these are still there. All it will take is a triggering event, and the streets will be filled with protesters once again. I think it’s unwise to speak of victors and vanquished as if we were witnessing the end of an epoch. This movie never ends.
2. Many zealous observers have seen Trump as a potential dictator. More than the domination of an all-powerful leader, isn’t the first threat the disunity of the country? Does the election of Biden erase the American scars?
I have liberal friends who were sure that Trump was the next Mussolini. I have conservative friends who are worried that Biden will establish a “soft dictatorship” over the country. Neither of these developments are remotely possible. That they were considered likely by otherwise intelligent and sensible people is a symptom of the psychotic episode that is our moment in history. First, reality has fractured along sectarian lines: to a devout Republican, the inconsequential Biden really does appear like a dictator, just like the madcap antics of Trump seemed to many on the Left to recall the ravings of Hitler. Second, opinions are not only magically transformed into facts, but they must be asserted with fundamentalist certainty and communicated in screams of rage.
Liberal democracy has become the Tower of Babel, not a comfortable place from which to start a dictatorship. The threat to the United States – but also to France, Spain, Italy, Britain, and a host of other democratic nations – is definitely disunion and disorder rather than surrender to the fuehrer principle. We live in a time of disintegration, with the great institutions of the last century suffering traumatic injuries and hemorrhaging authority. We should take the danger seriously. The institutions of democracy must be reconfigured to the present age.
But let’s not confuse the noise with the truth. I grew up when Marxism-Leninism was, to many, an attractive alternative to democracy. My parents were young when Nazism and fascism nearly conquered the world. Today, democracy is the only game in town: it can be destroyed but not replaced. The choice is ours. As for Dr. Biden, he’s more of a cosmetic surgeon than the true healer of traumatic wounds the US and the world need at the moment.
3. Now that Biden is in office, will the establishment do everything it can to prevent the return of an off-system candidate?
Well, the establishment will always do everything it can to prevent anti-establishment figures from getting elected to office. That’s in the nature of things. In the 20th century, the structure of information and politics allowed elites to select and protect each other. In the 21st century, the wind is blowing from the opposite direction – and it’s a hurricane, a powerful and destructive force.
Biden is signing trillion-dollar checks as fast as his septuagenarian hand will allow him. He clearly hopes to purchase for his party and his clique the permanent domination of American politics. A trillion dollars here, a trillion dollars there, and very soon you find yourself applauded by a lot of new friends.
But the elites are out of alignment with the Zeitgeist. They don’t really understand the most significant aspects of the world in which they live – the digital networks of ordinary people that move at the speed of light, what Andrey Mir calls “the emancipation of authorship.” So they are always surprised. The elite dream is pure reaction: a return to the hierarchical structures of the last century. In particular, they wish to convert the great digital platforms like Facebook and Google into the front page of the New York Times circa 1980.
It won’t happen. Beyond the unseemly aspect of having the president of a democratic nation impersonating Hosni Mubarak, the information sphere is too massively redundant. For practical purposes, it’s infinite. To control it, one would have to reach far beyond Mubarak to become Kim Jong-un – and not even the most morbidly depressed Republicans expect that to occur.
Events have slipped out of the establishment’s control. It’s a structural reversal that no amount of money can nullify. If I were to advise President Biden, I would tell him: “Expect to be surprised.”
4. Emmanuel Macron is seen by many as the embodiment of an establishment “à la française”, after surviving the waves of protests of the Gilets Jaunes and those brought by various reforms, could he once again get away with it?
The most important circumstance for any politician is the quality of the opposition. Macron has been fortunate in his rivals. If that continues, he could certainly be re-elected (which I take it is what you mean by “getting away with it”). But see my answer to your last question. There are always surprises, which is why prediction is an unprofitable game.
Macron is a creature of the revolt of the public. His party, En Marche, didn’t exist a year before the election that somersaulted him to the presidency. He himself was too young and unknown. Like every carrier of revolt in this turbulent age, Macron claimed to represent radical change. He promised “revolution” but delivered the same unimaginative policies that had been embraced by his predecessors. The Left, where he originated, now considers him a traitor. But who will carry the banner of the Left at the next presidential election – Mélenchon? “Peripheral France” considers Macron to be an insufferable elite and establishment dupe. But who will these people vote for – Marine Le Pen?
Of course, no one expected Macron to win in 2017. Some new actor may emerge out of the shadows and take center stage in electoral politics – or some event may transform the present equation. The effect of the pandemic is an unknown factor. So far, the French public has accepted with remarkable docility the government’s confused and often contradictory handling of this crisis. That may change. Fortunately, it will be up to French voters – not an American analyst like myself – to decide the matter.