November 21, 2016
PARIS — America, since its birth, has embodied democracy. Democracy against the monarchy, against the old colonial world, against the ambitions of central powers during World War I, then against the totalitarianism of the Nazis and their Japanese allies, finally against the Soviet and Communist totalitarianism during the Cold War.
For a re-emerging but still fragile Europe, America has continued to stand as a form of life insurance in an ever more dangerous and complicated world. Global terrorism has been hitting us hard, Russia was becoming a threat again, China's ambitions were growing — but America was still there. It was sometimes incoherent, even occasionally brutal, but in the end it was our ally, if not our moral compass.
The fusing of populism and nationalism that just carried Donald Trump to the White House unhinges our convictions and reinforces our uncertainties. On Nov. 8, 2016, America barged into a new phase — perhaps its fifth — in its relation to the world.
The first and longest phase began with George Washington's first term in 1789 and ended with the opening of the Spanish-American War of 1898. During that first era, America focused first and foremost on itself, starting with the conquest of its continental territory and then, painfully, of its national identity through the Civil War.
The second phase went from 1898 to 1945, during which America behaved as one great power among others, acquiring imperial possession — very trendy at the time — and took part in the two world wars. There was, of course, a period of isolationism between the Treaty of Versailles and 1941, a break that had tragic consequences for Europe and the world.
Rise and fade of a superpower
The third phase, 1945-1991, saw America become one of the two superpowers in a bipolar world. Through international institutions like NATO, it was the protector of the Western bloc's security. The collapse of the Soviet Union, victim of its internal contradictions, translated into a victory for an America that had repeatedly seen its power (both soft and hard) grow during the three previous phases.
A fourth era started with the end of the Cold War, and ended before our eyes last week with Donald Trump's victory. The 9/11 attacks was a clear marker in the middle of this quarter-century period but, during these years, America probably held more power than ever before in its history. But it also multiplied its failures, including unsuccessful and inconclusive military campaigns, costly as much for its image as its budget — and of course, for the damage inflicted on the peoples that America aimed to save.
U.S. Marines in Afghanistan in 2003 — Photo: U.S. Army
Washington in recent years simply lost its touch and, given how nature abhors a vacuum, this left enough room for a humiliated power like Russia or a re-emerging civilization like China.
This putting into perspective was essential to understand the meaning of last Tuesday for the international order. By voting "America First" in a double fit of populism and nationalism, Trump's America would almost seem nostalgic for the first period of its relation to the world, the one that spanned from 1789 to 1898.
But of course, this is a perfectly anachronistic reaction, which is dangerous to the stability of a Western world that is now at risk of losing its singular protector, and model, despite its many misguided ways and failures, from Vietnam to Afghanistan.
For all those who, like me, have always felt closer to Barack Obama than to Vladimir Putin, for all those who favor the geography of values over the value of geography, this election is a great shock. Just like that, more than 70 years of history were brutally called into question.
The question, indeed, isn't just whether President Trump will implement candidate Trump's program. Beyond the reality of who he is and what he does is also the important matter of how it all gets perceived around the world. Our image of America and the dream it embodied for an important part of the world were shattered before our eyes. This is no longer about "fixing" America, but about how to avoid it from disintegrating entirely.
Beyond America's crisis of legitimacy, through the citizens' choice for their next president, there is, of course, the weakening of democracy in general. How can we express outrage at the evolution of Central Europe or worry about the rise of the National Front in France after Donald Trump's victory? And how can we condemn the course of events in the Philippines, which under their new president seem to have chosen China over the United States?
On a pure realpolitik level, for China, Donald Trump's arrival at the White House can only be perceived as the confirmation that the democratic West has passed the torch of History on to Asia and its authoritarian models. Putin's Russia can therefore feel like it was not only right in choosing despotism, but that it also now has a clear path to the Middle East and Eastern Europe. If you aren't worried, you don't understand.
Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger
October 26, 2021
Welcome to Tuesday, where violence erupts after Sudan's military coup, Australia finally gets onboard with climate change goals, and Harrison Ford stars in Raiders of the Lost Credit Card. From Bogota, we also see what the capture of drug kingpin Otoniel means for Colombia, a country long stained by cocaine trafficking.
[*Nĭhǎo - Mandarin Chinese]
Saving the planet is really a question of dopamine
The elite of the ecologically minded are set to descend on Glasgow next week for the Cop 26 conference on climate change. But beyond debating policy prescriptions, French daily Les Echos explores the role our own brains have on making the right choices for the planet:
Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?
In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.
This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.
Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the "pleasure hormone."
Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.
No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.
According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.
Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.
Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.
— Stefano Lupieri / Les Echos
• Sudan in chaos following military coup: After Sudan's military seized power from the transitional government, defiant anti-coup protesters have returned to the streets of the capital city Khartoum, for a second consecutive day. At least seven people have been killed and 140 injured. Coup leader General Al-Burhan has announced a state of emergency across the country, while the military cut off access to the internet and closed roads, bridges, and Khartoum's airport. Washington condemned the coup and suspended aid, and the U.N. Security Council was expected to discuss Sudan behind closed doors later today.
• Egypt lifts state of emergency in force since 2017: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, announced the end of a four-year-old state of emergency, undoing powers that had given the government sweeping authority to quash protests, make arrests, search people's homes without warrants, and control everyday life in the most populous Arab country.
• Platforms take down Bolsonaro video linking vaccine and AIDS: Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have removed an anti-vaccine video from their respective platforms posted by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Beyond blocking the video, in which Bolsonaro falsely linked the COVID-19 vaccine with developing AIDS, YouTube went further and suspended the far-right leader for a week.
• COVID update: The U.S. will launch a new travel system on November 8, imposing new vaccine requirements for most foreign national travellers and lifting severe travel restrictions over China, India and much of Europe. Meanwhile, authorities in northern China are reimposing lockdown, and other emergency measures as COVID-19 infections spread to 11 provinces.
• Australia pledges net zero emissions by 2050: As one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita and a major exporter of fossil fuels such as coal, Australia has finally committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. This is a target already adopted by most nations heading to next week's COP26 international climate conference, but that Australia had so far refused to pledge.
• Japanese princess loses royal status over wedding: Japan's Princess Mako married her boyfriend Kei Komuro, giving up her royal status. Under Japanese law, female imperial family members lose their status upon marriage to a "commoner" although male members do not.
• Raiders of the Lost Credit Card: A tourist returned the credit card of American actor Harrison Ford, who had lost it in Sicily while shooting scenes for the latest Indiana Jones movie.
"Out of control," titles German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, reporting on the release of a series of articles by a consortium of 17 U.S. news outlets, called the "Facebook Papers," that reinforce whistleblower Frances Haugen's claims that the social media giant is prioritizing profits over the well being of its users and society.
After striking a deal to sell 100,000 electric vehicles to car rental firm Hertz, Elon Musk's Tesla has joined Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google's Alphabet in the club of companies that have reached a $1 trillion valuation.
What the capture of a drug kingpin means for Colombia
While the capture of Otoniel, Colombia's most wanted drug trafficker, made global headlines, Bogotá daily El Espectador writes about the significance of the news for a country that has battled narcotrafficking for decades.
👮 The arrest of the Colombian mobster Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, a.k.a. "Otoniel," is a victory for Colombian intelligence, law-and-order forces and the broader fight against crime. Details of the eight-year-long pursuit of the head of the Gulf Clan, of the tireless and meticulous work, testify to the capabilities that the police and army have managed to develop in the fight against the narco-trafficking that has long been a stain on Colombia.
🇨🇴🇲🇽 Otoniel is responsible for a criminal organization with more than 3,800 members and influence on 12 departments and 128 districts in Colombia (though data from the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation counts 211 districts). The Gulf Clan sends half the drugs going out of Colombia, and is the main exporter to Mexico. Its ties to the Mexican cartel chief Joaquín "el Chapo" Guzmán are well-documented — and Otoniel had aspired to fill the power vacuum left by Guzmán's capture.
⚖️ Some have observed that the ensuing power vacuum will engender more violence, which is true. But we are, in any case, far from eliminating drug trafficking in Colombia or cutting its tentacles across public life. That shows the limitations of the hard-line response to drugs, when we have seen it is not enough. Still, it is essential in any fight against crime for the state to show its operational capabilities. The message is clear: not even drug overlords are above the law in Colombia.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
"I love Mako. I would like to spend my one life with the person I love."
— Kei Komuro said during a news conference after his wedding with Japan's Princess Mako, the niece of the current emperor and the sister of the likely future sovereign. The princess lost her royal status as a result of her marriage with Komuro, a "commoner."
An art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, as part of the 2021 exhibition "'Forever Is Now," the first international art exhibition to take place there — Photo: Balkis Press/Abaca/ZUMA
✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger
Send all commoner and royal well wishes to Mako and Kei — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! email@example.com
Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!