This week's big questions: Republicanism, Obama's future and are EU bailouts worth the bother?

This weeks big questions are answered by Adam Gopnik, essayist, author and staff writer for The New Yorker

Share

Can Barack Obama achieve in his second term what he failed to in his first?

It depends what you think he was trying to achieve. If you think his aim, for good or ill, was to somehow introduce a full social democratic regime, à la Labour 1945, to America, then, no, he won’t. But his key social achievement, the Affordable Care Act, is now sure to survive, and, for the rest, the American presidency is essentially a weak office, except in wartime. It is a job where 1,000 smaller sanities – judges appointed, torture ended, the right person placed in charge of what happens after a hurricane – and many small symbols (like that of a brilliant black man with an exotic name chosen and reaffirmed as President) matter most.

 

What do the demographic patterns in the voting say about the shape of 21st‑century America?

America is always altering. The Jews and Italians who were, so to speak, the Hispanics and Asians of the late 19th century are now simply and uncontroversially grouped together with the old Protestants as “whites” – and inside that envelope they smoulder alongside the older Americans at the intrusion of the new ones. Prosperity, historically, has altered ethnicity more than ethnicity has altered America.

 

Is American Republicanism doomed?

To paraphrase Mill, modern liberal societies are devoted to three things: individual liberty, and social and economic equality. Since it’s impossible to have economic inequality without damaging social equality – rich men start bullying poor ones – there will always be a press back from the bottom. Since it’s also impossible to have absolute economic equality without damaging individual liberty, the next rebound – businessmen protesting about being bullied by bureaucrats – happens, too. In this sense, a conservative, free-market party will always find life in a modern state. The problem for the free-market minded Republicans is that they are bound to an absolutist, theocratic wing, and that wing will, simply, no longer fly.

 

Does Obama’s victory mean a victory for reason over religion?

Obama is, whether we like it or not, a religious man who conceives his role in largely religious terms: unity, sacrifice, transcendence and community are his sacred words. They are not exactly the words of modern reason. But he is also a clear-minded secularist who sees the limits of “transcendence” and who knows that we’re each going to have to go to hell or heaven in our own way. His is a victory, then, for a reasonable liberal idea of religion’s place in the state over a strangely and persistently pre-modern one.

 

For us in Britain, does the identity of the US president matter less than it used to?

Does it? I don’t know. I suspect that, like it or not, for the time being the American president remains the pre-eminent symbol of constitutional liberalism in the world. When there is a good, smart and admirable man like Obama in place, everyone is a little happier – or ought to be.

 

You were Paris-based for many years. Can France thrive under François Hollande?

The trick about France is that it always thrives – it’s a rich and, at the administrative end, a very well-run (if sometimes exasperatingly bureaucratic) country. Try the trains. The catch is that, just as much as Americans believe that some day black helicopters bringing state troopers intending to enslave them will descend, many Frenchmen and women believe that a troupe of white helicopters will some day descend, bringing everyone a permanent pension from the government. France can no more be wooed off its love of a strong central state than America can be won from its suspicion of one. In that sense, a mild, reassuring Socialist is more likely to reform the French regime than a suspicious-seeming right-winger, like Sarkozy, could.

 

Are endless bailouts a price worth paying to preserve European unity?

For me, as an outsider, as I wrote not long ago, in thinking about Europe and its union, the number that one needs to keep in mind is not the rate of the euro exchange or the measure of the Greek deficit but a simpler one, of 60 million. That is the approximate (and probably understated) number of Europeans killed in the 30 years between 1914 and 1945, victims of wars of competing nationalisms on a tragically divided continent. It is a sign of the huge success of the EU that no one in Europe now believes that such rivalry could ever restart. Of course it could.

 

Paris or New York?

If I were a rich man, as Tevye sings, I would live half the year in each. In the absence of such riches, I love and live in New York, and dream of Paris at Christmas and in the early summer. Once a year or so, I still get over and walk around in a state of what I think is called hyper-mesia, flooded with memories of children, now grown, playing in Parisian parks that never seem to alter.

 

Your latest book is about winter. What makes it the superior season?

I am Canadian-raised, and my sharpest memories of serenity are attached to snowstorms in December, skating in January, ice hockey games watched and rooted for in March. Winter is the season of mystery and solitude, where, as Wordsworth wrote, we throw our bodies to the wind, and find our minds oddly stilled. And then there is Christmas, with its evergreen (in every sense) appeal even to the most secular of liberal Jews, like me. I hear “In the Bleak Midwinter” sung by an English choir and I collapse; why, exactly, is the subject of the book.

Adam Gopnik’s latest book is ‘Winter: Five Windows on the Season’, published by Quercus

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
More From
Adam Gopnik
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The woman featured in the Better Together campaign's latest video  

Tea and no sympathy: The 'Better Together' campaign's mistake is to assume it knows how women think

Jane Merrick
On alert: Security cordons around Cardiff Castle ahead of this week’s Nato summit  

Ukraine crisis: Nato is at a crossroads. Where does it go from here?

Richard Shirreff
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution