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Donald Trump is a bored old man whose main entertainment these days is making a fool out of Republican fundraisers with his unhinged rants, but, sadly for the rest of us, his impact will be long-lingering, from the mainstreaming of white nationalist rhetoric to the size of the lies Republican politicians feel emboldened to tell. One of the oddest, most annoying legacies Trump leaves behind has the potential to impact not just Republican politicians, but Democratic ones as well: that all they need to do when faced with a scandal, no matter how serious, is to dig in their heels and refuse to resign. Eventually, as Trump's time in office demonstrated, the press will get bored and move on.
The two current examples of this phenomenon come from different sides of the aisle but have a surprising amount in common with both each other and Trump: New York's Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, and Congress' most "Florida man" member, Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz.
Both men are the kinds of politicians that invariably get described as "pugnacious," and have a reputation for running towards any microphone-and-camera set-up that they see. Both had reputations of being bullies, but that seemed not to bother their voters — and even seemed to please a chunk of their base. And both men are currently embroiled in the kind of embarrassing scandals that, in the pre-Trump era, would have almost certainly led to their resignations weeks, if not months, ago.
Gaetz, for his part, is being accused of participating in a sex work ring that involved at least one underage girl. Cuomo has been accused of harassing multiple women, including one woman who says he groped her. But both men are betting, with good reason, that if they just brazen it out, they will be able to survive the current storm and even win their re-election campaigns in 2022.
In his four years in office, Trump was a non-stop hurricane of scandals, many that were far more serious than what Gaetz and Cuomo are accused of doing. Trump weathered a sex scandal that was also a campaign finance scandal, a rape scandal, and various accusations of sexual assault. He was impeached twice, both times for efforts to cheat in or steal the election that could be understood as seditious. He settled out of court for committing fraud. He shamelessly used his businesses as go-throughs to collect bribes, both foreign and domestic. And that's just a taste of all the criminality and corruption Trump indulged in as president.
The key to Trump's success at skirting justice was simple shamelessness. He refused to resign or even admit guilt, instead lashing out endlessly, forever making ridiculous assertions that he was the victim of an endless conspiracy by Democrats, the "deep state" and "fake news." The conspiracy Trump alleges would have required thousands, if not millions, of participants, and so it's unlikely anyone ever really believed his lies. But his strategy worked anyway, not because he hoodwinked anyone, but because he correctly bet that he could outlast the press interest in covering his scandals.
It's unclear whether Trump understood what he was doing or was simply just too narcissistic to ever heed calls for his resignation. Either way, his strategy was effective simply because the media, for better or worse, has a newness bias. Writing the same story over and over only works for a few tenured columnists at legacy news organizations. Everyone else — whether they are reporters, cable news pundits, or opinion writers — needs something new to say: new details, new takes, something even slightly different than what they were saying before. Being repetitive means losing readers and viewers. Sometimes the story can be dragged out, as happened with Trump's first impeachment, by investigations or testimony that unearths new details. But even then, as we all saw, there's a point where there's simply nothing more to be said. By hanging in past the sell-by date of any scandal, Trump demonstrated that the media will eventually move on and you can start the next phase: pretending it never happened.
This strategy is aided by a highly polarized partisan environment. In the past, scandals were more of a threat because there was always a chance that voters might punish a corrupt politician at the polls. Nowadays, however, both Democrats and Republican voters are fierce partisans, often more because they hate the other party more than they like their own. As such, there's almost nothing a politician can do — except be a next-level creep with a penchant for young girls, like Roy Moore — that will cause voters to vote for their opponent. Both Gaetz and Cuomo are taking advantage, knowing their voters would rather slit their own wrists than pull the lever for the other party.
For a brief moment, it did seem like the #MeToo movement would change things. The outpouring of rage and grief coming out of victims from decades of bottled up angst over sexual harassment or abuse was such that multiple politicians — including, most famously, Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota — decided to resign rather than let their political allies suffer the fallout from scandals stemming from sexual misconduct. But that was early in Trump's presidency. It clearly has dawned on multiple politicians — including Franken himself — that even a #MeToo scandal is survivable through stubbornness.
The first major test of this came in Virginia, when that state's Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, was revealed in early 2019 to have either donned blackface or a KKK hood at a college party in his youth. Rather than resign, as nearly everyone expected him to do, Northam stayed put. And eventually, as happened with Trump countless times, the press gave up and moved on.
To be certain, being able to brazen out a scandal still appears to be a privilege exclusive to male politicians.
Former Rep. Kate Hill, a Democrat from California, was forced to resign in early 2019 after a sex scandal — involving a consensual affair with a campaign staffer — that pales in comparison to either the Gaetz or Cuomo accusations. And while what Franken was accused of doing — groping women — was also much worse, he continues to have vocal defenders, even as Hill does not. The sexist double standard, especially around sex scandals, is firmly in place.
Still, this is likely one of Trump's lasting legacies. Scandals are unlikely to bring politicians — at least white, male politicians — down like they used to. Trump found the media's Achilles heel. And he exploited the unwillingness of voters to switch parties, even in the face of serious scandal. Barring actual imprisonment or being legally removed from office — which is still a possibility for Gaetz — there's almost no way anymore to hold a politician accountable for corrupt behavior. And we're all much worse off for it because politicians are going to be increasingly emboldened to violate ethical standards or even commit crimes, knowing there's unlikely to be any penalty for it.
First came US taxes on French wines, then the pandemic and the dumping of gallons of unsold wine and champagne as France shutdown and alcohol consumption plummeted. Now winemakers and fruit growers are facing one of their bleakest harvests after a three-day agricultural disaster blanketed crops in frost. Though the government has pledged financial aid, many are staring down the barrel of financial ruin.
It took just three days, from the evening of April 5 until the morning of April 8, for a rare cold snap to plunge temperatures to unseasonal sub-zero levels, piling frost over vineyards and fruit crops across France in one of the worst episodes of its kind on record.
"It's a national phenomenon," said Jérôme Despey, secretary general of the FNSEA farming union and a winemaker from the southern Hérault region. "You can go back in history, there have been (freezing) episodes in 1991, 1997, 2003 but in my opinion it's beyond all of them."
Frost has always been the enemy of winegrowers but it was a combination of unseasonal and extreme temperatures that rendered this year such a disaster.
After an unusual heat in mid-March when temperatures peaked at around 26°C, and which caused vegetation to burst into bloom early, temperatures suddenly dropped to the vicinity of -5°C to -7°C, resulting in the decimation of budding crops. Whether in the north or south, France recorded exceptionally unseasonal temperatures. Low-temperature records for April were broken in the usually warm southern city of Nîmes, which reached -0.7°C, while in the northern city of Beauvais, the unseasonal heat in March saw its mercury rise to 25°C.
Every wine-producing area in France has been affected, from the Val-de-Loire to Provence, from Beaujolais to Corsica, from the Rhône Valley to Languedoc, and in the famed red wine regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy.
Only Alsace and large parts of Champagne and the Cognac region have been somewhat spared.
As in so many other regions, there are winegrowers in Bordeaux who have had their entire vineyards destroyed.
"There will be winemakers here who will be financially ruined by this," Christophe Chateau, who represents winemakers and wine merchants in the Bordeaux region, said.
"We just don't know how many, yet."
In the Rhone Valley area, the head of the local wine producers' body, Philippe Pellaton, said that it would be "the smallest harvest of the last 40 years" with losses of 80-90 percent compared with a normal harvest.
Winemakers are "shattered, desperate", he said, with the famed Côte-Rôtie area particularly badly hit.
In Burgundy, which produces some of the finest white wines in the world, the head of the local producers' association estimated that "at least 50 percent" of the 2021 harvest had been lost.
Early estimates state that up to 80 percent of French vineyards have been affected. Farmers growing fruit and field crops, such as rapeseed, apples and apricots, are also facing gross losses.
Since France declared an "agricultural disaster" on April 8, Prime Minister Jean Castex has pledged "emergency relief" and the removal of caps on compensation for agricultural disasters. The government has also called on support from banks and insurers.
Winemakers and fruit growers met with the agriculture minister Monday to put forward their demands to help the industry navigate its way back to recovery. Aside from financial aid, they want repayments on bank loans to be suspended temporarily and improvements to insurance in a sector where only a third of winemakers are insured.
Weathering Trump's taxes, pandemic
But emergency relief cannot come fast enough, with recovery likely to be long and difficult. Before the frost hit, winegrowers had spent the last two years charting a rough course thanks to tax duties imposed by Donald Trump that reduced the flow of wine exports to a comparative trickle. By the last quarter of 2019, French wine exports to the United States plunged by almost a fifth.
Then came the Covid-19 pandemic. Bar and restaurant closures led to a drop in alcohol consumption with slower sales at one point leaving producers with no choice but to dump gallons of unsold bottles of champagne, beer and wine. Meanwhile, a halt to tourism due to lockdowns and international border closures have had a knock-on effect on the wine sector, which relies on dollars from tourists who visit French wineries in droves.
By January, however, French winemakers were talking up their prospects of a better year: Trump's ouster ended taxes on their wines and signs of an economic bounce in Asia and other markets augured well.
Chateau said there was a sense "we were getting through the bad times and things were going to be good again". Even with produce lost to the frost this year, winemakers could fall back on supplies stored in vast cellars from previous years' harvests, but many are concerned about their supplies for 2022 and even 2023. Severe damage to vines will make it even more difficult to recoup losses and for winemakers to rebound from the pandemic.
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"If there is less wine, even if the price is high because of lower supplies, it is going to have an impact," Chateau said.
French wine and spirits exports in 2020 were valued at around €12 billion, reflecting a 14 percent decrease compared to 2019, according to the Federation of Exporters of French Wines and Spirits.
After seeing so many winemakers trying to protect their crops from the frost with fire, fans or even helicopters -- often in vain -- Chateau said he would like part of the government relief package allocated to innovative technologies to help wine-growers better adapt to climate changes. A growing number of technologies such as scanning devices are being used by growers to track nitrogen and sap flow and even check the health of vine wood.
Some, like Laetitia Allemand, whose vineyard is in the Hautes-Alpes are keeping to more traditional methods. She relied on an old vine, the Mollard, which flowers later in the year, and her grapes did not suffer from the frost. "No one was interested in this variety 10 or 20 years ago," she told Franceinfo, though the recent crisis could lead others to follow her example.
Chateau remains optimistic for the future of the wine industry. "We'll be strong enough to get through because of the strong culture of wine in France and its image overseas," he said. "But we'll have less [winegrowers] in years to come because many just won't get through this crisis, but those who do will be stronger."
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