Sunday, October 20, 2019

Trump's Impeachment as Magic Trick

Trump’s Impeachment: A Magic Trick
Peter Schultz

            Donald Trump’s impeachment is defended by many as an act necessary to save “the rule of law.” However, little could be further from the truth.

            Our political system does not function legally because its power holders, its movers and shakers are all-too-willing to lawless forces, such as “organized” or “tolerated” crime, to maintain and fortify their preeminence, their power. Thus, as Peter Dale Scott has illustrated, “a symbiosis” exists among our elites and other lawless forces that has turned our political system into “a system of accommodations. . ., characterized by alliances…with lawless forces” such as drug trafficking, organized crime, or the CIA. At times, this symbiosis becomes most visible when the to government tries to cover it up while pretending to “investigate” events like the Kennedy assassination, Iran-Contra, or 9/11. The gaps in these “investigations” point toward what is really going on, point toward the alliances our elites use with lawless forces to maintain their power by making “adjustments” to meet “the overriding political priorities of [our] power-movers and –shakers.”

            This symbiosis also is visible when our elites construct such alleged “crises” as the Cold War, the Global War on Terror, or even Bush’s construction of an “axis of evil.” These constructions carry with them the implication that, to succeed, the government cannot be bound by the rule of law. It must, as Dick Cheney said after 9/11, go to “the dark side.” That is, it must forego legal and even constitutional arrangements and thinking, while wielding power freely and, of course, inhumanely and unjustly. Notions like “due process” are treated as “quaint,” as hindrances to a will to power that must be indulged. Apparently, these elites believe that inhumanity will produce humanity, that injustice will produce justice, that endless war will lead to peace, and that greed will enrich all people and not destroy the planet.

            So then Trump’s impeachment for preserving the rule of law is like just another magic trick: Overturn the result of the 2016 presidential election using any means necessary, even lawless means such as the CIA, and, viola, like pulling a rabbit out of a hat, the rule of law will be restored and fortified. In our political order, where the rule of law disappeared some time ago, such magic tricks are absolutely essential for preserving the illusion that we live in “a nation of laws.” And while this is strange enough, even stranger is that some of our elites don’t even seem to know they’re doing magic.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Russiagate, American Politics, and American Imperialism

Russiagate, American Politics, and American Imperialism
Peter Schultz

            I have just read or re-read the best account of how and why “the furor of Russiagate was born” in the “Afterword” to Max Blumenthal’s The Management of Savagery: How America’s National Security State Fueled the Rise of Al Qaeda, ISIS, and Donald Trump. It goes as follows.

            Trump’s election triggered “a moral panic” among those who were most heavily invested in our national security state and the war on terror. Trump had been “anti-interventionist” in his campaign and he “lambasted Bush’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq,” asserted that he was not prepared to “arm Syrian ‘moderate rebels,’ voiced his “suspicion of NATO,” as well as expressing an “interest in détente with Russia.” [p. 275] So, “Joining with the dead-enders of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, who were desperate to deflect from their crushing loss, the mandarins of the national security state worked their media contacts to generate the narrative of Trump-Russia collusion. Out of the postelection despair of liberals and national security elites, the furor of Russiagate was born. [pp. 275-76]

            It has probably been forgotten how “Trump roasted Bush and his family’s neoconservative legacy of military failures.” As Trump said in the November debate, “We’re giving hundreds of millions of dollars in equipment to these people – we have no idea who they are!. . . They may be far worse than Assad.” [p. 243] As Blumenthal notes: “Trump’s diatribe was among the most incendiary attacks of military interventionism ever witnessed by a nationally televised audience. And it was perhaps the first time the Bush family had been so publicly and personally skewered for the damage that their wars had done to the country’s social fabric.” [p. 243] And this attack sent “Trump surging ahead of [Jeb] Bush by twenty points.”

            When later, Bush attempted to counter by arguing that “While Donald Trump was building a reality show, my brother was building a security apparatus to keep us safe, and I am proud of what he did.” To which Trump responded: “The World Trade Center came down under your brother’s reign. Remember that? That’s not keeping us safe.” [p. 244] As Blumenthal says: “Trump had crossed a line, or at least the crown of lobbyists, white-gloved party activists and campaign aides [present] thought so. Senator Rubio defended Bush, asserting “he kept us safe and I’m forever grateful for what he did for this country.” To which Trump responded: “How did he keep us safe when the World Trade Center came down?” [p. 244]

            The beltway crowd was “stunned” by Trump’s accusations. But Trump went on to lament the consequences of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein who, Trump asserted, “killed terrorists [while] today Iraq is the Harvard terrorism.” [p. 245] As Blumenthal points out, “The political class has underestimated the depth of antiwar sentiment across middle America, and the depth of the visceral hatred average Americans held for the political establishment.” [p. 245]

            So, in a panic after Trump had won, the political class resurrected “the phantasmagoria of the McCarthy era,” branding “the president as a Russian agent – and ‘the Russians’ as a singular source of evil.” [p. 276] James Clapper described the Russians as “typically … almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor, [or] whatever….” And this description has a cartoon character to it but it was propagated by the mainstream media and especially by Rachel Maddow at MSNBC. The goal was “to encircle the largest and most militarily powerful nation in Eurasia and gradually transform it into a toothless, economically dependent vassal of the United States.” [p. 277] However, Putin put a stop to this project by pointing out how the United States had taken “illegitimate actions” in Iraq, thereby creating “’ new human tragedies and … centers of tension.’” [p. 279]

            Eventually, Russiagate afforded those fortifying the national security state the opportunity to reassert its version of the national discourse. But when things in Syria went awry, the failing power of the American empire was becoming obvious to many, even to some of Trump’s critics. Syria was supposed to fall after Iraq and Libya had fallen but it didn’t and the fiascos of Iraq and Libya were continuing. Yet the imperialists in the political class refused to admit their failure and so they turned on Trump with an intensity belied by the explicit charges they leveled against Trump. The American project, as conceived by the neoconservatives and other beltway players was not fatally flawed. No, Trump was the fatal flaw with his “isolationist” politics and crass mentality. If only Trump could be disposed of, all would be well once again and, hence, his impeachment gained ground.

            It is quite amazing though that so many fail to see that it was the American project as conceived by the neoconservatives, et. al., that fed the forces that led to Trump’s election, just as that project led to the rise of fascist-like conservatives in Europe and Great Britain. The blowback from waging endless and inconclusive wars, costing billions, even trillions, while middle Americans struggled at home, blaming immigrants and other minorities for their troubles, led to Trump’s nomination and election in 2016. While Hillary refused to admit that her adventure in Libya was a disaster – and even praised it as a success – most Americans concluded that she could not be trusted, that is, trusted to help them. And so, here we are in 2019, Trump is still the king-pin and still the one who comes closest to relating to middle America. He doesn’t care two cents about middle Americans but his act is actually more genuine than that put on by establishment Democrats like Pelosi, Schumer, Biden, or even Warren. So as 2020 rolls around, I am imagining that the Democrats will, once again, fail to seize the opportunity to breathe some new life into our republic. As noted often, these Democrats prefer a Trump presidency to a Bernie presidency or to anything representing significant political change.

Consensus Politics: American Style

Consensus Politics:  American Style
Peter Schultz

            The following is a quote from an article on the Truthdig web site, entitled “Pete Buttigieg Is The Past.” [Link is below]

“There is no public policy in modern American history on which progressives, moderates and conservatives have found themselves in agreement of what the goal should be, much less what the solution is.”

            Little could be further from the truth than this assertion. Progressives, moderates, and conservatives actually agree about a lot, and certainly about what are the most important issues confronting the US. For example, consider the overwhelming rejection of Trump’s decision to say that what Turkey does regarding the Kurds on its borders is none of the US’s business. Of course, this is presented by the MSM as just one decision by Trump, whereas it is a challenge to the foreign policy of “interventionism” – a euphemism for US imperialism – that is embraced by progressives, moderates, and conservatives. Not many really care about the Kurds, as is usually the case, but a whole lot of people care about maintaining US imperialism by projecting US power throughout the world.

            Moreover, this isn’t just a “foreign policy” issue because US imperialism is central to the maintenance of our Orwellian oligarchy. Hence, it is fair to say that progressives, moderates, and conservatives all agree about maintaining the power of the oligarchy that governs us. So, anyone who challenges our imperialism, like Tulsi Gabbard, must be marginalized, just as anyone like Bernie Sanders who claims to be a “socialist” must be marginalized as well.

            Moreover, I haven’t heard many progressives, moderates, or conservatives advocating the overthrow of our “national security state” and its embrace of not only the war on terror but also its current project of spying on Americans, especially those who are Muslim but also anyone who espouses what are considered to be “subversive” arguments. Similarly, while every so often the phenomenon of “mass incarceration” is raised as an issue, it isn’t a central concern, as it would be if people didn’t agree that our “prison complex” is necessary and not a threat to republican principles. “Lock’em up” isn’t just a phrase used by Trump supporters vis-à-vis Hillary Clinton; it is also a policy that undermines the republican bona fides of our society.

            And this is the thing about the quote above. It seems true and the oligarchs want us to think it’s true because that way people will not realize that our republic, which is what the US at its best always aspires to, is dead or dying. By creating phony issues, like should Trump be impeached – when even the Democrats don’t actually want him impeached – the oligarchs in both parties can disguise their shared belief that they, not the people, are the proper rulers in the US. And, of course, the louder and more intense the debates on these marginal issues become, the more likely it is that people will think that the republic is alive and well. But it isn’t. And as is illustrated time and again – the Democrats subverting Sanders in 2016, the Republicans embrace of voter suppression – both parties are engaged in a covert collusion to make sure that the republic stays dead or that it dies. That is the goal, that is the “solution” that almost all progressives, moderates, and conservatives agree about. It is consensus politics American style.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Trump: The Aftermath

Trump: The Aftermath
Peter Schultz

            In light of recent and now unfolding events, it seems worthwhile to ask what life in the United States will be like after Trump is gone, either done in by a coup (impeachment) or by an election. And to speculate about this, it is useful to ask: What is the greatest harm Trump has done?

            For me, Trump’s greatest harm is his ability – unintentional of course – to revitalize the legitimacy, the bona fides of the oligarchy that has governed the United States since at least 1980, that is, the Reagan oligarchy. Like 9/11, Trump has reinforced, fortified, re-legitimized what had become a suspect oligarchy after Iran-Contra, the Clinton presidency and impeachment, the election of 2000, 9/11, the botched occupation of Iraq, the economic meltdown of 2008, and the rather flaccid although drone infested presidency of Barack Obama. Trump has done what the killing of bin Laden, the overthrow of the Taliban, or even the election of the first black as president could not do, resuscitate what was a nearly dead political regime.

            And when Trump is gone, either by coup or by election, the damage he has done will continue because a reinvigorated, reinforced, and stifling consensus will arise, one that will enforce the exceedingly narrow political discourse that is animating those opposed to Trump and was so apparent in the Kavanaugh hearings. In this consensus, Bush/Cheney and their torturing, their war in Iraq, their war on terror, will like look “statesmen,” achieving a rehabilitation only rivaled by Richard Nixon once Clinton invited him to the White House so he, Nixon, could be eulogized as a statesman. And in the face of this consensus, only the bravest or the most contrary will dare question the value of patriotism, the worth of the CIA, the prosecution of Julien Assange, or U.S. alliances with the likes of Saudi Arabia or Israel and the continuing decimation of the Middle East in the name of “freedom.” Of course, those questions and questioners will be marginalized, even “psychologized” as misfits who are “anti-America.”

            Thanks to Trump, the nation will have achieved the kind of stifling conformism many conservatives and even liberals have wished for since the presidency of Jimmy Carter ended after one term. Flags will wave, bands will play, drones will obliterate, space will be weaponized, and the wealthy will continue to reap more wealth while the others will struggle from month to month to make ends meet. Oh, it will be a glorious time, at least for America’s wealthy and its military once Trump is banished and thoroughly discredited. In a way, the U.S. will look like it did in the 1950s, that is, once McCarthy and McCarthyism was banished, all awash with the mind-numbing conformism that accompanies a “consumer’s paradise,” with even perhaps another old, verbally challenged white man as president.

            I can hardly wait!

Monday, September 30, 2019

Weirdness Prevails: Trump and His Critics

Weirdness Prevails: Trump and His Critics:
Peter Schultz

            Things are really getting weird in Trumpland because those who style themselves “progressives” are attacking Trump for undermining the rule of law. Why is this weird? Because progressivism and its originators – T. Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and FDR – deliberately jettisoned the rule of law as inadequate, pre-modern, and unable to support the kind of active, interventionist government needed in the modern world. The Progressives embraced three kinds of power, military power, bureaucratic power, and presidential power. And they recognized that by doing so, they were “modifying,” even undermining the rule of law.

            Central to Teddy Roosevelt’s “stewardship theory” of presidential power, as well as FDR’s New Deal, was the creation of a new kind of politics, the kind that transcended legal concepts and law itself. In a real sense, this is what the “modern presidency” was – and is – all about, liberating presidents from the confines of the law, whether that law is statutory or constitutional.

            Military power is, obviously, beyond the rule of law. Making war puts a nation beyond, well beyond the rule of law, which is why the Constitution allows the government to suspend the writ of habeas corpus in time of war. As Justice Jackson said in his concurring opinion in Korematsu, the case where the Supreme Court upheld FDR’s decision to authorize the “internment” of all persons of Japanese descent, including natural born American citizens, presidents are obligated in time of war to be super vigilant in protecting the nation and, hence, were not bound by legal principles, by the rule of law.

            Drone assassinations, including those of American citizens, torture, Guantanamo, in fact the entire war on terror so readily embraced by the Bush administration and the American people, make a mockery of the rule of law. This is what Cheney meant when he said we had to go to “the dark side” after 9/11. Of course, we had already gone to the dark side in Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, Guatemala, Chile, and Iran, long before the war on terror was declared.

            Embracing bureaucracy, as the Progressives openly and eagerly did, also undermines the rule of law. Bureaucratic government, bureaucratic institutions are alternatives to the rule of law, which FDR knew and which was central to his New Deal. The rejection of the rule of law was then close to the heart of the New Deal and was what helped make that deal new. The old deal was the Constitution and especially its separation of powers and the rule of law. Bureaucracies are not bound by legal reasoning, as reflected by the enormous discretion they are entrusted with. For the Progressives, such discretion was seen as indispensable for what they called “good government,” that is, efficient, flexible, but not law bound government.

            And on top of this, the Progressives embraced presidential power, both its bureaucratic and its “monarchical” characteristics, amounting to a wholesale rejection of the rule of law. Teddy Roosevelt’s embrace of presidential power, his “stewardship theory,” encouraged presidents to do anything they thought necessary for the well-being of the nation, including confiscating private property or, a la FDR, “interning” persons, even American citizens, who had done nothing illegal. It is only a short step from such a theory of presidential power to “interning” even children separated from their parents. And it is no step at all to creating a “Security Index,” a la J. Edgar Hoover, composed of the names of persons to be “interned” whenever the government decided it was necessary to do so. This makes a mockery of the claim that the U.S. is “a nation of laws.”

            So, if Trump were guilty of undermining the rule of law as claimed, that would make him just like the Progressives. Which of course makes a mockery of those progressives who argue that Trump should be impeached for doing so because, once Trump is gone, these same people will embrace any president who continues and even expands the war on terror, who continues and even fortifies the “imperial presidency,” just like Reagan did and just like Bush Jr. did. The charges against Trump for undermining the rule of law are, of course, bogus coming from those who call themselves “progressives.” Those making the charges are being hypocritical, dishonest, and disingenuous.

            And insofar as this is true, the attempt to impeach Trump looks more and more like a good, old-fashioned coup, dressed up to look like something else. But as the old expression has it, even if you put make-up, earrings, and a dress on a pig, it’s still a pig. It’s hard to hide a coup. Just ask Bill Clinton.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Trump's Opponents: Naive and Dangerous

Trump’s Opponents: Naïve and Dangerous
Peter Schultz

            As noted in a previous posting, Trump’s opponents seem often to be oblivious to the implications of some of the arguments they put forward when criticizing Trump.

            For example, they like to refer to “the rule of law” and how Trump is undermining that rule. But it seems they haven’t noticed that the rule of law was undermined long before Trump took office. Where was the rule of law when Reagan was president and funding the Contras in Nicaragua even though the Congress had forbidden that? Where was the rule of law when Clinton, as governor of Arkansas, was facilitating the importation of drugs into the United States by the same Contras Reagan was supporting? Where was the rule of law when Bush Sr. pardoned Caspar Weinberger and several others in order to protect himself from being exposed as a main character in the Iran-Contra debacle? And where was the rule of law when Obama decided to have an American citizen assassinated by drone because he was a Muslim who allegedly posed a threat to the United States by preaching jihad? The rule of law has been hard to find of late.

            But more importantly perhaps, Trump’s opponents seem unaware that the rule of law, even when honored, doesn’t guarantee justice, freedom, or equality.  Anatole France, I think, said that the majesty of the law prohibits both rich and poor from sleeping under bridges. Anyway, some one said it and it is correct. The rule of law invariably benefits the most powerful because the most powerful make the laws. In the United States, for a long time the law protected slavery and then prohibited interracial marriages. The latter law did formally treat both races equally, as did the concept of “separate but equal” which underlay our apartheid regime after the Civil War. Nonetheless, every one knew these were racist laws, through and through. So much for the rule of law as the basis of a decent political and social order. Laws often are racist, sexist, or homophobic, as well as being the foundation of tyrannical regimes.

            Moreover, the rule of law easily becomes law and order and we should all be aware of how this apparently worthwhile concept was used by Nixon and a host of others to suppress dissent, to repress individual liberties, and to crack down on those whose politics were considered unwholesome or un-American. Law and order led, I think had to lead to mass incarceration, as well as to children being kept in cages throughout the nation. There is a lot about the rule of law that is suspect, but Trump’s opponents seem to have forgotten that.  

            Of late, Trump’s opponents are all over him for compromising what they consider to be “national security,” apparently without giving any thought to how arguments justifying government action because of national security have been used repeatedly throughout American history in vindictive, punitive, and oppressive ways. The internment of all persons of Japanese descent, even US citizens of Japanese descent, after the attack on Pearl Harbor was based on the need to protect national security. J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI used arguments based on the need to protect national security to erect an impressive bureaucracy devoted to sabotaging, and in some cases killing, those who were allegedly a threat to our national security and the “American way of life,” including black power advocates, the American Indian Movement, and of course the Communist Party. And much of this repression was undertaken by the CIA, NSA, and other agencies of the government as well without showing any respect for the Bill of Rights and the dignity of individual Americans. And yet today Trump’s opponents naively accuse Trump of not respecting these institutions as if these institutions have been blameless and have always acted responsibly with regard to fundamental American values like freedom of expression, freedom of religion, the right of privacy, due process, or the dignity of persons regardless of their race, religion, or politics.

            The point is this: Many of Trump’s opponents are making arguments with implications that extend far beyond Trump and far beyond arguments that show any discrimination about basic concepts like the rule of law or national security. Of course, those in power, those who are most invested in the status quo, most invested in the Orwellian oligarchy that governs us are quite content with these arguments because they fortify their power. What government official who is devoted to preserving the status quo, whether elected or appointed, doesn’t endorse the rule of law or actions taken on behalf of national security, no matter how suspect those actions may be? I can’t think of one.

            In opposing Trump, it would be beneficial for people to take care that the arguments they make don’t lay the groundwork for repression or oppression once Trump is no longer on the scene. This would mean opposing Trump by focusing on his policies and how those policies serve to undermine the republic by creating an ever-greater disparity between the wealthy and the rest of us, as well how his foreign policies create death and destruction throughout the world. But, of course, to make such arguments against Trump, those making them most not agree with Trump’s policies and their after effects. And this is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak, because we know that some Democrats not only agree with Trump’s policies in these ways but have recommended them in their own name.

            So be it. But if you are interested in an alternative to Trump’s politics, his vindictive, punitive, and oligarchic politics, take care how you criticize Trump. Take care that you aren’t fortifying the very policies, the kind of politics that Trump represents.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Milk and Cookies Politics: Trump's Opposition

Milk and Cookies Politics: Trump’s Opposition
Peter Schultz

            The opposition to Trump has now come to embrace what might be called “milk and cookie politics,” a politics favored by conservatives in the U.S. According to “milk and cookie politics” the United States is and has been a beacon of decency, democracy, and diversity that has lit up the world against the forces of darkness, despair, and dictatorship so prevalent world-wide. The United States is the exceptional nation.

            By this view, Trump is undermining the rule of law, which has allegedly guided American politics since 1789. Further, he has and is undermining American democracy, which has also had an unbroken reign since 1789. And, of course, he has been behaving indecently as no other president has done since, well, since the Clinton administration. But that administration has been absolved of its sins, probably because it gave us mass incarceration, the end of welfare, and the Defense of Marriage Act.

            The interesting thing about all of this is, however, how Trump’s opposition is now embracing some of the most common themes of conservatism and this despite the fact that much of his opposition considers itself liberal. But these liberals are laying or reinforcing the groundwork of a fortified conservatism, a conservatism that thoughtlessly embraces bourgeois decency, law and order, deference to all authority, capitalism, American interventionism (what some call “imperialism”), and most importantly, embracing what is called American exceptionalism.

            But this is where “milk and cookie politics” always ends up, embracing what is, ultimately, a vindictive and punitive politics. Currently, this vindictiveness and punitiveness is directed at Trump and his supporters. But eventually – and maybe even now – these traits, having been reinforced by the hysteria surrounding Trump, will be directed at other targets, e.g., those foolish enough to question “Greta the Great,” Dr. Ford, or the “Me Too” movement.  So, far from offering an alternative to Trump’s vindictiveness, his nastiness, his conservatism, his opponents are actually reinforcing these traits. Which is a rather interesting situation.