Monday, November 18, 2019

The Politics of Despair

The Politics of Despair
Peter Schultz

            There is currently a great deal of dissatisfaction, even despair, evident among the people of the United States with our government, our political parties, and our politicians. There are several good reasons for this despair but too often one that is overlooked is that this despair has been created by our governing classes as a way of fortifying their power and control. By not responding to the wishes or the needs of the people, our governing elites create despair among the people, which, in turn, leads the people away from politics and especially away from political activism. Despairing of any significant changes, the people relapse into their customary condition of passivity, as this seems the only “realistic” option, while our elites continue their “activism,” that is, serving their own and their supporters’ interests.

            This is why the Democrats are pushing for Trump’s impeachment even though the chances of Trump being convicted by the Senate in an impeachment trial are between zero and none. By pretending to be doing something significant politically, viz., removing a sitting president, the Democrats, when they fail – as they undoubtedly will in the Senate – will have fortified popular despair with the existing political situation. By failing to remove Trump, the Democrats will thus succeed in fortifying the people’s intense dissatisfaction with politics. What looks like failure is actually success, from the vantage point of our ruling elites. Most people will turn away from politics, thinking “What’s the point of being politically active?”

            And it’s important, even crucial, to keep someone like Bernie Sanders out of the presidency because, otherwise, people would get the idea that political activism isn’t futile. And then where will our ruling political class be? Political activism is, willy nilly, a threat to the current crop of politically powerful persons and, so, it must be stanched, repressed, or rendered hopelessly “idealistic.” Thus, we see Obama warning against going “too far left,” because if that happens and succeeds people will get the idea that political activism is not futile, is not spitting into the wind, is in fact realistic. I mean, heck, it worked in the former Soviet Union, didn’t it? And they were Communists!

            Endless wars also help fortify our elites’ agenda of creating a politics of despair. These wars don’t end, aren’t won or lost, and need not be. They feed popular dissatisfaction with the government, with politics, and with human beings’ capacities to control their environments. And if body counts are kept under control and the use of WMDs is also controlled, then these allegedly “useless” wars are very useful for maintaining the status quo and the predominant political classes.

            Overall, a politics of failure serves a politics of despair very well, Machiavelli taught that fear and government go together very well, to which we may add that failure and government also go together very well. The failure of 9/11, for example, led to a fortification of the government that was inconceivable had the government not failed to prevent these attacks. Failure in US wars in Southeast Asia led eventually to more wars, a greater militarization of American society, and ever-larger “defense” budgets. Repeatedly, political failure leads to the fortification of government and, simultaneously, to the fortification of a politics of despair.  Failure leads to more government and more government, when it fails, leads to more despair.

            So don’t be surprised when our government fails. Those who hold and exercise our governmental powers want it to fail; they do and don’t do things so it fails [cf. the the occupation of Iraq or the war of 19 years in Afghanistan], because in that way they undermine political activism, create a politics of despair, and preserve their own power. And don’t be surprised when Trump survives impeachment, because that is the plan. For the Democrats, as Bob Dylan once sang: “There is no success like failure….” And they will emerge from their “failure” arguing that they need more power so…..well, so they can “fail” once again.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Impeachment and the Presidency

Impeachment and the Presidency
Peter Schultz

            Like the presidency itself, the men who wrote the Constitution saw an impeachment process as necessary but dangerous. They knew that such a process could and would be used merely for partisan purposes and that such a process could and would cause intense divisions in the nation. On the other hand, they saw the necessity for providing for a constitutionally established process to remove culpable presidents or otherwise, as Ben Franklin noted, assassination would become a means of “removal.” If we look at the results of the impeachments of Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, it is safe to say that those men did their work well as both impeachments were intensely partisan attacks on presidents some thought of as illegitimate.

            Johnson, charged with a lot of things, most importantly chose to violate a law that was clearly unconstitutional, the Tenure of Office Act, passed by Republicans to keep Johnson from firing Stanton, his Secretary of War, as the Secretary of Defense was called when our politics was more honest. As John F. Kennedy wrote in his book Profiles in Courage, Johnson’s presidency was saved by the votes of seven Republicans who broke ranks with their colleagues, the most important vote – because it was most dramatic – coming from Senator Ross from Kansas. For his troubles, Ross had his reputation sullied and was not returned to the Senate. He even had to move from his home state to the New Mexico territory, where he was eventually made its governor. Eventually, people came to see that Ross’s vote was the right one and he regained his well-deserved reputation for integrity. The Tenure of Office Act was repealed twenty years later and it was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in dicta when William Howard Taft was chief justice.

            Bill Clinton’s impeachment was even worse in that not only was he impeached and tried on trumped up – sorry for the unintentional pun – charges but the Republicans never actually intended to remove Clinton from office. That would have made Al Gore president and Gore would have run as an incumbent in 2000 and would have been entitled to serve two full terms as he would have become president more than halfway through Clinton’s second term. This impeachment was all smoke and mirrors and political theater aimed at allowing the Republicans to win the presidency in 2000. They weren’t even successful in that except that they had the Supreme Court and certain Florida officials on their side. The people, who chose Gore, weren’t fooled by the Republicans’ dog and pony show of an impeachment.

            And now we have the Trump impeachment, another attempt to remove a sitting president for merely partisan reasons. It will fail and it will in large part thanks to the process that was created in 1787 making the Senate the body to try impeached presidents. Senators have six-year terms, only 1/3 are up for reelection in any election year, and conviction requires a 2/3s majority. All of these provisions serve to protect Trump and rightly so insofar as his impeachment is as clearly partisan as were those of Johnson and Clinton.
            Two things are remarkable here. First, that the men who wrote the Constitution saw clearly the possibility that any impeachment process could and would be used for merely partisan purposes, arousing passions of such intensity that Franklin said would have led to assassinations were they not redirected into constitutionally approved processes. And, second, having seen these possibilities but still seeing the need for a removal process regarding the presidency, they were able to create a process that has, in at least two cases so far, worked as intended in short circuiting merely partisan attempts to remove sitting presidents. The Constitution is hardly a flawless document, especially when it comes to the presidency, but in this way it has proved to be more than adequate.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

The Democratic Oligarchs, Their "Deep State," and the Constitution

The Democratic Oligarchs, Their “Deep State,” and the Constitution
Peter Schultz

            There is a link below to an article on the Greanville Post relating to the Democrats current endorsement of what is being called “the Deep State” as populated by patriots, defenders of the Constitution, and defenders of democracy. Some response seems called for.

Actually, this alleged “change” by progressives endorsing bureaucratic government isn’t really a change. The progressives were always in favor of a pervasively powerful bureaucracy rather than a government that rests on the active, day to day consent of the governed. They thought this would offset the power of the wealthy they knew would arise from the creation of an economy devoted to the creation of ever more wealth. They were wrong about that as the wealthy just occupied the bureaucracy, thereby helping to create an oligarchy. 

And that is all that’s going on here: oligarchs defending their power, their status, as the many begin to realize that they, the many, are being screwed by “their” government. The lies told by the likes of the Clintons, the Obamas, and the Bushes, only play for so long and then the many realize they’re being screwed over and the progressives lose legitimacy and authority. So then they pronounce their faith in the bureaucracy, rechristening it “patriotic,” “defenders of the Constitution,” “defenders of democracy,” allegedly. The progressives were never “republican,” small “r”, in any real sense, but elitists looking to take control from the people, the many. And of course those who oppose them are, as Hillary put it, “deplorables” and undeserving of power. From their perspective, it’s not that Trump deserves impeachment for his acts; he deserves impeachment because he can’t be a legitimate president given his rejection of the ruling elites. So, one need not be concerned with Trump at all to be concerned with how the Democrats are behaving as they are, not surprisingly for an oligarchs, trying to kill the republic the Constitution aspires to.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

The Unsayable

The Unsayable
Peter Schultz

            In an excellent book The Spirit of Disobedience, Curtis White has the following critique of what is labeled our “Culture War,” which he says should be called our “Culture Theater.”

            In discussing this Culture War and its “warriors,” White points out that “The Maher/Coulter/O’Reilly oppositions are nothing more than public spectacle, political circus, the semblance of difference where there is none….They are the summons to fundamental change that means everything will stay the same.” [p. 87]

            As White points out, these “warriors” never say that which cannot, legitimately, be said: “You cannot say that the ruling order has no moral right to rule and hence no legitimacy. You cannot say that the order as a whole is spiritually bankrupt.” [p. 81, emphasis in original]

            And you cannot say that “Business, politics and legalized violence are a fluid whole.” You cannot point out that our governance is “indistinguishable from organized violence for profit.” [p. 82], even though if you examine Dick Cheney’s career, for example, it is clearly true. Cheney, Secretary of Defense, congressperson, vice president, head of Halliburton, and orchestrator of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, as well as other military actions that were not inconsistent with profit making for the likes of Halliburton, et. al. The “fluid whole” of business, politics and legalized, profit-making violence is there for everyone to see; that is, if you care to look at it and call it for what it is.

            So, the likes of Maher, Coulter, and O’Reilly always disavow any idea that they think our political, social, and economic order is spiritually bankrupt, illegitimate, even when, as after 2008, our economy was actually bankrupt. Why was it bankrupt? Not because our ruling order was thoroughly corrupt. Rather, it was bankrupt because of “mistakes” that were made, just as the Vietnam War and the invasion of Iraq were “mistakes.” And, if we take care, we can in the future avoid those “mistakes.” Nothing fundamental has to change; we just have to have a “do-over,” a “mulligan,” and we will get it right. Why? Because our ruling elites are not only well intentioned but also humane and just. Besides, everyone makes “mistakes,” don’t they?

            And here is another version of what is unsayable. This is from a book by John W. Dower entitled The Cultures of War. It is rather long but worth quoting in full. It is explaining why George Bush, for example, was never held accountable for the grave strategic debacle he created in Iraq.

            “What shielded the Bush administration from accountability…was… the inviolate nature of the national ‘security state’ that was spawned by World War II and the Cold War. Forty years prior to September 11,…Lewis Mumford…was describing this Leviathan as a ‘priestly monopoly of secret knowledge, the multiplication of secret agencies, the suppression of open discussion, and even the insulation of error against public criticism and exposure through a ‘bi-partisan’ military and foreign policy, which in practice nullifies public reaction and makes rational dissent the equivalent of patriotic disaffection, if not treason.’ The security state, with its holy writ and labyrinthine complexity, amounted to a profane theocracy.” [pp. 439-440]

            Like any theocracy, dissent, real dissent is seen as apostasy and cannot be allowed. Say these things and you will be marginalized, ostracized, and certified as either psycho or a traitor. It is an interesting state of affairs.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Trump's Opposition: Mutating Toward.......

Trump’s Opposition: Mutating Toward……
Peter Schultz

            That Trump’s opposition is mutating is illustrated by their increasingly shrill cries, cries that seem to echo those of Trump’s supporters when, in reference to Hillary, they bellowed, “Lock her up! Lock her up!”

            We shouldn’t be surprised by this, I think, insofar as this seems to be a fairly common phenomenon among the self-righteous who possess and/or think they deserve to possess a great deal of power. When the efforts of these types are resisted, or are not recognized as legitimate, they become increasingly frustrated and begin to imagine that their enemies are fanatics beyond habilitation or rehabilitation, beyond anything but the naked exercise of power. Thus, cries of “Lock him up! Lock him up!” are heard throughout Trumpland.

            This phenomenon has been noted among torturers who, when they are unsuccessful in “breaking” their prisoner, begin to feel as if they were being victimized. The tortured are torturing the torturer! With predictable results. Similarly, this phenomenon is visible in escalations during war, especially among military forces that are deemed “superior” to their allegedly “lesser” – that is, weaker and more backward – enemies. The allegedly superior forces, feeling victimized, resort to ever-greater force to try to prevail, with predictable and ghastly results.

            Much of the rhetoric of the anti-Trump “resistance” carries with it an implicit assertion that Trump and his supporters are “lesser” than they, the resisters; that is, less educated, less socially respectable, less cultured, less rational, etc. Hillary called Trump supporters “deplorables,” indicating that she and her supporters are superior to her enemies in the Trump camp. She and her supporters should have prevailed – and even should prevail now. Hence, impeachment is justified if for no other reason than to right “the wrong” done in the 2016 election. Because Trump is “less,” hence “inferior, he should not be president and he cannot be a legitimate president.

            This mindset often leads to extremism, to a kind of fanaticism by which the “superior” stakes all on defeating, oppressing, subduing the “inferior.” As a result, those who like to think of themselves as superior undermine the ground of their alleged superiority. Doing battle with an alleged “beast,” they become beastly themselves. And it becomes a question of exactly who is more deplorable.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Threats to the Republic: The Clinton and Trump Impeachments

Threats to the Republic: The Clinton and Trump Impeachments
Peter Schultz

            There are at least two problems with the Trump impeachment, as there were with the Clinton impeachment as well.

            First, the Clinton impeachment was not a genuine attempt to remove Bill Clinton from office, a fact that is I suspect true of the Trump impeachment as well. Why would the Republicans have wanted to remove Clinton from office more than halfway through his term – meaning Al Gore could have served two full terms if he had been elected in 2000 – and prior to the 2000 presidential election for “offenses” that hardly endangered much more than Clinton’s marriage? Clinton was guilty of bad behavior and of trying to cover it up, but as majorities of the people repeatedly opined, the Republican attempt was merely a manifestation of partisan or party electoral politics. The same is true of the Democratic attempt to impeach and remove Trump from office. Except among those blinded by “Trump hysteria” or those willing to play “smoke and mirror politics,” there is no good or adequate reason for removing Trump from office, especially now that the Democrats control the House of Representatives and given the anti-Trump animus evident in the mainstream media.

            Secondly – and more importantly – both of these impeachment attempts trivialize – and hence marginalize – that process, which has consequences for our republican scheme of government. The impeachment process was created in order to provide a means, within constitutional processes, to hold presidents accountable and to remove and ban them from office should that seem necessary. Monarchs could not be held accountable or be removed by any ordinary process. Removal required revolution and/or regicide. But because the men who drafted the Constitution knew they were creating a powerful and, hence, a dangerous office, one with some monarchical attributes, they wanted a means – without involving revolution or assassination – of holding presidents accountable and removing and banning them from office. That is, our founders knew that the presidency as created was an office whose misuse or abuse could undermine the republican form of government created by the Constitution because presidents had the means to aggrandize themselves and their office, e.g., through abuse of the commander in chief powers and/or the pardoning power.

            In other words, the impeachment process was adopted to deal with what was once called an “imperial presidency” and, more recently, a “unitary executive.” But there is little or nothing in either the Clinton or the Trump impeachment proceedings that reflect such concerns. That is, neither Clinton nor Trump has been charged with seeking to establish an “imperial” or a “unitary” presidency.  Rather, the focus was and is on allegedly bad or illegal behavior, but not behavior that rises to the level of having grave political consequences that would, if unchecked, undermine the Constitution’s republican scheme – or what’s left of it.

            We have however witnessed such grave actions, e.g., when Nixon claimed while making war in Laos and Cambodia that a president could constitutionally make war wherever, whenever, and however he wanted. Or when Reagan undertook to make war in Nicaragua despite the legally established opposition of the Congress, while trading arms for hostages in violation of the clearly established policy of the United States. We have also witnessed such behavior when Bush Jr. decided that he had the authority to invade and occupy Iraq with or without the approval of the Congress, and that he could do this based on manufactured “intelligence.” And of course we have witnessed, so to speak, such behavior repeatedly by the CIA and other agencies, under presidential guidance, attempting to overthrow and overthrowing legitimately established governments for a variety of reasons, with or without congressional approval. Such misuses and abuses of power seem tailor made for the impeachment process as a means of preserving a republican scheme of government, and especially from aggrandizing presidents.

            To use the impeachment process to deal with allegedly bad or illegal behavior that doesn’t endanger our republican scheme of government trivializes that process, while doing nothing to fortify our republican institutions. In fact, insofar as the impeachment process has become merely part of our partisan, electoral politics, being used to overturn election results or to influence future elections, just so far does that process undermine our republic which is already in need of life support. Given that this process has been used in this way by both the Republicans (against Clinton) and the Democrats (against Trump), one could and maybe even should get the impression that neither party wants to revive or resuscitate our republican scheme of government. Our Orwellian oligarchs are content, it seems, to subvert, to kill that republic – even while waving flags and singing “God Bless America.” It is a weird situation.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Conventional Wisdom v. Crazy Wisdom

“Conventional Wisdom v. Crazy Wisdom”
Dr. P. Schultz
September 2, 2009

         One of my favorite authors, Tom Robbins, makes a distinction between ‘conventional wisdom’ and ‘crazy wisdom.’ Here is what he wrote:

            Crazy wisdom is, of course, the opposite of conventional wisdom. It is wisdom that deliberately swims against the current in order to avoid being swept along in the numbing wake of bourgeois compromise, wisdom that flouts taboos in order to undermine their power; wisdom that evolves when one, while refusing to avert one’s gaze from the sorrows and injustices of the world, insists on joy in spite of everything; wisdom that embraces risk and eschews security, wisdom that turns the tables on neurosis by lampooning it, the wisdom of those who neither seek authority nor willingly submit to it. [Wild Ducks Flying Backwards, p. 180]

         We are, generally speaking, submerged in conventional wisdom. It is all around us and it permeates us intimately. In fact, if we are not careful, it will mold us, affecting how we think, how we talk, and how we act. One example drawn from a recent experience.

         My daughter, a single mom of 37 years, wrote on Facebook that she had read somewhere that the pursuit of happiness had to be abandoned at times or one could burn out or go crazy. One of her friends responded that, yes, enough is often enough, so let go of happiness and don’t go crazy.

         My response was as follows, basically: the danger is in thinking that happiness is something that has to be pursued.  Of course, we learn this from a very young age and it is even there in that document that signaled the “birth of our nation,” the Declaration of Independence. All human beings – because that is what Jefferson meant by “men” – have the right to “the pursuit of happiness.” But what if this is wrong? What if happiness is not something to be pursued? What if happiness can be found, at almost anytime; e.g., in a smile, in a beautiful woman or man [or both if you are bisexual!], in a child, even in a classroom [yes, I know that is stretching it but it happens]?

         The conventional wisdom says “pursue” happiness but if happiness is not pursuable then we need to ask: what is it that we are pursuing? My answer [and that is all it is]: SUCCESS AND SECURITY. Alright if you want to continue this pursuit, as it is your right to do so. But don’t forget that in that pursuit you have abandoned the possibility of happiness which lies in a different arena altogether.

         Conventional wisdom, as demonstrated by the death of Ted Kennedy just recently, tells us that one of the best ways for human beings to live is to go into politics, “make a contribution,” help save the planet, stand up for immutable principles. Kennedy’s life was celebrated but so was his choice of lifestyle, as it were. He chose to enter politics, we were told over and over and over, and wasn’t that noble of him? Just as his brothers chose the noble life so too did Ted and we should be thankful that he did that.

         But, as also demonstrated by Ted Kennedy’s life, very often those people who have gone into politics do things that indicate what we like to call a “lack of character.” But what if it is not a “lack of character” but rather a lack of happiness? What if the public life, the political life is not satisfying to human beings because it requires sacrificing happiness for, let us say, POWER. Or as I like to say FAME, the only kind of immortality we humans can be certain is available to us.  What if the noble life is not and cannot be satisfying to human beings? What if being famous is, ultimately, unsatisfying just as it seems, from the behavior of those we call “stars,” that it is unsatisfying to live your life as a “star” or even with a “star?” Are any human beings unhappier than our “stars?” What if it is better for human beings to live simply, not grandly, to live peacefully, to live lightheartedly, not seriously? Kurt Vonnegut wrote in his last book something like the following: “I don’t care what anyone tells you. We humans were put here to screw around.”

         Tom Robbins once more:

         The fact that playfulness – a kind of divine playfulness intended to lighten man’s existential burden and promote what Joseph Campbell called ‘the rapture of being alive’ – lies near the core of Zen, Taoist, Sufi, and Tantric teachings is lost on most westerners; working stiffs and intellectuals alike. Even scholars who acknowledge the playful undertone in those disciplines treat it with condescension and disrespect, never mind that it’s a worldview arrived at after millennia of exhaustive study, deep meditation, unflinching observation, and intense debate. [p. 179]

         The material in this course, Political Issues, reflects the thinking of Robbins and others. Where do we look for crazy wisdom? Well, we are mistaken if we think our politicians provide access to this wisdom. In fact, they are in the business of not only maintaining but even of manufacturing conventional wisdom, e.g., “Axis of Evil” or “the war on poverty” or “the war on drugs.” The same could be said for what is called, appropriately, “the mainstream media.” Fox News is merely the clearest example of how the mainstream media maintains and helps to manufacture the “truths” of conventional wisdom. It is no accident that one has to look to the Comedy Channel to cut through “truthiness,” as Stephen Colbert calls it, to cut through the bullshit, to expose the absurdities of taking one’s bearings from conventional wisdom.

         Another “place” to look for crazy wisdom is in what we like to call “fiction.” By this I mean novels and movies and even some television. Ever wonder why the politicians are so concerned with controlling what we see and read in these venues? Well, it is because they know that these venues are the home of crazy rather than conventional wisdom and, hence, they know that these media threaten their power, their ability to control us. It is an old expression: “I care not who makes the laws of a country, if I can write its music” with “music” being understood broadly to include all the above. Bruce Springsteen knew something like this when he sang, “We learned more in a three minute record, baby, than we ever learned in school.” And Eldridge Cleaver knew this too when he wrote in one of his essays, “Convalescence,” that rock n’ roll was changing society because it reminded the overly intellectualized whites that they had bodies and that those bodies were supposed to be rockin’ n’ rollin’, “a whole lot of shakin’ goin’ on….” As Cleaver put it: Rock n’ roll taught “whites how to shake their asses again,” something they had forgotten how to do. And, hence, in the fifties and sixties, when Elvis made it cool for whites to listen to R&B in the form of rock n’ roll, and to shake their asses again, their parents and others were worried for the fate of western civilization! And not surprisingly, millions, yours truly among them, have made their pilgrimage to Graceland, where “we will all be received in Graceland.”

         Here, we will be reading some novels and watching some movies, some of the movies being based on the novels we read. We are doing this because I think it is a way to access crazy wisdom and it seems to me that accessing this wisdom is not only beneficial but even necessary if we humans are to be, well, happy.