Sunday, July 29, 2018

Trump Hysteria and the Good Old Days


Trump Hysteria and the Good Old Days
Peter Schultz

            Recently, I have heard people lamenting the fact that, especially in the age of Trump, that the United States has become a divided nation like never before. In the “good old days” it is said that the American people were moderates politically and now they are “forced” to take sides and are not willing as a result to compromise, as they did in “the good old days.”

            Some things about this argument bothered me and it took a little while to figure out what these things were. First, the very idea of “the good old days” bothered me as I think Billy Joel was right to sing, “The good old days weren’t always so good and today isn’t as bad as it seems.” I especially like the first part of this refrain because today is, often, as bad as it seems.

            Second, “the good old days” is a  myth, a comforting myth according to which that in the good old days people were moderate, willing to listen to opposing viewpoints and to compromise. I wonder: When was this “golden age” of moderation and compromise? Was it the 50s and 60s when blacks could not legally sit at lunch counter and order food in Greensboro, N.C.? Was it when there were no blacks at southern colleges and universities like UNC, N.C. State, or Wake Forest College? There was a time, in the good old days, when there were no black athletes playing any sports in the ACC or the SEC and a basketball player like Oscar Robertson, a resident of Winston Salem, N.C. had to go north to play division 1 college basketball.

            Were people moderate and willing to compromise when very few gays or lesbians would “come out” for fear for their bodies and lives and for being arrested and charged criminally?  Was our politics moderate when JFK, because he was a Catholic, was not on the presidential ballot in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia? Was our politics moderate when JFK was gunned down in Dallas in 1963? Or when MLK was gunned down in Memphis in 1968? Or when Bobby Kennedy was gunned down in Los Angeles also in 1968? Or when Malcolm X was gunned down in the 60s as well? Or when Ronald Reagan, as governor of California spoke of shooting student protesters? Or when no one was charged with any crime after the killings of unarmed students at Kent State and Jackson State? If this is moderation, it is certainly a strange kind of moderation.

            Thirdly, such arguments about “the good old days” imply that moderation and a willingness to compromise are the “default political position.” That is, moderation and a willingness to compromise are thought to characterize politics in its “natural state,” and this state is only upset by the efforts of people and politicians committed to disruption and chaos. And this is just another myth and one that is dangerously geared to political passivity. By this view, people shouldn’t have fight to be heard, to advance their agendas in the political arena. All people have to do is “start a discussion,” say, about race and, in the end, people will “see the light,” act moderately and compromise to advance justice.

            Well, as near as I can tell, this is just poppy cock. It wasn’t a “discussion” that ended, for a while anyway, the racist apartheid regime that existed in the U.S. since the end of the Civil War. It wasn’t a “discussion” that led the government, eventually, to change its policies in Vietnam, to seek “peace with honor” rather that “victory” over those evil Communists. It wasn’t a “discussion” that won workers the right to unionize and that led to legislation meant to make work places safer. It wasn’t a discussion that won women the right to vote in national elections. None of these phenomena occurred because the nation had “a discussion.” They occurred as the result of battles, real, bloody battles. As Plato makes evident in his Republic, justice does not just appear, is not “self-evident.” Knowing what justice is requires a struggle, which is what Plato understood to be philosophy.  And of course this means that a politics of justice necessarily involves struggles, even battles as contestants seek to advance, one way or another, their different versions of justice.

            The argument condemning Trump – and he deserves condemnation as do others as well – for dividing America based on the idea that in the past, in “the good old days,” moderation and compromise characterized our political order and society is an argument that leads to political passivity. As a result, eventually people will just throw up their hands, giving up when their wishes for a “discussion” about this or that are thwarted, thinking “what’s the use? Our political activity doesn’t get us anywhere.”

            But as my mother use to say, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”
Calling for “discussions” of race, of gender, of imperialism are powerless against the likes of Trump. It was Malcolm X who said a relatively long time ago, “The ballot or the bullet.” And, indeed, that is still the choice. It was Malcolm X who also said, “By any means necessary.” Without intending it, Trump has helped to create a situation where even people who claim to be “white” can understand, can feel what Malcolm meant.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Justice Kennedy Was No Moderate


Justice Kennedy Was No Moderate
P. Schultz


            This is a good article on Justice Kennedy and his brand of politics. And the analysis hits the nail on the head, although more should be said.

            Kennedy, like some others, operated to maintain the gross inequalities that exist in US society, which of course are not affected by decisions allowing gays and lesbians to marry or, within a wide range of restrictions, allow women to terminate their pregnancies or, as I like to say, to exercise their right to privacy. In fact, it can be argued that Kennedy’s MO is pretty much the MO of our political establishment, both those on “the right” and those on “the left.” Preserve the gross inequalities that characterize US society and the US political order, even if that means allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military [wow! what a boon!] or to get married or to be engaged in "civil unions.”

As if getting married were such a boon to human beings! Lots and lots of people don’t get married, deliberately. It isn’t the getting married that matters, it’s choice that matters. But choices are limited, severely limited in a society that is characterized by gross inequalities, even if some choices are open to all. This is a pretty simple thought that seems to have escaped notice in our allegedly “divisively divided democracy.” As the opinion that Kennedy was a “moderate” illustrates, our society is not “divisively divided” and it is not “democratic,” as no genuinely democratic people would tolerate the gross inequalities that characterize the U.S.


Monday, July 2, 2018

A Really Simple Proposition: "No Victorious Wars"


A Really Simple Proposition: “No Victorious Wars”
P. Schultz

            Having stumbled on a book entitled JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy, by L. Fletcher Prouty, I began reading it and was struck by his rather simple or strait forward argument about the history of the Cold War from 1945 up onto the end of the Cold War with the demise of the Soviet Union. Here is that argument.

            Because of the advent of nuclear weapons and the possibility of eradicating life on the planet should these weapons be used in a general war, the Cold War was a “legislative creation of the CIA,” and included “the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis” which “were craftily orchestrated events designed to fill the gap between what mankind had known as conventional warfare and the incalculable impact of all-out nuclear war.” [xxii]

            Or again: “World War II was over and conventional warfare died with it.” And at greater length: “This type of limited warfare was not designed solely for the purpose of making war to make money, as has been the case throughout history for most countries; but it was necessitated by the knowledge as early as 1943, that the atom bomb would be ready before the end of World War II. As many have recognized, the war did not end until the first of each of the original types of atomic bomb, Implosion and Gun-type, had been given its initial bloodbath public demonstration over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Then, and only then, did these world-class planners realize that they had made a terrible mistake in funding those nuclear physicists and their industrial backers to produce the atom bomb. From the time of the first use of nuclear weapons until the present, and even more certainly for the future, the atomic bomb demonstrated that effective warfare, as it was known since the dawn of mankind, has ended. The almost timeless era of conventional warfare is over. There will be no more victorious wars. There will be moneymaking, meaningless wars. The next real, all-out, and unlimited war will lead to Armageddon on Earth. It will be the last.” [Xxiv]

            This was like a light bulb experience for me: “no more victorious wars….[but] moneymaking, meaningless wars.” This seems to describe precisely America’s wars during the Cold War and in its aftermath as well.  I have often wondered why America’s establishment was willing to invest so heavily in the Vietnam War even though they knew it could not be won or why that establishment has been satisfied to be tied down in a war in Afghanistan for 18 years. Now I think I have an answer: Wars don’t have to be won to serve the establishment. As Tocqueville noticed in his Democracy in America, “The secret connection between the military character and that of democracies was the profit motive.” As Prouty says: The modernized concept of warfare “is driven by the profit motive; it must be profitable. Another way to put it is that the profiteers make war a necessity.” [Xxviii]

            Seems to me that this is a proposition worth thinking about.

           

           

Sunday, July 1, 2018

It's Not About Abortion. It's About Privacy.


It’s Not About Abortion. It’s About Privacy
P. Schultz

            When Bill Clinton was seeking the presidency in 1992 as a “New Democrat,” the manta of his campaign was “It’s the economy, stupid.” And I wanted to holler, “No, it isn’t, Bill. It’s about justice, it’s about equality, it’s about peace, stupid!”

            And today I find myself in a similar position, as the media focuses on the implications of the retirement of Justice Kennedy from the Supreme Court in a way that makes it seem that the most important issue is the status of Roe v. Wade. And I want to holler, “No, it isn’t about abortion. It’s about the right of privacy!”

            Of course, the abortion question – or the question of a woman’s rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, as I like to frame it – is implicated in the right of privacy, as the Supreme Court made clear in Griswold v. Connecticut where it decided that married couples – and only married couples in that case – could not be forbidden under penalty of law from procuring or using artificial means of contraception to prevent pregnancies. The law in question was a Connecticut law that made it a criminal offense to buy, procure, distribute, or use means of artificial contraception. Finding that the Constitution implicitly embraced a right of privacy, the Supreme Court held that such laws were unconstitutional invasions of marital privacy. Later in Eisenstadt v.Baird, the Court extended this right to adult individuals whether married or not.

            Why is the right of privacy the most important issue here? Precisely because if there is no right of privacy protected by the Constitution then the power of the national government to invade our lives is virtually limitless. Without a right of privacy, the Supreme Court was correct when it decided in Buck v. Bell that the commonwealth of Virginia could, constitutionally, forcibly sterilize those who are deemed by the state to be “socially incompetent.” Without a right of privacy, states would be free to also sterilize, by means of chemical or physical castration,  those who are deemed by the state to be “habitual offenders.” Without a right of privacy, a state could, obviously, force a woman to undergo an abortion if the state deemed that the life she was carrying would be “an undue burden” on the state, say, as determined by insurance companies.  And of course, without a right of privacy, a state or the national government could, constitutionally, force gays and lesbians to undergo counseling and even more to “reverse” their “condition” if the government deemed that “condition” to be “an undue burden” on society. A Clockwork Orange here we come!

 In other words, without a right of privacy, there are virtually no limits to what the government could do in invading our bodies and how we enjoy them. And if a government can invade your body in these ways, then limited government is a chimera. For government to be limited, there must be some things that government cannot legitimately do, no matter how worthwhile or socially beneficial those things might appear to be.

            So when Trump and the Republicans – and others – argue that Roe v. Wade should overturned, don’t be fooled by their rhetoric. They are not only after abortion rights. They are also after the right of privacy, which means that they are after almost all of our rights. They are seeking to create a government that has unlimited power to invade our lives, even or especially in our most private, our most intimate endeavors.  And a society in which intimacy only exists with the permission of the government is indistinguishable from a brave new world.

"Blood in the Water:" Attica and American Racism

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Blood in the Water: Attica and American Racism
P. Schultz

            I am currently reading an excellent book by Heather Ann Thompson entitled Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy. Dr. Thompson teaches history at the University of Michigan and fought to obtain documents relating to the Attica uprising for some time in order to write a complete history. She was unsuccessful in obtaining all the documents that exist but, still, her history is quite impressive.

            I am not going to attempt an overall review of Dr. Thompson’s work but will produce some passages and arguments that reveal just how deeply racist the U.S. was then and is now. This seems relevant given the presence in the White House of a president who makes no bones about his racism, as Trump did once say “I am the least racist person you know.” So, by his own admission he is a racist and, of course, he is not least racist person I know, hands down. But Trump’s statement, so blithely made, illustrates just how deeply embedded racism is the consciousness of Americans who like to think of themselves as “white.”

            After five days of negotiations, such as they were, the authorities, including Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York, where the prison is located, decided it was time to “retake” the prison and to do so, they sent in several New York State Police companies along with, strangely enough, some Park Police who had shown up at the prison armed and ready for action. The prisoners had no firearms so any deaths that were attributable to gunfire had to be the result of the State Police and other police actions. This is important, especially as several of the hostages held by the prisoners were shot to death as the state police “retook” the prison. These hostages were, by the way, protected throughout the five days of the standoff by the prisoners and one or two had their lives saved by prisoners who pointed out to attacking state policemen that they were guards or civilian staff at the prison.

            The massacre was gruesome, to say the least and, as Thompson argues, it was fueled by racial hatred.

            “Twenty-one year old Chris Reed was gunned down with four bullets, including one that ‘exploded and took out a big chunk’ of his left thigh. He listened in terror as troopers debated in front of him whether to kill him or let him bleed to death. As they discussed this the troopers had fun jamming their rifle butts into his injuries and dumping lime onto his face and injured legs, until he fell unconscious. When he awoke, he found himself ‘stacked up with the dead bodies.’ ‘I never saw human beings treated like this,’ another prisoner later recalled. He couldn’t understand: ‘Why all the hatred?’ But it wasn’t just any hatred – it was racial hatred. As one prisoner was told by a trooper who had a gun trained on him: he would soon be dead because ‘we haven’t killed enough niggers.’ Everywhere there were cries of ‘Keep your nigger nose down!’ ‘Don’t you know state troopers don’t like niggers?’ ‘Don’t move nigger! You’re dead!’”

            In the aftermath of the attack, those who authorized it spun things to make it seem that however many deaths of the prisoners occurred, especially black prisoners, it was justified. Department of Corrections Spokesperson Gerald Houlihan announced that several of the hostages had their throats cut by the prisoners, which simply turned out to be untrue. And Walter Dunbar, on the staff at Attica, “provided his bloodcurdling twist to the rumors of atrocities committed by prisoners” by claiming, falsely, that one prisoner “took a knife and grabbed young officer [Mike] Smith and castrated him….and took this man’s organs and stuck them in his mouth in clear view of us all….” Dunbar claimed to have film of this barbaric act and repeated his story to several newspapers that obligingly printed “the story,” newspapers including the New York Daily News, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times. Newspapers quoted Governor Rockefeller’s assertion that “these ‘were cold-blooded killings’ by revolutionary militants,” who wanted to overthrow the United States government! As Thompson put it: “Indeed, it was Rockefeller’s deeply held belief that he had thwarted a revolutionary plot to destabilize the nation that allowed him to take such undiluted pride in how things had transpired on the morning of September 13.”

 Nixon, who was then president, thought Rockefeller had done a bang up job because, after all, as Nixon said: “you see it’s the black business….” And for Nixon this was part of revolutionary plots that recently became “obvious” in California, with Nixon adding that “I think this is going to have a hell of a salutary effect on future prison riots…Just like Kent State had a hell of a salutary effect….” But when told of the alleged castration of the guard, Nixon indicated that he was not quite ready to buy into that one and said to Rockefeller, “You can prove that can’tcha?”

Just an amazing illustration of just how our governors and presidents govern. And also an illustration of just how deep-seated racism is embedded in their psyches. So don’t be too surprised that it is now evident that Trump is a racist. It might be more surprising were he not one.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Americans at War

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Americans At War
P. Schultz

            The following passages are from one of my favorite books, Fire in the Lake, by Francis Fitzgerald. Read them and weep for our nation.

            “In 1969 an incident came to the attention of the U.S. Congress that had occurred a year and a half before in the wake of the Tet offensive. On a routine search and destroy mission a company from the Americal division had walked into the village of My Lai and without provocation had gunned down 347 civilians, most of them women and children. A photographer had taken pictures of screaming women, dead babies, and a mass of bodies piled up in a ditch. Even once substantiated, the story seemed incredible to many people. How could American soldiers have committed such an atrocity? The congressional subcommittee investigating the incident wrote much later, ‘What obviously happened at My Lai was wrong. In fact, it was so wrong and so foreign to the normal character and actions of our military forces as to immediately raise the question as to the legal sanity at the time of those men involved.’ But as teams of psychiatrists were later to show, Lt. William Calley and the other men involved were at the time quite as ‘sane’ as the members of the congressional committee who investigated them. The incident was not exceptional to the American war.'

            “Young men from the small towns of America, the GIs who came to Vietnam found themselves in a place halfway round the earth among people with whom they could make no human contact. Like an Orwellian army, they knew everything about military tactics, but nothing about where they were or who the enemy was….Their buddies killed by land mines, sniper fire,, and mortar attacks, but the enemy remained invisible, not only in the jungle but among the people of the villages –an almost metaphysical enemy who inflicted upon them heat, boredom, terror, and death, and gave them nothing to show for it – no territory taken, no visible sign of progress except the bodies of small yellow men….They were all ‘gooks’ after all. Just look how they lived in shacks and the filth; they’d steal the watch from your arm.” [pp. 463-464]

            Seems relevant today when we have a president who is willing to abduct children and hold them hostage.  

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Ambition and Greatness: Federalists and Anti-Federalists

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Ambition and Greatness: The Federalists and the Anti-Federalists
P. Schultz

"When your overriding value in life is self-glorification, what you tend to get is the moral cowardice and fecklessness of people like Obama, the Clintons, and, in truth, all centrist politicians.  They’ll do whatever they have to do to rise to power, so they can realize their 'destiny'—of being powerful.  They’ll always try to please 'both sides'—a binary notion that leaves out the genuine left, which is to say the interests of the large majority of people—because that is the safest and surest road to power"

            This quote appeared recently – see the link below – and it reminded me of one of the most significant differences between those who supported the constitution proposed in 1787, the Federalists, and those who opposed it, the Anti-Federalists. This may be summed up briefly as follows: Whereas the Federalists tended to embrace ambition and the ambitious, the Anti-Federalists did not. In fact, the latter group tended to disparage ambition and the ambitious as dangerous to a republican, that is, genuinely representative government.

            I can put this another way. Whereas the Federalists wanted to create a government that appealed to the ambitious, that drew the ambitious to it, creating offices that the most ambitious of men would seek out, the Anti-Federalists wanted a government that would not appeal to the ambitious. The Anti-Federalists feared that the ambitious types and especially the most ambitious would control the government at the expense of the many, the middling people who are not generally characterized by ambition. The Federalists, ala’ Alexander Hamilton, defended the Constitution and especially the presidency because it would appeal to those who “love fame,” which Hamilton took to be “the ruling passion of the noblest minds.” Where Hamilton saw “nobility” the Anti-Federalists saw narcissism or a lust for power that would undermine any republican political order. It is not too much to say that the Anti-Federalists were aware of the tendency of the ambitious to seek “self-glorification.”

            It is this thought that lay behind the Anti-Federalist argument for creating “a simple government,” a government devoid of offices with long tenures or great powers. A simple government would be “simple-minded,” meaning not prone to great projects of social reform, as we might say. Simple government does not seek greatness. Rather, it seeks to protect individual freedom while maintaining the peace and good order of society. Simple government does not seek to remake civil society and it certainly would not seek to remake the world, to create “new world orders.”

            Listen to Patrick Henry in the Virginia ratifying convention: “Shall we imitate the example of those nations who have gone from a simple to a splendid government? Are those nations more worthy of our imitation? What can make an adequate satisfaction to them for the loss they suffered in attaining such a Government – for the loss of their liberty? If we admit this Consolidated Government, it will be because we like a great splendid one. Some way or other we must be a great and mighty empire; we must have an army, and a navy, and number of things: When the American spirit was in its youth, the language of America was different: Liberty, Sir, was then the primary object.”

            As the leading Anti-Federalist scholar summarizes this thought: “Ambitious Federalists, captivated by visions of ‘stately palaces’ and ‘dazzling ideas of glory, wealth, and power,’ wanted us ‘to be like other nations.’ That is just what we should not be.” [What the Anti-Federalists Were For, Herbert J. Storing, p. 31]

            Embrace ambition and the ambitious, seek glory, wealth, and power, seek greatness and lose your liberty. For the Anti-Federalists, that was the choice. Given our current situation, one may easily get the idea that the Anti-Federalists were right, that that is the choice and that we have chosen unwisely.