Saturday, June 9, 2018

Ambition and Greatness: Federalists and Anti-Federalists

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.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Trump: In Pursuit of Virility

Trump: In Pursuit of Virility
P. Schultz

            Call me a fool but I think that much of what Donald Trump is about is due to his perceived inadequacy as a man. Think about it. He said that men should “grab a woman’s pussy.” And you will, he said, get away with it. So grab pussy, and, viola, you can prove your manhood; you can prove you are virile.

            And, of course, of late Trump has been attacking NFL footballers, at least those who protest in some way when the national anthem is being played. Now, think about it: Trump’s sport is golf, a sport that no one thinks of as evidence of virility, of machismo. [Note: I am a golfer and love the sport.] The most famous golfers are not identified by their virility. How could they be when what they do is hit a little ball around a course, “driving” the ball, “laying up,” and then seeking to “putt” the ball into a tiny hole? There are no “bombs” in golf, no “blitzes,” so “sacks.” There is no contact between golfers, only contact between a golfer’s club and a little, white ball. So, taking on NFLers, as Trump is doing, is a way of asserting or seeming to assert his virility. Trump’s campaign is not about the anthem; it’s about his alleged manhood, his alleged virility.

            Moreover, Trump’s endorsement of torture is also evidence that he is seeking to assert his virility. Torture is perceived as “masculine,” proof of one’s “toughness,” one’s ability to smack around, to string up, to drown, to intimidate those evil terrorists and to do so without batting an eye. No one perceives torturers as women and this despite the movie Zero Dark Thirty. Of course, at the end of that movie, the woman who vigorously supports torture and the assassination of bin Laden breaks down in tears. No man would do that, at least not openly.

            Of course, it is little wonder that Trump needs to prove, even to himself, his virility, as he never served in the nation’s military as he was deferred more than once during the Vietnam War. And so far as I know, Trump never played a contact sport where he would have to test his mettle against other male bodies. His entire life, it seems, has been spent avoiding physical contact with other male bodies and dissing or abusing the bodies of women.

            Perhaps Trump’s insecurities regarding his manhood explain his obvious dislike and disrespect of John McCain, who did serve his country in Nam and proved his virility, his manhood during his long incarceration in the “Hanoi Hilton.” McCain reminds Trump of everything he isn’t. Let us hope that Trump’s inadequacies as a man don’t lead him and us into more wars than we already have.

Monday, May 28, 2018

A Bush Family Story

A Bush Family Story
P. Schultz

            This story is from an excellent book entitled Rumsfeld: His Rise, His Fall, His Catastrophic Legacy, by Andrew Cockburn.

            As things were going to shit in Iraq during the occupation, it became increasingly clear to most people, not including the president, that Rumsfeld needed to be fired. So, as is typically done in D.C., the plotting of his removal began. Former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft and former secretary of state, James Baker, both of whom had served with Papa Bush, met and composed a rather extensive paper delineating the most serious errors and misjudgments in Shrub’s foreign policy. This paper included a recommendation for a change of leadership in the Department of Defense and it was passed on to Papa Bush to pass on to Shrub.

            When the Bush families had arrived at Kennebunkport, Maine in late August, Papa Bush took Shrub aside and gave him the paper. Shrub looked at it “disdainfully before tossing it aside, reportedly with the words, ‘I’m sick and tired of getting papers from Brent Scowcroft telling me what to do…..’ With that, he exited, slamming the door behind him.” [p. 219]

            Nonetheless, at times Shrub sought his father’s guidance as he did as he became aware of “criticism that his administration had been excessively beholden to a particular clique, and what to know more about them.” So, one day, Shrub asked his father, “What’s a neocon?”

            Papa Bush asked whether he wanted names or a description. George Jr. said “Description.” Papa Bush; “Well, I’ll give it to you in one word: Israel.” [p. 219]

            Not a bad description, especially as it seems Papa Bush had a pretty clear understanding of the limitations of his son, George. Too bad more of the American people had not had that understanding in November of 2000. For that matter, too bad the Republicans on the Supreme Court did not understand that.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Impeachment Properly Understood

Impeachment Properly Understood
P. Schultz

            Below is a link to an article considering, among other things, the impeachment process embedded in our constitution. And it is illuminating, at least up to a point. But the article contains one rather important inaccuracy, concerning what kinds of presidential acts are impeachable. The article claims:

“From this point of view, it seems most persuasive that prosecutors should be able to charge a sitting president with ordinary crimes. Insofar as it restricted impeachment to “high crimes,” the Constitution did not directly address a circumstance like this one.”

            The error here is the claim that presidential impeachment is “restricted . . . to ‘high crimes’.” Presidential impeachments include but are not limited to “high crimes and misdemeanors,” which is an error commonly made. This error is related to another, more important error, viz., that impeachment is about removal from office and only about removal from office. Rather, as the early history of impeachments illustrates, impeachment is a means of holding office holders accountable for their actions and accountability need not dictate removal from office. The Constitution should be read as saying that, only in cases of high crimes and misdemeanors, may a president be removed from office. For other instances of abuse or misuse of power, presidents may be held accountable via impeachment without necessarily being removed from office. They may be punished or dealt with in other ways, such as fines or censure. [Andrew Jackson was censured by the Senate and he argued not that this could not be done but that it could only be done via the impeachment process. Jackson was correct.]

            So, for example, in the case of Bill Clinton’s impeachment and trial, he could have been held accountable for his behavior, censured by the Senate and, perhaps, be required to apologize to the American people for his behavior, without being removed from office. And, of course, this would have made more sense than thinking that Clinton’s actions constituted “high crimes and misdemeanors,” when clearly they did not. To say that “obstruction of justice” is always a “high crime and misdemeanor” is unconvincing, especially when the obstruction was not in the service of hiding a political abuse of power, such as undermining the Constitution via illegal actions like funding a war against congressional wishes or conducting secret bombings of a country the nation is not at war with.

            To me, while I don’t support impeaching Trump, this is not to say that he could not be, constitutionally, impeached, tried, and held accountable for his behavior without being removed from office. As Gerry Ford said a long time ago, it is up to the Congress to decide what is an impeachable offense and whether the alleged offense or offenses constitute “high crimes and misdemeanors.” The men who wrote the Constitution knew that they were creating a dangerous office when they created the presidency and, via the impeachment process, tried to adopt a way of holding its occupants accountable as well as making them removable. We would do well to follow their constitutional procedures.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Trump: Doing the Work of the Deep State

Trump: Doing the Work of the “Deep State”
P. Schultz

            Although it may seem odd, given Trump’s criticisms of the CIA and the FBI, often identified as agencies of what is being called “the deep state,” but it seems to me that Trump is actually an ally of that state, and that he is seeking to reinforce that state as much as possible. To explain.

            9/11 served the purposes of the deep state, that is, the government agencies that engage in secret or covert activities that were created after World War II with the onset of the Cold War. These agencies, the CIA, NSA, DIA, the Pentagon, were thought absolutely necessary in order for the U.S. to successfully confront and contain – and even roll back – communism as found in the Soviet Union and China. And many today would say that such thinking was absolutely correct.

            These forces, the deep state forces, were buoyed by 9/11, to say the least. As one commentator put it, “9/11 was a victorious moment for the proponents of the deep state,” and especially for Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld who had been advocates of such forces for decades. But as 9/11 receded from view and as the U.S. actions in Iraq and Afghanistan seemed pointless, the forces of the deep state needed to be resuscitated. And just in the nick of time, apparently, along comes Donald Trump with his agenda to “make America great again.”

            It may seem strange, given Trump’s rather antagonistic relationship to agencies like the CIA and the FBI, to argue that he is doing the work of or for the deep state. But it is useful and necessary to notice that Trump’s attacks on the CIA and the FBI are not attacks on those agencies per se. Rather, they are attacks on their current manifestations, primarily for not living up to their potential, for not employing their powers as fully and as vigorously as they could or should. This is a large part of Trump’s claim that his political task is to “make America great again.” For Trump, America was great when the forces of the deep state were in control, i.e., before the eruptions of the 60s, before Watergate and Nixon’s resignation, and before the congressional investigations of the 70s that undermined the power, especially the covert power, of the CIA, when the CIA could, for example, overthrow governments in Iran and Guatemala without opposition or even criticism from Congress or the people.

            Once we recognize, as we should, the basis of American greatness, viz., agencies like the CIA, the FBI, NSA, and the Pentagon with its largely invisible military spread throughout the world, then and only then will America be great again. For Trump, it is not popular government, not republican politics that made America great and could make her great again. No, it was power exercised secretly and covertly throughout the world. Trump is anything but a populist, although he tries to pose as one. He is a defender of those forces that compose our deep state; those forces that are in tension with and that sometimes undermine popular or republican government.
            It would be useful if (a) this were more widely noticed and (b) if the Democrats would embrace a popular or republican political order. But the Democrats seem to share Trump’s faith in our deep state and so they don’t draw attention to the anti-republican core of Trump’s project to “make America great again.” Which is unfortunate because as James Madison pointed out, the American choice, its most important choice, is between republican and non-republican government. 

Friday, April 13, 2018

American Hypocrisy

American Hypocrisy
P. Schultz

            Tonight, April 13, after he launched a missile attack on Syria, Trump addressed Russia and Iran in his speech as follows: “What kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women, and children?”

            Well, to answer his question, Trump might want to ask America’s allies because this is a nation that also has committed “mass murder of innocent men, women, and children.” He might also want to ask nations that have allied themselves with the Israelis, who also have committed “mass murder of innocent men, women, and children.”

            Here is one link that points to the hypocrisy that characterizes Trump’s thinking and that of many Americans. Read it and weep:
Indeed. How many millions has the US killed since 9/11? Hard to say but it is several millions at least.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

1962: How American Government Works

1962: How American Government Works
P. Schultz

            The year is 1962, John F. Kennedy is president, Robert Strange McNamara is Secretary of Defense and they confront a war in Vietnam. Now, in the conventional understanding of how our government works, these men, and others, are trying to decide what would be the best course of action for the United States and to make that decision they – and others – are investigating, making assessments of “the facts” from which they can draw conclusions.

            Well, would that it were so. But it wasn’t. As the book by John M. Newman, JFK and Vietnam: Deception, Intrigue, and the Struggle for Power, makes clear, there were many involved in this decision who were willing to deceive, engage in intrigue in order to ensure that the United States would commit its soldiers to the war in Southeast Asia, and President Kennedy was apparently not among them. And this deception, this intrigue came to a head in 1962 at McNamara’s fifth SECDEF conference, which was, as Newman concludes, “a watershed event in more ways than one.”

            At that conference, with the approval and participation of General Harkins, who was the head of our effort in Vietnam, “The Secretary of Defense was purposely misled on nearly all of the crucial aspects of the war: the size of the enemy; the number and quality of enemy operations versus the number and quality of friendly operations; the territory controlled by the enemy versus the territory controlled by friendly forces; the number of desertions from South Vietnam’s armed forces; the success of the placement of U.S. intelligence advisors; and the problems with [South Vietnam’s] Self Defense Corps. The maps, the statistics, and briefings he was given led him to remark at a press conference after the meeting that ‘every quantitative measurement . . . shows that we are winning the war.’” [p. 255]

            And there is more. At an earlier SECDEF conference, there was ambiguity about the enemy’s “order of battle,” that is, about the number and disposition of the Viet Cong’s and North Vietnamese forces. Of course, the order of battle is probably the most crucial information to be had in a war as it establishes how many of the enemy there are, where they are, the weaponry they possess, their ability to resupply their troops, and their morale. So McNamara ordered that a special group be formed to come up with a definitive account of the enemy’s order of battle. Such a group was formed and they concluded after an intensive investigation that the strength of the enemy in numbers was 40,000 hard-core troops in the Viet Cong.

            Now, as this figure was considered far to high by the Air Force colonel, a Col. Winterbottom, who had given an earlier and much smaller estimate of the enemy’s strength, he told the men who had arrived at the 40,000 figure that they had to lower it. “As the middle of April [1962] neared, the order of battle team ‘had a figure which we were fairly firm on,’ Benedict [a team member] reports; ‘the local force battalions and recognizable guerrilla units were over 40,000.’ This figure simply ‘blew away’ Winterbottom. He ‘flat said that was unacceptable.’ To their amazement, Winterbottom ordered them to come up with a lower one.” [p. 242] But because most of the members of the order of battle of team were military, they felt that they had to obey Winterbottom’s orders. They then concocted a scheme by which they could lower the 40,000 number to 20,000 “confirmed” enemy, with another 10,000 being “probable,” and with another 5,000 being “possible.” But this number “was still unacceptable to Winterbottom, who was after a much lower number.” [243] And because two members of the order of battle team were a threat to Winterbottom, one who was a civilian and the other who worked in the Pentagon, Winterbottom had these two men taken “off the order the battle study and assigned other duties.” [243] The final number that was presented to McNamara was 16,305!

            In another little drama, just before McNamara arrived for his SECDEF conference in May 1962, a multi-colored map had been prepared to show the Secretary of Defense, red representing “VC in ascendancy,” blue representing “VC controlled areas,” yellow depicting “GVN ascendancy,” and white representing “neither VC or GVN control.” As Newman describes the event: “[General] Harkins apparently assumed that since he had cut the enemy hard-core forces to just over 15,000, the map would reflect this figure, and he never actually looked at it until the night before McNamara’s arrival. That evening he presided over a rehearsal of the briefing he would give to the Secretary the next morning. Harkins and his entourage entered the room and took their seats. ’Oh my God!’ Harkins blurted out, spotting the map. ‘We’re not showing that to McNamara!’ The map got ‘edited’ then and there. Winterbottom stripped off large portions of acetate depicting enemy areas, and replaced it with acetate depicting neutral or government areas. Allen [the civilian member of the team], who witnessed the entire event, recounts General Harkins directed while Winterbottom physically removed and changed ‘large chunks’ of the acetate overlays. In all, Harkins and Winterbottom removed about one-third of the ‘enemy-controlled’ areas, and converted about half the ‘neutral’ areas to ‘government’ control. [The falsified ‘measles map’ was declassified at the author’s request in 1988.]” [249]

            So, there you have it. A little peek into how our government operates, even at the highest levels. And with this peek you will understand why I use to tell students in my classes, “Don’t believe anything the government tells you, unless you have confirmation from other, independent sources.” And what was cost of these lies? At least 58,000 + American military deaths, hundreds of thousands of maimed and crippled Americans and Vietnamese, and millions of Vietnamese deaths. And no one was held responsible.