Saturday, February 22, 2020

The Democrats 2020: Part 2

The Democrats: 2020 Part 2
Peter Schultz

The best take on the Democratic Party, the “debates,”and it’s candidates I’ve seen. Obviously, the debates have become, as intended, a diversion from debating any significant issues. And with two multi-millionaires moderating, the faux-drama went on as planned. This reaffirms my belief that the Democrats not only are untroubled by another Trump term, but actually would prefer one. That’s the best way for them to maintain or fortify their legitimacy as they are unprepared to address the public’s most pressing concerns because they are, essentially, oligarchs waging class war on the public. As is obvious now, with Trump in the White House the likes of Bush Jr., Bill Kristol, Obama, Pelosi, Schumer, et. al. look like anything but the imperialistic oligarchs they are. And if anyone thought Bloomberg would be a formidable threat to Trump, that thought should have dissipated after the debate. I suspect, however, this didn’t surprise the mainstream Democrats like Pelosi and Schumer, who aren’t fools. It looks more and more like another four years of Trump, which not only won’t bother the Democrats but might even be welcomed. The oligarchy is desperate to preserve itself and if the oligarchs deem Trump necessary, then so be it, Trump it will be.


Friday, February 21, 2020

The Democrats 2020

The Democrats 2020
Peter Schultz

            It’s finally become clear to me – although it won’t be to others – that the strategy of the Democratic Party is to ensure, insofar as they can, another 4 years of Trump. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? Even sounds crazy, doesn’t it? So what’s up with this? Have I gone around the bend? Perhaps, but……

            So why would the Democrats want 4 more years of a Trump presidency? One reason is because if Trump is president that means that someone like Bernie Sanders isn’t and can’t be president. And it doesn’t take too much imagination to recognize that Bernie represents a threat to the power, to the legitimacy of the likes of Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer, and of course other mainstream Democrats.

            Second, if Trump continues as president than policies that are appealing to large numbers of American citizens but that the Democrats oppose won’t be enacted and the Democrats won’t have to take the blame for their rejection. For example, if Trump is reelected than forgiving student debts will not become law and this is what the wealthy who support the Democratic Party want. These student loans and subsequent student debt is a way of redistributing the wealth of the US upwards, which is of course what the mainstream Democrats have been doing, along with the Republicans, since the Clinton presidency.

            Or consider another example, the “defense” budget. Increasingly, Americans have become skeptical of the nation’s endless wars and have become fidgety about the massive “defense” budgets that are needed to support them. Trump has no problem proposing and securing such massive “defense” budgets, while the Democrats get to complain about them thereby pretending to be less warlike, less imperialistic than Trump and the Republicans. Of course, as past history illustrates any differences between the Republicans and the Democrats regarding US imperialism and US foreign policy in general are miniscule. So, by having Trump serve another 4 years, the Democrats can avoid responsibility for these “defense” budgets that are controlling fiscal and social policy in D.C.

            Also, consider the fact that with a Trump presidency there will not be Medicare for all or any significant reforms made to the Affordable Care Act. And, of course, the mainstream Democrats have made it clear that they don’t want Medicare for all or any single payer health care system. Further, Trump might even be able to propose and pass modifications to social security and Medicaid so that the Democrats won’t have to do these things, even though, again, some mainstream Democrats have indicated they desire to do so.

            Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, a second Trump presidency would ensure and might even fortify the legitimacy of the Democrats, whose authority has eroded significantly along with the authority of almost every US institution you can think of. With Trump in office, who makes it easy to despise him, the Democrats actually look responsible once again and this after they acted irresponsibly in supporting Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, Obama’s drone warfare in nations that the US is not even at war with, supporting the overthrow of democratically elected governments and attempting to overthrow the government of Venezuela, while pursuing a humanitarian militarism in several places in the world. All of this while being the allies of such nations as Saudi Arabia and Israel.

            US institutions have lost the respect of large numbers of the American people, and of course this includes the Democratic Party, which is one reason they lost the 2016 presidential election to the likes of Donald Trump. But as Trump has behaved in such a way that it is easy to despise him, the Democrats recovered some legitimacy and, hence, some respectability as well. Of course, this legitimacy is paper-thin and it could disappear in a slight breeze. But so long as Trump is president, this is unlikely to happen. Combined with the possibilities of maintaining or advancing policies that they like but the people don’t, I think the Democrats are more than willing to try to ensure that Trump gets four more years.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Theh Trump "Crisis" and the Democrats

The Trump “Crisis” and the Democrats
Peter Schultz

            Crises are, always, opportunities. They are opportunities to take stock, so to speak, of one’s situation, study what led to the crisis, and to imagine alternatives to avoid such a crisis from recurring.

            Assuming momentarily that Trump’s presidency is a crisis, the Democrats have not served the nation well in their response to that crisis. In response to Trump’s presidency, they have not articulated any reasonably thoughtful analysis of what preceded and led to this presidency. They seem content to engage in Trump bashing, which has culminated in Trump’s impeachment and, eventually, his acquittal, an acquittal that reflected the Trump bashing that led up to it. To rest impeachment on a phone call of minor importance, when Trump’s assassination of the leading Iranian general brought us to the brink of war with Iran, was ill conceived from several points of view.

            I cannot help but think that the Democrats have chosen this strategy because they don’t actually want to know or acknowledge what led to the Trump presidency. And they don’t want to acknowledge this because they know that their actions and policies have led to Trump’s presidency. They prefer to think that the order they had created pre-Trump, an order that gave us the presidencies of Clinton, Bush, and Obama, represented a distinctly full and almost final political order, one that cannot be imagined to be significantly different or better. In their mindset – a mindset that informs the thinking of all status quo politicians – Trump represents an aberration that is difficult to understand, except by labeling his supporters “deplorables” or mindless people looking for the security offered by a demagogue.

            So, the thinking is, get rid of Trump and return to the halcyon days of Clinton, Bush, and Obama. All was well before Trump and all will be well once again after Trump.

            In this way, the opportunity offered by Trump’s ascendancy to take stock of how our political order contributed to Trump’s rise if forfeited. No doubt this is what mainstream Democrats like Pelosi and Schumer want, especially in light of the challenges they face from those labeled “left-wingers.” So, they engage in bashing Trump – much as he bashes them – while supporting his “defense” budget or attempts to overthrow Assad in Syria or the democratically elected government in Venezuela. To say such a strategy constitutes “a resistance” in any meaningful sense is to reduce resistance to the almost child-like petulance of a two-year old. Such “resistance” provides no basis for a political order that would be immune to the likes of a Trump in the future.

            But then this too is favorable to the mainstream Democrats because, without Trump, their legitimacy and their authority would be tottering on the edge of an abyss. It is difficult not to think that the “Trump crisis” was created by these Democrats to fortify and perpetuate their rule. Such a situation might seem weird, even “conspiratorial.” But the other option, that it is merely coincidental, seems altogether delusion.

Monday, February 10, 2020

The Constitution and Republicanism

The Constitution and Republicanism
Peter Schultz

The Constitution sought to create a pervasively powerful national government. But a pervasively powerful national government requires elitism and nationalism. And nationalism requires expansionism, while expansionism requires war. War requires racism/exceptionalism and racism is fortified by slavery/apartheid/segregation/white supremacy.

Nationalism, expansionism, war, racism, and slavery etc. were not aberrations but rather integral pieces in the constitutional order created in 1787.

Unraveling our debased political order won’t be easy. And, of course, making America great again doesn’t cut it precisely because Trump is not an aberration.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Trump's Impeachment: Success

Trump’s Impeachment: Success
Peter Schultz

            Here’s what some people have trouble understanding: the Democrats attempt to impeach Trump, although it failed to convict him, was still a success. How could that be? Well, to understand that it is necessary to keep in mind that this drama was created for political purposes, purposes that did not require that the Democrats would succeed in removing Trump from office.

            The Trump presidency presented the mainstream Democrats with a perfect opportunity to fortify their legitimacy and the legitimacy of the oligarchy they represent. In light of Trump, previous presidents and other politicians who represent “the mainstream” look good now. It is important to remind ourselves that mainstream politicians, both Republican and Democrat, had, at least prior to Trump, lost much of their legitimacy. The fiasco of Bush’s invasion of Iraq, the economic collapse in 2008, Obama’s lackluster presidency, including his inability to close Guantanamo, to end the war in Afghanistan or in Iraq, offset by the assassination of bin Laden – which didn’t amount to much of an offset – all undermined the legitimacy of our mainstream politicians.

            With the arrival of Trump almost all of this has been forgotten as many people assert that anyone, that is, any politician even one like Bush Jr., would be better than Trump. In this context, Shrub plays the friendly frat boy, distributing candy to the Obamas and offering paintings as his proof of his humanity. Obama’s passive aggressiveness looks like virtue compared to Trump’s classless tweets, speeches, and actions. As Barbra Streisand put it: Even Bush Jr. was better than Trump because he wasn’t “mean spirited.” To which the Iraqis might respond: “Thank God he wasn’t.”

            So, the impeachment has succeeded because it has fortified the impression that Trump is not only classless but also unfit to be president. The impeachment in the House was the Democrats chance to arraign Trump, to put on display, with the help of the mainstream media, his vices, without needing to successfully remove him from office. The end result is that mainstream politicians have regained significant measures of legitimacy, have had their authority restored to a significant degree, as reflected by the argument that people should vote against Trump, vote for the Democratic nominee regardless of who that person might be.

            Of course, there is no guarantee that the Democrats’ strategy will work, that the upcoming election will do what the impeachment couldn’t do, remove Trump from office. A lot depends on how Trump responds to his acquittal, as that has presented him with the opportunity to show that he can play the part of reforming politician. If he does this, my bet is that he will win a second term because Americans are not only dissatisfied, but even irate over our political situation. They want reform, they want change. And the Democrats have rolled the dice with their impeachment charade. We can hope Trump doesn’t realize the good fortune his impeachment has presented to him.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Politics: The Way Toward Understanding

Politics: The Way Toward Understanding
Peter Schultz

“The heart of the problem is the refusal to recognize the participants in these conflicts as political actors,” Li said. “We just suck all the politics out, latch on a word like ‘jihadism,’ and then place it into a category of evil existing outside of space and time.”

“Consider for a moment three different things: the Irish Republican Army, the Republican Party in the United States, and Plato’s Republic,” Li told me, by way of analogy. “All of these employ the term ‘republic,’ and all of them somehow have a connection with violence. If you lumped them together and claimed they represent an ideology called ‘republicanism,’ that obviously wouldn’t make any sense. Yet that’s what the category of ‘jihadism’ essentially does.”

            I came across these two quotes in an article entitled “A New Book Takes on the Problematic Academic Discipline of ‘Jihadism,’” by Darryl Li of the University of Cchicago. And I think they can be applied more generally that Li applies them to “jihadists.” It seems to me that it is commonplace for people to refuse to recognize their declared enemies as “political actors.” Take for example the concept of “communism” as used in the United States, especially during the Cold War. The US had to wage war in Vietnam, e.g., because the “communists” were trying to take over Vietnam. As people eventually noticed, such a characterization “sucked all the politics out of” what was actually going on in Vietnam and placed our enemies “into a category of evil [that] existed outside of space of time,” that is, outside of reality. This led the US into an ever expanding dehumanizing and destructive war, where war crimes became part and parcel of US strategy and tactics. So, in opposing what our elites understood as an “evil existing outside of space and time,” those elites were led into evil, which they embraced as proof of their “virtue.” This is best described as a kind of madness, a madness that might be called “innocence.”

            More generally, it makes me wonder whether we can understand the world we live in without recourse to politics. That is, once that world is drained of political actors and political actions, the real world, the actual world disappears and is replaced by a world of abstractions like “communism,” “capitalism,” “socialism,” and so on. Then these abstractions are taken to be real and to be dangerous, leading even otherwise decent people into brutal, dehumanizing, and destructive wars. By sucking the politics out of our enemies, by turning them into “evil existing outside of space and time,” all bets are off in terms of limits on making war. And this is not a healthy situation at any time, and especially not in a world armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons.

            Americans are not especially fond of politics, seeing it as a dirty business that if only we could rise above the world would be vastly improved, if not actually saved.  But it could be that without politics, without understanding our enemies as political actors, the world is doomed, if not to annihilation than to endless wars. As the author of The Republic put it: Only the dead have seen the end of war. My guess is that Plato did not have much hope that human beings would come to see that understanding the world politically is the only alternative to the madness that characterized and characterizes the human condition. There might be moments, ephemeral situations where peace reigns but that is all that should be expected. And that we are not in such a moment now should be obvious to all as we go on waging war on “jihadists,” “socialists,” “communists,” the “deplorable,” or on “immigrants.”

Saturday, December 28, 2019

For What It's Worth: Neo-Liberalism or Democracy?

For What It’s Worth: Neo-Liberalism or Democracy?
Peter Schultz

See the link below to an article entitled “After Neoliberalism,” for which I have appended some comments, for better or worse. My comments are in red.

“The central question of our time is what comes after neoliberalism. New political paradigms emerge in response to the challenges and failures of the preceding era, and today, four possibilities for the future are emerging.”
This is not the central question because (a) neoliberalism isn’t dead yet and (b) what the author labels “neo-liberalism” is actually oligarchy. To think that the target is something called neo-liberalism is to guarantee that you will miss the real target.

“The first possibility is reformed neoliberalism.” There is no such thing as “reformed neoliberalism” because there is no such thing as neo-liberalism. As noted above, the current arrangements, the prevailing regime, are oligarchic where the wealthy rule at the expense of the not-wealthy. To “reform” these arrangements means nothing more than moderating the degree to which the wealthy benefit and the not-wealthy lose. This illustrates why it is beneficial to call our current arrangements “oligarchic” and not “neo-liberal.” Oligarchies are less amenable to change than the rather vague phenomenon neo-liberalism. And the author seems to recognize this. “Others, like those who see the Universal Basic Income as a paradigm for the future, want to correct the dislocations that neoliberal policies created—but they are hesitant to attack the root causes of inequality head-on. The real danger of this path is that it threatens more of the same: persistent disaffection, further erosions of trust and social solidarity, and demagogues waiting in the wings.”

“The second possibility is nationalist populism, which combines ethnic, religious, or cultural nationalism with economic populism.” This is, to me, rather weird as a distinct “possibility” because nationalism is endemic to a world composed of “nation states.” Show me a nation that does not embrace to one degree or another “populistic, ethnic, religious, cultural, and economic” nationalism. As the author identifies this with Steve Bannon, I believe this is just a category meant to isolate the likes of Bannon – and of course Trump – as aberrations. They are not aberrations; hence, their abiding popularity. The author dismisses this possibility because it does not, he argues, constitute “a governing strategy,” which is also odd to me in that it implies that politics is about governing. When will people like this author learn that politics is not primarily about governing? It’s about the pursuit of “the good,” although “the good” is understood differently by democrats and oligarchs and aristocrats. This is why the likes of Bannon is appealing: Because he makes no bones about pursuing a particular understanding of “the good.” And if that pursuit renders government less than “efficient” or “progressive,” then so be it. Human beings desire “the good” and pursue it continuously. They desire “the good” even more than they desire power, contra Hobbes, Locke, or even Nietzsche.

“The third possibility, which many refer to as authoritarianism, has gotten the most attention.” Once again, to refer to a distinct phenomenon as “authoritarianism” is weird to me, especially from someone who takes seriously politics as being about governing.  Government is authoritarianism, plain and simple. This is what Machiavelli knew and helps explain why he helped create the phenomenon we call “government,” in distinction from, say, Aristotle who wrote an entire book on politics and never once used the word “government.” Government is, as Machiavelli understood it, essentially bureaucratic and, of course, bureaucracies are “authoritarian,” as Max Weber knew so well, calling bureaucracy the “iron cage of rationality.” The author seems to understand this:

The better term for this third future is “nationalist oligarchy,” and Trumpism is its American variant. This form of government feeds nationalism to the people but delivers oligarchy—special privileges to the rich and well connected. Its economic approach is a corrupt outgrowth of neoliberalism. Its social policy is nationalist backlash. Its political program involves rigging the rules so popular majorities cannot overthrow the powerful. Nationalist oligarchy is undesirable, to say the least—but it could easily define the next era of politics.”

Although the author recognizes oligarchy here as a distinct phenomenon, incredibly he identifies this option with Trump, as if Trump created “special privileges to the rich and well connected.” And then he goes to assert that “Its political program involves rigging the rules so popular majorities cannot overthrow the powerful.” Given the consistency with which our political parties have rigged the rules to perpetuate their rule, one could accuse the author here of suffering from what Jimmy Dore calls “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” And it seems to me that “nationalist oligarchy” is precisely what we have today. So don’t be surprised if it does “define the next era of politics.”

And then we come to the fourth and obviously the favored possibility, democracy. The author sees that democracy requires equality: “For thousands of years, since at least the ancient Greeks, political leaders and philosophers have recognized that democracies could not succeed in the presence of extreme economic inequality.”
This is all well and good. But what he does not seem to see is that the fact of economic equality is not sufficient. That is, he does not seem to see that a middle class mindset is essential for democracy. People must be convinced and act as if being middle class is better than being wealthy. They know of course that being middling is better than being poor but they need to embrace equality not just as a fact but as an aspiration. The wealthy in such a society are tolerated and, if John Adams was right, they should be isolated – say in a senate – where they can be watched and controlled. They are not to be idolized or lionized as they are in the United States these days. And they are certainly not to be given wealth wholly disproportionate to the not-wealthy. In fact, in democratic societies, the wealthy would try to hide their wealth, try to appear to be middle class by acting and living like they are middle class. Otherwise, as the author points out: “In an unequal society, either the rich would oppress the poor and democracy would descend slowly into oligarchy, or the masses would overthrow the rich, with a demagogue leading the way to tyranny.” In other words, the rich as well as the not rich must embrace the fact that justice requires equality, that the just seek equality, not distinction. Equality is “the good” that should be pursued.

And this leads to the author’s next argument about democracy: “And an economic and united democracy cannot be achieved or sustained without a political process that is responsive to the people.” He is correct, of course, but again his language leaves something to be desired. It is not that in a democracy, as described above, that the governors are “responsive to the people;” rather, it is that they are responsive to the demands of justice. Responding to the people is, of course, reactionary language while pursuing justice is not.

And again our author: “It requires that elections capture the popular will rather than the will of interest groups and wealthy individuals, that elected officials act in the public interest rather than doing the bidding of lobbyists, and that civil servants and judges do not stray from their popular mandates. As important as constitutional restraints and protections of minorities are, majoritarianism is critical to democracy.” The author’s focus here is on the popular will as opposed to interest groups and wealthy individuals, on the public interest and popular mandates and majoritarianism. But the focus should be on equality as “the good,” equality not as a manifestation of “the popular will” but as a manifestation of justice. The popular will could be corrupted by the appeal of wealth or by appeals to greatness ala’ Pericles. The popular will is of ambiguous value whereas justice is not. The popular will might point toward “the good,” but justice necessarily points toward or is that “good.”

When Lincoln said that a house divided against itself cannot stand, he was, I believe, talking about justice, about how a nation that is divided on the question of the justice of slavery cannot go on in that condition. Human beings pursue justice and, therefore, either the nation would become either all slave or all free, there being no way to reconcile these different versions of justice. Lincoln was appealing, as best he could in his time, to justice, not to the popular will, as Stephen Douglas did. Lincoln knew that the popular will did not and would not – at least not then – support equality. But justice required Lincoln to save the union as a free nation, not a slave nation. And through it all, Lincoln held firm to his belief that slavery was unjust and, hence, had to be destroyed. This is what Frederick Douglass perceived about Lincoln and led him, despite his clear-sighted assessment of Lincoln as “the white man’s president,” to honor Lincoln and to recommend that the freedmen should honor him also. Lincoln’s goal was justice and this would, Douglass knew, benefit, eventually, the former slaves as well as white men. Justice is good for all.

What the United States needs these days is what it has always needed, viz., a politics of justice. A “responsive political system” might or might not be just; an oligarchy, whether populistic or nationalistic or both is not just. An interventionist foreign policy, as some like to call it, might or might not be just; an imperialistic foreign policy is unjust. Justice is “the good” and it is or should be the goal of our political system. It would be good if a politics of justice succeeded our current oligarchy.