Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A "New Tribalism?"

A “New Tribalism?”
P. Schultz
March 26, 2014

            Below is a link to an article written by Robert Reich in which he argues that the world and the United States is experiencing what he calls “a new tribalism.” That is, after several hundred years of nationalism, where the world has been controlled by what are called “nations,” the world is “coming apart,” as it were, and apparently returning to the tribal stage which had preceded the nationalistic stage. For Reich, apparently, this is not good.

            Whether it is good or not is not the first question Reich’s argument raises. The first question is or should be: Is Reich’s take on what is happening correct? I will not deal with the world but with the United States because I am connected with the U.S. in a way that I am not connected with the world.

            Reich argues as follows:
But America’s new tribalism can be seen most distinctly in its politics. Nowadays the members of one tribe (calling themselves liberals, progressives, and Democrats) hold sharply different views and values than the members of the other (conservatives, Tea Partiers, and Republicans).

Each tribe has contrasting ideas about rights and freedoms (for liberals, reproductive rights and equal marriage rights; for conservatives, the right to own a gun and do what you want with your property).
Each has its own totems (social insurance versus smaller government) and taboos (cutting entitlements or raising taxes). Each, its own demons (the Tea Party and Ted Cruz; the Affordable Care Act and Barack Obama); its own version of truth (one believes in climate change and evolution; the other doesn’t); and its own media that confirm its beliefs.

The tribes even look different. One is becoming blacker, browner, and more feminine. The other, whiter and more male. (Only 2 percent of Mitt Romney’s voters were African-American, for example.)

Each tribe is headed by rival warlords whose fighting has almost brought the national government in Washington to a halt. Increasingly, the two tribes live separately in their own regions – blue or red state, coastal or mid-section, urban or rural – with state or local governments reflecting their contrasting values.

            Where to begin? Let me start at the end, where Reich argues that “rival warlords” have brought “the national government…to a halt….” Well, now, let’s see: Obama managed to pass his Affordable Care Act, has managed to continue to wage war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and has successfully defeated John Boehner and the Republicans on increasing the debt ceiling, to name just a few things that have been accomplished. I am sure there are more as well. Some “halt,” no?

            But what does this mean? Well, it means that whatever is happening in D.C., it should not be described as the work of “rival warlords,” unless of course these “warlords” are known to share a common interest in limiting but not halting government action. And it seems to me that this is precisely what is happening in D.C. Amidst a population that is, rightfully, angered by what it sees as a political class more interested in its own welfare than the welfare of the nation, that political class is trying to maintain its power and prerogatives. Of course, that class cannot say that is its agenda, as it has to say that it, like the people, is interested in “reform.” So, one course of action is to act as if “the political system is broken,” as if that system were like an automobile which could and should be understood as distinct from those driving it. How to convince the people that the system is “broken?” Well, pretend that there are two principled sects, whose principles don’t allow for compromise or for real or significant reforms. This way the status quo, by and large, and is preserved, significant reforms are avoided for the most part, and the current political class preserves its power and prerogatives.

            Note should be taken that almost every single issue that Reich mentions is amenable to compromise, should our political class want “to fix” the system. That list includes reproductive rights, equal marriage rights, gun ownership, property rights, social insurance and small government, cutting entitlements and raising taxes, addressing climate change, and immigration. There is very little here that forces politicians to repair to principles in a way that makes reform impossible. In fact, almost everything on this list has been dealt with in the past as almost all political issues are dealt with, via negotiation and compromise. No one I know of, for example, is against, in toto, “reproductive rights” or gun ownership or property rights or social insurance or smaller government or adjusting entitlements or taxes or addressing climate change and immigration. And, as far as I know, only a very few are opposed to what Reich calls “equal marriage rights” in all its forms – and those few are being overwhelmed by the many who have decided they really don’t care who marries whom.

            If there is one political phenomenon that Americans are more blind to than others it is the desire of the existing political class to preserve its power and prerogatives. In part, this is due to the fact that our politicians are expected to preach reform, to tell us what they are going to do, once in office, to make things better, to change things. After all, this is what we all think is most important, keeping up “with the times,” making history, endorsing progress. Conserving is not a big draw in our political consciousness. But preserving the status quo in order to preserve one’s power and prerogatives is one of the most salient characteristics of any politician, of any political class.

            Reich is wrong. Yes, we may indeed have tribes, as he says. But one of those tribes is our political class. And because it is endangered these days by a popular outcry for change, real change, that tribe has pretended to split in two. In that way, it seeks to preserve its power and, so far, with the help of analysts like Reich, has succeeded.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

December 13, 1906

December 13, 1906
P. Schultz
March 18, 2014

From the Autobiography of Mark Twain on a speech given by then Secretary of State Elihu Root.

            “As regards the coming American monarchy. It was before Mr. Root had been heard from that the chairman of the banquet said: ‘In this time of unrest it is of great satisfaction that such a man as you, Mr. Root, is chief adviser to the President.’

            “He did not say, in so many words, that we are proceeding, in a steady march, toward eventual and unavoidable replacement of the republic by monarchy; but I suppose he was aware that that is the case. . . . .In observing the changed conditions which in the course of time have made certain and sure the eventual seizure by the Washington Government of a number of State duties and prerogatives which have been betrayed and neglected by the several States, he does not attribute those changes and the vast results which are to flow from them to any thought-out policy of any party or of any body of dreamers or schemers, but properly and rightly attributes them to that stupendous power – Circumstance – which moves by laws of its own, regardless of parties and policies, and whose decrees are final, and must be obeyed by all – and will be. The railway is Circumstance, the steamship is Circumstance, the telegraph is Circumstance. They were mere happenings; and to the whole world, the wise and the foolish alike, they are entirely trivial, wholly inconsequential; indeed silly, comical, grotesque.  No man, and no party, and no thought-out policy said, ‘Behold, we will build railways and steamships and telegraphs, and presently you will see the condition and way of life of every man and woman and child in the nation totally changed; unimaginable changes of law and custom will follow, in spite of anything that anybody can do to prevent it.”

Practical Idealism

“Practical Idealism”
P. Schultz
March 18, 2014

            “Practical idealist” is a phrase I read in an excellent account of the 1960s in the United States, entitled America’s Uncivil Wars byMark Hamilton Lytle. He applied the label to Lyndon Johnson, to wit:

            “The burden for dealing with the racial division in American life fell to President Lyndon Johnson. . . .[It seems safe to assume] that the uncivil wars that swept America after 1964 would not have been so widespread, violent, or extreme had Kennedy rather than Johnson been president. Something about Johnson and his personality aggravated the division in the nation. That must stand as the ultimate irony of the era, however, because Johnson defined himself as a practical idealist – forging compromises and holding the middle ground.” [pp. 148-49]

            But why dismiss the possibility, even the likelihood, that it was not LBJ’s “personality” but his politics, his “practical idealism,” that was the root of the problem? After all, what is “the middle ground” between, say, a Bull Connor and a MLK, Jr. worth? From what perspective does “compromise” make sense between  two such antagonists? And isn’t it actually that such “compromise” is a kind of extremism or at the very least facilitates a kind of extremism? For example, isn’t it extreme to ask some people to “wait a little longer” to have their rights honored and respected after they have been waiting for a very long time already? And isn’t this is especially extreme when this request is made so as not to offend those who have been denying these people those rights for that very long time?

By labeling LBJ – and other politicians – “practical,” we lose sight of their extremism and, therewith, we lose sight of how their kind of “practical idealism” promoted the “widespread, violent, and extreme” uncivil wars that rocked the nation in the 60’s. That is, we don’t or cannot see how what is called “pragmatism” is or facilitates extremism. Insofar as this is persuasive, then the uncivil wars of the 60’s cannot or should not be attributed to Johnson’s “personality” nor should it be implied that Kennedy’s “personality” would have had beneficial, pacifying affects on those wars. Insofar as Kennedy practiced the same kind of politics that Johnson practiced – a supposition that draws strength from the fact that Kennedy made Johnson his running mate in 1960 – then just so far a Kennedy presidency would not have made much difference in moderating the uncivil wars of the 60’s.

In an otherwise excellent account of the 60s, Lytle falls into the same trap that so many others have fallen into, viz., failing to see that our political troubles are tied up with how we practice politics in the United States. It seems pretty simple to me: We should assume that our political troubles have something to do with how we do politics in the United States. But, of course, such an assumption, once made, has implications that are quite significant.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Chaos as Policy

Chaos as Policy
P. Schultz
March 16, 2014

When will people realize that the goal of US intervention in the Middle East is not "democracy" or "the rule of law," but rather chaos and its "collateral damage," death, destruction, and the rule of multiple Jihadist sects? Here’s the latest link illustrating this.

Monday, March 3, 2014

A Little History

A Little History
P. Schultz
March 3, 2014

            “At a Washington church service in 1954, Rev. George Docherty told the congregation that the pledge [of allegiance] lacked a vital element. It failed to address ‘the characteristic and definitive factor in the American way of life.’ Where the Communists were atheists, Americans cherished their religious freedom. But, as Docherty explained, ‘the pledge as now written could just as easily be recited by little Soviet children to their hammer and sickle flag.’ To rectify that shortcoming, the rector proposed adding the phrase ‘under God.’ His plea had a special importance, for among those in his congregation that morning were President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie.

            “Docherty was not the first to avow the central place on the deity in America’s cold war crusade….They owed their inspiration to Abraham Lincoln, who at Gettysburg had said, ‘this nation, under God, shall a new birth of freedom.’ . . . .According to President Eisenhower, the phrase ‘under God’ would serve the United States as another of ‘those spiritual weapons’ in the battle against Communism, who ‘materialistic way of life’ had deadened millions of mind and soul. Congress embraced the pledge modification…..Representative Louis Rabaut, who sponsored the pledge amendment, asserted ‘the Soviet Union would not and could not….place in its patriotic ritual an acknowledgement that their nation exists ‘under God.’ And to nail the divine coonskin to the wall, Congress added a requirement that rather than ‘E Pluribus Unum,’ all U.S. currency would bear the motto, ‘In God We Trust.’ In that way, faith in God joined the A-bomb on the frontline of the nation’s defenses.”
America’s Uncivil Wars, Mark Lytle, pp. 13-14]

            Just a brief note: These people, allegedly inspired by Lincoln at Gettysburg, passed over his assertion that the nation would have – and therefore obviously needed – “a new birth of freedom.” What about the original birth of freedom? It had, apparently, miscarried, or so it would seem. In any case, it was defective.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Don't Know Much About History

Don’t Know Much About History
P. Schultz
March 2, 2014

            Here are some interesting facts I learned just yesterday about American history, which seem relevant these days even though they involve stuff that happened a very long time ago.

            The fifth Congress of the U.S., which met in 1798, passed a bill, which became law, entitled “An Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seaman.” What makes this law relevant today is that it required, yes, required that privately employed seamen purchase health insurance. This act also led to the establishment of The Maritime Hospital Service which consisted of several hospitals built and run by the national government. These hospitals were funded by a 1% tax on all seamen, and this tax was withheld by the employers of said seamen.

            Secondly, in 1792, George Washington signed into law “The Militia Act of 1792,” which among other things required that the militia members buy a weapon, as well as other necessary items such as “a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch, with a box therein, to contain not less than twenty four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball; or with a good rifle, knapsack, shot-pouch, and powder-horn, twenty balls suited to the bore of his rifle, and a quarter of a pound of powder….”

         So, for all of those people arguing that it is unconstitutional for the national government to require people to purchase health insurance because, as that paragon of intelligence, Justice Scalia, said, that this would mean the government could require us to buy broccoli, guess what? Apparently, something like this has already been done and it was done by some of those men who helped to write the Constitution. Now that seems to confirm that the “original intent” of at least some of those who wrote the Constitution is perfectly consistent with Obamacare’s mandate. Will this persuade any on these protesters of Obamacare? Come on, folks, you don’t actually think that these types are influenced by such evidence, do you? What fun would that be?