Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Lesser of Two Evils

The Lesser of Two Evils
P. Schultz

            “I am voting for ‘the lesser of two evils.’” A most popular argument for many. These voters recognize, they claim, that the differences between our candidates, say a Bernie Sanders and a Hillary Clinton or even the latter and Ted Cruz, are not as stark as their similarities, that they are all “evil.” These voters might even recognize that this argument reveals the corrupt character of our political order. So it seems like a respectable argument, promoting respectable behavior.

            But leaving aside, momentarily, this argument, what kind of experience is it, does it reveal? It is not an experience shared by our politicians themselves, who never say, “I am [the lesser] evil. Vote for me!” So perhaps it is not a political experience at all. That is, it is an experience that makes it possible, even legitimate, not to judge our politicians and their political choices, but merely to accept them. But we accept them not as evil at all but as realistic, acceptable, and even ultimately as legitimate or good. “The lesser of two evils” argument allows people to experience evil as good.

            And this is why those who make this argument, who experience this choice, don’t speak of their choice as evil. Just like our politicians, these people don’t say: “I am choosing to vote for evil.” As if it were part of a magic show, a choice for evil becomes, with the wave of a wand, a choice to vote for good. And, thus, a most amazing transformation takes place: A political order that offers us only evils to choose between becomes a political order that promotes, allows us to choose only good. Hence, there is no need to re-arrange our political arrangements; there is no need to re-order our political order. As a common saying these days has it: “It is all good.”

            Ah, but here’s the rub: What if our choices, our only options are evil? If so, then we are in “a jackpot.” But not only are we in a jackpot; we don’t even know, really know we are in it! Unlike Nero, who fiddled while Rome burned, we don’t know we are fiddling or even that “Rome” is burning. Such a situation will not, cannot end well.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Trump: All About Borders

Trump: All About Borders
P. Schultz

            “The unparalleled advances in scientific discovery and technological innovation of the 20th century, which made possible exponential increases in the killing power of weaponry, had also contributed to the erosion, and ultimately the near dissolution, of the boundaries between military forces and civilian populations.” [Dominance by Design, Michael Adas]

            The blurring, if not the dissolution of boundaries, of borders has much to do with “the Trump phenomenon.” Boundaries and borders are crucial human artifacts, so crucial that they can be made to appear “natural.” So, when boundaries or borders are blurred, it often feels like a violation – e.g., as happened to Americans on 9/11 – and such violations can shake people’s confidence in what they take to be “the natural order” of things. So exposed, so violated, people are fearful and angry. And they seek the safety of those who promise to restore the boundaries, the borders that, for them, defined and thereby made sense of their world.

            Not coincidentally, Trump’s rise to prominence began with his promise to restore the border separating the United States from Mexico, a border that had, allegedly, become so porous that rapists and other criminals passed through regularly. And not only would Trump restore this border by building a wall, but he would make Mexico pay for the wall.

            However outlandish Trump’s stance might appear to be, it is by boundaries or borders that Trump took his stand and acquired his popularity, his power. Along with restoring the U.S.-Mexican border, Trump opposed those trade deals, like NAFTA, made by mainstream Republicans and Democrats because they led to loss of American jobs which “went overseas,” went beyond our borders. From the standpoint of these disappearing jobs, it was as if there was no border, no boundary preventing American jobs from “moving overseas,” as if these jobs were “flowing” out the country all on their own.

            Similarly, Trump’s critique of the Bush/Cheney invasion of Iraq in 2003, as well as his criticism of other U.S. military actions abroad, also reflects his concern with restoring America’s boundaries. American blood and treasure have been wasted in Iraq and elsewhere, as if the body politic itself were hemorrhaging. The integrity of that body depends on there being boundaries, which must be restored or “death” will result. And it is “staying home,” respecting our borders and boundaries, that will stop the bleeding, just as erecting a wall along the Rio Grande will keep the nation unsullied from without. Borders and boundaries require both keeping undesirables out and staying home, “minding our own business,” taking care of our own.

            That Trump is concerned with securing, fortifying our borders helps to explain why his “over the top,” “beyond the pale” rhetoric does not disturb his supporters. That his rhetoric “crosses the line” of socially acceptable speech is redeemed for his supporters because it is in the service of reasserting, reinforcing other, more important lines, other more important boundaries or borders. Just as Sarah Palin’s “going rogue” oddly appealed to conservatives, so too Trump’s “border crossing” rhetoric is redeemed for his supporters by his essentially conservative goal of restoring the nation’s integrity by restoring and respecting its boundaries.

            And speaking of Trump’s supporters or others who sympathize with but don’t openly support him, it is a mistake to see them as racists, sexists, or hate-mongers. Some of them may be such, but that is neither how most of them see themselves nor how they act. They respond favorably to Trump, some openly and others covertly, because they feel disoriented, feel adrift, as a result of their perception that there are no borders, no boundaries, at least none that are sustainable. And they feel this way for many reasons.

            For despite “exponential increases in the killing power of [our] weaponry,” the United States’ “homeland” is no longer inviolable, as it seemed to be with the triumphalism that followed the end of the Second World War. The Cold War, Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, the 60s, black power, Watergate, the Iranian revolution, Islamic fundamentalism, and, above all, 9/11 brought our vulnerability to the fore, made it so real that it could not even be erased by the collapse of the Soviet Union or the de-radicalization of what was once called “Red China.” In the midst of such changes, which seemed to reflect or to threaten the loss of all boundaries, that Trump has gained the popularity he has seems unsurprising insofar as he is addressing real concerns, concerns that can’t be met with promises of “hope” or vacuous slogans like “Yes We Can.” And because these concerns are real, they are misunderstood if they are seen as merely ghosts inhabiting the minds of the uneducated or the unsophisticated. Trump is “real,” and he hasn’t gone away because the human need for boundaries, for borders is real and it isn’t going away.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Trump: He's to Blame?

Trump: He’s to Blame?
P. Schultz

            Blaming Trump, standing up to Trump, has become the new measure of virtue, according to Elizabeth Warren and others, because “being silent” makes one complicit in his kind of politics.

            Hmmmm, I wondered. This seemed a bit strange to me, or it did at least until I remembered some history. This is a nation that blamed gays and lesbians – the Lavender scare that accompanied the Red scare – for undermining its national security in the Cold War; that once blamed protesters, “long haired hippie types,” for losing a war, while honoring those generals who actually lost it; that blames the many for the decisions of the few who have the power and use it willingly; that says its government is “broken,” when that government continues to fund multiple wars – to the tune of billions of dollars – and fight them “smartly” – despite thousands upon thousands of civilian deaths – and spies upon its citizens indiscriminately; that imprisons non-violent drug offenders by the hundreds of thousands while letting those responsible for the loss of billions of dollars of net worth not only go unpunished but also to profit via a “bailout;” and that held no one, I repeat, no one, in power responsible for 9/11.

            Given this history, that this nation would now see a crass, vile, rambunctious billionaire with really bad hair as the epitome of its failures is not or should not be surprising, even though this billionaire had nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with creating “the jackpot” it is in now. Given its past behavior and how that nation honors those who are actually responsible for this “jackpot,” why am I surprised by this nation’s current condemnation, packaged in something resembling hysteria, of the billionaire? “Bogeyman politics” never goes out of style; its only the “bogey” that changes, from gays and lesbians, to “youths,” to druggies, to Muslims, to “illegals,” to “socialists,” to “peaceniks,” even to “moms” at one point, and on and on and on.

            This convinces me that Lincoln was correct when he said that “You can fool some of the people all of the time,” as illustrated by the political farce labeled a “presidential campaign” continues unabated. Standing up to and defeating Trump, by empowering those who are actually responsible for our situation, yes, that makes a lot of sense; actually, it makes about as much sense as thinking we “won” the war on drugs, the war on crime, the war on poverty, and the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, and Iran.

            As George Carlin once pointed out, the farcical character of our politics was evident enough when someone proposed, seriously proposed, taking away, outlawing toy guns while protecting the real ones! Yes, let’s take out Trump, a potential disaster to be sure, while keeping those in power who have been actual disasters. Makes sense to me!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Hillary's "Sex" Appeal

Hillary’s “Sex” Appeal
P. Schultz

            To understand what I am calling Hillary’s “sex appeal,” it is necessary to go back to JFK and his appeal, as understood then. His “sex appeal” was “strength,” “power,” “masculinity,” “virility,” all of which was necessary to offset the imagined and prevailing “feminized and infantilized” culture of the United States. JFK represented “a third way,” located between a “politically emasculated” – read “bureaucratized” -  business and/or entrepreneurial class and sentimentalized left-wingers. Both what was called “momism” and “organizational men” were sapping America’s strength, her vitality, thereby undermining the nation’s ability to confront and defeat the USSR and worldwide communism.

            Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., the in-house historian of Camelot, characterized the Soviet threat as follows: “By the early 60s the Soviet Union . . . [would] have a superiority in the thrust of its missiles and in the penetration of outer space.” Due to its superior thrust, the Soviet Union would be able to penetrate deeper than the United States. For Schlesinger, the Soviet threat could be sexualized, as confirmed by his characterization of the age as so “sexually ambiguous . . .  that homosexuality [was] enjoying a cultural boom new in our history.” For Schlesinger and others, even Betty Friedan of The Feminine Mystique, women were causing or reflected debilitating effects – e.g., consumerism or “momism” – that were sapping the nation’s vitality or virility. For Schlesinger, “women [were] aggressive, seizing new domains, while men [were] on the defensive . . . hardly able to hold their own.” [Schlesinger, “The Crisis of American Masculinity”]

            So, what does this have to do with Hillary and her appeal? Quite simply put, Hillary “the phenomenon” reassures us that aggressive women, women not suffering from what Friedan called “the problem with no name,” will not, when once in power, undermine the virility, the masculinity needed to ensure the nation’s security, its greatness. Rule by this woman, “Hillary,” reassures us, that her election need not lead to either the “feminization” or the “momism” of society.

            And as seems clear, very few take Hillary to be either feminine or a mom, nor is this how she presents herself. It is not even clear that many see Hillary as sexual, perhaps in part because of her spouse’s dalliances.  But this is all good insofar as we need reassurances as a people that the virility of our leaders is uncompromised, and Hillary, as unfeminine, as un-momlike, as asexual, provides such reassurance. Although it is difficult for us - and for others - to separate female sexuality from femininity and motherhood, Hillary seems, ala’ Elizabeth I or Margaret Thatcher, to transcend the dichotomy, widely assumed to be unbridgeable, of manly strength or feminized weakness.

            This may help explain why Hillary’s appeal to young[er] women is not as strong as her appeal to old[er] women. Young[er] women want to be sexually appealing, at least in part because they are not yet married or mothers. Sexual ambiguity of the kind Hillary projects is not high on the social agendas of the young, either men or women. For young[er] women, feminism devoid of femininity is less desirable because it makes them less desirable. They might “ban their bras” but they do so for very different reasons than those women who did so in the 60s. Young[er] women are attracted to masculinity displayed, i.e., masculinity as virility, potency, as “thrust” and “penetration.” Old[er] women, not so much.

            More generally, reports are available about how Hillary’s female supporters seem more “lukewarm” than, say, those supporting Trump. Trump, of course, has done little to downplay his or others’ sexuality, even to the point of behaving like an adolescent male, both with regard to Megyn Kelly and “little Marco.” Hillary, as sexually ambiguous, cannot generate the “body heat” Trump does. In this sense, Hillary is a “thoroughly modern Millie,” while Trump is the “traditional male.”

            Can this modern woman prevail in a race for the White House, a largely traditional “place” and office? Of course, winning such a race will depend on much more than the sexual politics at play here. But it might behoove a modern woman to be aware – and to beware – of the controversial character of her persona as a modern woman, especially when confronting someone like Trump, who is more than willing to employ traditional taunts. It is more difficult for a man, any man, to successfully challenge a feminized woman, a mom, than to challenge a feminist. One way to defend against such attacks is to disguise one’s modernity, to present it in traditional garb. And, who knows, such a “disguise” just might be an improvement over the alternative.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Donald Trump: Mission Accomplished

Donald Trump: Mission Accomplished
P. Schultz

            It is dawning on some that Donald Trump has already fulfilled “the mission” he has been relegated to playing in the presidential election cycle of 2016. Thus, J.M. “Mac” Stipanovich, a lobbyist and Jeb Bush adviser, asserted: “The Republican Party is not going to come out of this in one piece and I think whoever the Republican nominee would be isn’t going to win in November.” Trump, some are arguing, could be stopped at the convention if he didn’t have enough votes to be nominated on the first ballot but “the problem with that  is you’re going to have a revolt,” as Rick Tyler, a former Cruz aide, stated.

            So, is this to say that Trump’s “mission” was to ensure that the Republicans would not win the presidency in 2016? Indeed, that is the argument. Most people will characterize this as just another “conspiracy theory” and believe it to be so because most people believe that our two political parties are always trying to win every election. And they believe this because they are unaware that each of these two parties is composed of two distinct parts, the establishment part and the insurgent part.

            These days, the Republican Party’s insurgents are those like the Tea Partiers, while the establishment part is represented by the likes of John Boehner and Paul Ryan. The party has “splintered,” as the Associated Press put it, a “splintering” that was fed by “conservatives’ gut level resistance to all things Obama – the man, his authority, his policies – [which] gave birth to the tea party movement . . . [but] contained in . . . its triumphs . . . the seeds of destruction, evident now in the party’s fracture over presidential front-runner Donald Trump.” As this analysis put it: “Now the party of Abraham Lincoln is engaged in a civil war, pitting establishment Republicans frightened about a election rout in November against the unpredictable Trump, who has capitalized on voter animosity toward Washington and politicians.”

            I would offer two emendations to this analysis. First, the establishment Republicans are not all that frightened by a lost election in November. Indeed, they are rather looking forward to it because then they can claim that, once again, it has been proven that political insurgencies, undertaken as a response to widespread popular unrest and anger, cannot succeed. And they can lay the blame for the defeat on the insurgents, much as establishment Democrats laid the blame for their electoral debacle in 1972 on their insurgents, represented allegedly by George McGovern. That McGovern suffered the defeat he did because the Democratic Party did little or nothing to support his candidacy goes unnoticed. Moreover, what do the establishment Republicans have to fear from a Clinton presidency? Again, the parallel with 1972 is apropos because the establishment Democrats then had little to fear from a second Nixon term.

            Second, establishment Republicans, just like establishment Democrats, have little reason to fear losing the 2016 presidential election because it will send the message to all that popular unrest, dissatisfaction, even outrage are not building blocks of “pragmatic politics.” Combined with the certain defeat of Bernie Sanders, who represents the insurgent wing of the Democratic Party insofar as it has such a wing, this message will be heard loud and clear and especially by those youthful voters who have to be taught, as the youth of the 60s had to be taught, that “politics is not nursery school.” Moreover, the lesson that politics and politicians lack the power to do much to alleviate the public’s anger will also be fortified, thereby reinforcing the status quo and the power of the establishment Republicans and Democrats.

            In a republic, if one is such only by virtue of aspirations, those who have “the power” and are wielding it in ways that the citizens object to can never be too careful about preserving the status quo and preserving the idea that the status quo is the only “realistic” alternative, politically speaking. This is a lesson that must be taught, time and time again, and if such a teaching requires losing an election, than so be it. The United States is only sustainable as a republic, as Lincoln knew and said time and time again. It was and is the “proposition that all men are created equal,” inserted as Lincoln said into a declaration of treasonous war, that foils all attempts to legitimize inequality, to legitimize the idea that some are booted and spurred, and meant to ride others as if they were less than human. This is what our oligarchs know and, as a result, losing elections in order to maintain the pretense of being republicans matters little. In fact, from the oligarchy’s viewpoint, such losses are not losses at all.

            Whether Trump believes anything he is saying is up for grabs. But it is quite fitting that a billionaire, and an arrogant, crass, and vile billionaire, is doing the work of the oligarchy. He may be the “phony” that Mitt Romney said he is, but he is, like Romney, helping our oligarchs solidify their rule. And it is not the oligarchs who are losing this election; rather, it is the American people.