Sunday, July 31, 2016

Random Thoughts on the Current Scene

Some Random Thoughts on the Current Scene
P. Schultz

Although it seems counter-intuitive, this election is not about Trump. The Kochs know it. It is about fortifying the mainstream ruling class, composed of both Democrats and Republicans, so they can continue governing as they have for the past 16, 24, or 36 years on behalf of inequality and the American empire. And in the face of widespead public anger, they are about to pull it off. And the Kochs know they have nothing to lose by supporting Hillary. And they are correct.

People have the impression that the increasingly unequal society we have is unintended, a by-product of the politics practiced by our ruling political class. It isn't. It's the goal, the purpose of our ruling elites.

As with inequality, we like to think that our war making is unintended, a by product of our "realist" foreign policy. So if Assad wasn't "murderous," we wouldn't be making war in Syria, And we want and need to think this so we can go on thinking we are a peaceful people. But it just ain't so; our war making serves our empire and so we embrace it and the politicians who advocate for war.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Presidential Elections: "If Voting Were Important"

Presidential Elections: “If Voting Were Important”
P. Schultz

            Although we Americans like to think that our presidential elections are important events, even perhaps the most important democratic political events in our political order, it is difficult to make that case. Below is a list of those presidential elections in my lifetime that I would rank as meaningless from the viewpoint of facilitating political change. That is, in these presidential elections little or nothing changed and/or the established political class – which of course encompasses the ruling cliques of both political parties – was further entrenched or fortified. These elections are:

1956, 1964, 1968, 1972, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2004, 2012, and probably 2016 should Clingon II be elected, as seems certain.

            In other words, in 12 of the 15 presidential elections that have occurred in my lifetime, nothing or very little changed or the established political class used the election to fortify its power.

            So why is it that we Americans like to think that our presidential elections are important political events? One could say that even though these elections were in fact as I describe them, they were still important political events not because of the change they facilitated but, rather, because of the change they prevented. These elections have become, with a few exceptions, another way for the established political class to fortify the status quo.

            This phenomenon is visible, say, in the election of 1968, when Richard Nixon was elected president and continued waging war in Southeast Asia for four more years, pretty much as LBJ had been waging it previously. It is also visible even in 1980 when Ronald Reagan was elected president and the Democrats pretty much folded up their tents in order to restore the political order that had been temporarily short circuited by the election of Jimmy Carter in 1976. The fabled “Reagan Revolution” was really little more than a “Reagan Restoration.”

            The myth though about our presidential elections being important harbingers of change, change that reflects the wishes and desires of the people, is an all-important myth. It is how we convince ourselves that we live in a democracy, where politics reflects the will of the people and not the will of the elected few who control the levers of power. Mark Twain, who once said, “If voting were important, they wouldn’t let us do it,” had it partly right. For although voting could be important, it isn’t, which is why they let us do it.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

American Apartheid: The Times They Are A' Changin'

American Apartheid: The Times They Are A’ Changin'
P. Schultz

            “It’s” all unraveling. The American apartheid regime, instituted in the midest of what was and is called “the civil rights revolution” of the 60’s, is unraveling, is coming apart at the seams and it is unclear what is to replace it. What seems clear is that there is no “Nelson Mandela” on the horizon to try to put things back together again.

            From the presidencies of JFK and LBJ, despite their good intentions and best efforts, policies of occupation, surveillance, incarceration, and deadly force have been used to defuse what in the 60’s was seen as coming explosions in our “inner cities.” Unfortunately, such explosions did happen, in Detroit, Newark, Washington, D.C., and Watts, which led to the fortification and extension of these policies of occupation, surveillance, incarceration, and deadly force. Moreover, as these explosions occurred, the softer sides of these policies, occupation and surveillance by social workers, were compromised and made to look naïve and unrealistic. The darker side of the American apartheid took over as the war on poverty morphed into the war on crime, fueled by disguised racist sentiments such as Daniel Moynihan’s “tangle of [black] pathologies” that made it seem clear that the potential explosions could only be controlled by increasingly nationalistic and militaristic policies.

            As should not have surprised anyone, however, such policies were bound to fail as the occupied, the surveilled, the incarcerated, and the threatened would rebel eventually. And “eventually” has arrived, as illustrated by the phrase and movement, “Black Lives Matter.” This is, it seems to me, a rebellion and, insofar as it is, the police will not be able to suppress it, no matter how thoroughly militarized or “professionalized” they might become. Rebellions are political phenomena and require political responses if they are to be defused or pacified. And political responses, to be adequate, have to address issues of justice, issues of accountability, and issues of class.

            As Bob Dylan once sang:

“Come senators, congressmen please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside and it's ragin'
It'll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a' changin'!”

Monday, July 11, 2016

What the Anti-Federalists Knew

What the Anti-Federalists Knew
P. Schultz

            As our national situation seems to be descending into violence, both official and “unofficial,” it is worthwhile to recall or recognize that when the Constitution was being debated in 1787 and 1788, those called “the Anti-Federalists” predicted just such an outcome as we are witnessing should that constitution be ratified. For example, some Anti-Federalists predicted that armies of national officials, both military and civilian, would swarm over the land, invading citizens’ privacy and forcing them to obey the laws.

            What underlay these Anti-Federalist arguments were some rather simple propositions: (1) Human beings have a choice to make, either found their governments on consent or on force. (2) The only realistic foundation for what the Anti-Federalists called “the consolidated government” prefigured by the Constitution was force, not consent. Such a government would be too “distant” from the people, i.e., “distant” both geographically and psychologically, for the people to obey the laws voluntarily. As I use to say to students to illustrate this argument: “Think of the differences between ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ and ‘Law and Order’ regarding ‘law enforcement.’ Whereas in Mayberry, no one needed a gun, in New York City it often seemed like an army of occupation was needed to keep the peace.”

            Those forces we call “the police” are, of course, actually military forces. They wear uniforms, they carry weapons, and they are authorized to employ “deadly force” in order to execute the laws. Whereas Mayberry could be governed without such a force, no large city or metropolitan area could be. Consent or force: That’s the choice, always and everywhere.

            Not surprisingly then, we were better off as a people before “the feds,” agents of our “consolidated government,” got involved in law enforcement. We were safer as well, both physically and politically. Beginning with President Kennedy and ever since, law enforcement has been nationalized and, as a result, increasingly militarized. As I read human history, militarization via occupation, surveillance, and the use of deadly force always leads to resistance, always leads to civil unrest, as people seek to protect themselves from the occupiers and seek to preserve some degree of freedom. So we can, as a nation, go on as we have since the 60’s or we can choose a different road. Consent or force: That’s still the choice, always and everywhere.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Democratic Awakenings

Democratic Awakenings
P. Schultz

            Matt Taibbi has a marvelously revealing article in the latest edition of Rolling Stone magazine in which he argues that the establishment oligarchs, who are railing against Trump mightily, will use the Trump candidacy to further their power and further compromise popular government. “Trump is going to lose this election, then live on as the reason for an emboldened, even less-responsive oligarchy. And you thought this election season couldn't get any worse.”

            Taibbi has hit the nail on its head. And he could have pointed out that such a response is nothing new. In the 70’s, after Nixon’s Watergate meltdown, after the debacle in Vietnam, after revelations about the fact that the CIA was not only engaged in all kinds of assassination attempts overseas but was also spying on American citizens in dissent, there was another democratic awakening. One result of this awakening led to the presidency of Jimmy Carter, who was promptly and without much fanfare destroyed politically – with him helping out those who would destroy him.

            But take note of how this democratic awakening was described by the established oligarchy, including the media. In its 1976 special edition, Newsweek said that “Americans are sunk in malaise.” The New York Times said that Americans were suffering from “self-doubts uncharacteristic of the nation.” In other words, as Walter Karp put it, “The democratic awakening, in short, is a spiritual disease.” [Liberty Under Siege, p. 7] The people’s response to the debacle in Nam, that is, a refusal “to go abroad in search of monsters to destroy” was labeled “post-Vietnam trauma” and the “Vietnam syndrome,” something we needed to “kick,” as Bush the First put it after Desert Storm. For Henry Kissinger, the American people were in a “Spenglerian gloom” and had lost their “will and resolve.”

            Even the popular response to Watergate was referred to as “post-Watergate morality,” as if “popular lawfulness [was] yet another spiritual illness of the people.” Post-Watergate there was, it was claimed, a great “appetite for scandalous implication” and vigilance and mistrust of government officials was deemed a vice. One eminent social scientist feared that “popular participation in public affairs [was] a menace to ‘constitutional democracy.’” The same eminence also concluded that “we [the American people] [were] becoming moralistic and extreme in our politics.”

            These “blatherings” led Karp to ask: “How is it that the democratic awakening can be so readily distorted and reviled?” It is time, or will be very soon, to raise this question again when the oligarchic establishment once again asserts itself after November 2016.