Friday, December 23, 2016

Dark Money: A Review

Dark Money
P. Schultz

            Jane Mayer’s latest book, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, is of course an exposé. And while I love such books, it must be said that its usefulness is limited and it is, ultimately, unable to do what Mayer would like it to do – disempower or defeat the billionaires whom she says have funded what she calls “the radical right.”

            Exposes work with such phenomena as, say, child slavery, impure food and drugs, or environmental pollution. To expose such phenomena is to defeat or to pave the way for the defeat of them. Why? Because there is no justification for such practices.

            Exposes don’t work, are insufficient with regard to the phenomena Mayer is addressing in Dark Money because those she is exposing are convinced – and have convinced others – of the justice of their politics. As Aristotle pointed out, a very long time ago, oligarchs appeal to justice to legitimate their claim to rule. And their appeals are not simply baseless or merely a cover for their self-interest, although they serve in that capacity. The claims of the wealthy few that they deserve to rule are, of course, controversial, that is to say, partial or incomplete. But so too are the claims of the democrats to rule. Ala’ Aristotle, all claims to rule, either by the one, the few, or the many, are and remain controversial precisely because they are all partial or incomplete.

            So, to expose some people as oligarchs who are seeking to rule will not accomplish much, will not lead to their defeat in the political arena, as should be clear by now in the U.S. And showing, as Mayer does extensively, that they use deceit, deception, or secrecy to achieve their goals does not delegitimize their activities. To undermine our oligarchs, our billionaires of the radical right, as Mayer has it, requires showing how oligarchy is unjust, how oligarchs practice injustice rather than justice.

            This is where Mayer comes up short, which is why her expose’ becomes repetitive rather than enlightening. Again and again, Mayer exposes the doings of the her billionaires of the radical right, as if people did not know that our political order today was screwing them over. You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing and we don’t actually need an expose’ to know that we, the many, are being screwed over by our government. What we need is a politics that revolves around questions of justice, not around questions of increasing the nation’s wealth and power. For the pursuit of wealth and power, as the most important political goals, legitimates oligarchy and the rule of oligarchs, while marginalizing the pursuit of justice, especially where the many are concerned.  A politics of justice, not a politics of wealth and power or a politics of greatness, is what is most needed now.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Elections and Voting

Elections and Voting
P. Schultz

            There is a strange kind of logic going around reflected by the question: Did those who voted for third parties cost Clinton the election? That this is strange logic can be seen by asking instead: How or why did Clinton cost the Democratic Party the election?

            The second question, which is from a party standpoint the appropriate one, is underlined by the fact that many, in fact, very many Democratic voters chose to stay home, chose not to vote for Clinton. And this represents many more voters than those who chose to vote for third parties. Clinton, quite obviously, did not appeal to a great number of Democratic voters, and especially did not appeal to Democratic voters in states where the election was close and Trump won by a relatively slim margin, e.g., Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

            The onus, given these numbers on non-voters, does or should fall on Clinton and the Democrats to understand why they failed and why they lost the election. To say that it was those who chose to vote for third party candidates is to imply that they bear the burden of Clinton’s and Democratic Party’s loss, which is, to put it bluntly, absurd. Clinton and the Democratic Party lost the election and, hence, they should bear the burden of their loss, not those who either chose to vote for third party candidates or chose not to vote at all.

            It is all pretty simple. Political parties are, or allegedly are, in the business of winning elections. When they lose, when they don’t win elections, that failure, that loss is on the party, not on those who chose not to vote for its ticket. The Democratic ticket in 2016 ended up a losing ticket, plain and simple. It was the Democratic Party that created that ticket. Ergo, the Democratic Party and its ticket are responsible for losing the election. It really is that simple.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Dick Cheney: A Bust?

Dick Cheney: A Bust?
P. Schultz

            Mr. Bush joined Republican congressional leaders, veterans of his administration and hundreds of others on Thursday to pay tribute to Mr. Cheney as his official bust was unveiled at the Capitol.”

            As reported in the NY Times and elsewhere, a marble bust of Dick Cheney was unveiled on December 8th  in the U.S. Senate, as is the customary practice with those who have served as vice president. The Times also noted that “No mention was made of Mr. Cheney’s controversial positions on waterboarding and the Iraq war.” He was praised by former President George W. Bush and by the current vice president, Joe Biden.

            And what if this honoring is correct? That is, what if we have created a political order and practice a kind of politics that requires that our nation and its officials torture other human beings, even those who are innocent and even to the point of death? I mean, many people not only oppose torturing other human beings but also find it despicable. And while it is true that torture is despicable, what if the success of our kind of politics requires that we do it and, more generally, do despicable things? If that were the case, then our officials ought to be despicable people, ought they not? After all, despicable people have few or no qualms about doing despicable deeds, “dastardly deeds” they might be called.

            If this makes any sense, then it helps us understand the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, not to mention other presidents like Nixon, LBJ, or Bill Clinton. A politics that requires for its success the commission of despicable acts should be controlled by, governed by despicable people. And, of course, because most human beings have been unable to “learn not to be good,” as Machiavelli put it, or of approving those who have “learned not to be good,” it is best to honor the despicable by labeling them, as George W. Bush did Dick Cheney, “good [men] who love [their] country and really love [their] famil[ies].” It is in this way that success becomes the measure by which we judge public measures and persons and, perhaps, private measures and persons as well.