Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Utter Madness of American Politics

The Utter Madness of American Politics
P. Schultz

The following illustrates just how mad, how insane our “involvement” in Vietnam was: First, the government of Vietnam, that is, Diem, and the U.S. destroyed the village life that most Vietnamese in southern Vietnam knew and had known for hundreds of years, by barring the French from executing the laws and banishing the Chinese merchants who provided the financial basis of village life. And then, when “the stronger men of the village banded together to get water, salt, and the other necessities of life by the oldest means known to man: banditry,” which was "not political or ideological” but was “a last resort to obtain simple and elementary needs,” the following happened: “Back in Saigon, the Diem government and its American advisers  were totally unaware of the true causes of this unrest, but they were ready with their Pavlovian interpretation.. It was, they said, the result of ‘Communist subversion and insurgency.’” [JFK, the CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy, L. Fletcher Prouty, 92-93]

And so, after creating unrest, the Diem government and its American advisers reacted to it as if it were communist inspired, thereby creating the basis for US intervention in Vietnam and the deaths of millions of Vietnamese and 58,000 plus American troopers before the madness was ended in 1975. Prouty argues that this is the result of a grand conspiracy that wants endless war because such wars are profitable. Somehow, that speculation seems to me a more comforting explanation than that this state of affairs was the result of good, old fashioned hubris, of the utter ignorance and inhumanity of America’s “best and the brightest.” For it is the latter explanation that makes me want to take the flag “a grateful nation” presented to my parents at my brother Charlie’s funeral and burn it.

JFK, LBJ, and Vietnam

JFK, LBJ, and Vietnam
P. Schultz

            For several reasons, few of them worthwhile, and for some time I have been wondering about I what call “the policy-making paradigm of politics” as a particular and peculiar kind of politics – in a manner of speaking. I also call it “the problem-solving paradigm of politics.”

            Having recently read a very good book by John M. Newman,  JFK and Vietnam: Deception, Intrigue, and the Struggle for Power,” I have found some illumination on the workings of such a paradigm. Toward the end of his book, Newman points out the similarities – as well as the differences – between JFK and LBJ as follows: “The key to understanding how this campaign problem differed for these two men is this: Kennedy had to disguise a withdrawal; Johnson had to disguise intervention.” [442] That is, both Kennedy and Johnson engaged in deception, Kennedy to keep combat troops out of Vietnam while Johnson did so to get combat troops into Vietnam.

            And they both did it for the same reason. Kennedy disguised withdrawal because he was fearful that if he went public with his policy, he would lose the election of 1964, being defeated as an “appeaser” of communism, as the one who “lost” Vietnam. Johnson shared the same fears. “I am not going to lose Vietnam. I am not going to be the President  who saw Southeast Asia go the way that China went.” [442] But Johnson didn’t make these views public during the ’64 campaign because he, like JFK, was fearful if he did so he would lose the election. So, neither man went public with his views, Kennedy disguising his withdrawal and Johnson disguising his intervention. Neither man was willing to give the American people the choice to withdraw or intervene. And both men were willing to and did engage in deception and intrigue in order to have their way.

            It is important to see that this behavior is part and parcel of a policy-making or problem-solving politics. In such a politics, Vietnam was a “problem” needing a “solution” and our politicians, our officials were expected to have such a solution, which then they would “sell” to the American people. The solution thus takes precedence over “the consent of the governed” and if that consent is not forthcoming, then politicians should work around, should manipulate, should even deceive the people to implement the solution. A policy-making or problem-solving politics is a way of short-circuiting popular rule or “people power.” The politicians choose both the problems and the solutions, not the people.

            Hence, the chant, common during the war, “One, two, three, four, we don’t want your bloody war!” was “radical” in that it rejected the policy-making paradigm. It meant, among other things, that Vietnam was not a problem, not our problem, and so we Americans had no business being there. It is only a short step from this to the idea that our intervention in Vietnam was indefensible, even immoral. A policy-making paradigm cannot deal with such an argument and, hence, has to marginalize such assertions of the popular will as thoughtless, as ignorant, as illegitimate, or as simply unworthy.

            But politics or self-government would seem to require, at the very least, that the people be given choices, here the choice to decide whether to withdraw or intervene in Vietnam. Neither Kennedy nor Johnson was willing to do this, abrogating to themselves the power, even the right to make that most basic choice about a war in Vietnam for the people. Once that step is taken, once that right is claimed, then “deception, intrigue, and the struggle for power” will follow, follow as night follows day, follow as darkness follows light. And, for sure, there will be no “light at the end of the tunnel.”

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Dealing With "the Donald"

Dealing with “the Donald”
P. Schultz

            The above is a link to a review by Diane Ravitch, of the two books, those  being Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, and The One Percent Solution: How Corporations are Remaking America One State At A Time.

            I am posting this for those who think the way to oppose Trump is labeling his supporters 'racist,' or 'moronic.' Trump and company are so far beyond such tactics that such name-calling merely facilitates those who have undermined our republic. Trump et. al. have an agenda, one that has the support of many of the very wealthy and is disguised as "libertarian" or "freedom loving." To defeat these people, you need an alternative agenda, and calling Trump "Orange 45" or lambasting his tweets or his followers won't do it. And, sad to say, the Democrats don't have such an alternative agenda, which is why they dream the impossible dream of impeachment.

Here is an example of an alternative agenda from Elizabeth Warren, but I bet you won't hear many Democrats pushing such an agenda.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

1992: A Political Fantasy

I have just published a book on the 1992 presidential election, entitled "1992: A Political Fantasy." It is a "fantasy" of how and why George H. W. Bush deliberately lost that election to Bill Clinton. It is listed on Amazon, the author being me, P. Schultz, and the title as given above. It is available in paperback for $12.99 and on Kindle for $4.99. At those prices, you can't go wrong.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

"Higher Education": Not So Much. An Exchange.

“Higher Education”: Not So Much. An Exchange.
P. Schultz

            Below you will find a link to an article published in the Washington Post on why “Trump conservatives” are dissatisfied, allegedly, with our colleges and universities. I posted this link on Facebook with the comment:

So glad I quit "higher education" when I did. Think about it: Now someone who is a "trained marksman" and can shoot the head off a rattlesnake is considered worth listening to on how to politicize even further than they already are politicized our colleges and universities. And trust me: There is nothing radical or even much that is unconventional going on in those institutions. Most professors seek above all else tenure and success and are as a result, as the smartest students know, just boring mouthpieces who never stray too far from "conventional wisdom." Besides, the BOBs, the Basic Old Bureaucrats, have the real power and these guys are as asinine - read "mainstream' - as any Trumpian conservative or Obama liberal would wish them to be.”

            My comment was met with this response from one of my Facebook friends, who is by the way not a Trump supporter in any way, shape, or form:

RS: “Not sure I agree. Much movement is occurring in non traditional education. I had a long discussion with our kids who are both in education and way smarter than I am and they explained about so many innovations in the pipeline.
So, take heart, Pete Schultz, the world of education is not all gloom and doom.”

            And this comment elicited the following from yours truly:

“But, of course, it is not "all gloom and doom" in education, or anywhere else, even in the Trump administration. This is the kind of assertion that is impossible and useless to argue with because it is so, well, meaningless or even inane. And I rest my case if your "kids" are defending "innovations in the pipeline." This is BOB, Basic Old Bureaucrat talk, which is generally meaningless, inane lingo having nothing to do with "education." It helps explain how we as a people have come to think that standardized testing is anything other than the means of destroying genuine education and producing more "bricks in the wall" who can work for corporations without realizing how meaningless their lives actually are. And this stuff is dressed up as "No Child Left Behind" ala' Bush, Jr. or "Race to the Top," ala' Obama. But then, again, you can put a dress and earrings on a pig but it is still a pig. Again, so glad I quit.”

            The exchange, illustrates among other things, why people like Trump are successful. Here is someone who, to be direct, knows little or nothing about “the education world” and the battles being fought there but, for the sake of “innovations in the pipe line,” ends up allying himself with those like the green beret marksman who was used as the basis of the Post article and “analysis.” Oh yes!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Vietnam? Not So Much

Vietnam? Not So Much
P. Schultz

“Sometimes the light's all shining on me. Other times I can barely see. Lately it’s occurred to me: What a long strange trip it’s been.”  The Grateful Dead

            I have been reading this book, The Embers of War, about Vietnam in the 1940’s and 1950’s, when the US was just getting involved there, as we say. And all of a sudden I was “blinded by the light.” For the US, it was never really about Vietnam. Rather, it was about the United States and preserving the status quo here, preserving the regime that was being established, that had been established at least since the end of World War II.

            How can you preserve a political order best? It’s rather simple. By dying for it and/or killing for it. And that’s what Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon used Vietnam for, for dying and killing American soldiers – and others – in order to fortify, to preserve, and even to extend the national security state that had been created after World War II.

            That’s why we never seem to learn from “our mistakes” in Vietnam: Because our actions weren't mistakes and the same strategy is being used today, dying and killing in order to perpetuate our flawed, our unrepresentative, our oligarchic political order."Winning" in Vietnam or Afghanistan or Iraq or anywhere isn't important. What's important is the dying and the killing because that blood offering is that which renders our establishment secure.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

McConnell, the Republicans, and American Politics

McConnell, the Republicans, and American Politics
Peter Schultz

            Below is a link to an article from the NY Times, entitled “McConnell Gambled on Health Care and the Alabama Senate Race. He Lost.” This article is interesting because it illustrates the character of American politics quite well and how it differs from what conventional wisdom tells about our politics.

            According to the conventional wisdom, our political parties are conduits through which the popular will is translated into legislation and policies, making our officials “representatives” people of “good will,” who respond to the popular will as it manifests itself in polls and elections. In brief, our political parties are the tools of democracy, headed by well-intentioned politicians seeking to advance the common good.  

            Contrarily, however, what this article illustrates is that our political parties are controlled by “bosses,” here personified by Mitch McConnell for the Republicans, who seek to short circuit the popular will whenever that is necessary to preserve the status quo and the bosses’ power and status. One quote captures this very well: ““I think people here are frustrated, and they have bought into this narrative that Mitch McConnell is to blame, that he’s incompetent, that he’s part of the establishment, that he’s controlled by special interests and synonymous with the status quo.”

            This is a fairly accurate assessment of what is going on – although I would say that McConnell is not incompetent and that he is not controlled by the special interests – which is why the “frustrated people” are buying “into this narrative.” After all, “the narrative” is accurate! They, the frustrated, are beginning to see that their “representatives” in D.C. are not so much interested in representing them as controlling them in order to preserve the status quo. They are even beginning to suspect that the mainstream Republicans never intended to repeal and replace the ACA, insofar as they had seven years to come up with a replacement and did not do it. That is, they are catching on that those who claim to represent them and seek to turn their wants into legislation and other policies are more interested in preserving the status quo, interested in controlling them and not in representing them.

            The thing is: Our political parties and its leaders, its bosses, are not in the game of embracing democracy but, rather, are in the game of stifling democracy or rule by the people. This is, as the election in Alabama illustrated, as true of Donald Trump as it is of Mitch McConnell. It is also as true of Democratic Party as it is of the Republican Party. What are called “special interests” take part in this project but they are not playing the lead roles therein. It is within this project of preserving the status quo that these groups seek to promote their interests.

            People are frustrated across the political spectrum, as evidenced by the relative success of Bernie Sanders’ challenge to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president last year. And their frustration stems from two facts, not taken into account by our conventional wisdom regarding our politics: (1) Our politicians are not, for the most part, people of “good will” who are “well intentioned,” trying to serve the people’s interests and desires. And (2) our political parties are not devoted to making democracy work but are, rather, devoted to ensuring that democracy doesn’t work so their bosses can preserve their power and status.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Why Is Trump So Bombastic?

Why Is Trump So Bombastic?
P. Schultz

            The answer to this question is pretty simple: Because the established political order is so fragile. To explain.

            Dissatisfaction – to say the least – abounds in the U.S. Large majorities of people tell pollsters that they no longer trust “their” government. These majorities are so large, the dissatisfaction so intense, that the legitimacy of the established political order – namely, that represented by Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George Bush, and Barack Obama and which may be called our national security state – is endangered. It might even, as did the Soviet Union some thirty years ago, topple over and disappear.

            Something needed to be done and, low and behold, “the Donald,” who is promising to “make America great again,” appears. Why is this, why is he appealing? Well, first, this is what most Americans wish for, a restoration of “greatness.” There are few, very few Americans either among the liberals or the conservatives, who question whether greatness is desirable. They don’t question it because for them it means, allegedly, more security and more prosperity. They don’t realize, for example, that it was the pursuit of a restored greatness after World War II that led the French to defeat in Vietnam and Algeria. For these Americans, greatness is the thing, even the one thing that a nation should pursue. And they certainly don’t consider that our dissatisfaction stems from this pursuit.

            And, second, one way or another, Trump will restore our greatness. He is doing it rhetorically ala’ his bombastic speech at the UN the other day, as well as by his blatant nationalism that makes it seem that the US need not be fearful and should act as it wants to act. This is why Trump’s bombast, despite its shrillness, resonates with so many – because it is rhetoric of the strong, of the powerful, announcing that “Yes, the US is back! And we will take names and kick ass!”

            Another way Trump’s rhetoric restores America’s greatness is by reinforcing the myth, the story that the US became great by wielding its power freely, by asking quarter of no other nations, by taking what we wanted, the best part of Mexico, the Northwest territories, Hawai’i, the Philippines, the Panama Canal, Alaska, as well as markets throughout the Far East and even Europe, even while waging and winning not one but two “world wars” almost single-handedly. That is, for all of his alleged and self-proclaimed radicalness, Trump’s appeal rests on an overwhelmingly conventional and unexceptional view of American history. So, while he claims he wants to “drain the swamp” that is D.C., he actually thinks that that “swamp” was once the home of “super heroes.” Trump is so conventional that his thought relies on a comic book version of American history. Hence, the popularity of what seems at first glance to be his “outlandishness.”

            Thus, Trump’s bombast works because there is very little in it that is radical. Despite being shrill, being bombastic and seeming to be unconventional, Trump is merely the latest version of Ronald Reagan, who took us driving on coastal highways while it was morning once again in America. Such “greatness” asserted is, as Reagan promised, greatness assured. And in this way, just as with Reagan, Trump’s alleged “restoration” of America’s greatness will be indistinguishable from reinforcing the status quo.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The US and the Politics of Failure

The US and the Politics of Failure
P. Schultz

            Recently, it dawned on me that our nation, which some like to call “great” or even “the greatest” has a pretty sorry record over the past 50 or 60 years. For example, we lost the war on drugs, we lost the war on poverty, and we even lost the war on crime. Pretty amazing when you think about it.

            We also lost the Vietnam War, we lost the invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, but we did win the war in Granada – wow!- and the war in Panama – another wow! We are still fighting in Afghanistan after 16 years! We are still fighting in Iraq for almost the same amount of time! We are still fighting in Syria. Korea is still divided and that war hasn’t been officially ended yet. And now we are being forced to threaten to annihilate North Korea. Apparently, we don’t have a lot of options there. Not such a good record, is it?

            The Kennedy brothers, after failing to successfully invade Cuba and overthrow the Castro brothers, tried to assassinate them but, wait for it, failed. And some argue that after several failed attempts, Castro turned the tables on the Kennedys and killed JFK. The US successfully overthrew the “socialist” government in Iran, or so it seemed until the Islamic religious overthrew the Shah and still control Iran today. The US successfully overthrew governments in Guatemala and Chile, but the results were anything but honorable. And the US failed to overthrow the government in Nicaragua. Again, not such a good record.

            I mean even some of the events that seemed to be achievements turned out to be less successful than they were thought to be. For example, it was after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – now pretty much defanged – that race riots broke out throughout the United States and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X were assassinated. And also after these laws were passed, the mass incarceration of blacks began, fed by the likes of President Nixon and Bill Clinton. And now we apparently need to be reminded that “Black Lives Matter.”

            Moreover, during the Clinton years, Tim McVeigh and friends blew up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, while the ATF “successfully” dealt with the wackos in Waco, if you can call an action that resulted in the fiery deaths of almost two dozen children “successful.” At the same time, hundreds of militia groups were forming throughout the nation, which again seems like a sign that things were not going well.

            Moreover, consider the fate of our presidents since Eisenhower. Kennedy was assassinated, LBJ was run out of office by protests over the war in Vietnam, Nixon was forced to resign from the presidency because of Watergate, Ford attacked to free hostages who were already free, Carter was run out of the presidency largely because the Iranians seized our embassy in Tehran and held our diplomats hostages for quite some time, Reagan was on the verge of impeachment because of the Iran-Contra scandal when he sold arms for hostages while resupplying the Contras with the profits from the sales, while the Contras used US planes to transport drugs into the US to help fund their war in Nicaragua, Papa Bush couldn’t or didn’t want to win re-election, Clinton was impeached and finished up a rather pathetic figure,  Bush Jr. started a war in Iraq he couldn’t finish and which was based on lies or “misinformation,” while the economy collapsed in 2008, and Obama couldn’t finish Bush’s war either, couldn’t get a decent health insurance plan passed, and only re-election because the Republicans put up a candidate who couldn’t arouse even his own party to support him.

            This is not the stuff of legends, or at least it doesn’t seem so to me. So why do we call ourselves “great” or “the greatest?” It is, based on the evidence, hard to understand.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Let's Talk About Greatness

Let’s Talk About Greatness
P. Schultz

            Donald Trump wants, as did Ronald Reagan and others before him, “to make America great again.” And in all the critiques of Trump and his behavior, much of which is justified, his endorsement of greatness has not been challenged. And perhaps that is because most Americans accept greatness as an uncontroversial political goal, if not as the most important political goal.

            This seems to me questionable, at best. Recently, I have been reading a book, Embers of War, about the fall of the French empire in what they called “Indochina,” embracing Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. The book has illuminated for me that while Ho Chi Minh was prepared to negotiate a peace with the French that would eventually lead to Vietnamese independence, the French were committed to restoring their rule over Indochina and, hence, unwilling to engage in serious negotiations with Ho. Why not? Because the kind of agreement Ho wanted would have been inconsistent with maintaining the French empire and, therewith, inconsistent with maintaining French greatness. For the French, to be great required that it reclaim its empire and that meant defeating and subjugating Vietnamese nationalism, as well as denying the Vietnamese their independence.

            What’s the point? Just that the pursuit of greatness has consequences and not all of those consequences are uncontroversial, ala’ French efforts to subjugate – they would say “civilize” – the Vietnamese people, even though this would mean necessarily engaging in a long term, if not constant war. So the questions should be asked: Just what is required to restore American greatness? What would be the results of such a restoration domestically? Does the restoration require, as it did for the French, long or even constant wars, as seems to be the case in Afghanistan and the Middle East?

            Interestingly, when our constitution was being debated, Patrick Henry raised just these kinds of questions. To wit: “You are not to inquire how your trade may be increased, nor how you are to become a great and powerful people, but how your liberties can be secured; for liberty ought to be the direct end of your Government. Shall we indulge the example of those nations who have gone from a simple to a splendid Government? Are those nations more worthy of our imitation? What can make an adequate satisfaction to them for the loss they have suffered in attaining such a Government – for the loss of their liberty? If we admit this Consolidated Government, it will be because we like a great splendid one. Some way or other we must be a great and mighty empire; we must have an army, and a navy, and a number of things: When the American spirit was in its youth, the language of America was different: Liberty, Sir, was then the primary object.”

            So, as was the case in 1788, so too today it is the pursuit of greatness that needs to be talked about. What does it mean for how we Americans view ourselves and how we Americans will be, will act in the world? In pursuing this conversation, we might find that there is more that is defective about Trump than his often boorish behavior. And we might even learn some things about politics.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Healthcare "Failure?"

Healthcare “Failure”?
P. Schultz

            There is a link below to an article on Politico, entitled “Republican Healthcare Monstrous Healthcare Fail Might Just Have Saved the Party,” which strikes me as interesting for the following reason: If what the Republicans in Congress just did or didn’t do will help “save the Party,” why does Matt Latimer call it a “failure?” Does Latimer mean to say that if the Republicans in Congress had acted in another way, thereby condemning their party, this would have constituted  “success?”

            The issue here is an important one insofar as Latimer looks at politics in terms of policy-making. As a result, when politicians fail to make policy or make bad policy, they have failed.

            On the other hand, Latimer cannot help noticing that the Republicans “failure” to repeal and replace “Obamacare” has benefits for the party, that is, “saves” it. Sometimes, even quite often I will say, the failure to make policy or making bad policy helps or benefits politicians in the sense of preserving their power as well as maintaining the status quo.

            Richard Nixon, for example, when he was trying to extend the Vietnam War so he could “settle” it just before the 1972 presidential election, invited Congress to vote against the war, which they did. Although this seemed like a “failure” or “loss” for Nixon, it was not because it allowed Nixon to later blame Congress for “losing” that war, a war that Nixon knew was lost from the time he was elected in 1968, if not before. So, by “failing” to stop Congress from voting against the war, Nixon strengthened himself, making himself look like a president who would do anything to gain “a peace with honor,” even though he got neither peace nor honor when he “settled” the war.

            Ever wonder about the durability of what is called “supply side economics,” that is, why this brand of “economics” sticks around despite its obvious failure to balance the budget and erase deficits while boosting the economy? As policy, supply side economics is clearly a “failure.” But as a way to keep conservatives and other “neoliberals” in power, it is anything but a failure as it allows them to maintain their power by maintaining the status quo. Any alternative is said to be “socialism” and, hence, to be unacceptable. The fact that such economics is, as George H.W. Bush said in 1980, “voodoo economics” is meaningless, just as it was meaningless that Nixon’s “peace with honor” was neither.

            What politicians – and a few others – know is that politics revolves around not only staying in power but in maintaining that arrangement of power that legitimates and preserves their power, that is, the status quo. Policy making, whether successful or not, is subordinated to this agenda. Nixon could “lose” – no, he knew we would lose – the war in Vietnam provided he did it in a way that preserved his power and the national security state that allowed him to rise to the presidency. Any policy whether successful or not, such as “Vietnamization,” that advanced this agenda he would and did support.  In this way, Nixon helped to defeat those who were proposing an alternative kind of politics, that is, an alternative to the embedded “realistic power politics” that existed then and still exists today.  

            Similarly, if it takes the failures of supply side economics or neoliberalism or neo-conservatism to solidify the status quo, than those invested in that status quo will embrace those failures, while pretending of course they were powerless to prevent them or that their success was undermined by “socialists” like Bernie Sanders or other “radicals.” As was noticed a very long time ago, there are different and contesting “regimes,” that is, ways of being politically. And these regimes are not like buildings, once constructed and then able to stand on their own. Rather, they are always fluid and their existence is always uncertain. Doing politics is like more like sailing on the seas than it is like building on land.

            This is, I believe, what Latimer’s analysis both reveals and obscures. Making policy and doing politics are two very different activities and, these days, the former, proposing and making policy is used to obscure, to hide the latter, maintaining a status quo that is no longer acceptable to most of the American people. As several have pointed out, our politics of “failure” is a politics of smoke and mirrors.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Politics As Usual

Politics as Usual
P. Schultz

            Below is a link to an article entitled “Republicans are in Full Control of the Government – But Losing Control of Their Party.” It is an interesting article but what the article fails to take note of: This is what the mainstream Republicans want because it means the status quo will continue and, if it continues, they continue and, hopefully for them, continue to control the party.
Here is the key passage: “Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill have described the dynamic between the White House and GOP lawmakers as a “disconnect” between Republicans who are still finding it difficult to accept that he is the leader of the party that they have long controlled.
“The disconnect is between a president who was elected from outside the Washington bubble and people in Congress who are of the Washington bubble,” Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), who works closely with the White House. “I don’t think some people in the Senate understand the mandate that Donald Trump’s election represented.”
Whether Trump had a mandate is questionable but he does have the presidency and this is a threat to those mainstream Republicans who share little with Trump politically and like him even less. So, what to do? Well, appear to be incompetent, bogged down in intraparty fights, and little or nothing will change. And because the most powerful Republicans want to preserve the status quo, Trump’s attempts to move them will fail.
But what about the country? I can hear it now: "But the country is getting screwed?" Of course it is. But where's the news in that? That's been going on since at least 1980 and Reagan's election. I mean just because Bill Clinton didn't screw Monica doesn't mean he didn't screw us!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

What is Anti-Federalism?

What is Anti-Federalism?
Dr. Peter Schultz

            Those called the “Anti-Federalists” were, as most know, those persons who opposed the ratification of the Constitution when it was proposed in 1787 to the thirteen states. Among these persons were Patrick Henry in Virginia, Melancton Smith in New York, and Mercy Warren in Pennsylvania. It is the purpose of this paper to provide an overview of what the Anti-Federalists stood for and why they thought the proposed Constitution ought not be ratified.

            To begin at the beginning and where most would agree, the AF were proponents of what has been called “the small republic theory” of government. According to this “theory,” perhaps most famously cast in its modern form by a Frenchman by the name of Montesquieu, liberty could only be secured in small societies, i.e., geographically small societies. The reasons for this theory may be rather easily stated in the following three propositions.

            First, it was thought that only in small societies would people voluntarily obey their government. Second, it was thought that only in small societies could governments be genuinely responsible to the people. And, third, it was thought that only small societies could produce citizens, i.e., those kinds human beings necessary for maintaining republican forms of government. It will useful to consider each of these propositions to see what each meant or means.

            First is the thought that only in small societies would people voluntarily obey their government. This may be illustrated rather easily by contrasting life in small towns and life in big cities today. In small towns, a police force is often almost unnecessary, whereas in a city like Boston a police force is absolutely necessary or indispensable. Some small towns in northeast Connecticut, for example, don’t even have a police force and rely pretty much on state troopers for their law enforcement, such as it is. I grew up in a small town in New Jersey and I must say that mothers were far more important in maintaining order than the police force there.

            Of course, a city like Boston is inconceivable without a police force, and a rather large and powerful police force at that. It is useful to consider what this means. What we call “police forces” are in fact military institutions. Like the military, the police wear uniforms, carry weapons, and are authorized to use those weapons even if it means that someone might die. This is not to say that there is no difference between the Boston police force and the U.S. Marines. It is only to say that there are similarities that we often overlook.

            Now, it is important to note the implication of the Boston situation. Government in Boston, maintaining law and order there, requires the presence of a military force, whereas life in small towns does not. Hence, there is a “militarization” that takes place in large cities, meaning not only a militarization institutionally but also a militarization psychologically. It also means that government in a city like Boston relies on force rather than consent to maintain law and order, to maintain the peace. Everyone knows, moreover, that militarization which leads to the use of force to maintain the peace and good order of a society requires, inevitably, that personal liberties will be compromised. There will be, necessarily and inevitably, less liberty in Boston than in a small town. And, perhaps more importantly, force will be the glue that holds the society together in large places whereas it is less necessary as the social glue in small places. [1]

            Insofar as force predominates then it is all too easy for fear to become another aspect, perhaps even the key ingredient, of whatever it is that binds a society together. And, of course, it is a question of what happens to human beings who are governed by means of fear. It is even possible to wonder whether such humans would be capable of self rule as they would always have to be controlled by others who make them aware of “the fearful” stuff. And it would be advisable under these conditions to have a government that struck fear into the hearts and souls of those it is governing. Such a government could hardly be called “republican.”

            Second, it was thought that only in small societies could government be genuinely responsible to the people. It is important to note at the outset that “genuine responsibility” meant to the AF a government that adhered to popular opinion, not a government that tried to mold popular opinion or lead popular opinion as is so commonly said today. A genuinely responsible government was responsive to the people.

            To ensure such responsiveness, the AF would rely on certain institutional devices, especially short terms in office and strict term limits. This would help to ensure that the people representatives would not lose touch with the people, as so often happens with what we call “professional politicians.” Under an AF scheme there would be no professional politicians and, hence, little chance that politicians would get “out of touch.” Of course, for this to make sense it is necessary to see that the AF had a different conception of what governments should do than we have today. That is, if governments are to undertake large social projects that seek to “re-form” society, then professional politicians would be advisable. However, if governments are not to undertake such social projects, then professional politicians are not necessary. The AF were fond of arguing that “no great talents “ were needed in politics but, again, to make sense of this argument, it should be kept in mind that it entails a very different understanding of the proper scope of government than the one we have today or than the one the Federalists had in 1787.

            But these institutional devices were only part of the AF thought on maintaining a genuinely responsible government. Also, they thought it necessary that those who would be elected to office should be like the people they represent. That is, the people representatives, together, should “re-present” the people in the government. The government should look like, have a likeness with the people themselves. So, unlike today, when Representatives and Senators are unlike the people they represent, in an AF scheme government officials would reflect the people.

            It is useful to emphasize that such a scheme would require a very different mindset than the one that predominates today. Today it is thought that what might be called an “elite” is best suited to the task of governing and, hence, we elect those who we think are “better” than we are, at least in a socio-economic sense. For example, it is quite common to hear a person praised for taking a government position that requires an economic sacrifice on their part, whereas it is implied that the wealthy are better suited for government than the less well off, the middle or lower class people.

            For the AF scheme to work, a middle class society is necessary and by a middle class society I mean a society in which people aspire to be middle class and think that those in the middle class are “better” than either the lower classes or the upper classes.[2] Hence, in such a society, the people would choose middle class people to represent them. Only with such a mindset would those chosen to govern be like most of those they represented. 

            Further, an AF scheme would then require a middle class society as its base. Such a society would not then aspire to the creation of great wealth, either in individuals or for society itself. And it might be fair to say that such a society would not aspire to greatness of any kind, cultural, economic, militarily, or politically. As it might be put today, such a society would not aspire to “super power” status. For illustrative purposes, I might say that a middle class society would aspire not to greatness but to goodness. It would seek to be good, not great. It would not undertake projects, either at home or abroad, that sought to achieve greatness. To be flippant about it, such a society would not aspire to “No Child Left Behind” but, rather, to supply all children with the nurturing needed to be decent. Education would not be seen as a ladder to “success” or “fame,” but rather an arena where children would be taught not competition but caring. Or it would not declare “a war on drugs,” a war that sought the eradication of mind-altering and illegal drugs. Rather, it would seek to build the kind of society in which such drugs would seem superfluous or irrelevant to the kind of life style most people aspired to.

            Lastly, the Anti-Federalists thought that it was only in small societies that the kind of citizen could be developed who could support the demands of a republican government and a republican society. Republican government demands that the governed control the governors, which is only possible, as was intimated above, in simple, close-knit societies with relatively simple, transparent governments. And a republican society demands a kind of likeness among the people, the kind of likeness that blurs the differences between the rich and the middle and lower classes. This is why George Mason at the constitutional convention suggested that the national government be empowered to pass “sumptuary laws,” that is, laws that regulate such events as funerals or weddings in order to prevent the few from making ostentatious displays of their wealth.

            But there is another aspect to republican citizenship as understood by the Anti-Federalists which is perhaps best understood by contrasting it with the kind of citizenship that was embraced by the progressives at the beginning of the 20th century and which still carries a lot of weight today. That citizenship was to be characterized by what might be called a “nationalistic fervor,” that is, an intense nationalism that would create unity among the people. One might say that the progressives sought to replace a “union” with a “nation.” In unions, the parts retain their integrity while in nations, the parts are subsumed into or consumed by the whole. In a nation, the parts become invisible or are “disappeared.” In this view, citizens rally to the nation’s cause almost as one, after being summoned by a “leader.” They are to “ask not what their country can do for them but what they can do for their country.” Moreover, they pledge their allegiance in schools everyday, while standing solemnly at attention while listening to the national anthem. And those who won’t honor these rituals, whether for religious reasons or not, are not considered citizens.  

            Needless to say, there is little room for such a galvanizing citizenship in small or localized republican communities. Localized communities don’t have flags that are revered and they don’t have anthems, unless of course one exists to celebrate the local sports’ team victories. Moreover, as the purpose of government and society is to achieve good, not to achieve greatness, “heroic citizenship,” like the kind of “heroic leadership” that summons it, is not only unnecessary; it is irrelevant. That is, it would not make sense for a mayor or even a governor of a state to say: “Ask not what your country can do for you but ask what you can do for your country!”  The kind of citizenship that exists in small republican societies is one that is vigilant with regard to government and especially with regard to people of great ambition. Both phenomena are dangerous and when combined are doubly so.
            No doubt, Anti-Federalism, understood as I have presented it above, will seem more than a little strange to us today. That is to be expected because taking Anti-Federalism and the Anti-Federalists seriously requires that we lift a veil that has shrouded our vision for a long time. The Constitution of 1787 was ratified and it has, we have been taught to think, worked well for more than 200 years. There is no doubt that the founders, that is, the Federalists who wrote, helped ratify, and helped implement, did some good work. But, and especially these days, there can or should be little doubt that while the founders did good work, their work is far from perfect. To understand why, it is more than useful to consult the Anti-Federalists, as they were the dissenters in 1787 and 1788. And not only were they dissenters; they were cleared eyed dissenters and, as such, they saw just how defective the new political order might become. The veil had not yet descended, the Constitution was not yet revered as it came to be revered, and they were still in touch with a way of thinking politically that no longer is visible. It behooves us to pay them some attention.

[1] Some will argue that in fact there is more liberty in large cities like Boston than in small towns and, hence, that is why people like living in large cities. In small towns, everyone knows everyone else’s business and, hence, there is less liberty. While this seems persuasive, it rests I think on confusing anonymity with liberty. Big city anonymity does offer more freedom than that found in small towns. But it is not clear that overall people are freer in big cities than small towns as is evident if one thinks of how children can live in small towns. Also, the constraints felt by adults in big cities, such as where they cannot go safely, are not insignificant and liberty must mean or include the freedom to move about as one wishes. 
[2] “Better” did not mean for the AF innately better. It simply meant for the AF that those in the middle class were, because of their circumstances, more moderate, more “moral” than those in the other two classes. For example, those in the middle class have to work for a living and, hence, have less time and, by the way, less money to engage in activities that are, for want of a better term, “unproductive.” For the AF, living as middle class was a “better’” way to live than to live poorly or, and this is especially interesting, to live richly.  In a genuinely middle class society, most would not want “to marry a millionaire” or to be millionaires. 

What Is Federalism?

What is Federalism?
Dr. Peter Schultz

            Having raised the question, “What is Anti-Federalism,” it seems necessary to raise the question above, “What is Federalism?” That is, what were the Federalists for?

            Here we enter a thicket from which we might never emerge if we were to try to figure out and summarize the views that have been attributed to the Federalists. As the victors in the debate over the ratification of the Constitution in 1788, the Federalists have garnered much more attention than the Anti-Federalists, as is always the case with winners and losers. Moreover, because they were the victors, their cause was victorious as well and, hence, people use them to support their various causes as they can provide a kind of imprimatur for these causes.

            So to avoid this thicket, I will not be spending time reviewing the various interpretations of the Federalists and their cause. Rather, I will move into what I think their cause was, paying attention to points of intersection between them and the Anti-Federalists.

            If the Anti-Federalists may be said to be partisans of “small republics,” the Federalists may be said to be partisans of “large republics.” Or as James Madison argued in Federalist #10, they were proponents of “a large, commercial republic.” So it may first be asked, What was the problem(s) with small republics and how was or were these addressed by the creation of a large republic.?

            Most importantly, the problem with small republics may be called “the tyranny of the majorities.” That is, it was thought that in small republics, majorities could form rather easily and because in a republic the majority legitimately holds power, then once formed these majorities would prove to be oppressive. One advantage of a large republic, perhaps even the advantage of such a place, is that it is more difficult for such majorities to form. As James Madison wrote in Federalist 10, a “multiplicity of interests” necessarily spring up in large and complex societies making it more difficult for “a permanent majority” to form. Emphasis should be placed on the word “permanent” because, of course, for anything to get done in a republic majorities would have to form. However, in a large, complex, and economically developed society, these majorities would most likely be temporary, coalescing in order to pass a particular piece of legislation, to endorse a particular policy and then disappearing.

            Moreover, because these majorities were temporary, it was thought that there was a likelihood that they would actually come to agree on something that was very close to or resembled what might be called the “common good.” Of course, no particular group was interested in the “common good” but because of the negotiating that would be necessary to form working majorities, it was thought that something resembling the “common good” would emerge from the political arena. At the very least, the rights of minorities would not be compromised given the absence of a permanent majority.[1]

            However, it must be said that there is more to the appeal of a large, commercial republic than reducing the possibility of majority tyranny, an appeal reflected by the character of the government created by the Constitution. A large, commercial republic was also appealing because such a republic would be able to rival monarchies in terms of greatness, in terms of what was called in the Federalist Papers and elsewhere “a great empire.” To create such an empire, a powerful, complex, and central government was needed. Simple government controlled by “simple” – read “middling” – persons would no longer suffice. A government that merely reflected the middling majority would need to be replaced by a government composed of representatives who represented a refinement of those of the middle class. Moreover, these types of representatives should be permitted to govern for long periods, to be professional politicians for the same reasons that these types were allowed to populate other professions, their superior talents. Unlike the Anti-Federalists, the Federalists did not aspire to “sameness” or “likeness” in their representatives.

            And of course such a republic must have a government that is composed of offices of great powers and much prominence. For example, there might be an office fit for the greatest man of the day, just as the presidency is often said to have been created with George Washington in mind. If such an office then helped make its occupant the greatest man of the day, the nation’s leading man accompanied by “the First Lady,” that would be fine as well. After all, it is not possible to have a government capable of doing great things without great offices and great men to occupy them. The greater the office, the more it would appeal to those men who are driven by, in Alexander Hamilton’s words,  “the love of fame, the leading passion of the noblest minds.” Men of noble minds want to do noble things and a government of great offices is the only way to make such doings possible.

            So whereas the Anti-Federalists argued that “no great talents” were necessary in a government, the Federalists did not. It is important though, to do justice to both sides in this debate, to recognize that neither argument is persuasive absent a consideration of the appropriate ends of government. If the wish is to have a government do great things, to remake society in significant even basic ways, then it is indispensable to have “great talents” in the government. It takes “great talents” to do “great things.” On the other hand, if the wish is to have a government that does not seek to do “great things,” that seeks to do, say, “good things,” then it is not necessary to have “great talents” in the government. In fact, as the Anti-Federalists liked to point out, such men would be dangerous, as great men with great ambitions always are.

            So at bottom then, the differences between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists, the differences between what we call “small republics” and “large republics,” come down to differences over the appropriate ends of government. And it might even be said that these differences come down to differences over whether governments – and of course human beings – should seek greatness, to do great things, or should seek goodness, to do good things. If the wish is to pursue greatness, then a great government, composed of great offices filled with great human beings, is absolutely essential. However, if the wish is to pursue goodness, then a simple government, composed of simple offices filled with simple human beings, is absolutely essential.

            The Federalist had, it has been said by the leading authority on the Anti-Federalists, the more powerful argument.[2] Such would seem to be the case. The appeal of greatness, of doing great things, perhaps even as a recent president thought, of ridding the world of evil, is about as seductive an appeal as is imaginable. To do great things, to do the greatest thing, to create, would appear to be almost god-like. To conserve, on the other hand, as even Lincoln pointed out,[3] pales by comparison. But while the argument for greatness is more powerful, we may wonder if it is better. The more powerful arguments are such because they appeal to our passions, while the better arguments, although weaker, appeal to our reason. And so it is worth wondering whether, even though the Anti-Federalists made the weaker argument, they did not also make the better argument. They would not be the first example of human beings trying “to make the weaker argument appear stronger.”

[1] That this argument makes some sense, think of the areas where something very much like a permanent majority exists in the United States, viz., race, and then think the oppression of and what great effort it took to overcome the oppression of the minority race.
[2] See Herbert J. Storing, What the Anti-Federalists Were For.
[3] See Lincoln’s speech “On the Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions.”