Sunday, April 30, 2017

Trump A Hitler? Not a Chance

Trump A Hitler? Not A Chance
P. Schultz

            There being a lot of “stuff” out there about Trump allegedly being a fascist, as well as being comparable to Adolf Hitler, I decided it was time to look into to this comparison, to see if it can bear any weight. So, I bought a recently published Hitler biography at Barnes and Noble entitled “Hitler: Ascent, 1889 – 1939,” by a German historian and journalist, Volker Ullrich to investigate. And I have concluded that we have not a thing to worry about because if Hitler is seen as playing in the major leagues of political actors called “leaders,” Trump is playing in the minor leagues, not a level above Double A ball, at best.

            Let me be clear: I am not endorsing in any way, shape, or form Hitler’s inhuman, barbaric, and racist politics. Rather, I am simply assessing Hitler – and Trump – in terms of their capacities for what is labeled today “leadership,” which is taken by many to be the epitome of political virtue, and also by many as the epitome of human virtue. When I was teaching, it seemed to me that almost everyone thought that if we could just find and empower “leaders,” everything would be alright! It was, to me, comical. But that’s another story.

Of course, Hitler claimed and Trump claims to be a leader, even indispensable leaders for returning their respective nations to “greatness.” Whereas Hitler promised to “purify” Germany of its internal enemies [Communists, “internationalists” Jews, gypsies, etc., etc., etc.] Trump has promised to “drain the swamp” that is Washington D.C. The question is: Who was the better leader, the more capable leader, Hitler or Trump? And, to me, the answer is clear: It was Hitler.

            What could that mean? Weil, in one regard, one especially important for our modern understanding of “leadership,” viz., the power of a leader’s rhetoric or speech, clearly Hitler had the capacity to move – both visibly and emotionally – large numbers of people as well as varied categories of human beings, a capacity that Trump clearly lacks. Again and again, Ullrich illustrates – without approving – Hitler’s ability to virtually mesmerize human beings with his speeches, as well as illustrating how Hitler could appeal to different classes of people – that is, the “higher classes of people” – by adopting a different persona than that which he displayed at such huge rallies as Nuremberg.  No one, to my knowledge, has noticed that Trump possesses either of these traits, contenting himself with posting rather banal and utterly predictable “tweets” that no one would care about were he, Trump, not president.

            And this points to another significant difference between Hitler and Trump, viz., that almost no one would have taken notice of Trump if he didn’t possess the wealth needed to buy his way into our social and political arenas. Trump did not appear from obscurity by virtue of his capacity to foment and then organize, successfully, a political movement. And this is precisely what Hitler did. Hitler was a veritable nobody, hanging around Munich as it were, who managed to plant or recognize the seeds of a radical political movement, cultivate those seeds, and then harvest them as he achieved supreme power in Germany.  And he did this despite being imprisoned for six months and being forbidden from public speaking in several of the German states. Hitler, unlike Trump, did not garner his fame by hosting a “reality TV show” or by parading himself – thanks to his great wealth – publicly throughout society.

            What helps accounts for these differences? Well, as uncomfortable it might be to admit, I would suggest that Hitler had more “depth” than Trump. Without endorsing Hitler’s politics, his inhuman, barbaric, and racist politics, he was “deeper,” less superficial than Trump, who has recently been quoted as saying it was harder to be president than he thought it would be. It is hard for me to imagine a more inane statement, especially as it was made with the idea of disarming some of Trump’s critics. Call it the banality defense of one’s difficulties…..Is that all you’ve got, Donald? Really?

            Hitler successfully overthrew a representative democracy, rising from obscurity to do so. He epitomized great political evil. Trump, on the other hand, will be unable, I predict, to even significantly change our embedded establishment because he is so superficial. A person like Hitler would have great trouble overthrowing our constitutional order, in large part because the men who wrote the Constitution were fully aware of “Hitler types” – that is, despicable demagogues - and created a political system calculated to thwart them.

            So, a Trump: What of him? Fear not, people. He will be stymied, he will be played, and in the long run he will come to look a lot like other mediocrities who became president, like Polk, Buchanan, Cleveland, Taft, Harding, Hoover, and Carter, etc., etc., etc. A mediocrity like Trump need not worry us. Ah, but a Hitler? Well, that is another story.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Jane Austen and Eisenhower's Military-Industrial Complex

Jane Austen and Eisenhower’s Military-Industrial Complex
P. Schultz

            My thanks to Jane Austen and her novel Mansfield Park as it has helped me to see and understand our political, our human condition today.  

            In Mansfield Park, there are allusions to the British practicing slavery, not in Britain itself – where in “the Mansfield case” it was held illegal to hold slaves - but in what were then called “the West Indies,” and especially to that practice in Antigua. Sir Thomas Bertram leaves Britain and Mansfield Park, his estate, to tend to the “affairs” of his estate in Antigua and there are allusions to the practice of slavery and even to the existence of a slave revolt. This would not be odd because in 1736 there had been a slave revolt on that island, when 77 slave rebels were burned alive, while in Jamaica in 1760 approximately 400 slave were tortured and killed for rebelling. Slave revolts in the West Indies were far from unknown and so by placing Sir Bertram in Antiqua to deal with his estate there would have led readers then to wonder just what it was he was doing there and, especially, as it involved, as the narrator says, “great danger.”

            But what, pray tell, does this have to do with Eisenhower and our military-industrial complex? Well, by merely referring to the Brits practice of slavery, and of course hinting at the inhumanity required to maintain slavery, Austen causes readers to take note of the connection between Britain’s practice of slavery and its economy or society generally. That is, the British ability to live as they did, as Sir Bertram did, depended upon slavery. The two phenomena, in fact, are not “two phenomena” at all. They are one phenomenon, with the one aspect of it, the British, or some of them anyway, living lives of significant luxury, being connected to and dependent upon the other, the practice of slavery and, therewith, on the inhuman measures needed to maintain that slavery. Britain’s greatness, its wealth, rested on, was made possible by great inhumanity. [And not only inhumanity abroad as Fanny’s life and life generally in Portsmouth reveals.]

            The same can be said, I think, of what Eisenhower labeled in his Farewell Address “the military-industrial complex.” That is, Eisenhower, when he labeled this “complex” in this way, gave rise to the thought that that “complex” was just one aspect, one feature of our political system, one which, as Eisenhower warned, must be watched, tended to, and reined in as necessary. But, in fact, Ike’s “military-industrial complex” is no such thing. Rather, it is, as was the British practice of slavery, central to our economy, to our society, to our political order, to our “way of living.”

            Which is to say: Our rather significant luxury or wealth, as reflected by our numerous shopping malls, our wonderfully luxurious and even beautiful automobiles, our ability to travel the world via cruises and other kinds of exotic vacations, is in the final analysis dependent upon the existence and continued vigor of our “military-industrial complex.” And, of course, that existence and vigor is dependent upon making war or, at the very least, “projecting American power” throughout the world, ostensibly in response to particular dangers created by ISIS, Russia, Iran, or North Korea. We must keep “military-industrial complex” going if we wish to maintain the rather commodious life we have created for ourselves – or at least for some of us – in these United States, just as Sir Bertram had to put his “affairs” in the West Indies “in order” – an “order” of slavery - if he was going to be able to maintain Mansfield Park. And just like Sir Bertram, who had to engage in inhuman warfare to maintain his estates, both in Antiqua and at Mansfield Park, so too we have to engage in inhuman acts, such as killing civilians, including children and old people, in order to maintain our own “Mansfield Parks” here in the United States.

            What Eisenhower saw as a separate phenomenon, “the military-industrial complex,” is in fact not a separate phenomenon at all. It is central to how we have chosen to live. Or to put it differently, “going shopping” – as Bush Jr. told us to do after 9/11 – and going after terrorists are, in fact, just different aspects of the same kind of politics, a politics of “greatness,” a politics that secures wealth, even great wealth, at the expense of our humanity.  

Monday, April 10, 2017

Jane Austen: Did She Have a Politics?

Jane Austen: Did She Have a Politics?
P. Schultz

            Below you will find a link to a most interesting article on Jane Austen, entitled “How Jane Austen’s Emma Changed the Face of Fiction.” Although it is not primarily or even marginally about Austen’s politics, the author makes the claim that “It [Emma] was not revolutionary because of any intellectual or political content.” And this is a claim that needs, I think, to be disputed and for the following reasons.

            Jane Austen, in Emma and her other novels, wrote about British humans. And the question is: How could she do that without writing about politics? She could do that only if human beings are understood as being uninfluenced by politics – which is of course absurd if you think about it for a few minutes.

            Humans in Britain are, emphatically, British, as well as being, emphatically, human. And humans are, emphatically, passionate and those passions are “schooled,” “tamed,” “refined,” or “manipulated” by political or social arrangements, by the kinds of societies we humans inhabit. And these societies don’t just grow or haven’t just grown; they have been constructed. They are the products of human activity, are human artifacts; they are human projects, ongoing, for better or worse.

            Some societies seek to “tame” or “school” the human passions, to elevate or refine them. Others seek only to manipulate these passions, usually by relying on one passion primarily – e.g. fear, ala’ Hobbes et. al. – and/or by playing passions off against one another. For example, fear is used to control ambition or pride. Or as James Madison wrote in the Federalist: Ambition should be made to counteract ambition because, well, because genuine virtue is exceedingly rare and, hence, unreliable. [Federalist #51] Relying on genuine virtue is like relying on angels to govern men, or so Madison indicates in that essay.

            Jane Austen knew and illustrated a society, a regime, that sought to manipulate the passions, as is illustrated by Emma and her quest to arrange marriages by virtue of what she took to be subtle manipulations of the passions of certain individuals. Like Emma, these societies seek to manipulate the passions, to direct them in ways that would be “safe.” Austen also knew and illustrated the limitations of such a society, which is why her heroines are almost always less than satisfying, including Emma, and her men almost always lack generosity, i.e., capacious souls. That “romance” in Austen is, well, not so romantic is a reflection of the limitations of British society and, perhaps, of modern societies in the Western tradition, thereby illuminating Freud’s argument about Civilization and Its Discontents.  

            One cannot help thinking, when finishing one of Austen’s allegedly “romantic novels”: Is that all there is? Is that what romance comes down to, a marriage between Emma and Mr. Knightley, or between Mr. and Mrs. Elton, or between Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax? Ah, but that might be all there is to romance in the modern and post-modern ages. If it were so, it would be a situation worth thinking about. And at least, apparently, Jane Austen thought so.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

When "Failure" Isn't: America's Wars

When “Failure” Isn’t: America’s Wars
P. Schultz

            Below you will find a link to an article by Tom Engelhardt, “Demobilizing America,” about the current state of our war-making state and why, even in the face of the Trump presidency, there is so little anti-war protest going on in these United States.

Engelhardt is quite good and largely correct, first, about our continual war-making and, second, that “In our era, war, like the Pentagon budget and the growing powers of the national security state, has been inoculated against the virus of citizen involvement, and so against any significant form of criticism or resistance.”

But what he doesn't get is that what he labels "failed wars" are not failures at all from the viewpoint of our establishment, that is, both mainstream Republicans and Democrats, because the goals are destruction, death, and instability among several nations including Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and probably, covertly, Iran. This is why these wars continue, why trillions of dollars have been and continue to be spent on them, and why it is compulsory when in public "to eternally thank and praise America’s “warriors” for their deeds and efforts."

Ala' Bob Dylan: "There ain't no success like failure and failure ain't no success at all."