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.