Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Founders and Republican Government


The Founders and Republican Government
Peter Schultz

            The questions are straightforward: Did the founders – the Federalists – intend to create a “government”or a “republic?” And what is the difference?

            The Federalists wanted to establish “a government” rather than “a republic.” How do I know? Because among other items, their new arrangement of power was without term limits. Absent such limits, it was almost guaranteed that a permanent governing class would arise. That is, politics would be “professionalized” as we might say today. A permanent, professional governing class would characterize the new order in the United States.

            A republic, on the other hand, does not, cannot have a permanent, professional governing class. In a republic, terms limits are absolutely essential in order to ensure that the government not displace or refine – as the Federalists put it – the popular will. For example, in a republic an institution like the Supreme Court, with its permanent and life-long justices wielding significant power would be impossible. The same might be said about a senate that was not apportioned according to population, and where senators had long terms and no term limits.

            The point is this: As the Anti-Federalists were wont to point out, human beings have a choice: They can create governments, that is, arrangements of power that essentially displace the popular will, or they can create republics where the popular will controls the government. Or, to use another distinction: Political arrangements can rest on FORCE or they can rest on CONSENT. Governments rest on the force of law, the force of bureaucracy, or of a military. Republics rest on consent, especially on the consent of the people, even or especially in the day-to-day affairs of the nation. “Popular government” is something of an oxymoron because all governments rest on force, not consent. It is safer, as Machiavelli put it, to be feared than loved because fear is not based on consent.

             Hence, we need less government today, but not in the sense meant by our faux conservatives. They want smaller government but still want, even crave permanent government; that is, they want a small government that rests on force, not consent. They are not populists, not in the least. They are elitists who wish to embed, permanently, their idea of “the elite” in the government, thereby displacing the popular will. The real issue is not “more” or “less” government. The real issue is permanent government or a republic. A republic gets my vote.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Why I Now Say: "Fuck Patriotism!"


Why I Now Say “Fuck Patriotism!”
Peter Schultz

            The counterinsurgency paradigm has come home. Today, all three central strategies of counterinsurgency have been turned back on the American people. Americans are now caught in total information awareness. American Muslims and other minorities have become the active minority that is targeted for elimination. And it is, more broadly, the American people whose hearts and minds are being sought.” [The Counterrevolution by Bernard E. Harcourt, p. 143]

            Without a revolution to oppose, our political establishment is pursuing a counterrevolution encapsulated in “the counterinsurgency paradigm” that is being used abroad to fight the war on terror. And patriotism underlies each of the three central strategies of this paradigm.

            First, patriotism requires that “if you see something, say something!” That is, patriotism requires us, each of us, to be vigilant; but not toward the government and the powerful as in classic republican politics, but toward others and “the other.” Hence, and this is second, this means patriotism requires us, each of us, to be especially vigilant toward those minorities – blacks, Muslims, Hispanics, protestors  – who are deemed to be dangerous, even revolutionary. Such vigilance requires “a heightened sense” of how these minorities are different from “mainstream” Americans. Hence, at least a little racism is useful in the service of vigilance. “If you see something, say something, especially if what you see involves these dangerous minorities.”

            Third, patriotism requires that our “hearts and minds” be devoted to the “homeland,” that we revere its symbols. No longer is our allegiance to the republic for which the flag stands, but rather to the homeland whether it be republican nor not. Thus, patriotism has replaced citizenship, which was a main part of the script of republicanism. Citizens, unlike patriots, are expected to challenge, to be vigilant toward the government, toward the powerful, and not to others or “the other.” Moreover, citizens were not expected to genuflect before government or its officials. Whenever the government runs up the flag, a patriot salutes, whereas a citizen first asks “Why?” Then, maybe, a citizen salutes. Maybe not. A citizen’s heart and mind is her own, whereas a patriot’s heart and mind belong to the homeland: “America: Love it or leave it.” Something no citizen would ever say!  

            And that is why I now say: “Fuck patriotism!”

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Why Kavanaugh Was Sure to Win


Why Kavanaugh Was Sure To Win
Peter Schultz

            Victims or victimizers? That is the question. Who are the victims and who are the victimizers? Answers to these questions resonate throughout our political and social orders.

            According to Dr. Ford and other “survivors” of sexual crimes, they are the victims. They have been sexually assaulted and have suffered and suffer as a result. They want, they demand recognition and at least some justice.

            On the other hand, Kavanaugh, et. al., claim to be the victims. Kavanaugh claimed he was being victimized by the Clintons and by a vast and pervasive “left-wing conspiracy composed of, as Trump put it, “evil Democrats.”

            Now, given that Kavanaugh et. al. represent at least one part of the ruling class, it became incumbent that he and they should win. Otherwise, it would be all too easy and likely that our ruling class would be deemed the victimizers and not the victims. The curtain would be lifted, ala’ the Wizard of Oz, revealing the predatory character of the establishment. This is a revelation that no political and social order can tolerate, especially in a place where “the republic” survives, at least as an aspiration. The predatory character of the ruling class must be disguised, must be hidden behind such myths, as that successful, ambitious, and politically involved men cannot be sexual predators. That would be outrageous and so Kavanaugh played at being outraged. It was quite a performance and is now being credited with saving his nomination.

            Make no mistake: The charade just concluded served to fortify the ruling class, which of course includes Democrats as well as Republicans. Hence, the Democrats, while still protesting the process by which Kavanaugh was confirmed, will not protest his use of the Constitution to advance the Republican agenda. After all, it is what they want Supreme Court Justices to do with their agenda. And eventually, the Kavanaugh “fiasco” will be put to rest when the Democrats announce, “it is time to move on.” This “battle” will be viewed as an aberration, just another moment when our political order went haywire. And, of course, we should regret that now. As George Bush might say: “Mission Accomplished!”

Saturday, October 6, 2018

The "Wonderfulness" of Susan Collins


The “Wonderfulness” of Susan Collins
Peter Schultz

            All of a sudden the role Susan Collins played in the Kavanaugh nomination hearings came into view. Note first the result of her role. She has replaced, by and large, Christine Ford as the woman at the center of this “drama.” What a neat trick, no? To replace a survivor, a woman who was traumatized by a sexual assault with a woman who played the role of a civics teacher for the nation. No wonder conservatives and even some moderates rallied round Collins. It was a drama worthy of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

            So what was required of Collins to make the star of this drama? Well, first, she had pretend that her mind was not made up, that she had not, until a very late hour, decided to support Kavanaugh. Very un-Trump like. By doing so, Collins underwrote both her alleged “moderation” and her alleged “thoughtfulness.” And, of course, she could also seem to play the role of a lone woman, a brave woman confronting the patriarchy that is the Republican Party.

            Then, when she had allegedly “made up her mind,” based of course on a close inspection of the evidence, Collins had to wrap her decision in the guise of a civics lesson. She was doing what any “civic minded” person would do, even though she might have to pay the ultimate price – losing her Senate seat. As a result, Collins appeared as the woman confronting danger, not Dr. Ford or, by the way, other survivors, and doing so because it was her “civic duty.” So, Dr. Ford’s claim to be doing her civic duty was pushed off stage and, viola, “a star is born,” ala’ that Mr. Smith who went to Washington!

            How wonderful! It is a wonderful life Susan Collins is living – and the rest of us should join in. After all, apparently we only needed civics lessons and we don’t need to worry about sex crimes after all. And isn’t that nice? It isn’t only Catholic priests who turn away from, ignore sex crimes and their perpetrators.

            Of course, quite a few saw through this charade as it unfolded, e.g., John Oliver. I did not although I did see that this whole “drama” was no more real than the alleged attempt by Republicans to impeach and remove Bill Clinton from office. [They had no intention to make Al Gore president. DUH.] But then most of our politics involves smoke and mirrors and the creation of Frank Capra like heroes and heroines. Isn’t it a wonderful life?

Friday, October 5, 2018

American Politics: Fiascos Galore


American Politics: Fiascos Galore
Peter Schultz

            So many people seemed to have been genuinely shocked about “the fiasco,” as some of them called it, revolving around Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. It was as if these people were shocked that there could be a political fiasco within the American political order. And this, to me, is really quite interesting as our politics is and has been characterized by one fiasco after another.

            This isn’t even the first fiasco revolving around a Supreme Court nomination, as the same controversy arose over Robert Bork’s nomination and, of course, over Clarence Thomas’ nomination. So what’s new here? Not much. Just more of the same old same old. Same shit, different day.

            Moreover, there have been numerous other fiascos as well. I guess these shocked people have forgotten about Bill Clinton and Jenifer Flowers and Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky or about Clinton’s impeachment. Apparently they have also forgotten about the recession of 2008, Bush’s invasion of Iraq looking for weapons of mass destruction that did not exist, not to mention 9/11 itself, which seems to me ought to top the list of any American fiascos, right up there with Pearl Harbor. And why isn’t 9/11 seen as a governmental fiasco? The government and more particularly the administration of George W. Bush failed to protect the nation. Seems like a fiasco to me.

There was also the fiasco of the Vietnam War and of the current 17 year long war in Afghanistan. There was also Carter’s fiasco in the desert as he tried to rescue Americans held hostage in Iran, whose taking was yet another fiasco. There was the fiasco of not being able to protect a president when JFK was killed and another one when Reagan was almost taken out by a gunman. I could go on but what’s the point of that? If it isn’t clear that our political order has produced a series of fiascos to you by now, more examples will not persuade you

            The truth is we or at least some of us like to think that each new fiasco represents aberrant political behavior because such fiascos almost never occur in the good old US of A. In fact, just the reverse is the case, even to the point that one must begin to wonder whether our politicians are adverse to fiascos. After all, after 9/11 as after JFK’s failure at the Bay of Pigs, Bush’s popularity ratings went through the roof! As JFK said after the Bay of Pigs, “The more you screw up the more the people like you.” Yes, indeed they do as confirmed by the response to the attacks on 9/11. Interesting, isn’t it? It might be worth pondering instead of beating our chests and wailing about how horrible the Kavanaugh nomination scene was.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Losing: Not Always Bad Politically


Losing: Not Always Bad Politically
Peter Schultz

            Most commentary on the current “crisis” regarding Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court takes it for granted that the Democrats really want to “win” this battle and deny Kavanaugh a seat on the court. I think, however, that that could be an assumption that is not warranted, just as it is unwarranted to think that our two political parties want to win each and every election.

            There have been numerous elections where a political party does want to win an election or is content to lose. In 1912, William Howard Taft and the mainstream Republicans preferred to lose that presidential election to the Democrats and Woodrow Wilson rather than win it with Teddy Roosevelt as their candidate. In a more contemporary vein, I was interested to see that while Republicans in Massachusetts could not elect one Republican to the House of Representatives they could elect governors, e.g., Bill Weld. Maybe that is because to elect members to the House of Representatives, the mainstream Republicans would have to nominate Republicans who would undermine their power, whereas electing a governor does not constitute that kind of threat.

            Moreover, other losses, e.g., the Vietnam War, have not harmed those who wanted to wage and win that war. In fact, since that defeat those who are in favor of militarizing our foreign policy are more popular than ever. And there is some evidence that those who waged that war suspected that this would be the result especially insofar as the US went “all in” in waging that war. Furthermore, we have been waging war in Afghanistan for at least 17 years – and so it cannot be said that we are “winning” that war – and yet the fact that we haven’t been able to win that war has done nothing to weaken those in favor of a militaristic foreign policy. If anything, those favoring such a foreign policy have been strengthened. And, of course, I need not point out that the “failure” on 9/11 has done nothing but strengthen the hands of those who advocate a full bodied militaristic foreign policy.

            Why point out this phenomenon now? Well, because it is a bit naïve to assume that the Democrats would be unhappy with Kavanaugh being successful in his bid to become a Supreme Court Justice. The Democrats, having “fought the good fight,” as it were, can try to turn this “defeat” into a “victory” in the upcoming midterm elections and the 2020 presidential election. Moreover, they can do this without having to change any of their agenda or support people who would challenge the status quo, viz., the insurgents in the party.

            So there are benefits that will accrue to the Democrats even if Kavanaugh is confirmed, most generally a strengthening of that party without requiring it to “change its stripes.” Hence, my prediction that Kavanaugh will be confirmed, and the Democrats will raise “holy hell,” even while grinning all “the way to the bank.”

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Trump's Shooting Gallery Politics

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Trump’s Shooting Gallery Politics
Peter Schultz

            At every carnival I ever attended, there has always been a shooting gallery where for a few bucks you can try to knock over enough targets to win a prize of some kind, a teddy bear or a doll. And this seems to me a pretty good description of
Trump’s politics, shooting gallery politics.

            Trump has targets that he aims at, some more often than others. Some of Trump’s targets are immigrants, Muslims, Mexicans, Europeans, North Korea, China, proponents of global warming, teachers and other public employees, John McCain, Jeff Sessions, Robert Mueller, all Democrats and some Republicans. And Trump’s ammunition is his tweets, which he fires off at his convenience. Trump practices shooting gallery politics and as might be expected given how often he shoots, he is pretty good at it.

            But there are limitations, defects in shooting gallery politics. One defect is that it is impossible to “kill” enough targets to “win,” as is obvious from the global war on terror and its “targeted killings.” No matter how many targets one kills, more targets always appear and the killing must go on. As shooting gallery proprietors know, “the game” is endless. At best, one wins some relatively worthless prize, like a teddy bear or another “tweet battle.”

            Another defect in shooting gallery politics is that there is no overarching goal. FDR promised the American people a “New Deal” while LBJ promised them a “Great Society.” As a result of these overarching projects. FDR’s and LBJs actions did not seem random. They were not taking “pot shots” at different and apparently random appearing targets. FDR and LBJ had “enemies,” of course, but it was relatively clear who the enemies were and why they were enemies.

            As a result, FDR and LBJ would make speeches about their political projects, speaking in paragraphs in order to persuade, whereas Trump sends out tweets that often take on the characteristics of what are called “tweet storms.” These tweet storms are not intended to persuade but to overwhelm. Trump’s tweets are used as ammunition, much like how many right-wingers use information. There is no attempt to engage, to create the conditions for discourse, but merely to overwhelm with “facts.”

            Shooting gallery politics is incompatible with republican or popular politics insofar as republican or popular politics requires public discourse, public debate, and public engagement. By embracing shooting gallery politics, Trump shows he has no interest in public discourse, public debate, or public engagement. He aspires to despotism as he is anything but a republican.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

American Politics: Don't Mean Nothin'

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American Politics: Don’t Mean Nothin’
Peter Schultz

            It all dawned on me as I responded to a friend’s post on Facebook that the charges against Kavanaugh were “a set up.” I responded that, of course, it was a set up and then it became clear to me what I meant. It was a set up but the people being set up were the American people; they were being played by both parties in a little drama that reveals how meaningless most of the American political drama is.

            Here’s the jest of the story. Senator Feinstein reveals that she has a letter, which of course she turned over to the FBI, in which the nominee Kavanaugh is accused of sexually attacking a young woman some 30 years ago when he was in high school. Of course, with the help of an all too willing media, the story blows up and becomes a major story.

            But think about it: Which party loses? The answer: Neither one loses. The Democrats get to trot out another sexually abused victim, and appear to be fighting Kavanaugh’s appointment “to the bitter end.” And, of course, with the mid-terms only a few weeks away, they win because they can appeal to their base and charge the Republicans with trying to ram through the appointment of someone who might be guilty of sexual abuse. So the Democrats win.

            And the Republicans? Well, they win too because they can protest that this whole event is a charade, a bogus charge with little to back it up of something that may or may not have happened decades ago. Think of how the Trumpsters, et. al., can pound this rather lame charge into the ground, which of course makes the charges leveled against the president himself look just as weak. Our patriarchy will be fortified. And then, of course, the Republicans will still get Kavanaugh on the court because it will be so easy for the Senate to shoot down these charges. So the Republicans win as well.

            This encapsulates the character of American politics. The two parties collude in ways that benefit both parties and to do so takes no great effort at all. No “smoke filled rooms” are needed. All that is needed is that the two parties act as people expect them to act, as they pretend to be “enemies.” They are in fact “indispensable enemies,” insofar as the games they play fortify their power, fortify their authority, while convincing the American people they are “enemies.”

            Does anyone lose? Well, I am guessing that Christine Ford will lose. Her life as she knew it is over and I wouldn’t be surprised if in the not too distant future her career will take a dive. And, of course, I also suspect that we, the American people, will lose also as another hypocrite takes a seat on the Supreme Court which he will hold at his own pleasure, pretending that he actually cares about the Constitution and what it means. “So it goes.” American politics: Almost all smoke and mirrors.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Presidency as Fairy Tale


The Presidency as Fairy Tale
Peter Schultz

            Below is a link to a book review of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s latest offering Leadership: In Turbulent Times. While I wonder whether or how much of this book has been plagiarized, as has happened in other instances of Goodwin’s work, I am more concerned with yet another hagiography on some of our presidents. This is problematic because, as near as I can reckon, we have not had a decent president since at least the 1950s. More importantly, I believe this phenomenon may be traced to the office itself, which was flawed in its conception and has grown more flawed over the course of American political history.

            The fly in the ointment, as it were, was noticed by Benjamin Franklin at the constitutional convention in 1787 when he argued that it would be unwise to create an office that appealed to avarice and the love of honor:

“there are two passions which have a powerful influence on the affairs of men. Separately each of these has great force in prompting men to action; but when created in view of the same object, they have in many minds the most violent effects. Place before the eyes of such men a post of honour that shall at the same time be a place of profit, and they will move heaven and earth to obtain it.”

Franklin argued that given such an office ‘It will not be the wise and moderate, the lovers of peace and good order, the men fittest for the trust [who seek such an office]. It will be the bold and violent, the men of strong passions and indefatigable activity in their selfish pursuits. These will thrust themselves into your Government and be your rulers. And these too will be mistaken in the expected happiness of their situation: For their vanquished competitors of the same spirit, and from the same motives will perpetually be endeavoring to distress their administration, thwart their measures, and render them odious to the people.”

So, according to Franklin, the presidency would not only encourage “the bold and violent, the men of strong passions and indefatigable activity in their selfish pursuits” to seek that office, but this office would lead to a political system that would be constantly characterized by partisan warfare as others, also bold and violent, sought to undermine a sitting president and his administration. And it would seem, given our situation today, Franklin was quite prescient in his speculations.

Hence, while Goodwin wants us to look to the presidency for our political salvation, insofar as Franklin was and is correct, we should rather be looking for ways to reform the presidency, to make it less attractive to those human beings who crave both profit and honor. Several possibilities come to mind, of course. But perhaps the most obvious one would also be the best one: Limit presidents to one term of six years, after which such officials would be banned from serving in any federal office. This would lessen the appeal of that office to those who wish to acquire a reputation for “greatness,” thereby encouraging others, less enamored of such honors and their accompanying “profits,” to seek the office. Could or would we be any worse off than we are today?



Monday, September 10, 2018

The "Integrity of America's Democratic System." What?


The “Integrity of America’s Democratic System.” What?
Peter Schultz

            The fear is rising that the current state of affairs is threatening “the integrity of America’s democratic system,” to quote an article on the CNN website, linked below.

But the idea that there is a core of "adults in the room," as described by the op-ed writer, subverting the President's authority and wielding for themselves the power granted to the commander-in-chief during an election season should also be a troubling one, since it raises questions about the integrity of America's democratic system itself.”

            Two responses. First, what is happening to Trump is nothing new, nor is it especially egregious when it comes to attempts to subvert a president’s agenda. Just one example should suffice here, viz., the presidency of JFK, where some members of the CIA and the military wanted to invade Cuba and overthrow the Cuban regime even though JFK had expressed no desire to do so. Hence, the Bay of Pigs invasion, which was meant to force Kennedy to send US forces into Cuba to support what both the CIA and the military knew was an invasion that could not succeed without such action. But Kennedy did not send US troops to help the invasion succeed and said afterwards that he would like to “break the CIA into a thousand pieces.” And if you want to talk about “a coup,” as Steve Bannon did recently, then just let your mind consider the Kennedy assassination which even the Congress concluded – in the 1970s – was a conspiracy. Now that could have been a coup.

            Second: “America’s democratic system” is an illusion. What makes our political system democratic? The fact that we have a president who received more than 3 million less votes than the person he allegedly “defeated?” Or the fact that we have a Senate where states like Rhode Island, North and South Dakota have the same number of senators as states like California and Texas? Or the fact that we have a Supreme Court whose justices serve at their own pleasure, often for decades, and are not accountable for their decisions in any way?

            If this is a democracy, it is a democracy of a very weird kind because the will of the many is more often thwarted than respected and our governmental institutions were constructed and are functioning to do just that, thwart the popular will. Our governmental institutions invite officials to oppose the president, both overtly and covertly because this is another way to ensure that the popular will does not predominate. 

 https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/trumps-authority-crisis-deepens/ar-BBN6Sct

Saturday, September 8, 2018

No, Nikki, Resistance to Presidents Is Not "Fundamentally Wrong"

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No, Nikki, Resistance to Presidents Is Not “Fundamentally Wrong”
Peter Schultz

Here is a passage from a column written by Nikki Haley, Trump’s UN ambassador, a link to which can be found below.

What this anonymous author is doing is very dangerous. He or she claims to be putting the country first, and that is the right goal. Everyone in government owes a greater loyalty to our country and our Constitution than to any individual officeholder. But a central part of our democracy requires that those who work directly for the president not secretly try to undermine him or his policies. What the author is describing is an extra-constitutional method of addressing policy disputes within the administration. That’s wrong on a fundamental level.”

            To cut to the chase, it is not “a central part of our democracy . . . that those who work directly for the president not secretly try to undermine him or his policies.” Our Constitution makes the president the “chief executive,” not the only executive. There are other executives, cabinet secretaries for example, who also possess executive powers and responsibilities that in many instances cannot legally be controlled by the president. For example, during the Watergate affair, Nixon could not fire the special prosecutor so he had to get another executive to do that after two executives, including the attorney general, refused to obey Nixon’s order. Talk about undermining the president and his policies. This act of disobedience led to Nixon’s resignation.

            Even officials who serve at the pleasure of the president possess powers that the president cannot legitimately control. He can fire a disobedient executive but he cannot assume the powers of even the newly appointed official. And because the president can fire some officials, acting covertly against the president when an executive thinks that is in the national interest makes sense. And, of course, this scene has been played out again and again and again in our political drama, with officials seeking to undermine the president and his policies. It is just part of a drama framed by the separation of powers in the service of limited government.

            Patrick Henry criticized the Constitution for “squinting in the direction of monarchy” and he was correct. But it only squints in that direction; it does not embrace monarchy and the presidency is, at most, a disguised monarch. But the disguise is important in helping to preserve constitutional or limited government. And in a limited government, the powers of all officials, and especially of the chief executive, are limited. How these limits are enforced, made real, is left up to the discretion of those whose duty it is to impose them.


Thursday, September 6, 2018

Is This A "Constitutional Crisis?"


Is This a “Constitutional Crisis?”
Peter Schultz

In the link provided below, David Frum wants us to believe that we are facing a “constitutional crisis” because of “Overt defiance of presidential authority by the president’s own appointees….” According to Frum, such defiance is not “a constitutional mechanism” and, hence, its use creates a constitutional crisis.

Well, while I am with Frum in thinking that such defiance is troubling, to call it a constitutional crisis is a bit much. After all, this is hardly the first time that a president has been defied by others in his administration, whether appointed by him or not. For example, it seems pretty clear that the CIA was actively involved in undermining the presidency of Jimmy Carter and several parts of the bureaucracy were actively seeking to undermine Nixon’s presidency, as he, Nixon, claimed. Defiance of presidents, both overt and covert, is a common practice, one that has bedeviled presidents for a very long time. And in fact such defiance is built into our constitutional order via the separation of powers and the bill of rights, the latter of which protects the freedom of the press as well as the freedom of speech or expression.

In sum, there is no constitutional requirement that other officials, either elected or unelected, support or not defy a president. Of course, the Supreme Court is composed of unelected officials serving at their own pleasure and, while appointed by the president, they are not expected to support his policies. The Court may be, as Hamilton argued, “the least dangerous branch,” but that does not mean it isn’t dangerous at all or that it shouldn’t wield its power even in defiance of the president. It is, in fact, it’s constitutional duty to do so.

So, no, this isn’t a “constitutional crisis.” In fact, it is just normal politics in what claims to be a constitutional order that creates a government of equal and coordinate departments. And as Harry Truman is rumored to have said: “If you can’t stand the heat, you should get out of the kitchen.”



Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Term Limits: What It Might Be Like


Term Limits: What It Might Be Like
P. Schultz

            Below is a link to an article that helps to illustrate what our politics might be like if we had term limits. Briefly, term limits would open up our political order to change in a way that having a permanent political class does not.

            In an aside, the article which is about the primaries in Massachusetts makes me a bit sorry that I now live in North Carolina and not Mass. But then, only a bit and in Massachusetts I cannot play golf year round or watch, live and in person, Wake Forest soccer [ranked #1 in the nation again] or Wake Forest football. You gotta take the bad with the good.



Sunday, July 29, 2018

Trump Hysteria and the Good Old Days


Trump Hysteria and the Good Old Days
Peter Schultz

            Recently, I have heard people lamenting the fact that, especially in the age of Trump, that the United States has become a divided nation like never before. In the “good old days” it is said that the American people were moderates politically and now they are “forced” to take sides and are not willing as a result to compromise, as they did in “the good old days.”

            Some things about this argument bothered me and it took a little while to figure out what these things were. First, the very idea of “the good old days” bothered me as I think Billy Joel was right to sing, “The good old days weren’t always so good and today isn’t as bad as it seems.” I especially like the first part of this refrain because today is, often, as bad as it seems.

            Second, “the good old days” is a  myth, a comforting myth according to which that in the good old days people were moderate, willing to listen to opposing viewpoints and to compromise. I wonder: When was this “golden age” of moderation and compromise? Was it the 50s and 60s when blacks could not legally sit at lunch counter and order food in Greensboro, N.C.? Was it when there were no blacks at southern colleges and universities like UNC, N.C. State, or Wake Forest College? There was a time, in the good old days, when there were no black athletes playing any sports in the ACC or the SEC and a basketball player like Oscar Robertson, a resident of Winston Salem, N.C. had to go north to play division 1 college basketball.

            Were people moderate and willing to compromise when very few gays or lesbians would “come out” for fear for their bodies and lives and for being arrested and charged criminally?  Was our politics moderate when JFK, because he was a Catholic, was not on the presidential ballot in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia? Was our politics moderate when JFK was gunned down in Dallas in 1963? Or when MLK was gunned down in Memphis in 1968? Or when Bobby Kennedy was gunned down in Los Angeles also in 1968? Or when Malcolm X was gunned down in the 60s as well? Or when Ronald Reagan, as governor of California spoke of shooting student protesters? Or when no one was charged with any crime after the killings of unarmed students at Kent State and Jackson State? If this is moderation, it is certainly a strange kind of moderation.

            Thirdly, such arguments about “the good old days” imply that moderation and a willingness to compromise are the “default political position.” That is, moderation and a willingness to compromise are thought to characterize politics in its “natural state,” and this state is only upset by the efforts of people and politicians committed to disruption and chaos. And this is just another myth and one that is dangerously geared to political passivity. By this view, people shouldn’t have fight to be heard, to advance their agendas in the political arena. All people have to do is “start a discussion,” say, about race and, in the end, people will “see the light,” act moderately and compromise to advance justice.

            Well, as near as I can tell, this is just poppy cock. It wasn’t a “discussion” that ended, for a while anyway, the racist apartheid regime that existed in the U.S. since the end of the Civil War. It wasn’t a “discussion” that led the government, eventually, to change its policies in Vietnam, to seek “peace with honor” rather that “victory” over those evil Communists. It wasn’t a “discussion” that won workers the right to unionize and that led to legislation meant to make work places safer. It wasn’t a discussion that won women the right to vote in national elections. None of these phenomena occurred because the nation had “a discussion.” They occurred as the result of battles, real, bloody battles. As Plato makes evident in his Republic, justice does not just appear, is not “self-evident.” Knowing what justice is requires a struggle, which is what Plato understood to be philosophy.  And of course this means that a politics of justice necessarily involves struggles, even battles as contestants seek to advance, one way or another, their different versions of justice.

            The argument condemning Trump – and he deserves condemnation as do others as well – for dividing America based on the idea that in the past, in “the good old days,” moderation and compromise characterized our political order and society is an argument that leads to political passivity. As a result, eventually people will just throw up their hands, giving up when their wishes for a “discussion” about this or that are thwarted, thinking “what’s the use? Our political activity doesn’t get us anywhere.”

            But as my mother use to say, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”
Calling for “discussions” of race, of gender, of imperialism are powerless against the likes of Trump. It was Malcolm X who said a relatively long time ago, “The ballot or the bullet.” And, indeed, that is still the choice. It was Malcolm X who also said, “By any means necessary.” Without intending it, Trump has helped to create a situation where even people who claim to be “white” can understand, can feel what Malcolm meant.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Justice Kennedy Was No Moderate


Justice Kennedy Was No Moderate
P. Schultz


            This is a good article on Justice Kennedy and his brand of politics. And the analysis hits the nail on the head, although more should be said.

            Kennedy, like some others, operated to maintain the gross inequalities that exist in US society, which of course are not affected by decisions allowing gays and lesbians to marry or, within a wide range of restrictions, allow women to terminate their pregnancies or, as I like to say, to exercise their right to privacy. In fact, it can be argued that Kennedy’s MO is pretty much the MO of our political establishment, both those on “the right” and those on “the left.” Preserve the gross inequalities that characterize US society and the US political order, even if that means allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military [wow! what a boon!] or to get married or to be engaged in "civil unions.”

As if getting married were such a boon to human beings! Lots and lots of people don’t get married, deliberately. It isn’t the getting married that matters, it’s choice that matters. But choices are limited, severely limited in a society that is characterized by gross inequalities, even if some choices are open to all. This is a pretty simple thought that seems to have escaped notice in our allegedly “divisively divided democracy.” As the opinion that Kennedy was a “moderate” illustrates, our society is not “divisively divided” and it is not “democratic,” as no genuinely democratic people would tolerate the gross inequalities that characterize the U.S.


Monday, July 2, 2018

A Really Simple Proposition: "No Victorious Wars"


A Really Simple Proposition: “No Victorious Wars”
P. Schultz

            Having stumbled on a book entitled JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy, by L. Fletcher Prouty, I began reading it and was struck by his rather simple or strait forward argument about the history of the Cold War from 1945 up onto the end of the Cold War with the demise of the Soviet Union. Here is that argument.

            Because of the advent of nuclear weapons and the possibility of eradicating life on the planet should these weapons be used in a general war, the Cold War was a “legislative creation of the CIA,” and included “the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis” which “were craftily orchestrated events designed to fill the gap between what mankind had known as conventional warfare and the incalculable impact of all-out nuclear war.” [xxii]

            Or again: “World War II was over and conventional warfare died with it.” And at greater length: “This type of limited warfare was not designed solely for the purpose of making war to make money, as has been the case throughout history for most countries; but it was necessitated by the knowledge as early as 1943, that the atom bomb would be ready before the end of World War II. As many have recognized, the war did not end until the first of each of the original types of atomic bomb, Implosion and Gun-type, had been given its initial bloodbath public demonstration over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Then, and only then, did these world-class planners realize that they had made a terrible mistake in funding those nuclear physicists and their industrial backers to produce the atom bomb. From the time of the first use of nuclear weapons until the present, and even more certainly for the future, the atomic bomb demonstrated that effective warfare, as it was known since the dawn of mankind, has ended. The almost timeless era of conventional warfare is over. There will be no more victorious wars. There will be moneymaking, meaningless wars. The next real, all-out, and unlimited war will lead to Armageddon on Earth. It will be the last.” [Xxiv]

            This was like a light bulb experience for me: “no more victorious wars….[but] moneymaking, meaningless wars.” This seems to describe precisely America’s wars during the Cold War and in its aftermath as well.  I have often wondered why America’s establishment was willing to invest so heavily in the Vietnam War even though they knew it could not be won or why that establishment has been satisfied to be tied down in a war in Afghanistan for 18 years. Now I think I have an answer: Wars don’t have to be won to serve the establishment. As Tocqueville noticed in his Democracy in America, “The secret connection between the military character and that of democracies was the profit motive.” As Prouty says: The modernized concept of warfare “is driven by the profit motive; it must be profitable. Another way to put it is that the profiteers make war a necessity.” [Xxviii]

            Seems to me that this is a proposition worth thinking about.

           

           

Sunday, July 1, 2018

It's Not About Abortion. It's About Privacy.


It’s Not About Abortion. It’s About Privacy
P. Schultz

            When Bill Clinton was seeking the presidency in 1992 as a “New Democrat,” the manta of his campaign was “It’s the economy, stupid.” And I wanted to holler, “No, it isn’t, Bill. It’s about justice, it’s about equality, it’s about peace, stupid!”

            And today I find myself in a similar position, as the media focuses on the implications of the retirement of Justice Kennedy from the Supreme Court in a way that makes it seem that the most important issue is the status of Roe v. Wade. And I want to holler, “No, it isn’t about abortion. It’s about the right of privacy!”

            Of course, the abortion question – or the question of a woman’s rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, as I like to frame it – is implicated in the right of privacy, as the Supreme Court made clear in Griswold v. Connecticut where it decided that married couples – and only married couples in that case – could not be forbidden under penalty of law from procuring or using artificial means of contraception to prevent pregnancies. The law in question was a Connecticut law that made it a criminal offense to buy, procure, distribute, or use means of artificial contraception. Finding that the Constitution implicitly embraced a right of privacy, the Supreme Court held that such laws were unconstitutional invasions of marital privacy. Later in Eisenstadt v.Baird, the Court extended this right to adult individuals whether married or not.

            Why is the right of privacy the most important issue here? Precisely because if there is no right of privacy protected by the Constitution then the power of the national government to invade our lives is virtually limitless. Without a right of privacy, the Supreme Court was correct when it decided in Buck v. Bell that the commonwealth of Virginia could, constitutionally, forcibly sterilize those who are deemed by the state to be “socially incompetent.” Without a right of privacy, states would be free to also sterilize, by means of chemical or physical castration,  those who are deemed by the state to be “habitual offenders.” Without a right of privacy, a state could, obviously, force a woman to undergo an abortion if the state deemed that the life she was carrying would be “an undue burden” on the state, say, as determined by insurance companies.  And of course, without a right of privacy, a state or the national government could, constitutionally, force gays and lesbians to undergo counseling and even more to “reverse” their “condition” if the government deemed that “condition” to be “an undue burden” on society. A Clockwork Orange here we come!

 In other words, without a right of privacy, there are virtually no limits to what the government could do in invading our bodies and how we enjoy them. And if a government can invade your body in these ways, then limited government is a chimera. For government to be limited, there must be some things that government cannot legitimately do, no matter how worthwhile or socially beneficial those things might appear to be.

            So when Trump and the Republicans – and others – argue that Roe v. Wade should overturned, don’t be fooled by their rhetoric. They are not only after abortion rights. They are also after the right of privacy, which means that they are after almost all of our rights. They are seeking to create a government that has unlimited power to invade our lives, even or especially in our most private, our most intimate endeavors.  And a society in which intimacy only exists with the permission of the government is indistinguishable from a brave new world.