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.

"Blood in the Water:" Attica and American Racism

Blood in the Water: Attica and American Racism
P. Schultz

            I am currently reading an excellent book by Heather Ann Thompson entitled Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy. Dr. Thompson teaches history at the University of Michigan and fought to obtain documents relating to the Attica uprising for some time in order to write a complete history. She was unsuccessful in obtaining all the documents that exist but, still, her history is quite impressive.

            I am not going to attempt an overall review of Dr. Thompson’s work but will produce some passages and arguments that reveal just how deeply racist the U.S. was then and is now. This seems relevant given the presence in the White House of a president who makes no bones about his racism, as Trump did once say “I am the least racist person you know.” So, by his own admission he is a racist and, of course, he is not least racist person I know, hands down. But Trump’s statement, so blithely made, illustrates just how deeply embedded racism is the consciousness of Americans who like to think of themselves as “white.”

            After five days of negotiations, such as they were, the authorities, including Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York, where the prison is located, decided it was time to “retake” the prison and to do so, they sent in several New York State Police companies along with, strangely enough, some Park Police who had shown up at the prison armed and ready for action. The prisoners had no firearms so any deaths that were attributable to gunfire had to be the result of the State Police and other police actions. This is important, especially as several of the hostages held by the prisoners were shot to death as the state police “retook” the prison. These hostages were, by the way, protected throughout the five days of the standoff by the prisoners and one or two had their lives saved by prisoners who pointed out to attacking state policemen that they were guards or civilian staff at the prison.

            The massacre was gruesome, to say the least and, as Thompson argues, it was fueled by racial hatred.

            “Twenty-one year old Chris Reed was gunned down with four bullets, including one that ‘exploded and took out a big chunk’ of his left thigh. He listened in terror as troopers debated in front of him whether to kill him or let him bleed to death. As they discussed this the troopers had fun jamming their rifle butts into his injuries and dumping lime onto his face and injured legs, until he fell unconscious. When he awoke, he found himself ‘stacked up with the dead bodies.’ ‘I never saw human beings treated like this,’ another prisoner later recalled. He couldn’t understand: ‘Why all the hatred?’ But it wasn’t just any hatred – it was racial hatred. As one prisoner was told by a trooper who had a gun trained on him: he would soon be dead because ‘we haven’t killed enough niggers.’ Everywhere there were cries of ‘Keep your nigger nose down!’ ‘Don’t you know state troopers don’t like niggers?’ ‘Don’t move nigger! You’re dead!’”

            In the aftermath of the attack, those who authorized it spun things to make it seem that however many deaths of the prisoners occurred, especially black prisoners, it was justified. Department of Corrections Spokesperson Gerald Houlihan announced that several of the hostages had their throats cut by the prisoners, which simply turned out to be untrue. And Walter Dunbar, on the staff at Attica, “provided his bloodcurdling twist to the rumors of atrocities committed by prisoners” by claiming, falsely, that one prisoner “took a knife and grabbed young officer [Mike] Smith and castrated him….and took this man’s organs and stuck them in his mouth in clear view of us all….” Dunbar claimed to have film of this barbaric act and repeated his story to several newspapers that obligingly printed “the story,” newspapers including the New York Daily News, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times. Newspapers quoted Governor Rockefeller’s assertion that “these ‘were cold-blooded killings’ by revolutionary militants,” who wanted to overthrow the United States government! As Thompson put it: “Indeed, it was Rockefeller’s deeply held belief that he had thwarted a revolutionary plot to destabilize the nation that allowed him to take such undiluted pride in how things had transpired on the morning of September 13.”

 Nixon, who was then president, thought Rockefeller had done a bang up job because, after all, as Nixon said: “you see it’s the black business….” And for Nixon this was part of revolutionary plots that recently became “obvious” in California, with Nixon adding that “I think this is going to have a hell of a salutary effect on future prison riots…Just like Kent State had a hell of a salutary effect….” But when told of the alleged castration of the guard, Nixon indicated that he was not quite ready to buy into that one and said to Rockefeller, “You can prove that can’tcha?”

Just an amazing illustration of just how our governors and presidents govern. And also an illustration of just how deep-seated racism is embedded in their psyches. So don’t be too surprised that it is now evident that Trump is a racist. It might be more surprising were he not one.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Americans at War

Americans At War
P. Schultz

            The following passages are from one of my favorite books, Fire in the Lake, by Francis Fitzgerald. Read them and weep for our nation.

            “In 1969 an incident came to the attention of the U.S. Congress that had occurred a year and a half before in the wake of the Tet offensive. On a routine search and destroy mission a company from the Americal division had walked into the village of My Lai and without provocation had gunned down 347 civilians, most of them women and children. A photographer had taken pictures of screaming women, dead babies, and a mass of bodies piled up in a ditch. Even once substantiated, the story seemed incredible to many people. How could American soldiers have committed such an atrocity? The congressional subcommittee investigating the incident wrote much later, ‘What obviously happened at My Lai was wrong. In fact, it was so wrong and so foreign to the normal character and actions of our military forces as to immediately raise the question as to the legal sanity at the time of those men involved.’ But as teams of psychiatrists were later to show, Lt. William Calley and the other men involved were at the time quite as ‘sane’ as the members of the congressional committee who investigated them. The incident was not exceptional to the American war.'

            “Young men from the small towns of America, the GIs who came to Vietnam found themselves in a place halfway round the earth among people with whom they could make no human contact. Like an Orwellian army, they knew everything about military tactics, but nothing about where they were or who the enemy was….Their buddies killed by land mines, sniper fire,, and mortar attacks, but the enemy remained invisible, not only in the jungle but among the people of the villages –an almost metaphysical enemy who inflicted upon them heat, boredom, terror, and death, and gave them nothing to show for it – no territory taken, no visible sign of progress except the bodies of small yellow men….They were all ‘gooks’ after all. Just look how they lived in shacks and the filth; they’d steal the watch from your arm.” [pp. 463-464]

            Seems relevant today when we have a president who is willing to abduct children and hold them hostage.  

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Ambition and Greatness: Federalists and Anti-Federalists

Ambition and Greatness: The Federalists and the Anti-Federalists
P. Schultz

"When your overriding value in life is self-glorification, what you tend to get is the moral cowardice and fecklessness of people like Obama, the Clintons, and, in truth, all centrist politicians.  They’ll do whatever they have to do to rise to power, so they can realize their 'destiny'—of being powerful.  They’ll always try to please 'both sides'—a binary notion that leaves out the genuine left, which is to say the interests of the large majority of people—because that is the safest and surest road to power"

            This quote appeared recently – see the link below – and it reminded me of one of the most significant differences between those who supported the constitution proposed in 1787, the Federalists, and those who opposed it, the Anti-Federalists. This may be summed up briefly as follows: Whereas the Federalists tended to embrace ambition and the ambitious, the Anti-Federalists did not. In fact, the latter group tended to disparage ambition and the ambitious as dangerous to a republican, that is, genuinely representative government.

            I can put this another way. Whereas the Federalists wanted to create a government that appealed to the ambitious, that drew the ambitious to it, creating offices that the most ambitious of men would seek out, the Anti-Federalists wanted a government that would not appeal to the ambitious. The Anti-Federalists feared that the ambitious types and especially the most ambitious would control the government at the expense of the many, the middling people who are not generally characterized by ambition. The Federalists, ala’ Alexander Hamilton, defended the Constitution and especially the presidency because it would appeal to those who “love fame,” which Hamilton took to be “the ruling passion of the noblest minds.” Where Hamilton saw “nobility” the Anti-Federalists saw narcissism or a lust for power that would undermine any republican political order. It is not too much to say that the Anti-Federalists were aware of the tendency of the ambitious to seek “self-glorification.”

            It is this thought that lay behind the Anti-Federalist argument for creating “a simple government,” a government devoid of offices with long tenures or great powers. A simple government would be “simple-minded,” meaning not prone to great projects of social reform, as we might say. Simple government does not seek greatness. Rather, it seeks to protect individual freedom while maintaining the peace and good order of society. Simple government does not seek to remake civil society and it certainly would not seek to remake the world, to create “new world orders.”

            Listen to Patrick Henry in the Virginia ratifying convention: “Shall we imitate 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 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 number of things: When the American spirit was in its youth, the language of America was different: Liberty, Sir, was then the primary object.”

            As the leading Anti-Federalist scholar summarizes this thought: “Ambitious Federalists, captivated by visions of ‘stately palaces’ and ‘dazzling ideas of glory, wealth, and power,’ wanted us ‘to be like other nations.’ That is just what we should not be.” [What the Anti-Federalists Were For, Herbert J. Storing, p. 31]

            Embrace ambition and the ambitious, seek glory, wealth, and power, seek greatness and lose your liberty. For the Anti-Federalists, that was the choice. Given our current situation, one may easily get the idea that the Anti-Federalists were right, that that is the choice and that we have chosen unwisely.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Trump: In Pursuit of Virility

Trump: In Pursuit of Virility
P. Schultz

            Call me a fool but I think that much of what Donald Trump is about is due to his perceived inadequacy as a man. Think about it. He said that men should “grab a woman’s pussy.” And you will, he said, get away with it. So grab pussy, and, viola, you can prove your manhood; you can prove you are virile.

            And, of course, of late Trump has been attacking NFL footballers, at least those who protest in some way when the national anthem is being played. Now, think about it: Trump’s sport is golf, a sport that no one thinks of as evidence of virility, of machismo. [Note: I am a golfer and love the sport.] The most famous golfers are not identified by their virility. How could they be when what they do is hit a little ball around a course, “driving” the ball, “laying up,” and then seeking to “putt” the ball into a tiny hole? There are no “bombs” in golf, no “blitzes,” so “sacks.” There is no contact between golfers, only contact between a golfer’s club and a little, white ball. So, taking on NFLers, as Trump is doing, is a way of asserting or seeming to assert his virility. Trump’s campaign is not about the anthem; it’s about his alleged manhood, his alleged virility.

            Moreover, Trump’s endorsement of torture is also evidence that he is seeking to assert his virility. Torture is perceived as “masculine,” proof of one’s “toughness,” one’s ability to smack around, to string up, to drown, to intimidate those evil terrorists and to do so without batting an eye. No one perceives torturers as women and this despite the movie Zero Dark Thirty. Of course, at the end of that movie, the woman who vigorously supports torture and the assassination of bin Laden breaks down in tears. No man would do that, at least not openly.

            Of course, it is little wonder that Trump needs to prove, even to himself, his virility, as he never served in the nation’s military as he was deferred more than once during the Vietnam War. And so far as I know, Trump never played a contact sport where he would have to test his mettle against other male bodies. His entire life, it seems, has been spent avoiding physical contact with other male bodies and dissing or abusing the bodies of women.

            Perhaps Trump’s insecurities regarding his manhood explain his obvious dislike and disrespect of John McCain, who did serve his country in Nam and proved his virility, his manhood during his long incarceration in the “Hanoi Hilton.” McCain reminds Trump of everything he isn’t. Let us hope that Trump’s inadequacies as a man don’t lead him and us into more wars than we already have.

Monday, May 28, 2018

A Bush Family Story

A Bush Family Story
P. Schultz

            This story is from an excellent book entitled Rumsfeld: His Rise, His Fall, His Catastrophic Legacy, by Andrew Cockburn.

            As things were going to shit in Iraq during the occupation, it became increasingly clear to most people, not including the president, that Rumsfeld needed to be fired. So, as is typically done in D.C., the plotting of his removal began. Former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft and former secretary of state, James Baker, both of whom had served with Papa Bush, met and composed a rather extensive paper delineating the most serious errors and misjudgments in Shrub’s foreign policy. This paper included a recommendation for a change of leadership in the Department of Defense and it was passed on to Papa Bush to pass on to Shrub.

            When the Bush families had arrived at Kennebunkport, Maine in late August, Papa Bush took Shrub aside and gave him the paper. Shrub looked at it “disdainfully before tossing it aside, reportedly with the words, ‘I’m sick and tired of getting papers from Brent Scowcroft telling me what to do…..’ With that, he exited, slamming the door behind him.” [p. 219]

            Nonetheless, at times Shrub sought his father’s guidance as he did as he became aware of “criticism that his administration had been excessively beholden to a particular clique, and what to know more about them.” So, one day, Shrub asked his father, “What’s a neocon?”

            Papa Bush asked whether he wanted names or a description. George Jr. said “Description.” Papa Bush; “Well, I’ll give it to you in one word: Israel.” [p. 219]

            Not a bad description, especially as it seems Papa Bush had a pretty clear understanding of the limitations of his son, George. Too bad more of the American people had not had that understanding in November of 2000. For that matter, too bad the Republicans on the Supreme Court did not understand that.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Impeachment Properly Understood

Impeachment Properly Understood
P. Schultz

            Below is a link to an article considering, among other things, the impeachment process embedded in our constitution. And it is illuminating, at least up to a point. But the article contains one rather important inaccuracy, concerning what kinds of presidential acts are impeachable. The article claims:

“From this point of view, it seems most persuasive that prosecutors should be able to charge a sitting president with ordinary crimes. Insofar as it restricted impeachment to “high crimes,” the Constitution did not directly address a circumstance like this one.”

            The error here is the claim that presidential impeachment is “restricted . . . to ‘high crimes’.” Presidential impeachments include but are not limited to “high crimes and misdemeanors,” which is an error commonly made. This error is related to another, more important error, viz., that impeachment is about removal from office and only about removal from office. Rather, as the early history of impeachments illustrates, impeachment is a means of holding office holders accountable for their actions and accountability need not dictate removal from office. The Constitution should be read as saying that, only in cases of high crimes and misdemeanors, may a president be removed from office. For other instances of abuse or misuse of power, presidents may be held accountable via impeachment without necessarily being removed from office. They may be punished or dealt with in other ways, such as fines or censure. [Andrew Jackson was censured by the Senate and he argued not that this could not be done but that it could only be done via the impeachment process. Jackson was correct.]

            So, for example, in the case of Bill Clinton’s impeachment and trial, he could have been held accountable for his behavior, censured by the Senate and, perhaps, be required to apologize to the American people for his behavior, without being removed from office. And, of course, this would have made more sense than thinking that Clinton’s actions constituted “high crimes and misdemeanors,” when clearly they did not. To say that “obstruction of justice” is always a “high crime and misdemeanor” is unconvincing, especially when the obstruction was not in the service of hiding a political abuse of power, such as undermining the Constitution via illegal actions like funding a war against congressional wishes or conducting secret bombings of a country the nation is not at war with.

            To me, while I don’t support impeaching Trump, this is not to say that he could not be, constitutionally, impeached, tried, and held accountable for his behavior without being removed from office. As Gerry Ford said a long time ago, it is up to the Congress to decide what is an impeachable offense and whether the alleged offense or offenses constitute “high crimes and misdemeanors.” The men who wrote the Constitution knew that they were creating a dangerous office when they created the presidency and, via the impeachment process, tried to adopt a way of holding its occupants accountable as well as making them removable. We would do well to follow their constitutional procedures.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Trump: Doing the Work of the Deep State

Trump: Doing the Work of the “Deep State”
P. Schultz

            Although it may seem odd, given Trump’s criticisms of the CIA and the FBI, often identified as agencies of what is being called “the deep state,” but it seems to me that Trump is actually an ally of that state, and that he is seeking to reinforce that state as much as possible. To explain.

            9/11 served the purposes of the deep state, that is, the government agencies that engage in secret or covert activities that were created after World War II with the onset of the Cold War. These agencies, the CIA, NSA, DIA, the Pentagon, were thought absolutely necessary in order for the U.S. to successfully confront and contain – and even roll back – communism as found in the Soviet Union and China. And many today would say that such thinking was absolutely correct.

            These forces, the deep state forces, were buoyed by 9/11, to say the least. As one commentator put it, “9/11 was a victorious moment for the proponents of the deep state,” and especially for Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld who had been advocates of such forces for decades. But as 9/11 receded from view and as the U.S. actions in Iraq and Afghanistan seemed pointless, the forces of the deep state needed to be resuscitated. And just in the nick of time, apparently, along comes Donald Trump with his agenda to “make America great again.”

            It may seem strange, given Trump’s rather antagonistic relationship to agencies like the CIA and the FBI, to argue that he is doing the work of or for the deep state. But it is useful and necessary to notice that Trump’s attacks on the CIA and the FBI are not attacks on those agencies per se. Rather, they are attacks on their current manifestations, primarily for not living up to their potential, for not employing their powers as fully and as vigorously as they could or should. This is a large part of Trump’s claim that his political task is to “make America great again.” For Trump, America was great when the forces of the deep state were in control, i.e., before the eruptions of the 60s, before Watergate and Nixon’s resignation, and before the congressional investigations of the 70s that undermined the power, especially the covert power, of the CIA, when the CIA could, for example, overthrow governments in Iran and Guatemala without opposition or even criticism from Congress or the people.

            Once we recognize, as we should, the basis of American greatness, viz., agencies like the CIA, the FBI, NSA, and the Pentagon with its largely invisible military spread throughout the world, then and only then will America be great again. For Trump, it is not popular government, not republican politics that made America great and could make her great again. No, it was power exercised secretly and covertly throughout the world. Trump is anything but a populist, although he tries to pose as one. He is a defender of those forces that compose our deep state; those forces that are in tension with and that sometimes undermine popular or republican government.
            It would be useful if (a) this were more widely noticed and (b) if the Democrats would embrace a popular or republican political order. But the Democrats seem to share Trump’s faith in our deep state and so they don’t draw attention to the anti-republican core of Trump’s project to “make America great again.” Which is unfortunate because as James Madison pointed out, the American choice, its most important choice, is between republican and non-republican government. 

Friday, April 13, 2018

American Hypocrisy

American Hypocrisy
P. Schultz

            Tonight, April 13, after he launched a missile attack on Syria, Trump addressed Russia and Iran in his speech as follows: “What kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women, and children?”

            Well, to answer his question, Trump might want to ask America’s allies because this is a nation that also has committed “mass murder of innocent men, women, and children.” He might also want to ask nations that have allied themselves with the Israelis, who also have committed “mass murder of innocent men, women, and children.”

            Here is one link that points to the hypocrisy that characterizes Trump’s thinking and that of many Americans. Read it and weep:
Indeed. How many millions has the US killed since 9/11? Hard to say but it is several millions at least.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

1962: How American Government Works

1962: How American Government Works
P. Schultz

            The year is 1962, John F. Kennedy is president, Robert Strange McNamara is Secretary of Defense and they confront a war in Vietnam. Now, in the conventional understanding of how our government works, these men, and others, are trying to decide what would be the best course of action for the United States and to make that decision they – and others – are investigating, making assessments of “the facts” from which they can draw conclusions.

            Well, would that it were so. But it wasn’t. As the book by John M. Newman, JFK and Vietnam: Deception, Intrigue, and the Struggle for Power, makes clear, there were many involved in this decision who were willing to deceive, engage in intrigue in order to ensure that the United States would commit its soldiers to the war in Southeast Asia, and President Kennedy was apparently not among them. And this deception, this intrigue came to a head in 1962 at McNamara’s fifth SECDEF conference, which was, as Newman concludes, “a watershed event in more ways than one.”

            At that conference, with the approval and participation of General Harkins, who was the head of our effort in Vietnam, “The Secretary of Defense was purposely misled on nearly all of the crucial aspects of the war: the size of the enemy; the number and quality of enemy operations versus the number and quality of friendly operations; the territory controlled by the enemy versus the territory controlled by friendly forces; the number of desertions from South Vietnam’s armed forces; the success of the placement of U.S. intelligence advisors; and the problems with [South Vietnam’s] Self Defense Corps. The maps, the statistics, and briefings he was given led him to remark at a press conference after the meeting that ‘every quantitative measurement . . . shows that we are winning the war.’” [p. 255]

            And there is more. At an earlier SECDEF conference, there was ambiguity about the enemy’s “order of battle,” that is, about the number and disposition of the Viet Cong’s and North Vietnamese forces. Of course, the order of battle is probably the most crucial information to be had in a war as it establishes how many of the enemy there are, where they are, the weaponry they possess, their ability to resupply their troops, and their morale. So McNamara ordered that a special group be formed to come up with a definitive account of the enemy’s order of battle. Such a group was formed and they concluded after an intensive investigation that the strength of the enemy in numbers was 40,000 hard-core troops in the Viet Cong.

            Now, as this figure was considered far to high by the Air Force colonel, a Col. Winterbottom, who had given an earlier and much smaller estimate of the enemy’s strength, he told the men who had arrived at the 40,000 figure that they had to lower it. “As the middle of April [1962] neared, the order of battle team ‘had a figure which we were fairly firm on,’ Benedict [a team member] reports; ‘the local force battalions and recognizable guerrilla units were over 40,000.’ This figure simply ‘blew away’ Winterbottom. He ‘flat said that was unacceptable.’ To their amazement, Winterbottom ordered them to come up with a lower one.” [p. 242] But because most of the members of the order of battle of team were military, they felt that they had to obey Winterbottom’s orders. They then concocted a scheme by which they could lower the 40,000 number to 20,000 “confirmed” enemy, with another 10,000 being “probable,” and with another 5,000 being “possible.” But this number “was still unacceptable to Winterbottom, who was after a much lower number.” [243] And because two members of the order of battle team were a threat to Winterbottom, one who was a civilian and the other who worked in the Pentagon, Winterbottom had these two men taken “off the order the battle study and assigned other duties.” [243] The final number that was presented to McNamara was 16,305!

            In another little drama, just before McNamara arrived for his SECDEF conference in May 1962, a multi-colored map had been prepared to show the Secretary of Defense, red representing “VC in ascendancy,” blue representing “VC controlled areas,” yellow depicting “GVN ascendancy,” and white representing “neither VC or GVN control.” As Newman describes the event: “[General] Harkins apparently assumed that since he had cut the enemy hard-core forces to just over 15,000, the map would reflect this figure, and he never actually looked at it until the night before McNamara’s arrival. That evening he presided over a rehearsal of the briefing he would give to the Secretary the next morning. Harkins and his entourage entered the room and took their seats. ’Oh my God!’ Harkins blurted out, spotting the map. ‘We’re not showing that to McNamara!’ The map got ‘edited’ then and there. Winterbottom stripped off large portions of acetate depicting enemy areas, and replaced it with acetate depicting neutral or government areas. Allen [the civilian member of the team], who witnessed the entire event, recounts General Harkins directed while Winterbottom physically removed and changed ‘large chunks’ of the acetate overlays. In all, Harkins and Winterbottom removed about one-third of the ‘enemy-controlled’ areas, and converted about half the ‘neutral’ areas to ‘government’ control. [The falsified ‘measles map’ was declassified at the author’s request in 1988.]” [249]

            So, there you have it. A little peek into how our government operates, even at the highest levels. And with this peek you will understand why I use to tell students in my classes, “Don’t believe anything the government tells you, unless you have confirmation from other, independent sources.” And what was cost of these lies? At least 58,000 + American military deaths, hundreds of thousands of maimed and crippled Americans and Vietnamese, and millions of Vietnamese deaths. And no one was held responsible.


Monday, April 2, 2018

The Indecency of the Decent

The Indecency of the Decent
P. Schultz

            Recently, as I was involved in an exchange of letters with an old friend, actually an old girl friend with whom I had not been in contact with for many years, I was reminded of a passage in Graham Greene’s The Quiet American. In that passage, the narrator, Thomas Fowler, is talking about Alden Pyle, the quiet American, who is in Vietnam in order to “save” that country from the Communists and has managed to commit an atrocity that he thinks will help his cause.

            And Fowler says of Pyle: “What’s the good? He’ll always be innocent, you can’t blame the innocent, they are always guiltless. All you can do is control them or eliminate them. Innocence is a kind of insanity.”

            I was reminded of this quote because my former girlfriend, who is Republican and a Trumpette, has claimed in her letters to me that what she wants is to recreate the “civility,” the “stability,” the “morality” that use to exist in the United States but that exists no longer. It dawned on me that she thought nothing of her desires, that is, she thought nothing could be more self-evident than restoring such things as they once existed. Certainly, she gave no thought to the harm she might do in pursuing and achieving her goals. After all, what could be controversial or dangerous about restoring civility, stability, and morality? She was convinced that her politics, like those of Trump and other right wingers, was harmless.

            But that got me to thinking and I wondered whether in fact her desire to restore decency to American society was as harmless as she assumed it was. And that would depend on whether the decency that she pined for had been harmless in its earlier manifestation. What did constitute decency when she and I were in high school and college in the 60s?

            Well, one aspect of that decency was a condemnation of homosexuality and homosexuals. Such condemnation was the decent thing to do then because it wasn’t enough to let gays and lesbians alone, let them be. Moreover, another aspect of that decency was condemnation of interracial romantic relationships and even interracial relationships of a non-romantic character. My mother, who allowed my brothers and I to play with the Weathers family, a black family, was criticized for that behavior, especially when Jimmy came to our house to play or we went to his house to play. That was the decent thing to do in those days and it was my mother who was, according to many, behaving indecently.

            You see, the problem with decency and the decent is that they depend on judgments rendered elsewhere, as it were, judgments that reflect the prejudices and hatreds of the broader society. In a racist society or a homophobic society, as society was in the 60s, decency requires that the decent be racist or homophobic. It is like when in Huckleberry Finn, Huck Finn decides that he will not turn Jim in even it means that he will burn in hell for his actions. In a racist society, racism is the decent thing to do, even that which is required by the gods or by god. But undeterred even though convinced of his own indecency, Huck will do the indecent thing even at the price of his eternal life.

            I knew a young man in the 60s who I suspect was gay. Without being required to do so, this young man enlisted in the armed forces, went to Vietnam where he died. I imagine in some sense that possibility didn’t look so bad given how indecently he would have had to live as a gay man in American society in those days. And if he had survived, who would dare question his “manhood?”Maybe, he thought, he could even reclaim "it" from his demons, proving he was a "real man."

            The decent people often, in fact very often behave indecently as Alden Pyle did – and many other Americans as well – in Greene’s Vietnam. But as Fowler noticed, “you can’t blame the innocent, they are always guiltless. All you can do is control them or eliminate them.” Because, after all, “innocence is a kind of insanity.” And like lepers, Fowler asserts elsewhere, the innocent ought to be required to wear bells so we know when they are present and we can protect ourselves from their madness. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

JFK and Vietnam: Blinded by the Light

JFK and Vietnam: Blinded by the Light
P. Schultz

            I am reading an interesting book, Death of a Generation: How the Assassinations of Diem and JFK Prolonged the Vietnam War, by Howard Jones.

            At one point, Jones asserts that “Lacking any understanding of these people, US observers attempted to explain their motives in terms that were meaningful to Westerners.” [p. 271] I believe what this means is that Westerners deal with political life – and perhaps life itself – as a series of problems, trying to solve each one with the application of expertise of one kind or another. So, for example, people in the US today conceive that there is “a gun problem,” just as in Vietnam when Kennedy was president there was “a Buddhist problem,” “an infiltration problem,” and/or “a corruption problem.”

            But as Jones intimates, it is questionable how much understanding this approach, this mindset promotes. And it seems to me that while it promotes what might be called “wide understanding,” it does not promote “deep understanding.” As a result, our politicians are left with a superficial understanding of the situations they confront.

            So, when the Buddhists rebelled in 1963 in Nam, JFK and his advisers were not aware of it’s meaning, of its depth or importance. As Jones puts it: “The Saigon event blindsided the Kennedy administration. ‘How could this have happened?’ the president stormed to Forrestal.” [p. 271] And “Years afterward [CIA agent] Trueheart made a revealing confession: ‘Nobody guessed the Buddhists had such an important role to play. We had zero knowledge of Buddhism.’” [271]

            This is as much to say that JFK and his advisers has no real knowledge of Vietnam. Whatever knowledge they possessed was superficial; it lacked the depth that would have allowed the administration to understand the Vietnamese and their society. The administration did have expertise of various kinds, political, economic, social, and military but this expertise only guaranteed that they saw widely, not that they saw deeply. And lacking such knowledge, JFK and his advisers did not know, could not know what “the Saigon event,” the Buddhist revolt, meant. They were even tempted to explain it with reference to drug use among the Buddhists, the influence of the Viet Cong on the Buddhists, or with such flaccid phrases as “religious fervor,” as if that explained anything. As one person pointed out, however, “Any threat to Buddhism, especially coming from a ‘non-Buddhist minority,’ could draw ‘a more personal and spontaneous response from the ordinary Vietnamese peasant than Viet Cong political propaganda.’” [278-79]

            Taking social and political phenomena as “problems” to be “solved” by the application of expertise blinds us to the context in which these phenomena occur. For example, to think that there is “a gun problem” in the US blinds us to an alternative view, viz., the US society is a violent society, that the American people are a violent people. To see a gun problem in the US is to see superficially, to confuse a symptom for a cause. It is like identifying drug dealing as our drug problem, thereby ignoring drug use, which is most often voluntary, as a deeper, more important phenomenon. By focusing on drug dealing and drug dealers, whose motives are clear to us, we don’t raise the more important issue: Why is drug use in the US so widespread? What is it about our society, about our way of being in the world that accounts for our use of illegal drugs?

            So, seeing superficially as JFK and his administration did, thereby failing to know what the Buddhist revolt meant, JFK and his administration found themselves drawn to assassinations, to killings, then to full-scale war to try to solve its “Vietnam problem.” Just as politicians, domestically, embraced making war on poverty, on crime, on drugs, and on terrorists to solve those problems. And not surprisingly these domestic wars have been as unsuccessful as was the US war in Vietnam. It turns out that, contrary to what our “realists” claim, power is never enough and power devoid of understanding is quite useless.