Saturday, June 9, 2018

Ambition and Greatness: Federalists and Anti-Federalists

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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

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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

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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: https://consortiumnews.com/2018/03/22/how-many-millions-of-people-have-been-killed-in-americas-post-9-11-wars-part-one-iraq/.
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

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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.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Time for Change? The Resignation of President Trump

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Time for Change? The Resignation of President Trump
P. Schultz

            Is now the time to make a significant, even radical change in how our constitutional order functions, viz., by forcing President Trump to resign?

            Sounds weird no? Of course it does and this is because the Constitution of 1787 established fixed terms of office for all the offices it created, supplemented by an impeachment process that could result in removal from office. So, we Americans are not accustomed to thinking of tenure in office as unfixed, as something that would reflect a less certain, a less established period of time. But perhaps it is time to change this scheme, to adopt the practice more common in parliamentary systems of less permanent, less secure tenures of office.

            One advantage of such a scheme, especially if done “informally,” that is, without actually amending the Constitution, would be to make government more responsive to changing circumstances. Another advantage would be to facilitate the removal of officials/politicians who demonstrate “ethical deficits,” such as abusing their power and position in inappropriate ways, whether their behavior was sexually or financially inappropriate. Moreover, such a change might help direct, focus, or contain the “rumor mongering” that has come to characterize our political “discourse” insofar as such behavior, to be legitimate, would need to be linked to a political objective.

            Further, although such a practice seems strange to us Americans, it shouldn’t. After all, LBJ was driven from the presidency in 1968 for his Vietnam policies when he decided not to seek re-election. And his successor, Richard Nixon, was driven from the presidency via the threat of impeachment, as a result of Watergate, his domestic spying, and his Vietnam policies. And some would argue that President George H.W. Bush was also denied or relinquished the presidency in 1992 by the threat of exposure of his subversion of President Carter in the 1980 presidential election when he, and others, made a deal with the Iranians not to release the hostages before that election. And, of course, there have been numerous Congresspersons who were forced from office before their tenure expired, ala’ Senator Al Franken of Minnesota just recently. There has even been an example of a Supreme Court Justice being forced to resign, viz., Abe Fortas.

            So, why not make this practice a legitimate part of our constitutional order? To do so doesn’t require any formal changes to the Constitution insofar as many of our changes to our constitutional order, and even some of the most important ones, have occurred “informally,” i.e., without benefit of formal amendments to that document. Constitutional doctrines and practices, like “separate but equal” and “freedom of expression,” were created informally, and the former, “separate but equal,” passed away in the same way. In other words, constitutional changes, even significant constitutional changes have occurred without benefit of constitutional amendments.

            So, why not now openly embrace a movement to force President Trump, because he is unfit to be president, to resign his office? That is, why not treat this practice as a legitimate exercise of political power in our constitutional order, one that is consistent with what we like to think of as a “republican” or “representative” form of government? Seems like a good idea to me.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

American Politics 101: Persons, Policies, and Paradigms


American Politics 101: Persons, Policies, or Paradigms
P. Schultz

            It dawned on me recently, when thinking about an email I got from a really good friend who I have known since high school, that there are different ways of thinking about American politics. The friend wrote that she had noticed that I didn’t care for Hillary Clinton and, more generally, didn’t care for anybody in the political arena these days. She concluded, rightly, “It is hard to see where that goes.”

            She was correct in her characterization of my opinion and in her question about where it left me or others, and it got me wondering just what it was I was doing. Am I just a cranky old man who doesn’t like anybody involved in politics these days? And, if so, where does such an attitude take or leave me? Hmm?

            Then I realized that while my friend was correct in her summation of my attitude towards those involved in our political processes these days, she missed the reason or reasons underlying that attitude. And to see the reason[s], it is necessary to see that it is possible to think about our politics in at least three different ways: In terms of persons, in terms of policies, or in terms of paradigms.

            If you focus on persons, as an awful lot of Americans do, then you will focus on, say, Trump versus Obama or Obama versus Bush. Who is the better person? Who made or is making a better president? Who is more or less trustful? And, more generally, why can’t we the people seem to elect the right people, those who will fix our allegedly broken political system?

            If you focus on policies, again as an awful lot of Americans do, then you will focus on liberal policies versus conservative policies. Under this view, government and politics is or should be all about making and implementing certain policies, namely, those that will serve the national interest or the common good.

            If you focus on paradigms, however, you are not so much interested in who gets elected or what policies get made as you are with the paradigm within which our political process plays out. For example, if you focus on the contention that we in the United States, in the pursuit of national greatness, have consented to the creation of a national security state resting on what Eisenhower called “the military-industrial complex,” then who gets elected or what policies they recommend or make is not of great importance because unless the paradigm is changed, the outcomes are going to be pretty much the same regardless of who is elected or what policies are made.

            For example, Trump supporters like to say that he is a proponent of “small government” and that his efforts to limit the reach of the national government through deregulation are evidence of this agenda. But insofar as these efforts take place within and don’t challenge the legitimacy of our national security state, it can only be said that, at most, Trump favors smaller, not small, government. Moreover, so long as the established paradigm goes unchallenged, Trump’s “smaller government” will still be a pervasively powerful national government, able when it deems it necessary to invade our privacy in almost anyway it wishes. The fact of deregulation, which is what Trump endorses, does not undermine in itself the legitimacy of regulation and, so, the next president will be able to reinstate regulations that Trump trashed.

            In fact, Trump’s own actions or proposed actions have illustrated this very phenomenon. He trashed a Democratic/Republican inspired regulation that allowed state governments to drug test certain categories of people who qualified for and received unemployment benefits, tests that previously had been illegal. However, now Trump is proposing that another such regulation be created, one that would be even broader, cover even more people, than the regulation he trashed. This is hardly a way to create “small” or even “smaller” government. And it puts the lie to Trump’s claim, more generally, that he is a proponent of “small” government. He isn’t and he could not be so long as he accepts the legitimacy and desirability of the national security state or the goal of “making America great again.” A great nation needs a great government and a great government will be, always and everywhere, a pervasively powerful government. To think otherwise is to be delusional.

            It is fairly easy to see that the first two ways of viewing our politics serve to preserve the status quo because unless the underlying paradigm of our politics is challenged and changed, it won’t matter so much who gets elected or what policies are enacted. They will, willy nilly, serve the status quo. And those like Trump, who likes to think he is challenging that status quo, will in fact merely serve to reinforce it.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Why Tump Cannot "Drain the Swamp"


Why Trump Cannot “Drain the Swamp”
P. Schultz

            President Trump labeled Washington, D.C. “a swamp” when he was running for president and he promised “to drain” it if elected. So far, “the Donald” has been anything but successful in “draining the swamp.” And there is a simple reason why: Because D.C. is not a swamp. It is a political artifact; so the only way to change it is to adopt a different kind of politics.

            “A political artifact, you say. What does that mean?”

            Well, as some of the Anti-Federalists foresaw, the ten mile square governmental district that was to be established after the proposed constitution was ratified reflected a kind of politics that would be inconsistent with a republican scheme of government. For the Anti-Federalists, a genuinely republican scheme of government was one that was a reflection of the people it governed, not a refinement as the Federalist wanted. For the Anti-Federalists, to be a republic meant to be representative and to be representative meant to be reflective; that is, a republican government should look like, even mirror the people.

            For the Anti-Federalists, the proposed constitution did not look to, was not calculated to create a government reflective of the people. It was meant to be a refinement of the people, meaning that there would be distance, both demographic and geographic, between the new government and the people. And the ten mile square district to be created would help maintain these distances. That district would be something like a refuge, a place set apart from the people and, hence, from the popular will. Life in that district would not resemble life outside it, which is recognized today when people speak about life “inside the beltway” and life outside it. It is also reflected by the fact that most Americans go to Washington as tourists, much as they go to foreign countries.

            Insofar as this is correct, then contrary to what Trump – and many others – think, “the swamp” that is D.C. can only be changed by adopting a more republican scheme of government or kind of politics. That is, we need to recover the understanding of a “republican government” as a government that reflects the people and their will, that seeks to follow, not refine, the popular will. How to do this? Besides jettisoning the thought that we the people need “visionary leaders,” term limits would help as would having presidents vacate the White House, thereby separating the president’s residence from his office, or his persona from his official status, like other modern executives. Trashing “Hail to the Chief” would also help.

            As has been argued here frequently, our problems, our issues, our defects are political problems, political issues, and political defects. They cannot be adequately dealt with except by changing our politics. Otherwise, as in attempts to “drain the swamp” that is said to be D.C., our politics will be “Promethean;” that is futile.

Friday, February 9, 2018

American Politics 101: If You're Gonna Dance


American Politics 101: If You’re Gonna Dance
P. Schultz

            Below is a link to an article from the NY Times entitled, “Republicans Learn to Love Deficit Spending They Once Loathed.”

            It is a pretty good article but what it doesn’t say is more important than what it says. Here’s the thing: What most Americans don’t understand is that we and our government have made certain political decisions that require, necessitate the kind of spending, the kind of deficits that are the result of this Republican budget. In other words, neither the Republicans nor anyone else can afford to “loath” deficits, except of course rhetorically.

            One, and perhaps the most important political decision we have made is to be a “great nation,” that is, a nation that attempts to “project” its power throughout the world, while maintaining a “robust” economy at home as well as a “military-industrial-surveillance complex” that is deemed not only necessary but desirable. Such a politics of greatness, as I like to call it, is expensive. It must be maintained financially and this requires, as this Republican budget makes clear, embracing deficits, even great deficits. As some like to say: “If you’re gonna dance, you gotta the pay the band.”

            So long as this political decision stands, it does not matter much who is president or whether the Republicans or Democrats control the government. So long as this political decision stands, deficits will occur and will grow. It’s just the nature of “the beast” we have chosen to create. Want a different result? Choose a different kind of politics, say a politics of individual liberty or a politics of justice or a politics of human rights. Until then, “the beat goes on” as we as a nation travel toward debtors’ heaven. Someday payment will come due or, as some like to say: “Just a little old-fashioned karma coming down.”



Saturday, February 3, 2018

1992: A Political Fantasy? Really?

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1992: A Political Fantasy? Really?
P. Schultz

            For those who have read my book, 1992: A Political Fantasy, I quote the following from the book, The Secret War Against the Jews: How Western Espionage Betrayed the Jewish People, by John Loftus and Mark Aarons. This is their summary of the Iran-Contra story.

“-The abortive British arms to Iran deal of 1984 were buried beneath a massive cover-up, a transatlantic sting operation to protect George Bush’s reputation and smear those who knew the truth. In addition to presenting false evidence to British courts, incriminating files were erased from White House computers and physically removed from the BCCI archives.
- The Israelis were recruited in 1985 as a cover story for continuing the highly illegal Bush-British partnership, which involved buying Communist weapons for the Contras from a PLO agent and Syrian terrorist, Monzer Al-Kassar.
- The Syrian terrorist and drug king Monzer Al-Kassar also became the principal mediator for the release of the American hostages in Iran.
-  What neither Bush nor the British knew was that their secret agent, Al-Kassar, really was working with the Soviets, who had penetrated the Iran-Contra operation as several levels.
-  The American CIA agent, William Buckley, who was told that Bush, Casey, and the British secret service had approved Middle East kidnappings, was tortured to death by Al-Kassar’s accomplices in Syrian intelligence at the same time that Al-Kassar was ‘negotiating’ for Buckley’s release.
-  After Bush became president, Syrian intelligence traded its silence about Iran-Contra, the BCCI, and Buckley in return for a complete reversal of U.S. policy toward Syria. The same Syrian agent and drug lord who tortured Buckley to death was given VIP passage to Washington. So was the Syrian general in charge of negotiating with the Hezbollah terrorists and of approving all drug shipments out of Lebanon.
-  The British and American taxpayers lost billions of dollars from the collapse of BCCI and the unpaid loans to finance Saddam Hussein’s army.
-  The government of Israel became the public scapegoat for the Iran-Contra affair. As a result of the Reagan-Bush administration’s covert tilt toward the Arabs, the Israeli government lost its military superiority, most of its secret networks, and much of its reputation. At the same time, Israel was compelled to stand by helplessly as Iraq bombed their cities during the Gulf War.” [Pp. 461-62]

            It would seem that George H.W. Bush had cause to worry about his possible impeachment should his activities with regard to the Iran-Contra affair come to light, as they might have had Casper Weinberger testified while Bush was still president. Also, Loftus and Marks make clear that another “fall guy” for Bush was “Ollie” North, who was used by the Bush's “inner sanctum” as a guy set up to take the fall should the Iran-Contra activities come to light. Let me add that I knew none of this when I wrote and finished by book, 1992: A Political Fantasy. Trust your imagination. It “knows” more than you might guess.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Making America Great Again: What Does It Mean?

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Making America Great Again: What Does It Mean?
P. Schultz

            President Trump wants to “make America great again,” or so he claims. And despite the controversy Trump almost always generates, it seems fair to say that most Americans agree with Trump that being “great,” that is, being a “great” nation is desirable. One indication that such agreement is almost universal is that no one has asked what it means to be a great nation or whether being great is desirable. That is, how do nations become great and, if once great, what is required to maintain or restore their greatness? Further, is acquiring or maintaining such greatness desirable, that is, conducive to or consistent with living well?

            To begin to question the desirability of greatness, consider the following phenomenon. The U.S. has been waging war in Afghanistan now for about seventeen years with, apparently, no end to this war in sight. Now what makes this situation interesting is that, at least among our powerful politicians and many establishment figures, this war, our policy in Afghanistan is not considered a failure. Moreover, those who implemented this policy, as well as those who have executed and are executing it even today, are not thought of as needing to be held accountable for that war. Hence, that war is not seen as a failure and those who started and continue it need not be reprimanded or held accountable for their actions.

            But how can this be? That is, what is it that makes it possible for most Americans, both those in office and those not, to accept a seventeen year long war, a war seemingly without end, as anything but a failure? Is this rather strange mindset a result of thinking of our nation as great? I believe it is.

            Quite often, the U.S. justifies its actions abroad, its foreign policies as the results of the need to maintain the nation’s credibility or prestige or resolve. Such justifications were used to legitimate US “involvement” in the Vietnam War, as well as for US involvement in other wars or military actions. Consider, momentarily as a thought experiment, that such concerns, viz., with credibility, prestige, and resolve, are measures of a nation’s greatness. To be great means to be credible, to have prestige, and to demonstrate resolve. Nations without credibility, without prestige, without resolve are not great. At most, they are second best, bit or marginal players on “the world’s stage.” Great nations, on the other hand, are the leading players on “the world’s stage,” are those around whom the action of the world’s drama revolves. So those nations that step aside or are pushed aside from the world’s action are not, cannot be great. And maintaining credibility, acquiring prestige, and demonstrating resolve require embracing a central role in the world, regardless of the cost involved. In fact, the greater the cost involved in being in the action, the greater the reputation for greatness.

            In this light, U.S. war making in Afghanistan, even after seventeen years and billions of dollars and much bloodshed, including American bloodshed, testifies to the greatness of the United States. Only a great nation could bear such great costs for what is apparently so little return. And it is only a great nation that would bear such costs, that is, choose to undertake great actions despite the possibility or even the likelihood of failure. To lose a war fought for “a noble cause,” as is often said about the Vietnam War, testifies to a nation’s greatness. And if in losing such a war that nation “sacrifices” the lives of many of its warriors, well, this only adds to the calculus of greatness. “Bearing any burden, paying any price” is the way of demonstrating a nation’s greatness. The heavier the burden, the higher the price, the greater the nation, the more glory to be reaped.

            It should be clear that a politics of greatness comes at a great price, that of seemingly endless war. But there is more as well. Being in the action is easily confused with controlling the action, when the latter is far more difficult than is imagined. And when this confusion is exposed, as it almost always is, it reveals the sordid alliances and actions great nations must embrace to be great. Once the veil is lifted, the sordidness underlying national greatness is revealed in a way that only a Machiavelli could make of light of or could reconcile himself to. It is discovered, for example, that while “no one would ever suspect” it, “Ronald Reagan’s staff [was] buying guns from the ‘Evil Empire’” and using a terrorist serving that “evil empire” to do so. “In other words, three separate U.S. networks were purchasing Communist weapons for Iran and the Nicaraguan rebels. All of them were run by Vice President Bush’s planning staff inside the White House . . . .” [The Secret War Against the Jews, 422]

On the other hand, the “common people,” who strive for “common decency,” not greatness, are appalled at what they see behind the veil, which is why the veil is needed and why the “commoners” must be kept in the dark. Or perhaps they should be blinded by “the pomp and circumstance” of their allegedly “brilliant” government, composed of offices of great power and prestige, with flags flying, bands playing, and weapons of war gleaming over “purple mountains’ majesty.”

Both the war making, even futile war making, and domestic propaganda are necessary components of national greatness. So, it is worth asking: Do you want to “make America great?” But be careful what you wish for because, as the old adage has it, you just might get it.