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?

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?

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.