Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Trump's Impeachment: Controlling the Narrative, Preventing Change


Trump’s Impeachment: Controlling the Narrative, Preventing Change
Peter Schultz

            In thinking about the current Democratic attempt to impeach and remove Trump from office, an attempt that is ultimately phony, it seems to me that this “show trial” has been created so the Democrats can try to control what is now called “the narrative” of American politics.

            As anyone who has offered the opinion that Trump’s actions vis-à-vis the Ukraine, for example, are politically insignificant when compared to, say, to Bush’s war against Iraq, a war based on lies and politically adjusted intelligence, has discovered, the response usually is something like this: “Well, that’s irrelevant.” And this means that whatever Bush did, no matter how monstrous, how deadly, how destructive, that doesn’t matter any longer. The only thing that matters is Trump and what he’s done.

            But such responses and such a myopic focus on Trump only serve to hide the perfectly legitimate argument that the American political order is thoroughly oligarchic, thoroughly imperialistic, and thoroughly militaristic, as illustrated by the Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and Obama administrations. It’s as if people are saying: “I don’t care if our political order is oligarchic, imperialistic, and militaristic. I care only about Trump and I want him out!”

            And if you point out that for the most part Trump’s critics are precisely those who brought us Bush’s wars, Bush torture regime, and Obama’s legitimation of Bush’s policies, the response often is: “Well, that may be true but I don’t care about that. I want Trump out because he should never have been president in the first place. And I am in favor of any decent pretense that accomplish this goal.”

            So the Democrats need not care whether Trump is impeached or, if impeached, removed from office. Their goal is to create “a narrative” by which their militaristic imperialism, for example, disappears from the drama or the discourse of American politics. Also, the oligarchic character of their politics will also disappear and these disappearances will be labeled “centrism” or “political moderation.” But by avoiding what they perceive to be “extremes,” the Democrats are ensuring – deliberately – that we the people will not see and they will not deal with the root causes of our political deficiencies. As I like to say: “Impeach and remove Trump if you care to. But don’t expect much to change afterwards.” Because this “impeachment” has been undertaken to prevent any real or significant change in America’s politics.

            And in this light, you might want to ask yourself: Why is it that the Communist system in the USSR had a greater capacity for change than the allegedly liberal and democratic United States? And don’t look now but the same phenomenon is taking place in Communist China. Americans just might want to look beyond Trump because “the times they are a changing.”

           

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Elections: The Life Blood of Democracy?


Elections: The Life Blood of Democracy?
Peter Schultz

            Americans like to think that elections are the life blood of US democracy. So many believe that not only is voting a right but that it is also a duty, a duty that only the lazy, the ignorant, or the unpatriotic fail to uphold. Oh, would that it were so.

           Elections, from viewpoint of politicians, are dangerous and, hence, must be controlled, manipulated, even at times corrupted. This danger is present all the time but it is especially great when there is widespread dissatisfaction, even anger and rage among the people, the electorate. And in times of popular unrest, dissatisfaction, and anger, politicians, especially incumbents and more especially yet the most established, will do whatever they have to do to try to ensure that the outcome of an election does not harm them by bringing into power those who may be called “insurgents.”

            So, whatever is happening now in America’s political scene is being managed or directed by the powers that be in the Republican and Democratic parties. As there are a lot of people seeking the Democratic nomination for president, this is something that the party is encouraging, is directing insofar as it can do so. Why would they do this? Control. An attempt to control who gets the nomination so they can try to control the outcome of the election. The same thing is true of the Republicans. As they are standing behind Trump, it is because they deem this strategy the most advantageous for their chances in upcoming 2020 elections.

            Do their strategies always succeed? Of course not. The Democrats thought they had things under control in 2016 but they did not and Trump ended up president. The Republicans thought they had things under control in 1992 but they did not and Clinton ended up president. But while their strategies don’t always succeed they are motivated by the same goal, to preserve their power within their party and, secondly, in the federal government.

            It doesn’t take too much imagination to notice that ensuring their power does not mean that these politicians need to win every election. In fact, it is pretty clear that losing elections often helps to preserve the power of incumbents, especially of the firmly established incumbents. In 1912, the Republican Party made a decision to reject Teddy Roosevelt as their nominee because he was too radical. So they went with the incumbent president, William Howard Taft, pretty much being assure that they would lose the election, which they did to Woodrow Wilson. But by losing, the mainstream Republicans kept control the Republican Party and bided their time until they could, once again, win, which happened in 1920.

            Personally, I believe that the Democrats preferred to lose the 1972 presidential election because McGovern was far too radical for the mainstream Democrats. And not only did McGovern lose but he lost big, so big that it allowed the mainstream Democrats to change the rules governing the selection of presidential candidates so the party would be able to control that selection. This is where the so-called “super delegates” came from and they worked as they were suppose to work in ensuring that Hillary Clinton would be the nominee in 2016.

            I also think a very good case can be made that in 1968 LBJ preferred Nixon to Humphrey as his successor. Why? Well, because LBJ was committed to the war in Vietnam and he knew that Nixon was also and would prosecute that war vigorously. But he also knew that the most significant dissent was occurring in the Democratic and not the Republican Party. Those insurgents were most unlike LBJ politically and he saw them as a threat to mainstream Democrats and to mainstream Democratic thinking. Hence, to preserve the status quo in the Democratic Party, LBJ bowed out voluntarily. Also, by bowing out to “work for peace” in Vietnam, Johnson tried to displace the other peace movement, a movement that contained some radicals and was based on some non-traditional American values. And, of course, LBJ garnered the praise he so lusted after, pretending to be a statesman doing what was best for the country. In that, he was dead wrong but very few seemed to notice.

            So elections are not the life blood of US democracy insofar as they are controlled, directed, and managed by the elites of our two most important parties, the Democrats and the Republicans. Because if the two parties’ strategies regarding their nominees for president are successful, there is no democracy because there is no real choice. By controlling the nominees, the two parties have decided the election before any votes are cast and after the votes have been counted.

            But it is or seems to be a good show, especially with the mainstream media playing its part in hyping elections as “crucial,” as “existentially significant,” or as “turning points.” In fact, most of our elections are more smoke and mirrors than anything else. And, of course, the people realize this which is why turnout is mediocre at best. Little changes after our elections which is of course not only fine with mainstream Republicans and Democrats but is their intention.

Monday, December 2, 2019

American Values: Torture and Assassination


American Values: Torture and Assassination
Peter Schultz

                  Where did the argument that American values don’t include torture and assassination originate, as so many like to argue? John McCain, may he rest in peace, opposed torture and was eloquent in his opposition. But he did assert that torture was not an American value, which is a really hard to argument to make given US history.

                  Slavery was of course built and maintained by means of torture. The indigenous peoples were also tortured and, of course, assassinated. Both the north and the south tortured during the Civil War and, of course, also assassinated. Lincoln was assassinated, as was William McKinley, JFK, while there were attempts on Presidents Ford and Reagan. The US tortured during the Spanish American War and afterward while its soldiers attempted to put down an insurrection in the Philippines. The US also tortured during the Korean War as well as during the Vietnam War.

                  Moreover, MLK Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, and Malcolm X were assassinated, along with Huey Long, governor of Louisiana, and an attempt was made on George Wallace’s life when he was running for president. And, of course, during the Global War on Terror, which is still ongoing, the US has tortured, even those it admitted later were guilty of nothing, and has assassinated, with at least one president bragging that “Hey, I’m pretty good at this killing thing!” And a Secretary of State gloated about the assassination of Gadaffi that “We came, we saw, he died!” And another Secretary of State said that the deaths of as many as 500,000 Iraqi children due to sanctions imposed on Iraq were “worth it.”

                  Why is it that Americans – and I mean both our elites and the rest of us – have tortured and assassinated as much as we have? What is it about our “values” that makes this possible? Just a brief answer will be offered here.

                  Under the doctrine of modern natural rights, all individuals have and are entitled to certain rights, like “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But what happens when individuals find their rights conflicting? For example, what is the situation between a slaver and a slave? The fact that the slaver is violating the rights of the slave does not mean that s/he is obligated to free the slave. And there certainly is not such obligation if freeing the slave would threaten or undermine the slaver’s rights or the rights of his or her offspring. All persons are created equal which means that all persons are entitled to assert and protect their rights even at the expense of others’ rights. It is common for people to say that “Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.” But that’s not accurate because should I perceive that you are threatening, then my right to swing my fist - or shoot my gun -  doesn’t end where your body begins.  

                  This means, however, that questions of justice become questions of self-interest. It is unjust to enslave people but that does not mean that the slaver must forego slavery if it, slavery, is essential to protecting his or her rights. So, what happens in US society is that questions of justice are replaced by or reduced to questions of self-interest. So although it is unjust and inhumane to torture other human beings that does not mean that such torture is forbidden. If torture  - or assassination - is seen to protect US society than it is legitimate even though it is unjust and inhumane. More generally, whatever serves the national security of the US is legitimate even though the means embraced are unjust, inhumane, grossly destructive, and/or tyrannical. When rights conflict, power will determine whose rights prevail. And in that mindset, only a fool would forego torture and assassination as legitimate tools of government.

                  The US tortures and assassinates then because such actions are not only consistent with but even promoted by the most basic of American values. Rights conflict, eventually but always and everywhere, and must be protected by the exercise of power. And, of course, inevitably the exercise of power, at least by governments, is always unjust and inhumane. This is called “political realism” and it lies at the core of American “values.”

American History Scrubbed Clean: Doris Kearns Goodwin


American History Scrubbed Clean: Doris Kearns Goodwin
Peter Schultz

           I am currently reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, The Bully Pulpit, about Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft and what Goodwin calls “the golden age of journalism.” Of course, Goodwin is a reputable historian and should be, but there are some strange aspects to her work.   

            For example, in her discussion of the onset of the Spanish American War, Goodwin argues, as many have, that Roosevelt was a proponent of that war while President McKinley was trying, vainly it turned out, to keep the United States out of any war with Spain. Yet in the course of her argument, it becomes clear that Roosevelt was not so much in favor of a war with Spain because of what was being done to the Cubans but that Roosevelt was, in fact, in favor of any war. Roosevelt was of course concerned with the treatment of the Cubans but he also was looking for a war to fight because he thought war, apparently any war, was worthwhile.

            Roosevelt said that he “would rather welcome a foreign war.” “The victories of peace are great; but the victories of war are greater. No merchant, no banker, no railroad magnate, no inventor of improved industrial processes, and do for any nation what can be done for it by its great fighting men.” And it would seem that Roosevelt thought that “fighting men” were “great” by virtue of the fact that they were warriors. “Every man who has in him any real power of joy in battle knows that he feels it when the wolf begins to rise up in his heart; he does not shrink from blood and sweat, or deem them to mar the fight; he revels in them, in the toil, the pain and the danger, as but setting off the triumph.” Roosevelt, who had never seen battle before the Spanish American War, welcomed the coming of that war and the chance for him to fight in it. He even said that he would leave his wife were she on her death bed if necessary to fight in that war, a thought to be taken seriously as his wife was seriously ill when Roosevelt went off to fight in Cuba.

            McKinley, on the other hand, according to Goodwin, recalling his participation in the Civil War, where he had “seen the dead pile up” at Antietam. “prayed for peace.” The interesting thing though is that Goodwin treats Roosevelt and McKinley and their stances toward war as equal, as just two different takes on war and its role in human affairs. She does say Roosevelt wrote “blithely” about war but that is the extent of her commentary on Roosevelt’s war mongering. Apparently, a war monger like Roosevelt and a person like McKinley who was praying for peace are both well-intentioned human beings seeking what is best for the nation. So no judgment need be arrived at regarding these two men and their different takes on war. They were both patriots who meant well even though one embraced war as humanizing while the other saw it as dehumanizing.

            Another aspect to Goodwin’s treatment of the Spanish American War is that she does not raise a doubt as to whether McKinley was as against the war as he pretended to be. To not raise this issue, Goodwin has to buy the idea that while McKinley was not pro-war, he appointed Roosevelt to be assistant secretary of the Navy knowing full well of Roosevelt’s pro-war views. Why did McKinley do that? Well, because he was pressured by Roosevelt’s friends to do so. He didn’t want to appoint Roosevelt but he did it anyway when pressure was applied. McKinley, struggling bravely apparently to stay out of war with Spain, appointed someone to a position of considerable power who had made it known that he was in favor of a war with Spain. This requires that one pretend to know McKinley’s motives, while pretty much ignoring his actions and their consequences. Goodwin also treats McKinley’s sending the battleship Maine to Havana harbor with the same innocence, merely quoting what McKinley had said at the time, viz., that this was “’an act of friendly courtesy’ to the Cuban people.”

            Note should be taken that as presented by Goodwin, McKinley was a man who was not powerful enough to stand his ground in favor of peace in Cuba, appointing Roosevelt despite his, Roosevelt’s, clear and strong preference for war. Moreover, McKinley was not a manipulative person, that is, was not a person who would seek to get what he wanted by indirection, if sending a battleship to a foreign harbor amidst significant tensions can be properly called “indirection.” No one reading Goodwin’s account of this period in our history, a period that saw a break with what had been the traditional modest foreign policy of the US, would think that this break was the work of human beings like Roosevelt and McKinley. And they would probably come to think that the onset of an imperial foreign policy, what was then called “the large policy,” was the result of forces beyond the control of US politicians. The US just kind of wandered into a war with Spain, that resulted in the acquisition of the Philippines. And although at the same time the US was about to annex Hawai’i, that shouldn’t lead one to think that the US chose to embrace an imperial foreign policy.

             As a result of history like that written by Goodwin, there is very little to question about US political or military actions. For the actors are all well-intentioned, transparent, and basically good people and decent politicians. There is no reason to study history for the reasons Jefferson recommended, viz., so people could learn the dangers of oppressive government and the consequences of bad choices. At most, people should study history to see the mistakes that were made by well-intentioned, decent human beings. It might have been a mistake for the US to “take” the Philippines, for example, but it was not a policy that resulted from defective politicians who had embraced defective but nonetheless American values.