Monday, November 16, 2020

"It Is What It Is": The Politics of Despair

 

“It Is What It Is”: The Politics of Despair

Peter Schultz

 

            Often, certain phrases are filled with more meaning that we recognize. One such phrase is “It is what it is,’ which is often said when someone is confronting a political phenomenon, like corruption, that seems to be inevitable, even perhaps “natural.” “Such and such a politician is corrupt,” someone says. And then someone else, speaking as a realist, says: “It is what it is,’ which is usually and usually intended as conversation stopper, like “Life isn’t fair” or “So it goes.”

 

            Mark Leibovich has written an interesting, enlightening book about Washington D.C. entitled This Town: Two Parties and A Funeral. In it, he posits that our two parties specialize in “organizing discontent.” That is, our elites play on our discontent, organizing it so as to maintain and enhance their power and authority. The sources of the discontent are not addressed or not addressed adequately while  our reigning elites continue in power.

 

Leibovich writes about the use of phrase “It is what it is” as something of a cop-out, used by Washingtonians – politicians, lobbyists, journalists, the military, “the formers” - when they are confronted with their own peccadillos, their vanity, even their greed – or as they might euphemistically put it, “their skill at acquiring wealth and power.” This is enlightening – and seems all-too-true – but Leibovich’s description of what our elites do, “organizing discontent,” doesn’t quite reach deeply enough into the roots of the Washingtonians’ psyches.  

 

            It is not enough to say that our elites “organize discontent” because, in fact, they create, deliberately and with malice-aforethought, discontent. They also may be said to aim at creating not just discontent but also at creating despair. And they do this in order to maintain and fortify their power and authority.

 

            How does this work? First, if our prevailing elites can cultivate despair in the rest of us, then the possibility of genuine change or reform looks chimerical, looks radical, looks like pie-in-the-sky dreaming. After all, “it is what it is” and “it” cannot be otherwise. And this mindset would apply to even relatively minor reforms, which can be made to look like significant changes when viewed through the realist lens of “It is what it is.” Hence, the very common phenomenon of some people being labeled “socialists” when in fact no genuine socialist would agree with that characterization.

 

            Second, cultivating despair is well-served by what may be called “a politics of failure.” That is, those who accept the status quo may promise and even initiate significant changes, while knowing that when these initiatives fail – which the very same elites may facilitate – the status quo will be fortified or re-legitimated. Declaring a war on drugs or on poverty, for example, is one way to reinforce the status quo insofar as these wars are likely to be lost or never won. And those in power aren’t actually concerned with winning these wars because either way, won or never won, they win. Moreover, “endless” wars, which are actually “winless wars,” also reinforce the legitimacy of the status quo and the power and authority of the prevailing elites, which helps explain why such wars are fought over and over. “It is what it is.”

 

            And this helps to explain why even long-tenured politicians may say over and over that “Washington is broken” without undermining their own power and authority. Because “it is what it is,” electing other politicians to replace the current ones won’t or can’t change the situation. And, of course, as everyone knows, “better the devil you know than the one you don’t know.” The system is broken, everyone agrees, but “it is what it is.”

 

            Third, embracing “a politics of hope” is another way to cultivate a politics of despair insofar as that hope is not sustainable, as illustrated by the presidencies of Ronald Reagan or Barack Obama. To embrace “the audacity of hope” is a set up on the road to a politics of despair. Hope followed by repeated failures leads to hopelessness, that is, to political despair. As a result, people turn away from politics because they view politics as futile: “It is what it is.” Reigning elites will even go to some lengths to convince people of the futility of politics by embracing hope while reconciling themselves to failure. “It is what it is.”

Saturday, November 7, 2020

The US Political Order: Authoritarian?

The US Political Order: Authoritarian?

Peter Schultz

 

            Here are some quotes from Robert Parry’s Secrecy and Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, which raise an interesting question about the recently concluded 2020 elections and the Trump presidency.

 

            “Add the fear and the sense of victimization from the 9/11 attacks and a new political model suddenly lay open as a possibility for the United States. It would be a post-modern authoritarian system that would rely less on traditional repression of political opposition than on a sophisticated media to intimidate and marginalize dissidents.

            “The new system would be the sum of the parts gradually arising out the ruins of Watergate…. this new system would rely on ridicule to make those who get in the way objects of derision, outcasts who very names draw eye-rolling chuckles and knee-slapping guffaws. Think of Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, and Al Gore…’ [p. 359]

 

            The question is this: What in the “evolution” and then the defeat of the Trump presidency conflicts with what Parry describes as “a post-modern authoritarian system that…. [relies]…. on a sophisticated media to intimidate and marginalize dissidents?”

 

            Of course, just to be clear: To raise this question, it is not necessary to defend Trump or his presidency. It can be admitted that Trump and his presidency were indefensible. However, assessing Trump and assessing the political order as it now functions are two very different assessments. It could be that as bad as the Trump presidency was the American political order as described by Parry is just as bad, or even worse insofar as it is an order that not only trashes the likes of Trump but also trashes other dissidents. And if you need illustrations of such activity, just recall the names Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, while also recalling Obama’s attack on whistleblowers.  

 

 


Thursday, November 5, 2020

2020 Election: The Game Is Over; TheTable Is Set

 

2020 Election: The Game Is Over, The Table Is Set

Peter Schultz

 

            The presidential election has been decided even all the votes have not been counted. Trump is out, as the numbers remaining aren’t in his favor. His lawsuits in different states will, I predict, go nowhere. The Republican mainstream has not and will not support his charges of electoral fraud. Even if he were to take a case to the Supreme Court, he would lose. It’s one thing for the Supremes to award the presidency to George Bush; it’s another thing entirely for the Supremes to award the presidency to Donald Trump. Trump’s “credentials,” such as they are, work against him, as does his behavior or misbehavior as president. On the other hand, George Bush’s “credentials” worked for him in 2000. He had been governor of Texas and, after all, he was the grandson of Prescott Bush and the son of George Herbert Walker Bush. This lineage counts for a lot in the District of Columbia and with its reigning elites. Just ask Jimmy Carter or Richard Nixon.

 

            And, as it stands now, the table is set for a return to “normalcy.” Given the closeness of the presidential election, the Democrats can and will argue that now is not the time for what they consider “radical” or even “leftish” measures. Such measures, it will be argued, could prove costly in four years when the next presidential election will occur. There will be no “pushing Biden to the left.” In fact, what is called the Democratic left will be forced to move to the right, to protect the party’s flank. Moreover, if as seems likely the Republicans hold their majority in the Senate, then the Democrats will argue that, even if they wanted to move to “the left,” they wouldn’t be able to get such measures past the Senate.

 

            The “beauty” of the outcomes of what was to many “the most important election in their lifetimes” is that, for all important purposes, the nation is back to where it was prior to Trump’s election in 2016. One may even say that Trump’s presidency and his defeat in this election has served to fortify those political forces that were struggling to maintain their legitimacy after Obama’s bland and utterly forgettable presidency and after Bush’s post 9-11’s fiascos, meaning the invasion and occupation of Iraq, torture, Guantanamo, and the economic collapse of 2008. So if this has been the most important election in our lifetimes, it should not be said that that is the case because its outcomes put the nation on the road to a different and healthier politics.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

The Founders' Gamble

 

The Founders Gamble

Peter Schultz

 

Actually, Barr is wrong. The “Founders” didn’t gamble that virtue would prevail over the passions. They gambled that virtue wasn’t necessary or even desirable in their newly created “republic.” [Madison referred to religion as a source of tyranny in a letter to Jefferson and alluded to that in the Federalist Papers.] This was noticed at the time by the Anti-Federalists and commented on over and over. For example, if you read some of the Anti-Federalists descriptions of what life would be like in what we call the District of Columbia, they will sound remarkably like what life is like there now. 

 

The “Founders'” project was to regulate the passions by setting them in opposition each other, or as Madison said in Federalist #51, self-interest must be set against self-interest because the only alternative was like relying on “angels” to  govern. And of course that was a fantasy.

 

As Herbert J. Storing said in class once: He wouldn’t teach the Federalist Papers in high school because there was little there besides a reliance on self-interest, that is, passion. He also wrote [In “What the Anti-Federalists Were For”] that the Federalists had the “stronger” argument than the Anti-Federalists and, of course, the stronger and strongest arguments are such because they appeal to the passions, not to reason.

 

We seem to be harvesting the results of the “Founders” gamble. 

 

https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2020/oct/13/william-barr-founders-gambled-virtue-prevailing-ov/

 

 

Friday, October 23, 2020

Trump's Defeat Will Be Meaningless

 

Trump’s Defeat Will Be Meaningless

Peter Schultz

 

            If you’re concerned with changing US politics, given the political consensus that exists in the US now, voting against Trump is as meaningless as voting for Biden, and vice versa. Either outcome, Biden’s or Trump’s election, will produce no real change in US politics. So defeating Trump will be meaningless because no basis has been laid to an alternative politics in the US.

 

            At least Ronald Reagan pretended to offer an alternative politics to that which preceded him but Biden neither intends nor wants to make such an offer. Biden’s choice by the Democrats was a huge neon sign announcing that they neither wanted nor intended any significant change from the politics that has prevailed since the election of Reagan in 1980. What may be called “the Reagan restoration” will be restored once more, as it was in 1992 and in 2008. Just as Trump’s defeat is meaningless, so too will Biden’s victory be meaningless. Despite all the hoopla, despite all the bitterness between the rivals, despite all the calls to “save American democracy,” this election is, in fact, meaningless.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Just Another Sucker: A Conversation

 

Just Another Sucker: A Conversation

Peter Schultz

 

            When I happened to mention that I had served in the Army, the young man said: “Thank you for your service.”

 

            I said: “Oh, don’t thank me. I was just another sucker going off to fight a war that made the rich richer and the nation worse off.”

 

            He said: “Oh, so you’re a Trump supporter.”

 

            I said: “Never!”

 

            He said; “Why not?”

 

            I said: “Because Trump is just another old rich guy telling poorer young people to go fight in wars that will make Trump and other rich people richer.”

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Academics and US Politics

 

Academics and US Politics

Peter Schultz

 

            This will be one of my shortest posts ever. Years ago, while in graduate school, I had a friend, an older chap, of British heritage, who was about as smart about political stuff as anyone I had met or have ever met since. He said to me once: “You know, Pete, these Straussians are so delusional. They think that eventually when they get to Washington, because they have read the classics and studied political philosophy, they will be running things. They don’t know that the politicians in D.C. will use them and they will be little more than shills for the ruling class.”

 

            Well, it took awhile but this seems to have happened. That is, some of those who think of themselves as politically astute because they have studied political philosophy have been co-opted. Some of these people have studied Leo Strauss; some of them have studied Eric Voeglin. But all of them have become shills for the likes of Joe Biden! Amazing.

Endless War Isn't War

 

Endless War Isn’t War

Peter Schultz

 

            In reading Robert Parry’s Secrecy and Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty From Watergate to Iraq, I came across the following sentence: “Following a global ‘lesser evil’ strategy, the United States….found justification in allying with fascists to defeat the Soviet Union….” The thought in that sentence seems utterly non-controversial. But then another thought popped into my head: “But the purpose of the Cold War wasn’t ‘to defeat the Soviet Union.’” Rather, it was about embedding, enhancing, and extending US power throughout the world. That war was about establishing the US’s imperial regime.

 

            Once I saw this I began to make sense of other phenomena that didn’t seem to make much sense. For example, “victory” in Vietnam was not crucial and, hence, was not determinative of US actions there. The war itself was enough to demonstrate and, thus, enhance US superiority. Even a defeat there could not make much of a dent in that perceived superiority. Similarly, “victory” in Nicaragua or Cuba was not crucial and, hence, not determinative of US actions in those nations. It is the projection of US power that matters because that confirms US superiority. And, of course, anything that threatens that image of US superiority must be taken on, whatever the outcome. US policies that lead to death, destruction, and dislocation are self-justifying as demonstrations of US superiority. That is, they need not be justified by their effectiveness. And, so, despite their acknowledged ineffectiveness, they continue, e.g., in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Syria.

 

            This points to a crucial difference between, say, WWII and what’s called the “Cold War” or the “War on Terror.” Victory was crucial to WWII, whereas in the Cold War or the War on Terror it is irrelevant, or so marginally important as to be irrelevant. Further, the use of propaganda during WWII and during the Cold War or the War on Terror is also different. Propaganda during WWII was used to help win that war and so, once the war was won, the propaganda could and would end. Not so with the Cold War or the War on Terror: Such propaganda is unending because it is used to perpetuate a regime, a political order, the imperial political order the US has created post-WWII. And because all political orders are, necessarily, unstable and tenuous, such propaganda will continue as long as the imperial political order it serves exists. “Public diplomacy” as a way of manipulating public opinion will be embraced by our elites in both parties, continually.

 

            Preserving US imperialism means preserving the power and authority of those who control that political order, those elites in both parties who have risen to power by virtue of their service to that political order. Hence, admission to those elites needs be denied to those who question US imperialism. No critique of that imperialism is permissible, at least not within its elites. Those who question that imperialism are, logically, subversives and must be dealt with.

 

            Which is to say: Endless war is not war. Rather, it is just a kind of politics, the kind of politics that serves to perpetuate and fortify imperialism. Endless war is merely imperial politics dressed up to look like war. All the flag waving, all the patriotic displays, all the calls for sacrifice are merely tricks that our imperial elites are using to fortify their own power and the political order they serve. Being “unpatriotic,” e.g., by taking a knee during the national anthem or refusing to stand for it, isn’t being unpatriotic. It’s merely dissenting from a kind of politics and political order that never fails to be inhuman.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Oligarchic Politics Redux: Carter and Trump

Oligarchic Politics Redux: Carter and Trump

Peter Schultz

 

            Our oligarchy, when shaken in its legitimacy, behaves in a fairly predictable manner. Consider the examples of Jimmy Carter and Donald Trump.

 

            When these men were elected, Carter in 1976 and Trump in 2016, the oligarchy was being challenged in ways that required a response in order for our oligarchic elites to regain their legitimacy. In 1976, the oligarchy turned to or accepted Jimmy Carter, while in 2016, it turned to or accepted Donald Trump for redemption. Both of these men were suited for their roles because both could be made to appear – perhaps because they actually were – dangerously incompetent. Both could be charged with bringing the US to “the eve of destruction,” as it were. They made it easy for the pros of covert action who are spread throughout the Washington establishment to undermine their presidencies. Moreover, the mainstream media could be counted on the serve these pros and their political agenda.

 

            And if Biden defeats Trump, as seems all-too-plausible to think will happen, then it may be said that both of the failed presidencies of these “redeemers” of the oligarchy will be followed by the election an old white guy of the “golly gee” variety, the kind of guys, who looking back in wonder of “the good old days,” could be easily blamed when things go awry, as they did during what was dubbed “the Iran-Contra scandal.” What “crisis” or “scandal” will afflict a Biden presidency? It’s impossible to know but what we can know is that if and when one does come, Biden’s defenders will trot out what might be called “the Reagan defense,” incompetence wrapped up in a veil that hints at mental dismiss.

 

            But it is good to keep in mind that Reagan’s presidency was defined by much more than the Iran-Contra scandal or that that scandal was a reflection of an imperialism that relied on and, thereby, led to the creation of Islamic fundamentalist extremists, as well as relying on drug-dealing, right wing insurrectionists throughout Latin America. These aspects of the Reagan presidency have been forgotten because the Democrats, during the Clinton presidency, refused to pursue the sometimes-criminal conspiracies of the Reagan years, some of which were under the control of George H.W. Bush. And, of course, the Bush pardons at the end of his presidency served to end any investigation into these matters. It is even plausible to argue that Bush threw the 1992 presidential election to Clinton, with Ross Perot’s help of course, in order to end any such investigations. Whether Bush did that or not, the results were to his, Bush’s, liking.

 

            Insofar as we can expect something like another Reagan presidency from Biden, we should be troubled at his prospects. For those thinking Biden can be pushed to “the left,” I would say: Forget that. A resurgent US imperialism is much more likely. It will be an interesting situation.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Modern Politics and Society: Violence and Criminality

 

Modern Politics and Society: Violence and Criminality

Peter Schultz

 

            So let’s say that violence and criminality lie at the base of modern politics and society. This seems like a fairly reasonable supposition given how, at least in the US, our politicians have been “in bed” with criminals continually. There is the fact that FDR made a deal with the mafia don, Meyer Lansky would provide protection along the east coast of the US and FDR would move Lucky Luciano to more comfortable accommodations in the prison system and then free Luciano and send him to Italy after WWII ended. There is also the fact that the US Army, when it invaded Sicily, used the mafia there to combat communists who had resisted Mussolini’s government as well as the German Nazis.

 

            And regarding violence, it is good to remember that the US was created by virtue of a revolution, that is, a revolutionary war that constituted at the time treason. The American Revolution was a treasonous war. And, of course, the US was perpetuated by means of the Civil War, one of the bloodiest wars ever fought.

 

            So, then our supposition seems at least plausible. But now a further supposition: Let us suppose that Plato and Aristotle knew that human societies rested on violence and criminality, something allegedly “discovered “ by Machiavelli. The difference between Plato, Aristotle and Machiavelli is that while Plato and Aristotle recognized that violence and criminality lay at the root of what we call “civilized” societies, they kept that hidden, while Machiavelli chose to expose it.

 

            This may not be a minor differentiation, although it might seem like one. By exposing the basis of human societies as violence and criminality, Machiavelli conveyed a certain legitimacy on those phenomena, and once that is done, everything changes. That is, after Machiavelli, what humans take to be good and bad changes, and what they take to be the best life changes as well. Violence and criminality, if committed on a large scale, come to be respectable, even admirable.

 

            Consider the Civil War in the United States. This war was one of the bloodiest wars ever waged and yet, afterwards, it was looked upon with favor by those who waged it, both those in the North and those in the South. In fact, even more amazingly, Abraham Lincoln, in his Gettysburg Address, tried to render the war sacred, as a sacrifice, an especially bloody sacrifice, that was necessary to preserve the union that was called the United States, as well as ensuring that “government[s] of, for, and by the people” would not perish from the earth. Of course that war involved both great violence and great criminality and yet Lincoln would have us remember it as sacred, that which could not be “hallowed” further. Is it needless to point out that in this way, Lincoln was claiming great virtue for himself, even the greatest virtue? That is, the greatest virtue arises from and is intertwined with great violence and great criminality. This is, to say the least, a sobering thought.

 

 

Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Best and the Brightest: Conventionally Written History

 

The Best and the Brightest: Conventionally Written History

Peter Schultz

 

            I am re-reading David Halberstam’s book, The Best and the Brightest, and just wanted to comment on its conventionality.

 

            Halberstam writes of “the China tragedy unfold[ing].” [p. 111] But why is the Chinese revolution to be seen as a “tragedy?” He never says, apparently assuming that this description is just common sense, is accurate and irrefutable. But contained in those words are all the flaws of US policy both regarding China and Vietnam, in fact, regarding all of Asia in the aftermath of World War II. Keeping nations, not “losing” nations to communism, would prevent “tragedies,” regardless of whether people living in those nations viewed the revolutions therein as tragic. They might even have seen those revolutions as Americans view their own revolution, as vast improvements over the corrupt regimes they replaced. As General Giap, commander in chief of the Vietnamese military fighting the US said in response to Robert McNamara’s statement that the Vietnam War was a tragedy: “It may have been a tragedy for the US because it was an imperialistic war, but it wasn’t a tragedy for the Vietnamese because it was a war of national liberation and unification.”

 

            Or consider Halberstam’s words, again written without apparently needing any justification, “the fall of China.” [p. 120] Why did its revolution constitute China’s “fall?” Fall from what? Fall to where? Halberstam never says but we can assume that this fall was like Adam and Eve’s fall, which led to their exiting the Garden of Eden. And what was that garden from which the Chinese fell? Well, it had to be the American empire or the American sphere of influence. The Chinese had committed the sin of turning against the American elites and their plans to remake China in the image of the United States.

 

            Throughout Halberstam’s account are such expressions that reveal his conventionality. At another point, he wrote that “US governments [found] themselves prisoners of that rhetoric,” of anti-Communist rhetoric. But it is clear even from Halberstam’s account that US elites weren’t “prisoners” of such rhetoric; they were producers of such rhetoric. They embraced such rhetoric because it served their purposes; for example, in Eisenhower’s inaugural address in 1953 when he said that “the French soldier in Indochina and the American soldier in Korea were fighting the same thing.” [p. 120] And by pre-arrangement, Senator Lyndon Johnson asked Dean Acheson whether he could “comment … where our allies are helping us elsewhere? I mean Indochina.” And Acheson responded: “That is an excellent point. The French have been fighting that battle since World War II.” [p. 120] So, Acheson, who once thought the French war in Vietnam was a colonial war, embraced the rhetoric of anti-communism. If he was a prisoner of such rhetoric, Acheson had incarcerated himself, and the United States, voluntarily.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Biden v. Trump: WTF?


Biden v. Trump: WTF?
Peter Schultz

            Given that both the Biden campaign and the Trump campaign are hollow, are empty of almost any substance, I feel compelled to ask: What’s really going on? Is there anything going on at all?

            Whatever it is, it can’t have anything to do with partisan politics because the candidates agree about the major issues. To wit: Both want to keep or make America great, meaning that the both support US imperialism generally and the overthrow of governments not to their liking specifically. [Venezuela and Syria] They both support further distribution of the wealth to the wealthy via tax policies and humongous “defense” budgets. Both oppose “Medicare For All” and both want to “reform” policies of mass incarceration, “reforms” that are meant not undermine but to fortify mass incarceration. And the list goes on.

            So what is all the “fire and brimstone” generated by the campaigns about? Russia? China? Hardly, because despite superficial differences, both campaigns agree that the US must confront both nations. Moreover, both parties want Assange dealt with harshly, along with Snowden if that could be arranged.

            It all seems so odd.  So much to do about so little – and trying to make that little look like a lot. So something is afoot while being disguised as something else. What could it be?

            While I am pretty sure I don’t’ know, I am sure that this has happened before and even with some frequency. I felt this way in 2000 when I would joke that the choice was between “Bore and Gush,” as if it were difficult to tell distinguish between Bush and Gore. Although I didn’t feel this way at the time, I have come to see the Bush v. Clinton election in 1992 the same way. Regarding that election, I feel it’s a good bet Bush threw the election to Clinton in order to protect himself and his kind of politics from being exposed and undermined as illegitimate in a constitutional republic insofar as it was about to become clear that as Vice President, Bush was up to his eyeballs in Iran-Contra and that Iran-Contra was about much more than its public billing allowed. Reagan and Bush had been dealing with, allying with jihadists and other radicals, often Islamic, in order to help fund and maintain US imperialism. And this had to be hidden, even at the cost of George Bush, Sr., taking a dive. His loss also allowed him to pardon without consequence those who could have blown the whistle on his and Reagan’s policy of relying on extremists, something Caspar Weinberger threatened to do.

            Could the same game being played now? That is, could it be that the US has found it still necessary to deal with jihadists as allies, as partners in order to successfully maintain and fortify its imperialistic world order? Doesn’t the destruction of Libya suggest or even confirm this? And, of course, all the fire and brimstone surrounding Hillary’s role in that destruction conceals what was actually going on, does it not? Blaming Hillary hid the more important issue of whether our elites should be in bed with jihadist extremists. How else explain the situation in Syria, where the US openly relies on jihadists – labeled “moderates” of course – to accomplish its goals there, and to maintain US dominance? What of US support of alleged “democrats” in Venezuela, for example, “democrats” that are more accurately described as right-wing extremists? And of course the US is rather openly siding with right-wing extremists in Ukraine and Belarus. Again, the uproar about Trump’s allegedly threatening phone calls to some in Ukraine served to hide what is actually going on, viz., the necessity for US elites to rely on, to ally with extremists to maintain and fortify the American imperialistic world order. And so while mocking Trump, the Democrats are not mocking his appeals to greatness, while the fact that this greatness now requires relying on extremists goes unacknowledged.

            As Barry Goldwater once said: “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” Of course, it remains a question – largely unasked now – whether extremism can ever protect or maintain liberty. Several revolutions suggest rather strongly that the answer to that question is “No.” And recall, if you would, that even the American Revolution did not lead to liberty for several million human beings, both black and native. It could be, as I suspected long ago, that Goldwater was wrong. And this could prove quite important insofar as our elites are embracing extremism to maintain the American empire. They may maintain that empire but they will sacrifice liberty in the process.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Law and Order: The Politics of Injustice


Law and Order: The Politics of Injustice
Peter Schultz

            Question: Why are Biden and Trump responding similarly to the protests in US cities? Answer: Their responses are similar because neither one is primarily concerned with justice, with the justice of protesters grievances. And when there isn’t a concern with justice, the only policy remaining is “law and order,” a policy that masks the accepted irrelevance of justice.

            This is, actually, a phenomenon that elites in the US replicate over and over. It is one of the reasons that those elites may be called, accurately, “power brokers.” They deal in power, not justice. And “law and order” is essentially and deeply a power play. Again and again, when protests and disruptions against injustices occur in the US, the elites, the power brokers’ embrace “law and order.” So, while sympathizing with the protesters’ grievances, former President Obama said: “Violence is never justified,” a sentiment repeated by Biden. But such a sentiment only makes sense when the protester’s appeals to justice are ignored or considered irrelevant. As anyone who thinks about human history for thirty seconds realizes, violence in the face of injustice is often justified.

            This is, however, a scenario that US elites, both “left” and “right,” don’t want to consider. And they don’t want to consider it because once they do, they would be forced to admit that the prevailing order is marred by, perhaps even based on injustice. In other words, elites avoid, even suppress questions of justice in order to protect the status quo and the power and the authority the status quo confers on them. To question the status quo threatens the current elites, while “law and order” does not. In fact, “law and order” reinforces, fortifies those elites and their power, their authority.

            Bottom line: Embedded in the American political order is a deep antipathy toward justice. Concerns with justice are ignored, hidden, even suppressed in order to reinforce, fortify the reigning political order, thereby disguising the fact that that order is permeated with injustice. And when this fact threatens to become visible, the reigning elites must double-down on “law and order;” that is, double-down on their injustices.

            As Niccolo Machiavelli taught us long ago, those who wish to succeed in this world “must learn to be able not to be good.” Whatever justice exists in this world rests on injustice or, as Machiavelli also put it, that justice rests on “inhuman cruelty.” Or as a more recent commentator put it, that justice rests on “the management of savagery.”  

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Conspiratorial Political Science: What We Need


Conspiratorial Political Science: What We Need
Peter Schultz

            Conventional political science sees politics as primarily composed of battles over particular public policies, e.g., US policy toward China, toward Russian, toward the environment, toward education, and so on and so on and so on. So presented, politics is not seen as a series of battles between, say, republicans and oligarchs, or between democrats and aristocrats, between the not-wealthy and the wealthy. These larger issues are ignored, even buried by conventional political science, to the point that it seems we no longer have to deal with them.

            One problem with situation is that although it appears that our politics is all about a series of battles over particular public policies, in fact those larger battles are being fought and decided with consequences of the utmost importance. But these larger battles are being fought clandestinely, covertly, and it behooves us to take note of this.

            This is where what I am calling a “conspiratorial political science” comes in handy; is, in fact, indispensable because conspiracy theories reveal or at least hint at the battles over these larger issues. For example, the question “Who killed JFK?” points toward the possibility that JFK was killed by, say, a conspiracy of right-wing oligarchs who were convinced that Kennedy, if allowed to continue as president, would undermine the authority they had been enjoying prior to Kennedy’s election in 1960.  Or consider the question: Was the Watergate scandal a way to remove Richard Nixon in a coup, a coup engineered by those who were opposed to Nixon’s Vietnam policies, his China policy, and his policy of détente with the Soviet Union?

            And this helps explain why conspiracy theories and conspiracy theorists are treated by many with disdain: Because such theories threaten to expose (a) what is actually going on and (b) that what is going on calls into question the legitimacy of the reigning political honchos because these honchos have achieved or are maintaining their power by undemocratic, un-republican means. Conspiracy theories replace the view of conventional political science that politics is normally, ordinarily about open disputes and battles over particular public policy questions, a view that implicitly embraces the view that the existing political order is legitimate. So, in conventional political science, any suggestion that the reigning political order is illegitimate seems out of order. According to conventional political science, attempts at clandestine changes should be dismissed as mere conspiracies and, hence, not worth serious attention because they do not constitute normal, ordinary politics. They are aberrations, often the aberrations of distorted minds.

            As a result, many aspects of our political battles are ignored or buried, e.g., the fact that the Nixon administration was being spied on by the Pentagon, or the fact that JFK cancelled a scheduled trip before his fated trip to Dallas because there had been intell that there would be an attempt to assassinate him. And this means that much of the reality of our political battles disappears or is repressed, and as a result we don’t actually know what is going on in our own government. What looks like, say, competing foreign policies are actually competing imperialistic schemes, schemes embraced by different groups seeking power. And none of these groups want these competitions to be decided in the public arena because, of course, in a nation that aspires to be republican, imperialism cannot be openly embraced. If the nation is to wage war imperialistically, this must be done on the sly, must be dressed up to look like reluctant war-making. But again and again, this reluctance is overcome. Or, as conventional political scientists like to say, the US keeps making the same mistakes over and over and over. But, in reality, these wars aren’t mistakes. They are being waged, clandestinely as it were, to serve one faction or another.

            Often, it is asked: Why don’t things in the US change, even in the face of significant public dissatisfaction? One reason is that our elections don’t decide public policy in the United States. What decides public policy in the United States, as is true I would imagine of every national political order, are the conspiracies that happen before, during, and after our elections. Until we understand this, we will go on as we have been for a long time now, allowing our conspirators to decide our fates.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Disengagement: Is It Always Morally Reprehensible?


Disengagement: Is It Always Morally Reprehensible?
Peter Schultz

            Is disengaging politically always morally reprehensible? This is a question I ran into today on Twitter, when I was charged with “the morally inexcusable act of throwing up my hands and disengaging politically.” To which my response was that there are times when it is morally reprehensible not to disengage. And when faced with a choice between two parties, both of which embrace a violent imperialism, the militarization of society, some form of mass incarceration, no universal health care, regime changes whenever it suits US interests, and the drone assassinations of people who are merely trying to go about their lives but fit a certain “profile” that makes them legitimate targets, it seems to me time to disengage and, further, it seems to me not to disengage is reprehensible.  

            More broadly, I wondered how many Vietnams, how many Koreas are needed before a person decides to disengage? How many innocent human beings incinerated by drones are needed before a person decides to disengage? How many people have to die as the result of a virus because of poor health care and health care facilities before a person decides to disengage? How many people have to die as a result of police behavior before disengagement becomes justified? And, of course, the list could go on and on and on, but the point seems clear: There must come a time when disengagement, so far from being morally reprehensible, is in fact a morally responsible act.

            When I would teach the book No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy, I would emphasize the part where Sheriff Bell thinks to himself that it is necessary for him to quit because to do otherwise would endanger his soul. I emphasized that part for two reasons: First, to remind students that they have souls and that their souls needed nurturing, needed care. They weren’t so much interested in that. After all they all had phones. And, second, because almost always, no, always some students rebelled against Sheriff Bell’s decision to quit, to disengage. They took the position that Bell should have stuck it out. “Even if there is no hope for improvement?” I would ask. “Well, there’s always hope for improvement,” they would respond. “Even if Bell is correct that by staying he’d be endangering his soul?” I would ask. Well, that was more than they were able to process and, so, we would end up at a standoff.

            I took away from these discussions that it is hard, extremely hard for human beings to disengage from their society. It seems like “giving up.” And, of course, in some sense it is. But what if the alternative is “giving in?” That is, giving in to inhumanity, to injustice, to savagery. What then?

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Nixon and the Politics of Secrecy

Nixon and the Politics of Secrecy

Peter Schultz

 

            In their book, Silent Coup, Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin pass the following judgments of how the Senate Committee investigating Watergate responded to John Dean’s testimony in July of 1973.

 

            “The committee bought Dean, lock, stock, and barrel … because he was an arrow…pointed…toward the president.” [318-19] And then: “In effect, Dean had a free ride” despite the fact that “there were many holes in Dean’s story, and logical inconsistencies…[which weren’t] closely scrutinized.” [319]

 

            While factually, these assessments are correct, what Colodny and Gettlin don’t get is that Dean needn’t have been completely truthful, that he only needed to be partially truthful, only truthful insofar as his charge that Nixon had participated in the cover up. Even the facts that Dean initiated and implemented the cover up, which were true, were irrelevant so long as it could be established that Nixon had participated in the cover up. Even the fact that Dean tricked the president to participate in the cover up was irrelevant. What the committee witnessed, along with the American people, was the John Dean Show, just as what the nation had witnessed decades earlier regarding Alger Hiss was the Richard Nixon show. Dean’s motives and actions, just like Nixon’s motives and actions, were irrelevant because Nixon, like Hiss, was the accused. If the accusation was meant to cover up Dean’s own criminal acts, that was irrelevant.

 

            In other words, that Dean lied was irrelevant so long as he could establish that Nixon had lied. By establishing that Nixon had lied, Dean exposed Nixon as lying, as a liar, just as Nixon had exposed Alger Hiss as a liar – who was then convicted of perjury, not treason. Once Nixon’s culpability was established, anything that was said to impeach Dean, like the “Golden Boy” memo, was irrelevant. Hence: “The Golden Boy assault on Dean’s credibility soon faded, reduced in the press and in the senators’ minds to…an attempt to throw mud at the witness.” Even if some of that mud stuck to Dean, it was irrelevant.

 

            But more importantly than the Dean v. Nixon drama that was played out in 1973 is what this drama reveals about the politics of secrecy, about a covert politics. While such a politics is appealing because it seems to fortify a politician’s power, because it seems to protect politicians, one of its flaws is that once the secrecy is pierced, the politician is exposed and, worse, is powerless to protect himself or herself from charges motivated by partisan concerns, even from charges that mask some of the truth. Having lied or committed a fraud, the practitioner of a politics of secrecy, when exposed, is powerless. Once a fraud is exposed as a fraud the perpetrator of the fraud is just that, a perpetrator of a fraud, even if he is president of the United States.

 

            Interestingly, those who don’t embrace the politics of secrecy, that embrace what might be called a politics of transparency, are immune from such exposure, from such charges. For example, when Pat Buchanan testified before the Senate committee investigating Watergate, his testimony was praised, even by his political opponents like Sam Ervin. For example: “Senator Ervin: Well, I have to say I admire the Buchanan recommendations. They are very forthright.” [342, Nixon’s White House Wars] Or this from Senator Baker, after Buchanan laid out his four gradations of electoral shenanigans: “This is really a fascinating line of inquiry, Mr. Buchanan, and you are a fascinating witness in that you not only have a clear perception of your role in the political realm of the United States, but the verbal agility to express them most clearly and forthrightly….I do greatly admire your descriptions of the gradations of political activity.” [342-343]

 

            What Baker attributes to Buchanan’s “verbal agility” is actually the fact that Buchanan refuses to embrace a politics of secrecy, a covert politics. As a result, he cannot be exposed as a fraud, no matter how bizarre his politics might seem. Given Buchanan’s rejection of the politics of secrecy, to confront him it is necessary to confront his political views. Because he doesn’t hide his politics, the only recourse is to take on his politics. There are other examples of such political activity, e.g., G. Gordon Liddy. Again, as bizarre as Liddy was – and he was bizarre – he could not be exposed as a fraud. He embraced his actions, even his covert actions, to such an extent that he maintained his silence, even at the price of going to prison, because he genuinely believed that his loyalties to his superiors were in the service of national security. Again, many don’t agree with Liddy’s understanding of the requirements of national security, but to take Liddy on it is necessary to critique his understanding. He cannot be charged with fraud, with pretending to act in ways he had no intention of acting.

 

            So, it may be said that his politics of secrecy is what, in the final analysis, brought Nixon down. Being cunning, when cunning is understood to encompass a politics of secrecy, does not, despite appearances, fortify a politician’s power. Rather, it leaves politicians exposed or potentially exposed to charges of being frauds. And, yet, despite this, our politicians repeatedly embrace a politics of secrecy, or covert politics. Such is the appeal of lording it over others, of manipulating others, of playing the puppet master as if one were a god.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Politics as the Pursuit of Power


Politics as the Pursuit of Power
Peter Schultz

            It is difficult to understand how central the pursuit of power is for politicians in part because they come to us disguised as problem solvers or policy makers. But that these are just disguises is suggested by examining how politicians act.

            For this purpose, I want to unpack some passages from Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin’s Silent Coup, a comprehensive analysis of the Watergate scandal that brought down Richard Nixon’s presidency. The following quote concerns John Dean’s decision to meet with the prosecutors dealing with the trial of the Watergate burglars, a decision that Dean promised would “deliver the P.”, that is, that would reveal Nixon as a coconspirator in the Watergate mess.

            “Dean’s plan for his testimony was . . . brilliant . . .. Dean would say that he had been complicitous, and paint a picture of how he had been enmeshed in the conspiracy because he was so ambitious and eager to please.” [273]

            Note, first, that Dean presents himself as being seduced into his criminality, as “enmeshed in the conspiracy,” almost against his will. But, second, note that Dean does not claim that he was seduced by the conspiracy itself, by its illegality, or by its criminality. That is, Dean became “enmeshed in the conspiracy;” he did not embrace the conspiracy, which was and is clearly not true. Dean initiated the Watergate cover up, meaning he chose to act conspiratorially, chose to act illegally and did so in order to maintain and even fortify his power in the White House.

            Dean’s presentation of himself is “brilliant” because he played all the right political notes, as it were. Decent people, politicians react to events, they seek solutions to problems. If they go astray as it were, then we want to believe that they were led astray by, say, in Dean’s case ambition or an eagerness to please. Committing illegal or criminal acts, or acting covertly have no intrinsic appeal in and of themselves. Decent people, politicians make mistakes; they do not embrace conspiracies, act conspiratorially, act covertly in order to display, acquire, or maintain their power. But acting illegally or conspiratorially is appealing, even seductive, because such acts are displays of power, and serve to confirm a conspirator’s, a politician’s power. Dean did not become enmeshed in the Watergate conspiracy. Rather, he created it, embraced it and he did so because it was how he could display and maintain his power. That it involved him in illegalities or crimes was not a deterrent at all. In fact, that the cover up involved illegalities and crimes made it more attractive to Dean, not less. At least as long ago as Augustine’s Confessions, the appeal of illegal or criminal acts should have been clear.

            There is a tendency to underestimate the importance of having and displaying power, especially in those we call politicians. So, for example, we prefer to think that our politicians, like John Dean during Watergate, became enmeshed in Vietnam, were drawn into what was called the quagmire of Vietnam. They made “mistakes,” they didn’t want to make war there, but apparently they couldn’t resist or made misstep after misstep until it was too late to get out. It’s all so very mysterious, isn’t it? But again it is pretty clear that LBJ, for example, embraced the war in Vietnam and did so as a way of displaying US power and, hence, his own power as well. He wasn’t going to be the first American president to lose a war, by golly! Certainly many others also embraced that war, although they usually hid their enthusiasm for the war behind arguments for its necessity, e.g., to prevent those alleged “dominoes,” the nations of Southeast Asia, from falling over and becoming communist overnight, as it were. That they enjoyed having and displaying their power is rarely considered as a possibility.

            It should be understood that illegal acts, conspiratorial acts are, in fact, seductive and they are as displays of power, even as displays of power exercised righteously. So, even John Dean, despite having created and executed a conspiracy that he managed to trick Nixon and other men to buy into by means of lies and deceit, could in the end come to believe that he had acted righteously by dethroning someone he said and still says was “evil.” I am not one to praise or even defend Richard Nixon. But to consider John Dean and his actions righteous is to mythologize him and Watergate.