Wednesday, July 1, 2020

The Depths of Depravity in "This Town"

The Depths of the Depravity in “This Town”
Peter Schultz

            This Town is a book written by Mark Leibovich and it is about Washington, D.C. and how it “works.” This town, that is, D.C. is essentially a town of  “shameless racket of self-promoters,” which “imposes on its actors a reflex toward devious and opportunistic behavior, and also a tendency to care more about public relations than any other aspect of their professional lives – and maybe even personal lives.” [p. 362, 369] Some of the most astounding passages in This Town are the following, dealing with David Petraeus, one of the most honored members of what Leibovich calls “the Club.”

            “David Petraeus was, at that moment, enduring something worse. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell broke the story that the decorated general would quit as head of the CIA over an affair with his ‘official biographer.’” Mitchell said: “’I don’t take any pleasure in this in the sense that it is really a personal tragedy. Having covered Gen. Petraeus myself here and overseas, I am absolutely convinced from all communications I have from people directly involved that this is a matter of honor.’” [p. 338]

            As Leibovich puts it: “Figuratively speaking, Petraeus had been in bed with the press for years.” As a result, “he was portrayed as a fearless and scholarly hero, maybe even a future president…. Not surprisingly, ‘official biographer Paula Broadwell produced a gushy tome on the studly soldier, All In…. And Petraeus left many people in the Club deeply saddened and gravely concerned for the well-being of their four star friend. What an awful way for his decorated career to end.” [p. 339]

            Nevertheless, in a short time, one week, both Petraeus and Broadwell were represented by professionals to deal with their disgrace. Petraeus had hired “super-lawyer Robert Bennett…for advice on post-governmental issues, and…. for planning this future.” Broadwell had hired other professionals who were “providing communications counsel.” [p. 339] Obviously, Petraeus and Broadwell saw their behavior as creating PR problems and just as obviously they were going to deal with them as such.

            Because Petraeus and Broadwell were members of the Club, other members of the Club sympathized with their travails, with Andrea Mitchell labeling Petraeus and Broadwell’s affair a “tragedy.” And, in fact, it is important to recognize that from the perspective of the Club’s members, the affair was a tragedy or could have become one if Washington’s cover as a place of virtuous, well-meaning, and rather selfless behavior were to be blown. So it was important for Petraeus to resign as “a matter of honor” and for both Petraeus and Broadwell to genuflect by seeking out the advice of prominent members of the Club, in the form, of course, of “professional advice.” There are cover-ups in D.C. all the time, in response to particular events that are embarrassing. But the most important cover-up is one that remains hidden in plain sight, so to speak. And that is the cover-up of that Washington is a place of shameless self-promoters, who always put their interests ahead of the nation’s interests even though doing so imperils the nation’s well-being. And it seems to me that in that way, our politics resemble the politics of monarchical and aristocratic nations like Great Britain before the monarchy and the aristocracy became empty offices, mere titles without more. What Leibovich calls the Club should perhaps be called “the Court.” But whatever it is called, its reality needs to be recognized for what it is and what it isn’t. The picture isn’t pretty, to say the least, but it needs be exposed and examined. A lot depends on it.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

A Great Political Battle Raging? Not So Much

A Great Political Battle Raging? Not So Much
Peter Schultz

            There is, many think, a great political battle raging in the US between the Republicans and the Democrats, between Trump supporters and Biden supporters, including the “Never Trumpians.” This battle is so great, it is said, that the fate of the US and its alleged democracy lies in the balance. Should Trump win again, his opponents argue, the US democracy will lie in ruins, sunk in that swamp Trump promised to drain. Should Trump lose, his supporters say, US democracy will be undermined by those who would make “socialism” the ruling force in the nation, thereby undermining, once and for all, its greatness.

            Heady stuff, to be sure. However, two books, neither of which is devoted to analyzing our current situation, make me wonder and even doubt these prevailing thoughts that there is a great political battle raging in the US presently. Those two books are This Town by Mark Leibovich and Secret Agenda by Jim Hougan. The former is or was a fairly well known book on how Washington works, while the latter is a little known analysis of what the Watergate crisis was actually about. Both books illustrate why it is risky to take at face value conventional accounts of what is going on in our nation’s capital.

            An example from This Town illustrates these risks, an example dealing with the raid that led to the assassination of bin Laden.

            “As it turned out, the president’s involvement [with the White House Correspondents’ Association annual dinner] was nearly messed up . . . by the US raid on Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. A few days before the mission, on August 28, the tiny group of high-level national security principals who knew about the operation was discussing the timing of it in the White House Situation Room. While the raid ultimately happened on Sunday night, Saturday night was first raised as a possibility. But someone pointed out that Obama was scheduled to be at the Correspondents’ Association dinner that night and his absence (and that of other top administration officials) could tip off the journalist filled room that something was up.  At which point, Hillary Clinton looked up and said simply ‘Fuck the White House Correspondents’ dinner’.” [p. 245-6]

            So, when planning a raid on bin Laden’s compound and his probably assassination, a group of “high-level national security principals” concerned themselves with planning the attack – deemed to be of overwhelming importance in the war on terror – so it would not conflict with the White House Correspondents’ annual dinner. And from the scheduling it would appear the raid was in fact planned so as to avoid a conflict with that dinner, despite Hillary’s objections.

            In This Town, Leibovich makes it perfectly clear that Washington’s social milieu trumps political concerns repeatedly. People who seem to be enemies move in the same social and business circles comfortably and, more to the point, do not let their political concerns disrupt their socializing. Leibovich, for these reasons, dubs the controlling social set in D.C. “the Club.” And he argues: “You could do worse to explain the disconnect between Washington and the rest of the country then to assemble a highlight reel from the Correspondents’ Association weekend’s event juxtaposed with scenes of economic despair, a simply military death toll, or montage of poor, oil-soaked pelicans in the Gulf Coast, which had suffered the worst spill in history a few days before the 2010 dinner.” [p. 136]

            What seem like political phenomena – e.g., the removal of General McChrystal from his command in Afghanistan – are actually social phenomena. McChrystal’s removal had nothing to do with the military situation in Afghanistan. It was just that he and his men had broken the rules, the social rules that govern Washington society. For the same reasons, the reporter who broke the story for Rolling Stone had to be – and was – punished. “The substance and merit of the remarks were beside the point. Because McChrystal was playing the game wrong. He made a dumb PR move.” [pp. 129-30]

            And Hastings, the reporter involved, was also punished, being vilified by other journalists for violating “an ‘unspoken agreement’ between reporters and military officials.” [p. 132] “Hastings was treated as a suspicious interloper.” [ibid.] As Leibovich sums it up: “The bigger points in this case concerns the place of a ‘respectable journalist’ in the Washington Club – or lifetime banishment from it. Hastings trashed the Club. He was a skunk at the garden party.” [p. 133] And if you this is an isolated incident, I suggest familiarizing yourself with how the Washington Post treated Jim Webb of the San Jose Mercury after he broke the story of the Contras running drugs into the US during and with the knowledge of the Reagan administration.

            Trump himself is a social disturbance and, hence, must be dealt with insofar as he threatens the Club and its status. Trump is especially disturbing because he shamelessly rejects both the Club and membership in it. Those like Trump must be dealt with, their power limited, their reputations besmirched, and even their offices taken from them if possible. Joe Biden, however, is a member of the Club and, hence, he will if elected president restore Washington’s social balance. His politics, his talents or lack thereof are not important because his election will bring “the right people” – the socially acceptable people – back into the government and the Washington social scene. There is no great political battle taking place in D.C. any more than there were great battles in junior high or high school.

            In Hougan’s Secret Agenda, it is clear that what was actually going on during Watergate was quite different than what the official story said was going on. In the officially approved story, Watergate was the culmination of Nixon’s paranoid politics, which led to his certain impeachment that was only short-circuited by his resignation. But as Hougan shows, Nixon was as much a victim as a perpetrator. As J. Edgar Hoover said in a newspaper interview: “By God, [Nixon’s] got some former CIA men working for him that I’d kick out of my office. Someday, that bunch will serve him up a fine mess.” [p. 77] Of course, Hoover was correct although he did not live to the mess these men served up to Nixon.

            Hoover knew there were CIA men embedded in Nixon’s White House and administration, as did others like H.R. Haldeman and Pat Buchanan. But what Hoover may not have known was that at least two of these CIA men – Howard Hunt and James McCord – were not really working for Nixon. They were working with and for the CIA. That is, Hunt and McCord’s loyalties were not to Nixon or his presidency; those loyalties belonged to the CIA.

            Does this mean the CIA brought down Richard Nixon? Not necessarily, although their actions may have contributed to that result unintentionally. But it does mean that Watergate was not “a morality play,” was not “a simple story with the President at its center,” [p.56] as the official story would have us believe. Such morality plays necessitate some playing “the bad guys,” while others play “the good guys.” Most people don’t want to hear, as Hougan puts it, that “Watergate . . . was not so much a partisan political scandal as it was, secretly, a sex scandal, the unpredictable outcome of a CIA operation that . . . tripped on its own shoelaces.” [p. xviii] People prefer to ignore that the Nixon administration was “beset by leaks as massive as the Pentagon Papers, and besieged by critics on the both the Right and the Left,” and all of this amidst “the suspicions of a feuding intelligence community, as least part of which was convinced that . . . Henry Kissinger was objectively . . . a Soviet agent.” [p. 65] As Hougan put it: “our history [of Watergate] is a forgery, the by-product of secret agents acting on secret agendas of their own.” [p. xviii]

            In Leibovich’s terms, our real history is one in which the Club’s members seek to preserve their own and the Club’s social status, operating clandestinely because to do otherwise would give the game away. Were it known, for example, that the CIA was successfully seeking compromising “intell” on prominent Washingtonians, the Club would lose it legitimacy, as would its members. Were the Nixon administration to become known as engaging in criminal act, Washington would be perceived as harboring criminal enterprises.

            When such phenomena threaten to become public, then it is essential that the Club, the Washington establishment act to preserve its secrets. When such phenomena are exposed, as happened to Nixon during Watergate, then those responsible must be punished while making it look like such acts are aberrations. Hence, the need for what Hougan calls “morality plays” where the perpetrators are characterized as uniquely evil. And, of course, this was how Watergate was played out, as a morality play that succeeded in banishing Richard Nixon.

            Turning to our current situation, a president like Trump presents a real challenge to the Club, the established social order in Washington because not only does he despise the Club, he openly, shamelessly despises it. But that does not mean there is a great political battle going on presently, as so many like to say. What’s going on is nothing more and nothing less than the Club, the established order defending itself, defending its status and the status of its members. As a result, previous lines that were thought to be real dividing lines, e.g., lines between those who supported Bush’s war in Iraq and those who didn’t, have disappeared. When the Club’s endangered it is time to circle the wagons. And, of course, Trump must be punished and his punishment must be made to look like a defense of morality, as Trump himself is characterized as a terrible political evil. But he isn’t and there isn’t a battle for America’s soul going on presently. And the proof of this will come out when once Trump is defeated, very little will change socially or politically in the US.  

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Nations, Power, and Human Beings

Nations, Power, and Human Beings
Peter Schultz

            There is only one way to limit governmental power, by embedding it in a community. Once the connection between a government and a community is severed, the government will acquire great power, usually in the form of executive or bureaucratic power. Nations, which are not and cannot be communities, are created to facilitate the acquisition and exercise of great power, in the pursuit of greatness.

            There is a similar phenomenon regarding human beings. Once the link between human beings and community is severed, human beings will pursue power, power after power ceasing only in death. Without a community, a human being has no “place,” is left exposed, alienated and controlled by a fear of death, of annihilation. Thus, human beings pursue power to protect themselves, even while feeling and being alienated and fearful. Life becomes a “rat race,” an endless pursuit of security. It is not an accident that the specter of endless war is before us. It has always been there but is just now becoming visible. “The owl of Minerva flies only at dusk.”

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The Trouble With Being a War Hero

The Trouble With Being a War Hero
Peter Schultz

            The trouble with being a war hero is that those who become such heroes by virtue of being killed in action lose their humanity. That is, they become icons, as it were, and their flaws and idiosyncracies, those things which make us human, all too human, disappear in the fog of their idealization. Everything they did before they were felled in battle are seen as leading up and even pointing to their deaths, so that their lives are sanitized and even glamorized to a point where they become something like saints. They become unreal.

            I knew, as a brother, one such person, who has become something of a war hero, namely Charles J. Schultz, known to me and his family simply as “Charlie.” Charlie was KIA in Vietnam in 1967 where he was waging war as a 2d Lt. in the United States Marine Corps. He had volunteered to be a Marine officer and he could have avoided the war altogether as he had been accepted to the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources after graduating from Muhlenberg College in 1966 as a pre-med major. As to be expected and is appropriate, Charlie has been honored by those who knew him and a scholarship is given annually by Metuchen High School, where he sent to school, in his name and the name of another graduate in the same class, Richard Herold, whose remains have not been recovered.

            In reading one of Charlie’s books on JFK – he was a devotee of Kennedy – I came across the following marginal note: “How do you know when you are angry?” It was the only marginal note in a rather large book. It intrigued me at first because I thought you must know when you are angry. On further thought, however, I concluded that that was not necessarily the case, that you could be angry and not realize it because it was buried in your unconscious. Maybe you were angry at a parent and, because such anger isn’t considered appropriate, you hid it or from it. Which is what I did with my mother whom I was thought of and often said was a saint. As a therapist pointed out to me two years after I had declared my mother was a saint, I was actually quite angry with my mother and was compensating so as not to deal with that anger. It just wasn’t something I wanted to face.

            So perhaps Charlie was feeling with anger too, although not produced by the same source as mine. We can never know now. But the point is this: Beneath all of Charlie’s nerdiness – he chose to wear a coat and tie to high school in order to raise its ambience, as he put it, beneath being Mr. Boy Scout, rising to head his troop in whatever rank is the highest in the Boy Scouts, beneath being his fraternity’s president and the president of the interfraternity council in college, beneath being a 2d Lt. in the United States Marine Corp, he was angry young man who didn’t know he was angry and didn’t know what he was angry about.

            In other words, he was a human being and one who felt things, especially injustices and cruelty perhaps. He rescued and healed an abused dog he named “Jack” after you know who and he wanted to do whatever it is one does after going to a school for natural resources. And so he was angry, or so it seems. And perhaps it was this anger that led him to think he should enlist in the Marines and to make war in Vietnam. Maybe he was angry at himself and was trying to prove his manhood by virtue of becoming a soldier. That’s something that happens frequently.

            It doesn’t really matter here what Charlie might have been angry about because the point is that he was beneath all his accomplishments – and they were many – a young human being who was angry. Which is to say he was a human being, nothing more and nothing less. His life was cut short, ironically in a war characterized by injustice and cruelty but a war also covered over with flags and other symbols of patriotism, as wars always are. Would it have mattered had Charlie been able to consciously know his anger? I don’t know but my bet is that it would have.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Hillside Cemetery

Hillside Cemetery
Peter Schultz

            Tomorrow is Flag Day and on this day in 1967 my brother Charlie was laid to rest in Hillside Cemetery in Metuchen, New Jersey. He had been killed in Vietnam and was buried with military honors in a sad but patriotic ceremony, a ceremony that honored the sacrifice Lincoln called “the last, full measure of devotion.”

            But Hillside Cemetery, before that day, had been part of my history. I was at one point dating a young woman, Cookie Kirwan, who lived on Main St. in Metuchen and when I would go home rather late at night, without a car, I had a choice: I could walk down Main St. to Woodbridge Ave., turn right at the post office, pass the train station and walk all the way down to Upland Ave. Or I could cut through Hillside Cemetery, cross the Lehigh Valley train tracks, cross over Amboy Ave. and cut off a lot of real estate in getting to Upland Ave. So I did the latter. But I didn’t walk through the cemetery because I knew there were spirits there and that some of those spirits might want to scare the crap out of me. So I ran through the cemetery at top speed, which really wasn’t very speedy as some of you might recall, ran across the tracks and did not stop until I got to Amboy Ave. Only then did I feel safe. And never once did I look back!

            After Charlie was buried there, I went to visit his grave and as my paternal grandmother was also buried there I thought I would visit her grave as well, although I never liked her all that much. She was rather stern and unkind to my mother even after my mother and father had been married for decades. But I couldn’t find her grave and when I got home I told my mother about it and she said: “Oh, Peter, she’s buried in the Protestant section of the cemetery.” I was - and still am - amazed. The Protestant section? WTF is that about? You mean Catholics and Protestants can’t properly be buried near one another? Is there an African American section in that cemetery? Could blacks even be buried there? I don’t know but apparently anything is possible. Good thing my father converted to Catholicism or otherwise, I guess, he couldn’t’ be buried next to my mother!

            Time goes on and while it doesn’t fully heal our wounds or completely displace our traumas, it sure changes how we respond to them. Metuchen and Hillside Cemetery will live in my memories until I can no longer remember things, for reasons both good and bad, both happy and sad.  So it goes.

Conversation #12 To Vote for Biden or Not

Conversation #12: To Vote for Biden or Not
Heard June 13, 2020

Susan: “So, you’re not going to vote for Biden?”
Sally: “No. I am afraid not. But are you?”
Susan: “Oh yes. Anyone’s better than Trump. Don’t you think so?”
Sally: “No, I don’t although I do agree that Trump is bad, very bad.”
Susan: “Then why not Biden?”
Sally: “Let me put it this way. How would you describe US foreign policy, pre-Trump?”
Susan: “Oh, I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it much.”
Sally: “OK, understood. But would you say US foreign policies are relatively humane and peaceful or brutal and savage?”
Susan: “Oh, definitely humane and peaceful, with some mistakes. Definitely humane and peaceful.”
Sally: “OK. But you see that where we differ because I see US foreign policies as brutal and savage for the most part and at heart. And that’s why I won’t vote for Biden because he supports what are brutal and savage policies.”
Susan: “Well, I don’t agree with that take on US foreign policies.”
Sally: “I know you don’t and that’s why you see Biden as a proper choice. So, at bottom, our real disagreement isn’t over whether to vote for Biden or not. Actually, it’s over US foreign policies because only if you think US foreign policies are humane and peaceful can you think of Biden as a proper choice. If, like me, you think of those policies as brutal and savage, then Biden is not a proper choice. And, of course, neither is Trump, for the same reasons.”
Susan: “So you’re taking a pass for this presidential election?”
Sally: “Well, yes, because I would rather take a pass than vote for brutal and savage foreign policies.”

Thursday, June 11, 2020

The Shrewd Savagery of Obama

The Shrewd Savagery of Obama
Peter Schultz

[In the following, all references are to Spiral: Trapped in the Forever War, by Mark Danner]

            Obama practiced savagery while disguising it. He said, regarding holding those who justified or practiced torture that it was best to “look forward as opposed to looking backward.” [p. 111] But without “looking backward” the past controls the present because there will be no accountability and without accountability it is impossible “to enter the realm of justice and legality.” [p. 110] And, of course, it was precisely the realm of justice and legality that the Bush administration abandoned – willingly and even enthusiastically – in response to 9/11. By refusing to look backward, Obama legitimized, even embraced the Bush administration’s savage response to 9/11, including the destruction of Iraq. For a forever war must be savage.

            Once this is seen, it is less than surprising that “Rather than ending the state of exception, the Obama administration normalized it. Unlike George W. Bush, who often grounded his secret actions on his own authority as president, Obama and his team . . . worked hard to inscribe his predecessor’s improvisations into law and to make them permanent. And even as Obama [took] to warning that the country must not remain ‘on a perpetual war-time footing,’ he seemed trapped in a prison of his own making, perpetuating the very policies he demand[ed] must end.” [p. 89-90]

            Whether Obama was “trapped” or whether he was exactly where he wanted to be is an interesting question. But given his actions, it would seem he was very much at home where he was. His embrace of “targeted killings” led him to multiply the number of drone attacks throughout the world far beyond the number of such killings made by George Bush. This clearly indicates that Obama was “all in” on a virtually endless worldwide war on terror. As one commentator observed, Obama claimed “the unreviewable power to kill any person, anywhere on earth, at any time, based on information that is secret and has been collected and evaluated according to secret criteria by anonymous individuals in a secret procedure.” [p. 125]

            And of course Obama’s embrace of an endless war on terror had the added benefit of shielding him Republican attacks. As Danner summarizes: “Obama had taken a position so strongly in favor of quiet and unremitting military violence that he left his Republican rival [Mitt Romney] . . . no place to stand.” Because the Democrats in the White House “proved relentless in hunting down terrorists, and those who may look like terrorists, and killing them by the thousands,” because Obama did not “prosecute CIA officers for torture,” because he did not “abandon Bush’s indefinite detention policy,” because he did not close Guantanamo, there was almost no discussion of any of these policies during the 2012 presidential campaign. When Romney was asked in the second presidential debate about drone killings, he said, “that he ‘supported them entirely.’” [p.125]  
Savagery – torture and the killing of civilians, including children – had been normalized, thanks to Obama. As Danner put it: “If Obama made himself largely invulnerable to the politics of fear it is because he shielded himself from it by his cool and ruthless methods and left little political space for discussion. . . The politics of fear had been embodied in the country’s permanent policies, largely without comment or objection by its citizens. The politics of fear had won.” [p. 126]

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Strange Happenings

Strange Happenings
Peter Schultz

            There are strange political phenomena. One, cited by Walter Karp in his book The Politics of War, is the phenomenon of the “heroic defeat.” As Karp explains this regarding Woodrow Wilson and the League of Nations:

“Defeat held irresistible attractions. The League, defeated in the Senate, would regain what it had lost at the peace conference: the pristine purity of a noble ideal. The League’s defeat would shift from Wilson the burden of guilt that was crushing him. Who could accuse him of vainly inflicting war upon his countrymen, after ignoble politicians made his noble war vain….The defeat, per force, had to be a noble one, a defeat after heroic efforts to triumph. In the summer of 1919 Wilson drew up his plans for staging a heroic defeat.” [pp. 342-343]

            In light of this, think of LBJ being “driven” from office in 1968 as he gave up re-election to work for peace, as he claimed, in the face of what he knew would be a “heroic defeat” in Vietnam, a defeat caused by the likes of imperialistic Communists, long-haired hippies, spoiled college students, treasonous professors, the mainstream media, and left-wing radicals who despised America.  And, of course, Nixon and Kissinger had waged deadly war in Southeast Asia, a war that was ultimately lost because of the actions of ignoble politicians in Congress who refused the necessary funds when Ford was president to win the war. And all of this prepared the way for Ronald Reagan to claim that the Vietnam War was “noble.” Of course it was, as its “nobility” was guaranteed by sending a lot of American soldiers to die and kill in Vietnam when it was known that that war was unwinnable.

            Here’s another strange political phenomenon: the surprise attack. Now, almost everyone knows that surprise birthday parties, for example, almost never work. The surprise is less than genuine. And yet both the “surprisers” and the “surprisees” have a mutual interest in pretending that the surprise did work. It’s more fun that way and it’s polite to pretend that you were surprised. Well, in surprise military attacks, like those that occurred on 9/11 in the US, this same mutuality of interest of pretending that the attacks were a genuine surprise is at work. If both sides pretend that the surprise was total, both sides benefit. The attackers benefit because they are made to seem quite impressive in their power and intelligence, especially when a powerful nation like the US was surprised. The attacked also prefer pretense to reality because the greater the surprise, the less blameworthy they are.

So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised when nations and otherwise intelligent politicians ignore warnings like those made prior to 9/11, one of which was that bin Laden intended to attack inside the United States and cautioned that these attacks would be waged with aircraft. By ignoring such warnings, these politicians were, in fact, protecting themselves from blame for not detecting and detering the forthcoming attacks. By ignoring such warnings, these politicians could later claim that they were totally surprised and were, therefore, blameless because, after all, the attack was a surprise.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Disguises [My contribution to National Poetry Month 2020]

Peter Schultz


Hillary Rodham
Hillary Rodham Clinton

Boy Scout

Most Popular
Most Improved
Class President


Sunday, April 12, 2020

The Destruction of HIllary Clinton and Its Irrelevance

The Destruction of Hillary Clinton – And Its Irrelevance
Peter Schultz

            I have recently read the book, The Destruction of Hillary Clinton: Untangling the Political Forces, Media Culture, and Assault on Fact That Decided the 2016 Election,” by Susan Bordo. Therein, as the title indicates, Bordo undertakes to defend Hillary Clinton against what she argues was a cartoon character version of Hillary that emerged before and during the presidential election of 2016. This cartoon version of Hillary was created by Bernie Sanders – who only focused on certain aspects of Hillary’s politics – by the mainstream media – who seemed according to Bordo to buy into the prevailing myths about Hillary – by political actors like James Comey – who did a great deal of damage to Hillary’s campaign with his strange revelations about Hillary’s emails. The cartoon character Hillary was also embraced by younger women who, according to Bordo, saw Hillary as a mainstay of the establishment and too much like their mothers.

            The book is interesting although its greatest fault for me was Bordo’s tendency to present another cartoon version of Hillary, namely, of an experienced, always honest, deeply committed, wonderful mother, stand-by-her man woman. Bordo seems at times almost at a loss for words in explaining how the Hillary she knows and has followed for some time could be replaced by the “untrustworthy,” “dishonest,” “insensitive,” and “disingenuous” Hillary that was embraced by many, otherwise thoughtful and knowledgeable people.

            I believe in large part Bordo’s confusion in this regard stems from the fact that she does not give enough consideration to Hillary’s politics and what they represented to many of those who rejected Hillary’s campaign for the presidency. Put differently, the distrust of Hillary was or reflected a distrust of “the establishment” and “establishment politics.” And, of course, this distrust is easily understandable given “The disastrous track record of the past three decades of neoliberal policy [which] is simply too apparent.” [Klein, This Changes Everything]

            This track record is why a person like Donald Trump could not only get a hearing from the American people but also helps explain why he was elected president. Surely Bordo is correct when she argues that Trump was in many ways far worse than Hillary. But that doesn’t make Hillary relevant. Given our situation after three decades of neoliberal politics, saving Hillary from destruction won’t do much of anything to address this situation. And neither would have electing her president done much to change, to improve our situation.

            Consider, briefly, one of Hillary’s alleged virtues according to Bordo, viz., the Clinton Foundation. As Bordo points out, the foundation was criticized for being used by other nations to funnel money to the Clintons in hopes that there would be a payoff after Hillary won the presidency. Of course, it would be simply naïve to deny that motivations like that were not present for those giving to the foundation.
But it also necessary to ask, and ask seriously: What role does this foundation, or any foundation or philanthropic project, play in improving in a substantial and long-term way the current situation where a very few control a lot of wealth while very many have little or no wealth? It is just too easy to assume, as Bordo does by ignoring this issue altogether, that the Clinton Foundation is doing anything to change this inequitable and unjust status quo. That is, for all its apparent good will, the Clinton Foundation is irrelevant when it comes to reforming what the neoliberals have created.

And this irrelevance explains a lot of the opposition to Hillary, for example, from Bernie Sanders and, more interestingly, from younger women who did not, according to Bordo, appreciate Hillary and what she has accomplished in her career. But that’s simply because Hillary’s career and the battles she fought are no longer relevant to these younger women, who are fighting different battles, for example, paying off huge college loans that, for the most part, did not exist when Hillary went to college. Nor when Hillary graduated college was the unwritten “contract” with employees of corporations what it is today. I use to tell students that when I got my first job out of college, with a corporation, no one asked me, ”Did you get benefits?” Then I would ask them why that question wasn’t asked. The most common answer was, “Because no one got them.” “No,” I would say. “Because everyone got them!” They were stunned. That was not their world, just as Hillary’s world, even in the 90s, was not the world of the “Me Too” movement and she could, because it was more acceptable then, “stand by her man.”

Again, that Hillary has a better resume than Trump doesn’t make her relevant. Where the nation is now is not where it was during the Vietnam War or during the Nixon administration. The issues have changed and the perception was that Hillary’s politics had become, generally speaking, irrelevant. For me, it is impossible to understand why Hillary lost to Trump without taking into account the issues that ordinary Americans are dealing with, economic, social, and political issues and asking whether or to what degree Hillary was perceived as addressing those issues. In other words, her politics were more important than her resume.  Relying on her resume against Trump, as Bordo does throughout her book, was not a winning strategy because it was, quite literally, irrelevant.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Constitutions Matter

Constitutions Matter
Peter Schultz

            Oligarchies differ from republics in that oligarchs claim the right to rule/govern based on their superiority while republicans claim the right to rule/govern based on sameness.

            At the constitutional convention in Philadelphia in 1787, Ben Franklin tried to warn the convention that it was creating a government that would be oligarchic by creating an office, the presidency, that would attract people who thought they should rule/govern because they were superior to, not the same as, the “common people,” or “we the people.” In a speech on the presidency, Franklin proposed that presidents not be paid because to do so would make that office attractive to men characterized by avarice and ambition; that is, attractive to acquisitive men who thought they were capable of and deserving of much wealth and power because they were superior people. As a result, Franklin argued, peaceful men would not seek the office, while those tending toward “violence” would. And Franklin predicted that even after presidential elections, the victors would be set upon by their rivals and subjected to vicious personal attacks.

            Of course, taking into account the presidencies of JFK, LBJ, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush Jr., Obama, and Trump, it may be said that Franklin’s warnings have proven correct. Each of these presidents and their presidencies have been subjected to vicious personal attacks, and two of these presidents, Clinton and Trump, have been impeached by the House of Representatives, although acquitted by the Senate. And the “violence” of our politics is attested to by the degree of security required to keep presidents alive. JFK was assassinated, while Ford and Reagan were attacked, with the latter being wounded by gunfire.  We are not privy to how many other attacks may have been planned but we do know that George Wallace was attacked and crippled while seeking the presidency.

            I believe what Franklin was on to was the fact that when rule is based on, legitimated by claims of superiority, those who claim to be superior must deny the claims of superiority made by their rivals, while of course asserting their own superiority. This necessarily leads to vicious personal attacks, as well apparently as physical attacks. These attacks may be said to be political phenomena facilitated by our governmental arrangements, including of course the office of the presidency. Want to change or moderate the violence, both rhetorical and physical, of our politics, then we should change the characteristics of our governmental arrangements. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to limit presidents to one, four-year term in office, as well as limiting the tenure of congresspersons and Supreme Court Justices.

            In the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton wrote that “The love of fame [is] the ruling passion of the noblest minds,” thereby indicating that he was desirous of drawing such men into the new government, men like George Washington and, of course, himself. The office of the president would, Hamilton hoped, draw into the government men who desired, perhaps above all else, fame, which is a kind of immortality. But this was precisely Franklin’s concern, because such offices and such men would make the new government oligarchic rather than republican, with the attendant violence accompanying such oligarchies. “Great men” seek to create “great empires,” thereby demonstrating their own “greatness,” while earning a measure of immortality. But such men and such empires are encumbered by violence and a violent politics, both at home and abroad.

            Others saw and were concerned with this possibility, mainly among those labeled “Anti-Federalists.” Patrick Henry argued in the Virginia ratifying convention that the Constitution had “an awful squinting,” it “squinted in the direction of monarchy” and toward a government characterized by great armies and war. By implication, Henry saw the roots of what is today called “American exceptionalism,” that is, the claim that because America and Americans are superior, it and they have the right to rule/govern the world. Those roots lay in the newly proposed constitution. As Henry said, and I am paraphrasing, in its youth the American nation was not about greatness, political, economic, or military greatness, but about individual liberty. And that youthful nation aspired not to a “splendid government” like those embraced by the monarchies of the world, but to a republican government and a republican society. It might do us well to recall what Franklin and Henry were about.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Flattening the Wave: US Technocracy in Action

Flattening the Wave: US Technocracy in Action
Peter Schultz

            I once knew a philosophy professor who would, deliberately, make the following “mistake:” He would say to his class that he had gone to McDonalds and had gotten a Whopper for lunch. Immediately, his students would correct him, telling him that he must have gone to Burger King because McDonalds didn’t sell Whoppers. Later though, when he tried to get his students to engage in discussions about philosophical or ethical issues, they were pretty much incapable of doing so. They were lost, most unlike their ability to navigate technical issues like the differences between Burger King and McDonalds.

            This strikes me as apropos of the current US reactions to the pandemic created by the coronavirus. That is, we Americans seem perfectly content to address this as a technical problem, viz., how can we “flatten the wave.” And we obsess over what technical adaptations, in available medicines, in living styles, we should make to moderate the impact of this virus. Other, non-technical issues are not addressed and, hence, are made to seem irrelevant.

            For example, I have seen very little written about how this virus’s impact is affecting the poor and what might be done to offset those affects. The virus is treated as if it were indiscriminate in who it affects, when this is clearly not the case. Moreover, people speak as if everyone can employ the same strategies to mitigate the virus’s affect, for example, as if everyone has “a place” to “shelter in.” “Stay home” the highway signs in my state of North Carolina are announcing but not everyone has a “home,” do they? And what about concerns with justice? That is, what about concerns about how some have the means to escape from those places most dangerous, while others cannot do so? And aren’t all small businesses “essential” to their owners? Why is Wal-Mart considered essential but a barber’s business is not?* Is that just?

            By viewing the pandemic as a “problem” to be “solved,” the tendency is to embrace technical solutions while leaving the justice, the morality, and the discriminating character of those solutions unaddressed. We focus on the number of cases and the number of deaths, congratulating ourselves when those numbers first plateau and then begin to descend. Indeed, that is perfectly understandable. But what about the injustices, the unethical actions, and the discrimination that we embraced in our understandable obsession with mitigating this virus? There is, of course, no way to measure these phenomena as there are ways to measure the virus itself. But even though they are not measurable, they are still real. And perhaps we should try to say something about them, to address them even though, or perhaps precisely because we are in the midst of a crisis.

*Just to let you know: my computer corrected my spelling of Walmart to Wal-Mart! My professor friend would be pleased with my ignorance.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Nixon's Impeachment, Trump, and American Politics

Nixon’s Impeachment, Trump, and American Politics
Peter Schultz

            Rick Perlstein in his Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan, writes about “a spirit of the age” that led “Americans … to train their eyes on ugly truths. They had to abandon their heroes. They had to join the suspicious circles - to abandon blithe optimism.” [261]

            But this is precisely what the impeachment, the hunting of Nixon was all about: Confronting this “spirit of the age,” where the ugliness of American politics and even American life was being revealed – by the war in Vietnam, by the investigations into the CIA, by black power advocates, by feminists, by gays and lesbians coming out, by the free speech movement, by “stagflation,” to name a few phenomena of importance. Impeaching Nixon was a way to hide the ugliness of American politics behind a façade of righteousness. And then, once again, Americans could be made to believe that their politics was not ugly; rather, it was Nixon who was ugly. And, of course, it made perfect sense that this project led to the election of Ronald Reagan, a person who represented, even incarnated the idea that Americans and American politics were not ugly, who incarnated “blithe optimism,” that Perlstein shows was so much a part of Reagan’s politics.

            And after Nixon’s resignation, two phenomena confirm this. First, by forcing Nixon’s resignation, the establishment could claim, once again, that the political system “worked.” It cleaned itself up, as it were, confirming that the Constitution is one of the greatest political documents ever created. Second, by not following through with the impeachment proceedings against Nixon, which would have been perfectly constitutional as early on in our history the Congress decided that a resignation could not stop an impeachment, the curtain of respectability was once again drawn closed, covering over the ugliness of American politics. Nixon was banished and all was well again in the house built by our founding fathers.

            And this is how the story was played, from the White House to the mainstream media. From Gerald Ford, now president: “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule.” [273, Perlstein] A pundit at the NY Times said that “the end of the ‘Watergate agony’ presaged ‘an era of more open government.’” Frank Wills, the security guard who stumbled on the break in at the Watergate was quoted as saying “NO POSITION TOO HIGH” in a headline whose article said “in America even the president is not above the law.” NY Times senior columnist, James Reston celebrated “A SENSE OF NATIONAL RECONCILIATION” while guest writers quoted James Madison. As Perlstein summarizes: “They all resounded with the very same theme: the resignation proved that no American was above the law, that the system worked, that the nation was united and at peace with itself.” [273. Perlstein]

            And what a contrast the new president presented to the recently resigned president. He made his own breakfast; that is, he toasted an English muffin, which became “the joyous keynote – a national talisman of normalcy restored, “ according to the Washington Post. And Ford was “just a balding, square-jawed, honest, straightforwardly pleasant man….a man, who smoked a pipe, like one of those kindly old dads in a 1950s television situation comedy. A pure pragmatist, with no ideology to divide the nation.” Let the good times roll. [278, Perlstein]

            Hiding the ugliness of American politics behind a façade of righteousness has a certain ring to it, especially these days as so many righteously call out Donald Trump for his crassness, his politics, his racism and sexism. And, of course, like Nixon, Trump’s impeachment allowed this righteousness to flourish, while hiding the ugliness of our politics from view. There is no Reagan available to cap this project off these days but there is “Stumbling, Stuttering Uncle” Joe Biden to fill that role. While Biden is no Ronald Reagan, perhaps he will do until the next blithely optimistic doppelganger gets here.

           As William Faulkner wrote somewhere: “The past isn’t dead. In fact, the past isn’t even the past.” Indeed. Or as Mark Twain wrote somewhere: “Maybe history doesn’t repeat itself but it certainly rhymes.”  

           Of course as Perlstein points out, the ugliness of America was still there, even though buried beneath platitudes of pompous patriotic drivel. Three female Episcopalian deacons were banned from performing their official duties because they were …. women. In Jamaica, Queens “a criminal gang of police sergeants had extorted $250,000 from legitimate business owners.” And in Los Angeles, cops were buying bulletproof vests with their own money because they were being shot frequently and the police department wouldn’t buy the vests. It was also the year when Death Wish, starring Charles Bronson as a homicidal vigilante, became one of the most profitable movies of all time. . [274, Perlstein] And Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King, asserted “the same kind of people who were paid to do the dirty work in Watergate were paid to so the dirty work in the Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations.” [276’ Perlstein] As Malcolm X use to say, you would have to be asleep to believe the American dream, which was actually a nightmare.