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.