Sunday, November 28, 2021

What is Wrong In/With the US?


What is Wrong In/With the US?

Peter Schultz


            For many, it’s white supremacy that is wrong with the US these days, or to put it more politely, the lack of diversity. Racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, etc., etc., etc., explain what is the matter with the US today. And from this perspective, Donald Trump looks like the coming of the apocalypse.


            Only this analysis doesn’t cut very deep into the US psyche and its politics. Sure, racism, sexism, etc., exist and are harmful but they are merely symptoms, signs of a dis-eased psyche and politics. And that dis-ease is the belief in progress. That is, our dis-ease is the idea that the human condition is malleable, that it can be manipulated and controlled by the calculated use of power – both political and technological – in order to ameliorate the human condition by producing a heaven on earth, a utopia, a brave new world, or a new world order under the tutelage of a benevolent despotism.


            It’s quite comfortable to blame our ills on racism, sexism, etc., because these phenomena are seen as aberrations which, once removed as they surely will be, will allow our utopia to flourish. In other words, the progressive project is fundamentally sound, even noble and beautiful, with only these vestiges of non- or anti-progressivism preventing us from reaching “the promise land.”


            The problem is clear: If in fact it is the progressive project itself that is the cause of our greatest ills, then attacking anti-progressivism will do nothing to cure our dis-eased way of life. In fact, by attacking anti-progressivism, it is guaranteed that our dis-eased way of life will be fortified.


            But are racism, sexism, etc. actually anti-progressive? Or are they merely reflections of, the by-products of progressivism in the sense of being ways of thinking that arise once we have embraced the idea that we are capable of almost limitless progress? That the latter is correct is confirmed by the fact that dissenters who reject, say, racism as the all-important determinant of our ills – as did eventually both Malcolm X and MLK – are more dangerous dissenters than those who did not. Malcolm X and MLK came to see that there was a savagery in the US that involved but transcended race. Their “demise” followed soon after their revelations. By focusing on racism, sexism, etc., progressives hide the flaws of their progressivism and, thereby, contribute to the dis-ease that is consuming the US.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

"Lock Him Up!" Putting Trump in Prison


“Lock Him Up!” Putting Trump in Prison

Peter Schultz


            The desire, which is understandable, of wanting to put Donald Trump in jail, to “lock him up,” as some chant, reflects a misconception about the problematic character of Trump. That Trump is a criminal may be true, but it isn’t what is most troubling about him and his politics. What is most troubling about Trump is how he reflects some of the worst aspects of American politics and society. That is, what is most troubling about Trump is the fact that although he may be a criminal, he is through and through an American. People who ignore this fact are unable to appreciate how flawed, how defective our politics and society are. They are also unable to counter Trump and the dangers he represents. In a strange way, they even help to perpetuate Trump’s popularity.


            Trump’s famous claim was “MAGA,’ Make America Great Again. Leaving aside the details of how Trump would accomplish this, it is necessary to ask a question most Americans haven’t asked: Is making America great again desirable? That is, generally speaking, what’s involved in making America great? What does it require? What does it promote? Of what is national greatness composed?


            Obviously, the first thing that comes to mind, is “nationalism.” That is, to make a nation great requires that that nation embrace nationalism. More precisely, it requires that such a nation see itself as exemplary, as exceptional. And it is interesting that underlying many critiques of Trump’s nationalism – thought to be of “white nationalism” variety – is an embrace of a resurgent nationalism, a resurgent embrace of the feeling that the United States is in fact exceptional. In fact, it is this feeling, it seems to me, that feeds much of the irritation, the intense dislike of Trump: He has undermined the feeling that we are an exceptional people. And this feeling has been inculcated in us at least since the Reagan presidency, when it was “morning in America” again and Reagan told us that we could “make the world anew.” And it is this feeling of exceptionalism that has helped justify our response to the attacks of 9/11, during which we and our allies have contributed to the deaths of more than a million people throughout the world.


            But is this feeling really what the United States needs today, whether on Trump’s terms or on the terms of his enemies? Richard Nixon once gave a speech in which he argued that not only was the United States living in a world where it would be impossible for it to maintain its hegemony, but also that this was a good thing. In other words, Nixon, unlike most other politicians of his day and now of ours, thought it would be a good thing if the United States did not seek greatness; that is, did not seek to impose its hegemony on the world. As Nixon knew, it was that desire, the desire for greatness, for hegemony that led to the war in Vietnam, a war Nixon always knew was not only a lost cause but even irrelevant given the undeniably forthcoming hegemony of China in Asia.


            Once Nixon was disposed of, along with his policies of d├ętente with the Soviet Union and his opening to China, then we could get back to fortifying US hegemony in the world under Reagan and then under Papa Bush’s “New World Order.” Reagan and Bush’s agenda for fortifying US hegemony, fortifying its greatness, was continued by Bill Clinton and most forcefully by George “the Shrub” Bush and Dick Cheney. And even Obama did nothing to even hint that perhaps Richard Nixon was correct and that the time of America’s greatness was over and that this could be a good thing. Trump is merely playing the same old song, although it has a different beat since Obama and others are gone.


            Whether Trump committed criminal acts fades into insignificance in light of these questions: Should the United States seek national greatness? Is the continuation of America’s hegemony possible any longer? Even if possible, is that hegemony good for American society, with all the dislocations it requires in terms of government policies, which amount to the existence of “a national security state” with pervasive powers allowing for repression of dissent and the loss of privacy? We have spent trillions of dollars on our national security state while denying health insurance to millions of children and other Americans, even during a pandemic. Is this really how we want to live? Is it really how we should live? Is it really just to live this way? Trump, in his desire to make America great again, never raises these questions; but then many of his enemies also don’t raise these questions either. And, so, guess what? There is very little justice in the United States which feeds the demagoguery that surrounds us. And, of course, in that environment, Donald Trump, being a demagogue, has acquired a status that seems unexplainable to many decent folks. But it is explainable because Trump is just playing that “same old song, just with a different beat since [Reagan, et. al.] are gone.” But now it’s time to start playing a different song.

Friday, November 5, 2021

What Really Happened When Harry Met Sally


What Really Happened “When Harry Met Sally”

Peter Schultz


            In the movie, “When Harry Met Sally,” a or even the key scene is when Harry and Sally “sleep together” after Sally learned that her ex, Joe, is getting married. Afterwards, Sally is quite content, even perhaps ecstatic, while Harry is anything but happy and obviously can’t wait to bolt. Sally interprets this as Harry’s typical behavior of having sex and then leaving, which behavior led Sally to call Harry “an afront to every woman” in the famous deli scene.


            But Sally is wrong about what was going on with Harry after they “did it.” Harry didn’t want to bolt because he and Sally had sex. He wanted to bolt because he knew, at some level of consciousness, that they did not just have sex. They had made love. And this, lovemaking as opposed to just having sex, is what rattled Harry because, in all likelihood, Harry had very little experience making love as opposed to having sex. He had claimed that Sally had not had “great sex” in the diner scene, suggesting of course that he did. And his description to Sally about why he was getting married was as much about his being tired of the dating scene as it was about love.


            Harry is unprepared for making love in part because as a graduate of the University of Chicago – as in all likelihood a political science major (he is a political consultant in New York) – he has “a dark side.” In fact, Harry defines himself and his life by this dark side, telling Sally when they meet that he’s going to be ready to die while she will not. And part of Harry’s darkness is his conviction that men and women cannot be friends because “the sex thing always gets in the way.” In the world, as Harry understands it, love and friendship are illusionary. Sex is real – or so Harry likes to think – but love isn’t. Harry knew, he says, that Helen didn’t love him and that his marriage would fail. So, when love happens, when Harry actually makes love to Sally, he just wants to turn their lovemaking into sex so “we can get over this.” Experiencing love as Harry does with Sally overturns what he takes to be reality, a dark world where men and women cannot be friends, can’t care and care deeply for one another – as he warns Jess and Marie quite forcibly – can’t be in “love, actually.”


            Despite what Harry learned at the University of Chicago, the world, the real world, is open to the possibilities of friendship and life-long love. On the other hand, Sally, who is according to Harry “too busy being happy” to prepare for death, knows that she’s in love with Harry, knows that she has made love with him, and she refuses to let Harry demean what happened – “You took pity on me?! Fuck you!” [Slap!] – or to demean her: “I am not your consolation prize!”


            As Harry contemplates his life alone on New Year’s Eve, he realizes – especially when standing in Washington Park where he and Sally first parted – that “it had to be you.”  Harry realizes that he’s in love with Sally and has an epiphany: “I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, you want the rest of your life to begin as soon as possible!”  So, Harry, realizing that he’s in love with Sally, also realizes that love and friendship are possible, are real, and he’s ready not only to live but to share that life with Sally. Death is no longer Harry’s focus; rather it’s life, living, and loving.


            So, when Harry met Sally, Harry becomes, eventually, what the Greeks called a “real human being” (aner, which is genderless in the Greek) and not just a character in some dark drama that holds no promise of happiness. As dark as the world might be, the real world is open to the possibility of friendship, love, and happiness.