Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

FIRST THOUGHTS

I am struggling to conquer my powerful and rather childish urge to hide, to pull the covers over my head and simply hope this will all go away.

Let me begin with a personal observation that has, I think, broader meaning.  I got up this morning after a troubled night, dressed and made the bed [no walk – it was raining], took out the garbage, and then went off to Whole Foods to shop for two dinners, taking with me for the Thrift Shop some old clothes Susie and I had put in the trunk of my car.  Although I was physically ill with distress, I reflected that this election will have no significant impact at all on my quotidian life.  Susie and I live on my UMass pension and our Social Security benefits.  We are protected by Medicare.  The market may crash [one never knows], but since I do not own any stock, that is nothing to me.   And yet, I feel that I no longer know the country in which I have spent my life.  It is an odd and significant fact that for me, and for countless other Americans, the election of Donald Trump will have as much direct personal effect on me as a big loss by a favorite sports team.  According to any political theory to which I owe even passing allegiance, this is a bad thing, but it is a fact that I need to somehow understand.

I have no personal experience of Nazi Germany, but I did spend some time in pre-liberation South Africa, and I can attest that so long as one was White and was not engaged directly in the heroic struggle against the apartheid regime, it was quite possible to live a pleasant, rich, culturally and intellectually rewarding life there.  The distressing fact that five-sixths of the population was oppressed did not intrude on one’s daily affairs.  The same thing was of course true of slave and Jim Crow America.

What may we expect of a Trump presidency [even writing the words disorients me.]?  I found the initial comments posted on this blog unusually wise and insightful.  I was most particularly struck by the prescient prediction of Dick Rorty, quoted by Ed Barreras, and by Chris’s poignant plea.

In struggling to answer the question, it would be well to distinguish sharply between foreign and domestic affairs.  A President has quite far-reaching powers in foreign policy, and seventy years of post-World War II imperial American presidential actions have firmly established that those powers can be exercised virtually without Congressional oversight or restraint.  In the domestic arena the situation is quite different.  Congress has and jealously guards very considerable power over domestic legislation.  However, the President controls a huge administrative bureaucracy, and I am very fearful, as Chris is, of the ways in which Trump will deploy that power.

By now we know that Trump is an ignorant narcissistic sociopath with an obsessive need for approval and the attention span of a May Fly.  He is unwilling and unable to engage in the focused study required to master any of the issues that will come before him as President, preferring boastfully to rely on his untutored instincts.  There is very little evidence that he is actually interested in doing the job of the Presidency, as opposed merely to being President.  I would imagine that the high point of his Presidency will be his Inauguration, after which it will be downhill all the way.

Let us consider domestic affairs first.

Will he “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act?  Well, he cannot do that, of course, but a Republican Congress can, if Mitch McConnell is willing to abrogate the filibuster for ordinary legislation.  Would Trump sign such a bill into law?  Of course.  Will he make any useful suggestions as to a substitute for the ACA acceptable to the Republican leadership in Congress?  I doubt it.  That would require more sustained attention than he has been willing to give to any issue of policy.  Will he build a wall on the Mexican border?  No.  Will he continue Obama’s extremely vigorous program of deportation of undocumented aliens?  Almost certainly.  Will he create in his Administration a deportation force?  Well, such a force already exists, and has been carrying out Obama’s deportation policies for years.  Will be bring back America’s lost manufacturing jobs?  Of course not.  Nobody will.  Will he sign a piece of legislation giving tax breaks to the rich?  Of course.  Will he gut whatever measures Obama was able to take to combat global warming?  Certainly.

Thus far, I am describing things that any Republican President would do.  All of that is bad enough.  Now we come to more serious matters.  Would Trump attempt to use the FBI and the Justice Department to punish individuals who said or published negative or unflattering things about him?  I do not know, but the evidence we have is deeply troubling on that account.  Would the judicial system stand against him and stop him from acting in that manner?  I hope the answer is yes, but I am old enough to remember Richard Nixon, who was a Defender of the American Way by comparison with Donald Trump, and the damage Trump could do is immense.  He would appoint justices to the Supreme Court on the model of Antonin Scalia.  The first such appointment would return us to the situation that obtained on the High Court before Scalia’s death.  A second appointment would condemn us to reactionary court decisions for a generation.  Would Trump order his Justice Department to prosecute Hillary Clinton and any other political or media figures whom he judged to be his enemies?  Would the Justice Department obey?  With Rudy Giuliani as Attorney General?  I would not want to count on it.

All of this is frightening enough, but the real dangers are in Trumps conduct of foreign and military affairs.  Once again, we must remind ourselves that he is deeply ignorant and powerfully resistant to learning anything.  The evil he would almost certainly promulgate is, at least to me, terrifying.  He would pull America out of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.  He would probably abrogate the agreement worked out by Secretary Kerry with Iran, opening the way to the development of nuclear weapons in that country.  I tell myself that he could be prevailed upon never to order the use of nuclear weapons, but I have no rational basis for that belief.

In short, a Trump Presidency promises to be a horror unlike anything we have seen before.  Bad as this country is in all the many ways I have written about and spoken about for years, Trump will, I fear, make it much, much worse.

What, if anything, can we do?  Let me think about that for a day or two before I try to write about it.



4 comments:

J. W. F. said...

Trump has also indicated that he intends to run international affairs like the Mafia organization and extort contributions from NATO allies for protection. If I remember my Thucydides correctly, Athens' pressure on members of the Delian League for tribute was one of the causes of the Peloponnesian War and the downfall of the empire. Presumably he will also be immediately making a deal with Russia to reinstate Assad.

Anonymous said...

The outcome of this election is the natural consequence of treating people as interchangeable units of production - quite literally widgets in the grand capitalist machine that powers the US economy. The displaced people of the rust belt fought back last night, pinning their misplaced hopes on the demagogue who promised to extract them from the quagmire of marginalization and obscurity. The Democratic party lost sight of this phenomenon - incorrectly assuming that these voters would follow the instructions of their union leaders and local party bosses. Because of this, we will inherit the regressive outcomes. This is heartbreaking, mainly because it was so avoidable.

Chris said...

As I wrote in a post below, and I know I'm often the insufferable gadfly around here, but we have to recognize the facts and it's time liberals and democrats woke up.
I highly recommend Thomas Frank's piece this morning:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/09/donald-trump-white-house-hillary-clinton-liberals

And Greenwald's:

https://theintercept.com/2016/11/09/democrats-trump-and-the-ongoing-dangerous-refusal-to-learn-the-lesson-of-brexit/

I don't want to pat myself on the back when it's clear the day is dark, and the night is black, but I was screaming and warning that corporate democrats were going to eventually implode, they were not the solution but the very problem, this center-leftism I'm with her shit was a dud against a populous, and Obama's state apparatus is a fascist's wet dream.

Obama has okayed the following things:

NDAA - indefinite detention of American citizens without due process on suspicion of possible terrorist activities (so loosely defined we could all be locked up).

An assassination program with a kill list not overseen by congress.

An assassination program that KILLED TWO AMERICAN CITIZEN'S WITHOUT DUE PROCESS (one was sixteen years old).

An expanded drone program.

An expansion of the war powers act during the invasion of Libya (we argued about this professor, I was unfortunately prescient).

A surveillance state that is beyond the capacities of 1984, and a willingness to punish and detain moral whistle blowers with complete reckless abandon (Obama has sentenced more whistle blowers and used the espionage act more than any previous administration combined).

And everyone sat by silently saying well at least he isn't Bush. I agree he's not Bush.

Great, now let's see what happens when these programs get in the hand of a real fascist.

I see no light at the end of the tunnel. Professor your post is more hopeful than I am, and it's not even hopeful.

Our only chance, and I don't envision it working, is the formation of a PROGRESSIVE party/platform/coalition/whatever, that is as left as Sanders or MORE left, and ENTIRELY breaks away from corporate liberals, capitalist liberals, finance capitalists, and all those elements Trump just successfully clobbered with his sledgehammer of populism. When the democratic party inevitable pushes more Tim Kaine's, and Clinton's, and Biden's, and Obama's, and people that were basically 1970s and 80s republicans, we cannot concede anymore and allow them to be our lesser of two evils, because they are what's going to allow for the continuation of more evil like Trump. They are done, they are dead, it's Sanders, and Stein, and Warren or fascism.

My money is on fascism.



Chris said...

Small aside.
I did think Clinton would win last night, but I was not happy. My assumption was that Clinton would will, but in 4 years someone who looks like Paul Ryan and doesn't have a lewd sex tape, would do exactly what Trump did (i.e., run on the same platform) and win. I expected Hillary to delay our descent by 4 years but I never expected her to prevent it. Either way I think we landed now where I suspect we would have landed in 4 years. And I think it's for all the reasons listed above, with the same level of consequences.

I am so morose....Why go on? Schopenhauer, Althusser, they were right about everything!