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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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 30, 2016

MORE TECH GUIDANCE

How do I create an easy to manage list of everybody who wants to be part of this effort, with a place for name, address, phone number, email address -- something that people can sign into without my having to copy each bit of data by hand?  The idea is first to recruit people and then have them group themselves by where they live, so that they can work in their localities for progressive candidates at every level.  This ideally ought to be something they can just sign into.  And of course it must be capable of generating a distribution list.  Or is this something one does with some other social media platform?

This can only work if it is a cooperative effort.  So far I have heard from two people, one of whom lives in Chile.  Anyone else?

BILLIE DAWN'S PLEA

The late and very much lamented Judy Holliday was one of my favorite film actors.  In the 1950 masterpiece Born Yesterday she plays Billie Dawn, the chorus girl fiancĂ©e of crooked junk tycoon Harry Brock, who has come to Washington to pull off some deals.  Brock hires an idealistic reporter [William Holden] to give her a little class, and before the tutorial is finished, the two have fallen in love.  Early on, shortly after she has met Holden, she gets off one of the classic lines in all of movie history.  Looking at him somewhat squinty [she resists wearing her glasses], Billie asks, in her brassy New York accent, “Are you one of them talkers, or would you be innerested in a liddle action?”

One of the problems with blogs, even classy ones like this, is that they are all talk and no action.  It is great talk, no doubt, but it is just talk.  So I said to myself this morning as I was walking, “Look.  If Google is right, this blog is getting between 2500 and 3000 visits a day.  Now some of those are from people coming back a second time in the same day, but on the other hand some people who consider themselves regular readers don’t check in every day.  And even though I do get visitors from some pretty distant places on at least six of the seven continents [no one from Antarctica yet], most of the visitors are Americans.  And it is a pretty safe bet that most, but of course not all, have progressive or left wing politics.”

In short, what we have here is a community of at least two to three thousand progressive adult Americans scattered across the country.  Most seem to be men, unfortunately, but as Donald Rumsfeld wisely observed, you go to war with the army you have, not with the army you want.

Two to three thousand is not a tidal wave, but it is not nothing either.  After all, I created and ran all by myself, with some help from my wife, a little 501(c)(3) charitable organization that for twenty-five years enabled 1600 or so young Black men and women in South Africa to go to historically Black universities there.

So, is there any way to convert this community into a political force for progressive politics?  I am clueless about social media.  I don’t do Twitter or FaceBook or SnapChat, and if I feel myself going viral I check to see whether I have had a flu shot.  I don’t even really know how to create a distribution list, other than this blog, so that I can reach a bunch of people with a few keystrokes.  But I bet some of my readers know all of that.

I am willing to be the hub for this effort, with a little help from my friends, as the Beatles would say.  My idea is to focus on local races, to build a network of activists who will work wherever they live to elect State reps and senators, mayors, Governors, U. S. representatives, anybody who can help us fight for a more progressive America.


To be honest, I do not even know how to start, save by writing this, posting it, and seeing whether anyone out there is interested.  Would this effort duplicate what is already being done?  God, I hope so!  If we are all there is, we are toast.

What do you think?

CALLING ALL TECHIES

I want to install the Uber app on my IPhone.  When I go to the app store and call it up and hit download, I get a message that since this is more than 100 megabytes, it won't download until I am connected to WiFi.  But I thought I was connected to WiFi.   Any suggestions?

WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

Okay, so I give some money to this or that organization, I sign a raft of on-line petitions [sometimes twice -- does anybody check?], I go to a Moral Monday meeting, I write for my blog -- all of this eases the pain a bit, at least while I am doing it, but who are we kidding, right?  What really needs to be done?

I think the answer is pretty simple.  The problem is that I can't do it, and neither can you.  What we need is someone capable of raising large amounts of money [fifty, sixty, a hundred million], using it to pay full-time staff, crafting a fifty state, 435 Congressional District, state rep and state senator plan, recruiting good progressive candidates at every level, and then running this whole operation for years on end.

There is in fact someone who can do this.  It isn't Bernie, God love him, it isn't Elizabeth Warren, God love her, it is Barack Hussein Obama.  For good and sufficient reasons Obama can't do this until after January 20, 2017, and also until he has taken his wife on a vacation, as he keeps reminding us, but then ...

Will he do it?  I honestly haven't a clue.  I have never exchanged a word with the man.  But when he sees Trump dismantling his legacy, he just might.

If he does not step up, Bernie and Warren and some other good people will try, and I will be right there giving them my little bits of money and cheering them on, but I genuinely doubt either of them is motivated to undertake such an effort or really equipped to carry it through.

I shall be waiting and watching.

USEFUL INFORMATION FOR THE NEW ORDER

I stumbled on this very helpful guide to the behavior of people like Trump.  It is worth reading.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

FIELD TRIP

Well, I did in fact go to the NAACP demonstration yesterday evening.  It says a good deal about how quiet a life I lead that this brief outing was the highpoint of my week.  The Reverend William Barber is the head of the North Carolina NAACP.  For quite some time now he has been organizing weekly protests in front of the State Capitol in Raleigh that he calls Moral Mondays.  Yesterday's protest had as its focus the effort of the Republican Governor, Pat McCrory, to contest and if possible overturn his defeat by Roy Cooper, a former state Attorney General.  As I have often remarked, I don't much like taking part in demonstrations, but since the election I have felt the need to bestir myself and get involved in ways other than voting, giving money, signing petitions, and writing for this blog.

Since I do not know downtown Raleigh and had no idea whether I could find parking, I spent a good deal of time online and on the phone finding out how to get to the demonstration by public transportation.  Eventually, what I did was to drive to the airport [RDU], park my car, and take the Number 100 bus to the Capitol.

This does not exactly qualify as a heroic trek, but I will confess that I felt a bit adventurous as I sat on the bus passing NCSU [North Carolina State University] watching for my stop.  When I arrived at the Capitol, a crowd was listening to some musicians and a singer warming up the group.  The Raleigh News and Observor says "several hundred" people were assembled, but it looked a bit bigger to me.  Here is a picture I took.



Exactly at 6 p.m., The Rev started speaking.  Barber is a larger than life size man [he is said to book two seats when he flies], with a nice command of the rhetorical style of Southern Black preachers made familiar to us White Northerners by Martin Luther King and others.  I worked my way into the middle of the crowd, surrounded by White folks who looked as though they had wandered over from the UNC campus and a goodly number, but not a majority, of Black folks.

So long as I was in the middle of the crowd, the event felt big and important, but when I walked several hundred yards from the group to catch my bus back to the airport, the sounds were gobbled up by the night and it seemed small and insignificant in the big public space in front of the Capitol.

One old guy taking part in one evening demonstration in one state capitol.  Not much to write home about but multiply that several million times and who knows, maybe we can take back our country.  Lordie, I hope so.


WHAT DO I KNOW?

The year I graduated from college [1953], I got a summer job as a counselor at a rather benighted sleep-away eight-week camp somewhere up in Vermont.  One of the kids at the camp, maybe aged ten or eleven, was a compulsive liar.  He not only lied about things the rest of us could not check on, like how rich his parents were or the fabulous places in the world he had been [this was back when ordinary middle-class children were not world travelers], but even about things happening at the camp that we all knew about and knew he was lying about.  It was weird.  He did not seem to do it to gain anything.  He just lied.  When you confronted him and said, “But I was there!  That is just not true!” he did not back down or even seem at all embarrassed.  He just went on lying.  I was only nineteen, and more worried about the fact that the camp director was a crook and might not pay us at the end of the summer, but I guess if I had been older and more sophisticated, I might have floated the opinion that the kid was a pathological liar, or something like that.

Why am I telling you this?  Well, strange as it may seem, it is a reaction to the vigorous debate that has been going on in the comments section of this blog in the past week or so.  On the one hand, I love it that people read my blog and are moved to engage in debates about it and by way of it.  On the other hand, all of this is making me reflect on the fact that I really personally and immediately know very little about what I have been writing on this blog, and after a while that begins to trouble me.

I mean, I have no hesitation calling Donald Trump a pathological liar.  But I have never met Donald Trump.  In fact, to the best of my knowledge, I have not ever met a single one of the more than sixty million men and women who voted for him for President.  Maybe what he does is all calculated.  Maybe it is inaccurately reported.  Maybe all politicians are like Trump.  I don’t know any politicians either.  I think maybe I have in my eighty-two years met and talked to one City Councilman, a couple of members of a town School Committee, and one, or maybe it is two, members of the House of Representatives.  That’s it.  No Senators, no Governors, no Cabinet members, and God knows no Presidents [although I did shake Obama’s hand once on a rope line in the White House.]  Odd as it may sound, I have actually met many more really important people in South Africa than I have in the United States.

There is a lot that I do know, of course, up close and personal, as it were.  I know my name and where I live [not trivial when you are eighty-two.]  I know a lot about the philosophy of Immanuel Kant and the philosophy of David Hume.  I know a lot about the economic theories of Karl Marx.  And that ain’t chicken feed, as we used to say [although I do not actually know what one feeds chickens.]  But I really do not know why people voted for Trump, or why they voted for Clinton or Johnson or Stein, for that matter.

What I do know is that as I was walking this morning [in unseasonably warm weather, by the way], I found that I was not puzzled or curious about what had happened in the election, and I was not depressed about it either.  I was angry.  I was angry because sixty million people I do not know have robbed me of sleep, of equanimity, of hope, and of some measure of pride in what my country seemed on the way to becoming.  I was angry because I am going to have to spend the next four or more years fighting desperately simply to stop people I have never met from doing bad things.  And I was angry because no matter how much I bestir myself, as I did yesterday evening when I went to an NAACP protest at the North Carolina State Capitol, there is precious little I personally can do.

Now I must go shop for dinner [I do know how to do that!].  A little later, I will tell you about the protest meeting last night.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

THE OLD PHILOSOPHER TOTALLY LOSES HIS COOL

I think the shock of this election has made us all a little bit crazy.  Jerry Freesia, whose comments on this blog I have cherished, says the following:

“Professor, what would be your response be to Bernie who said “I come from the white working class, and I am deeply humiliated that the Democratic Party cannot talk to the people where I came from....”?

Secondly, we no longer vote tickets and the notion of a "responsible" party may be long gone too. Also "open primaries" are suppose to be more democratic - an argument I have doubts about. Therefore, I think it may be muddying the waters to say in 2016, certainly at the national level, that the choice facing workers was between the Democrats and Republicans. Campaigns have become more and more the presentation and choice between two individuals - party programs, histories, and policies aside.”

My response to Bernie is that his statement is a cri de coeur, like my statement that I am ashamed to be an American.  But having said that, what did Bernie do?  He ran for, and damned near won, the nomination of President of the Democratic Party.  Suppose mirabile dictu he had won the nomination, and, as I think would have been very probable, he had gone on to win both the popular and the electoral vote.  Suppose further that after his inauguration [I cannot even write those words without tearing up] he had undertaken to see passed the very least controversial of his policy proposals, a fifteen dollar an hour Federal minimum wage.  That is merely a thirty year old minimum wage adjusted for inflation.  It has already won passage at the state level in a number of states. 

Well, with Paul Ryan as Speaker of the House, the proposal would not even be taken up in committee, let alone passed and sent to the Senate.  What then would it be necessary for working men and women to do?  The answer is obvious.  Elect as many progressive Democrats as possible to the House and Senate.  Enough means not this or that hero of the left, though I am all for that.  It means enough to give control of both houses back to the Democrats.

Would it be particularly politically smart for working class men and women to elect Republicans as a way of raising the minimum wage?  Excuse me?  I must be joking, right?

Now, we all know this, but we are angry and frustrated and sick and tired of working for years for policies that never get enacted into law because too many Americans, working class and other, either elect Republican state legislatures that gerrymander House districts or don’t bother to turn out for mid-term elections.  This is not rocket science, and you do not need a college education to understand it. God damn it, my grandfather did not have an elementary school education, but he understood all of this well enough to spend his life in the Socialist Party, and so did his comrades in the union he served as Recording Secretary who had even less education than he.

You want a political party that does not serve the interests of financiers and capitalists?  You want a political party that makes the economic interests of working class men and women central to its platform and its concerns?  You want a genuinely progressive party that, given the realities of American politics, can deliver?  So do I.  How can we get that?  The answer in today’s America is clear, and it is the only answer with even the slightest chance of success:  Vote for the most progressive Democratic Party candidate you can find, at every level from School Committee to President, and work your butt off getting him or her elected!

But for God’s sake, don’t vote for Republicans!  That is a mug’s game. 

Remember, I began this discussion reflecting on the fact that working class men and women are voting for and electing candidates who are deeply committed to screwing them.  It might make sense for me to vote Republican.  After all, I am one of the winners in this blood sport we call an economy.  But we need to confront and struggle with the fact that millions of men and women in this country who are quite intelligent enough and well educated enough to understand the simple facts of American politics are routinely voting against their own interests. 

And please, please, stop reminding me of the faults of the current Democratic Party.  I have been screaming about that at the top of my voice since before many of you were born.


Now, having worked myself into a total state, I am going to do a crossword puzzle and try to relax.

A MORNING WALK

My reflections during this morning’s walk were triggered by a portion of a comment made by Ed Barreras several days ago.  Here is what he wrote:

“T***p's campaign exhibited a particularly virulent form of racism, from his conspiracy theories about Obama to his disseminating false statistics about black crime (and we all know "black crime" had its own tag on Steve Bannon's Breitbart News). Some were able to dismiss this as a misdemeanor; others thought it was closer to a capital offense. I guess we all have to decide for ourselves. But what I find interesting is that when it's pointed out that Hispanics and (especially) blacks support Democrats in overwhelming numbers, the paternalistic assumption is that this must be due mostly to identity politics -- as if blacks cared only about the Civil Rights Movement two generations ago, and not at all about economic policies in the present. And yet when it's pointed out that maybe white people are subject to identity politics coming from the other end, everyone balks and starts hurling accusations of liberals being overly obsessed with race. “

I am having a good deal of difficulty coming to terms with the election results and trying to decide on the best course going forward.  As is so often the case, I find it useful to begin by reminding myself of what I have learned from Marx.  If we set to one side the Labor Theory of Value, the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to fall, and other such arcana [on which I have written two books and a number of lengthy journal articles, so don’t get me started], we can sum up what Marx taught us in three simple propositions:

1.         We human beings live by collectively using our labor and our intelligence and accumulated knowledge to transform nature so that it yields the food, clothing, shelter and other necessaries we need to survive and flourish.

2.         Recorded human history teaches us that in all societies a small group appropriate the lion’s share of the collective social product, defending their appropriation with the state, the law, the military, and the police, and justifying it to themselves and those being exploited by appeals to religion, to gender, to race, to nationality, and, alas, to philosophy.

3.         Capitalism is distinctive both in its enormous and continually expanding productivity and in its ability to present a surface appearance of equality and fairness, so that those being exploited find it difficult to penetrate this surface in order to recognize the underlying exploitation that defines their life chances and condition.

These three propositions are self-evidently true and can be recognized as such as soon as they are enunciated.  To them Marx added a fourth proposition which held out hope for a better future.

4.         The inner logic of capitalist development is self-defeating in two fundamental ways:  First, the centralization and rationalization of production necessitated by ruthless competition have, as a byproduct, the unification of the working class, who come into contact directly in factories and workplaces and learn to see their bosses rather than each other as the enemy; and Second, the conflict between the increasing socialization of the production process and the unyielding privatization of ownership and control of that process triggers a series of ever more severe economic crises of over-production and under-consumption, which go hand in hand with the ever greater unification of the working class.  The inevitable result of these two tendencies is the overthrow of capitalism, in the wake of a world-wide economic crisis, by a unified working class and the establishment of a truly rational society in which the benefits of the collective labor of men and women redound fully to those who perform the labor.

As I have explained at some length in my paper, “The Future of Socialism,” this fourth proposition has turned out to be false in several fundamental ways.  First, the persistence of a hierarchical and segmented labor force has fatally impeded, and even reversed, the development of a unified working class.  Second, capitalism has proved more nimble and adept at managing its repeated crises than Marx [and others] anticipated.  And Third [most particularly relevant to Ed Barreras’ comment], the passions of gender, of race, of religion, and of ethnicity have proven far more powerful and deep-rooted than Marx and many other late nineteenth early twentieth century social theorists anticipated.

Let me descend from the abstract and general to the concrete and particular.  In America today, by and large, the Democratic Party defends programs and policies that protect and advance the interests of the least well-off Americans:  raising the minimum wage, extending health insurance, protecting workplace safety, fighting for equal pay for women, defending union rights, and so forth.  Not enough, God knows, but whatever is on the plate nationally and politically that helps workers has been put there by the Democratic Party.  All of this is fought tooth and nail by the Republican Party.  The Democratic Party regularly receives the votes of millions of men and women who are doing quite nicely in the present grotesquely unequal economy – people like me, for example.  The Republican Party regularly receives the votes of millions [or tens of millions] of Americans who rely on the policies implemented by Democrats – Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, the minimum wage, etc. – despite the fact that the Republicans are committed to undoing every one of those policies.

Now look, this makes no sense, does it?  I spend my life working for government programs I do not need and could survive quite well without, trying with pathetic eagerness to win the support of people who desperately need those programs and will be destitute without them.  As Thomas Frank memorably said in What’s the Matter With Kansas, the peasants grab their pitchforks, march on the castle, and shout loudly, “We have had it, we are fed up, we demand that you lower taxes on the rich!”

At this point, I returned home and took off my reflector vest, my hoodie, my scarf, my two pairs of mittens, my two sweaters, my thermal underwear, and had breakfast.  I will continue these reflections later.


Saturday, November 26, 2016

FIDEL CASTRO IS DEAD

I have never been to Cuba, I do not speak, read, or write Spanish, I cannot recall ever having met someone from Cuba, and yet I feel a deep personal connection to the Cuban revolution.  The response of the newly elected John F. Kennedy to that uprising was the trigger that transformed me from a liberal to a radical.  I will leave to others the task of detailing the extraordinary social achievements in medicine and education that the Castro regime has managed despite the crushing economic embargo imposed by the United States.  Today I should like to re-post something I wrote only nine months ago, on the occasion of Obama's trip to Havana.  Here it is:

As President Obama prepares for an historic visit to Cuba, I feel a purely personal need to say a few things about the relationship of the United States and Cuba.  This is as much a stroll down memory lane for me as it is political commentary.  I suppose I should apologize, but blogs are, by the nature, exercises in naval gazing, so perhaps I can be forgiven.  My view on US-Cuba relations is so completely contrary to the view of virtually everyone in public life in this country that it is actually difficult for me to write about it without simply sounding delusional.  So be it.  I am going to try.

I was a young Instructor at Harvard in 1959 when the Batista regime fell.  Let me insert here a passage from my Memoir describing some of my  involvement with the consequences of that event:

"On Sunday, April 16, 1961, just three months after Kennedy took office, a group of Cuban exiles armed, trained, and funded by the C. I. A., mounted a disastrous effort to invade Cuba via the Bay of Pigs and depose Fidel Castro.

The abortive Cuban invasion hit the [so-called] New Left Club of Cambridge very hard.  We had all thought of ourselves as liberals.  Well, Kennedy was a liberal, if anyone was, and he had invaded Cuba.  That meant that we weren't liberals.  What then were we?  We took to calling ourselves radicals, but that was just a place holder, a way of indicating that whatever liberals were, we weren't that.  The day after the invasion, Max Lerner published a column defending it.  Marty Peretz, with his finely honed instinct for the main chance, stood by Lerner, and effectively broke with us.  Eventually, of course, he married money and bought The New Republic, thus securing for himself a charter seat on the runaway train called Neo-Conservatism.  He always was an egregious twerp.  

We had had indications that something of this sort was planned under the Eisenhower administration.  In fact, we had met with McGeorge Bundy the previous Fall, after he returned from a fact-finding tour of Latin America.  On that occasion, he looked us straight in the eye and lied to us, assuring us that the reports in the Nation of C. I. A. training camps for anti-Castro Cubans were untrue.  But by the time the invasion took place, he was settled into the Executive Office Building, serving as National Security Advisor.  Years later, after Bundy had left the White House to assume the presidency of the Ford Foundation, he wrote to invite me to participate in some sort of panel discussion.  I replied that since the last time I had seen him he had lied to me, I did not feel that I could engage in an open intellectual exchange with him.  I never heard from him again.

Within days of the abortive invasion, we had mobilized ourselves and were organizing to protest the attempts by the United States to overthrow the Castro government.  On the evening of April 26, 1961, just ten days after the invasion, we held a protest rally at Harvard chaired by Stuart Hughes, Nadav Safran, and myself.  Despite being somewhat upstaged by undergraduates protesting Harvard's decision to stop printing its diplomas in Latin, we managed to pull a big crowd, and because of the Harvard/Kennedy connection, we got considerable press coverage.  At the meeting, we formed the Cuba Protest Committee, which then circulated a statement for signatures by faculty at Harvard and elsewhere.  We collected two dozen signatures from senior Harvard faculty, including Barry Moore and Rod Firth."

I believed then, and have continued to believe in the intervening half century, that the United States should have embraced Castro and done everything it could to make his revolution a success.  Instead, after failing to overthrow Castro, Kennedy took the world to the brink of nuclear war in a showdown with Khrushchev, the so-called "Cuban Missile Crisis," and then imposed an economic embargo that has been maintained for half a century.

In a manner that Edward Said and many others have analyzed trenchantly in their account of the European imperial mentality, Americans, Democrats and Republicans alike, have arrogated to themselves the authority to judge whether the Cuban government is behaving in a sufficiently "democratic" fashion to warrant our approval and some easing of our opposition to them.  It is an irony so bitter and so blatant as to beggar belief that Americans of every political stripe decry Cuba's jailing of political prisoners while America holds hundreds of political prisoners for years on end in Guantanamo jails on Cuban soil!!!

The impenetrable self-congratulatory arrogance of American society and the American state makes it impossible for me even to carry on a conversation on this subject with most of my  fellow citizens.

After the Cuba Protest Rally at Harvard, I received a telegram of congratulations from a large number of young Cuban artists and intellectuals.  I often wonder whether any of them are still there, and what has happened to them.

Friday, November 25, 2016

BY WAY OF AN APOLOGY TO CHRIS

The comments on this blog have become personal, and I blame myself for that, so I am going to stop.  Instead, let me step back and try to achieve some perspective on the recent election.  [Readers of my Autobiography may recall that my deeply personal engagement in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, in the early 60’s, eventually led to such psychological stress that I retreated into theory, the first product of which was In Defense of Anarchism.]

Clinton lost the Electoral College.  On the other hand, she won two million more votes than Trump.  It seems obvious that had she done something differently – or indeed any one of a dozen things differently -- she would probably have won.  After all, as it is, she would have been the winner in any other democratic election in the world.

But having lost, Clinton is no longer a factor in American politics, nor is her husband.  So let us put the Clintons to one side.  I for one will not be entirely sad to see them go.

It is being widely argued that the Democratic Party must move past what is called “identity politics” and instead embrace the interests and needs of “the Working Class.”  I have written a good deal on this blog about the complex of issues raised by such claims, most recently just twelve days ago, and I am not going to repeat here the reasons why I think that so-called Liberation movements have sought the perfection, not the overthrow, of capitalism.  But it is useful, I think, to remind ourselves of some well-known facts about the American economy and society, in the light of which we ought perhaps to adopt a more nuanced view of the appropriate stance for a truly progressive political movement.

The median income of all U. S. households is currently about $55,000 -56,000.  Exit polling during the Republican primaries identified median income of Trump supporters as roughly $72,000, which would place the “typical” Trump supporter’s household in the top 40% of American households.  The median household income of Democratic Primary supporters of Clinton and Sanders was pretty much the same, roughly $61,000, very close to the national median for all households. 

In America, the median household income for White households is somewhat more than $71,000, for both Black and Hispanic households, somewhat more than $43,000.  Thus if we use the phrase “working class American” to refer only to non-college educated Whites, we are in effect saying that Black and Hispanic families don’t “count” as part of the Working Class, which is a point of view with a long tradition in America and also is simply nonsense.

As is very well known, Blacks and Hispanics at every level of educational credentials earn less than Whites with comparable credentials.  What is more, women of any race or ethnicity earn less, for a given level of educational credentials, than men of the same race or ethnicity with the same credentials.

It is also well known and has been widely commented upon that Trump did much better than Clinton with non-college educated White voters.  Roughly 36% of all Americans 25 and older have a four year college degree, up from about 5% when I went to college in 1950.  41% of Whites have a college degree, 21% of Blacks, and 16% of Hispanics.  Thus, the concentration on non-college educated whites in discussions of the election once again has tended to carry with it the unstated assumption that Blacks and Hispanics don’t count as anything but Black and Hispanic. 

Now think for a moment about all of these figures.  Clearly, Clinton was successful in drawing the votes of the working class, if you count as working class those Blacks and Hispanics who make less than the median household income and do not have college degrees.  And any progressive movement going forward must concentrate on all of those who fit the description of “non-college educated working class.”  But it must also focus, both as a matter of ideology and as a matter of practical politics, on all the ways in which American society imposes extra burdens on women and the non-white, over and above the burdens it imposes on all those, White and non-White, male and female, who are suffering because of the grotesque income inequality and even more grotesque wealth inequality in the American economy.

Foreswearing “identity politics” is a loser, if it means not talking about those extra burdens.  And talking only about the extra burdens is a loser, if it ignores the ways in which non-College educated Whites have been losing out to college educated Whites in the last thirty years.


The big questions are these:  Can attention to the legitimate economic complaints of non-college educated Whites be separated successfully from a pandering to the illegitimate and indefensible longing for White privilege that forms an undeniable element in Trump’s appeal?  And, Can a successful coalition be formed of college educated and non-college educated men and women of all races and ethnicities?  If the answer to both questions is yes, then we have a winning coalition that can make real progressive change.  If the answer is no, then I, for one, am not willing to compromise with, turn a blind eye to, pander to, or pretend not to notice racist, sexist, and homophobic passions for the sake of electoral success.

THANKSGIVING 2016

This year for Thanksgiving, Susie and I went to the Cary, NC home of her son, Lawrence and her daughter-in-law Suzanne, a half hour drive from our home in Chapel Hill.  At the dinner were Noah and Ezra, Susie’s two teenage grandsons [one of whom, Noah, has just started at East Carolina State U.], Suzanne’s father, Jim, and Suzanne’s friend with her son.  For dinner we had turkey, stuffing, sweet potato mash, green beans, gravy, and apple pie.  It could not have been more American if we had started with a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.  It was agreed that we would not talk politics, not for fear of argument but because no one wanted to ruin a lovely event.

After dinner we repaired to the living room, where Lawrence did something that enormously impressed me, tech idiot that I am.  He took out his IPhone, set it up on the coffee table in front of the sofa, dialed up YouTube on it, found a YouTube upload of the recent White House Medal of Freedom ceremony, beamed the feed to a little box on the table in front of the enormous TV screen, and proceeded to play the ceremony proceedings on the TV!  I had no idea one could do that!  Lawrence also showed me where on my IPhone to find the little icon you use to turn on the flashlight.  Will wonders never cease. 

This year’s Medal of Freedom award ceremony is Obama’s last, and the list of recipients was pretty impressive, including Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Robert Redford, Cicely Tyson, Diana Ross, Newt Minow, Ellen Degeneres, Robert DeNiro, Bill and Melinda Gates, Tom Hanks, Bruce Springsteen, and Vin Scully, among others.

There was one fleeting moment during the ceremonies that reminded me how much we have lost in this election.  Let me tell you about it, if you haven’t watched the event.  Barack Obama is a tall man.  Now, tall men early on learn that their height gives them a subtle dominance edge in social situations, whether they choose to capitalize on it or not.  The recipients were seated on a little platform that was two steps up from the level where the audience was sitting.  Obama gave a graceful and charming little bio of each recipient, and then one by one they came forward to receive their medals as a Marine in full dress uniform read out the official citation.  When Kareem Abdul-Jabbar stepped forward, he rather tactfully stepped all the way down to the level of the audience.  Obama took his arm and led him back onto the stage, where he towered literally head and shoulders above the president [Kareem is 7’2”!]  The audience laughed at the contrast, and Obama gave a beaming self-deprecatory smile, as if to say, “You see how small I look beside him.”


It was just a moment, but tears came to my eyes when I saw it.  It was an act of such grace on Obama’s part [and Kareem’s, stepping down to the level below the president], an expression of such self-confident generous humanity, and I knew that there was no way in the world that the incoming president could ever do such a thing.  We face far greater losses and graver threats when that terrible man becomes president, but we ought never to forget these moments.  They will help us preserve our humanity.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

I AM SORRY TO KEEP BOMBARDING YOU

but you must read this column by Charles Blow in the NY TIMES.  As this column, my son's faceBook post, and much more shows, this country is blessed with a great number of people who see Trump for what he is and can say so eloquently.

Let us all keep it up.

GREAT WISDOM FROM MY SON

My son, Professor Tobias Barrington Wolff of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, is one of the wisest people I know.  He has just posted the following lengthy statement on his FaceBook page.  I am going to reproduce it here, not just link to it, because it is so important.


"For my friends who are enthusiastically supporting Jill Stein's effort to pursue recounts and an audit in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin:
I understand the motivation behind the effort, and I appreciate in theory the idea that this will give everyone better information even if it does not change the result. But it is important to understand what this will mean for the incoming President. If indeed the results do not change in this recount, then the entire effort will give the incoming President a powerful moment of symbolic legitimacy at precisely the time when he is flagrantly engaging in a tidal wave of corruption and kleptocracy in order to establish those behaviors as a new normal and intimidate the press and the American people away from challenging him.
This man and the people who surround him understand something that a lot of good people do not: norms and institutions are more important than laws and the enforcement of rules -- and, for predatory opportunists, they are therefore more dangerous. In the vast majority of cases, ordinary people limit their behavior because they wish to abide by norms and respect institutions, not because they will be prosecuted under the law or penalized under a rule. For people with no conscience and no sense of shame, norms and institutions are for chumps. They are also one of the biggest potential obstacles to their ability to act with impunity.
The incoming President and his team are actively seeking to violate norms of responsible behavior in the presidency and institutions like the press that serve as an outside check. When you look at their behavior and shake your head, thinking "But they're being so brazen about it," understand that this is the point. They are trying to shred these norms and delegitimize important institutions in a frontal assault that is so shocking to ordinary people of good conscience that we will feel overwhelmed and won't know how to react. Their goal is to have us acquiesce in all of this without mounting an effective response. If they do that, then those norms and institutions will be gravely weakened. The President and his team will use the very fact that we did not stand up to their outrages the first time to cast us as hypocrites or opportunists if we try to do so down the line.
Giving the incoming President a moment of triumph by prevailing in these recounts will grant him symbolic legitimacy that he will exploit relentlessly at the very moment when he is attempting to establish his outrageous behavior as acceptable and take a torch to the norms and institutions that would place limits on him.
I am not condemning the choice to conduct recounts. But I am deeply concerned. But there is a reason why Secretary Clinton and President Obama have warned people away from this effort, and it is not because they lack courage or a willingness to fight. They understand what this man and his team are, and what they are trying to do."

HEGEL SCHLEGEL, A BEI GEZUNT, SO LONG AS HE LOVES HIS MOTHER

Among the many responses to my plea for guidance on what to do next were several suggesting lectures on Hegel.  My aversion to the great mystifier is well known, but I take all guidance seriously, so I thought I would hunt up Charles Taylor's 1975 book on Hegel to see whether I had actually read it and even, perhaps, made comments.  I bought the book when it came out because Taylor was, and still is, an enormously distinguished philosopher well-versed in the Anglo-American school in which I was brought up.  The book was easy to spot on my shelves because it is huge [568 pages] and rather distinctive.  I climbed up on my library ladder [the H's are on a high shelf] and took it down.  It is, appropriately, called Hegel.

Well, it does appear that I read it, or at least tried.  The opening pages are covered with underlinings and lengthy marginal comments, only a few of which, I fear, can be reproduced on a blog that draws little children and the faint of heart.  But my comments peter out on page 148, the first page of a chapter perhaps significantly titled "Self-Consciousness."  Since Taylor thought Hegel worth a book of this heft, I am forced to concede that there must be something to him, but I am damned if I can figure out what, so I will content myself with suggesting that those who are interested should seek out Taylor's book.

Which leaves me at loose ends.  Let me say that I have decided to try to combine my commitment to opposing Trump with some semblance of my former life, so I shall continue to blog about philosophy, literature, morning walks, and the like while also not allowing the passage of time to convert my outrage to resigned acceptance.

There is a practical problem that limits my ability to create more YouTube lectures.  The UNC Philosophy Department very kindly permitted me to use their classroom for the filming of the Kant lectures, but I am not a member of the Department, and there is a limit to how much I can impose on them.

I could go back to doing "tutorials" in the form of a series of blog posts, and indeed I may do that, but having known the excitement of the footlights and the cheers of the crowd [so to speak, hem hem ;) ], I am loathe to put away my grease paint.

I like the idea of a teach-in on the Trump threat, but I cannot figure out how to stage it.  I have in mind a series of guest appearances in which a variety of individuals are videotaped talking about various aspects of the crisis we face, to be posted seriatim on YouTube.  But I do not have the facilities for it.  I bet Noam does at MIT [they have everything].  Maybe he will have a go.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

WHAT TO DO, WHAT TO DO

As the views of my ninth and final Kant lecture slowly creep up to one thousand, the question presses in upon me, What shall I do now?   As Jack Nicholson observes in the lovely comedy Something's Gotta Give, sitting on a beach sipping drinks wth little umbrellas in them seems like a good idea but only lasts about a day and a half.

Any ideas?

MY MORNING WALK

It was 27 degrees when I walked this morning, which does seem to concentrate the mind, so I spent some time during the walk trying to achieve perspective on what all of us have been dealing with these past two weeks.  First of all, let me say that I am enormously cheered by the level of activity, coast to coast, by men and women eager to join with others and to launch collective efforts to oppose what Trump will visit on this country.  We really are the majority, if we can get our act together, and there seems to be a widespread recognition of just how dangerous Trump is.

As I walked, I reflected that we face four distinct threats, the combatting of which will require rather different strategies and efforts.  Let me explain.

The first threat, on which a great deal of public attention is focused right now, is Trump’s determination to make the presidency a money machine for him and his family.  I have written about this here, and a reader just today sent me an email message calling my attention to a Washington Post story assembling the same sort of list of horribles.  This monetization of the presidency is cheap, ugly, corrupt, and embarrassing, but it is not really serious.  No doubt Trump will manage to make several billions off his term in office, and no doubt a decent Republican Party ought to impeach him for that, but irritating as all of this is, it does not pose a serious threat to us or the world.  The best you can say for Trump is that in the world he is now about to enter, he is a two-bit piker.  If he wants to know just how to go about monetizing the power of his office and the military and other resources it commands, let him spend an enlightening hour or two talking to Dick Cheney.

The second threat is that posed by the identity and character of the people he is choosing for his administration.  Even setting to one side Steve Bannon, the prospect of the likes of Rudy Giuliani and Jeff Sessions in positions of great power is really godawful.  This threat is precisely what one would expect from an in-coming Republican administration.  Contempt for the poor, hatred of those not White, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobic hatred for immigrants runs deep in this country and finds a welcome home in the Republican Party.  Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, and the rest would bring in equally awful people had it been one of them elected rather than Trump.  This is a fight we have been having for decades, and we must continue it now. 

The third threat is the really awful legislation the Republicans will try to enact now that they have a Republican [nominally] in the White House.  We have a strong minority contingent in the Senate and a handful of Republicans with whom deals may be struck.  The House is worse, but Nancy Pelosi is vastly more skillful at holding her caucus together than is Paul Ryan, so perhaps we can minimize the damage they are hell-bent on bringing.  Here the most important task for us is to locate strong candidates for the 2018 mid-term elections and try to further reduce the Republican control of the House.  All of this is politics as usual.  We know how to do it.  We simply need to do it and not lapse back into unconcern as soon as the glitz of the presidential campaign is behind us.

The fourth threat is new, and truly ominous.  It is the danger that Trump will use the enormous power of the Presidency to complete the undermining of the press and will wield the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and the Treasury as weapons against all those whom he perceives as not sufficiently subservient to his will.  It is the danger that he will arouse the nascent fascist impulses alive in American society, turning the really rather robust system of law in America into mob violence and lynch law.  I am not joking about this.  I see it as a mortal threat to American democracy [and yes, I do believe that such a thing as American Democracy exists, albeit it deeply flawed, and that it is a vital defense of deviant opinion, which in this world means you and me.]

I am not sure how best to fight this threat.  The first step is to recognize it, say its name loudly and often, refuse all efforts to normalize it, minimize it, pooh pooh it, deny that anything fundamentally different is happening.  Then we shall have to see what combination of legal action, institutional resistance, and direct personal action is called for.

At about this time, I got home and began the lengthy process of removing the five or six layers of clothing that protect me when the temperature goes down to the twenties.  Sufficient unto the day …



Tuesday, November 22, 2016

WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER

I very much appreciate all of your comments, especially those of Tom Cathcart, which are right on the mark.  If this blog can be one of the many places where people can meet and share thoughts and plan together to oppose the in-coming fascist, I will feel that it has served its purpose.

In his meeting with the NY TIMES editorial board, Trump made it flatly clear that he intends to monetize the presidency.  There can be no conflict, he said, between his duties as president and his private affairs, because he will be the president.  As a matter of constitutional law, this is nonsense, but I suspect he is right that there is nothing he can do [save attacking Republicans] that would move the Republicans to impeach him.

He is a cheap crook, to be sure, but that is not what makes him a threat.  America can survive a cheap crook in the White House.  His real threat is that he brings with him incipient fascism, of a sort this country has never seen.  But Europe has seen his likes, and we know what he will do unless he is stopped.

I am heartened by Tom's thought that even the Bushes might turn publicly against him once he starts attempting to nullify the constitution.  I do not know whether that is true, but I would like to hope it is.

We have a long road ahead of us, my brothers and sisters.  Courage!

THE LONG GAME

Like most everyone I know, I have been in a white heat of anger, despair, fear, and outrage since the election.  That is good, and needs to be sustained, but it is important to remember that nothing has actually happened yet.  Oh, Trump has started using his election as a tool for monetary self-aggrandizement, but that is not serious.  It is just disgusting.  The bad stuff won't start until the afternoon of January 20th.

This would be a good time for me to repeat some advice I have on occasion given to young people about how to be political.  Changing anything as large as America takes the efforts of millions, perhaps tens of millions, of people over long periods of time.  Now, sustaining political action, like sustaining anything, is difficult.  The secret is to find some way of being political that you actually enjoy.  That way, you will keep at it when the spotlight moves elsewhere, when the passion dims [as all passions do, from time to time], and when there are no immediate results to serve as positive reinforcement.

Some people like participating in demonstrations, others hate it.  Some like standing on street corners leafleting, others find it embarrassing.  Some have the funds to make continued donations to organizations doing good work, others do not.  All of these activities, and many more, are needed.  

Remember, social change is not like brain surgery -- the exquisite and precise performance of carefully chosen acts.  Social change is like a landslide.  You may not be a boulder -- that is Bernie Sanders -- or an enormous uprooted tree -- that is Elizabeth Warren.  You may, like most of us, be a pebble or even a twig.  What matters is that you are slip sliding down the right side of the mountain.

WHAT HE SAID

Fuck Trump and the Donkey He Rode in On
November 21, 2016

Donald Trump is no joke. He is not a fool. He is not a buffoon. He is not a mere provocateur. Calling Trump stupid misses the point. Calling him obscene grazes the surface.
Donald Trump’s campaign was a bird choking in a coal mine. His presidency threatens to collapse bedrooms, living rooms, communities, our nation, and even our world. Trump’s presence will aggravate, depress, denigrate, sicken, and oppress millions every hour from now until he and Pence, and all the rest are an awful memory. Their backwash of negation, diminishment, and hate is already fierce.
To continually take in the daily reality we face, to endure the resulting mental and emotional distress and to then act coherently will be very difficult. It will often seem easier, more self affirming, and less painful to make believe Trump is bad but not too bad, abnormal but not too abnormal.
It will often feel gentler for one’s own self and one’s own agenda to dismiss Trump as another Nixon, Bush, Clinton, or Obama – but not another Mussolini, much less Hitler. It will often feel more civil to call him bearable, to wring our hands and turn off our ears and eyes to the choking sounds and putrid odors emanating from Trump’s acts, and to assume civility’s return.
It will often feel less painful and more “mature” to minimize and regularize, to protest now and then, but without persistent urgency, and to live our lives trying not to contribute to the madness but also without trying to win positive change and link the many sources of opposition to produce a real movement.
It will often feel less personally disruptive to passively travel the easy road to hell than to face reality and powerfully and unrelentingly fight back.
Some will feel I am exaggerating. Let’s spend a moment on that. It should not require more.
Bad things are commonplace. Indeed, we have long been frogs slowly boiling. Now, however, and this may be the one mistake for his own agenda that Trump is making, Trump is turning up the burners as high as he can. Examine his Cabinet appointments and his words. Strip away the now nearly eliminated rhetoric meant to obscure outrageous policy and to attract depressed, angry, and disenfranchised supporters, but not, of course, to sincerely aid them in the slightest. What’s left? What’s flaunted in our faces?
Trump wants to disenfranchize and infantilize but not lynch pretty much all non whites in the U.S. He wants to pedestalize, kitchenize, grope, and brutalize, but not rape all women in the U.S. He wants to deunionize, traumatize, robotize, and penurize, but not starve every working class non professional in the U.S. He wants to stunt science, stifle history, transcend civility and Trump truth. Most deadly of all, Trump wants to burn every last fossil fuel and deny every last shred of ecological sanity.
Trump wants to rewrite “This land is your land” to become “This land is Trump’s land.” He doesn’t care if we all sing. He cares only that he is in the saddle and we are being ridden.
Again, am I exaggerating? Is this American paranoia or Amerikkkan Fascism. Not either, yet. But are we vigorously slip sliding in the latter direction? Yes, we are. Not the population, the government.
What must we see to realize what dangers lurk? Does Trump have to goosestep? Maybe next month. Does his cabinet have to burn books in public squares? The month after.
We are not slip sliding to hell because the whole population took leave of its senses. They didn’t. Nor because Trump’s voters, in the main, took leave of their humanity. They didn’t. We are slip sliding to hell because a perfect storm of Democratic Party system-defending and change-decrying hubris, plus progressive and radical danger-denying strategic inflexibility, plus disenfranchised change-desiring worker mis-voting, plus ignorant popular racist and sexist preening, plus limitless mainstream media profit pursuing, plus social media attention demolishing madness, plus likely also a lot of electoral corruption and voter suppression, led to a voting calamity that handed trifecta power to a bunch of historically and ideologically off the chart thugs and their Party partners.
Trump isn’t hiding or sugarcoating his agenda. When Trump said during the campaign that he could get away with anything, he meant, look, I am a massive bully and this country has no idea how to deal with the likes of me. I know I got less than a quarter of eligible voters. I know that only a fraction even among those who voted for me really want me to do what I really want to do. I know that only a handful even of that small fraction clearly understand what it will mean if I get to do what I want, and still favor it. But so what? That is my genius. I marshaled nothing into everything. I am in the Oval Office. My allies stand with me. Every meeting I attend, one opinion will dominate – mine. Let’s go!
If Trump in power doesn’t scare you, if it doesn’t cause you to feel you have to do anything within your means to help impede, stop, and then transcend his brand of inhumanity for yourself, for your kids and for their kids, for all of society and indeed for all the world, then you have either turned your mind off hoping to navigate calamity without suffering its clammy tentacles, or your mind was turned off long ago, and in either case you need to wake up and hear the bird warning us: do something, do something, he will beat the crap out of you.
I suspect that even more than understandably wanting to go to sleep so as to dream in peace and wake up when the nightmare ends, not knowing what to do is what can now slow, stop, and deaden anti Trump resistance which is, at the moment, most certainly very alive and growing impressively.
So what can we do?
Preventing roll back entails preventing or reversing racist, misogynist, and even fascist appointments. Bemoaning Bannon, decrying Giuliani, or even weeping over Sessions is all warranted – but preventing or reversing them is essential.
Preventing rollback also means preventing treaty breaking, law canceling, and policy imposing that interfere with hard won past victories. But how?
The first steps are already occurring, though many more people need to become involved. Promising signs stretch from high school students walking out of classes, to Broadway play audiences booing the Vice President, from diverse marches and rallies occurring and larger ones being planned, to NBA teams boycotting Trump hotels.
But beyond current creative outpourings, Democrats in Congress and across the country will have to oppose Trump’s appointments and agenda. Some will do so of their own accord. Sanders and Warren are prime examples. But others will join the battle only if they feel they must do so to retain a semblance of credibility. They will join only to sidestep and try to co-opt a wave of steadily growing public dissent. Accosting Senators and Representatives in their offices in Washington, at home in their communities, and universally in print as well showing them massive marches and demonstrations that will keep growing if they don’t block Trump, can only help.
What else can spur ever more sustainable dissent? At the high income end, perhaps boycotting Trump products, and hotels – as some NBA teams are already doing, or making statements at symphony concerts and Broadway shows can directly impact him. Even if not, such acts will certainly help galvanize the broader public and other politicians. Expressing dissent, carefully and militantly but without recriminations of Trump supporters who ought to be joining the dissent will be critical. Writing letters to editors or friends, blog posts, articles, comments, and even wearing anti Trump t-shirts – and anything else that makes visible and tries to enlarge public anger at what has happened – can help. Creative outreach with video testimonials is another option, and serious rather than profit seeking journalism, is essential.
But what about moving beyond dissent to resistance and beyond resistance to wining a new world?
Trump wants to escalate deportations. A resistance response might organize sanctuaries at the city or state level or seek sanctuaries more locally at churches and perhaps universities or even by private homeowners offering to harbor prospective deportees to protect them. A slogan might be some clever variant of “if you take them, you have to take us, and none of us are going without a fight.” Imagine priests, local politicians, workmates, schoolmates, teachers, and perhaps even some employers saying and meaning that.
We could demand that friendly churches or campus centers provide housing and protection for potential deportees. We could guard such venues by gatherings of hundreds or even thousands of supporters taking shifts outside to block access. During the days and nights of the sanctuaries, we could hold teach ins and cultural events and otherwise use the experiences to build support, develop trust, and even enjoy the experience.
One of the dividing lines between temporary protest and resistance that persists and constantly goes forward will be serious solidarity. Will women outraged at sexism, blacks and Latinos outraged at racism, working class folks outraged at anti labor legislation and still more denigration, plus plain old citizens of every kind outraged at war and at insane policies threatening ecological stability, each operate independently? Or will they entwine in mutual support?
In response to white supremacist Cabinet and West Wing appointees, why not make their views incredibly visible and oppose their appointments, but also positively propose progressives who would be better in their post, and say clearly why they would be better. Why not create a shadow government. This would probably require Sanders to become its President, but, following that, it could populate itself throughout, and take stands on every major issue as each arises, to contrast clearly to Trump and also organize and fight for better outcomes.
In response to enlarged spending proposals for military and police why not show better ways to spend the funds? Why not demand positive changes in police budgeting, legal structure, and seek community oversight and control?
We could rally at and demand the use of military bases to build low income housing funded by Pentagon budgets. We could earmark the first houses built to the soldiers who worked on them. We could welcome police into neighborhood and even household meetings to discuss how to create safer communities and avoid racist policing. We could go to military bases and police stations too, and organize. Leaving these alone, to proceed wherever they will without trying to communicate and without offering better alternatives for the employees and for society, is a surefire way to aid Trump.
We need to find worthy goals and effective ways to fight for them that appeal to every crucial constituency, and that polarize none away from progressive participation, even as we steadfastly and specifically oppose Trump’s every racist, sexist, and classist move.
Once momentum grows and a degree of coherence, clarity, and inter issue solidarity emerges, we could build grassroots neighborhood and workplace assemblies.
But what about organization? If for the next four years we only have sometimes linked but often disconnected campaigns about all manner of separate issues but overwhelmingly aimed only at preventing reaction, at best we will reinstate the status quo we had before Trump won – which was nothing great, obviously. So why not establish at least one overarching, multi issue, multi tactic organization to not only fight against reaction but also propose and try to win elements of positive program and vision?
And if we do try to create that, wouldn’t it be better that the new organization implements powerful new means to welcome and enhance diversity, to celebrate and practice collective self management, and to chastise and structurally guard against sectarian, short term, and too narrow organizing?


IN YOUR FACE

Trump has now declared that inasmuch as voters knew of his business interests when they voted for him, there can be no conflict of interest.  See this story.  As we might expect, the operative statement came in a tweet, viz:  "Prior to the election it was well known that I have interests in properties all over the world.  Only the crooked media makes this a big deal!"  This is an all-out frontal assault on the Constitution, the first step in the establishment of a fascist regime.  It goes with the effort, most likely successful, to neuter the press and news media.  I am not being hyperbolic.  We face an existential threat to democracy.

Monday, November 21, 2016

AN APPEAL TO MY READERS

I should like, if I may, to address an appeal to all of the readers of this blog.  If Google’s counter is accurate, there appear to be some thousands of people who visit this blog on a regular basis, some of whom, to be sure, do not live in the United States but most of whom do.  Of those many people, for whose readership I am very grateful, only a small percentage have ever posted a comment, and a mere handful comment regularly.

This plea is to the rest of you out there.  Please, please become active wherever you live, get actively involved in opposing the new Trump administration.  This man poses, I truly believe, an existential threat to such democracy as we have achieved in America.  He will use the enormous powers of the presidency to attack and try to punish those who criticize him, and the press and media are too cowardly and complicit to offer any sustained opposition.  It is going to take all of us, ceaselessly opposing him, collectively and individually, to stop him from destroying the victories we have won.


I would like to think that this blog will offer some sustenance and encouragement to those who read it, and I shall do my best to keep up the attack, for whatever good it will do.  

I KEEP A LITTLE LIST, AND NO ONE SHALL BE MISSED [THE MIKADO]

There may be some who thought I was a bit over the top when I claimed that Trump would seek to monetize the presidency.  Hardly.  In the first two weeks since the election, with two months remaining before the inauguration, there are already at least three examples of this corrupt monetization.  I have started keeping a list in a file on the desktop of my computer, each item with a link to a story detailing the act of corruption.  Periodically, I shall reproduce it here, so that we do not lose sight of the totality of the corruption as the days pass.

Here are my first three examples.  


Examples of Trump Monetizing the Presidency

1.         WASHINGTON ― Exactly a week after winning the presidential election, DonaldTrump took time out to meet with Indian business partners and his three eldest children at Trump Tower in Manhattan. The meeting came despite the president-elect’s assurances that he was handing off his business to his children in a “blind trust” to avoid potential conflicts of interest while serving in the nation’s highest office. 

2.         About 100 foreign diplomats, from Brazil to Turkey, gathered at the Trump International Hotel this week to sip Trump-branded champagne, dine on sliders and hear a sales pitch about the U.S. president-elect’s newest hotel.

3.         President-elect Donald Trump reportedly used a congratulatory call from Argentina’s president to push for a stalled building project in Buenos Aires.

            Reference: http://thehill.com/policy/finance/307050-report-trump-pressed-foreign-building-project-in-congratulatory-phone-call 

BE PREPARED

It is quite clear that Trump will use the immense power of the presidency to attempt to squelch and to punish all criticism.  His response to the event at the performance of Hamilton is evidence of that. I think we can also expect little or no support from the media, who will be cowed and deluded into thinking that if they hedge their criticisms they will continue to be given access.  People like me will in all probability not be the targets of this repression, because we are simply not important enough to be noticed {I do not even know how to get on Twitter, let alone what it takes to go viral.]  But we small fry must nevertheless make as much noise as we can in opposition to Trump's efforts at repression, so that at the very least we show solidarity with those who are targeted, and add our voices to what I hope will be an outcry.  

This is one of the reasons why I have made preparations to take part in the protest in DC the day after the inauguration.  If we muster enough participants to warrant news coverage, I am quite sure Trump will respond.  It would not surprise me were he to try to block the protest altogether.  This effort of resistance will demand the energy and involvement of millions, and anyone reading this blog is, I am sure, aware of what is called the Free Rider Problem.  Well, we are going to have to ignore such analyses and participate in efforts to which any individual's contribution, by itself, is negligible.

Buckle up and put a bag of M&Ms in your pocket.  It is going to be a long ride.

EARLY INDICATIONS

If his initial selections are indicative, the President-elect is on his way to putting together an administration of White male bigots, racists, Islamophobes, homophobes, and plutocrats.  He already has the misogyny covered, as well as the personal corruption and nepotism.  [Strictly speaking, nepotism is the corrupt favoring of one's nephew, but he does not seem to have nephews, so sons, daughters, and sons-in-law will have to do.]

All of this is not surprising, of course, but the speed with which it has become apparent [there are still two months until the inauguration!] is fortunate.  The wimpish trimmers in the Democratic Party,  whose natural inclination is to look for the good side even of vampires and the undead, will have their wishful fantasies disabused long before they are called on actually to do anything.  I have never liked Chuck Schumer, but I must say he does not look like a man who would bring a knife to a gun fight.

The speed and vigor with which people are speaking up, joining together, and planning to fight encourages me to think that Trump will not have so much as a day of "honeymoon."  Despite a lifetime of political activism, I am not by nature an organizer, nor am I a follower by preference, but I am ready to march now.  I still do not know whether there will be many of us at the so-called Million Woman March on January 21st but I have plane tickets and hotel reservations, and later today I will go to T J Maxx and buy a warm winter coat [I gave mine away when we moved down to North Carolina].

Let The Games begin!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

THE PROSPECT OF A TRUMP PRESIDENCY

This is the first time in my life that I have been genuinely ashamed to be an American.  Now, I am well aware that this statement will trigger a reflex reaction in Chris and Robert Shore and some others who will tell me  just how awful Obama, or Bush, or Clinton, or Reagan was.  Don't bother.  I lived through those presidencies and I protested all the hideous things they did.  I also protested the hideous things that Jack Kennedy did, long before it was the in thing to be against good Democrats.  But this is different, at least for me.  I am not saying I am angry.  That goes without saying.  I am saying that I am ashamed.  Even though I have a getaway in Paris [and don't get me started on the politics in that country!], I am and have always been an American.  For better or worse, this is my place, my identity.  And right now, I am ashamed.

GOD LOVE THE GREEKS

The ancient Athenians flourished almost two thousand five hundred years ago, but they seem to have grasped many of the elements of the human experience, despite not having the benefit of the wisdom either of Marx or of Freud.  It was they who gave us the word kleptocracy, which I fear will become as familiar as internet or twitter in the years ahead.  It seems Donald Trump has been unable to resist monetizing the Presidency even until after his inauguration, if this story in today's  NY TIMES is to be believed.

At least for times on this blog, most recently last March, I have invoked the valuable insight of my former UMass colleague Zina Tillona, who observed about a professor newly elevated to a Deanship that most people do most things the way they do most other things.  So it is with Trump.  He has spent his life in the desperate and fitfully successful pursuit of profit, and not even the majesty of the Presidency will change him.

It is now only a matter of time, and not much of that, before he starts molesting and assaulting White House interns.  Will it become public knowledge?  Of course.  Everything does.  Will he deny it?  To ask the question is to answer it.  Will a Republican House of Representatives impeach him, as an earlier House impeached Bill Clinton?  Do not be absurd.

I understand the attraction of a White House internship, but I would advise against it.

CHAPEL HILL IS LOOKING A TRIFLE BETTER

At our Washington dinner, my son, Tobias, spoke about what it would do to mid-town Manhattan to have Trump spend time at Trump Tower while president.  No sooner had I reported his observations than I read this.  I wouldn't plan on moving to Manhattan if I were you.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

DINNER IN DC

Susie and I are now back from our visit to DC to have dinner with my sister, Barbara, and my younger son, Tobias.  Barbara and Tobias are good and very wise people, from whom I gained not only some measure of stability but also a great deal of wisdom during our all too brief evening together.  In this post, I am going to try to articulate some of what I took away from the visit in the hope that it will offer help to those of you who read my blog.  We are at the very beginning of a long and genuinely terrible time.  We are going to need all the wisdom, patience, and fellowship we can muster.  I do not want to argue with any of you in this post.  These are early days, and no doubt many of my expectations and understandings will be overtaken by events in the coming days, weeks, months, and years.  It matters less who correctly forecasts the future than how we muster our courage, fellow feeling, and mutual commitment to shared principles.

Let me begin with some insight into the nascent administration forming, rather inchoately, around the President-elect.  Trump, as Tobias observed, is a cruel man who takes personal pleasure not merely in asserting dominance but also in inflicting humiliation on those he considers insufficiently praising of his magnificence.  One example among many is his invitation to Mitt Romney to meet with him to discuss the position of Secretary of State and his invitation to Ted Cruz to meet about the position of Attorney General.  He has not the slightest interest in either man for those or any other positions, it goes without saying, but he understands that such an invitation from the President-elect cannot be refused, and so he will have the opportunity to publicly turn them down, thus simultaneously reasserting is dominance and inflicting some small humiliation.  That he should find this worth the effort and time during so hectic a period says a good deal about his character.

It is striking how utterly unprepared he is for the position he is about to assume.  Chris Christie, who is despicable but intelligent and quite capable, had apparently undertaken the transition planning in an efficient manner.  He was summarily dismissed, pretty clearly at the urging of Jared Kushner, leaving the administration-in-waiting with no plans whatsoever.  No one around Trump even understood that a series of consent documents have to be signed before the current White House staff is legally permitted to coordinate with the incoming group, and inasmuch as Christie had signed those documents and is now gone, new documents must be drawn up and signed.  Nor did Trump and his coterie even grasp that the entire existing White House staff, right down to the secretaries, will walk out of the White House on January 20th next, leaving Trump completely adrift until he hires on a new group – which, by the way, numbers a core of 450 and a somewhat larger group of an additional 1400 or thereabouts!  Our attention understandably has been focused on such truly awful people as Steve Bannon and Jeff Sessions, but the mere daily operation of an Administration requires the efforts of a very large number of people, a fact of which Trump is blindly and stupidly unaware.

It is striking and deeply revealing of the man that he seems to have no friends.  He has countless acquaintances, of course, but no friends.  Nor does he seem to have any long-time business partners – not flunkies and underlings, but partners.  Hence his bizarre reliance on his children and his son-in-law.  [Please let no one bring up the fact that Jack Kennedy appointed his brother Bobby as Attorney General.  Bobby was Jack’s campaign manager, after having served as the Chief Counsel of the Senate rackets Committee.]  Equally bizarre and revealing is his apparent obsession with sleeping in his own bed in Trump Tower, where he has indicated he plans to spend a good deal of time when President.  Tobias pointed out, what I had not thought about, that each time he travels as President to Trump Tower, which I guess is at 57th and 5th in Manhattan, the Secret Service will close down the surrounding area for an hour or two prior to his arrival.  Obama visited New York City perhaps eight or nine times during the seven and a half years of his presidency, causing massive traffic jams each time.  What on earth will it do to New York if Trump decides to spend one or two nights a week there?  [And what will be the response of the commercial and private tenants of the Tower when they find their businesses or their lives constantly disrupted this way?]  Tobias noted that even if Trump shows up only one night a month the Secret Service will have to impost permanent maximum security on the building to stop someone from bringing in the makings of a bomb, hiding them in a utility closet, and planning an assassination.  I do not think Trump begins to understand how public and circumscribed the life of the President is.  By the way, there is already evidence that foot traffic in and around Trump owned properties is way down.  The presidency, despite his manifest intention of monetizing it, may prove a losing proposition for Trump.

And this is what we can collect and project from the first ten days of the period leading up to the Inauguration!

You will see that it was a lovely dinner.  But now let me turn to deeper matters.  How do I [and you] come to terms with the prospect, and then the fact, of a Trump presidency, and with the enormous damage he will do to the lives of countless millions of Americans?

In the days since the election, I have felt, if I may invoke Moses in Genesis, like a stranger in a strange land, but there is, alas, no Yahweh to offer us guidance on stone tablets, so we shall have to make do with our collective knowledge and a quite unwarranted but unshakable belief in the power of comradeship.  I am reminded, from my study of the history of African-Americans, that many times during the past four hundred years temporary victories have been followed by bitter defeats.  Black Americans, whether slave or free, have never given up their quest for justice, and those among us who are White can do no less.

Woody Allen famously observed that 85% of life is just showing up, and yesterday evening Tobias echoed that quip, suggesting that it is not necessary that we engage endlessly in elaborate strategizing about precisely the most effective anti-Trump action.  He repeated advice that he gave to a gathering of UPenn LGBT students [where Tobias teaches in the Law School] that simply showing up to gatherings of organizations committed to shared principles and the defense of the vulnerable is a good way both to strengthen the opposition and to draw emotional sustenance.

Above all else, we must separately and together declare loudly that we shall not go back, we shall not accept the inferior and endangered status that Trump and his administration seek to inflict on Gays, on women, on Latino/as, on Muslim Americans, and even – if Bannon is any evidence, on Jews. 

For those of you who would like to listen to Tobias speaking to the UPenn gathering, you can find it recorded here.

All of this and more I gleaned from one dinner with my wife, my sister, and my son.  Let us each seek out our loved ones, our friends, and our comrades.

NEVER AGAIN.



Oh, by the way, it was a good meal.