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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Saturday, January 7, 2017

INTERIM REPORT

It is now two months since Trump was elected, and certain things are becoming clearer that give an eternal optimist like me some reason for hope.  Let me suggest four.

First, there has been an astonishing spontaneous outpouring of vocal grass-roots opposition to the new administration and a flood of local and national organizing efforts.  Usually the period after an election is a downtime for such activities.  People are weary from the long run-up to the vote, they are tapped out financially, and they give the new president some small period of grace in which to prove himself [and, yes, it is still “he” or “him,” at least for the moment.]  But this time, people have not even waited until the inauguration to start organizing.

Because so many efforts are underway [or, to be precise, under weigh], and because they are not being centrally coordinated, there is a good deal of overlap, duplication, and, even in this age of cyber-sophistication, failed coordination.  That does not dismay me at all.  As I have so often observed, political change is like a landslide, not brain surgery.  In time, things will get sorted out, at least sufficiently to make an impact on the public life of the country. 

Every day, I learn about new ways to be active and effective.  The latest is contacting your local Democratic Party and volunteering to be a precinct captain.  This gives you a vote on the selection of higher up officials in the State party, which in turn gives you some say in who is chosen as national Democratic chairperson.  [And please, no rants about the malign evil of the Democratic Party.  If this form of activism does not appeal to you, don’t do it, but don’t waste your time and mine inveighing against it.  As soon as you have a plausible means by which a few thousand simon pure lefties can take over a party that just pulled 63,000,000 votes, you can count on me to be on board.]

The second reason for hope is the evidence that at least on some things that matter, the Senate Democrats are prepared to use all the tricks in the Senate rule book to stop Trump.  Now, let me be clear.  There are maybe two dozen sitting Democratic senators whom I would prefer as Senate Minority Leader to the egregious Chuck Schumer.  But Schumer is whom we’ve got, and there is no realistic opposition to him, so we shall simply have to make do.

At this point, let me pause in my itemization of reasons for hope to note one major problem on our side of the aisle that we must be aware of and work against.  I refer to the Clintons, who are not going anywhere, much as we would like them to.  They remain the most powerful people in the Democratic Party, and they have made it clear that they intend to maintain their control of the party if they can.  This is not exactly surprising.  Hilary Clinton just won the popular vote by almost three million.  It is just a delusion to imagine that she is going to fade into the woodwork and disappear.  However, the two most popular politicians in the party are Sanders and Warren, both of whom are chomping at the bit to change the party, so if all of us who support them will just become politically active, we can beat back the Clintons and their vast center-left conspiracy, to adapt one of HRC’s best known phrases.
The third cause for optimism is the evidence now building that Trump cannot count on the undivided support of Republicans in the Senate for the wide array of bad things he wants to do.  It is increasingly likely that enough Republican senators will defect to block abrupt cancellation of the Affordable Care Act.  Trump’s bromance with Russia has a small but significant group of Republican war hawks up in arms, which will, in turn, weaken his ability to take actions that would threaten the rather shaky world economy.  I am perfectly happy to see the CIA and the NSA taken down a peg, but I think those on the left who yearn for détente with the Russians are deluding themselves.

Finally, there is Trump himself.  He remains ignorant, distractable, unable to concentrate even on the things he appears to want, and easily baited into scattershot Twitter rants that undermine his ability to govern.  Since virtually everything he claims to want to do is bad, the less competent he is the better we will be. 

Remember, Trump has not even taken office yet!

I conclude with my oft-repeated advice:  Find what you enjoy doing in the way of opposition to Trump and do it.  Don’t worry about whether it is the most important thing you could be doing.  Just do it and keep on doing it.  What about me?  Well, S. Wallerstein thinks that I ought to make my contribution by offering YouTube lectures on Marx.  I confess that reminds me of this lovely passage from the Preface to the Philosophical Fragments:

“When Philip threatened to lay siege to the city of Corinth, and all its inhabitants hastily bestirred themselves in defense, some polishing weapons, some gathering stones, some repairing the walls, Diogenes seeing all this hurriedly folded his mantle about him and began to roll his tub zealously back and forth through the streets.  When asked why he did this he replied that he wished to be busy like all the rest, and rolled his tub lest he should be the only idler among so many industrious citizens.”


So let us bestir ourselves polishing weapons and gathering stones.

8 comments:

Chris said...

I'm just throwing an idea out there, and I'm curious what others think. Let me note before I state it, per usual, I do not support Trump, I do not like Trump, and I recognize him as a fascist threat. Okay, so, this is just an idea open for discussion for Professor Wolff and readers of this blog. Wolff states the following:

"Finally, there is Trump himself. He remains ignorant, distractable, unable to concentrate even on the things he appears to want, and easily baited into scattershot Twitter rants that undermine his ability to govern. Since virtually everything he claims to want to do is bad, the less competent he is the better we will be."

This is all completely true. Trump is thin skinned, a bully, and he definitely keeps a list of enemies who have wronged him, and seeks revenge like a giant baby (no offense intended to actual babies). But he also loves praise and accolades. Anyone that kisses his ass will for a fleeting moment get awarded over the opposition.

If we form a MASS resistance to Trump, the mass resistance will be his target of revenge and ire. That's fine, he deserves it. But just hypothetically, is it POSSIBLE, that maybe we are going about this the wrong way. Resisting him, calling him names, protesting him from day one. What if it were possible for the left, oddly enough, to praise him for all the bits of progressive things he stated during his campaign (trade deals, brief nod to universal healthcare, etc), and point out how those evil republicans are holding him back from being the great man that he is, because they think he's a bit fat idiot.

Basically what I'm saying is, this man is a manipulable idiot, why can't we just turn him leftward and make his enemies the republicans?

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I am certainly not opposed in principle to this, but I am not sure where our purchase would be. Notice the people around him who have his ear on a daily basis. Perhaps the best way to proceed is to try it on one thing and see whether it works. What would you suggest?

s. wallerstein said...

Chris,

The left in the U.S. is not a secret conspiratorial party with Leninist discipline, so the plot to turn the Republicans against Trump by praising him from the left would soon become public (don't you think that intelligence agencies read this blog and many others in which the plot would become public?) and Trump and the Republicans would be forewarned.

Utopian Yuri said...

seems to me there is another reason to be optimistic: the republican agenda includes many rollbacks that will hurt a lot of people. trump is going to get his share of the blame for this when people start getting hurt. because of his general incompetence and reactionary agenda, people are going to be worse off in 2 years than they are now. much of his support is superficial - it is from people who have bought into his personality cult and believe that he can wave a wand and make america great. some of those people will be fooled when he blames everyone but himself for his failures while trumpeting his real and imagined successes, but many others will turn on him, like the people who enrolled in his university or bought his shoddy products. just as many voters turned against george w. bush when his monumental incompetence was exposed by his response to katrina, the WMD debacle, and the financial collapse, they will turn against trump.

David said...

Professor Wolff,

I served for a number of years as a precinct committee officer (PCO), sometimes referred to as precinct captain. I also served on the Executive Board of a District Democratic organization. If you want to learn about the nuts and bolts of how the Democratic Party works at the local level, serving as a PCO and getting involved in a Democratic District organization is a good way to do it. It doesn't take very long to learn that such lowly positions give you disproportionate access to elected Party officials at the state level and even to members of Congress. This kind of political activity takes time, energy, and patience (you end up going to a lot of meetings), but for many people this is a satisfying way of getting involved in the political process.

Chris said...

Wallerstein,
I definitely wasn't intending this in any Leninist way. It's true that Trump did support, even if only very briefly, certain positions the left likes. It's true the Republicans would probably try to stop him on some of those issues. There's no need to be clandestine about motives and goals.

s. wallerstein said...

Chris,

It sounds like an intelligence operation from a Le Carré novel (one of my favorite authors) where intelligence professionals use the media to praise a certain political figure in order to weaken his alliances. It might work on that level: daily New York Times editorials praising Trump, long positive write-ups in the Nation, flattering profiles of Trump in the New Yorker, articles elsewhere in the liberal media lauding Trump's openness to polyamory, etc. That might lead some Republicans to suspect Trump.

On the level of the leftwing masses I can't see it working because first of all, as I said above, by the time the leftwing masses learn what the plot is, Trump will have learned. Second of all, the left's chief fuel is indignation, righteous indignation of course, so leftists en masse are unlikely to be willing to give up the joy of being indignant about Trump to praise him in order to destroy him. We all savor our indignation too much for that.

levinebar said...

Among the contradictory heap of soundbites that Trump has spewed instead of policy, there certainly are elements I, at least can embrace. We should work with him e.g. to restore Glass-Steagall. After that, we're quickly in the territory of ideas that must be rejected tooth and nail

resisting Trump's incumbent on us all
Republicans, and Democrats alike
if we don't want our kids to live in thrall
without a living wage, or right to strike
his economic vision's zero-sum
his empty talk of growth is content-free
to trust him at our helm is more than dumb
it's a betrayal of our progeny
when out of power, Mitch McConnell's boys
appeared united, always braying "nay"
the opposition's all about the noise
it's optional to have something to say
his cabinet's stocked from the rabid fringe
we've got to fight, not merely whine and whinge

http://mobilesonnets.blogspot.com/search/label/politics

Barry H. Levine (levinebar)