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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Sunday, February 12, 2017

INTERIM REPORT

These past three weeks have been among the most terrifying and exhilarating of my life.  I am not sure how I shall survive months, and then years, at this level of intensity and anxiety.  Today, on a cold, quiet Paris Sunday, I should like to take a few moments to reflect on the situation that confronts us.  I take little pleasure in this.  I would far rather spend my golden years thinking about Kant, or Marx, or the inherently perspectival ideological structure of the social world.  It is not for nothing that the ancient Chinese considered as a curse the imprecation “May you live in interesting times.”

Our attention, quite naturally, has been drawn to the bizarre, obscene, despicable man who now occupies the office of President of the United States, and a remarkable number of perceptive, coruscating analyses of his character and behavior have been written in recent days.  It is now received wisdom, I think we can agree, that Trump’s compulsive lying is not merely a pathological trait.  It is, instead, a technique of dominance and authoritarian assertion.  By compelling his spokespersons to endorse publicly his blatant lies, he visibly exercises his dominance over them, forcing them to humiliate themselves as a way of binding them to him.  Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway are now forever his bonded slaves, made unfit for any other employment by their subservience to his will.

We can also agree that because of his pathetic obsession with his public image, Trump is easy game for ridicule.  Saturday Night Live is performing a function both essential and delightful by its portrayal of Trump and his jackals.  We need to keep up visible opposition to him in ways that unsettle him.

It is becoming clear that Trump is, like all bullies, a coward.  For me, the most significant event of the past week was his complete capitulation to the Chinese on the subject of the One China policy.  I am sure you are all well aware of the history and significance of this capitulation.  The Chinese now view Trump as a paper tiger, an empty suit, an incompetent negotiator who can be rolled, as they say.  Several more such failures will cement public recognition of him as someone who not only did not write, but probably has not read, The Art of the Deal.

Equally compelling these past weeks has been the extraordinary, unprecedented upwelling of popular resistance to Trump and all things Republican.  I do not know how long this can be sustained, but if some way can be found, as it were, to institutionalize it, this energy has the potential to transform the public landscape of America.

With regard to the popular movement now afoot, I wish to acknowledge that as a consequence of the thoughtful and intelligent comments posted here, I have reversed my judgment that we need look to Obama to draw people into the struggle.  He remains a charismatic and effective public figure, and I welcome any contribution he chooses to make.  But his time is past, as is that of the Clintons and the rest of the Democratic Party establishment.  As was noted by one commentator [I have not gone back to check who it was], on Obama’s watch as the head of the Party, the Democrats suffered devastating losses at the State Legislature and Federal level, sinking to a minority status not seen in the past century.  This despite winning the popular vote in six out of the last seven national elections.

All of which leads me to the conclusion that our primary focus must be on beginning the long march back to majority status, with the 2018 off-year elections the first battle.  We need to throw our numbers and our support behind the fine young progressives rising to prominence on the left. 

However, it would be a bad mistake, in my opinion, to withhold our support from middle of the road Democrats in contests where the only alternative is a right wing Republican.  We need to take control of state legislatures so that we can reverse the appalling things being done at the state level.  Then we can press for progressive legislation and gubernatorial action.  Remember the wise advice given by Paul Newman to Robert Redford about the Big Con in The Sting.  When it is all over, if we win, it won’t be everything we want, but it will be all we can get, so it will have to be enough.


The Struggle Continues.

9 comments:

David Palmeter said...

The first battle is not the 2018 off year election, but the 2017 gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey, where the Democrats need to hold the seat in Virginia and take Christie's seat in New Jersey.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Good point.

Jerry Fresia said...

A masterful blog; your emotion/dedication is tangible - and motivating.

As you had urged before in our discussion of comradeship, a key element in our strategy is building
and maintaining a very broad alliance. Certainly, the anti-Trump sentiment fuels this broad desire to
get Trump out of the WH, but when it comes to articulating progressive policies, even today's congressional
Democrats are divided. One step at a time, I suppose.

David Auerbach said...

It was quite evident from our big march in Raleigh yesterday (who supported it and who didn't) and various official national Democratic talking heads that our biggest opposition will be from the Pelosi/Clinton/Obama wing of the Democratic party. (aka the losers) They are desperate to denigrate the marchers and resisters as clueless, counterproductive and overly invested in economic determinism (they don't put it quite like that). Of course the wide of issues covered (both by signs and speakers) at the march yesterday belies all that-- doctors in white coats for health for all, LGBT, Black Lives Matter, $15 minimum, immigrants, etc. As the Rev. Barber's genius Popular Front slogan has: Forward together, not one step back.

David said...
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David Palmeter said...

Is there any real evidence that Pelosi, Clinton, and Obama want to "denigrate" the marchers and think they're "clueless"? I suspect that they want to control it and harness it. Pelosi probably sees them as her only chance to be speaker again; Clinton probably is still licking her wounds, although she has posted a couple of times on Facebook; Obama said before he left the White House that the one thing he wanted to do after leaving office was help rebuild the Democratic Party at the state and local levels--probably feeling very guilty for his neglecting it for eight years.

The disagreements are likely to occur over which candidates have the best chance of winning, and I suspect that it is inevitable that the Democrats will nominate some who will stand no chance rather than go with someone perceived as more "moderate" on the issues but arguably more likely to win. The Republicans did that a number of times with Tea Party candidates--remember "rape doesn't cause pregnancy" or the woman they ran against Harry Reid who was described by someone as "the only person in Nevada who couldn't beat Harry Reid." Then there was the one in Delaware who thought that the major problem facing the country was excessive masturbation. Unfortunately, the Left has its counterparts to these.

My instinct is to find out who Bernie is supporting and go with his judgment.

David said...
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David said...

In my neck of the woods, I'm very encouraged by the creation of small activists groups with loose national affiliations. But before I get to that, I would like to share an anecdote that I think sheds light on the challenge and hope of taking back the House in 2018.

In Washington State, Dave Reichert has held the 8th Congressional District seat since 2004. The year that Reichert was probably most vulnerable was in 2006, when Darcy Burner ran against him. Although I was living in Seattle at the time, I joined the Burner campaign to help with doorbelling. I was particularly suited for such a task because I grew up in the same town that Reichert lives in. My old stomping grounds are in his neighborhood. Unfortunately, Reichert won that year with 51% of the vote or by about 7000 votes.

In 2010 (another off-year election), Suzan DelBene (now Congresswoman in the 1st Congressional District) lost by a close but wider margin than Darcy Burner. After the districts were redrawn following the 2010 census, Reichert found himself in a safer seat. In 2016, the DCCC and the state party completely botched their recruiting efforts and left us with a TV personality for a Democratic candidate, who ran no campaign and garnered about 40% of the vote. Yet, Clinton carried the 8th Congressional District by four points 47.7% to 43.7%. I'm convinced that a Democrat can take this seat in 2018 if a reasonably strong candidate will step forward. My sense is that prospective candidates will seriously consider a run this year because of the visible mobilization of grassroots organizations that are stirring up a lot of interest and are gaining local attention.

For example, in a recent article appearing in Seattle's weekly The Stranger, I read that Reichert is effectively hiding from constituents, refusing to meet with them or hold a Town Hall meeting. One group that is pressuring him is called the Snoqualmie Valley Indivisibles, which is loosely affiliated with the Indivisibles movement started by former Congressional staffers. Another new group is called the Lake Tapps Resistance League. These are relatively small organizations, but they are making their voices heard. In addition, the efforts of these small groups are being amplified by a larger, more established statewide organization called FUSE Washington, which is organizing demonstrations at the offices of Washington members of Congress who are refusing to meet with constituents, including Dave Reichert.

Dave Reichert will not be able to avoid the publicity that these actions will bring. It will also--and I'm finally getting to my point--help to pique the interest of prospective challengers. That is one reason why it matters that we act locally and visibly, wherever we are, even in nominally "red" districts. Prospective candidates will respond to our excitement and our energy. While it may seem at times that we are powerless, we can still help to create the climate in which strong candidates will step forward to run and make it possible to regain the House.

Rich said...

I wonder if you're familiar with Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo? If not, I commend him to your attention. He's been an in astute observer of Trump and his Russia ties. He's used the term "dignity wraith" to describe a person over whom Trump establishes his dominance in the manner you describe.