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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Monday, March 6, 2017

QUICK FIX

When the Watergate scandal developed that brought down Richard Nixon, I was living in Northampton, MA, having moved from Columbia to UMass in 1971.  This was well before the widespread use of personal computers, of course, and prior as well to the introduction of cable television, with its explosion of channels.  On any given day in Northampton, there were three moments when I could get news:  the early morning, when the NY TIMES arrived on a truck from Boston and could be bought at the State Street Market down the hill from Barrett Place; the middle afternoon, when the local paper, the Daily Hampshire Gazette came out;  and the early evening, when the three major news channels, NBC, ABC, and CBS put on competing news programs featuring such anchor personalities as Walter Cronkite and Huntley and Brinkley [Chet and David].  Political stories unfolded in stately fashion, with the network anchors – among the most respected people in America – soberly explaining to the country the significance of each new snippet of information.  If it led the half hour news program, it was important.  If it did not make it into the program at all, it had not happened.  Life was simple, orderly, and predictable.

The political scandal named “Watergate,” after the Washington DC apartment complex where an office of the Democratic National Committee was burgled at the direction of the President, was not an exception to this generalization.  It is difficult now to recall, but the entire scandal, from the break-in to Nixon’s resignation, took a week less than two years and two months!

We are now only forty-five days into the Trump Disaster, scarcely enough time for the West Wing staff to locate the bathrooms, and already a National Security Advisor has resigned, an Attorney General has been forced to recuse himself, The Director of the FBI has publicly called on the Justice Department to brand the President’s statements as false, and the narcissistic sociopath masquerading as President of the United States has been reduced to tweeting school-yard accusations at his predecessor.

All of us have been outraged by what we see as the spinelessness of the press, but reflect:  it has taken little more than a month for news anchors on network and cable news channels to say publicly and repeatedly that the President is lying and that his baseless accusations are transparent attempts to distract attention from the burgeoning reports of connections between his campaign and White House and the Russian government.


To someone of my age who is a stranger to the instant gratification of snapchat, the speed with which the story is maturing is vertiginous.  Now, if you will excuse me, I must surf the web to see whether any new news has broken.  It has been at least thirty minutes since my last politics fix.  Is this what it is like to get hooked on heroin?

18 comments:

howard b said...

Do you suppose the Congress might want a weak President to bend to their will?

David Palmeter said...

We’re all hoping for something like impeachment, but more has to be learned before that becomes really possible. A president can be impeached only of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” That means whatever Congress says it means, but it seems clear that something that is against the law is required. Being a narcissistic sociopath probably isn’t enough, but it could be enough for the 25th Amendment. And who knows what the tax returns will reveal? Something juicy for sure, or we’d have seen them long ago.

It won’t happen without Republican votes, just as Watergate wouldn’t have happened without Republican votes. (Democrats had a majority at the time, but those were the days of conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans, a la Jacob Javits. Those creatures are now extinct.) What helped politically in getting rid of Nixon was that Congressional Republicans liked Gerald Ford far more than they liked Nixon. Congressional Republicans (to the extent that they like anybody) like Pence far more than they like Ford. Plus Pence would be far more sympathetic to Paul Ryan type conservatives than to Trump.

Pence for Trump means a swap of a sociopath for a theocrat, but I’d take it. At least the existential threat would be diminished.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

David Palmeter, I agree virtually completely with your comments. I am simply stunned by the speed with which this has developed. I am unable to keep up with it. Can this go on for a year? I do not see how.

ddean said...

One important aspect of the Trump-Russia situation is too easy to overlook - and reinforces the importance of all the local organizing folks are doing: Democratic Party alignment with neocons ala Clinton's worse impulses. Glenn Greenwald puts it well here:
Democrats are "not 'resisting' Trump from the left or with populist appeals – by, for instance, devoting themselves to protection of Wall Street and environmental regulations under attack, or supporting the revocation of jobs-killing free trade agreements, or demanding that Yemini civilians not be massacred. Instead, they’re attacking him on the grounds of insufficient nationalism, militarism, and aggression: equating a desire to avoid confrontation with Moscow as a form of treason (just like they did when they were the leading Cold Warriors). This is why they’re finding such common cause with the nation’s most bloodthirsty militarists – not because it’s an alliance of convenience but rather one of shared convictions (indeed, long before Trump, neocons were planning a re-alignment with Democrats under a Clinton presidency)."
https://theintercept.com/2017/03/06/democrats-now-demonize-the-same-russia-policies-that-obama-long-championed/

Thank you, Professor Wolff, for your continued work and inspiration.

s. wallerstein said...

Let's see if I get this right. Correct me if I wrong please.

Trump is completely self-destructive. The FBI was the only intelligence service which was backing him: they helped his campaign with the statements about Clinton's emails being under investigation.

Now Trump turns against the FBI and accuses them of working for Obama during the campaign. Not bright, as my mother would say.

The FBI denies the accusations, taking the opportunity to get off what they and everyone else clearly perceives as a sinking ship, the Trump presidency.

With that kind of strategic reasoning, Trump will not last as long as Nixon did.
Nixon was brighter.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Indeed he was, and better organized, too.

levinebar said...

Republicans in Congress a looking ahead and realizing that if this festers that long, the prospect of electing a new Congress to impeach Trump (the Chinese trademark inter alia plainly violates the emoluments clause) will be a HUGE draw for Independent and Democratic voter turnout. Simply relying the gerrymander won't save them all, or even a majority in the House. And if that majority is threatened, Paul Ryan is threatened.
All of which is to say that Republicans in the House can't afford to pretend this is OK.

Robert Shore said...

For some sanity on the Trump-Russia connection hysteria sweeping the country which I'm afraid Prof. Wolff has fallen for read Robert Parry's article:
https://consortiumnews.com/2017/03/06/official-washington-tips-into-madness/

And isn't it curious that one never hears a peep about the enormous influence Israel has on American politics.

Robert Shore said...

One other attempt to bring some sanity into the Trump-Russia hysteria, this by the important Russia studies scholar Stephen Cohen:

https://www.thenation.com/article/why-we-must-oppose-the-kremlin-baiting-against-trump/

Robert Shore said...

And one more, this one by Glenn Greenwald:

https://theintercept.com/2017/03/06/democrats-now-demonize-the-same-russia-policies-that-obama-long-championed/

s. wallerstein said...

The idea is get rid of Trump, to impeach him. If the reports about Trump's ties to Putin are a bit exaggerated (as they well may be) or if Putin is really not as aggressive and authoritarian as some reports paint him as, well, that's politics.

Charles Pigden said...

In response to Robert Shore

A) First from a foreigner’s point of view there is something absurdly comical about American politicians complaining because another power might have tried to interfere, or even succeeded in interfering, with a US election. After all US agents have been interfering in other countries’ elections on and off since at least WWII, starting with the Italian election of 1948. And when interference has not succeeded they have often resorted to violence by supporting coups as in Chile (against Allende) and Iran (against Mosaddegh). That said, there is only one way that is is legitimate for a country Y to try to influence the elections of another country X. The representatives of Y use the public press to address the electors along the following lines. ‘Citizens of X! We know you have an important choice to make between candidates or parties A and B. The choice if of course entirely yours, but we urge you to choose A over B for the following reasons … We admit this choice would be good for us but we firmly believe it would be good for you too, and indeed, good for the world.’ This is one set of people trying to influence the choices of another set of people by a process of rational persuasion. Anything else is subversive of the democratic process. It is interesting that nobody in fact takes the honest option and that subversion is almost universally preferred (at least by nation states with the resources to engage in such activities.) However, the fact that America as a nation has tried to interfere in other countries’ elections does not mean that it is OK for other countries try to interfere in America’s, for instance by covert efforts to manipulate public opinion. Even if there are N electoral wrongs (where N is a fairly large number) the nth plus one wrong does not make a right.

B) It also true that many of the explicit allegations against the Trump campaign are either insubstantial or unsubstantiated. So what if Trump liked cavort with Russian prostitutes? Frankly I would be surprised if this ghastly old lecher went to Russia and remained chaste, and the language barrier would prevent him from picking up gold-diggers at parties as is, I suspect, his usual practice when travelling without his current woman. It is not as if his pussy-grabbing propensities are not an open secret. There is also nothing *as such* wrong with the representatives of a politician or of a political party having talks with the representatives of other countries (a point that John Oliver was careful to stress). But there are two things which *might* be true and which *would* be objectionable if they were

1) Members of the Trump team might have colluded with a Russian hack of the DNC on a quid pro quo basis. That is, the Russian might have said something like this. ‘We are going to hack/have hacked the DNC and we will distribute the results through Wikileaks. It’s going to be very embarrassing for the Clinton campaign. We will let your servers alone. So long that is as you play ball with us. Here’s what we want ….’

2) Trump’s business interests Russia and and/or his debts to Russian oligarchs, might be sufficiently large that he can be (or has been) bribed and/or bullied into doing what Putin wants.

To be continued

Charles Pigden said...

Note that, if true, either of the above possibilities would be highly objectionable *even if * the Russian demands were entirely reasonable. If a rational (but conservative) politician such as Obama arrives at the disinterested opinion that a less belligerent line with the Russians might be a good idea, that’s all fine and dandy from a democratic point of view. What isn’t fine and dandy is if the Russians have helped secure the election of a president advocating such a line by hacking one party’s servers rather than another’s. And it is also not fine and dandy if the President of the United Sates is a greedy businessman who can be manipulated into adopting policies (whether rational or otherwise) by threats or promises regarding his business interests.

Now is there any reason to suspect either 1) or 2)? To suspect ‘yes’; to believe ‘no’. The Russians are surely capable of hacking the DNC servers and distributing the results via Wickileaks. But ‘anonymous sources’ from the intelligence community are equally capable of either lying or making mistakes. (One public pronouncement that can simply be disregarded is Clapper’s denial that he was involved in bugging either Trump or Trump Tower. Since he is known to have lied to Congress – and under oath too – and to have lied about surveillance, his word is utterly worthless. He may be telling the truth and he may not, but the fact that he says X with respect to a topic such as this gives one at best a fifty-fifty reason for supposing X to be true. It is otherwise with Obama who seems to be a moderately honest if unduly conformist politician. ) One of the things that makes me suspicious about improper links between the Trump campaign and the Russians is the remarkable propensity of Trump’s staffers to lie or obfusticate when asked about conversations that are supposedly perfectly innocent. If there is nothing wrong with the fire, why try to smother the smoke? Now, of course this inference is not decisive. It is clear that these people are not very smart and not very honest and that their instinct is to lie when asked an embarrassing question even if honesty would be the better policy. It might be a case of what Oliver has dubbed ‘Stupid Watergate ‘a situation with all the intrigue of the Watergate affair but in which everybody involved is really bad at everything’. For example they might be so habitually sleazy and dishonest as to create a rational suspicion when there is nothing to be suspicious about. Again, Trump’s resolute refusal to release his tax returns, suggests that there are dodgy deals that he does not want revealed but they may have little or nothing to do with the Russians. He is clearly a sleaze in his business life just as he is in his private life, with any number of decomposing corpses in his commercial cupboard which are not Russia-related.

However, the fact that claims 1) and 2) *might* be false is not a reason not to keep pushing since they also *might* be true. And if they *are* true they might lead to the removal of a man who seems to me a serious threat not only to the finer traditions of American Republic, not only to many innocent immigrants and refugees and not only to the shaky achievements of the New Deal, but also a danger to the world at large. Even if they are false, a proper investigation of these claims might lead to the discovery of OTHER dirty secrets that could bring Trump down. Either way it is worth pushing for an investigation.

All in all then I think you are wrong to suggest that Professor Wolff has become the dupe of a hawkish Intelligence community.

Well, with this post I have burnt my boats. I had thought of visiting US en route to Europe this Northern Fall with the possible bonus of meeting Professor Wolff in Chapel Hill, but having insulted both the aspiring fascist President and his opponents in the ‘Deep State’ I think I had better take another route.

levinebar said...

The Chinese trademark (at least) violates the U.S. Constitution's Emoluments Clause quite independent of Putin's machination's. A POTUS running the executive branch for his private gain is a threat in itself.

RM said...

RM

S. Wallerstein said: "The idea is get rid of Trump, to impeach him. If the reports about Trump's ties to Putin are a bit exaggerated (as they well may be) or if Putin is really not as aggressive and authoritarian as some reports paint him as, well, that's politics."

My first response to this notion, that anything goes in politics, is that Trump has already got at least some of his opposition taking the same approach to the world that he does.

I guess that's my second response too.

s. wallerstein said...

RM,

I didn't say that anything goes, just that a bit of exaggeration seems ok.

ddean said...

Robert Shores' links were valuable. Thank you. I agree with all the main thrusts of Charles Pigdens' post, and hope he is only half serious about not trying to meet Professor Wolff in U.S. I tend to agree with Professor Wolff's door number 3. But shouldn't we worry about too many eggs in the "Russia investigation" basket, when (1) there may be too litttle there, leading to a dead end that validates Trump's claims of victimization by Obama and the press; (2) emphasizing Trump's "softness" on Russia as evidence pushes him to dangerous confrontation; and (3) hoping it is a silver bullet drains energy from the enormous opportunity to use energized grass roots to build organization on multiple progressive issues to capture Democratic Party, as previously discussed?

levinebar said...

We need to know why it seemed important to team Trump to lie about contacts with the various Russians. And we need to uphold and enforce our constitution. Much that Trump does is in bad taste without being illegal. But e.g. the Chinese Trademark is a forbidden emolument from a foreign state.