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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

MONDAY MASSACRE

In October, 1973, after Richard Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliott Richardson to fire Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox because he had subpoenaed the Oval Office tapes, Richardson resigned. When Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus also resigned rather than obey Nixon's order, Nixon ordered Solicitor General Robert Bork, then acting head of the Justice Department, to fire Cox, and Bork did so, to his eternal shame.

The firing of Acting Attorney General Sally Yates is not comparable, in many ways, most notably because she is a hold-over from the Obama Administration, on her way out anyway.  Nixon was in his second term and all of the players in that affair were his appointees.  Nevertheless, the sequence of events yesterday is genuinely frightening, not least precisely because Trump is a newly inaugurated President clearly being guided by, if not under the thumb of, a White Nationalist fascist with openly expressed desires to seize control of the American government.

I have no idea how this is going to play out, but let me reiterate and expand on the observation I made yesterday, this time without cute allusions to a footnote in a book one hundred and fifty years old.  The power of the President [or of any other figure in a modern government, democratic or otherwise] consists at bottom in his or her ability to get large number of other people to do what he or she says.  We are so accustomed to regular, predictable obedience that we unthinkingly suppose that it is a property of the office, inseparable from that office.  Whether it is a policeman directing traffic or a group of legislators passing a law or a military commander ordering troops or a court issuing a stay of a presidential directive, we take it for granted that the order will be obeyed.  We talk about the "powers of the presidency" or the "powers of the Supreme Court" or even the power of a bureaucrat in an office to stamp a passport or approve a zoning variance, as though the mere occupancy of the position automatically conferrs the power to compel compliance.

What happens, then, when a President issues a directive, a court orders a stay, and the President simply ignores the stay?  One possibility is that the men and women actually carrying out the directive in airports and elsewhere ignore the court order and continue doing what the President has said, even though that is a violation of the rules supposedly governing our nation.  This in turn might lead to massive popular protests at airports, say in New York City, interfering with the ability of the immigration officials at the airports to carry out the President's directive.  This might stop the President from doing what he has announced that he intends to do.  But it might also lead the President to order Governor Cuomo to call out the New York National Guard to disperse the crowds, using all force necessary.  Governor Cuomo might order the New York National Guard, of which he is the commander, to stand down.  President Trump might then order the New York National Guard federalized, and Cuomo might countermand that order.  And so forth.  It all comes down to the same question:  Will the people with the weaponry and physical capacity to enforce the President's commands obey him, or side with Governor Cuomo and the demonstrators?

I am not kidding, folks, this is what we could be looking at, and I genuinely do not know how it come out.  That is why I describe it as frightening.

Monday, January 30, 2017

BIG NEWS

The decision of Obama to issue a careful, restrained statement of support for the airport protests is MAJOR NEWS.  Don't kid yourselves.  For a former president, nine days after stepping down, to say anything at all critical of his successor, no matter how oblique, is an unheard of development.  There is simply no one better situated to rally the troops.  I am beginning to think we may win [where winning means getting rid of Trump and living with the despicable Pence, just so we are clear.]

A MORE KNOWLEDGEABLE VIEW

After writing and posting my comment for today, I read what my son, Professor Tobias Barrington Wolff of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, had to say on FaceBook.  I reproduce it here.  I am pleased to see that basically I guessed right, but Tobias really knows.

“The reports of DHS employees not fully complying with federal court orders suspending parts of the anti-Muslim order are very troubling. I do not yet have enough information to be calling that fact, alone, a crisis. Compliance with court orders is sometimes slow or inadequate. It is a serious problem when it happens and will sometimes warrant contempt proceedings, but it is not by itself a crisis. If the government outright defies these orders and proclaims itself not bound by the command of a federal court, that will be a crisis.

More concerning to me -- and a step in the direction of outright defiance -- is what appears to be the willful misrepresentation coming from the White House about the content and effect of those court orders. I have read several of those orders, and they are very clear. They are prohibiting the administration from enforcing their cruel Executive Order through detention or deportation against people who have already reached the United States (and in some cases they operate more broadly than that). The White House is repeatedly mischaracterizing the orders, saying that they have no effect on the EO and that this ugly program remains in full effect. That is flatly untrue. As one point of reference, here is the language from the order issued by the federal district court in Massachusetts. It commands that the government:

"a) shall limit secondary screening to comply with the regulations and statutes in effect prior to the Executive Order, including 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(13)(C);
"b) shall not, by any manner or means, detain or remove individuals with refugee applications approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services as part of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, holders of valid immigrant and non-immigrant visas, lawful permanent residents, and other individuals from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen who, absent the Executive Order, would be legally authorized to enter the United States;
"c) to assure compliance with this Order, the United States Marshal for the District of Massachusetts shall be served with this Order and is further directed to take those actions deemed necessary to enforce this Order; and
"d) Customs and Border Protection shall notify airlines that have flights arriving at Logan Airport of this Order and the fact that individuals on these flights will not be detained or returned based solely on the basis of the Executive Order."

This is very clear. And, as has become their regular modus operandi, the White House is trying to sow chaos and confusion by putting out false information about the contents of the order, presumably counting on the fact that almost no one will read the order for themselves but instead will rely on news coverage that is presented in he-said-she-said form.


Also, Russell Halley reminds me that we need always to consider the limits on the information that the man who currently occupies the presidency is getting. I think it is a certainty that he has not read these orders himself. It is quite possible that he is being given incomplete or inaccurate information by his advisors about what those orders contain. And -- as I should have realized when I began this post -- he probably gets more information from watching administration officials appear on FOX News than from direct channels, given reports of his isolation and TV-watching. These misrepresentations being made by White House officials may have the current occupant of the presidency as their primary audience.”

SUB RATIONE TEMPORIS [I THINK]

We philosophers strive to understand the universe under the aspect of eternity, sub specie aeternitatis, but I find myself now in the midst of a whirlwind, and the training of a lifetime is of little help in grasping the significance of the events that flash before my eyes.  We are now barely ten days into the Trump presidency.  It is impossible for me to foresee what a second week will bring, let alone a month, or even, God forbid, a year.  Let me comment briefly on two quite disparate phenomena.

First, we are all transfixed by the reaction to Trump's ill-considered, poorly drafted immigration order, an order almost certainly thrust upon him by Steve Bannon, who is rapidly emerging as the puppeteer of this administration.  In rapid succession, we have seen the order, the public reaction, the temporary stay ordered by a Federal District Court [I hope I have this right], and the initial refusal of various officials, ostensibly acting for the Trump administration, to comply with the stay.

A number of commentators have begun to talk of a Constitutional crisis.  I think that talk is premature, although the situation has the potential to develop into such a crisis.  I believe, without actually knowing, that American legal history is replete with instances in which the Federal Government has failed to comply with court orders, and we all know that there have been many such failures by State governments.

How might things become dramatically worse?  Well, if Trump orders the Justice Department to challenge the court order at the appellate level, if the courts rule against the Administration, if the case is taken to the Supreme Court, and if it too rules the ban unconstitutional, and if Trump then declares that as President he does not have to abide by the decision of the Supreme Court, THEN we have a constitutional crisis.  But we are a long way from that.

We must keep in mind that the power of the President consists entirely in his or her ability to get large numbers of strategically placed people [including the military] to do what he or she says.  TR was in good shape, and Lincoln was tall, and Jackson, I imagine, was a pretty good fighter, but neither they nor any other presidents ruled literally by being the biggest, toughest person in the room, able to compel obedience by force of arms.  The very thought is ludicrous.  Recall Karl Marx's lovely footnote in Chapter One of Capital:  "[O]ne man is king only because other men stand in the relation of subjects to him.  They, on the contrary, imagine that they are subjects because he is king."

It is for this reason that the efforts to delegitimize Trump are so important.  Which brings me to my second observation, vastly less important, but indicative nonetheless.  There have been reports that folks in the White House are 'demoralized" by the drumbeat of negative press coverage since the Inauguration.  This has spilled out into public first with Press Secretary Sean Spicer's extraordinary attack on the White House Press Corps sitting in front of him, and then yesterday by Kellyanne Conway's intemperate cri de coeur that media people relentlessly attacking Trump should be fired.  It is Conway's outburst that I want to talk about, because I think it gives us a peephole into the Bunker.

Conway is a successful career Republican pollster.  She is smart, quick-witted, glib, and relentlessly on message in her media appearances.  Like everyone in her line of work, she understands in her bones that her job is to get favorable press coverage for her boss, whomever her boss is at the moment.  It is therefore quite astonishing to hear her attack so violently the people it is her job to woo.  I think [I do not know, of course] that such behavior can only reflect the sort of bunker mentality inside the White House that only developed in the last stages of the Nixon presidency or in the Johnson presidency before he withdrew from the 1968 race.  That even so seasoned a professional as Conway should be reduced to this state in ten days is astonishing and revealing.

Mind you, I would guess that Steve Bannon is delighted by the war with the press, but Conway is a different sort of person entirely.  She is a fifty-year old professional married to a partner in a Wall Street law firm, with four children at home.  She may be despicable, but she is not a nut.  The atmosphere in the West Wing must be toxic!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

A BRIEF MEMOIR, TO REFRESH US

Well, right on cue, the courts stopped Trump from doing something he thought he had succeeded in doing.  We will see how this plays out.  Needless to say, I am watching closely, but I have virtually nothing to add to the commentary you all have read, some of it by people genuinely knowledgeable about Constitutional Law.  Accordingly, I am going to take my own advice and stay cool.  Several of you have asked questions about Herbert Marcuse, and so I thought as a diversion I would write today about my memories of him.  This will not be a theoretical critique of his work, Lord knows, but a mixture of fairly elementary observations and personal stories.  Think of it, if you will, as that little dish of sherbet upscale restaurants offer between courses to cleanse the palate.  Much of what I say here can be found in my autobiography.  However, long experience has taught me not to assume that the world has read that compelling work.

I first met Herbert Marcuse in the fall of 1960, when I was 26 and he was 62.  I was at the time co-teaching a sophomore level tutorial with Barrington Moore Jr. in a new program I headed at Harvard called Social Studies.  Marcuse was teaching at Brandeis University.  He and Moore had become close friends during World War II while both were working in DC at the OSS, precursor to the CIA.   Moore was on the Russian Desk and Marcuse was on the German Desk.  [Parenthetically, many of the leading social scientists in the U. S. of all political stripes worked at the OSS during the war, and after the war, despite any political differences they might have had, they remained fast friends.]

Moore came from old New England money.  He was a direct descendent of Clement Clark Moore, of “T’was the night before Christmas” fame, and his grandfather had been the Commodore of the New York Yacht Club.  Barry spent the summers on his boat off the Massachusetts coast with his wife, Betty, whom he had met at OSS, and his winter vacations skiing.  His proudest boast was that he had once been asked to join the Alta Ski Patrol.  He was tall and thin, and his contempt for bourgeois capitalist society was as much aristocratic as radical in origins.  Barry’s home at Harvard was the Russian Research Institute because he refused to join the Social Relations Department, home of Talcott Parsons.

Barry decided that I should meet Herbert, so he and Betty invited me and my girlfriend [we still talked that way then] to dinner at their home in a lovely residential part of Cambridge.  Herbert and his wife Inge [widow of Franz Neumann] were the other guests.

Herbert was a fleshy man with an open face, red cheeks, and a great shock of white hair.  He was rather imposing at first meeting, and had a very thick German accent.  I was almost two generations younger, very wet behind the ears, but I had one great asset that won him over.  To German intellectuals of Marcuse’s generation, Immanuel Kant was the touchstone, the font of wisdom, the Real Deal.  When Marcuse learned that this young whippersnapper was finishing his first book, on the Critique of Pure Reason, he decided I was o.k.  After dinner, while Barry watched with amusement, Marcuse and I got into an argument about philosophy.  Herbert, like many emigré intellectuals from the Frankfurt School, knew next to nothing about Analytic Philosophy and tended to confuse it with another strange American aberration, Behavioral Social Science.  At one point, Herbert launched into an attack on Willard Van Orman Quine, ridiculing Quine’s use of the phrase “The present king of France is bald” to illustrate the theory of definite descriptions.  I defended Quine, pointing out that the question he was addressing with that example was one that had also agitated a number of famous medieval philosophers.  I must have said something about my admiration for Quine’s clarity [he had been my undergraduate teacher, and I had taken four courses and graduate seminars with him before I was old enough to drive.]  Marcuse responded by saying that in philosophy, unclarity is a virtue.

Now, you must understand that Marcuse said this in a thick accent, and since it flew in the face of everything I had learned in the preceding ten years, I thought at first that I had misunderstood him.  “Did you say that unclarity in philosophy is a virtue?”  “Yes,” Marcuse replied with a puckish grin.  “You are saying that in philosophy it is a good thing not to be clear?”  “Yes,” Marcuse said again, smiling even more broadly.

At that point I concluded that I had just had dinner with a madman – a charming, learned, engaging mad man, but a madman none the less.  It was not until four years later, when Marcuse’s great work, One-Dimensional Man, was published that I discovered what he had in mind.  I think it is worth taking a moment to explain.

In the late thirties, a group of clued up social scientists descended on the Hawthorne, IL plant of the Western Electric Company to see whether their “Operational Research” could do something about labor troubles at the plant.  The complaints of the workers, they decided, were unhelpfully vague [“wages is too low,” for example, or “the bathrooms stink”] so they decided to operationalize the concerns of the workers by asking precise, clear, specific questions about their concerns, concerns which could then be addressed, one by one, in precise, helpful, operationalized fashion.  In One-Dimensional Man, Marcuse argues that the real source of the worker discontent was the deep structural exploitation definitive of capitalist economies, exploitation that affected all of the workers regardless  of the particular form in which it was manifested in each worker’s life.  One worker might have a sick child who needed medicine that his wages did not pay for; a second might need a more flexible working schedule to accommodate her family obligations; a third might have weak eyesight that interfered with the performance of her duties at the speed demanded by the bosses.  So long as the workers expressed their complaints in general, imprecise fashion, they were able to see that they had common grievances, which made it easier for them to achieve solidarity throughout the plant and strike for better wages and working conditions.  When their problems were operationalized, worker solidarity was destroyed, because it was made to seem as though they had nothing in common on which to base that solidarity.

All of which might indeed lead someone to conclude that in philosophy [a.k.a. social science] unclarity is a virtue.

Four years after this dinner party, I had moved on, from Harvard to Chicago and then to Columbia.  One day, I got a call from Barry.  Apparently, he and Herbert had gone to Arnold Tovell at Beacon Press, which had contracted to publish One-Dimensional Man, with a proposal for a little book to consist of two essays, one by Barry on objectivity in social science [he was for it] and the other a chapter by Herbert on “repressive tolerance” that had never made it into the big book.  Tovell said two essays did not make a book, you needed at least three, so Barry wanted to know whether I would like to write the third essay, something on Tolerance. 

Would I!  I was being asked to become a co-author with Barrington Moore, Jr. and Herbert Marcuse.  I figured my name would be made.  There was one small problem – I had nothing whatsoever to say about the subject of tolerance.  To be honest, I had never thought about it.  But that was hardly an objection, so I sat down and cranked out an analysis and critique of Liberalism, which I called “Beyond Tolerance.”

We needed a title for this slender production, so Tovell called a meeting of the three of us at 25 Beacon Street, the address of the Press, to brainstorm.  We all sat around a table and fielded ideas, none of which seemed terribly appealing.  At last, Herbert, with a straight face, proposed “A Critique of Pure Tolerance.”  I was appalled.  I had recently published my first book, Kant’s Theory of Mental Activity, which had received restrained but favorable reviews.  “Herbert,” I cried, “if I publish a book with that title, my name will be mud in the profession!”  “Don’t worry,” Marcuse replied with a malicious smile, “no one will read it.”

Well, Herbert was almost right.  Tovell had the brilliant idea of publishing the little book in hard cover, to get serious reviews, but sized like an old-fashioned paperback, so that it would be sold in those racks at train stations and in drug stores where paperbacks were displayed back then.  The little book had a stark black cover and looked like a black version of Mao’s Little Red Book.  Alas Tovell got it backwards.  The book sold like a hardcover, which is to say hardly at all, and was ignored by reviewers as though it was a paperback.  But then Marcuse’s big book came out just as the “60’s were revving up.  It went viral overseas when Daniel Cohn-Bendit read the French translation and Rudi Dutschke [“Red Rudi”] read it in German.  Marcuse was hot, so Tovell brought out a new edition of A Critique of Pure Tolerance, this time in standard hard and soft covers, and it took off.  That first year, the new edition sold 26,000 copies.

Some years later, after I had married my “girlfriend,” fathered two sons, and moved to Northampton to teach at UMass, My wife and I decided to drive in to Cambridge to see Barry and Betty Moore.  Barry was the godfather of our younger son, Tobias Barrington Wolff, who was then a darling tow headed three year old known as Toby.  When we got to the Moores’ home we found that Herbert was there.  Herbert had gone to teach at UC San Diego when Brandeis refused to renew his contract in 1965, and he had recently lost his second wife, Inge.  The afternoon was, in its way, a trifle bizarre.  Barry and Betty had never had children, and Barry had absolutely no idea how to relate to a five year old and a three year old. All he could think to do with Toby was to talk German to him!  But Marcuse was right in his element.  He picked up one of those old rotating globes that Barry had on his desk, plunked himself down on the floor, and spun it around, showing Toby where all the different countries were.  Toby was enchanted.

At last, the time came for us to leave.  Barry and Herbert walked the four of us to the curb, where we loaded into our big green Chevy station wagon for the drive home.  As little Toby was about to climb into the back seat, he stopped, looked up at Marcuse, raised his hand, and said “Bye, Herbie.”

Marcuse and I crossed paths for the last time fifteen years later, long after he had passed away.  Our family had moved to Boston so that my wife could accept a professorship at MIT and I was casting about for a job in the Boston area.  Fred Sommers, then the Chair of the Philosophy Department, went to the Provost to tell him that he wanted to hire me.  The provost said, “What do you want another Marcuse for?”


It was the greatest professional compliment I have ever received.

A GREAT IDEA

Jerry Fresia, a frequent commentator here, sent this message to me.  I think someone should run with this.  I will buy the first one.

I loved your "loser" analysis and have sent it around. I'm getting a positive response.  Here's my idea....and I've sent this to a few people in the NE.  Sell T-shirts in key cities with the "LOSER" moniker. This would have to be done in cities with on-going demonstrations (SF, NYC, Boston, DC, etc.) ...and eventually they could be sold on web sites if the thing took off.  This would accomplish two goals: 

1. Raise money

2. Spread the word and delegitimation


Attached is my entry for a T shirt/poster....whatever.  And/or make the thing an invitation for people to come up with their own "LOSER" T-shirts!  Just a thought.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A THOUGHT

I have been trying speculatively to figure out what sequence of events might make things really blow up for Trump.  I do not think crowds or crowd estimates or negative signs or the like will do it, although I think all are useful.  But there is one sequence of events that could, I am guessing, really pay off.  If Trump were to try to do something that a court ruled illegal [such as the current ban against immigration from a number of countries], if Trump ordered Sessions as Attorney General to challenge the ruling at an appellate level, if he were then ruled against all the way to the Supreme Court [as I think would be likely if it was an open and shut case], I could really imagine Trump then declaring that as President he is above the law, which would create a full blown constitutional crisis.


Just a thought.

I'M COOL

I don’t know French very well, despite owning an apartment in Paris, but as long ago as 1955, when I was there for a month as a traveling student, I picked up some phrases that all conveyed more or less the same thought:  I’m cool.  One of them was ça m’est égal.  Another was je suis en balance.

After just one week of Trump as President, I find myself in need of these phrases, simply as a way of maintaining some equilibrium.  In all of my eighty-three years, I have never experienced such a whirlwind of opinion and activity and energy and fury in the public sphere, not even during the Viet Nam War or after the murder of Dr. King.  Every day, more information pours in on me, every drop of which seems important, urgent, demanding my immediate attention.  I have gone to two demonstrations in four days, which is two more than I went to in the preceding thirty years.  I seem to be blogging more or less constantly, driven by a compelling fear that I am not doing as much as I ought.  Each day, two or three or a dozen analyses of the situation are written, every one of which strikes me as more insightful and important than anything I have written.

We are in for a long war.  Burning out in the first three weeks is very definitely a bad idea.  I need to find some way to keep acting, writing, protesting, fighting week after week, month after month, never losing my cool, never becoming off balance, but nevertheless carrying on relentlessly.  There are quite literally tens of millions in this struggle as well, and I am convinced that it is a struggle we can win.

In the days ahead, I shall try to maintain some equilibrium.  One of the things it might be useful for me to do is to think and write about what winning the struggle would look like, so that if we start to succeed, we will know that we are, and will be encouraged to carry on.


Meanwhile, I am binge watching Covert Affairs and doing “fiendishly hard” crossword puzzles.

AN INTERESTING THOUGHT

Kamran Heiss [is that a real person or is it a nom de web?] suggests that I might offer "a lecture series on philosophy in the age of Trump. Exploring philosophical approaches to authoritarianism, fascism, totalitarianism, racism. Drawing on resources like the Frankfurt School, Marcuse, Hannah Arendt, Horkheimer, Marx etc."  I am, as it happens, woefully underprepared for such an effort, but the suggestion did make me reflect that we are now in an historical moment that cries out for the particular combination of talents and interests of the Frankfurt School.  Their genius, of course, was the bringing together of the large scale systematic analysis of Marx with the depth psychology of Freud, in such works as The Authoritarian Personality and Eros and Civilization.  

Each day, I find myself shuttling back and forth between my efforts to get a handle on the structural unfoldings that have given us a far-right proto-fascist regime in Washington and my struggle to anatomize the infantile psychological behavior of Trump.

I don't really know whether we need more than the most superficial understanding of what we face today to decide what we ought to do, but however this moment in history turns out, it is likely to produce an extraordinary spate of books [assuming they are permitted to be published.]

ALL RIGHT. THIS IS EMBARRASSING.

Someone emailed me about my old essay, Beyond Tolerance, which appears in A Critique of Pure Tolerance, a little book that Barrington Moore, Herbert Marcuse and I published fifty-two years ago.  I re-read my essay [which I had almost totally forgotten] in order to reply, but when I went looking for the email, I could not find it.  If the author will forgive me, will he send me another email so that I can send my reply?

Put it down to advanced age.

THIS WEEK'S FRIDAY LIST IS NOW CLOSED

This list will be saved, and a new list will be opened, to be posted next Friday.  I find inspiring this detailed account of actions being taken coast to coast.  There appear to have been a number of our little community at the big Washington march, as well as many more at regional marches.

Friday, January 27, 2017

A GOOD IDEA

The Friday List of things we have all done is, I think, a good idea, for at least two reasons.  First, it gives all of us good ideas of things to do.  And Second, it tells me that there are lots of folks out there doing a good deal more than what I am doing, which gives me hope and prods me to get off my behind and act.

Each Friday, I will post a list of everything you have reported in the preceding week.  Don't be shy about reporting in.
David and J. W. F. have both put up lengthy comments that deserve your attention.  Thank you both.  I recommend that all of you read both comments.  This is, once again, evidence of the intelligence and commitment of the readers of this blog.

FRIDAY LIST

Well, I floated the idea of a Friday list of things we have done, but I had not really figured out how to organize it.  Let me try this:  Each time any of you [NOT JUST THE USUAL SUSPECTS] does something, anything, to contribute to the struggle, post a brief comment.  I will round them all up and post them in a list each Friday.

Here is my list since last Friday, to start:

Went to the Washington March
Went to a Raleigh, NC demonstration at Senator Tillis' office
Called the offices of both of my senators.
Called the offices of the NC Legislature House and Senate leaders [both Republicans]
Signed a gazillion on-line petitions
Gave money to the ACLU
Gave money to a lefty organization
Blogged about the crisis almost every day


DML said...
Went to Women's March
Signed online petition on Trump's taxes
Called my Senator
Recruited three friends to attend an Our Revolution meeting for next week
Recruited my Red State Liberal father-in-law to do many of these things
Gene said...

Not much this week, but I did write and publish this http://www.nutmeggerdaily.com/?p=700 trying to articulate exactly why it's so scary.


Wandering Logic said...

Called my US-rep (Republican Rodney Davis of IL-13) to ask when he would be holding a town hall. Apparently a lot of other people in the district had a similar idea, because later than day he announced that he would hold a "virtual town hall". (In his previous two terms he's never held a town hall of any kind, virtual or real.)

Called my US-rep this morning to tell him that I hoped he would push back against Trump claiming that there was vote fraud. I phrased it as "Trump impugning the honesty of the voters of the IL-13th, and my local County Clerk" (our County Clerk is also Republican).

Called my (Democratic) senators to tell them they are doing great jobs and that I'll fully support them if they decide to vote against confirming Sessions, Pruitt, Tillerson, and especially DeVos.



Tom Cathcart said...

Nothing very heroic. Gave a bit of $ to Our Revolution. Called Dianne Feinstein to ask her to demand a second hearing for Sessions (ACLU)


David said...
1. I participated in the Seattle Womxm's march.

2. I did a little informal fund-raising for a Democratic legislative district organization south of Seattle--a swing district turning blue. The Republican state Senator in that district said publicly that the Womxn's march was unAmerican and unChristian. That turned into a good fundraising opportunity.

3. When I caught wind that an anti Planned Parenthood group was planning a demonstration in a suburb south of Seattle on February 11, I spread the word. There is now an official pro Planned Parenthood demonstration in the works. Thankfully someone else is organizing it so I don't have to


Christopher M. said...

1. Went to the Disrupt J20 march.

2. Went to the Women's March on Washington.

3. Emailed siggerudk@gao.gov, minellit@gao.gov, and congrel@gao.gov at the Government Accountability Office in support of Senator Warren's request to audit Trump's finances for conflicts of interest.

4. Made all of the phone calls listed at https://5calls.org/ - left a few messages, got a few human beings.

5. Called my mayor and city councilmembers to thank them for their support of DC's sanctuary city status.

TRUMP THE MAN-CHILD

As I promised, I am going to continue today to talk about the crisis we face, but I have a confession to make first.  I don’t like talking about Trump.  It makes me angry, sad, disgusted even to think about him.  I would much rather be talking about Marx, or Kant, or Hume, or Plato, or Kierkegaard, or Game Theory.  If I may repeat a story I have told here before, sometime in the late ‘60s I gave a talk at a Columbia University faculty seminar on Mill, excoriating him for the failings of his political theory.  Hannah Arendt was in the audience and she came up at the end to say hello.  She pretty obviously hadn’t much liked the talk, but she was polite.  “What are you working on now?” she asked.  “I am writing a book on Kant’s ethics,” I replied.  Her face broke into a broad smile.  “Ah,” she exclaimed, “it is so much more pleasant to spend time with Kant!”

But duty calls.  Today I shall engage in some speculation about Trump the man, about what makes him tick, and how we might use our conclusions to influence him and even, perhaps, to damage his ability to harm this country and the world.  My observations will be psychological, not political.  Now, we litigated here some while ago the appropriateness of using medical terms drawn from psychoanalysis to describe Trump, and we agreed that doing so was unwarranted since I am not a trained analyst and neither I nor anyone reading this blog has the sort of clinical access to Trump on which a medical diagnosis could be based.  But as I noted then, and will repeat now, people have been sizing up other people at least since the start of recorded history and in all likelihood for 100,000 years before that.  All of us form judgments about people every day, based on our experience and observations, and I do not intend to refrain from doing so simply because I am unable to offer clinical justification for my judgments.  Do with these reflections what you will.

The first thing we must understand is that Trump is not a normal person whose actions fall within the customary parameters of adult behavior.  Let me offer a few examples in support of this claim.  These are not large and significant official actions of the sort that make the news, as it were.  But that is just the point.  All of us learn to judge others on the basis of small but telling signs that we are conditioned by long evolution and experience to pick up on.  Sometimes we call this body language.  Poker players call them “tells.”  We notice subtle changes in speech or facial expression or voice.  This is neither arcane nor controversial.  Indeed, without attention to these clues we would have trouble walking down a crowded street without bumping into people.

Here are a number of observations I have made of Trump that set off alarm bells in my head.  One:  Trump lies about things that are common knowledge to the people he is talking to.  He tweets that Meryl Streep is a failure as an actress, for God’s sake.  This has been so widely commented on that I need not cite examples.  Two:  Trump is obsessed with issues of size.  He exaggerates the size of his hands, the size of his genitalia, the size of his fortune, the size of the buildings that bear his name, the size of his election victory, the size of the crowds he draws for his speeches.  Three:  Trump uses language in primitive ways that reveal an almost complete lack of thought or knowledge behind them.  One example that struck me especially powerfully was his bizarre claim, in referring to his speeches, that “I have the best words.”   Think about that for a moment.  What can he possibly have meant by that?  Four:  Trump makes claims that are absurd and immediately refutable, apparently simply because at the moment he is making them it feels good to make them.  I am sure many of you could add countless additional examples.

What do I make of all this?  First, it seems obvious to me that Trump’s mental processes are extremely psychologically primitive.  They are the thought processes of a child of three or four or five.  Now, let us be clear, all of us start out as infants, and if Freud is correct, as I believe he is, we carry along with us throughout our lives the primitive thought processes that develop in us as infants [“primary thought processes,” Freud calls them.]  But in normal adults, reality-tested secondary thought processes have been acquired and overlie the primary processes, which nevertheless live on in the unconscious and never cease affecting our experience of or thought about the world.  It is a commonplace, or ought to be, that even such refined intellectual activities as Logic and Mathematics are driven and shaped by psychic energies and drives buried deep within us that find expression, in sublimated form, in such expressions as “driving a proof through” or “tearing a putative logical demonstration to shreds.”  This is normal, and the behavior rooted in these repressed or sublimated desires and drives is well within the parameters of the normal.

But some people are psychologically damaged.  They never successfully integrate those secondary thought processes with the primary processes and the drives that fuel them.  Such people quite often acquire a patina of normality, as it were.  They may have nice party manners and be quite capable of pursuing adult activities successfully.  But the never reach the point at which they actually grow up, to put it as simply as I can.  Trump, I believe, is such a person.

Let me say a word about why I consider him infantile.  This is a little tricky, so follow along, if you will.  It is clearly obsessively important to Trump to be the alpha male, as primatologists call it.  Now, this is hardly uncommon.  Indeed, it is hard to see how anyone could make a sustained and successful drive for the presidency without a deep and powerful need to be first, a winner, The Big Cheese.  But most adults who have this drive define winning, being first, being the big cheese in real world symbolic ways.  Holding the title of President is for them the goal, the measure of success.  Trump, like a child, obsesses about physically and visually immediate evidences of dominance.  A case in point is the size of the crowd on Inauguration Day as compared both with Obama’s Inauguration Day crowds and the crowd of the protest the day after Inauguration.  And it is not simply the numbers that he obsesses about, it is the pictures.  This is very primitive thinking.

The terms “narcissist” and “sociopath” have been used a good deal to describe Trump, and I think they are useful shorthand ways of summarizing our observations and intuitions about him.  Countless observers have written about Trump’s need to exercise dominance over those around him, about his bullying, his cruelty, hid need to humiliate those who have opposed him.  To an extraordinary extent, Trump seems not actually to be able to grasp and employ the notion of other people.  As an old friend observed to me, he treats his children as extensions of himself and his wives as possessions.  I would add that he treats everyone else as objects, not persons.  In the jargon of an early video game that my sons played when they were boys, he treats them as mushrooms.

All the evidence suggests that Trump is extraordinarily insecure, that he has, as many people have put it, a “fragile ego.”  I would say rather that he has an imperfectly formed ego.  This same old friend offered a judgment that startled me when he first said it, but which has struck me as more and more insightful on reflection.  He said that the day Trump walked into the White House after the Inauguration was the worst day of his life, because [if I am getting this right] he felt as empty, inadequate, and small then as ever, and he had just secured the biggest prize in the world, the prize that he hoped would make him finally feel whole.

If these speculations are correct, then Trump as president is a uniquely dangerous person.  What can we do to weaken him, undermine him, even, God willing, make him self-destruct?

Some thoughts.  Probably you all saw reports, and perhaps pictures, of the sign proclaiming “RESIST” that some brave souls hung from the crossarm of a huge construction crane within sight of the White House.  I applaud their courage and initiative, but I think the gesture would have been vastly more effective if they had instead hung a sign that said “LOSER.”  A sign reading “RESIST” simply tells Trump that he is dominant, that he is strong, that those whom he is dominating are reduced to calling for resistance.  After all, no one would call for resistance to someone who is weak.  It would not be necessary.  But Trump would be simply incapable of ignoring a sign calling him a loser, because that is what he really fears he is

Is there someplace visible from the Oval Office where, every day, picketers could stand carrying signs declaring Trump a loser, declaring him illegitimate, calling him small?  If so, it would be worth the effort to station people there.  Let him call the Capitol Police to drive them away.  That would be the news channel story of the day.
What is going to happen?  I honestly do not know.  Today is January 20th.  Impossible as it is to keep this simple fact in mind, it is only one week since the Inauguration.  There are growing evidences that Trump’s White House is chaos, that staffers are deeply unsettled by the lack of ordinary routine work.  It seems clear, and terrifying, that Steve Bannon has great influence over Trump.  But on the evidence we have seen thus far, Trump seems to be completely overwhelmed by the job of President, flailing about for quick, symbolic actions that cannot in act be effectuated [the confusion surrounding payment for The Wall is a case in point.]


I believe that my characterization of Trump is correct, but I do not know how we can use this understanding, if it is correct, to weaken him.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

HOMEWORK

In preperation for tomorrow's post, I would you all to read this story, most of which is a tweet storm [is that the right term?] from someone self-identified as a White House mid-level staffer.  I will have a good deal to say about it tomorrow.

WHAT IS TO BE DONE: PART ONE

I have spent virtually my entire life thinking and writing about subjects that interested only a few: The Critique of Pure Reason, A Treatise of Human Nature, the less erotic aspects of Marx’s economic theory, even anarchism, although what I wrote on that last topic won a rather larger audience than I anticipated.  Now, in my dotage, I find myself writing about subjects so current in the public consciousness that I am truly, as I so often say, merely a pebble rolling down a hill in a landslide.

Today, I should like to start talking about what we can all do to fight Trump, and I anticipate that virtually nothing I say will be at all new.  Indeed, much, if not all, of what I shall say has been anticipated just yesterday on this blog by the comment of David.  So be it.  In this fight, we need not a few, not thousands, but millions and tens of millions of actions.  If, in this obscure corner of the blogosphere, I can encourage a few of you to take actions you might not otherwise have considered, I shall be content.  And if, as Unknown suggests, my anxiety is excessive, my comments “hyperbolic,” I shall breath a deep sigh of relief and return to the contemplation of my circles, as Kierkegaard would have it.

Perhaps it will be useful to distinguish actions designed to affect the existing constellation of political forces, actions designed to change the constellation of political forces, actions designed to counteract Trump’s malign decisions, and actions designed to destabilize or unhinge Trump himself.

I.  Actions designed to affect the existing constellation of forces.

The American political system is extremely complex, more so even than the political systems of other large advanced capitalist states.  The Federal structure of our government creates a great many centers of power, each of which affects and is affected by the others but is itself semi-independent.  Here are some things we can do to influence the actions of those who control those centers of power.

A   Bring pressure to bear on Democratic senators to use the considerable resources of their office to block everything that Trump proposes.  That includes a large infrastructure bill putatively designed to create working class and middle class jobs.  If such a bill is passed, it will strengthen Trump’s political hand, and the fact that it passed with Democratic votes will serve to legitimate him.  It is vital to delegitimate Trump in every way available.  The threat he poses is too great for any compromise.

B.  Affirmatively support mayors and governors who declare sanctuary cities and resist Trump’s attempt to destroy them.  Hundreds of mayors and governors have already taken this step, and they need to hear that you support them.  This is important for two reasons:  First, because of the protection it will give to at-risk undocumented men, women, and children, and Second, because Trump will experience this resistance as a threat to his dominance, which is what he really cares about.  Anything that makes him feel weak, a “loser,” disrespected, will work to destabilize him.

C.  Bring pressure on the working press to call out Trump’s lies, challenge the putative normality of his behavior and statements, and refuse to serve as conduits for his fantasies.  Sixty seconds of Googling yielded this list of officers of the White House Press Corps:

Officers And Board, 2016-2017
Officers
President: Jeff Mason, Reuters
Vice President: Margaret Talev, Bloomberg
Secretary: Todd Gillman, Dallas Morning News
Treasurer: Doug Mills, New York Times

Board Members

Olivier Knox, Yahoo News, At-Large
Zeke Miller, Time, New Media Seat
Alicia Jennings, Nbc News, Television Seat
Jon Decker, Fox News, Radio Seat
Julie Pace, Associated Press, Wire Seat

You will notice that none of these is a household name.  I bet they do not get all that many messages from the public, compared with, say, Jim Acosta, Major Garrett, or Chris Jansing.

D.        Contact existing State Representatives, State Senators, and Governors [Google will give you their phone numbers and identities.]  I have repeatedly read or heard that even a few hundred calls from constituents make a disproportionately large impression on these folks.  Call your reps if they are Democrats, call them if the Republicans, but call them.  Yesterday I called the North Carolina House and Senate majority leaders [both republicans] urging them not to block the new Democratic Governor’s attempt to accept Medicare expansion in North Carolina.  The young staffers who answered the phone made it clear they had been swamped with calls.

Enough for today.  Tomorrow I will talk about ways of changing the existing constellation of political forces.


MR. TOAD REDUX

Later today, I will have a few suggestions about things we can all do in the struggle against Trump, but I can never resist the temptation to tout my own books, so …


Forty-six years ago, when I was desperately scrabbling to pay for two full-scale analyses and publishing everything I could lay claim to, I signed a contract to edit a collection of original essays on American politics called 1984 Revisited – Prospects for American Politics.  I rounded up some folks I knew to write essays.  Each author was paid $500, which would be $3000 today – not too shabby.  Todd Gitlin, Gene Mason, Robert Nakamura, Michael Lerner, Ira Katznelson, and Frances Fox Piven stepped up to the plate and I wrote an Introduction.  The book made no impression at all on the world, but the title was great.  Maybe I ought to do another one.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

AN INTERIM THANK YOU

The present crisis has elicited from some of the regular readers of this blog unusually insightful, pointed, and even highly literate comments.  Thank you all.  We are in a fight, but there is no reason why we cannot acknowledge and even take pleasure in the intelligence of our discourse.  I shall do my best to rise to the standard thus set.

A VERY LONG, DARK POST. READ WITH CARE

Those of us who choose to make our careers in the Academy learn even as undergraduates that its greatest virtue is originality.  Correspondingly, its greatest vice is plagiarism.  To have a new idea, an idea never before expressed, is a triumph worthy of the greatest reward the Academy has to offer – tenure.  But to steal another’s idea warrants expulsion.  I have lived my life by these twin commandments, striving always to say something new and obsessively crediting those who have said anything even passably similar with the academic get out of jail free card, the footnote.  But not every philosopher has embraced these twinned norms.  Recall the exquisite passage in the Gorgias, which I have quoted before [giving credit to Plato, of course.]  Here is what I said in this space several years ago [I cannot help it, I even footnote myself!]

“Callicles has triumphantly announced his brilliant new doctrine -- justice is the interest of the stronger -- and he impatiently awaits the praise of those listening.  Socrates quietly undertakes to explore this novel teaching, using everyday examples of cobblers and ship builders and herdsmen.  Callicles is deflated by this banausic colloquy, and finally says, in exasperation, ‘Socrates, you keep saying the same thing.’  And Socrates replies, ‘Yes, Callicles, and in the same way, too.’  This is so beautiful that it makes me weep every time I read it.  Callicles is in thrall to what Kierkegaard, twenty-two hundred years later, would call the Aesthetic, a mode of existence that strives above all for novelty.  But Socrates is committed to the search for moral truth, which is eternal and never changes.  So he is content to say the same thing, over and over, and in the same way.”

These past few days, I have been growing increasingly alarmed by the behavior of Trump and his minions.  As I have surfed the web, reading analysis after analysis, I have reflected that there already exists a vast and quite brilliant body of literature devoted to precisely the sorts of political behaviors we have been witnessing.  I refer to the writings of the great German, French, American and other social theorists of the middle of the 20th century whose best work was devoted to an anatomization of Nazism.  For Horkheimer, Adorno, Arendt, Fromm, Marcuse, Benjamin, Orwell, Camus, Sartre and many, many others the Nazi regime was the defining event of their personal and intellectual lives.  The Frankfurt School intellectuals in particular were driven to understand how a culturally rich, intellectually vibrant Weimer Republic could devolve so rapidly into the horrors of Nazism.  In countless books, some of the century’s greatest intellectuals and scholars anatomized the Nazi era, most of them having fled to England or America.

With the benefit of their insights, we can now see the relationship between small beginnings and disastrous endings.  I have been struggling to gain some understanding of what is happening in these early days of the Trump regime.  I claim absolutely no originality for my observations and reflections.  The best of them, if there are any deserving of praise, are simply repetitions of the thoughts of others.  I am retired and have no need of tenure. 

Let me begin by drawing a distinction.  Some of the bad things Trump is doing or is proposing to do, along with many terrible things the Republican majorities in Congress are planning to do, are, if I may put it this way, standard issue terrible things that are the predictable and unavoidable consequence of the workings of democracy.  These include attacks on women’s reproductive health, attacks on the social safety net, attacks on public schools, massive tax cuts for the rich, further economic burdens for the poor and the middle classes, an assault on America’s foreign policy obligations, and the closing of the borders to immigrants and refugees.  All of these have been on the Republicans’ wish list for decades, and their control of both the Executive and Legislative branches of government gives them an opportunity to achieve them.  There is nothing new about all of this, and we know how to fight it:  get out the vote and take back control of the House and Senate.  Most of what the Republicans seek to accomplish is actually opposed by a majority of Americans.  If they will get off their collective asses and vote, we can stop them.  These things are not evidence of a flaw in the American political system.  They are evidence that more Republicans than Democrats vote in off year elections.  But what about gerrymandering and voter suppression laws?  They are the result of Republican control of state governments, which in turn is a consequence of low Democratic turnout in off year elections.  If Democrats turn out in off year elections, they can take back state houses and legislatures in time for the 2020 census, on the basis of which new non-gerrymandered districts can be drawn and voter suppression laws can be repealed.  If Democrats cannot be bothered to turn out for these off year elections, they have only themselves to blame for all the terrible things Republicans do.  Mind you, gerrymandering is not the only problem, nor are voter suppression laws.  Part of the problem is that Democrats are demographically more concentrated than Republicans.  Unless five million California Democrats wish to sacrifice themselves on the altar of progress and move to Kansas or Texas, there is nothing much to be done about that.

But there are some actions the Trump coterie are beginning to take that are completely different from these old and well-understood threats.  If all those books by all those social theorists are right, then what we have been seeing these past few days are the very first signs of an incipient totalitarian fascism.  If I am right [or rather if Orwell, Horkheimer, Adorno, Fromm, Marcuse, Arendt, and all the rest are right], then we had better act right now to stop this before we lose the ability to oppose it.  What am I talking about in these apocalyptic terms?

Well, I am, for example, talking about Trump’s obsessive insistence that he won the popular vote, if you subtract five million “illegals” who voted.  I am talking about Trump’s obsessive insistence that more people attended his Inauguration than Obama’s.  I am talking about Trump making his Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, appear before the White House Press Corps and repeat these obviously false claims.

But this just shows that Trump is a self-deluded narcissist.  What on earth does this have to do with fascism?  Let me reproduce here most of a profound and, in my judgment, important column by Tyler Cowen of Bloomberg News.  [This is what I mean when I say that I am going to rely on the wisdom of others rather than strive for originality.]
“One of the most striking features of the early Trump administration has been its political uses of lying. The big weekend story was the obviously false claim of Donald Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, that Trump pulled in the largest inauguration crowds in American history. This raises the question of why a leader might find it advantageous to promote such lies from his subordinates.
First and most obviously, the leader wishes to mislead the public, and wants to have subordinates doing so, in part because many citizens won’t pursue fact-checking. But that’s the obvious explanation, and the truth runs much deeper.
By requiring subordinates to speak untruths, a leader can undercut their independent standing, including their standing with the public, with the media and with other members of the administration. That makes those individuals grow more dependent on the leader and less likely to mount independent rebellions against the structure of command. Promoting such chains of lies is a classic tactic when a leader distrusts his subordinates and expects to continue to distrust them in the future.
Another reason for promoting lying is what economists sometimes call loyalty filters. If you want to ascertain if someone is truly loyal to you, ask them to do something outrageous or stupid. If they balk, then you know right away they aren’t fully with you. That too is a sign of incipient mistrust within the ruling clique, and it is part of the same worldview that leads Trump to rely so heavily on family members.
In this view, loyalty tests are especially frequent for new hires and at the beginning of new regimes, when the least is known about the propensities of subordinates. You don’t have to view President Trump as necessarily making a lot of complicated calculations, rather he may simply be replicating tactics that he found useful in his earlier business and media careers.
Trump’s supporters are indeed correct to point out that previous administrations also told many lies, albeit of a different sort. Imagine, for instance, that mistruths come in different forms: higher-status mistruths and lower-status mistruths. The high-status mistruths are like those we associate with ambassadors and diplomats…. These higher-status lies are not Trump’s style, and thus many of his supporters, with some justification, see him as a man willing to voice important truths. If Trump’s opponents don’t understand that reality, and the sociological differences between various kinds of misdirection, they are going to underestimate his appeal and self-righteously underestimate how much they are themselves mistrusted by the public.
Trump specializes in lower-status lies, typically more of the bald-faced sort, namely stating “x” when obviously “not x” is the case. They are proclamations of power, and signals that the opinions of mainstream media and political opponents will be disregarded. The lie needs to be understood as more than just the lie. For one thing, a lot of Americans, especially many Trump supporters, are more comfortable with that style than with the “fancier” lies they believe they are hearing from the establishment. For another, joining the Trump coalition has been made costlier for marginal outsiders and ignoring the Trump coalition is now less likely for committed opponents. In other words, the Trump administration is itself sending loyalty signals to its supporters by burning its bridges with other groups.
These lower-status lies are also a short-run strategy. They represent a belief that a lot can be pushed through fairly quickly, bundled with some obfuscation of the truth, and that long-term credibility does not need to be maintained. Once we get past blaming Trump for various misdeeds, it’s worth taking a moment to admit we should be scared he might be right about that.
So the overall picture is this: The Trump administration trusts neither its own appointees nor its own supporters, and is creating a situation where that lack of trust is reciprocal.”

That is the first thing I have in mind when I talk of incipient totalitarian fascism.  Here is another thing.  “U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to remove the climate change page from its website, two agency employees told Reuters, the latest move by the newly minted leadership to erase ex-President Barack Obama’s climate change initiatives.”  Trump is not merely reversing Obama’s climate change policy.  He is trying to stop government agencies from making public the facts resulting from their standard work.  Trump is taking the first steps to redefine what the government proclaims as simple fact.  It is undertaking, by fiat, to alter reality.

What steps might we expect next?  I anticipate that Trump will issue executive orders abrogating existing civil rights.  If faced with a rebuke from the courts, he will flagrantly defy court orders, daring anyone to stop him.  He will try to use the Capitol police to stop demonstrations against his policies, regardless of whether those demonstrations are legal.  If he gets away with all of this, he may attempt to interfere with local elections, claiming that foreign terrorists are threatening his regime.  Might he even, in four years’ time, declare his re-election a fact before the votes have been cast?  If he has been able to get away with all the other acts undermining democratic procedures in the interim, of course he will.

Why I am I so frightened?  Because I have seen this before in innumerable countries, some of them European countries with educated electorates.

Which leaves one more question:  How do we stop him now, before he grows so powerful that we cannot?  I do not know.  Tomorrow I will struggle with that question.



READ IT

This was published two weeks ago.  Read it.  It is true.  We are at war, we are not having a polite discussion in an Oxbridge Senior Common Room.  All that matters is winning, and we have the troops, if we can mobilize them.

SIGNS OF THE TIMES

Amazon.com keeps track, day by day, of the books most in demand on its site.  The Number One book yesterday?

1984 by George Orwell.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

ANOTHER TINY PEBBLE

Today, around the nation, there are a number of local demonstrations focused on the appalling collection of horrors nominated for the Cabinet.  Susie and I managed to find our way to one noon-time demonstration at the Raleigh, NC office of Senator Thom Tillis, one of this benighted state's two Republican senators [It was Susie's first demonstration ever.]  The temperature wasn't bad, but stiff winds made it feel cold, at least to these ancient bones.  Roughly 130 people gathered to do a little call and response chanting, sing a song or two, and hear speeches.  Since the Senator's office is in a federal building, admission is limited, but two by two we were allowed just barely in the lobby to sign the visitor's book and chat with a pleasant, clueless young woman on the Senator's staff.

A bit of a comedown after the Washington spectacular, but every tiny bit helps.  At the very least, I now know how to get there, so the next time will be easier.  I will add the visit to my end of the week list.

Meanwhile, really bad things are going down in Washington, and it is taking all of my innate good spirits to keep from descending into despair.  The harm that will be done to tens of millions of people by these animals is beyond contemplating.

I do not have the heart right now for some snarky commentary on Trump's pathetic, sociopathic fixation on the relative smallness of his Inauguration Day crowd.  Maybe later.

Monday, January 23, 2017

I'VE BEEN THINKING

One of the things you learn when you start teaching at a university is that although graduate students can probably handle being required just to write a final “term paper” for a course, undergraduates need some along-the-way feedback and evaluation to help them produce acceptable work.  Well, when it comes to the sort of political action we are trying to undertake in the wake of the Trump victory, we are all undergraduates, so there needs to be some way to keep track of what we are doing and keep our spirits up.  How can I help?

Here is an idea I had while taking the garbage out to the dumpster behind my condo building [I lead a rather romantic life.]  Suppose each Friday, everyone who wants to makes a comment on this blog about what he or she has done in the last week.  I will copy all the reports into a text and post it.  Folks can get some psychic credit for their efforts and also pick up tips from other people’s reports.  If enough people take the trouble to report in, and if people actually DO something, we can create the sense that in this little corner of the blogosphere, we are on the march.


What do you think?

METAPHORS

One of my devices for avoiding the sight of Trump's face on television has been to binge watch a rather large amount of the schlock series called Defiance.  No need for me to sketch the lineaments of the story.  Suffice it to say that one of the seven extraterrestrial races to have shown up in post-apocalyptic St. Louis is a group of very, very white people who bath communally and have a heightened sense of honor.  When one of them has done something really bad, he is strung up by hands and feet on a "shaming rack," the ropes of which are pulled tighter and tighter as each member of their little band comes forward and drops another rock in a basket until the poor slob is torn apart.  Very poetic.

I just called the offices of my two North Carolina Republican senators and left a message opposing Trump's nominee for Secretary of Education.   I think of this as two more tiny pebbles in the basket of the shaming rack.

JUST A THOUGHT

image.jpeg

QUESTION

Following up on the DML post:  Would someone tell this geezer what a "slack" is?

MORE INFO

DML posted this as a comment, but not everyone reads comments, so I am reposting it here.  I suspect we are going to have to take on and defeat the party regulars before we can really make some progress.

"A few things to be aware of:

1. For reasons I don't know, the Our Revolution people have been a lot more organized around California. The Democratic party recently had its party reorganization there, where low level party leaders are elected, and they turned out pretty massively to elect a majority of delegates. These are usually low key, under-the-radar, low attendance meetings, that are attended by party insiders, but this year, most of the caucuses were jam packed. Good story about it here:
http://thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/315040-sanders-backers-take-over-california-democratic-party

Our Revolution is trying to replicate this everywhere, but different states reorganize at different times (Maryland, where I live, doesn't do it for two more years), and they are trying to research the process and prioritize; more states are reorganizing over the next few weeks. You need to join their site, and then you'll get a Slack (kind of like Facebook) invitation, which is where a lot of the online action is around this.


2. I've also been informed of this.

https://swingleft.org

Its targeting swing congressional districts, and directing willing volunteers where to put their energies. I don't know much about it, but it seems worthy.

3. The Women's March website has a "10 things in 100 days" program. Thing #1 is to send a post-card (that you download from their site) to your legislator about an issue. I'm a little dubious about this. I think phone calls are more effective, BUT I now know of two different "postcard parties" being hosted this week, where you drop by, hang out, and write your postcard (the hosts have everything set up to do this). I'm going to one tomorrow more for the solidarity and fellowship than the postcard itself. This could be a good tool for face to face organizing.

4. Finally, its worth noting, that this massively successful march had zero to do with the Democratic party. Its "official" leaders (Schumer, Pelosi etc.) were no where to be seen, and all of the DNC chair candidates were at a high dollar donor retreat in Florida along with the detestable David Brock. I can think of no better display of the complete disconnect between the party, and the people it purports to represent."

WHAT NOW?

Well, the marches are over.  They were a spectacular international success.  Not bad for a woman in Hawaii who posted an appeal on FaceBook.  Now we must ask, as is everyone, what do we do next?  There is no single answer, and it is a waste of time to argue about it.  I will say again, as I have said so often, Find something you like to do and keep doing it.  I will write for this blog, not because I imagine for a moment that it is important, but because I enjoy it and know that I will continue to do it until I grow senile or my little fingers become too stiff to type.

If you are casting about for things to do, here are several, lifted from Michael Moore and others.

1.  Donate such money as you can afford to any of the countless organizations marching in the right direction.  In my neck of the woods, a Starbucks coffee and biscotti cost about $4.19.  Forego that once a month and click on “make it monthly” when PayPal asks you for your credit card info.  If two million people give $5 a month each, that is $120 million a year, more than enough to make a real difference.

2.  Google your Senators and Representative, find their local offices, and call them once a week to urge them to do whatever is on your mind that week.  Currently, asking them to vote against Jeff Sessions or Betsy DeVos for cabinet posts is a good one.  Don’t anguish over the message.  Nobody but the poor schlub answering the phone will ever hear it.  But the call will be counted, and there is a good deal of evidence that even several hundred calls to an elected politician’s office make an impression.

3.   If you have the bad luck to be living in a Republican controlled state, Google your State Rep and Senator and make calls to them.  The smaller the district and the more local the elected representative, the bigger the impact of those calls.

4.   When OurRevolution gets its act together and puts up its interactive list of local groups, join one.  I am not about to be a community organizer, what with my obligations at home and my age, but I can certainly join a group and go to a meeting from time to time.


We are just getting started, folks, and from the evidence of the past two days, we have plenty of company.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A PURELY PEDANTIC QUIBBLE

The reports you all are posting of marches in your cities are remarkable and enormously encouraging.  But since I am, when all is said and done, a pedant, not an organizer, I will pause to give voice to an utterly irrelevant pet peeve.  I apologize for the interruption.  The revolution will continue momentarily.

For a variety of reason having mostly to do with its mongrel pedigree, English exhibits a distinction between what are called strong and weak verbs.  Weak verbs form the past tense by adding "ed."  I walk, I walked, I cook, I cooked, I kiss, I kissed.  Strong verbs form the past tense by altering the present tense itself:  I run, I ran, I bring, I brought, I think, I thought, I fly, I flew [except when I am playing baseball, in which case I fly to left field, I flied to left field, not I flew.]

"Freight" is a noun meaning, roughly, cargo put aboard a ship or truck.  It was originally the present tense of the verb "to freight," which is to say "to load with goods for transport."  The past tense of freight is fraught.

So, to say of a situation that it is fraught with significance or danger is essentially to say that the situation is loaded or weighed down with significance or danger as though [metaphorically] with cargo.

It doesn't make any sense to describe a situation, simpliciter, as fraught.

Now, back to the revolution.

IN THE BUNKER [NOT ARCHIE]

A bunker, for those of you who missed World War Two, is a concrete and metal reinforced shelter, mostly underground, where troops can crouch and protect themselves from bombs or incoming artillery fire.  In modern times, every Presidential Administration has had a complex relationship with the press, and more broadly, with the world outside the White House.  On the one hand, the White House crew want to use the press to put out their positive, rosy message about the wonderful things they are doing for the American people, so the person charged with dealing daily with the Press, the White House Press Spokesperson, cultivates a personal relationship with the reporters regularly assigned to the White House, favoring them with inside tips, learning their names, joking with them, and wooing them in an effort to extract from them favorable coverage.  On the other hand, even the tamest of reporters has shark DNA, and circles for the kill if there is blood in the water.  When things are going smoothly for an Administration, a skilled Press Spokesperson balances these forces reasonably well, but when really bad things are going down, the White House loyalists form a protective circle around the President like African buffalo threatened by a pride of lions.  They are then said to be “in the bunker.”  The Johnson White House, as the Viet Nam War went bad, was in the bunker.  So was the Nixon White House during Watergate.

Yesterday, the newly appointed Press Spokesman, Sean Spicer, met the White House Press Corps for the first time, barely more than twenty-four hours after Donald Trump took the oath of office.  Did he walk in smiling, greet those reporters he knew by name, make a few jokes, lighten the mood, and generally do everything he could to gain the best possible press for his boss and the new Administration?  Fat chance.  He stalked in, read a prepared speech accusing the people in front of him of lying, warned them that he would be targeting them for attack, and stalked out.

One day, and the Trump White House is in the bunker.


Bizarre.

MORE

David and DML give us wonderful descriptions of their experiences yesterday, one in DC, the other 3000 miles away in Seattle.  Take the time to read them in the comments section of this blog.  This could be big, folks.  I am enormously encouraged by the endless repetition of the call to further action, both by Michael Moore and other speakers and by people in the marches.  There is something extraordinarily appropriate that the focus of this march was the rights of women.  Lord, let it be!

PIERRE AT THE BATTLE OF BORODINO

All of you will have seen the pictures and read the stories of the extraordinary world-wide outpouring of opposition to Trump.  There has never been anything remotely like this in the history of the United States – not the Viet Nam era war protests, not the Million Man March on Washington, not the inauguration of Barack Obama [which was bigger in D. C. but not nation-wide.]  I was there, and my aim in this post is to give you a worms-eye view of the Washington March.  I was just one old man wandering, like Pierre at the Battle of Borodino, in and out of the crowds in one small area of the event.  I spent only about two hours at the festivities, and I never was able to get close enough to the reviewing stand to see or hear any of the speakers.  I leave it to television to tell you about that.

It began for me at 5:00 a.m. when I left for the airport.  RDU airport was not jammed, and I easily made my way through security [because I am over 75 I can leave my shoes on] and to the gate.  As I sat there, people gathered for the flight to DC.  Virtually all of those at the gate were women, many carrying rolled up signs and a few wearing the signature bit of protest clothing – a red knitted hat in the shape of a cat – a so-called pussy hat [and yes, the double entendre was intentional, as many of the signs at the protest made clear.]  The flight was full, with maybe four men total, and I received pats of approval from young women and grandmothers for my presence.  I was asked whether this was my first political action, and I allowed as how not quite, my first big protest having been a Cuba Protest Rally at Harvard fifty-four years ago.

After breakfast at Washington National Airport, I made my way to the Metro, expecting crowds.  Not a bit of it.  There was no problem buying a day pass, and the train was mostly empty.  “Hmm,” I thought, “maybe the predictions have been a bit overblown.”  Two stops later, masses of people got on, and pretty soon, the train was so jammed that people were sitting on the laps of strangers.  One lady carrying crutches declined the offer of my seat because she was so jammed in that she could not move the five feet to accept.

When we got to Federal Center SW, the closest stop to the rallying point of the march, the train slowed but did not stop.  The platform at the station was so jammed with people on their way to the march that it looked as though you had to make a reservation to go up the escalator.  At the next stop, Capitol South, we were allowed off the train, and surged toward the escalator.
I followed the crowd from the Metro in the direction of Independence and 3rd St. SW, trying to reach ground zero.  When I got up to C Street, which runs east-west a block south of the Mall, I turned and looked to my right.  C Street rises gently as it goes east, and as far as I could see, perhaps a mile or more, the street was completely filled with people all walking west toward the protest site.  They moved slowly, like a great river, fed by tributaries right and left.  Where were they coming from?  I had no idea, but it occurred to me that these might be the folks who had arrived by bus, since the parking place for the buses was RFK Stadium, about two miles due east of the Capitol.  Permits had been granted for 1800 buses, I read.  At 50 people a bus, that would be 90,000 marchers.

I walked alongside the marchers, who were joined at every street corner by more people coming from the Metro stations, or maybe just on foot.  The crowd was mostly women, but with a pretty good sprinkling of men – some young with their partners, some older with their daughters and wives, a few old like me.  The crowd was a sea of pink knitted caps.  People carried hand-made signs and printed signs, some calling on Trump to keep his tiny hands off their pussies.  One tall, slender blonde young woman dressed in a diaphanous white gown, with a white scarf tied around her eyes like a blindfold, stood on a marble stanchion and posed as Justice [no scales, alas], while people took her picture.  Long lines had formed at each of the Porta-toilets, and the event even sported the inevitable doomsayer with big sign and portable speaker calling on all present to repent.  Every now and then, a spontaneous high-pitched shout would start and roll back along the march up C Street.  The atmosphere was festive, casual, cheerful, despite the message of the signs, which was militant in the extreme.

As the C Street marchers moved steadily, relentlessly forward, they encountered a blockade at 3rd Street SW.  As best I could tell, that was the back of the reviewing stand, on the other side of which the BIG NAMES were speaking.  “Where on earth are they going to go?” I wondered, with tens of thousands coming behind them.  Then I saw that as each line of marchers reached the barricade, it split right and left and fed around it, presumably to reassemble in the Mall and on Independence Avenue.

I was too timid to thrust myself into the line of march and make my way to the other side, so I simply stood on the sidewalk and watched.  One young woman wearing a bright red wig, suddenly started squealing with excitement and waving her arms wildly.  When I asked her what had happened, she said, in a kind of ecstasy, “I just saw Cher!”  After a long while, I started back to the Metro station for the trip to the airport, and when I walked another block south, I discovered that tens of thousands of other folks were there as well, walking west.  The entire even was not so much a gathering or a march as a migration, as if all of Washington D. C. had decided to be pick up stakes and move to a new city.

All day, I had been calling my wife, my sister [who lives in DC] and my sons to reassure them that I was all right, but of course there was nothing to worry about.  It was the most peaceful gathering possible. 


When I got home, I turned on the television and only then learned of the size of the worldwide demonstrations.  As I listened to commentators talk about the Washington march, the New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, LA, Paris and London marches, a small voice inside me said, very quietly, “I was there.”  

I felt quite spontaneously and unjustifiably proud.