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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON THE THOUGHT OF KARL MARX. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for Robert Paul Wolff Marx."




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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

ANOTHER GOLDEN OLDIE

A regular reader of this blog emailed me with a link to a Frank Bruni Op Ed column that I had in fact already read.  In this column, provocatively titled "Aristotle's Wrongful Death," Bruni bemoans the recent trend of downsizing or cancelling liberal arts majors at colleges in favor of job-related training.  Bruni breaks a lance for the traditional liberal education while endorsing suggestions for ways to combine it with more marketable skill acquisition.  My reader wondered what I thought of the column.

Well, I turned the matter over in my mind, and then bethought myself of something I wrote eight years ago.  I actually posted it here in April 2011, but I like it, and seven years is several generations in the blogosphere, so for those of you have joined this conversation since that time, here it is.  The rest of you can pass the time qvelling over the summary canning of Rosanne Barr.


Some Heretical Thoughts on the Rat Race for the Top Jobs
Robert Paul Wolff

          A society is an articulated structure of roles occupied by, and functions performed by, adult men and women.  Every society, in order to continue in existence, must endlessly reproduce itself by preparing the young to occupy or perform those economic, governmental, religious, medical, legal, military roles and functions, so that in time they can take the place of persons in their parents’ generation.  Some of this work of social reproduction takes place in the family, some of it takes place in the workplace, some of it is carried on by formal and informal social groupings and organizations, and, especially in societies like ours, much of the work of social reproduction is assigned to the schools.
          In an agricultural economy, young boys and girls learn to grow crops and tend flocks.  In a hunter/gatherer economy, the young are taken along on foraging and hunting expeditions so that they can acquire the skills necessary to obtain food.  In some societies, the young apprentice to carpenters, masons, wheelwrights, or silversmiths.  They serve as pages to knights while they master the sword and mace.  As acolytes, they learn the religious mysteries of the temple.  They are articled to barristers so that they may be initiated into the arcana of the law. 
          Now it happens, from time to time, that a young man or woman comes along who has a special gift for one or another of the adult social roles in his or her society.  Some young women take naturally to the sword; some young men have a special gift for tending to the sick.  Some people have green thumbs.  Others are able to craft beautiful furniture with a chisel and saw.  But no society can survive if it depends on a regular supply of outstandingly talented young people.  A little reflection will make it clear that every society must define its adult social and economic roles so that averagely gifted young people can fill them.
          How could it be otherwise?  If the food supply were to depend on the talents of outstanding agronomists, the society would likely starve before those young Luther Burbanks appeared.  If the governance needed for survival absolutely required the gifts of a Thomas Jefferson or an Elizabeth Tudor, then a society would be doomed, for even if such a leader were to appear, he or she would not likely be followed by another, and another, and another.  Sooner or later, and probably sooner, a Millard Fillmore or George W. Bush would appear.  The legal institutions of a society must be so fashioned that lawyers of average ability can manage their essential functions.  The society will of course celebrate an Oliver Wendell Holmes, should one appear, but it cannot depend on a regular supply of jurisprudential giants.
          The truth of these observations is reinforced by the fact that almost every society systematically excludes large portions of its population from whole ranges of adult roles and functions.  Most societies before the present day excluded women from the military, the law, medicine, government, and major portions of the economy, and some still do.  Similar exclusions have regularly been imposed on groups identified by race, class, religion, or ethnicity.  The effect of these exclusions is dramatically to decrease the pool from which young people will be drawn to fill adult roles, thus making it ever more unlikely that outstandingly talented boys and girls will be available.  In effect, the more exclusionary a society is, the more it depends on its institutions being manageable by average talents.
          In American society in recent decades, formal education has taken the place of almost every other social mechanism for preparing the young for adult life.  The legal, medical, business, and military spheres have come to rely on schooling and the associated credentials and degrees to prepare young people and determine which among them shall be assigned to one or another adult role or function.
          There is nothing intrinsically wrong with society choosing this way of reproducing itself, although listening to lectures and taking written examinations is not always the best way to prepare for a productive role in adult society.  But the process is powerfully warped and conditioned by an extraneous factor so pervasive that many of us fail even to recognize it for what it is.  I refer to the steeply pyramidal structure of the rewards and privileges associated with the various roles our adult society.  To state the point simply, in modern post-industrial societies, there are a relatively few really good jobs with big salaries and great benefits, and lots of mediocre jobs with small salaries and very few benefits.  In a society like ours here in America, the quality of life of a young person is determined almost entirely by what sort of job he or she ends up in, and that, in turn, is very considerably determined by the quantity of education he or she obtains.
          Now, the top jobs [corporate lawyer, corporate executive, doctor, engineer, etc] are scarce, and their rewards are way out of proportion to those associated with jobs lower down on the pyramid.  Hence, there is a ferocious competition for the scarce slots.  Since we live in a society that gives lip service to fairness, justice, and equality, those who end up in the favored positions quite naturally tell themselves – and also tell those who fail to make it – that their success is a reward for their extraordinary accomplishment.  Those at the top of the pyramid, they tell themselves in self-congratulatory fashion, are the truly gifted and exquisitely trained.  But as we observed above, this is cannot possibly be true.  No society, not even ours, can survive if it must rely on finding an endless supply of outstanding lawyers, doctors, or CEOs to fill its top positions.  The simple truth is that despite the ferocity of the competition, those in the favored roles are, by and large, only averagely competent at them .  [Many years ago, a British child psychiatrist observed that nature only requires that women be “pretty good” mothers in order for their children to survive and flourish.  This wise observation can be generalized to all of society’s reproductive efforts.]
          Enter “metrics” – Grades, the SAT, the LSAT, the GRE, the MCAT, and all the other impressively mathematical devices for sifting and sorting young people, of allocating them to scarce positions and justifying that allocation.  These measuring exercises play absolutely no role at all in preparing young people for productive adult life.  Indeed, they do not even play any sort of role in preparing young people for the education that is, in turn, supposed to prepare them for productive adult life.  Their sole purpose is to decide, in an ostensibly objective and neutral fashion, which small number of boys and girls will be allowed to ascend to the heights of the job pyramid. 
          Now, in a society that depends on sheepherding, all the young boys and girls learn to herd sheep.  Some do it better than others, of course, but virtually all of them learn how to tend sheep sufficiently well to become shepherds.  If someone were to propose that the boys and girls be tested every two years to determine their progress in sheepherding, he would be laughed out of the village. 
          But in our society, every stage from infancy to young adulthood is accompanied by batteries of “objective” [which is to say machine graded] tests, and at crucial junctures – the completion of secondary school, the transition to college, and later the transition to graduate study – success on these tests, however that is defined, is treated as an absolute precondition for advancement to the next, more exclusive, stage of education, and thus for admission to the ever more lucrative jobs.
          After this system has been in place for a while, it quite naturally comes to be the case that the adults occupying the most favored social roles turn out to be the ones who performed unusually well on the various tests at each stage in their growing up.  After all, since performance on the tests determines whether they are admitted to the cushy jobs, it is self-evident that those in the cushy jobs will be the ones who did well on the tests.
          And now, by a flagrant bit of circular logic, society concludes that success on those tests is evidence of the outstanding ability absolutely required by the cushy jobs!  This circular argument is virtually forced on us by considerations of elementary fairness.  After all, if the cushy jobs do NOT require outstanding ability and accomplishment, then how can we possibly justify their cushiness and their scarcity?  And if the tests do not actually identify those special few capable of performing at the heights of the economy and society, then how can we explain the fact that those at the top have all done so well on the tests?
          All of this is dangerous and arrant nonsense.  And it is the nonsense on which our entire educational system rests.  There is very little evidence that success in pre-school, in elementary school, in high school, on SAT exams, in college, on GRE exams, and in graduate school is intimately linked with the ability actually to perform well the jobs  that are won by these strings of successes.  It is of course true that the senior partners of the most prestigious law firms graduated from the most prestigious law schools.  How could it be otherwise?  Those are the schools from which the law firm’s young associates are recruited.  But has anyone ever done an objective, double-blind evaluation of the work of such lawyers and of their counterparts at less prestigious firms who graduated from less prestigious law schools?   We are no better able to carry out such evaluations of the performance of lawyers, doctors, and corporate executives than we are to evaluate the performance of auto mechanics.  In the end, the “evidence” of the superiority of those in the privileged positions is the fact that they accumulated all the grades, degrees, and other markers that we have chosen to use as filters in allocating scarce desirable positions to an excess of applicants.
          Since all of this flies in the face of received wisdom that is as firmly entrenched in the collective mind of our society as the truth of the theory of the bodily humours once was, I want to spend a few moments elaborating on what I have just said.  Suppose, to continue my example, that we wish to test the hypothesis that a high score on the LSAT, admission to one of the prestigious law schools, and academic success in one's legal education are all good predictors of one's eventual successful performance as a lawyer.  How would we actually test that hypothesis? 
          Well, the first thing we would have to do -- this is absolutely fundamental to any scientific test -- is to define objective measures of successful legal performance that are logically independent of the LSAT scores, law school admission, and law school grades whose relationship to that success we are trying to measure.  How could we do that?  One thing we might do is select a group of graduates of Harvard Law School now working at prestigious New York or Washington law firms, all of whom, we may suppose, are former clerks of Federal District or Appeals Court judges or Supreme Court Justices, and count their percentage of successes in the multi-billion dollar corporate law suits they have prosecuted.  Then we could collect the same figures for a comparison group of graduates of Suffolk Law School working at small low-prestige Boston law firms.  If the first group has a significantly higher success rate than the second group, that might tell us something about the objective merits of the LSAT and the prestigious law schools in identifying or producing legal excellence.
          There are two difficulties with assembling this body of data.  The first is that on any big multi-billion dollar corporate law suit, there are hordes of lawyers on each side, so that it is really virtually impossible to identify the measurable contribution of a single lawyer.  The second problem is that graduates of Suffolk Law School working at small low-prestige Boston firms don't ever get to try multi-billion dollar corporate law suits, because the corporations demand a team of lawyers from the most prestigious and expensive law firm staffed by graduates of the most prestigious law schools, all of whom, of course, have done very well indeed on the LSAT.  I leave it to you to work out on your own the comparable tests that would be required to measure the relevance of SATs, GREs, MCATs, Ivy League degrees, and all the other markers by which we select young men and women for the best paying jobs.
          To be sure, there are times when the pressure of circumstances impels us to look past the stigmata of educational success and reach for some reliable measure of actual competence.  One story may perhaps serve to point the moral.  Some years ago, the then Dean of Yale Law School, a very bright, charming man named Tony Kronman,  became engaged to be married, and on the wedding day, his wife to be went to have her hair done at a local salon.  There was some problem with the procedure [the story as it has come to me does not include this detail], and the bride collapsed in tears.  When she called her fiancé, he came steaming into the salon and proceeded to make a considerable scene.  The upshot was that the New Haven police were called and the Dean of Yale Law School was hauled off to the police station.  [One can only imagine the malicious pleasure the police took in this.  Had they been the recipients of a Yale education, they might even have called it schadenfreude.]  When Dean Kronman was allowed his one phone call, he chose to call his colleague Owen Fiss, one of the most brilliant and respected Constitutional Law scholars in America.  Kronman told Fiss where he was, and begged Fiss to get him out in time for the wedding.  Fiss is reported to have replied, "Tony, I don't know what to do.  Call a lawyer."  There are after all some objective measures of professional competence.
          Let me repeat what I have been asserting:  Virtually all of the boys and girls in our society are capable of learning how to perform well-compensated jobs in a perfectly adequate fashion, and most of them could perform creditably in even the most demanding jobs, if given half a chance and the proper preparation.
          I know that this is educational heresy in modern America, so let me pull together the strands of my argument with two stories from my own life.  The first is an experience I had not in education, where I have spent my entire life, but on active duty in the Army, where I spent six months, more than sixty years ago.   I am of the generation that faced a military draft, and I chose to satisfy my obligation by six years in the Army National Guard.  The first six months of those years were spent on active duty, and the first eight weeks of that were devoted to what the Army calls Basic Training.  As the name implies, this is the time during which the Army teaches young men [and now young women] to march, salute, polish their boots and make their beds, disassemble and assemble a rifle, even to shoot it a bit at targets, and generally to become soldiers.  I did my Basic Training at Fort Dix in New Jersey.
          On the first day of Basic, an angry, mean-looking sergeant started to yell at me and he pretty much kept on yelling for the entire eight weeks.  Everything I did was wrong.  I marched out of step, my salute was feeble, my fatigues were messy, my shoes were not properly shined, my bed was not made tight enough to bounce a quarter, and I did not stand up straight.  He threatened to make me get up at three a.m. to GI the barracks if things were out of place, to clean the latrines with a toothbrush, and to march me until I dropped.  He was not yelling only at me, of course.  He said he had never seen a sorrier collection of recruits, and he doubted that any of us would make it to the end of the eight weeks.
          Somehow, miraculously, and to my great relief, I made it through Basic, and so did every single one of the men in my company!   What is more, virtually every man and woman in every eight week cycle in every year of the modern Army’s existence makes it through Basic.  You can count on the fingers of one hand the recruits in any cycle who actually are drummed out of the Army for failing to meet its strenuous, rigorous standards. 
          The explanation of this astonishing record of success, so dramatically in contrast to the rather poor record of our country’s educational institutions, is two-fold.  First of all, the Army, in its great wisdom, demands of its recruits only what long experience has shown they are capable of.  Despite all my sergeant’s threats and harangues, all of his brow-beating and chest-thumping, the tasks in Basic are aimed roughly at the lower end of what is average for the recruits.  The Army’s task is to motivate us to do what it already knows we are capable of doing, and to make us feel good about achieving what is, after all, an average performance.
          The second reason for an almost perfect rate of success is that the Army holds those in charge responsible for the successful performance of the men they command.  If recruits start dropping out of a Basic Training company, the Company commander will get a black mark on his record that will effectively ruin his career.  That angry sergeant yelling at me will be raked over the coals by his commanding officer if I fail to do the requisite number of push-ups.  The result, of course, is that those in charge do everything in their power to ensure the adequate performance of those whom they command. 
          My second experience, which stands in complete contrast to the first, occurred twenty-five years ago in South Africa, at the University of Durban-Westville, an historically Black university which I visited regularly in conjunction with a scholarship organization that I started called University Scholarships for South African Students.  I was meeting with a self-assured, rather smug young White man who chaired the university’s Economics Department and taught their big first year introductory course.  Data I had obtained from the Registrar showed that in the previous year, only eleven percent of the students taking the course had passed.  I expressed dismay at this appalling performance, and he agreed sadly, saying that the Black students were very poorly prepared.  I asked him what made him think he was a teacher, if only one in ten of his students could pass his course.  He was genuinely astonished at the suggestion that he had any responsibility to help his students master the material.  I suggested that if he were the head of a hospital in which ninety percent of the patients died, he would be brought up on charges as a quack, but he remained thoroughly unrepentant. 
          The lesson I glean from these two stories, and from a lifetime in the Academy, is very simply this:  Any group of averagely intelligent young boys and girls, given the proper support, socialization, assistance, and opportunity, can prepare themselves to fill successfully one of the good jobs in American society.  If a large proportion of the young people of some racial, ethnic, religious, or gendered group are failing to do this, the fault lies with the society, not with the boys and girls.  Performance on so-called objective tests is neither evidence of, nor a prerequisite for, the ability to succeed in contemporary society.  The boys and girls of every city, town, or village in every society in the world are capable of becoming averagely competent and productive members of their adult world.  If they are failing to do so, it is the fault of the adults in the society.  With attention, guidance, and with the unshakable conviction on our part that they are going to succeed, they in fact will succeed in becoming averagely successful. 
          Our job as educators is to prepare young people to take their place in the adult world -- all young people, not merely those who score well on SATs or get high grades or attend prestigious and expensive schools.  It is not our job to weed out the unfit, nor is it our job to raise the national scores on tests designed to satisfy the ignorant prejudices of reactionary politicians.  If our students fail, it is our fault, and our responsibility.   In our professional lives as educators, we must act like Basic Training sergeants [without the yelling], not like the Chair of the Durban-Westville Economics Department.
          What does this mean, concretely?  Since, as you will have gathered by now, I am an inveterate story teller, I will end these remarks with two more stories that suggest, anecdotally, how we ought to act toward our students.  The first concerns a very promising young man in the University of Massachusetts Afro-American Studies doctoral program that I ran for its first dozen years.  This young man had done some extensive,, solid archival research, but was simply unable to turn it into a dissertation.  I called him into my office, after several unproductive years had gone by, and told him to bring me everything he had written.  He produced a hundred pages or so of alternative drafts of bits and snatches of this and that chapter.  I sat him down and spent an hour or so sorting out the narrative structure of the project, dividing it into chapters and cutting it off at about the halfway mark, since what he had originally imagined was a long book, not a doctoral dissertation.  When all of this was clear, I said to him:  "I want you to go home right now and write page one of chapter one.  When you are done, send it to me as an email attachment.  I will read it and send back any comments or corrections.  Tomorrow, you will send me page two, and I will respond in the same way.  You will send me one page a day, every day of the week, from now until you have a complete dissertation.  If you start wandering off course, I will alert you to that fact.  If you are getting ahead of your story, I will slow you down.  One page a day is 30 pages a month.  In eight months, you will be done."  And so he was.  He now has tenure and will soon publish his dissertation as a book.  That is the sort of commitment to our students that I have in mind.
          The second story, with which I will end, is about one of my very favorite people, Esther Terry.  When these events occurred, Esther was the Chair of the Afro-American Studies Department in which I was the Graduate Program Director.  It was she who invited me to join the department in 1990.  Esther was a student at Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina when she and other students from Bennett and NCA&T carried out the famous Woolworth's Lunch Counter sit-in that helped start the modern Civil Rights Movement. 
          One semester, Esther and our colleague Steve Tracy co-taught an undergraduate course on Southern Literature.  I happened to wander into Esther's office just after the first class in the course had ended.  While we were chatting, a young Black man knocked on the open door.  "Dr. Terry," he said, "I was just in your class."  "Yes," Esther said, "I know."  "I am afraid I am not going to be able to take the course," he went on.  "Why not?" Esther asked.  "Because you have assigned a lot of books and I just don't have the money to buy them."  Without missing a beat, Esther said, "Now look, young man, I want you to stay in the course.  I have just had a fence put up around my house.  I want you to show up this afternoon and start painting it.  I will pay you, and then you will be able to buy the books."  With that, she took out some money as an advance on his wages, and sent him off to by the first book they were to read in the course.
          Esther is a very shy woman, and does not like me to tell that story.  Indeed, if I had not been there when it happened, I would never have known about it.  But she has been doing things like that for forty years, unbidden, without expecting or seeking recognition.  She simply views it as a normal part of her role as teacher.  She is my model for what a university professor should be, and it would make me very happy if she were to become yours as well.
         

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

BIBLE READING FOR THE DAY


Well, I called the Washington office of Representative Mark Walker and asked whether the Congressman had spoken out publicly against the ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] practice of separating little children from their parents.  The young thing answering the phone did not know.  I then asked her to take a message for Mr. Walker, who was for twenty years a pastor before running for Congress.  I asked her to suggest to Mr. Walker that he remind himself of Matthew chapter 19 verse 14, after which he should re-read Chapter 23 verse 27 of the same Gospel and reflect on whether Jesus was there speaking of him.

For those of you who do not have a Bible ready to hand, here are the relevant verses:

 But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

IRONIES

It turns out my Representative, Mark Walker, was a pastor before becoming a Congressman.  I shall suggest to the aide who answers the phone that Walker consult Matthew 19:14 and 23:27.  I might as well troll him while I am at it.

ONCE MORE INTO THE FRAY


I am eighty-four years old.  I have been fighting the good fight, one way or another, for seventy years, ever since I went to Yankee Stadium to hear Pete Seeger sing at a Henry Wallace rally in 1948 and ended up, across the river, watching Rex Barney pitch a no-hitter against the Giants.  I ought to be able to relax, organize my files, watch old movies, and leave the fighting to my sons and, one day, to my grandchildren.  And then I read this story of border guards separating children from their parents and I think, “Maybe one more fight.”  It is not as though separating children from their parents is anything new in America.  For the first seventy-eight years of the United States, it was standard operating procedure.  It was called the Slave Market.  There is not a single obscenity, foreign or domestic, now practiced by the U. S, government that is not as American as apple pie.  But when I was younger, I had hope.  Now, in my dotage, I think I am just too mean and stubborn to let it go.  So come Tuesday, when Memorial Day is behind us, I will call my senators and my Representative, and tell some hapless staffer that I protest.  Will they care?  Of course not. 

Saturday, May 26, 2018

PAYING ONE'S DEBTS


Over a long life, I have accumulated debts to many persons.  To Willard Van Orman Quine, I owe an immutable grasp of the distinction between use and mention, which he hammered into my head in 1950 when I was a sixteen year old college freshman.  To Benoit Roland, the great Franco-American achetier, I owe the magnificent viola bow that now, alas, sits unused in its case in my study.  To Humphrey Bogart, I owe the immortal phrase, “We’ll always have Paris.”  But to none do I owe so great a debt as I do to Sergei Brin, the co-founder of Google.

Brin is the savior of persons my age, those of us who suffer from what we delicately call “senior moments” so as not to have to confront the possibility of incipient dementia.  Many times each day Brin guides me, whether it is to the actress whose name I have forgotten, to the capital of California, which has slipped my mind, or to the name of the man whose refusal to obey Richard Nixon led to the elevation of the egregious Robert Bork.

I was reminded yet again of this debt earlier today.  Having taught my last Plato class, I turned my attention to preparations for the lecture I shall give three weeks from now in Belgium in commemoration of the bicentennial of Marx’s birth.  My theme will be the deep explanation for the extraordinary language of the opening chapters of Capital, and this morning I began locating and marking the passages I wish to read out.  Quite the most striking of these are the passages in which Marx compares ordinary marketplace commodity exchange to the Catholic miracle of transubstantiation, the focus of the ritual of the mass.  I was quite sure Marx had drawn that comparison but I could not put my finger on the passage.  Increasingly frustrated, I turned to Google.  I entered “Karl Marx transubstantiation” and in less than twenty seconds I had the passages, right where I had left them, in Chapter Three, section 2.

Everyone knows a great many things that are not, at any given moment, being held in consciousness – one’s social security number, mailing address, cellphone number, the name of one’s last pet, the names of one’s children or parents.  We know these things and can access that knowledge as needed, but we do not walk about repeating them aloud endlessly, rather like the Laputians of Gulliver’s third voyage.  Since it takes me very little longer to find things on Google than to recall them to mind, I have often thought that I should consider everything on Google simply a part of my own mind.  Looked at that way, I am quite impressively learned.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

THE HALF TIME SHOW


I think the time has come to step back from the daily frenzy of news and form some judgment of where things stand in the investigation of Trump, his campaign, and his administration.  Mueller and his team are investigating four possible violations of law:  a criminal conspiracy by Trump and his campaign to seek, abet, and receive illegal foreign assistance in the 2016 presidential campaign;  criminal efforts by Trump and his administration to obstruct the lawful investigation of that conspiracy; criminal efforts by Trump and his family to use the office of the presidency for personal enrichment; and criminal efforts by Trump and his family to solicit foreign monies in return for specific official policy decisions of the United States.  What do we now know about these investigations?

1.         The criminal conspiracy is established by facts now public.  The Russian government offered assistance of various sorts.  Trump’s son welcomed the offer.  The Russians provided the assistance. Trump publicly asked the Russians to provide additional assistance.  The Russians did so.  That by itself is enough to establish a conspiracy.  In addition, the Trump campaign altered the Republican platform to conform to Russian interests.  As President, Trump sought to shape official American sanctions policy to favor Russian interests, and for many months refused to enforce new sanctions voted overwhelmingly by the Congress and signed into law by Trump.

All of that is on the record.

2.         The criminal effort to obstruct the investigation into the conspiracy has been confirmed by Trump’s public statements, first to Lester Holt on national television, then to Russian government officials in the Oval Office, on national Russian television.

3.         There is a good deal of suggestive evidence of the efforts by Trump and his family to use the presidency for personal enrichment but until bank records are made public the evidence is not decisive.

4.         There is a good deal of evidence, as yet not decisive, that Trump has sought to shape official U. S. policy in return for monies paid to Trump, to his company, and to his son-in-law.

That is what we now know, beyond doubt.  In the vernacular current on cable news, Trump, his campaign, and his administration are guilty of collusion and obstruction at the very least.  What will happen in the future?  The future is notoriously difficult to predict in politics, so what follows are my speculations and gut instincts and should be considered as such.

1.         Prior to the 2018 election, the Republicans controlling both Houses of Congress will do nothing to sanction Trump in any way, regardless of what further evidence emerges, up to and including video and audio evidence of Trump explicitly stating that he has engaged in a conspiracy, obstructed justice, enriched himself by the presidency, and sold US policy to foreign bidders.

2.         If the Democrats take control of the House in the 2018 elections and impeach Trump, he will be tried in the Senate with the Chief Justice presiding, and he will be found not guilty, regardless of the evidence presented.  There is no way in the world that enough Republican senators will vote for conviction to bring the number to the constitutionally required two-thirds.  Even though some may be tempted to swap out Trump for Pence, they will be fearful that an ousted Trump and an aroused phalanx of Trump supporters will cost them their seats in 2020.  Trump will treat the failure to convict as a vote of confidence and will run for re-election in 2020 as an insurgent man of the people.  He will be difficult, but not impossible, to beat, unless the Democrats run a centrist, in which case Trump will be re-elected.

3.         If the Democrats take the House in November 2018, there will be two months between the election and the swearing in of the new House.  During that time, Trump will abruptly emerge as a progressive Democrat.  In return for not being impeached, he will offer to support stabilization and expansion of the Affordable Care Act, legalization of abortion on demand, imposition of a $15 an hour minimum wage, re-establishment of Obama era clean air regulations, increased taxes on the rich, nomination of liberal judges, and anything else the Democrats want.  He will sign a DACA bill, drop his demand for a border wall, and do anything else Chuck Schumer wants.  The Democrats will then be faced with a terrible choice:  Either to pursue an impeachment process doomed to failure in the Senate and pin all their hopes on 2020, or take everything they want as public policy in return for legitimating and normalizing Trump.

That, in a nutshell, is where we are at, in my view.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

MILESTONES


Philip Roth died yesterday.  He was nine months older than I am, very much a writer of my generation.  Saul Bellow, William Faulkner, Arthur Miller, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and J. D. Salinger were all older, already established by the time I was old enough to read novels other than Sherlock Homes.  I am not a serious reader of novels, and I think I only read two of Roth’s books, Portnoy’s Complaint and a curious novella called The Breast, but his death at the age of eighty-five reminds me once again of my own mortality.  As a young teenage high school student, the writers who meant the most to me were Steinbeck, e. e. cummings, Carl Sandburg, and Bertrand Russell. 

Sic transit gloria mundi.

Monday, May 21, 2018

HAVE PEN, WILL TRAVEL


Like one of the old Greek sophists, I go to any city state that will have me and talk on anything I am asked about.  My first publication was in the Harvard Crimson, my second in Astounding Science Fiction.  Over the years, my words have appeared in many settings, but this morning is a first.  I have been asked to contribute to a comic book.  A scholar at UPenn is soliciting one sentence statements about Herbert Marcuse for a comic book on him to be introduced by Angela Davis [I am not making this up.]  Naturally, I agreed.  There seem to be thirty or more others.  Here is my sentence:

“Herbert Marcuse, the imposing presence who teased me, just after I had published my first book on Kant’s Critique, by proposing to Barrington Moore and me A Critique of Pure Tolerance as the title of our little volume, reassuring me when I objected that “No one will ever read it,” the Germanic philosopher who sat on the floor with my three year old son twirling a toy globe to show him the countries of the world, the world-historical presence who was that rarest of beings in the exalted realm of high theory and kulturkritik, a good friend.”

Sunday, May 20, 2018

STRANGE TIMES


This a strange time politically.  It feels oddly unsettled, fractured, uncertain.  The report of a second meeting with Don Jr., this one with representatives of countries other than Russia, gives the feeling of an investigation that is metastasizing.  Recent Democratic Party primaries suggest that at the moment the party is moving to the left, which I welcome, despite the risk it poses in the November elections.  Inasmuch as turnout is everything in the midterms, this may be a conjuncture when the left can make real gains.

Meanwhile, as I prepare for my last Plato class, I am struck again and again by how extraordinary it is that the Gorgias, one of the most topically current of Plato’s dialogues, was written two thousand four hundred years ago.

As soon as the course is ended, I must prepare my Marx lecture for Brussels [or actually Gent – the location has been moved.]  Like Gorgias himself, I will travel to any city state where there are a few gathered to hear me orate.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

ARM CHAIR SPECULATION


I assume readers of this blog are aware of the main outlines of the unfolding negotiations between North Korea and the Trump Administration, leading to North Korea’s abrupt cancellation of a projected meeting with South Korea and threatened cancellation of the Kim-Trump summit.  Prominent in North Korea’s announcement was a direct attack, by name, on John Bolton, Trump’s new National Security Advisor.  Bolton had gone on TV not merely to lay out the demand that North Korea completely give up its nuclear weapons, but also to explicitly reference the Libyan example as America’s model for North Korea.  Inasmuch as Ghaddafi ended up being shot dead in a drainage ditch some years after giving up his nuclear weapons, Kim not surprisingly expressed discomfort with that model.

John Bolton is a thoroughly despicable human being, but he is far and away the smartest, most knowledgeable, most experienced member of Trump’s administration.  I suggest that it is an absolute certainty that Bolton made that statement as a deliberate effort to scuttle what he patently considers Trump’s wrong-headed decision to seek out and agree to one-on-one talks with Kim.

It should be interesting to see how this plays out.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

WHAT PUBLIC REPRESENTATIVES SOUND LIKE IN SOME PLACES

Take the time to watch this, courtesy of William Polk.

WHAT I AM DOING TODAY


This afternoon, I shall give the fifth of six lectures on Plato’s dialogues, this one on the Gorgias.  Out of curiosity, I looked back over my extensive files of the courses I have taught during my long career, and found that I first taught the Gorgias in the Fall of 1955 as a twenty-one year old Teaching Fellow in Harvard’s Philosophy 1.  There were four Teaching Fellows in the course taught by the grand old man of the department, Raphael Demos.  Each of us covered two sections.  In my file for the course was a copy of the mimeographed sheet listing the questions each of us posed to his sections on the mid-term hour examination.  Mister Raymond, Mr. Schiller, and Mr. Chacon asked serious, probing questions, suitable for so elevated a subject.  Then there was me.  Here is my first question:

There once was a rhetorical man
Who said, “Flatter the public I can.”
He boned up on knick-knackery,
All four forms of quackery,
And for Ruler of Athens he ran.

Outline Plato’s theory of true and false arts, and explain how a false politician would use the “knacks” to gain power in a state.

Ah, those were the days.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

IT NEVER STOPS

I was all set to write a light-hearted post about the class I will teach tomorrow on Plato's Gorgias when I came across this story on The Daily Kos.  The first paragraph reads:

"Michigan isn't the only state where Republicans are pushing a Medicaid work requirement that’s blatantly racist. Ohio and Kentucky are running the same play, passing a work requirement for Medicaid but exempting mostly white, rural counties. The claim is that the exemptions are for places with high unemployment rates where people simply can’t find work—but cities with high unemployment rates often don’t get the same treatment, because they’re surrounded by (and within county lines of) wealthy suburbs that pull the county’s overall unemployment down. The end effect is that, in what a health law scholar described to TPM as “a version of racial redlining,” work requirements apply to poor black people but not poor white people."

The unrelenting ugliness of the Republican Party drains the energy out of my body.  There is nothing to do but fight back at the ballot box, and I will, but I do not want to live in this world, I really do not.

A RESPONSE TO JERRY FRESIA

I suppose, Jerry, that I could say it was April 17, 1961 when I stopped feeling that this is my country.  [The Bay of Pigs invasion, for those too young to remember.]  I went to bed on the 16th thinking of myself as a progressive Democrat, and woke up the next day to wonder who I was and what I stood for.  I am thoroughly American, despite my Paris apartment, but I do not think of myself as a loyal American.  It was not until I wrote Autobiography of an Ex-White Man that I was able to tell a story of this country that was a substitute for the familiar story of a City Upon a Hill and American Exceptionalism, and I learned that new story from my Black colleagues in Afro-American Studies.  But I have never been a rootless citizen of the world, and that is the source of my despair.

A RESPONSE TO HOWARD B.


Before moving on to the outrages of the day, I need to respond to Howard B.’s thoughtful and passionate comment.  I come from a Jewish background, but I have never had any connection, even as a child, with Judaism.  Indeed, although I am an atheist, I resonate more deeply to the mythology and imagery of Christianity, as readers of this blog no doubt have discerned.  Let me be very clear.  My comments about the recent events in Israel were political, not religious or ethnic.  I oppose the policies of the state of Israel, just as I oppose the policies of the United States, even though I am through and through an American.  I am indeed aware of the presence in Israel of men and women who, often at great risk, have spoken and acted strongly against Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.  Not for one moment would I countenance the suggestion that the state of Israel has no right to exist.  I am also aware, thanks in part to the writings of William Polk, to the internal divisions and conflicts in the Palestinian population that have stood in the way of their ability to form a united and effect self-government.  Leaving aside problems of language, I suspect I would find Israel a more pleasant and familiar place to live than Palestine.  But none of that has anything to do with my political judgment that Israel – against the opposition of many of its own citizens – has played the role of conquering and occupying army for decades.

Monday, May 14, 2018

TRUMP'S FINEST HOUR


For more than three generations, the Israeli government has been holding more than one million Palestinians captive while pretending to be searching for an acceptable “two state” solution.   Ignoring United Nations directives, Israel has steadily been absorbing, dividing, walling off, and otherwise undermining the Palestinians.  Today, with the opening of the United States embassy in Jerusalem, the long charade has come to an end.  To celebrate their victory, the Israeli army has killed three score Palestinians and wounded an additional two thousand.  It is only appropriate that the celebration should be graced by the President’s son-in-law.

This is not my country.

OH, BY THE WAY

The Stormy Daniels fund is up to $486,960.

RESPONSES TO SOME COMMENTS


Herewith, unorganized responses to a slew of comments provoked by my recent posts.

Tom, Avenatti gets his stuff – bank records, Cohen’s deals with corporations, etc. – from huge numbers of people who are sending him things they are privy to as low level bank employees and the like.  This is crowdsourced leaking, and it is simply unstoppable.  He has become an instantly recognizable media star, apparently.  People stop him on the street to thank him.  I think I have read that he is a rather successful lawyer who has won some big cases [and thereby picked up some big fees.]  As a not too secret anarchist, I revel in this demonstration of the power of ordinary people to disrupt the plans of the rich and powerful.  Back in ’88 [that is 1988, by the way] I was the unpaid Executive Secretary of Harvard/Radcliffe Alumni and Alumnae Against Apartheid [HRAAAA, or HURRAH, as we used to say.]  An anonymous low level sympathizer bootlegged to us a printout [big sheets with holes along the edges] of Harvard’s super secret list of their potential donors, organized in descending order of their expected lifetime donations – the Aga Khan was first.  There wasn’t actually anything we could do with it, but it taught me something about the porousness of corporate records.

Bizarrely, a dispute broke out in the comments section over the possession or non-possession of television sets.  As I remarked in IN DEFENSE OF ANARCHISM forty-eight years ago, only the very poor and the very well-educated would lack the TV sets I wanted to use for Instant Direct Democracy.  Half a century later, I would have to update the proposal to include cellphones.  For the record, Susie and I have three sets, although we really only watch two of them, the one in the bedroom, which is on the wall, and the countertop set in the kitchen.  I regularly watch lots of MSNBC, some CNN [when Chris Matthews is on MSNBC], basketball games, and old movies.  I get my Big Bang Theory clips on YouTube.  I know there was a good deal of disapproval when Gutenberg invented the printing press, but had I been around, I would have sided with the avant garde, not the Luddites.  I can still remember when TV sets had antennae called Rabbit Ears that you had to rotate this way and that to catch the signal.  I had a disc once on top of my house, but I much prefer cable.  But then, I talk about movies, not about film, so apparently I am unreconstructed.

As for what the rich do with their money.  Even though, as Will Rogers noted, a man can only wear one pair of pants at a time, there is in fact something very valuable that the rich buy with their money: insulation.  Insulation from the poor, insulation from the middle class, insulation from the law, insulation from the Other.  They not only live in gated communities, they live gated lives, and they will spend a very great deal to make sure the gate has a lock on it.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

MY NEW BFF, OR ANY PORT IN A STORM

I think we can all agree that these are terrible times.  I react by muting the screen whenever Trump appears, but that reflex, although necessary for survival, gives little positive gratification.  It simply reduces the pain.  Into my blighted life has come a savior, a reliable source of pleasure, an analgesic for the aches of the spirit.  His name is Michael Avenatti, the attorney for Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, the very first porn star to become a media darling.  [To be sure, when I was an undergraduate at Harvard, an enterprising member of the football team brought an Old Howard burlesque queen to dinner one evening, but her act would not even get an R rating today.  Times have changed.]

In Avennati's first media appearance, he claimed to be working pro bono for Ms Clifford, and I have been wondering ever since who is paying his bills.  Today, I learned the answer: crowdsourcing.  If you will go to this website, you can watch the money roll in from around the world in ten, twenty, or even five dollar increments.  As I write these words, the amount raised stands at $474,095.  Earlier this morning, when I first checked the site, the amount was in the high $472 thousands.  I gather that during one of Avennati's cable news appearances, one can watched the counter tick upwards steadily.

I am old enough to remember when black and white TV sets were a rarity, and I tend, like most old men, to insist grumpily that things were better in the old days.  But this phenomenon is unsettling that conviction.  [whoops, the total just went up to $474,145.]

Thursday, May 10, 2018

SOME THOUGHTS ON WILLIAM POLK'S ESSAY


Let me offer a few thoughts prompted by William Polk’s extraordinarily detailed and truly terrifying essay, posted here yesterday.  I have been profoundly concerned about the threat posed by nuclear weapons since the late 1950’s.  It was the subject of my second book [never published] and was in fact the issue that drew me into politics.  Yet I was almost completely unaware of the details of the accidents Bill describes, any one of which could easily have totally transformed the world as we know it.

I have nothing to add to his litany of near-misses or to his analysis of the dangers created by Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear accord.  Rather, I want to try for a moment to imagine how the world must look to North Korea, to Iran, or indeed to other nations tempted now to launch nuclear weapons development programs.

America exhibits the self-congratulatory rationalization of most imperial nations.  It assumes, proclaims, insists upon its sole possession of the moral high ground in international affairs, taking it as axiomatic that its actions are motivated by an admirable concern for the welfare of all nations save those so blinded by self-interest or even madness as to oppose its hegemony.  America is hardly alone in this moral and political blindness.  Great Britain, during its glory days, exhibited the same confidence in its moral superiority, as did France, and indeed so has China during its periods of ascendancy.  I am of the impression that the Romans shared this happy self-understanding.  Perhaps the only exception is the Mongols.  I do not know.

There are, however, several facts that it is useful to recall.  Let me begin with a fact that everyone in the world knows, but which, miraculously, Americans in the mainstream of bi-partisan foreign policy thinking seem quite capable of forgetting.  One nation, and one nation alone, has actually used nuclear weapons to kill people.  That nation is the United States.  Since we are quite confident that our hearts are pure, we find it easy to forget this fact, or to treat it as not worthy of notice.  But it is perhaps understandable other nations have a trifle more difficulty forgetting it.  Let us recall that on this single occasion when nuclear weapons were used to kill, it was Asians, not Europeans or Africans or Latin Americans, who were killed.  We Americans of course recognize that this fact is utterly irrelevant to the purity of our intentions in the Far East, but it is perhaps understandable that others might, illegitimately of course, take a different view.

Second, in the seventy-three years since the end of World War II, the United States has, overtly or covertly, attempted to overthrow government after government around the world, failing sometimes, as in Viet Nam, but more often succeeding.  Once again, commentators in the mainstream, all of them quite aware of this fact, seem capable of a complete compartmentalization of their awareness.  I have now listened to hundreds of hours of cable news discussion of the Iran nuclear deal.  Not once has anyone at all thought it relevant to mention that the United States, in collaboration with Great Britain, saw fit to overthrow a democratically elected government in Iran and replace it with a puppet regime of its own choosing.  That was a long time ago, of course, but I would imagine that Iranians actually recall the event, and it might just conceivably – although of course without reason – lead them to imagine that unless they possess nuclear weapons, such an overthrow might occur again.

These thoughts do not in any way mitigate the importance of Bill Polk’s warnings.  But it is useful on occasion to try to see the world as others see it.


Wednesday, May 9, 2018

IT IS ESSENTIAL THAT YOU READ THIS

Please read this long piece by William Polk.

The implications of voiding the Iran nuclear deal:
Since Mr. Trump has torn up the Iran nuclear deal, any conceivable Iranian government, not just the current one, would have to be not only stupid but suicidal not to try to protect itself.  
 What that means, in stark terms, is that it is likely to pay any price to avoid the mistakes of Saddam Husain and Muamar Qaddafi. They either did not have (Saddam) or gave up (Qaddafi) nuclear weapons.
 We taught them two lessons:  first, not to have the means to defend themselves (which in our times equates to nuclear weapons) and, second, to trust us to let them live, is fatal.
 My experience with the leaders of a number of nations convinces me that they are usually rather sensitive to the danger of being overthrown or murdered. 
 I am terrified that identified or predictable other states will decide on these bases to acquire nuclear weapons.  I shudder to think of a world of even more nuclear-weapons states.  
 We have survived with  9 countries' leaders, some of whom I would not trust with a pistol, having control of a nuclear weapon or hundreds of them.
 So far, they have  decided not to attack either one another or someone else.  Albert Wohlstetter, the "big bomb" man engaged as a propagandist by the US Air Force, against whom I often debated at the University of Chicago,  called this the "delicate balance of terror."   
 I call it dumb luck. 
 What we are now living under is frightening enough — that well-informed nuclear weapons practitioner former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara called it "bizarre."  As he wrote, ""The whole situation seems so bizarre as to be beyond belief. On any given day, as we go about our business, the president is prepared to make a decision within 20 minutes that could launch one of the most devastating weapons in the world...that is what we have lived with for 40 years. With very few changes, this system remains largely intact..."
Either by the delicate balance of terror or by dumb luck, think what it would mean if several more, perhaps half a dozen immediately and ultimately many more nations joined the party.
Then, if any one of their leaders is psychotic (and my experience is that nearly always at least one is),  gets drunk, suffers a bout of depression or sickness, or feels himself in danger, he is apt to "misplay," as the nuclear wargame players like to say.  
This is partly, but not solely, a matter of their possible fear of one another or of us; the result is much more complicated.  
 Consider something that is rarely discussed:  what a nation with a nuclear weapons inventory has to do to keep it stable.  
 We know the answer when we think of the cost of buying a car.  If driving it out of the show room costs, say  $20,000,  its ultimate cost is perhaps double that over a five-year period.  
 Think of this in the nuclear weapons issue:  The US Department of Energy admits spending somewhat more that $13 billion/year on maintenance of the nuclear stockpile.  This is probably only a fraction of the cost since much is undoubtedly parceled out to other parts of the government budget.  But even the minimal cost is burdensome and burdensome even to a very rich country like ours.
 Consider what this means for poorer countries.  The cost becomes proportionally much greater. 
The whole economy of, say, Pakistan is shaped by a similar task. Its number of weapons is of coursesmaller, probably 130 or so.  But the task is to a large extent fixed while the means to meet it tend to be either fixed or less flexible:  Pakistan has a total GDP of about 0.0114 per cent of the US GDP. Thus, for Pakistan to carry out a just a maintenance program on its inventory of weapons requires the diversion of a big slice of the national economy/educated society/public demands/potential for the future/ etc. from other, often politically very pressing, tasks 
Moreover, many, and probably increasingly, members of its society will regard the unplanned and undramatic costs not so important as the acquisition of the weapon.  It is like the cost of the automobile: it is bright and attractive while upkeep,  maintenance, protection, prevention of accident are all mostly hidden.  Thus, what in weapons is called "command and control," is  vulnerable and politicians will find paying for it burdensome.  Cost-saving will surely involve danger-growing decisions. 
Even if they favor acquiring nuclear weapons, political leaders are apt to regard the less dramatic but even more demanding tasks of keeping them safe less urgent.  When deciding between building a new school or a hospital, a road or a bridge, a gaggle of jet fighters and putting money and trained people into maintenance of hidden stockpiles, it will be an unusual leader who will flout public demands.   We are lucky that India and Pakistan are not responsive democracies.  They can divert resources to this little appreciated task.   
Will leaders of other -- potential -- nuclear states do the same?  Will they even know how to do so?  Will they have the gigantic resources such a task requires? Will they have the technicians, scientists, trained cadres of workers to carry it out soon enough? 
 Nuclear accidents, after all, are potentially as dangerous as intended use.  We in America have experienced hundreds of near misses of which at least a dozen could have wiped out a large part of America or wherever our weapons were situated.  And, in some of those I have studied, an accidental explosion would either or both triggered a war and/or devastated a vast area and killed tens or hundreds of thousands of people.
 Far-fetched?  Unlikely?  "Crying wolf?"  Surely, this is at least exaggerated.  
 If you think so, consider just a few dramatic events — perhaps the Russians have had similar near misses.    (I cite older events because the more recent ones are not public knowledge.) Here are a few of America's:
 • A USAF F-86 jet fighter collided with a USAF B-47 bomber over the American state of Georgia on 
February 5, 1958. The bomber dropped a nuclear bomb rated at 3.8 megatons (that is roughly 45 times the power of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima).    It had apparently not been properly maintained and did not function as it should have.   It did not explode.  Had it exploded, it would have incinerated an area as large as the center of New York City – 23rd-59th streets, river to river. And, of course, it could as easily have been dropped accidentally on New York as on Georgia.
 • A USAF B-52 carrying two 4-megaton bombs (that is a total of 100 times the size of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima)  broke apart in mid-air over North Carolina on January 24, 1961. One of the two bombs (in the words of the report) "behaved precisely as a nuclear weapon was designed to behave in warfare: its parachute opened, its trigger mechanisms engaged, and only one low-voltage switch prevented untold carnage." 
• On January 17, 1966, a B-52 collided with a tanker aircraft near the Spanish fishing village of Palomares. The tanker exploded and the bomber broke up, dropping 4 nuclear bombs. The non-nuclear explosives (the "triggers" for the nuclear bombs)  detonated on impact but failed to ignite the nuclear fuel. If they had functioned, as they were supposed to do, they would have obliterated a large part of Spain.  One bomb did not detonate at all, and the fourth bomb apparently floated out to sea under its parachute and was never recovered. 
• At Thule, Greenland on January 23, 1968, a bomber with 4 nuclear weapons aboard crashed; the "trigger" (a conventional bomb) exploded but did not detonate the nuclear material. It luckily malfunctioned.  One bomb was never recovered. 
The point is that despite massive expenditures of money, talent, organization – command and control – things did not work as they were supposed to work.  In these cases, we were lucky that they did not, but one would have to be dangerously naïve to think that luck always will run toward safety.  If malfunctions happen, and where numbers of anything run into the thousands,  they are inevitable, a severed wire, a burnt fuse, a glitch in a computer program...well, you can imagine the rest. 
The investigative journalist Eric Schlosser "discovered that at least 700 'significant' accidents and incidents involving 1,250 nuclear weapons were recorded between 1950 and 1968 alone." There were perhaps a thousands more.  We don't know about recent events if such occurred.  And this despite our highly trained, and experienced command and control organizations (plural!).  And these events occurred when Americans were able to afford,  and did allocate,  vast amounts of money to prevent accidents.   
Bear in mind that we Americans are motivated to carry out such tasks because a significant part of the American business elite makes money by doing so.   This is unlikely to be the case in other countries. 
So, what will happen when less rich nations, with less frightened societies and without the profit motive of making safety devices join us in the mad rush to nuclear weapons?   Will North Korea have the ability or will to mortgage its future (or divert resource from manufacturing new and more powerful weapons) to maintain its existing nuclear weapons?  Indeed, feeling threatened as I presume it must feel, will it care enough to do better than the record shows we have done?   
We had better ponder that question. 
Now consider another and equally frightening thought: 
Consider what will come to the fore if another state -- or several states -- join the nuclear club in the already highly volatile Middle East.  Israel is already there.  If Iran follows Israel,  Saudi Arabia says it will not be far behind.  And what about Turkey and Egypt?  If I were Mr. Assad, I would long since have been discussing with Pakistan and North Korea selling, stationing or lending me weapons.  Whose's next?  How about the UAE?  It has the money and the rest is easy.
President Trump and his bellicose advisers seem oblivious to such considerations. 
Are they real?  While few Americans appear to worry about them, it should not tax the imagination to guess that the leaders of other countries will feel that they must worry.  We should remember the words of Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto when faced with the apparent threat of India's nuclear weapons, "we will eat grass if necessary but we will have nuclear weapons."  Not to do so is to risk the fate of Saddam Husain and Muamar Qaddafi.  
So I predict that Mr. Trump's decision, unless somehow mitigated or reversed, risks starting a stampede toward a nuclear-weapons world.  It is not a world I want.  Even if it is not immediately a world at war, it will be a sort of concentration camp of terror, enervating fear of accident or design, of death and destruction.  Then if it slides into war, it may fulfill f one of the prophecies of Albert Einstein.  As he memorably said, "I do not know with what weapons the next war will be fought, but I know that the one after that will be fought with sticks and stones." 
In conclusion, I ask Mr. Trump;  would our own safety not be better served to try to create conditions of safety even for those we do not like or with whom we have major disagreements?  I include the Iranian and North Korean governments?   To harm them, we will have to harm ourselves even more.   I hope he will ponder this before it is too late.
 
                                                                                                William R. Polk,  May 9, 2018