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Thursday, December 21, 2017


Professor Todd Gitlin of Columbia University is one of the finest voices in America on the left.  A former president of SDS, the author of fifteen books, and, I am proud to say, my student fifty-seven years ago, he is an important leader of the Resistance.  He just sent me the following, which I reproduce here with his permission.

As the UN General Assembly readied to vote on a resolution condemning the United States for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital (it passed, 128 to 9), Trump’s Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, is reported by the Times to have written to the members of the General Assembly as follows: “As you consider your vote, I want you to know that the president and U.S. take this vote personally.”


Nothing new, in one sense. Of course Donald Trump takes everything personally: a branded steak and a bottle of water, an Arnold Schwarzenegger rating, the height of a rival and the size of his rivals’ genitals, the weight of a beauty contestant, a football player’s posture, ad infinitum. But now, fancying that he has ascended to a truly royal realm, the Brander-in-Chief has gone yet one further: He is treating foreign policy as a personal plaything. It is back to the Shakespearean days when the king of France was known as “our cousin France.” Then it was understood that nations were the personal properties of their rulers. In and of themselves, they constituted the public domain. They were the sole active agents of history, and everyone else was a subject—subject, ultimately, to their will. To insult a nation was to insult the monarch, and vice versa.

In 2005, when Recep Tayyip Erdogan was not yet President of Turkey but only Prime Minister, the Turkish state made it a crime (Turkish Penal Code Article 301) to “insult Turkishness.”   Under this law, the novelist Orhan Pamuk, among many others, was prosecuted. Trump’s desired world is one in which disagreeing with American foreign policy is insulting Americanness—which is insulting Trump—which is lèse-majesté. His majesty will not be trifled with. Who do the petty rulers of these little piss-ass countries think they are? Do they brand hotels? Are their names stamped onto the sides of beef? Donald Trump ran to become CEO of America. He now holds himself to be, in his sole person, the American brand. He is the august Hirer and Firer. He is, as Garry Wills wonderfully put it, Big Rocket Man. He was elected to reign. Since January 20, 2017, there are no longer civil servants; they are "his" servants,  to carry out his whims and tweet his praises. In command performances, Cabinet members assemble  in the throne room to pay homage. Welcome to the wide and wonderful world of His Excellency Donald Trump, Making America Royal Again.


s. wallerstein said...

I'm happy to say that Chile voted in favor of the resolution and that the only Latin American countries which voted against it were Honduras and Guatemala.

Argentina, Colombia, El Salvador, Haiti, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay and the Dominican Republic abstained from voting, which is cowardly.

All the others, including Cuba, Bolivia and Venezuela voted in favor.

To use one of your metaphors, Professor Wolff, it seems that in her final days as president (of Chile) Michelle Bachelet finally has the guts to give Trump the finger.

Anonymous said...

Professor Wolff,

Granted, your beliefs about Trump's understanding of himself in relation to others may well be the way you describe it, but do you think it may be more plausible that such events as Haley's note are really ways that the state flexes its muscle to an international audience and would make equivalent gestures under any other administration (though less publicly)?



Jerry Fresia said...

Mr. Gitlin,

As was evidenced by HUAC, the notion of unamericanism seems to linger beneath the surface of American politics, ready to be invoked whenever the range of debate gives voice to the victims of star-spangled orthodoxy. But as you suggest, maybe this Trumpian lèse-majesté is an entirely new version.

In any case, I for one hope to see your views here, at least in the comment section, more often.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Frank, I think Todd should reply, but I agree with him. Obviously this is on my part in the nature of a guess or long distance judgment, inasmuch as I have never met or even seen either Trump or Haley in person.

Charles Pigden said...

Well at least both of my countries, the land of my birth and the land of my adoption, voted the right way on this. Of course it does not take much courage for the UK to vote against the US since 'even at the end of its strength Gondor is very strong', but it takes a bit more spine for New Zealand to oppose Big Brother. But I guess we are not in active need of US cash.

Anonymous said...

45 years ago I knew Milt Prewitt, a “principle” in the Black Spades gang; he was my eighth-floor neighbor at 3055 Bouck Avenue, Eastchester Projects, in the Bronx. What he lacked in academic credentials he made up in real-world experience and acquired wisdom.
His was a rough and tumble world where “might makes right” was not the subject of dialectics among dilettante academics and preening pseuds, each competing for the title of “ most virtuous anarchist, atheist, Marxist, nihilist”. While it is unlikely he knew the term “realpolitik” he had mastered its application and likely would applaud Trump’s use of it.
I suspect he would have looked at the UN, with it’s Commission on Human Rights whose members include such bastions of enlightenment as The People's Republic of China, Bhutan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Malaysia, Zimbabwe, and Russia, and concluded that the organization was a joke.
Had he read Anne Bayefsky’s( professor of international law at York University in Toronto), 2002 assessment that "commission members seek to avoid directly criticizing states with human rights problems, frequently by focusing on Israel, a state that, according to analysis of summary records, has for over 30 years occupied 15 percent of commission time and has been the subject of a third of country-specific resolutions", he would have acknowledged that the “fix was in”.

Had someone compared the duly elected President of the United States, constrained by the checks and balances imposed by the Constitution to Erdogan, the brutal Stalin-like autocrat, and aspirant to the Sultanate of the neo-Ottoman empire, Prewitt would have backhanded them for insulting his intelligence. He would have asked how many American journalists had been jailed for speaking out against Trump.
Prewitt would have sneered at the feckless, groveling,“negotiate from weakness”,"all cultures are equal", foreign policy of the previous administration and cringed.
The snobbery, sophistry and “by any means necessary” credo of today's “intellectual elite” echoes their morally bankrupt, imperious forbears who aided and abetted the slaughter of untold millions in the pursuit of the “radiant future” promised by scientific socialism.

“Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them.”

― George Orwell

s. wallerstein said...


If you believe in "might makes right" and realpolitik, what possibly can you have against Stalin?