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Thursday, December 6, 2018


Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote wisely, "When you strike at a king, you must kill him."  Until there are twenty Republican senators ready to vote to remove Trump from office, it would be madness for the House to impeach him.  What would move those senators to vote for conviction?  Only the clear-eyed judgment that their personal survival in the 2020 election requires it.  Nothing else.  Will that time come?  It is too soon to tell.


David Goldman said...

I came across this interesting thread by Matt Glassman the other day. It encapsulates something I've been mulling over: if Trump becomes so damaged that it becomes politically feasible to remove him from office, Democrats might no longer want to do so. Trump's up for re-election in 2020. Wouldn't you prefer to run against a Trump who's in so much political trouble that he's lost the support of a significant number of Republican senators?

Glassman goes on to suggest that if Trump is this weakened, he's likely to lose the 2020 election; and if he's likely to lose in 2020, you might think that it's preferable for him to lose the election than to have him removed from office. I'd like to believe this; I'd like to believe that Trump losing big would make Trumpism politically toxic forever more. I'm not sure that's true, but I'd like to believe it.

(It also occurs to me that if Trump loses, we don't have to face the prospect of Pence pardoning Trump…)

Jerry Fresia said...

There would be no intrinsic meaning or value in the act? Only instrumental considerations must guide us?

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Jerry, there would be lots of intrinsic meaning and value in the act, and in addition it would make me feel terrific. But it would strengthen Trump and guarantee that his base would all come out to vote in 2020. I'm not sure that, and its possible consequences, is worth the intrinsic meaning and value.

David Palmeter said...

The best way to proceed, as I see it, is for the relevant House committees to conduct their own public investigations into all aspects of the Administration--the Russia connections, both political and personal (business), the corruption (emoluments issues), the incompetence and the rest. Impeachment should in no way be mentioned as a goal of any of these. They merit investigation even if they don’t justify impeachment.

In all likelihood, these investigations would take at least a year. That would raise the question of whether it is worth trying to impeach him after that. What I would worry about at this point is Trump’s instability. As he becomes more and more discredited by what the investigations show, how will he react? My worry is that in a rage he would push the nuclear button. That argues for getting him out of office as quickly as possible--but that won’t be possible without a lot of Republican votes in the Senate.

And that leads me to Watergate. Nixon did not lose significant Republican support until almost the very end. But that did not occur until after months of mesmerizing public hearings by the House and Senate committees. They were seen to be thorough and fair, and the laid it all out. The public had had enough and Nixon lost his support among congressional Republicans. Something similar will have to play out here. The difference is that the Watergate investigations began near the start of his second term. He served less than half of it with Gerald Ford doing the rest.

Ed Barreras said...

Meanwhile, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib are pulling back the curtain on the “freshman orientation” taking place at Harvard’s Prestigious Kennedy School of Government (somehow, I can only read that name in the patrician intonations of the late William F. Buckley). The event is actually co-hosted by the Koch-funded American Enterprise Institute, and unsurprisingly, it’s real purpose is to give incoming members of Congress instructions on how best to carry out the orders of their oligarch overlords. AOC and Tlaib walked out into the freezing cold to instead hold rallies around such radical leftist issues as workers’ rights and climate change.

There’s also the ongoing debacle of the North Carolina election, which may move to a do-over. If that happens, surely the GOP will just turn the tables and use it as a propoganda-weapon to further undermine faith in our elections.

Professor, I don’t know if you think this means you were born at the right time or too early, but politics over the next half-century is going to be completely bonkers.

Ed Barreras said...

I might add that at the event, Gary Cohn, formerly Goldman Sachs president and now chief economic advisor to the current occupant of the White House, told the freshman agitators, “You guys are way over your head, you don't know how the game is played."

That’s according to Tlaib. To which she replied, “I didn’t come here to play nice.”

Love her!

Jerry Fresia said...

Yes, you may be right, but I worry that over time instrumental rationality erodes the integrity of public
life. Drowning in a sea of calculation, we may become a nation where notions of right and wrong are
incomprehensible or worse, I suppose, quaint.

C. Taylor: "Much contemporary moral philosophy....has tended to focus on what it is right to do rather than on what it is good to be."

David Palmeter said...


To me the moral question is more what is it right to do than what is it good to be. Wouldn’t an existentialist argue that to do is to be? T.E. Scanlon wrote a book entitled “What do We Owe to Each Other?” I read it a long time ago, and the substance completely escapes me now, but the title has stuck with me all these years. Morality for me is not what I am personally but how I treat others. In fact, how I treat others in many ways defines me.

Jerry Fresia said...


You'd have to ask C. Taylor, but I don't think he would disagree with you. The quote is from his Sources of the Self: the Making of Modern Identity.

s. wallerstein said...

I don't know what Taylor means, but it seems to me that a good person does the right thing.

I guess that you can do the right thing for the wrong reason: that is, the shop keeper can be honest because it's good for business instead of being honest because of the categorial imperative or something like that. Still, in the real world it doesn't matter much whether people do the right thing for the wrong reason or not.

Jerry Fresia said...

s. wallerstein, David,

Let me quote several sentences. Perhaps that would help but keeping it linked to the blog, the question arises, when is calculation not okay?

"...but another obstacle arises........Much contemporary moral philosophy, particularly but not only in the English speaking world, has given such a narrow focus to morality that some of the crucial connections I want to draw here are incomprehensible in its terms. This moral philosophy has tended to focus on what is right to do rather than on what it is good to be, on defining the content of obligation rather than the nature of the good life; and it has no conceptual place left for a notion of the good as the object of our love or allegiance or, as Iris Murdoch portrayed it in her work, as the privileged focus of attention or will. This philosophy has accredited a cramped and truncated view of morality in a narrow sense, as well as of the whole range of issues involved in the attempt to live the best possible life, and this not only among professional philosophers, but with a wider public."

David Palmeter said...

Jerry, s. wallerstein,

The quotes from Taylor sound very much like what today is called “virtue ethics,” largely a revival of Aristotle’s ethics, which was grounded in the notion of “eudaimonia,” usually translated as happiness, but not happiness in the sense of gayety--more in the sense of flourishing. Aristotle, unlike Kant, doesn’t try to give us a standard of behavior, such as the categorical imperative. He doesn’t get to Scanlon’s question--What do we owe to each other? It doesn’t sound like Taylor does either. That’s the question that troubles me.

s. wallerstein said...

First of all, we need a moral code that everyone can and does follow: it has to be simple and clear like the traffic rules: don't steal, don't kill, be kind to people in wheelchairs and to the elderly, etc. It doesn't matter much whether people follow the rules because of the categorical imperative, because of their compassion towards all sentient beings or because they want others to think of themselves as good citizens and to avoid social shaming.

Now if some people want a more complex moral or ethical code for themselves, that's fine. They may practice Buddhist compassion or follow the categorial imperative or follow Stoic or Aristotelian virtue ethics or even create their own ethical code, as Nietzsche urges us to do. But most people aren't going to do that. Moral philosophers such as Charles Taylor may be helpful to those people who are in search of an ethical code (and I'm one of them), but moral philosophy has almost zero influence on the majority of people.

David Y. said...

There are only 22 Republican senators who can run for re-election in 2020. Some might prefer to retire quietly rather than run having voted for conviction, especially if the tide continues to look blue. Others will be at risk of getting primaried by somebody more loyal to Trump.

I don't think 20 senators are winnable from the 2020 class.