My Stuff

https://umass-my.sharepoint.com/:f:/g/personal/rwolff_umass_edu/EkxJV79tnlBDol82i7bXs7gBAUHadkylrmLgWbXv2nYq_A?e=UcbbW0

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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Monday, November 30, 2020

SIC TRANSIT GLORIA MUNDI

I have just read through the lengthy series of comments provoked by my report of a virtual family gathering and to be honest, I am depressed. Judging from the nature of the dispute that arose, Karl Marx might just as well never have lived and worked. Does anybody really think that the structure of modern capitalism can in any way be explained by reference to the talent  and hard work of Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates? Seriously, people?


Oh well, my wife and I have just purchased a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle of Paris to occupy ourselves while we dream of returning to the real thing. I will go back to putting together the part of the puzzle that represents Notre Dame, at least in its glory days before it burned.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

THE WONDERS OF MODREN SCIENCE

Yesterday I attended a family gathering organized for my big sister's benefit by her daughter. I think there were 14 of us or so spanning three generations and ranging in age from 12 to 90. My sister is in Southern California as is her daughter and her son-in-law and also my son, Tobias. My sister's son was in northern Pennsylvania with his partner. My sister's grandchildren were in Chicago, Toronto, and Germany. My son Patrick and his wife and two children were in San Francisco and of course I was here in North Carolina. We spent a delightful hour together, only calling it a halt when my sister's son, who is recovering from a mild case of Covid, said that he was running down in energy as a result of the virus.


I imagine countless gatherings of this sort took place over the long Thanksgiving weekend. There is no way in the world that we could have assembled everyone physically in the same place for anything less than a wedding or funeral. I complain from time to time about being shut up here in comfortable isolation with Susie and our cat but the advent of zoom has really been a remarkable gift.


When I was a boy, my entire extended family on my father's side lived in New York City and we regularly got together for family gatherings at Christmas, Thanksgiving, and at other times during the year. It was the next generation – mine – that fanned out across the world, making such gatherings impossible.


One of the unexpected benefits of this kind of repeated family gathering over decades is that it gave me the opportunity to see what people are like as they get old. In my family, there seemed to be two sorts of aging: some of my uncles and aunts aged well, remaining interesting, lively, engaged people well into their 80s. Others grew as they aged into caricatures of themselves, as though they were crustaceans growing shells. It taught me a lot about the human condition.


Then I went to bed and spent a restless hour or two worrying about the Georgia runoffs. Regardless of how things turn out there, I am afraid I must get used to the fact that there will be no dramatic exciting groundbreaking changes in the Biden administration. There will be competence and honesty and a genuine concern for the unfortunate and that is certainly not nothing but I am afraid my fantasies that AOC was the wave of the future will not be fulfilled, at least in my lifetime.


Oh, by the way, you will recall that I asked for suggestions of books for my grandson Samuel's birthday presents and then took down my choices from the blog out of concern that he might see them there. Well, it turns out that Samuel reads my blog which is flattering but a trifle unnerving. So much for springing surprises on the kids. 

Friday, November 27, 2020

BLACK THOUGHTS ON BLACK FRIDAY

Nobody can be Tigger all the time, so I am going to give voice to my inner Eeyore. Herewith in no particular order are the things weighing on my mind.


.1.  Yesterday Trump said he would campaign in Georgia for the two runoff candidates. Maybe he will change his mind but I have been counting on him in a snit to refuse, thereby strengthening the call among his supporters to boycott the election.


2.   The reports about rates of infection, hospitalizations, and deaths in the virus are simply terrifying. The next three or four weeks are going to be horrendous and then we will have Christmas to deal with. Several hundred thousand more people are going to die from this thing before the vaccines even become available widely.


3.   I watched a YouTube video yesterday about the effects of global warming on river deltas and low areas all around the world and so far as I can make out, well after I am dead, more than a billion people are going to be displaced at a minimum. Rich countries will do better than poor countries and within each country the rich will do better than the poor. By the time my grandchildren are my age the world may very well be a god-awful place to live.


4.  Leaving aside what the future holds for us, right now something like one in four or one in five children in the United States is "food insecure" which is a polite way of saying they do not have enough to eat. Mitch McConnell is staking out a place for himself on the list of all-time mass murderers. Do not tell me about centrist Democrats. At least they are willing to pass $2 trillion bill to help those suffering.


5.  And as if that were not bad enough, this is the middle of a four day weekend at a time when the day is at its shortest. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, does not begin to cover it.


All right, I got that out of my system and onto the page of my blog, just in case any of you thought I had not noticed that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. Tomorrow I will be Tigger again, all chipper and cheerful, shoveling shit in the stable and looking for my pony.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

DUE DILIGENCE

As many commentators have noted, Americans live in news bubbles that are almost impervious to one another. Quite obviously I do. My bubble consists of CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times and the Washington Post online, DailyKos, TPM, and a variety of other sites on the progressive or left side. Yesterday, it occurred to me to spend a few minutes watching OAN (One American News), a far right network and online presence that has been pushing the conspiracy theories concerning the election.  What did I find? To put it as simply as I can, I found a professionally produced visually attractive online network whose news anchors are as believable and well turned out as those on the sites I usually frequent. There was nothing visually or otherwise in the presentation that would give me any doubt about its plausibility save for the fact that what was being said was nonsense.


I do not want to go all philosophically freaky about the social definition of reality and so forth but it is worth reporting that it is not at all difficult to understand how someone who gets his or her news from this and similar sites could believe quite confidently that the election had been stolen.


I do not for a moment believe that the solution to this problem is better education or reaching across the aisle or resurrecting superannuated middle-of-the-roaders to talk about the good old days when Tip O'Neill struck deals with Ronald Reagan. Nor do I think that revolution is the solution. As I have observed before, the other side has most of the guns.  Fortunately we are on the right side of demography and in the end that may be our very best bet.  Since demography is a long game, I probably will not live long enough to see the fourth quarter or the ninth inning or whatever is the appropriate metaphor but it is nice to think that time is on our side. Of course, that assumes we get climate change under control. But that is a nightmare for another post.

Monday, November 23, 2020

BY WAY OF EXPLANATION

As has happened before, I have, by writing too quickly, failed to explain myself adequately. The phrase “American exceptionalism” refers to a theory that was widely held for a long time by academic American historians and still plays a central role in the public mythology of this country. The theory is this: European countries – England, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and so on – all have long legal, political, and economic traditions and institutions grounded in the feudal period, traditions of hereditary land ownership, ecclesiastical courts, special rights for the nobility, various forms of unfree labor such as serfdom, and so forth. The histories of these countries reach back to a time that is shrouded in myth and obscurity. These traditions, according to this view, have weighed heavily on these countries in their modern form, leaving structural and cultural marks that it is impossible to obliterate.

 

By contrast, so the theory of American exceptionalism goes, America was brought into existence in a virgin land without the burden of hereditary land ownership, traditional legal restrictions, ecclesiastical rights, and the like. For that reason, the theory goes on, American history has been an exception to the generalizations that historians have formulated on the basis of their cross national studies of the various nations of Europe. Hence American Exceptionalism. Indeed, this theory goes on, America is the only nation founded on an idea, the Idea of Freedom. Hence American history can correctly be viewed as the slow, painful, but inexorable fulfillment and realization of this founding Idea.

 

France has its Revolution, England has its Magna Carta, but the histories of France and England reach back beyond those defining moments and permanently shape and (or so it is obviously thought) corrupt their nature as nations. Only America is the pure embodiment of an idea toward the fulfillment ofwhich its history majestically moves.

 

In the second chapter of my book Autobiography of an Ex-White Man I showed at length the way in which this Myth of American Exceptionalism found its way into the leading college American history textbooks of the middle and later 20th-century and then in the third chapter I told the real story of America as I had learned it from my colleagues in the Afro-American Studies Department at the University of Massachusetts.

 

This is what I was alluding to in my all too brief remarks in my previous post. My apologies for not having been more clear.

BACK FROM PURGATORY

I spent yesterday in computer hell. At 6:30 AM I tried to check in on a live cam and other streaming sites that I enjoy and discover that I was getting nothing but the sound and a green screen. Somehow I found my way to a company promising to help me whose tech experts are apparently located in Manila. Four hours and too much money later the problem was solved. The techie who helped me kindly showed me how it was to be fixed. It turned out that it required four clicks and about 20 seconds to do the job. Now, along the way he cleaned up my computer, deleted lots of temporary files, and even got rid of a Trojan file that promised real trouble, but still – – –

 

Wrung through and beaten down, I went on Google Chrome to check several of my favorite sites. No problem. Then I switched to Microsoft Edge and the problem reappeared, but this time I was ready for it and with four clicks I fixed it! I am now prepared to rent out my new gained expertise at reasonable rates. :-)

 

As for the rest of the world, there is a silver lining in the electoral hell we are now going through. Seemingly forever, Americans have told themselves a fable about how exceptional a country we are. We annually put out lists of countries that have failed to live up to our standard of democratic politics, we recruit young people to go around the world showing the benighted peoples of Third World countries how to be democracies. It is no good for left-wing scholars, among whom I am one, to publish books showing that this fable of exceptionalism conceals an ugly truth (see chapters two and three of my book Autobiography of an Ex-White Man.) But a wannabe autocrat, a cooperative Republican Party, and a royally screwed up election have together done the job quite nicely. It will be a while before Americans have the chutzpah to claim that they are a city upon a hill, the only nation created on the idea of freedom, a beacon to the world, etc. etc. etc. Perhaps the Congress could establish an annual prize for the country whose politics most closely resemble our own – they could call it the Donald J Trump Prize. 

Saturday, November 21, 2020

THE REPUBLICAN PARTY HAS BECOME A DEATH CULT

I assume by now everyone has seen or heard this extraordinary description by a nurse of her experiences with desperately ill patients who believe that COVID is a hoax and refuse to accept the proposition that that is what is killing them even as they lie in an emergency ward close to death. I do not think I have ever heard anything quite like this.

OK I HAVE DECIDED

Thank you all for your wonderful suggestions. If we put them all together, they would make a splendid first two years of an undergraduate education, or maybe a graduate education. I have decided on three books:


(Whoops!  He reads my blog.  I have deleted the titles to keep him surprised.)


The third is a bit of a stretch but he will be the only person in the world with an autographed copy and one of the very few people actually to read it, so why not? If I live long enough, I can give him one of my books each year and that should last me for birthday presents until he graduates from college.


His father has written a number of books about chess and I assume that he has copies of those. I hope he has watched all seven parts of The Queen's Gambit, in the last episode of which one of his father's games is featured.


Now all I need is Christmas present suggestions for Samuel and Athena from their mother. Serious business being a grandfather.

Friday, November 20, 2020

I NEED HELP

My 14-year-old grandson, Samuel, has a birthday coming up. He has become intensely interested in politics, thanks to the presidential campaign, and his mother, Diana, says he would enjoy books about American electoral politics. I need some suggestions. I am looking for books with lots of charts, tables, pictures, stories, and the like, informative and somewhat beyond his chronological age but not the sorts of deep dives that you or I might enjoy.


Does anybody have any suggestions? Perhaps I could find several books like that and add to it Howard Zinn's classic work, A People's History of the United States.


I have already given him in previous years my textbook, About Philosophy, and also In Defense of Anarchism and he has read both!

Thursday, November 19, 2020

MORE THOUGHTS

Thank you all for your thoughtful and well-argued responses to my question. After reflecting on what you have said, let me try to explain why I am inclined to come down on the side of not launching federal prosecutions of Trump. I say “inclined” in order to convey that I am still quite torn on this matter.

 

Looking back on my long life, I find that during those years there are a number of presidents for the post – presidential prosecution of whom I could make a good argument. I have been alive during the presidencies of 14 men starting with Roosevelt and ending with Trump. Far and away the most reckless, dangerous, and hence perhaps most worthy of prosecution was Kennedy (although, of course, his assassination made the question moot.) Alone among the 14, Kennedy brought us to the brink of a civilization annihilating nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. It was also Kennedy and his vice president LBJ who took us into the Vietnam war. George W. Bush lied us into the Iraq war, a succession of presidents carried out or did not put an end to the practice of “rendition,” which is to say the outsourcing of torture. And so on and on.

 

None of these actions was illegal, at least as defined by the Constitution. All of them were arguably within the purview of the powers of the presidency. By comparison, the illegal actions of Nixon and Trump and the sexual dalliances of Clinton are really quite minor. Trump is a grifter, a crook, and a cheap one at that. His crimes have all been out in the open and cheered on by perhaps 40% or more of the American electorate. I sing myself to sleep at night imagining the entire Trump family reduced to pauperism and forced to spend their lives searching for the parents of the children they turned into orphans. But that is neither here nor there.

 

To some extent, my response to the question I posed depends on the outcome of the Georgia senatorial runoff elections. If the Democrats win both, there is the possibility of some rapid, major, and extremely beneficial domestic legislation which would help the desperate circumstances of scores of millions of Americans. A prosecution of Trump would steal all of the time and attention from that legislation and I do not think would be worth the satisfaction of seeing Trump brought low. But if we lose one or both of those runoff elections, then regardless of good old Joe, virtually nothing will get done for at least the first two years of his presidency and in that case perhaps it would be just as well to spend some time and political capital going after the Trumps and their henchmen (or perhaps I should say henchpeople, since when it comes to corrupting and debasing the already corrupt and debased, Trump is an equal opportunity villain.)

 

Those are my thoughts at the moment. But if the comments section to this blog continues at its current level of intelligence and thoughtfulness I may find myself changing my mind. Thank you all again.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

A QUESTION FOR DISCUSSION

I would like to pose a question for discussion about which I am genuinely torn but I will warn you, if you cannot discuss this question without attacking one another’s character, I will simply delete the entire post with the comment train and move on. I spent some time deleting comments this morning and it is just too exhausting.

 

The question is this: should the Atty. Gen. of the United States in the Biden administration investigate the behavior of Donald Trump while he was in office and if, as I suspect, he or she finds clear evidence of violations of law should charges be brought against Trump?

 

Why am I torn? Because the tradition of a peaceful transfer of presidential authority is extraordinarily valuable. It is now under violent assault by Republicans and, alas, by tens of millions of Americans as well. Once that tradition is violated, I do not think it can be reestablished. At some time in the future, perhaps in only four years, Republicans will retake the presidency and if Trump has been brought to justice by the Biden Atty. Gen., it is an absolute certainty that the next Republican president will try to do the same to Biden. And then we have a Banana Republic.

 

I do not think these considerations weigh at all against Attorneys General bringing charges against Trump and his company for violations of state law.

 

One might argue that we already live in a Banana Republic and have done so for the past 70 years. I am quite sympathetic to that view. That is why I am torn.

 

Fiat Justitia Ruat Coelum?

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

A REPLY TO COMMENTS

Thank you all for a vigorous and many sided debate responding to the article I linked to posted on The Daily Kos.  I should like to respond to some of your comments and also call attention to an aspect of the essay that did not receive much attention in those comments but which struck me very powerfully. Before I begin, a word about the term “deplorables.” I entirely agree that it is not a useful analytical term, besides being politically toxic. Mind you, I find a great many people in American politics deplorable. I find Rand Paul deplorable, I find Bill Clinton deplorable, Lord knows I deplore Susan Collins, indeed I think it is fair to say that I find the entire Republican senatorial and congressional delegation deplorable and in addition find large chunks of the Democratic senatorial and congressional delegation deplorable. I bow to no one in the depths of my deploring, but that is not much use in trying to understand the world. Some of the very greatest social theory of the second half of the 20th century was written by √©migr√© German theorists desperately trying to understand Hitler’s appeal to the German people, but although out of that grew the concept of the Authoritarian Personality and also the concepts of repressive toleration and the banality of evil, I do not recall Adorno or Horkheimer or Marcuse or Arendt calling anyone deplorable. So let us agree to set that term aside.

 

I think what Molitsos was most struck by, and what has impressed me so powerfully, was the sheer size of the turnout. In 2016, rounding off the numbers a bit, Clinton got 66 million votes and Trump got 63 million votes. In 2020, at least so far as the counting has gone thus far, Trump got 10 million more votes than he did four years ago and this is in the midst of a pandemic. This leads Molitsos to say “Trump is likely the single greatest campaigner in modern presidential history.”

 

He neglects to point out that Biden got 13 million more votes than Clinton did in 2016! Now no matter how much you like old Joe, no one can say that he ran a dynamic campaign from his basement, appropriately masked and distanced. Everything I have read suggests that Trump not only was capable of pulling out 10 million extra supporters, he also succeeded in pulling out 13 million extra opponents. I think he really does have a claim on being “the single greatest campaigner in modern presidential history,” although not quite in the fashion he might have desired.

 

The string of failures of Republican candidates in the bye elections of 2017 and 2019 and in the midterm elections of 2020, in all of which Trump campaigned vigorously for candidates other than himself, holds out some measure of hope, most immediately for the runoff elections in Georgia in early January. But the dramatic swing of traditionally Republican women against Trump is ominous, because it suggests that when he is not on the ballot they will revert to the Republican Party, leaving Democrats gasping for air.

 

Far and away the most faithful supporters of the Democratic Party, demographically speaking, are of course black women, who have good reason to claim that they carried the party to victory on their backs. Since black Americans are far more economically disadvantaged than white Americans, and since they are less likely to be college graduates than white Americans, it is difficult to explain the electoral choices of white Americans as governed primarily by economic desire or resentment of college educated elites. Surely, fear of losing the cultural, structural, and economic advantages of being white is playing a large role in political choices. This is an old story in America, going back to before the Civil War and continuing on to the present day.

 

Lest I end this post on a down note, let me say that the appearance of two extremely promising vaccine candidates encourages me to believe that I shall be able to travel back to Paris by next summer. Gather ye rosebuds where ye may, as someone once said.

Monday, November 16, 2020

I TRIED, I REALLY DID

I tried to take a vacation and it lasted for about 24 hours – not my longest one, but not my shortest one either. What brings me back is an extremely troubling essay by Markos Molitsos.  You can find it here.  I would like you to read it and then we can talk about it. I would like to know what you think about it, because I find it very troubling and also having a good deal of truth in it. Now, I don't want you to post a three-part comment about some law case you are fighting or about a YouTube video you saw or about the reasons why you think Karl Marx is wrong about the labor theory of value. I would like you to read this essay and then we can have a discussion about it. If you have nothing to say about it, that is fine, just save your comments for some other time.

FROM MY FALL BREAK

 Posted on Twitter two days ago:


Jodi Doering

I have a night off from the hospital. As I’m on my couch with my dog I can’t help but think of the Covid patients the last few days. The ones that stick out are those who still don’t believe the virus is real. The ones who scream at you for a magic medicine and that Joe Biden is

Going to ruin the USA. All while gasping for breath on 100% Vapotherm. They tell you there must be another reason they are sick. They call you names and ask why you have to wear all that “stuff” because they don’t have COViD because it’s not real. Yes. This really happens. And

I can’t stop thinking about it. These people really think this isn’t going to happen to them. And then they stop yelling at you when they get intubated. It’s like a fucking horror movie that never ends. There’s no credits that roll. You just go back and do it all over again.


Sunday, November 15, 2020

FALL BREAK

Continuing a long academic tradition, I am going to take a Fall break.  For 50 years, the tempo of my life was governed by that of the Academy. Starting the year in September, taking a break in the middle of the fall semester, Christmas holidays off, then the Spring semester, followed by the long summer vacation.  Although on a number of occasions I taught summer school, this was nonetheless the shape or arc of each year of my life. Then I started blogging 11 years ago and I found myself on a treadmill. No sooner had I put up one post than I was writing the next.


Well, at 86 going on 87, this takes it out of a guy. So I have decided to revert to my long custom and take a Fall break.  I am not so sure how long it will last, perhaps no more than a few days, perhaps several weeks.


See you in a while. Behave yourselves while I am gone.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

THAT'S ENOUGH

This is my blog, God dammit, and I want you folks to stop this puerile feuding. If you don't cut it out I'm going to start deleting your comments. Now shape up.

WHERE DID ALL THOSE TRUMP VOTERS COME FROM?

As acute readers of this blog may have discerned, I have been rather depressed by the results of the election. Whether I go into a terminal funk or recover my inner Tigger depends entirely on the outcome of the runoff elections for Senator in Georgia. But either way, the recognition forced upon me that I live in a country filled with Trump lovers has been enough to give me some bad nights. This morning, I read an extremely interesting opinion column in the Washington Post by Dana Milbank. Because you may not be able to read it unless you have signed up with them I will reproduce here the paragraphs containing the most fascinating statistical information that Milbank lays out. Here they are:

 

“White evangelicals are only 15 percent of the population, but their share of the electorate was 28 percent, according to Edison Research exit polling, and 23 percent, according to the Associated Press version. Though exit polls are imprecise, it seems clear that White evangelicals maintained the roughly 26 percent proportion of the electorate they’ve occupied since 2008, even though their proportion of the population has steadily shrunk from 21 percent in 2008.

This means White evangelicals turned out in mind-boggling numbers. Because they maintained their roughly 80 percent support for Republicans (76 percent and 81 percent in the two exit polls) of recent years, it also means some 40 percent of Trump voters came from a group that is only 15 percent of America.”

 

It isn’t Christianity that is eating their brains. That is clear from the performance of Black Americans, who are overwhelmingly Christian and voted by 90% or more Democratic. No, Milbank argues persuasively, what motivates White Evangelicals is the fear of a loss of white supremacy.

 

I cannot say that I am surprised. If my 16 years in an Afro-American Studies Department taught me nothing else, it taught me the centrality in American history and culture of the ideology of White Supremacy and the panic evoked in whites by any perceived threat to that supremacy.

 

One obvious lesson of Milbank’s statistics is the overriding importance in contemporary American politics of turnout. The White Evangelicals are exercising their democratic right to turn out in overwhelming percentages. Fortunately for the rest of us, they are, as Milbank indicates, a declining fraction of the population. If I were a young man, I might take comfort in this fact but since I don’t have the time to wait until these folks die out, the only alternative is for the rest of us to juice up our turnout to Evangelical levels. Then they can retreat to their Bob Jones Universities and take blood oaths never to intermarry.

 

Friday, November 13, 2020

BUT I REPEAT MYSELF

I spend a lot of time these days watching YouTube. I watch classical music performances, I watch clips from The Big Bang Theory, I watch short lectures on life 300,000 years ago, 1 million years ago, 2 billion years ago, I watched TYT (The Young Turks), and lately I have been watching videos of Noam Chomsky talking about Linguistics. Yesterday, I was watching an interview Noam did 20 years ago in Portland Oregon in which he cited the fascinating fact that when little children are about two years old they learn words at the rate of one per hour, frequently, as he noted, after having heard the word only once. He offered this as evidence that the behavioral explanation for language acquisition cannot possibly be true.

 

When I heard him say that thing about two-year-olds, I thought to myself “I have heard him say that before, on several occasions.” More generally, after I have listened to Noam talk about language five or six times, I note that there are a number of things he says repeatedly, some of which, of course, he himself discovered. How could it be otherwise? He is not an entertainer doing standup improv; he is a scientist who has devoted his entire life to the study of language. Of course he repeats himself.

 

I find this quite reassuring. I have been blogging for 11 years now, in the course of which I have put up more than 4500 posts. Some are brief, some are middle length, and some are quite long portions of multipart essays which may run to 30,000 words or more. Over the course of that period of time, I have on many occasions repeated myself, always with a nagging sense of embarrassment.

 

But if Noam does it, so can I. Needless to say, this does not mean that what I am repeating is as important as what Noam is repeating but that goes without saying. After all, as I am very fond of repeating, Socrates replies to Callicles’ complaint in the Gorgias that he is saying the same things again and again, “yes, and in the same way too.”

Thursday, November 12, 2020

A BIG DEAL

The Washington Post tells us today that between 2016 and 2020 there was a 12% shift toward the Democrats among those earning $50,000-$100,000 a year and a smaller but significant shift toward the Republicans among those earning more than $100,000 a year. This is, in my judgment, a big deal. The bracket $50,000-$100,000 a year still leaves out almost half the country who make less than $50,000 a year but at least it suggests some measure of economic rationality on the part of the electorate, since regardless of what one thinks of the Democratic Party, its policies as actually expressed in its legislative priorities are clearly more supportive of the interests of those lower down the economic ladder than those of the Republican Party.


On a different but related matter, I believe that Georgia certifies the results of the election on November 20. When Georgia certifies that Biden won, my fervent hope is that Trump in a fit of pique will attack the Georgia Republicans as part of the deep state arrayed against him and will thereby depress Republican turnout in the January 5 runoff election.  One can but hope.

A WORD ABOUT WORDS

There are two reasons why I wish to draw a clear distinction between “uninterested” and “disinterested.” The first is logical, and hence is important. The second concerns my personal preferences, and hence is of no importance whatsoever. There is a clear difference between not caring about something and taking care not to let your personal preferences in the matter influence your judgment or decision in regard to that matter. We do not ask that judges have no personal preferences about matters of sex, money, power, or privilege. To do so would be absurd. But we do ask that in handing down judgments of law, they take care not to be influenced by those preferences. A compendious and efficient way to express our request to the judges is to say that we ask them not to be uninterested but to be disinterested. The distinction is of the very greatest importance but it is of no importance how we mark it by our choice of words. Let me give you another example. Quite often those who are attempting to sound educated or to strike an elevated tone will talk about what transpired in a meeting, meaning by that what happened in the meeting. Now the word “transpired” means literally “breathed about.” When we talk about what transpired in a meeting, therefore, what we ought to mean is what was spoken of, what was said, or perhaps what was blurted out, in short what was breathed about. There is a big difference between asking what happened in a meeting – that might mean what was decided, who showed up, or whether it was a contentious meeting – and asking what transpired in a meeting, meaning what was said, what was acknowledged, what was leaked, or what came out into the open.

 

Wherever there is a difference between two ideas I think it is helpful to mark that difference by a difference in the language we use. It is self-evidently obvious that the choice of language is in a sense arbitrary. It is also well known that over time words used to mark a distinction may flip their meanings so that, for example, “uninterested” may once have conveyed what “disinterested” later on conveyed, and vice versa. Of course. But there is a loss in clarity and thought when the distinction in meaning is lost through careless usage. So much for logic.

 

I am a fuddy-duddy when it comes to language. There is no particular virtue and being a fuddy-duddy, I just am. I am the last kid on the block to take up a new meme. Being a fuddy-duddy, I say “tut tut” when someone uses “disinterested” to mean “uninterested” or, and here I reveal my inner Willard Van Orman Quine, when someone writes the previous phrase without using quotation marks to indicate a distinction between use and mention. There is no virtue to being a fuddy-duddy, it is just a matter of taste. But when I insist upon a logical distinction I am not being a fuddy-duddy, I am thinking clearly.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

JERRY

 Can you give everyone the link to the video?

A SOURCE OF INNOCENT MERRIMENT

 Courtesy of Jerry Fresia, if this link works.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

GEORGIA ON MY MIND

Since everything depends on Georgia, I have been giving the runoff elections a good deal of thought and I think there is reason for optimism. I will not call this a prediction – in part because I haven’t been doing too well with predictions lately and in part because I simply don’t know enough (although that, on the Internet, is hardly a reason for caution) – let us say rather that it is a manifestation of my naturally optimistic nature.

 

Clearly a double win is possible. After all, Biden narrowly won the state. But it seems plausible to assume that Biden won because a significant number of Republicans turned off by Trump split their ballots and voted both for Biden and for Perdue and either for Loeffler or for the other Republican. Furthermore, past experience suggests that in normal times Republicans do better at bringing out their voters in runoff and special elections than do Democrats. So how can I be optimistic? The answer is Trump.

 

Right now all the Republican officeholders are terrified of Trump and are falling in line behind his refusal to acknowledge that he has lost. But well before the runoff occurs on January 5, that will change and I think when it does Trump will turn on the Republicans in rage and claim that they have betrayed him. That, after all, is his most characteristic mode of behavior. I think it is a certainty that Trump will not campaign for the Republican candidates in Georgia and it is even possible that, in an attempt to demonstrate his power, he will tell his supporters not to vote at all. He would then be in the position of having demonstrated that he controls the fate of the Republicans, which will gratify his desperate need not to acknowledge that he is a loser. The self-destructive behavior has already begun, of course, with the call by Loeffler and Perdue for the resignation of George’s Republican Secretary of State.

 

The incomparable Stacey Abrams will mobilize on the ground to turn out as many Democratic votes as she can. I would imagine that Obama, Harris, and other high profile surrogates will show up to campaign for the Democrats. And money will be no problem. I am afraid Georgians will have to wait until after January 5 to see anything but political ads on television.

 

Meanwhile Pfizer announces good preliminary news about a vaccine. As a senior citizen, I am comforted by the thought that in the prioritization of distribution “those over 65” will receive preference. My only quibble with that is that I don’t want to see a bunch of healthy, lively, still young 65-year-olds forcing their way to the head of the line while us 86-year-olds hobble along at the rear. :-)

Monday, November 9, 2020

MY SON HAS ECLIPSED ME

While I was brooding about what to say today, my son Tobias posted this brief essay on his Facebook page.  It is well worth reading. Tobias, by the way, is the Jefferson Barnes Fordham Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania.


A Note to the World:
When this atrocity of an administration began nearly four years ago, we asked for your forbearance as we tried to do the work necessary to restore decency and the rule of law to the Executive Branch of our national government and rejoin the community of responsible nations. We know, we said, and we are sorry. Give us time and we will do the work to fix this aberration. But the truth is that this monster who has occupied the West Wing of the White House these last four years is not an aberration, even if his particular combination of personality disorders and moral emptiness is singular. This happened because of long-unaddressed pathologies in the American spirit.
It happened because we did not complete the work of Reconstruction following the close of hostilities in the Civil War, betraying the Black men and women who had built the economy of the United States while being subjected to forced labor, torture, rape and murder in favor of some long-forgotten petty political gain of the moment.
It happened because the soul of America has been riven by the brutality of White Supremacy since its founding, defined first by the abomination of chattel slavery, then the domestic terrorism of lynching and violent apartheid, then by the euphemized racism of disenfranchisement, voter suppression and mass incarceration, always with the evil bargain that masses of White Americans could be exploited and abandoned so long as they were offered a hollow promise of centrality in the definition of American identity.
It happened because some of our most celebrated political leaders took the script of the racial other and turned it against Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans, Vietnamese Americans, Muslim Americans, Mexican Americans, Guatemalan and Nicaraguan and El Salvadorian Americans, each in their turn when the script became convenient, and we have venerated those leaders while treating their assaults on our non-White brothers and sisters as footnotes to be mentioned only in passing.
It happened because we have allowed a media culture that glorifies sociopaths, obsesses over narcissists and normalizes anti-Semitism to predominate in the public square and mock the values of integrity, earnestness, care and compassion that are the foundation of any just society.
It happened because our system of government still wears the structural skeleton of the abomination of slavery and the unabating betrayal of Native American nations and peoples, allowing a relentless minority to shut the majority out of the political process.
It happened because of our two and a half century failure to carve the beating heart of White Supremacy out of our system of government and our collective spirit. That infrastructure of injustice is what made it possible for this most atrocious of men -- this pathetic, dysfunctional, emotionally arrested, corrupt, serially predatory fraud -- to occupy the most powerful position of governmental authority in the world.
And so, for the last four years, we have organized and donated, protested and inspired, contributed our skills, searched our souls, and put forward a united effort to make clear that this bonfire of hate and corruption and toxic infantilism would not stand. We asked you to believe that we would do that work. And we have. The madman will exit this office in ignominy after one term and a decent, serious man and a powerful, joy-filled woman will start the work of governing and engaging with the world once again.
But this victory is not the end. It is barely even a beginning. The deep pathologies remain, given more power and reach for having been brought to the surface and embraced by the nominal head of our government.
So it is time for a new commitment. It is time for the American people to embrace the long-overdue task of creating a just society. Not merely a society that congratulates itself for making loud and sanctimonious commitments to justice, but a truly just society in which two hundred and fifty years of moral compromise are confronted and repudiated. It is time that we reckon with the generations of moral failure that made the last four years possible and require of ourselves that we address those failures.
The world should hold us accountable for the last four years. And we, in turn, should demand nothing less of ourselves than a commitment to transformational justice that will make the ideals we claim to hold a reality.
The great work begins.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

LET US ALL TAKE A DEEP BREATH

I should like to say a few words about something that has been concerning me lately, namely the increasingly acrimonious tone of some of the comments to this blog. Look, the people who frequent this blog or at least those who comment all occupy the same small neighborhood in the political world. Some of us are further to the left, some of us not so much, some of us think we are further to the left than others are willing to grant, but all of this comes under the heading of that delicious phrase from Freud, “the narcissism of small differences.” Short of violent revolution, which I do not think is in the cards, at least from the left, our only way of changing the world in which we live is to join not with a handful of like-minded folks but with tens of millions. Some of us may believe that our best hope is through the political action of elected representatives; others of us may be convinced that it is ground-level organizing that offers the greatest hope; and perhaps many of us believe that both are necessary. But regardless of how we undertake to bring about the changes that we believe are desirable, changes whose desirability would, I think, be agreed to by virtually everyone who is a regular reader of and commenter on this blog, it is going to take the cooperation not just of the handful of people who disagree with one another in the comments section of this blog but of scores of millions – literally, scores of millions – of men and women in this country whose concerns, beliefs, and commitments will span a fairly wide range in the political spectrum.


Now, I have nothing against a good argument. After all, I made my living for much of my life as a professor of philosophy and in that game we don’t really have very much except arguments, good and bad. But I simply do not see what is gained by insults, snide remarks, or accusations of bad faith. To be sure, some of us post long comments and some of us post short comments and most of the people who read this blog, if Google’s analytics are to be believed, do not comment at all. The same thing is true in every class I have ever taught and in every group discussion I have ever participated in. A little generosity of spirit wouldn’t kill you, after all. This is a difficult enough world as it is without backbiting among friends.

 

There is, as we all know, a long and rich tradition of fratricidal infighting on the extreme left. It has always reminded me of nothing so much as the murderous disputes among Protestant sects. I can at least understand that – I mean, if you think that your immortal salvation depends on precisely the exactly correct interpretation of ancient texts which you are incapable of reading in the original languages, that might make you a trifle peckish. But apparently with the exception of Michael Llenos, we are all secularists here.

 

In short, I am asking you all to cool it.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

A LONG LOOK IN THE MIRROR

The time is come for me to subject myself to a little reality check. This election has forced me to face something that I really do not want to face, but there is nothing to be gained from deluding myself. First of all, Donald Trump received north of 70 million votes. That is 7 million more votes than he received in 2016 and more votes than has ever been received by any other presidential candidate with the sole exception, thank God, of Joe Biden.

 

It is simply not plausible to claim that those who voted for Trump were, by and large, basing their vote on their rational economic self-interest. This is obvious, but it is worth spending a little time to spell this out because if you are on the left, as I am, it is easy to deplore Biden’s centrist politics and imagine somehow that a Bernie Sanders would have appealed on the basis of economic interest to large numbers of those Trump voters.

 

It is difficult to contrast the platforms and programs put forward by the two candidates because the Republican Party, for the first time in living memory, actually adopted no platform at all during its convention and Trump, in the course of the election, put forward no discernible set of proposals for his second term. But take a look at what Biden proposed – I am well aware that he might not have carried through with all of those proposals had he won the Senate, but be that as it may, just take a look at his proposals. He called for a $15 an hour minimum wage; a large infrastructure bill designed to create millions of working-class jobs; a large clean energy bill designed to create millions more of working-class jobs: an expansion of the Affordable Care Act to include a public option and thereby to ensure many millions more of uninsured Americans, most but not all of them working-class; a bill to make public four-year college free for working-class and middle-class families.

 

I think it will prove true that Trump won a significant majority of white non—college-educated men. This is a portion of the population that would benefit significantly from the proposals outlined in the previous paragraph. The much-maligned college-educated coastal elites, who are said to look down upon Trump voters, would not benefit from a $15 an hour minimum wage or from the creation of infrastructure and clean energy jobs and they would be less likely to benefit from the expansion of the Affordable Care Act. And yet those are the people, by and large, who voted in large numbers for the candidate putting forward those proposals.

 

The portion of the population that most clearly voted on the basis of rational self-interest in the largest sense was of course Black women.

 

The Democrats lost seats in the House and failed to take several key senatorial seats that they had every indication of being able to win. The influence of the progressive members of the House caucus is now much diminished as a consequence. If they fail to pull off a miracle in Georgia and take both seats in the runoff elections the Democrats will be able to accomplish next to nothing of the economic proposals sketched above.

When I wrote Autobiography of an Ex White Man, my reflection on my experiences in the University of Massachusetts Afro-American Studies Department, I argued at considerable length that the key to understanding America is recognizing that it has from the beginning been, as Charles Mills says, a White Settler state whose historical development can only be understood through the lens of race.

 

In struggling to understand our current situation, it is I think always essential to remember that two thirds of white Americans do not have a college education. If resentment against those who do have that credential is a central factor in the political choices made by Americans, then that suggests that I am on the losing side in the long run unless some way can be found to overcome that division.

 

ENOUGH OF THE ANALYSIS, WE HAVE WORK TO DO

Joe Biden will be declared the president, if not today then early next week. Everything now depends on the two senatorial runoff elections in Georgia. It is a long shot, but the consequences will be enormous. Yesterday, I donated $1000 each to the campaigns of Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.  As my son, Tobias, suggested, we should put the whole thing in the capable hands of Stacey Abrams.


Hope springs eternal.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

I know from personal experience that in South Africa under the old apartheid regime, if one was white it was quite possible to live a comfortable, interesting, intellectually lively, politically engaged life in complete safety and tranquility. Because of the deliberate governmental policy of separating whites from Blacks (which is to say, in South African terms, Africans, Coloureds, and Asians), one could spend extended periods of time in South Africa and never actually see the conditions in which non-whites lived or the brutalities they suffered. South African academics were, I found, bright, well read, and familiar with the latest tendencies in continental and Anglo American thought.  I don’t know, but I have often thought that if one were not Jewish, it would have been possible in the same way to lead an interesting, comfortable, lively existence in prewar Nazi Germany – certainly Martin Heidegger appears to have managed to do so.

 

I am an upper-middle-class old man living an extremely comfortable and secure life in pleasant surroundings. I actually know several Republicans personally – they live in the same building in which Susie and I have our apartment here at Carolina Meadows – but I am not aware that any of them is a Trump supporter. I know, but not from direct observation, that I live in a country roughly half of whose inhabitants actively support and are prepared to vote for a racist, misogynistic, autocratic wannabe fascist, but even if that fascist wins reelection – something that I considered unthinkable 48 hours ago – nothing in the safety, comfort, or immediate pleasantness of my life will change.  And yet I am finding it difficult to face the fact that the remainder of my life will be spent in such a country.

 

As I’m sure you can imagine, there were a good many moments last night and this morning when I was consumed by such loathing that I thought, “to hell with them all, why should I go on worrying about people who embrace an autocrat hell-bent on robbing them blind to line his pockets and those of his rich friends?”

 

And yet, and yet. I cannot do it. I cannot stop fighting even though absolutely nothing in my personal circumstances requires me to fight. I cannot stop caring even if it would be less painful to do so. So I will set aside the things I was going to post here about the exciting opportunities for productive struggle that the election would present and instead try to think about what we can do to limit the damage. It is rather a pity that I am not religious. It is my impression that a serious religious belief is of use at times like these.

 

As for how things are likely to play out as of 12:30 on the day after the election, it looks more and more as though Joe Biden will eke out a win and find himself with a diminished but still majority Democratic caucus in the House but not with Democratic control of the Senate. This means no enlargement of the Supreme Court, which is an unmitigated disaster.

 

Ralph Warnock will have a runoff in the Senate race in Georgia and if we are really fortunate, when all the votes from the Atlanta area are in, so will Jon Ossof.  In that case, I will send $1000 to the campaign of each of them. It is all I can think to do but it is something rather than nothing.

 

Crap!


Oh by the way. If you are young and looking for a career, I wouldn't consider being a pollster if I were you.

 

 

  

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

A WORD OF THANKS

I would just like  to say that the breadth and depth of knowledge exhibited by the folks who read this blog and comment on it is extraordinary, and it is a pleasure to spend time with you. Thank you.

SPENDING TIME WITH KANT

I am back from a bracing walk – it was 34° – and ready to spend some time responding to a number of interesting comments on my blog post concerning what I see as a fundamental incompatibility between Kant’s theory of knowledge and his ethical theory. I will begin by repeating and expanding on my account of how I approach a philosophical text, this time using as an example not the Critique of Pure Reason but rather a contemporary text with which, I imagine, many of you are familiar, namely A Theory of Justice by John Rawls.

 

What interests me about a philosophical text are not the opinions of the author or the relationship of those opinions to the opinions of other thinkers but rather a powerful and deep argument that I find in the text. When I cannot find that sort of argument, I set the book aside as uninteresting. I am not at all claiming that this is the only or the best way to read a philosophical work. I am simply reporting that is the way I read one. Almost always, when I grapple with a great work of philosophy or even one not so great, I find that there is a great deal in the text that is ancillary to the argument I am interested in and frequently even in conflict with it. For the most part, I simply set aside those portions of the text as irrelevant to my inquiry. Quite obviously my identification of what I consider an interesting argument is subjective and personal and my view may not be shared by other readers, many of whom of course may be far more accomplished scholars than I. But that is what I do and when I have completed my investigation and have published it, I simply hope that what I have to say will find readers who consider it interesting or helpful.

 

A good example of this approach is my engagement with the work of John Rawls as set forth in my book Understanding Rawls. Some of you may be quite familiar with my take on Rawls and to you I apologize for repeating myself but as Socrates replies to Callicles, who complains that Socrates is talking about the same things over and over again, “yes, Callicles, and in the same way too.”

 

Rawls began in the 1950s with a problem and a brilliant idea for its solution. The problem was the seemingly endless and irresoluble conflict between the two major schools of Anglo-American ethical theory, Utilitarianism and Intuitionism. Rawls’ idea was to reach back to the social contract tradition of political theory and marry it to the quite modern discipline of Game Theory. He claimed in his early article, Justice As Fairness, that he could prove, as a theorem, that a group of rationally self-interested individuals situated roughly in the condition of those posited by social contract theory would arrive at a unanimous agreement on two principles to regulate their social interactions, and these principles Rawls described as the principles of justice. It was, as I say, a brilliant idea which seemed to offer the possibility of resolving the conflict between utilitarianism and intuitionism while preserving what was appealing and powerful in each. Problems with his first formulation, which undermined his claim to be able to prove the theorem in Game Theory, led Rawls to introduce a number of revisions into his theory, including most famously what he called the Veil of Ignorance.

 

By the time Rawls published A Theory of Justice the journal article had ballooned into a 400 page book with seemingly a thousand words on every page. Rawls had elaborate and interesting things to say about an extraordinarily wide variety of subjects, all of which he attempted to hang on or connect with or derive from his core idea.

 

I was not powerfully drawn to Rawls’s vision of a just society – to put it as simply as I can, he had learned nothing from Marx. But I thought his core idea was brilliant and fascinating and so I engaged with it, ignoring all of the ancillary materials that stuffed his big book. (Not in my commentary, but more recently, I have taken to describing the book as a slender monograph wearing what in the film world is called a fat suit, but that, I am afraid, is somewhat unkind.) I thought about Rawls’ central argument carefully and came to the conclusion that, for a variety of technical reasons which interested me, the argument did not work. And I demonstrated that in my book. But that was not the way Rawls’ book was read by most of the very wide readership which spanned a number of different disciplines. I did not care. What interested me was the core argument, with which I engaged quite seriously, and once I had demonstrated to my satisfaction that the argument simply did not succeed in demonstrating what it sought to demonstrate, I published and stop thinking about Rawls.

 

I do not by any stretch of the imagination mean to suggest that Rawls and Kant occupy the same philosophical universe. But I approached their work in the same way. It took me years to work through Kant’s arguments and come to conclusions that I did. It only took me about three weeks to do the same with the arguments of Rawls.

 

Now let me turn to the comments on my blog post.  When I had finished my engagement with Kant’s ethical theory and had published my thoughts in a book called The Autonomy of Reason, it occurred to me that there was an irresoluble conflict between the argument I had succeeded in finding in The Critique of Pure Reason and the claims Kant was making in his ethical writings. I was fairly confident that Kant himself had not seen this conflict, and I even had some idea why that might be, but a conflict it clearly was and I articulated it in the rather obscure article that I referenced in my blog post.

 

Now it is one thing for me to say that Rawls’ argument does not work. I am not nearly as important a philosopher as Rawls but we inhabited the same universe of late 20th century American philosophy. So it is, one might say, a fair fight. But when I say the same thing about Kant, that has somewhat the comic air of a flea crawling up the hind leg of a female elephant and yelling” Rape!” Not only am I clear that Kant does not see the problem that I claim to see. The major philosophical tendencies of the past 2 ½ centuries do not see it and instead find countlessly many other things of interest in Kant’s great writings.

 

Let me get right to the central issue, which is whether two noumenal agents can encounter one another in the field of experience. Clearly Kant believes they can. That is not the issue. My question is whether it is logically compatible with his central argument to say that they can. I take it as not in dispute that Kant’s ethical theory requires that they can, because it is as moral agents, as selves in themselves, so to speak, that they have binding obligations to one another, obligations to tell the truth, to keep their promises, to treat one another as ends always and not merely as means.

 

As I argue at length in my book, Kant’s Theory of Mental Activity, and also in my nine part series of lectures posted on YouTube, one can only make sense of the central argument of the Transcendental Deduction by taking seriously the argument from the first edition in what is usually referred to as the Subjective Deduction concerning the so-called threefold synthesis of apprehension, reproduction, and recognition. And if one spells that argument out precisely, it follows, as I explained in my original post, that no Transcendental Ego can encounter another Transcendental Ego in the field of experience. That was the point of my example about the creative writing class in which the students write stories about the class.

 

One commentator noted that my interpretation of Kant made his views incompatible with the modern understanding of the natural sciences as a collective undertaking, and that is absolutely correct. Kant’s conception of science is derived from the work of people like Newton. He has no idea whatsoever of a group of researchers led by a principal researcher going into a laboratory together, doing collaborative experimental investigations, publishing them collectively, and interacting with other groups of researchers to arrive at some advance in our scientific understanding of the universe. I do not think the core argument of the Critique can be made compatible with such a conception of scientific research, to which one can only say, so much the worse for the Critique.

 

Well, I will stop there. Perhaps I can conclude with a little story about Hannah Arendt which I have told before. Back when I was teaching at Columbia, I gave a lecture attacking the views of John Stuart Mill. Arendt was in the audience and came up afterward to say hello. She was pretty obviously not thrilled with the talk but she politely asked me what I was working on and I replied that I was writing a book on Kant’s ethical theory. She brightened and said, “Ah, it is so much more pleasant to spend time with Kant.”

 

I can only say that it has been more pleasant spending time with Kant that obsessing about the results that will come in this evening.

WHAT TO DO WHILE I WAIT FOR RESULTS

Several readers made interesting and suggestive comments on my post about the contradiction between Kant's theory of knowledge and his ethical theory but I have been so absorbed by the election that I have not responded to them. Later this morning, after I take my walk, I will try to do justice to them while waiting 12 hours for the first results to come in. I will try to do a good job, because if the results are not what I hope, this may be the last philosophy I ever write. 

Monday, November 2, 2020

TALMUDIC STUDIES

I heard it said once that in the shtetls of Eastern Europe in the old days, when a young Jewish boy began his studies, his teacher would put a drop of honey on the page and have him kiss it so that ever after he would associate the sweetness of the honey with the study of the Talmud. The drop of honey that got me hooked on politics was a baseball game I saw 72 years ago. (I have told this story before but retelling old stories is what old men do so you will have to bear with me.)

 

1948 was the year in which Harry Truman ran against Thomas E Dewey, Strom Thurmond, and Henry Wallace.  On September 9, Johnny Brown and I decided to go to a Wallace rally being held in Yankee Stadium. Wallace was the standard bearer of the Progressive Party, and more for reasons of family tradition than deep understanding, he was my candidate. The real attraction for me, I think, was the announcement that Pete Seeger would be performing. When Johnny and I got there, it was raining and people were leaving the stadium. But the rain let up and since we had come all this way, we decided to walk across the bridge to the Polo Grounds, pay our way into the cheap seats, and watch the Dodgers play the Giants. We were both rabid Dodgers fans, of course. The rain held off for the most part and we watched Rex Barney pitch a no-hitter – the only no-hitter I have ever seen in my entire life. That was my drop of honey and ever since politics has left a sweet taste in my mouth.

 

Sunday, November 1, 2020

MY YOGI BERRA MOMENT

In the words of the immortal Yogi Berra, “it is tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” Nevertheless, I feel a certain obligation as a blogger to predict the outcome of the election and its immediate aftermath. If I get this wrong, don’t come looking for me. I couldn’t let you in any way because you might be carrying the virus.

 

Joe Biden is going to win the presidency. I am aware that it is logically possible, even statistically possible, that Trump get 270 electoral votes but there is simply no evidence that that unlikely event is going to occur. How big will Biden’s victory be? That is hard to say even for someone willing to make predictions. He will have well over 300 electoral votes but several states, such as Texas and Georgia, could go either way and make a very large difference in the total EV outcome.

 

The Democrats will hold the House – that is a slam dunk. Will they take the Senate? That requires flipping four seats, assuming Doug Jones loses. I feel comfortable predicting the Democrats will do at least that well but it is possible that they will do a good deal better. It may take a while to tell.

 

Will Biden have 270 electoral votes by Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning? I think there is a very good chance that the answer is yes and if it is, that will put paid to a number of Republican plans for troublemaking. My own North Carolina will be decided early in the evening and I think there is a very good chance Biden will win it. Florida will also be decided a bit later in the evening unless it is too close to call and if Biden does post a win sometime Tuesday evening in Florida then it is all over.

 

All this is fairly easy. Now I want to go a little bit further out on a limb. I predict that on election day and into the evening, there will be very few actual disruptions of the election process by Republican goons. Oh, there will be some events and they will be reported on in excruciating and hyperventilating detail, but they will be minuscule in the larger picture. There will of course be standard voter intimidation and voter suppression of the sort that is a seemingly permanent part of the American electoral process, but it will not change the outcome in any significant way beyond the way in which it always does.

 

The really interesting question, and one about which I have no insight whatsoever, is what Trump will do once the results are clear. Will he concede in the standard manner of losing candidates in American elections? I suspect not. Will he file endless lawsuits, in an attempt to reverse the results of the election? Of course. What will those lawsuits accomplish? Just about nothing, I predict.

 

But he will still be president for 2 ½ months and I simply cannot imagine Trump surviving the daily humiliation of being a public official loser. The greatest loss he will suffer, I predict, is a decline in media attention, something that he will find simply unbearable. With the pandemic raging evermore furiously, media attention will be drawn to reports of Biden’s plans for action come January 20, to rumors about cabinet appointments and the like, to speculation about the elimination of the filibuster in the Senate, about statehood for the District of Columbia, about the expansion of the Supreme Court – in short, the media will be focused on anything but Trump. He will find that intolerable and it would not surprise me in the slightest if he summarily resigns and retreats to Mar-a-Lago.

 

In short, it is my prediction that the day after tomorrow is going to be a good day. If I am wrong, don’t bother me. I will be mourning the loss of innocence and contemplating ritual suicide.