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Sunday, January 3, 2021


It is now clear that if the Republicans had the votes in the House and the Senate they would simply cancel the results of the election and install Trump in the White House for another four years.


Rather late in life, thus, I realize that I have spent the last 70 years and more simply taking for granted the fundamental procedural processes of American government. I have been aware all my life of the many ways in which, either legally or illegally, Democrats and Republicans have suppressed the vote, stolen votes, distorted vote totals, and in myriad other ways twisted and gamed the political system for their benefit. But I freely confess that it never occurred to me that the elected representatives sitting in the House and the Senate would, if they had the votes, simply cancel a national election.


Since I am of course well aware of this sort of thing having happened in other countries, this shows that at some very deep level, despite my published rejections to the contrary, I have bought into the myth of American exceptionalism. It is a sad and humbling recognition and I have not yet fully integrated it into my understanding of the American political situation, but I am trying.


The people I disagree with have all the guns, and at my age I probably could not shoot straight anyway.  Hence violence is not for me a viable option. I am left with the necessity of relying on such institutions as have shown themselves, at least for the present, resistant to the dictatorial inclinations of the Republican Party. Fortunately both the courts and the military have proved reliable, although how long they will continue to be so it is impossible to predict.


Some of you will, no doubt, expressed surprise or scorn that I could have been so naïve. So be it. For someone as naturally optimistic as myself, it is a sad realization to come to at the age of 87. 


Howie said...

I believe America was unique in that our brand of authoritarianism would be unique.
ERik Erikson wrote about this subject
Now, through osmosis, we are growing like the other nations.
It can happen here and the exact same way

MS said...


The fact of the matter is it did not happen here, and it did not happen here because the Democrats were able to win control of the House in the mid-term elections in 2018. And it also did not happen here because the courts and the military held fast and performed the functions that the framers of the Constitution provided for them – the courts are part of the tri-partite form of checks and balances, and the Executive is limited in how much authority it has over the military. So, no, it did not happen here the way it has happened it banana republics or third world nations around the world, where the courts have succumbed to executive authority, and the military has installed military juntas. In a world where evil forces have innumerable ways they can prevail over the forces of decency (a lie has a thousand faces, truth has but one), we should not be surprised by how close we came to forfeiting our democracy to those forces, but should be thankful that, despite its deficiencies (did we expect perfection?), the government established by the Constitution prevailed. The naysayers will scoff at what they regard as my usual pollyannish trumpet blowing, but we can, I maintain, take solace in the fact that in the 250 years that our government has existed, this is the closest our country came to being taking over by a fascist, and with luck and determined vigilance, it will be another 250 years before we come this close again. The framers of the Constitution never promised us a rose garden.

Danny said...

As myths go, you could do worse. But I need to explain what I mean, I bet. Okay, I am 51 years old, but I don't remember a time when I could simply enthuse, for example, that socialism is utopia, and we should unashamedly embrace utopia. But why not? Isn't this the only acceptable political option, morally speaking? In any case, if you say that the realities of our time are morally intolerable, such that nothing but a utopian goal will now suffice, either inside or outside the Marxist tradition, then okay, the Marxist tradition isn't even really the issue here. Because, the facts of widespread human privation and those of political oppression and atrocity are available to all who want them. Suppose, then, that intellectually, the road goes by way of looking into the moral darkness. Well, the road to what? Maybe we say, that an obstinate utopianism is much needed against the potent forces of privilege and indifference. What is wrong with this logic? Or else, what is wrong with me, because this doesn't seem obviously true to me, it seems like the silliest garbage. Maybe I'm just not a nice person.

Danny said...

I once saw a Buddhist blogging about howsmonks beating each other, and sexual harassment in the sangha, are 'some particularly rare and shameful occurrences', but meanwhile, Buddhist publlic relations are quite excellent. It was a 'what is your motivation for criticizing Buddhism?' thread. How unusual it is to do that!

MS said...


To say nothing about the brutality with which Buddhist Myanmar is treating its Muslim Rohingya population. Buddhism, which we all thought was the most tolerant of religions.

If one is an atheist, as many of the readers of this blog profess to be, then there is no superior sentient being guiding the universe, and there is certainly no omnipotent, omniscient, omnipotent being guiding the universe. In that case, does a godless universe care whether there exist any sentient beings whatsoever, striving to achieve a morally fair, utopian society? I think not. In a solar system where human beings appear to be the only sentient beings, beings who by chance evolved from apes, which are very territorial animals, is it at all surprising that there exist territorial human beings who guard their wealth, do not wish to share it, and engage in schemes and wars in order to expand their wealth and territory? I think not. If these are the unavoidable circumstances of our existence, should we not strive our utmost to preserve, at least, the moderate form of decent government we have, acknowledging that we do not have the power to remove all of the inequities that exist in the world?

MS said...


I meant to write "omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent being ... "

Anonymous said...

Trump has been playing a game of chicken with sedition since (at least) the election. For example, his flippant invocation of the Proud Boys (to “stand back and stand by”) was a threat of violence (and insurrection), and of course his rhetoric since then has been in much the same vein. Some of his congressional enablers are clueless, but some of them are not, and probably all his henchmen in the Senate know what they’re up to and where it well might lead—i.e., violence. If this stuff isn’t sedition, then what is? Once Biden takes office, the Democrats should push for the appointment of a special prosecutor to inquire into the possibility of sedition—by Trump and his goons. --Fritz Poebel

jeffrey g kessen said...

Just heard Jake Tapper on CNN quote Grant from 1861, "This country is now a country of two parties, traitors and patriots." Whew, never thought CNN would let that fly. Tapper then abruptly pivoted to an excrutiatingly anodyne interview with the Surgeon General.

Anonymous said...

Professor Wolff,

In your presumption that the cogs of the governmental machine keep grinding, I don't think you were being naive or buying into American exceptionalism.

It's entirely rational to assume that the ruling political class of corporate Democrats and Republicans should pass the torch to each other without incident, so that whoever is in the oval office can continue to advance and defend the interests of capital.

Even the current stunt to over-rule the electors, which began under the pretense of a "stolen election," is helping to funnel massive amounts of money to T***p so that he can repay his loans. Most oligarchs just do these sorts of things with a little more subtlety.

The only thing unusual here is that the facade of U.S. "democracy" is becoming slightly more un-glued. But I suspect you and many readers of this blog always saw the corporate ruling class behind this facade.

Early on in the 2016 presidential campaign and even in the T***p presidency, there was commentary to the effect of "T***p reveals the grotesque brutality that's the mainstay of Republican Party policy, but that Republicans had endeavored to keep hidden with their platitudes, mis-directs, and euphemisms." That observation could probably be applied to a number of other aspects of corporate government in the U.S.

David said...

Now that excerpts of Trump's hour-long call with Raffensburger are available, I would like to revisit Professor Wolff's earlier question about whether Trump should be prosecuted at the Federal level.

I think we've always known that this is how Trump operates. But actually to hear him talking like some two-bit mob-boss wannabe is striking. I don't see how the Biden administration can let this go.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

David, I am coming to agree with you. If it is to be done, it would have to be done by a bipartisan group of Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans and would have to take the form of a truth and reconciliation commission. I do not see how the Republican Party in its present form can survive this. The central problem is that 30 or 40 or 50 million or more Americans who have joined Trump's cult.

Anonymous said...

Seems relevant to restate the words of Winston Churchill - "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the rest."

aaall said...

"I don't see how the Biden administration can let this go."

They can't. Some possibilities?

Trump resigns before noon January 20 and Pence pardons him.

Recall that at least a couple of times during his rallies he said that if he lost he might have to leave the country. Since the election the rubes have sent him at least $500M that is mostly his. The bill that he vetoed and was just overridden made illegal what was probably a major source of his revenue outside of "The Apprentice." Idi Amin did spend his last days in Saudi.

One thinks of Victor Gigante, the mob boss who faked dementia. A competency defense, perhaps? He is barking mad and his frequent sniffing usually indicates one thing. He's 74 and with good lawyers he could possibly run the clock.

MS, the Framers lived before political ideologies and hoped they could wish political parties away. While we hope your optimism is right, I can only point out that if one is playing Russian Roulette, hitting three empty cylinders doesn't necessary mean one is winning.

" The people I disagree with have all the guns..."

Actually no and anyway, too many of them freak out at having to wear a mask and panic if the bars are closed. Most of them are all hat and no cattle.

MS said...

I have no objection to forming a truth and reconciliation commission in order to investigate Trump’s abuses of power. But I sincerely doubt that even the Republican senators who of late have been critical of him would be willing to join such a commission. Regarding a federal prosecution is another matter. What federal crime would you charge with? Abuse of power is a basis for impeachment, which not happen given the short time frame left. If Trump, as he boasted he could do with impunity, had shot someone in the middle of Fifth Ave. (I think that was the identified location), he could certainly have been impeached and then, after thrown out of office, prosecuted with murder or assault with a deadly weapon (if the victim lived). He arguably could also have been prosecuted for such a crime while still in office. But the misuse of the presidential power in order to try to strong-arm a state government official, in the absence of evidence of offering some kind of bribe, will not fly. In the report regarding the telephone call which I read today, there is no suggestion of a bribe – e.g., if you do this for me I will make sure you are rewarded (either monetarily or with some government appointment). He only claimed, falsely, that if Raffensperger did not do what he was asked, he and his attorney could be charged criminally. But Trump has no power to indict, and without such power threatening a criminal prosecution is not a crime. If Attorney General Barr had made the demand and threatened prosecution unless Raffensperger complied, that would likely be a crime.

My concerns regarding discussions such as this is that it will fortify opinions among some readers of this blog, and others with similar views, like those of Anonymous above who believes that, “I suspect you and many readers of this blog always saw the corporate ruling class behind this façade.” If such a commission is not convened, because it cannot be accomplished with a bipartisan composition, or if Trump is not prosecuted – because there is no legal basis - this will reinforce the view that Biden is no better than Trump, that they are all involved in a capitalist cabal, and that our government is a sham, a perspective which, as I have indicated in my comments above, and in other posts, I adamantly reject. But encouraging such views on the left is, in my opinion, no better than encouraging the comparable view on the far right that the election was stolen from Trump. Reinforcing such views only increases the polarization in this country, undermining it and making it more ungovernable.


As I opined in a previous comment to a previous post, arguments by analogy are only successful to the extent they are apt, and comparing the history of the American government to a revolver being used in a game of Russian roulette is not an apt analogy, because, for one thing, there are far more harmless empty chambers which do not have deadly or disastrous consequences.

Anonymous said...

"experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms, those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny; and it is believed that the most effectual means of preventing this would be, to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts, which history exhibiteth, that, possessed thereby of the experience of other ages and countries, they may be enabled to know ambition under all its shapes, and prompt to exert their natural powers to defeat its purposes ... whence it becomes expedient for promoting the publick happiness that those persons, whom nature hath endowed with genius and virtue, should be rendered by liberal education worthy to receive, and able to guard the sacred deposit of the rights and liberties of their fellow citizens, and that they should be called to that charge without regard to wealth, birth or other accidental condition or circumstance"

MS said...


Thank you for that quotation from Jefferson’s, “Public and Private Papers.”

On New Year’s Day, in response to my adult daughter’s expressed interest in watching a movie about the mob, I found “Good Fellas” on Netflix, about the operation of the Lucchese crime family and perhaps the best movie about how the mob actually operates (Godfather I and II notwithstanding). When a mob boss, or an underboss, threatens you, you know you are in for dire consequences. Comparing Trump to a wannabe mob boss is also inapt. Trump, with his empty threat of a criminal prosecution, is no Lucky Luciano, Vito Genovese, Carlo Gambino, or Joe Bonanno. When they threaten to whack you, you get whacked. If only Trump had threatened to whack Raffensberger, or have his son (or daughter?)_ do it (audible laughter), then we’d have a basis for a federal prosecution. Short of that, Nah.

David said...

I think we can assume that this phone call--the full director's cut is now available--is just the tip of the iceberg. Not letting this go might mean some kind of commission. Or maybe it means a special prosecutor.

It remains to be seen whether Trump will resign, and so it remains to be seen whether Pence will pardon him.

Trump is clearly threatening Raffensperger in an attempt to coerce him into doing something he has neither the authority nor the inclination to do. Call it a shakedown, if you'd like, though he doesn't sound like an authentic mob boss, but a wannabe. Adam Schiff, I recall, argued that if Trump weren't removed from office, he would do it again. Bingo.

David said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David said...

With regard to the illegality of President Mob Boss Wannabe's threats and inducements, here is an article from Politico.

I think I'll go with Rep. Jerry Nadler, chair of the House Judiciary, on this one.

Ed Barreras said...

I think your beliefs over the last 70+ years were sound ones. That is, as bad as the Republican Party has been through the decades, they still adhered to the fundamental norms of free and fair elections. Until now, no Republican president, candidate for president, or Congress, would have contemplated cancelling the election through legislative chicanery. Witness, for example, Mitt Romney’s recent condemnation of the soft-coup efforts being undertaken by Cruz and company.

The difference is Trump. He is the X-factor. I like to think of this on a model whereby all societies are like giant brains, and all possess the neural pathways that lead to authoritarianism; but in healthy democracies these pathways are mostly kept dormant. Yet now, in the United States in 2021, those pathways have been lit up like a Christmas tree thanks to the catalyst of Trump.

Yes, yes, Trump is a symptom, not the underlying disease; his power derives from the servility of his craven GOP enablers, etc. All that’s true. Still, I think it’s indisputable that had Jeb Bush, or Chris Christie, Hillary Clinton, or virtually anyone else been elected in 2016, we would not be in this dire situation. The authoritarian moment would have been staved off. And the sad thing is that all this was entirely predictable for those of us who were able to see Trump clearly for what he was from the beginning. Which is why we were so passionately opposed to him, and were insistent that he not be seen as just the latest in a line of bad Republican candidates. He was, and is, an entirely different animal.

Zettelkasten said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
aaall said...


The aptness of the RR analogy isn't in the number of chances one gets, it's that if one keeps spinning and clicking, one will eventually lose.

Likewise with the mob boss wannabe analogy. The aspiration not the accomplishment is the point. It's been quite a few decades (like noir LA era) but a friend's stepfather was connected (puts me two degrees from Benjamin Siegel and three from Capone, Lansky, etc.). "Wacking" was part of the business, not the business for most, most of the time.

Trump seems to be a coward but, in my experience, his type will do what his malignant narcissism requires. He hasn't "wacked" any small contractors but he has wacked their finances (and sometimes their businesses).

Folks do the crimes they can. My friend's stepfather grew up dirt poor and was barely making it running his diner when he got a break. His stepmother landed in LA with nothing and a chance encounter led to what it led to. Trump was a millionaire by the time he was in kindergarten and eventually had a few hundred million to play with. He and his father just needed lawyers not hit-men. They are still thugs.

BTW, I don't remember any other JCS Chairman feeling the need to opine that “there’s no role for the U.S. military in determining the outcome of a U.S. election. Zero, there is no role there.”

I also don't remember any other transition period in which every living former Secretary of Defense felt the need to do an op-ed, one graph of which was:

"As senior Defense Department leaders have noted, “there’s no role for the U.S. military in determining the outcome of a U.S. election.” Efforts to involve the U.S. armed forces in resolving election disputes would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory. Civilian and military officials who direct or carry out such measures would be accountable, including potentially facing criminal penalties, for the grave consequences of their actions on our republic."

Something's happening here.

Anonymous said...

Ed wrote:

"Yes, yes, Trump is a symptom, not the underlying disease; his power derives from the servility of his craven GOP enablers, etc."

Among his enablers were friends of mine in Michigan, who's hands were too clean, they said, in 2016, to make a decision. The argument I heard from them shocked me to the core, and I still have not gotten over it. Lifelong friends, decent people. Sharp, too. They were too sharp not to know -- in their hearts -- what it was: they could not resist the rare, once in a lifetime, opportunity (after all this is not Venezuela) to run with the mob.

Yes, it is also true that they complained, they were *so* disappointed, they'd been deprived of what they'd really wished for: to select a saint. And besides that *awful* woman is *such* a hypocrite isn't she? Well, even that's a Freudian dodge as well; but never mind that. No, they were going to have to sit it out, because the the saint had not been nominated.

I said, well, I like the "saint" too, but that's irrelevant. I retold what I remembered of that story of the crook (Edwin Edwards) and the nazi in Louisiana who somehow or other ended up the only contenders for the senate seat. What was Edwards' winning slogan? "You've got to vote for the crook!". Yes. Oh, the hypocrisy; doesn't it stink to the heavens?! Yes, but, I said, L'hypocrisie est un hommage que le vice rend a' la vertu.

No matter. The decent friends -- their folks just like mine had either been drafted or, not wishing to sit on their hands, signed up in 1942 -- they failed to see the difference.

In Geneva in 2017 in the spring, during that awful French contest against that nazi sow I watched the debates. Man! Was she lovely too. Creamy alto voice and the creamy look like Princess Grace in that old Jimmy Stewart movie. Man! The Swiss French across the border thanked their lucky stars they weren't French (and who wouldn't rather be Swiss anyway). But the French still hewed to their higher standards -- puffed-up or hypocritical never mind: I said, Two Cheers for the French! For their Hypocrisy! But the Americans?

I digress! My Michigander friends,the purest of heart, it was *they* who let this abomination happen. It was they who sang that tweedle-dee tweedle-dum refrain, they could not dirty their hands, no that'd be "enabling" that *woman* -- that snob, that hypocrite. And on top of that, how could they resist: don't gangsters give a better show then mere tawdry politicians? How could they resist: haven't we all seen it through and through on "the sopranos" and "breaking bad" by now? Gangsters "know how to get things done". And who the hell wants to be a "loser" anyway. Why not run with the mob while you've got the (admittedly) rare and uncanny opportunity. Those stupid tea-party intellectuals in the English department and all the other pious frauds of high-church courtoisie -- they've got it coming to them!

But, I said, your folks, weren't they drafted in 1942 just to put this sort of periodic abomination back in its proper place six feet under? Oh, that's such a superannuated way to put you, you throw-back! This is the wave of the future; dont'cha know: it's *all* in Marshal McCluhan, too.

Anonymous said...

About these insurgents not exactly "suffering from hard times" has parallels with the goths ransacking Rome. Goths were not only not suffering, but had settled and converted to Christianity for two or three generations prior. They were well settled within the Empire's frontiers, well educated, amply funded, and fully accustomed to Roman life of luxury and liberty -- hardly barbarians that historians led us to believe. Likewise this colonel, that lady who was an Iraq war vet who was shot inside the Capitol, and the stay-at-home husband of a doctor who was seen carrying a lecturn from Pelosi's office -- are all not the suffering-hard-times kind. Had they been, they wouldn't be able to afford a trip in middle of a pandemic.

--Dave F.

Dan said...

Many of those supporting Trump and the insurrection appear to sincerely believe that the election was stolen. Thus, they actually see themselves as defending democracy & the constitution. This gives some grounds for hope. What they lack is an adequate way of forming true beliefs. This is in part due to being brought up with a fundamentalist approach to religion, and in part to poor education, in part due to being exposed to repeated politically motivated attacks on science (eg climate change denial). They need education. And Biden should ensure school and college education improves so fewer individuals fail to have the ability to form true beliefs in future.

Anonymous said...

I wonder why no one has noticed: America is a "democracy" in name only. Source: Gilens & Page 2014. You will find all the evidence for this you need in that article.