Should Professors Stop Opining About Trump?

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In last Friday’s New York Times, professional critic Stanley Fish criticized a group of history professors who call themselves Historians Against Trump, for speaking out against the presidential candidate Donald Trump. Fish argues that although they have a right to state their opinion as citizens, they have no right to state their opinion as historians.

Maybe Fish should also criticize climate scientists for speaking out about climate change, given the climate change has also become a political issue. Maybe Fish should tell evolutionary biologists to keep quiet about evolution, given this hotly charged political issue. Fish himself is a law professor. Maybe he should tell law professors that they have no right to write opinion pieces about the constitutionality of some of our legal and political practices…

If this sounds like I am making a reducio ad absurdum out of Fish’s opinion piece– I am: because it is an absurd position. Historians not only have a right to speak out, they have a duty to do so.

“Those who do not remember the past [history] are condemned to repeat it”. This is the warning that George Santayana gave us, and it bears repeating. Historians are uniquely positioned to remind us of what happened in the past and when the results were disastrous. Actually, some of the ‘prophets’ in the Old Testament were simply issuing ‘warnings’ about the direction people were heading– “those who do not remember how to get to the water supply are condemned to die of thirst”.

The United States of Amnesia. This was the term Gore Vidal used to warn Americans of the disastrous results of never remembering what happened in the past. Sometimes we all need a little reminding.

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Maybe Stanley Fish ought to tell political scientists that they should not explain to us what fascism is.

In an appropriately titled book, Fascism: Why Not Here?– Brian E. Fogarty “draws parallels between German culture of the early twentieth century and American culture today”. He wrote the book before the rise of the Tea Party. And I had to go back and read it again after the rise of Trump. It is a very scary book. And we ought to heed his warning.

Most Americans are not just forgetful, they are ignorant as to what is really happening. Who can blame them? It takes a great deal of time and effort (and frustration) to understand more deeply what is happening and why. It is just easier to watch Fox ‘news’, and then vote their conscience.

Maybe historians, and other professors, are speaking out now because they are concerned that if Trump wins the presidency they will not have the ability to speak out later. This happened not just in Nazi Germany, but in the United States during World War I. Many prominent university professors were fired from their positions for merely questioning whether the US should get involved in a European war.

In fact the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the tenure system were started after this disastrous fiasco. John Dewey (my intellectual hero) explained that professors were hired as ‘public intellectuals’– they should not be fired for saying what they think. (By the way there is a fine line between knowledge and opinion that would take too long to explain here.)

The Republicans hate the tenure system nearly as much as they hate very educated liberals. They would love to do away with both, so that they can go back to firing people for saying things they don’t like. Trump has already barred reporters he doesn’t like from attending his rallies. This is the first step toward a ‘slippery slope’ (that I don’t think is a fallacy). The right of freedom of the press is extended to academic freedom. And sometimes a duty to speak out.

Most people do not know who Stanley Fish is, but even less know who I am. However, as I said before I am tired of remaining silent. And I will continue to speak out, not just as a concerned citizen but as a college professor of philosophy (with a focus on ethics and political philosophy).

By the way Mr. Fish, if Trump gets elected and the results are disastrous– do we then not have the right to say “we tried to warn you”.

A Brief History of Race and Politics: from the KKK to Donald Trump

If we want to understand how we got to this point in American politics we should remind ourselves of some basic history and not deny the facts.

Yes, it was Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, who freed the slaves. The North won the Civil War and the South still hasn’t gotten over it. From 1864 to 1964 the majority of the White South voted Democrat. Southern Democrats were not liberal in any sense of the term– but they were anti-Republican. Their resentment over the Civil War has lasted more than a hundred years. And their battle cry has always been “the South will rise again”.

The White South’s alliance with the Democratic Party, however, began to shift in 1964. When Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, he turned to Bill Moyers and said, “we may have just signed the South over to the Republican Party for the rest of our lifetimes”. And from 1964 to 1984 – the White South turned Red. Barry Goldwater ran against the Civil Rights Act; Richard Nixon ran his famous “Southern Strategy”; and Ronald Reagan perfected that strategy. By 1984 there were very few White Southern Democrats left– they had all become Republicans.

Today’s Republican Party is not the party of Lincoln; they are the party of anti-Lincoln. They are the party of The South. If you look at a map of the Red States and the Blue States it basically still traces the Mason-Dixon line of the Civil War. There are few exceptions.

This is not to say that all Republicans are racist. But the party has aligned itself with the racially motivated elements of the South – they have accepted them in order to maintain a conservative majority. The Republican Party has, in effect, become a ‘white power’ movement. Republicans in The House of Representatives are 98% white and 95% male. And Fox ‘news’ is already pushing for a “white turnout” in the upcoming presidential election.

“Rapists and Criminals”

The Ku Klux Klan rose up after the Civil War claiming that the newly freed black slaves were criminals who were raping white women. Their stated aim was to protect “Southern Heritage”. Their underlying aim was, of course, racism. They were America’s first and foremost terrorist organization. They are still alive today. They just don’t always were white robes.

Remember Donald Trump’s announcement speech. When he came down that “golden elevator” from on high, the first thing that he said is that Mexicans are “rapists and criminals”. And he was going to “build a wall” to keep them out. Next he went after the Muslims– calling for a ban of all Muslim immigrants to this country. He immediately shot up to number one in the Republican primary.

We have seen this happen before. And not just in our country. We should keep in mind that Adolf Hitler’s campaign slogan was “Make Germany Great Again”. The same thing that Hitler said about “the Jews”– Trump says about Mexicans and Muslims.

This is not to say that all Trump supporters are racist. But all racists are Trump supporters. They have unmasked the most insidious elements of the Republican Party. They are once again speaking out– they hate “politically correct” speech. They want to “make derogatory language great again”.

Racists are fueled by hate, and they wear their emotions on their sleeves. What, in the past, has been “dog-whistle” politics has now become a fog horn. Much of this has been the language of “States’ Rights”.

“States’ Rights” was used before the Civil War to protect slavery. “States’ Rights” was used after the Civil War to protect segregation and suppress voting rights. And “States’ Rights” are being used today to re-suppress voting rights, women’s rights, and the rights of the LGBT community.

In fact, it was the Civil Rights Act which limited the ability of “States’ Rights” to undermine Human Rights. And that is why the South has always hated it.

Trump is galvanizing the South. His rallies are an emotional hotbed, fueled by rage. He has a brand of white ethno-centric nationalism and he is now courting fundamentalist Christians. Sinclair Lewis declared that “when fascism comes to the U.S. it will come wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross”.

Now Donald Trump is running as “the law and order” candidate. This was how Richard Nixon described himself– and look how well that turned out!
The Trump campaign knows that they cannot win-over even a small minority of the Hispanic vote.

The vast majority of African-Americans will never vote for him. Their strategy is thus to get out the white vote and suppress minority voting. Is this the democracy that we really want? To win elections by racial division and voter suppression.

That is where we are headed in American politics. No wonder so many Americans believe that our country is headed in the wrong direction.

As I said before: I am tired of remaining silent on these matters. Though I struggle with feeling that there is nothing I can do about it, I am going to be speaking out more– whether it has the desired effect or not.

 

The Court of Republican Opinion: Exonerated or Convicted, Hillary Will Always Be Guilty to the Right-Wing

 

 

Yesterday the Director of the FBI, James Comey, stated that no charges would be brought against Hilary Clinton for her use of a private e-mail server while she was Secretary of State. Last week Trey Gowdy concluded his investigation into what happened in Benghazi, and found that Hilary Clinton had done nothing wrong. In the long run no one will remember that she has essentially been exonerated in both of these cases, because she has already been ‘convicted’ in the court of Republican opinion.

We have all heard of the stories of the person accused of a crime showing up on page one of the newspaper. Later his exoneration shows up on page three but no one remembers the exoneration. This happens constantly with Secretary Clinton– it is all of the Republicans accusations that are piling up.

Charles Krauthammer, the Fox ‘news’ pundit, when asked last week about whether the Benghazi report would hurt Hilary’s chances of being elected president, stated that “this” wouldn’t hurt her, but in combination with all of the other accusations would build up. It is the perception that matters. And this reveals their tactic. Throw enough mud and something may stick– even if it was you that muddied the waters.

This Republican strategy was already revealed last year when House Majority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, stated that “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable.”

Keep in mind that the Benghazi ‘witch hunt’ that McCarthy was referring to was the eighth one that they have held– they already held seven previous investigations and found no evidence that Hilary Clinton had done anything wrong. So they spent two more years, and seven million dollars of taxpayer money, took more time than the investigation into Watergate, the Kennedy assassination, or the 9/11 commission– in order to sabotage her presidential bid. They dragged this out to coincide with the national conventions when everyone was paying attention, but then realized that they had a dud on their hands.

Remember the 1990s?!

When Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992, Republicans immediately began attacking his character, and that of his wife. When angry Republicans took over the House in 1994, they began impeachment proceedings– not officially, they had to find something first. But they were going to impeach him for something, they just didn’t know what yet.

The Republican Congress spent the 90s going from one fake scandal to another. They accused the Clintons of corruption in the Whitewater real estate deal, they accused the Clintons of murdering Vince Foster, they even investigated their use of Christmas card lists. They found nothing– until Monica Lewinski produced a stained dress. And the Republicans dropped everything else.

From one fake scandal to another…

Heads I Win– Tails You Lose

This is how we used to flip coins when we were children, trying to frame the outcome in our favor whatever it happened to be.

This is also how Donald Trump framed the FBI investigation  when he said last week that if she is not indicted this “proves that the system is rigged”. Actually it proves nothing of the kind. It simply shows that there was no reason to indict Hilary Clinton for some alleged ‘crime’ that she didn’t commit.

Fox ‘news’ has been out to get the Clintons since 1992. Twenty-four years of bad press takes its toll eventually. So it is no surprise that they are spinning James Comey’s statement today in order to ‘prove’ the Hilary is guilty of something. The Fox ‘news’ crowd has already convicted her, there is nothing that can be done to prove her innocence, as far as they are concerned. Again, she has already been convicted in the court of Republican opinion.

This is a problem with ideology. Once a hypothesis has been accepted as true anything can be used in order to support it. It is unfalsifiable. Keep in mind Donald Trump’s statement last week: “if she is not indicted that would prove that the system is rigged.”

But also keep in mind the lead up to the Iraq war. Before the invasion weapons inspectors said that they could find no evidence of weapons of mass destruction. The Bush Administration (lead by Cheney) said that this ‘proves’ that Saddam Hussein is good at hiding them. There were never any weapons found!

By November, when we go to the polls, all the Republicans want you to remember are the number of the accusations that have been hurled at Hilary Clinton. They want the perception to be that there must be something to them if there are this many accusations.

Americans say that we don’t like dirty politics. But what are we likely to reward? Unfortunately dirty politics seems to work. It certainly takes its toll.

But what I find almost laughable is that more Americans think that Donald Trump is more honest and trustworthy than Hilary Clinton.  Lets’ see what turns up- keep an open mind.

When Nationalism Takes Hold: Brexit Should Wake Americans Up to the Reality That Trump Could Win

This is what happens when nationalism goes to the polls.

Like many Americans, I paid little attention when the British went to the polls to decide if they should leave the European Union. So what?! What did it mean to me? And, furthermore, what could I do about it? On Friday morning I woke up– Brexit was all over the news. The U.S. stock market had tanked as the Dow dropped over 600 points in one day, and many of us lost money in whatever pension or retirement account we are lucky enough to have.

I now understand what Brexit means to me.  But more importantly, I understand what it means for the upcoming U.S. presidential election.

In order to understand any major political event, we must understand what motivated it. The exit vote in Britain was driven by right-wing nationalism. The white working-class was feeling left behind by globalization, and to those in Britain, globalization had a name — the European Union. In all too familiar a fashion, the British complained that immigrants were taking their jobs. In Britain these people were “Pro-Brexit,” and here in the U.S., these very same people are “Pro-Trump.”

We should take note of who has applauded this exit decision by the British voters. Vladimir Putin, Iran, and ISIS have all loudly proclaimed their support. Right-wing nationalists across Europe were cheering on Brexit, right along with Fox ‘news,’ and of course, Donald. Politics does indeed make strange bedfellows. But is it really that strange? All of those rejoicing have one thing in common: right-wing nationalism.

We should remember that Hitler’s campaign slogan was “Make Germany Great Again.” Hitler appealed to right-wing working class populism to create a white ethnocentric nationalism which scapegoated the Jews. Trump has simply substituted “Mexican” and “Muslim” for “Jew”– though the rest is the same. Before we dismiss this bigotry, we must remember that there were two world wars fought in Europe which were driven by right-wing nationalism.  This movement is not a joke, it’s a cancer.

Yet we should also be clear that the vote in Britain was very close: only 52 percent voted to exit the European Union, and many of them are already experiencing voter’s remorse. Since Friday there have been over 3 million signatures on a petition for another election. Whether the British citizens will get a “do-over” is unclear. But what is clear is that American voters will not get a “do-over” in our own upcoming presidential election.

Recently The Economist magazine rated a Trump election as one of the top 10 threats to our economy. More importantly, they said it was a larger threat than Britain leaving the European Union.  To repeat, however bad Brexit is going to turn out to be, Trump would be much worse. But of course, Trump voters want to “shake things up.” They want to see a major change in American politics, but given their choice of candidate, it seems that they want change even if it means change for the worse. The hardcore Trump supporters will never reconsider their choice. But moderate and liberal Americans should re-consider this entire election very carefully.

While it is true that 70% of Americans think that our country is headed in the wrong direction (and I am one of them), we should think more deeply about what we really mean when we say this.  Much of the Brexit vote was driven by populism versus the experts. The economic experts were warning that the Brexit vote could trigger a recession. But ‘the people’ thought that they knew better. They were tired of ‘the experts’ telling them what to do.

This is just another instance of the same song and dance which climate change deniers do in the face of scientific consensus. So they, along with the Brexit-ers, Donald Trump, and his supporters are rejecting what ‘the experts’ are saying. As is always the case, however, we reject the wisdom of those who know more than us at our own peril.

Britain may or may not get their do-over, but if Trump wins in November, we certainly won’t, and we will be forced to pay for our complacency for many years to come.

a note: I cannot remain silent any longer. I am greatly concerned with the direction of our country, and I also believe the Trump would be one of the greatest disasters to ever befall our nation. Over the next four months I am going to speak out to anyone who will listen– because we have to do more than merely defeat Trump, we have to discredit (crush) his entire ideology! In order to do this, we have to understand it, and what is driving it.

Three Arguments for Open Borders: Part III – Impartial Rights

What if you didn’t get to choose your parents? Well, I guess you didn’t. But, who you are born to will greatly dictate your life. Such luck seems incredibly unjust.

Lottery

We have already explored two other arguments for open borders (the greatest good for the greatest number and libertarianism). We are now at our final argument – the argument from impartial rights. I ask for your patience; this one is a bit complex, but I believe it to be by far the most important, powerful, and profound.

John Rawls thought we should think of society as a group of people who want to cooperate for mutual advantage. To ask what justice requires is to ask what sort of hypothetical contract would free and equal persons agree to as the terms of cooperation. This is our tool for figuring out what justice demands.

But contracts are apt to be unfair in favoring one of the parties because of either ignorance or a superior bargaining position. That is why, when asking what contract we would agree to, we should imagine ourselves behind the “veil of ignorance.”

Behind this veil, we do not know who we will be in the hypothetical society – so we don’t know our race, wealth, health, intelligence, religion, gender, age, etc. We could be anyone in the society we create.

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The “Good” Slave Owner’s Hypocrisy: Betting on Animal Rights

Will there be a day when the rights of animals are taken as seriously as the rights of humans? Maybe. And if this is the case, what does this say about us?

Am I not a man and a brother

Despite going very slowly, it seems undeniable that human kind is moving towards ever expanding concern for others. Yes, there are parts of the world where this isn’t the case, but it nonetheless seems that, on the whole, we are slowly moving forward.

Just in the short history of the U.S., there was a time when only white, property owning men were recognized as full citizens of the nation. People of color, women, and the disabled had to fight long and hard for legal recognition, and unfortunately, the struggle continues for these groups to secure full and equal freedom.

Only very recently has the gay community been widely accepted into general society, though the fight for equality continues.

Struggles for recognition are ongoing, but when we compare America today with America of 200 years ago, there is an obvious expansion of our concern for our fellow human beings.

It is not only people who we are beginning to be concerned with, though. Animal rights have made slow progress, and at this point it is uncontroversial to condemn the suffering of animals. We love our pets, support organizations like the ASPCA, and react violently when we see animal abuse (although legal punishments for such abuse are still usually mere slaps on the wrist).

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