Category Archives: Freedom and Equality

Democrats in 2018: Divided We Fall

Image: Marc Nozell | CC BY 2.0

What part of “divided we fall” don’t we seem to understand?

Right now, the Republicans are trying to divide us, Fox ‘news’ is trying to divide us, Russian propaganda on Facebook is trying to divide us…they are all in bed together. If we stay divided, we lose!

As we are constantly told: elections have consequences. But so does staying home, as we sadly learned one year ago.

The sad truth is that Democrats vote every four years, Republicans vote every two. If we don’t change this, we will lose!

In 2008, we elected our first African-American president. And then in 2010 we stayed home. The consequences of the 2010 election will reverberate for years to come, especially because it was a census year. That election essentially gave the House of Representatives a veto power over anything that Obama wanted to accomplish, and for the next six years his presidency was hobbled by obstructionism.

In 2014, we stayed home, and that cost us the Senate and thus, a seat on the Supreme Court. The only exception was in 2006, when Americans were finally so disgusted with the failures of the Bush Administration that Democrats took back the House and Senate.

Look at us now: we are squabbling over what happened a year ago, and not focusing on next year. We are at the halfway point between elections and we are lucky that things are not worse. I thought Trump would be a horrible president, but even I didn’t think that he would be this bad. We are lucky that they haven’t been able to pass any major legislation, but behind the scenes they are reshaping the court system with record numbers of appointments, because we stayed home in 2014.

As most of you know, Donna Brazile is trying to sell her book. And nothing sells books like a little controversy. Given her fall from grace in the Democratic Party, she doesn’t seem to care that the controversy that she is sowing will further divide us. Yes, I used to love Donna Brazile, but if she is willing to stir up controversy in order to sell books, then to hell with her. We should only look backward in order to learn how to better move forward.

I am a leftist. I am on the left of the Democratic Party. If there was a viable Democratic Socialist party in this country, I would surely vote for it. But I am also an avowed Pragmatist. There is a big difference between Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton, but there is a huge chasm between any Democrat and any Republican right now. Any Democrat is infinitely better than any Republican.

America has never had a working-class party. We have never had a viable Social Democratic Party. The closest thing we have are the Democrats. If we don’t vote for them, we are stuck with the Republicans. In the 1990s Bill Clinton moved the party to the right, in order to accomplish anything. Democrats elected Clinton in 1992, and then stayed home in 1994. The Republican wave that year brought Newt Gingrich the House and obstructionism over the next six years—sound familiar?

The Tea Party was formed by the Koch Brothers and big tobacco as a reaction to Barack Obama. They were the extreme wing of the Republican Party. They pushed the Party so far to the right that we got Trumped. They vote Republican—they don’t stay home and sulk that their party is not far enough in their direction, they got involved and pushed the party further in their direction. Take a lesson from the Tea Party—only on the left.

We oscillate between hope and despair. Don’t let despair keep you from voting. There is great wisdom in William James’s “The Will to Believe” –where he says that “believe in a fact can help bring about the fact”. If we don’t believe that we can make a difference, we are unlikely to try. William James was the godfather of Pragmatism.

As I said, I am very much on the left. So, let me provide you leftists with my favorite Marx quote: “each generation makes its own history, but not as it chooses.” Marx was above all a realist, and in this sense, he was a pragmatist. You have to work with what you have, not with what you want to have. Wanting things to change will not change them, working toward change with the most viable option is the only thing that is likely to work.

If we don’t act soon it may be too late.  The Republicans will be able to pass legislation over the next three years, if we don’t stop them. The only way to stop them is to take back Congress. From voting rights, to civil rights, from the environment to health care, they will destroy everything that liberals have worked for over the last few decades.

They don’t care about democracy, they care about power. And they will use any means to keep it, especially rolling back voting rights. If it is not too late for democracy in America, it may soon be too late.

The Democrats have one mission over the next year: come together and get out the vote. It may sound like hyperbole to say that this may be the most important election in your lifetime, but if you are paying attention to what is happening, you know that is true. Especially given the fact that we cannot go back and change the last election.

What Kind of a F#&*ing Person Does This?!

 

Donald Trump has threatened to pull out of the Puerto Rico recovery effort. He has also signed legislation to completely undermine The Affordable Care Act (AKA Obamacare). At the same time, he is threatening North Korea, and is going to decertify the Iran Nuclear Deal.

To say that Trump is unhinged would be an understatement.

On Tuesday night, General Barry McCaffrey told Brian Williams that he thinks we are headed unavoidably toward war with North Korea. Yesterday Nicholas Kristof, who just returned from North Korea thinks that they, too, are gearing up for an inevitable war with the United States. How can ‘cooler heads’ prevail when the biggest hot-head is in the Oval Office? For years, we have had a stand-off with North Korea. But we have had presidents, of both parties, who understood that we must remain calm. Trump could start a nuclear war with the same emotional storm in which he starts his Twitter-tantrums.

This is a man who is willing to hold 800,000 young people hostage (the DACA program) in order to build his “wall”—which even Republicans know is a cost-benefit disaster.

Everything about Trump can be understood as “undo everything that Obama accomplished”. Obama wanted better health care for millions—undo that. Obama wanted a nuclear treaty with Iran—undo that. Obama is a humanitarian—Trump is the opposite. Obama wanted peace…this is getting scary. From clean energy, environmental protection, affordable health care, treaties with other countries… Trump will do the opposite. We can use child psychology to understand Trump, but we cannot control him. He is unhinged and is leading us inevitably toward war, and even some in his own party now recognize this.

He has done nothing about the opioid crisis, except to appoint Invisible Jared to head up something (nobody knows). This has gone nowhere while America is in a drug crisis manufactured by our own pharmaceutical companies.

What, if anything, is it going to take for his supporters to admit that they have been conned?  His tax plan focuses on the Estate Tax, which benefits him and his billionaire friends. He has not even proposed an infrastructure plan, except as a surreptitious tax-cut for corporations which will supposedly ‘stimulate’ private spending.

He, and his minion Betsy DeVos, are trying to destroy public education. But for his Chief Strategize Steve Bannon, who now works for him outside the White House, even this isn’t far enough. Bannon wants to destroy even more, threatening to push the Republican Party even further to the right.

If America is lucky we will avoid a disaster for the next 18 months. But if the Democrats don’t get their shit together and turn out the vote, if we cannot take back the House and Senate in next year’s election, then we are going to pay the price for decades.

Democrats have one main job for the next year—get out the vote!

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.

 

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.

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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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