Tag Archives: democracy

Should Professors Stop Opining About Trump?

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.


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”.

Marriage Equality, Democracy, and the Supreme Court

“We cannot let judges overrule the decisions of a democratic majority!”

Supreme Court Marriage Equality

This is the all to common response, often given in the tone of righteous indignation, to various courts deeming bans on gay marriage unconstitutional. With the Supreme Court bringing about marriage equality in 11 additional states last week, we have heard a new slew of charges that the Court is ignoring the democratic mandate of the people.

According to Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, when the supreme court makes such a move, it is “robbing the people of their vote and their voice.

However, this argument is not valid, and it is time to debunk this all to common reasoning.

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Vote, or Don’t Vote

In five weeks Republicans are going to go to the polls and resister their disdain for President Obama. Democrats are going to stay home to express their own frustration. This is a losing proposition for our country. Democrats are disillusioned and who can blame us. Latinos are discouraged because Obama has not taken enough steps toward reforming immigration. So they may stay home from the polls. The Republicans will then kill any chance for immigration reform.

The talk of impeaching President Obama began within months of his presidency. The right wing of this country would love to be able to impeach him. The main reason why this hasn’t happened (despite the fact that he has done nothing to warrant impeachment) is because the hearings are held in the Senate. Democrats hold the Senate… for now.

There are at least six states right now that will decide which way the Senate goes. If the democrats cannot even mobilize the voters in these states, then we might as well go down in defeat: self-defeat.

We get enough setbacks from the regressive right. We do not need to add to these by refusing to vote. We only defeat our own agenda. We stayed home in 2010 and look what we got.

We know that we cannot regain control of The House because of Gerrymandering, if we think that we don’t have much more to lose– think again. It is the Senate which confirms judicial appointments. We are going to have setbacks on health care and the environment if we lose the Senate.

But if you like gridlock and obstruction, just sit back and watch– you’ll love what is coming next. We have not been able to accomplish much in the last four years, it will be much worse if the Republicans take control of the Senate.

Psychological disenfranchisement is the frustration which is felt when we feel that it is impossible for things to get any better. We give up. We don’t even bother to vote because we don’t think that it will make any difference. This is what the right wing wants us to feel, and they have been successful at it. The GOP has taken steps to keep Blacks, the poor, the youth and other minorities from being able to vote, but we are defeating ourselves even more because we are not even turning out at the polls. We are not even bothering to fight back.

If we don’t vote then we get what we deserve. Disillusionment, apathy, and cynicism are not a recipe for progress.

The reason why there has been so little progress in the last four years is because of the Republican turnout at the polls in 2010. That was the year the Tea Party rose up out of the South (they said they were going to rise again) and registered their hatred of Obama.

And even though Obama has not been able to accomplish much in the last four years, they are still blaming all of the world’s problems on him.

So stay home Democrats… and lose. Stomp your feet, pout, complain… but keep in mind that you only have yourselves to blame when things don’t get any better. I have written previously that I am almost to the point of despair… but I am at least going to vote.

My Confession: I Too Hate Politics

I, like most of you, hate politics. But despite this, I will not give in to apathy.
Plato - apathy
Every day is a struggle when one chooses to engage politically. We are in a time when absolutely nothing can get done; everything is a battle, yet somehow there is never a victor – there is only carnage and never progress. It seems as though I can count on one hand the number of politicians whom I trust.

On top of this, I have grown up to find myself in a world that is on a seemingly unstoppable trajectory towards environmental disaster. At the same time, there are unending wars to fight, and enemies closing in from every direction.

In light of all of this, it seems as though even my vote, that little bit of power that has been invested to me, means little, as big business spends ever increasing amounts of money on campaigns.

Yet, even in this morose state, I will not give up what power I do have. I recognize that, to acquiesce, to give in to my malaise, my apathy, is to do the very thing that the enemies of democracy want.

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Gangbangers, Drug Dealers, and The NRA

On Wednesday, any hope of sensible gun legislation died in the Senate. Not only did the minority filibuster a bill to strengthen background checks for gun purchases, they also did not allow a bill to go through which would help eliminate gun trafficking.

When 92% of Americans support universal background checks, yet a minority of Senators can keep the legislation from passing, we should ask ourselves, “What kind of democracy are we living in?” The public is overwhelmingly in favor of using background checks as a means to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, and yet a bill which would have helped ensure this was killed by the minority.

So why did the bill fail? Using lies and paranoia fear tactics, the NRA said that the bill would have created a “registry of gun owners” – when in fact the bill specifically made it a felony to create such a ‘registry’. Sounding just like NRA spokespersons, republican senators said that this bill targets legal gun owners — this also is not the case. The bill actually targets anyone trying to buy a gun, so as to keep criminals from getting them. To top if off, the GOP, having watered down the bill with their “friends and family” amendment, said that this bill wouldn’t do anything to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.

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Can We Talk About Guns?

Gun Control. Its one of the hottest “hot-button” issues right now. Walk up to the water cooler at work and ask for an opinion on gun control and you’re bound to watch a screaming match ensue and someone is going to lose their job!

Ok, maybe it won’t get that extreme, but maybe you see my point? When gun control advocates have tried to approach gun owners about gun control, we are being told there is nothing to discuss. We hear that gun control will not help. It’s a hard pill for us to swallow because we see other countries like Australia and Norway who have much different gun control laws than us and are very successful.

I don’t think it’s too much to ask for an open and honest discussion on gun control. The NRA has said that they are unwilling to waiver from their position and unwilling to compromise–a position that is in direct opposition to the democratic mindset/attitude/ideal. Why are we allowing them to speak for everyone who owns a gun? I believe all gun owners have their own voice and do not always agree with the statements coming from the NRA. It’s your voice we want to hear.

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