Trump the Strawman

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President Donald J. Trump is greeted by Kim Jong Un, Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, at the Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel in Hanoi, for their second summit meeting. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Donald Trump’s fizzled summit meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is yet another occasion for commentary on this president’s unfitness for office, particularly in matters of foreign affairs.  The failure in Hanoi was Trump’s greatest blunder so far, according to Simon Tisdall, a foreign affairs commentator for the Guardian.  It was another “Trump vanity project.”  His “self-reverential style of personalized, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants diplomacy” is irresponsible in nuclear talks, per se, and ineffectual more generally.

Tisdall’s summary of Trump’s failed leadership is stunning: (more…)

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Birnam Wood Comes to Dunsinane

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“Study for the Three Witches in Macbeth” by Henry Fuseli, oil on canvas. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The First Apparition (“an armed Head”) warned him to beware Macduff, Thane of Fife; the Second (“a bloody Child”) prophesied that none of woman born could harm him. The Third Apparition (“a Child crowned, with a tree in his hand”) counseled him to assume the mettle of a lion:

                                                 Take no care

Who chafes, who frets, or where conspirers are.

Macbeth shall never vanquished be until

Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill

Shall come against him (4.1.90-94).

From then on, his purpose became firm and clear. He set to “crown my thoughts with acts” by seizing Macduff’s castle and the dominion of Fife. To ensure the end of Macduff’s issue, he resolved to kill “his wife, his babes and all unfortunate souls / That trace him in his line” (4.1.148-153).[1]

“I think nothing equals Macbeth,wrote Abraham Lincoln. “It is wonderful.”

Lincoln’s praise has stood the test of time. Hamlet may be a better play and King Lear a greater tragedy, but a special power inhabits Macbeth, which has led superstitious theater people to talk about the great play in hushed tones and to refer to its title by euphemisms such as “the Scottish play.”

Is there any other play the name of which we fear to speak? (more…)

Trembling for my Country

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Jefferson Memorial at dusk, 4 October 2011. (Credit: Joe Ravi)

“It’s come to that. I tremble for my country.” These chilling, Jeffersonian words could be the refrain of an unwritten elegy on the fate of the republic.[i] They are the lament of a judicious person I know in Washington, D.C., a person who has served in previous administrations of both political parties and now works as a policy adviser. They are words to express the inchoate angst lurking inside us. Could anyone—even someone stunned by the last presidential election—have foreseen our present predicament of government unhinged and politics gone vile? Yes, it’s come to that, and I, too, tremble for my country. (more…)

The Look of Empire

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U.S. Marine Corps Marines, from Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, International Security Assistance Force, operate at Garmsir, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, April 29, 2008, during Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Alex C. Guerra) (Released)

The myth of American innocence and virtue forecloses any question about US imperialism or, at least, makes it hard to imagine that we are perpetrating harm on others for our own purposes and to our own advantage. We may be flawed, but the responsibility has fallen to us to fend off the barbarians and advance the cause of civilization. So the myth insists.

At a relatively abstract level, empire may not seem an obviously appropriate label for US engagement in world affairs. The idea of dominating extensive territories and peoples is unpalatable to most Americans and inconsistent with the nation’s self-image, as I’ve discussed in a previous post. So the myth persists.

Seen in more concrete terms, US imperialism is harder to ignore, to explain away, but also harder to confront. One response when confronted with the record of US imperialism and militarism is reflection-acknowledgement-correction. Another option is denial-repression-projection. So the myth resists. (more…)

No Pity for the Kitty (Part 3 of 3)

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“Lot and his family leaving Sodom” by Peter Paul Rubens, oil on panel, 1625. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

On Saturday 24 November this year, the Arizona State Sun Devils beat the University of Arizona Wildcats in the Territorial Cup football game by a score of 41-40. ASU rallied after trailing 40-24 in the 4th quarter to win the game. No Pity for the Kitty indeed!

We learn from the American myth of “Bargains with the Devil” that ill-gained riches have calamitous consequences. When Fortune turns on those who play this demonic game, let the evil they have brought upon themselves play itself out. Sodom and Gomorrah incurred the righteous wrath of God; yet angels warned us not to interfere with their destruction and commanded not to look behind us on peril of disaster. At night, the Exterminating Angel smote the firstborn of the Egyptians; still we marked our doors with blood and did not go out of our houses until the morning of that terrible night. (more…)

Pessimism and Hope for Democracy

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Progressive Democratic Candidate Liz Watson. (Credit: Liz for Indiana on Facebook)

Just before the midterm elections and immediately thereafter, I found myself feeling pessimistic and saying so to anyone within earshot. That was an unwelcome downer for friends and fellow progressives wishing to celebrate an election that gave the Democratic Party control of the U.S. House of Representatives. The “blue wave” may not have been as big as many expected (or at least hoped for), but one-party rule in the nation’s capital had been defeated at the polls.

The Democrats also made gains in governorships and other state offices. Even in deep-red Arizona, Democrats won a U.S. Senate seat and took a 5-4 advantage in the state’s nine Congressional districts.

The Arizona victory underscored my pessimism. Why could that red state, where my Hunt the Devil friend Oscar lives, show blue when Indiana, the state in which I reside, deepened its already dark shade of red? Maybe we progressive Hoosiers will never overcome Republican gerrymandering. Maybe Republicans do not even need to gerrymander to dominate in Indiana. It just seems hopeless. (more…)

Soul of the Republic

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Exhibition at the Grand Palace. “Me, Augustus, Emperor of Rome” (19 March 2014-13 July 2014) Around 44 BC. Julius Caesar, white marble. (Credit: Gautier Poupeau)

Consider for a moment that the way we communicate is an expression of who we are or are becoming. Do we communicate as a democratic people, as citizens of a republic, and/or as subjects of an empire—perhaps increasingly less as democratic citizens and more as imperial subjects, marking the impending loss of the soul of the republic?

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s The Imperial Presidency chronicled the systematic growth of presidential power since the founding of the republic, a trend that has increased since the book’s publication in 1973. Jeffrey Tulis and his colleagues followed suit in 1981 and 1987 with a discussion of the rise of the rhetorical presidency and its deleterious effects on republican government.[1] Demagoguery and government by mood, in Tulis’s view, mark rhetoric as a degraded form of political communication that undermines the interests of the public and destabilizes the political system. Of course, not all rhetoric is demagogic, but rule by presidential mass persuasion that bypasses the deliberative function of the Congress, by this estimation, erodes the constitution of the republic. While I have criticized the elitism of the rhetorical presidency thesis in general terms,[2] the present degraded state of presidential rhetoric clearly is deleterious to the prospects of representative democracy and the future of the republic.

(more…)

No Pity for the Kitty (Part 2 of 3)

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“Honored to escort Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Capitol for meetings with members of the Senate. We hope and trust that the Senate will give a strong vote confirming Judge Kavanaugh as the newest justice to the Supreme Court.” — U.S. Vice President Mike Pence via Twitter, 10 July 2018. (Credit: Office of the Vice President)

Don’t. Ever. Pity. The Very Rich.

Save your pity, if you have any to spare, for the poor and helpless.

Upon listening to the accusations of Professor Blasey Ford against Judge Brett Kavanaugh, clown Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee exploded in howls of outrage and crocodile tears. How could anyone question Kavanaugh’s character and soil his good name? How unfair that his family suffered! The clown Democratic members of the Committee were bamboozled with the promise of an FBI investigation of Kavanaugh—a sham process that served only to provide political cover for senators (namely Flake and Collins) who masqueraded as undecided until the day of the final vote. The decision was never in question: Kavanaugh’s passage to the Supreme Court was only delayed, never imperiled by Blasey Ford’s allegations. (more…)

The Tautology of War

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Yuliy Graf in Krokodil, 1953 no. 4, p. 8.

War culture is an insidious presence in the ordinary life of the imperial citizenry. The subtle entrapment in its daily rituals is a treacherous seduction of political will that sacrifices democracy on the altar of militarism.  The profane is endemic to politics as usual, the self-indulgence of a public alienated from its founding ideals.  Mundanity is a spiritual death knell just below the threshold of critical awareness.

The war mentality is a self-sustaining redundancy that renders critical reflection tiresome and seemingly futile.  The apparent inevitability of war induces acceptance and rationalization.  The public refuses to see its imperial reflection in the mirror.  The face of war is too ugly to unmask.  Better to suppress it.  Repression and projection are the psychological alternatives to critical reflection.  (more…)