Donald Trump

Democracy in Authoritarian Times

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American poet Walt Whitman, September 1872, Brooklyn, New York. (Credit: G. Frank E. Pearsall)

We promote a mythic sensibility in this forum on the assumption that, for good or ill, myth is ubiquitous in human affairs. Our goal is not to debunk myth. We expose it where it harms polity and sustains war, but we also wish to cultivate myth to redeem democracy and promote peaceful pursuits.    

A culture of positive peace requires a democratic ethos. Democracy is not simply a matter of voting. It is an attitude, an outlook, a way of life that entails managing our serious differences robustly and constructively. It is not to be confused with the present outbreak of authoritarian populism and demonizing rhetoric.

As E. J. Dionne Jr. maintains, populism per se is not a villain nor is it necessarily hostile to democracy. The kind of populism that maintains faith with democracy does so by challenging “ruling elites to face up to injustices that undermine free institutions.” It does not define “the people” narrowly or treat political opponents as enemies. (more…)

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Crossing of the Rio Grande

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“Coronado sets out for the north” by Frederic Remington, oil painting, circa 1890-1900. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

(Donald Trump is hollering that “caravans of immigrants” are headed for the US border. He threatens to suspend both DACA and NAFTA in retaliation.

We know our president does not know very much, and does not care to know. But just so we remember who we are and where we came from, I offer the following from my Stories of the Conquest of the Kingdom of New Mexico. The passage is written with apologies to Ray Bradbury and his much admired The Martian Chronicles.) (more…)

The Distraction of War

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Colossal statue of Mars (Pyrrhus). Marble, Roman artwork. (Photo credit: Jean-Pol Grandmont)

Charles M. Blow, in a New York Times column, expresses a worry that must have crossed millions of minds many a time.  It certainly troubles me.

Mr. Blow begins his column, “Donald Trump:  Man of War,” by quoting a tweet from the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass, saying Donald Trump “is now set for war on 3 fronts: political vs Bob Mueller, economic vs China/others on trade, and actual vs. Iran and/or North Korea.  This is the most perilous moment in modern American history–and it has been largely brought about by ourselves, not by events.”

In agreeing with Haass’ assessment of our present peril, Blow makes explicit the dynamic at work.  Trump is getting desperate, which makes him dangerous.  He will harness the power of the presidency to save himself, which is why he is heading toward actual war.

Would Mr. Trump take the country to war to save his presidency?  This would not be the first time that starting a war has raised a president’s approval ratings.  (more…)

Two-Minute War

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Capt. Anthony Deiss, a public affairs officer with the 196th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, South Dakota Army National Guard, visits with Richard Engel, NBC news correspondent, 7 July 2010, at Camp Phoenix in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Credit: Sgt. Rebecca Linder, U.S. Army)

I have been watching network news regularly over the past year, since Mr. Trump assumed the presidency. I am not a big fan of network news. I default to newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Guardian for more complete coverage. But the evening television news, given its entertainment format, is a way of keeping up with popularized versions of daily events.

It is easy to be ensnared and stupefied by the evening news melodrama. While watching the NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt on March 15, I was suddenly alerted by my internal propaganda detector to a two-minute story about a previously secret skirmish in Syria between US special forces and Russian mercenaries. The incident had occurred a month earlier, on February 7, in an area of eastern Syria where ISIS forces recently had been driven off. Americans directly engaged Russians in combat for the first time in 50 years. The US officer in charge, Brigadier General Jonathan Braga, was concerned that the battle could lead to real war with Russia. (more…)

Slaughter of the Innocents

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“Massacre of the Innocents” by Valerio Castello, oil on canvas, 1650-59. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

In Rama was there a voice heard,

lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning,

Rachel weeping for her children,

and would not be comforted,

because they are not.

Matthew, 2:18

After the fall of the US Empire, we will not be remembered for our shining Constitution, or our dream of freedom, or because we landed the first man on the moon. We shall be remembered—as Allen Ginsberg once prophesied—as votaries of Moloch,

(What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?[1])

who were willing to throw our children into the fire in the belly of the beast for the sake of our profits, our fascination with guns, and our sad imbecilities. (more…)

Narcissus

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“Echo and Narcissus” by John William Waterhouse, oil on canvas, 1903. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

In these political days, much is said about Narcissists and Narcissus. It would be good to remember the myth in order to avoid our typical game of finding a foreign noun or story, applying it to describe a specifically North American (usually deplorable) phenomenon, and then projecting the flaws we have confined in that concept on alien others.

The story is found in Book III of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The water-nymph Liriope, mother of Narcissus, once asked the ancient seer Tiresias how long her child would live. “To old age,” he replied, “if he does not come to know himself.” At sixteen years old Narcissus’ beauty enchanted both boys and girls, but

that slender figure

of proud Narcissus had little feeling

For either boys or girls.[1]

(more…)

Enough? Playing with Nuclear Fire

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North Korea’s ballistic missile – North Korea Victory Day – 26 July 2013. (Credit: Stefan Krasowski)

The Editorial Board of the New York Times hit the nail on the head of the North Korean missile crisis in its editorial of February 1, 2018, “Playing with Fire and Fury on North Korea.” After reviewing recent developments that suggest Trump is inclined to risk what is likely to be a devastating war with North Korea, the Board ends its editorial with perspectival flourish:

The United States has been at war continuously since the attacks of Sept. 11 and now has just over 240,000 active-duty and reserve troops in at least 172 countries and territories. Enough.

Indeed, one wonders if there can ever be enough in an ongoing sixteen-year-old forever war spanning the globe. (more…)

Of Haiti and Shitholes

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“Attack and Taking of the Crête-à-Pierrot,” 1839. Original illustration by Auguste Raffet, engraving by Hébert. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

At Hunt the Devil, we believe that America is not just a country, but rather a continent. We have had occasion in the past to write about Haiti after comments by Pat Robertson in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake (a death toll of 100,000 souls) to the effect that Haiti’s misfortunes throughout history were the result of having sworn a pact with the Devil (see our blog post “Compact with the Devil”).

We have written about Haiti again in a recently published book chapter that looks at Barack Obama’s presidency within the context of the general history of the Americas (see Robert L. Ivie and Oscar Giner, “Barack Obama at the Threshold of a New America,” in Robert E. Terrill, ed. Reconsidering Obama: Reflections on Rhetoric, New York: Peter Lang, 2017).

What follows is a brief excerpt from that publication: (more…)

Reframing the Nuclear Crisis

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The nuclear football. (Credit: Jamie Chung / Smithsonian Institute Magazine)

Retired Admiral James Stavridis, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe and now Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, said on the second day of this new year that the US is closer to a “full-on war” with North Korea than at any time before in his four-decade career.  The chance of war, he thinks, is about 20%, which means there is still a 70-80% chance that diplomacy can work out the nuclear crisis.  

Is this good news or bad?  Maybe both.   (more…)

A Capable Demos

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The decline of western democracy shown in the domino theory. (Credit: Paraney / Wikimedia Commons)

“In imaginary Demopolis the citizens are capable of governing . . . . But the stunted civic education offered by real modern states may be unequal to the task of producing a capable demos. In the absence of adequate civic education, citizens lack the motivation and the skills necessary to govern themselves . . . . [That lack] fosters unstable perversions of democracy, as opportunistic politicians channel antityrannical sentiment into paranoia and warped nostalgia for a mythic age of national unity and civic virtue.”

Josiah Ober, Demopolis (2017, p. 161)

The illiberal populism of right-wing demagoguery by the likes of Donald Trump is just such a perversion of democracy. It is, as Ober observes (pp. 178-179), an outburst of political polarization that feeds on racial strife and exclusionary nationalism and projects a fierce hostility toward liberalism and liberal values such as tolerance. It is marked by a rhetoric of demonization. Populist despots, Ober insists, “can take power only when citizen self-government is reduced to a simple form of majoritarian tyranny” (p. 180), which can happen in the absence of adequate civic education.

Ober’s formulation of basic democracy is a thought experiment that helps us to envision the minimum conditions for a healthy polity of limited self-governance that provides sufficient security and prosperity without succumbing to tyranny. In addition to adequate security and sufficient welfare, basic democracy promotes political liberty, political equality, and civic dignity, which in turn reinforce and depend on the exercise of interrelated human capacities for sociability, rationality, and communication. (more…)