Bob Schwartz

Tag: democracy

“Shaman walking across Russia to ‘exorcise Putin’ arrested on ‘terrorism’ charges”

“He, Putin, is not human. He’s a beast, a demon.”

For those living under undemocratic regimes—in Russia, the United States, or elsewhere—this may be the most important and interesting story this week that has been missed.

The Independent:

Shaman walking across Russia to ‘exorcise Putin’ arrested on ‘terrorism’ charges

Alexander Gabyshev was attempting to walk 5,000 miles from Siberia to banish ‘demon’ president.

Six months ago, Siberian shaman Alexander Gabyshev experienced a mystical revelation.

He had been chosen to exorcise dark spirits from Russia – as he told anyone willing to listen – dark spirits that were being directed by a demon called Vladimir Putin.

To this end, the shaman set off on foot from far eastern Siberia. He aimed to meet his presidential nemesis in Moscow sometime in 2021. But in the early hours of Thursday, over 1,800 miles into his journey, Mr Gabyshev was stopped, arrested, and reportedly charged with extremism offences.

Authorities were taking no chances, with an elaborate dawn raid to detain the ageing shaman.

According to witnesses, police first cut off the highway on the border between Buryatiya and Irkutsk, the impoverished regions lying on the sides of Lake Baikal. They cut off mobile networks. Then officers surrounded the shaman’s campsite, before pinning him to the ground, leading him to a waiting van, and whisking him away.

For a long time, the idea of a 50-year-old shaman tugging a small trailer towards Moscow was the butt of jokes. Only a fragmented biography about the man was available. It seemed to speak of personal tragedy: a history graduate, Mr Gabyshev turned to mystical religion after the death of his wife in the 2000s.

There seemed little prospect of the one-man protest managing to complete the 5,000-mile journey to the capital.

Yet every day that Mr Gabyshev inched along the federal highway towards his goal, 10 miles at a time, his following grew. A handful even joined him on his crusade.

For some, his unusual protest spoke to a wider general disaffection with Moscow. Locals staged demonstrations in support. And that was when things started to get embarrassing for the Kremlin.

In an interview with the local outlet Znak published before his arrest, Mr Gabyshev said he aimed to create an “army” by the time he reached Moscow.

“God told me to go and banish the demon,” he said. “He, Putin, is not human. He’s a beast, a demon.”

Mr Gabyshev encountered plenty of resistance along the way. Earlier this month, a group of shamans more loyal to the Kremlin tried to impede his entry into Buryatiya. Nearer the regional capital, police also began to take a close interest, arresting two of Mr Gabyshev’s followers.

Ironically, the propaganda video below publicizing this mission is from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which is funded in whole or in part by the American government. There seems to be no recognition that if Putin is viewed as a demon requiring exorcism, there may well be others who view Trump as a demon requiring exorcism. So far, no shamans. A walk from Washington to Palm Beach perhaps?

Rhetoric and reality: Ideal America has always depended on us

It may come as news to the less historically minded, but democracy, the kind we embrace in America, is a relatively new and novel way of government. We are still in the process of learning how it works, how it lives and how it dies.

Rhetoric has always been the way of government, long before modern democracy. Leaders say stuff, citizens repeat that stuff or say different stuff, citizens believe some stuff and don’t believe other stuff, and leaders respond to what citizens say and do.

In its relatively brief democratic life, America has typically embraced rhetoric. Much of it, in simplest terms, concerns just how exceptional and durable—eternal—American democracy really is.

As usual with compelling rhetoric in any sector—government, business, religion, whatever—rhetoric can make us lazy and careless. We come to believe that rhetoric is reality, almost a form of magical thinking. What we say and believe becomes the way things are.

And so, looking at just one aspect, Americans don’t vote in nearly great enough numbers, and those who do vote don’t always study and think hard about the issues and personalities, both of which are complicated. Things will just naturally be alright, we think, because this is a democracy and this is America. Both will last uninterruptedly forever.

But in reality, talk is not just cheap, it can be useless and tragic. All of this, all this glorious American democracy, has always and solely depended on us.

Max Boot: Are we becoming too stupid to govern ourselves?

 

“Democracy remains the best form of government if only because all the alternatives are worse. But the resurgence of irrationality at a time when people should really know better is testing the faith that I have always had in government of, by and for the people. Could we reach some critical mass of collective madness where democracy no longer functions? Maybe we already have.”
Max Boot

In an era of unlimited writing heads and talking heads, Max Boot stands out as a public intellectual. Born in Moscow, educated at Berkeley and Yale, celebrated writer and analyst, former opinion editor of the Wall Street Journal, world-class expert on global affairs and national security. And once a conservative Republican, until he left the party, and wrote The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right (2018), a book described as a “devastating dissection of conservatism’s degeneracy in America”.

Max Boot is a now a columnist for the Washington Post, and today published a column specifically about the anti-vaccination movement, but more generally about growing irrationality among a segment of the American electorate. He asks a question that may be on the mind of many observers, but for media seems insulting or extreme to ask: Are we becoming too stupid to govern ourselves?:

The case for democracy is that voters in the aggregate will make better decisions than a lone monarch or dictator would. But does majority rule still work when so many people believe so many things that simply aren’t so?

Many people, of course, have always been irrational. In the 16th and 17th centuries, as many as 60,000 people were executed in Europe as suspected witches. But it would be nice to think that centuries of advances in science and education have made people less prey to phantasms and falsehoods. I suppose it’s progress that the “witch hunts” today are strictly metaphorical.

But the Internet hasn’t delivered on exaggerated expectations that it would spur universal enlightenment. “We will create a civilization of the Mind in Cyberspace,” the Internet evangelist John Perry Barlow vowed in a 1996 declaration. You don’t hear that kind of techno-utopianism anymore, and for good reason.

It’s true that the Internet has put a lot of information online. Anyone anywhere — as long as you live in a country that does not censor the Internet — can now read this newspaper. But like diners passing up a healthy salad for an artery-clogging cheeseburger, many information consumers are instead digesting junk news. One study of the 2016 election found that the 20 top false articles combined on Facebook were shared, reacted to or commented on more widely than the 20 top mainstream news articles combined….

Can it get any crazier? Actually, yes. Researchers at Texas Tech University found an increasing number of people have been convinced that the Earth is flat by YouTube videos with titles such as “200 proofs Earth is not a spinning ball.” So a belief that should have disappeared 500 years ago has been given fresh life on the Internet. This isn’t the Information Age. It’s the Misinformation Age. There is a seemingly endless supply of suckers online — and just as many grifters and cranks eager to dupe them.

Granted, Flat Earthers remain a tiny minority. They aren’t taking over the country. But do you know who has taken over? The 38 percent of respondents who in a Washington Post-ABC News survey said President Trump is “honest and trustworthy.” Yes, this is the same president whose 10,000th falsehood was recently recorded by the Post Fact Checker. Whether you support Trump or not, his dishonesty should not be a matter of dispute. But roughly 40 percent of voters seem to have suspended their critical faculties to get on the Trump train.

Irrationality may be more prevalent in the party of climate denial, but it isn’t limited to Republicans. One of the leading anti-vaxxers is Democratic scion Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and liberal actress Gwyneth Paltrow has made a fortune peddling “jade eggs for vaginas, $30 sex ‘dust,’ and body stickers that ‘promote healing’ ” despite scientific exposés showing that these New Age tchotchkes don’t work. Quack remedies retain their allure even in an age of gene therapy.

Democracy remains the best form of government if only because all the alternatives are worse. But the resurgence of irrationality at a time when people should really know better is testing the faith that I have always had in government of, by and for the people. Could we reach some critical mass of collective madness where democracy no longer functions? Maybe we already have.

Democracy dies in darkness, as the Washington Post reminds us. It can also be mortally wounded by un-Americans like Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Republicans

New York Times – September 17, 1933 – Reichstag Fire Trial

New York Times:

Wisconsin’s Scott Walker Signs Bills Stripping Powers From Incoming Governor

FOX CROSSING, Wis. — Scott Walker, the outgoing Republican governor of Wisconsin, on Friday signed into law measures that diminish the power of his Democratic successor and expand the authority of Republican lawmakers who teamed up with him over the last eight years to move the state firmly to the right.

Mr. Walker approved the measures over the vehement objections of the incoming governor and despite fierce protest in the State Capitol as Republican lawmakers rushed the bills through in a hastily-called session last week. Tony Evers, the Democrat who beat Mr. Walker in the November election, has suggested that he may file suit over the changes and said that Mr. Walker had chosen “to ignore and override the will of the people of Wisconsin.”

Mr. Walker’s move will solidify some of the policies that made him a hero to many conservatives nationally and, for a brief time, a leading presidential candidate. But participating in what many Democrats consider a legally dubious power grab also cemented another widely held view: that Mr. Walker is a bruising partisan willing to break precedent and ignore protests for political gain.

If you don’t understand what is wrong with this and how wrong it is, go back to your basic lessons in the U.S. Constitution, American civics and American history. World history too. This is just the sort of tactic used by current dictators—Putin and Xi among them—and past dictators such as Hitler to gain or maintain power.

Power, which in America and every other actual, rather than nominal, democracy rests in the people. Yes, the people.

Time for Billionaires and Companies to Spend Money to Protect Democracy and Make Elections Secure

Washington Post :

House GOP refuses to renew election security funding

House Republicans on Thursday approved a spending bill that excludes new money for election security grants to states, provoking a furious reaction from Democrats amid a national controversy over Russian election interference.

The spending bill passed 217-199. Democrats’ bid to add hundreds of millions more in election spending was rejected 182-232 — as Republicans were unmoved by Democrats floor speeches decrying the funding changes and chanting “USA! USA!”

At issue is a grants program overseen by the federal Election Assistance Commission and aimed at helping states administer their elections and improve voting systems; Democrats want to continue grant funding through 2019, while Republicans say the program already has been fully funded.

A number of Republicans, especially in Congress, no longer seem to believe in democracy, because they do not want to risk losing on a level playing field. That is precisely the reason that Trump accepted (or solicited) Putin’s help in winning his election, and why Republicans now worry about helping states make elections fair and secure.

That’s why American billionaires and companies should step in and fund state election security, since the Trump-run government apparently won’t. This isn’t a controversial or partisan matter; it is an American matter. These billionaires and companies can and should offer assistance in many ways—all of which require millions of dollars, all of which these people and companies have.

How could any American billionaire or company find the funding of secure and fair elections objectionable? Even if it sometimes seems that some do.

On Tyranny. Again.

I don’t know the words or the enticements to move people to read the book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. I wrote about it when it was released two months ago. I would write it about it every day. Because American democracy, and the values that support and enable American democracy, are under daily siege—from the highest levels of the republic itself. Using the vast history of tyrannical regimes—tyranny that exists elsewhere right now—we should learn how to respond and act constructively. Rather than running around as if our national hair was on fire or, worse, just giving up and giving in.

1. The book is cheap. Really cheap. $3.99 for the ebook. $6.39 for the paperback.

2. The book is short. Really short. 128 pages.

3. The book is great and essential. Some sample reviews:

“We are rapidly ripening for fascism. This American writer leaves us with no illusions about ourselves.” —Svetlana Alexievich, Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature

“Timothy Snyder reasons with unparalleled clarity, throwing the past and future into sharp relief. He has written the rare kind of book that can be read in one sitting but will keep you coming back to help regain your bearings. Put a copy in your pocket and one on your bedside table, and it will help you keep going for the next four years or however long it takes.” —Masha Gessen

“Please read this book. So smart, so timely.” —George Saunders

“Easily the most compelling volume among the early resistance literature. . . . A slim book that fits alongside your pocket Constitution and feels only slightly less vital. . . . Clarifying and unnerving. . . . A memorable work that is grounded in history yet imbued with the fierce urgency of what now.” —Carlos Lozada, The Washington Post

“Snyder knows this subject cold. . . . It is impossible to read aphorisms like ‘post-truth is pre-fascism’ and not feel a small chill about the current state of the Republic. . . . Approach this short book the same you would a medical pamphlet warning about an infectious disease. Read it carefully and be on the lookout for symptoms.” —Daniel W. Drezner, The New York Times Book Review

“As Timothy Snyder explains in his fine and frightening On Tyranny, a minority party now has near-total power and is therefore understandably frightened of awakening the actual will of the people.” —Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker

“Snyder is superbly positioned to bring historical thinking to bear on the current political scene. . . . These unpretentious words remind us that political resistance isn’t a matter of action-movie heroics, but starts from a willingness to break from social expectations.” —Jeet Heer, The New Republic

“The perfect clear-eyed antidote to Trump’s deliberate philistinism. . . . These 128 pages are a brief primer in every important thing we might have learned from the history of the last century, and all that we appear to have forgotten.” —Tim Adams, The Guardian

“On Tyranny demands to be read.” —The Forward

“The manifesto we need. . . . Snyder detects dangerous trends in American politics that may be less visible to most citizens who cannot believe that our country, with its system of checks and balances, could succumb to illiberalism or authoritarianism.” —Darryl Holter, Los Angeles Review of Books

“Bracing. . . . On Tyranny is a call to action. . . . A brisk read packed with lucid prose.” —Vox

4. The book is popular:

#2 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Nonfiction > Politics & Social Sciences > Politics & Government > Specific Topics > Civics
#3 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Nonfiction > Politics & Social Sciences > Politics & Government > Ideologies & Doctrines > Democracy
#7 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > History > Modern (16th-21st Centuries) > 20th Century
#5 in Books > Politics & Social Sciences > Politics & Government > Specific Topics > Civics & Citizenship
#6 in Books > Politics & Social Sciences > Politics & Government > Ideologies & Doctrines > Democracy

The chapters in On Tyranny:

  1. Do not obey in advance.
  2. Defend institutions.
  3. Beware the one-party state.
  4. Take responsibility for the face of the world.
  5. Remember professional ethics.
  6. Be wary of paramilitaries.
  7. Be reflective if you must be armed.
  8. Stand out.
  9. Be kind to our language.
  10. Believe in truth.
  11. Investigate.
  12. Make eye contact and small talk.
  13. Practice corporeal politics.
  14. Establish a private life.
  15. Contribute to good causes.
  16. Learn from peers in other countries.
  17. Listen for dangerous words.
  18. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives.
  19. Be a patriot.
  20. Be as courageous as you can.

Finally, “it can’t happen here” are infamous last words. And as the epigraph to the book says:

In politics, being deceived is no excuse.
—Leszek Kołakowski

How Democracies Die

“The electoral road to breakdown is dangerously deceptive. With a classic coup d’état, as in Pinochet’s Chile, the death of a democracy is immediate and evident to all. The presidential palace burns. The president is killed, imprisoned, or shipped off into exile. The constitution is suspended or scrapped. On the electoral road, none of these things happen. There are no tanks in the streets. Constitutions and other nominally democratic institutions remain in place. People still vote. Elected autocrats maintain a veneer of democracy while eviscerating its substance.”
How Democracies Die


From the newly published book How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, Professors of Government at Harvard University:

But there is another way to break a democracy. It is less dramatic but equally destructive. Democracies may die at the hands not of generals but of elected leaders—presidents or prime ministers who subvert the very process that brought them to power. Some of these leaders dismantle democracy quickly, as Hitler did in the wake of the 1933 Reichstag fire in Germany. More often, though, democracies erode slowly, in barely visible steps….

This is how democracies now die. Blatant dictatorship—in the form of fascism, communism, or military rule—has disappeared across much of the world. Military coups and other violent seizures of power are rare. Most countries hold regular elections. Democracies still die, but by different means. Since the end of the Cold War, most democratic breakdowns have been caused not by generals and soldiers but by elected governments themselves….

The electoral road to breakdown is dangerously deceptive. With a classic coup d’état, as in Pinochet’s Chile, the death of a democracy is immediate and evident to all. The presidential palace burns. The president is killed, imprisoned, or shipped off into exile. The constitution is suspended or scrapped. On the electoral road, none of these things happen. There are no tanks in the streets. Constitutions and other nominally democratic institutions remain in place. People still vote. Elected autocrats maintain a veneer of democracy while eviscerating its substance.

Many government efforts to subvert democracy are “legal,” in the sense that they are approved by the legislature or accepted by the courts. They may even be portrayed as efforts to improve democracy—making the judiciary more efficient, combating corruption, or cleaning up the electoral process. Newspapers still publish but are bought off or bullied into self-censorship. Citizens continue to criticize the government but often find themselves facing tax or other legal troubles. This sows public confusion. People do not immediately realize what is happening….

We know that extremist demagogues emerge from time to time in all societies, even in healthy democracies. The United States has had its share of them, including Henry Ford, Huey Long, Joseph McCarthy, and George Wallace. An essential test for democracies is not whether such figures emerge but whether political leaders, and especially political parties, work to prevent them from gaining power in the first place—by keeping them off mainstream party tickets, refusing to endorse or align with them, and when necessary, making common cause with rivals in support of democratic candidates. Isolating popular extremists requires political courage. But when fear, opportunism, or miscalculation leads established parties to bring extremists into the mainstream, democracy is imperiled.

Once a would-be authoritarian makes it to power, democracies face a second critical test: Will the autocratic leader subvert democratic institutions or be constrained by them? Institutions alone are not enough to rein in elected autocrats. Constitutions must be defended—by political parties and organized citizens, but also by democratic norms. Without robust norms, constitutional checks and balances do not serve as the bulwarks of democracy we imagine them to be. Institutions become political weapons, wielded forcefully by those who control them against those who do not. This is how elected autocrats subvert democracy—packing and “weaponizing” the courts and other neutral agencies, buying off the media and the private sector (or bullying them into silence), and rewriting the rules of politics to tilt the playing field against opponents. The tragic paradox of the electoral route to authoritarianism is that democracy’s assassins use the very institutions of democracy—gradually, subtly, and even legally—to kill it….

How serious is the threat now? Many observers take comfort in our Constitution, which was designed precisely to thwart and contain demagogues like Donald Trump. Our Madisonian system of checks and balances has endured for more than two centuries. It survived the Civil War, the Great Depression, the Cold War, and Watergate. Surely, then, it will be able to survive Trump.

We are less certain. Historically, our system of checks and balances has worked pretty well—but not, or not entirely, because of the constitutional system designed by the founders. Democracies work best—and survive longer—where constitutions are reinforced by unwritten democratic norms. Two basic norms have preserved America’s checks and balances in ways we have come to take for granted: mutual toleration, or the understanding that competing parties accept one another as legitimate rivals, and forbearance, or the idea that politicians should exercise restraint in deploying their institutional prerogatives. These two norms undergirded American democracy for most of the twentieth century. Leaders of the two major parties accepted one another as legitimate and resisted the temptation to use their temporary control of institutions to maximum partisan advantage. Norms of toleration and restraint served as the soft guardrails of American democracy, helping it avoid the kind of partisan fight to the death that has destroyed democracies elsewhere in the world, including Europe in the 1930s and South America in the 1960s and 1970s.

Today, however, the guardrails of American democracy are weakening. The erosion of our democratic norms began in the 1980s and 1990s and accelerated in the 2000s. By the time Barack Obama became president, many Republicans, in particular, questioned the legitimacy of their Democratic rivals and had abandoned forbearance for a strategy of winning by any means necessary. Donald Trump may have accelerated this process, but he didn’t cause it. The challenges facing American democracy run deeper. The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture. America’s efforts to achieve racial equality as our society grows increasingly diverse have fueled an insidious reaction and intensifying polarization. And if one thing is clear from studying breakdowns throughout history, it’s that extreme polarization can kill democracies.

There are, therefore, reasons for alarm. Not only did Americans elect a demagogue in 2016, but we did so at a time when the norms that once protected our democracy were already coming unmoored. But if other countries’ experiences teach us that that polarization can kill democracies, they also teach us that breakdown is neither inevitable nor irreversible. Drawing lessons from other democracies in crisis, this book suggests strategies that citizens should, and should not, follow to defend our democracy.

Many Americans are justifiably frightened by what is happening to our country. But protecting our democracy requires more than just fright or outrage. We must be humble and bold. We must learn from other countries to see the warning signs—and recognize the false alarms. We must be aware of the fateful missteps that have wrecked other democracies. And we must see how citizens have risen to meet the great democratic crises of the past, overcoming their own deep-seated divisions to avert breakdown. History doesn’t repeat itself. But it rhymes. The promise of history, and the hope of this book, is that we can find the rhymes before it is too late.

Age of Folly: America Abandons Its Democracy

A frivolous society can acquire dramatic significance only through what its frivolity destroys.
—Edith Wharton

I am tempted to include the entire Preface to Lewis Lapham’s Age of Folly in this post. Instead, I include excerpts and then encourage you to buy the ebook for just $2.99. As with all lucid insights into the current situation, it will not make you happier, but it will provide enlightening perspective.

The book is a collection of Latham’s essays, “essays arranged in order of their composition and stepping off on a march of folly with America’s 1991 invasion of Iraq—a reality TV show armed with self-glorifying high explosives and a nonsensical casus belli—and ending with Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, a self-glorifying photo-op bursting star-spangled bombast in air.”


Preface

A frivolous society can acquire dramatic significance only through what its frivolity destroys.
—Edith Wharton

It’s been six months since Donald Trump moved into the White House with his Twitter account, but I’m still talking to people unable or unwilling to believe he is president of the United States. Eager to bring late-breaking reports of Trump’s uncivil and unconstitutional behavior, they come bearing gifts of high-minded outrage and condescending mockery soon followed by variations on the question, How can such things be?

The short answer is Edith Wharton’s. A longer answer is the one spread across the pages of this book, essays arranged in order of their composition and stepping off on a march of folly with America’s 1991 invasion of Iraq—a reality TV show armed with self-glorifying high explosives and a nonsensical casus belli—and ending with Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, a self-glorifying photo-op bursting star-spangled bombast in air. Over the course of the twenty-five years from point A to point B, a weakened but still operational democracy gives way to a stupefied and dysfunctional plutocracy.

To regard Trump as an amazement beyond belief is to give him credit where none is due. He is undoubtedly a menace, but he isn’t a surprise. Product and mirror of an age distinguished by its extravagant displays of vanity and greed, Trump’s positioning of government as trivial pursuit is the way things are and have been in Washington and Wall Street for the last quarter of a century….

The camera doesn’t do democracy. Democracy is the holding of one’s fellow citizens in respectful regard not because they are beautiful or rich or famous, but because they are one’s fellow citizens and therefore worth the knowing what they say and do. The work is difficult and slow; too many words with too little action doesn’t move the merchandise. The cameras on the road with the biggest name on earth weren’t covering a play of ideas; they were attracted to the splendor and flash of money, to the romance of crime and the sweet decaying smell of overripe celebrity.

Because the camera sees but doesn’t think, it makes no meaningful distinction between a bubble bath in Las Vegas staffed by pretty girls and a bloodbath in Palmyra staffed by headless corpses. The return on both investments is the bankable flow of wish and dream drawn from the bottomless wells of human ignorance and fear, from the always rushing river of mankind’s limitless desire. It didn’t matter what Trump said or didn’t say, whether he was cute and pink or headless.

Trump pitched his campaign on the storyline the movie-going American electorate loves beyond all others—the one about the knight errant up against the system and the odds, the lonesome-pine hero in the trail-weary saddle riding into town to gun down the degenerate sheriff and rescue the God-fearing settlers, to set the crooked straight, restore civic virtue, distribute a fair share of the loot to the schoolteacher, the shepherd, and the store-keep.

It didn’t matter that Trump was a prosperous fool. He sold newspapers, boosted television ratings. He was maybe short on sense and sensibility, but he was long on market share. The infotainment media in all of its factions and instrumentations (CNN and the New York Times as well as Fox News and Rush Limbaugh’s dittoheads) recognized Trump as a preposterous clown and transparent fraud but nevertheless framed him in the gilt-edged cliché of the underdog outlaw—up there in lights with robber barons Rockefeller and Vanderbilt, gunslingers Eastwood and Stallone, Mafia dons Corleone and Soprano. The unifying and all-purpose product placement won the election for Trump, rewarded the media with a Rumpelstiltskin spinning straw into gold. Already in the first months of the primary season the numbers moving up in the opinion poll leaderboards encouraged Leslie Moonves, chief executive officer of CBS, to assure the network’s bankers at JPMorgan Chase that “Trump’s candidacy may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”…

In office as president of the United States, Trump presents himself as signature endorsement of concentrated wealth, a camera-ready product placement promoting money as the hero with a thousand faces, all of them the face of Trump. Trump at the top of every hour on the networks and cable channels, on page one in every morning’s newspaper. Trump overruling the rule of law, under investigation for obstructing justice, withdrawing from the Paris climate accords, firing FBI director James Comey, ordering fifty-seven cruise missiles into Syria, dropping the Mother Of All Bombs on Afghanistan, signing executive orders lifting regulation of the oil, gas, coal, and banking industries. Trump embodying the Time magazine sales promotion of America, dominant power in the world, more dominant than any since Rome, reshaping norms and creating new realities, saying and doing whatever it takes to discredit government by the people, of the people, and for the people—to nullify it in theory and dispose of it in practice.

The self-glorifying opposition to Trump is as foolish as the man itself. The “Resistance” composed of outraged sensibilities unable or unwilling to believe that Trump is president of the United States—Hillary Clinton voters, Democratic Party nomenclatura and crowd-sourced Pussy Hats, NeverTrump reactionaries, Bernie or Bust revolutionaries, sit-down protesters and stand-up comics—devotes its efforts to the project of Trump’s impeachment. Impeachment will be sought on whatever grounds (yet to be discovered or manufactured) can be cultivated to yield political scandal and tabloid entertainment.

Meanwhile in the White House gilded cage the unscripted and overweight canary sings his ferocious songs of sixpence, and on all sides of every story the voices of objection and dissent rise to near hysteria. Trump accuses former President Barack Obama of tapping his telephones, denounces the news media as “the enemy of the people”; the news media liken Trump to the Devil, accuse him of treason, hear in his frivolous noise the sound of Nazi boots marching into Poland.

The consequence is the destruction of a credible political discourse without which democracy cannot exist. James Fenimore Cooper, author of The Last of the Mohicans, made the point in his 1838 political essay, The American Democrat. The vitality of America’s democracy, said Cooper, is the capacity of its citizens to tell the truth, speak and think without cant….

Age of Folly fills in at least some of the backstory behind President Donald Trump’s appearance as Time magazine’s 2016 “Man of the Year.” The essays in Part I proceed in the order of their composition as monthly columns in Harper’s Magazine; the essays in Part II, all but one written to introduce issues of Lapham’s Quarterly, construe history as means rather than end, a hedge against the despairing of the present and a weapon to defend the hope of the future against the inertia of the past. History doesn’t save the day or provide a PowerPoint presentation of a new and better world. It is the fund of energy and mind that makes possible the revolt against what G. K. Chesterton once called “the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who only happen to be walking about.” We have less reason to fear what might happen tomorrow than to beware what happened yesterday.

July 4, 2017

Democracy Awakening

DA general 6

We are hearing questions about whether the Bernie Sanders phenomenon is a “movement”. It is pointed out that many other moments, in and out of electoral politics, either never turned into movements at all or, if they did, quickly fizzled out.

Last weekend in Washington D.C. there were events sponsored by a group called Democracy Awakening, mobilizing a wide array of progressive organizations, big and small.

We’re a broad coalition of organizations representing the labor, peace, environmental, student, racial justice, civil rights and money in politics reform movements. We share a firm belief that we will not win on the full range of policy issues we all care about until we combat attacks on voting rights and the integrity of the vote by big money.

At a demonstration on Monday, more than 300 were arrested, including Ben and Jerry, Rosario Dawson, and others famous and not. If you didn’t see or hear much about it, it was overshadowed by New York Primary coverage. And by the fact that there are many who are hoping that this isn’t a movement—at least not one that lasts.

Think about those who stand out in the ocean at low tide, facing the shore. The water gently laps at their ankles, rises a little more vigorously to the knees. Still they stand confident and firm. They can choose to ignore the tide and the waves, but eventually the tide has a way of coming in and rising, and the waves have a way crashing against whatever is in their path.

So maybe the best idea is to turn around and face the ocean. That’s where the movement comes from.

DA Robert Reich quote 1

British Victories in the American Revolution

British Occupation of Philadelphia

For those who are supporting an American political revolution, and may be discouraged by the results of some of the battles, take heart.

The original American Revolution, an attempt to bring truly representative democracy to the North American continent, was a long and seemingly impossible series of battles, many of which the colonists lost. And lost. And lost.

Today, of course, Americans of all beliefs celebrate the perseverance of those who, at the time, many considered political pests and unrealistic dreamers, naïve and fooling themselves into thinking that things could radically change.

Reason and evidence suggested that these revolutionaries were possibly delusional. Except. Except they didn’t think so, and thought that the naysayers were shortsighted or even traitors to the cause of freedom.

And so, for you political revolutionaries, a partial list of the British victories in the American Revolution. In case you forgot, the winner of these battles ultimately lost. Big time.

Battle of Kemp’s Landing – November 14, 1775
Battle of the Rice Boats – March 2-3, 1776
Battle of Block Island – April 6, 1776
Battle of The Cedars – May 18-27, 1776
Battle of White Plains – October 28, 1776
Battle of Fort Cumberland – November 10-29, 1776
Battle of Iron Works Hill – December 22-23, 1776
Battle of Bound Brook – April 13, 1777
Battle of Ridgefield – April 27, 1777
Battle of Thomas Creek – May 17, 1777
Battle of Short Hills – June 26, 1777
Siege of Fort Ticonderoga – July 5-6, 1777
Battle of Hubbardton – July 7, 1777
Battle of Fort Ann – July 8, 1777
Battle of Oriskany – August 6, 1777
Second Battle of Machias – August 13-14, 1777
Battle of Staten Island – August 22, 1777
Battle of Setauket – August 22, 1777
Battle of Cooch’s Bridge – September 3, 1777
Battle of Brandywine – September 11, 1777
Battle of Paoli – September 21, 1777
Siege of Fort Mifflin – September 26 –November 15, 1777
Battle of Germantown – October 4, 1777
Battle of Forts Clinton and Montgomery – October 6, 1777
Battle of Matson’s Ford – December 11, 1777
Battle off Barbados – March 7, 1778
Battle of Quinton’s Bridge – March 18, 1778
Battle of Crooked Billet – May 1, 1778
Mount Hope Bay raids – May 25-30, 1778
Battle of Alligator Bridge – June 30, 1778
First Battle of Ushant – July 27, 1778
Siege of Pondicherry – August 21–October 19 1778
Battle of Newport – August 29, 1778
Grey’s raid – September 5-17, 1778
Baylor Massacre – September 27, 1778
Battle of Chestnut Neck – October 6, 1778
Little Egg Harbor massacre – October 16, 1778
Carleton’s Raid – October 24-November 14 1778
Battle of St. Lucia – December 15, 1778
Capture of St. Lucia – December 18-28, 1778
Capture of Savannah – December 29, 1778
Battle of Brier Creek – March 3, 1779
Chesapeake raid – May 10-24, 1779
Battle of Stono Ferry – June 20, 1779
Great Siege of Gibraltar – June 24, 1779-February 7, 1783
Tryon’s raid – July 5-14, 1779
Penobscot Expedition – July 24-August 29, 1779
Action of 14 September 1779 – September 14, 1779
Siege of Savannah – September 16-October 18, 1779
Battle of San Fernando de Omoa – October 16-November 29, 1779
Action of 11 November 1779 – November 11, 1779
First Battle of Martinique – December 18, 1779
Action of 8 January 1780 – January 8, 1780
Battle of Cape St. Vincent – January 16, 1780
Battle of Young’s House – February 3, 1780
Battle of Monck’s Corner – April 14, 1780
Battle of Lenud’s Ferry – May 6, 1780
Bird’s invasion of Kentucky – May 25-August 4, 1780
Battle of Waxhaws – May 29, 1780
Battle of Connecticut Farms – June 7, 1780
Battle of Camden – August 16, 1780
Battle of Fishing Creek – August 18, 1780
Battle of Charlotte – September 26, 1780
Royalton Raid – October 16, 1780
Battle of Jersey – January 6, 1781
Battle of Cowan’s Ford – February 1, 1781
Capture of Sint Eustatius – February 3, 1781
Battle of Wetzell’s Mill – March 6, 1781
Battle of Guilford Court House – March 15, 1781
Battle of Cape Henry – March 16, 1781
Battle of Blandford – April 25, 1781
Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill – April 25, 1781
Action of 1 May 1781 – May 1, 1781
Siege of Ninety-Six – May 22-June 6, 1781
Action of 30 May 1781 – May 30, 1781
Battle of Spencer’s Ordinary – June 26, 1781
Battle of Green Spring – July 6, 1781
Battle of Dogger Bank – August 5, 1781
Battle of Groton Heights – September 6, 1781
Battle of Eutaw Springs – September 8, 1781
Siege of Negapatam – October 21-November 11, 1781
Second Battle of Ushant – December 12, 1781
Battle of Videau’s Bridge – January 2, 1782
Capture of Trincomalee – January 11, 1782
Battle of Saint Kitts – January 25-26, 1782
Battle of Wambaw – February 24, 1782
Action of 16 March 1782 – March 16, 1782
Battle of the Saintes – April 9-12, 1782
Battle of the Black River – April-August, 1782
Battle of the Mona Passage – April 19, 1782
Action of 20–21 April 1782 – April 20-21, 1782
Naval battle off Halifax – May 28-29, 1782
Battle of Negapatam – July 6, 1782
Battle of the Combahee River – August 26, 1782
Grand Assault on Gibraltar – September 13, 1782
Action of 18 October 1782 – October 18, 1782
Action of 6 December 1782 – December 6, 1782
Action of 12 December 1782 – December 12, 1782
Action of 22 January 1783 – January 22, 1783
Capture of the Bahamas – April 14-18, 1783