... on "[t]he sweeping, indiscriminate and abrupt character of President Trump’s recent Executive Order ...", here.
... on "[t]he sweeping, indiscriminate and abrupt character of President Trump’s recent Executive Order ...", here.
To those who imbibed the toxic cocktail of denial, self-deception, and wishful thinking in the last presidential election, there’s still hope for a full recovery. Your fears, anger and insecurities are ill-served by a fascist populist and his would-be kleptocratic cronies whose narcissistic megalomania and Midas complex glorify the conspicuous vices of contemporary capitalism in a manner that seeks to trump democratic institutions, values and principles as it eviscerates the triune virtues of liberté, égalité, and fraternité. It is still possible to awaken your potential to exercise the tenacity and courage needed to break through the authoritarian character armor sub-consciously constructed out of the fragile and feeble fabric provided by the more regressive and perverse socio-cultural materials found in this country’s history: conformism, homophobia, (white and ‘Christian’) ethno-nationalism, militarism, parochialism, racism, sexism, conspicuous consumption and acquisitiveness, unbridled ambition, celebrity worship and fame-seeking, the will to dominate others, in short, the “false consciousness” well-captured in Erich Fromm’s locution, “the pathology of normalcy.” We know too well the debilitating and deadly powers of human vengeance, senseless destructiveness, and violence, the ease with which even the most “civilized” peoples can descend into the dark vortex of chaos, needless suffering and evil. The need to “fight fire with fire” is rare and regrettable, and certainly avoidable should we learn to build the emancipatory structures of the Good Society.
Abandon the residual messianic tribalism incarnate in the idea of a “chosen people” atop a “city on a hill.” In other words, to the avowed Christians in your ranks, recall that all human beings are created in the image of God, that God’s covenant is thus with humanity as such, and that Jesus’s foremost moral and spiritual teachings revolve around the Golden Rule and the double commandment of love (hence the Christ of Tolstoy, not Constantine), and it is that which should provide the pile-like foundations of your social life and democratic politics. As Daniel Burston writes in his book on Fromm, “the Hebrew concept of idolatry implies the misrecognition and reification of our own divinely begotten essence [an idea found in Stoic thought as well], which, like the burning bush, is in a process of continuous and inextinguishable becoming, and is not something finite, static, or dead, like a graven image.”
It is not easy to cultivate a disposition to truth (which depends in the first instance on the power of sublimation and thereafter on individuation), an elusive character trait indispensable for a full-bodied appreciation of the moral requisites of human dignity, the power of virtue, and a lifelong commitment to the Good. It is this dignity, virtue and commitment that, historically speaking, first found moral, legal, and political expression in the notion of human rights, in the idea of jus cogens norms, and the Liberal principles of democratic constitutionalism. It is such dignity, virtue and commitment that allows us to imagine a socio-economic system beyond capitalism, one that extends the logic of democracy and principles of environmental sustainability throughout the social order such that all human beings on this planet are accorded the capacity for the development of their basic capabilities, and thereby encouraged to ascend the mountain of self-realization while discovering, creating and exploiting ample opportunities for human flourishing in harmony with the motley and marvelous (non-human) animal creatures that likewise partake of the precious “breath” of life.
I wrote this to the President this morning:
Dear President Trump
Your executive order banning immigrants from various Muslim majority countries willfully ignores (or proceeds in ignorance of the already extensive vetting requirements). It is calculated to be an unnecessary and unconstitutional form of religious profiling. It does not make us safer. Indeed, it will be used as a recruiting tool by those who mean to do us harm. Grabbing headlines at the expense of the public interest while exploiting those who have already been vetted and have proceeded in reliance on U.S. assurances is a moral outrage.
“There have been zero fatal terror attacks on U.S. soil since 1975 by immigrants from the seven Muslim-majority countries President Donald Trump targeted with immigration bans on Friday, further highlighting the needlessness and cruelty of the president’s executive order. [….]
The order, at the end of Trump’s first week as president, is an extension of a presidential campaign in which Trump routinely stirred fears and peddled misinformation about Muslims in America. It also partially fulfills Trump’s 2015 call to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S.” [….] Christopher Mathias in The Huffington Post.
* * *
“According to the Supreme Court, ‘the clearest command of the Establishment Clause is that one religious denomination cannot be officially preferred over another,’ Larson v. Valente, 456 U.S. 228, 244 (1982). But that command is apparently not clear enough for President Donald Trump. On Friday he signed an Executive Order on refugees that imposes a selective ban on immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, and at the same time establishes preferential treatment for refugees seeking asylum who are identified with ‘minority religions’ in their country of origin. In case there was any doubt about the latter provision’s intent, Trump told Christian Broadcast News that it was intended to give priority to ‘Christians’ seeking asylum over ‘Muslims.’
In both respects, the Executive Order violates the ‘clearest command of the Establishment Clause.’ First, as I developed in an earlier post, the Constitution bars the government from targeting Islam. One of the lowest of many low moments in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was his December 2015 call for a ‘total and complete shutdown’ of Muslim immigration. The proposal treated as presumptively suspect a religion practiced by about 1.6 billion people worldwide, nearly a quarter of the globe’s population. Trump soon retreated to talk of ‘extreme vetting,’ but never gave up his focus on the religion of Islam. Friday’s executive orders are of a piece with his many anti-Muslim campaign promises.
As I wrote earlier, one of the critical questions with respect to the validity of executive action challenged under the Establishment Clause is its intent and effect; if intended to disfavor a particular religion, it violates the Establishment Clause. Here, there is copious ‘smoking gun’ evidence that the President intended to disfavor Muslims on the basis of their religion. It includes:
Nor is this mere campaign rhetoric. In signing the executive order on Friday, Trump pledged to ‘keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America.’ Not ‘terrorists.’ Not ‘radical terrorists.’ But only ‘radical Islamic terrorists.’ Of course we should be keeping terrorists out, but why limit our concern to those of one faith?
Second, the flipside of the order, equally invalid, is that it is intended, as Trump candidly admitted on Christian Broadcast News, to favor Christians fleeing persecution over others. Here, too, Trump has violated the Establishment Clause’s ‘clearest command.’ Christians suffering persecution deserve asylum, but so do Muslims suffering persecution, and Buddhists, and Jews, and Sikhs, and Zoroastrians. There is no legitimate reason to favor Christians over all others who are persecuted for their beliefs.” [….]
The rest of this enlightening and urgent post is here.
Some relevant titles:
My select bibliography on terrorism is here.
“President Donald Trump wants to bring back waterboarding, an illegal practice widely condemned as torture and a failed George W. Bush-era policy. Trump made the comments in an interview with ABC News that’s scheduled to be broadcast later Wednesday, saying ‘absolutely’ he believes torture works and would help because ‘we’re not playing on an even field.’ ‘When ISIS is doing things that no one has ever heard of, since medieval times, would I feel strongly about waterboarding?’ Trump said. ‘As far as I’m concerned, we have to fight fire with fire.’
‘But do I feel it works?’ He asked, then answered his own question: ‘Absolutely, I feel it works.’ The president indicated his ultimate decision would be determined by his Cabinet, primarily CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis.” The rest of this short article at Huffington Post is here.
First, there is no convincing evidence that “waterboarding works,” indeed, that torture in general is an effective means toward the ends that have been used to rationalize or justify it; but of course our current President is dispositionally allergic to evidence in matters of factual determination or fact-finding (it is even doubtful that he knows what it means for something to be termed ‘a fact’). But more importantly if not urgently,
“[I]f one’s interpretative principles and legal analysis of the terms ‘torture’ or ‘cruel treatment’ lead to the conclusion that waterboarding is not torture or is not cruel, then a fortiori one must abandon those interpretive principles and that form of legal analysis. Waterboarding is a paradigmatic example of torture. It is inconceivable that anyone involved in drafting, negotiating, signing, ratifying or enacting the Torture Act or Common Article 3 would have thought otherwise. Naturally, then, the U.S. itself has long considered waterboarding to be torture and a war crime—there was no dispute about this from at least 1901 until 2002—and if our enemies used such a technique on U.S. military personnel, no one would, in public debate, deny that such a technique is a form of unlawful torture.” — Marty Lederman at the law blog, Balkinization, in 2007
Apart from its prohibition in international law (which the U.S. not infrequently ignores and violates in the belief that its very existence as a ‘city upon a hill’ amounts to an ‘exception to the rules’),
“[W]aterboarding obviously is torture prohibited by the federal torture statute, 18 USC 2340-2340A. OLC [Office of Legal Counsel] apparently advised otherwise — but how could that be? After all, waterboarding is perhaps the classic, paradigmatic technique of acknowledge torture regimes throughout history, from the Spanish Inquisition to the Khmer Rouge. And as Human Rights Watch explains, the U.S. itself ‘has long considered waterboarding to be torture and a war crime:’
‘As early as 1901, a U.S. court martial sentenced Major Edwin Glenn to 10 years of hard labor for subjecting a suspected insurgent in the Philippines to the “water cure.” After World War II, U.S. military commissions successfully prosecuted as war criminals several Japanese soldiers who subjected American prisoners to waterboarding. A U.S. army officer was court-martialed in February 1968 for helping to waterboard a prisoner in Vietnam.’
[ …. ] The whole point of waterboarding is to induce severe physical suffering. Therefore it is torture, even under the limited definition in U.S. law. It ought to be as simple as that, right? Indeed, the idea that Congress would not have considered the acute suffering caused by waterboarding to be ‘torture’ (particularly in light of the historical consensus that it is a paradigm case of torture) is so utterly implausible that it is hard to imagine the Office of Legal Counsel even considering, let alone adopting, any interpretation of the statute that would exclude such a technique from its ambit. Under a reasonable mode of statutory construction, one could start with the understanding that waterboarding is torture, and work outward from that truism to see what it reveals about the meaning of the statute for other techniques.” — Lederman again, and while I do not have the exact reference, it’s found on the same page as the above material (he was quoting himself from an earlier date)
My bibliography for such matters is here.
The Oxford Dictionaries declares "post-truth" to be their "word of the year" for 2016. That decision confirmed, as if it needed confirming, that we are suffering through a crisis in public discourse. The "post-truth" crisis is not entirely partisan. Think of the celebrities who peddle a nonexistent link between vaccines and autism or the activists who refuse to accept that genetically-modified foods are probably quite safe. But the rise of Donald Trump has emphasized how much "post-truth" has become a distinctively right-wing phenomenon in America. Politicians who are smart enough to know better deny climate science and reject simple economics. Trump, now sitting in the Oval Office, continues to declare that his Inauguration crowds were the hugest ever and that several million illegal ballots were the only reason he didn't win the popular vote. Kellyanne Conway champions "alternative facts."
I am not the only one who wonders sometimes whether our descent into post-truthism is simply the revenge of postmodernism. What were once abstract literary and philosophical theories often identified (not entirely accurately) with left-wing academics seem to have burst the dam and spilled over to the public sphere, and to at least the wildest corners of populist rhetoric and right-wing politics.
This all came home to me a while ago in an exchange with a distant acquaintance who also happened to be a Facebook friend. My Facebook friend, a diehard but not very intellectual Christian conservative, had posted one of those crazy memes quoting a foreign leader as allegedly saying that the American people must be a "confederacy of fools" to have elected Obama. I responded as I am wont to do, by pointing my friend to the Snopes site that debunked the crazy claim. My friend did not take that well, accusing me of trying to be the "Facebook police." No, I replied, I was just pointing out a factual falsehood. Then, in a series of further exchanges, my friend made essentially three arguments:
First, though there was no evidence that the former foreign leader had said those words about Obama and America, I couldn't prove that he hadn't said those words. (I've heard similar responses from other people in other contexts, as if factual burdens of proof don't exist or don't matter.)
Second, my friend said that I had my truth, and she had hers. (Relativism run amok.)
Third, with respect to our separate truths, my friend reminded me that she believed that Jesus died for our sins and was raised from his tomb, and that I (as a Jew) did not. I told my friend that I would never challenge her belief in Jesus, but that there was a real difference between fundamental religious commitments and the simple question of what a certain Czech politician did or did utter certain words.
Of course, I got nowhere. My friend had her truth, and I had mine, and that was that.
My friend never went to any fancy schools, but the echo of a certain sort of academic jargon is clear.
The irony here is rich, of course. An academic jargon designed in part to unsettle our fixed beliefs and prejudices has percolated into habits of mind that only reinforce clearly false beliefs and buttress dangerous prejudices.
But it's also important to separate the wheat from the chaff. For what it's worth, I consider myself something of a postmodernist fellow traveler. See, for example, here and here. Postmodernism has, I think, illuminated by legal scholarship. And, as a religious believer, I am convinced that some form of postmodernism is necessary to maintaining and defending religious belief under conditions of modernity. But there's always been a difference, even in the academy, between deconstructive and constructive postmodernism, or, more bluntly, between a reasonable and unreasonable postmodernism -- between productive complexification and simple bedlam.
So here's a manifesto of sorts for a reasonable and constructive postmodernism, a postmodernism that tries to overcome the flaws in modernist foundationalism and scientism while also rejecting the crudest, most Trumpian, forms of post-truthism. (This is a manifesto on a blog, not an attempt at philosophy. The point is just to set down a marker.)
Should the press report Donald Trump’s obvious falsehoods as lies? NPR featured a discussion this morning in which two arguments were made against calling them lies. First, if the press called them lies, it would appear partisan and the press would lose credibility. Second, to be a lie, one has to know the statement is false, and it is not possible to get in someone’s head.
The first argument is unacceptable. The press should not refrain from telling the truth because people would doubt its credibility. This is akin to not telling the truth because advertisers would worry about loss of audience. It is entirely contrary to what the press is supposed to stand for.
The second argument is overbroad. Demonstrating a lie frequently depends upon circumstantial evidence.
But there is a third consideration. When Donald Trump says that his inauguration crowd was larger than Obama’s or that 3 of the 11 million undocumented persons somehow managed to vote illegally. He may actually believe it. He may be in the grips of a mental illness fueling delusions. This leaves the press with the possibility of reporting that Donald Trump is a liar or that he is delusional.
At Teen Vogue, there is a poem titled “Where were you?” penned “by civil rights activist and the co-founder of Campaign Zero, Johnetta Elzie,” only parts of which I will quote from below:
Where were you when your ancestors set out to steal my ancestors from our homes?
When they raped African women then refused to acknowledge their own children, who were born as a result?
When Harriet was on the run, fighting for freedom?
Where were you?
Where were you when Claudette decided not to get up out of her seat on that bus?
When Rosa did the same?
When they told us to sit in the “Colored” section, and beat us when we disobeyed?
Where were you?
Where were you when we wanted the right to vote, too?
When we had to care for our families AND yours? Serving you dinner, while struggling to put food on our own tables?
When your “Women’s Movement” came around, and our needs were ignored?
Where were you? [….]
The poem ends, predictably enough as follows: “If you can answer at least one of the questions here, answer me this: We’ve been marching for years — where the hell have all of you been?”
Alas, we’ve seen this sort of self-righteous indignation all too many times on the Left before, and it’s self-defeating or, in the words Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor below, “This isn’t leadership, it’s infantile and amateurish. It’s also a recipe for how to keep your movement irrelevant, marginal and tiny.”
I read a FB thread in which Kahlil Chaar-Pérez made a reference to this post by her and I share it in full as it well articulates, indeed perfectly expresses my own thoughts and feelings on the matter:
“The United States has just experienced a corporate hijacking. If Trump’s inaugural speech did not alert you to the fact that they intend to come after all of us then you are not paying attention. The scale of this attack is deep as it is wide and it means that we need a mass movement. In order to build and organize that movement necessarily means that it will involve the previously uninitiated, those who are new to activism and organizing. We have to welcome those people and stop with this arrogant and moralistic chastising of people who are apparently not nearly as ‘woke’ as everyone else seems to be in the social media world. Yesterday’s marches around this country were stunning, inspiring and the first of a million steps needed to build the resistance to Trump. The denunciations of the character of the marches are a sign of the persistence of political immaturity that continues to stunt the growth of the American left. Were liberals on the march? Yes! And thank god. Mass movements aren’t homogeneous, they are heterogeneous. There is not a single radical or revolutionary on earth who did not begin their political journey holding liberal ideas. Liberals become radicals through their own frustrating experiences with the system but also through engagement with radicals. So when radicals and those who have already come to some conclusions about the shortcomings of [the] existing system mock, deride or just dismiss those who have not achieved your level of consciousness then you are helping no one. This isn’t leadership, it’s infantile and amateurish. It’s also a recipe for how to keep your movement irrelevant, marginal and tiny. If you want a movement of the politically pure and already committed then you and your twelve friends go right ahead and be the resistance to Trump. [emphasis added] Should the marches have been more multiracial and working class? Yes! But you are not a serious organizer if that’s where your answer ends. The issue for the left is how do we get from where we are today to where we want to be in terms of making our marches blacker, browner and more working class. That is truly the work, but simply complaining about it changes nothing. Yesterday was the beginning, not the end. What happens in between will be decided by what we do. Movements do not come to us from heaven fully formed and organized. They are built by regular people. We must do a better job at facilitating debate, discussion and argument so that we talk about how to build he kind of movement we want, but the endless critiques with no commitment to diving into organizing to struggle for the kind of movement we want is not a serious approach. There are literally millions of people in this country who are now questioning everything. We need to open up our organizations, planning meetings, marches and other actions to them. [emphasis added] Let’s engage people and stop writing people off before we’ve even gotten started.”
Posted by Robert Hockett
When Bill Clinton's notorious 'It depends on what the meaning of "is" is' became something of a 'meme' in the late 1990s, I was struck by two things. The first was that Clinton was actually being forthcoming in saying this in the context in which he said it; for he went on in the same deposition to explain that on one plausible understanding of 'is' in the question addressed to him, the answer would be x, while on the other plausible understanding the answer would be y. The second thing that struck me during this episode was that everyone's taking Clinton's locution as emblematic of a penchant for dissembling was itself emblematic of something: namely, that Clinton had evidently long since developed - indeed, probably earned - a reputation for dissembling, and that this enabled even his attempts at parsing in good faith to stand in as infamous exemplars of parsing in bad faith.
I think something much like this is at work in the current 'alternative facts' imbroglio chez Kellyanne Conway. On the one hand, it seems to me that what Ms. Conway meant to say here was that there are competing estimates of crowd size, and that the Trump White House has elected to endorse an estimate other than those being endorsed by the major news outlets - not that Donald Trump is a devotee of possible worlds semantics and has decided somehow to inhabit a world other than the one we inhabit. On the other hand, the immediate indignation and derision that Ms. Conway's 'alternative facts' locution has elicited is emblematic of something disturbing: namely, that this White House already has developed a reputation for choosing which alternative accounts of things to deem 'facts' on the basis not of criteria we ordinarily employ to find truth, but of what happens to suit them on the given occasion. It engages in 'fact'-labeling, in other words, not in good faith, but opportunistically.
This is worrisome enough in a campaign. In a government, it is not for long possible - not on any 'possible world.' Let us then hope for a very quick course-correction.
The first members of a team of Cuban doctors and health workers unload boxes of medicines and medical material at the Freetown airport. Sierra Leone: October 2, 2014 (Photograph by Florian Plaucheur/AFP/Getty).
At the moment I cannot post anything substantive on this material, but I thought some readers of this blog might be interested in a few items (see the suggested reading below) I recently came across, prompted in the first place by an intriguing (if not provocative) article in the New Left Review, 102 (Nov/Dec 2016): “Ebola’s Ecologies: Agro-Economics and Epidemiology in West Africa,” by Rob Wallace and Rodrick Wallace. Unfortunately, the piece is available only to subscribers (or by purchase), but I highly recommend it in any case. The following three paragraphs—sans notes—are from the introduction to the article:
“Disease epidemics are as much markers of modern civilization as they are threats to it. What successfully evolves and spreads depends on the matrix of barriers and opportunities that a given society presents to its circulating pathogens. For most of its history, for example, Vibrio cholerae lived off plankton in the Ganges delta. It was only after significant layers of the population had switched to an urban, sedentary lifestyle, and later had become increasingly integrated by nineteenth-century trade and transport systems, that the cholera bacterium evolved an explosive, human-specific ecotype. Simian immunodeficiency viruses emerged out of their non-human Catarrhini reservoirs in the form of HIV when colonial expropriation turned subsistence bushmeat and the urban sex trade into commodities on an industrial scale. Domesticated livestock has supplied a source for human diphtheria, influenza, measles, mumps, plague, pertussis, rotavirus A, tuberculosis, sleeping sickness and visceral leishmaniasis. Ecological changes wrought upon landscapes by human intervention have facilitated spillovers of malaria from birds, and of dengue and yellow fever from wild primates. The new pathogens adapted to improvements in medical technologies and public health, while innovations in agricultural and industrial methods accelerated demographic shifts and new settlement, concentrating potential host populations and thereby promoting new rounds of spillover.
Policies aimed at re-engineering local economics for the benefit of multinationals have had a drastic impact on landscapes and ecosystems, and thus upon the fortunes of infectious disease. As epidemiological history attests, context is more than just a stage upon which pathogens and immunity clash. The regional agro-economic impacts of global neoliberalism can be felt across the levels of biocultural organization, down as far as the virion and molecule. The exploration of such connections may well be a cutting-edge question for the twenty-first century. A growing public- and animal-health literature suggests that current patterns of agro-economic exploitation raise the risk of a new pandemic, whether triggered by an RNA virus like Ebola or SARS, or by some other pathogen. Ecosystems in which ‘wild’ viruses are controlled by the rough-and-tumble of environmental stochasticity are being drastically streamlined by deforestation and plantation monoculture. Pathogen spillovers that once died out relatively quickly are now discovering chains of vulnerability, creating outbreaks of greater extent, duration and momentum. There is a possibility that some of these outbreaks may come to match the scale of 1918’s influenza pandemic, with a global reach and high rates of incapacitation and mortality.
Capitalist agri-business is increasingly transforming Planet Earth into Planet Farm. Forty per cent of the world’s land surface is now dedicated to agriculture, with many millions more hectares set to be brought into production by 2050. Livestock, representing 72 per cent of global animal biomass, is simultaneously highly concentrated and widely dispersed across the planet’s surface. The livestock sector uses a third of available freshwater and a third of cropland for feed. By its global expansion, commodity agriculture acts as a nexus through which pathogens of diverse origins migrate from even the most isolated reservoirs in the wild to the most globalized of population centres. The longer the associated supply chains and the greater the extent of deforestation, the more diverse (and exotic) the zoonotic pathogens that enter the food chain. Among such emergent pathogens are industrial Campylobacter, Nipah virus, Q fever, hepatitis E, Salmonella enteritidis, foot-and-mouth disease and a variety of novel influenza variants. Intensive agriculture’s diseconomies of scale extend beyond the unintended epidemiological consequences of globalizing transport and distribution. Its production cycles degrade the resilience of ecosystems to disease, and accelerate pathogen spread and evolution by giving rise to genetic monocultures, high population densities and expanding exports. In this essay, we describe the emergence of an urbanized Ebola in West Africa in late 2013 as a quintessential example of such a transition.”
Cross-posted at the Agricultural Law blog.
My latest compilation is on South African liberation struggles. The two images respectively above and below are paintings by the South African artist John Koenakeefe Mohl. The first, “Miners carrying their working tools, near Springs, South Africa” (oil on board), the second, “Caught on the way to the house of worship” (oil on canvas).
The election of Donald Trump created trauma, depression, and associated health issues with those who were shocked by the result. Virtually all of us thought it can’t happen here. The U.S. could not elect an ignorant, intellectually lazy, vindictive, racist, sexist, lying narcissist to be President of the United States. Most of us thought the system was at least sensible enough that it could not go that wrong.
To some extent, apart from fear, the trauma is associated with the recognition that the marketplace of ideas did not sort truth from falsehood. Yes, Clinton won the popular vote, but if the marketplace of ideas functioned properly, she would have won with many more millions of votes. But confidence in the marketplace of ideas was deficient from the start. As Frederick Schauer states,
“Once we fathom the full scope of factors other than the truth of a proposition that might determine which propositions individuals or groups will accept and which they will reject--the charisma, authority, or persuasiveness of the speaker; the consistency between the proposition and the prior beliefs of the hearer; the consistency between the proposition and what the hearer believes that other hearers believe; the frequency with which the proposition is uttered; the extent to which the proposition is communicated with photographs and other visual or aural embellishments; the extent to which the proposition will make the reader or listener feel good or happy for content-independent reasons; and almost countless others--we can see that placing faith in the superiority of truth over all of these other attributes of a proposition in explaining acceptance and rejection requires a substantial degree of faith in pervasive human rationality and an almost willful disregard of the masses of scientific and marketing research to the contrary.”
We can take some solace in the fact that Trump enters the Presidency with the lowest approval ratings in at least four decades. Surely, some of us may think, that will give even the congressional Republicans the wherewithal to take him on. But the relevant public for congressional Republicans are those who will vote in the primaries, not the general public. Nonetheless, I have some marketplace bones in my body. I believe Trump is too arrogant, too corrupt, and too stupid to avoid the fall he richly deserves.
That essay speaks for itself. But here are some additional reflections:
Donald Trump, among his innumerable other tirades and sputterings, has made a point of trying to reignite the "Christmas Wars" and in particular attack the use of phrases such as "Happy Holidays." It is very tempting to rush to the defense of "the holidays" (as a phrase), if only because Trump's tirades were so obviously coded and pandering. But, in fact, greetings such as "Happy Holidays" and phrases such as the "the holiday season" are complicated and fraught in their own ways, and are actually a symptom of, rather than a solution to, the culture's Christmas puzzle. This, I should emphasize, has nothing to do, for me at least, with any sense of psychological "offense" or personal affront; I'm on record as arguing that we focus too much on offense and affront in our thinking about religion, state, and culture. See here. But our words, in their various complex dimensions, do reflect and shape our conception of the culture and the nation, and their relation to our own beliefs and traditions. So analyzing these usages is important in its own right quite apart from whether anyone is or should be offended or affronted.
So here's the dilemma: "Happy Holidays" and "the holiday season" and the like can have a range of meanings. At one end of the continuum, they can reflect a genuine and generous acknowledgment of religious and cultural pluralism and an effort to cast as wide a celebratory net as possible. At the other other end, though, they can simply be cheap euphemisms for "Merry Christmas" or "the Christmas season," albeit a secularized or evacuated version of Christmas. Correspondingly, objections to "Happy Holidays" and the like can either express a rejection of religious pluralism or just an objection to the secularization of Christmas. The former is simple and often ugly bigotry. But the latter is understandable. In fact, liberals who complain about "cultural appropriation" in other context should also, by all rights, have some sympathy for folks who see Christmas being both transformed and stolen out from under them in favor of a flattened, content-less, and commercialized shadow of itself.
(I do not mean to suggest that the "secular" Christmas is illegitimate. But it is only view of the cathedral, so to speak. And, as a I argue in my "Christmas" essay, even those elements of Christmas that might appear at first glance to be purely "secular" also do double duty as cultural accessories to the religious celebration.
In addition, a part of the picture that I did not fully appreciate when I wrote the essay is that there are actually two distinct versions even of the "secular" Christmas:(1) the very old, quasi-pagan, festival of raucous excess, which has long been at war with the religious celebration of the birth of Jesus, and (2) the celebration of love, home, hearth, and childlike wonder so successfully invented and promoted by Dickens, Nast, and Moore in the 19th century, whose relationship to both of the older dimension of the holiday is both rich and ambiguous, particularly in the central role it gives to children.)
Further complicating the picture is that, between their straightforward polar meanings, terms such as "the Holidays" can also refer, least happily perhaps, to a putatively pluralistic cluster of holidays that still clearly revolves around Christmas at its core. I am thinking of the menorah plopped down next to the Christmas tree or the notion of a "holiday season" that clearly leads up to December 25 regardless of when other holidays might actually fall. This is a sort of faux pluralism that gestures toward interreligious and intercultural recognition, but doesn't actually seek to understand or acknowledge anything beyond its own orbit. (That notion of a "holiday season," by the way, is also problematic for a different reason. For serious Christians, the period before Christmas is Advent, a time of preparation and contemplation, not premature celebration. And for serious Jews, Hanukkah -- unlike some other Jewish holidays -- does not have a "season" at all; it begins on a given day and ends after the eighth day, and that's it.)
One problem, of course, is that it is often hard to tell, in any particular context, either the meaning of the words or the nature of the objection to them. For that matter, it is fair to say that as often as not, even the people uttering the words and the people objecting to them don't fully understand themselves what they have in mind.
So what's the solution? I have no idea. As I say in my essay about Christmas, this dilemma is also probably intractable. There might be no satisfactory answer. I certainly am not recommending a surrender to Trump and his supporters, heaven forbid. But I am suggesting that the rest of us should not just naively congratulate ourselves for appearing tolerant and open-minded in disagreeing with him. And I am arguing that all of us should be more conscious of both the ambiguities of pluralism in a dominant culture and the complex interplay of categories such as "secular" and "religious."
Also, to reiterate, we need to think about these questions without just focusing on the psychologism of "offense" or validation. For myself, for what it's worth, I usually take any and all greetings around this time of year in their stride. And when I do feel put out, I quickly realize that, at some level, nothing satisfies me: Say "Merry Christmas" and I'd like to respond (though I almost never do), "I don't celebrate Christmas." Say "Happy Holidays," and I'm tempted to ask, "And which holiday, exactly, did you have in mind?" Or say nothing at all and leave me feeling out of the loop.
A final note:
For some relatively recent polling on the "Merry Christmas"/"Happy Holidays" conundrum, see, for example, here and here. The result that fascinates me most, though, is the geographical divide revealed here: Northeasterners,not surprisingly, tend to prefer "Happy Holidays." Midwesterners, also not surprisingly, prefer "Merry Christmas." But more Southerners prefer "Happy Holidays" just because that happens to have historically been an African-American usage. And Westerners prefer "Merry Christmas" because, remarkably enough, many parts of the West have become so nonreligious that the secular dimension of Christmas is just taken for granted. Stay tuned.
“The sweeping political reforms introduced by [Mikhail] Gorbachev in the late 1980s completely altered the Soviet government’s response to civil resistance both in east-central Europe and in the Soviet Union itself. Far from seeking to crack down with force on non-violent resistance in east-central Europe, Gorbachev tolerated and indeed actively encouraged sweeping political change in the region. Similarly, by the late 1980s, Gorbachev had given unprecedented latitude for the formation of unofficial groups in the Soviet Union that sought to achieve their demands through civil resistance. Even when in 1989 the communist systems in east-central Europe collapsed and when the proliferation of unrest in the Soviet Union began to threaten the Soviet regime’s own existence, Gorbachev declined to use force with the ruthless consistency that would have been needed to re-establish order. Hence, civil resistance, which would have been forcibly suppressed under previous Soviet leaders, contributed to the dissolution of both the [Party-State] communist bloc and the Soviet Union.”—Mark Kramer
And now a bare bones introduction to Charter 77:
“Motivated in part by the arrest of members of the psychedelic band Plastic People of the Universe, the text of Charter 77 was prepared in 1976. In December 1976, the first signatures were collected. The charter was published on 6 January 1977, along with the names of the first 242 signatories, which represented various occupations, political viewpoints, and religions. Although Václav Havel, Ludvík Vaculík and Pavel Landovský were detained while trying to bring the charter to the Federal Assembly and the Czechoslovak government and the original document was confiscated, copies circulated as samizdat and on 7 January were published in several western newspapers (including Le Monde, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, The Times and New York Times) and transmitted to Czechoslovakia by Czechoslovak-banned radio broadcasters like Radio Free Europe and Voice of America.
Charter 77 criticized the government for failing to implement human rights provisions of a number of documents it had signed, including the 1960 Constitution of Czechoslovakia, the Final Act of the 1975 Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Basket III of the Helsinki Accords), and 1966 United Nations covenants on political, civil, economic, and cultural rights. The document also described the signatories as a ‘loose, informal, and open association of people . . . united by the will to strive individually and collectively for respect for human and civil rights in our country and throughout the world.’ It emphasized that Charter 77 is not an organization, has no statutes or permanent organs, and ‘does not form the basis for any oppositional political activity.’ This final stipulation was a careful effort to stay within the bounds of Czechoslovak law, which made organized opposition illegal.” (From the introduction of the Wikipedia entry on Charter 77)
For an excellent online treatment of the role of Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia, please see this post (Part III of a wonderful series) from several years ago, “Helsinki and the Charter 77 Declaration,” by Mark Edwards at the law blog, Concurring Opinions.
Here is a short list of essential reading:
Regarding the second image immediately above:
On May 29, 1979, StB undertook a major police action against VONS members, subsequently ten of them were arrested and taken into custody. VONS is the Czech acronym for Výbor na obranu nespravedlivě stíhaných (Committee for the Defence of the Unjustly Persecuted):
“The committee was founded on April 27, 1978, by a group of Charter 77 signatories [among whom were Václav Havel and Jan Patočka, the latter having died of a stroke ‘after a long and intense interrogation by the secret police’ before the committee was formed] with the aim of following cases of persons facing various forms of state persecution, from police harassment to unjust prosecution in courts of law. Its members helped individuals facing persecution with obtaining legal representation and acted as mediators in acquiring assistance of a financial or other nature. Observing legal formalities, they addressed their communiqués to the Czechoslovak authorities, calling on them to take steps to rectify injustices perpetrated against individuals in the cases monitored. They also passed reports on the cases monitored to entities and persons abroad, from where this information was reported back to Czechoslovakia via the radio stations Radio Free Europe, Voice of America and the BBC. A number of VONS members were persecuted by the police and justice system for their activities, the most well-known case being the legal process against six of its members in 1979. The vast majority of VONS communiqués were published in the samizdat bulletin Informace o Chartě 77 (Information on Charter 77). The Committee for the Defence of the Unjustly Persecuted was also active after November 1989, when it focused on amending the criminal code, calming the stormy situations in the prisons at the time, as well as, for example, on preparing a general amnesty and rehabilitation laws. Members of VONS also made efforts to purge the judiciary, but with minimal success. At their meeting of July 3, 1996, VONS members decided to suspend the activities of the committee for an indefinite period.”
“The American people want us to start over,” Pence said. “Releasing the power of the free market is the pathway toward expanding access and affordability of health care across the country.”
This is one of the dumbest f*ckin’ things any national politician has said of late, and that’s a startlingly low standard. First of all, it was not “the American people” as such, but those who voted Republican, and they are not a majority of the American people. Second, you’d have to be the dullest tool in the shed (or succumb to a colossal act of self-deception, wishful thinking, or state of denial) to think a regressive return to “the power of the free market” is going to be the panacea to our health care system, as Vice President-elect Pence claims. Such a claim is dangerous ideological claptrap that, to the extent it proves capable of motivating policy changes, will be responsible for endangering the health and lives of countless people in this country, apart from its evisceration of any tangible conception of and movement toward “health justice.”
Recent relevant links from the Los Angeles Times:
I have been reflecting on the great bookstores I have visited. My favorite is Powell’s in Portland, Oregon. But there are many others. Book Culture, Nine Lives and the Strand in New York City. University Press Books, City Lights, Green Apple, and Moes in the Bay Area; the Seminary Co-Op Bookstore in Chicago (great for religion, but a wide selection beyond religion); the Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge, Massachusetts; the Elliot Bay Book Company in Seattle; Diesel in Los Angeles (like Nine Lives, small, but good selection); Politics and Prose and Kramerbooks in D.C. I would be interested in others.
Here are links to interviews with the owners of Book Culture and Diesel.
Today is the birthday of C.L.R. James (4 January 1901 – 19 May 1989), the remarkable Marxist humanist and Afro-Trinidadian socialist, historian, journalist, and essayist.
Here are two posts from the archives on James: From “Cricketing in Compton” to the “Cricketing Marxist,” and The Marxist Spirituality of C.L.R. James. And here is a fitting celebratory essay by Christian Høgsbjerg on James’ “magisterial work,” The Black Jacobins (1938, second ed., 1963): “CLR James and the Black Jacobins.”
The following works help illuminate the life and writings of C.L.R. James, the “cricketing Marxist” and “urbane revolutionary.”
One might also read two other books that are not about James or Black Marxism as such: first, Tommie Shelby’s We Who are Dark: The Philosophical Foundations of Black Solidarity (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005) which makes a compelling argument for aiming to “achieve a robust form of black solidarity without a commitment to black identity,” a view I think has much in common with James’ Marxist humanism. And then Michael C. Dawson’s Blacks In and Out of the Left (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013), which is a brief history of black radicalism in the United States toward outlining the elements of a progressive black radicalism for our own time and place. In the words of Shelby, “in the spirit of hope and possibility, it calls for utopian yet pragmatic political thinking that regards independent black political organizing not as a balkanizing force or distraction from the ‘universal’ fight for a democratic society, but as an indispensable element of any viable Left-wing politics.”
Most of the major works (books only) of C.L.R. James: