In the face of relentless change, we are losing the past. Customs, traditions, religion, and established institutions are going overboard. We are losing, perhaps, even a sense of ourselves as beings with a history, Universities cease to be "universities" and become institutes with "career-focused programs." The liberal arts are a luxury to be dispensed with. Who needs educated citizens? Who needs human beings with a rich inner life?
A follow-up to the previous post of Dec. 21, 2018: The Enemy-in-Chief
Since its foundation the US has always had an enemy in-chief. First it was the British who helped to solder the nation together. Then came the extermination of the American Indians extending the American territories “from sea to shining sea.”. Then the civil war when the Americans made mortal enemies of each other with wounds that are still not fully healed. Then came the Spanish, the Germans (twice), the Russians, the North Koreans, the Vietnamese, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Saddam Hussein in Iraq,
The small city of Paradise has been consumed by one of those California forest fires that are becoming only too frequent. Dozens of people have died. Meanwhile, we have been choking in the polluted air 200 miles away. Last year, close friends almost lost their house in the fires that raged around Santa Rosa.
Who can we blame but ourselves? Our freeways are clogged by millions of cars; we fly across continents for business or pleasure; we maintain polluting industries in order to keep the economy going. When our politicians prove unable or unwilling to take action they only reflect our own attitudes. Living in Berkeley, I find myself surrounded by “environmentalists,” but they still burn their woodfires in their chimneys even on the worst bad-air days. Official “Spare the air” alerts are a joke. They are backed up by nothing and largely ignored.
"Is our democracy in danger? It is a question we never thought we'd be asking? … We have spent years researching new forms of authoritarianism emerging around the globe. For us, how and why democracies die has been an occupational obsession. But now we turn to our own country."
Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt in How Democracies Die
Trump must be a puzzle to our political realists. He certainly shares their scorn for seeing politics in moral terms. Unlike George W. Bush, he doesn’t speak of an axis of evil in the world; and unlike Obama and the Democrats, he is little concerned with the issue of human rights. As an amoral capitalist he believes in self-interest and the exercise of power, in the use and pursuit of money in politics.
But he is also not much interested in the actual political realities. He sticks to a simple picture of what the world is like, despises experts, and ignores advice. In his factual claims he is often quite unrealistic.
Donald Trump has already made a number of serious mistakes in his political career. I am not talking here of decisions over which the political parties might disagree. I am talking rather of mistakes due to his incompetent handling of political matters. Politics is also a craft which can be employed in the service of different policies. Trump is proving that he is not a master of this kind of skill.
Here is an easily understood series of graphics on the state of the American economy. Put together by the Wall Street Journal, it shows that the wealth distribution in America has changed dramatically from 2004 to 2016. The top 1% now own 5% more of wealth and the bottom 90% now own 6% less. Look at the rest of the graphics and you get some idea of why this has happened.
Conformism is a danger to any society, including democratic ones. The Americans, who pride themselves on their individualism, are, in fact, often quite conformist in their behavior. Look at the American cities or how people dress and what they eat, and you discover a great deal of conformity. Strangely enough, that conformism can go hand-in-hand with the belief that you are free, independent, and your own individual person.
Conformism is also a political problem and a political danger. Read this article, watch the embedded video, and decide for yourself. https://theconcourse.deadspin.com/how-americas-largest-local-tv-owner-turned-its-news-anc-1824233490
For those living in the United States the conditions of American politics will, for obvious reasons, be of some interest. But given the economic, political, and military power of the US it is not surprising to discover that American politics is scrutinized all over the world. When one looks at the International media one notices how much attention they pay to American affairs.
Does this mean that American politics also has a particular interest for political philosophy?
Joshua Green, Devil's Bargain. Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Nationalist Uprising, Penguin Books 2017, republished with a new preface 2018.
Joshua Green's book has been somewhat overshadowed by the publication of Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury but it adds significantly to Wolff's account and corrects it at some important points. It tells in fascinating detail the story of bad bargain the American people accepted when they elected Trump.
Stuart Jeffries, Grand Hotel Abyss. The Lives of the Frankfurt School, Verso, London 2017
Poor Frankfurt School. Turn to the internet these days and you realize that the handful of German professors who go under that name are being held responsible for almost everything bad that has happened to society since … when? !990? 1970? 1945? Or even 1920? All these dates are being tossed around on those feverish websites. Neo-Marxism, cultural Marxism, feminism, multiculturalism, sexual excess, postmodernism, political correctness, and all in all the entire “Western decline” are due to their nefarious doings.
Michael Wolff, Fire and Fury. Inside the Trump White House, Henry Holt and Company, New York 2018
On August 8 of last year, Donald Trump threatened North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” His words were meant to cow the North Koreans into abandoning their nuclear and missile arsenal but until now, at least, they appear to have been only idle threats. Michael Wolff has now adopted the phrase as the title of his book on the first nine months of the Trump presidency – surely, a cleverly ironic choice. For since his election Trump has proved to be more a source of combative words than of real achievements.
Populism is the political fashion word of the moment. But do we know what the word stands for?
January 21, 2018 - Over the course of the last twelve months, both laymen and experts have sought to diagnose Donald Trump. They have been asking again and again after each one of his many bewildering tweets: What is wrong with the man psychologically? I am interested in another kind of diagnosis. My question is what Trump’s elections means politically...