Bernie?

I recently came across a most interesting piece on-line that deserves thoughtful consideration. It was written by a woman by the name of Rebecca Unger and it begins as follows:

I am a 22-year-old Democrat living in New York City. I work in a creative industry that pays a low salary. I am socially liberal: I believe in LBGT rights, a woman’s right to choose, women’s rights across the board, racial equality, gun control and confronting climate change in a major way. I am upset about income inequality. I believe rich people should be taxed more to help fund policy initiatives that benefit poorer people: healthcare and education and better infrastructure, for example. And yet the idea of voting for Bernie Sanders never once crossed my mind.

This is not about disagreeing with the message Bernie is preaching to Americans — I happen to agree with a lot of what he says. This is about the simple fact that his is an idealistic, naïve agenda that could never be put into practice in America. In this country, to legislate even one tenth of such an ambitious plan would take degrees of cooperation, sacrifice, even manipulation and such an immense amount of ‘give-and-take’ tactics that an idea that once stood untarnished, glistening at the campaign podium, would come out looking like a child’s napkin after a meal of spaghetti Bolognese. Yes, there may be some white patches left around the edges, but no bleach will ever get out all the stains.

Rebecca says much better than I do something I have been trying to say for some time. As exciting as Bernie is and as attractive as he is to all of us who care about the future of this democracy, there are serious questions about his ability to get a single thing done were he elected to the presidency. Unless he could somehow bring enough Democrats along with him into office (who are not bound to corporate sponsors), he would face a belligerent and uncooperative Congress — the same Congress that Barack Obama has had to deal with for eight years — and there is simply no way such a group would support any of his programs. And this is true even if it were proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that his programs are feasible and of tremendous benefit to the country — as, indeed, they are.

The problem is the Congress, of course. It has been bought and paid for by the corporations and they are not about to allow a politician of Bernie’s ilk to stand in the way of inreasing their profit margins. They will doubtless meet and agree, as they did upon Obama’s election, not to support any of Sanders’ programs. And we will have another four years (at least) of gridlock. This would be bad for the country, to say the least.

Thus, despite the fact that Hillary has many battle scars and is a far less principled politician (and there are precious few of them any more) she does have the experience and political savvy to know how to get progressive programs through a recalcitrant Congress. She is flawed, to be sure, but those who now support Bernie Sanders and who insist that they will not support Hillary if she is the Democratic nominee are terribly naive. After all, the alternative — given the nature of the Republican candidates, especially the one who is currently leading the pack — is simply unacceptable. In the end, we must be realistic. And in this regard, Ms Unger’s determination not to vote for Sanders strikes me as equally unrealistic. Again, consider the alternative.

The sad fact is that Bernie has been an outsider all along as an Independent Senator from Vermont. He has few, if any, powerful friends in the Senate who could support, much less sponsor, any of his programs. He is right about so many things. But he is reminiscent of Don Quixote flailing against windmills. And, as we all know the windmills win in the end. It is sad, because Bernie represents a possible way not only to restore the middle class, as he says, but also to return a semblance of the democratic system to a government that is heading non-stop toward oligarchy. Hillary wouldn’t stop that trend, sad to say. But she is assuredly preferable to the alternative — no matter which off those clowns the Republicans finally come up with. And if Sanders were to become the candidate I would most assuredly vote for him even though I agree with most of what Ms Unger says. I prefer an ineffective idealist to an ignorant despot.

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Resentment

There’s an interesting Special Report in this week’s Sports Illustrated about Johnny Manziel’s downfall from the heights he had attained as a football player. The report suggests that his problem stems from the fact that he came from a wealthy family and never really had to work for anything. Nor was he denied anything, apparently. The author of the report, Emily Kaplan, suggests that he is the product of entitlement, the sense that so many young people have as a result of being spoiled.

In Johnny Football’s case, this came to a head in his second year with the Cleveland Browns of the NFL when he was put into a game after the starting quarterback was injured and brought the team back to one of their very few wins in what had been an inglorious season. He expected to be named the starting quarterback but when the starter recovered and was restored to the highest post, Johnny Football “lost it.” He has had a history, apparently, of sulking and feeling sorry for himself when he doesn’t get what he wants and he goes on a binge, drinking himself silly. He frequently makes mistakes while drunk and later apologies and expects to be forgiven. After several attempts to help Johnny with his problem, the Browns finally gave up and Manziel’s future as a professional football player is in doubt.

I have written about the entitlement issue before and I have argued that it stems, in part at least, from the “self esteem” movement that has swept the lower grades in our schools and has also been bought into by a great many people in the culture at large where trophies are now given to kids simply for “participation” in various events.  The movement reinforces the tendency that parents have shown to try to give their kids the things they themselves lacked while growing up. Everyone wins. No one loses. This, of course, is bollocks. There are winners and there are losers and all of us are one or the other at some point in our lives. Indeed, we almost certainly learn more from our losses than we do from our wins. In any event, the issue goes deep into our collective psyche.

Christopher Lasch has written extensively about what he calls out social “narcissism,” our self-involvement, which, he insists, stems from the lack of an authority figure in our lives. When the child is told he is terrific and begins to think he can walk on water because he has been told he can be anything he wants to be; when fathers and mothers fail to draw lines and punish their children when those lines are ignored; when everyone is given a trophy and high grades; when these sorts of things start to happen the child becomes disoriented. He doesn’t know where the lines are — if there are any. He starts to do whatever it takes to draw attention to himself in order to see if there are any lines. When he discovers that there are none, or at least none that are clearly drawn, he starts to draw his own. When this behavior is augmented in school by teachers who tell him he can do no wrong, that all his projects are A+, he begins to have a very large idea of himself. This scenario, unfortunately, is becoming more and more common. In Johnny Manziel’s case it is simply writ large and we can see that his sense of what Joseph Butler called “resentment” led him to believe that when he doesn’t get what he wants he should respond by “getting even,” paying back those who have denied him the treasure he thinks he deserves. As Butler noted in this regard:

Although moral evil gives rise to pain which can strengthen this settled resentment, the object of the resentment is not the pain or harm done but instead the design or intention to morally injure, harm, do wrong and injustice. And the goal of resentment is to cause appropriate injury in a wrongdoer. . .

This is the “I’ll show YOU!” syndrome of the spoiled child; it is the first step down a slippery slope toward certain disaster. Ironically, in Manziel’s case the “wrongdoer” turns out to be himself.

One worries about Johnny Manziel. One ought also to worry about those others who are in his shadow and are following the same path downwards. There are many more of them than we might want to admit even though their stories don’t make Sports Illustrated.

Hope

An inscription over the gates of Dante’s Hell, we are told, reads: “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.” As Dante is guided through Hell by the poet Virgil, he finds dozens and dozens of people who live forever without hope. Several times he feels sorry for the sinners but he is admonished by Virgil. After all, who is he to second guess God who, in His infinite wisdom, placed those sinners where they are? The New Testament tells us that there are three great virtues, Faith, Hope, and Love. The greatest of these is love and Dante finds very little of it in hell. Indeed, at the frozen core of hell he finds those who are incapable of love, whose hearts were frozen long before they died. The medieval thinkers married those three Christian virtues to the four pagan virtues wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice. These seven comprise the cardinal virtues of the medieval church, virtues that are all but forgotten today in our work-a-day world. But permeating through Dante’s Hell is the sense of lost hope. It is dreadful, indeed.

We here in Minnesota know about hope. Those of us who follow our sports teams live on hope, hope that next year they will achieve the Great Prize that almost always eludes them, and hoping we can forget last year’s disappointments. “Hope springs eternal.” For my part I hope that the world will be a brighter place for my grandchildren than in my darkest moments I fully expect it to be. I know in my heart that my generation is not leaving the world a better place than we found it — as we most assuredly should. I continue to hope that somehow the world will find itself at peace and that those who profess love for one another — as the New Testament admonishes us all to do — will in fact embrace this code fully and not merely pay lip service to those wise words. And, on a very mundane level, I hope that this twisted and convoluted political battle we see going on around us will somehow resolve itself without further violence and that a man or a woman with a grain of wisdom will finally be placed at the head of a fragile government that needs wisdom now more than ever.

I do hope for these things because without hope there is only cynicism and, while I tend in that direction, I refuse to allow myself to go there, because I know that to abandon all hope is to be living in Hell. The greatest virtue is of course love, but right behind it, surely, we find hope abiding.

 

 

Adam Smith on Sympathy

Adam Smith is well known for his Wealth of Nations which many regard as the first serious treatise on economics. As an economic treatise it has many flaws, chiefly its reliance on the “labor theory of value,” which Karl Marx also mistakingly embraced. Many like to quote Smith’s notion of the “invisible hand” that is supposed to promote social improvement. In economics, as Smith saw it, if everyone pursues his or her self-interest the ensuing competition among all will raise the level of quality in the work and eventually, as though led by an “invisible hand” all will benefit, “an end which was no part of his original intention.” The key here, which many simply ignore, is the marriage of this theory with Smith’s notion the “moral sense.”

In a word,  before Adam Smith was an economist he was an ethical theorist. He wrote a treatise on the” Theory of Moral Sentiment,” which must be viewed as a part of his overall coherent system. In fact, his economic theory is couched within his moral sense theory: total economic competition with no sense of the importance of the other, no moral sympathy, would result in brutishness in Smith’s view. So while many on the political right embrace Smith’s view of “free self-interested activity” they ignore the vital element of moral sympathy which tempers his position considerably. Smith thought all humans have an innate moral sympathy brought out by their proximity of others.

One of the passages in his treatise on the Moral Sentiments is especially interesting and I will quote it at length:

Were it possible that a human creature could grow up to manhood in some solitary place, without any communication with his own species, he could no more think of his own character, of the propriety or demerit of his own sentiments and conduct, of the beauty or deformity of his own mind, than of the beauty or deformity of his own face. All these are objects which he cannot easily see, which naturally he does not look at, and with regard to which he is provided with no mirror which can present them to his view. Bring him into society, and he is immediately provided with the mirror which he wanted before. It is placed in the countenance and behaviour of those he lives with, which always mark when they enter into, and when they disapprove of his sentiments; and it is here that he first views the propriety and impropriety of his own passions, the beauty and deformity of his own mind. To a man who from his birth was a stranger to society, the objects of his passions, the external bodies which either pleased or hurt him, would occupy his whole attention. The passions themselves, the desires or aversions, the joys or sorrows, which those objects excited, though of all things the most immediately present to him, could scarce ever be the objects of his thoughts. The idea of them could never interest him so much as to call upon his attentive consideration. The consideration of his joy could in him excite no new joy, nor that of his sorrow any new sorrow, though the consideration of the causes of those passions might often excite both. Bring him into society, and all his own passions will immediately become the causes of new passions. He will observe that mankind approve of some of them, and are disgusted by others. He will be elevated in the one case, and cast down in the other; his desires and aversions, his joys and sorrows, will now often become the causes of new desires and new aversions, new joys and new sorrows: they will now, therefore, interest him deeply, and often call upon his most attentive consideration.

What is interesting here is the stress on the importance of others and of society in general in helping to develop the moral sentiments which help build character and promote virtue. But if we read Smith carefully in the above passage we will realize that in describing the attitude of those raised outside of society he seems to be describing so many of those of us who are very much a part of society. It’s as if we have turned so much into ourselves that we act as though we are alone on this planet. It’s all about “me,” and I care not about you because I am not fully aware that you are there — unless you cross me somehow. Then, look out! By himself, Smith notes, a man lacks in character, propriety, a sense of demerit or the “beauty or deformity of his own mind.”

One does wonder if we have become so distanced from the others with whom we share this planet we are well on the way toward losing any sort of moral sensibility — a sensibility that requires that others are aware of us and we are aware of others and are concerned about them as well as ourselves. Instead, for us “the objects of our passions, the external bodies which either please or hurt us, occupy our whole attention.” We are “brought into society” but we seem to be lacking the mirror that will allow us to see ourselves as others see us. This results, according to Smith, in a reduced — if not absent — moral sensibility.

Protest

The increase in violence at Donald Trump’s rallies of late has tongues wagging and writers furiously pounding the keys. It is indeed disquieting at the very least. Trump himself swears he is opposed to violence even though he is on record as encouraging his followers to hit those who protest at his rallies. He’s even promised to pay their fines! His apologists on Fox News are calling for more violence against the protesters who are blamed for the violence. We now have the interesting scenario of those who hit and those being hit both claiming to be innocent. Sounds like the NFL! Trump, as is his style, blames everyone else, including Bernie Sanders and the president, for the violence that has erupted at his rallies. Now there’s paranoia and delusion together in a most interesting mix.

But the reports of a woman standing quietly at his rallies with a peace sign being roughly escorted from the place, conservative reporters who merely seek answers to obvious questions being grabbed by Trump’s right-hand man and nearly thrown to the ground — and Trump later saying the woman is “delusional” and “made the whole thing up” — or blacks in the crowd who report that they are shouted at (the “n” word) and glowered at simply for being present and even struck by Trump followers as the so-called “protesters” are led (again forcefully) from the arena, all lead one to suspect that the tendency of Donald Trump to encourage this sort of violence is the root cause of the entire problem.

To be sure, it takes two to have a fight, but when one side becomes violent because those who disagree with them are merely present this suggests that the tendency is already there and that the violence is simply a matter of course. It’s not hard to see which foot the shoe fits in this case. But the larger question is: why is this man so afraid of listening to those who oppose him? Or, more to the point, why is this man afraid to even allow those who oppose him to be present at his rallies? One does begin to realize that this man has a very thin skin indeed. Further, he is a bully and filled with hatred toward those who might happen to think he is wrong. He is never wrong — in his own mind at least — and it is the “true believers” like him who are most dangerous. Their minds are closed tighter than traps; they are convinced they have all the answers and that the ends justify any means whatever.

But, again, why this brew-ha-ha over protest? This country is founded on protest. It is not only protected by the First Amendment, it is the very life-blood of this country, the very thing our forefathers died to protect. The fact that the man, Donald Trump, fears those who protest against him is a sign of his stunted personality. The fact that his followers are quick to follow his lead and strike out against those who represent opposing views suggests another pathology. It suggests that there are those among us, growing numbers in fact, who are willing to follow wherever they are led. The world has seen such followers before and the damage and destruction they have left in their wake is clear for all to see. This is what is so disturbing about the violence at the political rallies of late. It’s not about the lies and delusion the leader exhibits — though this is indeed unsettling — it’s about the growing number of folks in this country who buy into his confused and even conflicting ideas and are wiling to swear allegiance to someone who wants only power for himself and uses others simply to guarantee that the power belongs to him and to him alone.

Protest is a good thing. It is absolutely necessary in a democracy if the system is to remain vital. As Thomas Jefferson said the country needs a revolution every fourteen years. Anyone who doesn’t see this is blind to history and fails to understand what a democracy is all about. But violence is not a good thing and it is not a necessary thing either. That one should lead to the other, as it has done in this case, must give us all pause.

Socialism Revisited

I am reposting a piece I wrote in 2013, before Bernie Sanders declared himself as a candidate for president, but a time when the word “socialism” was misunderstood and used pejoratively — much as it is today. Sanders is dismissed by many, including the media apparently, because he is a “socialist.”  But how many who readily dismiss the man understand what the word means? This post was an attempt to clarify the meaning somewhat, so I post it here again. Please note that Sanders refers to himself as a “democratic socialist.” The modifier is important.

In every generation there are a number of words that take on pejorative overtones — many of which were never part of the term’s meaning in the first place. Not long ago, for instance, “discipline” was a positive concept, but it has become a bad thing thanks to pop psychologists and progressive educators who ignore the fact that mental discipline is essential to clear thinking and the creation of art instead of junk. Another such term is “discrimination” which used to simply suggest the ability to separate the wheat from the chaff, good paintings and good music from random paint scattered on canvas or mere noise. Indeed, it was a sign of an educated person to be regarded as discriminating. In recent days, thanks to the Tea Party, the latest loaded, “scare term” is “socialism.” The political scare term used to be “communism,” but that term was somewhat neutralized when the Soviet Union broke up and reconciliation became the word of the day. But even when it was in use, most people would have been shocked to know that in its pure form communism was in close harmony with the teachings of Jesus Christ. Further, the Soviet Union was never a communist nation by any stretch of the term. If anything, it was a socialistic dictatorship.

But let’s take a closer look at socialism. The term means, strictly speaking, that the state owns the means of production. That has not come to pass in this country, even with the recent federal bailouts of the banks and auto companies — initiated by a Republican President, by the way. But there certainly has been growing involvement on the part of the government in economic circles, ever since F.D.R and his “New Deal.” Frequently these incursions were made to fill a void created by uncaring corporations, many to protect our environment which seems to be of no concern to large-scale polluters. Further it may be a good thing that such things as anti-trust laws interfere with the unbridled competition that many think is essential to capitalism — an economic system that has resulted in a society in which the 400 richest Americans now have a combined net worth greater than the lowest 150 million Americans and nearly half of the population lives in poverty. In any event, even if the current President, and others of his ilk, has been accurately accused of promoting “socialism,” we might want to know if this would be such a terrible thing. Take the case of Finland, a decidedly socialistic nation.

Finns pay high taxes “but they don’t spend all their money building $22 billion aircraft carriers, $8 billion submarines, $412 million fighter planes, or spend a million dollars a year keeping each soldier in foreign adventures such as Iraq and Afghanistan,” as noted in a recent article by Ed Raymond in Duluth, Minnesota’s Weekly Reader. On the contrary, Finnish children are guaranteed essentials in the way of food and clothing, medical care, counseling and even taxi fare, if needed. “All student health care is free for the family. The state provides three years of maternity leave for the mother and subsidized day care for parents. All five-year-olds attend a preschool program that emphasizes play and socializing. Ninety-seven percent of six-year-olds attend public pre-schools where they begin to study academics. ‘Real’ school begins at seven and is compulsory,” as Raymond goes on to point out.

Finnish schools are rated the highest in the world; their teachers are held in high esteem, paid well, and are drawn from the top quartile of university students. Last year in Finland there were 6.600 applicants for 660 empty teaching slots. The student-to-teacher ratio is seven to one. Contrast this with our over-crowded classrooms and an educational system that underpays and overworks teachers and holds them in low regard. Clearly, there is something here worth pondering, and it lends the lie to the notion that socialism is an inherently bad thing and something to be avoided at all costs, especially given the fact that recent studies have suggested that the Finns are among the happiest people on earth.

Am I advocating socialism? Not necessarily. But I advocate fairness and I am in total support of those who want a system that taxes the wealthy as well as the poor; those who think a good slice of the “defense” budget would go a long way toward funding projects such as Bernie Sanders envisions; I also support attempts to provide health care for those who cannot afford it; I vote for political candidates who seem to care more about people than about profits; but above all else, I oppose those who throw about terms they don’t understand in at an attempt to frighten others rather than to advance understanding.

Quote Of The Day (Reposted)

Göring said the following while being interviewed in his jail cell by Gustave Gilbert during the Nuremberg trials. The conversation provides an interesting perspective. I repeat it here with an added comment because it strikes me as very much a moment of reflection:
Gilbert: There is one difference. In a democracy, the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.

Göring: Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

I have said before that the Trumpet is not a fascist, strictly speaking. But, given his thin skin and paranoia, he has fascist tendencies; his presidency might well lead to the kind of suppression of dissent that was common in Hitler’s Germany. This point was driven home to me recently as I was watching a show on television that recounted Hitler’s fatal attraction to the German people. That, together with Elizabeth Warren’s reminder that we should not remain silent at a time like this, led me to post this again.

The parallels between the two men are chilling. Both men are megalomaniacs, both have thin skin and cannot accept criticism, and they both are chronic liars who insist on finding others responsible for their own shortcomings — Hitler blaming the German people at the end of the war for “letting him down.” Please note Göring’s comment about the relative ineffectiveness of any sort of checks on this man’s success — even in a system such as ours. People are easily duped, especially when the promise of a brighter day is held out. Hitler’s goal was a New Germany after the defeat in World War I, Trump’s is “Making America Great Again.” As I say: chilling.

Media Matters

I begin with a most interesting comment posted by “Media Matters” in which we are told about some large matters of unfairness with respect to the coverage the various political candidates get from the media:

The New York Times reported on March 15 that part of the reason Trump “wins primary after primary with one of the smallest campaign budgets” is that he “dominates” earned media — which includes “news and commentary about his campaign on television, in newspapers and magazines, and on social media” — giving him a “mammoth advantage” over other candidates. According to The Times’ report, Trump far outpaces other presidential candidates in free media coverage, noting that in February “he earned as much media as [Ted] Cruz and [Hillary] Clinton combined” . . .
Mr. Trump earned $400 million worth of free media last month, about what John McCain spent on his entire 2008 presidential campaign. Paul Senatori, mediaQuant’s chief analytics officer, says that Mr. Trump “has no weakness in any of the media segments” — in other words, he is strong in every type of earned media, from television to Twitter.

Over the course of the campaign, he has earned close to $2 billion worth of media attention, about twice the all-in price of the most expensive presidential campaigns in history. It is also twice the estimated $746 million that Hillary Clinton, the next best at earning media, took in.

I now turn to a comment I made earlier this year with respect to the “Fairness Doctrine” which has become a matter of mere historical interest, though one might wish it were still infect.  I noted at that time that the free exchange of ideas was guaranteed by the F.C.C. in 1949 as a result of what was then referred to as the “Fairness Doctrine” which guaranteed that both sides of controversial issues must be made public. This doctrine was rejected in 1987 by the F.C.C. under the leadership of Mark Fowler who had been a member of then President Ronald Reagan’s campaign staff and who argued that the doctrine violated the first amendment. As a result, the door was opened to the media to indoctrinate rather than inform — present a single point of view repeatedly and ignore opposing views; this gave rise to such abortions as Murdoch’s Fox News.

Clearly, Donald Trump is being covered in the media to a far greater extent than any of his opponents.  As suggested, this does go a long way toward explaining the hold he seems to have on American voters. Even those who hate the man find themselves drawn to stories about his latest outrageous behavior — not unlike the way we are all drawn to a train wreck. It’s morbid curiosity, I suppose. In any event, the Trumpet is getting free media coverage while others (such as Sanders) are lucky to get a brief mention. As a result, it would appear, he is kicking butt on the Republican stage. This claim of a causal relation here is strengthened by the consideration that those in the media hesitate to hold Trump’s feet to the fire on any of  the main issues. Nor do his opponents. Thus he sails along unchallenged, filling the air with empty platitudes and bromides that will not cure any of our ills whatever. This may change in the general election. We shall see. But even then the media will determine what we see and hear

And this is the heart of the matter. I have mentioned in previous posts (as have others) that the “news” has become mere entertainment. What this means is that the media are going to broadcast those matters that matter to people: they want to sell air time or please their sponsors. The formula is not “fairness” it’s “give them what they want,” and a citizenry brought up on violent entertainment and video games wants something that gets their attention and holds it for a moment or two — one can scarcely hope for more than that these days.

So when the chickens at last come home to roost, we can blame the citizenry for the success of no-minds like Trump. But we had better reserve some of our criticism for the media which are determined to give us what we want while, at the same time, they manufacture our desires according to the dictates of their sponsors.

The Demagogue

I attach here a portion of a most interesting opinion piece from the Washington Post that is making the rounds on the web. It is by Michael Gerson and the title is “Trump is the Demagogue our Founding Fathers feared.” It is most interesting.

In a dangerous world, fear is natural. Cynically exploiting fear is an art. And Trump is a Rembrandt of demagoguery.

But this does not release citizens from all responsibility. The theory that voters, like customers, are always right has little to do with the American form of government. The founders had little patience for “pure democracy,” which they found particularly vulnerable to demagogues. “Men of factious tempers, of local prejudices, or of sinister designs,” says Federalist 10, “may, by intrigue, by corruption, or by other means, first obtain the suffrages, and then betray the interests, of the people.” A representative government is designed to frustrate sinister majorities (or committed pluralities), by mediating public views through “a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country.”

Trump is the guy your Founding Fathers warned you about. “The question is not ‘Why Trump now?’ ” argues constitutional scholar Matthew J. Franck, “but rather ‘Why not a Trump before now?’ Perhaps some residual self-respect on the part of primary voters has driven them, up to now, to seek experience, knowledge of public policy, character, and responsibility in their candidates. The Trump phenomenon suggests that in a significant proportion of the (nominally) Republican electorate, this self-respect has decayed considerably.”

With the theory of a presidential nominee as a wrecking ball, we have reached the culmination of the founders’ fears: Democracy is producing a genuine threat to the American form of self-government. Trump imagines leadership as pure act, freed from reflection and restraint. He has expressed disdain for religious and ethnic minorities. He has proposed restrictions on press freedom and threatened political enemies with retribution. He offers himself as the embodiment of the national will, driven by an intuitive vision of greatness. None of this is hidden.

The founders may not have imagined political parties as a check on public passions, but that is the role the GOP must now play — as important as any in its long history. It is late, but not too late. If he loses in Ohio and Florida on March 15, Trump may well be held below a majority of delegates at the Cleveland convention. And then this chosen body of citizens should play its perfectly legitimate role and give its nomination to a constructive and responsible leader.

The reference to the “wrecking ball” has to do with what Gerson says Trump is: the “Republican electorate’s” tool to destroy the “old political order.” But anyone who believes that the Trump phenomenon is all about folks who are sick of politics as usual, and that’s it, are fooling themselves. He has shown us the ugly underbelly of this nation, folks who have been afraid heretofore to shout out their hatred and bigotry in public. This man has made it not only acceptable, but even admirable. It’s no wonder the rest of the world is looking askance at this country and the hatred and even violence that has clouded this election thus far.

 

Free Speech?

The first amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that the government may not establish any laws that “impede the free exercise of religion or abridging freedom of speech,” among other things. The F.B.I.’s recent attempts to force Apple to open private documents on the grounds that there might be information there that threatens the United States centers around the question of how much power the U.S. government actually has, given the wording of the First Amendment and our presumed right to privacy. Leaving aside for the moment the question of privacy, clearly the so-called “right” of free speech is guaranteed by the First  Amendment, despite the fact that it speaks against the government’s misuse of its power, and not about the ordinary citizen at all. But the question has been raised repeatedly as to just what that “right” guarantees. The famous clounter-example is the alleged right to shout out “fire” in a crowded theater, and that has been something of a paradigm: the right to free speech does not extend so far as to endanger others. That would appear to be common sense.

The Supreme Court has dealt with numerous cases of alleged violations of the First Amendment on the part of the government, going back as far as 1919 when Eugene V. Deb’s outspoken opposition to the war led him to face 10 years in prison. Furthermore, as the following case will illustrate, in 1969 the Court ruled against the right to free speech when it is designed to incite a riot — which would be a corollary to the so-called right to shout “fire” in a crowded theater. I quote the always reliable Wikipedia at this point:

Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969), was a landmark United States Supreme Court case based on the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Court held that government cannot punish inflammatory speech unless that speech is directed to inciting, and is likely to incite, imminent lawless action. [Italics added].

Now, given the undeniable fact that the leading candidate for the Republican nomination for the highest office in this land has said things that led inexorably (some would say) to violence — in the case of an alarming increase in the burning of Muslim Mosques in this country since the speeches began and the recent violence at his rallies where protesters have been struck and thrown to the ground by “security” personnel or by irate supporters of the candidate — one might ask whether this man’s outspoken bigotry and hate-and-fear-mongering ought to be allowed by law. It is apparently not speech protected by the First Amendment since it leads, apparently, to violence. Indeed, it would appear to be a clear case of speech “inciting, and likely to incite, imminent lawless action.”

It is interesting that this man’s crude and abominable behavior should raise such a question. If he were not running for the highest office in the country it would be a small item, hardly worth mentioning (though still interesting none the less). But given the circumstances, it strikes me that his behavior is not only lawless, but ought to disqualify him from the high office he seeks where he would be sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States — a document about which he seems to be entirely ignorant, and which he flagrantly abuses.