Inside The Ivory Tower

Several months ago I noted that the American historian Gertrude Himmelfarb had pointed out in one of her many books that much that happens within the Ivory Tower has an impact on much of what happens  in what people like to refer to as “the real world.” The obvious example is “P.C.” that started within the Tower and has permeated our culture at present, especially the halls of corporate America where lawyers earn big fees making sure no one says anything to anyone the might get someone into trouble — or, more to the point, drag the corporate body into court. One might mention the postmodern attack on truth and factuality which has reared its ugly head outside the Ivory Tower in the form of “Alternative Facts.” In any event, all of us might want to pay attention to what those folks behind those ivy covered walls are up to.

Of greatest concern, in my view, is what is called “Identity Politics.” This movement started in the mid 70s in our academies of higher learning and has mushroomed into a full-out assault on everything once considered sacred, including much of the subject matter that comprises the bulwark of Western Civilization. In any event, the mantra in the Ivory Tower these days is that we must trash the detritus of Western Civilization — all of it bad — and care about, if not care for, the chronically disadvantaged, the marginal folks who have been long ignored in academia, and without. This has resulted in a spate of courses in such things as “women’s studies,” “black studies, “native American studies,” and the like. I have blogged about such courses before, but the main point is that these courses are important in their own way, but they are narrow in scope and have wrongly displaced the core of liberal courses that espouse a broad approach to education and also have the goal of putting young people in possession of their own minds, not the minds of their politically motivated instructors. “Studies” courses tend to be dogmatic and confuse education with indoctrination. The defense, when there is one, is that education has always preached and it is now “our turn.” But this a mistake of the first order. Education is not about preaching at all, regardless of what the message happens to be.

In any event, there are those who say that our institutions of higher education have become nothing less than therapy clinics designed to make sure that all who enter will never suffer the slings and arrows of bigotry or insult. This, too, is not a bad thing  — up to a point. We need to be sensitive to the concerns of those who have been marginalized and who might suffer from disguised attacks on the values they hold most dear in the form of language they find hurtful. But at the same time, higher education is supposed to prepare young people for the world outside the Ivory Towers and pain is part of life, as is racism and bigotry. And all ideas are deserving of consideration regardless of how unpalatable they might be. These young people might be better off in the long run if they confronted their fears and suspicions in a place where such things can be discussed in a rational and coherent manner, rather than pretending life is all skittles and beer and finding out later it is not so.

As far as the influence of identity politics outside the hallowed halls of academe is concerned, it has been said of the liberals who lead the growing numbers of folks within the academy in their collective outrage against all things Western that their influence is bringing about the demise of the Democratic Party. I have seen it argued that it is precisely the concern with marginalized people and the concomitant ignoring of “Mainstream America” that is destroying the Democratic Party. Instead of bringing America together, separateness is the word of the day. The connection here is liberals within the walls and liberal politicians without. And this despite the fact that Hillary Clinton, in the recent election, collected three million more popular votes than did her opponent — what’s-his-name. The logic I must say, leaves me a bit confused, but the point may be worth considering. It seems unwise to ignore the major players in the game of politics, the folks that could win or lose an election.

The Democratic Party has historically drawn its strength from the mass of men and women who have been ignored by the wealthy fat cats who control the strings of political power. The Democratic Party, it has been said, cares about people, the Republican Party  cares only about profits. Simplistic, I would agree. But perhaps not entirely wrong. In any event, it might be wise for the Democratic Party to take a long hard look at the people it seeks to draw into its house. Just pause and consider the loonies the Republicans have recently invited into theirs! Should the Democrats be concerned only about marginalized people and ignore entirely those who sweat and strain to make ends meet in “Mainstream America,” those folks who have traditionally been the backbone of the Democratic Party? It is a question worth pondering.

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The Electoral College

I have mentioned a number of times that our Constitution is in need of revision — or at least a number of amendments — to remedy the oversights of the Founders of this nation. They could not possibly see such things as the monumental growth of the corporations or the expanding wealth and power of a few individuals who would take the reins of power away from the people who were supposed to be the backbone of this Republic. Well, “backbone” may be too strong a word, because the Founders didn’t really trust the people altogether.

This can be seen by a cursory glance at the Constitution in which the Senate — selected by the legislators of the various states — is given the greatest power (a fact that disturbed Henry Adams no end) and the House of Representatives — which was the only body voted in by the people — was severely limited in its powers. And the President, of course, was to be elected by the “Electors.” The role of the Electors is discussed in Article II of the Constitution and it states that:

“Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to the whole number of senators and representatives to which the state may be entitled in the Congress…”

Note that the Electors are “appointed” not elected. A lengthy paragraph follows in which it is shown how the Electors would choose a President and a Vice President — a paragraph that was altered by the Twelfth Amendment, passed in 1804, which expanded on the manner in which the President and Vice President were to be chosen, but kept the notion of the Electors intact.

In both cases, as in the case of the selection of the Senate, it was very clear that those who authored and approved the Constitution did not trust the people to do much in the way of choosing their government as they managed it so there would be buffers between the people and those chosen to govern them. It was simply assumed that the House of Representatives would be made up of people chosen directly by the citizens, but limited to a two-year term. Why would one want to state in office for longer since there were more important things to do at home?

The notion that those elected would be voted out of office if they were incompetent was clear from nearly every page of the Federalist Papers that were written to persuade the voters of New York state to ratify the Constitution. Those authors also made it clear, as I have noted before, that the voters themselves would exhibit “civic virtue,” that is, a love of country and willingness to put the needs of the country before their own. These notions now seem to have been idealistic if not naive.

But to focus attention the Electoral College, we might note that it was designed to guarantee that the very “best” people would be chosen for the highest office in the land. It was a check against the rude passions of the “rustics” who might want to elect a man (not a woman, of course) who would be unqualified for the job. There is simply no evidence whatever that those who wanted this Constitution really wanted to provide the people themselves with much power; it was to be housed among those who were best qualified — that is, the wealthier and better informed members of the thirteen states. The Founders, remember, were themselves educated, many of them quite wealthy, and most of them had been British citizens long enough to hang on to a deep prejudice against extending “suffrage” and a reluctant desire, perhaps, to mimic the better elements of the English system of government. The Senate, after all, appears to have been their version of the House of Lords — without any mention of Landed Gentry, of course.

It is ironic, then, that this document which is filled with checks and balances — and masterful in its way — placed so much power in the Electoral College to guard against the whims of the citizens who were not to be trusted with great responsibility. This College in our day has become an anachronism and was actually responsible for the recent election of the very sort of man the Founders were seeking to guard against — a man totally unqualified for office who could in a moment of anger or rage bring down then entire edifice around our ears.

We need to keep reminding ourselves that Hillary Clinton won the popular election by nearly three million votes. The Electoral College put her opponent in office. It would appear the people had more wisdom and common sense than the Founders thought they could exhibit. And the end result of the election was the very thing they sought to avoid.

I say again: perhaps it is time to address some of the oversights of the Founders who wrote this truly remarkable, but antiquated, document.

Two Cultures

Writing in 1998 the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb predicted the victory of Donald Trump eighteen years later. Well, not exactly. But her analysis in One Nation, Two Cultures  does provide an explanation for the surprising results of the recent presidential election. The “two cultures” of which she speaks are the dominant culture and a dissident culture. The former consists of roughly 60% of the population, including the “elite” (her word) who help shape and mold opinion, college professors, journalists, certain bloggers I know of, together with the vast majority in this country of those who lean toward a more liberal take on such things as science, sex, marriage, religion, and morality — which they regard as relative.  The latter consists of a polyglot group clustered around what might be called “moral issues,” issues such as abortion, the Bible, sex in the schools, prayer in the schools, the sanctity of marriage, and the like — not to mention patriotic values, which they regard as closely related to religious values, issues such as respect for the flag, support of the military, and pride in our country. Also, they are uniformly critical of the public school system which, they feel, has too long been controlled by the dominant culture. In Himmelfarb’s words:

“[It is]not only fundamentalists who feel disenfranchised; so too, does a much larger and more varied sector of the population, including many people who are not notably religious but who have strong religious concerns.

“Like the dominant culture, the dissident culture exhibits a wide spectrum of belief and behavior, ranging from a rigid adherence to traditional values only occasionally violated in practice, to a more lenient set of values more often violated. But even the laxer representatives of this dissident culture tend to subscribe to a more “austere” moral code, and to do so more conscientiously than their counterparts in the dominant culture. They do not think of sexual morality as a “personal matter” that can be “boxed off,” as is now said, from the rest of their lives. Nor do they think of religion as a “private affair” that should not encroach upon the “public square.” Nor are they apt to engage in such circumlocutions as “Who am I to say….?” or “Personally… but….”

“At one end of the spectrum of this dissident culture, paralleling the “elites” of the dominant culture, is the religious right, a hard core of determined and articulate activists. Although this group receives most of the public attention, it is only a small part of this culture, for beyond it is a much larger and more varied group of evangelicals, as well as traditionalists another churches — mainline Protestants, conservative Catholics, Mormons, and some Orthodox Jews. There is also a growing number of people who have no particular religious affiliation or disposition — but who have storing moral convictions that put them at odds with the dominant culture.”

The two cultures are neither monolithic nor static, she is careful to point out. There are folks who identify with values in both camps. And people change from one culture to another from time to time.

Yet “In general there is a common set of mind, a confluence of values and beliefs, that locates most people, most of the time, for most purposes, within one or the other culture.”

Of interest is the fact that a large portion of the dissident culture, who generally regard themselves not only as “God-fearing” but also as true “patriots” are very much involved in public, and especially political, affairs. 68 percent of the dissidents strongly believe that “our system of government is the best possible system,” as compared with 53 percent of the whole. And while many of those in the dominant culture are disenchanted with politics, prefer a Third Party candidate in major elections,  or are even too busy to vote, the vast majority of the members of the dissident culture are actively involved in politics. A great many of them have both wealth and position — which explains their presence in the Electoral College and their subsequent unwillingness to switch their vote to Hillary Clinton despite the fact that she had won the popular election by nearly three million votes. Those in this group are involved and they are well positioned to exert political pressure beyond their numbers.

This all helps to explain how a man like Donald Trump won the presidency. He tapped into the deep well of resentment and frustration that characterize the dissident culture and gave them a voice and credibility. It is no wonder that the dissidents refuse to listen to criticism from the dominant culture, especially the media, since their Man is here to deliver them to the promised land where many, if not all, of their hopes and dreams will be realized. After generations of seeing the dominant culture hold sway over this country they now see themselves with a tight hold on the reins of power. And their commitment to this man runs as deep as their resentment of the dominant culture — so much so that if and when Donald Trump is impeached there will be a very loud hue and cry indeed. The culture war which Himmelfarb regarded in her books as a mere metaphor for the rift between the two cultures, will become an actual war with casualties.

 

 

 

Gaslighting

I recall years ago seeing a survey that concluded the most distrusted people in this culture are used-car salesmen (excuse me, previously-owned-car-salesmen) — followed closely by politicians. I dare say that after the recent election the ranking has switched: politicians must be in the lead, surely. Both are notorious for their lies and deceptions, though the politicians seem to be determined to set new records.

But, what precisely is a lie? We can say that a lie is a deliberate attempt to mislead. It involves intent, not just mistaken facts. When another study during the recent election showed that Trump had lied 87 times in a week and Clinton only 8 Hillary’s followers were well pleased — even though it was noted that she did lie. Now, we don’t know if it was lies, in either case, because we do not know what the intentions of the two candidates were. We cannot know — and it is quite possible that the candidates themselves didn’t know! (How many of know what our intentions are when we take action?) There’s a difference between confusing the facts and downright lying. It’s possible that either, or both, were simply confused about some fact or another. Heaven knows I do that all the time.

But the repeated pattern of distortion and falsehood suggests a deliberate intention to mislead. In Trump’s case we seem to have before us an inveterate lier, one who lies without knowing that he is doing so. It’s simply a habit. It has proved successful in his business dealings and it has become a part of his persona, such as it is. Tell them what they want to hear; it matters not if you lie like a rug. In Hillary’s case, it is not clear. Being a politician I dare say she has intentionally lied on numerous occasions — at times because she was guarding secrets at other times simply because she wanted to mislead. But Trump offers us a case study in what has been called “gaslighting,” a practice that is sure to lead us to the point where truth and falsehood will lose all meaning. A recent CNN story  helps us grasp the concept:

The fact is Trump has become America’s gaslighter in chief.
If you’ve never heard the term, prepare to learn it and live with it every day. Unless Trump starts behaving in a radically different way . . . , gaslighting will become one of the words of 2017.
The term comes from the 1930s play “Gas Light” and the 1940s Hollywood movie version (Gaslight) in which a manipulative husband tries to unmoor his wife, played by Ingrid Bergman, by tampering with her perception of reality. He dims the gaslights and then pretends it’s only she who thinks they are flickering as the rooms grow darker.
That’s only the beginning. He uses a variety of truth-blurring techniques. His goal is to exert power and control by creating doubts about what is real and what isn’t, distracting her as he attempts to steal precious jewels.. . .

. . . The techniques include saying and doing things and then denying it, blaming others for misunderstanding, disparaging their concerns as oversensitivity, claiming outrageous statements were jokes or misunderstandings, and other forms of twilighting the truth. . . . When Trump says something that outrages a portion of the population and pleases one segment, he can have it both ways. Voters eager for a tough guy president may be happy with the bully, while those who don’t like it might be appeased by the denial. In the end, few people can keep up with all the facts all the time. And as he tries to undercut the credibility of serious journalists, he makes it even harder for everyone else to find an easy path to the truth.

The key lies in this fact: it’s all about power over others. It’s a shell game born of  Trump’s disdain for others and he plays it masterfully. This is a man who loves power and seems determined to do whatever it takes to increase his own and reduce that of those around him. He may not always intend to mislead — we cannot possibly know — but it is fairly clear that when he is confronted by bare facts that conflict with what he says he shows definite signs of one who is now faced with the problem of restating the falsehood so it appears closer to the truth, ignoring it altogether, or simply accusing his accuser of misrepresenting what he had said. It’s all a part of the gaslighting scheme and in the end we are the victims — as is the truth itself.

We Just Don’t Know

Like many of you, I suspect, the reality of last Tuesday’s election is slowly sinking in — along with fits of depression. But I have discovered that much of the depression I have experienced is due to imagined scenarios. When it comes down to it, the only things we really know for certain about Donald Trump is that we don’t know much of anything.

Oh, to be sure, he put much, if not all, of himself “out there” during the campaign and it was an ugly spectacle indeed. But we also saw him lie and prevaricate and leap from one position to another as those who doubted him had the audacity to question him. As I have said to one of my favorite bloggers, pinning the man down is like nailing Jello to the wall. There’s simply not much substance there and it is truly impossible to know for sure where he will be standing at the next moment.

Much of my depression, I have come to realize, results from imagined scenarios based on the things he has said and done the past few months. Most of these scenarios are deeply worrisome and I need not mention what they are for the purposes of this post. But I will say that I have worried most about the fact that so many people wanted this man for our president — not a majority, recall, but still a great many people. A great many of them, I suspect simply wanted change, any change. And, as Garrison Keillor recently said in a most eloquent essay, those voters wanted change and they are going to get it. I suspect most of them aren’t going to be happy with the changes. They ignore the obvious fact that all change is not necessarily for the better. But there will be change. That is perhaps the only certainty.

Many others voted for Trump because they “hated” Hillary, even though they knew her not. Many were sincere in their fear of a liberal appointment to the Supreme Court who would uphold the Roe v Wade decision that has made abortion legal. Their faith, which I am not really in a position to question, didn’t allow them to vote for a liberal candidate and they saw Donald Trump as their only viable choice. I have read a blog post or two defending this position and I do believe those people were sincere. From my point of view this seems a bit narrow, since there are so many other huge problems facing all of us, but, again, it is not my place to question.

There are those, many I suspect, who saw Trump as the answer to their prayers, a man who would empower them and make possible the realization of their basest hopes for White Supremacy and the elimination of “foreigners” from this land. There is no question that he hit a responsive chord in the bigoted hearts of a great many people and that is deeply disturbing. But, again, we don’t really know what the consequences of having turned over those particular rocks will be.

We know the man does not favor “big government” and the regulation of greed among those whose lives are devoted to accumulating more wealth than they could possibly spend in their lifetimes. And we know a few other things that are equally disturbing to those of us who care about the planet and struggle to make sure it survives the human onslaught. But, again, we can only imagine how this will turn out in the coming years.

And that is my point. The blend of imaginings and speculation with what we think we know about this man is the basis for most of our fears. And, as we have told ourselves throughout this campaign, fear is based on ignorance. We pointed our collective finger at those on the other side whose hatred is based on their fears, but we must recall that our own ignorance about the future and our fears about what this man will actually do once he takes office is based on just that, speculation and imaginings.

So I will try to find some solace in the fact that I don’t really know what this man will do in the next few months or years and even try to find some solace in the thought that he will almost certainly prove himself totally incompetent and alienate most, if not all, of Congress in the coming months and will not long thereafter face impeachment. I regard this as at least as  likely as any of my other imaginings and it is the one that promises me the most hope.

On Voting

I voted this morning as I am sure my readers have done. Now it’s up to the gods of chance to see whether we have elected the right person to run this country for the next four years. It is customary during the days leading up to the vote to urge everyone to “get out and vote.” This has become a commonplace and it is one of the embarrassments this country must admit to that many who are qualified to do so do not vote. But the real issue is not voting itself. The real issue is to cast an informed vote, though we hesitate to talk about that. It is not the vote per se that matters, it is the time and trouble that people should take before they decide to cast their very important vote — in any election.

Years ago when Richard Nixon was running against John Kennedy for the presidency my mother, a lifetime Republican, decided to vote for Kennedy because she had watched the debates and thought Nixon “looked like a thug.” Well, as it turned out he was. But Kennedy wasn’t much better as it turned out, either, and his successor Lyndon Johnson turned out to be an even better president than either Nixon or Kennedy — in that he actually got things done. And yet he looked a bit like a thug as well. And he spoke with a thick Texas accent that put me off. But, then, it really matters not what the person looked like, or sounds like, whether he had five o-clock shadow (as Nixon did in the debates) or walks with a hitch in his giddy-up. What matters is whether that person is qualified to get the job done.

Which brings me to the most recent election which was a debacle by any standards one chooses to employ. It was. assuredly, a popularity contest, in the worst sense of that term — I hate Trump; I can’t stand Hillary. And so it went. It was a vote about personalities and character (less of the latter and more of the former) and not about the issues at all. And yet the issues are what will determine whether this country moves ahead or ends up in a mess. The issues are pressing; the personalities of the candidates didn’t matter in the least.

All of which makes me, once again, raise the issue of the failure of our school system, the fact that so many who do actually vote do so for all the wrong reasons. The standards in our schools, at all levels, have dropped and we have busily “dumbed-down” the standards and demand less and less of our young people in the hope that they will stay in school and like their teachers. I have blogged about this many times and I am sure many readers are sick and tired of the mantra, but there’s no getting around the fact that a better informed citizenry would demand that the candidates stand and deliver, that they address the issues and stand ready to defend their positions on the complex issues that face all of us. They would also demand it of the media which likes to turn every event into a circus as long as it guarantees them high ratings.

There are many reason for the unpopularity of both of the candidates. Neither seems to have been liked very much, though Trump’s followers were blind to his faults in their determination to get him elected. But this devotion was just that, blind. And the fact that the man fooled so many people for so long stands as an indictment of all of us because it should never have happened. To be sure, there were subconscious motives at work: Trump struck an ugly chord in a great many people that most of us were totally unaware was there. But we should have been aware if we listened more closely to one another and watched with a critical eye instead of turning away toward our own personal reasons for preferring his opponent. Again, the election should have been about issues and ideas, political choices made in the light of information and awareness of positions taken in the past and promised in the future. But it was not. It was about people and their peculiarities, whether they were cheaters or liars, whether they were the kind of people we might want to invite to dinner. That’s not how it should be. Ever. But until we realize that our educational system is the one (and only) way out of the impasse we are in at present, that is the way it will be from now on.

We must save the planet. Clearly. And we should make every effort possible to restore the middle class and avoid war. But we must also educate our young or we will have a crippled democracy that cannot function as a government of, by and for the people. It will always be about money and power and about the personalities of those who pull the strings that are put in place for them by the monied interests.

The Short Straw

Let’s say we’re at war and young LeRoy is part of a small group of soldiers who have been told to attack and destroy a machine gun 100 yards to our left. The lieutenant cuts a number of pieces of straw into different lengths and we all agree that whoever draws the short straw will have to take the greatest risk and led the group toward the machine gun. If LeRoy draws the short straw he is committed to taking that risk. He cannot say afterwards, “I really didn’t want to play: I had my fingers crossed.”

On the other hand if Fred, a part of our group, is a 43 year old man with terminal cancer and he did not draw the short straw but he decides after the fact that he, rather than the young man who did draw the short straw, should be the one to take the risk. He cannot do this. The “deal” was that the one who draws the short straw will take the risk. Those who participated in the event agreed ahead of time and they are all bound in conscience to live by the results, whether they like it or not. Fred should have spoken up at the outset.

Its appears as though a rather large number of Donald Trump’s followers — some 30% by a number of estimates — have said up front that they will not abide by the decision of the vote in this election if it goes against their man. Now, they can say this if they do not plan to vote, but if they vote they are bound by the results of that vote regardless of whether or not their man wins. That’s just the way the game is played.

Take the case of Bernie Sanders of recent memory. Surely he wanted the Democratic nomination so much he could taste it. And he worked hard to get the nomination bringing thousands of enthusiastic, idealistic young people into the fold only to have it taken away from him — apparently with foul play involved. The party Democrats did NOT want this man to win the nomination. Moreover, the corporations did NOT want the man to win the nomination and, as we know, they have the final say in this game we call “politics.” But despite the foul play and despite Sander’s undeniable desire to be the next president of the United States, he decided to throw himself into Hillary Clinton’s battle with Donald Trump — unreservedly (and despite the bitter taste that must have remained in his mouth).

Sanders was not a staunch Democrat. He was an independent, an outsider. That was part of the problem. But the main difficulty he had in attempting to win the nomination was his knowledge that the contest today is not between Democrats and Republicans; it is between the corporations who make the political decisions and the people who ought to make the political decisions. He took on the corporations and he lost and in doing so he must have been tempted to withdraw, but he did not.

Sanders drew the short straw and despite the fact that the game was rigged, he stood by the results. Despite the fact that he seems to be the one doing it, Clinton’s opponent has already declared the contest “rigged.” None the less  he apparently plans to go through with the contest and even, I gather, to cast his vote. Those thousands who follow him  blindly will doubtless also vote. But, many say they will not abide by the results of the vote if their man doesn’t win. This is an outrage! It’s not simply a question of playing the game, because politics isn’t really a game at all. It’s a matter of honor, a word that is in disuse these days, but one that helps to set humans apart from the animals. Agreeing to “play the game” and then preceding to play it while all the time intending to disavow the results if your man doesn’t win is dishonorable, if not simply dishonest. There ought to be a harsher word, but once upon a time, and still in certain cultures, honor was a prime virtue and bringing dishonor upon oneself or one’s family was a serious offense and one that often resulted in the risking of or even the talking of one’s life.

I doubt that there will be much of that, but I fear that those who refuse to play the game are making up their own rules as they go along and are likely to do whatever it takes to disrupt the election and guarantee that the next president stands alone in her attempt to govern this country. This could very well sound the death-knell of our democratic system. We have already lived through eight years of stalemate; the system cannot abide another eight years, or even four. In order for it to work, those who play the game must abide by the rules — whether they like it or not.

Abortion

I have chosen the title of this post with some fear and trepidation. This is a red-hot topic and there is almost always much more heat than light at the core of the discussion argument. But I do believe that the abortion issue may help us to understand why women would vote for a misogynist such as Donald Trump who regards women as so many trophies to be collected and spoiled in a way only he is privy to. Thus, as we ponder the whys of this election I think at some point this issue needs to be addressed.

The battle between the “pro-lifers” on the one hand and the “women’s rights” on the other comes down to a matter of faith, not reason. This is why the argument becomes so heated so fast. One either believe that life begins at conception or one believes that life begins when the child is removed from its mother. If one does not believe that life starts at conception then there are grounds for the claim that the mother’s rights over her own body are paramount. There is no scientific evidence that either of these claims is the correct one. It all depends on how we define “life.” Those who oppose abortion are convinced it begins much earlier than those who favor abortion. And the courts have determined, somewhat arbitrarily, that is begins after “fetal viability.” Again, there is no evidence that any of these views is the correct one. And since there is no evidence one way or the other the argument comes down to which group has the larger pile of rocks to throw.

The irony, of course, is that many of those who claim to be “pro-life” are also in favor of war and capital punishment which gives the lie to the claim that all life is sacred. And those who argue for women’s rights are frequently quite happy to see women in the workplace held down by a glass ceiling and making less money than the man next to them doing the same job. We are not known for our consistency, we humans.

My thesis advisor at Northwestern, Eliseo Vivas,  wrote a book titled The Moral Life and The Ethical Life in which he said, at one point, “the soldier goes to battle with a heavy heart.” In other words, there are times when we must take another human life. It is a matter of expediency: kill or be killed. St. Augustine insisted that the only time war was justified was to defend oneself and one’s group against direct attack. A “preemptive strike” is not justified. But the moral question is whether the taking of another human life is ever justified. St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that life is a human right and if we take another’s life we forfeit our own and he therefore justifies capital punishment on those grounds. Vivas would say “no.” The taking of a life may be a matter of expediency. But that is not a reason that carries any moral weight whatever. Since we cannot ever justify the taking of another human life under any circumstances (Augustine and Aquinas to the contrary notwithstanding) we can only attempt to reconcile ourselves to the fact once it has occurred: this is a psychological, not a philosophical, problem. The soldier with the heavy heart must somehow learn to live with the fact that what he did was wrong. And societies must seek humane alternatives to capital punishment.

Thus the abortion issue becomes increasingly cloudy as we try to deal with two questions at the same time: when is a human being alive? and once alive are we ever justified in taking that life? I confess that I do not have the answer to either of these questions, though I find the second question the easier one. I think Vivas was correct: we cannot justify taking another life; we can only seek to reconcile ourselves to it if it happens.

In the current frenzy of a political contest unlike any previous political contest I suspect these questions are at the core of the explanation why 30-35% of the  women in this country might want to support such a candidate as Donald Trump: they hope he would appoint a conservative judge to the Supreme Court who might somehow “overthrow” Roe v Wade and make abortion illegal once again. Hillary Clinton is sure to nominate a liberal judge and we will have more abortions and more death, in their view of things. For those who see this election through the wrong end of the telescope, thereby missing all the larger issues, I suspect this argument wins the day for many of the devout — whose faith I shall never question, but only ask that it be recognized as faith, not reason — and wish they would turn the telescope around.

 

Could This Be It?

For months now I have been trying to figure out why thousands of ordinary folks would blindly follow a candidate such as Donald Trump — given all we know about his innumerable shortcomings and character flaws. I had always thought (hoped?) that my fellow citizens were smarter than that. But I no longer think it’s all about smarts. It is partly that, of course, and a course in civics and a couple of years in seminars discussing difficult books would give these people heightened critical thinking skills. That would certainly help. But, again, I don’t think it’s all about thinking or intelligence.

I have tried to put myself in the minds (such as they are) of those who adore this man. It has been a difficult and frustrating task and has cost me some health problems that I hope will pass after November 8th. But I do think I have begun to get a glimpse of the truth here. Those who follow this man do so out of a sense that he is “one of us.” That is to say, he won’t take our guns away; he doesn’t approve of abortions; he talks like us; he hates Hillary; he wants to take this country back from the smart-asses. The bluster and braggadocio, the scattergun thought-bites, the insults, the hatred, the bigotry, the racism, the man-in-the-street persona this bogus billionaire has managed to pull off seems to have struck a chord deep in the psyches of a great many people.

He’s one of the guys. He “tells it like it is,” he is anti-establishment; he hates they very same things I hate and he tells us he will fix things. Whether he does or not doesn’t really matter, because we know he will, at the very least, stir up the mud. And there is plenty of mud in Washington where the elite bastards who run this country sit on their butts and collect large paychecks for doing absolutely nothing — or at least nothing that benefits me in any way.

It is this sense of fellow-feeling, that Trump is a blue-collar guy in a $2,000.00 suit, that determines the followers to follow. It matters not where he leads. It matters not that he lies because he is speaking from the heart and attacking those we fear. It matters not what the critics say because they are all establishment types who really don’t understand the man and are out to smear him. This sense that their man is being picked on simply fans the flames of adoration: if the establishment fat-cats criticize him that simply proves his worth to these folks.  It makes him a sympathetic figure. The fact that establishment Republicans are abandoning him is also a good sign, in their view, because it emphasizes the point that this man will not play by their rules. His “locker room comments” simply underline the fact that, in their minds and hearts, he doesn’t hold anything back. He may tell lies, but he is honest about his feelings and that’s what matters.

In a word, the connection between Donald Trump and his mindless minions is not about reason and logic in any way whatever — note the contradictions in their feelings about this man. It’s visceral, all about gut feelings. It is about the connection between this man and those thousands of people in this country who feel left out and ignored, who are insecure, like the Donald, and who are filled with the same confused thoughts their leader is filled with and a deep hatred of the status quo — and of others who differ from them in unimportant ways. It is easy to identify with this man for so many of them because he really is just like them. This helps us to understand why the surveys tell us  his followers are devoted while Hillary’s are lukewarm: she’s very hard to identify with.

Those who are still sitting on the fence, I suspect, feel much the same way but they are also leary about his shortcomings and have doubts that keep them from giving in completely to their gut feelings. They are drawn toward him and repulsed at the same time. And the fact that they find it hard to like much about Hillary Clinton simply makes their struggle that much harder. After all she’s decidedly Establishment (with a capital E) and, moreover, she’s a woman. For many, that’s enough.

It’s hard to say, in the end, which side of the fence they will come down on, because it will depend own how strong is the pull toward someone they feel a connection with and how strong is their sense that this man is, in the end, a total fraud. For these people, too, reason and logic play a small role, if any. It will all come down in the end to how they feel about each of the candidates. That’s not the way it is supposed to be, but I suspect that is the way it is.

I Hate Hillary!

I purposely used the “H” word as I did recently in connection with a comment about Lucy Ricardo because the word seems to be all the rage these days — it or one of its synonyms. But I actually hate neither woman. I don’t know either of them so how could I hate them? And yet, there are thousands of people waiting to vote who claim to hate Hillary — or at least to not be able to stand her — even though they do not know her either. What they “know” is a political caricature that has been created over the years by her political opponents and the air-heads on Fox News.

I suspect she is a very private person, perhaps secretive. But that is OK with me because I’m a bit private myself and I realize that on the international stage when one is privy to information dealing with national security one has to be secretive. But, as I say, I don’t know the woman and I cannot say, therefore, that I hate her or that I love her. I simply don’t know her. Neither does anyone else, for that matter — except for her immediate family and a few close friends.

I have made the point a number of times that how we feel about the two candidates should not enter into our calculations of which one we will vote for. This is not to say that character and personality do not count. They do. My blogging buddy, Sue Ranscht, politely pointed this out to me after I insisted that they do not. Even though we do not know either of these two people, we know enough to allow character flaws and personality glitches to enter into the equation. But this does not reduce our decision of whom to vote for to the level of gut feeling. One would hope.

In the end it is the person’s record of public service, their C.V., that is most important. Which candidate has the better qualifications for the office? And while personality does enter in — just imagine Donald Trump in that office dealing with professional politicians and international dignitaries who have walked the world stage for years while he was firing people on reality TV — it shouldn’t weigh enough to allow us to accept or reject that person.

I recently quoted a woman who is determined to vote for Donald Trump (can you imagine?) who said she cannot stand Hillary and that, apparently is her main reason for voting for Trump. I noted that this involves a leap of immense proportions, one that I cannot even follow. How does one get from “I hate Hillary” to “I am determined to vote for Trump”? This leap ignores several alternatives: (1) one could decide not to vote any all; (2) one could vote for the libertarian candidate; (3) one could vote for the Green Party candidate; (4) one could write in someone like, say, Monica Lewinsky — or anyone else. The leap itself cannot be made logically and can only be accounted for in this woman’s case as a leap based on blind faith. At this point it is up to the psychologists out there to determine why someone would take such a leap of ignorance in a matter of this importance.

In the end, however, what matters is the candidate’s record and there is only one candidate who is fully qualified  for this job and that is Hillary Clinton. It doesn’t matter if you can’t stand the woman, what matters is that she is almost certainly the best qualified person for the presidency since the birth of this nation. If we were to like her that would be icing on the cake. But if we don’t it really doesn’t matter in the end.