History Is Bunk!

I was looking back at some of my earlier posts that mention Aldous Huxley in light of a recent article insisting that Huxley’s predictions are much more accurate than were Orwell’s — an article that is well worth reading, by the way. In doing so, I came across the following post which I reblog in the hope that this time someone will actually read it. I do think it speaks to our current malaise, which spans a broader terrain than simply the recent election and the dangerous machinations of a narcissistic president, though history has some important lessons to teach us even in this regard. 

The student protests in this country during the turbulent 1960s led by well-intentioned, idealistic young people, seem to have marked the death-throes of the American spirit. Directed as it was, unsuccessfully, against the “establishment” of materialistic, commercial, and militaristic power that increasingly controlled this country, the effort sought in its blind way to breathe life into the spirit that had once made this country remarkable. But blind it was, led by uneducated zealots who lacked a coherent plan of action, confused freedom with license, and targeted education which they barely understood and were convinced was turning into simply another face of the corporate corruption that was suffocating their country. In their reckless enthusiasm they decided that the core academic requirements at several of America’s leading universities were “irrelevant” and they bullied bewildered, frightened, and impotent professors and administrators into cutting and slashing those requirements. Other institutions were soon to follow. One of the first casualties was history, which was regarded by militant students as the least relevant of subjects for a new age they were convinced they could bring about by force of will and intimidation.

Had they been inclined to read at all, they might have done well to heed the words of Aldous Huxley when, in Brave New World, he pointed out that the way the Directors of that bizarre world controlled their minions was by erasing history. One of Huxley’s slogans, lifted from Henry Ford, was “history is bunk.” By erasing and re-writing history those in power could control the minds of the population and redirect the nation and determine its future. In the end, of course, the students who led the protests in this country and who thought history irrelevant were themselves (inevitably?) co-opted by the corporations and eventually became narrow, ignorant Yuppies, running up huge credit card debt and worried more about making the payments on their Volvos and their condos than about the expiring soul of a nation they once claimed to love. Or they became politicians tied to corporate apron-strings thereby rendering them incapable of compromise and wise leadership.

In 1979 Christopher Lasch wrote one of the most profound and informative analyses of the cultural malaise that resulted in large part from the failure of the protests in this country in the 1960s. In his remarkable book The Culture of Narcissism: American Life In An Age of Diminishing Expectations, to which I have referred in previous blogs, he warned us about this attempt to turn our backs on history:

“. . .the devaluation of the past has become one of the most important symptoms of the cultural crisis to which this book addresses itself, often drawing on historical experience to explain what is wrong with our present arrangements. A denial of the past, specifically progressive and optimistic, proves on closer analysis to embody the despair of a society that cannot face the future. . . . After the political turmoil of the sixties, Americans have retreated to purely personal preoccupations. Having no hope of improving their lives in any of the ways that matter, people have convinced themselves that what matters is psychic self-improvement: getting in touch with their feelings, eating health food, taking lessons in ballet or belly dancing, immersing themselves in the wisdom of the East, jogging, learning how to ‘relate,’ overcoming the ‘fear of pleasure.’ Harmless in themselves, these pursuits, elevated to a program and wrapped in the rhetoric of authenticity and awareness, signify a retreat from politics and a repudiation of the recent past. Indeed, Americans seem to wish to forget not only the sixties, the riots, the new left, the disruptions on college campuses, Vietnam, Watergate, and the Nixon presidency, but their entire collective past, even in the antiseptic form in which it was celebrated during the Bicentennial. Woody Allen’s movie Sleeper, issued in 1973, accurately caught the mood of the seventies. Appropriately cast in the form of a parody of futuristic science fiction, the film finds a great many ways to convey the message that ‘political solutions don’t work,’ as Allen flatly announces at one point. When asked what he believes in, Allen, having ruled out politics, religion, and science, declares: ‘I believe in sex and death — two experiences that come once in a lifetime.’ . . . To live for the moment is the prevailing passion — to live for yourself, not for your predecessors or posterity.”

If there are any questions about the spiritual health of this country, then the loss of hope, the rejection of religion, history, and science, and the abandoned expectations of viable political solutions provide clear answers. We do seem to be a vapid people, collecting our toys and worrying about how to pay for them, wandering lost in a maze of our own making, ignoring the serious problems around us as we follow our own personal agendas — and remaining ignorant of the history lessons that might well show us the way to a more promising future.

Impeachment?

I predicted quite some time ago that impeachment of this president would not be long in coming. After all, he alienates everyone he works with and is determined to ignore Constitutional restraints as he does things his way — even if his way leads down a blind alley. There are simply too many powerful men and women in Washington whose egos are as big as Trump’s to allow him to have his way! Apparently the movement to impeach is growing as a recent article in Huffington Post reports. I quote a part of that article here in order to give my post some credibility:

Trump has been trying to govern by impulse, on whim, for personal retribution, for profit, by decree ― as if he had been elected dictator. It doesn’t work, and the wheels are coming off the bus. After a week!

Impeachment is gaining ground because it is the only way to get him out, and because Republicans are already deserting this president in droves, and because the man is psychologically incapable of checking whether something is legal before he does it.

Impeachment is gaining ground because it’s so horribly clear that Trump is unfit for office. The grownups around Trump, even the most slavishly loyal ones, spend half their time trying to rein him in, but it can’t be done.

They spend the other half fielding frantic calls from Republican chieftains, business elites and foreign leaders. Trump did what? Poor Reince Priebus has finally attained the pinnacle of power, and it can’t be fun.

It is one thing to live in your own reality when you are a candidate and it’s just words. You can fool enough of the people enough of the time maybe even to get elected. But when you try to govern that way, there is a reality to reality—and reality pushes back.

One by one, Trump has decreed impulsive orders, un-vetted by legal, policy, or political staff, much less by serious planning. Almost immediately he is forced to walk them back by a combination of political and legal pressure—and by reality.

I also noted some time ago that Trump is an impulsive man and thought at the time that his impulsiveness would get him into big trouble. He is clearly incapable of seeing the broad canvas or imagining the consequences of his actions — or caring what is legal or moral. He simply has a notion and then acts — usually tweeting about it as he does it. And then he waits for the glory to descend on him, people giving him the applause he thinks he richly deserves. If no one else will shout how great he is, he shouts it himself. He seeks to impose his sense of reality on the world around him, to force others to see the world as he sees it — with him at the center. He is a spoiled, delusional child who needs constant reassurance that his way is the only way. It was clear from his campaign that this man would be unable to work within the confines of a republican system of checks and balances. He has always seen himself as a dictator — like the men he praises to the skies.

In any event after only a week on the job it is becoming increasingly clear that he will be removed in the not too distant future. I suspect the Republican powers in Washington will approach him and offer him the opportunity to resign — as was done with Richard Nixon. Given Trump’s ego he will probably refuse and impeachment will proceed. It will be ugly and there will be a hue and cry from Trump’s mindless minions who will be convinced (as they have been throughout) that this man can walk on water.

My main concern, which I share with a couple of my favorite bloggers, is the damage he will do in the meantime. But I try to find solace in the thought that the damage will be less than it would be if he were to remain in office for the full term.

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.

Nixonesque?

The HuffPost story begins as follows:

The Obama administration woke up on Tuesday to another morning of scorching criticism about the Justice Department’s decision to secretly obtain months of Associated Press phone records.

The DOJ tracked the incoming and outgoing calls on more than 20 AP phone lines, as well as the home, office and cell phone lines for six individual journalists involved in writing a national security-related story about Yemen that the Obama administration did not want them to write.

While many of us who supported this president are dismayed by this story and its ramifications — given its open attack on the first amendment — there are those who will insist that the president is in no way connected with this sort of suppression. How could he be? He’s a liberal democrat, after all, and Democrats are champions of a free press. But the story goes on to point out that

[Buzzfeed editor Ben] Smith wrote that the nuclear nature of the probe could, in part, be traced back to Obama, who has made it a policy to aggressively go after leaks in a fashion not seen in any of his predecessors. Though the White House said it had nothing to do with the probe and referred reporters to the Justice Department, Smith wrote that it was not hard to see Obama’s hand in some way: Elements of this approach, Obama’s friends and foes agree, come from the top. Obama is personally obsessed with leaks, to the extent that his second chief of staff, Bill Daley, took as one of his central mandates a major and ill-fated plumbing expedition. Attorney General Eric Holder, who pressed the leak policy, is a trusted Obama insider.

This obsession with leaks and attempts to suppress the news is disquieting indeed. I must admit I found Obama’s first term as president unsettling, given his urge to make everyone happy and reach compromises that violated fundamental principles he embraced during his campaign. But I figured that when he gets a second term and doesn’t have to run again he will come out strong on the principles one identifies with liberal thinkers and politicians who aren’t simply holding a finger up to see which way the wind is blowing. But there he is with his finger up — and it appears to be his middle one and it is pointed at us!  The man doesn’t seem to know what a principle is and he is acting very much like a paranoid Richard Nixon or George W. Bush, saying one thing while he does another. Shades of Watergate and the invasion of Iraq clouded in lies in the name of “freedom.”

It was terribly disappointing, for example, to see that even though 91% of the people in this country wanted some sort of background checks on gun sales the man couldn’t wheedle the Senate into a vote to support gun control. Is he really that clueless, not to mention inept? He seems to be sleeping with corporations like Monsanto who are determined to ignore ethics completely in the name of higher profits. Moreover, he promised to close Guantanamo where prisoners at this writing are still on a hunger strike to draw attention to their inhumane plight. And while the drone attacks started under Bush, they have escalated under Obama to an alarming extent — and he refuses to “come clean” and appear before committees to explain what he is up to. His tendency toward secrecy and his inclination to resort of prevarication when confronted smacks of the very thing we all hoped we were getting way from with this president who promised to be open and honest. He does, indeed, appear to be a Republican in Democratic clothing, fearful of “the enemy” and devoted to increasing corporate profits. It’s one thing to be a closet Republican with his hand in corporate pockets (there are a number of them in Congress), but it is quite another to pretend that he is anything but. It’s the duplicity coupled with the growing lack of trust that causes the greatest concern. Just who is this man?

The Best and the Brightest

I have commented before that the founders of this nation must be flip-flopping in their graves when numbers of citizens in this country vote for the President on the basis of brief TV debates that are little more than tailored entertainment that must compete for viewers with more popular programs such as Monday Night Football. But if they were disturbed about that they must be even more agitated to think about the quality of persons running for the highest political offices in this land. I am thinking primarily of the “rape experts,” like Todd Akin a Republican from Missouri, who have been making news insisting that there is such a thing as “legitimate” rape in which “the female reproductive system is able to block conception from an unwanted pregnancy” —  a theory based on what shall hereafter be known as the “New Biology.” Tina Fey got it right recently when she said, “If I have to listen to one more gray-faced man with a two-dollar hair cut explain to me what rape is, I’m gonna lose my mind.”

But, speaking of gray-faced men, a more recent comment may take the proverbial cake. Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, also a Republican, has declared in public that when a woman becomes pregnant from rape it is “God’s Will.” A recent ABC News story quotes the man as follows:

“I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen,” Mourdock said during Tuesday’s Senate debate, choking up. Mourdock’s opponent, Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly, opposes abortion except in cases of rape and incest.

Both of these men were speaking out against abortion, of course, and should never have ventured into the treacherous realm of female anatomy and certainly should have avoided entirely the general subject of pregnancy where their credentials would never pass muster. But then perhaps they shouldn’t have been speaking about abortion at all because the founders were quite clear about wanting to separate religious from political issues and abortion is clearly a religious issue.

The founders also wanted what Jefferson liked to think of as the “best and brightest” people in the country to be elected by a carefully controlled process that would guarantee that the people at large, whom they didn’t really trust, were unable to elect others like themselves. If that ship didn’t sink soon after launch, it is assuredly at the bottom of the lagoon by this time.

But I also recall when President Richard Nixon, who once bragged that he had never had a course in political science, nominated G. Harrold Carswell to fill a vacancy in the Supreme Court. When confronted by the charge that the man was “mediocre” and not fit to be on the highest court in the land, Nebraska’s U.S. Senator Roman Hruska famously said “Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance?” Well, we know that “mediocre” was a euphemism for “stupid,” and it was clear at the time that the mediocre citizens already had someone who represented them in the highest office in the country, not to mention the Senate, and furthermore the Supreme Court is not supposed to be a representative body in the first place. Perhaps Messers Nixon and Hruska both should have taken that course in political science.

In any case, pity the poor founders: they can get no rest in their graves for all the leaping and spinning they must be doing these days given the mess we have made of their great experiment.