The Ties that Bind: The US and its Preferred Tyrant

Many groups in America have experienced an “Othering” while they have engaged in any sort of relationship within the U.S. Groups specifically placed outside of America’s embrace include almost all minorities and the poor. I will not go full anti-Trump administration and pretend it had not been occurring under ever administration since America’s birth. It feels that with even with the state of Puerto Rico will not go down as a new era in American policy. So many are still left without power and the death toll has creeped up close to 1,000 people.

I am here to discuss the U.S’s ongoing failures in Yemen and the bizarro state of America’s Middle East policies. Needless to say the many countries have dipped into the murky waters of the Middle East and left quite a mess. No administration has done “great.” The 2nd Bush administration held a lot of regard towards  the Saudi Arabian rulers despite the general belief that they fund terrorism throughout the Middle East. Their powerful influence in OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) has given them far too much leeway. As a consequence we arrive to modernity, wherein Saudi Arabia is going through a bit of a time itself. They have had the pleasure of avoiding the Trump administration’s travel ban and enjoyed a historically good relationship with the U.S. due to their oil producing status. Tensions have been exceedingly high between Saudi Arabia and Iran for decades and many have suffered.

Sadly, it is now the people of Yemen who suffer the most. Yemen is a smaller country that has more in common with Iran. The Saudi military decided to push for the return to the Sunni leadership and has been bombing in support of the Sunni rebels. And with Yemeni rebels’ minor military action resulting in more Saudi actions will lead to the death of an untold number – likely in the 100’s of thousands if not millions. Currently, the Saudis are blocking any incoming goods/services/people from entering Yemen……with U.S. support. The country has become an island surrounded by waters of people trying to help. None can breach it. Cholera is killing indiscriminately and starvation is claiming young and old lives daily.

Where does the U.S. sit in the scheme of this? We have emboldened Saudi Arabia to the point that they are convinced that this is the best course of action. Saudi Arabia’s enemy, Iran, has been ostracized for too long. The new administration has fluctuated between great disdain and promising to renege on the certification treaty between international powers and Iran. The new administration has ignored the humanitarian crisis that is ongoing. The new administration has even began to support the new young leader in Saudi Arabia who is consolidating more and more power daily.

Fear not. There is a Trump relationship so deeply embedded with a recent arms deal and sending of diplomatic wunderkind Jared Kushner to visit. One thing is for certain: Yemen needs leadership from a larger and better country than the once, at least mildly, helpful America. We prefer to embrace those with the oil than those with disease.

Labor: A Dab Will Do Ya

Many attribute countries’ falls to a purposeful and scheming series of methods by individual actors. America, as it is today, has doomed itself. It would be easy to procure an easy argument by blaming trends on the baby boomers or the millennials (it isn’t them). Instead, I will blame Marx. I know. Let me explain.

A large portion of my thought here is rooted in Hannah Arendt’s text, “On Revolution.” Arendt talks about “the Social Problem” or poverty as being the leading cause for the French Revolution’s failure. America, on the other hand, had plenty of resources. As a result, the “needs” of the French people superseded their “wants”. These needs include the essentials in life: food, shelter and clothing. All derivatives of Labor or Marxian philosophy’s most pressing concern. Arendt believes that Marx’s focus on Labor was misguided because he only saw it as a historical element rather than a political one. His revolutionary thought did not wander into the dangers of Labor and need becoming political forces. Once the shift happened, it was too late. Quoting Robespierre, Arendt describes how they had come to a moment when a revolution could have led to a great “new” but instead France stayed the course for a new despotic leader in Napoleon.

Arendt saw America’s revolution as one that was nourished by plenty. America was not stretched thin for resources. Labor, as a political event, did not make its way into a political foray. Instead, the idea of freedom and nation building reigned. Clearly, not for the slaves who suffered shortages and plights abound but the “founding fathers” persisted. They succeeded where France fell short – a new and unique nation was born.

Today, how can we discuss the state of America without reintroducing Labor into the political front? The assault against people’s very basic needs is waged by modern political tyrants. Souls who only know wealth and never seem to have concerns about accessing America’s “milk and honey” are also the ones creating the assault against the basic needs of other Americans. Political operatives from the lowest valley to the highest echelon of America are seeking to take advantage of the massive wealth and power disparities to further garnish themselves. The Affordable Care Act doesn’t have a single sleep filled night since its incarnation. Anyone who has received government assistance for food or shelter has rarely escaped the stigmatization of having anything provided to them. Marx would cry for a revolution to normalize this instead of maintaining its heightened ostracization. Too late, Karl.

As a result of Labor being placed outside of the political spectrum, right’s language has faltered to keep up with it. French people bled, withered away, and died because of their “needs” not being met. Today that very thing is happening in America but instead of shame at not helping people live, the suffering is greeted with “I don’t believe that is a fundamental right.” France meets many of its people to insure that they can survive yet politicians in the Democratic and Republican world say “That is too big.” They don’t challenge because they find solace in their needs being met.

It is clear we stand at a precipice. I wish I could believe that we are not set to go reeling over the edge. But, it is hard to be optimistic when so many struggle to just survive. Volatility feels like what many American’s cradle and they cannot put it down. The American Way is so afraid of exercising a control and clear-mind that we only have one way to go: down.

Political Life Contra Salvation

The seclusion of the church has become a tool that has dulled the political acumen and the weapon for the oppressed. There was a time when churches were the harbingers of social justice. Now they often prefer tax exempt status over empowering their congregants. To provide clarity, there was a time that churches fought loudly for the political favor in the black community. Leaders like MLK and Malcolm X stemmed from very politically active churches (*Nation of Islam is a quasi-church in my mind and now bears some strange resemblances to prosperity gospel groups). Their harm was inextricably linked with their ability to lift up others with them. Now, we get souls who laud themselves and their money. Prosperity gospel, that prayer and God chooses who should be rich, generates an inwardness that was not a mainstream approach to religion until the rise of televangelism. Now it haunts the religious community around every corner. Even to the point that yoga isn’t safe. Bikram yoga is an excruciating practice where you engage in yogic practice in a 100+ degrees Fahrenheit room. It spread like wildfire and though many are there for the exercise portion it also carries a religious engagement similar to prayer. Its founder is now on the lam from the law for sexual assault and tax evasion. He believed his own hype and had some outlandish words and beliefs.

Joel Osteen, the sole weasel to escape from Roger Rabbit’s world, has established an elaborate series of machinations to funnel money into his own pockets. His narrow skull filled with gleaning teeth can be seen at Wal-Marts across the US. Preaching an independence that suggests an inward and isolationist approach is his “shtick”. Essentially saying your problems are just God testing you, go further inward and you will work your own way out. Oh, and most importantly, give money to me because God wants me to thrive. The gall. The shamelessness. Yet, people give. Osteen has a net worth of about 40-60 million. He claims that there is no need to be ashamed about being rich. I guess when you are that rich, you can swallow the pride. Not someone who brings good into the world. Certainly not to the public at large. And, easy as it would be to criticize so many other elements, including his time working under Judge Doom, we must admonish him for the looking inward instead of engaging the injustices of this world. Not even willing to open his vast megachurch in Houston to help those suffering immediately after Hurricane Harvey ravaged the city. Yet, the power of shame can only sway Joel so much. He opened after the internet barraged him with criticism but he persisted on making excuses.

If I were to say what these congregations are good for, it would seemingly be only in their ability to further fleece the government for tax purposes.  Perhaps the inward turn from the churches at large was because they were simply afraid to lose their tax exempt status. If that is the case, then money has triumphed over salvation.

 

 

Keep An Eye on the Rearview

“History does not repeat, but it does instruct.”

That’s Yale historian Timothy Snyder’s message in his new book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. If we can learn anything from the past, it’s that democracies can collapse. It happened in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, and then again after the Soviets began spreading authoritarian communism in the 1940s.

American democracy is no less vulnerable to tyrannical forces, Snyder warns. “Americans today are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism in the twentieth century. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience.”

The short 126-page treatise – written in reaction to Donald Trump’s ascension to the Oval Office – looks at failed European democracies to highlight the “deep sources of tyranny” and offer ways to resist them:

Do not obey in advance. Defend institutions. Believe in truth. Contribute to good causes. Listen for dangerous words. Be as courageous as you can.

Inspired as it may be by Trumpian politics, On Tyranny is useful guide for defending democratic governance in any political era. As Snyder notes, looking to past democracies’ failures is an American tradition. As they built our country, the Founding Fathers considered the ways ancient democracies and republics declined. “The good news is that we can draw upon more recent and relevant examples than ancient Greece and Rome,” Snyder writes. “The bad news is that the history of modern democracy is also one of decline and fall.”

The actionable steps for defending our democratic institutions make up the bulk of On Tyranny, but Snyder’s big critique is of Americans’ relationship to history. It’s not just that we don’t know any; it’s that we’re dangerously anti-historical.

In the epilogue, Snyder observes that until recently the politics of inevitability – “the sense that history could move in only one direction: toward liberal democracy” – dominated American political thinking. After communism in eastern Europe ended, and the salience of its, and fascism’s and Nazism’s, destruction lessened, the myth of the “end of history” took hold. This misguided belief in the march toward ever-greater progress made us vulnerable, Snyder writes, because it “opened the way for precisely the kinds of regimes we told ourselves could never return.”

Snyder isn’t being particularly shrewd here. Commentators have explicitly endorsed versions of the politics of inevitability. After the Cold War, the political theorist Francis Fukuyama wrote the aptly titled article “The End of History?” (which was later expanded into a book, The End of History and the Last Man) arguing that history may have indeed reached its final chapter. In the “End of History?” he writes the following:

What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.

This is a teleological conception of the world – it views history as unfolding according to some preordained end or purpose. Marxism had its own teleology, the inevitable rise of a socialist utopia, based on Karl Marx’s materialist rewriting of Hegelian dialectics. After Marxism took a geopolitical blow in the early 1990s, Fukuyama reclaimed Hegelianism from Marx and argued that mankind’s ideological evolution had reached its true end: Liberal democracy had triumphed, and no alternatives could possibly replace it.

But Snyder isn’t referring just to the prophecies of erudite theorists like Fukuyama. He’s pointing the finger at everyone. When the Soviet Union collapsed, he writes, Americans and other liberals “drew the wrong conclusion: Rather than rejecting teleologies, we imagined that our own story was true.” We fell into a “self-induced intellectual coma” that constrained our imaginations, that barred from consideration a future with anything but liberal democracy.

A more recent way of considering the past is the politics of eternity. It’s historically oriented, but it has a suspect relationship with historical facts, Snyder writes. It yearns for a nonexistent past; it exalts periods that were dreadful in reality. And it views everything through a lens of victimization. “Eternity politicians bring us the past as a vast misty courtyard of illegible monuments to national victimhood, all of them equally distant from the present, all of them equally accessible for manipulation. Every reference to the past seems to involve an attack by some external enemy upon the purity of the nation.”

National populists endorse the politics of eternity. They revere the era in which democracies seemed most threatened and their rivals, the Nazis and the Soviets, seemed unstoppable. Brexit advocates, the National Front in France, the leaders of Russia, Poland, and Hungary, and the current American president, Snyder points out, all want to go back to some past epoch they imagine having been great.

“In the politics of eternity,” Snyder writes, “the seduction by a mythicized past prevents us from thinking about possible futures.” And the emphasis on national victimhood dampens any urge to self-correct:

Since the nation is defined by its inherent virtue rather than by its future potential, politics becomes a discussion of good and evil rather than a discussion of possible solutions to real problems. Since the crisis is permanent, the sense of emergency is always present; planning for the future seems impossible or even disloyal. How can we even think of reform when the enemy is always at the gate?

If the politics of inevitability is like an intellectual coma, the politics of eternity is like hypnosis: We stare at the spinning vortex of cyclical myth until we fall into a trance – and then we do something shocking at someone else’s orders.

The risk of shifting from the politics of inevitability to the politics of eternity is real, Snyder writes. We’re in danger of passing “from a naïve and flawed sort of democratic republic to a confused and cynical sort of fascist oligarchy.” When the myth of inevitable progress is shattered, people will look for another way of making sense of the world, and the smoothest path is from inevitability to eternity. “If you once believed that everything turns out well in the end, you can be persuaded that nothing turns out well in the end.”

The only thing that stands in the way of these anti-historical orientations, Snyder says, is history itself. “To understand one moment is to see the possibility of being the cocreator of another. History permits us to be responsible: not for everything, but for something.”

 

Reflecting Politics: Image Making and Falsities

Hannah Arendt was a mid-century German thinker that witnessed humanity at its worst. As a consequence, her writings carry a profundity that I rarely found in the many authors I have read. I can lay out several prophetic examples encountered in her texts. Given the political climate, I will pull from her seminal essay, “Lying in Politics” which is found in the collection, Crises of the Republic.

Arendt laments the chance for “image-makers” to inject themselves into politics. Lobbyists and advertising men would possess a shared disinterest in things of actual politics and instead focus on the “image” of politics. The result is a politician whose image is refined to reflect a pious family man who votes against his constituents’ interests on the regular. The subterfuge from the Mad Men image consultants has driven us to accept this political farce at its face value or provided a deep doubt about the merits of ANY politician.

She anticipated the one of modern political crisis: destruction of a shared and knowable world. Specifically, this quote gives credence to this topic:

“The point is reached when the audience to which the lies are addressed is forced to disregard altogether the distinguishing line between truth and falsehood in order to be able to survive.” (Crises of the Republic 7)

When we meld image making with a disbelief there leaves only so much mental capacity to challenge. Our perception of reality, “truths”, can’t be easily parsed. We either accept an image maker’s tale or we distrust the entire world.

Yet, modern political discourse has generated another framework for survival. The tribalism of right-wing conservatism has lived within this dichotomous reality. The espousal of lies from these sources protects their observers from acknowledging shifts in modern living.  Shifting demographics and waning labor prospects have been successfully hidden by political conservatives. Also, no longer are the viewers/listeners/constituents the majority, and they most certainly are being fleeced media/politicans – the industries generated by their disregarding of truth.We see now, there are no coal jobs to bring back, robots aren’t going to resign and give you a factory job again. The pruned politician weaves this lie into every stump speech. Empowers the people who will insure their (re)election and the politician hops away in a overly polished SUV. Not a fleck of dirt.

 

 

 

Mitch McConnell is Ugly

Any philosophical answer you seek can be found in the writings of Fredriech Nietzsche. Many accuse him of a deep Antisemitism, blatant misogyny, or just being a syphilitic madman based on his writings. His panache leads to multiple varied interpretations. I interpret him as a broker for crisis – the crisis of being human and all its comorbidities. His fascination with what it is to be alive, human, and how we are to maneuver in this world provide some philosophical answers for me.

I also find solace in his writings about how power becomes a transactional event that is often built upon anti-ethical exchanges. Nietzsche blamed an early event in Western Civilization for the way power came to be in its anti-ethical state: the rise of Socrates.

Nietzsche says the following: By birth, Socrates belonged to the lowest class: Socrates was plebeian. We are told, and can see in sculptures of him, how ugly he was. But ugliness, in itself an objection, is among the Greeks almost a refutation.  (Twilight of the Idols 3)

The weight of this statement is that Socrates had no power within “just” his existence. Being born of the lower classes was traditionally enough to condemn any individual to that class for the entirety of their life. Coupled with his “imperfect” appearance he was doomed to linger as just another Grecian.

Nietzsche thought that this combination moved Socrates to respond in a way that gave him an entry way to becoming powerful: subversion. Socrates moved the goal posts for what was good and we reside in the territory – particularly in the academic and Democratic worlds – where logic and rationality are the exegesis for power. Outthink, out speak, and out-moralize all your opponents and you have “begot that Socratic idea that reason and virtue equal happiness” (Twilight of the Idols  5)

The previous paragraph can lead to a profound analysis, entire thesis and books have been written on the subject, but I am here for a more applicable purpose.

Mitch McConnell is ugly. He was born a sickly child (Polio) and is still a sickly man – he was honorably discharged from the Army Reserve due to optic neuritis. Yet, he is a man that has relished in the subversion of power. The sickly child who is now, for all intents and purposes the most powerful man in Washington. Looming over the Senate with his baritone voice and drooping face, he has provided a cynicism and Sophistry unmatched even by Paul Ryan (he deserves his own critiques as do most politicians).

This bending of the logic, and appealing to rationality to serve one’s own interest is not a new trick for politicians. Yet, for some reason Mitch does it so well.

Which brings us to the question: why does Mitch McConnell’s ugliness matter? It is in the same vein as Socrates. There is a shrewdness to Mitch that appears to mirror the Socratic approach. I have no doubt that behind closed doors, Mitch knows and declares what he is. This exchange between Socrates and a “foreigner” tells all:

This foreigner told Socrates to his face that he was a monstrum — that he harbored in himself all the worst vices and appetites. And Socrates merely answered: “You know me, sir!”- Twilight of the Idols 3

The awareness carried by Socrates is carried in almost all those subvert systems. This is not a man who would light up the room with his charisma; his charms are found only in his ability to use a false-footed argument to stop real political movement that doesn’t suit his desires. If it directly benefits his agenda, he can get it done with a shameless approach.

McConnell has advocated for unrestricted flow of “dark money” into politics his entire career. He has even helped lead two Supreme Court decisions that assist in his goals: McConnell v. Federal Election Commission and Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Amounting corporate buy-in as a free speech issue is an absurdist argument that is pique Sophistry. We can deride McConnell’s own logic on this very point by enlisting this quote: “The Constitution of this country was not a rough draft. It was not a rough draft and we should not treat it as such.” This quote alone, when corporations and lobbyists didn’t exist at the time of the Constitution’s drafting, would provide a logical blow to his push for those fields. But, the joy of Sophistry is its fluidness. He will not be held accountable. How can he? He has assisted in destroying the idea of meaning and shame in America.

Once America bottoms out, Lord knows when that will happen, there will have to be a reckoning. I doubt the hemlock would be Mitch’s way out. He will likely perish rich, powerful, and persistently ugly. Our true mission will be to prevent any historical figures from generating reverie towards any of McConnell’s action. Once he is gone, we should condemn that era as one where we lost so much. The damage that McConnell’s ugliness wracked upon our system can only be “cured” if we sentence him. Parallels between Socrates and McConnell show again in Nietzsche: he forced Athens to sentence him. “Socrates is no physician,” he said softly to himself, “here death alone is the physician. Socrates himself has only been sick a long time.” Twilight of the Idols 12

Perhaps, unlike Greece, which fell deep into the decadent Night that Nietzsche accused Socrates of exemplifying not long after Socrates’ rise, we are past our Nightfall. The Dawn, hopefully, fast approaches.