Are We “Shining In The Space Of Appearances” Yet?

Hannah Arendt said (at a 1972 Toronto conference, published in Thinking Without a Banister, p. 451) that “glory” in the political realm is “shining in the space of appearances.”  W.H. Auden asked (and then answered) “does God ever judge us by appearances? I suspect that he does” (epigraph to chapter 1 of Arendt’s posthumous book, The Life of the Mind).  We in the US have a potentate named Donald Trump who is so consumed by how he appears and is perceived and judged that he seems to have weakened our country by misjudging, or not taking the trouble to study, or not being capable of judging, his counterparts on the world stage–and not only Kim Jong Un or Xi Jinping.  The root of this misjudgment, I suppose, is that Trump is, perhaps seemingly paradoxically, not Machiavellian enough.  As Arendt remarked in Toronto, Machiavelli said, “‘I love my country, Florence, more than I love my eternal salvation.’  That doesn’t mean that he didn’t believe in an afterlife.  But it means that the world as such was of greater interest to him than himself.”  She elaborated: “The moment I act politically I’m not concerned with me, but with the world….whether the criterion is glory–shining in the space of appearances–or whether the criterion is justice…the decisive thing is whether your own motivation is clear: for the world or for yourself.”  Donald Trump actually understands this quite well, in that he pays lip service to the noble motivation of acting on behalf of the world instead of just himself.  But there is quite a lot of reason to doubt that his stated aspirations are stronger than his lifelong habits of venality, cupidity, mendacity, and thuggishness.  He did acknowledge in the campaign that becoming president was his only shot at getting into heaven.  Sadly he seems to forget about that–or else he is even more of a miserable tyrant than I have so far imagined.

P.S. In other breaking news from the works of Hannah Arendt:

“normal men do not know that everything is possible” (quoting David Rousset)

“nothing is more characteristic of the totalitarian movements in general and of the quality of fame of their leaders in particular than the startling swiftness with which they are forgotten and the startling ease with which they can be replaced” (Origins, p. 305)

“only the mob and the elite can be attracted by the momentum of totalitarianism itself; the masses have to be won by propaganda” (Origins, 341)

“the delusion of an already existing Jewish world domination formed the basis for the illusion of future German world domination” (Origins, p. 360)

“it is in the moment of defeat that the inherent weakness of totalitarian propaganda becomes visible….the moment the movement, that is, the fictitious world which sheltered them, is destroyed, the masses revert to their old status as isolated individuals who either happily accept a new function in a changed world or sink back into their old desperate superfluousness…[the former members] will quietly give up the movement as a bad bet and look around for another promising fiction or wait until the former fiction regains enough strength to establish another mass movement” (Origins, 363)

“a mixture of gullibility and cynicism had been an outstanding characteristic of mob mentality before it became phenomenon of masses. In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true….mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow.  The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness” (Origins, p. 382)

“we are not in the nursery! Real political action arises as a group act…whatever you do on your own, you do not as an actor but as an anarchist” (Banister, p. 450)

 

 

 

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Justice Gorsuch Spikes Football By Adding Middle English Footnote Upholding 1351 Statute Of Laborers Act

As if it wasn’t enough for ruling-class warrior Neil Gorsuch to gut the National Labor Relations Act by placing the supposed intent of the 1925 Federal Arbitration Act over and above the New Deal legislation that addressed obvious asymmetries of bargaining power, Justice Gorsuch spiked the football on workers today in his 5-4 opinion by including a footnote, in Middle English no less, upholding the 1351 Statute of Laborers Act.  Let me explain.  After the Black Death (part one of it, at any rate) the ruling classes had far less bargaining power over the surviving peasants.  All pretense of “voluntary mutual agreements” was abandoned by the ruling class when Parliament passed the 1351 law stipulating that workers were not allowed to leave their employers (the landowners or business owners) to seek better wages.  Neil Gorsuch follows up in his pre-Chaucer footnote when he states (I hereby translate his words into 21st-century idiom) that “all that free market stuff was just a smokescreen, suckers.  Serfs gonna stay serfs, cuz you can’t possibly afford to go to court one by one.  Ain’t gonna happen.  Sit yourselves down or we’ll put you in the private prison and you’ll dream of the good times when you could eat generic hamburger helper.  Same as it was in 1351, same as it’s gonna be from here on out.  Get Congress to change it, bwahahaha.”

Catching Up On “Collusion With The Rest Of The World” Reading

Did Donald Trump just admit that he was ready and willing to conspire in the 2016 election campaign not just with Russians but with “the rest of the world”?  He did not confirm but neither did he deny that his son and others associated with the Trump campaign (such as Erik Prince, brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos) plotted and took bribes from Gulf Arab countries as well as Israel–during the presidential campaign, quite aside from the reported violations of the Emoluments Clause after Trump became president.

To prepare for Trump’s next political and legal moves, I am thinking about what might be relevant background reading:

Zephyr Teachout, Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuffbox to Citizens United, especially chapter 5, “Is Bribery Without a Remedy?”

Maria Konnikova, The Confidence Game: Why We Fall For It…Every Time

Timothy Snyder, The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America

Ramsay MacMullen, Corruption And The Decline Of Rome

Seth Hettena, Trump/Russia: A Definitive History

Hannah Arendt, Thinking Without A Banister: Essays in Understanding 1953-1975

Albert O. Hirschman, The Rhetoric of Reaction: Perversity, Futility, Jeopardy (also pertinent to the gun debate)

Cass R. Sunstein, Legal Reasoning and Political Conflict, especially chapter 4, “Understanding (and Misunderstanding) the Rule of Law

Peter Brown, Power and Persuasion in Late Antiquity: Towards a Christian Empire

Philip Kurland, ed., The Founders’ Constitution

Peter Gay, The Cultivation of Hatred (The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud, vol. 3)

Woody Holton, Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution

John T. Noonan Jr., Bribes: the intellectual history of a moral idea

 

Provocative? Moi?

Just who does North Korea think they are?  They think that they can accuse the US of “provocation”?  Just because of some military drills?  Kim the Excellent is going to find himself becoming Little Rocket Man again in no time flat.  Doesn’t he know that only people like Jared Kushner have the right to define who is “provocative”?  That only Donald J. Trump has the extraterritorial privilege to say who can laugh, and when, and how loudly?  Trump is not going to apologize to Senator John McCain just because a staffer called McCain a dead man walking, but is he going to kowtow to Mr. Kim?  Trump seems to be powerfully attracted to the notion that he too could get a Nobel Peace Prize, so I wouldn’t want to predict the future at all, except to say Kim is definitely not crazy and his PR team is not leaking.

P.S. NY Times headline: “North Korea Postpones Talks With South Korea; Decision Is Surprise.”  Not really, unless the Times thought that everything was going to go smoothly between Trump and Kim.  They are maneuvering to see who can define the other as unstable and themselves as stable and serious and not “provocative” or “defiant.”

Glad I Didn’t Sell Big Pharma Stocks Short Thinking Trump Was Actually Going To Help Lower Drug Prices (Regulatory Capture Is Alive And Well In DC)

President Trump promised in 2016 that he would do great things to lower drug prices for senior citizens and all Americans.  He promised “on day one,” yadda yadda, my welfare state (for my cult followers, anyway, wink wink) is going to be the greatest welfare state.  Cheaper stuff for everybody wearing a MAGA hat and making the secret handshake.  Sorry, suckers, and in fact everybody on Medicare, whether we supported Trump or not.  Drug company stocks, including Novartis, went down briefly today before the Rose Garden drug price speech, and then, ta-da, up they went during and after the speech. And why wouldn’t drug stocks go up, because Trump did not do the one thing that would most likely push drug prices down, which is to let CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) negotiate prices with drug companies.  CMS isn’t the only buyer of drugs, but they are so huge that they could be the market leader, the quasi-monopsony buyer with power to get prices down across the board.  The current law, signed by George W. Bush, provided a benefit to senior citizens, but at an unnecessarily high cost. I would like to be surprised, but I do not see much yet in what HHS Secretary Azar or Trump said that would actually push drug prices down.  Regulatory capture–aka the Swamp–is alive and well in Trump’s Washington.

Is The Real Dick Cheney Being Displayed In A Human Zoo? If Not, Why Not?

Some version of “Dick Cheney” has popped up and endorsed re-upping on “enhanced interrogation,” AKA torture.  But is this real news?  “Dick Cheney” coming out in favor of torturing suspected terrorists and “enemy combatants” does have the ring of verisimilitude, but in these changing times, I have my suspicions.  Could the real Dick Cheney already be on display–preferably with Mike Pence–in an ethnographic exhibit, AKA a human zoo?  And if not, isn’t it about time?  Human zoos were quite popular in my grandparents’ day, even in my parents’ lifetime, and even continued into my own time, e.g. the Brussels world’s fair of 1958.  It is true that political correctness is sometimes simply courtesy, and yet is it too much to hope that Cheney and others of his ilk, could be properly displayed in a habitat clearly native to them?  Issues of the validity of extraterrritorial jurisdiction, frankly, should not even come into play if the exhibition were done sensitively.  For example, it would be very misguided if Rachel Maddow were allowed to fulfill her longstanding dream by interviewing Mr. Cheney in a zoo.

Not Negative, Not Fake, No Way! Yes Collusion, Yes Puppet, Yes Smoking Gun With Blood Everywhere

OK, maybe just a teeny tiny little bit of collusion might have happened, mistakes were made, and it looks like an open crime scene with so much evidence and blood and hair everywhere that I do not know where to start.  I was worried that Mueller was the whole ball game–but now the SDNY has so much to sort through that I feel there’s more than enough guilt to go around in multiple jurisdictions.  Not to mention the next Attorney General of the great state of New York, the Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton!  Well, maybe that wouldn’t be the best idea.  How about Sally Yates?  Or Zephyr Teachout?  Can Preet Bharara handle the truth?  Probably he could.  And the acting AG, Barbara Underwood, looks just fine, and if NY state can close up the loophole regarding federal/state overlap and pardons, I feel much more confident than I did a week ago that the justice system has a fighting chance to bring the evildoers and crooks to account, whoever they may be.  And glad to read that Robert Mueller was onto the Vekselberg-Michael Cohen payments months ago.

So Long Schneiderman, Hello Sally Yates…Or Zephyr Teachout…Or Hi There Hillary NY Attorney General!

There are some awesomely qualified candidates to serve as the next New York Attorney General.  She or he, especially if New York state law is tightened up to prevent federal evildoers and criminals to escape state-level justice in NY, will have the opportunity and in fact the obligation to enforce state laws against money laundering, financial fraud, witness tampering, obstruction of justice, and all the other crimes mob bosses commit.  If those laws happen to apply to public servants, or former public servants, so be it.

The NY State Assembly, from what I read, has the authority to appoint the next AG, and might well choose one of their own.  But if they choose to go with someone who has a higher profile than an assemblyperson, may I suggest Sally Yates, former (ever so briefly) Acting Attorney General; or Zephyr Teachout, former candidate for governor and author of the fine book, Corruption in AmericaFrom Benjamin Franklin’s Snuffbox to Citizens United.

But of course the awesomest choice, a choice that might well send the president even more over the edge than he is already, is staring the Assembly in the face: Hillary.

P.S. Have read mixed reviews on Preet Bharara as a choice for NY AG.  He certainly got lots of good press for going after insider trading, but did he persecute purveyors of financial fraudulence actively and assertively?  I don’t know.  Why not let Chief Judge Colleen McMahon of the Southern District NY appoint him as US Attorney when the Trump administration lets a deadline for appointing their own candidate slide through negligence?  Yes it could happen.

“Nobody Wants To Speak More Than Me”–Was That a) Vincent ‘The Chin’ Gigante or b) Trump?

Answer: it will not be long before President Donald J. Trump adopts the Gigante defense.  That is, although we may really really want to be able to look at a president as a trustworthy noble heroic leader, we wake up every day with the president we actually have.  Donald Trump will do anything and everything to avoid being blamed or taking the fall under any circumstances.  He is trying to make the web of lies and contradictions re obstruction of justice and collusion and conspiracy with Russians become too complicated for mere mortals to deal with.  He would love for all of us to throw up our hands and say “they all do it” and “we better stay out of this” if not “he is our god-emperor and I love all the trolling of snobby snowflakes.”  But if that doesn’t work, and Trump finds himself becoming a figure of ridicule as the lies become too obvious to ignore, I figure his next move will be to emulate Vincent “The Chin” Gigante, who pretended to be insane and/or infirm–and got away with it for decades.  One can hope that this president does not have decades of that kind of maskirovka left in him–and that we the people will be able to resist the gaslighting better than–fancy that–New York prosecutor Rudy Giuliani (see story and court case below!).

https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/rudy-giuliani-and-the-desperate-campaign-to-protect-the-president

https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp/996/194/1625500/

Update: The President, many people say, is expected to announce “in a very short period of time” that Rudy Giuliani is an “enemy of the people” and as such will be removed from the White House legal team and reassigned to a labor camp on Long Island.  The “struggle session” will be available on pay-per-view.

NYT: “Trump Assails Justice Dept., Siding With Conservatives”–No, That’s Way Off The Mark

The top story on the NY Times webpage right now is by Eileen Sullivan and Nicholas Fandos, who probably did not write the headline, “Trump Assails Justice Dept., Siding With Conservatives.”  I wish that the Times would stop letting unprincipled, power-mad radicals get the benefit of the respectable label “conservative.”  The point of the “indivisible” resistance to Trumpism is that we can and should have debates on the proper size and shape of government, but we should be united and indivisible when it comes to preserving, protecting, and defending the rule of law as codified in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the habits and practices of free speech and citizenship.  Mr. Trump could give a fig for freedom or the rule of law.

Sullivan and Fandos also have it backwards when they write that Mr. Trump plunged today into a “simmering dispute” between Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein and the “small group of House Republicans who are loyal to Mr. Trump” (whatever is meant by that, by the way? are Paul Ryan and most of the Republican House members disloyal to Trump? I wish, but I haven’t seen much but subservience and see-no-evil so far).  I believe the truly important conflict right now is between the president and the regular, drab, workaday state–not the so-called Deep State–that is working diligently in the person of Robert Mueller to ensure that this president is not immune from gross violations of the loyalty oath Trump took on inauguration day to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.  The self-styled “Freedom Caucus,” led by Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows, are simply trying to set up Mr. Trump with a spinnable excuse to remove Mr. Rosenstein and Mr. Mueller.  Trump is not–contra the NYT–“giving voice to the complaints” of Jordan and Meadows.  Rather, they are in the same club as Fox & Friends and Hannity and the Schlapps–instruments of the president’s will to power.  The NYT story today tells a story that could be true, in some other universe, but I believe their framing gets causes and effects backwards, and in a pernicious way that gives cover to the authoritarian purposes of this president.