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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What Exactly Is “Defiant Trump” Defying?

Noted media critic Donald Trump complained this morning that a Washington Post headline framed his defiance in a misleadling way.  Today’s top right headline of the Post‘s print edition reads “Trump Defiant as China adds trade penalties.”  I should probably be grateful that the president is supporting Jeff Bezos by subscribing to the print edition, but I digress.  He, Trump, like him or not, knows exactly how headlines about “defiance” ought to be presented.  Trump possesses agency, others are mere instruments of his will.  Trump is the subject, everybody else is the object.  In his world, it’s “Trump Defiant as U.S. Adds Trade Penalties, Will End Barriers And Massive I.P. Theft.”  I could quibble that his rewritten headline is a terribly run-on sentence; also why capitalize every single word except “as,” or I could be more charitable and say that as a president, the president is a pretty terrific copy editor.

Does it even make any sense, moreover, to speak of a U.S. president as “defiant”?  Not if we are the world’s only superpower and the president is really in charge of the executive branch.  That Trump did not dispute the framing that he could be “defiant” at all is telling.  Trump wants to cash in on what he gains from being seen as a “defiant” outsider toiling heroically to drain the swamp.  A lot of us are not convinced, to say the least, but Trump is determined to hold onto the loyalty of his camp followers, so “defiant” is still very useful, as if Hillary is somehow calling shots and taking away jobs and failing to prevent mayhem–and Donald Trump is still the “defiant” swamp-draining champion of the forgotten man.

What are the odds, by the way, that Xi Jinping will be gaslit by Trump?  Or that Trump’s manly addition of yet more “trade penalties” will result in ending trade barriers?  Some people say that President-for-Life Xi is not likely to bow down to the mighty Trump.  Who is in a better position to impose real pain on their citizens?  Probably the country where the people are not really citizens–that would be, for the time being, China.  To whip up his political base, Trump is turning to not-easily-won trade wars and not-easily-funded-by-Mexico border walls.  He probably won’t have great success unless he is willing to risk big failure by actually fabricating an emergency, the shape of which we can imagine in outline if not in detail.  Carl Schmitt wrote almost a hundred years ago that he who can create “the exception” is sovereign.  Trump’s feelings seem in sync with Schmitt’s theories of politics, but our president has so far taken only half-measures.  If he feels truly “unchained” and “unleashed” and goes all in on the “exception” and emergency, who or what will stop him?  I wouldn’t want to bet much on the courage of Republican majorities in Congress or on the Roberts-Alito-Thomas-Kennedy-Gorsuch majority on the Supreme Court.  I do hope that Trump’s own strong aversion to being blamed for anything will restrain him.  If he felt he could gaslight enough of us to evade blame, though, he might do almost anything.

 

Will Kim Jong Un Succeed In Legitimizing The President?

“Why would the US president ever want to legitimize a brutal dictator” is, in all seriousness, no longer the question on the table.  Maybe W was a bonehead to say he had “looked into Putin’s eyes” and gotten a sense of his soul.  Maybe Obama should have been less eager to press “reset” with Russia, and more willing to walk away from the Iran deal.  And Trump is unlikely to know as much as he thinks he does about Kim Jong Un and North Korea.  Do we even have an ambassador to South Korea in place?  Has Trump learned anything at all about Korea that he wasn’t spoonfed by Xi Jinping when they met in Beijing last year?

Trump’s rush to announce a meeting with Kim may yet be countermanded or undermined or sabotaged by the “Deep State.”  And I don’t blame the Deep Staters.  They are concerned, perhaps beside themselves, for good reason.  At this point, sad and almost unthinkable to say, Trump looks more desperate to meet with Kim than Kim is to meet with Trump.  Is it too much to ask an American president to stop trying to prove that he is bigger and better than all other presidents?

Of Course The President Doesn’t Believe In Free Trade–He Doesn’t Believe In Freedom, Period.

Wake up, Paul Ryan!  Of course Trump doesn’t believe in free trade.  Can you imagine?  In fact he doesn’t believe in freedom at all.  Except for himself, to be president-for-life like Mr. Xi.

Ever since grade-school-Trump was reportedly caught throwing rocks into the crib of a toddler next door in Queens, he has been, shall we see, less than fully committed to freedom in any sense normal people can recognize.  Paul Ryan, meanwhile, has not troubled himself to condemn Trump’s many other assaults on American freedom and rule of law, but is suddenly horrified that the president shows no respect for free trade.  Really?  Will Paul Ryan sit Trump down and read aloud to him from David Ricardo’s writings on “comparative advantage”?  Will Paul Ryan persuade our president that global trade is a win-win proposition in which voluntary mutually beneficial transactions shine the light of freedom into every corner of America (and the rest of the world)?

No, he won’t, because Donald J. Trump understands better than Paul Ryan that what America great in the first place was not the fantasy spontaneous-order world of Hayek and Mises.  Nope, it was the zero-sum world of baksheesh and Ndrangheta and omerta and Maskirovka and grease.  The whole point of the art of the deal is to fool and screw somebody else, not to find mutually beneficial transactions.  (The complex truth is other than either of these simple options; another post another day).

And if Trump appointed a “religious freedom” ambassador, that was for the “evangelical” suckers.  If he speaks of “God,” it is a God of wrath and vengeance, not the God who promises and brings good news of Christian freedom.  If he ever butters up members of the press in private, it’s only so as to catch them off guard when he calls them “enemies of the people” in public and tweets violent anti-CNN images to rile up his loyalists.

Paul, admit it: your president and ours doesn’t give a fig for “freedom.”  You at least make a big show out of promoting “freedom,” even if it is, IMO, a dystopian kind of freedom disconnected from the actual experiences of millions of hard-working and economically and otherwise not-completely-secure Americans–Americans who might want to look into FDR’s Second Bill of Rights to discover a version of freedom that might make a positive difference. If you want to know what the president really thinks of freedom, just look at his envious praise of Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin and Rodrigo Duterte and Erdogan and–you get the idea, Paul.

Should We Leave The President In His (Mental) Jail? Should We Pardon Him? Has He Ever Asked For Forgiveness?

The father of one of the three UCLA basketball players arrested for shoplifting in China did something dumb.  He questioned whether Trump did anything to get his son out of a Chinese jail.  LaVar Ball is a nitwit, and has been for quite a while.  All three of the players thanked the president when they apologized on TV the other day.

Meanwhile, the president of our whole country, Donald J. Trump, responded to LaVar Ball today by saying “I should have left them in jail.”  No, you shouldn’t have done that.  And you shouldn’t stoop to the level you did, but you apparently can’t help yourself.

The bigger issue is that we have a president who can be played by foreign adversaries.  Maybe that is not completely new.  Maybe previous presidents were also taken advantage of.  But this one is so transparently hungering for flattery all day every day that he makes China’s job and Russia’s job and Iran’s job and pretty much every foreign leader’s job much too easy.  They ought to at least have to work a little in order to manipulate the United States government.  Well, actually Russia seems to have done just that, over years if not decades, with Trump.  And if and when Donald Trump and/or his family members are incarcerated, should we leave them in jail?  Should we forgive and pardon them?  Will they ever ask for our forgiveness?

 

http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/trump-says-he-should-have-left-ucla-players-in-jail

 

 

 

 

Very Smart Man Trump Delaying Release Of JFK Files…Did Trump Collude With #&@$%?

Julian Assange blames US deep state for delay.  Of course he would say that.  Ted Cruz’s father is no longer with us, unfortunately.  Trump is the master of distraction.  Some people say King Xi of China pulling strings.  Putin called Xi “odin boyets,” i.e. “lone warrior.”  Is Trump really going to Asia next week?  Many people say he is going to settle up with whoever is holding his markers–who could that possibly be?  Is Russia in Asia?  Meanwhile don’t sign any mandatory arbitration clauses for anything no matter how much the sales people bamboozle you.  Obamacare is not dead yet, it’s just pining for the fjords.

Babyface Trump, Meet Babyface Kim

Some people still see a true babyface wrestler when they see President Donald Trump on TV.  Many others see a heel. But let’s assume for the moment that Trump is still a good guy, that is a “babyface.”  How will he get along with Kim Jong-Un, a true babyface.  Trump would like a script in which after some brief preliminary hype and posturing, somebody else (Xi Jinping, for example) does the hard work of negotiating with the young North Korean leader.  Then Babyface Trump gets all the glory, with little to no risk.  But Babyface Trump is not in a great position to leverage the Trump brand in this game the way he did in his previous lives in real estate, reality TV, and pro wrestling.  The kayfabe, the cheap heat, the dusty finish–are we Americans confident that Trump’s undeniable talents as BS artist and ratings machine are going to keep us safe from a North Korean missile?  In fairness, the past several presidents, from both political parties, failed to disarm North Korea.  Maybe Trump will succeed where others have failed.  But he is the first president I have seen actively provoke and insult the North Korean leader, as if it’s all a sporting match in which the outcome has been rigged in Trump’s favor.  I am concerned that Kim Jong-un has even more of a devil-may-care “sucks to be you” attitude than Chris Christie, and that we the people are in a more precarious position because Trump does not seem to realize that his life skills may not have prepared him very well for North Korea.

Blame Canada! But What Took The President So Long?

Hey Trump, why all the farting and cursing?  Why didn’t you just cut to the chase on day one?  Made us wait almost 99 and one half days before you dropped the big one on Canada.  I coulda told you years ago how rough they are on Americans.  The least you can do, because you made us wait so long, is give your loyal base the “thumbs up, thumbs down” thrill of deciding whether to let Canada survive or not.  After the bears and lions (I mean the milk inspectors and the softwood inspectors) tear them up a little, that is.

BTW do the Canadians have nukes or not?  I think the French do, but not real sure.  Better ask Xi Jinping for the true historical history before you make any sudden moves.

Out-Crazying Kim Jong-Un–What Could Go Wrong?

Trump’s apparent use of “madman theory” logic to get his way (whatever that is on any given day) on healthcare probably won’t intimidate Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer.  Will Trump-as-madman succeed any better on the Korean peninsula?  Are we the people ready for an American president who can actually out-crazy Kim Jong-un?  We elected him.  We knew that no-drama-Obama was getting old.  We wanted a little excitement.  How much excitement?  That’s what China is wondering!  Their foreign minister just put our president on the same level as Kim by urging “all parties” to stop “provoking” each other. Should we blush with embarrassment?  Trump, who says he comprehends very well, listened to Xi Jinping explain thousands of years of Korean history in ten minutes (or less, believe me) and now grasps very very well how to put America first by using the craziest words and threatening to use the biggest bombs.  And why worry that Kim might be even more unpredictable than our president?  North Korea has an excellent system of checks and balances, many people say.  Their National Security Council is far more fully staffed than ours, so I hear.  Their family dynasty, as Mr. Xi no doubt explained to his U.S. counterpart, is much more experienced than ours.  So they will surely do the right thing.  Oh right, we still have to worry about Trump–oops.