Our Caesar

We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

As we can see from the passage quoted above, the Constitution tells us that a political entity that is logically prior and ontologically superior to the written text of the Constitution exists. That entity: The People of the United States. The Preamble informs us that Americans have the authority to make and unmake the Constitution, and thus the laws derived from it. The People can thus wash away centuries of constitutional, common and statutory law; of institutional development and forms of life that make up traditions hardened by time. The People as defined is the ultimate source of every legality known to Americans. They are this source because they are empowered to give themselves constitutions, laws and institutions that endure — or not. The People can perfect its country. It embodies a natal power. Thus considered, The People is a revolutionary and even a counter-revolutionary entity. It can be both because it has the authority to create or destroy, affirm or deny whatever it wants. Vox populi, vox Dei.

Yet, like God, The People never actually appears as such. It is neither here nor there. It is everywhere but nowhere (Merleau-Ponty, 1964, pp. 126-158). It is real and unreal, active and dormant. It appears in time but is timeless. At best, The People, like God, appears in and can be identified only through the acts of mortal men and women, persons much like members of the ‘natural aristocracy’ that produced the Constitution of 1787. As we know, these men produced a Constitution that reflected the personal and social defects of those who wrote it. We know this because the Constitution defends the prerogatives of the capital owner and of men in general. It placed artificial restrictions on those who would become citizens. A human being living in the United States at the time of the founding was not destined to become a citizen. The Constitution was not meant to constitute an all-inclusive polity. It produced instead a republic that secured the moral idiocy of individuals who would radically exploit and dominate others without regret or much legal consequence. We know this because it defended slave owners while containing the elements needed to defend imperial expansion, industrial development and the financial supremacy of the capitalist class. The Constitution was consistent with genocide. The Founders intended America to become the Empire of Liberty as they conceived it. The United States was meant to be exceptional.

As consecrated, it contained within itself everything needed to produce the crisis currently found in the United States.

My point stated in different terms amounts to this: The Constitution of 1787 made a fool and bigot like President Donald Trump both possible and thus actual.

Fortunately, the Constitution also gave posterity some of the resources needed to put down a Donald Trump. And the Preamble gave us the moral authority to abolish the institutional legacy produced by the Founders and their product, the Constitution. We can always begin anew.

That said, the potential power encapsulated in the abstraction we call The People is infinitely greater than any political power a fraction of the people could ever generate to topple a Trump and the capitalist democracy he now leads. Revolutions are rare, after all. They are members of an empty set when we restrict set membership to post-war capitalist democracies. The set is empty because revolutionary movements do not directly issue from conditions of general suffering among the lesser people. If misery alone were sufficient to cause an insurrection to erupt, then insurrections and revolutionary situations would be far more common than peace, even in prosperous countries like the United States. But misery offers many lessons to those who suffer. For instance, it can teach obedience to whomever has the ears to receive this message. If one doubts this, one needs to consider only the fact that voluntary servitude is the fate of nearly everyone under capitalist conditions. We moderns know all too well that it is not wholly irrational to prefer one kind or degree of misery (wage labor) to another (destitution). Daily we affirm the belief through our actions that it is better to live on our knees than to die on our stomach. Apart from the involuntary servitude problem, history teaches us that insurrectionary political projects can come to nothing or worse. Wanting or needing to radically change the world not make a revolution inevitable or even inevitably successful during those rare instances when revolutionary movements emerge. Only a God combines a pure potential with actuality, thought with being. Human beings, relatively powerless as they are, often lack the resources or opportunities required to realize their collective projects. They may find collective action problems to be unsolvable, their opponents too powerful, the circumstances unfavorable. Making a revolution is risky, and human beings tend to be risk adverse.

We can see from the above that any appeal to the people— or The People — contains within it the use of an empty or floating signifier. These, by definition, refer to words, terms or other signifiers that lack referents. They refer to imaginary beings, products of consciousness and culture encapsulated in and expressed through language or another system of signs. The People is an empty signifier. It may refer to every actual American existing at a given time. But, its extension is much greater than that. In the best case, living human beings may invoke it because they have a political project that promotes radical reformist or revolutionary politics as a goal, projects that can be affirmed by any reasonable person. They can lay claim to the natal power of The People. Such a project intends to make the abstract concrete, to make a world better by combining the moral resources provided by The People with the practical activities, plans and experiences of existing persons, members of the people. Such a project would include creating unity from diversity under specific circumstances. In its best sense, The People reflects what an actual collection of reasonable persons, well-informed and humanely disposed could do given the situation they encounter. But an appeal to The People also contains its baser uses. These uses may occlude real differences among the people (asserting a false unity) or use such differences that may or do exist to exclude some individuals or groups from the domain specified by the term, The People (Juden Raus, Whites Only). Thus, real Americans are never… and do not include… and cannot tolerate… and will never become….

When Donald Trump claimed that “…today we are not merely transferring power from one Administration to another, or from one party to another — but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the American People” he spoke nonsense, as he is prone to. Why is it nonsense? For one thing, Trump’s presidency lacks democratic legitimacy. It is true that he won an election, but his victory was the product of a very defective democratic mechanism. He thus cannot rationally claim a mandate democratically derived from the votes cast last November. He cannot because he enjoyed neither a majority nor a plurality of those votes. Most Americans still do not care much for him, as his inauguration and the post-inauguration protests made plain. The Electoral College gave us Trump. The College does not perfect democracy in America, it defeats it, and intentionally so.

Secondly, Trump might want to claim that he is the symbolic representative not just of the people as we know them today but also of The People properly conceived. This too is nonsense. I will say more about this claim below.

Third, despite Trump’s victory, America retains its political system, divided by constitutional law and long practice, one devised to defend capital and slavery from popular influence, one intended to prevent the formation of ‘tyrannical majorities’ that threaten the empire of liberty. Today this system is characterized by national and international institutions that few citizens can influence in any tangible way at all. The elephant mostly goes wherever it wants even though mosquitos would want it otherwise. Put differently, the power realized by these institutions endures whether the people support them or not. The elite circulate, money purchases influence, generals and intelligence operative make plans. Politicians respond not to the discourse of their constituents, but to the cues and dollars of the lobbies and political investors who they relate to. This means, sadly enough, popular sentiment in the United States has never tamed the federal government, the nation’s political economy or its nearly autonomous security-surveillance apparatus. Political and social alienation have been the norm and will remain so despite Trump’s vacuous proclamations to the contrary. He is merely the president; his presidency will not transfer power to the people or The People. He will govern per his prerogatives, shaped, of course, by his interactions with others in the government and the economy.

So, given these three problems, how might Trump’s assertion make sense? It has whatever sense it has when it is construed as Trump claiming he embodies the will of The People as elected by individuals who are authentically American, who, presumably, are white, male, employed, etc. Trump inconspicuously claimed to be the symbolic representative of The People, itself a symbol of sovereign power. It is this move that makes a Trump presidency disturbing. Given his personal habits of mind and body, which is to say, given his megalomania, and given the impossibility of his transferring tangible or institutional power to the people, it is easy to see that Trump proudly stands in the shadow of a specific form of political power and can refer to the power when he makes presidential decisions: The lawless power of The People. As a putative realization of that power in the United States today and as the holder of an office vested with astonishing institutional powers, Donald Trump vested his actions with the authority specific to he who makes every law, whose actions are beyond reproach, whose deeds cannot be nullified except by himself. Lest we slip into complacency here and treat Trump as raving fool who does not know what he is doing or saying, let us recall the writings of Carl Schmitt: “Dictatorship [of this sort] is omnipotence without law: lawless power” (Schmitt, 2014, p. 110). Donald Trump — a God among men…. Such a man does not need to know what he is doing. He merely needs to know that he is always authorized to do as he pleases.

Trump is not a fascist. He does not claim to be a fascist and does not promote fascist doctrine. He does not lead a massively popular movement that identifies itself as fascist. Nor does he lead a fascist party. America’s streets lack violent squads, a party-army, a fascistic aesthetic. They mostly lack grand marches save for those originating on the left. Trump does have actual fascists sitting in his shadow, persons who identify themselves as such. And he certainly embodies the Führerprinzip in speech if not in deed. But Trump and his supporters lack too many of the defining elements of the fascist political kind.

If Trump is not a fascist, calling him one degrades political discourse with useless hyperbole. But we do not need to call him one to make a point about his dictatorial inclinations. Fascism is just one horrible political system among many belonging to the authoritarian kind. Trump is dangerous. He is an authoritarian nationalist, racist and conservative, probably of the neoliberal type. He shares features with the fascists. But his nationalism is not an integral nationalism, his racism dependent on a multiethnic society, essentially divided society. Despite his claims to the country, the Trump administration will not serve the interests of the American people or even The People. The state he wants to lead, as suggested by his cabinet picks, will likely prey on many if not most Americans. His political economy looks poised to confiscate wealth from his base to transfer it to select capital owners. It might generate another economic disaster.

Befitting a predator, Trump flouts the law while worrying his opponents with his reckless acts and proclamations. When he took hold of the presidency, he claimed the authority of a sovereign dictator by invoking The People. In this sought invest his presidency with a surplus power, power that he may realize if he wishes (or can). Because of his pretentions, personal foibles and the circumstances in which he made his claim, Trump stands as a threat to the rule of law (assuming it remains a feature of the American system), liberal democratic institutions (such as they are) along with the health and well-being of most Americans.

Americans possessing good sense and good will need to oppose him in nearly every instance.

It’s the end of the world as we know it

Apart from excited Trump supporters, there are few in the United States and elsewhere anticipating his inauguration with hope for the future and gratitude over his success. The fact is, if the United States had had a functioning and rational democratic polity and if the rule of law had been an organic quality of its institutions, then Donald Trump would not be poised to become president of the United States. He would be contemplating a jail term instead. Moreover, at this moment, he is slated to violate the emolument clause of the Constitution (Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8), and willingly so. His willfulness is unsurprising because sleaze defined his business career, vice his personal life. More importantly, we can be certain that a rational democratic polity, namely, a political system in which a well-informed demos could significantly influence the institutions and decisions of the state, would not produce a Hilary Clinton or a Donald Trump as the only feasible candidates for president. This certainty reflects the fact that these candidates were so bad that reasonable individuals would not choose either for president. They would choose instead someone worthy of the office, picking from a candidate pool that offered defensible but different solutions to the problems at hand. How do we know they would make a better choice? We know because we identify someone as reasonable because they consistently act reasonably.

Consider Trump’s adversary. Just like Hillary Clinton’s preferred opponent, crime and corruption, incompetence and hypocrisy stain her persona, and presumably her soul. Her Foundation functioned as a bagman for the influence she peddled. As the First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State, she produced a record composed of imperial war-making and genocide, of rapacious attacks on the subordinate classes and groups, of the transformation of the welfare state into the carceral state and of the waste of capital by Wall Street. Today, Hillary and Bill Clinton, along with Barack Obama, stand before the world as the faces of a country suffering an irreversible decline, and of a state much more dangerous to its citizens and others than any state known to us. It is exceptional only in the dangers it makes real.

Amazing as it may seem, given the power vested in the office they sought, Americans despised both candidates. This hatred included some of their partisan ‘allies.’ At times, candidate Trump appeared as though he wanted to ruin the Republican Party. He attacked his opponents as well as party regulars. Naturally, his party reciprocated. It now appears obvious that a large fraction of America’s security-surveillance apparatus want to destroy him. Likewise, the FBI, or a fraction thereof, attempted to wreck Hillary Clinton late in the campaign. She clearly harmed her party through her tainted primary victory and her decisive loss to a buffoon like Donald Trump. Along the way she alienated the leftwing of her party with her arrogant march to defeat, treatment that continues with the post-election faction battles occurring across the country. And she, along with the party elite, seemed to have learned nothing from their defeat. They blame others (Russia and Putin!) for their failings. They believe they were stabbed in the back by the FBI, Sander’s supporters and Green Party members. They fail to realize that their grafting of neoliberalism and identity politics works well only when the country enjoys a bubble inflating. They have only indifference, patronizing gestures and a mailed fist whenever the bubble deflates. Neoliberalism does not play in hard times. Only a simpleton would believe otherwise. Enriching the already rich, empowering the already powerful — neoliberal nostrums require heavy doses of ideological foolishness, narcolepsy and nativist bluster to swallow, when making ends meet becomes a difficult problem. Even ideology and identity fail when capitalism torments the electorate, who vote with their pocketbook even when they choose to follow this or that charismatic leader. Like any candidate, the neoliberals need voters once they spend their billions on a campaign. They need to offer something to the electorate. They need democratic legitimacy. Even running against a Donald Trump could not put Hillary Clinton in office, she the charmless Princess of negative charisma. As a system politician, she offered nothing but more of the same.

Despite his triumph, most Americans do not care for Donald Trump. Because of this his electoral victory amounts to a personal defeat. He did not win the popular vote, and he lacks democratic legitimacy because of it. He is a populist lacking popular support. His inauguration might become a social disaster. Few wish to attend, applaud and cheer. Musicians break agreements to abandon him. Hollywood ridicules him. His cabinet nominees disgrace themselves when they appear before Congress. The CIA and MI6 collude to spoil his already damaged reputation. He may quit the job, Congress may impeach him or an assassin kill him. The bar is set low.

I suspect that we may be living through a decisive moment in American history. By decisive I mean it is a time pregnant with the promise of radical change. I am not alone in this regard. The duopoly party system that emerged after Watergate, a regime that expressed the neoliberal turn in the nation’s political economy, is all but spent. It never had a defensible moral compass. The needle of its political compass always pointed to Hell. To my mind the Obama administration provided the farcical endgame for this regime. He was a system politician, and for most Americans, that system came to be a source of worry and debt, of a better future that would never come. I also suspect that many Americans believed Obama would deliver a politics that realized the hopes he elicited from them on the campaign trail. He would not be another phony leader. He would follow the path set by Martin Luther King, whose name Obama invoked. His reforms would make their lives better. But Obama was a phony. For Obama, King provided a symbol he cynically appropriated, not a model for a political ethos. He thus gave America another failed presidency, reckless war-making, surveillance and a rawer form of capitalism. Out of his failures and their hopeless some Americans looked towards a Trump, some towards a Sanders. I leave it to my readers to judge whether the sociopath or the fellow traveler would make successful presidents under present circumstances, when radical change confronts us.

Trump — a dumb ass and a whiny bitch

The New York Times reports:

Donald J. Trump lashed out wildly on Tuesday in the aftermath of a disappointing first debate with Hillary Clinton, scolding the moderator, criticizing a beauty pageant winner for her physique and raising the prospect of an all-out attack on Bill Clinton’s marital infidelities in the final stretch of the campaign.

Having worked assiduously in recent weeks to cultivate a more disciplined demeanor on the campaign trail, Mr. Trump decisively cast aside that approach on Tuesday morning. As Mrs. Clinton embarked on an ebullient campaign swing through North Carolina, aiming to press her newfound advantage, Mr. Trump vented his grievances in full public view.

To sum up all things Trump — “I’m a fool; I got nothing.”

Know thine enemies

A part of Corey Robin’s reaction to the first Presidential debate:

What seems pretty clear, coming away from that debate, is that both parties are ideologically exhausted. Trump is replaying a script from the 1970s, and Clinton’s only answer is herself, that she clearly looks and acts more presidential. This could have been an election, and a debate, that covered new ground. It looks like, for better or for worse, we’ll be re-treading the same old, same old.

It is true that both parties have exhausted their respective ideologies. But their exhaustion appeared as such with the advent of neoliberalism, which dates to Jimmy Carter’s time in office. After all, the neoliberal ideology was and was meant to be a dead end solution to the human predicament. There would be no alternative to capitalist democracy, as per Margaret Thatcher and Francis Fukuyama. There could be only regressions and detours.

Unfortunately, or not, the proud ship of Whig history has sunk on a shoal complex composed of environmental degradation, resource depletion, an ossified capitalist world system and widespread spinelessness among the global political elite. Put differently, the ancestors of our dead enders began to destroy the world long before they took complete hold of it. The dead enders merely are the heirs of an embedded and remorseless Calvinism. But they were thoroughly unhinged by ‘their’ triumph over the residue of Stalinism in Eastern Europe and Russia. They believed their own propaganda had been confirmed! America’s duopoly system merely encapsulates the abyss which awaits us. Clinton and Trump — they are mere signs of our collective destruction. They reflect the stupidity and arrogance of the powerful. They reveal the consequences of our incapacity to learn.

A hard path to walk that leads to any place and to no place

Immanuel Kant wrote:

Reason must in all its undertakings subject itself to criticism; should it limit freedom of criticism by any prohibition, it must harm itself, drawing upon itself a damaging suspicion. Nothing is so important through its usefulness, nothing so sacred, that it may be exempted from this searching examination, which knows no respect for persons. Reason depends upon this freedom for its very existence. For reason has no dictatorial authority; its verdict is always simply the agreement of free citizens, of whom each one must be permitted to express, without let or hindrance, his objections or even his veto [(Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, A 738-9), emphasis added].

I haven’t written for my blog for the better part of three years

Alas, the world seems to have not missed my presence!

I hope to return to my work bench soon. I may even have useful points to make!

Richard Pryor comments on the police

 

Peter Sinclair on Climate Chage and Deniers

You’ve Got a Friend in Pennsylvania II

Comments are not needed for this one:

A Pennsylvania woman died in a jail cell over the weekend while serving a 48-hour sentence for her children’s unpaid school fines. Eileen DiNino was found dead on Saturday in a Berks County jail cell where she was midway through the sentence that would have eliminated around $2,000 in fines and related court fees related to her children’s attendance at school. Police have said her death is not considered suspicious, but the cause has yet to be determined. She was 55 years old and a mother to seven children.

“This lady didn’t need to be there,” District Judge Dean Patton — who said he was “reluctant” to sentence DiNino — told the Associated Press. “We don’t do debtors prisons anymore. That went out 100 years ago.” More than 1,600 people have been jailed in Berks County alone — the majority of them women — because of similar fines.

You’ve Got a Friend in Pennsylvania

Right. How could I have ever believed otherwise?

Well, a new study shows Pennsylvania ranking fifth among the various states when they were evaluated for amount of corruption among its public officials. Even New York, which has that ethical black hole commonly known as New York City, scored better.

Sad.