The Country is Frighteningly Polarized. This is Why, by Fareed Zakaria

An excellent piece by my favorite political commentator on the cultural and political polarization that’s driving America apart, and on ill-conceived attempts by both the left and right to quash free expression they don’t like.

Fareed Zakaria

Wednesday’s shooting at a congressional baseball practice was a ghastly example of the political polarization that is ripping this country apart. Political scientists have shown that Congress is more divided than at any time since the end of Reconstruction. I am struck not simply by the depth of partisanship these days, but increasingly also by its nature. People on the other side of the divide are not just wrong and to be argued with. They are immoral and must be muzzled or punished.

This is not about policy. The chasm between left and right during much of the Cold War was far wider than it is today on certain issues. Many on the left wanted to nationalize or substantially regulate whole industries; on the right, they openly advocated a total rollback of the New Deal. Compared with that, today’s economic divisions feel relatively small.

Partisanship today is more about identity…

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The Comey Firing Reminds Us of a Bigger Danger, by Fareed Zakaria

Zakaria’s analysis of Trump’s presidency is excellent.

Fareed Zakaria

By Fareed Zakaria
Thursday, May 11, 2017

I have tried to evaluate Donald Trump’s presidency fairly. I’ve praised him when he has appointed competent people to high office and expressed support for his policies when they seemed serious and sensible (even though this has drawn criticism from some quarters). But there has always been another aspect to this presidency lurking beneath the surface, sometimes erupting into full view as it did this week. President Trump, in much of his rhetoric and many of his actions, poses a danger to American democracy.

The United States has the world’s oldest constitutional democracy, one that has survived the test of time and given birth to perhaps the most successful society in human history. What sets the nation apart is not how democratic it is, but rather the opposite. U.S. democracy has a series of checks intended to prevent the accumulation and abuse of…

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New Podcast Episode: Margaret Sanger NYC Sites, Day 3, Part 1

Margaret Sanger with Fania Mindell inside Brownsville clinic, forerunner of Palanned Parenthood, Oct. 1916, public domain via Library of Congress

Margaret Sanger with Fania Mindell inside Brownsville clinic, forerunner of Palanned Parenthood, Oct. 1916, public domain via Library of Congress

Listen to this podcast episode here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

Thursday, October 20th, 2016

I get out in decent time to start the day’s explorations, just after eight, but it’s not long before I realize I’m tired and hence, a little cranky. My friends and I watched the third Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump debate last night and some of the commentary which followed, then finally went to sleep very late after we talked about what we just watched, and other things. I’m mostly on New York time now, but not quite.

The abortion issue came up almost immediately in the debate since the first question from the moderator was about the Supreme Court and the appointment of justices. Trump pledged to nominate only strongly anti-abortion candidates. Clinton was adamant that Roe v. Wade and laws protecting women’s access to birth control and abortion (with appropriate limitations) be upheld. Clinton also strongly endorsed Planned Parenthood, praising the services it provides and criticizing all efforts to defund it. I, for one, am grateful to Planned Parenthood, the organization that Margaret Sanger founded…. Read the written version here

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Anger and Hypocrisy, by Clay Jenkinson

Obamas on Inauguration Day 2013 by P. Souza, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Obamas on Inauguration Day 2013 by P. Souza, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

I find it interesting that for eight years the anti-Obama legions kept their eyes open at all times for signs that Barack Obama was “an angry black man.” If at any time he showed the slightest impatience or raised his voice above a certain level, or spoke in something that could be thought to resemble black street English, the conservative punditry accused him of being an “angry black man.” They had slightly better luck with the First Lady Michelle Obama, who seemed to have a slightly more volatile temperament than her famously self-controlled husband. The academic papers of her young womanhood were examined for any sign that she hated white people, hated America, or sought radical revolution. Her statement in Milwaukee on February 18, 2008, that “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country,” was cited as proof that she hated white America.

That sentence was proof positive to millions of Obama detractors that we had somehow put into the White House a couple bent on destroying America, or at least the America we know and love. Every Obama association, no matter how ancient and no matter how thin–the Reverend Wright, Bill Ayes, Saul Alinsky–was routinely trotted out to prove that the President of the United States was a dangerous radical, and perhaps a treasonist.

Apparently all black men are angry and violent. You can go to Harvard or Princeton, speak in perfect grammar, dress with great elegance, exhibit ceremonial decorum not seen in the White House since Jack and Jackie, write thoughtful and eloquent books (by yourself), and exhibit an analytical capacity that even Bill Clinton rarely exhibited, and still be regarded by the yahoos as a Black Power Radical likely to reveal his core rage at any moment. Apparently, you cannot be a black President of the United States unless you have built up no resentment about the historic and ongoing oppressions of White America, and never reveal anything but a sunny minstrel temperament.That sentence was proof positive to millions of Obama detractors that we had somehow put into the White House a couple bent on destroying America, or at least the America we know and love. Every Obama association, no matter how ancient and no matter how thin–the Reverend Wright, Bill Ayes, Saul Alinsky–was routinely trotted out to prove that the President of the United States was a dangerous radical, and perhaps a treasonist.

Now, in 2016, we elect not just an angry white man, but an almost continuously angry white man. I doubt that a day went by on the two-year campaign in which Donald Trump did not lash out at some one or some group. At times he slavered in his rages. At times he became incoherent as he tried to find words sufficient for the level of anger and denunciation he felt. From the podium he singled out individuals for ridicule and abuse. He heaped abuse on American war heroes, parents of young men fallen in America’s battles, journalists just doing their job, women who had tearfully and reluctantly confessed that he groped them in public.

When was the last time in American politics when a major candidate was so angry, so often, and with such a mean-spirited manner?

If you are a student of history, you can think of only two obvious examples. Remember in 1980 when Ronald Reagan was upset by the logistics of a Republican debate in New Hampshire? His face darkened, and he said, with unmistakable anger, “I am paying for this microphone?” The reason we all remember that minor incident is because it was essentially the only time the even-tempered, genial, and happy Reagan ever lost his temper in public.

The only other modern politician worthy of comparison with Donald Trump is former Alabama Governor George Wallace in the 1960s–with his famous leer and sneer–a vicious southern racist whose every pronouncement during those years was “dripping with the words of ‘interposition’ and ‘nullification,’” as Martin Luther King, Jr., put it.If you are a student of history, you can think of only two obvious examples. Remember in 1980 when Ronald Reagan was upset by the logistics of a Republican debate in New Hampshire? His face darkened, and he said, with unmistakable anger, “I am paying for this microphone?” The reason we all remember that minor incident is because it was essentially the only time the even-tempered, genial, and happy Reagan ever lost his temper in public.

The only other modern politician worthy of comparison with Donald Trump is former Alabama Governor George Wallace in the 1960s–with his famous leer and sneer–a vicious southern racist whose every pronouncement during those years was “dripping with the words of ‘interposition’ and ‘nullification,’” as Martin Luther King, jr., put it.

Think about it. Barack Obama was routinely accused of being an angry black man, but he wasn’t. He was about as gracious a human being as you could ever put into the Presidency (whether you like his policies or not). Donald Trump is perhaps the most angry man ever installed in the Presidency. Barack Obama had a great deal to be angry about: the history of American racism, oppression, racial profiling, segregation, lynching, belittlement. But he was invariably professional and often serene. What does Donald Trump have to be angry about? He has always been one of the most mollycoddled, indulged, and privileged of Americans, a man who can afford to install gold faucets in his homes. (Try as I might, I have never been able to find gold faucets at Home Depot).

Angry White Man with no reason to be angry: OK.

Gracious Black Man with plenty to be angry about, but beyond anger: Dangerous radical.

But as the far right likes to say, “I ain’t racist, ain’t no racism or prejudice in my body.” – CSJ

Originally published at clayjenkinson.com

– Clay S. Jenkinson is the author, educator, and scholar who created The Thomas Jefferson Hour, and is a sought-after historical impersonator, speaker, and media commentator, providing a deep but playful context to today’s events. (Bio credit: The Thomas Jefferson Hour) To discover more about Clay and his work, please visit http://www.clayjenkinson.com/

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

The Key is Activism, Not Persuasion, by Massimo Pigliucci

Here’s a passionate and well-reasoned call to action by one of my favorite philosophers in the public square, Massimo Pigliucci.

Footnotes to Plato

Two kids at the recent women's march in New York (photo by the Author) Two kids at the recent women’s march in New York (photo by the Author)

I’ve been giving a lot of thought about the rise of Trump, and even though I rarely write about explicitly political matters on this blog, this will be one of the exceptions. I think it is necessary. WARNING: unusually strong language ahead, either deal with it or go somewhere else for the day, we’ll be back to normal programming later in the week.

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A Scot’s Lament fur her American Fellows (Oan their election of a tangerine gabshite walloper), by Lorna Wallace

I read this with such delight, I must share it with you!

Writing by Lorna

America, aw whit ye dain?!
How could ye choose a clueless wain
Ti lead yir country? Who wid trust
A man sae vile?!
A racist, sexist eedjit
Wi a shite hairstyle?

Yet lo, ye votit (michty me!)
Ti hawn’ this walloper the key
Ti pow’r supreme, ti stert his hateful,
Cruel regime.
A cling ti hope that this is aw
Jist wan bad dream.

But naw, the nightmare has come true,
A curse upon rid, white an’ blue,
An’ those who cast oot Bernie
Must feel sitch regret
Fur thinkin’ Mrs. Clinton
Was a safer bet.

So noo we wait ti see unfold
Division an’ intolerance, cold;
A pois’nous bigotry untold
Since Hitler’s rule
As the free world’s hopes an’ dreams
Lie with this fool.

Alas, complainin’ wullnae change
The fact this diddy has free range
Ti ride roughshod ow’r human beings
That fall outside
The cretinous ideals borne of

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On Authoritarianism And Civilization, by Neil Roberts

W.E.B. Dubois, Photograph taken by J.E. Purdy in 1904, public domain via Library of Congress

W.E.B. Dubois, Photograph taken by J.E. Purdy in 1904, public domain via Library of Congress

In 1890 the young W.E.B. Du Bois delivered the Harvard University Commencement address “Jefferson Davis as a Representative of Civilization.” Du Bois focused on a central figure of nineteenth-century America as he prophesied the meanings of freedom, democracy, and what American life — or more accurately, civilization — would look like over the next hundred years and beyond for the white world, the black world, and other non-white populations that hitherto occupied spaces outside the epicenters of civil and political society.

Born in Kentucky, Jefferson Davis held the offices of U.S. Representative and Senator for the state of Mississippi and later Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce. Following Pierce’s failure at the 1856 Democratic National Convention to acquire Presidential re-nomination support from party delegates, Davis ran again, won, and went back to Congress as a Senator. Yet with the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln and escalating distrust between South and North, Davis resigned his Senate post.

After ensuing Southern secession, Davis assumed the Presidency of the Confederate States of America, maintaining the position until the Civil War’s end. Davis had poor health much of adulthood and detractors internal to the Confederacy. While underestimated by peers and despised by several prominent Confederate politicians and generals, he nevertheless forged an obedient coalition and crafted a resolute model of governance and rule. Although Davis lived until the post-Reconstruction year before Du Bois’s speech, his thoughts and actions as Confederacy President provided core teachable moments.

Du Bois considers Davis a person whose self-conception is that of “a typical Teutonic hero” and whose notion of leadership personifies “the idea of the Strong Man.” By ‘Strong Man,’ Du Bois means a leader espousing “[i]ndividualism coupled with the rule of might.” The Strong Man, suffuse with strength, privileges the “I” and self-assertion over the “Thou.” The Strong Man bolsters civilization through “stalwart manhood and heroic character” on the one hand and “moral obtuseness and refined brutality” on the other. The Strong Man often relies on disgruntled and violent mobs, adherents who are, as Hannah Arendt observes, angry masses that feel excluded from previously accessed corridors of politics, believe their standing is society has evaporated compared to the prior generation, loathe heterogeneous society as is, and cry out for the homogeneous order the Strong Man promises. The Strong Man’s patriarchal idea of civilization is intimately tied to racial orders, and it is his vision of a future world that augurs the consolidation and regeneration of the white race above all other races.

Du Bois contrasts the Strong Man with the ‘Submissive Man,’ characterized by weakness, a commitment to truth, and desire to acquiesce to the Thou, the You, the part of personhood not obsessed with the image of the being reflected back in the mirror. Whereas the American Teuton, of which Davis is exemplary, is indicative of the Strong Man, the Negro is for Du Bois the archetypal Submissive Man Davis dismisses.

Ironically, the Strong Man and Submissive Man need one another, their diametrically opposed views notwithstanding. Otherwise, the polity they inhabit devolves into despotism or slavery, and not merely for those emboldened at any given time with the might and right of state.

Jefferson Davis, “the peculiar champion of a people fighting to be free in order that another people should not be free,” missed the inseparability of the I and the You. He refused to admit the ways we’re interconnected, in relation, despite our pluralistic and differential conceptions of the free life and in spite of attempts by agents of state and their lackeys to interfere, dominate, segregate, deport, and annihilate.

Davis’s Strong Man hubris spawned a vitriolic, angry, white nationalist, revolting mass. It also led to his downfall, the Confederacy’s decline, and American civilization as he conceived it, in large measure due not only to abolitionists but also the actions of fugitives and slave agents catalyzing its genesis. It didn’t, however, obliterate the wages of whiteness and political philosophy of white supremacy in the post-1865 polity. Du Bois documents this in The Philadelphia Negro, The Souls of Black Folk, “The Souls of White Folk,” and, most notably, Black Reconstruction in America, as do scholars such as C.L.R. James, Frantz Fanon, Annette Gordon-Reed, and Nell Painter. This last point haunts us today.

Authority and authoritarianism undergird Du Bois’s prognostications. An agent with “authority” demands dogged obedience, compliance, and dispelling of ressentiment urges by the subjects of sovereign command. “Authoritarianism” is the structural macropolitical systemization of a type of statecraft designed by what Theodor Adorno and collaborators call an authoritarian personality. It is a hierarchical social, political, and economic order militating against egalitarianism. Moreover, as Arendt notes in “What Is Authority?” we shouldn’t confuse authoritarianism with tyranny, for “the tyrant rules in accordance with his own will and interest, whereas even the most draconian authoritarian government is bound by laws.”

Du Bois wrestles with Jefferson Davis’s legacy because Davis oversaw a confederation based on slavery and apparatuses of unfreedom enshrined in jurisprudence. Du Bois cautions against ambivalence, nihilism, and avoidance of the afterlife of chattel slavery, first since modes of enslavement sanctioned by law mutated and have been upheld at different junctures by authoritarian personalities, though not always in the public sphere by the prime executive. An amplification of these chilling effects occurs when the entity wielding authority — whose public beliefs defend racism, sexism, xenophobia, chauvinism, and rabid masculinity — is Commander-in-Chief. Second, struggle, resistance, and abolitionist challenges to authority and authoritarianism are as much a tradition as the tradition their actions seek to dislodge. Never forget that.

Our current moment is unprecedented. Yet past lessons offer signposts for future judgments and decision-making. President-elect Donald Trump entered campaign 2016 a noted businessman, consummate reality TV performer, and political chameleon. In the process of winning the Republican primary and shockingly defeating Hillary Clinton, Trump clarified certain issues and left many policy positions open-ended.

What’s incontrovertible is Trump’s authoritarian personality. Only time will tell what type of authoritarian President Trump will be, Jefferson Davis reincarnated or otherwise. And if his senior administrative appointments are any indication, particularly the ghastly selection of avowed white nationalist Stephen Bannon as top White House advisor, then we’d be foolish to assume Trump’s stated public beliefs and campaign promises are one big bluff. Parrhesia is hard to digest.

We have a choice in the Age of Trump: ignore history and our intrinsic abilities for action, thereby reifying the authoritarian order Trump very much plans to implement. *Or* protest. Petition. Resist authoritarianism and its mob enforcers. Organize. Unlock our political imaginations. Believe firmly our actions can match our convictions.

‘American Democracy’ is an unrealized and perhaps unrealizable Platonic ideal, but democracy in America, in the hemisphere, and in the globe, measured by nodes of progress, are attainable. Progress, as with regress, comes in stages. And like freedom, the theory of relativity, and quantum mechanics, the meaning of progress and attendant strivings for it begin with acknowledging a foundational phenomenon: perpetual flight.

Flight operates betwixt, between, and beyond the options of Strong Man and Submissive Man. “Human” progress, a consequence of ongoing marronage, beckons us.

This piece was published in the African American Intellectual Historical Society Blog on December 4th, 2016

~ Neil Roberts is an associate professor of Africana Studies and a faculty affiliate in Political Science at Williams College. He is author of the award-winning Freedom as Marronage (University of Chicago Press, 2015) and the collaborative work Journeys in Caribbean Thought (Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016). Roberts is presently completing A Political Companion to Frederick Douglass for The University Press of Kentucky, and he is President-Elect of the Caribbean Philosophical Association. Follow him on Twitter @neildsroberts. (Bio Credit: AAIHS Blog)

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!