Yes, there's someone occupying the office, but he's clueless and is even more out of his depth than George W. Bush, who had at least had some experience in government. The man occupying the office occasionally does things when instructed. Fortunately, there are a few adults around who have had real jobs and performed them professionally, like General Mattis, the Secretary of Defense, and Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State. Even the Vice-President, the otherwise morally abhorrent Mike Pence, actually governed a state, and got in trouble because of his bigotry, not because of sheer incompetence. The interesting thing is that it turns out the country, and the vast federal bureaucracy, can chug along despite not having a President. For how long though? I guess we're going to find out.
Several readers flagged for me this nicely done column by philosopher Karen Stohr (Georgetown) on the subject of "contempt" (it appears at the usually unreadable "Stone" blog at the NYT). It is well-written, smartly invokes some relevant philosophical concepts, and is broadly accessible to an educated reader.
I do think Prof. Stohr is largely wrong, however, and for reasons that may be worth explaining. I like that Prof. Stohr describes herself--no doubt accurately, but unusually honestly--as "a Midwesterner by birth and moral instincts." What I like about this confession of the relativity of moral sentiment is that it helps explain her column and makes clear that if you share her sentiments, then her points are probably compelling, otherwise maybe not. I would encourage lots of other philosophers to be as honest as Prof. Stohr: we are well past the point when kids whose parents were pastors, or kids from Toledo or South Dakota, should be able to pass off their local etiquette norms and associated feelings as morally obligatory. (Readers here know my moral sentiments: I'm from New York, I don't suffer fools or charlatans or "posturing preening wankers" gladly, and I enjoy a good evisceration of scoundrels and miscreants. I'm allergic to Kant, and an equal opportunity critic of anyone who enters the public sphere. But none of it's personal, it's all "business"!)
The difficult with Prof. Stohr's approach is that its argument rests on "armchair political science," a much feebler discipline than empirical political science. She is right, of course, that contempt generally "is directed at the entire person," and so involves "dismissing" the person as not worth engaging with. (How much it has in common with Strawson's "objective attitude," as she suggests, is an interesting philosophical question, which I will bracket here.) But she goes on to claim that:
Contempt expressed by the socially powerful toward the socially vulnerable is a much greater moral danger than contempt that flows in the opposite direction. As president, Trump occupies a position of exceptional social power. Contempt bolstered by such power becomes far more effective and hence, far more threatening to our grounding democratic values....
Trump’s [mocking] imitation of [disabled journalist] Kovaleski reinforced a specific social inequality that most people now recognize as morally abhorrent; namely, the marginalization of people with disabilities.....
It may seem as though the best response to Trump’s contempt is to return it in kind, treating him the same way he treats others. The trouble, though, is that contempt toward Trump does not function in the same way that his contempt toward others functions. Even if we grant that Trump deserves contempt for his attitudes and behaviors, his powerful social position insulates him from the worst of contempt’s effects. It is simply not possible to disregard or diminish the agency of the president of the United States. This means that contempt is not a particularly useful weapon in the battle against bigotry or misogyny. The socially vulnerable cannot wield it effectively precisely because of their social vulnerability.
If there is empirical support for these claims, I am not aware of it and none is cited. Take Trump's pathetic mockery of the disabled journalist: it damaged Trump, not the journalist, so much so that even Trump and his supporters had to deny that he was really mocking the journalist. Kovaleski was not marginalized, he won support from all corners and across partisan lines. Prof. Stohr's characterization bears no relationship to what actually transpired in the court of public opinion, as best I can tell.
NYT story here. I have not had an opportunity to read the opinion, but there is a link to it in the article. My impression is that the executive order is most vulnerable on religious discrimination grounds, given the ordinarily wide latitude given to the executive branch in immigration matters (though not as wide as the government lawyers are trying to argue). I am pleased on the moral merits that the courts are pushing back against the Idiot-in-Chief, but the ultimate legal merits are trickier here. I'm quite sure Trump has not helped himself with the judiciary by his initial responses, and that may yet carry over to the Supreme Court, which will get this case next. The religious discrimination argument could, in fact, persuade some of the more conservative Justices--and add to that the fact that they may also feel the need to make clear that the Idiot-in-Chief can not do whatever he wants.
We know how Trump thinks, and a distinguishing feature of it is that it includes precious few ideas, and no ideology: it is driven mainly by personal relationships and loyalties, plus the quirks of his psychological disturbance. Bannon, by contrast, has ideas and an ideology, and this is the best synthesis of what they are. (See also this and this, and recall an earlier post about his speech to the Vatican traditionalists.) It is a strange brew, about what you would expect from a working-class Irish-Catholic kid without any real intellectual discipline or sophistication. He notices real events--e.g., Wall Street bankers being bailed out after the 2008 fiasco while working-class Americans see their retirement savings or their property values collapse--but has no serious diagnosis about cause and effect, instead interjecting as an interpretive rubric various petty bigotries and prejudices that he probably learned in his youth with crackpot theories about the "real" trends of history. He correctly sees that there are elites, but fails to see that he shares with them the most crucial commitment, namely, to capitalist relations of production. He understands too little about capitalism to realize that his silly nationalist bromides are actually incompatible with the capitalism he cherishes, that the "Davos class" of elites he bemoans are the necessary consequence of the economic system he still supports. This is apparent to other members of the ruling class, e.g., this billionaire investor:
“President [sic] Trump may be able to temporarily hold off the sweep of automation and globalization by cajoling companies to keep jobs at home, but bolstering inefficient and uncompetitive enterprises is likely to only temporarily stave off market forces,” he continued. “While they might be popular, the reason the U.S. long ago abandoned protectionist trade policies is because they not only don’t work, they actually leave society worse off.”
Bannon once professed that, like Lenin, he wanted to destroy the system. He should read some more Lenin, and then he might even develop a coherent world view and understand the actual role of Republican policies in it.
MOVING TO FRONT FROM FEBRUARY 4--SOME INTERESTING COMMENTS (AND LINKS)
This is a happy development, and even happier is that the government is complying with the order. (Meanwhile, President [sic] Trump had another one of his twitter outbursts about the decision, which will only hurt him with all judges, not just this one, as he's going to find out.) Reader James Osborn called my attention to a video of the argument before Judge Robart in the federal district court in Seattle, in particular the exchange starting about 39:00 between the lawyer for the Department of Justice and Judge Robart. (The DOJ lawyer isn't very good, and seems ill-prepared. Judge Robart is clearly a very nice judge.)
The Judge's position is that this executive order on immigration must be subjected to "rational basis review," which is generally a very undemanding standard, but as the Judge notes it is not clear this order is based on "fact" as opposed to "fiction." (That the order is not rationally related to any security objective is, in essence, the conclusion of the damning analysis by Benjamin Wittes we've linked to previously.)
By contrast, DOJ's position appears to be that this order falls within the President's power over foreign affairs, and so is not to be subject even to rational basis review. I'd be interested to hear from some of my lawyer/law professor readers what they make of that argument; Judge Robart isn't impressed. (I would have assumed that immigration law is not within the executive's foreign affairs power, but I really do not know much at all about this.)
President Trump, asked by an interviewer on Saturday why he respected President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia even though he is “a killer,” seemed to equate Mr. Putin’s actions with those of the United States.
“You got a lot of killers,” he told the interviewer, Bill O’Reilly of Fox News. “What, you think our country’s so innocent?”
Thousands of academics have pledged not to attend U.S. conferences because of the immigration ban. The only effect of this is to punish U.S. academics--who, overwhelmingly, did not and do not support Trump--who might benefit from foreign scholars participating in conferences. It will have no effect on Bannon polices, since Herr Bannon and his lapdog have nothing but contempt for knowledge and academics. So what is the point? I'm opening comments, I'm genuinely curious to hear what people think. There's also a poll to gauge reader reaction:
UPDATE: With over 350 responses in just the last five hours, sentiment here is pretty negative: 17% favor the boycott, 70% are again, 13% are undecided. I would like to hear from supporters about their reasons in the comment section. I'll let this run into tomorrow, so that more readers in Europe and Australasia can participate in the poll.
SO AFTER 24 HOURS and nearly 600 votes, the results are not much changed from yesterday afternoon: 19% favor the boycott, 70% oppose, the remainder are undecided. (A couple of readers pointed out that Justin Weinberg [South Carolina] ran a similar poll on his blog, which again revealed only minority support for the boycott. [Advertisers take note: that poll got only about 250 votes, despite being open for more than 48 hours!])
Some Breitbart bozo named Milo Y. (I can't be bothered to figure out how to spell the last name) runs around to college campuses being an arse and insulting people, and students protest. (The student groups that invite this malevolent clown ought to try something novel: think about what you're doing.) At Berkeley, there was a large, and peaceful, student protest in advance of the bozo's speech, and then about 100 outsiders also showed up and started a riot, started fires, destroyed property etc. Berkeley went to great lengths to try to permit the event to take place, but when the riot started, they cancelled the event out of legitimate concerns for safety. The Ignoramus-in-Chief then tweeted that Berkeley should lose federal funding. This has no basis in existing law.
Republicans, please impeach this pathetically stupid and inept person before it's too late for you too.
ADDENDUM: Whether Berkeley students were involved in the rioting, I should add, is irrelevant: existing law does not authorize withholding federal funds from Berkeley because of this incident.
...which is the best thing to be said about America these days! Mike Pence, his VP, is a reactionary Christian zealot, but we know what those folks are like in America: they are predictably wicked! And Pence is the guy who could not get re-elected as Governor of Indiana--Indiana!--so he will be a political loser going forward. But he will at least be a "regular" Repug, i.e., someone not intent on annihilating the world as a result of mental instability or venal stupidity a la Bannon.
This is a useful account of why she is in trouble. Even Senator Murkowski (R-Alaska) was hearing from constituents alarmed about her! She knows nothing about public schools, indeed, is bent on destroying them quite clearly--which doesn't pay well in states with large rural populations. If you're in one of those states, call your Republican Senator's office to express your concern that the nominee is ignorant about and appears hostile to public schools! (Earlier post on this topic.)
As we all know, there is an organized network of right-wing websites, sometimes with help from Fox News, that are devoted to exposing faculty who think verboten thoughts and launching cyber-jihads against those faculty by their brain-dead readers and followers. Now the AAUP weighs in.
This will not have much impact on the ignoramus-in-chief, but I have no doubt that colleagues at UNAM and elsewhere in Mexico will appreciate a public repudiation by American philosophers of Trump's stupidity towards Mexico. (To sign, you have to scroll down from the letter to get to the signature place.)
(Thanks to Pau Luque for calling this to my attention.)
...out of concern about protests. Good work Milwaukee protesters! If he remains "radioactive" (as my friend Scott Shapiro put it), he will be damaged, and the more damaged he is, the sooner he will be impeached.
...does not greatly concern me, at least at this stage. It sounds like the point will be to deregulate, to make it easier for for-profit institutions to operate and religious institutions to discriminate. Both are bad, but not nearly as bad as everything else going on! But we'll see whether the taskforce's mission changes.
Judge Gorsuch, nominated by President [sic] Trump for the U.S. Supreme Court, is a graduate of Harvard Law School and a former Supreme Court clerk himself. Judge Garland, nominated last year by President Obama for the Supreme Court, is a graduate of Harvard Law School and a former Supreme Court clerk himself. Both are currently sitting federal courts of appeal judges. The Republicans, it will be recalled, refused to even consider Judge Garland; they are now demanding, of course, prompt consideration of Judge Gorsuch. What's going on? This is what's going on.
Useful chart. Note that in addition to the 48 Democratic Senators, 10 Republican Senators have come out squarely against it (a half-dozen Republican Senators support it, most are just quiet). It remains to be seen how things shape up in the House.
A useful take on Bannon & Trump's executive order regarding refugrees and visas. I vote for more incompetence, since we're guaranteed the malevolent intentions.
Note that the author of this anlaysis is a pretty reliable apologist usually for so-called "counterterrorism" efforts. Note this from his assessment of this executive order:
[I]n the rational pursuit of security objectives, you don’t marginalize your expert security agencies and fail to vet your ideas through a normal interagency process. You don’t target the wrong people in nutty ways when you’re rationally pursuing real security objectives.
When do you do these things? You do these things when you’re elevating the symbolic politics of bashing Islam over any actual security interest. You do them when you’ve made a deliberate decision to burden human lives to make a public point. In other words, this is not a document that will cause hardship and misery because of regrettable incidental impacts on people injured in the pursuit of a public good. It will cause hardship and misery for tens or hundreds of thousands of people because that is precisely what it is intended to do.
Here Eliot Cohen, formerly of the George W. Bush Administration, and a longstanding Trump skeptic:
Precisely because the problem is one of temperament and character, it will not get better. It will get worse, as power intoxicates Trump and those around him. It will probably end in calamity—substantial domestic protest and violence, a breakdown of international economic relationships, the collapse of major alliances, or perhaps one or more new wars (even with China) on top of the ones we already have. It will not be surprising in the slightest if his term ends not in four or in eight years, but sooner, with impeachment or removal under the 25th Amendment. The sooner Americans get used to these likelihoods, the better.
There are enough flippable Republican Senators to join Demomcratcs in convicting Trump of impeachable offenses, but first the House has to impeach, and that will require something Paul Ryan doesn't obviously have: a spine. But it's early days, and even Ryan & co. may see the merits of ousting the delusional narcissist.
UPDATE: A propos Ryan, this is funny. (Thanks to Roger Albin for the pointer.)
...and suggests removal may constitute a violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. According to the colleague from whom I got this, this is the first mention of the Establishment Clause being implicated in the Muslim ban.
IHE collects them here. Some are a bit tepid, others foreceful. Note the critical comments by the President of Purdue, Mitch Daniels, the former Republican Governor of Indiana. If President [sic] Bannon and his lapdog Trump can continue to alienate Republicans like Mitch Daniels, impeachment may come sooner rather than later.
I would not endorse all of this, but follow some of the links as well. The one thing which is plainly the case is that Trump and his "inner circle" call the real shots, and he wants to keep it that way: that's the Mafia way, after all.
Continental Philosophy Farhang Erfani, a philosopher at American University, provides a useful set of links to news, events, interviews, reviews, videos, etc. related to "Continental philosophy" (broadly construed)