The absolute norm of nonviolence in American politics

As details emerge regarding today’s awful shooting, the incident provides a timely reminder. There are many unbalanced people out there, in every faction across the country. Especially in this awful and contentious time, we need to reinforce the absolute norm of nonviolence on all sides in American politics. We yell. We hold up obnoxious signs. Maybe we engage in civil disobedience. But we never put an unkind hand on any political adversary. We never incite violence. We don’t promote stupid memes that blur the lines like the punch-a-Nazi thing.

The fact that President Trump and others violate these norms does not weaken our own obligation. Indeed it strengthens it.

Wish I’d Written This

A post from a friend, John Watters:

Imagine this scenario:

Hillary Clinton is president. It’s learned that she has deep ties to Putin and the Russian spy agency. She puts unqualified billionaires in cabinet posts. She pursues public policies that benefit her and her billionaire friends. She puts her daughter Chelsea in a position of influence in the West Wing, gives her her own office and allows her to use that position to forward her own business interests. And Chelsea’s husband is her chief advisor. The private business trips taken by Chelsea and her husband are paid for by the taxpayers.

She refuses to release any tax returns, she blocks access to the visitor logs in the White House and Bill refuses to live in the White House so our tax dollars are spent keeping him safe in Chappaqua. Hillary spends almost every weekend lounging in her own, privately-held resort. Her private resort gets reimbursed for any and all “official” government functions (including security) because she chooses to conduct all her “business” and personal functions there. She and her family live in three White Houses at the same time.

In an interview, she names the wrong country she bombed while bragging about the chocolate cake she was eating while she ordered said bombing. I could go on and on. The point is that the outrage, the outcries, the screaming by Republicans would be heard around the world and impeachment proceedings would already be underway.

By the way, this is not about political party affiliation. Let’s face it, if Hillary – or any woman or minority candidate – had five children from three partners s/he would never have survived the primary.

And I [MM] would add: this is not just about party affiliation, which it certainly is. This description is the embodiment of white male privilege.

Civil Disobedience in the Age of Trump

For the first time in my life, I am contemplating going to jail in an act of civil disobedience if President-elect Trump moves against people registered for DACA or carries out some of his other campaign promises. I’m not eager to get locked up, but I’d be at peace with it, too.

I wrote about my thinking today at the Nation.

My greatest fear, when I ponder going to jail, is that my 53-year-old prostate wouldn’t be able to handle the long wait until I am booked. Before Election Day, it seemed a little crazy to imagine that I would ever be behind bars. Now it seems a little crazy that the country would be where we are. Like many others, I am weighing what I am willing and able to do in response.

Henry David Thoreau begins his 1849 essay On the duty of civil disobedience with a timely question: “This American government—what is it but a tradition, though a recent one, endeavoring to transmit itself unimpaired to posterity, but in each instant losing some of its integrity?” American government lost more than some of its integrity on November 8, when Donald Trump was elected to succeed Barack Obama as President of the United States…

[S]erious as they are, Trump’s personal improprieties and financial conflicts are not what lead me to ponder chaining myself to a courthouse door. Like no other president-elect in generations, he bluntly challenges bedrock norms of our pluralist democracy. That’s what Trump’s challenges to President Obama’s birth certificate and college transcripts were really about.

More here.

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Donald Trump just appointed an Ambassador to Israel who has called me a murderer. Am I supposed to be OK with that?

The latest line being pushed by Trumpsters, Republicans, and some Very Serious People, including my good friends Gleen Loury and Megan McArdle, is roughly: “You lost. Get over it. Trump will be our President, and we all need him to succeed. Don’t rock the boat by questioning his legitimacy.”

I hear that. A generation of slash-and-burn Republicanism has so weakened all of our key institutions, and the norms of restraint, civility, and reciprocity necessary to make a Madisonian regime operate, that the survival of the Republic is now genuinely in question. There’s a case to be made for pretending that Donald Trump is a normal human being and hoping that he will stop his pathological lying and grow up to be a real, live President. Barack Obama, the victim of Trump’s systematic campaign of libel (enabled by Fox News and many Republican politicians) acted on that idea at yesterday’s press conference.

But I’m not buying.

A seemingly minor appointment illustrates why I’m not buying, and why I will never accept Trump as holding anything but the limited legal powers the Constitution gives the President: no moral authority, no call on our cooperation, no presumption of good will or good faith, no presumption even that he is acting out of loyalty to the national interest.

Two days ago Trump appointed as Ambassador to Israel a man named David Friedman, his personal bankruptcy lawyer (which, as you might imagine, makes him a very important person to a professional bust-out artist such as Trump). Naturally, Friedman is a lunatic extremist when it comes to the Israel/Palestine question, asserting that Israel should deny voting rights and public services to its Arab citizens unless they pass some sort of loyalty test and that it is free to rule the West Bank indefinitely while extending no civic rights to its inhabitants and stealing as much of their land as it pleases for settlements. Indeed, he runs a non-profit designed to support one such venture, grossly illegal not only under international law but actually under Israeli law, as the Israeli courts have repeatedly ruled.

Well, that’s no surprise. It’s not even very important, since the Ambassador doesn’t make policy.

But Friedman’s hatred of Palestinians extends – as is often the case among right-wing Jewish extremists – to hatred of all Jews who aren’t right-wing extremists. As recently as June, Friedman published an essay in which he said that members of J Street – the moderate Zionist group that favors a two-state solution – are “far worse than kapos – Jews who turned in their fellow Jews in the Nazi death camps.”

Kapos were accomplices in mass murder. Some were killed by their fellow prisoners when the camps were liberated. Some of them were tried and executed for war crimes. Even years later, they were at risk of extrajudicial vengeance: undoubtedly illegal, but widely thought to be justified.

Now, as it happens, I’m a member of J Street. So Trump just nominated someone who called me a murderer, and implicitly called for my murder in turn. Of course I don’t expect to actually share the fate of Yitzhak Rabin – murdered by one of the illegal settlers Friedman supports, someone who had listened to the kind of rhetoric Friedman spouts and took it literally – but I resent it all the same, just as I resent Trump’s collusion in making anti-Semitism one again an active factor in American life. Of course liberal Jews are not the only objects of Trumpian hate speech, but equally of course I tend to take hate speech personally when it personally applies to me.

We’ve heard a lot from the right wing about how liberals get the terrorism problem wrong because we fail to understand radical evil. There’s some justice to that claim and I’m working to improve in that regard.  So I’m glad to report having made enough progress that I recognize radical evil when it moves into the White House.

 

 

 

 

 

Safety pins

Here is a really nice idea. It will not reverse the election, or stop fascism, or turn haters into decent people. But it is cheap, public, good-hearted, and coherent with all sorts of other social action strategy. A flag pin with a real point.

This file prints on Avery 8371 and several others for cards, or use plain paper and snip it up, to make something to just give people who ask about your safety pin.

Quote of the Day

This is not the republic of my imagination.

–Charles Dickens, letter to William Macready, from Baltimore (1842)

The University of Chicago Strikes Out

My alma mater the University of Chicago has managed to get what it’s always wanted: attention from the national press.  Unfortunately, it did so by sending a completely unnecessary letter to incoming students announcing the school’s opposition to trigger warnings and safe spaces, concepts the letter doesn’t seem to understand at all.  So let me wade into this muck in the hope of achieving some clarity.  As the University of Chicago taught me, it’s best to begin by defining one’s terms.

Just as sexual harassment is a form of expression which is nonetheless regulated to make it possible for women to function in the workplace, various kinds of campus behavior are forms of expression which may nonetheless be regulated to make it possible for non-majority students to function in academe. Surely there are ludicrous examples of demands for trigger warnings and safe spaces, just as there are egregious examples of on-campus hostility and discrimination (e.g. men parading outside a women’s dorm yelling “No means yes! Yes means anal!”).  The issue in either case is the boundary between free expression and expression designed to intimidate or silence. No one can deny that a burning cross is an example of expression but as its purpose is to terrorize, it’s considered to be on the wrong side of that boundary. So, in Europe, is Holocaust denial, though it’s tolerated on American college campuses (while assertions that the earth is flat, say, would not be).

Thus people who take seriously the possibility that a person calling black women “water buffaloes” intends to demean and silence them are simply engaging in the type of critical thinking to which universities are supposed to be dedicated as well as the complementary analysis of what is necessary to protect an environment of civil discourse.

I’m a passionate advocate of the educational experience I had at the U of C, and nonetheless I think the letter to incoming students could more succinctly have been rendered as “F**k you if you imagine anything you think will be of interest or concern to us; you must have mistaken us for someplace that cares. And if you don’t like it take your female and black and brown and queer sensibilities elsewhere.” And I am revolted that my alma mater decided its reputation was best spent on that kind of dog-whistle right-wing nonsense.

You don’t want to use trigger warnings? Don’t. But there’s no need to denounce them unless your real purpose is to let people (especially, perhaps, donors) know that you’re indifferent to any concerns about mistreatment based on identity, and that any complaints about such mistreatment will be met with dismissiveness and derision because how dare any of these 21st Century concerns impinge on the 19th Century approach to which we’ve apparently dedicated our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor?

When I spoke up at the law school, I was thanked for expressing “what the women think.” When a classmate objected to the teaching of Plato’s Symposium as though it didn’t refer to gay love, he was told that the University didn’t “cater to special interests.” When students and faculty spoke out for diversifying the curriculum beyond the dead white “mods and greats” beloved of the British university system, the response (from Saul Bellow, no less) was “where is the Proust of the Papuans?” though the whole point of his query was to ridicule the idea of our finding out.

There was nothing “micro” about these aggressions; they were perfectly visible examples of the majority’s desire to humiliate and stifle the minorities.  And the University’s admissions policies in those days (though not now, happily) were carefully designed to make sure that black and brown and even female people were in the tiniest minorities possible.

So the U of C has a long history of behaving as if modernity were a personal insult, and this letter to first-years is as much in keeping with that tradition as any boob’s expressed desire to make America great (meaning white) again.

I’ve heard there are donors to other schools who’ve withdrawn their support when their alma maters have acknowledged their role in slavery or in any way made a reckoning with the imperfections of the past.  So just to balance things out, I’m withdrawing my support of an institution which seems to glory in denying there ever were any such imperfections or that any discrimination or hostility continues to exist today. The U of C exercised its privilege of flipping the bird to its incoming students and I’m exercising my privilege to flip the bird to the U of C.

I hope the faculty and administration don’t experience that as traumatic; but just in case I’m providing this trigger warning.

Captain Khan, Sacrifice, and the Virtue of Selfishness

Lots of ridicule and outrage (both faux and genuine) over Donald Trump’s statement that he has “sacrificed” for his country (implicitly like Captain Khan did), because “I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices. I work very, very hard. I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures. I’ve had tremendous success. I think I’ve done a lot.”

What Trump said was absurd, but it is an absurdity that forms the essential groundwork for GOP public philosophy, dependent as it is on Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. It is, of course, ridiculous to equate “sacrifice” with “financial success,” as Trump did. But in Paul Ryan’s Ayn Randian world, this is about the only definition that one could use. Remember that Rand’s philosophical testament honors “The Virtue of Selfishness.” Self-interest is the only moral touchstone. The idea of sacrificing oneself to a greater good is literally unintelligible. The only type of “sacrifice” that makes sense is giving up something now to get something else later. So for Trump to say that he has “sacrificed” because he has “worked hard” or created “thousands of jobs” (which is doubtful) makes perfect sense from this perspective: he gave up something now (his time, workers’ salaries assuming they got paid) for greater rewards later. This is also why Mitt Romney could say four years ago that although none of his five sons were in the military, they “served” the country by campaigning for their Dad. People like Capt. Khan, who sacrificed himself for his country, aren’t heroes in this scheme: they are suckers.

I doubt whether Trump has read anything by Ayn Rand, because he basically doesn’t read anything. But he doesn’t need to read Rand: he LIVES it. The tougher call is for someone like Ryan, who believes in Ayn Rand, but can’t really say so, so as always he resorts to dissembling. But as always, Trump’s statement here is not surprising, and only represents carrying out Republican economic and political premises to their logical conclusion.

Family challenges posed by fragile X syndrome

A post that has nothing to do with index cards….

Rebecca Feinstein and I interviewed 39 family caregivers of adults living with intellectual disabilities arising from fragile X syndrome. I presented some of our results at the annual meeting of the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics here at the University of Chicago. The sound quality of this 20-minute presentation could be a little better. It conveys some important challenges that individuals and families deal with every day. These interviews underscore how gaps in our social assistance systems impose high costs on many people.

These interviews also brought out one issue that is often overlooked: The safety issues confronting many family caregivers, particularly those caring for young men with a variety of intellectual or behavioral diagnoses. We discuss many other issues, too. So I don’t want to overstate the magnitude of the problem or have it overshadow more familiar concerns. I should add that our family not faced this issue in our own caregiving challenges. It is part of the mix.

This morning’s New York Times includes an excellent essay by my SSA colleague Matt Epperson on police encounters with individuals who are experiencing severe mental illness. Issues of intellectual disability need to be part of this conversation. It is often left out.