Category: The State

What do the NFL and Trump’s Birth Control Mandate Have in Common? Fear, American Style

The Wall Street Journal reports that the NFL may adopt a policy to force football players to stand for the national anthem as a condition of employment. It’s worth recalling that as a matter of constitutional right, a six-year-old student in this country cannot be required to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance or the national anthem. But a grown man or woman can be forced by their employer to do so. That should tell you something about the state of rights in the workplace. A state-run institution like the public school cannot stop you from sitting down during the pledge, but a private employer can. The one factor that may stop the NFL from forcing the players to stand up during […]

On the anniversary of 9/11

For me, 9/11 will always be a time of tremendous fear, stifling conformism, forced patriotism, and vicious nationalism. Which is why I’ve always found the claim that Trump represents a new authoritarianism, even fascism, to be so fanciful and false. There was a moment in the recent memory of this country when dissent really was stifled, when opposition really was suppressed, when the military and police were sanctified and sacralized, when the Constitution was called into question (not a suicide pact, you know), when the two-party system was turned into a one-party state, when the entire nation was aroused and compelled and coerced to rally behind the dear leader, when questioning the nation-state’s commitment to violence and war provoked the […]

When Political Scientists Legitimate Torturers

The American Political Science Association, which will be meeting next week in San Francisco, will be featuring John Yoo on two panels. Many political scientists are protesting this decision, and will be protesting Yoo at his panels. I am not attending the conference this year, but I wrote the following letter to the two program chairs of the conference. Dear Professors Jamal and Hyde: In his celebrated diary of daily life in the Third Reich, Victor Klemperer writes: If one day the situation were reversed and the fate of the vanquished lay in my hands, then I would let all the ordinary folk go and even some of the leaders, who might perhaps after all have had honourable intentions and not […]

Norm Erosion: The President Addresses the Nation about Afghanistan

Tonight, Trump gives an address about Afghanistan. The tone/style will be either trademark bombast (fire and fury) or “presidential” or both. Regardless of the style, it’ll entail a commitment, according to the latest reports, of roughly four thousand US troops, a fraction of the number of troops committed to Afghanistan under Obama, with no mention of private contractors. In the grand scheme of things, it’ll be a status quo operation packaged in high-octane rhetoric. Social media will focus entirely on the rhetoric. The theme of the commentary will be something like: Trump consolidating his shaky presidency with imperial violence abroad! Media falls for new Trump presidency grounded in imperial violence abroad! And then by Wednesday, it’ll all be forgotten. The […]

On Marcel Ophuls’ The Memory of Justice

I’m about 2/3 of the way through Marcel Ophuls’s long-lost documentary The Memory of Justice, which is now playing on HBO. I had been alerted to it by this mostly appreciative review from Ian Buruma. If I can be permitted an opinion without having quite finished the film (that comes tonight), part of me is disappointed with what I’ve seen. The first half covers fairly well trodden ground, without unearthing much that’s new. Much of it feels like a director being put through his paces, or a director putting his subjects through their paces. Despite his reputation as an interviewer, Ophuls doesn’t extricate a lot from Telford Taylor that you wouldn’t know from reading Taylor’s articles and books. Or from Albert Speer, for that matter, that you didn’t know […]

The very thing that liberals think is imperiled by Trump will be the most potent source of his long-term power and effects

John Harwood has a good piece about Trump’s downward spiral of weakness: Increasingly, federal officials are deciding to simply ignore President Donald Trump. As stunning as that sounds, fresh evidence arrives every day of the government treating the man elected to lead it as someone talking mostly to himself. … “What is most remarkable is the extent to which his senior officials act as if Trump were not the chief executive,” Jack Goldsmith, a top Justice Department official under President George W. Bush, wrote last weekend on lawfareblog.com. “Never has a president been so regularly ignored or contradicted by his own officials,” Goldsmith added. “The president is a figurehead who barks out positions and desires, but his senior subordinates carry on […]

In America, who’s more likely to win an election: a scam artist or a war hero?

This campaign commercial for Amy McGrath, who is running for Congress in Kentucky, has got the Twitterati excited.   The campaign of McGrath seems in line with a decision, leaked last June, by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to field candidates who had seen combat, along with “job creators” and “business owners.” The question is: does it work? In the last ten presidential elections, only one candidate who actually fought in a war has won: George HW Bush. All the rest either served their country by shooting flicks (Reagan) or manipulating family connections or deferments to avoid combat (Clinton, George W. Bush, Trump) or simply weren’t eligible for a draft (Obama). Meanwhile, enlistees, soldiers, and war heroes, Republican and Democrat alike, […]

Why John Kelly won’t—in fact, can’t—save Trump

Here’s how you know Kelly can’t and won’t impose discipline on the White House, notwithstanding the bold-not-so-bold-out-of-the-gate move of firing Scaramucci. Anyone who would take this job, thinking that he—unlike everyone else before him—can somehow make Trump into what Trump is not, thinking that what Trump really wants is to be saved from himself (remember, Trump is 71 years old; he’s not really in the market for a change of life), suffers from the same magical thinking that is at the heart of Trump’s entire operation. Kelly is not an answer or alternative to Trump; he is Trump.

Chelsea and Me: On the politics—or non-politics or pseudo-politics—of engaging a power player on Twitter

Let me preface this post with a disclaimer: I’m probably as embarrassed as you are—in fact, more embarrassed, I’m sure—that I’ve devoted as much thought to this tempest in a teacup as I have. But having poured this much thought into this little tea, I feel that I should share, lest my cup spilleth over. So here goes. I’m finding the pushback—at this blog, on Twitter, and across Facebook—about my exchange with Chelsea Clinton super interesting. One of the leitmotifs of the pushback is that it’s somehow unfair of me to engage Clinton about Arendt. Now that it was an act of almost spectral comedy, if not lunacy, to so engage, I’ll freely admit. Which is mostly why I posted the whole […]

Yesterday, I got into an argument with Chelsea Clinton. On Twitter. About Hannah Arendt.

Yesterday, I got into an argument with Chelsea Clinton. On Twitter. About Hannah Arendt. It began with Clinton tweeting this really upsetting story from the Washington Post about a man who set fire to a LGBT youth center in Phoenix. The headline of the piece read: Man casually empties gas can in Phoenix LGBT youth center, sets it ablaze Here’s what Clinton tweeted, along with that headline. The banality of evil: https://t.co/BbhxhmGl0q — Chelsea Clinton (@ChelseaClinton) July 28, 2017 I didn’t think Clinton was using Arendt’s concept of “the banality of evil” correctly. I retweeted her with some snide commentary. This is what happens when you know something as a cliche or slogan rather than as an idea. Totally the opposite of what Arendt meant. https://t.co/Rh8jT7jlct — corey robin (@CoreyRobin) July […]

All the president’s men were ratfuckers

On MSNBC, former Bush White House Communications Chief Nicolle Wallace went after the new White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci and his team: “These are not all the president’s men, these are all of Sean Hannity’s men.” I gather Wallace thinks “all the president’s men” means men of great virtue and talent, the proverbial Wise Men of the early Cold War or the Knights of the Roundtable or something. In reality, the phrase refers to Nixon’s team of White House advisors and convicted Watergate felons, all of whom went to jail: Haldeman, Erlichman, Mitchell, Colson, Chapin, and Segretti, who literally invented the phrase “ratfucking” for the dirty tricks he was hired to do for the Nixon campaign. It’s also a riff on […]

Unlike Jimmy Carter, Trump has been remarkably weak. And that may turn out to be his salvation.

Using Steve Skowronek’s theory of the presidency, particularly his theory of disjunctive presidencies, I’ve been plugging the Trump-Carter comparison, as many of you know. It occurred to me this morning, however, on reading this quite astute piece from Matt Yglesias, that there may be an interesting flaw in that comparison. Yglesias points out, and I think he’s right in ways that few people have grappled with, that in many ways, Trump ran well to the center of the Republican Party during the primaries. Trump promised not to touch Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid; he seemed chill with gay marriage; at times he praised Planned Parenthood; he ran against free trade; and he was a sharp critic of the neocon adventurism of the Bush […]

Fighting Fascism in France, 1936 v. 2017

Fighting Fascism in France, Summer 1936: Léon Blum’s Popular Front government establishes extensive labor law protections, including the right to collective bargaining, two weeks’ paid holidays, and 40-hour work week. Fighting Fascism in France, Summer 2017: Macron’s government uses summer holidays to ram through extensive labor law retrenchments, including provisions that ensure collective bargaining agreements protect workers who aren’t in unions and that prevent workers from having to answer work-related email and phone calls after hours. Also, this: … he’ll [Macron] ask Parliament for legislation that would let the government enact labor reforms by decree, avoiding momentum-sapping debate… That’s how we fight fascism today: by an enabling act that allows the government to bypass political debate and rule by decree.

Why does the GOP stick with Trump? It’s all about the judges.

Throughout Trump’s time in the White House, I’ve been wondering, like many others, what would it take for the GOP to break with Trump. I never thought for a moment that they’d break with him over a question of law or constitutional principle or democratic norms or political propriety. My working assumption, for most of this time, has been that if they felt like their tax cuts were in jeopardy, they might jump ship, tax cuts being the one thing that unites the party and that they know how to do. But things aren’t looking good for the tax cuts, and I see no signs of any break. So we’re left with the question: why is the GOP sticking with Trump? They’re […]

Trump is a Tyrant: The Devolution of an Argument

I’ve noticed an interesting evolution—perhaps devolution—in the “Trump is a tyrant” line of argument. Originally, the claim was robust and ambitious: Trump was like the classic fascist rulers of the twentieth century, readying to lead not only a repressive and violent state apparatus, under the unified control of his party, but also a street-based mass movement that channeled a broad and scary consensus of the majority of the nation. It soon became apparent that despite his electoral victory, Trump in fact had very little ability to control popular opinion. Not only has he had the worst approval ratings of any president at this point in his term, but he’s also been singularly incapable of moving the needle of public opinion toward his positions. As […]

On liberals, the left, and free speech: Something has changed, and it’s not what you think it is

When I was in college and in graduate school (so the 1980s and 1990s), the dividing line on free speech debates was, for the most part, a pretty conventional liberal/left divide. (I’m excluding the right.) That is, self-defined liberals tended to be absolutists on free speech. Self-defined leftists—from radical feminists to radical democrats to critical race theorists to Marxists—tended to be more critical of the idea of free speech. What’s interesting about the contemporary moment, which I don’t think anyone’s really remarked upon, is that that clean divide has gotten blurry. There were always exceptions to that divide, I know: back in the 1980s and 1990s, some radical feminists were critical of the anti-free speech position within feminism; some liberals, like Cass […]

Eichmann in Jerusalem is a better guide to Trump Time than is Origins of Totalitarianism

I’ve argued many times that I think Eichmann in Jerusalem is a much better guide to fascism—and, to whatever extent that mode of politics is relevant today, to our times as well—than is Origins of Totalitarianism. There are many reasons I believe this, but three stand out. First, Origins sees totalitarianism as essentially a mass phenomenon, by which Arendt means not only the rise of the mass but also the liquidation of all familiar institutions, established elites, and traditional hierarchies. Eichmann completely dispenses with that view, emphasizing instead how fascism is much more of an elite affair dependent upon long-standing social hierarchies. Second, Origins sees totalitarianism as the liquidation of the individual agent and individual action; even the regime’s leaders, Arendt argues […]

Why, when it comes to the Right, do we ignore events, contingency, and high politics?: What Arno Mayer Taught Me

One of the many reasons I resist the Trump-as-fascist argument is that it often leads to (or accompanies) an inattention to or eclipse of matters of high politics and elite action: the jockeying for position at the highest levels of state, the coalitions and fractures within the dominant regime, the day-to-day events in which policy gets formed and unformed. There’s no intrinsic reason that an invocation of fascism should require that inattention; the best historical studies of fascism don’t ignore these questions at all. In the American context, however, the invocation of that parallel—whether to McCarthyism or now to Trump—often does. The reason for that, I suspect, is that most people tend to think of fascism as primarily a form of mass politics, that […]

Trump’s Bermuda Triangle: Obamacare, Taxes, and the Debt

I’ve got an oped in the Times today on the GOP meltdown over Obamacare. While pundits and journalists focus on the problems of personality (Trump’s or the GOP’s as a whole) and policy (the Republican bill was a terrible bill, the assumption being that Republicans somehow never pass terrible bills), of timing (the GOP should have waited to do healthcare until after they dealt with taxes, an analysis that gets things backward) and tactics (Trump negotiated badly, Ryan led badly), the real story, I argue, is deeper and more structural: Movements long ensconced and habituated to power — such that when their leaders are out of office, their ideas still dominate — get out of that practice. They lose touch with that external reality of […]

Why are there no great thinkers on the right today?

Franz Neumann famously wrote, “No greater disservice has ever been rendered by political science than the statement that the liberal state was a ‘weak’ state. It was precisely as strong as it needed to be in the circumstances.” An analogous point could be made, I think, about the relationship between ideas and conservatism. While it’s fashionable to bemoan the lack of great thinkers and deep thinking on the right today—the passing from the scene of a Friedman or a Hayek, a Kristol or a Buckley, and their replacement by whatever it is that passes for conservative thinking and writing today—the truth is that conservative ideas are precisely as strong, its thinkers always as deep, as the movement needs them to be in the […]