The Second Strata

Trump has been successful in recruiting politicians like Pence, whose career had plateaued and was suffering from low approval ratings (see also, Nikki Haley) or were already termed out of office with no obvious place to go (Sonny Perdue) and also the already super wealthy (Tillerson and Mnuchin). 

But there is a second strata of positions below the level of Cabinet Secretary and related positions. At that level, the level of the real subject matter experts, he has struggled to find people for roles like solicitor general or deputy cabinet members specializing in a policy area. Why? Because that class of people still have something to lose. And they believe that they will end up losing by joining his administration. Those who ask themselves, what kind of job will I be able to get after I serve Trump are implicitly answering that too many potential clients won’t want to hire someone tainted by association with Trump.

When Does Intent Cease To Matter?

Most philosophy of ethics views intentionality as key. Was the mental intention good or bad?

I have been thinking about this in the context of recent presidents. Trump almost certainly did not mean to give Israeli intelligence to Hezbollah (though it’s questionable how much of a pass he gets for his apparent intention being ‘show off to Russian officials in order to bolster self-esteem and impress Vladimir Putin’).

But I actually am thinking more about this in the context of George ‘Dubya’ Bush. One can feel almost nostalgic for Dubya while in the thrall of dangerous insecure man-child. At worst, one thinks, he was merely a well-meaning idiot. And didn’t he direct a lot of money towards fighting the spread HIV internationally?

It’s easy to forget all the terrible, ethical lapses of his presidency; of a war driven by Freudian conflicts vis-a-vis, his father.

But even if we accept the premise that he was well-meaning, at what point does intention not matter? Even if he did not intend so many deaths, so many maimings, so much destruction, so much lost, at what point does the water of consequences burst the dam of intention? When is ‘I meant well’ (truly stated) not enough to stave off sin?

Donald, Aldous & George

There have been a few essays lately that argue that we were all blinded by the Cold War-infused popularity of 1984 that we missed the real threat, which more resembled the soporific entertainments of Brave New World, because it was the mindless, meaningless, fact-free Huxleyian discourse of Fox News, et al, that led to Trump. Because it’s all just spectacle (hints of Bataille, eh?), the results can be argued to be effectively meaningless, but what matter is something, anything different to shake things up and make things less boring (also a contrarian response to measured stoicism of ‘No Drama Obama?’).

But now that he’s president, let’s take a moment to raise our glasses to Orwell.

No, I don’t think he’s going to lead America to an authoritarian dystopia driven by an ideology-free ideology (which means, if he does, I’ll be one of those excoriated in future histories for not having recognized the danger posed by an authoritarian, racist, anti-semitic, delusional, narcissist rising to the presidency… which does sound pretty bad, when you say it out loud).

But when you read how large numbers of Trump supporters think he’s accomplished a great many actual things in this, the first 90-odd days of his presidency, when so far, his only tangible accomplishment was nominating Neal Gorsuch for the Supreme Court (his confirmation was solely down to the hard work of Mitch McConnell and his selection was done by those most uber-establishment of establishment folks at the Heritage Foundation). Call ’em alternative facts, call ’em lies, call ’em spin, call ’em what you will, but it all comes down to ‘it just ain’t so.’

And I don’t think that many of those supporters are unaware that he hasn’t actually accomplished, in any real sense, well, anything. We are all guilty, I suspect, of some kinds of antinomial thinking, but this is more of the willful ignorance than Kant’s antimonies. And Winston always wondered if most people actually believed or just accepted because it was easier to go along with those who did truly believe (which, again, bodes poorly for how people like me will be characterized in future histories).

But no, I’m still not predicting the end of American democracy. Neoliberal twit that he can be, I still hope that Fukayama’s predictions of an enduring liberal order are correct, in broad strokes. Maybe, on an intellectual level, I’m just hedging my bets here.

It’s A Brave New World, As They Say (I Think That My Father Used To Say That, Even Though He Was Never A Particular Fan Of Aldous Huxley; For Myself, I Think That ‘Crome Yellow’ Is An Underrated Novel If You Want To Read Something By Him That’s Not, You Know, ‘Brave New World’)

Perhaps it is because I (and other residents of the District and, indeed, almost everyone in America) have been protected by what has become a comforting layer of incompetence that covers everything he does like a bulletproof vest whose actual purpose is to protect everyone around the wearer.

Or maybe it’s because he’s never here and is busy inflicting himself on the patrons Palm Beach County’s Mar-A-Lago retreat for the super wealthy.

More likely though, I have been deluding myself.

After all, I have spent my career trying to make things better for this country. More specifically, I have spent more than a half decade helping to make tangible improvements in the lives of several groups working people in the DMV (that’s DC, Maryland, and Virginia). And this administration really has no time for that kind of thing. Insofar as they have an interest, it is in seeing that kind of work stopped.

Because his comforting incompetence has stalled so many of his priorities (so many of them hilariously and depressingly opposite from those he campaigned on), I haven’t had to think too much about the ways they would devastate the lives of my friends, my family, my neighbors, etc.

I assume the United States of America will survive this. It seems an article of faith. We survived a Civil War. We survived moral blights like chattel slavery, Japanese internment, and a mixture of accidentally and deliberately genoicidal actions towards native peoples, and while we didn’t come out as well as we might have hoped, we did come out a little better, surely. Of course, that ‘we’ is a white people ‘we.’ A reminder of an easily slippery slope. unless you somehow think American Indians came out better for my ancestors arriving and eventually founding this country, in which case, you are too stupid for me to even bother trying to sell you a bridge or mineral rights of a magazine subscription.

That easy slope is why he is so dangerous, too, right?

And maybe I’ll be fine, because I’m white and male and straight. And maybe my person of color better half will be fine because she will be protected by my beneficent aura of whiteness.

Or maybe we are all simply f–ked.

More Cowbell

There has been a lot of hand wringing, panty bunching, and knicker twisting about Clinton’s loss in 2016 (as well as the failure of several Democratic candidates to win statewide races, mainly Senate races, in swing states).

First, let me say that serious ‘post-mortems’ are absolutely necessary after elections (win or lose) and, as Democrats, we need to do the same. And we need to make some changes, no doubt.

But if there’s one thing we learned, it’s the so-called ‘foundational’ models were the most accurate in predicting the outcome (though the national polls were ultimately, correct, if we allow a reasonable MOE, regarding popular vote totals). Nonetheless, Clinton came within a comparative handful of votes in three states in particular (Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan) of winning it all.

So what if we allow ourselves to say, we just needed more cowbell in some key regions. That doesn’t mean criticisms are wrong. For example, that cowbell could have taken the form of additional Clinton appearances in those states. Maybe a tweaking of emphasis in the message. A lot of possibilities. But maybe we can chill a little, eh? Doesn’t mean we don’t need to follow the base and the energy which opposition to Trump (who, as president, now owns the GOP) has generated. Doesn’t mean we don’t need new blood. But these are commonsensical. We shouldn’t be freaking out about the future of our party right now.

We just need to make sure we have more cowbell next time.

On a side note, I have seen the Blue Oyster Cult in concert four times and I love that freaking song.

On A Recent Sunday

On a recent Sunday, I visited the Holocaust Museum with some friends. It was only my second visit and just as sad and moving as the first time; it’s hard not to feel tears welling up at various junctures.

The Holocaust, as a historical event, is sui generis. It is not there to be our metaphor. It is too singular.

But good God, it is simply impossible to visit that museum and see the history and artifacts leading up to the Holocaust being possible and not think about the terrible act, the bigoted act, the ignorant act, the base act, the racist act undertaken by our president.

And he is our president. He is my president. Whatever good I may do in my life, I will also always be, in some part, complicit in whatever evil my country does, especially when it takes place during my lifetime.

In another tragedy, an acquaintance of my mine is a student, studying here on a student visa. The terms of her visa require her to leave the United States every so often (every six months is a common condition of many visas), but she is from one of Trump’s designated countries. She doesn’t know whether to hurry away now and return by judicial stays can be overturned or to wait and hope that things get better. I don’t know either and all my advice to her tastes likes ashes because I am complicit.



I’m fighting it. I’m fighting it as hard as I can.

I don’t actually want family and friends who voted for Trump to lose their healthcare. There are many people I care about who, through some kind of willful denial, refuse to acknowledge that they are able get to insurance (and through the insurance, healthcare) through the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

I don’t want them to lose their insurance when (if? maybe) the ACA is repealed (without, I can guarantee, a replacement that will cover them).

But, I can’t fight the fact that I’m more concerned about the people who didn’t vote for Trump who will lose it and that I will shed more tears for them.