Public Talks for 2018
“American Philosophy: it’s originality, and practicality, from progressive education to science, law, and democracy.” Gold Coast Library, 1/17 7pm.
There is much that is unique about the development of the United States of America, as well as much that is not. Original visions have struggled with quite traditional values and attitudes throughout our history. American Philosophy, in giving voice to the possibilities of America has made original contributions to Western Philosophy, developing our ideals while critically analyzing our limitations. Touching on a wide range of areas, from education and politics, to religion and science, we will provide a perspective on this development, and suggest some of the fault lines that mark contemporary experience.
“Making Sense of Recent Elections: what can we learn from the unexpected election results in America, Britain, and elsewhere?” South Huntington Library, 1/24 7pm
First the British vote to withdraw from the European Union, then the American election of Donald Trump startled experts and deranged established political expectations and institutions. Similar forces have seemed to be at work at other European countries, though with modified results. What are we to make of these election results, and what do they portend for the future of Western liberal democracies? These are the kind of issues we will seek to address.
“Trump’s America: what is its vision, program, and the nature of its support.” Gold Coast Library, 2/7 at 7pm
We will explore the significance for America of the election of Donald Trump. What were the conditions that laid the groundwork for his election? Who voted for him, and why? And what are the possible consequences?
“Fantasyland: Reflections on America’s Character and Culture”
3 lectures at Hutton House, LIU Wednesdays 2/14-28 from 1-3pm.
In these Reflections on America’s Character and Culture, we will explore:
Who we are. The cultures, ethnicities, and belief systems that have built the U.S. How we developed. Some of the major challenges we have faced, and how we addressed them. Our growth, expansion, and Manifest Destiny. The emergence of the “cultural Cold War” that has come to dominate our politics. The Trump phenomena. And the divergent paths now before us.
“Manifest Destiny and the Meaning of America: thinking about our history and its contemporary relevance.” Syosset Library, 3/1 at 2pm.
Americans have always believed that we are an exceptional people. From the Puritans landing at Plymouth Rock, seeking to build “a city upon a hill” that all the world would view as an example of how all should live, through the 19th Century notion that we had a “manifest destiny” to occupy the entire North American continent “from sea to shining sea.” As a nation, we continue to believe “that God shed his Grace on thee.” We joined WW1 “to save the world for democracy,” and continue to believe that we are the beacons of “The Free World,” with an obligation and responsibility to preserve the values that have made us great. What is that belief system? What are its origins? How has it operated to guide our history? And what are its implications for us as a nation today? These are the issues I hope to address.
“The American Dream: what it means and what are its prospects.” Elmont Memorial Library, 4/6 12:30 pm
Since its inception, one of the central meanings of America has been the opportunity to make something of one’s life. America offered the promise, and quite often the reality, of a continually improving standard of living for oneself and for one’s children. This sense of individual possibility, rooted in personal freedom and basic human rights became a beacon for people across the world. That became the wider significance of the claim that we were « as a city upon a hill » for all the world to see what life could become. In recent times, however, this vision has become increasingly uncertain. What has been happening to the American Dream? Why is that? And what can we do about it?
I am concerned and even saddened to see the way many long-term leftists, often with quite reputable histories, joining the chorus of those treating claims of Russian interference in our recent election as “fake news,” or only as a conspiracy of foreign policy Hawks to reignite the Cold War, or but an attempt by the Democratic Establishment to explain its electoral defeat and justify its continuing policies and hold on power. For example, the left-wing Real News Network speaks of Trump’s “One Good Policy” in criticizing ongoing efforts to investigate both the Trump campaign and now the Trump Administration. Such analyses often go so far as to justify their position by documenting US interference in the elections of other countries.
But regardless of past — and probably continuing — US interference in other countries (which should be addressed on its own terms) — the public is right to insist upon a full investigation and action to impede as much as possible any future Russian interference for many reasons, not the least of which is the preservation of what’s left of US democracy.
But more to the immediate point, such investigation is crucial to the mobilization of sufficient Republican opposition to the Trump Administration, which alone in the short run can incapacitate it from its destructive political path (and I’m quite confident that there’s a vast Mafiaesque corrupt underbelly that Trump will do almost anything to protect).
Unfortunately, there is no way in the US constitutional system to remove an Administration, as there is in parliamentary systems, so the best that we can do is incapacitate them, push Trump to further outrageous actions, and mobilize an opposition that hopefully!!!! can be electorally successful in 2017, 18, & 2020 — in spite of the immense power of the yet to be fully unleashed financial power, an empowered right-wing media and the growing right-wing influence on the courts. And that will of necessity require us to a limited extent to make common cause with people whose politics on a wide-range of other issues may be anathema to ours. We must appreciate the very palpable fact that our democratic institutions hang by a thread, and all who care about those institutions should NOT contribute to undermining the most effective and potentially successful opposition to the Trump Administration that a mobilized populace can bring about.
As events are unfolding, both domestically and internationally, and new revelations and cover ups surround questions of past and present connections between Trump allies and important Russian officials, I am increasingly coming to the belief that we are in the midst of a major neo-Fascist alliance to reshape the Western world.
Trump’s domestic agenda is one that prioritizes corporate interests, while spouting populist rhetoric, demonizes marginalizable groups in the name of America First — the proto-Nazi slogan on Charles Lindberg and friends in the 30s — shows no respect for the law, courts, or traditional democratic norms, and is committed to the militarization of the police and the suppression of dissent. Meanwhile, he praises Putin and other strongmen, hires past promoters of dictators, and undermines American democratic allies and alliances. And this is not to say anything about his possible direct relation with Russian interference in our, and in our allies, elections. At the same time, it is clear that Putin has actively supported Far Right candidates throughout Europe, including the French anti-Semitic National Front and the anti-Muslim party in the Netherlands — all of whom seek to undermine the European Union.
That is why I believe that we can not act as if we are dealing with politics as usual in the U.S. The Trump Administration is not simply a more radical version of traditional Right Wing politics. It is an existential threat to the very survival of representative government in the U.S., and in a significant sense, to the very survival of relatively decent societies in Europe.
And those of us, whether on the Left, Center, or even Right, who believe in the rule of law, and the at least relative respect for human wellbeing, and the rights and dignity of all people, must join together to do everything we can to delegitimize and incapacitate the Trump Administration from carrying out its neo-Fascist agenda at home and abroad.
A necessary practical step in carrying out this program requires undermining the nearly lockstep support that Trump has so far received from the Republican Party. And the most effective practical strategy for accomplishing that is a full court press on the need for a complete, impartial investigation into the Trump campaign’s connection with Russian interference in our election, and pushing that investigation into exploring any and all continuing coordination between the Trump Administration and the Russian Government.
And that is why the effort of many often well-meaning Leftists — who may seek peace, want detente with Russia, and may fear that these concerns with Russian hacking are solely promoted by Cold Warriors in order to recreate a Cold War, or who may still even have a sympathetic identification with Russia as the continuation of the Soviet Communist ideological commitment to promoting the classless society — their efforts to cast doubt on, or even undermine, investigation into Russian interference in our election is, I fear, no doubt unintentionally and quite unfortunately, playing into the hands of this emerging domestic and international Fascist Axis. We must not normalize the Trump Administration. We must do everything to keep the Russian connection front and center in our demand for a complete impartial investigation, as we confront the Trump Administration on every level, defending threatened groups and basic human rights and services, while promoting programs of social justice, human decency, and ecologically sound and equitable economic development.