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?
The Ambiguous Legacy of Barack Obama
There is much for which to credit Barack Obama, from the creation of national health insurance and the stimulus legislation (in spite of their many limitations), through the more recent agreement with Iran, the opening up to Cuba, and the recently concluding international climate agreement. And there is much to criticize, from his failure to hold anyone responsible for the disastrous invasion of Iraq and the systematic use of torture, to the uncompromising pursuant and punishment of any and all whistleblowers, and the vastly expanded deportation of documented individuals.
But the most fundamental failure of his administration, to my mind, was his almost constitutional incapacity to recognize and respond to the all out ideological warfare that has been orchestrated by a Republican Party that has been captured by the Radical Right, joined to his corporate economic vision and program that has contributed to the ideological legitimation and institutional empowerment of right-wing political economics.
His corporate liberal agenda was signaled from the outset be his choice of Tim Geithner, Lawrence Summers, and Alton Goosby, as his key economic advisors. This was followed not only by a refusal to hold any of the corporate crooks responsible for the Great Recession, but by his unmitigated support for the Bush-Paulsen bailout – with practically no strings attached – of the banking community. He thus “owned” the corporate bailout, which fueled a widespread popular outrage, and vitalized the emergence of the Tea Party (itself financed and operating in the service of that very corporate agenda.)
That “conservative” economic agenda was further legitimated by Obama’s acceptance of the bogus concern with the deficit, which found additional expression in his creation of the Simpson-Bowles Commission to orchestrate the right-wing corporate attack on the so-called “entitlements” of Social Security and Medicare — with the camouflage of trying to “reform” them to address the claimed future shortfall.
It was this right-wing economic ideology and program, focused around the primacy of the deficit and the ideological opposition to universal health care, that set the stage for the overwhelming right-wing successes in 2010 that gave Republicans such overwhelming control of Congress and state governments, allowing them to effectively gerrymander their institutional electoral control of the House of Representatives and many state governments for the foreseeable future. And Obama now seeks to cap off this corporate economic agenda with the outrageous assault on democratic self-government and our domestic economy that is the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership.
It is these positions that have both fueled and popularly legitimated the right-wing corporate and Tea Party movements, and initially demoralized American progressives. It was thanks, first to Occupy, and then to Elizabeth Warren and now Bernie Sanders, who have re-lit the flame for the Progressive left. And it will be for our national organizations to build on this momentum to carry these movements into 2016 and beyond, as we fight an uphill battle against the right-wing ideology, media, and institutional corporate and political infrastructure. Of these efforts, more next time.