Dangerous Times: Thoughts on the US Presidential Election

by Mark English

“Could fear of Trump rattle Stoics, while fear of death finds no purchase?”

Dwayne Holmes was alluding to self-styled Stoic Massimo Pigliucci’s readiness – in the face of the possibility of a Trump presidency – to endorse over-the-top, emotion-driven political analysis. [1] Panic levels are certainly high in liberal and progressive circles, and if current trends continue and Trump wins in November they will be through the roof.

The only thing that (just about) everyone agrees on is that serious consequences will flow from this election. Not being an American, I am much more interested in the consequences for the world at large than in the consequences for the US.

Holmes notes that both candidates sound like hawks but Trump is “more blustery [and] less hawkish.” Quite so.

The key difference is that Clinton is a neocon and supported by neocons. Trump is not.

I won’t attempt to analyse Trump’s foreign policy proposals except to say that they lack the imperialist dimension of neoconservatism. The general direction of his stated intentions is to scale back foreign bases and foreign commitments (such as to NATO) and to encourage (or force) allies to bear the cost and responsibility for their own defense. This would involve quite a radical change in US foreign policy.

It’s arguable that a scaling back of commitments in far-flung places is appropriate, but obviously one would prefer (if one had the choice) to see such policies implemented by a more seasoned and less volatile commander-in-chief than Trump. Trump is a risky proposition, no matter how you look at it. But a continuation of old policies in the current circumstances (which Clinton promises) could be seen to be even riskier.

I accept that there is no way of deciding this sort of question “scientifically” or in a rigorous way, logically speaking, as it involves a reading of two very different personalities, policy questions (which in themselves raise a wide range of both practical and values-based questions), and contingent factors.

One of the frustrating but fascinating things about the politics of recent times is that many of the standard terms used to classify ideological positions no longer seem to work. Not long ago the neocons were considered conservatives by most conservatives. Christopher Hitchens was a former Trotskyist who never renounced his socialism, but even he often seemed to have more in common with neocons than with progressives on foreign policy questions. A vocal supporter of the second Iraq war, he was generally liked by conservatives (and hated to death by the left).

Things have changed however. A key turning point was that the promised weapons of mass destruction (the pretext for the invasion of Iraq) were not found. Worse, Iraq spiraled out of control and the promised stability and prosperity failed to materialize. Worse again, Americans were actively involved in various countries, fanning the flames (at least to some extent) of various uprisings and protest movements, engaging in bombing raids and special operations and in the overthrow of evil dictators like Muammar Gaddafi (who at least had the virtue of being an effective leader), and generally exacerbating the no-doubt real and deep-rooted political problems of North Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

Many conservatives got the message. They had erred. Perhaps they had been duped. As a consequence, the neocons lost favor in  conservative circles, and it was no surprise when the arch-neocon and veteran of a string of Republican administrations (Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush), Paul Wolfowitz, endorsed Hillary Clinton for President.

In fact, we’ve come full circle, because the neoconservative movement has its roots in various branches of the anti-Stalinist left, and it formed itself within the general framework of the Democratic Party during the 1960’s and 70’s. The magazine Commentary, edited by Norman Podhoretz, was very influential in articulating its characteristic ideological preoccupations and foreign policy stance. Wolfowitz himself was a Democrat, before he joined the Reagan administration in 1981.

Though various strands of radical and not-so-radical left-wing thought can be meaningfully identified, the old left/right divide just doesn’t really make sense anymore, if it ever did. What’s more, across the Western world, a lot of people – including many traditional conservatives, classical liberals and previously apolitical folk – are becoming more and more disgusted with the political status quo and so are voting or threatening to vote for candidates outside the mainstream or otherwise in quite radical ways (e.g. Brexit).

Conservatives are no longer conservative. The silent majority is no longer silent. Given the widespread failure of social, economic and monetary policies and increasing expectations of a prolonged period of stagnation and social unrest, it’s little wonder that the political landscape in Western countries is reshaping itself in quite dramatic ways.

Hillary Rodham was a keen Goldwater supporter before she went to Wellesley College and was introduced to radical left-wing thought. She wrote her senior thesis on Saul Alinsky. But she certainly seems to have moved away from Alinsky’s ideas – apart perhaps from his ideas on lying (he was all for it).

Hillary’s lying is legendary. All politicians do it of course, but they usually (at least if they are effective politicians) do it in restricted contexts and in rather formulaic ways that more sophisticated members of the public almost expect. They retain a degree of trust. Clinton is different and is perceived as more untrustworthy than her peers. Her lies are often strangely gratuitous. The notorious case of her account of her arrival in Bosnia was like this, not the sort of strategic lie that Alinsky advocated, but rather a totally unnecessary fabrication reminiscent of the sorts of lies that children often tell. She claimed that she and her team arrived “under sniper fire,” skipped the arrival ceremony and “just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base.” [2] But a video of the event shows her being greeted on the tarmac by Bosnian officials and an 8-year-old Muslim girl who read a poem. All was peaceful.

Both candidates have personal foibles aplenty, of course, and these foibles (or worse) are all too well-known to the general public. They are important, but only insofar as they play into a broader, political, narrative.

One old narrative that is getting new traction is associated with President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s prescient warnings about the American military-industrial complex (which is often now conceptualized in terms of the broader concept of the deep state). These particular concerns about the post World War 2 American system have waxed and waned over the years and have come to the fore again in the wake of recent scandals and failed military interventions. Interestingly (and encouragingly) these disasters have prompted a questioning not just of strategic or tactical matters but also of the moral underpinnings of such foreign interventions.

During the Cold War, the USSR and the USA were engaged in a worldwide strategic battle which could be seen to have provided (it certainly did in the minds of many) its own moral justification. But since the demise of the Soviet Union, with Russia and China focused (militarily) on their respective regions rather than on the wider world, America’s military presence in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and the western Pacific is looking very questionable. And doubts about the moral legitimacy of its foreign and defense policy are compounded by a loss of confidence in America’s future prospects of economic prosperity and (partly as a consequence of this) of geo-strategic power.

Economics and geography matter, and it is clear that the center of gravity of the world’s wealth is reverting to a more normal historical pattern, balanced between the Eastern and Western hemispheres. There even seems a real prospect that the West is entering a period not just of relative decline in economic and social terms but of actual decline. And, of course, those overseeing this difficult period – the promoters and implementers of recent and current financial, monetary, social and foreign policies in the West – have lost or are rapidly losing credibility.

None of this applied during the Reagan era, and arguably the neoconservatism of that period had a different cast. Current and recent neocons could be seen to be in denial, desperately seeking to re-establish an American hegemony which, in reality, is inexorably slipping away. By contrast, in the Reagan-era, American might and power were unquestioned.

Jeane Kirkpatrick was a prominent neoconservative who worked for Reagan and was the US ambassador to the United Nations. She was a controversial and divisive figure. But, as a writer at the Economist said in an obituary, “[c]ertain sentences from her most famous article, ‘Dictatorships and Double Standards’ – written on [a] summer holiday in France, published in Commentary, in November 1979 – now induce a sigh.” [3] Here are the sentences in question: “No idea holds greater sway in the mind of educated Americans than the belief that it is possible to democratize governments, anytime and anywhere, under any circumstances.” “Decades, if not centuries, are normally required for people to acquire the necessary disciplines and habits. In Britain, the road [to democratic government] took seven centuries to traverse.” “The speed with which armies collapse, bureaucracies abdicate, and social structures dissolve once the autocrat is removed frequently surprises American policymakers.”

As I say, my main concerns regarding this election are geopolitical. Clinton’s general foreign policy orientation (and she has form on this front, remember) is dangerous in a different way from Trump’s. She represents continuity, while Trump represents discontinuity.

The problem with Clinton’s kind of continuity, however, is that it is associated with an attempt to actively resist the challenges that inexorable geopolitical and economic changes now pose to the central role that the US has played on the world stage, at least since World War 2.

There are also doubts about Hillary Clinton’s health. If it proves to be the case that she has serious health problems it would, I think, only add to the danger/instability were she to be elected. Would she step aside if her health deteriorated while she was in office? Somehow I doubt it.  There are precedents here.Woodrow Wilson had a debilitating stroke and stayed in office.

And there have been many similar cases in other countries. Some occurred in the old Soviet Union. There was, for example, Leonid Brezhnev who had severe arteriosclerosis which affected his speech and other aspects of neurological functioning. His immediate successors were almost as bad but didn’t take so long to die. And then, of course, there was the sad case of the bloated-looking and alcohol-fueled Boris Yeltsin, in post-Soviet Russia (with one Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin waiting in the wings, biding his time).


  1. https://theelectricagora.com/2016/09/11/first-party-spoilers/
  2. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/hillary-clinton-who-tells-dreadful-lies/2016/09/19/cd38412e-7e6a-11e6-9070-5c4905bf40dc_story.html?utm_term=.366f42baf55d
  3. http://www.economist.com/node/8447241


  1. Mark,

    We do seem to be spiraling into a vortex, with all the various sides and structures crumbling and falling.

    I think the primary feedback loop that is most overlooked is the extent to which these imperial armies are funded with debt and this public debt is the backing for the large amount of money greasing the capitalist system. Essentially money functions as a contract, in what the value of an asset is the obligation backing it. So there is a very strong symbiotic relationship between the bankers on one side of Hillary and the neocons on the other.

  2. Mark,
    I’ll grant most of your critique on Clinton here, and I wouldn’t vote for her, and fortunately, as I’ve said before, I don’t have to, since New York’s vote is virtually predetermined.

    However, you’re making a gross misjudgment, as has most of the media, that Donald Trump has any policy positions whatsoever. This man is a complete sociopath, everything about him screams it. He doesn’t ‘lie’ in a purposeful manner, he simply sees no reason to tell the truth. He is all bluster and faux anger and domination. Assuming he wants to be president (and there is some evidence that he doesn’t, that this may be a scam in order to establish a media conglomerate), he doesn’t want to be the leader of the world’s only real superpower, he wants to be *boss*, to tell people what to do, to make deals, to open a hotel next to the White House, to use public funds to settle old debts, to threaten perceived enemies. He feels no commitment to the rule of law, doesn’t understand the Constitution and its branches of government, is disrespectful of American history (about which he knows little), is insensitive to the needs of wide swaths of the population.

    The notion that we should vote for change – at any cost – that is, just shoot the dice on this megalomaniac, and see what comes up, because Clinton has neocon leanings, is frivolous. Chester Himes ends one of his novels with a metaphor that sums up such thinking – a blind man with a gun in a subway gets jostled and just starts shooting.

    I have said myself that this is the worst election in history. I don’t know that Clinton would start any new wars, but she will certainly lack a feeling for the nuance of policy in the Islamic world – but that’s been true of every President since Teddy Roosevelt. Furthermore, she will be constrained for two years by a Republican Congress – probably for four. Whereas the problem with such a Congress is that they will have to find some backbone to mount the needed impeachment against Trump when the inevitable financial corruption investigations at last make their way to the public. And if they don’t then the US will truly have a thoroughly illegitimate government, and I’m not sure that we can recover, since we’ve been going down that road for so long.

    It is simply wrong to believe that any vote in this election is going to make things better. It is a choice between a neocon with experience who understands the inner workings of Washington (so, the status quo) – and a blind man with a pistol. For most people, it’s not really a choice between ‘the lesser of two evils.’ It’s a choice between continuing the gradual decline of the status quo; or a rapid descent into indecency, moral corruption, and embarrassing displays of executive hubris, especially in foreign policy and concerning minorities and immigrants.

    Again, note that I do not critique Trump’s policy positions – because he doesn’t actually have any. What he has is a collage of things other people have said, verbalizations of ideas suggested by questionable political commentators, efforts to capture the anxieties of a working class he has, as employer, treated repeatedly with contempt,; a patchwork of borrowed phrases. buried rumors (not just about Clinton, but from decades ago), conspiracy theory innuendos, and reality TV performance hutzpah. He’s a clown show whose very presence in this election cycle denigrates the meaning of elections here, and shames our history by reminding us that many Americans are more interested in the charms and entertainment of carnival barkers than they are in art, science, or serious political policy.

  3. brodix

    One other aspect of the out-of-control debt situation is that it makes any genuine economic recovery virtually impossible (without a period of serious economic pain). In such a situation desperate politicians may well see advantages in going to war.

  4. ejwinner

    There’s not a lot I disagree with in your comment actually. But, as I said in the essay, I’m focused on geo-politics here, and I’m articulating my fears about a continuation of neoconservative policies. Let me tell you what I fear most: major nuclear conflict with the world polarized into giant power blocs. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union we were living under the very real threat of a world-destroying conflict. After its collapse that doomsday scenario suddenly seemed highly unlikely. We could argue about this, but I think the Russians were double-crossed in that assurances given to Gorbachev about NATO not expanding eastward proved worthless. So now once again we are potentially facing a Cold-War-like situation, with the *extreme* dangers which such a situation entails.

  5. Mark,
    I understand your concerns. However, many of the processes leading to this situation can probably not be stopped; certainly Trump, for all his hubris, cannot stop it. This is a systemic problem; how it can be changed, I don’t know; but I do know that it can’t be changed by waving hands and promising “I’m so huge, I can do anything!”

    Frankly, in a non-‘battle ground’ state the most conscionable choice would be voting third party, or not at all.

    But in a battle-ground state the choice is pretty clear to me.

  6. As an outsider I can see that America, Janus-like, has two faces, one represented by Clinton and the other represented by Trump. Obama will quickly be forgotten as muddled and ineffectual. It really does not matter who sits in the president’s office since it is the American nature that matters, when it comes to foreign affairs and the American nature is well represented in the person of Trinton. And so we can expect more rash, ill considered and disastrous meddling in the affairs of other countries. If it was mere meddling we could live with it(unless one lived in the Middle East), but the schoolyard bully has prodded and provoked two very large chaps. This has given them reason to work together in concert and that will ultimately prove to be a disastrous strategic mistake. The schoolyard bully will inevitably be cut down to size.

  7. This is the foreign policy statement I had expected from Obama:

    We, the great democracies of the West, have, through a long and painful process, arrived at a just society based on democracy, free enterprise and the rule of law. It is imperfect and is still very much a work in progress. We are aware of our imperfections and are working on making it a more fair and just process.

    We urge other nations to similarly work towards the attainment of a just society. We recognise that this is your responsibility and that you will follow your own unique path towards this goal, just as we did. We will assist you in all reasonable ways but we renounce the intervention and pressure that marked our earlier relationships with other nations. From today our foreign policy will be based on friendly relations, non-intervention and full recognition of your right to find your own solutions to your own problems. We will endeavour to be an example for you to emulate. We recognise that this will mean standing by as spectators while tragedies unfold in some countries but experience shows that intervention only makes the tragedy worse. We are committed to the principle that each country must resolve its own problems and that this is the only path to a lasting solution.

    The only exception to the rule of non-intervention is genocide. Where genocide takes place we will intervene quickly, robustly and decisively. We will endeavour always to do that in collaboration with the international community.

    Human society is marked by disagreement and conflict. We resolve this equitably by appealing to the rule of law.
    We will now work towards extending the rule of law to governing the relationships between nations. We will do all we can to promote and strengthen the institutions of international law. We will endeavour to resolve all conflict through the mechanisms of the rule of law. We will work for the commitment of all nations to accepting the rule of law as the mechanism that governs relations between states.

    This is a major change in policy and we will show our commitment to this policy by reducing our military to the size necessary for credible self-defence. We also renounce the use of drones to conduct unlawful killings of people we perceive as our enemies. Our sales of military equipment fuel conflict and so we will discontinue the sale of military equipment to other nations. We will work towards securing an agreement that other major arms suppliers do the same. This will be a long, difficult and painful process but we are committed to it.

    Yes, I know, fat chance. But then Obama was never a visionary.

  8. Dan

    “Suggesting that electing Clinton is more risky than Trump just seems flat-out unserious, as a proposition.”

    I would prefer ‘counterintuitive’ to ‘flat-out unserious’. 🙂

    Of course Trump would be risky – he is a scatterbrain and a very flawed character. But one thing he isn’t (yet?/apparently?) is a neoconservative.

    My earlier response to ejwinner deals with my deeper concerns. I think our future is bleak, whatever happens with this election. But a civilization-ending nuclear war is by no means inevitable and is less likely in my opinion in a multipolar world in which political leaders see their role more in local and regional than in global terms. The Cold War was about power blocs but it was also about ideology. The old Marxist-Leninist, Maoist and related ideologies have faded from the scene. I say it’s time for all of these overarching narratives to be dropped, including the idea that America has some kind of imperial destiny (or responsibility) to fulfil.

    For years I bought into this narrative. Perhaps it was (in a sense) true, or at least benign. But you can only fulfil this kind of interventionist role effectively if you are strong and widely trusted and respected. And I don’t know that these conditions currently apply.

  9. I’m afraid I don’t find much philosophical rigor in this essay–or really any engagement at all with philosophical issues that contemporary politics raises. I don’t quite understand why this was published here. And it’s incomplete: why does the piece just abruptly end? It doesn’t tie together its multiple strandd, and it feels like it was just not a very thought-through piece. As Dan K. pointed out, the contention that DJT is less risky than HRC is laughable on its face. Even more, the global geo-political issues cannot be disentangled from the rest of the political (and domestic-politics) context. Here’s one of the better pieces of commentary I’ve seen lately: http://www.commondreams.org/views/2016/08/18/vote-lying-neoliberal-warmonger-its-important

    1. I think this is rather unfair. While I don’t agree with the idea that Trump is less dangerous than Hillary, on any front, the essay is well-written and raises important and very much overlooked worries regarding Hillary and the foreign policy world to which she belongs. There is plenty of anti-Trump material being pumped out — much of it bordering on the hysterical — and very little by way of examination of Hillary’s quite substantial shortcomings.

      As for it’s ending abruptly, I don’t agree. Not every essay has to “tie things up” or have the neat structure of a high school assignment.

  10. Of course: brilliant essays can be open-ended and leave things unsettled. This one doesn’t do that–it just stops after a strange pivot to “doubts” about Clinton’s health, which is only tenuously connected to the geopolitical concerns that are announced as the focus of the essay. And then there are the unsubstantiated abstractions, like this one: “Conservatives are no longer conservative. The silent majority is no longer silent.” Whatever that means, there’s no argument for it here, and certainly little rigorous philosophical grounding. Who constitutes the “silent majority”? What’s given them their voice? And anyway, that’s a highly contentious point: Corey Robin, for one, would disagree vehemently. He would say conservatives are every bit as conservative as ever, because they shape shift in response to provocations by progressive forces. But that’s a more substantial debate which is not engaged here. Instead, we just get a sound-bite analysis which doesn’t go very deep. There are very, very good ways of critiquing Clinton’s foreign policy and the modern history of U.S. engagement with the world. This is not a good example of that. This might work for CNN or Time or some such outlet, but I expect more sophistication when I come here.

  11. Dick Cheney and Richard Perl are neocons. The Clintons, are neoliberals. There’s a big difference. You should get your terminology straight. A neocon would never support, for example, healthcare for all or a treaty with Iran. A neoliberal, however, will generally uncritically support Israel no matter what, love trade deals, and drone the crap out of foreign enemies — all of which I am sure Hillary will keep up after she succeeds Obama.

  12. This was inevitable in 1980, when Carter said to put on a sweater and Reagan said to put it on the credit card.

    It’s 4 in the morning, the house is a wreck, there are passed out bodies in the yard, throw up in the bathroom and various other places, Clinton and Trump are drunk dancing, somebody put some wood alcohol in the punch bowl and there are sirens in the distance.

    Russia, Iran and China are like the survivalists in the Northwest, waiting for the implosion and hoping it doesn’t fall on top of them.

    Though as I’ve been telling my child since she was small, my generation is going to destroy the world and hers will put it back together again. This wave has crested and it will fall, but it will also generate serious change. Those who want a better world should start now in considering how this dynamic can be used for the better. I’ve put quite a few ideas out to various people here, so to whittle it down to the most sociologically significant, it will be that we make banking a public utility. There was a time when government, as the central nervous system of society, was private, called monarchy and it eventually proved ineffectual enough that it had to be made a public function. We are reaching that point with the financial circulation system.
    As it is now, many rich people are ditching their paper assets for hard assets, from gold to farmland. Soon enough they will be buying up much of the public properties not already bought up, from water and mineral rights, to parks, to highways, etc. Simply going out and protesting with your bodies is not going to change this. What needs changing is the paradigm. The public knowledge and understanding of how societies and economic actually function. To know, on a broad scale, that there are both public aspects and private aspects of life, in order for it to be fairly stable and healthy. One large understanding is that money, as an essential circulation mechanism, like blood in the body, is the very essence of a public function and we can’t create and store enormous amounts of what amount to surplus vouchers and expect it not to collapse. That financialization, from the eighties, has been much of what has driven our economy; Ways to create and store vast amounts of notional wealth. Capitalism mutated from the efficient transfer of value, to the creation of paper wealth as an end in itself.

    I’ve linked to this before. It’s an essay I wrote a couple of years ago, when the FQXI essay contest asked how we would change the future; http://fqxi.org/community/forum/topic/1981

  13. Art,
    Instead, we just get a sound-bite analysis which doesn’t go very deep

    A more charitable judgement would be that Mark’s essay is a broad, sweeping survey of a large subject that conveys his particular point of view. If that indeed was Mark’s intent it is inappropriate to judge it for lacking depth and rigour. There is a place for broad, sweeping surveys, just as there is a place for pieces with depth and rigour, though much more limited in scope.

    I suspect though there is something else at play. From your remark:

    the contention that DJT is less risky than HRC is laughable on its face

    it is evident that you strongly oppose his central contention and say so in unusually robust terms. You don’t construct a rebuttal but merely contradict him and then set about criticising the form of his essay. Criticising the form of his essay is not a rebuttal but I suspect it is a way of dodging the need to provide a rebuttal.

  14. According to the analysis of the political compass, they are both right wing, economically (Clinton a bit more than Trump, although the difference is not large in that dimension) but Trump is much more authoritarian (see https://www.politicalcompass.org/uselection2016). For my taste, they are both to far right and too far up on that chart (I am myself close to the lower left corner), but my impression from my European, non-US perspective is that Trump is more dangerous. I think he is a narcicisst or some other type of sociopath, and such people are dangerous.

  15. Nannus,
    that chart is fascinating and helps to clarify the matter. You say they are too far up the chart, but isn’t that a consequence of talking about individuals as leaders and not about political parties? Leaders of parties must needs be authoritarian in nature. They are also often narcissists and sociopaths. Their narcissism drives them to high public office and their sociopathy is a useful attribute that helps them prevail in the tough insider-fighting of politics.

  16. Labnut,

    Yes, I agree it was a bit harsh, and I would tone it down a notch if I had to write it again. However, I am commenting, not writing my own essay, and the comments are here to register complaints, among other things. In fact, I have liked some of Mr. English’s other essays. I simply think this one is not up to par given the quantity of quite excellent commentary on precisely these issues that is available out there. It skips over some difficult questions and makes some unusual and sometimes unsupported claims (“silent majority”) and, as Greg Milner points out, it doesn’t quite come to terms with the complexities of the neocons and neoliberals and their various permutations. It’s strokes are painted much too broadly, and then it peters out into a sideshow about health “doubts.”

  17. Hi all, perhaps I am wrong but I didn’t see Mark arguing Clinton would definitively be more dangerous than Trump, much less advocating that people should vote for Trump.

    I agree it would be interesting to have a discussion about the differences between neo-liberalism vs neo-conservativism, but I’m not sure why his not having included that is a major deficit to the piece. The fact that some neo-conservatives back Hillary indicate the degree of shared policy interests which make them nearly indistinguishable (read unpalatable) to me, and certainly underline Mark’s point that (whatever Hillary is) Trump is not likely to be pressing neocon policies as much as she would. Are those policies problematic or not? I think they have been and their continuance more so. I thought Mark’s explanation why they seem to fail was interesting and worthy of discussion.

    I would never vote for Trump, and don’t want to see him as president. But the fact that neocon policies (or even neoliberal, they suck too) would be getting moved forward by Hillary does give me pause. Not on how to vote, but on how ill-considered the electorate of the major parties can be, as evidenced by the people they chose this election cycle.

    It does seem like the choice presented is as most people have been saying, between two evils: the one you know (which has been catastrophically damaging even if advanced by articulate, educated professionals) and the one you don’t (which has no history at all but looks so inarticulate, uneducated, and unprofessional how could it not lead to catastrophe).

    What I think will be very interesting is what all these Clinton supporters will be saying if she ends up walking us into another fiasco along the lines of all of her past failures, perhaps extended as Mark suggests to nuclear confrontation. Much hay was made when Trump suggested in complete doofus fashion that he should be able to use nukes, while no one says anything that the exact same position (nukes can be used) was taken by Clinton but only stated in a non-doofus fashion. Because she said it more artfully means she is less likely to use them or get into situations they might be used? Sometimes the ideologue, no matter how smart, educated, and experienced can end up being a greater danger than the fool.

  18. Art Historian

    “I’m afraid I don’t find much philosophical rigor in this essay – or really any engagement at all with philosophical issues that contemporary politics raises.”

    It was not written as philosophy and nor was it intended to raise philosophical issues, unless you want to call highlighting one candidate’s links to a particular movement ‘a philosophical issue’. My intention was to present a personal perspective (“some thoughts”), nothing more. Well the intention was also (to some extent) to persuade and even entertain – but mainly just to articulate some (honestly held) ideas and provoke a bit of thought or discussion. That can’t be bad, can it?

    “And it’s incomplete: why does the piece just abruptly end? It doesn’t tie together its multiple strands…”

    Dan (thanks) dealt with this. I added the notes about her health because I think the issue is relevant. I may be proved wrong. We’ll see.

    “… the global geo-political issues cannot be disentangled from the rest of the political (and domestic-politics) context.”

    They can to a point.

    “And then there are the unsubstantiated abstractions, like this one: “Conservatives are no longer conservative. The silent majority is no longer silent.” Whatever that means, there’s no argument for it here, and certainly little rigorous philosophical grounding.”

    The two sentences you quote were rhetorical. As I said, I was not writing a scholarly piece here. But there does seem to be a similarity between what is going on in Britain/Europe and the US in terms of new voting patterns, protest parties, etc..

    “Who constitutes the “silent majority”? What’s given them their voice? And anyway, that’s a highly contentious point.”

    I know it’s contentious.

    “Corey Robin, for one, would disagree vehemently.”

    You don’t say! I used to read Crooked Timber. Strangely, it was the humorlessness and predictability of Corey Robin’s ideologically-driven contributions (well, him and John Quiggin) that drove me away in the end. One man’s meat …

    You clearly don’t like what I’m saying here, and this is fine. The focus on stylistic matters puzzles me slightly, however. And distracts (labnut made a similar point) from your real concerns which are clearly ideological. The link you provided was to a piece by a left-wing political science academic published by a left-wing (or progressive, if you prefer) website. The article is lively and well written but bringing in the Nazis seems to me, well, just a little bit unoriginal as well as being plain inappropriate. Trump may have some right wing views, but I think to qualify as a Nazi (or Nazi-like threat) you would need to have some kind of organizational structure behind you – and also, perhaps, an attention span in excess of thirty seconds.

  19. Greg Milner

    “Dick Cheney and Richard Perl are neocons. The Clintons, are neoliberals. There’s a big difference. You should get your terminology straight.”

    Of course calling Hillary Clinton a neocon is slightly rhetorical and provocative. But the substance of my claim is clear enough, I think: her foreign policy positions have an affinity with that particular tradition of thought and action.

    “A neocon would never support, for example, healthcare for all or a treaty with Iran.”

    Well, healthcare is a domestic issue. On the Iran treaty, I’m not really on top of the detail, but it could be that her position on this does distinguish her from most neocons.

    “A neoliberal, however, will generally uncritically support Israel no matter what, love trade deals, and drone the crap out of foreign enemies — all of which I am sure Hillary will keep up after she succeeds Obama.”

    You are using the term neoliberal in a slightly idiosyncratic way! But the main point I would want to make is that the terms are not mutually exclusive and you could plausibly see neoliberal, neoconservative and left-wing elements in Hillary Clinton’s outlook.

  20. Art,
    However, I am commenting, not writing my own essay, and the comments are here to register complaints, among other things

    Yes, but that should not preclude thoughtful comments. I think that is a better way to respond to a point of view that you vehemently dislike.

  21. Mark,
    despite your suggestions otherwise, in a two-person race, you are arguing for a vote for Trump. And I am really surprised. You agree with most of my reading of Trump, yet you are, in effect, arguing a vote for him. Where is the reason in that?

    Your main argument, that Clinton’s neo-con leanings could lead to a new ‘Cold War,’ or worse, a nuclear weapons incident, is superfluous. While there are crackpots in the Pentagon, do you really think that the Chiefs of Staff would accept a presidential order to start World War III? When Bush suggested that we might invade Iran, the Pentagon told him flatly ‘no,’ that was simply inconceivable.

    Trump has suggested detention camps for Mexican and Muslim immigrants. His lies have been measured – approximately every 3.5 minutes as soon as he begins speaking. His disregard for women, minorities, scientists is well documented. But you’re worried about Clinton’s Neo-con connections? Well, so am I, but not enough to surrender reason to the urge of change at all costs.

    On a separate, but not unrelated, topic, your essay and your defense of it have re-unforced my belief that the Phenomenological/ Pragmatist traditions have more to teach us than the Positivist/ Analytic tradition. The Analytic tradition depends on the reduction of reason to empty signifiers – ‘If p then q, therefore r’ – hell, I learned that in ninth grade algebra. Empty symbols and their relations, so what – like assuming that Trump is just another place holder for anti-establishment anxieties, Clinton an empty signifier for the status quo.*

    Hegel’s dialectic, and the Phenomenological and Pragmatist reinterpretations of it, on the contrary, are content rich – there is no individual that is not saturated with the real concerns of real people. Everything I learned about logic I learned from Hegel. What my ‘symbolic logic’ courses taught me is that you can say anything about anything as long as you could squeeze it into a truth-table (which is not too difficult, as any computer programmer knows).

    So, while your essay was reasonably well written, your fear of Clinton’s devastation of foreign policy is not reasonable, despite the fact that you can use ‘logic’ (in the empty Analytic sense) to justify it.

    Notably, you never addressed my principle concern (which you said you mostly agree with). If Trump is psychologically unstable in the way I suggest, why should anybody vote for him?

    Finally, let me say this: Being an election year, one can expect a lot of hyperbole, exaggeration, metaphor, etc. to propagandize for one’s choice, or against one’s opponent.

    But don’t make that mistake here – when I say that Trump is an embarrassment, a shame, to the electoral process – in which the media has been complicit – there is no hyperbole here, no rhetoric – simply a statement of fact. I am ashamed that we have gone down this road so far that this ignorant, racist, carnival barker has positioned himself near to becoming the president of the US.

    No, I do not say he is Hitler (maybe Mussolini, although thankfully he has no organized Brownshirts – yet). I say that he has reduced politics to a level of ‘lowest common denominator’ so low that the American electorate will probably never recover from it, should he succeed.

    You are afraid of Clinton for ‘Geo-political’ reasons. Better you should fear for the soul of the American electorate – if they vote Trump, then they have none, and might just as well be swept into the dustbin of history.

    And no, I don’t like where we’ve been heading since the Second World War; but I’m not throwing my dice on a sociopath narcissist.

    Clinton has been fighting for recognition of her intelligence and capability for many decades; Many of her decisions in that struggle may be questionable. Is it it possible to correct for this? I hope so. Trump has been fighting for the privilege of his ‘due’ inheritance as son of a rich man, and his privilege to exercise that privilege by harming others and telling them what to do. I’m sorry, do I really want to grant him that privilege, no matter what he may do to the social connectivity of the US? No, don’t think so/

  22. My history is a bit vague on this, but I think liberalism arose out of British empire building and bringing civilization to the savages, rather than say, FDR and the New Deal. Actually I don’t think FDR was being completely altruistic, as he was essentially borrowing under-employed capital and using it to put under-employed labor back to work. For things other thanWhich served to save capitalism from its own excesses and which it is currently drowning in, at the moment. Both Clinton and Trump are exemplars of this decay. I’ll probably vote Stein. While I think she is pie in the sky, the fact remains the status quo is self destructing and few who sense this are looking beyond their own survival, but there are basic processes at work, that do give clues to where we will go. Of course, I’m from Maryland and its not exactly a swing state.
    If you peel back the layers of history, humanity has washed over the planet and is splashing up against geographic limits. The US has been where much of this energy has been directed and we have consequently very linear in our thinking, so now taking all the feedback and blowback into consideration will occupy us. That we are managing to irritate much of the old world with our debt driven megalomania is actually serving to make them work together in ways they never would have. Barring nuclear war, we will have a bit of political implosion and reset our priorities. The last 15 years of incompetent empire building has seriously disillusioned the base in ways the neocon empire builders ignore at their own peril. While certain forces are considered too powerful to dislodge, they might well prove to be more of a scab over a wound and peel away without much to hold on to.
    Otherwise the survivors live around a temperate Arctic, until the planet cools off, for a few hundreds, or thousands of years.

  23. Labnut

    Thanks for your support. Some of what you say is a bit too idealistic for me, but we seem to be on the same page on at least a couple of important issues (like interventionism, and attitudes to China and Russia?).

  24. brodix

    It seems there’s quite a bit of metaphorical or allegorical thinking going on here (at least with you and labnut).

    “It’s 4 in the morning, the house is a wreck, there are passed out bodies in the yard, throw up in the bathroom and various other places, Clinton and Trump are drunk dancing, somebody put some wood alcohol in the punch bowl and there are sirens in the distance.”

    Political science this is not. But I kind of like it.

  25. nannus

    “According to the analysis of the political compass, they are both right wing, economically (Clinton a bit more than Trump, although the difference is not large in that dimension) but Trump is much more authoritarian (see https://www.politicalcompass.org/uselection2016).”

    This system has been around for a while and it’s interesting to a point but I wouldn’t take it too seriously. I don’t like it that it’s not transparent in the way it works or who was involved in setting it up etc.. Besides, as someone with both authoritarian (or at least traditionalist) and libertarian tendencies I’m not sure where I’d sit on the grid. Maybe I need one based on dialetheic (or Hegelian?) logic. 🙂

  26. Mark,
    I just wanted to apologize for my mini-rant on Hegel and the Analytic tradition, which was poorly spoken and poorly placed. It burbled out because I’ve been re-reading the Phenomenology of Mind, and the problem with Hegel is one can get obsessed with him. Of course the Analytic tradition has a strong foundation in logic. But what I mean is that reasoning, especially in political matters, has to be about real people, not generalities.

    I was also still reeling from Monday’s ‘debate’ – or rather the weird bit of performance art, a terrible improv comedy piece where a politician is mocked by a drunken heckler who thinks the debate should be an interview with him and is annoyed that the politician might want to talk about issues.

    Trump cannot fix the system, because the only reason Trump has gotten this far is because the system is broken.

    Because the system is not just the government but the entire process of election – the media, the money, the people failing to keep themselves informed, and the loss of public dialogue concerning shared interests. Trump has played that system’s breakdown to get to where he is – and he knows it. Why would he want to fix it?

    (And yes, Clinton is where she is because she also played a part of that breakdown. But she also knows how to keep the system running from the inside. Could the Republican Party bring itself out of the mire that its strategists have gotten themselves in and put up a moderate, this would not be enough to get her elected. But both parties are now so sunk in the swamp that it’s hard to see them changing direction any time soon.)

    But there I go again, rambling on. Again, I just wanted to apologize for the Hegel/logic business, which probably seemed to come out of nowhere and possibly made no sense.

  27. EJ,
    Your main argument, that Clinton’s neo-con leanings could lead to a new ‘Cold War,’ or worse, a nuclear weapons incident, is superfluous. While there are crackpots in the Pentagon, do you really think that the Chiefs of Staff would accept a presidential order to start World War III? When Bush suggested that we might invade Iran, the Pentagon told him flatly ‘no,’ that was simply inconceivable.

    I am sorry to be critical since you can usually be depended on to deliver insightful comment. Unfortunately your reaction to Mark is, in this case, a little simplistic. A large war is invariably preceded by a period of long escalation, where slights, provocations and misunderstandings are reciprocated with increasing intensity. This creates growing confrontation until war becomes inevitable. When the point of war is reached, the military and the political have reached a consensus that the other party is an existential threat and the military react with enthusiasm to political orders.

    You are right that the politicians need the buy-in of the military. But that buy-in is more readily granted than you might suppose since it is in the very nature of the military to prepare for war. We saw this vividly when JFK had to restrain his own military during the Cuban crisis. On the one hand we have a formerly dominant country(the US) unable to relinquish the hubris that comes with excessive power. On the other hand we have two angry, resentful countries(Russia and China) determined to face down the US and claim their rightful place in the sun. They have perceived the decline of the US and they are emboldened to challenge the US. For the most part the US is unaware of its decline and so responds on the basis of old realities. This is a recipe for conflict. Clinton is an old-school neo-con who will pursue policies based on old realities and the result will be escalation of conflict.

    Russia needs a buffer zone in East Europe to protect itself against historically aggressive European powers. They see this as vital to their continued existence. They absolutely had to reclaim Crimea to strengthen their borders. China needs a buffer zone in the East China sea to protect itself against aggression from large maritime powers. Japan is rather like a gigantic aircraft carrier off the Chinese coast, allied with the US. In Chinese minds this is an unacceptable threat. Add to this the Phillippines, South Korea and Vietnam and you might understand the paranoia that motivates Chinese policy. And then we have the problem of Taiwan. You need to live in China(as I have) to understand how deeply important it is to return Taiwan to Chinese control. They see the Taiwanese situation as an unforgivable insult to Chinese pride and sovereignty.

    And now we have the situation of two large, aggrieved countries, working in concert, actively trying to subvert American interests. This is a formidable alliance that we cannot defeat. We blame them for their agression, having lost sight of the fact that we have been prodding and provoking them. Where is the logic in that?

    A wise American policy would grant Russia its buffer zone. It would take a long term view that economic integration would slowly overcome historical enmities. A wise American policy would recognise Chinese interests and cede control of the East China Sea. It would retreat from Japan and work for the re-integration of Taiwan in China. Both Russia and China stand on the threshhold of transformation into full democracies. Achieving this should be the true goal of American policy but America’s reckless containment policies inflame domestic nationalism which retards transformation into democracy. This is the true folly of American policy.

    It is the most recklessly short sighted and stupid policy that one could imagine. It is a policy fueled by hubris and a complete inability to see Russian and Chinese interests. Clinton is the heir to this policy and all we can expect from her is more of the same.

    The long term security and wealth of our planet depends on the adoption of liberal democracy by the large countries. Chief among these are Russia and China. This will be the natural result of cultural diffusion across national boundaries, aided by mutual economic interests, if we step back and give the process time. But when we, by our actions. inflame nationalism, paranoia and aggression, with our containment policies, we effectively seal national boundaries, greatly slowing the process of cultural diffusion. We are working against our own long term interests by creating conditions that impede the transformation of Russia and China into full, liberal democracies. Succeeding generations will judge us harshly for this failure.

  28. ejwinner

    “While there are crackpots in the Pentagon, do you really think that the Chiefs of Staff would accept a presidential order to start World War III?”

    It would depend on the circumstances. (I see labnut has also come in on this.) My point is that to the extent that the US follows neocon-like policies, to that extent the prerequisites for a *big* war (as distinct from more limited, regional conflicts) are more likely to be in place. The worst situations arise when countries fall readily into blocs, and particularly if the blocs are very large and very few. We know this from the Cold War. At times we were very close to the brink. It would be just so, so stupid to go back to that – and so unnecessary.

    Why did they not just dismantle NATO (there was talk about it) rather than supposedly finding a new purpose for it. And now of course it seems to be well and truly back to serving its former purpose, playing a Cold War-like role against Russia.

    It’s not for me to say how Americans should vote. But I think I am justified in telling you how – as an outsider – I see things, and in articulating my fears.

    “… [W]hat I mean is that reasoning, especially in political matters, has to be about real people, not generalities.”

    The best reasoning in the area of politics – and especially geo-politics – is of course not just about particular personalities but also (and mainly) about the broader situation or dynamic (you yourself talk about the system which governs American politics) combined with a general understanding of how past and present actions are perceived.

    I haven’t read enough Hegel to engage with you seriously on the topic of Hegelian logic.

  29. I’m been for talk of policy change, and change, for decades, including careful consideration of the depth of involvement of other nations too, and knowing US current foreign policy is an ingrained way of doing things that been going on long before Clinton was around.

    She’s made some mistakes, and admitted some, but mistakes have been happening for decades also. I can even think there’s been some improvement, though it’s not much considering the death, suffering, and state of a large part of the greater middle eastern region and parts of Africa.

    If Trump were elected I think foreign policy would be no better than under previous republican presidents, and it could be a lot worse but I’d hope he wouldn’t last that long in office.

    But before it comes to that, I think (hope?) he will lose the election badly when it comes down to the voting booth.

  30. I can’t help but point out what appear to me to be the contradiction between the opinions offered here and Daniel’s recent post on morality. If we don’t engage on the international political stage, how do we develop and express moral wisdom in that context?

    1. Well, Mark and I disagree on quite a bit. There is no single editorial position of EA.

      That said, I agree with him on foreign intervention. I tend to think that foreign policy should be governed by “Realist” ways of thinking, rather than idealistic ones.

      1. The distinction is fraught to me. Only a omniscient personality can advance policies that are “realistic” at every level from the seat of executive authority on down to the nursery. Mortals must adopt an intellectual framework for filtering events and formulating responses. That makes us all “idealists.” What concerns me is crassness (as evidenced in Trump) and dogmatism (as evidenced in Norquist). It means that nuanced differences are never considered – which is a loss even if circumstances demand that they be discarded in implementation.

          1. Maybe I should elaborate: Given the characterization of “realist” at your link, “idealist” is a “realist” that chooses the “win-win” route to greater power. It is the approach, with Churchill and Roosevelt as architects, that guaranteed the outcome of the Cold War.

            My sense is that “realists” have chosen a less charitable definition of “idealists” because they are, well, realists: they know that the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower identified will be starved of power if the “idealists” aren’t trivialized.

  31. Hi Brian,
    contradiction between the opinions offered here and Daniel’s recent post on morality. If we don’t engage on the international political stage, how do we develop and express moral wisdom in that context?

    Would you mind expanding on and clarifying your comment? Right now I am only guessing at your intent.

  32. The essay kept troubling me beyond specifically political issues, and I spent some time thinking about why.

    Mark, you want to discuss American foreign policy, but do so as argument against Clinton. That is not quite playing fair with American readers. It might have been fair during the primaries, but now we are down to the wirse – the only choice we voters face is, Clinton, Trump, or a third party candidate. That means it is incumbent on you to offer an argument for Trump – which you can not do, since he is obviously unfit for the office of president – or for one or another of the third party candidates – unless you wish to argue that wwe should have no president elected this cycle at all, which is less than unrealistic.

    So to air your main complaints, concerning America’s foreign policy, you should have just argued that. That is a worthy discussion, and I think some of what you – and labnut – complain of is entirely on the money. But at this stage, this election cycle isn’t going to change that – a point I’ve made before, which you haven’t refuted.

    And as I noted before, you haven’t really addressed my points about Trump, although you have largely agreed with them without discussion – which is a mistake, because, suggesting that Trump is the ‘lesser of two evils’ on foreign policy is a gross misjudgment. Believe me, Trump may make different decisions, but they would be just as bad in the ways you discuss.

    Undoing the problems that you and labnut discuss would take far more than a single election cycle. And the response you and labnut level against a previous post of mine, concerning the influence of the Pentagon on foreign policy, fails to recognize that I was righting shorthand in reference to a complex array of social and political forces, both in public and in the backrooms of government offices.

    Finally, I asked myself why I suddenly blurted out about Hegel seemingly out of context. It’s because Hegel’s understanding of the trends and trajectories of political history was quite profound; the analysis of the global political situation you and labnut offer, while it provides food for thought, is really rather superficial. The dialogic relationships between the US, Europe, China, Russia, the Islamic world community – are all very difficult and layered over with decades of history, rich and nuanced. For instance, it might be true that America should back out of NATO, but this can’t be done quickly, on the whim of a madman with yellow hair, without considerable damage to American interest both political and economic; NATO instituationally embodies decades of political relationships between the member nations. (Regarding NATO, I worry more about recent events in Turkey than whwthwe thw Cold War is getting resurrected somehow – and its not. The historical origins of problems the US inherited from Europe concerning Russia not only predate the Cold War, but even the Soviet Union itself.)

    In any event, we aren’t going to deconstruct the global economy just because a self-centered billionaire wants to make deals to open hotels in China, which he thinks he can get by threatening a trade war.

    Finally: yes, I say that the system is corrupt. But be careful what you reference here. In my view (as with Hegel’s, I must admit), a political system is ultimately the people who inhabit it. The situation you and labnut complain about has arrived in history because the American people want it to. The complaints are superficial, because they don’t address that problem.

    I must admit that your essay had a bizarre effect on me in one respect, eliciting a response I thought myself incapable of. As much as I hate Clinton, I now support her, and in fact am donating to her campaign. Because – again an issue you failed to address in reply – Trump is unfit for office, he is a product of the broken system, he can do nothing but mnake matters worse, and his very presence as Republican candidate both shames and threatens the democratic aspirations of this republic – aspirations which may be delusional, but which embody values that I hold dear. (I warned you that I was not writing in hyperbole on this matter.)

  33. Mark: Just BTW – while I let your innuendos concerning Clinton’s health pass, previously, I must admit now that I really don’t buy urban myths perpetrated by right-wing ‘news’ sources. Even if true, they’re of no account. Wilson’s stroke explains precisely nothing; FDR had polio, and Reagan suffered Alzheimer’s in the last years of his presidency. The wheels of government kept turning nonetheless. They one brilliant thing the Founders came up with, was a structure of government that does not rely on the health of its Head of State.

  34. “In the 34-year history of USA TODAY, the Editorial Board has never taken sides in the presidential race. Instead, we’ve expressed opinions about the major issues and haven’t presumed to tell our readers, who have a variety of priorities and values, which choice is best for them. Because every presidential race is different, we revisit our no-endorsement policy every four years. We’ve never seen reason to alter our approach. Until now.

    This year, the choice isn’t between two capable major party nominees who happen to have significant ideological differences. This year, one of the candidates — Republican nominee Donald Trump — is, by unanimous consensus of the Editorial Board, unfit for the presidency.

    From the day he declared his candidacy 15 months ago through this week’s first presidential debate, Trump has demonstrated repeatedly that he lacks the temperament, knowledge, steadiness and honesty that America needs from its presidents.

    Whether through indifference or ignorance, Trump has betrayed fundamental commitments made by all presidents since the end of World War II. These commitments include unwavering support for NATO allies, steadfast opposition to Russian aggression, and the absolute certainty that the United States will make good on its debts. He has expressed troubling admiration for authoritarian leaders and scant regard for constitutional protections.”


  35. … not to mention that the evidence is piling up that the Republican Party has offered up a prosecutable criminal as candidate for the presidency. I don’t think we really want to vote Al Cappne – I’m sorry, I meant Trump – into any political office any time soon.*

    Despite narratives concerning the ‘Untouchable’ Elliot Ness, Capone was actually brought down by the IRS for not paying taxes – which Trump boasts as “being Smart.”

  36. EJ,
    What you say is fascinating even though you unceremoniously discard our contributions as superficial. It is clear that the matter is emotionally laden. It is important to remember that Mark is considering foreign policy implications only. He did say:

    I am much more interested in the consequences for the world at large than in the consequences for the US.

    The essence of your reply is to focus on the manifold character defects of Trump but to ignore the substance of what I said about foreign policy, other than labelling it as ‘superficial’. You also ignore Clinton’s character defects. I won’t say anything about Trump or Clinton for the simple reason I know so little about them. But I know something about the appalling effects of America’s conduct on the foreign stage.

    Dan-K correctly identified Mark’s stance as political realism and gave an interesting reference.


    Mark, in turn, described my stance as political ‘idealism’, which does not really do justice to my beliefs. I think that term is better reserved for muddled, muddied, obtuse, confused, disturbed, liberal left wing thinking. I would describe my position as principled political realism. By this I mean political realism(as understood by Dan-K) animated by certain long term principles:
    1) the well being of our planet depends on the eventual attainment of liberal democracy in all the large nations.
    2) that the rule of law should ultimately regulate conflict between nations.
    3) that we should respect the right of each nation to find their own path, in their own time, to liberal democracy.
    4) that cultural diffusion across national boundaries is ultimately the means by which nations embrace liberal democracy.
    5) that we should avoid interventionist conduct because:
    – it is often unsuccessful and subject to a host of unintended consequences;
    – it makes national boundaries more opaque, retarding cultural diffusion and thus impeding progress towards liberal democracy.
    – it defies the rule of law.
    6) that we should seek to behave as model citizens on the international stage, becoming the role model for others to emulate.
    7) that we should direct our principal efforts to three goals
    – friendly humanitarian assistance to other nations;
    – building the institutions of international law(this will be a difficult, problematic process)
    – persuading other nations to accept the rule of law in international conflict(a long, slow process).

  37. If anybody wants to argue that we should vote for Trump. let them make that case. (And no, ‘he’s not Clinton” is not good enough.).

  38. EJ,
    you are certainly passionate about your political beliefs. This brings to mind a paper about the role of passion in psychological well being:


    The paper contrasts harmonious passion with obsessive passion. From the abstract:

    Using the Dualistic Model of Passion (DMP), the purpose of the present paper is to show the role of passion for activities in sustainable psychological well-being. Passion is defined as a strong inclination toward a self-defining activity that people like (or even love), find important, and in which they invest time and energy on a regular basis. The model proposes the existence of two types of passion: harmonious and obsessive.

    Harmonious passion originates from an autonomous internalization of the activity into one’s identity while obsessive passion emanates from a controlled internalization and comes to control the person. Through the experience of positive emotions during activity engagement that takes place on a regular and repeated basis, it is posited that harmonious passion contributes to sustained psychological well-being while preventing the experience of negative affect, psychological conflict, and ill-being.

    Obsessive passion is not expected to produce such positive effects and may even facilitate negative affect, conflict with other life activities, and psychological ill-being. Research supporting the proposed effects and processes is presented and directions for future research are proposed.

  39. labnut,
    your position is actually more defensible than Mark’s, and more interesting, and I failed to pay it due in my remarks. However, a couple of notes:

    DanK was not remarking your position as political realism, but clarifying what political realism was, regarding American foreign policy.

    Secondly understanding the personality differences between Clinton and Trump is what this election is all about. In the last analysis, Americans will vote for what they perceive as their interests, whatever outsiders argue. In that regard, your complaints are actually irrelevant, regardless of their cogency. On that score, it must be noted that the complaints you make cannot be addressed this late in the election cycle; rather, the question comes down to which candidate would be more open to addressing such complaints. Mark suggests that would be Trump, but there is no evidence of this, but much evidence to the contrary. Clinton, despite her neo-con/ neo-lib attitudes, has already shown capacity to rethink issues given advice and the weight of evidence.

    We are not discussing the specific issues you raise; Mark’s politically charged essay precludes that. The question is, whom shall we elect to best deal with those complaints. Both choices have marks against them; Mark argues that Clinton’s are the worst, I argue that Trump’s are not only worse than Clinton, but wholly unacceptable.

    As an outsider, your principle concern is the effect of this election on global politics. As an American, my principle concern is the effect it has on domestic politics.

    The American people have made unconscionable misjudgments over the past decades. I simply wish to make sure that we don’t rend the very fabric of this society by electing a clown, a criminal, a racist, an authoritarian demagogue. Hopefully, we can address your concerns after this nightmare is over.

  40. ” (And no, ‘he’s not Clinton” is not good enough.)”

    ‘But aren’t you arguing “she’s not Trump?’

    I am; that’s how bad Trump really is. Think about it.

  41. EJ,
    The American people have made unconscionable misjudgments over the past decades.

    Is there any reason to think they will not continue doing this into the foreseeable future? It is in the very nature of hubris to be blind to one’s own mistakes and to be blind to the impending future. America just does not see they they are confronting two implacable, ruthless, highly competent, intelligent and determined opponents. America is sleepwalking into a confrontation that will result in a bloody nose.

    I simply wish to make sure that we don’t rend the very fabric of this society by electing a clown, a criminal, a racist, an authoritarian demagogue.

    Neither you nor I will make sure of anything along these lines. We are miniscule voices in a large ocean of noise. We indulge in these debates 1) for our entertainment(I certainly am entertained), 2) so that we can develop our understanding and insights(this is very important to me) and 3) very likely, to give expression to our emotional needs(not so likely in my case since I am an intrigued observer).

    When confronted with contrasting opinions I am forced to examine them and further develop my thinking. I love this process and suggest it is the main benefit of our debates. But let’s not imagine that we will change anything except ourselves. Some participants will not even change themselves. C’est la vie.

    a clown, a criminal, a racist, an authoritarian demagogue.

    You have made your mark in this forum as a careful and insightful debater so I am surprised by your extreme language. What does this tell me? That your emotions are strongly engaged and perhaps this says more about you than Trump.

    I care more about understanding than about condemnation. Why is it that a person like Trump has such a strong appeal? It is not good enough to rubbish nearly half the American electorate. There must surely be a deep and important process at play. What is this process? What caused it? How should we address it? I see no attempt to address deeper issues and find that disappointing.

    Hopefully, we can address your concerns after this nightmare is over.

    No, the nightmare won’t be over because the deeper, systemic causes will still be present. American society is dysfunctional and thus it is pursuing a damaging, dysfunctional foreign policy. Clinton, like Obama, is just another dull functionary who will perpetuate the dysfunction. Who knows what Trump will do? He is certainly a contrarian and perhaps his contrarian energy will supply the impetus for useful change. But my crystal ball is fogged over(it was made in China).

    Perhaps the biggest issue of all is the extraordinary wealth disparity. Clinton is part of the process that is perpetuating this wealth disparity. Trump is no better. No one has produced fresh, useful thinking for fear it may alienate their donors. And that tells us that the political process has been captured by the kleptocrats.

  42. EJ,
    We are not discussing the specific issues you raise; Mark’s politically charged essay precludes that

    I think they are related and therefore worth discussing. Any one of the multitudes who have been a victim of American foreign policy would agree with me.

  43. EJ,
    As an outsider, your principle concern is the effect of this election on global politics. As an American, my principle concern is the effect it has on domestic politics.

    Your concern is understandable. But your place in the world is changing to a diminished role and thus you will no longer be immune to foreign perceptions. Hubris is only sustainable on a base of real power.

    1. Real power? The US could defeat any country in the world with a single submarine. Europe is in a demographic death spiral.

      This discussion is getting silly. EJ thinks Trump is beyond the pale and Mark doesn’t. That about sums it up.

  44. Real power? The US could defeat any country in the world with a single submarine.
    This discussion is getting silly.

    You said it.

    The US is not the only country that owns submarines but that is wholly beside the point. Economic power is the basis of military power and we need only look at the trajectory of economic power to see the trajectory of military power. Military power unchecked by democratic restraints is power to be feared but hubris blinds one to fear. Sadly.

    EJ thinks Trump is beyond the pale

    Perhaps so, but it might be useful to understand why Trump has such appeal. Condemnation is emotionally satisfying but understanding is useful. I choose useful.

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