Jeffery L Nicholas
Philosophy and social theory
to building a society of flourishing people
united in common goods.
to building a society of flourishing people
united in common goods.
The citizens of the US face a tough decision this November: vote for either one of the two most disliked presidential nominees in US history, risk voting for a third party, or refusing to vote. Since Bernie Sanders, who gave an impressive run against the already-crowned Hillary Clinton, endorsed Hillary, many independents who supported Bernie have aligned themselves with the most progressive democratic party platform ever. Many others, however, are disappointed and looking at third parties, while others are so disillusioned with the system that they are voting for Trump. The great fear we on the left must face is that if the democratic party does not take the concerns of the people who have been most harmed by the last 24 years of presidential politics, we will end up with a Brexit situation, with many voting for Trump because they feel they have not been heard.
The possibility of a Trump win raises the issue of the Electoral College. As this site explains, the Electoral College is a process, not a place. Not fully trusting to the people, the Founding Fathers established a process by which the plebiscite vote had to be ratified by the members of the Electoral College. Each party determines its representatives for the College. This process allows, then, that the members of the Electoral College over-turn or otherwise choose as president someone who did not win the popular vote. In relation to this November, one question will hinge on who the Republican party will send to the Electoral College and whether those persons will necessarily support Trump. And of course, party of that questions hinges on just how willing they are to place the health of the US over the health of the Party, and how willing they are to suffer the ire of their constituents if they choose someone other than Trump.
One problem they will face is that the most likely person to choose will be Hillary Clinton since, if she loses to Trump, she will most likely still be in second place. Unless the left and other independents can unite behind one candidate--Jill Stein, Gary Johnston, or, less likely Bernie Sanders as a write-in--that someone from a third party will have sufficient votes to come in second place is unlikely. Yet, if Hillary is the second-place winner, that situation puts the Republican representatives to the Electoral College ina very difficult position, because if they dislike anyone more than Trump, it is Hillary. Yet, the representatives for the democratic party are unlikely to put their vote behind anyone other than Clinton--as witnessed by the democratic primary this year. Thus, we may end up in a real-life prisoner's dilemma: neither side wanting the worst outcome--a Trump presidency--but neither willing to settle for the second best outcome or, even more so, choose the best outcome (which, obviously, in my opinion is Bernie Sanders).
However, the year does set up a situation that the Founding Fathers foresaw: the plebiscite electing someone completely unfit for office, and thus a reason for the Electoral College to exist. What the Founding Fathers did not see, however, was that the reason the plebiscite would elect someone so unqualified is because the elected representatives of the Republic were already just as unqualified and served their own interests rather than those of the people of the US.
This interview of Jane Sanders is so wonderful, so beautiful, it brought tears to my eyes. It testifies to how close we came to having such a wonderful man run for president--some one so starkly in contrast to Donald Trump, Trump's stature would have diminished astronomically. Someone so much more honest than Hillary, no one would have questioned his sincerity, though they may have questioned his strategy.
But it also made me weep for what we have before us.
It's funny. My daughter was speaking to somebody with a spiritual background, and he said, "Bernie lit the flame — now we'll hold their feet to the fire." And that is exactly what we need, from all the people. Bernie can do some of it, but, just like the campaign, it's not about him — it's about all of us.
We--you and I together--must carry on. We have to engage the nationalistic politics as much at the local level as at the federal. But engage we must! We can latch on to the Sanders Institute and Our Revolution to help forward the progress towards a better world and a new humanity.
Bernie Sanders may not be a new St. Benedict. But he is someone who shares many of our beliefs and who believes in the people--in you and I. Our task is to follow through, to believe in the people--in us--as well. And to move forward, beyond the Republican-Democrat divide that hampers us and leaves us subject to the vampires of the world.
The late afternoon sun shines hot over the agora in Athens. Men and women move about slowly, most of them headed west. Plato stands in the middle of the agora, trying to talk to anyone who will listen.
“Stop!” He raises his hands pleading. “Stop listening to Pericles. Come over to the court house with me. Help save Socrates.”
One hundred feet away, a large crowd surrounds Pericles. Her smile beams. “I will save us from the Spartans. I’ve got the know how to get things done.”
Plato wipes sweat from his head. “Listen, people. Pericles is only going to lead us to war with Sparta. She’s too interested in the Delphic league’s money to break it up.” He points back east. “Come, come listen to Socrates’ apologia. We need him.”
Aristophanes stops for a moment in front of Plato. “You want us to go vote for Socrates instead of listening to Pericles?” He pointed back east toward the court house. “Socrates has his head in the clouds. Stop listening to his pie-in-the-sky illusions. We have to protect ourselves against the Spartans.”
Plato steps toward Aristophanes. He’s always enjoyed the old man’s plays. If only he could get him to be more open about Socrates. “You’ve just got to come listen to Socrates. He has the right ideas to help us make Athens better.”
By this point, Callicles has come up to the Agora. “We don’t have time for Socrates, Plato. The only person who can help us win against the Spartans is Pericles. Be realistic.”
Plato, frustrated that no one seems to be listening, turns to Callicles. “My friend, if people would vote for what is best, then we can save Socrates.” His voice raises with passion. “We don’t need to worry about the Spartans. We need to break up the Delphic league; we need to stop taking money from the other polities and giving it to people like Pericles.”
“You don’t understand the real world,” Callicles says. “No one is going to vote for an, old, gray headed philosopher. Let him go. Come join us. Pericles is telling us how she can get things done.”
“I do understand, Callicles.” Plato puts his hand on Callicles’ shoulder. “If you don’t save Socrates, then Pericles will be the only one left. And Pericles can’t stand against Sparta. Sparta knows all of her weaknesses, for they share the same weaknesses.” He shook his head. “And what’s more, Pericles is prone to her own arrogance, like someone from Sophocles’ plays.”
Callicles resists. “If don’t help Pericles, Sparta will come in here and establish a tyranny.” Raising his voice, he says, “We can’t let that happen. Look at the new king of Sparta.” He points south-west. “He’s misogynistic, ethnocentric, bombastic. Surely you don’t want him to win. He’ll destroy our democracy and make life on the other polities worse.”
Aristophanes steps in. “Can’t you see the good Pericles has done. She helped make the Delphic league. She helped make the gold flow through Athens’ markets.” Aristophanes spoke with the voice of an actor, persuasive, lilting. “We can’t let someone like Sparta’s king have control of the Delphic league. He’ll destroy the world.”
“Look, my friends,” Plato says. “I understand your fear of Sparta. Trust me, I see his insanity infecting the Spartans. But Socrates can help stop that much better than Pericles. Socrates undermines the Spartan King’s strategy at every point.”
Aristophanes and Callicles shake their heads. “I’m sorry, Plato, but it’s too late for Socrates,” Aristophanes says. Together, he and Callicles walk to the crowd around Pericles.
She continues to beam, while Xenophon rails against the king of Sparta. Plato feels betrayed for Socrates. Xenophon stops speaking. A procession emanates from the court to Pericles. In the middle is Socrates, naked. Yet, despite his nudity and his age, he is still sinewy. Callias leads the procession. He moves aside and motions Socrates forward. Socrates takes his clothes and hands them to Pericles. “You can wear my clothes,” he saisaysd. “We cannot let the King of Sparta win.”
A tear rolls from Plato’s eyes and mixes with the sweat of the day.
With great flourish, Pericles undresses herself and puts on Socrates’ garments. She selects some of the best parts. But she leaves on her own undergarments. They are filled with holes and barely stay on her. With Socrates’ garments she appears fresher.
Socrates turns to the crowd. “We have to continue the revolution with Pericles. She will help us defeat Sparta. We can never let them here in Athens.”
Callias hands him a cup. Socrates takes it and holds it up to the crowd. “This revolution was never about me. You must continue it yourselves. All of you who have listened to me in the agora.” He dranks, tilting the cup up completely. A bit of green liquid slips from his lips. He hands the cup back to Callias. “Support Pericles, or we will face the wrath of the king of Sparta.” Socrates collapses from the stage.
Plato weeps. He knew what the fall out would be. He had warned the Athenians, anyone who would listen to him. Pericles can never win against the king of Sparta. They play the same game, and the king of Sparta is just a little better at it. He shakes his head, fearing for the future.
Just then, Antisthenes walks up to Plato. “Well, look, Plato. Pericles has changed.” He points up to the stage. “She wears Socrates garments. Socrates gave them to her. He said we must support her.”
“What choice did he have?” Plato asks. “He’d already been condemned. She may be our only hope now. But that is not much hope.”
“Stop being so pig-headed” Antisthenes says. “We can’t let the king of Sparta win. It’s no time for philosophy now.”
Plato looked at his brother, who had sat next to him at Socrates’ feet. “But I warned everyone. I told everyone that if we followed Pericles, we would lose Athens. We would fall to the tyranny of the Spartans.” He points at Antisthenes. “Now you want me to support what I warned you against?”
Euthyphro comes over to them. “Look, Plato. Pericles has chosen Critias as her assistant. You and Critias studied under Socrates together. Surely you can support Pericles now.”
“I don’t know,” Plato says, his head downfallen. He turns away from them and walks up the hill to the Akropolis.
Aristotle joins him. “I wonder sometimes whether you were right about democracy.”
Somehow, Plato manages to chuckle. “I do too.” He pauses on his climb and looks back at the agora. The crowd around Pericles has turned into a festival. The smell of lamb reaches them. “I wish, I hope, I am wrong, Aristotle. I hope I am wrong.”
Together they continue their climb, looking forward to spending some time in the Parthenon. Athena had been their guide, and they wonder if more, rather than less, religion is needed. Behind them, darkness descends over Athens, though it does not ease the heat of the day. In many houses around Athens, students of Socrates drank hemlock and wait to join him. Many others commit themselves to carrying on the revolution. They eat the gristle from the lamb served at the feast. They would follow Pericles enough to save Athens.
Later that night, Pericles stands on her rooftop. She is ready for sleep but too excited from the day. To the south, an orange glow marks Sparta. She smiles. “The old moron.” She is safe now. She would continue to rule Athens with Socrates no longer in her way. The riches from the Delphic League would continue to flow into Athens, into the pockets of her friends, and into her own pockets. Her husband joins her on the roof.
“I was so happy to watch Socrates drank that hemlock,” he says. “I just couldn’t stop smiling. It’s all yours now.”
They continue to look south for a minute. Pericles hears the roar of anger from Sparta. She feels the earth rumble from the stomping of feet. But she knows there just aren’t enough Spartans to break through the walls around Athens. She has too many people, people no longer distracted by Socrates. So what if she had to promise things. Maybe she would keep her promises.
“Look what I have,” her husband says.
He holds up before her a cup.
“Yes,” he says. He pours red wine into the cup.
As the glow in the south grows stronger, Pericles and her husband drank wine from the cup out of which Socrates had swallowed his hemlock.
For Joe Cammarano
This article reports two things which, seemingly, contradict each other. The first is that, during the Republican National Convention, google searches for third party alternatives spiked by over 1000%. The second is that, in a four-way race between Trump, Clinton, Stein (Green Party), and Johnson (Libertarian), Clinton wins (40.9, 37.3, 4, and 8%).
If people are interested in a third party--and we know independents are, and we know 13million people who voted for Sanders are, then why are the numbers coming out in this way? Are people not happy with any of these parties? If not, why not? The Green and the Libertarian have never had a chance to lead the country.
Or is it still a matter of people not thinking that the Green or the Libertarian can win? The news media repeats to us over and over that people do not think a third party can win, and that repetition reinforces a belief--even if we've never held it before--that a third party cannot win. So we look and we look for some alternative, but we come back to something that violates our conscience.
We're stuck in a catch 22 of our own making. Afraid to vote for a third party, we make it less likely that anyone will vote for a third party, and we all vote for people we don't ever want to see in our kitchen, much less run the country. And in doing that, we also alienate ourselves from our own political agency. For in the end, we run the country together. A political party is supposed to serve that interest.
In our country they don't because we don't vote our conscience.
So, Ted Cruz spoke to the Republican National Convention, refused to endorse the Donald, and told people to vote their conscience. Hillary immediately retweets, "vote your conscience."
While I doubt Cruz understands what irony is, Clinton surely does. So one must wonder if she tweeted with irony. Surely she realizes that, if people voted their conscience, she would not be the democratic nominee, Bernie Sanders would. Many people--hundreds of thousands, if not millions, did not vote their conscience--did not vote for Sanders--because they thought he could not win and Clinton could. So they compromised their conscience.
I have railed against such compromise since 1992 when Ross Perot first ran. So many people told me they would vote for him if they thought he would win. Since then, presidential election after presidential election, I've seen members of the electorate compromise their conscience to vote for whom they thought could win.
Somehow, many republicans ignored the naysayers who said the Donald could not win, and he is the republican nominee. The news media has been nothing but negative towards the Donald for months: we can't let him win, his poll numbers are down, he's a bigot, his policies don't make sense, etc. etc, etc. Several months for now, we will all be sitting back like Ted Cruz and wondering, how the heck did this happen? How did the Donald win?
And if not, if in fact we are sitting back looking at President Clinton won't millions of us still wonder, how did this happen?
It began when people didn't vote their conscience. It began when students in my class said that they would rather win even though they didn't try their hardest than try their hardest and not win. It began when people forgot their conscience and identified with the party... something the former members of the Soviet Union might be able to tell us something about.
Of course, conscience doesn't matter if I can be the Wolf of Wall Street, now does it?
This excellent piece from The Guardian captures part of the problem with the US and other (presumably) developed countries. In short, the US in particular falls short of the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs). These goals list seventeen areas in which all countries should aim for development. As Vicki Spruill suggests, these goals are more than economic goals. They include goals aimed at gender inequality, making cities inclusive and safe, and combating climate change.
Yet, I think one needs to ask what underlies these goals? What values, specifically, do these goals rest upon?
Spruill writes as though what we need to do is simply have different goals. But, as I have suggested recently, what we need are new values, and new values come from new practices. Just stating new goals, which may be worthy in themselves (certainly we need to combat sexism and climate change), yet one can wonder whether we can achieve any of these goals without first changing our values.
What, for instance, would it mean to eliminate poverty if we are still committed to capitalism and the neoliberal order? We could eliminate poverty by killing all poor people. Or we could eliminate poverty by bringing about the Brave New World. But presumably you agree with me that neither of these situations are satisfactory.
But if not these, then what? And on what basis do we choose?
A recent article in The Atlantic discusses a survey of US Americans on their perception of the US government. Overwhelming majorities of Trump and Clinton supporters believe that "Washington" is broken. Yet, the survey shows, roughly 40% of their supporters believe that Washington can fix its own problems. To my knowledge, 40% is less than half, so not a majority. Yet, the Atlantic analysis ignores this issue and instead asserts "So voters will have to decide which candidate they think can best steer the government that they hope can reform itself."
Moreover, The Atlantic states "The poll also shows that more Americans believe the federal government is “most likely to provide solutions” to that challenge, outpacing state and local governments, big business or national corporations, local businesses, community or non-profit groups, and individuals." Yet, the summary of the survey says differently:
Nearly half of Americans (47%) feel that a mixture of “positive actions taken by some combination of businesses, local governments, non-profits, and Americans themselves” will result in more progress on the major challenges facing the country.
Americans continue to look to the state and local institutions to drive progress. More than two-thirds (68%) still believe that state and local institutions are more likely to have new ideas and solutions because they are closer to the problems, more adaptable, and have more at stake in finding solutions than national institutions (23%) despite having more financial resources, experience, and long-term stability.
So The Atlantic article proves either misleading or simply incapable of interpreting the data. Perhaps part of the problem with Washington is that average US Americans cannot trust their news sources to provide accurate information. (I note that the article cited above does not have a link to the survey itself, found here.)
What is most interesting, however, is the way that the survey and the people who took it accept a basic misunderstanding of government, of "Washington." Especially in a democracy, the government is none other than the people. To ask the question, who can fix the government is to dissociate the people from the government which they comprise. In fact, much of modern politics rests on this dissociative disorder of the polity.
Perhaps our most fundamental challenge is to repair the split in the polity between seeing itself as an electorate and the elected officials as the government.
We must never forget that the French revolution started with peasants storming the Bastille and throwing down the ancien regime! That women led this revolution! That they took France from the monarchy through solidarity with each other--the 99%!
That is our hope!
Our fear, of course, is that we end in another TERROR!
We cannot allow that to happen. We cannot allow guillotines to replace solidarity.
Today, our body politic is torn asunder. We are confronted with two monsters: Trump and Hilary. That one is more monstrous than the other is no doubt. Our black brothers and sisters are treated as monsters by the banality of bureaucratic policing. Our poor are treated as monsters too unworthy to feed in many cities. Monsters treat women as playthings.
Monsters, monsters everywhere!
What Bastille shows is that the monsters do not have to win! Would it not be wonderful if we together grasped our destiny from the hands to the two-headed monster that stands before us. All it takes is a mind that says no more--no more re-election of any member in government who is beholden to the Monsters of Wall Street, the Monsters of the Military, the Monsters of Hate.
Guest post by Peter Fosl
I've been a devoted Bernie Sanders supporter. I gave to the campaign. I canvassed--in two states. I phone banked. I posted supportive articles. I've got the yard sign, the bumper stickers. So, what do I make of Bernie endorsing Clinton? I think he made the right choice, but I don't think it ought therefore be the choice people like me make. I think some of us in the Bernie movement should support HRC, while others of us should vote Green with Jill Stein. Let me explain.
Why was endorsing HRC the right choice? Look, I agree that both Hillary and the Donald are terrible. Bernie was the only major candidate that offered us a positive future. He was the the best thing to have appeared in presidential politics for decades, at least since LBJ, arguably since FDR. (Debs never drew anywhere near Bernie's numbers.) I agree that Hillary is the oligarchy, that her administration is likely to be even less progressive than Obama's, and that there is no hope in a Democratic Party defined by candidates and appointees like HRC. I also agree that Trump is a disaster in ways too many to count. Populism can turn either right or left and he represents the rightward swing (even though he himself is hardly a populist).
That suggest, I get it, that Bernie should have run as an independent of Green for the presidency. The sooner we build a movement even a party different from the two existing excrescences, the better. I certainly would have voted for him on another ticket. It's a reasonable line of inference, and I don't think people who go that way are crazy. But here' where things get tricky and where I think he exercised good judgment even against a reasonable alternative.
One reason it's nevertheless a good thing that he's endorsed HRC is that there is now good reason to think that Trump could win. I have long predicted that he doesn't stand a chance against the Clinton juggernaut, but I must confess that I missed it on Bevin, and I missed it on Brexit. There are actually some policy matters on which I agree with Trump (anti-TPP and NAFTA, condemning the Iraq War, e.g.), but I don't trust him even on those, and the energy he brings to the nationalist, racist right is too dangerous even in relation to the considerable dangers we face with Clinton.
Secondly, Bernie may have extracted some important concessions from HRC (tuition relief, single payer, $15 dollar minimum wage, etc.)
But neither of these are the principal reason Bernie's decision is defensible. Bernie's campaign was not mainly about defeating Trump. It was about defeating the oligarchy, and so the question is how to advance that objective. Again, yes, in the judgment of many, that objective is best served by a third party or independent run. I'm not so sure. I think Bernie will maintain more currency in the popular political mind and the corporate media if he looks forward eight years and builds the institutional and organizational framework to make the next progressive challenge more effective.
There always was something a little too top down in the Bernie movement. Sure, the donations flowed in from the base in small, bottom up numbers, as did much of the enthusiasm. But it' still true that it was a presidential campaign centering on a single charismatic leader. Deeper roots are in order among the grass roots, and a spoiling, withering third party run will likely alienate many whom we must bring into the movement. It will also lose some who are already there. It would brave and principled stand, running third party or independent, but probably under the current circumstances counterproductive. Bernie's had a national platform only because he decided to run as a Democrat. He's canny enough to know that he will only be able to maintain that platform if he remains a Democrat. Run as an independent and he'll end up silenced and ignored, just as Nader has been.
Bernie promises to announce shortly some of the organizational steps he plans to take, and we should focus our attention upon them. The presidential race has eluded our grasp this time, but presidential campaigns are only a small part of what composes politics. Forget the presidency except to the extent we can thwart the Donald, and move onto the next battlefield. That way we can come back in 4 or 8 years stronger perhaps then be in a position either to co-opt or destroy the Democratic Party.
Now, having said that, I can add something that Bernie can't but I hope wants to say, and that is this: if you're in a solidly red or even blue state vote for Jill Stein and the Green Party. From my perspective, it's reasonable to secure Trump's defeat while minimizing the magnitude of HRC's oligarchic victory by maximizing the left wing third-part vote. Swing states such as Ohio, for example, must not go red, and Bernie supporters can have an impact on that. But red states such as Oklahoma, Mississippi, and almost certainly Kentucky, aren't going blue, and so voting for HRC has little to no progressive impact. Yes, KY went for Bill, but I think this dynamic's different, not least because of HRC's larger negatives, and so it's a waste of a progressive vote to support HRC in red states. To put a sharper point on it, every progressive vote for HRC in safely red states is abject capitulation. Every progressive vote in excess of those necessary to secure HRC's victory in blue states is a missed opportunity to continue to send a progressive message to the oligarchy. So, here' she rule: vote Green in solid states, vote Democratic in swing states.
If you're like me, then you read with disappointment Bernie Sanders' endorsement of Hilary Clinton and his claim that "We must elect the Democratic nominee in November." This endorsement of Clinton comes at a troubling time when stories of black people killed by police violence are headlining the news media.
What can and should good, leftists do?
We must, first, take heart in the underlying tone of Sanders' message: this campaign was never about him, as I posted recently. It was about a movement to change the way politics are done in this country.
Second, we must fight for those candidates--democrat or otherwise--who will work for the proposals that Sanders' campaign worked hard to include in the Democratic Platform.
Third, I believe fundamentally that this fight must include making sure that neither Trump nor Clinton are elected. I fear that Sanders' endorsement arises from two things: his embrace of the two party (read: lesser evil) system to which he tied his campaign for president by running as a democrat, and his real fear of Trump as a president. I, too, share this fear of a Trump presidency. Yet, I cannot endorse Hillary Clinton for her politics--despite what the democratic national platform might say--are distinctly different from the real politics of the left. Yes, I agree that she is a feminist and has fought for women's rights; but so did Margaret Thatcher.
For me, it's easy. I live in a solid blue state. I can vote for the Green Party and not lose any sleep. For those of you in contested states, your choices are much harder. I still do not think that Hillary will win this election. Right now, Donald Trump is being beaten from the left and the right and the center. He is at his lowest point--months before the election. He will rise again. If a mass movement could get behind the Green Party candidate, then that would be the direction to take. I fear, however, that such a movement will not arise. Part of this will depend on the reaction of BernOrBust members. We will see as we move forward.
One thing we must remember, though, is that without a supportive congress, both Trump's and Clinton's policies will fail. Our task then, from here on out, is to elect the most left leaning politicians we can up and down the board. We must most of all boot out all sitting members of congress and the senate.
Bernie was a beginning. Let's not waste it.
Jeffery L. Nicholas (Ph.D philosophy, University of Kentucky) is an associate professor at Providence College and an international scholar on ethics and politics. He serves as research associate for the Center for Aristotelian Studies in Ethics and Politics at London Metropolitan University and a foreign research associate at Universidad Sergio Arboleda in Bogotá Colombia. Dr. Nicholas is co-founder of and executive secretary for the International Society for MacIntyrean Enquiry. He is the author of Reason, Tradition, and the Good: MacIntyre's Tradition Constituted Reason and Frankfurt School Critical Theory (UNDP 2012), as well as numerous articles. Dr. Nicholas writes on midwifery and birth, the common good, friendship and community, practical reason, and Native American philosophy. He aims to develop a philosophy of integral humanism that synthesizes the philosophical traditions of Alasdair MacIntyre, Frankfurt School Critical Theory, and Feminist Care Ethics.