Of Presidents and Emperors

Former constitutional scholar Alan Dershowitz posited on Fox News on November 25 that the “president’s not the king; the president’s far more powerful than the king. The president has the power that kings have never had.”

This is not an argument the former scholar offered for any previous occupant of the White House in Alan Dershowitz’s long life, so one wonders what renders this an argument worth pursuing on Fox News or anywhere that is not a mere public park with wooden crates available to stand on and bellow from. But he did so anyway.

The United States of America has three coequal branches of government to run its operations; our constitutional arguments usually concern which branch ought to run which operation. Our executive branch is one of those three, and we have not been ruled by a king or an emperor for a very long time. America’s last emperor died in 1880, after all, and we have not had a monarch since (or since 1776). (1880? Needle scratches on record as the music stops.)

When Emperor Norton I died in San Francisco in 1880 he left no offspring and no claimants to his (our) throne. We have been a republic ever since, although Alan Dershowitz seems to think that the current executive in the White House has the most legitimate claim to the American throne since Joshua Norton, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, last occupied it.

Come to think of it, Mr. Dershowitz may be onto something when he asks us to compare the current occupant of the White House and Emperor Norton I.
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The Embrace of Donald Trump’s Hate

This is Donald Trump’s America now. If Trump does not win the nomination, it no longer matters: He has moved the debate into an ugliness that gives cover to almost all bigotry.

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“I’m no racist, but I think the one bunch it’s okay to hate is those Muslims.”

I thought to myself, “Did I really just hear him say that?” I have replayed this moment in my mind every day in the six months since I heard the man, an acquaintance of mine, say this to me. Shocked into complacency, I did not speak up.

An elderly women was beside us. She is the sort of person who looks like the meanest thing she might say in her day is something like, “A dozen cookies! That’s too many! Have another.” She chimed in: “They believe in the devil. They lie when they say they pray to God.” Her eyes flared and she repeated herself. “They know it’s a lie, and they do it anyway.” I excused myself, shocked into a mortified silence, which was an inexcusable silence.

Others were nearby, and no one spoke up. I asked a couple people later about what they heard the man say, and each of them expressed surprise but offered some variation of the excuse, “I guess he needed to get that off his chest.”

This is Donald Trump’s America. My first-hand report. These voters may not have the opportunity to vote for Trump for President of the United States next November, as he may not win the Republican nomination, but whomever they vote for next year is being shown the blueprint detailing how to win their support. With his status as the front-runner for the Republican nomination and his open espousal of complete racism, his promises of policies of brutality towards American citizens of one religion, Donald Trump has moved the debate into a region where less ugly racism, less obvious brutality, appears acceptable, becomes accepted. It will still be brutal racism. The moment has arrived when we can not shrug it off and say to ourselves, “I guess he needed to get that off his chest.”
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Donald Trump’s Disability

Donald Trump’s disability is a terrible one, one that I would not wish on anyone: There is little that is more disabling than a mean spirit.

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“Four eyes!”

The elementary school bullies used to yell that. I hated the plastic tortoise-shell glasses for their book-thickness, their weight, but most of all, I hated them for the taunts. There were other kids who wore glasses in our school, so I could not have been the only one who was taunted, but my glasses truly were thicker than anyone else’s. By high school I took up the affectation of not needing them, because, as a near-sighted person, I could see light and dark and shapes and so I could negotiate my way from classroom to classroom. I stopped the affectation one day when I did not recognize my own sister among the shapes and colors of our high school halls.
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The Myth of ‘The Other’

[He] sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms—he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization. He constantly lives at a turning point. Like religious millennialists he expresses the anxiety of those who are living through the last days and he is sometimes disposed to set a date for the apocalypse. … As a member of the avant-garde who is capable of perceiving the conspiracy before it is fully obvious to an as yet unaroused public, [he] is a militant leader. He does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner of the working politician. Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish.—Richard Hofstadter, Harper’s Magazine

The above passage was not written recently. It does not describe anyone in the news right now. It was written in 1964 and published the month of the Presidential election that year. Its title is “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” Hofstadter was an historian who found himself concerned with the angry political rhetoric that was emerging that year and re-discovered that there was little new to it, that in fact a “style” of rhetoric could be identified that regularly emerged and re-emerged in our history.

The “paranoid style” is back this year in America.
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