[caption id="attachment_19809" align="alignleft" width="203"] By angellea (CC BY-NC 2.0)[/caption] This 4th of July was marked by protests at the Statue of Liberty contesting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE ) and America’s immigration policies. To celebrate Independence Day, organizations and individuals decided to exercise their citizenship rights through acts of civil disobedience, calling attention to political policies they deemed unjust and un-American. Seven members of Rise and Resist were arrested at the statue for hanging a banner which called for the abolition of ICE, and Therese Patricia Okoumou was arrested for scaling Lady Liberty to protest Trump’s immigration policies. Sitting at the feet of the statue, between the folds of her robe, Okoumou called attention to family separation at the border, and asked for the children to be released. When asked why she scaled Lady Liberty, Okoumou said she was inspired by Michelle Obama, who said “when they go low, we go high.”
“Therese Patricia Okoumou, 44, pleaded not guilty on Thursday and spoke in front of a crowd gathered in front of a New York City courthouse. ‘Michelle Obama... said when they go low, we go high. And I went as high as I could,’ she said, calling President Donald Trump a ‘monster.’”The Statue of Liberty has long been a site of American protest. According to Rick Rojas, writing for The New York Times, “Suffragists protested at its unveiling in 1886, circling the island in a boat. In 1976, members of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War barricaded themselves inside the monument to protest cuts in education benefits, and last year, a group hung a banner that said “refugees welcome.” During times of political crisis it is good to be reminded of the signs and symbols that represent the spirit of American citizenship. There is perhaps no greater image of freedom than the patinated copper monument on Liberty Island, given to us by the French in 1886. The statue sits south of Ellis Island in Upper New York Bay, and has long greeted refugees and newcomers to the United States. In Hannah Arendt’s essay “Citizenship and Civil Disobedience” she argues that civil disobedience emerges when our political institutions fail and lose their legitimacy. The nature of our political institutions requires continuing citizen participation in matters of public interest. Representative government can only retain its authority insofar as citizens have a meaningful way to engage the political institutions that give form to daily life. Arendt argues that representative government itself is in crisis today because all institutions that permitted citizen participation have been eroded by “bureaucratization and the two parties’ tendency to represent nobody except the party machines.” Civil disobedience emerges amongst the people “when established institutions of a country fail to function properly and its authority loses its power.” When the traditional institutional venues for citizens to participate in government no longer work effectively, we have recourse to civil disobedience as a means of calling attention to unjust policies. Drawing from Tocqueville, Arendt reminds us that as citizens the recourse to civil disobedience is a means by which we can freely associate with one another, and come together in the public sphere to voice dissent. Voluntary associations are the “American remedy for the failure of institutions, the unreliability of men, and the uncertain nature of the future.” As we celebrate the Fourth of July, it is well to recall Arendt’s claim that civil disobedience is and should be a Constitutional right in the United States.
“If Montesquieu was right—and I believe he was—that there is such a thing as ‘the spirit of the laws,’ which varies from country to country and is different in the various forms of government, then we may say that consent, not in the very old sense of mere acquiescence, with its distinction between rule over willing subjects and rule over unwilling ones, but in the sense of active support and continuing participation in all matters of public interest, is the spirit of American law…. Consent, in the American understanding of the term, relies on the horizontal version of the social contract, and not on majority decisions. (On the contrary, much of the thinking of the framers of the Constitution concerned safeguards for dissenting minorities.)…. Consent and the right to dissent became the inspiring and organizing principles of action that taught the inhabitants of this continent the ‘art of associating together,’ from which sprang those voluntary associations whose role Tocqueville was the first to notice…. It is my contention that civil disobedients are nothing but the latest form of voluntary association, and that they are thus quite in tune with the oldest traditions of the country.”The 2018 Hannah Arendt Center Conference “Citizenship and Civil Disobedience” will explore the outbreaks of civil disobedience today that make manifest the fraying of a consensus around questions of economic and racial equality as well as social discrimination, immigration, and the uses of American power abroad. In raising the questions of citizenship and civil disobedience, we ask if and how a new democratic American ideal can emerge. You can read more about the conference and register here. —Samantha Hill and Roger BerkowitzForm more information visit: https://www.thedailybeast.com/statue-of-liberty-climber-i-went-as-high-as-i-could
The Risks of Going Low
[caption id="attachment_19810" align="alignright" width="267"] By Source, Fair use[/caption] David Greenberg argues that when the left has sought to “go low” and practice a politics of personal attack, it has not gone well for the left.
“Julie Nixon, the president’s daughter, also paid a price. Often a target of invective — at one rally at Smith College, which she attended, a crowd of 10,000 chanted, “Fuck Julie and David Eisenhower” — she was set to graduate in the spring of 1970 when the campuses, in the wake of Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia, turned violent. Because of threats, the Secret Service insisted that the president not attend. Julie accepted the decision, writing to her father’s aide John Ehrlichman, “I truly think the day will be a disaster if he comes,” but the thought of her father missing the event brought her nearly to tears. Hearing these stories, many will respond: Boo-hoo. What’s Julie missing her father at graduation compared to the strafing of Cambodia? But the point is not that Julie Nixon or Robert McNamara was done a grave injustice, any more than discomfort with the treatment of Sarah Sanders and Kirstjen Nielsen means seeing them as victims. The reason to maintain standards of conduct and preserve a non-political space of human interaction is not to protect particular politicians and government officials. It’s to protect America, to uphold the political culture we value. Trump and his followers have already shown their contempt for the practices and gestures that help us live amicably with our ideological opposites. Joining Trump in the project of trashing the unwritten rules of public conduct won’t change his policies or governing style. But it will betray our own values and make it harder, once he’s gone, to reconstitute a decent, humane politics. We have nothing to gain from the eradication of a politics-free zone, from a war of all against all that greenlights once-verboten behaviors and permeates once-private spaces. Besides, as the events of the late 1960s and early 1970s show, the outrageous and obnoxious antics of the militant left ended up hurting their cause. The taunting of public figures isn’t well remembered, and neither will history long record June’s showdown at the Red Hen. But insofar as these actions stem from a determination to score political points by violating civil norms, they — and the repellent and violent methods of extreme protesters more generally — engender a backlash and alienate allies. By 1972, we should recall, a majority of Americans had come to oppose the Vietnam War, but greater numbers opposed the antiwar movement. Nixon cannily positioned himself as upholding law and order — a helpfully ambiguous phrase that lumped together the threats of rising crime, urban riots and rowdy left-wing activism. His invocation of the “silent majority” aimed to bring together those who were put off by the noisy, disruptive and politically extreme protests. Trump, who has openly borrowed Nixonian terms like “law and order” and “silent majority,” has already been using the confrontations with his administration’s officials to shift the discussion from his immigration policies and onto the left’s behavior. There is a middle ground. It’s entirely possible to take a principled stand against the Trump administration while hewing to honorable methods. In November 2016, Vice President Elect Mike Pence attended a performance of the Broadway musical “Hamilton.” He wasn’t turned away, yelled at, or threatened. But after the show, one actor, Brandon Victor Dixon, spoke for the ensemble in thanking Pence for his presence and then expressing their fears. “We, sir — we — are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights,” he said. “We truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.””Form more information visit: https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/07/05/democrats-civility-1960s-violence-218948
Political Party Flux
[caption id="attachment_19811" align="alignleft" width="225"] Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (By Jesse Korman, CC BY-SA 4.0)[/caption] Our political parties are in flux. Some #nevertrump Republicans remain committed to an ideal of an older Republican Party while other prominent Republicans have left the party altogether. Democrats remain torn between establishment party lines and the specter of a left-wing wave with the primary election of candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. And still there has been much talk of a Blue Dog comeback, with conservative Democrats like Connor Lamb and Dan Lipinski. Michelle Goldberg argued in this week’s New York Times that “The Millennial Socialists are coming,” on the tail of several primary victories. Summer Lee, Sara Innamorato, Elizabeth Fielder, and now Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have been endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America. While these elections appear to give Goldberg some hope in our contemporary political moment, her keenness seems overly optimistic:
“Their races were part of a grass-roots civic renewal that is happening across this country, something that is, for me, the sole source of optimism in this very dark time. Marinating in the news in New York City, I’m often sick with despair. An authoritarian president of dubious legitimacy and depraved character is poised to remake America for generations with a second Supreme Court pick. The federal government is a festival of kleptocratic impunity. Kids the same age as my own are ripped from their migrant parents.”It is possible that the Democratic Party will swing left, but it is not clear that this kind of swing can sweep through middle-America. Reflecting on the Ocasio-Cortez’s election Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) said:
“I think it's the future of the party in the Bronx, where she is. . .. I think that you can’t win the White House without the Midwest and I don’t think you can go too far to the left and still win the Midwest. . .. You need to talk to the industrial Midwest, you need to listen to the people there.”Duckworth’s comments echoed those of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who said people should not get “carried away” over Ocasio-Cortez’s nomination. The Republican Party is facing a similar and yet different challenge. Instead of insider candidates pushing the party’s platform further to the right, conservatives are leaving the Republican Party. Max Boot, writing in The Washington Post, reflects on Steve Schmidt’s renunciation of his party membership. Schmidt wrote on Twitter:
“29 years and nine months ago I registered to vote and became a member of the Republican Party which was founded in 1854 to oppose slavery and stand for the dignity of human life. . .. Today I renounce my membership in the Republican Party. It is fully the party of Trump.”George F. Will, Gordon Humphrey, Joe Scarborough, Peter Whener, Steve Schmidt, and now Max Boot, too, have all disavowed their Republican membership. Explaining his decision Boot writes,
“Trumpkins ‘want to transform the GOP into a European-style nationalist party that opposes cuts in entitlement programs, believes in deportation of undocumented immigrants, white identity politics, protectionism and isolationism backed by hyper-macho threats to bomb the living daylights out of anyone who messes with us.” I still hoped then that traditional conservatives might eventually prevail, but, I wrote, “I can no longer support a party that doesn’t know what it stands for — and that in fact may stand for positions that I find repugnant.’”Still #NeverTrump conservatives like Tom Nichols and Bill Kristol remain committed to Republicans, renouncing Trump but not the party:
“Kristol, for one, balks “at giving up the Republican party to the forces of nativism, vulgar populism, and authoritarianism.” As he notes, “It would be bad for the country if one of our two major parties went in this direction.”Kristol’s position is not too far from Hannah Arendt’s. While it is clear that the parties have to find a way to represent the voice of the voters, they cannot succumb to winning votes on ideological grounds. Arendt warned that the collapse of the party system was an element of totalitarianism emerging. In The Origins of Totalitarianism Arendt writes that totalitarianism is possible when political parties are reduced to ideology and when classes are reduced to masses. She writes,
“The term masses applies only where we deal with people who either because of sheer numbers, or indifference, or a combination of both, cannot be integrated into any organization based on common interest, into political parties or municipal governments or professional organizations or trade unions. Potentially they exist in every country and form the majority of those large numbers of neutral, politically indifferent people who never join a party and hardly ever go to the polls.”In a newly published essay, “Reflections on the 1960 National Conventions: Kennedy VS. Nixon” in Thinking Without a Banister, Arendt considers televised nominating conventions. She worried and warned that the political party system in America was being corrupted by media and party machinery which increasingly relied on polling data. She argues that television and polling meant that the candidates were essentially pre-chosen, that voters had made up their minds before they ever heard candidates speak or make their case. Instead of voters electing candidates they wanted, they were being given a slate of options to choose from. And this crystallization of party machinery meant that voters were being pushed further and further to the sidelines of American politics. Today we are experiencing a backlash to the alienation of voters from the party system. No election appears to be a forgone conclusion. The 2016 presidential race taught us that we cannot trust polling data, or televised debates. Mass politics emerges when citizens feel unrepresented by the established political party system. Arendt cautioned that these voters were the perfect target for propaganda because they did not hold strong political views of their own. Instead, they were easily swayed by slogans, and racial or class ideology. Moving too far to the right or left is not going to shore up political commitment among the voters, though it might invigorate a vocal minority of the electorate. Thinking with Arendt, we have to find a way to remain committed to our political parties, while making them more democratic and less ideological. —Samantha HillForm more information visit: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/30/opinion/democratic-socialists-progressive-democratic-party-trump.html