The drone policy in all of its horror is itself a reaction to and indirect consequence of previous rounds of entirely well-intentioned criticism of the same type, and represents a further, as ever two-sided, penetration of legalism and humanitarianism into the conduct of war, not some “unprecedented” departure from legality and humanity.
I suspect that Kotsko features himself an interesting radical rather than a mere liberal. It would seem that in this context, both liberals and radicals are “inconsequentialist.” The difference is that the liberals are committed to discussion (perhaps “at other blogs”) that goes nowhere, if without their knowledge; the radicals continually re-commit themselves to nothing – openly and consistently – that is, hypocritically.
We are hostages to the decision, including our own collective decision on one “decider” as opposed to another. Articles like Lewis’, if they reinforce our confidence in the existent rather than the ideal executive, help us to accommodate ourselves to a void in the law and its effects: The existence of this void can serve our needs; or it can be hemmed in politically – which is to say partially and provisionally; or it can be survived until the day it happens to kill us – but it cannot be legislated or reasoned way. So we can expand our general observation on liberalism – including the liberalism that advertises its libertarian purism or its republican virtues or its partisan conservatism, with or without the tri-corner hats and Minuteman costumes: As we know, it has nothing interesting to say about these issues. It does, however, very much like to pretend that it does.
Regardless of where we come down in the end on the wisdom and justifiability of the administration’s war policies, criticism that does not take the full debate and its real subject into consideration, that merely repeats what we already know – that war is awful and morally, culturally, and politically deforming; that it exceeds the terms of normal, lawful policy; that it makes us act like “barbarians” all on the way to Hell – does not deserve to be and likely will not be taken seriously.
If progressives believe, or know whether they believe, that exceptional measures were justifiable, but went wrong, then an entirely different replacement regime and set of reforms might make sense than if they believe common rhetoric about rule of law mattering more than all other concerns, whatever the costs or risks. On the other hand, if they believe the War on Terror was in fact a self-obviating success, then they might wish to replace the AUMF with a new legal and administrative regime that acknowledges and learns from authentic successes – successful warmaking against a real and legitimate, not simply ideologically constructed enemy – as well as from errors.
To step back from the Armageddon-level options that still follow the U.S. president around in a briefcase, there remains only a post hoc and in the highest sense political check on a president’s interpretation of Article 2 powers. In non-global-apocalyptic but merely national apocalyptically extreme cases, a president may even interpret his designated and implied powers to allow for flagrantly unconstitutional measures: We return as frequently to Lincoln during the Civil War, nullifying the requirement for writ of habeas corpus, generally prosecuting a war against insurrectionists on the basis of his own judgment until eventually recognized by a wartime Supreme Court. At such points, it is “up to history” to determine whether the executive has done the right thing – will get a monument or a tearful farewell under threat of impeachment.
The Drones as symbol refer us to a tyrannical, imperial, not merely mechanical but super-biological or super-organic, invulnerable, temporally and geographically unbounded, and most of all cruelly lethal power that has already annihilated the human being ideally before it sends its “Hellfire” missile at him to finish the job, while also morally annihilating the distant human pilots and their masters, the latter group eventually including all of us who benefit or who possess a moral share in the program as citizens of a democratic republic.
The pathos of the libertarian lament reminds us of real death and suffering, and of real failures of policy and moral imagination, but such stubborn self-insistence makes it difficult for others to speak to the would-be prophets other than as to children. Here as so often, the ideological libertarian position reveals itself to be implicitly pacifist and essentially anti-political, in a word utopian, in calling for an impossible polity, one that would be inherently incapable of defending itself or its integrity against violent opposition, whether from actual states or from so-called non-state (actually crypto- or proto-state) actors.
The overall dysfunctionality of a political discussion can be the product of countless such lesser dysfunctionalities, though the overall dysfunctionality of that discourse may in turn be what makes it manageable, or manageable enough. We dislike things the way they dysfunctionally are, and that is how we like things.
Final responsibility for the defense of the constitutional order necessarily implies the ability to dissolve the constitutional order – if not by ordering up a nuclear war or declaring a state of emergency, and so on, then by simple failure to act against a threat to it or to fulfill the responsibility of his office. The scope of presidential power is in this sense at least commensurate to the scope of the legal order.
The plural-realist or perspectivist thought (or anti-thought) can never be understood as generally valid except by reference to a standard that would govern the truth and consistency of all such assertions. This problem has always stood in the way of taking the "post-modernist insight" seriously: If it means what it is meant to mean, then it is at best provisional, and otherwise meaningless.
In an “objective” if not necessarily “morally clear” accounting, the thousands killed and thousands more disfigured and terrified would receive many thousands of times greater concern. The child dismembered by a bomb blast, the soldier buried alive in a bunker, the prisoner merely sent off to some conventional Hell, and on and on, precisely as they become multiplied by thousands or millions and turned into numbers, all seem to command less outrage and concern than the captive in manacles.
TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.
For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.
The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.
Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.
[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.