Jan 6th 2021

Power vs. Duty in American Politics

by Sam Ben-Meir

Sam Ben-Meir is professor of philosophy and world religions at Mercy Collage in New York.

To anyone paying attention the last four years, Trump’s refusal to accept that he lost the 2020 presidential election fair and square could not truly come as a surprise. That he would never concede was practically a given. What we could not know (and still do not know) with any certainty is just how far Trump will go to maintain his grip on power.

He has been willing to shower the courts with specious lawsuits – a cynical, dishonest and shameless act, but not in itself unlawful. Trump and his minions tirelessly spewed a steaming mess of debunked conspiracy theories and bogus claims about voter fraud, rigged voting machines, dead voters, underage voters and so on. This was mendacious, divisive and damaging to the public’s trust in our democratic institutions and electoral processes – it showed a lack of respect for the most basic moral principles, but it too was not technically unlawful.

Trump, who demands absolute loyalty from those around him, has demonstrated since the election that he will viciously turn on his most loyal followers if they are not prepared to renounce every last vestige of decency and integrity for his sake; if they are not willing, so as to maintain his presidency, to disown the very oath they took to uphold the Constitution. On top of that, Trump by all accounts has raised staggering amounts of money by perpetuating the myth of vast voter fraud – money that he is free to spend in any manner whatsoever. Which is just to say that Trump has proven himself to be a man who believes in nothing, who abides by no principles, except the principle of self-interest.

But setting aside his obvious moral bankruptcy, his readiness to disenfranchise millions of voters, and his cynical and self-serving attack on our democracy, until recently Trump had still not clearly acted unlawfully. Although he clearly has no regard for the rule of law as such, Trump had sidestepped flagrantly breaking the law in his bid to overthrow the legitimate results of a fair election – one deemed “the most secure in American history” by Christopher Krebs, the administration’s most senior cybersecurity official. Of course, Trump fired him not long after he made that statement. And why? For being unwilling to forsake the law, his oath, and his duty in order to protect the president.

But as Trump’s desperation has grown, and the loss of his power becomes imminent, his last psychological impediments to breaking the law are crumbling. The revelation of Trump’s hour-long recorded call with Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Secretary of State, over this past weekend crossed a new line – a line that not only set a high-water mark of moral reprehensibility, but a legal line as well, specifically in his pressuring Raffensperger to “find the 11,780 votes” that would hand Trump the state and his veiled threat (“it’s going to be very costly…”) if Raffensperger failed to comply. If Trump did not break the law outright, if he did not criminally solicit an official to commit election fraud, he certainly came closer to doing so than at any other time since the election. There are, in particular, the provisions of two federal election fraud statutes and one Georgia law that Trump may have violated during the call.

Raffensperger – who has been forced to endure intense pressure, intimidation and threats – has proven himself to be a man of integrity and principle. It may seem odd to suggest that we owe a debt of gratitude to a man for merely doing his job with honesty and to the best of his ability – but these are the dark times in which we live, when simply doing one’s job demands more courage and decency than many of Raffensperger’s Republican colleagues are apparently capable of mustering. But his remarkable example should remind us of something important – that we may profoundly disagree about what is best for the country, but there must be a baseline commitment to truth and integrity for genuine disagreement to even be possible. If I lack that basic commitment, then I am not arguing in good faith – for my real motives are not what I profess them to be; just as Trump’s motives are obviously not what he claims. Trump could not care less about the truth of voter fraud. He has only ever been interested in what will enable him to continue to be president.

In his efforts to compel Raffensperger to break the law, Trump was in effect demanding ‘Choose me, the president, over your country. Choose me over the rule of law and the will of the people. Choose me over the Constitution and this experiment in popular government. Choose me over the most fundamental principles that you live by. Choose me over your self-respect, over your honor and over your own good name. Choose me over the future of this Republic.’

As many as thirteen senators have indicated that they will oppose certifying the votes of the Electoral College, in light of the many “allegations” of voter fraud – never mind that to date not a single meaningful piece of evidence has been offered in support of these allegations. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested that his January 6 vote certifying Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election will be “the most consequential I have ever cast.” McConnell has finally said something with which I could not agree more – as he is acknowledging that Trump is demanding that the GOP overturn the results of an election that he lost, in the electoral college and in the popular vote by as many seven million votes. Republicans are being told to directly and radically undermine our democracy in a manner representing the very antithesis of genuine conservatism.

Dozens of lawmakers have shown themselves willing to acquiesce to Trump, to stand with him and against the Constitution, to stand with him and with the disenfranchisement of millions of Americans – they have chosen Trump over honor, integrity and duty. And history will judge them harshly for it. But history will save its greatest opprobrium for the president, for it is he who was invested with real power and abused it, believing in nothing but the conviction of his own vanity.


Sam Ben-Meir is a professor of philosophy and world religions at Mercy College in New York City.

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Jul 31st 2021
EXTRACT: "If we want to live in a world that is good for pollinators, as well as the rest of us, big changes are needed in our environment, and our food system. This is why many beekeepers change their diet and their shopping, eating more locally grown vegetables that aren’t treated with pesticides. ...... Being willing to buy fruit and vegetables that may have the occasional insect living in it is better for us and for nature. To live more harmoniously with the natural world, we need to relax about larvae in the lettuce and slugs in the spinach."
Jul 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "You’d think our brush with mortality through the pandemic would have brought some of this home to us. You’d think it would give us pause for thought about what really matters to us: the kind of world we want for our children; the kind of society we want to live in. And for many people it has. In a survey carried out during lockdown in the UK, 85% of respondents found something in their changed conditions they felt worth keeping and fewer than 10% wanted a complete return to normal."
Jul 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "English artist Damien Hirst’s latest project, “The Currency”, is an artwork in two forms. Its physical form is 10,000 unique hand-painted A4 sheets covered in colourful dots. In the same way as paper money, each sheet includes a holographic image of Hirst, a signature, a microdot and – in place of a serial number – a small individual message. The second part of the artwork is that each of these hand-painted sheets has a corresponding NFT (non-fungible token). NFTs are digital certificates of ownership which exist on the secure online ledgers that are known as blockchains. ---- The way that “The Currency” works is that collectors will not be buying the physical artwork immediately. Instead, they will pay US$2,000 (£1,458) for the NFT and then have a year to decide whether they want the digital or the physical version. Once the collector selects one, the other will be destroyed. ---- So what is going on here, and what does it tell us about art and money?"
Jul 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "Ellison was an abstract expressionist painter, who, having come to New York City from West Texas in 1962, was as he said “unable to find traction” as a painter. At the same time, he began collecting ceramic objects and educating himself about this field of art as he went along. In 2009 he bestowed on the Metropolitan Museum of Art over 300 extraordinary examples of American ceramics, spanning the years 1876 through 1956. Since then, Ellison has gifted to the Museum over 600 works – including a significant collection of European art pottery in 2013, and most recently over 125 modern and contemporary clay vessels and objects – making the Museum one of the most significant repositories of Art Pottery in the world. ---- The current exhibition presents nearly 80 pieces drawn from Ellison’s latest donation, and it is a thoroughly captivating show; even where (or perhaps especially where) the works are outlandish, bizarre, sometimes almost monstrous, but nonetheless enthralling."
Jul 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Over the course of England’s journey to the Euro 2020 final, one of the most fascinating plays has been happening just off the pitch. Whenever the TV camera cuts to the team’s manager Gareth Southgate, he is occasionally seen standing alone on the edge of the field, urging his team on. ---- But most of the time he is deep in conversation with his assistant Steve Holland. ---- A recent study of English football culture points to a shift away from what the authors term “Beckhamisation”, after the former England captain and Manchester United star player David Beckham – a popular and instantly recognisable symbol of that period of football history (though, it is not suggested the culture was his creation). ---- During the 1990s, the study claims, this “Beckhamisation” saw high octane management practices imported from the corporate world into football. ---- In recent years, this has been replaced by “Southgatism”, a leadership style which that study describes as “modest, self-deprecating, down to earth, diverse and progressive”. "
Jun 30th 2021
EXTRACT: "New York’s Museum of Modern Art is currently presenting an exhibition devoted to an in-depth review of Paul Cézanne’s drawings. If there is any criticism to be made of this extraordinary show, it is that it is frankly overwhelming: with roughly 280 pencil, ink and gouache drawings and watercolors (and even a handful of oil paintings), there is so much to take in that two or three visits to the exhibition may be required to do it justice."
Jun 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "Cognitive flexibility provides us with the ability to see that what we are doing is not leading to success and to make the appropriate changes to achieve it." .... "Flexible thinking is key to creativity – in other words, the ability to think of new ideas, make novel connections between ideas, and make new inventions." .... "The good news is that it seems you can train cognitive flexibility."
Jun 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "Confronting our complex history and ultimately embracing a more equitable, balanced, and humble culture may be a tall order in these fractious times. But that makes it even more imperative that we fully reckon with who we are and who we are capable of becoming."
Jun 11th 2021
EXTARCT: "A further health benefit of hiking is that it’s classed as “green exercise”. This refers to the added health benefit that doing physical activity in nature has on us. Research shows that not only can green exercise decrease blood pressure, it also benefits mental wellbeing by improving mood and reducing depression to a greater extent than exercising indoors can."
Jun 10th 2021
EXTRACT: "“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress,” Mahatma Gandhi said, “can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” If we apply that test to the world as a whole, how much moral progress have we made over the past two millennia? ...... That question is suggested by The Golden Ass, arguably the world’s earliest surviving novel, written around 170 CE, when Emperor Marcus Aurelius ruled the Roman Empire. Apuleius, the author, was an African philosopher and writer, born in what is now the Algerian city of M’Daourouch."
Jun 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "Research we’ve done, which looked at 37 adults with type 2 diabetes, found that over two weeks, prolonged sitting was associated with high blood sugar levels. But we also found that when people stood up or walked around between periods of sitting, they had lower blood sugar levels. Other studies have also had similar results."
May 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "Paul Van Doren's legacy lies in a famous company, and in his advice to young entrepreneurs to get their hands dirty, and to know what goes into making what they are selling."
May 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "May 7th marked three hundred and ten years since the philosopher David Hume was born. He is chiefly remembered as the most original and destructive of the early modern empiricists, following John Locke and George Berkeley." .... " Shocking as it may (and should) sound, Hume is implying nothing less than that the next time you turn the key in your car ignition, you are as justified to expect the engine will start as you are in believing it will turn into a pumpkin. For there is a radical contingency that pervades all our experience. We could wake up tomorrow to a world that looks and behaves very differently to the one we are in now. Matters of fact are dependent on experience and can never be known a priori — they are purely contingent, and could always turn out different than what we expect."
May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: " The sad reality is that the Mizrahim (Jews of Middle Eastern and North African descent) were discriminated against from the day of Israel’s inception, whose Ashkenazi (European Jewish) leaders viewed them as intellectually inferior, “backward,” and “too Arab,” and treated them as such, largely because the Ashkenazim agenda was to maintain their upper-class status while controlling the levers of power, which remain prevalent to this day." ..... " The greatest heartbreaking outcome is that for yet another generation of Israelis, growing up in these debilitating conditions has a direct effect on their cognitive development. A 2015 study published in Nature Neuroscience found that “family income is significantly correlated with children’s brain size…increases in income were associated with the greatest increases in brain surface area among the poorest children.” "
Apr 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "We all owe Farah Nabulsi an enormous debt of gratitude. In a short 24-minute film, The Present, she has exposed the oppressive indecency of the Israeli occupation while telling the deeply moving story of a Palestinian family. What is especially exciting is that after winning awards at a number of international film festivals​, Ms. Nabulsi has been nominated for an Academy Award for this remarkable work of art. " 
Apr 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "When I crashed to the floor of my home in Bordeaux recently after two months of Covid-19 dizziness, I was annoyed. The next day I collapsed again. Now I was worried. What I didn’t know was that my brain was sloshing around inside my skull, causing a mild concussion. Nor did I know that I was in for a whole new world of weird and wonderful hallucinations."
Apr 13th 2021
EXTRACT: "Overall, our review has found that there isn’t evidence to back up the claims that veganism is good for your heart. But that is partly because there are few studies ....... But veganism may have other health benefits. Vegans have been found to have a healthier weight and lower blood glucose levels than those who consume meat and dairy. They are also less likely to develop cancer, high blood pressure and diabetes. "
Apr 8th 2021
EXTRACT: "Pollock’s universe, the universe of Mural, cannot be said to be a rational universe. Nor is it simply devoid of all sense. It is not a purely imaginary world, although in it everything is in a constant state of flux. Mural invokes one of the oldest questions of philosophy, a question going back to the Pre-Socratic philosophers Parmenides and Heraclitus – namely, whether the nature of Reality constitutes unchanging permanence or constant movement and flux. For Pollock, the only thing that is truly unchanging is change itself. The only certainty is that all is uncertain."
Apr 8th 2021
EXTRACT: "Many present day politicians appear to have psychopathic and narcissistic traits too. It’s easy to spot such leaders, because they are always authoritarian, following hardline policies. They try to subvert democracy, to reduce the freedom of the press and clamp down on dissent. They are obsessed with national prestige, and often persecute minority groups. And they are always corrupt and lacking in moral principles."
Apr 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "This has led some to claim that not just half, but perhaps nearly all advertising money is wasted, at least online. There are similar results outside of commerce. One review of field experiments in political campaigning argued “the best estimate of the effects of campaign contact and advertising on Americans’ candidates choices in general elections is zero”. Zero!"