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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Feb 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "The most politically sensitive option we looked at was the virus escaping from a laboratory. We concluded this was extremely unlikely."
Feb 16th 2021
EXTRACT: ".... these men were completely unaware that they had put their lives in the hands of doctors who not only had no intention of healing them but were committed to observing them until the final autopsy – since it was believed that an autopsy alone could scientifically confirm the study’s findings. As one researcher wrote in a 1933 letter to a colleague, “As I see, we have no further interest in these patients until they die.” ...... The unquestionable ethical failure of Tuskegee is one with which we must grapple, and of which we must never lose sight, lest we allow such moral disasters to repeat themselves. "
Feb 14th 2021
EXTRACT: "In 2010 Carlos Rodriguez, the president of Buenos Aires' Universidad del CEMA, created the world's first - and only - Center for Creativity Economics.  During the next ten years, the CCE presented a number of short courses and seminars.  But the most important of its events was an annual lecture by an Argentine artist, who was given a Creative Career Award."
Feb 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "It’s not hard to see why. Although AI systems outperform humans in tasks that are often associated with a “high level of intelligence” (playing chess, Go, or Jeopardy), they are nowhere close to excelling at tasks that humans can master with little to no training (such as understanding jokes). What we call “common sense” is actually a massive base of tacit knowledge – the cumulative effect of experiencing the world and learning about it since childhood. Coding common-sense knowledge and feeding it into AI systems is an unresolved challenge. Although AI will continue to solve some difficult problems, it is a long way from performing many tasks that children undertake as a matter of course."
Feb 7th 2021
EXTRACT: "When it comes to being fit and healthy, we’re often reminded to aim to walk 10,000 steps per day. This can be a frustrating target to achieve, especially when we’re busy with work and other commitments. Most of us know by now that 10,000 steps is recommended everywhere as a target to achieve – and yet where did this number actually come from?"
Feb 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "This so-called elite supposedly conspires to monopolise academic employment and research grants. Its alleged objective is to deny divine authority, and the ultimate beneficiary and prime mover is Satan.Such beliefs derive from the doctrine of biblical infallibility, long accepted as integral to the faith of numerous evangelical and Baptist churches throughout the world, including the Free Church of Scotland. But I would argue that the present-day creationist movement is a fully fledged conspiracy theory. It meets all the criteria, offering a complete parallel universe with its own organisations and rules of evidence, and claims that the scientific establishment promoting evolution is an arrogant and morally corrupt elite."
Jan 29th 2021
EXTRACT: "Ageing is so far known to be caused by nine biological mechanisms, sometimes called the “hallmarks of ageing”. In order to prevent ageing in our tissues, cells, and molecules, we need to be able to slow or prevent these hallmarks of ageing from taking place. While there are numerous treatments currently being investigated, two approaches currently show the most promise in slowing the development of age-related disease. .... One area researchers are investigating is looking at whether any medicines already exist which could tackle ageing. This method is advantageous in that billions of pounds have already been spent on testing the safety and efficacy of these drugs and they are already in routine clinical use in humans. Two in particular are promising candidates."
Jan 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "The ageing global population is the greatest challenge faced by 21st-century healthcare systems. Even COVID-19 is, in a sense, a disease of ageing. The risk of death from the virus roughly doubles for every nine years of life, a pattern that is almost identical to a host of other illnesses. But why are old people vulnerable to so many different things? It turns out that a major hallmark of the ageing process in many mammals is inflammation. By that, I don’t mean intense local response we typically associate with an infected wound, but a low grade, grinding, inflammatory background noise that grows louder the longer we live. This “inflammaging” has been shown to contribute to the development of atherosclerosis (the buildup of fat in arteries), diabetes, high blood pressure , frailty, cancer and cognitive decline."
Jan 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "Anthropos is Greek for human.... The term is used to convey how, for the first time in history, the Earth is being transformed by one species – homo sapiens. ...... The idea of the Anthropocene can seem overwhelming and can generate anxiety and fear. It can be hard to see past notions of imminent apocalypse or technological salvation. Both, in a sense, are equally paralysing – requiring us to do nothing. .. I consider the Anthropocene as an invitation to think differently about human relationships with nature and other species. Evidence suggests this reorientation is already happening and there are grounds for optimism."
Jan 7th 2021
EXTRACT: "During the second world war, Nazi Germany banned all listening to foreign radio stations. Germans who overlooked their duty to ignore foreign broadcasts faced penalties ranging from imprisonment to execution. The British government imposed no comparable ban which would have been incompatible with the principles for which it had gone to war. That’s not to say, though, that it wasn’t alarmed by the popularity of German stations. Most effective among the Nazis broadcasting to the UK was William Joyce. This Irish-American fascist, known in Britain as “Lord Haw-Haw”, won a large audience during the “phoney war” in 1939 and early 1940, with his trademark call sign delivered in his unmistakable accent: 'Jairmany calling, Jairmany calling'. "
Jan 6th 2021
EXTRACTS: "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. ........ Raffensperger – who has been forced to endure intense pressure, intimidation and threats – has proven himself to be a man of integrity and principle."
Jan 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "A final, perhaps more sinister, possibility is that Johnson knows exactly what he is doing. His political style evokes a unique blend of dishevelled buffoon and privileged Etonian. He is someone who likes to bring good news and doesn’t take life too seriously. Making tough, controversial decisions threatens this persona and so hiding in the shadows until his hand is forced helps him to reconcile his identity threat."
Dec 21st 2020
EXTRACT: "The resultant loss of land, the growing impoverishment of its citizens, and the hostile actions of Israeli occupation forces and settlers have forced many Bethlehemites to leave their beloved city and homeland. Given these accumulated violations of human rights and their impact on Christians and Muslims, alike, one might expect Christians in the West to speak out in defense of these residents of the little town they celebrate each year.  That, sadly, is not to be – most especially (and I might add ironically) among powerful Christian conservative groups in the US which, after all, claim to be the defenders of their co-religionists world-wide."
Dec 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "Worldwide, people donate hundreds of billions of dollars to charity. In the United States alone, charitable donations amounted to about $450 billion last year. As 2020 draws to a close, perhaps you or members of your family are considering giving to charity. But there are, literally, millions of charities. Which should you choose?"
Dec 1st 2020
EXTRACT: " The Museum of Modern Art is currently presenting Félix Fénéon: The Anarchist and the Avant-Garde – From Signac to Matisse and Beyond, examining the immense influence of this art critic, editor, publisher, collector and anarchist............A crucial feature of anarchism is the emphasis on the individual as the fundamental building block, the essential point of departure for any human association whatever. The individual was characterized by Grave in 1899 as a social creature who should be “left free to attach himself according to his tendencies, his affinities, free to seek out those with him whom his liberty and aptitudes can agree.” "
Nov 25th 2020
EXTRACT: "As the pandemic raged in April, churchgoers in Ohio defied warnings not to congregate. Some argued that their religion conferred them immunity from COVID-19. In one memorable CNN clip, a woman insisted she would not catch the virus because she was “covered in Jesus’ blood”. "
Nov 18th 2020
EXTRACT: "Here are just a few ways exercise changes the structure of our brain."
Nov 15th 2020
EXTRACT: "Perhaps it is Piller’s discovery that when it comes to war there is no such thing as innocence...."