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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Dec 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "Planting more forests is a potent tool for mitigating the climate crisis, but forests are like complex machines with millions of parts. Tree planting can cause ecological damage when carried out poorly, particularly if there is no commitment to diversity of planting. Following Darwin’s thinking, there is growing awareness that the best, healthiest forests are ones with the greatest variety of trees - and trees of various ages."
Nov 19th 2021
EXTRACTS: "At a time when the struggle between authoritarianism and democracy is so intense, if not fateful for the future of democracies, NATO and the EU must warn these countries [Editor's note: Poland and Hungary, EU and NATO, Turkey NATO] that they are on the precipice of being kicked out if they do not change their governing practice. They must be required to restore the principles of democracy by upholding universal human rights and abiding the rule of law, or else they will forfeit their membership and suffer from the consequences of their crimes." ------ "A narcissistic leader, such as Trump, whose hunger for power seems to know no limit, has happily sacrificed the good of the country on the altar of his twisted ego. America’s democracy cannot be repaired unless he and those who helped him are held accountable and face the weight of the law."
Nov 18th 2021
EXTRACT: "Many people who go through intense trauma, for example, become deeper and stronger than they were before. They may even undergo a sudden and radical transformation that makes life more meaningful and fulfilling. Indeed, research shows that between half and one-third of all people experience significant personal development after traumatic events, such as bereavement, serious illness, accidents or divorce. Over time, they may feel a new sense of inner strength and confidence and gratitude for life and other people. They may develop more intimate and authentic relationships and have a wider perspective, with a clear sense of what is important in life and what isn’t. In psychology, this is referred to as “post-traumatic growth”. "
Nov 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Notably, Murdoch thinks that really knowing or understanding another person is a difficult task: “It is a task to come to see the world as it is”. According to the Freudian psychology Murdoch subscribes to in The Sovereignty of Good, humans are prone to “fantasy” – refusing to face the truth because it can damage our fragile egos."
Nov 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "People do not believe false information because they are ignorant. There are many factors at work, but most researchers would agree that the belief in misinformation has little to do with the amount of knowledge a person possesses. Misinformation is a prime example of motivated reasoning. People tend to arrive at the conclusions they want to reach as long as they can construct seemingly reasonable justifications for these outcomes."
Oct 28th 2021
EXTRACTS: "Brood with me on the latest delay of the full release of the records pertaining to the murder of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas on November 22, 1963. That was 58 years ago." -----"Mark my words: ...... No one who remembers 1963 will live to see the US government admit the full truth about Kennedy’s murder. And the American people’s faith in democracy will continue to fade. There is only one way to prevent this, and that is to release every record, withholding nothing – and to do it now."
Oct 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "..... we may defy the warnings of modern medicine, convinced of our own superiority. Researchers at the University of Chicago Divinity School reported half of their participants, all of whom indicated some religious affiliation, agreed with the statement “God will protect me from being infected”. To cope with our dread of death, we delude ourselves into thinking we are invincible: death might happen to other people, but not to me."
Oct 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Wes Anderson’s new film The French Dispatch is about the final issue of a magazine that specialises in long-form articles about the goings-on in the fictional town of Ennui-sur-Blasé. The film is an anthology of shorts representing three of the articles. A piece by the magazine’s art critic (Tilda Swinton) explores the life and late success of the abstract artist Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio Del Toro). Talented from a young age, Rosenthaler pursued art with a dogged determination that drove him to slowly lose his mind." ---- "Like everything else, mental illness is understood within the context of its time. In their study of melancholy and genius Born Under Saturn, the art historians Margot and Rudolf Wittkower show how Renaissance artists embraced mental alienation. This was shown by a withdrawn, slothful gloom. Such heavy sadness was considered both the symptom and the price of divine inspiration." ---- "Today, the association of creativity and mental illness often implies regression from an adult and orderly state of mind to one that is primal, impulsive, or infantile. The artist in Anderson’s film is such an example: he is noisy, impetuous, and extravagantly mad. And it is while he is at his “maddest” that he paints his best work." ---- "Here I explore the work of four painters whose work has been shaped by various mental illnesses, highlighting how the idea of the “mad artist” need not be tied up with a loss of control but rather a bid to gain it."
Oct 21st 2021
EXTRACT: "So much of Succession holds a mirror to real life, and the way that Logan Roy’s hand-picked board members allowed these abuses to continue by turning a blind eye to them is a good example. We have just published research that shows that public companies whose directors are chosen by their CEOs are statistically more likely to be involved in corporate misconduct, along with various other shortcomings. So why does this happen, and what should be done about it? "
Oct 10th 2021
EXTRACT: "Born in Zanzibar in 1948, Gurnah came to Britain in the 1960s as a refugee. Being of Arab origin, he was forced to flee his birthplace during the revolution of 1964 and only returned in 1984 in time to visit his dying father. Until his retirement, he was a full-time professor of English and postcolonial literatures at the University of Kent in Canterbury."
Oct 7th 2021
EXTRACT: "As the 25th James Bond film No Time to Die hits the cinemas, we are once again reminded of the way that disability is depicted negatively in Hollywood films. The new James Bond film features three villains, all of who have facial disfigurements (Blofeld, Safin and Primo). If you take a closer look at James Bond villains throughout history, the majority have facial disfigurements or physical impairments. This is in sharp contrast to the other characters, including James Bond, who are able-bodied and presented with no physical bodily differences. Indeed, many films still rely on outdated disability tropes, including Star Wars and various Disney classics. Rather than simply being part of a character’s identity, the physical difference is exploited and exaggerated to become a plot point and visual metaphor for villains" ----- "The British Film Institute (BFI) was the first organisation to sign up and has committed to stop funding films that feature negative representations depicted through scars or facial differences – a step in the right direction."
Oct 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "The trillions of microbes inside of our gut play many very important roles in our body. Not only does this “microbiome” regulate our metabolism and help us absorb nutrients from food into the body, it can also influence whether we are lean or obese."
Sep 16th 2021
EXTRACTS: "Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurised chamber. In the chamber, the air pressure is increased two to three times higher than normal air pressure. It is commonly used to treat decompression sickness (a condition scuba divers can suffer from), carbon monoxide poisoning,......" ---- "Blood flow to the brain is reduced in people with Alzheimer’s. This study showed increased blood flow to the brain in the mice receiving oxygen therapy, which helps with the clearance of plaques from the brain, and reduces inflammation – a hallmark of Alzheimer’s." ----- "The researchers then used these findings to assess the effectiveness of oxygen therapy in six people over the age of 65 with cognitive decline. They found that 60 sessions of oxygen therapy, over 90 days, increased blood flow in certain areas of the brain and significantly improved the patients’ cognitive abilities – improved memory, attention and information processing speed."
Sep 14th 2021
EXTRACT: "Hollywood for years called on Charles Boyer to typify one French look –  bedroom eyes, sly maneuverings, the dismissive look. A face of another type, the massive mug and narrow eyes of Charles de Gaulle, provides the same disdain of the foreigner but also a superiority based on his belief in his own destiny."
Sep 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "The burden of loneliness for older people is intimately connected to what they are alone with. As we reach the end of our lives, we frequently carry heavy burdens that have accumulated along the way, such as feelings of regret, betrayal and rejection. And the wounds from past relationships can haunt people all their lives."
Sep 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Gardens help restore the ability to concentrate on demanding tasks, providing the perfect space for a break when working from home in a pandemic. Natural things – such as trees, plants and water – are particularly easy on the eye and demand little mental effort to look at. Simply sitting in a garden is therefore relaxing and beneficial to mental wellbeing."
Aug 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "Whether or not a person achieves remission, reducing blood sugar levels is important in managing the negative effects of type 2 diabetes and reducing risk of complications. But when it comes to choosing a diet, the most important thing is to pick one that suits you – one that you’re likely to stick to long term."
Aug 10th 2021
EXTRACT: "In our latest study, we show that by taking the microbiome from young mice and transplanting them into old mice, many of the effects of ageing on learning and memory and immune impairments can be reversed. Using a maze, we showed that this faecal microbiota transplant from young to old mice led to the old mice finding a hidden platform faster."
Aug 3rd 2021
EXTRACT: "Fukuyama argued that political struggle causes history. This struggle tries to solve the problem of thymos – an ancient Greek term referring to our desire to have our worth recognised. This desire can involve wanting to be recognised as equal to others. But it can also involve wanting to be recognised as superior to others. A stable political system needs to accommodate both desires." .... "Counter-dominant spite can weaken liberal democracies. During the 2016 Brexit referendum, some people in the UK voted Leave to spite elites, knowing this could damage the country’s economy. Similarly, during the 2016 US presidential election some voters supported Donald Trump to spite Hillary Clinton, knowing his election could harm the US. "
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."