All posts by spdonlan

‘Prepare for Departure’: Untruth, Injustice, and the American Way

6 September 2017 – Washington: 

The Trump administration announced Tuesday that it was ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The program was initiated in 2012 by President Obama after extended congressional inaction on immigration. It has protected nearly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children from deportation and offered them the ability to work and study in the US.Superman.jpg

In his announcement, Attorney General Jeff Sessions sought to justify the decision by peddling the “alternative facts” of the Trump campagin and administration. The worst of these were false claims about criminal behavior perpetuated by DACA “Dreamers” and about their effect on the American economy. Like fellow immigrants, the “Dreamers” commit fewer crimes than other Americans and are easily a net benefit to the economy.

The result of these lies is considerable injustice towards our DACA neighbors. Indeed, the President’s decision is widely understood to be rooted in some deplorable combination of racism and a vulgar political appeal to the racists in his base. That this is true is hardly surprising.

The President’s DACA announcement comes less than a month after his equivocation in the face of neo-Nazi and white supremacist triumphalism that lead to the death of Heather Heyer (32). The adminstration’s announcement also comes only a week after the President’s premature pardon of Joe Arpaio. In fact, the former Sheriff was convicted of criminal contempt for disobeying a federal judge’s order on detaining individuals suspected of being in the U.S. illegally. That fact makes Trump’s DACA decision especially cruel.HeatherHeyer.jpg

A majority of Americans support DACA and oppose the Arpaio pardon.

Despite this, a White House “talking points” memo urged DACA recipients to prepare for “departure,” a much starker future than administration officials suggested in announcing an end to the program. The memo reads:

The Department of Homeland Security urges DACA recipients to use the time remaining on their work authorizations to prepare for and arrange their departure from the United States — including proactively seeking travel documentation — or to apply for other immigration benefits for which they may be eligible.

The decision is likely to affect a wide variety of individuals for whom the United States is the only home they’ve ever known. This includes Superman, who is understood to have arrived in the country illegally as a child. Despite fighting his whole life for ‘truth, justice, and the American way’ and the destruction of the planet of his birth, the superhero is widely expected to be deported. Sources suggested that Russia has offered to take him.Hero

And if Superman leaves, he won’t be the only DACA hero to be lost. Alonso Guillen (31), a Mexican-born DACA ‘Dreamer’ died attempting to rescue Harvey flood victims in Houston. His mother was refused a humanitarian visa to visit the U.S. to see her son’s body. That’s the current truth about injustice and the American way.

(this account is based on the original story that appeared here)

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Law and/in Film (2015)

I was fortunate to teach a class on Law And/In Film at the School of Law of the University of Limerick in the Spring of 2015. For those interested in such things, the syllabus and filmography are available. The latter is included below as well.

As will be obvious, my interest includes both legal and social norms, including civic virtue, honor, vigilantism, etc. I haven’t updated the materials since our move to the South Pacific, but let me know if you’ve any additional suggestions.

Adam’s Rib/ Ally McBeal/ Anatomy of a Murder/ And Justice for All …/ Antigone/ Armistad/ Arrest and Trial/ A Time to Kill/ Awāra/ Bandini/ Beckett/ Beyond the Law/ Blade Runner/ Bloody Sunday/ Boston Legal/ Breaker Morant/ Breathless/ The Caine Mutiny/ Character/ A Civil Action/ Coup de torchon/ Courtroom on Horseback/ Crime and Punishment/ The Crucible/ A Cry in the Dark/ Curb Your Enthusiasm/ Damages/ Dead Man Walking/ Death Wish/ The Defenders/ The Devil’s Advocate/ Dingaka/ Dirty Harry/ District 9/ Divorzio all’Italiana/ Do Ustad/ The Duellists/ Erin Brockovich/ Evelyn/ A Few Good Men/ The Field/ The Firm/ First Monday in October/ Frozen River/ Gandhi/ Gideon’s Trumpet/ Il giorno della civetta/ The Gods must be Crazy/ The Good Wife/ Green Zone/ Harper/ Hill Street Blues/ The Hour of the Pig (The Advocate)/ The Hurricane/ Ich klagean/ Inherit the Wind/ The Informant/ The Insider/ In nome della legge/ In the Bedroom/ In the Name of the Father/ I’ve Loved You so Long/ JAG/ Judge/ The Judge and the Assassin/ Judgement in Berlin/ Judgment at Nuremburg/ Judging Amy/ The Jury/ Justice est faite/ Kramer vs Kramer/ L627/ LA Confidential/ LA Law/ The Last Wave/ Law and Order (UK)/ Law and Order (US)/ Law and Order: Trial by Jury/ Das Leben der Andersen/ Legally Blonde/ Let Him have It/ Life on Mars/ Lord of the Flies/ Madeleine/ The Magdalene Sisters/ A Man for All Seasons/ The Man who Shot Liberty Valence/ Matlock/ A Matter of Life and Death (Stairway to Heaven)/ The Merchant of Venice/ Michael Clayton/ Midnight Express/ Milk/ Minority Report/ Monster’s Ball/ Murphy’s Law/ Music Box/ My Cousin Vinny/ My Darling Clementine/ The Name of the Rose/ Night Court/ North Country/ Nuremberg/ One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest/ The Ox-Bow Incident/ The Paper Chase/ The Paper Chase (TV)/ Paths of Glory/ The People vs Larry Flynt/ Perry Mason/ Persepolis/ Philadelphia/ A Place in the Sun/ The Planet of the Apes/ The Practice/ Presumed Innocent/ Procès de Jeanne d’Arc/ The Rainmaker/ Rasohmon/ A Reasonable Man/ The Red Corner/ Le retour de Martin Guerre/ Roe vs Wade/ Rumpole of the Bailey/ Runaway Jury/ Sacco e Vanzetti/ Salt of the Earth/ El secreto de sus ojos/ Sedotta e Abbandonata/ Seinfeld/ Selma/ A Separation/ Seven Samurai/ La siciliana ribelle/ The Social Network/ Spiral (Engrenages)/ The Star Chamber/ The Story of Qiu Ju/ Lo Straniero/ Sturm/ Thelma and Louise/ To Kill a Mockingbird/ Touch of Evil/ The Trial/ 12/ Twelve Angry Men/ Under Suspicion/ Veer-Zaara/ Vendetta/ Vera Drake/ The Verdict/ V for Vendetta/ Walking Tall/ The Winslow Boy/ The Wire/ Witness for the Prosecution/ The Wrong Man/ Young Mr Lincoln

STRONGER TOGETHER? MARK LILLA, IDENTITY, AND POLITICS

Published in The Moderate Voice here on 30 August 2017.

The identity liberals’ approach to fishing is to remain on shore, yelling at the fish about the historical wrongs visited on them by the sea, and the need for aquatic life to renounce its privilege. All in the hope that the fish will collectively confess their sins and swim to shore to be netted. If that is your approach to fishing, you had better become a vegan.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, Mark Lilla published an essay on ‘The End of Identity Liberalism’. That piece proved popular, though it was more criticized than celebrated, at least among fellow liberals. The Once and Future Liberal extends his critique, if only ever-so-slightly. The work is telling and timely. But its diagnosis is hardly new and, in the end, Lilla’s prognosis is as thin as the book itself.

Lilla asks why those who’d ‘claim to speak for the great American demos [are] so indifferent to stirring its feelings and gaining its trust?’ His answer is an identity politics that ‘engages with the world and particularly politics with the limited aim of understanding and affirming what one already is.’ The resulting, inward focus on the personal and unique – race, gender, sexual orientation, etc – allows for group affiliation with those similarly situated. But this depth comes at the expense of breadth. In this sense, identity politics arguably undermines a broader rhetoric and politics of shared experiences and common goods.

If this obsession with identity is especially evident on college campuses like Lilla’s own, he notes its impact far beyond, not least in the hysterical weeping and gnashing of teeth that it inspires on the Right. Indeed, the liberal flight to identity and difference accelerated a parallel development among conservative nationalists (assisted, no doubt, by the election of the country’s first black president). The result is that many White Americans now see themselves as our nation’s real victims.

The first part of The Once and Future Liberal provides Lilla’s genealogy of our present predicament. He suggests that

American political history over the past century can usefully be divided into two “dispensations,” to invoke the Christian theological term. The first, the Roosevelt Dispensation, stretched from the era of the New Deal to the era of the civil rights movement and the Great Society in the 1960s, and then exhausted itself in the 1970s. The second, the Reagan Dispensation, began in 1980 and is now being brought to a close by an opportunistic, unprincipled populist.

Each of these ‘brought with it an inspiring image of America’s destiny and a distinctive catechism of doctrines that set the terms of political debate.’ Each was broad-based and joined together large sections of the country to effect political change. And each was rooted in specific circumstances that made them possible.

The current dispensations, if any, are unclear. But Lilla rightly notes just how dire the present political situation is for Democrats. Among other influences, the fixation on presidential politics – its ‘daddy issue’ – distracts from local and state races that govern much of our lives and that function as nurseries for national leaders. Republicans dominate across much of the nation, a legacy of President Obama rather than candidate Clinton. And Lilla expresses his frustration with ‘noble defeats’, urging a more practical electoral politics. Compromise in real contexts, he notes, is essential to sustainable political successes. Sadly, liberals have ‘lost the habit of taking the temperature of public opinion, building consensus, and taking small steps.’

While religion is rarely mentioned explicitly in the book, its imagery is everywhere. If, for example, progressives prefer to preach rather than to persuade:

Elections are not prayer meetings, and no one is interested in your personal testimony. They are not therapy sessions or occasions to obtain recognition. They are not seminars or “teaching moments.” They are not about exposing degenerates and running them out of town. If you want to save America’s soul, consider becoming a minister. If you want to force people to confess their sins and convert, don a white robe and head to the River Jordan. If you are determined to bring the Last Judgment down on the United States of America, become a god. But if you want to win the country back from the right, and bring about lasting change for the people you care about, it’s time to descend from the pulpit.

Both evangelism and movement politics, Lilla writes, are ‘about speaking truth to power.’ But ‘[p]olitics is about seizing power to defend the truth.’ For better or worse, real political change in the American context requires focussing on the specific needs and norms of actual communities and, if necessary, grinding out political victories.

Much of what Lilla suggests echoes communitarian critics of the last generation. Largely identifying with the Left, they challenged what they saw as the hyper-individualistic rhetoric and ontology of both economic and social liberalism. They insisted then, as Lilla does now, on the importance of the common good. They criticized the Left’s failure to emphasize social responsibilities as well as individual rights. They saw a dependence on American courts to right wrongs, rather than its legislatures, to be dangerously short-sighted.

There are some important differences, too. Rawlsian liberalism could be attacked as trading on a naive view of individuals as “unencumbered selves”. The contemporary identity liberalism that Lilla assails suggests a self so encumbered by uniqueness as to inhibit its empathy with others, not least those with whom you disagree politically. These liberals have little interest or faith in stirring the feelings or gaining the trust of the great unwashed of the American demos.

The Once and Future Liberal is a valuable critique of what is, and perhaps what once was. But Lilla’s liberalism is too lean for the future. His sense of citizenship, his liberal virtues of solidarity and equality before the law, are almost entirely empty of content. In the end, Lilla offers too little with which liberals might escape their present identity crisis.

A Quick Take – Mark Lilla, Identity, and Politics

(The final review appears in The Moderate Voice here.)

Mark Lilla, The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics (2017)

Essentially an extended essay, Mark Lilla’s slim The Once and Future Liberal continues his earlier assualt – in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s victory last November – on identity politics. In his view, this approach to politics prioritises one’s uniqueness – race, gender, sexual orientation – over broader, shared experiences and common goods. Lilla instead champions a more hard-headed focus on practical electoral politics, one in which coalitions and compromise are necessary, but that results in broader and more-sustaining political successes.

The book is better in its analysis than its prognosis. There’s little question but that the dire situation of Democratic Party at state and local levels – the legacy of President Obama not candidate Clinton – is of far greater importance than the latest fleeting standard-bearer for 2020. And if identity politics is especially evident on college campuses like Lilla’s own, its impact extends far beyond those institutions, not least in the exaggerated weeping and gnashing of teeth such movements can expect from Fox News. It’s hardly surprising, too, that a progressive politics that focuses on identity would generate a Right-wing response, one in which White Americans believe themselves to be our nations’s real victims.

But Lilla says little that wasn’t expressed both more broadly and deeply a generation ago. Then, communitarian critics challenged economic and social liberalism as hyper-individualistic in both its rhetoric and ontology. They insisted that the Left, with which most identified, must talk about both rights and responsibilities. For many, it was obvious that it should do so in the dominant languages of social life, including a rich religious repetoire. There are distant echoes in this little book of, for example, Amiati Etzioni, Michael Sandel, Charles Taylor, and Michael Walzer. But Lilla’s sense of citizenship is still thinner than theirs. Like the comforting language of community, his talk of the virtues of solidarity and equality before the law is nice, but nebulous.

The significance of Lilla’s observations is also blunted by his failure to engage with his rivals. For decades, many progressives have convinced themselves, against all elecoral evidence, that economic populism is sufficiently thick to return the Democratic Party to the heights of the last century. In this odd account of populism, the Clintonism of the 1990s didn’t save the country from the Reaganism of the 1980s, but merely perpetuated a neo-liberalism foisted on the country by its politicians. This top-down theory is curiously married to a neo-Marxism that sees Republicans as voting, through ignorant false consciousness, against their economic self-interest.

Perhaps Lilla hopes that his own lean liberalism can be fused to this thin theory of the economic populists. But it’s far closer to a cultural – and perhaps more genuinely populist – reading of American politics. Here, political leaders work to direct the people’s principles and passions. But then can only ride the waves, they can’t part the sea, no matter high-minded and soaring their language may be. And while these cultural critics may agree that economic conservativism is destructive of almost everything the Rust Belt values, they nevertheless recognise that voters can also make relatively rational Bible Belt decisions rooted in what they might see as their social self-interest.

Readers will almost certainly see the author’s nod to this cultural critique. As a result, The Once and Future Liberal is more likely to appeal to the moderates and centrists than to those further Left. But like me, they might wonder whether Lilla’s vision is as fuzzy as he presents it or if he ultimately lacks the courage of his convictions.

(Anyway, that’s my quick take. I’ll fix it up later. Off to bed.)

Going South: A Future Project on the Past

In The Southern Tradition (1994), Eugene D Genovese – a New Yorker – traced a regional conservativism critical of capitalism. Central to this was ‘opposition to finance capitalism and, more broadly, the attempt to substitute the market for society itself (98)’. This essentially Christian Democratic tradition was a defence not so much of States’ Rights, but communitarian agrarianism. It represented:

opposition to the radical individualism that is today sweeping America; support for broad property ownership and a market economy subject to socially determined moral restraints; adherence to a Christian individualism that condemns personal license and demands submission to a moral consensus rooted in elementary piety; and an insistence that every people must develop its own genius, based on its special history, and must reject siren calls to an internationalism – or rather, a cosmopolitianism – that would eradicate local and national cultures and standards of personal conduct by reducing morals and all else to commodities (98).

Meaningfully hostile to industrialism, the Southern tradition was simultaneously an apologetics for economic stasis, entangled in anti-intellectual religious fundamentalism, and silent towards Jim Crow. And it was always more romantic than realistic.

 

Warren.jpgGenovese’s work was ultimately little less polemical than the definitive Agrarian manifesto: I’ll Take My Stand (1930). But a more historically grounded and less romantic investigation of this Southern tradition  is possible. Its critique might even prove of some value in our current context.

Gloom, Despair, and Agony on Me (2016)

Written quickly after the election last November

The original song is here (among other places)

 

Gloom, despair, and agony on me

Deep dark depression, excessive misery

If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all

Gloom, despair, and agony on me

 

Racism, xenophobia, gross misogyny

Twitter rants and hateful policies

Trump’s deplorable, but that didn’t stop y’all

Racism, xenophobia, gross misogyny

 

Gloom, despair, and agony on me

Deep dark depression, excessive misery

If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all

Gloom, despair, and agony on me

 

Tiny hands, short fingers, gross vulgarity

Lies and a narcissistic personality

Trump’s deplorable, but that didn’t stop y’all

Tiny hands, short fingers, gross vulgarity

 

Gloom, despair, and agony on me

Deep dark depression, excessive misery

If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all

Gloom, despair, and agony on me

 

Fred Trump Statement on the Bombing in Selma

16 September 1963 – New York City:

Thank you very much.

As you know, this was a small press conference, but a very important one. And it was scheduled to talk about the great things that we’re doing with black tenants here in New York.

And we will talk about that very much so in a little while. But I thought I should put out a comment as to what’s going on in Selma.

They’re great people. Great people.

But we’re closely following the terrible events unfolding there. We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.

It’s been going on for a long time in our country.

What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives. No citizen should ever fear for their safety and security in our society. And no child should ever be afraid to go outside and play or be with their parents and have a good time.

I just got off the phone with the governor of Alabama, George Wallace, and we agree that the hate and the division must stop, and must stop right now.

We have so many incredible things happening in our country, so when I watch Selma, to me it’s very, very sad. I want to salute the great work of the state and local police in Alabama. Incredible people.

We love our flag. We’re proud of our country. We’re proud of who we are, so we want to get the situation straightened out in Selma, and we want to study it. And we want to see what we’re doing wrong as a country where things like this can happen.

(the real transcript of yesterday’s conference is here)