Saturday, August 20, 2016

Things People Blame the Jews For, Volume XXX: Sadiq Khan Endorsing Owen Smith

Sadiq Khan is the Mayor of London, the first Muslim to be elected mayor of a major Western city. Khan is also a member of the UK's Labour Party, which at the moment is embroiled in a major anti-Semitism problem many lay at the feet of its leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn is unpopular with the general public, but his numbers among Jews are especially abysmal -- approaching Trump-among-Latinos depths. But Khan is relatively well liked by his Jewish constituents (London is a major center of the UK Jewish community). His campaign for mayor was characterized by an impressive level of outreach to the Jewish community, and following his election he has walked the walk. Khan is proof that Jews are perfectly happy to vote Labour if Labour offers a choice that incorporates them as part of Britain's multicultural tapestry and offers them respect and solidarity. The problem with Labour is that Corbyn-style Labour is not making that offering.

In any event, Corbyn is currently being challenged for his post as head of Labour by another MP, Owen Smith. And Khan has just come out hard for Smith, though his focus was not on the issue of anti-Semitism but on Corbyn's general lack of leadership, particularly on the "Brexit" vote. All of that information is background for this:

Five minutes. That didn't take long at all (the photo, incidentally, is genuine -- Khan really did eat Matzah at a Passover event during his campaign).

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Post-Contemporary Roundup

Yesterday, I had my first Ph.D subfield exam (in contemporary political theory). It was a delightful smorgasbord of Rawls, Walzer, Rorty, Anderson, and Landesmore; thus (hopefully) proving I am a smart young man who knows things about contemporary political theory.

As one can imagine, this has been taking up much of my time (well beyond the six hours I spent taking the actual test). But now it's over, and I can enjoy my ... one week before the Fall Term begins! Anyway, here are some links that have been cluttering my browser over the past few days.

* * *

Glenn Beck has some surprisingly thoughtful and introspective remarks on Black Lives Matter. Good for him.

MEMRI says there has been a recent streak of articles in the Saudi press urging its readers to renounce and reject anti-Semitism. Sea change, or drop in the bucket? Who knows.

"For Israel, It’s No Jew Left Behind — Unless You’re Ethiopian".

Jeremy Corbyn must find it baffling how his friends mysterious keep on saying things to Jews like "F**k him, they should cut his throat."

Department of Justice to phase out the use of private prisons. Good news, though my suspicion (possibly unfounded) is that most private prison contracts are with the states, not the federal government.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Complicated Problems are Still Problems

When I teach a unit on controversial topics, I sometimes begin by making an observation about "hard" and "easy" problems. Many of us have a tendency to convert hard problems into easy ones. This can be a great skill at times, particularly for lawyers -- distilling a complex and multifaceted mess of a fact pattern into a simple set of issues that straight-forwardly demand victory for one's clients. As thinkers, though, it is a more problematic instinct. For example, I've argued that there is a peculiar left-right convergence -- some of the time -- regarding how they talk about issues of racism. Some persons on the left think racism is a simple matter, in the sense that once we've identified something as racist that's all we need to know on the matter. And some persons on the right will agree with that sentiment, but proceed to argue that since such-and-such case is not simple but rather quite complex and complicated, it therefore can't be racist (since racism is, by stipulation, something that is straight-forwardly wrong). These two views converge to box out what seems to me the far more plausible reality: racism being often a matter of great complexity and moral difficulty, an appraisal which in no way diminishes the seriousness or gravity of racism as a wrong. Complicated problems are still problems.

Having told this parable, I continue to tell my students that the instinct to make hard cases easy ones is troublesome for at least two reasons. The first one is perhaps obvious: when we do it, we almost always act to exclude morally relevant considerations that should be factoring into our analysis; nuances and wrinkles that make the case a hard case and so are written out. But there's a more subtle problem as well: When we make hard cases easy, we condition ourselves to think that only easy cases are solvable cases -- that hardness is a synonym for "intractable" or (worse) "apolitical". Sometimes this leads to a sort of quiescence around hardness (as in the case of the conservative who thinks observing the complexity of racial injustice is a sufficient response to claims of racism). Other times it leads to a suspicion of hardness (as in the leftist who thinks observing the complexity of racial injustice represents a failure to take it seriously). Either way, it is a path that leads nowhere, and so I conclude by telling my students to "lean into the hardness." 

All of this came to mind when reading the penultimate paragraph of Daniel May's contribution to the MBL/Jewish flare-up, which discusses the issue of "complexity" and credibility. May offers up a list of some of the more egregious instances of Israeli injustices and then derides those who claim "that such realities must be understood in 'context,' as 'complicated,' or a tragic consequence of 'ha'matzav' (“the situation,” as Israelis call it)." 

May is articulating a real wrong here -- the conservative voice in my parable who thinks he has responded to an allegation of injustice by asserting "it's complicated." Yet there is the question of how we frame our retort. The shortfall of the conservative reply is not that the problem isn't a complicated one. The shortfall is that complicated problems are still problems. It is absolutely true that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is bound up in all sorts of immensely difficult nets and traps which defy simple solutions or easy finger points. None of that removes the fundamental injustices that exist where an entire population is deprived of the basic democratic entitlements to vote for the sovereign authority controlling their lives, where racist incitement against Palestinians continues to surge, where "price tag" attacks by Jewish terrorists occur with near-impunity, where a military occupation persists indefinitely while insulated from any accountability to the people in its cross-hairs. And those fundamental injustices, in turn, don't flatten or dissipate the complexity of "the situation" that produces them. We deal with hard problems by tackling them in all their difficulty and complexity.

There's a reason why I think the most powerful sentence in Stacey Aviva Flint's superb reflection on the Movement for Black Lives platform is also its shortest: "I choose discomfort". The issues posed by police violence targeting people of color, or Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories, or the dispossession of ancient Jewish communities in the Christian and Muslim worlds, or continued vulnerability of Arab and Muslim communities to state-sponsored and individual acts of violence, or systematic racism, or ongoing global anti-Semitism, are not easy, comfortable issues. They are not morality plays and we are not blessed with simple and straightforward choices. Crafting a just social sphere is hard, complicated, complex business. That observation is part of the work; it's not an excuse to refrain from it.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

It Is Not The Job of Democrats To Babysit Republicans

Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for President. This has caused a giant crisis of confidence among Republicans who are committed to denying that Trump represents the Party which voted, by overwhelming margins, for him to be their standard-bearer (as Scott Lemieux observes, the best part of this narrative is when it claims that folks like John McCain and Lindsey Graham are "leading Republicans", as opposed to, say, Donald Trump). And that has created a small cottage industry of figuring out how to blame Democrats for Trump's rise. They cried wolf, Jonah Goldberg wails! Indeed they did, says David Graham. How could Republicans take the charge that Trump was a sui generis threat to American's democratic character, when Democrats always are calling Republican politicians terrible, horrible, no good very bad candidates for higher office?

If this complaint strikes you as pathetic, that's because it is. Obviously, Democrats are generally not going to like Republican nominees for higher office (if we did, either we'd be Republicans or they'd be Democrats). Republicans are responsible for their own nominee, if their nominee reflects poorly upon them, that says nothing more than that they are who we thought they were.

But the real question is why Republicans are supposedly entitled to rely on Democrats to keep them in check? We are not their keeper, after all. Why didn't their own self-generated political principles put the breaks on Trump? The answer seems to be that Republicans at this point, by their own admission, lack any self-generated political principles. As one commentator astutely put it at the end of Obama's first term: "[T]oday’s conservatism is the opposite of what liberals want today: updated daily." The entire conservative movement today is one large exercise in ressentiment against urban coastal multicultural liberal elites, entirely reactive, creating nothing of its own. Of course it relied on Democrats to behave in such a way as to not "create a Trump"; Democrats -- indirectly -- create everything the contemporary Republican Party "stands" for.

Theirs is, as Nietzsche would put it, a Party beset by sickness. And while it's not the case that only a Party that sick could produce a Trump, it is the case that only a Party that sick could blame its opposition for forcing them into it.