Absolute Idealism

Big thinkers think big thoughts, and one of those big thinkers was Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel:

Hegel developed a comprehensive philosophical framework, or “system”, of absolute idealism to account in an integrated and developmental way for the relation of mind and nature, the subject and object of knowledge, psychology, the state, history, art, religion, and philosophy. In particular, he developed the concept that mind or spirit manifested itself in a set of contradictions and oppositions that it ultimately integrated and united, without eliminating either pole or reducing one to the other. Examples of such contradictions include those between nature and freedom, and between immanence and transcendence.

All that is usually summed up as thesis-antithesis-synthesis – the world is always working toward opposites slamming into each other to form some final much better thing that incorporates those opposites. In short, intense and deadly conflict is a good thing. That which is in conflict is destroyed and suddenly something new and wonderful rises from the ashes, better than all that petty stuff that people had been fussing and feuding about before. All contradictions are resolved and incorporated into the new and better thing. That happens all the time. That’s how the world makes progress and gets better all the time.

And sometimes that seems like nonsense, particularly in politics. Republicans have their thesis about how the world works and how it should work. Make that plural. They have their theses, and they’ve nailed those to the church door. Democrats offer their antitheses – their way of thinking about such things. The grand synthesis comes next, or should come next, but somehow it never shows up. The nation is too divided now.

Andrew Sullivan recommends this:

I do not recommend reading the new books by Ezra Klein and Christopher Caldwell one after the other. Klein’s Why We’re Polarized and Caldwell’s The Age of Entitlement come from very different perspectives, but convey a near-paralyzing and plausible pessimism. Klein’s is a political-science explanation of our intensifying cultural and political tribalism, and its incompatibility with functional liberal democracy. Caldwell’s is a deeper, wider cultural and constitutional narrative of the last half-century. If Klein is trying to explain why polarization fucks everything up, Caldwell is intent on telling us how this state of affairs came to be.

Sullivan goes on to discuss all that, but there are more practical matters. There will be no political Hegelian synthesis for us, as the New York Times’ Sheryl Gay Stolberg reports here:

For President Trump and Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday night, the State of the Union was hostile.

The mutual snubbing began the moment Mr. Trump walked into the House chamber and continued until he finished speaking, when Ms. Pelosi stood, an expression of vague disgust on her face, and tore up her copy of the speech – in full view of the television cameras, while Mr. Trump had his back turned.

There will be no synthesis here:

The interaction between Mr. Trump and Ms. Pelosi, who had led the drive to impeach him, was one of the most anticipated moments of the president’s appearance at the Capitol, the night before the Senate is expected to acquit him in his impeachment trial. The two had not seen each other since October, when Ms. Pelosi abruptly left a White House meeting after lecturing a scowling Mr. Trump.

The sour dynamic was on display from the start on Tuesday night. When Mr. Trump stepped up to the rostrum and handed her a printed copy of his speech, Ms. Pelosi rose and extended her hand to shake his. Mr. Trump turned his back, and the speaker quickly withdrew her hand, appearing to shrug slightly and raise her eyebrows as if to say, “Well, I tried.”

Then Ms. Pelosi dealt Mr. Trump a slight of her own by omitting the customary laudatory words in her introduction of the president. Normally, she would have said, “I have the high privilege and distinct honor of presenting to you the president of the United States.” Instead, she said simply, “Members of Congress, the president of the United States.”

And that was that:

As Mr. Trump read his speech from the teleprompter, Ms. Pelosi, dressed in white – the color of the suffragists, worn by many of the Democratic women in the chamber – could be seen behind him, paging through his speech. Practiced at maintaining a stone face (she served as House speaker alongside another Republican president, George W. Bush), she kept her lips pursed and her eyes down, mostly remaining seated as Republicans rose to give Mr. Trump one standing ovation after another.

And then there was the speech itself that Peter Baker notes here:

With the November election just nine months away, President Trump used his speech to frame the choice as he sees it, claiming credit for what he called a “Great American Comeback” and revival of American spirit while defining the coming campaign against the Democrats as a battle to stop the rise of socialism in the United States.

Mr. Trump, who decried what he called “American carnage” when he was inaugurated in January 2017, described a different country on Tuesday night, saying the nation is one again making progress at home.

“In just three short years, we have shattered the mentality of American decline and we have rejected the downsizing of America’s destiny. We have totally rejected the downsizing,” he said. “We are moving forward at a pace that was unimaginable just a short time ago and we are never going back.”

The cited his tax cuts, deregulation, renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement and a partial trade agreement with China, while arguing against Democratic plans to expand access to health care.

“To those watching at home tonight, I want you to know: We will never let socialism destroy American health care,” he said.

That must mean an end to Obamacare. That could mean an end to Medicare too. He was echoing Ronald Reagan’s famous 1961 speech warning that Medicare would bring about a socialist dictatorship almost immediately, and America would end. Medicare was established four years later, and when Reagan became president in 1980, he changed his mind. Medicare was just fine. Trump seems to want to reset things to 1961 again, and there was this:

As Mr. Trump was calling for measures to lower the cost of prescription drugs, Democrats jumped to their feet, held up three fingers and chanted, “H.R. 3! H.R. 3!” They were referring to a bill the House passed last year to lower the cost of prescription drugs, which has languished in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Make Mitch McConnell do his damned job! That wasn’t nice, but Trump plowed ahead:

Picking up another favorite theme, Mr. Trump reaffirmed his campaign to restrict the flow of new people into the country, assailing California, New York and other jurisdictions he calls “sanctuary cities” that limit their cooperation with federal immigration authorities. He called for the enactment of legislation that would allow them to be sued by victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants.

“The United States of America should be a sanctuary for law-abiding Americans, not criminal aliens,” he said, introducing a senior Border Patrol official and the brother of a man killed at a gas station.

Those people are STILL all rapists and murderers and drug dealers. Everyone knows that. If somewhere one day somehow you hear a bit of Spanish, run for your life! Or shoot the bastard, or the bitch, or the kid. No, he didn’t say that. He didn’t have to. And there was this:

Ever the showman, Mr. Trump returned to his roots as a reality television star, peppering in flourishes and surprises meant to delight the viewing audience. Some of the moves seemed cribbed straight from daytime television: bringing home a soldier from Afghanistan and reuniting him with his family, awarding a nine-year-old girl with a scholarship, and awarding the conservative radio icon Rush Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom – complete with a ceremony in the First Lady’s box.

Mr. Trump appeared to relish his role as the ringmaster in House Democrats’ own turf, and the antics seemingly thrilled Republicans in the chamber, who cheered Mr. Limbaugh – who was recently diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer – with cries of “Rush! Rush! Rush!”

But some Democrats walked away in disgust.

“It’s like watching professional wrestling,” Representative Tim Ryan of Massachusetts wrote on Twitter. “It’s all fake.”

Of course it is, but it was fun, but it was odd:

Mr. Trump’s appearance in the same House chamber where he was impeached nearly seven weeks ago marked a surreal moment in Washington as he addresses many of the same lawmakers still trying to remove him from office. Despite the fireworks, Mr. Trump all but ignored the battle over the future of his presidency, at least out loud. He told network anchors earlier in the day that he plans to save his thoughts on the matter for a separate speech he wants to give after the final vote on Wednesday, when the Senate is poised to acquit him.

Then he will announce he’s having Pelosi and Schiff and Schumer arrested for treason, or something. He’s big on revenge. But for now, Keven Drum saw only this:

From a partisan Republican point of view, this was a pretty good speech. Trump stayed on script and was focused like a laser on hitting every hot button he could. The economy is booming. Our enemies are on the run. Our trade policy is great again. We’re keeping our borders secure. We’re protecting religious freedom. Etc. There was absolutely nothing conciliatory toward Democrats. Trump wouldn’t even shake Nancy Pelosi’s hand at the beginning. It was a red-meat reelection speech from start to finish.

It was also more showman-like than usual, from giving Rush Limbaugh a Medal of Freedom on live TV to reenacting that old faithful tearjerker, a surprise visit of a soldier to his family. As Jake Tapper said, this was a SOTU from a guy who used to be a reality TV star.

Democrats were stone-faced nearly the entire time. Nancy Pelosi shook her head and rolled her eyes and bit her lip. Chants broke out at one point. At the end Pelosi ripped up Trump’s speech.

That’s about it. It was a fairly standard partisan speech, and I’d say Trump delivered it pretty well. There was no mention of impeachment, apparently because Trump decided it was best not to even remind people about it. And why bother? This speech was aimed at Trump’s base, and it hit its target.

Josh Marshall saw that too:

That was not an easy speech to watch. But as political strategy it was clear cut. It was likely effective for that strategy. The White House sees 2020 as a base election and seems relatively unconcerned with expanding its political coalition. The plan is to electrify his existing coalition and perhaps grab some undecideds with an image of a proud, traditionalist nation surrounded by foes. Guns, Rush Limbaugh, ending the horror of abortion, immigrant murderers – all the touchstones…

That’s boring, but the Washington Post’s Avi Selk saw this:

It was elegant and weird, this bipartisan gathering of two ­parties irreconcilably split over Trump’s fate, come to the Capitol to stand for him and clap for him and listen to his teleprompted musings on the state of the nation. The exterior of the House end of the building happened to be covered in plastic tarp and scaffolding for repairs, lending the affair a sort of quarantine vibe as the members and their guests filed in for the evening…

Democratic members filtered out of the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and wandered the Capitol, waiting for a man many of them loathe. More than half a dozen members of Congress, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), refused to attend. Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) boycotted the speech, too, but still made an appearance at the pre-gathering, striding through the corridors in suffragette white, which many other Democrats also wore, and a naturally bald scalp.

“You are beautiful and amazing,” a man called to her from the top of a stairwell.

Perhaps no one should take this seriously:

None of the three senators running for the Democratic presidential nomination showed up, having jetted back to the campaign trail – though they might be back in Washington on Wednesday, when the Senate is expected to acquit Trump of abuse of office and obstruction. Rep. Ilhan Omar — a Somalia-born Democrat from Minnesota whom Trump said last year should “go back” to where she came from – sat near the back of the chamber as the president’s entourage filed in at 9 p.m.

“My presence tonight is resistance,” she wrote in a tweet before the event.

That would be resistance to this:

Only a few parts of the speech brought the entire room together in applause: when Trump praised an eighth-grade aspiring astronaut, and a 100-year-old Tuskegee Airman. When the president called out the conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh in the balcony, and first lady Melania Trump hung a Medal of Freedom on his neck, an “Oh no!” floated from the Democratic side of the chamber at the same time as a Republican shouted “Thank you, Rush!”

It went like that for more than an hour – lines to thrill Republicans and leave Democrats groaning or clapping limply in their seats.

And then it was over:

Left unmentioned but inferred from the members’ body language, the Democrats’ glares and Republicans’ riotous cheers of “four more years” was the morning after the party – when a large fraction of Trump’s audience would take their seats at the opposite end of the Capitol and weigh judgment on the state of a president.

Pelosi tore up her printed version of the speech as it ended. Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the lead impeachment prosecutor, was one of the last to leave the chamber. He lingered in the empty rows long after the president and his Cabinet and Republican loyalists filed out, reading something on his phone, his mind perhaps on other business.

One blogger noted that whole thing was just odd:

“In reaffirming our heritage as a free nation, we must remember that America has always been a frontier nation,” Trump said. “Now we must embrace the next frontier, America’s manifest destiny in the stars.”

Manifest Destiny, a racially freighted concept, is a bizarre up way to talk about space travel.

Or much of this was nonsense, as Fred Kaplan notes here:

President Trump spent little time on foreign policy in his State of the Union Address Tuesday night, but nearly everything he said on the subject was wrong.

Early on in his speech, Trump said that, as a result of his policies, America is “highly respected again.” In fact, according to the latest international poll released in January by the Pew Research Center, two-thirds of respondents have no confidence in Trump or his policies – lower marks than received by the Russian and Chinese leaders, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. Only among right-wing nationalists in countries like Hungary and Poland have America’s ratings risen since Trump took office – hardly the sign of a beacon of freedom.

Trump said, “The days of our country being used, taken advantage of, even scorned by other nations, are long behind us.” In fact, North Korea continues to enrich uranium, build missiles, and stall arms talks, while Trump believes that Kim Jong-un is his good friend who has signed a “contract” to “denuclearize” his military.

He claimed his tariffs policy against China “has worked,” citing a “groundbreaking treaty with China that protects workers” and intellectual property while pouring “billions” into the U.S. Treasury. In fact, the accord with China was just a phase-one deal that leaves most tariffs in place, including many affecting U.S. firms that rely on Chinese-made goods in their supply chains.

He claimed that nonetheless, “we have perhaps the best relationship with China that we’ve ever had.” This might be news to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who just last week declared that “the Chinese Communist Party presents the central threat of our time.”

And all that adds up:

“Our job,” Trump said, reciting his campaign slogan, “is to put America first.”

This is less profound than he pretends. None of his rival politicians believe in putting America second. Where they differ is with Trump’s concept of “America first,” which has left America alone.

But this man is the president, and Jonathan Chait sees this:

We are living in an era of what political scientists describe as “strong partisanship and weak parties” – or, alternatively, as “negative partisanship.” The electorate is polarized into opposing camps, but their emotional impetus is driven by hostility to the other party rather than trust in their own.

The Republican Party’s solution to this predicament has been to fashion itself as a cult of personality devoted to Donald Trump. The Democratic Party’s solution has been a series of technocratic fixes intended to increase its own legitimacy.

That may have been a mistake:

One of the oddities of the 2016 presidential race is that, while the Republican Party was taken over by an outsider initially viewed as dangerous and unacceptable by its party elite, it was the Democratic Party that concluded its nominating process had failed.

So they tried to fix that in Iowa, and it all fell apart. The only useful thing happened elsewhere:

As Trump claimed that the Second Amendment was “under siege” in his State of the Union address Tuesday night, he was interrupted by a father from Parkland, Florida.

Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter, Jaime, was killed in the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, tweeted before the speech that he was attending as a guest of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He shouted out about “victims of gun violence like my daughter!”

Security escorted Guttenberg out of the House chamber.

That was a reminder that there’s a real world out there, and this father wants to fix that world:

“If you’re on the wrong side of this issue, I’m going to work with every ounce of my fiber to fire you. That’s the bottom line. You don’t deserve to serve.”

So forget Hegel and that thesis-antithesis-synthesis business. One side or the other will win in all of this. His absolute idealism is madness. Nothing is absolute.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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