It is reported today in the New York Times that President Trump abruptly announced on April 17 that he would be speaking at the West Point graduation ceremony later this spring (link). This was without consultation or discussion with the leadership of the academy, according to the NYT reporting. The cadets had been sent home in March, and the decision to postpone the ceremony had already been announced. Academy leaders had been considering various alternative scenarios for the graduation. The president’s announcement has forced the academy to recall the 1,000 cadets from around the country to participate in the ceremony for the capricious and uncaring pleasure of the president. …

Historical sociologist Ivan Ermakoff’s 2008 book Ruling Oneself Out: A Theory of Collective Abdications is an important contribution to the theory of democracy and authoritarianism. It is a careful analysis of the political circumstances in 1933 and 1940 when pro-constitutional parties in Weimar Germany and republican France supported constitutional legislation that created the dictatorial powers of Chancellor Hitler and Marshal Pétain and extinguished democracy in their own countries. Ermakoff wants to discover the reasons and motivations that led individual and collective political actors to support these abdications, and endorse the seizure of dictatorial power by Hitler and Pétain.

Here is Ermakoff’s description of the scene of the crucial act of abdication that brought the Weimar Republic democracy to an…

Imagine a company out of the dystopian fiction of William Gibson (Neuromancer) or the films of the Matrix series. Think of a company that manages to disrupt and eventually capture the traditional retail businesses built around selling books, appliances, electronic devices, cosmetics, pet food, clothing, and groceries. Turn your mind to a company that is looking to put shipping companies like FedEx and UPS into a second tier, destined for a much smaller future.

Now think of a company that has undertaken to create a wired world of electronic awareness and surveillance, from your home to your neighborhood to your city. It is in the name of convenience, but a possibly sinister future is created based on these same tools. …

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The government of Israel has announced that it will not permit US Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib to visit Israel next week. This follows Donald Trump’s Twitter campaign urging the Israeli government to deny entry to Omar and Tlaib.

Let’s take note of how genuinely outrageous this step is, and the fundamental disrespect it demonstrates to the elected government of the United States by both our president and the Israeli government. Both women are duly elected Representatives of their districts. …

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Today’s Washington Post (7/27/19; link) makes explicit what has been evident for a very long time: Donald Trump is deliberately and perniciously using racist attacks on various individuals (including especially members of Congress Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, Elijah Cummings, etc.) as a deliberate political strategy to engage his base. He and his staff, according to the Post article, have decided that “Send her back” is good politics.

But Trump’s advisers had concluded after the previous tweets that the overall message sent by such attacks is good for the president among his political base — resonating strongly with the white working-class voters he needs to win reelection in 2020.

The president of the United States has demonstrated many of the qualities of a third world tyrant — impulsiveness, personal vendettas, and a willingness to use the power of his office against his enemies. His unhinged attacks on Andrew McCabe, apparently leading to McCabe’s dismissal, and Trump’s current attacks on Amazon, leading to an abrupt fall in that company’s stock price, are only the most recent egregious examples of this personalized and vindictive use of power. In each case the president appears to be motivated by his personal anger and resentment directed against the target.

No person with formal political power has the right to use that power to further his or her own personal likes and dislikes regarding specific individuals or organizations. These are the actions of a bully; more importantly, they are the actions of an individual who is indifferent to the obligations of office. For it is a fundamental obligation of office to treat all individuals equally, and to take actions that are sanctioned by law and are motivated by concern for the public good. And the public includes all of us, not only those who are personally favored by the president. …

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How many hundreds of millions of Americans will be harmed because of Donald Trump’s reckless, petulant, and unreasoned abrogation of the United States’ commitment to the Paris climate accord today? How many billions of human beings are harmed worldwide? The answers are perfectly clear if you have the slightest regard for a scientific understanding of the world and the best thinking of researchers and policy experts throughout the world. This is an atrocious decision. The Paris accord is our last best hope to slow down and mitigate the effects of human-caused climate change.

And unhappily, the consequences of today’s action will be severe and long enduring. The first people who will suffer will be poor people throughout the United States and the world. Bangladeshis, pictured above, are already experiencing the human costs of sea-level rise. But eventually all of us will suffer dramatically because of today’s decision and other environmental policy actions already taken by the Trump adminstration. …

An assault against democracy

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Donald Trump declares that the press is not just his personal enemy – it is the enemy of the American people. And his chief of staff chimes in – take the President seriously when he says this.

Priebus is right. We must take these words seriously, because this statement and the underlying attitude it expresses are fundamentally antagonistic to one of the bulwarks of American democracy. Our Constitution guarantees our freedom of speech and freedom of the press. President Trump seems to respect neither.

The President seeks to intimidate and discredit the press. For the good of our country, let us hope urgently that our news men and women will continue to show the independence and courage they have shown in challenging times in our past. …

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What is needed for a community of diverse people and groups to maintain its resilience in the face of hateful attacks?

This question is particularly important for universities, which commonly seek to create a climate of welcome and respect for the various groups of students who make them up, and which are sometimes subjected to anonymous hateful attacks through graffiti, email, social media, Yik Yak, or other means. University communities have recently been thrown into harmful situations of fear, mistrust, and anxiety by hateful attacks — even when no physical threats of violence have emerged.

Hateful and racist attacks like these are deeply destructive to the cohesiveness of a community for several reasons. They undermine trust across groups — “do those other people think this way about me?”. They harden the separations that sometimes begin to emerge across groups. They may lead to a cycle of “tit for tat” hostilities, which have the inherent possibility of escalation. And possibly they reinforce and amplify the latent hateful assumptions of some people to a more virulent and expressive form. …


Daniel Little

Philosophy of social science; social and racial justice in the United States; China; higher education. Blogs at

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