Thursday, February 20, 2020

Trump and Political Philosophy (5): Aristotle on Trump's Claim to be the "Voice of the People"

As is true for all populist rhetoric, Donald Trump claims to speak for the People against the Elites, who want to exploit the People.  This might sound like the rhetoric of popular leaders in the ancient Greek cities, who spoke in defense of the great multitude of the common people who struggled against the inclination of the rich oligarchs to exploit the poor.  Aristotle described this as the primary source of factional conflict in a political community.  Some political scientists--for example, Ken Masugi and Carson Holloway in their contributions to Trump and Political Philosophy--have contended that Aristotle's analysis can explain, and perhaps even justify, Trump's populist rhetoric.  But others--such as Leslie Rubin in Trump and Political Philosophy and Harvey Mansfield--have argued that Aristotle would identify Trump as a factious demagogue who uses vulgar rhetoric to deceive the people, as he seeks not the good of the people but the satisfaction of his appetites for fame, wealth, and power.


Trump's claim that he and he alone is the voice of the People was loudly declared in his speech to the Republican National Convention, July 21, 2016, and in his Inaugural Address, January 20, 2017.

In his convention speech, he identified himself as an oligarch who had decided to lead the people against the oligarchs.  "I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people that cannot defend themselves," he insisted.  "Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it."

He explained: "I have visited the laid-off factory workers, and the communities crushed by our horrible and unfair trade deals.  These are the forgotten men and women of our country.  And they are forgotten, but they're not going to be forgotten long.  People who work hard but no longer have a voice.  I am your voice."

He ended his convention speech by emphatically repeating his declaration that he alone was the voice of the People, in contrast to Hillary Clinton, who arrogantly demanded subservience to herself.
"My opponent asks her supporters to recite a three-word loyalty pledge.  It reads: 'I'm With Her.'  I choose to recite a different pledge."
"My pledge reads: 'I'm with you--the American People.'"
"I am your voice."
"So to every parent who dreams for their child, and every child who dreams for their future, I say these words to you tonight: I'm With You, and I will fight for you, and I will win for you."
In his Inaugural Speech, Trump began by setting up the opposition between the Elites and the People:
"Today's ceremony, however, has very special meaning.  Because today we are not merely transferring power from one Administration to another, or from one party to another--but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People."
"For too long, a small group in our nation's Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost."
"Washington flourished--but the people did not share in its wealth."
"Politicians prospered--but the jobs left, and the factories closed."
"The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country."
"Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation's Capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land."
In most of the speech, he presented a conflict between "they" and "we" or "you."  But in one sentence in the middle of the speech, he switched from "we" to "I"--"I will fight for you with every breath in my body--and I will never, ever let you down."

Applying Aristotle's account of the factional conflict between the people and the oligarchs to Trump's populist rhetoric raises lots of questions.  The first question might be whether the differences between American politics and the Greek polis are too great to allow for any reasonable comparative study.


Here is Holloway's summary of his paper:
"In many obvious ways, America is a vastly different kind of community from the ancient Greek polis that was the object of Aristotle's inquiry.  Nevertheless, if we examine the 2016 presidential election in light of Aristotle's account of faction, we find that the basic facts of human nature have not changed in any decisive way.  Trump's rise was fueled by recognizable contemporary versions of the very resentments and grievances that Aristotle warned, more than two thousand years ago, cause conflict in a political community: a desire for justice understood as some kind of equality, expectations of prosperity and respectability and the anger that arises when those expectations are frustrated, the inclination of the rich to exploit the poor and of the poor to blame their troubles on the rich, and the rivalries and mutual suspicions between citizens of different ethnicities.  By demonstrating the durability of this ancient account of political conflict, the rise of Trump reminds us of Aristotle's just claim to be the true founder of political science" (25-26).
So despite the differences between America and the Greek polis, there are political similarities due to "the basic facts of human nature," which include a natural desire for justice understood as equal treatment, a natural propensity of the poor to resent being exploited by the rich, and a natural tendency for ethnic diversity among citizens to create conflict.

We identify America as a democracy, and the very idea of democracy originated in ancient Greece.  The Greek word democratia can be translated literally as "the power (kratos) of the people (demos)."  For the ancient Athenians, the demos meant the entire citizen body, just as modern democrats say that "the people" means all of the citizens.  But the ancient Greeks also used the word demos to refer to the many lower class citizens as opposed to the few upper class citizens.  And that very distinction between upper and lower class citizens points to the potential for factional conflict between the non-elite citizens and the elite citizens, which is the ground for populist leaders like Trump who claim to speak for "the people" in their fight against "the elites."

Ancient and modern democracies are similar in their theoretical principles but different in their institutional practices.  (These points are well stated by Josiah Ober [1989, 3-17].)  Democracies generally agree on two general principles: first, that all citizens, although differing in their social and economic status, should have equal influence in deciding public policy; second, that the privileges of elite citizens should be limited to protect the collective and individual rights of non-elite citizens.

Despite these similarities in principle, ancient and modern democracies differ in practice in two ways.  First, in the ancient Greek democracies, citizenship was more restricted than it is in most modern democracies.  Second, the ancient democracies were direct democracies, in which the citizens had the right and the duty to participate directly in government; by contrast, modern democracies are representative democracies, in that citizens have the right to elect governmental officers who represent them, but the citizens do not have the right to fill governmental offices directly.

The Athenians limited citizenship to freeborn adult (over 18 years old) males of Athenian ancestry.  Women, slaves, and resident aliens (metics) were not citizens.  They were not part of the demos.  Modern historians have estimated the total population of the Athenian polis (including the whole region of Attica) as 250,000 (Ober 2015). Of that, 40,000 were freeborn adult male citizens (the demos), 40,000 were freeborn adult women, 20,000 were metics, 70,000 were children, and 80,000 were slaves.

Some modern democracies like the United States have expanded citizenship to include most of the adult population of men and women, and in some countries, even resident foreigners can become citizens.  But we should keep in mind that this is a relatively recent development in history.

And, again, the political rights of these democratic citizens are restricted mostly to voting for representatives.  Aristotle would say that citizens electing officers of government is undemocratic or aristocratic, because it assumes that all citizens are not equally qualified for office (Aristotle, Politics 1273b40-41, 1294b7-9).  Aristotle might say that in the United States, the only truly democratic institution is jury duty, by which jurors are selected at random from the list of registered voting citizens.

The political life of Athens was governed by three main institutions of democracy.  The first was the ekklesia or Assembly, the sovereign lawmaking body, which met 40 times a year; and all of the citizens--all 40,000--had the right to attend, although only about 5,000 attended each session, because the rest of the citizens would be serving in the army or navy or busy working to support their families.

The second major institution was the boule or Council of Five Hundred.  These 500 citizens, 50 from each of the ten Athenian tribes, were selected by lot (a random lottery) to serve on the Council for one year.  The Council met every day.  It did most of the day-to-day work of the government, and it decided what matters should go before the Assembly.

The third institution was the dikasteria or popular courts.  Every day, more than 500 jurors were chosen by lot from a pool of male citizens older than 30.  There were no police or professional judges and prosecutors in Athens.  It was the citizens themselves who brought cases before the popular courts and who argued for the prosecution or defense of those accused.  And it was the citizens sitting as jurors that decided the cases by majority vote.

So, in some respects, Athenian democracy was undemocratic by modern standards, because citizenship was restricted to a small portion of the population; but in other respects, Athens was more truly democratic, because the citizens had the equal right to participate directly in the major institutions of government, while in a modern democracy like the United States, the citizens delegate their power to an elite ruling class.  For that reason, a regime like the United States is sometimes said to be not a pure democracy but a republic that mixes democratic and aristocratic elements (like what Aristotle described as the mixed regime).

Some scholars (particularly the Straussians) have said that there are at least three more differences between Athenian democracy and modern liberal democracy--that Athens was a small face-to-face society, that it was not a commercial society, and that it was illiberal in being a closed rather than an open society.  But as I have indicated in my post on Josiah Ober's Rise and Fall of Classical Greece, I think the Straussians are mistaken about this.

First, while Athens was smaller in both population and land area than most nation-states today, it was--along with Sparta and Syracuse--one of the largest of the poleis.  It was so large that it was organized as a federal system with three levels: the deme, the tribe, and the polis.  In 508 BC, Cleisthenes invented democratic federalism by designating 139 villages, towns, and neighborhoods of Attica as "demes."  An average deme had a free adult male population of 150-250, which constituted the demos for that deme.  So these demes were small enough that all the citizens could know one another by face-to-face experience.

But then, at the next higher level, these demes were assigned to 10 tribes (with each tribe combining demes from three distinct regions of Attica--the coastal zone, the inland zone, and the city of Athens or its immediate suburbs).  Much of Athenian life was organized by tribes.  Each of the ten tribes sent a team of 50 men annually to the Council of 500.  At the level of the polis--in the Council, the Assembly, and the courts--the demos of 40,000 citizens would not have known one another by face-to-face experience.  So when Aristotle spoke of the best city as being small enough that all the citizens could know one another personally, he was not speaking about Athens (1326b3-25).  Athens was an "imagined community" (Benedict Anderson's term for explaining modern nationalism), because no Athenian had ever seen the entire demos assembled, so that the Athenian People existed only as an image in the minds of the Greeks.

Secondly, the claim that Athens differed from the modern commercial republic because there was no freedom for the commercial life in Athens is false.  Modern economic historians have shown that the Athenian democracy protected property rights, contracts, and both domestic and international trade in ways that allowed an efflorescence of economic growth in wealth per capita.

Thirdly, the claim that ancient Athens was a closed society is also false.  As Ober (2015) and Kierstead (2013) have shown, Athens was an open society in the sense that it secured open access to the institutional formation of publicly recognized economic and civil associations for both citizens and noncitizens.  So, for example, associations of foreigners were granted official perpetual charters for the construction of their own religious sanctuaries on public land.  Philosophers could also establish philosophical schools with formal organizations--such as Plato's Academy and Aristotle's Lyceum--the members of which included both citizens and noncitizens.  This political recognition of the philosophical schools in Athens was remarkable because these philosophers were often critical of democracy.

Another similarity between ancient Greek democracy and modern liberal democracy is that both have had to deal with the problem of faction, or what the Greeks called stasis (Hansen 2005).  Like a modern nation, the polis provided its citizens a sense of shared identity as belonging to one community bound together by cultural traditions, ceremonies, symbols, and sometimes ethnic descent, so that a Greek citizen regarded his polis as his fatherland (patris), for which he might die in war.  But it was commonly said by Aristotle--and other Greek thinkers like Plato, Thucydides, and Euripedes--that most poleis were split into two poleis, two factions constituted by the few rich who supported oligarchy and the many poor who supported democracy.  Sometimes these two factions could be different ethnic groups, particularly in colonies settled by people from different poleis.  It was also possible for conflict to arise within one of these two social classes, because of the rivalry between two sub-factions of the few or of the many.  When these conflicts became severe, they could cause civil war in which each faction sought to take over the ruling position in the city.  Sometimes a faction would seek to increase its power within the city by collaborating with a friendly faction in another city that might intervene on the side of one faction.  In the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta and their allies, Athens would intervene on the side of the democratic faction, while Sparta would intervene on the side of the oligarchic faction.

The Greek word stasis is derived from a verb meaning "to stand."  Stasis came to designate people taking different "standpoints" on some issue.  A person belonging to a stasis was said to have a sense of being a "partisan" (stasiotes) that was stronger that his sense of being a "citizen" (polites).


The most elaborate account of the causes of factional conflict is in Book Five of Aristotle's Politics.  Holloway claims that Aristotle's analysis in this text can help us to both explain and judge Trump's populist rhetoric.  We can explain the success of Trump's rhetoric by seeing how it appeals to those common grievances of the people against the elites and to those rivalries between different ethnic groups that are identified by Aristotle.  We can judge Trump's rhetoric by deciding whether these factious impulses driving his rhetoric are justified or not.

According to Aristotle, the most general cause of factious conflict is a debate about equality.  The people believe that because they are equal in their freedom, they should be equal in their political power.  The wealthy believe that because they are unequal in their wealth, they should be unequal in their political power.  Or, one might say, the wealthy want their political power to be equal to their wealth.  So when the wealthy seek superiority in political power, they can provoke the people to factious revolt.

Holloway thinks Aristotle's teaching here clearly explains Trump's success: "He spoke to the sense of the people--or at least to the sense of an electorally decisive part of the people--that they had been held down, kept in an inferior position, and thus denied the equality to which they are entitled" (27).

Identifying the more concrete grievances that motivate factional conflict, Aristotle says that faction is driven by the fight over "profit and honor and their opposites" (1302a33)--or economic goods and social status.  When the people suffer economic deprivation or social dishonor caused by the arrogant rule of the wealthy oligarchs, the people are prone to factious rebellion.

Trump certainly appealed to the economic interests of his voters by saying that middle class and working class people had suffered from declining incomes and the loss of jobs caused by bad policies on trade and immigration promoted by the ruling elites.  China and Mexico have stolen American jobs, he claimed, and increased immigration into America has caused lower wages and high unemployment for American workers.

Holloway explains:
"By making such arguments, Trump showed that he had correctly discerned or intuited the concerns of an electorally significant set of voters.  Political observers generally agree that a key element of Trump's political success was his appeal to white working class voters not ordinarily drawn to vote for Republican presidential candidates.  This view appears to be confirmed by a study conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, which found that Trump won sixty-four percent of the white working class vote.  This same study found, in addition, that these voters felt the sense of economic insecurity that Aristotle teaches makes people ripe for factional conflict and to which Trump appealed in the campaign of 2016.  According to the study, these white working class voters are characterized predominantly by a sense of the deterioration of their economic conditions and by skepticism about the American dream (the idea that one can get ahead through hard work) (29).
Trump's rhetoric also evoked what Aristotle identified as the second particular cause of faction--the concern for honor and the disgust with being dishonored.  Trump often referred to his followers as America's "forgotten men and women," who were being neglected and denigrated by their leaders.  In his inaugural address, he promised: "You will never be ignored again."  When Hillary Clinton ridiculed the supporters of Trump as "the deplorables," this seemed to confirm Trump's claims about the arrogant disdain of the ruling elite for the common people of America.

This conflict between the people and the elites--the democratic many and the oligarchic few--is not the only source of factional disorder, although it is the main theme of Aristotle's explanation of faction and of Trump's rhetoric in his campaign. Sometimes factional strife can arise between groups among the oligarchs or among the people.  In at least one passage of the Politics, Aristotle says that in a democracy, the only factional conflict is the people "against the oligarchy, there being none that arises among the people against itself that is worth mentioning" (1302a11-12).  But elsewhere in the Politics, Aristotle indicates that there are "differences" among the people--including class differences between farmers, traders, and artisans--and that "every difference seems to cause faction" (1289b26-91b30, 1302b5, 1303b14-15).

Aristotle also identifies "dissimilarity of stock" as "conducive to factional conflict, until a cooperative spirit develops" (1303a25).  What is translated here as "stock" is the Greek word to phulon, which denotes a race, tribe, or any group of people who belong to a community by birth.  In most of the Greek cities, the citizens had the same ethnic identity: they were all Hellenes (Hansen 2005).  But sometimes when cities were settled by colonists from different cities, a clash of ethnic identities could create factional conflict.  In the examples given by Aristotle, either one ethnic group or the other was expelled from the city, unless there developed over time a "cooperative spirit."  One commentator on Aristotle explained: "We notice also that after a time distinct races came to pull better together.  The children born in the colony would feel less removed from each other in race, and would agree better together, than the immigrants themselves had done, and the lapse of time would do something to improve the relations even of the latter to each other" (Newman 1973, 4:309-10).

Factional conflict arising from ethnic differences was surely an important part of Trump's rhetoric.  Trump's call for restricting immigration was largely directed against immigration from certain countries--particularly, Mexico, other Latin American countries, Muslim countries, and African countries.  In the most memorable passage of his speech announcing his presidential candidacy, Trump warned about the threat of Mexican immigrants: "They're bringing drugs.  They're bringing crime.  They're rapists.  And some, I assume, are good people."  As Holloway indicates, Trump's primary appeal was not to working class people generally but to white working class people.

Factional conflict from "dissimilarity of stock," Holloway observes, can interact with what Aristotle calls "disproportional growth" of some part of the city (1302b34-35).  In a multi-ethnic democracy with immigration--like the United States--the distribution of electoral power among the various ethnic groups can change in ways that threaten a once dominant group with loss of power and status.  So white voters who have been in the majority might worry that the growth in the non-white groups could soon create a non-white majority in the electorate.

Holloway observes:
"When a political community has been dominated by citizens of a particular stock, they may fear the loss of their power through immigration of persons of a different stock.  They might also regard such a loss of power as an injustice to themselves and engage in factional conflict in order to prevent it.  After all, people who are accustomed to power tend to regard it as just that they should continue to hold that power.  Moreover, of course, the declining stock would sense injustice if the change in the society's composition resulted to some extent from illegal immigration" (36).
Consequently, Trump's rhetoric could appeal to this fear among some white Americans that their political and cultural dominance was being threatened by non-white immigration by promising to "Build the Wall" on the southern border and to ban immigration from Muslim countries.

Trump's rhetoric was also grounded in another cause of factional strife identified by Aristotle--differences based on geographical location.  When the citizens of a polis are scattered over a large region, citizens at different locations can develop different political and cultural identities.  So, for example, Aristotle says, in Attica those citizens who live in the Piraeus seaport are more democratic in spirit than those who live in the urban center of Athens (1303b8-17).  Similarly, many of Trump's potential supporters were located in the "flyover" regions of the American Midwest in predominantly white small towns and rural areas in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin--as opposed to the cosmopolitan coastal and large urban areas where Clinton's voters were located.

I agree with much of what Holloway says about how Aristotle's account of faction can explain Trump's apparent rhetorical success with his supporters.  But I disagree with Holloway in so far as he exaggerates the success of Trump's populist rhetoric by implying that he has persuaded the American people--or at least the majority of them--that he is indeed their voice.

In fact, the evidence is clear that the majority of American voters did not vote for Trump in 2016, and a large portion of those who did vote for Trump were not persuaded by his rhetoric.  Far from being the voice of the people, Trump is at most the voice of a small minority faction.  Trump was elected only because of some peculiar circumstances in the presidential election of 2016 favorable to Trump that are unlikely (though maybe not impossible) to recur in this year's election.

Consider, again, two of Holloway's remarks that I have already quoted.  "He spoke to the sense of the people--or at least to the sense of an electorally decisive part of the people--that they had been held down, kept in an inferior position, and thus denied the equality to which they are entitled" (27).  "By making such arguments, Trump showed that he had correctly discerned or intuited the concerns of an electorally significant set of voters" (29).

So Trump's rhetoric did not persuade all or most of the American people.  It only persuaded "an electorally decisive part of the people" or "an electorally significant set of voters."  Holloway has to say that because Trump lost the popular election to Hillary Clinton by almost 3 million votes.  That's a very bad outcome for a populist, which is why Trump has insisted that millions of the votes cast for Clinton were fraudulent votes from illegal immigrants.

What Holloway means by "an electorally decisive part of the people" is winning enough votes distributed across the states in such a way as to win the majority in the Electoral College.  Since almost all of the states award their Electoral College votes through a winner-take-all or unit rule--the candidate winning the most popular votes in the state wins all of the Electoral College votes--this makes it possible for someone like Trump to win in the Electoral College while losing in the national popular vote.  The reason for this is that Clinton lost the popular vote tally by very small margins in some states--such as Michigan where she lost by only 10,000 votes--so that she garnered no Electoral College votes in these states.

This shows the failure of the Electoral College system to do what the constitutional framers intended.  The original intent was that those chosen by the state legislatures to be electors in the Electoral College would act as an intermediary body to exercise their judgment in selecting a president, so that, as Alexander Hamilton said in Federalist Number 68, there would be "a moral certainty, that the office of president will seldom fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications," and "that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters preeminent for ability and virtue."  The Founders did not anticipate that with the emergence of a party system, the parties would select the electors and have them pledge to vote for their party's nominees; nor did they anticipate that the state legislatures would prescribe the awarding of the state's electoral votes by a winner-take-all procedure (German, Burton, and Zuckert 2018).

The Framers also failed to foresee that political parties would take over the process of nominating candidates for the presidency--doing this first through the Congressional Party Caucus system, then later through the Party Convention system, and now through a disorderly series of state party primaries.  In these primaries, when the number of candidates is high, and the voter turnout is low, those candidates who win enough delegates to win the party nomination will have received only a low number of votes.

In 2016, only 9% of American citizens and 14% of the eligible voters voted in the primaries for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump to be their party's nominee (Parlapiano and Pearce 2016).  This explains why many voters complained that neither candidate was attractive to them.

In reading James Madison's notes on the Constitutional Convention of 1787, one can see that the delegates had a hard time deciding on the best design for the American presidency.  Recognizing how easily the president could abuse his powers, they struggled to find the right procedures for selecting and removing the president.  Looking at our experience with Trump as well as the whole history of the presidency, one might well conclude that both the Electoral College and the process for impeachment have failed to work as originally intended.  The selection of the president has sometimes failed to produce "characters preeminent for ability and virtue," and the impeachment procedures have failed to remove any president from office (with the possible exception of Nixon's resignation).

Another problem with the direct election of the president through voting is that the outcome is often decided by the turnout of voters.  That was clearly the case in 2016.  Only about 60% of the eligible voters voted.  Trump won about 46% of the votes cast.  So Trump was elected by about 27% of the eligible voters.

And while it is generally said that Trump won the votes of the working class people, that's not exactly true if one considers the effect of the low voter turnout.  Most of the working class people did not vote in 2016.  52% of people with incomes below $30,000 did not vote in 2016.  46 million eligible voters with incomes below $50,000 did not vote.  And in key states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, the absence of black voters who cast ballots in 2012 but not in 2016 exceeded the margin of Clinton's loss.  Particularly, in urban areas like Milwaukee, Detroit, and Philadelphia, the low turnout of voters who had voted for Obama, combined with the high turnout of Trump voters in rural areas and small towns, determined Clinton's loss in the Electoral College (Draut 2018).

Moreover, it is not true that most of Trump's voters were poor working class people.  Two-thirds of those who voted for Trump had household incomes above the national median of $50,000.  One-third were over $100,000 (Carnes and Lupu 2017).  Surveys of those who voted in 2016 indicated that those who reported facing great economic insecurity were almost twice as likely to have voted for Clinton rather than Trump.  The Trump voters were not motivated by economic deprivation but by fears of cultural displacement threatening their white identity (Cox, Lienesch, and Jones 2017).  And about 25% of those who voted for Trump indicated that while they disagreed with his stands on trade and immigration, they voted for him only as a protest against Clinton (Elkins 2017).

This is likely to change in the 2020 presidential election.  Trump turned the 2018 mid-term elections into a referendum on his presidency, which provoked a high turnout of anti-Trump voters and defeat of many Republican candidates linked to Trump.  (I wrote about this here.)  Recent surveys of eligible voters show an increase in the number reporting that they definitely plan to vote in 2020--with increases in large urban areas particularly high (Kahn 2020).  This is bad news for Trump and the Republicans.  (But, of course, the Democrats could hand the election to Trump by nominating Bernie Sanders.)

So, again, my conclusion from all of this is that while Trump's populist rhetoric persuaded a small part of the electorate in 2016, it was not persuasive with most of the electorate; and there is no reason to think it will be more persuasive this year.


Aristotle can help us not only to explain the limited success of Trump's rhetoric but also to judge whether his rhetoric is justified or not.

As I indicated in some posts last month, Aristotle's Rhetoric gives us a framework of rhetorical analysis that allows us to judge whether Trump is truthful or deceptive in his rhetorical techniques--such as his emotional appeals to anger and fear and his appeal to his character as a self-made billionaire businessman.

Aristotle's account of faction in the Politics allows us to judge the fairness of Trump's factious rhetoric.  So, for example, when we see that some of Trump's rhetoric is grounded in factious conflict from "dissimilarity of stock"--by appealing to white working class voters who fear cultural displacement by non-white ethnic groups--we can ask whether there is any just claim for white ethnic groups to hold onto their traditional dominance in American politics and culture.  In another post (here), I have criticized the claim of the alt-right ethnic nationalists (like Frank Salter) that every ethnic group should have a right to its own national homeland in which it practices ethnic nepotism, and I have defended the reasonableness of multi-ethnic liberal societies.

One fundamental standard of justice for Aristotle is that "all those who dispute about regimes express some part of justice" (1281a9-11).  So in the factional conflict between the democratic poor and the oligarchic rich, both sides of the debate probably represent a partial grasp of justice, although it's distorted by self-interest.  People tend to assert as an absolute principle that element of justice that favors their own interests.

Therefore, the first question is, what are the kernels of truth in the opposing claims of democratic and oligarchic justice?  Second, what standard of justice can encompass both sides of this debate?  Finally, through what sort of political arrangements might democrats and oligarchs be brought together without conflict?

As both the poor and the wealthy have legitimate claims to rule, neither pure democracy nor pure oligarchy is as good as a judicious mixture of both in what Aristotle calls the "polity" or republic (politeia) (1293b2-94b41).  When even this is not possible, the next choice is a regime with a strong middle class that can soften the conflict between the rich and the poor (1295a25-96b2).  Some readers of Aristotle's Politics--such as Clifford Bates (2003)--see it as suggesting that a mixed regime with a strong middle class leaning towards a moderate democracy is the best regime that is practically achievable.  And some--like Leslie Rubin (2018b)--have argued that the American Founders wanted America to be a mixed regime with a large middle class that would moderate the conflict between the few rich and the many poor.

If this is so, then we must worry about the partisan extremism of Trump's factious rhetoric that denies that spirit of moderation that is necessary to preserve a mixed regime with a flourishing middle class.  We must also worry about whether the American middle class is strong enough to assert its traditional moderating effect in overcoming partisan polarization and pushing American politics towards the "middle-of-the-road."


Bates, Clifford. 2003. Aristotle's "Best Regime":  Kingship, Democracy, and the Rule of Law (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.

Carnes, Nicholas, and Noam Lupu. 2017. "It's Time to Bust the Myth: Trump Voters Were Not Working Class." Washington Post, June 5.

Cox, Daniel, Rachel Lienesch, Robert Jones. 2017. "Beyond Economics:  Fears of Cultural Displacement Pushed the White Working Class to Trump." Public Religion Research Institute, May 9.

Draut, Tamara. 2018. Sleeping Giant: The Untapped Economic and Political Power of America's New Working Class. Revised edition. New York: Anchor Books.

Elkins, Emily. 2017. "The Five Types of Trump Voters."  Democracy Fund: Voter Study Group, June.

German, Zachery K., Robert J. Burton, and Michael Zuckert. 2018. "The Aim of Every Political Constitution: The American Founders and the Election of Trump." In Marc Benjamin Sable and Angel Jaramillo Torres, eds., Trump and Political Philosophy: Patriotism, Cosmopolitanism, and Civic Virtue, 215-36. Palgrave Macmillan/Springer International. Cham: Switzerland.

Hansen, Mogens Herman. 2005. "Stasis as an Essential Aspect of the Polis." In Mogens Herman Hansen and Thomas Heine Nietsen, An Inventory of Archaic and Classical Poleis, 124-29. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Holloway, Carson. 2018. "Aristotle's Account of Factional Conflict and the Rise of Donald Trump." In Sable and Torres, eds., Trump and Political Philosophy, 25-41.  Palgrave Macmillan.

Kahn, Chris. 2020. "Ahead of 2020 Election, a 'Blue Wave' Is Rising in the Cities, Polling Analysis Shows." Reuters, February 19.

Kierstead, James. 2013. "A Community of Communities: Associations and Democracy in Classical Athens." A Doctoral Dissertation for the Department of Classics, Stanford University.

Newman, W. L.  1973. The Politics of Aristotle. 4 vols. New York: Arno Press.

Ober, Josiah. 1989. Mass and Elite in Democratic Athens. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Ober, Josiah. 2015. The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Parlapiano, Alicia, and Adam Pearce. 2016. "Only 9% of America Chose Trump and Clinton as the Nominees." New York Times, August 1.

Rubin, Leslie. 2018a. "Demagogy and the Decline of Middle-Class Republicanism: Aristotle on the Trump Phenomenon." In Angel Jaramillo Torres and Marc Benjamin Sable, eds., Trump and Political Philosophy: Leadership, Statesmanship, and Tyranny, 51-73.

Rubin, Leslie. 2018b. America, Aristotle, and the Politics of a Middle Class. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Happy Darwin/Lincoln Day!

Today we celebrate the 211th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln, who were born on February 12, 1809.  Beyond the coincidence of their being born on the same day, there were many points of connection in their lives and thought.

I have written a series of posts on this, some of which can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Thursday, February 06, 2020

Trump and Political Philosophy (4): The "Art of the Deal" and the Bible--Trump's Two Best Books

                                                    Trump Plugs His Two Best Books

                                                         Trump Autographs the Bible

Tony Schwartz--Trump's Ghostwriter

                                          The Introduction to Season 1 of "The Apprentice"

Donald Trump was elected president because of his rhetorical success in promoting the myth of himself as the self-made multibillionaire, and that all began in 1987 with the publication of The Art of the Deal.

There is a straight line from this book to "The Apprentice" and then to Trump's rhetoric in his presidential campaign.  Prior to the book, Trump was not well-known outside of New York City.  Once the book became a world-wide bestseller--over a million copies--Trump was an international celebrity known as the young brash businessman who became one of the richest people in the world because he knew how to make deals, and he did it all on his own.

When Mark Burnett, the reality-television producer, read The Art of the Deal, he got the idea for having Trump as the star for "The Apprentice."  When the show premiered in 2004, it started with Trump in the back of his limousine, being driven through New York City, as Trump says, "I've mastered the art of the deal, and I've turned the name Trump into the highest-quality brand."  An image of the book's cover flashes onscreen as Trump explains that as the "master," he will now seek an "apprentice," and this will be the show--to see who can succeed in helping him manage his building projects.

Then, on June 16, 2015, he gave his speech in the atrium of Trump Tower announcing his candidacy for the presidency; and in laying out his qualifications, he said: "We need a leader that wrote The Art of the Deal."

He repeated this in his campaign speeches--saying that American politicians have failed to lead the country, that they could learn how to lead by reading The Art of the Deal, but now the voters have the chance to elect the author of that book.  He also explained that while The Art of the Deal was his second favorite book, he had to rank the Bible as the best book.  Remarkably, while campaigning, he often autographed copies of both The Art of the Deal and the Bible.

When Tony Schwartz--Trump's ghostwriter for The Art of the Deal--saw the broadcast of Trump's June 16th speech, Schwartz sent out a tweet: "Many thanks Donald Trump for suggesting I run for President, based on the fact that I wrote 'The Art of the Deal.'"  Later, speaking to Jane Mayer for an article in The New Yorker, Schwartz said that he had noticed that Trump had somehow convinced himself that he had written the book himself.  And Schwartz wondered: "If he could lie about that on Day One--when it was so easily refuted--he is likely to lie about anything."

Schwartz has confessed his sense of guilt that in writing The Art of the Deal, he started the myth of Trump as the self-made billionaire that led to Trump's presidential campaign.  He has admitted that his agreeing to write the book was a selling of his soul to the devil.  When Trump asked him to write the book in 1985, Schwartz was in financial trouble and worried about supporting his family.  Trump's offer to him--half of the $500,000 advance from Random House and half of the royalties--was too good to turn down.  In fact, the sales of the book made him a multimillionaire.  But now he has tried to redeem himself by speaking publicly about what he saw of Trump's true character and the danger that poses for the country.  "I put lipstick on a pig," Schwartz has said.  "I feel a deep sense of remorse that I contributed to presenting Trump in a way that brought him wider attention and made him more appealing than he is."

Initially, Schwartz thought he could get the material for the book by interviewing Trump over a number of weeks.  But he quickly discovered that Trump had such a short attention span that he could not be questioned about anything for more than a few minutes before he lost interest and refused to continue the interview.  Trump was happy to talk with reporters looking for some short sound-bite comments.  But he lacked any capacity for self-reflection in talking about his life.  Schwartz worried that it would be impossible for him to gather enough information from talking with Trump to write the book.

Then Schwartz came up with an alternative way to work on this.  He got Trump to agree to allow him to listen to all of Trump's telephone calls, which is how he conducted much of his business, while also following Trump to all of his meetings.  Schwartz would then interview the people that he met through Trump and gather information and documents from them.  He did this for over a year and a half.  So over this time, he came to know Trump better than anyone outside his immediate family.  Not only did Schwartz write the book, he also kept a journal where he wrote out his private thoughts about Trump's personality and his life.  When he began speaking publicly about Trump in 2016, he used his private journal to sketch Trump's true character.

He observed that Trump is driven entirely by the need for public attention--an insatiable hunger for money, power, praise, and celebrity.  He does not care about anything or anyone other than himself as an object of public acclaim.  Any sign that people do not love him as much he loves himself or any sign that those working for him are not absolutely loyal to him throws him into an angry fit of rage.  He will do anything to keep himself the center of attention, which often means saying or doing what he knows will be deeply offensive to people, because that forces people to pay attention to him.  That's the whole point of his tweeting rants. And he must constantly boast about himself and insist that no one is as great as he is.  (This is what I have written about in a previous post as Trump's grandiose narcissism.)

Trump's Advice to College Students in Wisconsin: "You'll find that when you become very successful, the people that you will like best are the people that are less successful than you, because when you go to a table, you can tell them all of these wonderful stories, and they'll sit back and listen.  Does that make sense to you?  OK?  Always be around unsuccessful people because everybody will respect you."  (I should say the rest of his remarks in this speech are not as disturbing as this one.)

Here's the first paragraph of The Art of the Deal:
"I don't do it for the money.  I've got enough, much more than I'll ever need.  I do it to do it.  Deals are my art form.  Other people paint beautifully on canvas or write wonderful poetry.  I like making deals, preferably big deals.  That's how I get my kicks" (p. 1).
Schwartz says that this is a lie.  Of course Trump does it for the money.  That's why he becomes angry whenever business journalists write stories about how he is not as wealthy as he claims--that he is not one of the richest people in the world.  That making deals is for him an intrinsically joyful art--like writing poetry--sounds nice, but it's not true.  That it really is all about the money--or about his exaggerated claims about how much he has--is indicated (as I suggested in my previous post) by his ending his campaign book Great Again with a list of 70 of his properties--commercial buildings, golf resorts, mansions, airplanes, helicopters--that's why he does it, and that's what we're supposed to admire--his pile of luxurious stuff.

Trump's lying about his wealth is part of a pattern of shameless lying.  "Lying is second nature to him," Schwartz has said.  "More than anyone else I have ever met, Trump has the ability to convince himself that whatever he is saying at any given moment is true, or sort of true, or at least ought to be true."

In writing The Art of the Deal, Schwartz says, he knew he would need to contrive "an artful euphemism" to make Trump's lying sound innocent.  In one of the most often quoted passages in the book, he wrote:
"The final key to the way I promote is bravado.  I play to people's fantasies.  People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do.  That's why a little hyperbole never hurts.  People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular."
"I call it truthful hyperbole.  It's an innocent form of exaggeration--and a very effecitive form of promotion" (p. 58).
We have heard a lot of "truthful hyperbole" in Trump's political speeches, including his State of the Union Tuesday night.  But "truthful hyperbole" that is "innocent"?  Schwartz now says that "deceit" is never "innocent."  "'Truthful hyperbole' is a contradiction in terms.  It's a way of saying, 'It's a lie, but who cares?'"  He says that Trump loved the phrase.  The White House Press Office has used the phrase to justify Trump's lies.

That "people want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest" is an important part of the popular appeal of Trump's rhetoric.  In the second chapter of The Art of the Deal--"Trump Cards: The Elements of the Deal"--the first rule is "Think Big."
"I like thinking big.  I always have.  To me it's very simple: if you're going to be thinking anyway, you might as well think big.  Most people think small, because most people are afraid of success, afraid of making decisions, afraid of winning.  And that gives people like me a great advantage" (pp. 46-47).
But then we have to wonder--when Trump brags about his "biggest and greatest" achievements, is this only "truthful hyperbole," or maybe not so truthful at all?  So, for example, when Trump told us Tuesday night that at the beginning of 2017, America was in a deep dark decline--economically, militarily, and culturally--and now after only three years, Trump has made America great again in every way, should we believe that?

Trump's rhetorical enthymeme is that we can trust him to make America great again, because we can see the greatness he has achieved in his business life, as described in The Art of the Deal and his other books.  But if one compares the story told in The Art of the Deal with the actual record of what he has done, one sees that much of that story is a lie.  As I have already indicated in a previous post, a big part of that lie is Trump's claim that his father gave him very little help: "My father had done very well for himself, but he didn't believe in giving his children huge trust funds.  When I graduated from college, I had a net worth of perhaps $200,000, and most of it was tied up in buildings in Brooklyn and Queens" (p. 93).  Now we know that by the time that young Donald was 8 years old, he was already a millionaire, and that was only the beginning of his father's life-long payouts to his son that saved Donald from financial ruin.

And if we're judging Trump's success in "thinking big," we need to examine the history of his biggest construction project, which he expected would be his greatest achievement.  In The Art of the Deal, Trump devotes one long chapter to what originated as his first major deal in Manhattan in 1974 (pp. 325-354).  He secured the option to purchase the railroad yards of the Penn Central Railroad on the West Side of Manhattan--78 acres on the Hudson River between 59th Street and 72nd Street.  He was forced to give up his option in the summer of 1979.  But then he bought it back in January 1985.

At the end of 1985, Trump (then only 39 years old) held a news conference to unveil his plans--with drawings and models.  He said this was "the greatest piece of land in urban America."  He would build 8,000 apartments and condominiums for up to 20,000 people, some 3.6 million square feet of television and movie studio space, and some 2 million square feet of space for luxury stores.  There would be six 76-story towers.  And rising above all of this would be the world's tallest skyscraper, with Trump living at the top--"above the clouds," he told someone.  At first, he named it Television City.  Later, he named it Trump City.  The New York Times described it as his "bid for immortality."

Trump promised that because of his unique skill for making deals, the construction for this project would start as early as 1987.  This would have been his biggest deal of all, because he had to persuade hundreds if not thousands of people to allow this--politicians in charge of zoning regulations and tax rebates, citizens in the surrounding neighborhoods, architecture critics, and bankers.

He failed.  By 1991 and 1992, he had filed for corporate bankruptcy four times; and he was headed to personal bankruptcy.  In 1994, he had to sell 70% of the ownership of the rail yards land to a consortium of Hong Kong businessmen.  In 1990, he had already agreed to capitulate to the opponents of his project, and he accepted the plans for development of the land proposed by an Upper West Side community group.  Their plans called for smaller, shorter buildings, and certainly not the world's tallest building.  It would be called not Trump City but Riverside South.

Pushed into a corner, Trump was forced to reverse his big plans and accept something small, because that was the only way he could survive.  And in so far as he did survive, he had turned defeat into a kind of victory, although it was a victory that depended on his father's help in bailing him out.

Michael Kruse, writing an article on Trump's failure to build Trump City, draws an insightful conclusion from this as showing Trump to be "the most successful failer of all time":
"On the Upper West Side, Trump was overbearing, tactless, and tone-deaf.  His proposals were extreme, offensive and ill-conceived.  Many of the people who fought him thought they beat him.  The prevented him from doing what he actually wanted to do.  But those buildings were built.  That money was money he made.  It's the Trump Paradox: He's the most successful failer of all time.  Because what really happened with what become Trump Place was that he created such a disturbance for so long that his opponents literally did his work, designing his development for him, which saved him, which enabled him to maintain a veneer of credibility, which allowed the 'Apprentice' to present him as it did, which let him run for president.  The election was an apt capstone.  He lost (the popular vote), but he won (the Electoral College).  And so, his transactional, bluff-and-bluster, react-to-me life became a candidacy, and now a presidency, that is driving change on a far larger canvas than just the New York skyline."
If this is true, there are lessons here both for Trump's opponents and his supporters.  For the opponents, the lesson is that defeating him requires backing him into a corner where he cannot survive without capitulating in a way that he can present as a success.  For the supporters, the lesson is that while Trump is likely to fail to deliver on his biggest promises, his grandiose bluster might shake things up in such a way as to bring some small but momentous changes to American politics.

Trump Acquitted--Why the Rush to Impeachment?

Trump Acquitted!

Well, of course, there's no reason anyone should have been surprised by that headline.  Surely, everyone--including the House Democrats who voted for impeachment--knew that this was the inevitable outcome if they did not take enough time to build a case that could persuade at least 20 Republican Senators to vote for conviction.

I have reread my post from December 6th--"Why the Rush to Impeachment?  Jonathan Turley's Prudent Warning to the House Judiciary Committee."  And the acquittal of Trump in the Senate certainly seems to confirm the wisdom of Turley's warning.  The House's impeachment of Trump now looks more like the failed impeachment of Andrew Johnson in 1868 than the threat of impeachment that succeeded in forcing Richard Nixon's resignation in 1974.  That is to say, this attempted impeachment looks like a purely partisan political attack on the president that failed to win bipartisan support.

It's hard to understand what the House Democrats thought they were going to accomplish.  It's also hard to understand why the three law professors who argued for a quick impeachment--Noah Feldman, Pamela Karlan, and Michael Gerhardt--did not respond to Turley's warning.

Now there's talk about the possibility that the House Democrats might continue their investigations by seeking the testimony of John Bolton and others.  Why didn't they do that months ago as part of a prolonged investigation to build up the case for impeachment?