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Power without Moral Compass: Caligula, Trump, Pius XIII, and Machiavelli

Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.

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Smoking is ok if the Pope does it” –Pius XIII in “The Young Pope” “If the President does it, it is not illegal” –President Nixon during his impeachment

[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] I [/yt_dropcap]t is practically impossible to watch the latest rage on cable TV, the serial ten episode narration of a future Pope, Pius XIII, and not be struck by the uncanny parallels between it and the ancient political situation under emperor Caligula of the Roman Empire, as well as the present political landscape in the Atlantic Alliance under President Trump.

The movie is directed by Oscar winner Paolo Sorrentino, who knows well ancient Roman history and more recent Italian history, the Italy of Berlusconi, Pius X, Pius XII, as well as Hitler, Mussolini and other madmen of the times.

Critics have accused the film of being a caricature of the Papacy, a gossipy reality show of the Vatican who portrays an interesting character (the mad Pope) but not a real-to-life personality; a Vatican melodrama glittering with pomp and circumstances of the Vatican; but that is a misinterpretation, a superficial rendition of the content of the film,

Right from the first episode we are alerted that the real issue of the film is the issue of political power on which both Niccolo Machiavelli and Francis Bacon meditated so deeply. Machiavelli said that in politics “the end justifies the means.” Francis Bacon said that “knowledge is power” and they said a mouthful. The ancient idea was that knowledge is virtue; now, within enlightened modernity knowledge is power to be seizes and held at any cost.

The movie is, in fact, about the intricacies of power, temporal power, at the heart of Catholicism; something that has gone on now for some 17 centuries, since Constantine allegedly donated one third of Italy to the Pope thus creating the Papal temporal power and initiating the problematic mixing the transcendent and the temporal within Christianity. Dante places three popes in hell because of that improper mixing.

The issue of power is perhaps the main idea explored in the series, and this right from the first episode where we witness this intriguing conversation between the newly elected young American Pope, Lenny, and the cardinal Secretary of State, his aide in the administration of the Vatican. During the conversation what comes through is that the new Pope has been elected by the cardinals because of his youth and inexperience in the intricacies of power which will render him easy to manipulate and control.

For the cardinals immersed in the Byzantine intrigues of the Vatican, good disciples of Machiavelli and Bacon that they are, power is knowledge and knowledge is power. During the conversation the Cardinal Secretary asks “Do you know why all the good souls of this world rage against power?” “Why, Your Eminence?” “Because they simply don’t know what it is.” “What is it?” “Power is knowledge.” There you have it. That short exchange contains the key of the narrative: the issue of power, of power devoid of a moral compass.

While the new pope understands the importance of knowledge in order to obtain and maintain power, he also understands it in a very instinctive emotional way. He feels that he is the Pope not because of his abilities, or his faith, or his compassion, but because it is his destiny. Power, as understood by the new Pope, trumps (pun intended) tradition, law, and even truth. When the Pope starts smoking in the papal palace we witness the following exchange: “Holy Father, Holy Father, smoking is not allowed in the papal palace!” “Is that so? Who decided that?” “John Paul II.” “The Pope?” “Yes, the Pope.” “There’s a new Pope now.” “True.”

But why have the cardinals chosen an unbalanced sociopath? Well, they thought that he would be easy to manipulate, an easy to market moderate Pope, a rather naïve person, as most Americans supposedly are. They are to be greatly disappointed. Lenny is not your average Pope. What they got is Caligula who installs as his closest adviser Sister Mary (Diane Keaton) as his advisor, violates the sanctity of the confessional (to get to the secrets which he will blackmail, compromise and yield power over the cardinals), questions even the existence of God.

How can one not see the similarities between Caligula, the sociopathic emperor, Pius XIII, the sociopathic Pope, and Trump, the sociopathic President? They are all pathological narcissists; the universe revolves around them; they are gods, unpredictable, disdainful of common people in general, especially tourists, like to see them humiliated, have little respect for conventional moral principles. They all repudiate the tradition of their predecessors. The Pope wants to make the Catholic Church Great Again. If it sounds familiar, it is. In short Pius XIII is a version of Donald Trump. Both men, one in fiction one in reality (reality show) have tapped into the wave of discontent sweeping the world which has given rise to extreme right movements culminating in Brexit and the potential break-up of the Atlantic Alliance (NATO).

This Young Pope is so appealing not as a person that in fact does not exist at the moment, but because of his complex contradictions and his character. All narcissists and madmen are complex appealing characters, but not in any positive mode. At the start of the episodes the Pope defines himself as a contradiction: “I am a contradiction, like God.” What is pathological is that he thinks of himself not as God’s representative or witness on earth, but as a god, the way a Caligula did, the way a Trump does.

These people are compelling not because thy are in any way admirable, but because we just can’t stop talking about them. We keep asking in wonderment: why do people accept the bullying, why all that rudeness. Why the lack of challenge? Most importantly, what is it about power, about the bully culture of “might makes right” that turns people into monsters?

Some tentative answers can be supplied by a comparison between Trump and Young Pope. Like the Pope who says that smoking is OK in the Vatican palace if the Pope does it, (and nobody else), Trump seems to have gone back to the famous Nixon quip “if the President does it, it is not illegal.” This is scary stuff for the survival of democracy. Both man lack a clear moral policy agenda for their institutions. What is clear is the Machiavellian goal of asserting power and making sure that nobody dares to challenge it. They are out to get what they want, no matter how petty. They rule by creating dissensions and confusion and establishing capricious priorities, like that of buying back the papal tiara from the basilica in Washington and wear it as he is carried about in the “sedia gestatoria,” as a saint of heaven, a tradition long in disuse.

Power, shock and awe is the goal to be grasped as an end in itself and in whose name all means are acceptable. As the young Pope says: “Power is domination, control and therefore a very selective form of truth, which is a lie.” One needs to create one’s alternative facts to keep one’s enemies down, humiliate them and destroy them. At the same time one needs to keep the people entertained with showmanship. Make them wonder, whom they are really dealing with; be ready to punish any one who dares tell the truth and declare the emperor naked.

Ultimately, the two deranged characters, one fictitious, the other real, while declaring themselves demi-gods, do not believe in any god at all. They believe in power. As the young deranged Pope tells his confessor” God, my conscience does not accuse me, because you do not believe I am capable of repenting, and therefore, I do not believe in you. I do not believe you are capable of saving me from myself.” When the confessor is outraged by the statement, the Pope replies that it was just a joke.

So, what we have are two nine year olds desperately looking for love and understanding while their pathologies place the whole world in peril. This is surrealistic stuff of high quality, a reality show worthy of a Fellini movie, entertaining, fascinating, but also frightening and disquieting. An American Pope who does not believe in God, and an American President who does not believe in democracy and the constitution.

But the best of the reality show may still be coming.

Author’s note: this essay, in a slightly modified form, has already appeared in Ovi magazine on February 11, 2017.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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Americas

Poll Shows Trump’s Israel Policy Is Opposed Even by Republicans

Eric Zuesse

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On Monday, November 18th, Reuters headlined “U.S. backs Israel on settlements, angering Palestinians and clouding peace process” and reported that, “The United States on Monday effectively backed Israel’s right to build Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank by abandoning its four-decade-old position that they were ‘inconsistent with international law,’ a stance that may make Israeli-Palestinian peace even more elusive.” This article made clear that, of all entities Reuters could contact about the matter, only U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo thought that these illegal settlements are legal, and even Pompeo was offering no other reason than that “‘The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements is not, per se, inconsistent with international law,’ Pompeo told reporters at the State Department, reversing a formal legal position taken by the United States under Carter in 1978.” It was merely his dictat, as authority for this major U.S. policy-change. 

One poll was recently taken of Americans on the matter. It was done by Scarborough Research, a joint venture by The Nielsen Company and Arbitron, and its sample size was unusually large for such a poll and employed rigorous sampling techniques. Thus, its findings should be considered to be close to the reality. Here is a summary of that poll’s methodology and findings. [I add my explanations in brackets].

The survey was carried out September 12 – October 9, 2018 online from a nationally representative sample of Nielsen Scarborough’s probability-based panel, originally recruited by mail and telephone using a random sample of adults provided by Survey Sampling International. The national sample was 2,352.

Q57. As you may know, the United States has been acting as a mediator between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, with the aim of reaching an agreement in the IsraeliPalestinian conflict. Whether or not these efforts succeed, there is a question about what kind of future for Israel and the Palestinians the U.S. should be supporting over the long term, and many analysts feel that time is running out for some options. Here are four possible approaches that are frequently discussed. Please select the one you think the U.S. should support.

Rep Dem Ind Total 

1. A two-state solution: Israel and a Palestinian state side by side. The Palestinian state would be established on the territories that Israel has occupied since 1967. 24% 48% 31% 36% [That’s 24% “Rep”; 48% “Dem”; 31% “Ind”; 36% “Total.”]

2. A one-state solution: A single democratic state in which both Jews and Arabs are full and equal citizens, covering all of what is now Israel and the Palestinian Territories.  33% 36% 38% 35%

3. Annexation without equal citizenship: Israel would annex the Palestinian territories, but keep a majority-Jewish state in the expanded territories by restricting citizenship rights of Palestinians. 14% 3% 4% 8%

4. Maintain the occupation of both the territories Israel has captured in 1967 and the Palestinians inhabiting them indefinitely. 18% 5% 13% 11% 

Refused 11% 8% 14% 10%

[71% support either a two-state or a one-state solution (a sort of democratic solution). 19% support either “Annexation without equal citizenship” or Israel’s permanent militarily imposed “occupation of both the territories (West Bank and Gaza).” On this question, only 19% support Trump’s Israel policy, but 25% of Republicans do. However, 67% of Republicans don’t.]

One of the issues of tension between the United States and Israel has been its construction of Israeli settlements in the territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 war. These settlements are considered illegal by most of the international community and have been opposed by every U.S. administration, both Republican and Democratic. The Israeli government has continued to build settlements. … How do you believe the U.S. should react to new settlements?

1. Do nothing: 38% 17% 33% 28%

2. Verbally criticize: 30% 22% 27% 26%

3. Economic sanctions: 17% 41% 22% 17%

4. More serious action: 9% 15% 11% 12%

[Trump’s “Do nothing” is supported by 28% of American voters. That even includes only 38% of Republicans. 56% of Republicans want some type of at least criticism against Israel.]

Consequently: Trump has now gone far out onto a far-right limb here in his policies toward the state of Israel and its dictatorship over Palestinians (the people who are the descendants of what were the vast majority of Israel’s population until the ethnic cleansing that slaughtered and displaced them).

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The Intellectual Doomsday Clock: 30 Seconds to Midnight?

Dr. Matthew Crosston

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As someone who has dedicated his entire professional career to higher education, to engaging young minds and striving to advance new thinking across a whole host of critically important global issues, it is with great sadness that I write this article. Not only do all of the scientific surveys point to a coming calamity, my own career provides extensive anecdotal confirmation of the sad reality that we are, as a human society, pushing ourselves down into an intellectual abyss from which we might not be able to emerge. Perhaps most disturbing of all, this pushing momentum is not done by accident. Rather, most of society today seems hell-bent on orgiastically rejoicing in our diminishing skills and our dismissal of ‘smartness.’ Refined thinking, nuanced analysis, and subtle reasoning are now the supposed domain of out-of-touch elite, of people who do not know about reality and are therefore happily removed from the debate/discussion stage. This is not the same kind of anti-elitism we have seen in decades past. This is not simply a fight between the benefits of ‘book learning’ versus ‘experiential wisdom.’ This is more about total war being waged against the intellectual process itself with adjacent side-battles against research, open-mindedness, and scientific thinking. It is not about the quality of the journey of intellectual engagement. It is about the attempt to annihilate discussion in total, surrounding ourselves with our own anti-intellectual camps of sycophantic chatter amounting to nothing. It is not about inquiry leading to epiphany. It is about the biased construction of self-affirmation. We are a society of self-delusional dullards. May this be a not-so-subtle early warning to stop our own dumb and dumber destruction.

Source: axios.com

The above chart is fairly self-explanatory. The chief aspect to focus on is how most Democrats will actually use this as supposed ‘proof’ of their open-mindedness and ability to think more independently, far more so than the other two representative groups covering most of society in America. While I can grant it is horrifically appalling to see percentages amongst Republicans to go all the way to 92% and even “independents” proving they are not so independent at all by going up to 4/5 of their numbers, the surveys still show one out of every 2 democrats, slightly more than that actually, are in the exact same boat as the other members of society. Why does this matter? It matters because on one very crucial aspect this chart explains the secret ingredient that currently powers the base rationalization and self-justification most people use to fuel their purposeful refusal to seek out alternative arguments, embrace people with differing viewpoints, and understand the crucial humility needed in the world of politics and social order, that being there are very few, if any, questions that have one single undebatable answer that should rationally end all further debate. When you can reject all of these things, it allows you to be content with rejecting even the search for multiple sources, the comparative analysis crucial to any real truth-finding, and the rational thinking that creates true deep thought and nuanced intellectualism. The rejection of the impartiality of news sources as an entity de facto turns into behavior that rejects the need to be discerning about sources overall. If the sources are all tainted, then why do we need them at all? All we need is our own thinking, backed of course by the resident echo chambers we create by surrounding ourselves only with like-minded people. As long as the people I spend most of my time with (and that is increasingly becoming a measure based on ‘virtual exposure’ rather than ‘face-to-face living engagement’) agree with me, why do I need to care about other fools with different opinions?

Source: realclearscience.com

The above chart clusters Republican (red) and Democrat (blue) representatives on a spectrum of ideology (defined by how often they vote with the rest of their party) then links opposite party members according to their votes together. The links grow larger and darker the more often representatives vote across party lines. In this case, that symbolizes the positive representation of independent thinking and the ability to make decisions NOT according to knee-jerk party lines or blind ideological allegiance. The graphs’ evolution over time is simply remarkable in that not only does the prevalence of cross-party line votes diminish radically over the decades, the behavior by 2011 de facto evaporates while adhering staunchly to party ideology. Exclusionary thinking becomes intensely concentrated and exclusive. It is also disappointing to note that this fascinating study ended in 2011: one year before the second term of President Barack Obama and fully five years before the controversial first term of President Donald Trump. It is not scientifically radical to say the ideological tendencies in American partisanship have only worsened since that 2011 end-of-study date. In fact, heading into 2020, most political discussions in America no longer even include the possibility of any cross-party thinking, let alone behavior. The idea itself is dismissed as being symbolic NOT of independent thinking but of social betrayal that should be shunned and punished.

Source: dailymail.co.uk

This final chart is the cherry on top of the stupid sundae. It shows the clear and inevitable path that global IQ is taking from 1950 all the way to 2110. Some may say that a decline from an average of 92 to a new average of 84 is not much given it is covering 160 years. Some might even be motivated to invoke the old “Malthusian Dilemma” to criticize the data, pointing out that such long-term extrapolations are only based on current trends remaining immutable and cannot, therefore, take into account what future counter-measures might be taken by society to right the wrong indicators. I would like to be a member of the Malthusian camp, quite honestly. In its own way, this article is an effort to kick-start those supposed Malthusian strategies, bringing future resolutions to our ‘stupid problem’ sooner to the forefront rather than later. But all of this is wishful thinking. It is not hard science. My hopes, in fact, are based on the opposite of what the data shows, what society currently rejoices in, and what so many individual people profess as being an advancement in ‘popular intelligence.’ As long as our global society, led most decidedly by the most powerful and influential country on earth, continues to revel in anti-intellectualism as proof of its own grassroots intelligence, as long as people rationalize away critical reasoning and analytical thinking as just so much elite ivory tower snobbery, then the only path we craft for ourselves as a society is one of blissful ignorance, confrontational delusion, and self-righteous obliviousness. The only society to emerge from this path is a dead society. A society of stagnation and regression. The intellectual doomsday clock is at 30 seconds to midnight. The ability to shift the ticking second hand backwards, back to enlightenment and dynamic knowledge engagement, may already be gone. May the Malthusian Army appear soon.

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U.S.-Turkey relations: From close friendship to conflict of interests

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Relations between the U.S. Turkey have strained since the failed July 2016 coup in Turkey. Now, the most important reasons for the tension is Washington’s strong opposition to Turkey’s plan to buy S-400 missile system from Russia and Turkish military invasion into northern Syria.

Although Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to the U.S. on November 13 was intended to resolve the two countries’ disputes and open a new horizon in economic and trade relations, differences still remain. 

Though after the meeting at the White House, Trump made some pledges, including increasing trade ties to $100 billion, it takes a long time to fulfill these promises.

Contrary to such pledges, the Pentagon announced that it had replaced all F-35 fighter parts made by Turkey.

While the Turkish and U.S. leaders were meeting, F-35 production program executive Lt. Gen. Eric Fick said at a congressional hearing that Turkey would be completely phased out until March.

At the moment the U.S. has narrowed the number of parts down from 1,000 to 12.

Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord affirmed to Rep. Donald Norcross, D-N.J., that as of Wednesday, Turkey’s exit from the program was not expected to cause any F-35 production delays.

The U.S. government believes Ankara’s move to buy S-400 missile system from Russia is not in line with NATO policies. Washington also sees Turkey’s decision as a threat to U.S. F-35 fighters. However, Ankara has announced that it will go ahead with its decision to buy the missile system.

Erdogan said it is not a right policy to ask Ankara to deprive itself of the Russian S-400 missile defense system.

Erdogan’s remarks came in response to some reports that Trump had requested Turkey to cancel the purchase of S-400 system, a defense system that has been deployed in some parts of Turkey since July 2019.

But after Trump and Erdogan’s meeting, the Turkish president claimed that the U.S. president had a positive view on buying the missile system.

Though Trump may seek to strike a deal with Erdogan on the S-400 missile system and F-35 fighter aircraft, based on his own businessmen approach, Ankara’s military intervention in northern Syria and its insistence on buying the S-400 system are at odds with Washington. For this reason, the House of Representatives has passed two resolutions against Turkey.

On October 30, the House approved a resolution against Turkey recognizing the Ottoman massacre of Armenians in 1915. 305 representatives voted in favor of the resolution, with only three opposing it. It also passed another resolution calling on Trump to impose sanctions on Turkey over military operations in northern Syria. The resolution was also adopted by 403 votes in favor and 16 against, a move that rose Turkey’s anger.

After Erdogan’s meeting with Trump, attended by some Congress representatives, senior Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee vetoed the resolution recognizing the massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire. 

Earlier, Senate Majority Leader Robert Menendez had called for the resolution to be approved. Lindsey Graham noted that he had listened to Erdogan’s speech at the White House and criticized a House resolution that recognized the Armenian genocide. 

Menendez argued that “U.S. policy must be unanimous and honest in the face of human rights violations, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and genocide” and sent it to the Senate for approval.

There is a difference between the White House and Congress in how to deal with Turkey. Also, there is a difference between Republicans and Democrats despite Trump’s promises to Erdogan.

From our partner Tehran Times

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