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The Matrix We Live In

Luis Durani

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] D [/yt_dropcap]o you want the blue pill or the red pill?” Since the election, social media has exploded with a special type of visceral hate by people on both sides of the political spectrum. While the situation appears to be worsening with each president, this post-election devolution is of special note.

While the right to protest is essential and inherent in any true democracy, the rioting accompanying some of the protests has rendered the intent of the protest futile. While the protest of unconstitutional actions is justified, it begs the question where were such protests when President Obama were in office doing things much worse than President Trump has done thus far.

Political ideology has become further divided and more partisan. The lack of ideological empathy is non-existent. The attempt to understand the other side or compromise is no longer an option; it is almost heretical for anyone to attempt to be moderate. The last couple of decades have led to the disenfranchisement of Americans due to globalization, the great economic recession, 9/11, wars, etc. Trust has been lost in governmental and non-governmental institutions. Today, the culmination of all these events has created a pseudo-matrix reality for many of us in America. In the West, we are engaged in a neo-tribalism that in some part transcends race and religion but more focused on ideology regarding the economy, government, and social policy. Perhaps, it is our natural predisposition towards tribalism that has been ingrained into our genetic constitution over tens of thousands of years.

The coup de grace for me was seeing the implosion of everyone on Facebook and devolution of civic conversation into ignorant vitriol arguments that possess no substance but purely ad hominin. If there is a supposed debate about anything political, it is typical parroting of what the mainstream media spews to the public without an actual conversation taking place. When was the last time you truly questioned something you believed in? When was the last time you sought out more evidence for your belief, perhaps even a contrarian point of view on that topic?

Politics Awry

Democracy is the Schrodinger’s Cat of politics. It is simultaneously perhaps the greatest system ever bore and yet perhaps the worse. In theory, the former is witnessed by the fact that the will of majority is implemented to lead the country instead of one or a few people. It can be a debilitating and regressive system as witnessed here in the US. If that same majority is not well-informed and willing to engage in debate, the outcome is that the pragmatic few can use the supposed mandate of the majority to curry the system to their own favors.

Instead of electing well-informed and true leaders, our system has crumbled into career politicians who enrich themselves off the tax revenue of the public and further increase their wealth after they leave Washington thanks to the incestuous relationship that exists between politics, the media, and big corporations. In the recent decades, the political arena has reached new lows. Our election system is now nothing more than a popularity contest akin to high school. Whoever is the “coolest”, best dressed, and best looking is most likely to win, superficiality has officially outdone substance. This failure in the electoral system is no one’s fault but ours for allowing the status quo. The level of cognitive dissonance is unreal. A recent Gallup poll found that public support for Congress is near an all-time low yet incumbents are reelected at its highest rate, hovering around 90%+. This paradox demonstrates not only a discord in our understanding of politics but even hypocritical in some aspects.

Perhaps the bifurcation of the political system into two parties and furthermore into two rigid ideologies has created this “us versus them” mentality that reaches into the inner tribal nature. The fact that these two parties have oversimplified the principles and beliefs of people by compartmentalizing them into black and white touches at the heart of the issue. While some people can adhere to the entire platform of either party, which there is nothing wrong with, the majority of Americans do not. We are complicated and intricate beings, who cannot be boxed in here or there, instead perhaps we are blurred in the middle somewhere. The relegation of political power in the hands of these two parties essentially ensures that power always resides in both of their hands at all time. One will be a party in power and the other will be the only opposition in town, thus power is balanced. These two parties have done everything to ensure no rival third party can emerge. As a result, money and influence has help create a further veneering of the parties and their ideology relative to everyday Americans.

Due to the insulation of our political system, influence of corporations in the mainstream media, and the continued ignorance towards researching our political decisions, most Americans live in an alternative reality.

The Liberal Matrix

The fallout of the 2016 election has culminated in almost unprecedented level of protest and anti-Trump demonstrations. The foundation of any true democracy is the ability of its people to coalesce and protest, albeit peacefully. The protesters believe Trump epitomizes racism, hate and ignorance. They see Trump as the catalyst that will not only make the US regress but empower the fringe minority that spews hatred and disgust. The ascension of Trump, in their eyes, is the downfall of the Republic.

Liberalism is a political philosophy that predates the conception of the US as a nation. It is built upon many facets but most importantly the pillars of liberty and equality. Liberalism has deviated somewhat from its classical definition within the American experience. Liberals in the US still stress the notion of equality, the need to enshrine civil liberties as well as individual and human rights. Most importantly, liberals in the US view the government as a means to every end. While liberals claim to hold such principles as their raison d’être and as a result their much vocal and sometime violent opposition to Trump, they could not display a greater show of cognitive dissonance than in their actions against both President Bush and now President Trump.

The Bush administration’s 2003 invasion of Iraq perhaps opened the greatest tidal wave of instability for the region, the world and the US. The great and immeasurable toll it took on human life and catastrophe is markedly one of the larger events that will go down in history. From that illegal and unwarranted invasion unravels the world we see today around us. The long-term economic ramifications of the wars will be perhaps the more detrimental effect to the US. The combined wars of Afghanistan and Iraq, which was inconspicuously expanded by Obama despite promising to the contrary, will cost us about $10 Trillion dollars, more than half of the current national debt. This daunting amount as well as the ramifications on our way of life is lost on almost everyone in the country including the supposed experts.

As a result of the buildup to the war the public protested, rightfully so, yet, almost ¾ of the country supported this action, albeit falsely misled. Yet similar protests by this same anti-war faction are no longer visible. Under the 8 years of President Obama, such opposition that is visibly viewed today against Trump was absent. This is what I call hypocrisy. Although the true principled opposition still continued their grievances against President Obama, nevertheless that faction drastically was reduced. Many were sad to see President Obama depart, why? The following actions by President Obama should have raised the ire of so called liberal-oriented Americans more so under Obama, who falsely disguised himself a progressive and champion of change, than Bush who never campaigned on such things. President Obama was not only to a large extent a continuation of the Bush administration, it became the Bush administration on steroids. The following points demonstrate how liberals are either ignorant or hypocritical of how both Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama are perhaps anathema to their ideology than champions:

•Guantanamo Bay – Despite claiming that the site was a stain on America’s image and credibility and he would eliminate the prison, President Obama didn’t do anything. While he claimed that Congress impeded him from doing so, in reality President Obama could have employed executive action to justify the closure like he had done for his endless covert wars.

•War – Today many fear the rise of Trump in on part that he will cause the US to engage in more wars. Yet under the tenure of President Obama, at least 7 conflicts were initiated by the Nobel Peace Prize winning president who promised to sow peace for a nation distraught in war.

•Drone – One of the most horrible, amoral and perhaps least discussed policies by the media, is President Obama’s drone war. President Obama essentially outsourced his entire War on Terror campaign to drones whereas it was intended to be supplementary to an actual war plan. To put it in perspective, for every drone strike Bush had done, Obama carried out ten of them. Despite violating international law, the worse fall out from all this is that it has been reported that 90% of those killed as a result of drones tend not be the target, but mainly civilians. Aside from the tragic fallout, such a policy has been creating more terrorist than reducing it. In 2016, Obama ended the year with dropping 3 bombs every hour.

•Economy – During the 2008 presidential campaign, President Obama claimed that adding nearly $4 trillion dollars to the national debt was unpatriotic. He was referring to the enormous growth to the national debt under President Bush. Yet, 8 years later President Obama doubled the national debt and added nearly $10 trillion dollars. Despite claiming reduction in the unemployment number and helping the economy “grow.” President Obama, similar to his predecessors, used statistical voodoo to conceal the real state of the economy. President Obama helped further inflate the already bubble economy.

•Social Policy – Despite claiming to be a progressive administration that will represent all Americans, President Obama reneged on many policies he had initially promise to support. Whether it was immigration, marijuana legalization and civil liberties, President Obama became one of the most regressive presidents in some of these categories. Especially in the civil liberties arena, Obama took Bush’s Patriot Act and put it on steroids creating the NDAA, curtailing American civil liberties in all aspects. While appearing to be forward-looking and progressive, President Obama was perhaps one of the most Foucauldian presidents making the country more like his philosophical panopticon.

•Transparency – One of Obama’s most signature claims was that he would be the most transparent administration ever, yet he ran one of the most opaque administrations. He punished whistleblowers more harshly than his predecessor. In some cases, it was grossly punitive.

While liberals continue to protest about the Trump presidency, they need to come to term that living in a democracy has such consequences like losing in elections. While protesting policies and actions one disagrees with is an important aspect of any democracy, it is also necessary to reconcile principles with actions such as coming to term with respect to those who they prefer such as Barack Obama or Hilary Clinton, whose nearly decade in power brought destruction and ruin to many places around the world including further deterioration to the US. Liberals need to escape the matrix that they have encapsulated themselves in.

The Conservative Matrix

The 2016 election results have given new vigor to the Republican Party and Republicans everywhere. To many conservatives, the past 8 years has been what they see as the end of America and Western Civilization.

Conservatism is a political ethos that believes in free markets, individual liberty, limited government, and traditional American values. Government, according to conservatives, is a necessary evil that should be utilized only to help individuals pursue their own goals.

The Trump administration and his atypical approach whether to the presidency or the party, will redefine how the presidency is viewed and potentially redefine the party going forward. In the same vein that liberals miss the target, conservatives extend support for candidates or policies that stand in direct contradiction to their principles. The following points demonstrate how conservatives either are negligent about what they are supporting or “selective” in how they choose what they stand for.

Guantanamo Bay – The notorious torture camp came into being under the Bush administration. While the camp contains terrorists guilty of heinous crimes, it also contains many innocent people who were picked up under false pretenses. The approach by the administration to offer money to anyone that can bring a “terrorist” resulted in many innocent people being picked up. The prison symbolizes the antithesis to what it means to be American and all its values. The Supreme Court in Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld affirmed that the prisoners are entitled to basic protection per the Geneva Convention. In addition, the lack of habeas corpus defeats the main premise upon which this War on Terror is being predicated upon, preservation of Western values. All these reasons run contrary to core Republican beliefs, yet 84% of Republicans have expressed support for continuing the site. President Trump had vowed to continue to operate the facility and fill it up.

Economy – Republicans always tout the importance of being fiscally responsible and ensuring a balanced budget. However, under the Bush administration the national debt almost doubled, increasing by $4 trillion dollars. The government deficit grew and nothing was done to help curtail fiscal irresponsibility. The Tea Party arose from the fact that President Obama’s policies would result in financial ruin. While such protest and gripe was legitimate, surprisingly this same group of conservative protesters never arose during the Bush administration’s heydays, when the unlimited spending spree of the government was taking place.

War – While conservatives stress a strong national defense, historically unnecessary or offensive war has led to the enlargement of government. This is the biggest threat to what it means to be conservative. In the last couple of decades, the party has been hijacked by neoconservatives who have been bent on expanding American regions of influence. This has led to a division in the party. On one side are those who support the war hawk agenda because they see it as a necessary means to safety; peace through strength. On the other side, are the old Eisenhower Republicans, who are not pacifists but believed in a strong America not an imperial one. Nevertheless, it appears the majority of Republicans support the former, offensive war to supposedly ensure national security, which in itself is contradictory. As demonstrated, the last couple of wars have made us weaker in all aspects of being a nation.

The Constitution – Republicans position themselves to be staunch advocates and defenders of civil liberties and the Constitution. Under the Bush administration, the beginning of a new America came into being. It was no longer the in statu pacis that existed prior to 9/11, instead it was a hybrid war and police state. The War on Terror combined with the Patriot Act and other similar laws helped normalize a state that would have been unacceptable to most Americans prior to 9/11 as well as those who stood for defending civil liberties and the Constitution. But politicians used the fear that Americans had to pass laws that ran contradictory to what the Constitution wanted. Yet the continuation of the Patriot Act that evolved into a more stringent law, the NDAA under Obama, continues to this day unimpeded by the majority of Republicans.

Government – The underlying governing principle for any conservative is government by its nature is inherently evil, thus ensuring that it is as small as possible is the best way to impede the bureaucracy from swallowing up progress. Conservatives always aim to minimize government and not allow the leviathan to grow. While Republicans were up in arms over the ever-expanding Obama government, they were moot when President Bush not only raised government spending through the roof, he helped create additional layers of bureaucracy as well as an entire new department. Now President Trump appears to be on the same path to expand the government through social works program like FDR, no major conservative group has thus far voice any concerns with that plan.

Where Do We Go From Here?

The famous Greek historian and political philosopher, Thucydides wrote that it’s a habit of human beings to use sovereign reason to thrust aside what they do not fancy. What he was referring to was confirmation bias. Today, with the advent of the internet and social media, society has become further entrenched into partisanship than before. This blind abyss that we have entered into is what psychologists refer to as confirmation bias. We build these philosophical and intellectual silos to protect us from those whom we do not agree with or notions that we are ignorant of. The internet perhaps contains the greatest tool for humanity to reach its full potential but at the same time it has become a double edge sword. It has also allowed us to fortify this mental prison of confirmation bias even further. We search for sources that will “vindicate” what we consider our truth, the supposed good truth, rather than seeking out sources that will perhaps challenge us and make us reconsider what position we hold.

There is a difference between being a flip flop and someone who has become more knowledgeable on a topic and wants to shift their opinion. What should guide us is not so much positions but principles that act as our guiding compass. Principles should never be forsaken instead we can us them to navigate through the turbulence of the times.

As we go forth under a new presidency, the future for Americans has never been so bleak as it has been for the past couple of decades. Instead of parroting intellectualism, we should attempt to emulate it through challenging every political position and role model we hold dear. Why are you a liberal or conservative? Why are you a Democrat or Republican? Has your party lived up to its political tenets or just satiated with a veneer of claiming so?

Will Trump be the worst or best president ever? Nobody knows. He is like a blind date, yet knowingly or unknowingly he has been a cosmetic bless to rock the political establishment to its roots. No other candidate on either party could have done so much shaking up of the status quo. He has taken the system and turned it upside down and once again reminded them, albeit in an uncouth manner, that the exercise of power in a democracy rests with its people. Ultimately, they must serve at the pleasure of it nation’s citizens or face the wrath of the masses.

While protest is an important pillar of any democracy, those who protest Trump, must take a minute and see what they protest and if that really meshes with what they stand for. Where was their protest when President Obama joined his predecessor and ran this country into insolvency or when he was immorally and secretly initiating wars in at least 7 countries while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize? Where was the protest when the policy of drone strikes reached more than a 90% civilian death rate or when Secretary Clinton and President Obama illegally invaded Libya for no reason and created the state of anarchy and destruction that continues to this day. The same could be said about their tampering into Syria and other Middle Eastern countries resulting into the mass migration crisis we see that that wreaks havoc not only on Europe but has devastated the lives of those afflicted.

Similarly, while conservatives gloat about their victory, they need to watch President Trump and ensure he does not violate the Constitution and values America stands for similar to Republican presidents in the past by increasing the debt or starting wars or infringing upon our civil liberties.

In order for all of us to escape the abyss that we reside in now, we need to realize that the overwhelming majority of us nowadays reside in a mental matrix that we have created and the only escape is becoming cognizant of it first. So do you want the blue pill or the red pill?

Luis Durani is currently employed in the oil and gas industry. He previously worked in the nuclear energy industry. He has a M.A. in international affairs with a focus on Chinese foreign policy and the South China Sea, MBA, M.S. in nuclear engineering, B.S. in mechanical engineering and B.A. in political science. He is also author of "Afghanistan: It’s No Nebraska – How to do Deal with a Tribal State" and "China and the South China Sea: The Emergence of the Huaqing Doctrine." Follow him for other articles on Instagram: @Luis_Durani

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Americas

When Democracy Becomes the Problem: Why So Many Millions Still Support Donald Trump

Prof. Louis René Beres

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“Who is to decide which is the grimmer sight: withered hearts, or empty skulls?” -Honoré de Balzac

For understanding the context of social life, Honoré de Balzac was a master. Minutely analytic in his scrutiny of society, he delicately lay bare every stratum of culture with the precision of an archeologist. Brushing the “dirt” from every “artifact,” his books combined (as Victor Hugo remarked at his funeral) “observation and imagination.”

It was an ideal but too-rare combination. Still, desperately, America needs another Balzac today. Despite so much apt criticism of an incoherent US presidency, millions of Americans continue to regard Donald Trump as an acceptable or even exemplary leader.

How can this be happening in a presumptively informed and democratic American society? In response, we could very easily throw up our hands and exclaim (together with ancient philosopher Tertullian), Credo quia absurdum,  “I believe because it is absurd.” For a more serious response, however, we should first examine the wider American society from which this relentlessly conning president was drawn.

To fruitfully extend the illuminating Balzac metaphor, it is high time to “brush the dirt” from all still-revealing “artifacts.”

What might we expect to discover? At a minimum, the results of any such examination should be decipherable and straightforward. If  properly executed  (that is, if carried out with proper attention to the long-settled criteria of scientific investigation), we could quickly discover that Americans all-too-frequently abhor any genuine learning. Although this nation surely does place a very high value on every manner of “practical” achievement  (e.g., smart phones, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, self-driving cars, automatic guns, etc., etc.), it is only because these diverse products are expected to enhance the banal circumstances of American “mass.”  

In essence, before learning and intellect can ever be valued for themselves in the United States – a condition which is so clearly required for proper governance –  Americans will first need to think far beyond glittering and distracting technologies.

What else might be learned from a “Balzac-like” assessment of dissembling US presidential moments? In some respects, the “Trump Phenomenon” is not utterly unique. Although less rancorous, cantankerous and blatantly foolish, more than a few incapable and dishonest US presidents have been endured during America’s endlessly acrimonious past. At the same time, especially because his own conspicuous debilities are  coupled with a “nuclear button,” Donald Trump is more tangibly dangerous than any one of his injurious predecessors.

Vastly more dangerous.[1]

Soon, however, we must  return to deeper explanations. In all likelihood, almost by definition, a contemporary Balzac would look more closely at the broader society from which this American  president was drawn and from which he was catapulted to nuclear command authority. Here, soberly, all must finally confront a cheerlessly trivialized social order, a generally dumbed-down amalgam of individual citizen souls yearning to “follow the crowd.”

Ever yearning.

Even in this pervasively anti-thought society, the core problem is not that the “average American” knows too little about matters of consequence.

Rather, it’s that he or she wants to know very little.

Incontestably, these same limiting traits are characteristic of Donald J. Trump. Expressed in more axiomatic mathematical terms, one is the inevitable reciprocal of the other.

Not by happenstance did Trump rise to power in a country so flagrantly proud of its historical and cultural illiteracy. The fact that this US president never reads anything – literally, never, ever – is not widely taken by Americans as a significant liability. On the contrary, the obliging American mass reserves notably few intellectual expectations for its leaders. Indeed, for many voters, ostentatiously, any obvious intellectual disinterestedness  is taken as an enviable presidential asset.

Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosopher.  Once upon a time, when some calculable number of Americans still sought to read challenging books and consider variously complex ideas, Ralph Waldo Emerson urged his fellow citizens to embrace “plain living and high thinking.” Today, this earlier American  plea for improved personal and social equilibrium has been casually cast aside. If it were more widely recognized, Americans would then be “assured” that any well-reasoned pleas for consequential reform should only be ridiculed.

Under the aegis of President Trump’s continuously “rotating” senior appointees, matters will only get worse. Nonetheless, growing legions of US citizens acknowledge no real problem with their overtly anti-education president, even one whose proposed “solution” to gun violence in the schools is to randomly arm teachers (because they are “more loving” than police) and to “fight back” with still more guns. In part, at least, such an ominous indifference to intellect and science can be traced to America’s unrelieved barrage of crude and voyeuristic entertainments, many of which center on sadism, torture, murder and (these days especially) a cheerlessly corrosive public discourse.

Always, in the Trump Era, this discourse is laced with utterly baseless rancor and with conspicuously  dreary profanity.

Always, in this American White House, science and reason represent merely an annoying impediment to free-floating human hostilities.

 It’s time for candor. Earlier, Donald Trump had promised, at one of  his more hideous Goebbels-style “rallies,” to protect a nonexistent Article of the US Constitution. Even then, however, his  unhidden historical ignorance was glossed over by supporters as unimportant.  Still, it represented another humiliating Trumpian symptom of America’s much wider and more deeply insidious national “pathology.” While his followers were generally correct that this president was entirely willing to “speak his mind,” they seem untroubled by the too-obvious corollary.

There was no underlying mind for him to speak.[2]

“What the mob once learned to believe without reasons,” queries Friedrich Nietzsche in the Fourth Part of his Zarathustra, “who could overthrow that with reasons?”

Nietzsche, as usual, had understood splendidly, deeply. He reflected (also in Zarathustra) that “When the throne sits upon mud, mud sits upon the throne.”  Disregarding the millions who (“with reasons”) still refuse to renounce a glaringly unhinged presidency, Donald Trump never ever attempts to understand that American history deserves its proper pride of place.

This is because the American president is himself  utterly ignorant of America’s history and founding principles.

How many Americans who energetically champion “gun rights” have paused to consider that the Founding Fathers were not expecting automatic weapons? How many can sincerely believe that the Founders would have wanted 350 million privately-held weapons, including huge private arsenals that can kill hundreds in minutes and are sometimes in the hands of citizens living with variously advanced stages of dementia?

Could any argument for “Second Amendment Rights” be more starkly disingenuous than those that put literally unimaginable sentiments into the mouths of 18th century revolutionaries?

Can anyone reserve a legitimate intellectual right to believe that the Second Amendment embraces originally-inconceivable sorts of firearm? How many “educated” Americans bother to learn that their early eighteenth-century Republic was the direct religious heir of John Calvin and the lineal philosophical descendant of John Locke and Thomas Hobbes? How many can appreciate that the fearful Hobbesian “state of nature” described in Leviathan – a “state of war” or “war of all against all” (bellum omnium contra omnes) – was deemed insufferable by the seventeenth-century English philosopher because there “…the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest.”

Hobbes strongly cautioned against any social order that might wittingly or unwittingly create this “dreadful equality.” After all, following such creation,  “…the life of man (would necessarily be) solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Evidently lost on this president, too, is the ongoing relevance of Hobbesian thinking to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Why else would Trump be actively undermining the already-fragile nuclear arms control regime, even to the extent of abrogating critical US treaties with Russia?

One still-whispered explanation is that this US president is a real-life “Manchurian Candidate,” but a more plausible answer is that he has no intellectual grasp of how best to support American survival in the steadily nuclearizing state-of-nature.

None at all.

For Trump, going back to “nature,” both nationally and internationally, could represent a positive or welcome development. More exactly, in this president’s alarmingly disjointed views of the world, (ones wherein “might makes right”)  regression could sometime become an agreeable part of  “making America great again.”

Credo quia absurdum.  “I believe because it is absurd.”

There is more. This is hardly the first time in modern history that a “crowd” has loved to chant gibberish in belligerent chorus. For a particularly worrisome example, we need only recall the ritual cries of Joseph Goebbels at the Nuremberg Rallies before the War. What Goebbels did expertly instruct, with a shrill and perverse genius – an instruction now capably learned by Donald Trump – is that the bigger the lie, the more believable it can become. At first, the lie doesn’t seem to make any sense. But if one leads chants often enough against some “crooked” opponent or another, fewer will expect to find any “crookedness” on the chanting side.

Such devious  “logic” makes no discernible sense. Still, it continues to work well for US President Donald Trump. Absurdly well.

“Intellect rots the brain,” warned Goebbels.

“I love the poorly educated,” echoed candidate Donald Trump in 2016.

Not much calculable difference here. Both Goebbels and Trump were effectively on the same page.

In the past, Mr. Trump, with nary a hint of painstaking analysis, blithely encouraged more countries to acquire their own nuclear weapons (e.g., Japan and South Korea).  Immediately, this incomprehensible urging should have signaled a too-willing incapacity to figure out certain complex strategic problems. At a minimum, the president’s earlier encouragements were spawned by his apparent unawareness that possession of nuclear weapons does not ipso facto create credible nuclear deterrence postures.

Not at all.

In the pertinent language of nuclear strategic theory – a language with which I have personally been intimate for over fifty years – in Princeton, Washington and Jerusalem – the Trump fallacy has a specific name.

It is referenced by specialists as the “porcupine theory.”[3]

This prickly metaphor obtains because these violators of strategic logic falsely equate nuclear weapons states with porcupines, presuming that just as the quill-endowed critters will leave each other alone in the forest, so too would nuclear weapon states steer clear of each other in the unsteady interstices of anarchic world politics.[4]

In the end, US presidential selections are too often shaped by primal disfigurements. Many of America’s cumulative political ambitions remain integrally bound up with distressingly embarrassing simplifications and with resoundingly stupefying clichés. The elaborately welcomed appearance of Duck Dynasty as a principal “speaker” before Mr. Trump’s Republican National Convention should already have represented the reductio ad absurdum of a declining civilization.

Yet, it was not generally criticized. Not at all.

But it was consistent – and without causing any electoral disadvantage – with Donald Trump’s terminally proud aversion to refinement, syntax, intellect and meaningful learning. At even much deeper levels,  it was expressive of America’s general celebration of low-level and degrading public distractions. For this US president, whose crude sentiments were unhidden, there was more palpable instructional value in television’s Roseanne than in Homer or Shakespeare.

Shouldn’t this illiterate judgment have been a sufficiently worrisome “early warning”?

 Accordingly, Ralph Waldo Emerson and his learned generation of American Transcendentalists would have done more than winced. America’s earliest presidents, after all, were individuals of recognizable accomplishment and original thought.

In July 1776, over one short Philadelphia weekend of dreadful heat and no modern conveniences,  a then-future American president composed more infinitely valuable prose than America’s current president (with all modern conveniences at his ready disposal) could produce in several contiguous lifetimes. Thomas Jefferson did not arrive at his presidency with a well-honed expertise in “branding,” but instead with the much more appropriate understanding that an American
“brand” should be based upon certain authentic qualities of accomplishment.    These traits are inherently true, honorable and correspondingly valuable.

“One must never seek the higher man,” warned philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in Zarathustra, “at the marketplace.” Years ago, America  still stood for something more than buying, selling and grievously raw commerce. Years ago, the country’s national debates did not yet center on mass killing and the right to arm oneself with military-style  assault weapons.

It may well be that America has never been quite ready for Plato’s “Philosopher King,” but there were at least some recallable times in its national past that philosophical debates would sound more like a mind-expanding university seminar than a self-defense course on tactical weapons.

 Assuredly, American s remember their earlier presidents not for their transient commercial successes in the frenetic marketplace of goods for sale and purchase, but for their auspicious presence in an enlightening marketplace of  ideas. For these still-enviable presidents, it was much more important to build a leadership legacy upon wisdom and learning than on the incessantly demeaning symbols of conspicuous consumption.

It’s not complicated. The full horror of the Trump presidency – a horror still energetically accepted by millions – begins with the intellectually unambitious American citizen; with the insistently flawed individual “microcosm.” The American electorate, the macrocosm, can never rise any higher than the amalgamated capacities of its separate members. As Nietzsche could easily have predicted, the whole of the American polity is more starkly despoiled than the aggregate sum of its component “parts.”

 Ultimately, for better or for worse, every democracy comes to represent the sum total of its constituent “souls,” that is, those still-hopeful citizens who would seek some sort or other of personal “redemption.” In the deeply fractionated American republic, however, We the people – more and more desperate for a seemingly last chance to “fit in” and to “get ahead” –   inhabit a vast wasteland of lost human and intellectual opportunity. Within this desiccated amalgam of cheap pleasures and abysmal entertainments, of political leaders without even a scintilla of courage or integrity, millions of “hollow men” and women remain chained to exhausting cycles of meaningless and repetitive work.

There are manifold ironies here. While generally unrecognized, this de facto servitude is sometimes felt in the United States by the very very rich as well as by the very very poor. This paradoxical “artifact” of American privilege is based upon entire lifetimes spent on grimly sterile forms of pointless personal accumulation.

 Now, our most spirited national debates continue to be about guns and killing  not about history, literature, music, art, philosophy, or beauty.[5] Within this vast and predatory nether world, huge segments of our unhappy population  drown themselves ritually in vast oceans of alcohol and drugs. Whether incremental or sudden, this intractable submersion is now becoming deep enough to swallow up whole centuries of national achievement and entire millennia of a once-sacred poetry.

At its core, the American “opiate addiction problem” is not fundamentally about drugs. It is, rather, the symptom of rampant individual unhappiness and an intractable social despair. The most tangible residue of this unrelieved problem can be found scattered as toxic litter over thousands of America’s beaches and playgrounds. In the end, this litter can be taken as the materially squalid overflow of a nation’s much larger social disintegration.

This coming-apart is destroying a US society that has become complicit in its own manifestly unheroic demise.

 Small wonder that so many millions of Americans cling desperately to their smart phones and related electronic devices. Filled with a deepening and ultimate horror of ever having to be left alone with themselves, these virtually connected millions are visibly frantic to claim some recognizable membership in the public mass. Earlier, in the 19th century, philosopher Soren Kierkegaard had already foreseen this omnivorous mass, even before the rise of social media.

“The crowd,” opined the prophetic Danish thinker, “is untruth.”

Later, in the twentieth century, in a portentously similar insight, Spanish existentialist Jose Ortega y’ Gassett  foresaw the uniquely perilous consequences of “mass,” a term also resembling Sigmund Freud’s “horde” and quite nearly identical to Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung’s “mass.”

Whether one speaks of  a “crowd,” “horde,” or mass,” the selected noun can speak volumes about how a non-reading and non- writing President Donald Trump remains able to claim the enthusiastic support of millions. In brief, while seeking such support, there is never any compelling reason for Mr. Trump to bother reconciling his policies with verifiable facts. In proudly announcing his “Made in America Week” some time back, this president took no pains to justify that his own family businesses were continuing to rely heavily on foreign-made goods and workers.

Always, in this gravely pernicious presidency, hypocrisy is undisguised.

Is this a sign of virtue?

Hardly.

Although virtually all respectable academic economists are convinced that Trump-generated tariffs will have deleterious effects on each American’s individual family pocketbook, this president continues to plan for some sort of “victory” in his indecipherable trade wars.

 Conceptually, for this president, it’s not a difficult reconciliation to make. In any such calculations, full speed ahead, facts and logic be damned.

 For the moment, at least, we Americans remain grinning but hapless captives in a deliriously noisy and airless “crowd” or “herd” or “mass.”  Disclaiming any residual interior life, we proceed tentatively, and in almost every palpable sphere, at the lowest common denominator. Expressed in more annoyingly recognizable terms, even our vaunted American “freedom” is becoming a contrivance.

Once again, it’s time for candor. Our simplifying American context offers a regrettable but ubiquitous “solvent.” This caustic solution dissolves almost everything substantial of  intellectual or analytic consequence. In education, the once revered Western Canon of literature and art has already   been replaced by more generalized emphases on “branding.” Already,  apart from their pervasive drunkenness and enthusiastically tasteless entertainments, our once-sacred spaces of higher education have been transformed into a steadily rusting pipeline to ritualistic jobs and sterile vocations.

Soon, even if we should manage to avoid nuclear war and nuclear terrorism – an avoidance not to be taken for granted in the rapidly unraveling Trump Era – the swaying of the American ship will become so violent that even the hardiest lamps will be overturned. Then, the phantoms of great ships of state, once laden with silver and gold, may no longer lie forgotten. Then, perhaps, we will finally understand that the circumstances that could send the compositions of Homer, Maimonides, Goethe, Milton, Shakespeare, Freud and Kafka to join the disintegrating works of forgotten poets were neither unique nor transient.

In an 1897 essay titled “On Being Human,” Woodrow Wilson inquired thoughtfully about the authenticity of America. “Is it even open to us to choose to be genuine?” he asked. This earlier American president had answered “yes,” but only if we first refused to stoop to join the threatening and synthetic “herds” of mass society. Otherwise, as Wilson had already understood, our entire society would be left bloodless, a skeleton, dead with that rusty demise of broken machinery, more hideous even than the unstoppable decompositions of each person.

 In all societies, as Emerson and the other American Transcendentalists had also recognized, the scrupulous care of each individual”soul” is most important. There can be a “better”American soul,[6] and also an improved American politics,but not until we are first able to acknowledge a more prior obligation. This is a far-reaching national responsibility to overcome the staggering barriers of a Kierkegaardian “crowd” culture, and to embrace once again the liberating imperatives of Emersonian “high thinking.”

In the end, the Donald Trump presidency is “merely” the most debilitating symptom of a much deeper American pathology. In this country, the underlying disease is rather a far-reaching national unwillingness to think seriously. Left unchallenged at this rudimentary level, such reluctance could eventually transform us into the finely-lacquered corpse of a once-promising American Civilization.

Naturally, if this president should ever authorize the use of American nuclear weapons, such transformation could become instantaneous.

 More than likely, the Trump presidency will notend with the bang of a catastrophic nuclear war, but even that “happy ending” could represent little more than a temporary reprieve. Accordingly, unless Americans begin to work much harder at halting their society’s steep indifference to both intellect and reason, we will recurrently have to face the ominous kinds of metamorphoses that Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once famously termed a “sickness unto death.” As Americans who can still understand more than the embarrassingly empty witticisms stitched into red baseball caps, the truest work should begin not with politics directly (all politics are ultimately just reflection), but with very deliberate and purposeful fixing of their private “selves.”

The American democracy, as we may yet learn from Thomas Jefferson, a US president of true intellectual accomplishment, was never expected to flourish without an informed citizenry. Once this is finally understood and accepted, an imperiled nation could more properly guard itself against another patently unfit American president. It follows that there could not possibly be any more important “brand” of national awareness.

Recalling classic French author Honoré Balzac, “withered hearts” and “empty skulls” need not be mutually exclusive. Rather, most notably in the scarcely hidden case of a now- deteriorating American polity, the first can flow lethally and directly from the second. Moreover, the impacted ambit of corollary suffering could quickly extend far beyond US borders to other and distant countries, and include major wars or genocide.

Such would be a plausible legacy of a declining American democracy increasingly detached from reason and learning.


[1] There are many compelling components to any such allegation, but the most serious of these concerns an American president’s authority and capacity to initiate nuclear war. In this connection, several recent articles by the author expressly deal with this overriding concern. See, for example, Louis René Beres,  http://www.jurist.org/forum/2017/08/louis-rene-beres-trump-nuclear.php  See also:  https://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2016-05-11/possible-trump-presidency-showcases-fatal-flaw-in-nuclear-command-safeguard. Professor Beres is the author of twelve published books dealing with nuclear command decisions, including Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (The University of Chicago Press, 1980), and, in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: https://thebulletin.org/2016/08/what-if-you-dont-trust-the-judgment-of-the-president-whose-finger-is-over-the-nuclear-button/

[2] At the July 4 2019 celebration in Washington, this president promised “brand new Sherman tanks” and instructed that in the 18th century the Revolutionary War army had “taken control of all national airports.” (No Sherman tanks have been built in  the last seventy years).

[3] A somewhat analogous fallacy in domestic politics is revealed in the recommending of easy private access to guns, and, correspondingly, of arming teachers to deter school shootings. To be sure, it makes little sense to argue (as does Donald Trump) that a determined and deeply disturbed individual with access to multiple firearms would be best deterred by a “loving teacher” with a handgun concealed in her/his desk drawer or pocketbook. It is also worth noting that in several thousand years of western philosophy, a key hallmark of a civilized society has been the “centralized force monopoly of the community,” not the “every man for himself” vigilante system now seemingly favored by a sitting American president.

[4] One of this writer’s first scholarly assessments of the “porcupine” fallacy was published in Parameters: The Journal of the US Army War College (Department of Defense) in September 1979. See; Louis René Beres, “The Porcupine Theory of Nuclear Proliferation: Shortening the Quills,” Parameters,  Vol. IX, No. 3, September 1979, pp. 31-37. More recently, see also Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (New York and London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), 2nd edition 2018.

[5] On US President Donald Trump’s ideas of art and beauty, see: Louis René Beres at Oxford University Press:  https://blog.oup.com/2017/09/aesthetics-politics-donald-trump-beauty/https://blog.oup.com/2017/09/aesthetics-politics-donald-trump-beauty/

[6] However ironic, Sigmund Freud had maintained a general antipathy to all things American. In essence, he most objected, according to Bruno Bettelheim, to this country’s “shallow optimism,” and its seemingly corollary commitment to a disturbingly crude form of materialism. America, thought Freud, was very evidently “lacking in soul.” See: Bruno Bettelheim, Freud and Man’s Soul (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983), especially Chapter X.

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A self-inflicted wound: Trump surrenders the West’s moral high ground

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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For the better part of a century, the United States could claim the moral high ground despite allegations of hypocrisy because its policies continuously contradicted its proclaimed propagation of democracy and human rights. Under President Donald J. Trump, the US has lost that moral high ground.

This week’s US sanctioning of 28 Chinese government entities and companies for their involvement in China’s brutal clampdown on Turkic Muslims in its troubled north-western province of Xinjiang, the first such measure by any country since the crackdown began, is a case in point.

So is the imposition of visa restrictions on Chinese officials suspected of being involved in the detention and human rights abuses of millions of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims.

The irony is that the Trump administration has for the first time elevated human rights to a US foreign policy goal in export control policy despite its overall lack of concern for such rights.

The sanctions should put the Muslim world, always the first to ring the alarm bell when Muslims rights are trampled upon, on the spot.

It probably won’t even though Muslim nations are out on a limb, having remained conspicuously silent in a bid not to damage relations with China, and in some cases even having endorsed the Chinese campaign, the most frontal assault on Islam in recent history.

This week’s seeming endorsement by Mr. Trump of Turkey’s military offensive against Syrian Kurds, who backed by the United States, fought the Islamic State and were guarding its captured fighters and their families drove the final nail into the coffin of US moral claims.

The endorsement came on the back of Mr. Trump’s transactional approach towards foreign policy and relations with America’s allies, his hesitancy to respond robustly to last month’s missile and drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities, his refusal to ensure Saudi transparency on the killing a year ago of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and his perceived empathy for illiberals and authoritarians symbolized by his reference to Egyptian field marshal-turned-president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as “my favourite dictator.”

Rejecting Saudi and Egyptian criticism of his intervention in Syria, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave the United States and Mr. Trump a blunt preview of what they can expect next time they come calling, whether it is for support of their holding China to account for its actions in Xinjiang, issues of religious freedom that are dear to the Trump administration’s heart, or specific infractions on human rights that the US opportunistically wishes to emphasize.

“Let me start with Saudi Arabia,” Mr. Erdogan said in blistering remarks to members of his Justice and Development Party (AKP). “Look in the mirror first. Who brought Yemen to this state? Did tens of thousands of people not die in Yemen?” he asked, referring to the kingdom’s disastrous military intervention in Yemen’s ruinous civil war.

Addressing Mr. Al-Sisi, Mr. Erdogan charged: “Egypt, you can’t talk at all. You are a country with a democracy killer.” The Turkish leader asserted that Mr. Al-Sisi had “held a meeting with some others and condemned the (Turkish) operation – so what if you do?”

The fact that the United States is likely to encounter similar responses, even if they are less belligerent in tone, as well as the fact that Mr. Trump’s sanctioning of Chinese entities is unlikely to shame the Muslim world into action, signals a far more fundamental paradigm shift:  the loss of the US and Western moral high ground that gave them an undisputed advantage in the battle of ideas, a key battleground in the struggle to shape a new world order.

China, Russia, Middle Eastern autocrats and other authoritarians and illiberals have no credible response to notions of personal and political freedom, human rights and the rule of law.

As a result, they countered the ideational appeal of greater freedoms by going through the motions. They often maintained or erected democratic facades and payed lip service to democratic concepts while cloaking their repression in terms employed by the West like the fight against terrorism.

By surrendering the West’s ideological edge, Mr. Trump reduced the shaping of the new world order to a competition in which the power with the deeper pockets had the upper hand.

Former US national security advisor John Bolton admitted as much when he identified in late 2018 Africa as a new battleground and unveiled a new strategy focused on commercial ties, counterterrorism, and better-targeted U.S. foreign aid.

Said international affairs scholar Keren Yarhi-Milo: “The United States has already paid a significant price for Trump’s behaviour: the president is no longer considered the ultimate voice on foreign policy. Foreign leaders are turning elsewhere to gauge American intentions… With Trump’s reputation compromised, the price tag on U.S. deterrence, coercion, and reassurance has risen, along with the probability of miscalculation and inadvertent escalation.”

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Trump’s effects on diplomacy

Irfan Khan

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No longer has Trump’s haphazard behaviour persisted, more will be easy for his administration to enact actions against China, Iran and Taliban. The state department is in a quandary because of it, on each front. Trump’s entrenched eagerness to remain “great” and “first” on the chessboard of International power, could damage the world more ahead than before.

Following the Iran’s attacks on the Kingdom of Saudi-Arabia’s oil infrastructure, US wanted to deploy troops to the Kingdom. It is primarily a justification for why the US has been imposing sanctions over Iran. Is troops deployment a solution? Or will it provide safe horizon to Kingdom oil’s installation? Or will it be revolutionary in oil diplomacy? Or is it the only target retaliated on, by Iran. However, such kind of engagement has short term beneficiary spots, while in broader perspective it has consequential effects for all stakeholders. The episode of nuclear deal has, as a factor of quid-pro-quo, been further dramatised by the state department, withdrawing from. Notwithstanding, the deal has advantageous prospects for the Middle East, and an exemplary for rest of nations, has been further dramatised by the US, in order to seek its diplomatic wins. What significant at this point, is an agreement to reback to the deal.

Embracing a different economic model, China, is plausibly on a runner-up position to the US. Whether it’s 5G tech. Or leading status of green energy, or ultra-scales exports or its leading developments for the nations having indigent economies, is a source of chaos for US administration. The current trade war is an antidoting tool for the whole scenario. The US should, I assume, eye China’s hegemony a piece of cake, and welcome its come out while securing its interests under the umbrella of cooperation. This logic, while posing no threat, seems to be long term functional. Is it?

Trump, according to many native writers, is psychologically unfit, unstable and fickle, however have had strong narrative to prevent America’s engagement into “useless wars” and end “endless” wars. Following this token, Trump announcement of troop withdrawal from Syria and Afghanistan put the world politics and even his administration into chaos. This divided strategists and Washington security officials, which was underpinned by the resignation of James Mattis and recently John Bolton. The ten months of peace process which followed the US’s announcement of troop withdrawal, precipitously ended, putting once again the international and national politics into chaos. Trump, grandiloquently fired a tweet that talks with Taliban are dead and futile. The argument he contended was the Attack in Kabil, where one American soldier with 12 other people were lost. The policymakers and high officials in Washington who already negated the policy of troop withdrawal and then after peace deal. They, of course are winner in this policy discourse, have staunch beliefs in their opinion, who may make Trump’s change of heart. The Kabil attack was given, probably, an agent of resurgent for Obama’s approach. However, Trump’s administration had already scripted their policy framework for the region, and pretending Kabul attack was perhaps a way of redemption from the peace talk.

Trump’s factor in US foreign policy was chaotic to his subordinates for which, he attempted to compensate by cancelling peace deal with Taliban. However , on the domestic front, it is likely to be more pluses than on diplomatic front given to Trump in next year’s presidential election. Let’s see which side the wind blow. 

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