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Remembering JFK – The Short Lived President: His Life and Achievements

Zaeem Hassan Mehmood

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John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK) was the 35th President of the United States of America (USA) during the heightened time of the Cold War. “The youngest man ever elected to the presidency, succeeding the man who… was the oldest. He symbolized anew generation, a coming-of-age. The first president born in the 20th century, the first young veteran of World War II to reach the White House.”

A number of events of international significance took place during his presidency, including the Cuban Missile crisis, Bay of Pigs invasion and the initiation of US involvement in Vietnam. He is remembered for carefully handling crisis over Cuba when ‘the world was brinks away from nuclear war.’ with Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) when the latter deployed missiles on the island. ‘Containment‘ continued to be the official policy; however the Kennedy administration undertook a modest approach, moving from his predecessors ‘Massive Retaliation’ to a more ‘Flexible Response.’ Having served overseas as a navy man provided him the necessary exposure and knowledge, with which he was able to negotiate well with competitors and adversaries alike on a number of occasions. It was this background that allowed him to bring reforms at local domestic arena, particularly at the societal level and in the armed forces. A number of legislation pertaining to Civil Rights Movement were enacted during his tenure. He is credited with the creation of US Navy Seals and Special Services Group (SSG) which form the backbone of the country’s military. It was his vision and plan that later allowed Neil Armstrong of the Apollo 11 to be the first man on moon. Kennedy served a period of three years in the White House, which were cut short by his assassination in 1963. Robert Dallek has titled his award winning biography ‘An Unfinished Life’ calling the president a great statesman who achieved so much in such a short span of time.

Early Life and Career

JFK was born to an influential Irish immigrant family who were big names in business and politics. His grandfathers were seasoned politician, one of whom, John F. Fitzgerald ascended as the Mayor of Boston. Joseph P. Kennedy, his father was the Ambassador to England. His upbringing greatly influenced him, according to his colleagues from an early age he was more interested in current affairs than his studies. His college professors greatly resented this as he seldom read the course assigned text books and was mostly seen with books on leadership and international affairs. He greatly admired Winston Churchill from a tender, whose book ‘Marlborough: His Life and Times’ remained his all-time favourite.

Kennedy was not always the charismatic and leading figure during his early career. According to biographer, Robert Dallek, he was a substantiated figure in the household being overshadowed by the personality of his elder brother, Joe Jr. He greatly resented that he always had to live up to mark set by him. This was shown by his anger and rebellious due to which he was chastened a number of time during his years at Choate College. It was only after tragic accident of Joe Jr. while serving overseas in the Second World War, did Jack Kennedy came into the spotlight. Dallek argues that it was in fact Joe Jr. whom their father wanted to be the President, only when he was no more did Kennedy being next in line, ascended to the office.

Kennedy leadership skills were recognized from his early youth days. He was nominated the business manager of his school yearbook. During a college voting, he was voted by his peers as “most likely to succeed” in whatever future career he undertook.  His skills were further sharpened after his graduation from Harvard and Princeton.

“The reasons that I have for wishing to go to Harvard are several. I feel that Harvard can give me a better background and a better liberal education than any other university. I have always wanted to go there, as I have felt that it is not just another college, but is a university with something definite to offer….. I would like to go to the same college as my father. To be a ‘Harvard man’ is an enviable distinction, and one that I sincerely hope I shall attain.

Kennedy during his academic career was a popular figure. He was likewise good in sports, joining the college football, golf, and swimming, for which he won 1936 Nantucket Sound Star Championship Cup. However his family greatly hid all the health problems, Jack faced from his early to his times at the White House. He had to undergo emergency hospitalization a number of times. However to this day it remains a mystery as to which disease he actually had. 

In the days preceding the Second World War, Kennedy toured Europe, Soviet Union, the Balkans, and the Middle East in preparation for his Harvard thesis. He returned to London from Czechoslovakia, on the very day when Germany invaded Poland which culminated World War II. His thesis, “Appeasement in Munich”, became a bestseller under the title Why England Slept. Kennedy’s far sightedness can be seen by his writing which proposed for an Anglo-American alliance believing only it could save the day.

Kennedy Doctrine

President J.F Kennedy is remembered for orchestrating a political ideology and belief that the pundits dubbed as the “Kennedy Doctrine”.  It is attributed to the year 1961, in a speech that summed up the administration beliefs and course of action during the heightened time of the Cold War.

“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

The Kennedy Doctrine was an expansion from the foreign policy initiatives of his predecessors. His predecessors “Eisenhower Doctrine” was focused more towards Middle East whereas the “Truman Doctrine” consisted of containing Soviet influence in Europe. JFK being the ‘far-sighted’ politician extended similar objectives to area of Latin America following the left-wing aspirations following Fidel Castro’s revolution. He was involved and well committed when it came to foreign policy initiatives on a number of occasions, particularly after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion for which the President blasted the then Joint Chief of Staff for providing him with ‘an unworkable plan.’ W. Averell Harriman, served in various administrations was considered one of the foreign policy elders as ‘Wise Men’, called him:“The first President, that I know of who was really his own secretary of state. He dealt with every aspect of foreign policy, and he knew about everything that was going on.”

Cuban Missile Crisis

The Cuban Missile Crisis reflected the pragmatic leadership style of President Kennedy. It was what experts termed as ‘Flexible Response.” One of the great qualities of JFK, who to this date remains the only President of UShaving a catholic faith, knew how to challenge the advice and assumption of the experts. This was exactly the case during the Cuban Missile crisis, where he diligently listened to all the three groups present at the high level meeting. There were the hawks being represented by the defence establishment, then there were the moderates consisting of Robert McNamara and Attorney General Robert Kennedy and finally there were the doves who believed that US should present a stance that is least hostile, consisting of direct cooperation with Soviets. Kennedy personally micromanaged the quarantine by personally selecting the US Navy warships for that very purpose.  Peter G. Northhouse has called this an ‘authoritarian style blended with charismatic leadership.’ He attributes this characteristic to his training as a navy man and to his times during Harvard and Stanford. It is believed that it was Kennedy who got most out of the Cuban Missile crisis, his popularity rating increased from 66 percent to 77 percent, one of the highest ever by a President serving in the office. Whereas Soviet Premier Khrushchev was a bit unfortunate in this case, as it was instrumental in bringing a coup against him which led to his ouster.   

Legacy

Kennedy was the first of the six presidents to have served in the U.S. Navy to this day. One of the enduring legacies remains the creation of Special Forces command, the Navy SEALs, which to this remains the highest and most prestigious in International Defence Forces. The Civil Rights Bill was his proposal, which unfortunately became only after his assassination, in the year 1964.

Some historians blame him for the continuing the policies of his predecessors, Truman and Eisenhower which eventually got the US into Vietnam, a long and unpopular war. Some conspiracy theorists argue that it was because he challenged the military industrial complex decision to end the War in Vietnam, did he got assassinated. They cite his 1963 speech at American University where he signaled that he was ready ‘to bring back all the 1000 troops back home’President Kennedy to this day remains the most popular US President of all times, in the league reserved for big names like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt.

“Visitors from all over the world have signed their names in the memory books, and many have written tributes: “Our greatest President.” “Oh how we miss him!” “The greatest man since Jesus Christ.”

Zaeem Hassan Mehmood, is an alumnus of National Defence University, Islamabad. He is serving as Research Associate at National Centre for Maritime Policy Research (NCMPR)

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How Bernie Sanders Will Destroy the Deep State if He Becomes President

Eric Zuesse

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Joe Lauria at Consortium News headlined on February 21st, “Apparent US Intel Meddling in US Election With ‘Report’ Russia is Aiding Sanders”, and he noted that,

If the story is true and if intelligence agencies are truly committed to protecting U.S. citizens, the Sanders campaign would have been quietly informed and shown evidence to back up the claims.

Instead the story wound up on the front page of the [Washington] Post, “according to people familiar with the matter.” Zero evidence was produced to back up the intelligence agencies’ assertion.

“It is not clear what form that Russian assistance has taken,” the Post reported. That would tell any traditional news editor that there was no story until it is known. 

Instead major U.S. media are again playing the role of laundering totally unverified “information” just because it comes from an intelligence source. Reporting such assertions without proof amounts to an abdication of journalistic responsibility. It shows total trust in U.S. intelligence despite decades of deception and skullduggery from these agencies.

Despite the untrustworthiness of the intelligence agencies that had told President George W. Bush that they would be able to present to the American public a “slam-dunk” case that Saddam Hussein had WMD and was to blame for the 9/11 attacks, and despite their similar serial lying up to the present time, Senator Sanders issued a public statement that “Unlike Donald Trump, I do not consider Vladimir Putin a good friend. He is an autocratic thug who is attempting to destroy democracy and crush dissent in Russia.” Regardless of whether he actually believes that Putin is an “autocratic thug,” his saying this was necessary in the context of the ceaseless anti-Putin propaganda in America’s ‘news’-reporting and from America’s ‘intelligence’ agencies, all of which have for decades been effectively controlled by America’s billionaires, who are now terrified that Sanders might actually become President. Their agents are consequently smearing him. America’s hundreds of billionaires ARE America’s Deep State, and those hundreds of individuals are the only people who are actually represented by their media and ‘our’ Government.

This is the reason why we invaded and occupy and destroyed Iraq, all on the basis of lies.

This is the reason we invaded and destroyed Libya, all on the basis of lies.

This is the reason why we hired Al Qaeda in Syria to lead the hundreds of jihadist groups that have since been trying to overthrow and replace Syria’s secular non-sectarian President Bashar al-Assad.

None of the American billionaires’ fronts — not the CIA, nor any others — have publicized, but they instead all have hidden, all of these realities and basically all of the really important historical events during the past twenty years which shape the international world in which we all are living. Democracy in America is impossible under such circumstances as this. 

Back in 2002, Sanders was able to refuse to authorize George W. Bush to invade Iraq and yet still not have his career in Congress destroyed by that ‘unpatriotic’ (actually courageously patriotic) act. But in today’s environment, any member of Congress who fails to demonize Vladimir Putin is ‘unpatriotic’ — as if the Cold War which was ended by Russia in 1991 has secretly continued by America ever since — which it HAS.

America’s billionaires are even more opposed to ending the Cold War than they are opposed to increasing taxes on the rich up to international standards for industrialized nations. They will accept high taxes — and during the 1950s the super-rich accepted even a 90% marginal rate of taxation — but they will not, under any circumstances, accept ending America’s recent quest to replace the U.N as the basis of international law and order; they DEMAND that the U.S. Government, which they control, must control the entire world, including Russia. This is essential to their all-encompassing global empire, the global dictatorship by America’s international corporations. That is the core belief of the Deep State, and no Sanders Presidency will be able to succeed unless a President Sanders will strip America’s billionaires of the control they enjoy over the American Government through the Deep State. The Deep State is the U.S. billionaires; it is the control they have over the U.S. Government. Only by ending that control will America’s Deep State be brought to an end. Sanders is the only viable U.S. Presidential candidate who authentically does threaten the billionaires’ control over ‘our’ government; and the only way that he will be able to succeed is by destroying their Deep State, their control over the Government and over their press or ‘news’ media. This is an internal U.S. war, right now, between the Deep State and not only Donald Trump on the right (who constantly caves to their demands) but also Bernie Sanders on the left (who has yet to be in a position really to challenge their control over America).

So: how can Sanders do it, if he becomes the President? Fight like hell and be willing to sacrifice even himself, if need be, so as to destroy their control over America. Be what Trump only pretends to be. This is the only way that it might be able to be done. Sincerity. Determination. Mono-focus. And great courage. Never backtracking.

Right now, America accounts for about half of the entire world’s military expenditures, and that can’t go on if America is to take care of its real problems. Those corporations, such as Lockheed Martin, are not going to yield without there being now a second American revolution, a revolution of control. It will have to be a total revolution of control — not just over Wall Street, and not just over the hedge funds, and not just over the private equity funds, and not just over the healthcare system, and not just over the universities, and not just over the private foundations and other ‘non-profits’ (which largely privatize to billionaires the decisions as to what ‘needs’ to be done for the good of the entire country). Why do billionaires get tax-breaks for funding ‘nonprofits’ which expand their own power not only over commerce but especially over national priorities and the government itself? The corruption is so deep and so pervasive.

Right now, the corruption is focused on getting the Democratic Party’s superdelegates, instead of the voters in the primaries and caucuses, to choose whom the Party’s nominee for the U.S. Presidency will be.

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Can Anyone Beat Trump?

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Donald Trump may make fun of Elizabeth Warren and dub her Pocahontas but he better watch it.  She may be gunning for him in November.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, or as he prefers to be called, ‘Mike’, spent $400 million of his $60 billion fortune on ads, raising himself to third place among candidates as a can-do ‘Mighty Mike’.  It bought him a place at the Democratic debate last Wednesday.  But that $400 million, a colossal fortune for any of us, and in lottery terms what would count as one of the biggest wins ever, was blown away in a few minutes by Warren as she went after him on his racially-charged stop-and-frisk policy to fight crime in New York City.  That his efforts worked was made irrelevant by his clearly limited ability to debate.  Yet with $59.6 billion still in his kitty, probably growing at several billion a year, who can write him off in this age of TV ads?

Then there were his non-disclosure agreements with numerous women — though asked repeatedly he never gave a number.  His lame defense that these were voluntary, seemed to assume the audience were dupes.  Everyone knows the persons charging him with unwarranted advances received money as settlements and in exchange signed the agreements.

The Bloomberg charge thwarted, Bernie Sanders could be counted the real winner for leaving the debate unscathed.  He leads nationally by double digits with Biden second.

A botoxed Biden with whitewashed teeth tried to put a spring in his step with purchased ‘youth’.  He talked of present and past presidents of Mexico, and of other countries, he was acquainted with and how personal connections get things done — a mindset reminiscent of the Burisma job in Ukraine son Hunter was given when his father was Vice President with a major policy role in the Ukraine.  As board member of Burisma, Hunter Biden was paid up to $50,000 per month.  His function was to advise on corporate governance and legal issues yet never found it necessary to attend a board meeting or visit the company in Ukraine.  The company’s owner has been recently charged with corruption in obtaining licenses and tax fraud over the period of Hunter Biden’s tenure at his firm.

It’s all in a day’s work.  Personal connections, that’s how things get done.  Imagine the labels Trump will attach to him should he win the nomination. 

A normally chirpy Pete Buttigieg was skewered by Amy Klobuchar and appeared chastened.  Not too well prepared, he ascribed an astronomical $25 trillion cost to Bernie Sanders’ health plan.  Sanders responded the plan would save $400 billion and had the figures to prove it.  Not a successful outing for Pete.

But then Senator Klobuchar appeared to lose her cool when pressed on a case during her job as prosecutor, before she became a senator.  Visibly angry, she continued to press her claim as being highly electable but Sanders and Warren are elected senators too, and Sanders for much longer.  Senator Klobuchar also has the highest turnover of staff (36 percent) of any senator, and a rumored reputation of being abusive towards them.  Not the kind of quickly angered temperament one would choose to have in the White House, or for a person with a finger on the dreaded nuclear button.

Seems the best option we have is Sanders and Warren but political demographics preclude two liberals from the northeast on a ticket.  Born in 1941, Sanders  will be almost 80 when he takes office, an age when Warren would have left the White House were she to win and serve two terms.  Bernie is eminently likeable and a staunch fighter but it seems like Hillary Clinton stole his best shot at the presidency.

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The Overriding Strategic Threat: Donald Trump, American “Mass” And Nuclear War

Prof. Louis René Beres

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Carl G. Jung

“The mass crushes out the insight and reflection that are still possible with the individual, and this necessarily leads to doctrinaire and authoritarian tyranny if ever the constitutional State should succumb to a fit of weakness.”-Carl G. Jung, The Undiscovered Self (1957)

More than anywhere else, Donald Trump take his decisional cues from the American “mass.”  In present circumstances, this term  references a succession of  viscerally compliant private citizens and a seemingly endless chorus of similarly deferential public officials. If there should  still arise any further doubts about such a worrisome assessment, one need only consider Trump’s rancor-filled “rallies” or the undiminished  Republican Senate support for his always-accumulating leadership derogations.

What is to be done? Most concerning among these ample derogations are those actions that would impact a US presidential authorization of military force. In  an evidently worst case scenario, these impacts could include an actual use of nuclear weapons, either by the American side or by a pertinent adversarial state (e.g., North Korea).

Such  risks and dangers did not arise ex nihilo, out of nothing. Rather, Donald Trump’s very conspicuous derelictions – both in the past, and still-impending – are rooted in a population that disavows two complementary obligations. These obligations are the reinforcing imperatives of serious analysis and true learning.   “I  love the poorly educated,” exclaimed the successful US presidential candidate in 2016. “Intellect rots the brain,” shrieked Third Reich Chief of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels at his own Nazi rallies, back in 1935 and 1936.

Truth, however inconvenient or embarrassing, is always exculpatory. Any differences between the purposely dissembling statements of  President Trump and those of Minister Goebbels are minor at best. Reciprocally, the evident commonalities are distressingly plain and compelling. Both Donald Trump and his de facto German philosophical mentor represent champions of public disinformation or anti-thought.

Both seek or sought results without even a scintilla of human empathy or hint of compassionate intention.

At first, these comparisons may seem scandalous, even outrageous, but upon further reflection, they are not at all un reasonable or  unfair. Indeed, what would be more manifestly unfair or dishonest is for such tangible and information-based comparisons to be blithely dismissed or casually overlooked. This is because any such whimsical disregard could lead, ineluctably, to catastrophic war.

It’s not  a mysterious connection.  No sensible US war avoidance policies can be expected to emerge from a society that is being steadily weakened by a compliant and obsequious mass culture.[1] In any such anti-science context,  there exists a widespread American indifference to intellect or “mind.” .

More precisely, within the demeaning interstices of United States mass culture, any such  brazen indifference could result in irremediable misfortunes. These hard-to-imagine outcomes could arrive more-or-less immediately, or eventually, that is, in various foreseeable and unforeseeable increments.

Among these especially portentous prospects,  the most worrisome would be nuclear attack and/or nuclear war.

There is more. Though not readily apparent in America’s current national politics, nuclear violence in variously assorted forms represents the greatest possible risk posed. No such dire prediction could be expressed as a true mathematical probability (because any nuclear war would necessarily represent a unique event), but the broader connections between generalized American anti-intellectualism and American national security are recognizably evident.

There has never been any specific or general American outcry about an American president who proudly reads nothing, literally nothing at all. At his first Republican presidential convention, an early Trump-selected “speaker” was Duck Dynasty.  

Need anything more be said?

Still, there are always core lessons to be learned. Americans should look much more carefully  behind the news. Everything that we/they most genuinely need to know is not on  television or on  the internet. More generally, “The crowd,” noted the 19th-century Danish philosopher, Sören Kierkegaard, “is untruth.”  

In present-day United States, no single characterization could be more obvious or less contestable.

In this mass or crowd-based society, a continuing Trump presidency – the most  patently injurious result of America’s demeaning orientation to mass- could (sooner or later) become intolerable. “The  best lack all conviction,” warned the Irish poet W. B. Yeats in The Second Coming, “while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” For now at least for bewildered or beleaguered Americans, this existential warning remains confined to cerebral poetry.

But the stanza deserves a far wider audience,

Let all relevant assessments be forthright and candid. For the United States and certain of its allies,  a nuclear war is never really out of the question. At the moment, the most plausible site for any such unprecedented conflagration would be northeast Asia (US versus North Korea). Still, in light of a resurrecting “Cold War” with Russia (“Cold War II”), preliminary and contagious “sparks” could ignite virtually anywhere on earth. Most problematic, in this regard, would be southwest Asia (India/Pakistan)  

There is more. I have lectured and published widely on these issues since chairing Project Daniel for Israeli Prime Minister Arik Sharon back in 2003.

 Substantial nuclear conflict dangers will obtain in the Middle East even if Iran should somehow remain non-nuclear. This is the case, inter alia, because Israel could sometime need to rely upon nuclear deterrence or actual nuclear weapons use in response to certain non-nuclear forms of unconventional aggression (i.e., biological attack) and/or “only” massive conventional aggressions.

More than likely, this second category of risk would involve assorted “hybrid” aggressions launched (plausibly, in some definitive concert with Iran) by Hezbollah.

Already, the size and military capacity of this formidable Shiite militia exceeds that of many area armies.

 Let us look more closely at these strategic issues. What discernible linkages exist between mass society and nuclear war? Though mass thinking[2] or “crowd” thinking (Kierkegaard) is always “untruth,” Donald Trump is not the most genuinely root cause of America’s expanding atomic war perils. He is rather, an “outcome,”  a mere result, though a prospectively devastating result, of larger and far more deeply insidious national pathologies. More formally, knowledgeable scientists and philosophers (not this president’s mass “base”) would identify Trump’s incessantly demeaning incumbency as “epiphenomenal.”

But this does not make them any less dangerous.

There is more.Some complementary or corollary concerns aremore expressly legal than military or strategic.In these similarly urgent matters of US foreign policy making, President Donald Trump, leading a major world power that remains party to both the Geneva Convention (1949) and the Genocide Convention (1948), has no defensible legal right to call openly for international aggression.  But this is exactly what Trump demanded when he first threatened “total destruction” of North Korea in the earliest days of his presidency.

While the American president  intermittently claims (with evident pride)   that he and Kim Jung Un are “in love,” this allegedly deep affection remains an unreliable basis for nuclear war avoidance. Moreover, looking ahead dispassionately, the more visible and credible source of verbal belligerence between Washington and Pyongyang is the White House.

In law, there is no legitimate American right of tu quoque (Latin for “you too”). Among other historical instances, this legal defense was rejected at the original Nuremberg Trials of 1945-1946, and also at the later Tokyo Trials. A significant portion of Donald Trump’s seemingly endless legal derogations lies in his sweeping unfamiliarity with all normally recognizable instances of history and jurisprudence.

Even now, Donald Trump appears unaware of the basics.  International law remains an integral part of U.S. domestic (municipal) law. To date, at least, this president has been unable to nullify Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution (the “Supremacy Clause”) or any of the several major Supreme Court decisions detailing binding sources for “incorporation.” Among  seminally core case judgments linking valid international rules to United States obligations, the most plainly important are the Paquete Habana (1900) and Tel-Oren vs. Libyan Arab Republic (1984).

Does anyone reasonably expect that US President Trump or his personal lawyers would have even a tiny substantive notion about these landmark American decisions?

It’s a silly question.

This sort of essential information is discussed only by the Constitutional lawyers. Now, unassailably, our vaunted American democracy rests unsteadily on the retrograde sovereignty of wholly unqualified persons. Even now, in the Senate leadership of his own party, only a pitiful few are prepared to say emphatically and unambiguously: “This emperor is naked, irremediably naked. He has no clothes.”[3]

 In metaphoric candor, Donald Trump’s refractory authority has “slipped back,” to use the illuminating images of twentieth-century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, “through the wings, and on to the age-old stage of civilization.” This ancient “stage” remains shabby, shaky and profoundly anti-democratic. Cumulatively, it does not bode well for a secure American life at any level.

At the conceptual heart of our America’s “crowd” or “mass” problem, the current US president remains a malignant and determinative “symptom.” Any further American “slippage” into the presidentially-augmented mass will have discernible and distinctly palpable consequences. There are certain obvious and unstoppable reasons for this. Reasonably, no country so openly fearful of independent thought – no country so fervidly torn between its loud public proclamations of  “exceptionalism” and the silent estrangements of its grievously unhappy people –  can hope to overcome  its screaming declensions.      

We may continue this nuclear war background analysis.  No blustering affirmations of “America First” can supplant authentic thought.

Such painfully shallow affirmations, now repeated daily,  as if they were some sort of religious incantation, can only deflect America’s attention from what remains vitally important. Most urgently, Trump must better ensure that his seat-of-the-pants strategic posture toward North Korea (a posture drawn directly from the commercial worlds of real estate branding and casino gambling) does not sometime explode uncontrollably. Significantly, such an obviously unacceptable outcome may at first seem less likely or worrisome than is actually the case.

“Do not seek the higher man in the marketplace” warned  Friedrich Nietzsche in Zarathustra.As usual, the philosopher’s underscored wisdom was timeless.

Should North Korea and the United States enter into any outright hostilities or even an unintentional  nuclear war, the horrors of the earlier Vietnam conflict will be magnified many-fold. Before anything decent could ever be born from the rubble of such a conflict, an army of gravediggers would need to wield the “forceps.”

 Once upon a time in America, virtually every barely-attentive adult could recite some intuitively Spenglerian theory of decline. Today, at a very different historical moment – at an especially acquiescent national juncture where the riddle of human destiny has been reduced by American public life to vulgar and degrading entertainments –  almost no one can recognize The Decline of the West. “Logically,” this far-reaching lack of recognition should be expected whether we are speaking of a classic historical text written by a once-obscure German professor or some actual and precipitous historical declension.

What else should one now expect of a nation where the 2016 keynote presidential convention speaker of the victorious political party was Duck Dynasty.

In some respects, it is a very old story. Both frightened and repelled by any plausible expectations of genuine learning, expanding masses of Americans proceed blindly and in reassuring lockstep with crowds of similarly-fearful marchers. Consciously, this Trumpian “mass,” these obliging “crowds,” keep a desperate pace with all those other homogenized men and women who similarly loathe serious thought. Always, identifiably sizable segments of this submissive crowd coalesce energetically around a delusionary “pied-piper.”

In the present American case,  Trump reflects a president who promises multiple accessible scapegoats in compensation for citizens’ most stubborn  fears and personal failures. For the all-too-many listeners, these seductive promises are convenient, but untrue.

In the real American past, which has been “great” only selectively,  certain  circumstances have never been quite as degrading or ominous as today. In the words of Nixon-era White House advisor John Dean, speaking on CNN in March 2018, “Donald Trump is Richard Nixon on steroids and stilts.” That’s quite a telling (and accurate) metaphor.

Worldwide, this is hardly the first time in the past hundred years that a dissembling political wizard has promised self-blinding followers some sort of lascivious “redemption” in exchange for their total political obedience. In an easily best remembered example, the ultimate costs inflicted by Third Reich wizardry included the destruction of an entire continent and over100 million souls. The lesson for those Americans still willing to read and think?  It is that there is always a great and unforgivable price to be paid by societies that wittingly abjure intellect, history and capable thought.

Credo quia absurdum. “I believe because it is absurd.” At the very moment when an American president should be focusing systematically and analytically on prospective nuclear war dangers from  North Korea, China, Russia, and elsewhere,  Donald Trump prefers to lead his chanting crowds in strange and futile directions. Now, more than ever, these incoherent refrains are not “only” inane and irrelevant.  More portentously, they will drown out the still-surviving vestiges of any residually sensible American thought.

 In every presidential election, the American mass more-or-less indefatigably patronizes itself.  The difference in 2016 was that these results were effectively sui generis; that is, they were darkly unique in the most regrettable and forseeably sinister ways. Over time, as we have seen, the palpable consequences could include nuclear/existential harms.

The remedy? Above all, it must be founded upon a  meaningfully prior understanding: No society, including allegedly “exceptional” ones, can coexist together with mindlessly chanting crowds that masquerade as democracy.Unless we can finally display some sincere willingness to oppose the shrill and yelling American mass –  a crowd that increasingly becomes a corrosive solvent of social conformance and intellectual mediocrity – Americans will continue to find too little air to breathe. Inevitably, at some point in the declining Trump years, there will be no air to breathe at all.[4]

Asphyxiation, Americans would only then discover, is a bad way to die.

Every mass society, not just the United States, loves to chant deliriously and in some form of stupefied chorus. “We the people” continue to seek comforting resonances of “exceptionalism” in pitifully shallow slogans, raw commerce and blatantly vacuous political promises. Oddly enough, this elusive search for happiness, amid its convulsive shrieking and imitation, would be less perilous if it did not issue from a  depressingly terminal ailment.

What, more precisely, is the underlying malady? If Donald Trump is “merely” a symptom, what is the country’s true national pathology? The correct answer has much to do with understanding current war threats from North Korea or even Russia. This answer is logically antecedent to discovering hopeful solutions to still-growing existential threats.

At the most sorely critical “illness” levels of national despair, politics and government have become pretty much beside the point. In America’s battered landscape of clichéd wisdom, mass shootings, copycat violence and dreary profanity, there remains, at bottom, a recalcitrant and metastasizing sickness of the soul. Ironically, America’s national debility of personal surrender to crowds lurks mainly undisguised.  Conspicuously, it is most easily detectable in Donald Trump’s proudly flaunted hatreds of intellect, individualism and real learning.

Alas,” observed T.S. Eliot,in a still-unheeded warning, “Our dried voices, when we whisper together, Are quiet and meaningless.”

 At their very deepest levels, American politics and government remain determinably extraneous to whatever is genuinely important. The bewildered nation’s expanding ocean of personal addictions, now too vast for remediation by any normal reformist strategies, is already deep enough to drown entire  libraries of a once-sacred poetry.

In an earlier and foundational American national history, both liberals and conservatives read Lucretius, Cicero, Grotius, Vattel, Locke, Hobbes, Montesquieu, Rousseau, and (later) Blackstone. Excluding the eighteenth-century English jurist, whose refined thoughts were to become the starting point of all American jurisprudence, Thomas Jefferson read them all.

What does US President Donald Trump read or write?

Prima facie, this is a silly question.

Until just a few years ago, I had been a university professor for almost 50 years. For the most part, my students were less interested in exhibiting any high-thinking than in acquiring high net worth. Given a presumptive opportunity to earn impressive incomes without continuing their formal education, an overwhelming majority would have unhesitatingly grabbed at the “offer.” How do I know this?

Because, as an “experiment,” I occasionally asked them.

From year to year, the grimly anti-intellectual results never changed.

In our once still-ascendant American intellectual history, some time shortly after the literary ascendancies of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, a spirit of accomplishment earned commendably high marks . Then, more often than now, young people strove to rise originally, not by incessantly craving expensive and unnecessary goods, but as the still-confident proprietors of an exemplary American Self. Though Emerson and his fellow New England Transcendentalists had taught the flip side of “high thinking” must be “plain living,” current US citizenry generally seeks private wealth above any other barely competing objectives.

Nothing could possibly be more obvious.

This is true, at least in principle, for the poor and disregarded as well as for the very rich.

In America,  the truly telling question is implicit. Why bother to read or study literature? It has no cash value. Furthermore, as the current president can readily attest, it has no believable place in the acquisition of personal political power. Indeed, Americans now live in a land where visible intellectual deficits have become an unimpeachable political asset.

In the end, US President Donald Trump – however destructive his presidency eventually becomes  – must remain a symptom. On its face, with precious few exceptions, wealth is always taken as America’s final and quintessential form of personal validation. Many years back, economist Adam Smith concluded that wealth is most eagerly sought not because of any intrinsic purchasing power, but on account of its incomparable capacity to elicit envy. Later, Emerson expressed a very similar idea when he incautiously advised that any “foolish reliance upon property” is the inevitable result of “a want of self-reliance.”

In the end, the transient warmth of  an American mass or crowd promises each US citizen a concocted but still-comforting defense against loneliness. This reassuringly seductive mass quickly and expansively defiles whatever is pleasingly  wondrous, gracious and generous in American society. Already anticipating this lamentable development, Charles Dickens had observed, back in 1842:  “I do fear that the heaviest blow ever dealt at liberty will be dealt by this country (USA), in the failure of its example to the earth.”

Dickens was “spot on.” Americans have protected their political freedom from the most visible and invidious kinds of oppression, though even this key protection is now subject to reasonable doubt.  At the same time, they have wittingly sacrificed the coequal obligation to become authentically fulfilled persons. More openly deploring a life of some greater meaning and purpose than this one of calculated imitation and sterile accumulation, Americans now routinely substitute reality shows for real literature and a reality show “wizard” for capable national leadership.

What should they expect?

Is it any wonder that America already stands on the precarious  brink of irremediable nuclear confrontations?

In America’s sorely blemished democracy, a declining system of governance driven by what political “elite” theorists had long called the “iron law of oligarchy,”[5] those individual Americans who would still choose disciplined thought over fitting-into the crowd must accept related kinds of “punishment.” Usually, these sanctions are delivered as some form or other of social or professional ostracism, but sometimes they are meted out in corollary examples of “aloneness.” “The most radical division,” observed Spanish existentialist Jose  Ortega y Gasset in 1930, “is that which splits humanity…. those who make great demands on themselves…and those who demand nothing special of themselves…”

 In reality, American democracy and its closely corresponding presidential elections represent an inelegant and simultaneously lethal masquerade. Again and again, they seek to  cover-up and legitimize what has been constituted and consecrated by a backward-looking mass. Now, at long last, it is high time for such perilous camouflage in the inert American mass to yield tosomething better.     

Now, in America, even after such a patently catastrophic presidential selection in 2016, the people may have been granted one graspable last chance for being-challenged-in-the-world.

In the end, creating proper American governance is not all that complicated: Only those few individuals who would dare to reject an insistently demeaning amusement society can offer this imperiled nation any enduring hope.What next?

To proceed, there are pertinent corollaries. The strength and courage of America’s desperately-needed “inner-directedness” can never lie only in holding an advanced degree, in engaging with others during periodic  electoral contests or in advancing various intentional contrivances of language. In America, the indispensable qualities of individual authenticity must be sought, instead, in the potentially complementary powers of intellectual independence, social justice and spontaneous empathy.

This last power cannot be taught. Nonetheless, it can be encouraged by stepping back from a declining American culture that values endlessly crude consumption over intelligent erudition and independent thought.

Adam Smith, in his Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), saw in capitalism not just an admirably rising productivity, but also a required foundation for political liberty. He also understood that a system of “perfect liberty” –  one that we might presently call an ideal democracy – could never be based upon smug and facile encouragements of needless consumption. The inexorable laws of the marketplace, he had reasoned, demanded a suitable disdain for all vanity-driven buying.

 For Adam Smith, the main problem of any dangerously orchestrated hyper-consumption was neither economic nor political, but psychological.

It was, in other words, a problem of unresisted absorption into the mass or  crowd.

For Adam Smith, contrary to very widespread misunderstandings of his complex thought, “conspicuous consumption,” a phrase that would later be used more explicitly and engagingly by sociologist Thorsten Veblen, must never be taken as evidence of economic or political progress. It follows that while the crowd call of American democracy may remain loud, crass or even alluringly persuasive, We the people must still  keep up the struggle against the suffocating mass, purposefully, and, above all else, asgenuine individuals. 

 Then Americans could finally lay bare the essential ingredients of a democracy that would offer more than the sum total of individual souls fleeing desperately from themselves.

Then, perhaps, Americans could avoid re-electing a president who stands in chaotic opposition to sensible foreign policies of nuclear war avoidance, and who substitutes ad hominem attacks for any minimally intelligent diplomacy. Then, determinedly,  the American nation could choose its presidents from among candidates who can understand that the United States is part of a much wider world. This means from those aspirants who could acknowledge that “America First” represents a potentially irreversible triumph of mass.

In the end, if ever the American constitutional State should succumb to what Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung euphemistically called a “fit of weakness,”  such triumph could hasten the nation’s most utterly lethal declensions. A nuclear war would resemble any other terminal illness in at least one overarching respect. This is that the only “cure” would lie in prevention.


[1] “The mass-man,” we learn from Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gasset (The Revolt of the Masses, 1930), “has no attention to spare for reasoning; he learns only in his own flesh.”

[2] On the terrible possible outcomes of “mass,” see especially: C.G. Jung, The Undiscovered Self (1957); Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses (1932); and Karl Jaspers, Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time (1952). Of course, all three share as core intellectual mentor Friedrich Nietzsche, especially the 19th-centiry German philosopher’s still-incomparable classic, Zarathustra (1883).

[3] “Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a large part of mankind gladly remains minors all their lives….” says Immanuel Kant in his classic essay: What is Enlightenment (1784).

[4] We learn, again, from Immanuel Kant’s 1784 essay, What is Enlightenment, that submission to deleterious mass is “self-imposed.” The core problem we read from the German philosopher, lies ultimately in a “lack of courage to use one’s own mind without another’s guidance.”

[5] See especially: Vilfredo Pareto, The Mind and Society (1935); Gaetano Mosca, The Ruling Class (1939); and Robert Michels, The Iron Law of Oligarchy (1949).

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