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Empathy, Survival and Human Oneness: Informed Reflections on Trump’s Atavistic Worldview

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“Each of us is both the subject and the protagonist of his own nontransferable life.” José Ortega y Gasset, Man and Crisis

America First,  the most conspicuous mantra of Donald Trump, makes no logical or diplomatic sense. Indeed, contrary to the American president’s narrowly imagined expectations, Americans, both individually and collectively, will soon need to identify more broadly with the world as a whole.  In essence, to survive and prosper, the United States must quickly change direction from such plainly refractory political mantras, and prepare instead for greatly expanded patterns of international cooperation.

Before we can all become true beneficiaries of modern diplomacy, we will first finally have to acknowledge that we inhabit a single and indissoluble global habitat.

Even from an expressly American standpoint, there is nothing unpatriotic about articulating any such universalizing prescription. To wit, the alternative Trump vision can lead the United States only toward an endlessly Darwinian global struggle. Inter alia, this would mean a fully consuming and retrograde conflict in which the corrosive principles of “every man for himself” would produce further chaos and perpetual suffering.

Significantly, especially for those concerned with modern diplomacy and international law, the attendant and sometimes reciprocal problems are not “merely” spiritual. Above all, they are profoundly intellectual. Back in the nineteenth century, the American Transcendentalist philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, had counseled “plain living and high thinking.”

For this American president, there is a timeless message here. Currently, however, it is anything but closely heeded. To impresario extraordinaire Donald Trump, the best path, going forward, is to “circle the wagons,” to huddle together as an endlessly fighting nation and then do whatever it must againstall others.

Always, “against” is the operative word in the White House. Curiously, for US President Trump, world politics is always reassuringly reducible to bitter struggle against one despised “enemy” or another, or perhaps even a sinister coalition of “enemies.”

There is more. Any such primordial or “zero sum” advice is not merely harsh or needlessly adversarial. It is also deeply immoral, manifestly contra to elementary codes of civilized human interaction.

Unsupported by any defensible reason or scintilla of logic, it is starkly incorrect.

To be sure, there are much better paths to human salvation, secular as well as spiritual. It follows that to help rescue America from a myriad configuration of mortal dangers, Trump will first need to assist the imperiled earth in general. Inevitably, the American president should avoid having to deal piecemeal with the next foreseeable eruptions of genocide, war and terror.

Everything, he will very quickly need to appreciate, is interrelated.

By embracing “high-thinking” instead of demeaning rally slogans and vacant banalities, US President Trump could finally have to recognize that American well-being and security are inextricably linked with the much wider “human condition.” Assuredly, this reluctant recognition will take him some time. He will also need to embrace another even more subtle kind of understanding.

 It is that pertinent human social and governmental linkages may not always present themselves in readily decipherable historical, social or economic terms.

 Now is the only suitable moment for Mr. Trump to recall the essentially “Buddhist” wisdom of Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: “The egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those who have managed to attain egoistically the extremity of `everyone for himself’,'” explains his The Phenomenon of Man, “is false and against nature. No element can move and grow except with and by all the others with itself.”

The high-thinking Teilhard was right on the mark. At their very deepest level, genocide, war, and terror are not just the hideous product of an ordinary world politics and diplomacy gone awry. Rather, they stem from the unbearable apprehensions and persistent loneliness of individual human beings.

 Normally unable to find either meaning or safety outside of certain available group memberships, billions of individuals across the globe will still often stop at nothing in order to acquire some comfortingly recognizable acceptance within a presumptively protective “crowd.”[1]

All such crowds, whether at Trump rallies, prizefights or earlier gladiatorial competitions, love to chant in chorus. Absolutely. What is injurious and even potentially grotesque about such orchestrated mutterings is not the content being chanted (which is usually incoherent, and sometimes also insidious), but rather the corollary disappearance of personal empathy and residual individual responsibility.

Whether it is as a nation, a social organization, a terrorist band, or a new political movement, the crowd tempts “all-too-many” (a favored Nietzschean term in Zarathustra)  with the false succor of  group communion. Always, this temptation lies at the heart of its ritually compelling and possibly incomparable attractions. Typically, though rarely identified or understood, it is the generally frantic human search to belong that most assiduously shapes national and international affairs.

Both national and international affairs. 

Unsurprisingly, as the seventeenth-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes concluded in Leviathan, about “state of nature” crowds, they portend a lamentable life that is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

 Once again, for the sake of both America and the wider world, it is time to situate “high thinking” in the White House. The irrepressible search to belong, to draw a pertinent term from Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung’s The Undiscovered Self, represents “the sum total of individual souls seeking redemption.” Jurisprudentially and diplomatically, the most tangible expressions of our incessant human search for rescue in groups can be found in the utterly core legal principles of sovereignty and self-determination.

 Alarmingly, the celebrated “self” in all such traditional jurisprudence and diplomacy refers to entire peoples, never to singular individuals.

Too often, as US President Trump ought finally to understand, the ironic result of such hegemonic thinking is a measureless orgy of mass killing and ever-expanding human exterminations.

This conclusion is self-evident and incontestable.

Divided into thousands of hostile tribes, almost two hundred of which are called “nation-states,” many human beings still find it easy and pleasing to slay “others.” As for any remediating considerations of empathy, these are typically reserved for those who happen to live within one’s own expressly delineated “tribe.” It follows, and crucially, that any expansion of empathy to include  “outsiders” must represent a basic condition of authentic peace and modern diplomacy.

Without such an indispensable expansion, our entire species would remain stubbornly (and suicidally) dedicated to its own incremental debasement and eventual disappearance.

Understanding this particular wisdom should already have become an indispensable corrective to the presidential nonsense of “America First.” This grievously resurrected political mantra is eerily reminiscent of American “Know Nothing” history, and also the incomparably destructive slogans of the Third Reich. Let us be candid.

In brief, and however well-intentioned, America First now represents Trump’s specifically Americanized version of “Deutschland uber alles.”

Nothing less; nothing more.

But what must Americans and others actually do to encourage a wider empathy, and thereby to foster aptly caring feelings between as well as within “tribes”? Correspondingly, how can a US president meaningfully improve the state of our dissembling world so as to best ensure a dignified future for the American Republic? These are not easy questions.

Nonetheless, they are the ones that need to be faced by Americans and (ultimately) by all others.

Already, soberly and ironically, we must concede that the essential expansion of empathy for the many could become “dreadful,”  improving human community, but only at the intolerable cost of private sanity. This imperative concession stems from the way we humans are “designed” or “hard wired,” that is, with very particular and largely impermeable boundaries of feeling. Were it otherwise, an extended range of compassion toward others could quickly bring about each cooperating individual’s own emotional collapse.

A paradox arises. Planning seriously for national and international survival, Americans in particular must first learn to accept an unorthodox understanding. It is that an ever-widening circle of human compassion is indispensable to civilizational survival, but is also a potential source of insufferable private anguish.

How, then, shall human union and American politics now deal with a requirement for global civilization that is simultaneously essential and unbearable? Newly informed that empathy for the many is a precondition of a decent world union, what can actually create such obligatory caring without producing intolerable emotional pain? In essence, high-thinkers must duly inquire: How can such a stunningly anti-intellectual US president correctly deal with ongoing and still-multiplying expressions of war, terrorism, and genocide?

By building walls, or instead, by solidifying wide-ranging and always-pertinent human bonds of interrelatedness and connectedness?

The answer is obvious. It can never be found in ordinary speeches and programs, especially in the cravenly shallow rhetoric and embarrassingly empty witticisms of American presidential politics. It is only discoverable in a consciously resolute detachment of individuals from lethally competitive “tribes,” and from certain other collective “selves.” 

In the final analysis, a more perfect union, both national and international, must lie in a fully determined replacement of “civilization” with what Teilhard de Chardin calls “planetization.”

The whole world, Mr. Trump should promptly acknowledge without fear of contradiction, is a system.[2] He must finally understand that the state of America’s national union can never be any better than the state of the wider world. He will also need to realize that the condition of this entire world must itself sometimes depend upon what happens inside the United States.

Ideally, in fully acknowledging such a plainly misunderstood mutuality, this vital human reciprocity, the overarching US presidential objective should become the sacred dignity of each and every individual human being.  It is precisely this high-minded goal that should now give specific policy direction to President Donald Trump, not his continuously specious and universally destructive commitment to “America First.”

It will be easy to dismiss any such seemingly lofty recommendation for  human dignity as silly, ethereal or fanciful.   Still, in reality, there could never be any greater American presidential naiveté than championing the patently false extremity of “everyone for himself” in world politics and diplomacy.

More than anything else, “America First”  is a grievously misconceived presidential mantra. Devoid of  all empathy, intellect and human understanding, it can only lead America as a nation toward distressingly new depths of strife, disharmony, and collective despair. Individually, “America First,” left unrevised, would point everyone to an  insufferable and potentially irreversible vita minima, that is, toward a corrupted personal life emptied of itself.

By definition, such a life would be meaningless, shattered, unfeeling and radically unstable.

Only by placing “Humanity First” can US President Donald Trump make America First. The latter is simply not possible without the former. Not at all.


[1] “The crowd,” says the great Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, “is untruth.”

[2] “The existence of system in the world is at once obvious to every observer of nature,” says Jesuit philosopher Teilhard de Chardin, ” no matter whom….Each element of the cosmos is positively woven from all the others….”

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. His twelfth and most recent book is Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel's Nuclear Strategy (2016) (2nd ed., 2018) https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy Some of his principal strategic writings have appeared in Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Security (Harvard University); Yale Global Online (Yale University); Oxford University Press (Oxford University); Oxford Yearbook of International Law (Oxford University Press); Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College (Pentagon); Special Warfare (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (Pentagon); The War Room (Pentagon); World Politics (Princeton); INSS (The Institute for National Security Studies)(Tel Aviv); Israel Defense (Tel Aviv); BESA Perspectives (Israel); International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Atlantic; The New York Times and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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Americas

Who won the interaction with the “free press” at the Geneva Summit?

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Before the much anticipated Geneva Summit, it became clear that President Biden would not be holding a joint press conference with President Putin because Biden wanted to go speak to the “free press” after the meeting. This was Biden’s way to show Putin, to rub it into Putin’s face that in Russia the media is not free.

Then the day of the meeting came and it turned out that Biden had a list of pre-approved reporters “as usual” whose names only he had to call. And Biden told everyone to the dismay of not only Republicans but pretty much anyone, including the free press.

Then Biden had a hard time answering questions even from that list. When CNN’s Kaitlan Collins asked him a regular question along the lines of “why do you think this would work?”, Biden lost it and suggested that Collins did not belong in the journalistic profession.

Collin’s question was a softball question, in fact. It was not even a tough question according to international standards. It was a critical question from an American mainstream media point of view, assuming Biden as the good guy who just can’t do enough to stop the bad guy Putin.

It was not even a tough question and Biden still couldn’t handle it by mustering something diplomatic and intelligent that makes him look like he was in control. Biden is no Obama. We knew that already but he should be able to at least respond to a regular question with a regular answer.

If you think American mainstream media were mistreated at the Geneva Summit, you should have seen how the rest of the international and local media were treated at another venue, at the request of the American government. I already described what happened at the point where the Biden and Putin convoys were going to pass. You should have seen how we were treated, at the request of the US authorities, and how the Swiss authorities really played by the US’s drum. Later on, White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan said on CNN’s State of the Union that Biden gave Swiss companies exemptions from sanctions imposed on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Biden refused a joint press conference with Putin because he wanted to rub the “free press” in Putin’s face. Well, Biden surely showed him. It was the other way around, in fact. Biden didn’t take questions from the other side. Putin took highly critical questions from American journalists and he did it like it was business as usual. Putin didn’t have a list of blocked or preapproved journalists from the other side, or people he dismissed on the spot. Russian journalists were in fact denied access to the venue, in front of Parc la Grange.

Supporters of Black Lives Matter like me naturally didn’t like the substance of Putin’s answers. President Putin attacked Black Lives Matter, even though ever since the Soviet times the treatment of black people has always been a highlight of Russian criticism of American society and values. It seems like President Putin doesn’t want a big, sweeping movement that would reform everything, so that the issues can persist and so that Putin can keep hammering on the same point over and over again. If one is truly concerned about rights and well-being, one has to be in support of the social justice movement trying to address the problems.

In fact, Putin’s approach to black people’s rights is a lot like the FBI’s view of the radical, violent far left: the FBI do not wish to address the violent elements which probably represent 5% of the whole movement, just so that the FBI can keep the issues alive and discredit the whole movement. One saw that the Capitol riots groups really calmed down as soon as the FBI stepped in but FBI director Chris Wray is not interested in doing the same with the violent radical left, precisely so that the issues can persist and the FBI can keep pointing to violent “Black identity” extremists. It is the FBI’ style to keep little nests of fire here and there, so that they can exploit or redirect them in their own preferred direction from time to time. Let’s not forget that the leader of the Proud Boys was actually an FBI informant for a long time, probably taking instructions from the FBI.

At the Geneva Summit, Putin also stated that he saw nothing criminal in the Capitol riots on 6 January that undermined democratic principles and institutions. That was an example of someone trying to use and support existing forces within American society in order to undermine it.

But the substance of Putin’s answers had nothing to do with the process of interacting with the “free press”. Putin took questions from everyone, Biden didn’t. Putin didn’t screen out or dismiss journalists from the other side, Biden did. Putin didn’t lash out on anyone suggesting that they should not be in that job. Biden did and he did it even to his own pre-approved list of media that he was supposed to like.

In terms of process, Putin passed the test and Biden couldn’t handle interacting with the free press even in very restricted, sanitized conditions. Despite what you think of each leader and their policies, it has to be said that Putin handled interacting with the media as business as usual, and Biden struggled in his interaction with the media. Even when Biden was reading from a teleprompter, even with a preapproved list of journalists and even when he was not in the same room as Putin, Biden still made mistakes and couldn’t handle it. Even when everything was chewed for him, Biden still couldn’t do it.

In fact, Biden looked more like an overwhelmed Kardashian abroad who had to have his hand held at any moment and less like the leader of the free world. First lady Jill Biden in fact did hold Biden’s hand on occasion and rushed him out of places like a child when the President seemed to wonder off in the wrong direction, such as at the G7 Summit in Cornwall. And that guy has the nuclear codes?

There have been concerns with Biden’s cognitive abilities. President Biden confused President Putin with President Trump, while reading from a teleprompter. What was remarkable is that Putin stated that he found Biden to be actually knowledgeable and prepared on the issues, and that Biden is actually not in a mental and cognitive decline contrary to mainstream understanding. While on the face of it, the statement sounded 100% positive and in defense of Biden, this was a very aggressive, veiled jab of the sort “many are saying that but I don’t think that”. Putin raised the doubt, gave Biden an evaluation and proved to be a total player.

In total, the bottom line of who won the interaction with the “free press” at the Geneva Summit was clear: Russia 1, the US 0.

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Joe Biden’s European vacations

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Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Joseph Biden, better known as Joe Biden, is an American politician from the Democratic Party who won last year’s presidential elections amid scandals and accusations of fraud. In his autobiography, Biden describes himself as a leading figure in determining US policy in the Balkans, and openly admits having convinced President Bill Clinton to intervene militarily in the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and becoming the main architect of NATO enlargement.

Here are just a few facts from his past that can shed light on the possible  line of actions that could be taken by America’s current President.

Biden is certainly no stranger to Balkan issues. In 1999, he played an important role in the administration of President Bill Clinton, when NATO bombed Yugoslavia without a UN resolution, an act of aggression that resulted in Kosovo being proclaimed an independent state and which is now home to the largest US military base in Europe – Camp Bondsteel.  In 1999, the current US president was one of the most outspoken supporters of the bombing of Yugoslavia, which is something he took pride in.

“I propose to bomb Belgrade. I propose to send American pilots and blow up all the bridges over the Drina River,” said Biden, then a US Senator.

On September 1, 1999, Senator Joseph Biden visited Bulgaria as a representative of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, meeting with President Peter Stoyanov, Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mikhailova and local lawmakers. Biden has become a key figure in Bulgaria’s integration into the North Atlantic Alliance.

Today, after several years of lull, tensions in Ukraine are shooting up again.  At the close of 2013, a series of riots were provoked there eventually leading up to the 2014 coup and the subsequent conflict in the country’s eastern regions. During the armed confrontation, the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics were established, which to this day remain at loggerheads with Kiev. After a region-wide referendum, over 95 percent of the residents of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea announced their desire to reunite with Russia. The role of Washington in the violent overthrow of power in Ukraine was clearly visible. US officials openly supported the Maidan, and Senator John McCain met with future government officials. Victoria Nuland, then US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs, publicly stated that Washington had allocated $5 billion to support democracy in Ukraine. She personally distributed food to “peaceful demonstrators”, many of whom later ended up on the Maidan with weapons in their hands. Nuland, who served as Assistant Secretary of State to three presidents: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, retired in 2017. Today, Biden is bringing her back into politics, nominating her to the post of Assistant Secretary of State for Political Affairs – the third most important in the State Department.

Biden visited Ukraine five times during and after the Maidan. The United States, along with Germany, Poland and France, forced the country’s then-President Viktor Yanukovych to make concessions to protesters, which quickly led to the government’s collapse. Immediately after the resignation of Yanukovych in February 2014, President Barack Obama appointed Biden as his official representative in Ukraine. A little later, Biden’s son, Hunter, was appointed to the board of directors of Ukraine’s Burisma gas company.

After the coup, the Americans took deep roots in Ukraine with their representatives appearing both in economic structures and in the government and special services. Years later, details of their work became available to the media. Former US President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudolph Giuliani said that he had managed to find witnesses and obtain documents demonstrating attempts to cover up violations of the law by Burisma and Hunter Biden’s involvement in the laundering of millions of dollars. Giuliani unveiled a scheme how $16 million, including $3 million “earned” by Biden Jr., had been withdrawn through a network of companies, a number of which were located in Cyprus. Other investigations initiated by the media have also revealed large flows of “dirty” money that was flowing from Ukraine through Latvia to Cyprus and other offshore companies such as Rosemont Seneca, founded by Hunter Biden and Devon Archer.

In April 2019, journalist John Solomon published a post in the American edition of Dakhil about how Joe Biden was helping his son in his business dealings after leaving the post of vice president and bragging to foreign policy experts that, as vice president, he had forced the dismissal of Ukraine’s chief prosecutor. Biden related how in March 2016 he threatened Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko that Washington would withdraw its $ 1 billion loan guarantees and drive the country into bankruptcy unless Attorney General Viktor Shokin was dismissed immediately. And dismissed Shokin was, accused of not being active enough in fighting corruption. However, when talking about his victory, Biden misses an important point. Prior to his dismissal, the attorney general had launched a large-scale audit of the Burisma mining company where Hunter Biden was working. According to the US banking system, between spring 2014 and autumn 2015, Hunter’s company Rosemont Seneca regularly received transfers from Burisma to the tune of about $166,000.

This whole story gives us an idea of what kind of a person Joe Biden really is  and the question is how he will behave in the future.

Even before Biden’s inauguration as president, media representatives and analysts predicted an aggravation of the military situation, an escalation of the conflict in Ukraine and an increase in US activity in the Balkans. In the spring of 2021, these predictions were confirmed, and the military rhetoric of the US administration began heat up. In a March 17 interview with ABC TV, Biden called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “killer.” Even during the Cold War, world leaders did not allow themselves such disrespect for one another. Similar statements from American politicians are often made against foreign leaders whom they want to overthrow or physically eliminate. A number of analysts believe that the absence of an apology from Washington indicates that such a statement was not accidental, but well thought out and comes as a new step in the information war against Russia.

The further development of events in the international arena appears more and more is scary each day. In the media and in public statements by a number of politicians the topic of possible military action is almost becoming “business as usual.” Therefore, the new American president’s personality and his inner circle is extremely important for understanding the future and assessing global risks around the world.

From our partner International Affairs

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The Private And Public Joe Biden: Belief And Policy

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Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith

Joe Biden supports abortion rights politically, a position conflicting with doctrine in the Catholic church.  Despite the pope issuing a warning to act with care, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is now ready to prepare a teaching document that could potentially bar Biden from receiving Holy Communion at mass.  A central sacrament during mass, Catholics believe that eating the consecrated wafer dipped in wine, representing the body and blood of Jesus Christ, unites them with their savior fortifying them to face evil temptations.

The USCCB vote to prepare the document was an overwhelming 168-55, and a committee of US bishops has been assigned the task.  Responding to questions, President Biden called it a private matter.  The document is expected to be ready in time for debate at the November bi-annual conference of US Catholic Bishops.

If that is one headache for Biden, another is in the offing.  Perhaps as a consequence of US policy towards Iran, the election of a hard-liner in Iran’s presidential election seems almost certain.  Judge Ebrahim Raisi, who is also Iran’s top judge, is on his way to victory on the basis of the votes counted so far.

The 60-year old cleric spent most of his life as a prosecutor until he was appointed Iran’s top judge in 2019.  He is fiercely loyal to his fellow clerics, particularly to Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader who has the final say in all matters.  All the same, the president does the administration and has significant input in both domestic and foreign policy.  Suffice to say, Raisi lost in a landslide to Hassan Rouhani, who sought accommodation with the West, in the previous election four years ago.

Having played hardball with Iran, the US is repeating itself with a Russia anxious for better relations.  Following the G7 meeting in Cornwall a week ago, President Biden flew to Geneva meeting President Putin at the Villa La Grange for a closely-watched summit.

Relations between the two countries have been tense following a series of events including the Russian annexation of Crimea.  The latter was transferred to Ukraine for administrative convenience when a connecting bridge was being constructed so that both ends of it would fall under the same authority.  The people of Crimea have no other connection with Ukrainians other than they were both part of the Soviet Union. 

Climate change, arms control, cyber security and American interest in jailed dissenters in Russia including Alexei Navalny .  Reading the riot act to Mr. Putin does little to further stability in relations.  Peace is not a problem among like-minded countries with a commonality of interests, it is a challenge when the parties are rivals, nuclear armed, and capable of blowing up the world.  Mr. Biden may be proud of his performance but is he able to accept the challenge, for if not where does it leave the rest of us …

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