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“Whisperings of the Irrational”: Core Origins of America’s Trump Decline

Prof. Louis René Beres

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“There is something inside all of us that yearns not for reason, but for mystery – not for penetrating clear thought, but for the whisperings of the irrational.”-Karl Jaspers, Reason and Anti-Reason in Our Time (1952)

The facts are unsettling. Even today, after so much day-to-day evidence of presidential incapacity and malfeasance, millions of Americans continue to regard Donald Trump’s leadership as acceptable or even exemplary. This ironic continuance can never be explained by referencing the ordinary features of American politics (e.g., the electoral college, weak Democratic candidates, steadily expanding Article II (presidential) powers, etc.)

What is needed instead is a more serious consideration of the cultural context from which this flawed president was somehow extracted.

To be sure, in the course of such consideration, there will be ample reasons for citizen bewilderment. Here, as with any other multi-layered political quandary, truth may prove to be counter-intuitive. In these complex matters, elements of  explanatory  context may point as much to certain persons of education, wealth and privilege as to less fortunate Americans. Significantly, both categories of Trump supporters, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, include people who most dearly seek to “fit in.”  

These are the ones who love to chant in mutually reassuring chorus and don (literally and metaphorically) the red hat messaging of Trump-style simplifications.

For those understandably despairing Americans who might worry because they take history seriously, one may draw  limited but still-fair comparisons with another fearful era of human governance. Though disturbing, the obvious reference here is the Third Reich. Then, as now, “whisperings” of gainful relationships (both economic and social) masked a virulent formula. In the end, of course, those earlier siren calls were not simply expressed sotto voce, that is, as merely residual “whisperings of the irrational.”

 They were declared without apology, unhesitatingly, and – most important of  all – safely beyond the range of any purposeful challenges or refutations.

In the end, these siren calls turned out to be the deadliest-ever prescription for national declension and human disappearance.

Then, as now, those in political power relied upon blaming “the usual suspects.”

The United States is not becoming Nazi Germany. But this ought not to be simply an “all or nothing” comparison. Then, as now, an irreversible decline arrived more-or-less indecipherably, in generally hard-to-fathom increments, not as any suddenly jolting  or riveting events, and not as any precipitous or conspicuously immobilizing “bolt from the blue.”

While there are plainly vital differences between then and now, there are also very disturbing forms of resemblance.

In the United States, a single core question must remain uppermost:  How shall this ominous American presidency best be explained? In part, at least, correct answers should be sought in the paradoxical juxtaposition of privilege with philistinism. For such a seemingly self-contradictory fusion, the nineteenth-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had already coined a specific term, one he hoped could eventually become universal.

This newly-coined  German word was Bildungsphilister. When expressed in its most lucid and coherent English translation, it means “educated Philistine.”[1]

 In all such delicate maters, precise language and “penetrating clear thought” can help to clarify. Accordingly, Bildungsphilister is a term that could shed useful additional light upon Donald Trump’s uninterrupted support among many of America’s presumptively well-educated and well-to-do. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump several-times commented: “I love the poorly-educated,” but – in the end – a substantial fraction of his voter support arrived from the not-so-poorly-educated. Here, recalling German existentialist philosopher Karl Jaspers’ indictment regarding “whisperings of the irrational,” one should  be  reminded of a kindred remark by Third Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels: “Intellect rots the brain.”

Truth is exculpatory. Uncomfortable truths may be upsetting and bewildering, but they remain truths nonetheless. Apropos of this conclusion, any ascertainable distance between “I love the poorly educated” and “Intellect rots the brain” is not nearly as great as might first appear.

In essence, let us be candid, they mean the same thing.

In prediction, they may have disturbingly similar consequences.

That’s just the way it is.

There remain tangibly meaningful distinctions between German National Socialism and the current US presidential administration, but – at least in some respects – these distinctions express more of a difference in magnitude than in discernible origins. At one obvious level, many American citizens remain willing to abide a president who not only avoids reading absolutely anything, but who simultaneously belittles history, intellection and learning.

What is going on here,?

How shall we explain so little public uneasiness over White House illiteracy?

Recall that for negotiating successfully with North Korea, President Trump had openly advised “attitude, not preparation.”

At any reasonable level of assessment, this advice was caricatural. But the presidential comment was not intended as satire. Not at all.

Now, more “penetrating clear thought” is needed to understand our ongoing Trump-era declension. Do most Americans (even Trump’s avowed political opponents) sufficiently object to a president who has never glanced at the US Constitution, the same allegedly revered document he so solemnly swore “to uphold, protect and defend?” Is it reasonable or persuasive to “uphold protect and defend” a document that one has never even bothered to read?

In the United States, is it reasonable or persuasive for “We the people….” not to be troubled by such a vast intellectual disjuncture?

Key questions should not be skirted any longer. How has the United States managed to arrive at such a portentous and dismal place? What have been the pertinent failures (both particular and aggregated) of American education, most notably in our vaunted universities?

It’s a discomfiting but entirely sensible two-part question, especially as the Trump presidency is assiduously transforming a “merely” self-deceiving country into a finely-lacquered national corpse.  

 Once upon a time in western philosophy, Plato revealed much higher leadership expectations for his “philosopher-king.”  Yet, even if we should no longer plausibly expect anything like a philosopher-king in the White House, ought we not still be entitled to a man or woman who manages to read and think seriously, sometimes, something –  anything?

Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s Zarathustra warns prophetically: “One should never seek the `higher man’ at the marketplace.” But the generally intellect-free marketplace was where a proudly visceral segment of American society first championed Donald J. Trump. What else should we have expected? In the United States, after all, a society where almost no one takes erudition seriously, Americans are ultimately measured by only one conspicuous standard.

We are what we buy.

There is more, much more. This American president is not “merely” marginal or misguided. Quite literally, he is the diametric opposite of both Plato’s philosopher-king and Nietzsche’s “higher-man.” Unambiguously, at its moral and analytic core, the Trump administration now reveals a thoroughly wretched inversion of what might once have been ennobling in the United States. Even more worrisome, Americans are more rapidly stumbling backwards, further and further, visibly, unsteadily, not in  any measurable decipherable increments, but still, in giant or quantum leaps of self-reinforcing harms.

In their totality, these are leaps of unforgivable cowardice, especially in various partisan sectors of the Congress.

Among so many other palpable deficits, America’s current president does not begin to understand that US history deserves a special pride of place. How many Americans have ever paused to remember that the Founding Fathers who framed the second amendment were not expecting or imagining automatic weapons? How many citizens ever really knew that the early American Republic was the religious heir of John Calvin or the philosophical descendant of John Locke and Thomas Hobbes?

How many “successful” US lawyers have ever heard of William Blackstone, the extraordinary English jurist whose learned Commentaries literally formed the common law underpinnings of America’s current legal system?

Is there a single Trump lawyer (personal or institutional) who could conceivably even know (let alone actually read) about Blackstone’s unparalleled juristic contributions?

It’s a silly question. Only one thing really matters. In America, you are what you can buy, not what you can learn or understand.

Erudition has no cash value –  no purchasing power.

Human beings are the creators of their machines; not the other way round. Still, there exists today an implicit and grotesque reciprocity between creator and creation, an elaborate and potentially lethal pantomime between the users and the used. Nowhere is this prospective lethality more apparent than among the self-deluded but endlessly loyal supporters of US President Donald Trump. They  follow him faithfully only because the wider American society had first been allowed to become an intellectual desert.

Cultural context has its invariant explanatory place.

President Donald Trump’s simplifying cultural context offers millions of Americans an ill-founded kind of reassurance. Metaphorically, it provides then a ubiquitous and useful “solvent,” one capable of dissolving almost anything of any tangible or enlightening consequence. To wit, in higher education, the traditionally revered Western Canon of literature and art is largely being supplanted by far more pleasingly visible emphases on “branding.”

In fairness, this lethal supplantation began long before Trump, but it has absolutely flourished during the current ascendancy of Bildungsphilister.

A few years ago, before my retirement as a Purdue University professor, I asked my students, a class of fifty, what would they choose if offered a degree right away, without having to take further studies or coursework or tests (and correspondingly, without any further opportunities for “higher education”). Forty-seven students enthusiastically accepted the “offer.”

This was not in any way an eccentric or idiosyncratic response. I had very similar or roughly identical responses in three subsequent years.

Soon, even if we should somehow manage to avoid nuclear war and nuclear terrorism – an avoidance not to be taken for granted in the incoherent Trump Era – the swaying of the American vessel could still become unendurably violent. 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 works of properly forgotten poets were neither unique nor transient.

Or perhaps not.

In an 1897 essay titled “On Being Human,” Woodrow Wilson inquired tellingly about the “authenticity “of Americans. “Is it even open to us to choose to be genuine?” he asked. This US president had answered “yes,” but only if citizens could first refuse to cheer the dreadfully injurious “herds” of mass society. Otherwise, as President Wilson already understood, our entire society would be left bloodless, a skeleton, dead with that rusty death of broken machinery, more hideous even than the biological decompositions of individual persons.

 In every society, as Emerson and the other American Transcendentalists already recognized, the scrupulous care of each individualhuman “soul” is most important. Looking ahead, there likely still can be a “better”American soul[2] (and thereby an improved American politics),  but not before we can first acknowledge a prior obligation. This antecedent requirement is a far-reaching national responsibility to finally overcome the lethal barriers of  “herd” culture or –  per the German philosopher Karl Jaspers’ apt warning –  “whisperings of the irrational.”

With some necessary luck, and even after the evident failures of nuclear diplomacy with Russia, Iran and North Korea, the Trump presidency will somehow manage to end without a catastrophic unconventional war.  But for the United States, even that presumptively “happy ending” might represent little more than a temporary reprieve. Unless we can finally begin to work much harder at changing this society’s consistently core antipathies to intellect and reason, Americans will have to face periodic and increasingly perilous eras of steep national decline.

As citizens who could once again take deserving pride in learning and genuine education, Americans would then be ready to select a more decent, thoughtful and capable US president.


[1] The first language of the author here, Professor Louis René Beres, was German. This is his own straightforward translation.

[2] Sigmund Freud 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 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.

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.

Americas

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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Americas

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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Americas

Trump Cannot Be Impeached Over Ukrainegate, But Pelosi and Schiff Can Be Charged Criminally

Rahul D. Manchanda, Esq.

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Pursuant to United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp., 299 U.S. 304 (1936), the U.S. Supreme Court issued an unmistakable clear edict concerning the foreign affairs powers of the President of the United States.

In its majority opinion, the Court held that the President, as the nation’s “sole organ” in international relations, is innately vested with significant powers over foreign affairs, far exceeding the powers permitted in domestic matters or accorded to the U.S. Congress.

The Court reasoned that these powers are implicit in the President’s constitutional role as commander-in-chief and head of the executive branch.

Curtiss-Wright was the first decision to establish that the President’s plenary power was independent of Congressional permission, and consequently it is credited with providing the legal precedent for further expansions of executive power in the foreign sphere.

In a 7–1 decision authored by Justice George Sutherland, the Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. government, through the President, is categorically allowed great foreign affairs powers independent of the U.S. Constitution, by declaring that “the powers of the federal government in respect of foreign or external affairs and those in respect of domestic or internal affairs are different, both in respect of their origin and their nature…the broad statement that the federal government can exercise no powers except those specifically enumerated in the Constitution, and such implied powers as are necessary and proper to carry into effect the enumerated powers, is categorically true only in respect of our internal affairs.”

While the Constitution does not explicitly state that all ability to conduct foreign policy is vested in the President, the Court concluded that such power is nonetheless given implicitly, since the executive of a sovereign nation is, by its very nature, empowered to conduct foreign affairs.

The Court found “sufficient warrant for the broad discretion vested in the President to determine whether the enforcement of the statute will have a beneficial effect upon the reestablishment of peace in the affected countries.”

In other words, the President was better suited for determining which actions and policies best serve the nation’s interests abroad.

Period.

It is important to bear in mind that we are here dealing not alone with an authority vested in the President by an exertion of legislative power, but with such an authority plus the very delicate, plenary and exclusive power of the President as the sole organ of the federal government in the field of international relations – a power which does not require as a basis for its exercise an act of Congress, but which, of course, like every other governmental power, must be exercised in subordination to the applicable provisions of the Constitution.

Separation of Powers Doctrine

In other words, neither the U.S. Congress nor the U.S. Senate can say or do very much of anything to prevent or interfere with this power, and if they do, they can in fact be held responsible for violating the Separation of Powers doctrine pursuant to the U.S. Constitution wherein the three branches of government (executive, legislative, and judicial) are kept separate.

This is also known as the system of checks and balances, because each branch is given certain powers so as to check and balance the other branches.

Each branch has separate powers, and generally each branch is not allowed to exercise the powers of the other branches.

The Legislative Branch exercises congressional power, the Executive Branch exercises executive power, and the Judicial Branch exercises judicial review.

National Security and Foreign Affairs

The Curtiss-Wright case established the broader principle of executive Presidential supremacy in national security and foreign affairs, one of the reasons advanced in the 1950s for the near success of the attempt to add the Bricker Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which would have placed a “check” on said Presidential power by Congress, but that never passed, or became law.

If Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats really wanted to interfere with or prevent President Donald Trump from engaging in the activity that they are trying to prevent vis-a-vis Ukraine, China, and Joseph Biden’s alleged corruption and its effect on National Security, they would have to first draft, propose, enact, and pass sweeping legislation, and this could take years and would most probably never pass.

Even so, it could not affect President Donald Trump’s actions already occurred, since the U.S. Constitution prohibits ex post facto criminal laws.

Turning This All Against Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff

To that end if Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Congressman Adam Schiff persist in pushing said “impeachment proceedings” against President Donald Trump, it is actually they who could find themselves on the wrong side of the law, with formal and actual charges of Treason, Sedition or Coup D’ Etat being levied upon them by the U.S. Government.

The consequences of that occurring, are truly horrific indeed.

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