“Who is to decide which is the grimmer sight: withered hearts, or empty skulls?” -Honoré de Balzac
For understanding the context of social life, Honoré de Balzac was a master. Minutely analytic in his scrutiny of society, he delicately lay bare every stratum of culture with the precision of an archeologist. Brushing the “dirt” from every “artifact,” his books combined (as Victor Hugo remarked at his funeral) “observation and imagination.”
It was an ideal but too-rare combination. Still, desperately, America needs another Balzac today. Despite so much apt criticism of an incoherent US presidency, millions of Americans continue to regard Donald Trump as an acceptable or even exemplary leader.
How can this be happening in a presumptively informed and democratic American society? In response, we could very easily throw up our hands and exclaim (together with ancient philosopher Tertullian), Credo quia absurdum, “I believe because it is absurd.” For a more serious response, however, we should first examine the wider American society from which this relentlessly conning president was drawn.
To fruitfully extend the illuminating Balzac metaphor, it is high time to “brush the dirt” from all still-revealing “artifacts.”
What might we expect to discover? At a minimum, the results of any such examination should be decipherable and straightforward. If properly executed (that is, if carried out with proper attention to the long-settled criteria of scientific investigation), we could quickly discover that Americans all-too-frequently abhor any genuine learning. Although this nation surely does place a very high value on every manner of “practical” achievement (e.g., smart phones, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, self-driving cars, automatic guns, etc., etc.), it is only because these diverse products are expected to enhance the banal circumstances of American “mass.”
In essence, before learning and intellect can ever be valued for themselves in the United States – a condition which is so clearly required for proper governance – Americans will first need to think far beyond glittering and distracting technologies.
What else might be learned from a “Balzac-like” assessment of dissembling US presidential moments? In some respects, the “Trump Phenomenon” is not utterly unique. Although less rancorous, cantankerous and blatantly foolish, more than a few incapable and dishonest US presidents have been endured during America’s endlessly acrimonious past. At the same time, especially because his own conspicuous debilities are coupled with a “nuclear button,” Donald Trump is more tangibly dangerous than any one of his injurious predecessors.
Vastly more dangerous.
Soon, however, we must return to deeper explanations. In all likelihood, almost by definition, a contemporary Balzac would look more closely at the broader society from which this American president was drawn and from which he was catapulted to nuclear command authority. Here, soberly, all must finally confront a cheerlessly trivialized social order, a generally dumbed-down amalgam of individual citizen souls yearning to “follow the crowd.”
Even in this pervasively anti-thought society, the core problem is not that the “average American” knows too little about matters of consequence.
Rather, it’s that he or she wants to know very little.
Incontestably, these same limiting traits are characteristic of Donald J. Trump. Expressed in more axiomatic mathematical terms, one is the inevitable reciprocal of the other.
Not by happenstance did Trump rise to power in a country so flagrantly proud of its historical and cultural illiteracy. The fact that this US president never reads anything – literally, never, ever – is not widely taken by Americans as a significant liability. On the contrary, the obliging American mass reserves notably few intellectual expectations for its leaders. Indeed, for many voters, ostentatiously, any obvious intellectual disinterestedness is taken as an enviable presidential asset.
Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosopher. Once upon a time, when some calculable number of Americans still sought to read challenging books and consider variously complex ideas, Ralph Waldo Emerson urged his fellow citizens to embrace “plain living and high thinking.” Today, this earlier American plea for improved personal and social equilibrium has been casually cast aside. If it were more widely recognized, Americans would then be “assured” that any well-reasoned pleas for consequential reform should only be ridiculed.
Under the aegis of President Trump’s continuously “rotating” senior appointees, matters will only get worse. Nonetheless, growing legions of US citizens acknowledge no real problem with their overtly anti-education president, even one whose proposed “solution” to gun violence in the schools is to randomly arm teachers (because they are “more loving” than police) and to “fight back” with still more guns. In part, at least, such an ominous indifference to intellect and science can be traced to America’s unrelieved barrage of crude and voyeuristic entertainments, many of which center on sadism, torture, murder and (these days especially) a cheerlessly corrosive public discourse.
Always, in the Trump Era, this discourse is laced with utterly baseless rancor and with conspicuously dreary profanity.
Always, in this American White House, science and reason represent merely an annoying impediment to free-floating human hostilities.
It’s time for candor. Earlier, Donald Trump had promised, at one of his more hideous Goebbels-style “rallies,” to protect a nonexistent Article of the US Constitution. Even then, however, his unhidden historical ignorance was glossed over by supporters as unimportant. Still, it represented another humiliating Trumpian symptom of America’s much wider and more deeply insidious national “pathology.” While his followers were generally correct that this president was entirely willing to “speak his mind,” they seem untroubled by the too-obvious corollary.
There was no underlying mind for him to speak.
“What the mob once learned to believe without reasons,” queries Friedrich Nietzsche in the Fourth Part of his Zarathustra, “who could overthrow that with reasons?”
Nietzsche, as usual, had understood splendidly, deeply. He reflected (also in Zarathustra) that “When the throne sits upon mud, mud sits upon the throne.” Disregarding the millions who (“with reasons”) still refuse to renounce a glaringly unhinged presidency, Donald Trump never ever attempts to understand that American history deserves its proper pride of place.
This is because the American president is himself utterly ignorant of America’s history and founding principles.
How many Americans who energetically champion “gun rights” have paused to consider that the Founding Fathers were not expecting automatic weapons? How many can sincerely believe that the Founders would have wanted 350 million privately-held weapons, including huge private arsenals that can kill hundreds in minutes and are sometimes in the hands of citizens living with variously advanced stages of dementia?
Could any argument for “Second Amendment Rights” be more starkly disingenuous than those that put literally unimaginable sentiments into the mouths of 18th century revolutionaries?
Can anyone reserve a legitimate intellectual right to believe that the Second Amendment embraces originally-inconceivable sorts of firearm? How many “educated” Americans bother to learn that their early eighteenth-century Republic was the direct religious heir of John Calvin and the lineal philosophical descendant of John Locke and Thomas Hobbes? How many can appreciate that the fearful Hobbesian “state of nature” described in Leviathan – a “state of war” or “war of all against all” (bellum omnium contra omnes) – was deemed insufferable by the seventeenth-century English philosopher because there “…the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest.”
Hobbes strongly cautioned against any social order that might wittingly or unwittingly create this “dreadful equality.” After all, following such creation, “…the life of man (would necessarily be) solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Evidently lost on this president, too, is the ongoing relevance of Hobbesian thinking to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Why else would Trump be actively undermining the already-fragile nuclear arms control regime, even to the extent of abrogating critical US treaties with Russia?
One still-whispered explanation is that this US president is a real-life “Manchurian Candidate,” but a more plausible answer is that he has no intellectual grasp of how best to support American survival in the steadily nuclearizing state-of-nature.
None at all.
For Trump, going back to “nature,” both nationally and internationally, could represent a positive or welcome development. More exactly, in this president’s alarmingly disjointed views of the world, (ones wherein “might makes right”) regression could sometime become an agreeable part of “making America great again.”
Credo quia absurdum. “I believe because it is absurd.”
There is more. This is hardly the first time in modern history that a “crowd” has loved to chant gibberish in belligerent chorus. For a particularly worrisome example, we need only recall the ritual cries of Joseph Goebbels at the Nuremberg Rallies before the War. What Goebbels did expertly instruct, with a shrill and perverse genius – an instruction now capably learned by Donald Trump – is that the bigger the lie, the more believable it can become. At first, the lie doesn’t seem to make any sense. But if one leads chants often enough against some “crooked” opponent or another, fewer will expect to find any “crookedness” on the chanting side.
Such devious “logic” makes no discernible sense. Still, it continues to work well for US President Donald Trump. Absurdly well.
“Intellect rots the brain,” warned Goebbels.
“I love the poorly educated,” echoed candidate Donald Trump in 2016.
Not much calculable difference here. Both Goebbels and Trump were effectively on the same page.
In the past, Mr. Trump, with nary a hint of painstaking analysis, blithely encouraged more countries to acquire their own nuclear weapons (e.g., Japan and South Korea). Immediately, this incomprehensible urging should have signaled a too-willing incapacity to figure out certain complex strategic problems. At a minimum, the president’s earlier encouragements were spawned by his apparent unawareness that possession of nuclear weapons does not ipso facto create credible nuclear deterrence postures.
Not at all.
In the pertinent language of nuclear strategic theory – a language with which I have personally been intimate for over fifty years – in Princeton, Washington and Jerusalem – the Trump fallacy has a specific name.
It is referenced by specialists as the “porcupine theory.”
This prickly metaphor obtains because these violators of strategic logic falsely equate nuclear weapons states with porcupines, presuming that just as the quill-endowed critters will leave each other alone in the forest, so too would nuclear weapon states steer clear of each other in the unsteady interstices of anarchic world politics.
In the end, US presidential selections are too often shaped by primal disfigurements. Many of America’s cumulative political ambitions remain integrally bound up with distressingly embarrassing simplifications and with resoundingly stupefying clichés. The elaborately welcomed appearance of Duck Dynasty as a principal “speaker” before Mr. Trump’s Republican National Convention should already have represented the reductio ad absurdum of a declining civilization.
Yet, it was not generally criticized. Not at all.
But it was consistent – and without causing any electoral disadvantage – with Donald Trump’s terminally proud aversion to refinement, syntax, intellect and meaningful learning. At even much deeper levels, it was expressive of America’s general celebration of low-level and degrading public distractions. For this US president, whose crude sentiments were unhidden, there was more palpable instructional value in television’s Roseanne than in Homer or Shakespeare.
Shouldn’t this illiterate judgment have been a sufficiently worrisome “early warning”?
Accordingly, Ralph Waldo Emerson and his learned generation of American Transcendentalists would have done more than winced. America’s earliest presidents, after all, were individuals of recognizable accomplishment and original thought.
In July 1776, over one short Philadelphia weekend
of dreadful heat and no modern conveniences, a then-future American president composed more
infinitely valuable prose than America’s current president (with all modern
conveniences at his ready disposal) could produce in several contiguous lifetimes.
Thomas Jefferson did not arrive at his presidency with a well-honed expertise
in “branding,” but instead with the much more appropriate
understanding that an American
“brand” should be based upon certain authentic qualities of accomplishment. These traits are inherently true, honorable and correspondingly valuable.
“One must never seek the higher man,” warned philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in Zarathustra, “at the marketplace.” Years ago, America still stood for something more than buying, selling and grievously raw commerce. Years ago, the country’s national debates did not yet center on mass killing and the right to arm oneself with military-style assault weapons.
It may well be that America has never been quite ready for Plato’s “Philosopher King,” but there were at least some recallable times in its national past that philosophical debates would sound more like a mind-expanding university seminar than a self-defense course on tactical weapons.
Assuredly, American s remember their earlier presidents not for their transient commercial successes in the frenetic marketplace of goods for sale and purchase, but for their auspicious presence in an enlightening marketplace of ideas. For these still-enviable presidents, it was much more important to build a leadership legacy upon wisdom and learning than on the incessantly demeaning symbols of conspicuous consumption.
It’s not complicated. The full horror of the Trump presidency – a horror still energetically accepted by millions – begins with the intellectually unambitious American citizen; with the insistently flawed individual “microcosm.” The American electorate, the macrocosm, can never rise any higher than the amalgamated capacities of its separate members. As Nietzsche could easily have predicted, the whole of the American polity is more starkly despoiled than the aggregate sum of its component “parts.”
Ultimately, for better or for worse, every democracy comes to represent the sum total of its constituent “souls,” that is, those still-hopeful citizens who would seek some sort or other of personal “redemption.” In the deeply fractionated American republic, however, We the people – more and more desperate for a seemingly last chance to “fit in” and to “get ahead” – inhabit a vast wasteland of lost human and intellectual opportunity. Within this desiccated amalgam of cheap pleasures and abysmal entertainments, of political leaders without even a scintilla of courage or integrity, millions of “hollow men” and women remain chained to exhausting cycles of meaningless and repetitive work.
There are manifold ironies here. While generally unrecognized, this de facto servitude is sometimes felt in the United States by the very very rich as well as by the very very poor. This paradoxical “artifact” of American privilege is based upon entire lifetimes spent on grimly sterile forms of pointless personal accumulation.
Now, our most spirited national debates continue to be about guns and killing not about history, literature, music, art, philosophy, or beauty. Within this vast and predatory nether world, huge segments of our unhappy population drown themselves ritually in vast oceans of alcohol and drugs. Whether incremental or sudden, this intractable submersion is now becoming deep enough to swallow up whole centuries of national achievement and entire millennia of a once-sacred poetry.
At its core, the American “opiate addiction problem” is not fundamentally about drugs. It is, rather, the symptom of rampant individual unhappiness and an intractable social despair. The most tangible residue of this unrelieved problem can be found scattered as toxic litter over thousands of America’s beaches and playgrounds. In the end, this litter can be taken as the materially squalid overflow of a nation’s much larger social disintegration.
This coming-apart is destroying a US society that has become complicit in its own manifestly unheroic demise.
Small wonder that so many millions of Americans cling desperately to their smart phones and related electronic devices. Filled with a deepening and ultimate horror of ever having to be left alone with themselves, these virtually connected millions are visibly frantic to claim some recognizable membership in the public mass. Earlier, in the 19th century, philosopher Soren Kierkegaard had already foreseen this omnivorous mass, even before the rise of social media.
“The crowd,” opined the prophetic Danish thinker, “is untruth.”
Later, in the twentieth century, in a portentously similar insight, Spanish existentialist Jose Ortega y’ Gassett foresaw the uniquely perilous consequences of “mass,” a term also resembling Sigmund Freud’s “horde” and quite nearly identical to Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung’s “mass.”
Whether one speaks of a “crowd,” “horde,” or mass,” the selected noun can speak volumes about how a non-reading and non- writing President Donald Trump remains able to claim the enthusiastic support of millions. In brief, while seeking such support, there is never any compelling reason for Mr. Trump to bother reconciling his policies with verifiable facts. In proudly announcing his “Made in America Week” some time back, this president took no pains to justify that his own family businesses were continuing to rely heavily on foreign-made goods and workers.
Always, in this gravely pernicious presidency, hypocrisy is undisguised.
Is this a sign of virtue?
Although virtually all respectable academic economists are convinced that Trump-generated tariffs will have deleterious effects on each American’s individual family pocketbook, this president continues to plan for some sort of “victory” in his indecipherable trade wars.
Conceptually, for this president, it’s not a difficult reconciliation to make. In any such calculations, full speed ahead, facts and logic be damned.
For the moment, at least, we Americans remain grinning but hapless captives in a deliriously noisy and airless “crowd” or “herd” or “mass.” Disclaiming any residual interior life, we proceed tentatively, and in almost every palpable sphere, at the lowest common denominator. Expressed in more annoyingly recognizable terms, even our vaunted American “freedom” is becoming a contrivance.
Once again, it’s time for candor. Our simplifying American context offers a regrettable but ubiquitous “solvent.” This caustic solution dissolves almost everything substantial of intellectual or analytic consequence. In education, the once revered Western Canon of literature and art has already been replaced by more generalized emphases on “branding.” Already, apart from their pervasive drunkenness and enthusiastically tasteless entertainments, our once-sacred spaces of higher education have been transformed into a steadily rusting pipeline to ritualistic jobs and sterile vocations.
Soon, even if we should manage to avoid nuclear war and nuclear terrorism – an avoidance not to be taken for granted in the rapidly unraveling Trump Era – the swaying of the American ship will become so violent that even the hardiest lamps will be overturned. Then, the phantoms of great ships of state, once laden with silver and gold, may no longer lie forgotten. Then, perhaps, we will finally understand that the circumstances that could send the compositions of Homer, Maimonides, Goethe, Milton, Shakespeare, Freud and Kafka to join the disintegrating works of forgotten poets were neither unique nor transient.
In an 1897 essay titled “On Being Human,” Woodrow Wilson inquired thoughtfully about the authenticity of America. “Is it even open to us to choose to be genuine?” he asked. This earlier American president had answered “yes,” but only if we first refused to stoop to join the threatening and synthetic “herds” of mass society. Otherwise, as Wilson had already understood, our entire society would be left bloodless, a skeleton, dead with that rusty demise of broken machinery, more hideous even than the unstoppable decompositions of each person.
In all societies, as Emerson and the other American Transcendentalists had also recognized, the scrupulous care of each individual”soul” is most important. There can be a “better”American soul, and also an improved American politics,but not until we are first able to acknowledge a more prior obligation. This is a far-reaching national responsibility to overcome the staggering barriers of a Kierkegaardian “crowd” culture, and to embrace once again the liberating imperatives of Emersonian “high thinking.”
In the end, the Donald Trump presidency is “merely” the most debilitating symptom of a much deeper American pathology. In this country, the underlying disease is rather a far-reaching national unwillingness to think seriously. Left unchallenged at this rudimentary level, such reluctance could eventually transform us into the finely-lacquered corpse of a once-promising American Civilization.
Naturally, if this president should ever authorize the use of American nuclear weapons, such transformation could become instantaneous.
More than likely, the Trump presidency will notend with the bang of a catastrophic nuclear war, but even that “happy ending” could represent little more than a temporary reprieve. Accordingly, unless Americans begin to work much harder at halting their society’s steep indifference to both intellect and reason, we will recurrently have to face the ominous kinds of metamorphoses that Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once famously termed a “sickness unto death.” As Americans who can still understand more than the embarrassingly empty witticisms stitched into red baseball caps, the truest work should begin not with politics directly (all politics are ultimately just reflection), but with very deliberate and purposeful fixing of their private “selves.”
The American democracy, as we may yet learn from Thomas Jefferson, a US president of true intellectual accomplishment, was never expected to flourish without an informed citizenry. Once this is finally understood and accepted, an imperiled nation could more properly guard itself against another patently unfit American president. It follows that there could not possibly be any more important “brand” of national awareness.
Recalling classic French author Honoré Balzac, “withered hearts” and “empty skulls” need not be mutually exclusive. Rather, most notably in the scarcely hidden case of a now- deteriorating American polity, the first can flow lethally and directly from the second. Moreover, the impacted ambit of corollary suffering could quickly extend far beyond US borders to other and distant countries, and include major wars or genocide.
Such would be a plausible legacy of a
declining American democracy increasingly detached from reason and learning.
 There are many compelling components to any such allegation, but the most serious of these concerns an American president’s authority and capacity to initiate nuclear war. In this connection, several recent articles by the author expressly deal with this overriding concern. See, for example, Louis René Beres, http://www.jurist.org/forum/2017/08/louis-rene-beres-trump-nuclear.php See also: https://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2016-05-11/possible-trump-presidency-showcases-fatal-flaw-in-nuclear-command-safeguard. Professor Beres is the author of twelve published books dealing with nuclear command decisions, including Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (The University of Chicago Press, 1980), and, in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: https://thebulletin.org/2016/08/what-if-you-dont-trust-the-judgment-of-the-president-whose-finger-is-over-the-nuclear-button/
 At the July 4 2019 celebration in Washington, this president promised “brand new Sherman tanks” and instructed that in the 18th century the Revolutionary War army had “taken control of all national airports.” (No Sherman tanks have been built in the last seventy years).
 A somewhat analogous fallacy in domestic politics is revealed in the recommending of easy private access to guns, and, correspondingly, of arming teachers to deter school shootings. To be sure, it makes little sense to argue (as does Donald Trump) that a determined and deeply disturbed individual with access to multiple firearms would be best deterred by a “loving teacher” with a handgun concealed in her/his desk drawer or pocketbook. It is also worth noting that in several thousand years of western philosophy, a key hallmark of a civilized society has been the “centralized force monopoly of the community,” not the “every man for himself” vigilante system now seemingly favored by a sitting American president.
 One of this writer’s first scholarly assessments of the “porcupine” fallacy was published in Parameters: The Journal of the US Army War College (Department of Defense) in September 1979. See; Louis René Beres, “The Porcupine Theory of Nuclear Proliferation: Shortening the Quills,” Parameters, Vol. IX, No. 3, September 1979, pp. 31-37. More recently, see also Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (New York and London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), 2nd edition 2018.
 On US President Donald Trump’s ideas of art and beauty, see: Louis René Beres at Oxford University Press: https://blog.oup.com/2017/09/aesthetics-politics-donald-trump-beauty/https://blog.oup.com/2017/09/aesthetics-politics-donald-trump-beauty/
 However ironic, Sigmund Freud had maintained a general antipathy to all things American. In essence, he most objected, according to Bruno Bettelheim, to this country’s “shallow optimism,” and its seemingly corollary commitment to a disturbingly crude form of materialism. America, thought Freud, was very evidently “lacking in soul.” See: Bruno Bettelheim, Freud and Man’s Soul (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983), especially Chapter X.
Gallup: Trump Globally the Least Respected U.S. President This Century
On January 15th, the Gallup World Poll issued its preliminary report for their upcoming “Rating World Leaders: 2021” report. It shows the results that have been tabulated for 60 of the 135 countries where they annually sample global public opinion about U.S. leadership. One especially clear finding from it is that when their final report for all 135 countries will be issued, it will show that among the three U.S. Presidencies on which Gallup has internationally surveyed — which are only the three U.S. Presidents in this century — Trump is clearly the one who is globally respected the least, even lower than George W. Bush was respected.
Here are the findings, in each of the 60 nations, and the percentage increase or decrease from Gallup’s last completed survey report, “Rating World Leaders: 2020”:
“Do you approve or disapprove of the job performance of the leadership of the United States?”
- Dominican Republic, 66% was 56% in 2020
- Cameroon, 62 was 61
- Georgia, 61 was 43
- Zambia, 56 was 26
- Albania, 56 was 67
- Philippines, 55 was 58
- Uganda, 53 was 47
- Mauritius, 50 was 59
- Zimbabwe, 50 was 59
- Ecuador, 43 was 34
- Colombia, 42 was 41
- Moldova, 40 was 45
- Brazil, 40 was 38
- Japan, 39 was 34
- Kyrgyzstan, 34 was 32
- Namibia, 34 was 31
- Bulgaria, 32 was 26
- Cambodia, 32 was 49
- Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region of China, 31 was 31
- Poland, 30 was 59
- South Korea, 30 was 41
- Bolivia , 30 was 31
- Australia, 29 was 23
- Taiwan, Province of China, 28 was 40
- New Zealand, 26 was 17
- Mexico, 26 was 17
- Malta, 26 was 30
- Ethiopia, 25 was 37
- Argentina, 24 was 26
- Ukraine, 24 was 32
- Greece, 21 was 19
- Croatia, 21 was 25
- Morocco, 21 was 22
- Serbia , 20 was 19
- Ireland, 20 was 30
- Finland, 20 was 20
- Slovenia, 19 was 20
- Cyprus, 19 was 27
- Tunisia, 19 was 24
- Italy, 19 was 22
- France, 18 was 23
- Russia, 18 was 11
- Netherlands, 18 was 20
- Canada, 17 was 22
- Spain, 17 was 23
- Chile, 16 was 16
- Estonia, 15 was 17
- United Kingdom, 15 was 25
- Denmark, 14 was 24
- Turkey, 13 was 12
- Slovakia, 13 was 28
- Norway, 12 was 15
- Portugal, 12 was 14
- Belgium, 12 was 17
- Sweden, 11 was 12
- Switzerland, 10 was 13
- Austria, 9 was 11
- Iran, 6 was 6
- Germany, 6 was 12
- Iceland, 5 was 9
Remarkably, Gallup doesn’t poll in China on this question. (Nor does Pew.)
Notably, Trump is more disapproved-of in Europe than in any other part of the world. (Also, as Pew reported on 16 December 2020, “In Europe, more trust Putin than Trump.”)
Those percentage-changes that we’ve just shown total to a decline, among all 60 countries, of 121 percentage-points (-121%), or, almost exactly, a -2% change from the 2019 findings that had been reported in Gallup’s “Rating World Leaders: 2020”.
Gallup says that “until all of Gallup’s 2020 fieldwork is complete in a few months, it is still too early to say that the U.S. will see its worst ranking in the history of Gallup’s World Poll.” However, Gallup’s “Rating World Leaders: 2020” report covered 135 lands, and the 60 lands that they have tabulated as of now, for the 2021 report, seem to be a representative sampling of all of those 135, and collectively those 60 populations have reduced their respect for America’s leadership by 2%. In the 2020 report, the global level of approval for America’s leadership was 33%. The all-time-low had been the 30% figure in 2017, Trump’s first year, a finding which was based on Trump’s promises, not on his performance. The upcoming final Gallup report “Rating World Leaders: 2021” will — if the results from those 60 lands do turn out to be representative of the global findings — produce a 31% global approval level by all of the approximately 135 lands that will be covered in it. For each of Trump’s four years, then, the global percentages will have been (for each one of his four years) 30%, 31%, 33%, and (now, in his final year) 31%. Each year, it was even lower than the prior record low, of George W. Bush, had been, at 34% in 2008.
There was higher disapproval than approval of America’s leadership during the Presidencies of George W. Bush and of Donald Trump than there was approval of either U.S. President’s leadership. Strikingly, however, there was higher approval than disapproval during (and throughout) the two terms of office of Barack Obama. That Nobel Peace Prize winner was/is internationally admired. (Crazy, but true: he was an international charmer.)
Here are summarized (with links to the evidence regarding) the actual chief international achievements of each of these three U.S. Presidents:
George W. Bush: destroying Iraq, and destroying Afghanistan.
Donald Trump: destroying Iran, and destroying Venezuela, while continuing his predecessors’ destructions of Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Ukraine. He also made the destruction of Palestine even worse than it had previously been.
So, the question regarding incoming U.S. President Joe Biden will be whether he will continue this tradition further, or reverse it. Because, it’s really all the same tradition, throughout all three U.S. Presidencies this century. By contrast, global perceptions are that those three U.S. Presidents were drastically different from one another.
On 15 September 290290, Pew bannered “U.S. Image Plummets Internationally as Most Say Country Has Handled Coronavirus Badly” and reported that:
The publics surveyed also see Trump more negatively than other world leaders. Among the six leaders included on the survey, Angela Merkel receives the highest marks: A median of 76% across the nations polled have confidence in the German chancellor. French President Emmanuel Macron also gets largely favorable reviews. Ratings for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson are roughly split. Ratings for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping are overwhelmingly negative, although not as negative as those for Trump.
Right above that was this graph, which shows starkly the false European perception that Barack Obama was vastly superior to George W. Bush and Donald Trump:
Apparently, most Europeans have no problem with a U.S. President who continues America’s use of torture, and who continues America’s legal immunity of prosecution for banksters, and who imposes ethnic cleansing abroad, and who aims for achieving a U.S. first-strike ability to conquer Russia by a sudden nuclear blitz attack. Style is everything, for them; substance is nothing, to them. Why didn’t they like Hitler? Is it only because he did it to them?
Why won’t Bowdich evoke 9/11 now?
“Day of fire”. That’s how House Speaker Nancy Pelosi referred to the Capitol insurrection, which happens to be the exact same phrase President George W. Bush used on the occasion of 9/11. That is not coincidental. But why won’t the FBI draw 9/11 parallels now?
In spring last year, when I was running for UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of speech, in a leaked memo to the New York Times, FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich was quoted in a reaction to the Black Lives Matters protests. Bowdich maintained that the protesters should be arrested under an outdated racketeering law from the 1940s. The leaked memo showed that Mr Bowdich considered the social justice movement “a national crisis” comparable to 9/11. The hundreds of thousands of people mourning and marching across the country, unified by the simple thought that no life should be taken lightly, for nothing, were actually similar to terrorists in the eyes of the FBI who wanted to charge them as racketeers. Why won’t Bowdich evoke 9/11 now, when it comes to far-right actual terrorism? We are talking about plans to blow up buildings and assassinate law-makers.
There is evidence appearing now through the courts that the Trump mob indeed intended to capture and assassinate congressmen. A new court filing by federal prosecutors says that Trump supporters intended to “capture and assassinate” elected officials during the Capitol riot.
The FBI has a misplaced terrorism obsession with the progressive left, while lightly ignoring the far-right, which is by far the more violent and much more organized group. The Capitol events security mishandling demonstrated a different attitude when it comes to the latter group.
There is a difference between street clashes with police in social justice protests that have gone overboard and have turned violent, on one hand, and placing bombs at political buildings, plans to kidnap and assassinate politicians, and violent usurping of the certification of a democratically elected president. The difference should be obvious, and yet the FBI is pursuing its obsession with the left voices, largely ignoring the violent extremists and the real violent terrorism threat on the far right, as recently revealed by an Intercept investigation.
In a public statement, the FBI made sure that the public understood its own misguided standard used in the threat assessment in the Capitol attacks by the Trump mob, namely the aspirations vs intentions test. The FBI official explained that the FBI needs to consider that some online activity and planning by the far right could simply be “keyboard bravado”. So, “keyboard bravado” is now the new “locker room talk”.
It is not surprising that the FBI uses different standards to assess the threat on the far-left and on the far-right. Former FBI director Hoover called Martin Luther King “one of the most dangerous negroes in America”. MLK was far from a hero for the FBI. It is not uncommon for the FBI even today to mischaracterize center-left voices of reasonable progressives who are anti-violence, pro-rights and pro-equality as far-left anarchists and communists, magnifying the threat on the left while ignoring the bigger threat on the right. Calling reasonable center-left Democrats anarchists and communists is a classical President Putin move. Let’s recall that ahead of the presidential elections in November, Russian President Putin endorsed Biden and the Democrats as communists whom we would get along with, in order to discredit them.
Let’s look at the actions and the security measures present around the two types of crowds. In a recent interview I wondered why FBI deputy director Bowdich won’t evoke 9/11 now in relation to far-right terrorism, in the context of the methods that the FBI sometimes uses to suppress and deal with progressive voices.
The FBI have opened mow many cases for “domestic terrorism” into the Capitol attack and it is true that they are saying that they are treating these cases as “international terrorism” but where is the FBI public condemnation of terrorism? We have not seen public statements by the FBI director Christopher Wray and FBI deputy director David Bowdich. Why won’t Bowdich come out and evoke 9/11 now, just like he did with the Black Lives Matter movement?
America has a long way to go to recover from the damage that Trump and his cronies spread across the various US agencies have done to democratic principles and human rights. The Trump institutional capture of key agencies such as the FBI and the CIA, let alone DOJ, has led the country into a downward spiral. I myself just launched a $1 UN lawsuit against the Trump circle at the UN, in attempt to clear the Trump circle also from the UN.
The capitol events were an embarrassment for the FBI who failed the due diligence standard of the reasonably expected measures that should have been taken in a similar situation because they were dealing with the President’s supporters. Then, the FBI decided to justify their inaction with the false “keyboard bravado” explanation, which does not explain anything.
The FBI are now running social media campaigns for the collection of evidence on suspects in the Capitol attacks but the truth is that the FBI does not need random people to phone them and point them to the bad guys. The FBI follow these groups and people, they know everything. It’s just a question of choice as to when to bring out the collected over time evidence. The FBI is in a hurry now only because there is public and social pressure to do something. All of America is watching what will happen to the bad guys.
A couple of days ahead of the Capitol events, I noted on Twitter that Homeland Security acting Secretary, Chad Wolf, was on a trip to Cyprus, while America was “burning”. The Cyprus frictions in the European Mediterranean seem like a holiday now, in comparison to the Capitol events. Several days later, Wolf resigned.
With the news that President Trump intends to issue over 100 new pardons during his last two days in office, the question of justice for the Capitol events is as relevant as ever, as it is reasonably expected that some of the pardons could relate to the Capitol attacks.
It is safe to say that former Attorney General Bill Barr is not missed by many people. The Trump supporters’ cases would not have received fair treatment at the Department of Justice under his watch. The new Attorney General in the Biden Administration, judge Merrick Garland, in fact, might discover that many cases from the Bill Barr time will have to be reopened.
The top security priority now is President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday, 20 January, while Trump holds a separate rally. The Capitol events served as a warning.
Looking forward, it is time for American democracy to demonstrate its elasticity. And legal justice necessarily has to be a part of that, ignoring phony calls for “unity” and “healing” made by the criminals themselves who are trying to escape justice now. There can’t be unity without ensuring justice first.
Latin America and China: The difficulties in relations and Covid-19
The relations between China and Latin America have developed positively, but some problems and challenges are also being faced. Firstly, the intensified strategic and economic competition between China and the United States has increased the negative impact on the relations between China and Latin America. Trump’s Administration already used zero-sum competition and Cold War mentality to mark Sino-U.S. relations, believing that China’s rise in Latin America could upset the U.S. order in the Western Hemisphere.
Back in February 2018, during a visit to Latin America the then Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, said that China was using its economic influence to bring Latin America into its sphere of influence, and criticised it as seeking a new imperial power for its geopolitical expansion.
In 2018, Rand Corporation published the 400-page report At the Dawn of Belt and Road. China in the Developing World. The report pointed out that China’s contacts in Latin America and its geopolitical advantages held back the U.S. presence in the region.
Specifically, the report explored China’s economic, political and security roles in Southeast Asia, Oceania, Central Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean.
The report also analysed China’s bilateral relations with key States in each region. Finally, it dealt with the negative consequences of the Chinese strategy towards developing countries for the United States. Therefore, it maintained that strategists and decision-makers in the Armed Forces, and all U.S. military staff, needed to focus on China and anyone interested in developing international relations with that country. An attitude of threat not only towards China.
Another factor preventing – at least apparently – the development of China-Latin America relations is the retreat of Progressives and the advance of Conservatives in the landscape of political change in the Subcontinent: this poses a challenge to the development of mutual relations.
2017 and 2018 were general election years in thirteen Latin American countries. In Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru and other countries, the old traditional and left-wing parties lost elections. Therefore, Latin America is divided into two camps: one is the left-wing one represented by Cuba and Venezuela, and the other is the right-wing camp composed of Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Peru.
Conversely, the fast development of China-Latin America relations from 2003 to 2013 was favoured by the political atmosphere of the left-wing camp. Currently, however, the transition from the Left to the Right tells us that some countries rely on the United States in terms of development projects and ideologies. Therefore, the political transition has become an additional challenge for the development of relations between China and Latin America.
Another crisis point is the impact of the pandemic. Here are some data regarding the Covid-19 cases until January 17, 2021:
Latin America: 16,753,447
North America: 23,091,187 (USA: 22,423,006; Canada: 668,181)
Latin American countries record relatively high urbanisation rates, with peaks of 70-80%. Large cities are very densely populated, with a high percentage of informal employment and weak national control abilities, which create the conditions for the spread of Covid-19.
On the other hand, the United States-which is the worst affected country in the American Continent – has increased the repatriation of illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central American countries for reasons of epidemic prevention and control, thus further aggravating the situation in these already disadvantaged countries.
Why is the pandemic in Brazil so severe? The indifference of President Bolsonaro’s government towards the epidemic, as well as ineffective measures and omissions in control are the main reasons for the spread of the epidemic in Brazil. The first case was discovered in Brazil on March 12, 2020 and the epidemic soon began to spread throughout the country, which currently records 8,131,612 cases and 203,580 deaths.
Brazil’s former Health Minister, Nelson Teich, advocated isolation, but Bolsonaro’s philosophy is different. He believes that imposing quarantine curbs economic development. Health Minister Teichresigned. The new Minister is Gen. Eduardo Pazuello, who has no medical training and no experience in managing public health disasters.
An official of the Brazilian Ministry of Health said that the number of people infected by the pandemic is officially eight million, but it has actually exceeded ten million. This unprecedented public health crisis has triggered economic recession and could lead to new social unrest. These are all new challenges.
The impact of Covid-19 on the entire Latin American region is very severe. According to the World Bank statistics, it has been the most severe crisis ever since the Great Depression in the 1920s and 1930s. The blow to the region is reflected mainly in four aspects:
1) exports have declined.
2) The prices of raw materials have fallen. Due to reduced demand, prices have inevitably fallen. Recently, everyone has seen a drop in copper prices, especially as Peru and Chile, the copper mining centres of the world, have been forced to close their mines due to the impact of the pandemic.
3) Tourism has collapsed. Latin America is a kind of cultural-exotic attraction for North Americans and Europeans. With Covid-19, there is no way for tourism and passenger transport to go back to the traditional levels of normalcy.
4) The inflow of remittances has decreased significantly. They are one of the main driving forces for economic development in the area, especially in regions like Central America and countries like Mexico.
The Latin American immigrants working in the United States put aside the money they earn and send it to their families – a key source of income for Latin America. As the U.S. economy has been severely hit, also remittances have been significantly reduced, to the detriment of the entire subcontinent.
With specific reference to Covid-19, it should also be mentioned that on June 24, 2020, the U.S. Congress held a full-scale hearing and invited a number of U.S. experts to express their views.
Those experts included Robert Evan Ellis of the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College. One of the main points he made was that the U.S. government should strengthen its support for Latin American allies to prevent China from using ‘medical diplomacy’ to expand its sphere of influence in Latin America, along with advances in supply chains, strategic acquisitions and loans to troubled governments, while the West remains economically weakened and politically distracted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Hence, in his view, the United States should resolutely stop China’s technological expansion in Latin America. This means that the United States should not acquire and share Chinese medical know-how.
Ultimately, the pandemic has not changed China’s goals or overall strategy. It provides an unprecedented opportunity for China to move forward with its implementation. With the help of the Chinese government’s controls on its population to impose and enforce quarantine, and thanks to its huge financial reserves and leverage on the economy, China is emerging from the crisis (albeit certainly weakened) ahead of most Western and non-Western countries.
The pandemic and its health, economic and other effects are likely to persist and continue to weaken the United States and Europe for some time. The interplay between partial economic reopening and the time needed to develop, test and massively produce a vaccine will extend this process.
In Latin America and in other less developed parts of the world, the situation is likely to be far worse. Less capable public health systems, large informal sectors, vulnerable small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as limits to governments’ ability to borrow money to protect vulnerable populations, and the related economic sectors will put pressure on economies as they suffer from Western countries’ declining investment and demand for their exports. In China, on the other hand, things are being solved.
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