Connect with us

Americas

After The US Presidential Acquittal: Vox Populi, Public Mass and America’s Future

Published

on

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

Virtually all US politicians, irrespective of party, are fond of  celebrating “The American People.” As the ultimate fallback script for any candidate – whether challenger or incumbent – no other phrase can seem so appealingly quaint. Noteworthy, too, is the ubiquitous mantra’s changed meaning over time.

In essence, there has taken place a significant transformation from the mantra’s original eighteenth-century or Age of Enlightenment significations.

This transformation, once it has been more fairly recognized and acknowledged, is ironic, bitterly ironic.

There is more to discuss. Pertinent history can always be further clarifying. Though counter to various present-day misunderstandings, America’s founders had displayed a far-reaching disdain for any “voice of the people.”To Edmund Randolph, the core evils from which the new country was suffering could be discovered in the “turbulence and follies of democracy.”  Elbridge Gerry  actually spoke of democracy as “the worst of all political evils.”  For his part, Roger Sherman had hoped, and without evident embarrassment, that “the people…have as little to do as may be about the government.”

Oddly, perhaps, these earlier sentiments are not generally apparent in present-day United States. Not at all. The reason is plausibly straightforward. It is because, at least for most Americans, disciplined learning of any kind is too palpably unpleasant to be “cost effective.”

It’s not easy to do.

 Prima facie, therefore, it is anathema.

What about Alexander Hamilton?  This quintessentially American darling of today’s  favorite Broadway musical  once exclaimed: “The turbulent and changing masses seldom judge or determine right.” Accordingly, Hamilton had sought a reliable institutional “remedy” for popular rule.  More precisely, he wanted a “permanent authority” to “check the imprudence of democracy.”

“The people,” Hamilton had summarized caustically, “are a great beast.”

And the “imprudence of democracy.” How many Americans could possibly imagine such a phrase  as one originally acceptable or even foundational? The answer is obvious, especially when the present-day American president is enthusiastically cheered precisely because of his indisputable illiteracy.

To a verifiable extent, George Washington found himself in the same philosophic camp as Hamilton. Soon to become the nation’s first president, he urged convention delegates not to produce a document merely “to please the people.” Washington had argued, inter alia,  that any self-serving search for public approval would quickly prove contrary to any reasonable calculations of national interest.

To wit, Washington was an early American leader who could still value real learning.

There is more. Any misconceived searches for public approval would have been contrary to the American-celebrated Age of Enlightenment. The new nation, after all, was built expressly upon the philosophic and legal writings of Grotius, Pufendorf, Voltaire, Diderot, Locke, Hobbes, Montesquieu and Rousseau.[1]

Is there a single person in today’s White House who could even recognize (let alone actually read) a single one of these names?

It’s a silly question.

Today,  largely because there is so little reading of history by “the people” (especially at the White House and in the Senate), Americans neglect that the country’s founders displayed a conspicuous distrust of all democratic governance. Warned the young Governeur Morris, in a typically harsh metaphor: “The mob begin to think and reason, poor reptiles . . . They bask in the sun, and ere noon they will bite, depend on it.”

Much as Americans might not now care to admit, the nation’s founding fathers were largely correct in their anti-populist reservations, but nonetheless for the wrong reasons. In the United States, We the people have displayed a more-or-less consistent deference to “lawful authority.” Still, this same people has demonstrated a persisting unwillingness to care for itself as a coherent body of authentic individuals. Should there be any doubt about this potentially lethal unwillingness, we need look back no further than the latest presidential “rally.”

Now, finally, it is high time for candor, especially in the rabidly anti-historic and anti-intellectual Trump Era. A “mob” does effectively defile any reborn American eruptions of “greatness,” but it is not the same mob feared by Hamilton, Sherman and Morris. What more do we really need to know about this mob?

And who actually belongs to such an increasingly rancorous American society?

In brief, the constituent “members” are rich and poor, black and white, easterner and westerner, southerner and mid-westerner, educated and uneducated, young and old, male and female, Jew and Christian and Muslim and Hindu and Buddhist and atheist. It is, at least in some tangible respects, exactly as the founding fathers had originally feared. Inter alia, it is a populist mob, markedly so; still, it is not by any means exclusively or excessively “blue collar.” Its most distinguishing features are not poverty or lack of manners or any absence of formal education.

They concern the witting absence of any decent regard for wisdom or serious learning. This absence includes many with very respectable university degrees and  professions.

During the past several years, at least in these particular matters, America has gone from bad to worse. The overriding goal for literally millions has become painfully and irremediably obvious. This objective is a presumptively comforting presidential dispensation to scream nonsense, pure nonsense, endlessly, preferably rote, and in chorus.

Comforted by rhythmic and repetitive primal chants (one should think here of the marooned and eventually murderous English schoolboys in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies), millions of Americans have freely abandoned any meaningful responsibilities to understand what is being cheered. At Trump presidential rallies, just as in the United States Senate during a State of the Union address, serious books or ideas are mentioned only sotto voce, and multi-layered intellectual content remains very intentionally ostracized . What matters most amid the carefully-orchestrated presidential rancor in the United States is the warmly comforting embrace of a sympathetic “crowd.”

Nothing more.

“Intellect rots the brain,” roared Third Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels back in 1935.  

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

“We’ll build a beautiful wall, with a beautiful door….”

“Intellect rots the brain.”

 In large measure, the American People now exhibit an intellectually unambitious conglomeration of souls,[2] one eager to learn only what is presumptively “practical.” To be sure, legible university affiliations are still valued on sweatshirts and automobile bumper stickers, but not for anything having to do with genuine education. Rather, these affiliations are valued along with their respective sports teams for another overriding reason.

This reason is to be able to say to the world, succinctly and convincingly, “I belong.”

For Americans today, there can be no greater accomplishment.

Accordingly, what has emerged in Trump’s polarizing America is a commoditized mass, one roughly equivalent to the ancient Greek hoi polloi or the Roman plebs. From such a proudly docile coming-together, nothing analytic or excellent should ever be expected.[3]

Now, Americans cheer only “USA.” “USA.” “USA.” This is the primal chant of belonging that one must expect to hear, even on the floor of the US Congress. This is nothing less that the culminating rhythm of a major nation’s historical and intellectual devolution.

There is a long-recognizable history to all this. Prophetic expectations of such a mob were widely-circulated among America’s founding fathers, primarily by way of Livy: “Nothing is so valueless,” said Livy, “as the minds of the multitude.” Recalling this ancient Latin author, America’s core enemy today is less an  adversarial nation than an insistent analytic docility, a grimly uninquiring national spirit that not only knows nothing of truth, but determinedly wants to know nothing of truth.

In his Notes on Virginia, Thomas Jefferson once proposed an improved plan of elementary schooling in which “twenty of the best geniuses will be raked from the rubbish annually.” Today, of course, it is inconceivable that any American president or presidential aspirant could ever refer to his fellow citizens as “rubbish.” Yet, this openly crude analogy accurately expressed the unvarnished sentiment of America’s most famous early “populist.” Jefferson, lest we forget,  was the cerebral founder and future president who (having already read such key Enlightenment thinkers as John Locke and Thomas Hobbes) drafted the American Declaration of Independence.

Going forward, the “American People” have one manifestly overriding obligation. This is the responsibility to disprove Alexander Hamilton and Donald Trump by embracing a virtually new political ethos. This expectedly more promising Vox Populi would be inspired not by any perpetual fears of severance from the warmly-submissive American mass, but by more devotedly intentional cultivations of personal intellect and civic courage.[4]

All this will take time, of course, but there is simply no alternative posture for “The American People” to assume.

What shall be concluded? This mandatory eleventh-hour embrace may represent America’s last graspable chance for both personal growth and collective survival; that is, a final and indispensable opportunity to avoid Balzac’s “withered hearts” and his “empty skulls.” In our world’s rapidly “advancing” nuclear age, it could even represent America’s utterly last chance, period.[5]


[1] A common theme in these classical writings is the unequivocal “oneness” of world legal imperatives, and, correspondingly,  the inherent intersections of national (municipal) and international law. Regarding the United States in particular, Mr. Justice Gray, in delivering the judgment of the US Supreme Court in Paquete Habana (1900), declared: “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained and administered by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction….” (175 U.S. 677(1900)) See also: Opinion in Tel-Oren vs. Libyan Arab Republic (726 F. 2d 774 (1984)). The specific incorporation of treaty law into US municipal law is expressly codified at Art. 6 of the US Constitution, the so-called “Supremacy Clause.”

[2] Both Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung thought of “soul” (in German, Seele) as the very essence of a human being. Neither Freud nor Jung ever provides a precise definition of the term, but clearly it was not intended by either in any ordinary religious sense. For both, it was a still-recognizable and critical seat of both mind and passions in this life. Interesting, too, in the present context, is that Freud explained his already-predicted decline of America by various express references to “soul.” Freud was plainly disgusted by any civilization so apparently unmoved by considerations of true “consciousness” (e.g., awareness of intellect and literature), and even thought that the crude American commitment to perpetually shallow optimism and to material accomplishment at any cost would occasion sweeping psychological misery.

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

[4] One should be reminded of Bertrand Russell’s trenchant observation in Principles of Social Reconstruction (1916): “Men fear thought more than they fear anything else on earth – more than ruin, more even than death.”

[5] See, for example, by this writer:  https://warroom.armywarcollege.edu/articles/nuclear-decision-making/

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.

Continue Reading
Comments

Americas

The 4 groups of Senate Republicans that will decide Trump’s impeachment trial

Published

on

With Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pushing back the Trump impeachment trial to mid-February to make sure things cool down, Senate Republicans’ positions on the vote are far from crystallized yet. Here are the four groups of Senate Republicans, according to views and likely vote. The numbers and composition of these four groups will decide Trump’s future political faith. Which group Mitch McConnell chooses to position himself in will also be a deciding factor in the unusual and curious impeachment trial of a former US president no longer sitting in office.

Group 1: The Willing Executioners

There surely are those in the Republican Party such as Senator Mitt Romney and Senator Ben Sasse who cannot wait to give that Yea and the final boot to disgraced former President Trump, and will do that with joy and relief. Both the Utah Senator and the Nebraska Senator may be vying for the leadership spot in the Republican Party themselves but that is not the whole story. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska openly said “I want him out.” This group is unlikely to reach as many as 17 Senators, however, needed for the two thirds Senate majority to convict Trump.

Group 2: The Never Give up on Trumpers

There are also those Republican Senators who will stick with Trump through thick and thin until the end – some out of conviction, but most as someone who cannot afford to alienate the Trump supporter base in their state – a supporter base which is still as strong. 

At least 21 Republican Senators are strongly opposed to voting to convict former President Trump, as reported by Newsweek. They realize that doing so would be a political suicide. Republican voters, on the whole, are unified in their belief that the presidential elections were not fair and Joe Biden did not win legitimately, with 68% of Republican voters holding the belief that the elections were “rigged”. The majority of the Republican Party constituents are Never Give up on Trumpers themselves.

Among them are Senators Cruz and Hawley. Both will fight at all cost a vote which certifies as incitement to violence and insurrection the same rhetoric they both themselves used to incite the Trump crowd. Cruz and Hawley will try to avoid at all cost the legal certification of the same rhetoric as criminal in order to avoid their own removal under the 14th Amendment, as argued already by Senator Manchin and many others.

Senator Ron Johnson even called upon Biden and Pelosi to choose between the Trump impeachment trial and the Biden new cabinet confirmation. Group 2 will fight fierce over the next weeks and you will recognize them by the public rhetoric.

Group 3: I’d really like to but I can’t be on the record for convincing a President of my own party

Then there is a large group of Republican Senators – maybe the largest – who would really like to give that Yea vote and leave Trump behind but they do not wish to go on the record as having voted to convict a US President from their own party. Some of these Senators will share their intention to vote Yea in private or off the record with the media, but when push comes to shove and the final vote, they will be hesitant and in the end will vote Nay. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida falls under Group 3.

Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania is also the illustration of the average Republican Senator right now – someone who said that Trump committed “impeachable offenses” but who is not sure about convicting him through trial, so that probably means a Nay. 

The BBC quoted a New York Time’s estimate from mid-January that as many as 20 Republican Senators are open to voting to convict Trump, but it should be recalled that in the first Trump impeachment trial in 2020, several Republican Senators also shared in private and off the record that they would be willing to convict. After so much discussion, calculations and prognosis, in the end, it was only Senator Mitt Romney who broke ranks on only one of the two impeachment articles, and voted to convict.

The Capitol events, of course, are incomparable to the Ukraine impeachment saga, but it should be accounted for that the trial vote will likely take place sometime in March 2021, or two months after the Capitol events, when most of the tension and high emotion would have subsided and much of American society will be oriented towards “moving forward”. Group 3 will host the majority of Senate Republicans who in the end will decide to let it go. Most of the 21 Republican Senators who already expressed their opposition to convicting Trump actually belong to Group 3 and not Group 2 Never Give up on Trumpers.

Group 4: I am a Never Give up on Trumper but I really want to look like Group 3

And finally, there is the most interesting group of Republican Senators who are secretly a Never Give up on Trumpers but would like to be perceived as belonging to the hesitant and deliberative Group 3 – willing and outraged but unwilling to go all the way on the record to eliminate a former Republican President.

Senator Ted Cruz might move into Group 4 in terms of rhetoric. Never Give up on Trumpers will vote Nay willingly but will try to present themselves as conflicted Group 3 politicians doing it for different reasons.

Which group Mitch McConnel chooses will be the decisive factor in aligning the Senate Republican votes. McConnel himself seems to be a Group 3 Senator who, in the end, is unlikely to rally the rest of the Senators to convict Trump even though McConnel would really like Trump out of the Republican Party, once and for all. The very fact that McConnel is not in a hurry and is in fact extending the cool-off period places him in Group 3. 

Yea voters don’t need time to think about it and look at things. It took House Democrats exactly three days to get it over and done with. McConnel is quoted as willing to give time to “both sides to properly prepare”, allowing former president Trump enjoy due process. But Trump’s legal team will notice quickly that there is not much to prepare for, as they won’t find plenty of legal precedent in the jurisprudence on American Presidents’ incitement to violent insurrection for stopping the democratic certification process on an opponent who is the democratically elected President.

McConnel himself has said that he is “undecided” and that speaks volumes. He is a Group 3 Senate Republican, and with that, Group 3 will describe the mainstream Senate Republicans’ position in the impeachment trial. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer set 8 February as the start of the impeachment trial, pushing earlier McConnel’s time frame. This is when it all starts.

It is my prediction that when all is said and done, there won’t be as many as 17 Senate Republicans to vote to convict former President Trump. Trump will walk away, but not without the political damage he has incurred himself and has also left in American political life.

Continue Reading

Americas

Two Ways that Trump Spread Covid-19 in U.S.

Published

on

Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour

1. Encouraging infected workers to continue working even if it infects others:

On 12 May 2020, two hundred and twenty five labor organizations signed a letter to Antonin Scalia’s son Eugene Scalia who was Donald Trump’s appointed Secretary of Labor, and it urged his Department to change its policies “that address the standards that apply under the federal U[nemployment] I[insurance] law to determine when workers remain eligible for regular state UI or P[andemic] U[nemployment] A[ssistance] if they leave work or refuse to work due to COVID-19 health and safety concerns.” In more-common language, an economist Jared Bernstein headlined in the Washington Post six days later on May 18th, “The Labor Department is forcing workers back to jobs that could make them sick” and he explained that Scalia’s Department “has issued guidance that virtually ignores health risks and encourages employers to report workers who refuse job offers [while unemployed] so their unemployment payments can be taken away. The agency is busy urging employers to snitch on ‘claimants that have turned down suitable work.’” Trump’s Labor Department ignored the labor-organizations’ letter. Then, a barista headlined at Huffpost on 22 January 2021, “I Work In A Coffee Shop In Montana. Anti-Maskers Have Made My Job Hell.” She complained that the many customers who refused to wear masks were causing her to fear working there — she was blaming those customers, but not Trump. However, Trump and his Labor Secretary were responsible and simply didn’t care about the safety of workers, such as her, and were instead encouraging employers to force these workers to stay on the job, though doing so endangered themselves and their co-workers. Millions of infected workers were infecting others because not to would cause them to become fired and could ultimately force them into homelessness. Maybe the billionaires who funded Trump’s political career profited from such exploitation of their employees, but nationally this policy helped to increase the spreading of Covid-19. Also: since so many of those bottom-of-the-totem-pole employees are Blacks and Hispanics, etc., this Trump policy helped to cause the drastically higher infection-rates that have been reported among such groups.

2. Refusing to deal with the pandemic on a national basis:

On 15 July 2020, the Washington Post headlined “As the coronavirus crisis spins out of control, Trump issues directives — but still no clear plan” and reported that, “health professionals have urged the White House to offer a disciplined and unified national message to help people who are fatigued more than five months into the crisis and resistant to changing social behaviors, such as wearing masks and keeping a distance from others. Trump, for instance, refused to be seen publicly wearing a mask until last weekend, when he sported one during a trip to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. ‘You can get a really strong and eloquent governor who can help at the state level, but it does seem like we need some more national messaging around the fact that for many people, this is the most adversity they’ve faced in their life,’ said Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer with the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.” Every country (such as China, Vietnam, Venezuela, South Korea, Thailand, New Zealand, and Finland) that has been far more successful than America is at having a low number of Covid-19 cases (and deaths) per million residents has dealt with the pandemic on a national and not merely local basis, but all of the worst-performing countries (such as America, which now is at 76,407 “Tot Cases/1M pop”) have not.

It therefore also stands to reason that 

which ranks all 50 states according to how high is the number of Covid-19 infections per million inhabitants, shows (and links to the data proving) that “In 2016, the top 17 [most Covid-infected states] voted for Trump, and the bottom 5 voted for Clinton. All but 3 of the top 24 voted for Trump.” The correlation of high Covid-infection-rate with Trump-voting was astoundingly high. Trump, it seems, gave the high-infection-rate states what they had wanted. But what he gave to America is the highest Covid-19 infection-rate of any nation that has at least 11 million population. It is the 7th-highest Covid-19 infection-rate among all 219 reporting nations. Trump’s policies produced the type of results that had been expected by well-informed people around the world.

Continue Reading

Americas

A Most Unusual Inaugural

Published

on

President Joe Biden and his wife Dr. Jill Biden enter the inauguration platform during the 59th Presidential Inauguration ceremony in Washington, Jan. 20, 2021. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris took the oath of office on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol. (DOD Photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Carlos M. Vazquez II)

Sic transit gloria mundi — thus passes worldly glory, which seems an apt phrase for the peaceful transition of power from one administration to the next.

Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. became the 46th president of the United States at noon on January 20th, and earlier  Donald J. Trump departed the White House quietly for Florida — his last ride on Air Force One as president — leaving behind a generous and gracious letter for Biden.  So it is described by Joe Biden himself.  Trump did not attend the inauguration, the first president not to do so since Woodrow Wilson in 1921, who remained inside the Capitol building because of poor health while his successor Warren G. Harding was installed.

It was a most unusual inauguration this time.  There were no crowds on the lawns outside; instead row upon row of American flags representing them.  The official attendees all wore masks and included three former Presidents (Obama, the younger Bush and Clinton).  President Carter, who is in his 90s and frail, sent his apologies. 

The usual late breakfast before the ceremony and the lunch afterwards were also cancelled — one cannot eat with a mask in place!  No evening inaugural balls either.  These were sometimes so many that the new president and his lady could only spend a few minutes at each.  In their stead, there was a virtual inaugural celebration hosted by Tom Hanks the actor.  It consisted mostly of pop-singers who supported Biden plus a disappointing rendering of Amazing Grace by Yo-Yo Ma on his cello. 

Biden’s first act was to sign a series of executive orders to undo some of Trump’s policies.  He announced the U.S. would not leave the World Health Organization (WHO) and would continue to contribute to it.  On climate change a complete policy reversal now means the U.S. will abide by the Paris climate accord.   

Biden’s other executive orders totalling 15 responded to the coronavirus crisis with the goal of giving 100 million vaccine shots by the end of April.  He proposes to establish vaccine centers at stadiums and community facilities and also plans to speed up production of the supplies required for making vaccines.

The U.S. now has lost 406,000 lives (and counting) from COVID-19.  That number is noted to be greater than U.S. deaths during WW2.  The virus has so far infected 24.5 million people.  However, the problem is more complicated than simply inoculating everyone.

Swedish authorities report that 23 people, mostly elderly and having other health issues, have died after being given the Pfizer vaccine.  Its side effects apparently can be severe and mimic the disease itself.  Thus given a choice, one would prefer the Moderna vaccine.  

Old age is a poignant sight to behold.  Biden the ex high school football star now having difficulty lifting his feet to walk.  Very gamely, he even tried a jog or two to say a quick hello to bystanders during his short walk to the White House.  We wish him well and hope for a successful presidential term.  Thirty-six years as senator and eight years as vice-president certainly make him one of the most experienced to sit in the White House Oval Office.   Good luck Mr. President!  

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Russia30 mins ago

Russia is a part of Europe, which never became a part of Russia

The process of the new European integration coincided in time with the intensification of the process of globalization, which has...

Development2 hours ago

World Bank and EU to Help Iraq Strengthen Public Financial Management Oversight

The Government of Iraq, the World Bank Group, and the European Union signed today a grant agreement aimed at strengthening...

Defense5 hours ago

The Proxy War of Libya: Unravelling the Complexities

The African continent has been infamous for its desolate conditions and impoverished lifestyle for years. The violence has not spared...

Reports7 hours ago

Private markets forecast to grow to $4.9tn globally by 2025 and make up 10% of global AuM

Assets under management (AuM) in private markets to expand by between $4.2 trillion and $5.5 trillion in the years up...

Tourism8 hours ago

Opportunities for Women in Tourism Increasing Across Middle East

Fewer than one in 10 tourism workers in the Middle East are women though this proportion is steadily increasing, new...

South Asia10 hours ago

Hambantota: The Growing Nightmare For India

Authors: G Nitin &Juhi* China’s inroads in the Indian Ocean Region has alarmed India. Particularly since the controversial Hambantota Port...

Reports12 hours ago

Key Reforms Needed to Grow Albania’s E-commerce Sector

A new World Bank Albania E-Commerce Diagnostic highlights key reforms needed to better leverage digital trade as opportunity for economic...

Trending