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

Prof. Louis René Beres

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“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.

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In Praise of the Lioness of Law: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her Jurisprudence

Punsara Amarasinghe

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image credit: Wikipedia

The death of the US Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg has created an abyss in the court for the liberal voice where justice Ginsburg was seen as the linchpin of the liberal block of the Supreme Court at a time when that block was shrinking. Especially late judge had vociferously advocated for women ‘rights, environmental issues and often came up with unique dissents in delivering her judgements which were propelled by her jurisprudence which embodied the solemn ideal in American legal system “Equal Protection under the Law “. She was on a quest to defend the delicate balance between honoring the timelessness of American Constitution and recognizing the depth of its enduring principles in new centuries and under new circumstances.

She grew up in an era where men held the helm in every aspect of social life and especially the legal profession was utterly dominated by men. Recalling her legal studies at Harvard law school in the 50’s judge Ginsburg had stated later how she was once asked by the Dean of Harvard law school to justify her position as a law student that otherwise would have gone to a man. Yet she had the spunk to overcome all the obstacles stood on her way and excelled as a scholar becoming the first female member of the Harvard Law Review.

In tracing her legal career that it becomes a salient fact, Judge Ginsburg marked her name in American legal history even decades before she joined the bench. While at the American Civil Liberties Union in the early seventies she made an upheaval in American in legal system in famous Supreme Court Case Reed Vs Reed. In Reed Vs Reed the brief drafted by Ginsburg provided an astute analysis on the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, the Equal Protection Clause. Ginsburg’s brief changed the aged long practice existed in the State of Idaho on favoring men over women in estate battles by paving the path for a discourse on gender equality rights in the USA.

Judge Ginsburg’s appointment to the Supreme Court in 1994 during Clinton administration marked the dawn of new jurisprudential chapter in the US Supreme Court. Two terms later, in the United States v. Virginia (VMI), Justice Ginsburg applied her lucid perspective to a sharply disputed constitutional claim. The United States challenged Virginia’s practice of admitting only men to its prestigious military college, the Virginia Military Institute. Writing for six Justices, Ginsburg held this policy unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause. In reaching this result, Ginsburg adroitly cut away potentially confounding issues about women’s participation in the military or the advantages of single-sex education.

Her robust activism in securing gender equality often attracted the admirations of the feminist scholars and activists, but it should be noted that her contribution was not only confined to the protection of gender equality. She was a robust critique of racial dissemination which still pervades in American society and she frequently pointed out how racial discrimination has marred the constitutional protections guaranteed to every citizen. Especially in the case of Gratz Vs Bollitnger, she stressed on the commitment that the state ought to fulfil by eliminating the racial biases existing employment and education. Moreover, disabled citizens. In Olmstead v. Zimring, she held that “unjustified institutional isolation of persons with disabilities is a form of discrimination” violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.45 She elaborated a two-fold concept of discrimination, noting that unneeded institutionalization both “perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable or unworthy of participating in community life”.

In remembering the mortal departure of this prudent judge that one cannot forget her keenness in incorporating international law into her judgements regardless of the disinclination shown by conservative judges like Antony Scalia. Going beyond the mere textualism approach to the law, Ginsburg’s jurisprudence was much more akin to using international law to make substantive decisions. For instance, in her concurring verdict in Grutter Vs Bollinger, Justice Ginsburg relied upon international human rights law, and in particular upon two United Nations conventions, to support her conclusions.

Indeed, the demise of Ruth Ginsburg is a major blow for the liberalists in the USA, especially in an era where liberalist values are at stake under the fervent rise of populist waves propounded by Donald Trump. Especially late judge had been one of the harsh critics of Trump even before ascendency to the Oval office. The void created by the demise of judge Ginsburg might change the role the US Supreme Court if the successor to her position would take a more conservative approach and it will fortify the conservative bloc in the US Supreme Court. Trump has already placed Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh and the third pick would more deeply entrench the conservative views in the US Supreme Court, which would inevitably undermine the progressive policies taken during Obama’s administration towards issues such as the environment. The political storm appeared after the death of the late judge has already created a tense situation in US politics as president Trump is determined to appoint a judge to fill before the presidential election in November.

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The Politics of (In)security in Mexico: Between Narcissism and Political Failure

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza

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Image credit: Wikimedia

Security cannot be that easily separated from the political realm. The need for security is the prime reason why people come together to collectively form a state. Providing security is, therefore, one of the most basic functions of the state as a political and collective entity.

Last Friday, the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) laughed during his daily morning press briefings over a national newspaper headline about 45 massacres during his presidency. This attitude summarises in a macabre way his approach to insecurity: it is not his top priority. This is not the first time that AMLO has showed some serious and deeply disturbing lack of empathy for victims of crimes. Before taking office, he knew that insecurity was one of Mexico’s biggest challenges, and he has come to realise that curbing it down will not be as simple as he predicted during his presidential campaign.

Since the start of the War on Drugs in 2006, Mexico has sunk into a deep and ever-growing spiral of violence and vigilantism as a result of the erosion of the capacity of the state to provide safety to citizens. Vigilantism is when citizens decide to take the law into their own hands in order to fill the vacuum left by the state, or to pursue their own very particular interests. Guerrero, Michoacán, Morelos, Tabasco, Tamaulipas and Veracruz have over 50 vigilante organisations that pose substantial danger to the power of the state.

Vigilantism is not the only factor exacerbating the security crisis in Mexico: since 2006, young people have also started to join drug cartels and other criminal organisations. There are important sectors of the population who feel that the state has failed to represent them. They also feel betrayed because the state has not been able to provide them with the necessary means to better themselves. These frustrations make them vulnerable to the indoctrination of organised crime gangs who promise to give them some sort of ideological direction and solution to their problems.

As a result, it is not enough to carry out a kingpin arrest strategy and to preach on the moral duties we have as citizens as well as on human dignity. People need to be given enough means to find alternative livelihoods that are attractive enough to take them out of organised crime, Mexico can draw some important lessons from Sierra Leone who successfully demobilised and resettled ex-combatants after the armed conflict. Vigilantism, recruitment by organised crime, and insecurity have also flourished because of a lack of deterrence. The judicial system is weak and highly ineffective. A large proportion of the population does not trust the police, or the institutions in charge of the rule of law.

A long-term strategy requires linking security with politics. It needs to address not only the consequences but also the roots of unemployment and deep inequality. However, doing so requires decisive actions to root out widespread and vicious corruption. Corruption allows concentration of wealth and also prevents people from being held accountable. This perpetuates the circle of insecurity. Mexico has been slowly moving towards a borderline failed state. The current government is starting to lose legitimacy and the fragility of the state is further perpetuated by the undemocratic, and predatory governance of the current administration.

Creating a safer Mexico requires a strong, coherent, and stable leadership, AMLO’s administration is far from it. His popularity has consistently fallen as a result of his ineffective policies to tackle the pandemic, worsening insecurity, and the economic crisis. Mexico has reached over 72,000 Covid-19 deaths; during his initial 20 months as incumbent president, there has been 53,628 murders, among them 1800 children or teenagers, and 5888 women (11 women killed per day) This criminality rate is double than what it was during the same period in the presidency of Felipe Calderón (2006-2012); and 55% higher than with the last president, Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018). Mexico is also experiencing its worst economic recession in 90 years.

Insecurity remains as the issue of most concern among Mexicans, seeing the president laughing about it, can only fill citizens with yet more despair and lack of trusts in the government and its institutions. AMLO’s catastrophic performance is not surprising, though. Much of his failures and shortcomings can be explained by both ideology and a narcissistic personality. Having someone with both of those traits ruling a country under normal, peaceful times is already dangerous enough, add an economic crisis and a pandemic to the mix and the result is utter chaos.

AMLO embodies the prototypical narcissist: he has a grandiose self-image; an inflated ego; a constant need for admiration; and intolerance to criticism. He, like many other narcissists, thinks about himself too much and too often, making him incapable of considering the wellbeing of other and unable to pursue the public interest. He has a scapegoat ready to blame for his failures and mistakes: previous administrations, conservatives, neoliberalism, academics, writers, intellectuals, reporters, scientists, you name it, the list is long and keeps getting longer.

AMLO keeps contradicting himself and he does not realise it. He has been claiming for months that the pandemic is under control: it is not. He declares Mexico is ready to face the pandemic and we have enough tests and medical equipment: we do not. He says Mexico is on its way to economic recovery: it is not. He states corruption is a thing of the past: it is not. He says Mexico is now safer than ever before: it is not. When told the opposite he shrugs criticism off and laughs, the behaviour of a typical narcissist.

AMLO, alike narcissists, due to his inability to face criticism, has never cared about surrounding himself by the best and brightest. He chose a bunch of flunkies as members of his cabinet who try to please and not humiliate their leader. A further trait of narcissistic personalities is that they love conflict and division as this keeps them under control. The more destabilisation and antagonism, the better. AMLO since the start of his presidency has been setting states against states for resources and for pandemic responses, instead of coordinating a national response. He is also vindictive: playing favourites with those governors who follow him and punishing those that oppose him.

Deep down, narcissistic leaders are weak. AMLO is genuinely afraid to lead. He simply cannot bring himself to make decisions that are solely his. This is why he has relied on public referendums and consultations to cancel projects or advance legislation. He will not take any responsibility if something goes wrong: It was not him who decided, it was the people, blame them. He inherited a broken system that cannot be fixed during his term, blame the previous administrations, not him.

AMLO is a prime example of a textbook narcissist, unfortunately he is not the only one: Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Recep Erdogan, Rodrigo Duterte are only a few more examples of what seems to be a normalised behaviour in contemporary politics. Every aspect of AMLO’s and other leaders presidencies have been heavily marked by their psychopathology. Narcissism, however, does not allow proper and realistic self-assessment, self-criticism, and self-appreciation therefore such leaders will simply ignore the red flags in their administration and have no clue how despicably and disgracefully they will be remembered.

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Minor Successes And The Coronavirus Disaster: Is Trump A Dead Duck?

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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That reminder from the Bible, ‘He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone’ may give us pause — but not journalists who by all appearances assume exemption.  And the stones certainly bruise.

Evidence for the bruises lies in the latest poll numbers.  Overall, Joe Biden leads Donald Trump 50 to 43 percent, a margin that has continued to increase since January.  It is also considerably wider than the few points lead Hillary Clinton had over Trump four years ago.  It gets worse for Trump. 

In the industrial states of Michigan and Pennsylvania, which Trump in 2016 won by razor thin margins, he is losing by over 4 percent.  Also key to his victory was Wisconsin where, despite his success in getting dairy products into Canada, he is behind by a substantial 7 percent.  Key states Ohio and Florida are also going for the Democrats.

Trump was not doing so badly until the coronavirus struck and during the course of his news conferences he displayed an uncaring persona larded with incompetence.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, the man he fired for correcting Trumpian exaggerations became a hero and Trump the bully.

If that bullying nature won him small rewards with allies, he hit an impasse with China and Iran … while bringing the two closer to each other.  Then there is the border wall, a sore point for our southern neighbor Mexico.  President Lopez Obrador made sure the subject never came up at the July meeting with Trump,   Thus Mexico is not paying for it so far and will not be in the foreseeable future.

The United Arab Emirates, a conglomeration of what used to be the Trucial States under British hegemony. have agreed to formalize its already fairly close relations with Israel.  In return, Israel has postponed plans to annex the West Bank.  Whether or not it is in Israel’s long term interest to do so is a debatable question because it provides much more powerful ammunition to its critics who already accuse it of becoming an apartheid regime.  However, it had become Prime Minister Netanyahu’s sop to the right wing who will have to wait.  Of course, the reality is that Israel is already the de facto ruler.

If Mr. Trump was crowing about the agreement signed on September 15, although it is akin to someone signing an agreement with Puerto Rico while the United States remains aloof.  As a postscript, the little island of Bahrain also signed a peace deal with Israel.  Bahrain has had its own problems in that a Sunni sheikh rules a Shia populace.  When the Shia had had enough, Saudi and UAE troops were used to end the rebellion.  Bahrain is thus indebted to the UAE.

How many among voters will know the real value of these historic (according to Trump) deals particularly when he starts twittering his accomplishments as the election nears?

There things stand.  As they say, there is nothing worse than peaking too early.  Bettors are still favoring Trump with their money.  The longer anyone has been in politics the more there is to mine, and for an opponent to use to his/her advantage.  Time it seems is on Trump’s side.  

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