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The American Triumph of “Mass-Man”: A Lethal Ascent

Max Ernst, The Horde

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“The mass-man[1] has no attention to spare for reasoning; he learns only in his own flesh.”-Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses (1930)

The starkly anti-intellectual ethos of Donald Trump’s presidency did not arise in an historical vacuum. Though uniquely ominous from the crucial standpoint of time, it was spawned by the same loathing of education, wisdom and science that had earlier animated the Third Reich. And while Trump’s unhappy and dissembling America is certainly not Nazi Germany – e.g., there exist here no purposeful programs of aggressive war or mass murder –  this nation’s leader has willfully abandoned reason and truth in favor of contrivance.[2]

If this abandonment were not sufficiently worrisome, the Trump-orchestrated pattern of deception and denial is now taking place together with unprecedented disease epidemic. This means, inter alia, a broadening variety of tangible intersections between political and biological hazards to the American People. Sometimes these reinforcing intersections will display more than simply additive or accreted effects.

In these especially fearful cases, wherever the “whole” cumulative impact exceeds the arithmetic sum of constituent “parts,” the pertinent intersections will be “synergistic.” This conclusion is not subject to any sensible evaluation. This is because it is true by definition.

Time deserves pride of place. Already, we are at the eleventh hour, well past the point of any ordinary citizenship apprehensions concerning bad governance. Without hyperbole, and at a moment when such a manifestly unfit president’s ideological anti-Reason coincides with worldwide disease plague, an entire nation is being challenged to draw deeply upon its dwindling intellectual reserves.

Without any exaggeration, this evolving and deteriorating American struggle will soon revolve around the most rudimentary elements of physical survival.

Whatever their plausible particularities, the alternative national outcomes here will include anything but “greatness.” Then, even presidentially hand-tossed red hats will not save the United States.

How did we get here, and –  more importantly – where should we reasonably expect to end up? In reply, Donald Trump represents the more-or-less predictable expression of a perishing society, one that keeps itself reassuringly distant from any mind-challenging thought. When Mr. Trump noted proudly, during his 2016 campaign, “I love the poorly educated,” it was by no means an off-the-cuff or seat-of-the pants observation. Rather, it was an updated and same-sentiments version of Joseph Goebbels 1934 Nuremberg rally shriek: “Intellect rots the brain.”

When Donald Trump argues (daily) that Covid19 deaths would decline if only the country performed less testing, there are too few audible gasps of disbelief. Similarly less than proportionate exclamations of citizen incredulity greeted the president’s earlier prescription for individual injections of commercial disinfectants, or his concurrent claim that only one-percent of infected patients suffer any palpable harms.

What exactly have the other 99% been experiencing?

Prima facie, how could all this not have elicited uniformly insistent calls for Trump’s immediate resignation? Could there possibly have been any more explicit or compelling evidence of presidential unfitness? What does one say about an “advanced” society that does not cringe collectively at such abhorrent nonsense, and refuses to make clear that gibberish is intolerable to rationality-based calculations of a modern nation-state?

If this is all an example of Trump’s “America First,” it is also the reductio ad absurdum of a country that continuously accelerates its own misfortune.

Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosophers. “I believe because it is absurd.”

There is more. Before the pandemic, US citizen excursions into absurdity were witnessed most predictably at Trump “rallies.” At these intentionally incoherent gatherings, replete with obscenity-laced screams and ritualistic phrases, the president’s faithful chanted in atavistic unison, in a crudely meaningless and deranged primal chorus. Now that such gatherings are no longer deemed safe, even for those who ordinarily take comfort in rhymes, Trump-organized expressions of anti-reason and anti-science have shifted to the streets.

There is ample precedent here. Said Third Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, “Whoever can dominate the street will one day conquer the state, for every form of power politics and any dictatorship run state has its roots in the street.”

More recently, US President Donald J. Trump threatened: “I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump. I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough – until they go to a  certain point and then it would be very bad, very bad.”

“Bikers for Trump?” This proud endorsement from a president who never sets foot at any university and who openly questions the medical insights of accomplished epidemiologist Dr. Anthony Fauci? Credo quia absurdum. Albeit reluctantly, we must respond in this once-unimaginable moment,  “I believe because it is absurd.”

For the United States, at least in principle, there may exist some still-promising supplications to reason and science. But any such foreseeable entreaties would first require a society that can take itself seriously, not that has wittingly exchanged banal observations and empty chatter for genuine intellect and learning. Under no imaginable circumstances could these sensible pleas be spawned by a servile society of suffocating mass-men or mass-women.

Candor is indispensable. Truth is exculpatory. At this point, actually meeting the entry-level requirements of a thoughtful society must remain little more than a vague hope.Nonetheless, a simple though dignified model for national improvement does remain available. To wit, back in the nineteenth century, Transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson had called upon his fellow Americans to embrace “plain living and high thinking.”

Today, of course, it is all too evident that Emerson’s sensible nineteenth-century plaint for enhanced equilibrium  (personal and social) went unheeded.

In the glaringly rancorous “Trump Era,” there is no longer any credible pretense concerning  integrity or “mind.” Plainly, intellect and dignity are both strikingly out of political fashion. At least in the most cantankerous Trump-dominated realms of decision-making, “high thinking” is no longer regarded as worthwhile or advantageous. For this president, who seemingly learned a great deal from his de facto kindred spirit, Joseph Goebbels, it is very obviously a liability.

It was Goebbels, too, let us not forget to mention, who “taught” that the most utterly stupendous lies are sometimes most readily believed. A pertinent example would be the Final Solution and corresponding Holocaust denial.

There is more. Though heavily ironic and not generally understood, looking behind the news is every American’s first obligation of good citizenship. In these once sacred domains, spaces where discernible residues of reason are still permitted to dwell, we may discover certain immutably core truths of American political life. Accordingly, when citizens look conscientiously behind the news, they will better understand that even the tiniest hint of science or “high thinking” is being treated by Donald Trump as an affront, as an epithet, as an unseemly sign of independent thinking.

Could there be any conceivable excuse for not looking in this direction?

Always, let us be fair. The organized and corrosive subordination of intellect by a US president was by no means an original “contribution” of  Donald J. Trump. After all, American society has never been a conspicuous example of appropriate obeisance to learning or enlightened considerations of “mind.”  But it does remains a defining and defiling signature of this fully dissembling American presidency.

 For sensible and still-thinking Americans, there should be little residual ambiguity about what is currently unraveling. Beyond any reasonable doubt, this unhappy country backs further and further away from any merit-based  standards of policy assessment. Now locked fixedly into a regressive trajectory of political and cultural decline, America’s cumulative ambitions are systematically being reduced to narrowly shallow credos and derivatively empty witticisms.

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

“Intellect rots the brain,” said Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

There is more. Relevant policy examples abound. It should hardly come as a surprise that virtually all Americans are already victims of this president’s once-vaunted “trade wars” and “currency wars.” The principal long-term beneficiaries of  this Trump-induced incoherence, of course, will be Russia and China. The only corollary question, therefore, should be this one:

Why is such gravely injurious presidential irrationality still acceptable to millions of rhythmically chanting and “loyal” citizens?

As fearful disease combines with a foolishly belligerent Trumpian nationalism, what can these deluded citizens possibly be thinking?

These questions need to be suitably answered. Always, science must begin with identifiably tangible questions. These core queries cannot be overlooked, minimized or ignored. Americans, it follows, must much more sincerely inquire:

“How can a US president so willfully ignore and accept his Russian counterpart as his  puppet master?”

 Even in the wholesale absence of “high thinking” within the Trump White House, it should at least be unambiguous that one superpower president has become the all-too-witting marionette of the other. Could any observation be any more apparent?

At what point do Americans candidly acknowledge that in any measured comparisons with geopolitical reality, the current US presidency might effectively represent The Manchurian Candidate on steroids?

There are even more serious questions. As a nation, when shall we finally agree to bear truthful witness on Constitutional governance?[3] Can there be any doubt that there is vastly more significance to these founding principles than the oft-misinterpreted Second Amendment? Surely this country must ultimately be about much more than just some basic  right to bear arms. Surely we ought to be more than merely perplexed or bemused when a sitting president declares that he may choose not to accept the results of the upcoming election.

“The man who laughs,” warned dramatist Bertolt Brecht about an earlier European charlatan, “has simply not yet heard the terrible news.”

Do Donald Trump’s “faithful” supporters believe that Mr. Trump actually has lawful authority to defy an election outcome? How could they have such a belief? Have they ever glanced at the US Constitution?

It’s a silly question. The president himself has never looked at this document, or at any of the associated judicial histories or decisions, If he has no need of facts – that is, if he can learn sufficiently “in his own flesh” – why should ordinary citizens leave the card room or the golf course?

For explanations, cultural context remains vital, even determinative. Donald Trump’s ascent to the presidency did not arise ex nihilo, out of nothing. Recalling classic American thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson, what exactly has gone so terribly wrong with American “high thinking?” How, more precisely, have we managed to allow a once-still-promising and rising nation to slide uncontrollably toward national misfortune?  

Again, the core element of time deserves pride of place. In our inherently unsteady nuclear age, any such misfortune could sometime include irreversibly catastrophic wars.  With such a dreaded inclusion, We the people might even need to witness a wholly unanticipated fusion. This would be an explosive alloy of disease plague and apocalypse.

 It could not be a pleasing fusion.

Before answering such critical queries – and any properly serious replies must take informed account of expanding worldwide nuclear proliferation – the operational genre we select must be precise. In this connection, for example, whenever we speak of Donald Trump we ought not speak of “tragedy.” Authentic  tragedy, unlike common buffoonery, chicanery or gratuitously-induced misfortune, is ennobling.   

From Aristotle to Shakespeare, true tragedy has demanded a victim, whether individual or societal, who suffers undeservedly.

This key demand has not been met today.

In the incessantly profane play being directed by US President Donald J. Trump, a national leader who reads literally nothing, nothing at all, Americans are not tragic figures. After all, we are not just the passive victims of a disjointed and contrived presidency forced illegitimately upon us in 2016. As long as we refuse to speak out at less delicate levels of truth-telling – and this refusal means much more than just showing up to vote in 2020 – we will  richly deserve our consequent losses.

In America, the “emperor” is naked, stark naked He has always been naked. His policies, drawn from deepening swamps of incoherence, will not improve. They cannot improve. Ever.

In the nuclear age, it now bears repeating, our future losses could be incalculable and irremediable.

More immediately, they could be unendurable.

At that point we Americans would not represent the tragic victims of some unstoppable national decline. Instead, we would stand for the pathetic “spillover” of a hideous and once-preventable melodrama.

At that point, continuing the theatrical metaphor, our defining genre will have become parody and pathos. It will be as humiliating as it is lethal. In all likelihood, that finally expressed Trump-induced genre would represent a dreadful and hideous farce.

There is more. Amid all these consequential “theatrical” matters, we may have less to learn from Aristotle or Shakespeare than from 20th century psychologists Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Even a cursory glance at the two seminal thinkers from Vienna and Zurich should remind us of ever-present dangers posed by “mass.”

 Freud and Jung were both strongly influenced by the Danish Existentialist thinker Soren Kierkegaard (who personally preferred the term “crowd” to “mass”) and by German-Swiss philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who spoke woefully and without guile of the “herd.”[4]

Whatever term analysts might now decide to favor, one key point remains unassailable: When an entire nation and society abandon the most basic obligations of critical thinking, “mind” and “reason” (this observation about “reason” should also bring us to the insights of  German post-War philosopher, Karl Jaspers[5]), we can expect incremental deformity and eventual tyranny.  Nietzsche, in his masterpiece, Zarathustra, was even more specific.

“Do not seek the higher-man in the marketplace,” the prophet had warned presciently. But the demeaning marketplace is exactly where America found and elected Donald J. Trump. Translated into the more prosaic terms of our current American presidential dilemma, this ought to remind us that the mundane skill sets acquired in the worlds of real-estate bargaining and casino gambling do not “carry over” to high-politics and diplomacy.

As one might say right here, back home in Indiana, “Not hardly!”

Now, in essence, American national leadership requires some serious figures of historical literacy and tangible erudition, not the crudely half-educated impresarios of “deals.” In America, snake oil can still be sold under the various sacrilizing markings of some alleged public policy. But the product still remains snake oil.

In the end, every society represents the sum total of its individual souls seeking some sort or other of “redemption.” This search is never properly scientific – after all, there can be no discernible or tangible referent for a human “soul” – but some important answers may still occasionally lie outside mainstream scientific investigations.[6] Though science must always be our signal analytic guidepost, these sorts of “eccentric” answers ought not be disregarded.

At times, they should be consciously sought and carefully studied.

Not only the blustering American emperor, but also those still awed by his mind-stifling parade of gibberish, are “naked.” Shamelessly naked. Recalling American poet T S Eliot, in President Donald Trump’s deeply fractionated American republic, We the people cheerlessly inhabit a “hollow land”[7] of stultifying submission, crass consumption, dreary profanity and immutably shallow pleasures. Bored by the embarrassing banalities of American daily life, and beaten down by the grinding struggle to stay hopeful amid ever-widening polarities of disease versus health,  wealth versus poverty, weary US citizens (people who have every right to vote, but not to keep their teeth[8]) grasp anxiously for any available lifelines of distraction.

In 2016, this presumed lifeline was a false prophet of American “greatness.”

In 2016, legions of Americans unaccustomed to reading anything of consequence were easily taken in by a staggering mountain of cheap red hats and breathtakingly inane slogans.

For Donald Trump, cynical simplifications represented his planned and eventually successful path to electoral victory. In this regard, nothing has changed.

“Intellect rots the mind” said Third Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels in 1935.

“I love the poorly educated,” said US Presidential candidate Donald Trump in 2016.

Such points considered, it is small wonder that the cavernous American Opiate Crisis is already deep enough to drown entire libraries of a once-sacred poetry.

Small wonder, too, that in a nation of so much institutionalized pain and private desperation there exists a pervasively growing cry for a delusionary “anesthesia.”

In part, because of the indifferent and ineffectual stewardship of America’s current president, both this singular nation and the wider planetary system of which it is a part are at significant (even existential) risk. Where, then, shall we meaningfully seek any still-lingering public demands for human improvement and collective survival? Where might we still discover any usefully reinforcing visions of social cooperation and personal growth?  

In principle, at least, more thoughtful concepts are now de rigeur. Misdirected by the incessantly hollow claims of “American Exceptionalism” and “America First,” we have somehow managed to forget that world politics is essentially a system. It follows, among other things, that US prosperity is perpetually linked to the calculable well-being of other states and other societies.

We are not alone on this crumbling planet.

It’s not terribly complicated. In brief, this is an historical moment where one simplifying gastronomic metaphor can actually make succinct sense:  We are all, incontestably, in the “soup” together.

There is more. Until now, we have unceremoniously ignored the Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s altogether clear warning from The Phenomenon of Man: “The egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those who have managed to attain egoistically the extremity of `everyone for himself’ is false and against nature. No element can move and grow except with and by all the others with itself.”

We have also ignored almost everything else of commendably real intellectual importance. Should there remain any sincere doubts about this indictment, one need only look at the current state of American higher education.  In many ways, this is now just another obvious expression of Nietzsche’s (Zarathustra’s) “marketplace.”

In Donald Trump’s America, we the people are no longer shaped by any suitably generalized feelings of reverence or compassion, or, as has already been amply demonstrated, by even the tiniest hints of some plausibly complex thought. Now, our preferred preoccupation,  unhidden, lies with a closely- orchestrated hysteria of indulgence in other people’s private lives and (with even greater and more visceral enthusiasm) their palpable sufferings. In German, there is even a specially-designated word for this pathology of the human spirit.

 The Germans call this schadenfreude, or taking an  exquisite pleasure in the misfortunes of others.

For the most part,  this voyeuristic frenzy is juxtaposed against the always-comforting myth of American superiority. In the end, this particular myth, more than any other, is apt to produce further declension and despair. This is the case even when an American president chooses to physically wrap himself in the flag, a once-frequent Trump embrace of rare and visually defiling repugnance.

I belong, therefore I am.” This is assuredly not what philosopher René Descartes had in mind when, back in the 17th century, he urged greater thought and expanding doubt. It is also a very sad credo. Unhesitatingly, it screams loudly that seeming social acceptance is equivalent to physical survival, and that even the most sorely pretended pleasures of inclusion are worth pursuing.

A push-button metaphysics of “apps” reigns supreme in America. This immense attraction of smart phones and social networks stems in large part from our barren society’s machine-like existence. Within this increasingly robotic universe, every hint of human passion must be shunted away from any caring human emotions, and then re-directed along certain uniform and vicariously satisfying pathways.

There are jurisprudential issues. Though international law obliges the United States to oppose all crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity – and despite the fact that this binding international law is an incorporated part of the municipal law of the United States[9] – America’s president remains silent on war crimes, whether committed by America’s allies or by its adversaries. In part, these terms of relationship must be bound together because  it has become substantially unclear in Trump’s inverted universe exactly who is friend and who is foe.

When Donald J. Trump says of North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un “We’re in love,” the rest of us are in real trouble.

There is more. We may still argue, and quite correctly, that human beings are the creators of their machines, not their servants. Yet, there exists today an implicit and hideous reciprocity between creator and creation, an elaborate and potentially murderous pantomime between the users and the used. Quite openly, our fragmenting American society is making a machine out of Man and Woman.

 In what must amount to an unforgivable inversion of Genesis, it now seems plausible that we have actually been created in the image not of God, but of the machine. Mustn’t we now ask, at least those residually few Americans who would courageously remain determined thinkers and policy doubters, “What sort of redemption is this?”

 For the moment, we Americans remain grinning but hapless captives in a deliriously noisy and stultifying mass. By relentlessly disclaiming any dint of interior life, we are somehow able to proceed with our imitative lives, very tentatively, of course, and – in absolutely every existential sphere – at the lowest possible common denominator.

Expressed in more tangible pre-pandemic terms, our air, rail and land travel is too often insufferable, especially when compared to other western democracies. Our universities, institutions in which I have lived for more than the past half century, are generally bereft of anything that might ever hint at serious learning. For the most part, these places have obligingly become submissive adjuncts to the larger corporate and entrepreneurial worlds. Unsurprisingly, they are not generally places of any analytic education.

 America’s universities have been effectively dedicated more than anything else to private wealth accumulation and correspondingly to institutional self-promotion. In this country, let us be candid: “You are what you buy.” Or in what amounts to a grotesque inversion of Descartes, “I don’t think, therefore I am.”

In the blatantly anti-intellectual Trump Era, this already intolerable trend merely continues to worsen. Considered together with ongoing disease pandemic intersections, some of which could be authentically synergistic, this trend could become literally murderous or even quasi-genocidal.

There is still more pertinent detail to consider. Across the beleaguered American landscape, the “hollow land,” our once traditionally revered Western Canon of literature and art has largely been replaced more “practical” emphases on job preparation, loyalty-building sports and “branding”(quantitative rankings.) Apart from their unhappy drunkenness and broadly tasteless entertainments, the once-sacred spaces of “higher education” had managed, pre-pandemic, to become something wholly unrelated to learning. Most visibly, though rarely acknowledged, our universities had been morphing into a vocational pipeline to mostly nonsensical and unsatisfying jobs.

Sometimes, as in the unambiguous case of onetime “Trump University,” they are incapable of meeting even these minimal expectations.

 It is high time for candor. For most of America’s young people, learning has become an inconvenient and burdensome commodity, nothing more. At the same time, as virtually everyone already understands, commodities exist for only one overriding purpose. They exist, like newly minted college graduates themselves, to be bought and sold.

Beware, warns Zarathustra, of ever seeking virtue or quality at the marketplace. This is a place only for buying and selling. It is a venue for “deals.”

Though faced with genuine threats of plague, war,  impoverishment and terror, millions of Americans still choose to amuse themselves to death with assorted forms of morbid excitement, public scandal (remember Schadenfreude), inedible foods, and the stunningly inane repetitions of a wholly illiterate political discourse. Not a day goes by that we don’t notice some premonitory sign of impending catastrophe. Still, our bewildered and  drug-numbed country continues to impose upon its exhausted and manipulated people a devaluation of challenging thought and a breakneck pace of unrelieved and unrewarding work.

Small wonder that “No Vacancy” signs continue to hang securely outside our psychiatric hospitals, childcare centers and ready-to-burst prisons, not just at our Covid19 intensive care units.

In all purposeful societies, as Ralph Waldo Emerson had already understood, the care of individual “souls” remains the most urgent responsibility. Conceivably, there could emerge a betterAmerican Soul,”but not until we should first agree to shun the variously inter-penetrating seductions of mass culture  –  that is, (1) rank imitation; (2) shallow thinking;  (3) organized mediocrity; and (4) a manifestly predatory politics of  ethnicity, race and class. Of course, any such far-reaching rejection will not be easy. It will take time. And time is something we no longer have.

The alternative would be for us to embrace an intolerably “hollow” future, one offering not a national life of any excellence or promise, but the American poet’s “cactus land” –  a decaying country ever more willing “to receive the supplication of a dead man’s hand.” This would represent an unalterably lethal embrace, one earlier described in generic terms by 19th century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard as “a sickness unto death.”

Amid this existential pathology, hope would quickly give way to abject surrender and to a dreadfully expanding despair.

When an aspiring tyranny fuses its doctrine of anti-science with a spreading plague or pandemic, the myriad dangers of “mass-man” can become insurmountable. Moreover, these intersecting and potentially synergistic dangers can turn most glaringly portentous when the citizenry no longer has any attention to spare for critical reasoning. At that woeful point of declension, longtime democratic traditions notwithstanding, it could agree to follow a misguiding piper anywhere.

Lemming-like, and with nary a serious thought, the American mass would then march dutifully, in humiliating lockstep, and, if “necessary,” toward collective extinction. In a cumulatively grotesque American “triumph” of mass-man, it would know how to end the unraveling story. This means it would “rally” boisterously above the now endless fields of corpses, declaring unreservedly, and with commonly self-satisfied convictions, “America is Great Again.”


[1] As used herein, of course, the term “mass-man” is gender neutral, and applies equally to male and female citizens of the United States.

[2]  “It must not be forgotten,” says Guilllaume Apollinaire in The New Spirit and the Poets (1917),”that it is perhaps more dangerous for a nation to allow itself to be conquered intellectually than by arms.”

[3] https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2017/07/Beres-president-trump-impeachment1/

[4]“To lure many away from the herd, for that I have come. The people and the herd shall be angry with me. Zarathustra wants to be called a robber by the shepherds.” (See Zarathustra, Part 1).

[5] See especially Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time (1952).

[6] 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 material accomplishment at any cost would occasion sweeping psychological misery.

[7]See, T S Eliot, The Hollow Men (1925).

[8] One has to wonder just how many Americans can even afford to have essential dental care. As a practical matter, for a great many Americans (both poor and aged) teeth are simply no longer affordable.

[9] In the words of Mr. Justice Gray, delivering the judgment of the US Supreme Court in Paquete Habana (1900): “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)).Moreover, 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.”

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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Weakness or calculation? How the pandemic undermined the US world leadership

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Anyone watching the numerous doomsday movies, happily churned out by Hollywood, will see American doctors saving the planet from space-borne viruses and the plague epidemic that turn people into zombies. However, the very first serious test in a decade has shown that the US healthcare system is actually inferior even to the Russian one, created during the Cold War years. And this despite the fact, that for the past 30 years, the Russian medical system has been suffering from “optimizations,” cuts and underfunding. Moreover, while the Kremlin, even for propaganda reasons, has managed to provide real assistance to a number of European countries, and has been the first to launch a vaccine on the market, Washington’s actions can be regarded as a sign of weakness, and a very dangerous one to its allies at that.

More than a year after the start of the global lockdown, we can already sum up the initial results, which look disappointing to Washington. The US healthcare system has collapsed under the pressure, thus laying bare the country’s inability to bring the outbreak of a less-than-deadly disease under control. As for Russia, despite its lack of America’s vast resources, it still managed to win the vaccine race and become the first to come up with a viable antidote.

More importantly, Moscow has also come out on top in the information “war” with the West, with its Sputnik V vaccine proving to have far fewer side effects than its Pfizer and Moderna counterparts. Therefore, the US and British lobbying of their own vaccines, and their attempts to close the European market for the Russian vaccine look unethical, to say the least, all the more so amid numerous European media reports about people having  died from side effects after being inoculated with Western vaccines. At the same time, there are simply no reports about similar complications caused by the Russian vaccine, even though the European Commission and Brussels have been keeping a close eye on the effects of its use in European countries, including Serbia and Hungary, which have already taken the first deliveries of the Sputnik V vaccine.

What is the reason for the US demonstrating its weakness? How come that in the midst of the epidemic Washington was unable to find the resources to demonstrate its readiness to lend a helping hand to its European allies? Unfortunately, one of the reasons was that the Americans simply freaked out. The truth is, the US healthcare system is rather decentralized and unorganized. People with good health insurance have little to worry about. However, in a situation of a pandemic, the US medical facilities are pretty hard to manage, so one has to do it manually. Compounded by the general atmosphere of panic and the fact that the poorest strata of society, who have no health insurance and constitute the main risk zone (obesity due to malnutrition, advanced chronic diseases and other COVID-inducing conditions), the system simply collapsed. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Trump administration tried to keep maximum resources at home. Moreover, the businessman-turned-president, who had openly spoken about “exporting security,” never missed a chance to make it clear to his allies that US assistance is never free. As a result, he was replaced by Biden, a Democrat who advocates maximum support for all democratic forces. However, Democrats usually provide moral or military support, but they have proved equally unprepared to line up any serious assistance to the countries hit the hardest by the pandemic.

Moreover, it was actually at the suggestion of the United States and the UK that the COVAX system, a global initiative aimed at providing equitable (but not free) access to COVID-19 vaccines for countries in need, stalled. It turned out (who might have guessed?) that both the US-developed Moderna and the British AstraZeneca vaccines are primarily needed by their own electorates, and only then by countries that need them, but are unable to produce their own vaccine. Meanwhile, India with a population of over 1 billion, managed to fulfill its obligations, and Russia is ready to launch the production of vaccines in Europe. However, bending under Washington’s pressure, the European Union has banned the import of Russian, Indian and Chinese vaccines, without bothering to explain the reasons for this ban.

A country, claiming world domination cannot lead in everything, of course.  Therefore, it is not surprising that the healthcare systems of many European countries, like Sweden and Switzerland, are way better that what they now have in the United States. That being said, the world leader still bears full responsibility for its allies and cannot leave them to their own devices, not only in the event of a military conflict, but also in the midst of a pandemic. However, this is exactly what it did…

From our partner International Affairs

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The legacy of 2020, and 2021 in the prospects of the United States and China

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image source: cnn.com

2020 was a crucial year because of Covid-19, which disrupted the evolution of the world order in the direction of differentiation and transformation. This is the most severe crisis the human world has faced since the Second World War.

As of 10 May 2021, According to the Hopkins University Global New Crown Epidemic Statistics Report, as of May 10, 2021 there have been 158,993,826 confirmed cases worldwide and 3,305,018 deaths.

The pandemic is like a fatal global social test. On the basis of a world order that has already undergoing a crisis, it has not only caused a pause and thus a deceleration of economic development, but it has also stepped up social division and the transfer of power from the political to the technical sphere.

Although the most experienced analysts and leading research institutions have published various reports, currently none of them can accurately predict in detail the huge impact of the pandemic on the history of the 21st century.

The pandemic, however, will bring about major changes in four areas.

Firstly, it will accelerate the general trend of global economic recession and differentiation. This is due to the currency over-issue policies adopted by several countries and to intensified domestic social polarisation. Since 2018 the global economic and financial crisis has not yet been solved. On the contrary, the crisis has only been concealed by the short-term response of monetary policy.

Secondly, the pandemic will speed up internal changes and the reorganisation of the international political and economic order precisely due to internal social differentiation. Owing to the turbulent influence of domestic and international policies, economic and political risks in fragile regions of the world will intensify or have knock-on effects.

Thirdly, the pandemic will strengthen the digital society and competition between countries in building new technologies will become more intense. The most significant impact of digital society is the silent arrival of a transparent society that exists but has no human contacts.

Fourthly, the pandemic promotes the rise of vaccine nationalism and accelerates the revival of the community value of East Asian countries, which has epochal significance from the perspective of the history of world civilisation.

The most influential political and economic event in 2020 was the US elections and the related change of Administration. The US elections represented the sharpest but also the most frustrating change in US history. Although Donald Trump lost the election, 74,216,154 citizens voted for the outgoing President.

For the United States, the change in direction cannot be seen as the advent of a resolute and determined policy along one single line, as the basic reality of the highly divided American society was not changed, but indeed strengthened due to the general election. The huge impact promoted the spread of political violence and protests in the United States.

Source: The US Crisis Monitor, Bridging Divides Initiative, Princeton School of Public and International Affairs’, Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination.

First of all, Donald Trump lost the election, but the spectre of Trumpism has remained in the United States and even in Europe, which is generally not conducive to advancing the strategy of developing relations with China.

Secondly, the “antagonism” of the US strategy towards China has not changed radically. Trump hadopened a political-economic dispute with China. Itisparticularlynoteworthythat the younger generation of the Republican leadership isgraduallybecominghostile and negative towards China, and exertsgreatinfluence in Congress.Thisdoesnotfavours world peace.

Thirdly, if this attitude is not contained, it will lead to negative long-term impacts between high-tech decoupling and ideological competition. Finally, China’s policy towards the United States has been perfected and refined: although the government is still adopting a wait-and-see attitude, the voice of seeking cooperation and being rational and pragmatic is still the mainstream in China.

Besides the issue that China will reduce its dependence on the world and increase world’s dependence on China itself, China will reduce its dependence on traditional growth models and increase its care for social, green and environmental sustainability.

The year 2021 is proving that the focus of the analysis of global political and economic trends will still be competition between China and the United States. President Biden’s Administration still regards China as its main strategic competitor, but the methods of addressing the issue are quite different from those of Trump’s Administration. The main difference lies in the fact that President Biden focuses on solving domestic problems and does not exclude the most important issues with China.

President Biden’s Administration has adapted its strategy for China as the influence of major lobbies and interest groups – such as the US finance and military industry – on policy is constant compared to the previous Administration. Nevertheless, the Chinese factor in the chain of global interests keeps higher levels.

Indeed, voices from both parties in the US Congress calling for curbing China’s rise are also increasing.

In short, in terms of China’s policy direction, President Biden’s Administration is expected to oppose a trade war because it harms the core interests of the US business community. However, there are likely to be problems for Taiwan, Xianggang (Hong Kong), Xinjiang Weiwu’er (Uyghur), South China Sea, Xizang (Tibet), as well as other issues.

The possibility of renewed trade negotiations between China and the United States is expected to increase significantly in the future and the US strategy of constructive competition will be reformed.

Regardless of changes in Sino-US relations, China will certainly promote greater bilateral and multilateral investment cooperation, while seeking new development and shaping new models of cooperation.

The key areas which are currently the most important and noteworthy are, firstly, China’s joining the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and seeking to adhere to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which shows that China’s top leadership has decided to continue the reform strategy of internal and external promotion.

The RCEP is a free trade agreement in the Asia-Pacific region between the ten States of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Brunei, Cambodia, Philippines, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) and five of their free trade partners: Australia, China, the Republic of Korea (South Korea), Japan and New Zealand. These Member States account for approximately 30% of world’s population and GDP, thus making it the largest trading bloc.

The CPTPP, instead, is a draft regional investment and regulatory treaty in which negotiations, until 2014, twelve Pacific and Asian countries participated: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the USA and Vietnam.

Indeed, between the RCEP and the CPTPP, there is not only the interconnection of the industrial chain and commonality -and more reasons for unity than differences – but also the influence of great powers’ strategic factors.

The main difference between the two is that the CPTPP has higher economic quality requirements, while the RECP is more inclusive. Secondly, the China-EU trade and investment agreement is likely to be signed, which has clear short-term interests for Europe and long-term strategic interests for China. China, however, still needs to take a cautious attitude towards European policy and its legal systems based on double standards. Thirdly, China and Russia are strengthening comprehensive strategic cooperation and there will be new opportunities for their cooperation in the energy and military sectors.

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Americas

Why Congress should be rough on Chris Miller at his testimony on Wednesday

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FBI director Chris Wray’s weak congressional testimony in March left most of the Capitol attack questions unanswered and most of us scratching our heads: if the chiefs of the intelligence agencies don’t know, then who does?

As I argued back in March, before Senate Wray picked the low hanging fruit questions — such as confirming that the Trump mob that stormed the Capitol was indeed Trump’s mob and not some other people — while conviniently glazing over the real questions.

This is why the congressional testimony by former acting Secretary of Defense, Chris Miller, this Wednesday matters. The national guard mystery is still the elephant in the room that’s still sitting in the corner in loud, deafening silence.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee has been looking for answers from federal intelligence agencies on Trump’s role in the Capitol insurrection since day one. They have knocked on pretty much any door they could think of, requesting information from sixteen offices in total. That brings us to Wednesday when the Committee will hear from Chris Miller, as well as Jeff Rosen, former acting Attorney General, and Robert Contee III, District of Columbia Police Chief, in a hearing titled “The Capitol Insurrection: Unexplained Delays and Unanswered Questions.”

Back in March, when Senate grilled Wray, the FBI director could not answer why the national guard was not sent in to quell the attack. Wray vaguely put the decision on local policy makers, conveniently circumventing federal responsibility.

Then months later, defense officials actually stated that the national guard was delayed for reasons of “optics” and worries over how it would look if Trump’s mob was pushed out forcefully, as they should’ve been. Miller dragged his feet for hours before giving the green light, as he wanted to imagine what exactly the national guard’s intervention will look like. The actual deployment took only 20 minutes, logistically speaking.

Miller has already spoken about Trump’s “cause and effect” words responsible for inciting the Capitol attacks. And some commentators like Sarah Burris at Raw Story already predict that Miller is about to throw Trump under the bus on Wednesday.

But that’s not enough. Where was Miller back then? The delay was his decision and no one else’s. The Congressmen and Congresswomen of the House Oversight and Reform Committee chaired by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, should not go easy on Miller only because now, after the fact, he is willing to speak up against Trump. Now it’s easy. Now it doesn’t count.

Trump removed Secretary of Defense Esper over his objection to sending the national guard on the Black Lives Matter movement that sparked up exactly one year ago. That’s why Trump replaced Esper with Miller. Miller could have also said no to Trump but he played along. That’s why Miller doesn’t get to play hero now. There are no heroes in the Trump Administration’s aftermath. Some “cause and effect” talk and hypocritical outrage after the fact don’t count. Now doesn’t count. The House Oversight and Reform Committee shouldn’t buy this. The time for cheap spins and late awakened conscience is up. Now is the time for real answers. Miller and Rosen should get a rough ride on Wednesday. Anything else would not be acceptable.

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