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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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Prospects for U.S.-China Relations in the Biden Era

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The U.S. presidential election which will be held on November 3 is drawing ever closer. As the Trump administration performs poorly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, where the death toll in the U.S. exceeded 210,000, the election trend appears to be very unfavorable for Donald Trump.

According to a recent poll conducted by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, Joe Biden led Trump by 14 percentage points in the national elections. It is worth noting that retired American generals, who have traditionally been extremely low-key in politics, publicly supported Biden this year, something that is quite rare. On September 24, 489 retired generals and admirals, former national security officials and diplomats signed a joint letter in support of Biden. Among them are Republicans, Democrats, and non-partisans, showing that they have crossed the affiliation, and jointly support Biden to replace Trump. Although the opinion polls do not represent the final election, with the election only being one month away, the widening of the opinion gap is enough to predict the direction of the election.

For the whole world, especially for China, it is necessary to prepare for the advent of a possible Biden era of the United States. During Trump’s tenure, U.S.-China relations have taken a turn for the worse, and China has been listed as the foremost “long-term strategic competitor” of the United States.

There is a general view in China that after the Democratic Party comes to power, U.S.-China relations may worsen. The reason is that the Democratic Party places more emphasis on values such as human rights and ideology and is accustomed to using values such as human rights, democracy, and freedom in foreign policies against China. However, as far as U.S.-China relations are concerned, it is too vague to use the simple dichotomic “good” or “bad” to summarize the relationship of the two countries.

However, it is certain that after Biden takes office, his policies will be different from Trump’s. An important difference between Biden and Trump is that Biden will follow a certain order and geopolitical discipline to implement his own policies, and he will also seek cooperation with China in certain bottom-line principled arrangements. It should be stressed that it is crucial for China and the United States to reach some principled arrangements in their relations.

From an economic point of view, should Biden become the next President, the United States will likely ease its trade policy, which will alleviate China’s trade pressure. It can be expected that the Biden administration may quell the U.S.-China tariff war and adjust punitive tariff policies that lead to “lose-lose” policies. If Biden takes office, he might be more concerned about politics and U.S.-China balance. In terms of trade, although he would continue to stick to the general direction of the past, this would not be the main direction of his governance. Therefore, the U.S.-China trade war could see certain respite and may even stop. In that scenario, China as the largest trading partner of the United States, could hope for the pressures in the trade with the U.S. being reduced.

China must also realize that even if Biden takes power, some key areas of U.S.-China relations will not change, such as the strategic positioning of China as the “long-term strategic competitor” of the United States. This is not something that is decided by the U.S. President but by the strategic judgment of the U.S. decision-making class on the direction of its relations with China. This strategic positioning destined that the future U.S.-China relations will be based on the pattern dominated by geopolitical confrontation. Biden sees that by expanding global influence, promoting its political model, and investing in future technologies, China is engaging a long-term competition with the U.S, and that is the challenge that the United States faces.

On the whole, if and when Biden takes office, the U.S. government’s domestic and diplomatic practices will be different from those of the Trump administration, although the strategic positioning of China will not change, and neither will it change the U.S.’ general direction of long-term suppression of China’s rise. However, in terms of specific practices, the Biden administration will have its own approaches, and will seek a certain order and geopolitical discipline to implement its policies. He may also seek to reach some bottom-line principled arrangements with China. Under the basic framework, the future U.S.-China relations will undergo changes in many aspects. Instead of the crude “an eye for an eye” rivalry, we will see the return to the traditional systemic competition based on values, alliance interests, and rules. Facing the inevitable changes in U.S.-China relations, the world needs to adapt to the new situation.

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Third world needs ideological shift

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As nations across the world have been pooling their efforts to contain the COVID-19 spread, the looming economic crisis has caught the attention of global intelligentsia. In the light of health emergency, The policy makers of Asia, Africa and Latin America have been struggling to steer the economic vehicle back to normalcy. Although, the reason for the economic slump could be attributed to the pandemic, it is also important to cast light on the economics of these tricontinental nations. Been as colonies for more than two centuries, these players had adopted the style of economics which is a mix of market economics and socialism. The imperial powers of the then Europe had colonised these nations and had subjugated them with their military and political maneuvers. Under the banner of White man’s burden, the Imperial masters had subverted the political, economical, social and cultural spheres of the colonies and had transformed these self-reliant societies into the ones which depend on Europe for finished products. The onslaught on the economical systems of colonies was done through one way trade. Though, the western powers brought the modern values to the third world during colonial era, they were twisted to their advantage. The European industrial machines were depended on the blood, sweat and tears of the people of colonies. It is clear that the reason for the backwardness of these players is the force behind the imperial powers which had eventually pushed them towards these regions in search of raw materials and markets i.e., Capitalism. Needless to say, the competition for resources and disaccord over the distribution of wealth of colonies led to twin world wars. Capitalism, as an economic idea, cannot survive in an environment of a limited market and resources. It needs borderless access, restless labour and timeless profit. While the European imperial powers had expanded their influence over Asia and Africa, the US had exerted its influence over Latin America. Earlier, at the dawn of modern-day Europe, The capitalist liberal order had challenged the old feudal system and the authority of church. Subsequently, the sovereign power was shifted to monarchial king. With the rise of ideas like democracy and liberty, complemented by the rapid takeoff of industrialization, the conditions were set for the creation of new class i.e., capitalist class. On the one hand, Liberalism, a polical facet of capitalism, restricts the role of state(political) in economical matters but on the other hand it provides enough room for the elite class and those who have access to power corridors to persuade the authority(state) to design the policies to their advantage. Inequality is an inescapable feature of liberal economics.

The powerful nations cannot colonise these nations as once done. The Watchwords like interconnectedness, interdependency and free trade are being used to continue their domination on these players. As soon as the third world nations were freed from the shackles of colonialism, they were forced to integrate their economies into the global economical chain. Characterized by the imbalance, the globalization has been used as a weapon by the Western powers to conquer the markets of developing nations.

The Carrot and stick policy of the US is an integral part of its strategy to dominate global economical domain. The sorry state of affairs in the Middle East and Latin America could be attributed to the US lust for resources. In the name of democracy, the US has been meddling in the internal affairs of nations across the developing world. Countries like Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, Libya, Iraq and Syria have challenged the US,a global policeman. Back in the day,soon after assuming the power, the Left leadership in Latin American countries had adopted socialist schemes and had nationalised the wealth creating assets, which were previously in the hands of the US capitalists. Irked by the actions of these nations, the US had devised a series of stratagems to destabilize the regimes and to install its puppets through the imposition of cruel sanctions and by dubbing them as terrorist nations on the pretext of exporting violent communist revolution. With the exception of the regimes of Fidel castro in Cuba and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, the US is largely successful in its agenda of destabilizing anti-American governments in the region. The US has a long history of mobilising anti-left forces in Latin America, the region which US sees as its backyard, in an attempt to oust socialist leaders. At present, by hook or by crook, the trump administration has been trying to depose Nicolas Maduro, the president of Venezuela, a socialist.

In addition,The US has been colonising the minds of the third world citizens psychologically with its cultural hegemony and anti-left indoctrination. It is important to understand that the reason for the neo-fascism, which is unfurling across the developing and developed world alike, is rooted in capitalism.The third world citizenry is disgruntled and the ultra-nationalist right wing forces in these countries have been channeling the distress amongst the working class to solidify their position. Growing inequalities, Falling living standards, Joblessness and Insecurity are exposing the incompetence of capitalism and have been pushing a large chunk of workforce in the developing countries into a state of despair.Adding to their woes, the Covid-19 has hit them hard.

The US, with the help of IMF and the world bank, had coerced the developing countries to shun welfare economics.The term “Development” is highly contested  in the economic domain.Capitalists argue that the true development of an individual and the society depends upon economic progress and the free market is a panacea for all problems.Given the monopolistic tendencies in the economical systems across the developing world, the free market is a myth, especially in a societies where a few of business families, who have cronies in policy making circles, dominates the economical and social scene.The time has come for the governments of these nations to address these issues and ensure that the wealth would be distributed in a more equitable manner.

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Americas

The Election Circus and an Event in the Cosmos

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The election in the US is held on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November.  A  Tuesday was chosen to allow people enough time to drive to the election site after Sunday, reserved for religious services and rest.  Those were the horse and buggy days and it took a while. The people clearly had greater ardor for democracy then considering we get a less than 50 percent turnout now when voting sites are usually less than a five-minute drive. 

Most states are either heavily Republican or Democrat so the results there are a foregone conclusion.  The winners get the electors assigned to the state on a basis of population.  The electors then vote for the nominees receiving the most votes in the state when the electoral college meets. 

There are about a dozen battleground or swing states; among them Pennsylvania and Florida are prized for their high electoral votes — hence the repeated visits by the candidates.  Trump won both in 2016.  Will he this time? 

Meanwhile two New York papers are busy running negative stories on candidates they oppose.  The New York Times offers tidbits against Trump.  The latest this week is that Trump has a Chinese bank account.  The fact is not new since the information was filed with his tax returns — one has to report foreign bank accounts over $10,000 — but the news is intended as an example of Trump’s hypocrisy for he has been speaking out against doing business in China.  The accounts in the name of Trump International Hotels have been moribund since 2015. 

The New York Post, much less distinguished than the Times, is after Hunter Biden and through him his father, candidate Joe Biden.  Last week the Post unearthed a dubious email purporting to show then Vice President Biden possibly meeting with Hunter’s potential business partner.  This week there is a photograph of the Bidens, father and son, flanked by a Kazakh oligarch on one side and a former president of Kazakhstan on the other.  The latest on the email issue has a certain Tony Bobulinski, one of the recipients, confirming the Post email adding that Hunter sought Dad’s advice on deals.  There is also a proposed equity split referring to ’20’ for ‘H’ and ’10 held by H for the big guy.’  

New York State may be a secure prize for Democrats but news stories these days are picked up on the internet and spread nationally and internationally.  Surely the two newspapers have something really big up their sleeves for the week before the election.  

Charges and counter-charges in the final presidential debate.  Biden repeatedly blamed Trump for deaths from the Covid 19 epidemic.  On almost everything Biden promised, Trump’s rejoinder was why he had not done it in the 47 years he was in public office including 8 years as vice president.  This included mimicking Biden’s previously successful tactic of talking directly to the public.  The same interests fund both major parties and they generally  get what they want except that Trump mostly funded his campaign himself. 

From all the ridiculousness to the sublime.  Images of M87 are the first of any black hole swallowing whatever is within range.  We are told of the discovery of a black hole in the center of our own Milky Way, presumably the eventual destination of everything in our galaxy.  From this perspective the Trump-Biden debate, although quite important for our immediate future, seems to diminish to nothing in significance.  

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