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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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Americas

General Colin Powell: A Decent Man in Indecent Society

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Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s (1892-1932) famous treatise Moral Man and Immoral Society (1932) needs significant revisitation through a personal case: former Jamaican-American Secretary of State and Chair of Joint Chief of Staff General Colin Powell who, at age 84, died on October 18, a few days ago, from the effects of COVID-19 while fully vaccinated as he struggled against cancer. Our present still early 21st Century era, remains very much like  the interworld war  time context of Niebur penning his classic .Namely “now”  continues to be a time in America in which  truth telling is,  in too many respects,much more  myth making rituals than the presentation of  reliable and valid knowledge based evidence .This is  especially the case  when it comes to matters of racial justice and the justice problems of other historically  marginalized and oppressed populations such as girls and women, the disabled, the mentally ill, and the poor at large; particularly those who are Non-White. 

Plus through the generations, there have been   American power elites  using disproportionately the bloodshedded lives  of the poor and  otherwise marginal on their conceived battlefields ,  who choose  to make  wars be it during their  internal theft of land from indigenous peoples or other peoples such as the Mexicans of the West and South West ;the World War II  internment of the  too competive Californian Japanese American farm owners, and Polynesians in late 19th century Hawaii or the grabbing of land from the crumbling Spanish and French empires such as  the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Hati or aiding European colonial rulers engagements  in their thirst for controlling Africans, Asians, and Latin Americans in their  more or less conquered societies. 

 As the contemporary American right is making much to do over critical race theory, whatever that really is, wanting the continued White Supremacy coverups about the historical inequalities and deep insidious prejudices which cripple the well being of all Americans and brings injury to efforts to be a role model of justice to a world which knows what the deal of hypocrisy really is, we reside in a society in which the emperor declaring decency no more has clothes, as scanty as they have been. Even much weaker nations let alone our mortal superpower rivals are no longer afraid when it comes to casting stones at the blatant moral decency lies, we Americans have been taught to live by and have encouraged or forced others to live by over the generations.

It is difficult to get over to people like the American far right and their foes neoliberal progressives,  ironically enough, and those elsewhere in the world with glitters in their eyes when the name America is conjured up ,to realize how much truth has been tainted in America since its slave holding and indigenous people’s extermination colonial origins. The compromise of truth about the dehumanizations which pathologically marks the lives of all Americans in the effort to paint America as the land of freedom and milk and honey for all has come to propagate generations of injustices which have sources and manifestations of massive amnesia or placed in siloed boxes of marginality or exclusion such as the authentic history telling of too usual abysmal Non-Whites experiences in America.

But as untruthfulness has been so much a norm in the telling the truth about America, we have in recent times fallen into the deepest gutter of indecency as a society. We began to slip and slide into being an indecent society with the questionable if not unsolved Kennedy brothers, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcom X assassinations of the 1960s and Viet Nam and Watergate ending in disgrace in the 1970s. 

It was also a time when Colin Powell began to make his climb in the military and in public service. It was when there remained the Jim Crow norms, still very much here, which dictated that if you were Black and wanted to climb in a society opening you had to have a clean nose and a willingness to conform to racist standards which required you to be a gentle soul with a charming, good sense of humor. He was a symbol of success in the 1970s and 1980s era to the extent to which in the 1990s his name was touted as a possible candidate for the Presidency as he was so popular.

 But what made Powell so popular was getting himself involved in leading militarily an unjust war which even he later regretted. A war began by the first Bush I which he would be unjustly rewarded by Bush II who fired him after he did public dirty work which as he would note, tarnished his sterling career for good. But it was the beginning of the rotten eggs era where Presidents from Nixon through Trump and now Biden would find themselves being entangled in webs of indecency if not weaving themselves. Preferring to look the other way and pretend that which was indecent was righteous patriotic duty.

It came to the point that Powell as the decent man he was became a rarefied symbol of pioneering racial change in an integrating society which was becoming increasingly indecent by the day where morality became associated more with right wing ideologies than the basic meaning of morality meaning decency. In fact, much later even right-wing evangelicals such as Jerry Falwell, Jr. and his wife like Jim Baker in the 1980s would become illustrations of how much morality became empty in true meaning as they became engulfed in public indecent charges while waddling in their private jets and mansions.

So, when Trump came along in 2016 with his indecent immorality charges and his love for constantly lying, it was the result of the normalization of indecent politics where lobbyists hold elected officials in their deep monied pockets coaxing them to stand up against measures to promote taking care of the human rights of their constituencies. Where nothing is done about gun violence due to the lobby power of the National Rifle Association and where fossil fuel companies hold efforts to clean the air up through dipping money into the bank accounts of Congress men and women. Where drug companies and medical insurance companies keep the quality of medical care low while Americans pay health costs through our noses. Trump did not create indecency in American mainstream politics, it has been emerging for years and now is well here. He just made indecency fashionable as seen in his post-election fan club fawning over his lying claims of really winning the 2020 Presidential election.

It is here in the emerging indecent society, where we see Powell feeling compelled to support policies which he was morally against only to regret the consequences. He was in the second Bush administration the failed stopping gate of Bush II, Cheney, and Rumsfeld who shoved the United States into an unconstitutional pro-active war with Iraq and fake nation building claims for invading Afghanistan all for the oil, opium, race against the Russians and the Chinese, and to make arms selling profits. As said earlier in a slightly different way, after Powell’s Weapons of Mass Destruction UN speech, a grotesque gesture of public political indecency, with a tarnished reputation for the rest of his life, Bush II in the beginning of his second term fired him.Powell did not see it coming from the jovial Bush II who once told him jokingly in front of Biden then Chair of the U.S. Senate Foreign Affairs Committee to make sure he packed clean underwear as he prepared for a trip to Europe.

 Powell’s support of Democratic candidates and Presidents in the aftermath of his push out from the Bush administration made it clear there was no more place for him in a Republican Party veering to the right eating its own decent luminaries such as John McCain ,Lyn Cheney, and Mitt Romney in the process. 

His support for Democrats did not mean he became one and in fact described himself as being party less. That is a long way from the mentoring he received from  Nixon, Regan, and Bush I Republicans in their patronizing way felt that Powell was a deserving symbol of  racial integration in an opening desegregating key sector in American society to admire while of course they tied his hands since though it is a tad bit better now, it has always been the case if you are Black and wish to climb to the top of some system you have to be what one Black Chair of a University search committee told me in the late 1980s, you got to be a good boy or girl though of course in an adult body. You must be decent even though decency may not be the norm environment. Certainly not a standard requirement for status climbing ill-tempered White men and even increasingly White  women who are given a pass due to their intellectual gifts or 

/and high technical skills,even though they are cold, humorless, ego maniacs allowed to climb and climb to the highest berths of politics and other key systems such as corporate business, law, medicine, and higher education.

 I remember vividly living in London in 1990 when Bush I was gearing up to invade Iraq. The British press was in a feeding frenzy not only about the coming war with Maggie Thatcher in full support swing but most importantly in fascination with the Black man Colin Powell being the Chair of the Joint Chief of Staff. Journalists were more interested in conveying how nice and charming Powell was forgetting he was the most authoritative American military man not a pastor. And that has remained the public relations image of Powell while being characterized as being more of a technician or as he would put it, a pragmatist, rather than as a big picture visionary  guy, which is usually an image reserved for White male military leaders in contemporary America such as General  John Mattis and  David Petraeus. Meanwhile, from the 1990s through the day he died, Powell, who insisted that race made no difference in his career climb though he was always characterized in the media as the first Black this and that, so it was always a factor in the equation of his promotion and climb, became increasingly a marginalizing icon of decency in a society in which indecency has become the driving norm. Joining Bush II’s administration after he got over through such indecent means engineered through Republicans on the U.S. Supreme Court should have been enough for him to realize it was a bad omen for things to come, which did. But he felt his decency, his love for country, his love for American in military garb and civilian dress would be enough to be a moral counterweight in an indecent administration. Instead, he would lose battles to keep us out of un-necessary wars; ignored and then fired.

General Colin Powell then is a tragic symbol and indicator of how indecent public life has become in American society over the course of the last 50 years. And then we wonder why. We wonder why there is so much avoidance of public service by young people who are decent people, our future but who refuse to become involved in what has become a rotten society. We see what is happening to decent Joe Biden, going down the tubes quickly since he came into office only to find decency, trying to do the right thing is not on the mind of those who hold the purse strings in politics. They don’t care about climate control, they don’t care about providing provisions to help the poor, the unemployed, and the sick. They don’t care about voting rights or the rights of women, older persons, or the disabled. Any effort to help is called socialism unless it is to help the wealthy and otherwise privileged.

Religion has become a plaything for entertainment and to generate revenue than caring for the souls of people and being a voice for decency in a society becoming increasingly indecent regarding public norms and expectations. It is no wonder why religious leaders are the last to be thought about when it comes to public policy consultation or comforting protestors advocating their human rights, or boldly standing up for what is right in their own congregations, in society, and in the world. Religious leaders are more concerned about remaining employed by their congregations and supervisors and moving up the career ladders of their organized faiths than telling them the truth and urging them to tell the truth about the need for decency in an indecent society.

God in an indecent society becomes a trinket worn around our necks for show and tell and nothing else except perhaps a circus clown or an ATM machine. We don’t need God any more in an indecent society since we have all the brains and all the answers. We live prosperous lives and when that is indeed the case, we have the benefits to cover our health care, home mortgages, and educating our kids. We don’t need God anymore to bless us and deliver us since we become gods. All we need to do, to paraphrase Powell on the eve of invading Iraq, is,  when need arises,  to get the enemy in our crosshairs and kill them because we have the arms which can do so and who cares. And then when it is all over, when we too have been crumbled up and tossed away like a soiled paper bag, we still don’t get it since God does not live in an indecent society or at best if so, God is in some small corner some whereas an exotic old man with a beard who has nothing to do with the rest of us.

So, what is to come of us, those who are still walking on earth still breathing as we grieve the death of this decent man who tried his best to maneuver in a society which lost the little it had like the sort of decency which his hard-working immigrant parents had only to be outstripped and replaced with expectations of indecency in public life as he began to climb up. What is our calling, what is our task? Is it to continue to go with the flow of public indecency thinking and  practices we will get to kiss a golden ring one day of ultimate success only to find that rot begats rot? And the begatted rot gets worst and worst and never leads anywhere except the worst dying with tarnished legacies of lives which meant well but got caught up in what becomes normal in an indecent society which abuses its young and those trying to do decent things in need of some bodies and minds for justice finding their backbones and standing and speaking out for what is right and telling what is wrong. If not a person of faith, that is at least what a patriotic person does in the interest of the citizens of their nation. We are living in an America in which more of us need to quit and speak up about why like Biden’s envoy to Haiti in protest of the treatment of Haitians attempting to be refugees rather than going along for the ride to get career perks. 

Or Colin Powell quitting rather than putting up a public front in supporting a war he knew was wrong. And now there will always be a ” but” or a question mark after remarks about him while preserving the least important in terms of his racial break through symbolism and his charm. He deserves to be remembered for much more than that and could have if he had just quit and told the American public why since what was going on was indecent in how the structure of the web, he was entangled in was and no one person can fight against structural rot. 

So, when you are there and have stature, have the backbone to quit before they toss you away anyways. My prayers and condolences to the Powell family. God bless this decent man in such an indecent society who did the best he could but could not but could.

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Global Warming And COP26: Issues And Politics

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The president’s massive social services and infrastructure package is under consideration by Congress.  The problem is Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia.

Not only is West Virginia a coal-producing state but Mr. Manchin owns two coal companies.  Although in a blind trust operated by his son, it is clear that coal companies make money when they sell coal.

But coal is a serious polluter, possibly the worst among fossil fuels.  Any serious attempt to reduce the impact of climate change will replace coal with at least natural gas — available in abundance and emitting almost 50 percent less CO2 according to the US Energy Information Administration.

Republicans — many of whom deny global warming following Trump’s lead — adamantly oppose the plan en bloc, so Senator Manchin’s vote is crucial.  For the moment then, the fate of the planet lies in the hands of one man because, quite simply, if the US backs off, China will be relieved of pressure — also Russia which has an abundance of fossil fuels.

Hence the importance of the COP26 climate summit scheduled for October 31 – November 2 in Glasgow.  Originally planned for 2020, the meeting was postponed to 2021 due to the pandemic.  The town is preparing for an influx of 25,000 people as lobbyists, conference attendees and demonstrators arrive. 

It is an interesting meeting, liked by some to a teacher requiring a class to prepare and bring term papers.  The 200 countries represented will be bringing their plans to meet the goals of the Paris accords.  These require the signatories to commit to enhance ambitions every five years — thus 2020 postponed to 2021 — under the so-called ‘ratchet mechanism’.  The Paris Accords aimed to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius and to aim for 1.5 degrees Celsius.

As often, people leak documents to help their agenda.  This time a huge leak shows how important fossil fuel using and producing countries are attempting to modify a crucial scientific report.  Oil producer Saudi Arabia, coal producer Australia and heavy user Japan are among those questioning a rapid change from fossil fuels.  Saudi Arabia for one also lobbied previously in 2015 with some success.

This time the lobbying effort consists of more than 32,000 submissions (by governments, corporations and other interested parties) to the team of scientists preparing scientific reports designed to coalesce the best science on tackling global warming.  One can imagine the headache for the scientists, who for the most part have a regular job, often as professors.  Produced as “assessment reports” by IPCC (the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) these represent a consensus of the views of different governments, and are used by them to decide what action will be needed. 

The many bodies involved, the complicated murky politics and the enormous pressure from different parties all point to the crucial fact that billions of dollars are involved now in today’s dollars versus promises of a better and distant future.  We can only hope we have  decision makers with foresight, and leaders without Trumpian climate change ignorance and excess.

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America’s Two-Tiered Justice System

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The Constitution states only one command twice. The Fifth Amendment says to the federal government that no one shall be “deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.” The Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, uses the same eleven words, called the Due Process Clause, to describe a legal obligation of all states. These words have as their central promise an assurance that all levels of government must operate within the law and provide fair procedures to all its citizens.

In this politically divisive climate, the central promise has been broken with little to no assurance that one can trust the American democratic system where some courts have disavowed their responsibility to uphold the Constitution’s meaning of the laws passed by Congress. For instance, the Bill of Rights was passed because of concepts such as freedom of religion, speech, equal treatment, and due process of law were all deemed so fundamental to protect every legal resident in the nation; yet we are now witnessing politically charged judicial appointments eradicating these principles under which all persons and entities are accountable to equally enforce and independently adjudicate, as well as being consistent with international human rights.

On the heels of the Chinese coronavirus, there is an escalating epidemic of unequal justice and character assault where much of the news media is politically aligned with the rulers in turning a blind eye or complicit in the coverup; and in some cases, ravenously endorses the demise of what has essentially now become political dissidents falsely accused, intimidated, and jailed. While many Americans are attempting to scrape by in difficult times, they remain astute to the moral failure of the elites in power as well as the tacit elected opposition’s assiduous silence in whitewashing the legal duplicity. Historical trends over centuries of betraying the peasants eventually succumbs to a reckoning where the privileged corrupt politician and their corporate fascists will be exposed and held accountable in some fashion.  

Americans are confounded by the coronavirus decrees requiring masks to be worn for thee and not for me double standards. The politicians hammer away at enforcing mask mandates on the common folk, yet they do not adhere to their own edicts while attending fine dining with their elite backers. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Californian Governor Gavin Newsome, and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot all violated their own mask mandates in public venues while the masked servants waited on them.

President Biden was caught on video walking maskless through a swanky Washington restaurant in violation of the District’s laws on facial coverings, yet regular citizens are subject to civil penalties which result in fines of $1000.00 or revocation of licenses during the COVID-19 emergency. In defending the emperor, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said we should ‘not overly focus on moments in time that don’t reflect overarching policy.’ These double standard by the progressives are a far cry from Americans being punished and ostracized all over the country for not wearing a mask.

Identity politics has resulted in two systems of justice – one where BLM rioting and looting is described by the media as peaceful demonstrations and where assaulting police has no criminal consequences; yet the January 6th actions at the Capital has resulted in the largest round up of protesters ever seen in America. It is estimated that the Federal Government has upwards to 70 rioters/trespassers in solitary confinement and they are only let out in a larger area for one hour at 2 am due to COVID. Some of those being held in detention have been charged with trespassing on restricted grounds, others with assault and obstruction, and some haven’t been charged with anything. There are no bail hearings for these political activists yet BLM and Antifa rioters typically spend one night in the brig and let out the next day to rejoin the frontlines of carnage.  

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has vocally pushed for the January 6th ‘insurrectionists’ to be added to the TSA no-fly list. Civil liberties are being trampled by exploiting insurrection fears with people in attendance no longer permitted to take a flight in their own country and they have not been convicted of a crime. This action by the government had previously only happened to suspect foreign terrorists, and now it is happening to Americans under suspicion. We see no similar actions taken against the militant Antifa anarchists who attacked and torched federal buildings in Portland.

Washington DC has essentially been abusing these inmates in captivity. There have been complaints on the nourishment of their fellow Americans where they are served white bread and a packet of tartar sauce. This is ultimately a violation of the 8th Amendment that prohibits the federal government from imposing excessive bail, nor cruel and unusual punishments, and from inflicting unduly harsh penalties. Some judges are expressing concern at the length of these pretrial incarcerations, however they’ve largely deferred to the Justice Department. Meanwhile anarchists who burn down buildings and shoot projectiles at police officers and federal buildings have charges dismissed. Justice is not equal.   

One female trespasser was shot dead by police during the Capital unrest and there was no outcry or charges against the officer. She was white and a Trump supporter. Federal prosecutors are not seeking criminal charges against the police lieutenant whose single shot killed Ashli Babbit, the 14-year veteran who served four tours with the US Airforce. If the unarmed Babbit committed any crime, it would have been for trespassing, a misdemeanor that should have seen her arrested and not slain. The lieutenant’s life was not at risk nor was he saving the lives of others as he stood with numerous police officers in riot gear and strapped with submachine guns. If a member of BLM was shot dead by police during an unlawful riot, there would have been an immediate racial outcry from political elites and from across the news media for justice followed by looting local retailers and ransacking a police precinct. The action by BLM is considered righteous violence whereas the slain Babbit had it coming to her.  

On a very disturbing and new level of injustice is the threatening actions being taken against parents of schoolchildren by the Department of Justice. Most Americans are familiar with the Patriot Act following 9-11 where the National Security Division conducts counterterrorism operations against foreign adversaries planning suicide bombings and stealing nuclear secrets. Now the Biden Administration, under Attorney General Merrick Garland, has turned the NSD’s crosshairs against everyday Americans conducting their civil duties and free speech as school board meetings.

Garland’s actions followed the National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) claim that American public schools and its education leaders are under immediate threats and intimidation as parents grow frustrated over the divisive neo-Marxist Critical Race Theory being injected into their children’s curricula. This is clearly an injustice to weaponize the DOJ and FBI investigators to intimidate and arrest parents under the same counterespionage to that of Al Qaeda and ISIS. Parents may be angry, but they are certainly not domestic terrorists in taking on the powerfully partisan school unions who somehow believe they are justified to influence civilization by indoctrinating their children.        

Garland’s poster boy for his hideous partisan support of the NSBA is a Virginia father who was arrested at a school board meeting when he attempted to raise the alarm over his young daughter being raped in the school washroom. The father became the symbol of angry parents confronting school officials when he was taken down by several police officers and apprehended for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. He became vocally upset when school officials denied the attack on his daughter, but he was not physically confrontational.

The father said it is scary that our government will weaponize themselves against parents and they’re using my video across the nation to spread fear; while the school officials did not seem to want to listen to him regarding his daughter being assaulted by a boy wearing a skirt who took advantage of transgender rules to access the girl’s washroom. The boy has now been charged with two counts of forcible sodomy, one count of anal sodomy, and one count of forcible fellatio related to the incident at that school. At a later date, the same boy was charged for a similar attack at neighboring school where he allegedly forced a victim into an empty classroom where he held her against her will and inappropriately touched her.  Regardless of the raped daughter, Garland and the NSBA still have their video of the father being wrestled down to support the use of the FBI against parents and send a chilling effect on harmless dissent.  

The Russian collusion narrative against then President Donald Trump may seem dated, however it can never be swept aside or forgotten in what may well have been the biggest political scandal and injustice to a man in American history. The country endured four years investigating Russian collusion into the legitimacy of Trump’s 2016 presidential win with senate and congressional impeachment hearings over a Clinton-paid-for fake dossier, the biased Obama hatchet men overseeing the FBI and CIA shirking the law, a frenzied media that never let up on Trump’s guilt, and a special counsel comprised of Clinton partisans that turned over every leaf that eventually found the nearly crucified Trump to be innocent of the false charges. The former president had to withstand an incessant blitzkrieg of injustice through his entire presidency while leading the most powerful country in the world.   

On the hand, there is compelling evidence that President Joe Biden spent years while in government enriching himself through family ties, specifically his son Hunter, to the tune of millions of dollars in foreign money from China, Russia, and Ukraine. The foreign players simply used the unqualified son to leverage access to Biden while satisfying Hunter’s greed and questionable lifestyle. Biden has little to no ability to stand up to China or Russia knowing they are holding damaging transactions over his head. There have been no investigations into Biden’s quid-pro-quo against Ukraine or the transfer of tens of millions of dollars to Biden family members, no impeachments, and the news media buried these stories; including damaging information found on Hunter’s laptop during the 2020 presidential election. Had Trump and his sons engaged in these activities, there would have been a very different level of justice.   

What of this injustice that is making its mark on history? If we take a moment to think through the confusion of the moment and see the morale issue involved, then one may refuse to have this sense of justice distorted to grip power rather than for the good of the country. Those who have sown this unjust wind may eventually reap a whirlwind that provokes reform by convulsion of the people instead of a natural order of business. We must all remember that democracy lies with the people of this land and whether the nation will be stirred to stand for justice and freedom in this hour of distress and go on to finish in a way worthy of its beginning.  

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