After enduring four years of a soiled and dissembling presidency, US voters are entitled to raise a once inconceivable question. Before voting in the 2024 presidential election, they should inquire with appropriate seriousness: “Are these candidates “normal?” Any such query would be many-sided and exceedingly complicated. After all, Americans will have to recall that when he was first introduced as a plausible political candidate back in 2016, Donald J. Trump seemed to many more charmingly “original” than genuinely dangerous or sinister.
At that time, at least for many Americans, Donald J. Trump was even presumed “refreshingly eccentric” or “reassuringly honest.”
But that was before The Horror.
Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosophers. “I believe because it is absurd.”
Looking ahead, however, to be purposeful and decent, the selection of the next US president ought not become a psychiatric task per se. In essence, such selection should not be directed by any deliberate search for “abnormality.” This means, inter alia, looking for all of the traditionally-valued qualities of intellect and integrity, but dispensing with any stark assessment differentiations between “normal” and “abnormal.” This is not because “abnormality” would be insignificant, but because it could “present” in unforeseeable ways or be no more portentous than “normalcy.”
The world is complicated, Among other things, US voters will need to learn that seemingly “normal” individuals could sometimes pose a manifestly grave threat to American democracy. In certain circumstances, a presumptively “normal” candidate – “eccentric,” “refreshing,” and “charming” – could disguise even greater peril than a glaringly “abnormal” one.
In all such bewildering assessments, nuance will be critical. At first glance, designations of “normal” and “abnormal” could appear to be sharply delineating and mutually exclusive. Still, upon more subtle and careful examinations, we could all discover that these qualities are more correctly thought of as different points along a common continuum than as discernible analytic alternatives. The real task is not to make this important discovery too late in the “game.”
There is more. Sigmund Freud wrote imaginatively about the Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1914) while tracing various connections between “abnormal” and “normal.” In consequence, he was surprised to learn just how faint the supposed line of conceptual demarcation could actually be. Exploring parapraxes, or slips of the tongue, a phenomenon that we now popularly call “Freudian slips,” Freud concluded, somewhat counter-intuitively, that specific psychopathologic traits could often be identified in apparently “normal” persons.
Such identifications, moreover, could prove to be entirely routine.
After World War II and the Holocaust, American psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton interviewed Nazi (SS) doctors. Perplexed, as a physician, that monstrous Nazi crimes had been justified as “hygiene,” and medicalized murders designated “therapeutic,” Lifton was determined to answer some very basic questions. Most elementary of his pertinent queries was this one: How could Nazi doctors have managed to conform the large-scale medicalized killing of innocent and defenseless human beings with an otherwise normal/civilized private life?
Some of Lifton’s findings were markedly unexpected. It was not unusual, for example, that Nazi doctors had remained good fathers and husbands while simultaneously murdering Jewish children. Like some of the most heinous concentration camp commandants, these defiling physicians (doctors who were sworn by Hippocrates to “do no harm”) were capable of supervising systematic mass murders six days a week.
On the seventh day, properly, conventionally and sometimes even religiously, they went off to church with their families.
Polite and nicely groomed for the occasion.
In Auschwitz, on Sunday, SS prayers were commonly uttered in liturgical chorus. How could this be? More importantly, for us to inquire, how can Professor Lifton’s scholarly insights and answers from this earlier era of mass criminality help us to better understand the future selection of an American president?
Lifton carried on his examination of the Nazi “biomedical vision” as a Yale Professor and as Fellow of the Max Planck Institute for Research in Psychopathology and Psychotherapy. For the American-Jewish physician, this examination was not just some random undertaking of unstructured curiosity. Rather, adhering to widely-accepted and intellectually impressive protocols, Dr. Lifton embarked upon a carefully rigorous scientific study.
To the physician, the Oath of Hippocrates pledges that “I will keep pure and holy both my life and my art.” When asked about this unwavering duty, most of the interviewed SS doctors had felt no contradiction. In Nazi ideology, “The Jew,” after all, was “a source of infection.” Ridding society of the Jews, it follows, was a properly “anti-infective” medical goal. Moreover, they saw such murderously irrational “excisions” as an “obligation” of “healing” and “compassion.”
Credo quia absurdum, we might recall. “I believe because it is absurd.”
However seemingly inane, Americans must prepare to consider mass murder as a heinous crime sometimes justified by metaphor. Millions of Holocaust murders offer irrefutable evidence of just how easy it is to fully subordinate science and reason to the most preposterous forms of doggerel. With such a willful subordination, otherwise normal human behavior could give way to once unimaginable levels of human predation.
Now, variously underling explanatory themes arise, several which may shed light on the conspicuously dark and untruthful Trump Era. To wit, the duality of good and evil within each individual person is a very old idea in western thought, most notably in German literature, from Johan Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Nietzsche to Hermann Hesse and Thomas Mann. Always, in studying this clarifying literature, we may learn that the critical boundaries of caring and compassion are most genuinely not between “normal” and “abnormal” persons, but instead, within each individual person. Ordinarily, it is time to recognize, the generally porous walls of human normalcy and abnormality allow each single individual to oscillate more or less freely between cruelty and altruism, between violence and calm, between right and wrong, between reason and anti-reason.
American voters take heed. Truth is never just a political contrivance, as has been supposed by Donald J, Trump and his continuously obedient enablers. In short, truth is exculpatory, in psychiatry as well as in politics. At any moment of human history, the veneer of human civilization remains thin, markedly thin. Always, it is grievously fragile, ready to crack.
When, finally, it does begin to fracture, as in the case of the marooned children in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, a ubiquitous human nature imperils even the most well bred British schoolboys. It is a predatory nature exposing darkly primal and variously intersecting layers of pure barbarism.
Thomas Mann reminds, though in generic terms, this destructive nature will “dare to be barbaric, twice barbaric indeed.”
After attending the 1961 Eichmann trial in Jerusalem, political philosopher Hannah Arendt advanced the sobering hypothesis that evil can be stunningly ordinary or “banal;” that it can be generated by the literal and seemingly benign absence of authentic thought. Unsurprisingly, this novel interpretation of evil was widely challenged and disputed following the actual trial, but it was nonetheless rooted in certain classical views of individual human dualism, particularly Goethe’s Faust. Hannah Arendt’s resurgent idea of evil as mundane was further reinforced by still-earlier studies of nefarious human behavior in the crowd, the herd, or the mass, especially the variously overlapping works of Soren Kierkegaard, Max Stirner, Arthur Schopenhauer, Gustave LeBon, Carl G. Jung, Elias Canetti, and Sigmund Freud.
In all of these thematically-related writings, a common focus is placed upon the potentially corrosive impact of group membership and identity on individual human behavior. In this authentically vital genre, Freud’s own best contribution remains his Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921). The seminal psychologist-philosopher already knew that Reason is at perpetual war with Anti-Reason, and that political dictatorships will inevitably favor the latter.
Robert Lifton also likely knew all this. Still, he sought something more, some other isolatable mechanism by which the ordinary or “normal” evildoer could render himself or herself “abnormal.” Ultimately, he discovered this esoteric mechanism in an intra-psychic process labeled as “doubling.”
Different from the traditional psychoanalytic concept of “splitting,” or what Freud preferred to call “dissociation,” doubling, said Lifton, is the means whereby an “opposing self” begins to replace portions of the “original self,” in effect usurping and overwhelming that original self from within. When this happens, we learn further, the opposing self is able to embrace evil-doing without restraint and even while the original self seeks to remain “good.”
Significantly, for optimum understanding of the outgoing Trump presidency, doubling permits pertinent evil doers to avoid personal guilt, and thus to live simultaneously within two discrete and adversarial levels of human consciousness.
As a “maneuver,” however unwitting, doubling allowed the Nazi doctors to become murderers and decent family men at the same time. In similar fashion, doubling is likely the way that shameless Trump-sycophants are able to reconcile the apparent ordinariness of their public lives with derivative expressions of personal cruelty. Timely examples here would be Trump’s “Darwinian” attitude toward the exploding Covid19 pandemic and his sustained indifference to massive mistreatment of Hispanic refugee children along US southern borders.
As with the Nazi doctors and the Jews, it is plausible that “know nothing” Trump-followers regard the harms inflicted upon certain “others” (de facto, “sub-humans”) as not merely pleasing, but as a welcome form of national “healing.”
Sometimes, truth emerges through paradox. Accordingly, there can be an abnormal side to normalcy. For the future, in thinking about how best to continuously protect ourselves from another sordid and toxic president, Americans would be well-advised not to think of their prospective leader in narrowly polar terms – that is, normal/abnormal; good/evil.
In the Third Reich, doubling was not the only reason certain “normal” individuals were able to be complicit in crimes against humanity. Elements of “groupthink,” especially an overwhelming need to belong, have always been a dominant decisional influence on human behavior. Clinically, at least, whatever sorts of explanation might ultimately emerge as most persuasive, we Americans may still have to accept that the most odious and contemptible political leaders have sometimes been clinically “normal.”
Such conclusions ought to be kept in mind as future US voters prepare to better understand the “psychopathology of normalcy.” In support of such necessary preparations, citizens ought to focus more diligently on tangible fact-based explanations than on narrowly simplistic or corrosively conspiratorial ones. And just as important, Americans should prepare to reject future candidates who display any darkly visible affections for prejudice and rancor, the sort of hatreds that have been nurtured so systematically by Donald J. Trump at home and abroad.
There is more. When violence-stoking hatreds are channeled by President Trump into the crudely belligerent nationalism of “America First,” they could result in catastrophic international war. In this regard, Americans won’t be out of the woods (not even tentatively or partially) until January 20th, 2021. At that point, the full consequences of the Trump presidency should reveal themselves not as just a passing “abnormality,” but as the plausible result of a political selection process that can overlook or understate the “banality of evil.”
Should this flawed process ignore interrelated considerations of law, intellect and ethics once again in 2024, the lethal consequences could then prove irremediable. Why does the famous Edvard Munch “scream” (above) resonate so tellingly across the world? It is because so many “normal” human beings are able to grasp intuitively a very sobering awareness: In a world that is so conspicuously mad, not to be mad could represent just another form of madness.
 Do you know what it means to find yourselves face to face with a madman,” inquires Luigi Pirandello in Act II of Henry IV, “with one who shakes the foundations of all you have built up in yourselves, your logic, the logic of all your constructions? Madmen, lucky folk, construct without logic, or rather, with a logic that flies like a feather.”
 Even now, large numbers of Americans, misdirected by a president who opposes Reason and Law at every turn, decry science and medicine in a calculated preference for ignorance. Twentieth-century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gassett clarified the generic bases of such a leader-induced declension in his classic The Revolt of the Masses (1930): “It’s not that the vulgar believes itself to be superexcellent and not vulgar, but rather that the vulgar proclaim and impose the rights of vulgarity or vulgarity itself as a right.” Among other evident absurdities, it is this perverse “right of vulgarity” that still animates the docile Trump legions of cultivated thoughtlessness and deliberate inconscience.
 Too little attention has been directed toward Donald J. Trump’s open loathing of science and intellect, and to his corresponding unwillingness to read. Ironically, the Founding Fathers of the United States were intellectuals. As explained by American historian Richard Hofstadter: “The Founding Fathers were sages, scientists, men of broad cultivation, many of them apt in classical learning, who used their wide reading in history, politics and law to solve the exigent problems of their time.” See Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1964), p. 145. A conclusion ought to surface: How far we Americans have fallen.
See Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963).
 On this key theme, see especially Karl Jaspers, Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time (1952). In a diagnosis that seems to fit perfectly with America’s current struggles with Trump-inflicted horror, Jaspers summarizes a lethal problem of “normalcy.” In essence, notes Jaspers: “The enemy is the unphilosophical spirit which knows nothing and wants to know nothing of truth.”
 Crimes against humanity are formally defined as “murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population before or during a war; or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated….” See Charter of the International Military Tribunal, Aug. 8, 1945, Art. 6(c), 59 Stat. 1544, 1547, 82 U.N.T.S. 279, 288.
 But see Karl Jaspers, Reason and anti-Reason in Our Time (1952): “There is something inside all of us that earns not for reason, but for mystery – not for penetrating clear thought but for the whisperings of the irrational….”
 Recall, in this connection, Bertrand Russell’s timeless warning in Principles of Social Reconstruction (1916): “Men fear thought more than they fear anything else on earth, more than ruin, more even than death.”
 The belligerent nationalismof Donald Trump stands in marked contrast to authoritative legal assumptions concerning solidarity between states. These jurisprudential assumptions concern a presumptively common legal struggle against both aggression and terrorism. Such a “peremptory” expectation, known formally in law as a jus cogens assumption, had already been mentioned in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis (533 CE); Hugo Grotius, 2 De Jure Belli ac Pacis Libri Tres, Ch. 20 (Francis W. Kesey., tr, Clarendon Press, 1925)(1690); and Emmerich de Vattel, 1 Le Droit Des Gens, Ch. 19 (1758).
 For early accounts by this author of nuclear war effects in particular, see: Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: U.S. Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1986). Most recently, by Professor Beres, see: Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (New York, Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd ed. 2018). https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy
 Apropos of US disregard for relevant international law, President Donald J. Trump instructed his Secretary of State and Attorney General to openly denounce the International Criminal Court’s planned investigation of alleged US war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan. This direction represented a fundamental contradiction of America’s peremptory obligation to national and international law. In the words used by the U.S. Supreme Court in The Paquete Habana, “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction, as often as questions of right depending upon it are duly presented for their determination. For this purpose, where there is no treaty, and no controlling executive or legislative act or judicial decision, resort must be had to the customs and usages of civilized nations.” See The Paquete Habana, 175 U.S. 677, 678-79 (1900). See also: The Lola, 175 U.S. 677 (1900); Tel-Oren v. Libyan Arab Republic, 726 F. 2d 774, 781, 788 (D.C. Cir. 1984)(per curiam)(Edwards, J. concurring)(dismissing the action, but making several references to domestic jurisdiction over extraterritorial offenses), cert. denied, 470 U.S. 1003 (1985)(“concept of extraordinary judicial jurisdiction over acts in violation of significant international standards…embodied in the principle of `universal violations of international law.'”).
Democracy Or What? – And Then Climate
Most of us were appalled to see what happened in Washington a ten days ago when a ‘mob’, incited by Donald Trump’s address, stormed the Capitol building to prevent the presentation of Joe Biden as the next President. He gave voice to a possible fraudulent (in his mind) election, by putting suspicion on the postal ballot long before the election took place, and tried to ‘engineer’ the ballot by putting his ‘own’ man in control of it. He tried to manipulate the Supreme Court by replacing vacancies with people he expected to follow his lead and must have been disappointed, if not shocked, to find that the court unanimously rejected his claim that the votes had been rigged and should be thrown out. His unruly term of office saw the greatest turnover of people of any previous presidential term as staff could only hack the unusual behaviour of a disordered mind for so long. And so on and on. Much will be written about the 4-year aberration that was Donald Trump. On a lighter note, his escapades in golf have given rise to a book, ‘Commander in Cheat’!
Concerned people have written and spoken about the state of democracy today. Those of us who have spent some time stateside appreciate the immensity of the country, how one is made welcome, but also the prejudices that one finds and the general unknowing of the world we live in by large swathes of the population. Some are still steeped in attitudes that pre-date the civil war. Donald Trump played to all of those and gave them voice. That is a big challenge facing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to get America back on track and if not ‘great again’ to stand up and join the rest of us and share and appreciate that there are billions of other people that are working away with hopes and dreams and looked to the US as a beacon.
That should be the meaning of ‘great again’, and if they can look up and truly be the land of the free and welcome the weak and downtrodden who are fleeing war and violence, as was once the way, then we can say that once more ‘you have earned the right to be the leader of democracy’, and democracy, for all its imperfections, is still the least bad form of government. It is well that the US re-joins the world as totalitarianism, in all its forms and at all levels, is on the rise again. Countries that espouse democracy and heed its precepts need to speak up loudly and be heard once again.
In November of this year is the World Climate Meeting, COP21, in Glasgow, Scotland at which the latest news on climate will be debated. Hopefully, the coronavirus will be on the decline and the US election will no longer be an issue. We can then get together on the one matter that should concentrate all our minds and separate the wheat from the chaff because there is some said that is wrong that muddies the waters, and leads the politicians to make incorrect decisions. But change is around us.
Climate is a highly complex issue, arguably the most complicated, that not all the modelling can get right, but study must go on. It is strange that it has only come to our notice since the population of the world over the past 60 years, has increased dramatically from approaching 3 billion to 8 billion. Mankind has thus significantly increased breeding himself, and thus his use of natural resources, for example cutting down trees, which need carbon dioxide to live, and vastly increased the pollution of the seas and the seas cover 70% of the planet. It has only been in comparatively recent times that we have started to pay attention to the seas and are alarmed at what we see.
However, we have the tools to put things right. We just need the will and ability to spend money wisely.
A Disintegrating Trump Administration?
If Donald J. Trump wanted a historic presidency, he certainly seems to have achieved it — he is now the only president to have been impeached twice.
According to the rules, the House impeaches followed by a trial in the Senate. There is precedent for the trial to continue even when the office holder has left office. Should that trial result in conviction, it prevents him from seeking any future elected office. Conviction is unlikely, however, as it requires a vote of two-thirds of the members present.
It has been reported that Trump wanted to lead the crowd in the march to the Capitol, but was dissuaded from doing so by the Secret Service who considered it much too dangerous and could not guarantee his safety.
Various sources attest that Trump’s mind is focused on pardons including himself and his family members. Whether it is legal for him to pardon himself appears to be an unresolved question. But then Trump enjoys pushing the boundaries of tolerated behavior while his businesses skirt legal limits.
He appears to have been greatly upset with his longtime faithful vice-president after a conversation early on the day of the riot. As reported by The New York Times, he wanted Mike Pence to overturn the vote instead of simply certifying it as is usual. The certification is of course a formality after the state votes already certified by the governors have been reported. Pence is reputed to have said he did not have the power to do so. Since then Trump has called Vice President Pence a “pussy” and expressed great disappointment in him although there are reports now that fences have been mended.
Trump’s response to the mob attacking the Capitol has also infuriated many, including lawmakers who cowered in the House chamber fearful for their lives. Instead of holding an immediate press conference calling on the attackers to stop, Trump responded through a recorded message eight hours later. He called on his supporters to go home but again repeated his claims of a fraudulent election.
Aside from headlining the US as the laughingstock among democracies across the world, the fall-out includes a greater security risk for politicians. Thus the rehearsal for Biden’s inauguration scheduled for Sunday has been postponed raising questions about the inauguration itself on January 20th.
Worse, the Trump White House appears to be disintegrating as coordination diminishes and people go their own way. Secretary of State Pompeo has unilaterally removed the curbs on meeting Taiwanese officials put in place originally to mollify China. If it angers China further, it only exacerbates Biden’s difficulties in restoring fractured relationships.
Trump is causing havoc as he prepares to leave the White House. He seems unable to face losing an election and departing with grace. At the same time, we have to be grateful to him for one major policy shift. He has tried to pull the country out of its wars and has not started a new one. He has even attempted the complicated undertaking of peace in Afghanistan, given the numerous actors involved. We can only hope Biden learned enough from the Obama-Biden administration’s disastrous surge to be able to follow the same path.
Flames of Globalization in the Temple of Democracy
Authors: Alex Viryasov and Hunter Cawood
On the eve of Orthodox Christmas, an angry mob stormed the “temple of democracy” on Capitol Hill. It’s hard to imagine that such a feat could be deemed possible. The American Parliament resembles an impregnable fortress, girdled by a litany of security checks and metal detectors at every conceivable point of entry. And yet, supporters of Donald Trump somehow found a way.
In the liberal media, there has been an effort to portray them as internal terrorists. President-elect Joe Biden called his fellow citizens who did not vote for him “a raging mob.” The current president, addressing his supporters, calls to avoid violence: “We love you. You are special. I can feel your pain. Go home.”
That said, what will we see when we look into the faces of these protesters? A blend of anger and outrage. But what is behind that indignation? Perhaps it’s pain and frustration. These are the people who elected Trump president in 2016. He promised to save their jobs, to stand up for them in the face of multinational corporations. He appealed to their patriotism, promised to make America great again. Arguably, Donald Trump has challenged the giant we call globalization.
Today, the United States is experiencing a crisis like no other. American society hasn’t been this deeply divided since the Vietnam War. The class struggle has only escalated. America’s heartland with its legions of blue-collar workers is now rebelling against the power of corporate and financial elites. While Wall Street bankers or Silicon Valley programmers fly from New York to London on private jets, an Alabama farmer is filling up his old red pickup truck with his last Abraham Lincoln.
The New York banker has no empathy for the poor residing in the southern states, nothing in common with the coal miners of West Virginia. He invests in the economies of China and India, while his savings sit quietly in Swiss banks. In spirit, he is closer not to his compatriots, but to fellow brokers and bankers from London and Brussels. This profiteer is no longer an American. He is a representative of the global elite.
In the 2020 elections, the globalists took revenge. And yet, more than 70 million Americans still voted for Trump. That represents half of the voting population and more votes than any other Republican has ever received. A staggering majority of them believe that they have been deceived and that Democrats have allegedly rigged this election.
Democrats, meanwhile, are launching another impeachment procedure against the 45th president based on a belief that it has been Donald Trump himself who has provoked this spiral of violence. Indeed, there is merit to this. The protesters proceeded from the White House to storm Congress, after Trump urged them on with his words, “We will never give up, we will never concede.”
As a result, blood was shed in the temple of American democracy. The last time the Capital was captured happened in 1814 when British troops breached it. However, this latest episode, unlike the last, cannot be called a foreign invasion. This time Washington was stormed by protestors waving American flags.
Nonetheless, it is not an exaggeration to say that the poor and downtrodden laborers of America’s Rust Belt currently feel like foreigners in their own country. The United States is not unique in this sense. The poor and downtrodden represent a significant part of the electorate in nearly every country that has been affected by globalization. As a result, a wave of populism is sweeping democratic countries. Politicians around the world are appealing to a sense of national identity. Is it possible to understand the frustrated feelings of people who have failed to integrate into the new global economic order? Absolutely. It’s not too dissimilar from the grief felt by a seamstress who was left without work upon the invention of the sewing machine.
Is it worth trying to resist globalization as did the Luddites of the 19th century, who fought tooth and nail to reverse the inevitability of the industrial revolution? The jury is still out.
The world is becoming more complex and stratified. Economic and political interdependence between countries is growing each and every day. In this sense, globalization is progress and progress is but an irreversible process.
Yet, like the inhumane capitalism of the 19th century so vividly described in Dickens’ novels, globalization carries many hidden threats. We must recognize and address these threats. The emphasis should be on the person, his dignity, needs, and requirements. Global elites in the pursuit of power and superprofits will continue to drive forward the process of globalization. Our task is not to stop or slow them down, but to correct global megatrends so that the flywheel of time does not grind ordinary people to the ground or simply throw nation-states to the sidelines of history.
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