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Donald Trump, Insurrection and the American “Horde”

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“The mass man has no attention to spare for reasoning; he learns only in his own flesh.”

Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses (1930

Though officially a pathology of the past, the toxic effects of Donald Trump’s grim presidency will resonate for years. To explain this lamentable durability, history deserves pride of place. But how, precisely, should we proceed with such necessary background?

               In logical sequence, clarifying queries are now in order.[1] First off:

               What were the discernible origins of this American declension, a barbarous retrogression capped by attempted insurrection; a fall so steep it was long unimaginable in the United States?

               This is a complex and disconcerting query, one Americans ought not sweep casually under the rug. Donald Trump’s grotesque authoritarianism did not arise mysteriously, spontaneously, out of nowhere, without history, ex nihilo. On the contrary, it was the  evident and even predictable result of a society too-frequently bereft of reason-based decision-making. In essence, the thoroughly beaten-down America that suffered a presidentially-incited insurrection on January 6, 2021 was a nation afflicted.

                Even now, even after suffering Mr. Trump’s most sorely palpable and continuously lethal derelictions, America remains, as a society, widely averse to serious learning or intellectual obligation.  Unsurprisingly, it is a “horde”[2] directed nation, one susceptible to utterly deranged conspiracy theories and vulnerable to assorted violence-oriented antipathies of the “mass.”

Conceptual Background of the Trump Horror

               “The mass,” said 20th century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, “crushes beneath it everything that is different, everything that is excellent, individual, qualified and select.”  Embracing Trump, and in a plausibly fatal deference to Ortega’s “crushing” force, the intellectually un-ambitious American not only agreed to wallow lazily in nonsensical political and cultural phrases of a glaringly naked emperor, he/she also accepted a shallow national ethos of personal intellectual surrender.

                Queries continue. How shall such incomprehensible behaviors be explained most sensibly and gainfully? At one level, at least, the answer is obvious. Under Donald Trump, America was no longer a society sincerely wanting to value knowledge, education or learning. For four dissembling years, led by a retrograde man of commerce who never read books – indeed, who very proudly and conspicuously read nothing  – America became a quintessential “know nothing” country. This meant, inter alia,  a nation that wittingly and shamelessly spurns intellect and truth.[3]

               For variously intersecting reasons, the docile Trump minions had sought desperately to keep themselves “anesthetized.” This sordid search outlasted the Trump presidency. It continues to this day.

               There is more. In their active form of complicity with individual and collective self-destruction, surrendering Americans were not passive victims. Rather, they insistently held themselves captive by harboring a lengthening string of false presidential reassurances and by clinging to endlessly mindless Trump simplifications of multi-sided problems.[4]

               There were generic antecedents. In  her magisterial two-volume work, The Life of the Mind (1971), political philosopher Hannah Arendt already highlighted the “manifest shallowness” of historical evil-doers. In so doing, she hypothesized that the most critically underlying causes of pertinent harms were neither evil motives nor common stupidity. Instead, she concluded, controversially but convincingly, that the root problem is a literal thoughtlessness, a more-or-less verifiable human condition that makes any unsuspecting  individual subject to the presumed “wisdom” of clichés, stock phrases and narrowly contrived codes of political expression.

               Who are these individuals? There are, of course, many who will be “susceptible.” Always. This does notmean only those men or women who lack a decently respectable formal education. Significantly, in Donald Trump’s fragmenting America, just as it was earlier, in the Third Reich,  well-educated and affluent persons joined forces with ritualistic gun worshippers and vulgar street fighters. The unseemly alliance had a purpose. It was created as a tactical measure, to meet certain overlapping objectives.

               In the end, as we may learn from  both history and logic, each faction would suffer grievously alongside the general citizenry.

               Both sides, therefore, were destined to “lose.”[5]

               In the future, a similar sort of loss could be existential and irremediable.

               In the future, it could include a nuclear war.[6]

The Literal Absence of Thought

               For Hannah Arendt, the core problem was always a tangible absence of thinking. In her own learned and lucid assessment, menacing evil is not necessarily calculable according to some specific purpose or ideology. For the philosopher, it is deceptively commonplace and plausibly predictable. Evil, as we may learn from Arendt, is “banal.”

               There is more. Fundamentally, the “mass  man”  or “mass woman” (a Jungian term[7] that closely resembles Hannah Arendt’s evildoer) who cheers wildly in rancorous presidential crowds, and who chants whatever the articulated gibberish of the particular horde, prefers whatever is easiest to memorize. This means favoring a constant flow of empty witticisms over any meaningful insights of logic or science. Living in a commerce-driven society that has been drifting ever further from any still-residual “life of the mind,” this susceptible American became the perfect “recruit” for Trumpian dissemblance or conversion.

               There is more. It was in stubborn defiance of meaningful thought that such persons mounted their twisted attack on the Capitol of the United States. The ironies are unassailable;  they are also worrisome in the longer term.

               This “obedient” citizen, often like his unregenerate representatives in the Congress, has no use for study, evidence or critical thinking of any kind. And why should he/she? Der Fuhrer, the nation was promised, would do each person’s “thinking” for him.[8]

               Could anything have been more “convenient?”

               With Arendt and Jung, the core culprit of anti-Reason is fully unmasked. This “banal” malefactor is the once-still-individual human being who ceases to be an individual, the one who wittingly becomes the reliable enemy of intellect and the correlative ally of thoughtlessness. Following such antecedent triumphs of anti-Reason here in the United States, it becomes more easy to understand the hideous rise and seeming political survival of  former American President Donald J. Trump.

               Most ominously in all of this American decline is that  Reason remains widely out of fashion. No matter how compelling and expansive the evidence of Trump’s myriad derelictions became, millions of dedicated or “base” adherents stayed steadfastly loyal to Der Fűhrer. Faith, not facts, are what matter most to these willfully self-destructive Trump adherents. For them, the familiar Third Reich phrase “I believe” is all that counts. For these dutiful hordes, “I think” remains wholly unknown or distinctly subordinate.

               Back in the eighteenth century, Thomas Jefferson, chief architect of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and a future American president, exclaimed with an unhesitating erudition: “I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” US President Donald Trump, “learning only in his own flesh,” swore an oath of “eternal support” for such an insufferable tyranny. Earlier, he had returned from his June 12, 2018 Singapore summit with Kim Jong Un  declaring that the calculable risks of a bilateral nuclear war had now been removed. This was because he and Kim had fallen “in love.” Later, on a different subject, Trump offered his own personal assessments of assorted drug efficacies against the Corona virus.

               These assessments were de facto instances of crimes against humanity.[9]

               Simultaneously, Trump responded to authoritative science-based prescriptions – the ones to which Americans actually ought to have been listening all along – with glib dismissals, capricious denials or a recognizably open unconcern.

               For the United States, Trump’s stream-of-consciousness excursions into gibberish and incoherence represented far more than just a national embarrassment. At a time of palpable biological “plague,” such presidential declensions became insistently and immediately life-threatening. In law,[10] they came very close to becoming genocide-like crimes.[11]

                In essence, America’s political processes and institutions were pitifully inadequate in dealing with this former president’s most chaotic instincts. Still, till the end, a large portion of this afflicted nation continued to display near-infinite forbearance for Trump’s  inane and potentially tragic commentaries. This forbearance endured even after the Trump-inspired assault on America’s Capitol. The resultant withering of a declining nation’s heart and mind pointed unerringly to existential threats. While various mega-death scenarios of relentless pandemic were the most plainly far reaching and immediately credible hazards, the more “normal” dangers of war[12] and terrorism had not simultaneously disappeared. Today, these dangers persist. They are more urgent than ever before.

               Now, in the United States, a new president is left to pick up the pieces, a task including repairs to a Trump-fractured corpus of foreign and strategic policies.

An Unphilosophic Spirit

               America’s most insidious enemy during the suffocating Trump Era should now be easier to recognize and uncover. This foe is an unphilosophical national spirit that knows nothing and wants to know nothing of truth.[13] Then facing unprecedented and overlapping crises of health, economics and law,[14] sizable elements of “We the People” felt at their best when they could chant anesthetizing Trump-inspired gibberish in mesmerizing chorus.  “We’re number one; we’re number one,“these Americans shouted out reflexively, even as their country’s capacity to project global power withered minute by minute, and even as the already ominous separations of rich and poor had come to mimic (and sometimes exceed) what is discoverable in the most grievously downtrodden nations on earth.

               “USA; USA” – the amplified cry of a people who confused gibberish with true patriotism.

               Most alarmingly, among manifold catastrophic American declensions, the Trump-wounded American nation allowed itself to be led by a visibly ignorant pied piper, by a would-be emperor who was “naked” from the start and who finally managed to bring the United States to fearful levels of suffering. In this connection, the Corona Virus pandemic was not of his own personal making, but this relentless plague became infinitely more injurious under President Donald J. Trump’s unsteady dictatorial hand.

               Nonetheless, even now, the champions of anti-Reason in America still rise to defend their Fuhrer,[15] sometimes on the basis of vague and easily-discredited conspiracy theories. Trump did  not create this growing plague, we are reminded by these champions. He was, rather, just another victim of unavoidable biological circumstance. So why keep “picking on” this innocent and brilliant man (“a very stable genius”)? Instead, let us stand loyally by his enduringly sagacious counsel.

                Sound familiar?

               Recalling philosopher Hannah Arendt, such determinedly twisted loyalties and explanations stem originally from massive citizen thoughtlessness. Though Donald Trump was not responsible for the original biological menace of  “plague,” he still willingly weakened the American nation’s most utterly indispensable medical and scientific defenses.[16] It is worth mentioning too, on this particular count, that meaningful national defense must always entail far more than just large-scale weapons systems and infrastructures.[17]

               Looking ahead, for example, this country has far more to gain from a coherent and science-based antivirus policy than from a patently preposterous “Space Force.”[18]

                Earlier, Thomas Jefferson, Chief architect of the Declaration of Independence, observed the imperative congruence of viable national democracy with wisdom, learning and virtue. Today, however, many still revere a former president whose proud refrain  during the 2016 election process was “I love the poorly educated.” Among other humiliating derelictions, this perverse refrain represented a palpable echo of Third Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels’ 1935 Nuremberg rally comment: “Intellect rots the brain.”

A National Antipathy to Serious Thought

                Americans remain polarized not only by race, ethnicity and class, but also by inclination or disinclination to serious thought. For most of this dreary and unhappy country, any inclination toward a “life of the mind” is still anathema. In irrefutable evidence of this preference, trivial or debasing entertainments remain America’s only expected compensation for enduring a shallow national life of tedious obligation, financial exhaustion, ill-protected health and premature death. This sizable portion of the populace, kept “safely” distant from authentic personal growth by almost every imaginable engineered obstacle, desperately seeks residual compensations. For the most part, these are revealed in abundantly silly slogans, promises of status-bearing affiliations, or other manifestly deranging promises of Trump Era political chicanery. 

               Even at this “post Trump” eleventh hour, Americans must learn to understand that no nation can be “first”[19] that does not first hold each individual “soul”[20] sacred. At one time in our collective history, shortly after American Transcendental philosophers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, a spirit of personal accomplishment actually earned high marks. Then, young people especially, strove to rise interestingly, not as the embarrassingly obedient servants of destructive personal power and raw commerce, but as the proud owners of a unique and personal Self.

                Alas, today this Self  “lives” together with increasingly unbearable material and  biological ties.  Whether individual Americans would prefer to become more secular or more reverent, to grant government more authority over their lives, or less, a willing submission to multitudes remains this nation’s most unifying national “religion.” Regarding the pied piper in the Trump White House, many Americans came to accept even the most patently preposterous presidential claims of enhanced national security.

               This from a president who was himself the conspicuously servile marionette of his Russian counterpart.

               This from an American president who came to resemble The Manchurian Candidate on stilts and steroids.

               Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosopher: “I believe because it is absurd.”[21]

                Upon returning to Washington DC after the June 2018 Singapore Summit, President Trump made the following statement: “Everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.”[22] Prima facie, it was a ridiculous assertion, one so blatantly foolish that it ought to have raised incontestable “red flags” wherever there still remained some residual scintilla of human Reason.

               Immediately.

               But it’s not just America that remains subject to dictates of anti-Reason. Unseemly crowd-like sentiments like those of the Trump-era have a long and diversified planetary history. We are, to be fair, hardly the first people to surrender to crowds. The contemporary crowd-man or woman is, in fact, a primitive and universal being, one who has lazily “slipped back,” in the words of Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, “through the wings, on to the age-old stage of civilization.”

               This grotesque stage is not bare like the stages of a farce by Irish playwright Samuel Beckett. On the contrary, this stage is littered with the corpses of dead civilizations.[23] What else ought to have been expected of societies governed by the “horde,” the “crowd,” the “mass?”

               Indiscriminately, the mass defiles all that is most gracious and promising in any society. Charles Dickens, during his first visit to America, observed portentously back in 1842:  “I do fear that the heaviest blow ever dealt at liberty will be dealt by this country in the failure of its example to the earth.”

                To this point, even after the world-defiling Trump-horror, Americans have successfully maintained their core political freedom from traditional forms of political tyranny and oppression. Nonetheless, we have already come to accept in once unimaginable terms the kind of presidential manipulation and bullying that can shred and pull apart even the most well-established constitutions. As corollary, Americans have cravenly surrendered their indispensable liberty to become authentic persons. By openly deploring a life of meaning and sincerity, a stubbornly anti-intellectual nation confused wealth with success. Blurting out rhythmic chants of allegedly patriotic celebration even as their cheerless democracy vanished into meaninglessness, Americans followed pandemic disease toward a potentially irremediable despair.   

               Whatever its origin, there is an identifiable cause lying behind such feverishly synchronized delirium. In part, at least, Trump- orchestrated babble sought to protect Americans  from a terrifying and unbearable loneliness. In the end, however, it proved a contrived and lethal remedy . In the end, it offered just another Final Solution.[24]

The Indispensable “Single One”[25]

               With all of our declensions, there remain certain individual American citizens of integrity and courage. Still, the fearlessly resolute individual who would actively seek to escape from the steadily-poisoning “crowd,” the One who opts heroically for disciplined individual thought over effortless conformance, must feel quite deeply alone. “The most radical division,” asserted José Ortega y Gasset in 1930, “is that which splits humanity…. those who make great demands on themselves…and those who demand nothing special of themselves…” In 1965, the Jewish philosopher, Abraham Joshua Heschel, offered an almost identical argument. Lamenting, “The emancipated man is yet to emerge,” Heschel then asked each One to inquire:

               “What is expected of me? What is demanded of me?”

               Why were these same questions so casually pushed aside by servile American supporters of a rancorous president who opposed “emancipation” in any conceivable form?

                Always, there are lessons to  be learned. It is time for camouflage and concealment in the pitiful American crowd to yield to what Abraham Joshua Heschel called “being-challenged-in-the-world.” Individuals who would dare to read books for more than some transient entertainment, persons who are willing to risk social and material disapproval in exchange for exiting the imprisoning crowd (for “emancipation”), offer America its only real and lasting hope. To be sure, these rare souls can seldom be found in politics, in universities,[26] in corporate boardrooms or almost anywhere (there are some exceptions still) on radio, television or in the movies. Always, their critical inner strength lies not in pompous oratory, catchy crowd phrases, or observably ostentatious accumulations of personal wealth (“Trump. Trump, Trump“),  but in the considerably more ample powers of genuineness, thought and Reason.

               There is much yet to learn. Even today, hardly a glimmer of intellectual originality animates America’s public discussions of politics and economics. Even now, even after America’s largely self-deceiving citizenry had lost all residual sense of intellectual awe in the world, this national public not only avoids authenticity, it positively loathes it. Indeed, in a nation that has lost all recognizable regard for the Western literary canon, our American crowdsgenerally seek aid, comfort and fraternity in a very strange place.

               It is in a conveniently shared public illiteracy.

               Inter alia, the classical division of American society into Few and Mass represents a useful separation of those who are imitators from those who could still initiate real understanding. “The mass,” said Jose Ortega y Gasset, “crushes beneath it everything that is different, everything that is excellent, individual, qualified and select.”  Very recently, in foolish and prospectively fatal deference to this Mass, the intellectually un-ambitious American not only wallowed reflexively in nonsensical political and cultural phrases of a demonstrably naked emperor, he or she also applauded a shallow national ethos of personal and collective surrender.  

               “America First,” yes, we were. But only in Covid-19 mortality.[27]

               By definition, the Horde, or Mass, or Crowd, can never become Few. Yet, someindividual members can make the very difficult transformation. To begin, those who are already Few must announce and maintain their determined stance, not abstractly, but in tangible reference to dissembling public policies. “One must become accustomed to living on mountains,” says Nietzsche, “to seeing the wretched ephemeral chatter of politics and national egotism beneath one.”

               It was Nietzsche, too, who warned presciently in Zarathustra: “Never seek the Higher Man at the marketplace.”

               Aware that they may still comprise a vital barrier to America’s spiritual, cultural, intellectual and political disintegration, the Few  must always knowingly refuse to chant in chorus. Ultimately, this should remind us all of something very important. It is that individually and collectively, doggedly staying the course of self-actualization and self-renewal – a lonely course of lucid consciousness rather than self-inflicting delusion – is the only honest and purposeful American option  

                 In their endlessly misguided work, Trump Era cheerleaders in all walks of life drew feverishly upon the sovereignty of an unqualified Mass. This Mass depended for its very breath of life on the relentless withering of personal dignity, and on the continuing servitude of  independent citizen consciousness. Oddly, “We the people,” frightfully unaware of this dangerous parasitism, were already being passively converted into fuel for the omnivorously murderous machine of Trumpian “democracy.”

               This was a pathologic system of governance in which the American citizenry were still generally permitted to speak and interact freely, but which was also a determinedly anti-intellectual plutocracy.

Reason and Anti-Reason

               In the early 1950s, Karl Jaspers, well familiar with the seminal earlier writings of Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, sought to explain what a dissembling “Crowd” had  brought to his native Germany and to Germany’s captive nations. Publishing Reason and Anti-Reason in Our Time  in 1952, the distinguished thinker explained the formidable difficulties of sustaining Reason among the many who keenly prefer “the fog of the irrational.” Jaspers’ earlier observations about Nazi Germany may apply equally well to explaining Donald Trump’s America:

Reason is confronted again and again with the fact of a mass of believers who have lost all ability to listen, who can absorb no argument and who hold unshakably fast to the Absurd as an unassailable presupposition.[28]

               Here, in essence, Jaspers underscored the “fraudulent freedom of obedience” in any society that might seemingly will itself to be a democracy, but is actually just an oblique celebration of tyranny, the arch-tyranny of anti-Reason. In earlier times, such hideous celebrations were unexceptional or even de rigeur, but they also “set the stage” for what Americans experienced so painfully during “Trump Time.” To some extent, at least, for America to be fully freed from the false promise of obedience will demand that the whole society be placed in status nascens, that is, as if newly born.

,              When, in 1633, Galileo Galilei kneeled before the Inquisitorial Tribunal of Rome and was forced to renounce the compelling science of Copernicus, he revealed the terrifying vulnerability of  Reason to assorted mortal seductions of anti-Reason. This storied renunciation is not “just” history. For Americans, it is also a warning of where such seductions could bring us in the future (a future already imperiled by both epidemic disease and nuclear war) and what must be done to forestall such endings.

               Like Max Ernst’s “Horde” or Soren Kierkegaard’s “Crowd,” the Mass is “untruth.” Before this can be expected to change  in America, Americans will need more attention to spare for intellect and reasoning. After Trump, there can remain no conceivable excuse for learning by ceaseless imitation or instinct, that is, by relying upon the visceral resources of our “own flesh.”

               For Americans to finally accept the manifold responsibilities of serious thought is anterior to any serious enhancements of citizenship. An American is what he or she wills himself/herself to be.[29] Always, this core goal must be to resemble Kierkegaard’s “Single One.” We ought never will ourselves to once again become captive in the Danish philosopher’s “primeval forest of evasion,” that is, to lose ourselves in the Crowd.

               Next time, for the United States, and even without evident insurrection, any corresponding national costs could prove terminal.

————–


[1] “Man cannot receive an answer,” warns Paul Tillich (The Courage to Be, 1952) “to a question he has not asked.”

[2] Max Ernst’s The Horde is essentially an avant-garde artist’s rendering of Jose Ortega y’Gasset’s “mass man.” There is, however, nothing surreal about Trump-era declensions. Horde was already a term used by Sigmund Freud, likely an adaptation from Friedrich Nietzsche’s “herd.” Conceptually, “horde,” “herd” and “mass” are all similar to Soren Kierkegaard’s “crowd,” which the Danish philosopher famously summarized (Point of View: “That Individual”) as “untruth.”

[3] In this regard, one may consider the 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s succinct warning in Zarathusrtra: “Never seek the higher man at the marketplace.” More than anything else, Donald Trump was quintessentially a “man of the  marketplace.”

[4] One may usefully be reminded here of Bertrand Russell’s trenchant observation in Principles of Social Reconstruction (1916): “Men fear thought more than they fear anything else on earth – more than ruin, more even than death.”

[5] Said Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels in 1934: “”Whoever can conquer the street will one day conquer the state.” Later, in 2019, Donald Trump echoed this dreadful sentiment: “I have the support of the street, of the police, of the military, the support of 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.” In a similar vein, during a 2016 rally in Las Vegas, Trump told a wildly cheering crowd that he’d “like to punch the protestors in the face.” “I love the old days, you know what they used to do to guys like that when they’re in a place like this, they’d be carried out on a stretcher,” Then, identifying a specific target person in the audience, Trump added: I’d like to punch him in the face.”

[6]See: https://www.yahoo.com/news/doomsday-clock-set-100-seconds-152553567.html In the worst case scenario, such a war could coincide with disease pandemic, a fusion with incalculable synergistic effects. By definition, these are effects wherein the catastrophic “whole” would actually be greater than the sum of its “parts.”

[7] See pertinent writings of Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung, especially The Undiscovered Self (1957).

[8] A recent example is flag-waving Trump supporters holding signs blaming distinguished epidemiologist Dr. Anthony Fauci for “tyrannical” closure policies, and simultaneously urging greater medical authority for President Donald J Trump.

[9] De facto, rather than de jure, because of the likely absence of mens rea, or “criminal intent.” Nonetheless, from the standpoint of the many American victims of Trump’s “medical advice,” they remained just as dead as if there had been malicious intent.

[10] Unsurprisingly, the Trump administration never understood that international law is part of the law of the United States. 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.'”).

[11] Professor Beres is the author of several  major books and many law journal articles on genocide-like crimes. See, for example, Louis René Beres, “Genocide and Genocide-Like Crimes,” in  M. Cherif Bassiouni., ed., International Criminal Law: Crimes (New York, Transnational Publishers, 1986), pp. 271-279.

[12] Under international law, the question of whether or not a formal “state of war” exists between states is generally ambiguous. Traditionally, it was held that a declaration of war was necessary before any true state of war could be said to exist. Hugo Grotius divided wars into declared wars, which were legal, and undeclared wars, which were not. (See Hugo Grotius, The Law of War and Peace, Bk. III, Chs. III, IV, and XI.) By the start of the twentieth century, the position that war obtains only after a conclusive declaration of war by one of the parties was codified by Hague Convention III. This treaty stipulated that hostilities must never commence without a “previous and explicit warning” in the form of a declaration of war or an ultimatum. (See Hague Convention III Relative to the Opening of Hostilities, 1907, 3 NRGT, 3 series, 437, article 1.) Currently, declarations of war may be tantamount to admissions of international criminality, because of the express criminalization of aggression by authoritative international law, and it could therefore represent a clear jurisprudential absurdity to tie any true state of war to formal and prior declarations of belligerency. It follows that a state of war may now exist without any formal declarations, but only if there exists an actual armed conflict between two or more states, and/or at least one of these affected states considers itself  “at war.”

[13]  Apropos of truth in Plato’s The Republic: “To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.”

[14] See, by this author, Louis René Beres: https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/04/the-trump-presidency-a-breathtaking-assault-on-law-justice-and-security/

[15] See, by this author, at JURIST: Louis René Beres, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/05/louis-beres-america-rise-and-fall.  On the mutual reinforcements of the “crowd” and crowd leader (Fuehrer), see Kierkegaard’s lucidly summarizing statement: “In the outside world, the crowd is busy making a noise. The one makes a noise because he heads the crowd, the many because they are members of the crowd.” See the philosopher’s: Point of View: “That Individual.”

[16] “This virus is going to disappear,” said Trump unambiguously, on February 27th, 2020.

[17] On this matter, of course, one ought also note this president’s ill-considered withdrawal from treaties with Russia and from the United Nations World Health Organization. Credo quia absurdum.

[18] The United States Space Force was created by US President Donald J. Trump on December 20, 2019, under terms of the National Defense Authorization Act. Although it was allegedly intended to bolster this country’s overall military power in any expanding strategic competition with Russia, Space Force’s actual effects will  likely be contractive, corrosive and destabilizing. The critical underlying US policy error committed in this creation was conceptual and historic. In essence, it consists of failing to recognize that millennia of belligerent geopolitical competitions have resulted not in peace, but in multiple forms of  international war. At a unique time when the United States faces a new and unpredictable set of dangers from worldwide disease pandemic, shifting large sums of money needed for public health to a space-centered arena of future international conflict represents sorely mistaken national priorities. Of course, from what we ought already have learned about Reason and Anti-Reason, before this miscalculation can be changed, America’s leaders may have  to appreciate the fundamentally deficient intellectual antecedents of US foreign policy decision-making.

[19] This former president’s self-serving  refrain of “America First” ignored an overarching empirical truth: America is “first” in Covid-19 deaths, but not in any other tangibly enviable standard of civilizational quality or improvement. Always, we have the biggest bombs and missiles, but little else to show for even the most basic expectations of human empathy and compassion. For this president and his retrograde followers, caring about others remains a sign of “weakness.”To wit, in the former president’s most evident and egregious example, wearing a mask against Covid-19 infection was described as “political correctness.”

[20] Both Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung thought of “soul” (in German, Seele) as the very essence of a human being. Neither Freud nor Jung provides a precise definition of the term, but it was not intended by either one in any ordinary religious sense. For both psychologists, 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 disgusted by any civilization so apparently unmoved by considerations of true “consciousness” (e.g., awareness of intellect and literature), and even thought that the anti-intellectual American commitment to perpetually shallow optimism and to crudely material accomplishment would occasion sweeping psychological misery. Looking around this unhappy country in 2021, it would be difficult to argue that Freud was mistaken on this point.

[21] See Tertullian,  De carni Christe.

[22] The worst expression of such incoherent presidential  reassurance would likely be a nuclear war.  For authoritative early accounts by this author of nuclear war effects, 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).

[23] Dostoyevsky reminds us soberly: “And what is it in us that is mellowed by civilization? All it does, I’d say, is to develop in man a capacity to feel a greater variety of sensations. And nothing, absolutely nothing else. And through this development, man will yet learn how to enjoy bloodshed. Why, it has already happened….Civilization has made man, if not always more bloodthirsty, at least more viciously, more horribly bloodthirsty.” (See Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes From Underground, 108 (Andrew R. Mac Andrew, tr., New American Library, 1961 (1862).

[24] As a Europe-born Holocaust refugee, I fully recognize and  appreciate the special sensitivity of this term. Still, it is important to understand that there was nothing uniquely or inherently monstrous about the German people or German nation in the 1930s, and that present-day Americans could sometime fall into line with even the most utterly barbarous national policies.

[25] See Soren Kierkegaard, Point of View: “That Individual.”

[26] See by this author, Louis René Beres, at The Daily Princetonian: https://www.dailyprincetonian.com/article/2018/06/a-core-challenge-of-higher-education

[27] “America First” ought to have had an especially disturbing resonance for the United States in historic-legal terms. American law was largely founded upon the learned jurisprudence of Sir William Blackstone, which acknowledged, inter alia, the ubiquitous obligation of states to help one another. According to Blackstone, each state is always expected “to aid and enforce the law of nations, as part of the common law, by inflicting an adequate punishment upon offenses against that universal law….” See: 2 William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book 4, “Of Public Wrongs.” Lest anyone ask about the significance of Blackstone for current US national security policies, one need only point out that Commentaries were an original and core foundation of the laws of the United States. This fact remained unknown to former US President Donald Trump and his visibly less than learned counselors.. Trump’s force-based (argumentum ad bacculum) policies of “America First” represented the diametric opposite of what Blackstone would have had urged or could ever have even expected.

[28] See Karl Jaspers’ Reason and Anti-Reason in Our Time (supra).

[29] In modern philosophy, the provenance of this elucidating term lies in Arthur Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Idea (1818). For his own inspiration (and by his own expressed acknowledgment), Schopenhauer drew freely upon Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Later, Nietzsche drew just as freely (and perhaps more importantly) upon Schopenhauer. Goethe. also served as a core intellectual source for Spanish existentialist Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, author of the prophetic work discussed above, The Revolt of the Masses (Le Rebelion de las Masas (1930). See, accordingly, Ortega’s essay, “In Search of Goethe from Within” (1932), written for Die Neue Rundschau of Berlin on the occasion of the centenary of Goethe’s death. It is reprinted in Ortega’s anthology, The Dehumanization of Art (1948) and is available from Princeton University Press (1968).

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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The Private And Public Joe Biden: Belief And Policy

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Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith

Joe Biden supports abortion rights politically, a position conflicting with doctrine in the Catholic church.  Despite the pope issuing a warning to act with care, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is now ready to prepare a teaching document that could potentially bar Biden from receiving Holy Communion at mass.  A central sacrament during mass, Catholics believe that eating the consecrated wafer dipped in wine, representing the body and blood of Jesus Christ, unites them with their savior fortifying them to face evil temptations.

The USCCB vote to prepare the document was an overwhelming 168-55, and a committee of US bishops has been assigned the task.  Responding to questions, President Biden called it a private matter.  The document is expected to be ready in time for debate at the November bi-annual conference of US Catholic Bishops.

If that is one headache for Biden, another is in the offing.  Perhaps as a consequence of US policy towards Iran, the election of a hard-liner in Iran’s presidential election seems almost certain.  Judge Ebrahim Raisi, who is also Iran’s top judge, is on his way to victory on the basis of the votes counted so far.

The 60-year old cleric spent most of his life as a prosecutor until he was appointed Iran’s top judge in 2019.  He is fiercely loyal to his fellow clerics, particularly to Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader who has the final say in all matters.  All the same, the president does the administration and has significant input in both domestic and foreign policy.  Suffice to say, Raisi lost in a landslide to Hassan Rouhani, who sought accommodation with the West, in the previous election four years ago.

Having played hardball with Iran, the US is repeating itself with a Russia anxious for better relations.  Following the G7 meeting in Cornwall a week ago, President Biden flew to Geneva meeting President Putin at the Villa La Grange for a closely-watched summit.

Relations between the two countries have been tense following a series of events including the Russian annexation of Crimea.  The latter was transferred to Ukraine for administrative convenience when a connecting bridge was being constructed so that both ends of it would fall under the same authority.  The people of Crimea have no other connection with Ukrainians other than they were both part of the Soviet Union. 

Climate change, arms control, cyber security and American interest in jailed dissenters in Russia including Alexei Navalny .  Reading the riot act to Mr. Putin does little to further stability in relations.  Peace is not a problem among like-minded countries with a commonality of interests, it is a challenge when the parties are rivals, nuclear armed, and capable of blowing up the world.  Mr. Biden may be proud of his performance but is he able to accept the challenge, for if not where does it leave the rest of us …

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Is Covid-19 Zoonotic, Natural or Lab-engineered?

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President Trump led the US government propaganda that Coronavirus originated in WIV. However, even after twelve months the US government failed to provide factual or scientific evidence. Now, the Biden administration, inspired by the “dark web,” has tasked the US intelligence community to produce evidence in 90 days to establish that COVID-19 had no “natural ancestors.” As half the world’s scientific community is busy speculating, a simple forensic investigation is what is needed to find the answer.

***

“Throw enough dirt, and some will stick”  – Thomas Boghardt, Historian

Recently, there has been growing renewed interest in Coronavirus “lab leak” hypothesis. One can only speculate if more recent revelations of the presence of coronavirus in the US in mid-December 2019 – weeks before the first confirmed case was announced on January 21, 2020, would impact Wuhan lab leak controversy. But thanks to Trump’s “anti-China xenophobia,” for past whole year the leak theory was sidelined in public scientific debate in the US. As Covid-19 was turning into a global pandemic, the lab leak hypothesis got stuck in “hyper-politicized context.” Looking to inject fresh energy in his ongoing anti-China rhetoric with eyes on the November presidential vote, President Trump began “instrumentalizing the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) lab leak theory and even called it “China Virus” and “Kung Flu.” According to media reports, such pernicious intertwining of anti-China rhetoric and the xenophobic framing of the pandemic “caused an apparent chilling effect among the scientific community.”

During the past twelve months, science writers mocked and some even condemned anyone claiming lab leak origins of Coronavirus. Now, same lot among these writers and a few more joining them afresh, have lately been saying that Coronavirus may well have originated in a lab in Wuhan. As The New Yorker’s veteran political editor Amy Davidson Sorkin observed last Sunday, with President Biden entering the battle over the coronavirus lab-leak theory “the debate about the origin of the pandemic has become loud, contentious, and infused with politics.”  A rare Chinese commentary even alleged the Biden administration’s call for a fresh probe into the origins of Covid-19 is inspired by the latest “explosive” new study by two European scholars claiming that “Chinese scientists created the virus in Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) laboratory.”

What has changed for these science writers? If we go by what author and activist David Swanson says, nothing really. Swanson, who is also a popular radio host, thinks the latest change in the stance of the scientific community is largely a question of fashion. (Emphasis added) Indirectly attributing the “new outlook” of the scientists to the fresh call coming from the White House, Swanson wrote in a recent article “One doesn’t wear a wrong outfit too early in the season, or explore the wrong epidemiological idea when the White House is claimed by one Party or the other.” In fact, Swanson refused to be persuaded by the fact that the virus jumping out of the Wuhan lab was cause enough to condemn or “hate” China. Why?

Swanson offers two reasons. First, the bogey that the virus was created by Chinese scientists engaged in “Gain of Function” (GoF) project. Further elaborating on “Gain of Function” projects, Sorensen told DailyMail.com in an interview recently, GoF research involves “tweaking natural viruses to make them more infectious” and had been outlawed by former US President Barack Obama. Although denying the money US invested in WIV had gone into GoF projects, Dr. Antony Fauci told US lawmakers just the other day that the US National Institute of Health funded WIF with $600,000 between 2015 and 2021. So, instead of limiting one’s hatred for China, if China is a military threat, then why fund its bioweapons research? Swanson asked. Indeed, extremely pertinent question!

The other reason Swanson did not consider Coronvirus lab leak theory worthy of condemnation has much to do with the issue of censorship surrounding the whole topic of bioweapons in the US. For example, no one is supposed to know what is common knowledge anyway that the 2001 Anthrax attacks originated with material from a US bio- weapons lab. Or that Lyme disease which affects 400,000 Americans every year spread from a US bioweapons lab. Therefore, for Swanson, plausibility of a lab leak, even if never proven, is a new good reason to shut down all the world’s bioweapons labs. It is beyond comprehension why all those for probing the coronavirous lab leak origin are silent and have not demanded a ban on all the world’s bioweapons labs! (Emphasis added)

But why even after one and a half year since Covid-19 was detected in Wuhan, its source of origin remains a mystery? What about the WHO probe? Perhaps a calculated decision, or maybe not, as soon as President Trump exited the White House, the WHO sent a much awaited investigative team of seventeen experts to Wuhan. After spending four weeks in the “city of silence,” during which the team visited the laboratory, the WHO scientists concluded the lab-leak theory was “extremely unlikely.” But in a bizarre twist, even the so-called “China-centric” WHO chief Tedros surprised everyone and angered China, when speaking in Geneva two months ago he said “although the [WHO scientific] team has concluded that a laboratory leak is the least likely hypothesis, this requires further investigation.”    

On the other hand, China, as expected has repeatedly denied WIV was responsible for the lab leak and insisted that the virus emerged naturally or that it was zoonotic. In fact, by refusing to be either transparent or cooperative in sharing information, Beijing has only furthered global backlash against China’s antagonistic policies. China’s foreign ministry hitting back at the US as Biden ordered to revisit Wuhan lab leak theory is the latest example of its “wolf-warrior” attitude. China’s official media is no different. A month before the Wall Street Journal renewed media onslaught against Beijing in May end, official Chinese news broadcaster CGTN stated: “With Trump gone, the lab leak hypothesis is now acceptable. This plays into both an old Orientalist trope as well as a modern Sinophobic one to manufacture consent for America’s hybrid war against China.”

Though not officially declared a “taboo” subject, the op-ed commentaries have been scarce and few and far between on the WIV lab leak theory in China. A recent signed commentary jointly written by a seasoned India watcher who uses pen name “countryside Brahmin” and South Asian affairs expert Gao Xirui, strongly challenged May 26 executive order by President Biden. The commentary also ridiculed India for “piggy riding” America in the latest lab leak theory hype. The authors attributed Biden’s renewed interest in WIV lab leak to the recent study published in the science journal Quarterly Review of Biophysics Discovery by two European scientists, cited in the early part of this article.

Earlier on in August last year, WIV scientists had again refuted the leak theory. Speaking to the NBC News from the US which became the first foreign news agency to get access to the laboratory, Wang Yanyi, the WIV director had said: “None of the institute’s scientists contracted the virus, which made it extremely unlikely that the pathogen could have escaped from the facility.” NBC News in its report claimed WIV had been targeted because it was equipped to study the world’s “highest-risk infectious agents and toxins, like the latest coronavirus.” More recently, a GT editorial described President Biden ordering fresh probe as indulging in a bigger gamble against China than even Trump.  “No matter what Biden has in mind, the US government is generally up to something big against China,” the edit said.

As the flip-flop on the “leak theory” in the US continues, the narrative is not only inconclusive but still unfolding. Just as this write-up was near closing, the Financial Times reported researchers in the US fear “decades of fortuitous partnership” between the USA and P R China is under threat, all thanks to Wuhan lab row. “Beginning 2004, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signed an agreement with the Chinese National Influenza Centre to help China improve its analysis of seasonal flu strains.  Scientists are now worried this type of collaboration is under threat, imperiled by mutual suspicions which have been exacerbated by the recent row over whether Covid-19 could have come from a lab leak in Wuhan,” the FT reported. Over the next decade, the US trained nearly 2,500 Chinese scientists and helped open dozens of laboratories in the country, the report added.    

Finally, according to Richard Ebright, “little has changed in terms of scientific evidence since the genome sequence of the virus was first released in January of 2020.” Ebright is one of 21 international scientists who detailed what a full, interdisciplinary investigation in Wuhan should look like in an open letter last March. At the same time, security analysts and think tank scholars in the US believe the new administration is forced to chase “lab leak” theory as “Biden doesn’t want to look ‘weak on China’.” Meanwhile, as China’s media is comparing the lab leak theory with the infamous “washing powder” lie about the WMDs in Iraq, professor Ebright has inadvertently replied to the New Yorker’s demand to find real answers. “The coronavirus origin can be answered through a forensic investigation, not a scientific speculation,” Ebright averred.   

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Juneteenth and Getting Over Our Systemic Induced Ignorance and Denial

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Juneteenth Day after generations of struggle for national recognition with local and statewide celebrations for years   here and there,is finally a paid federal holiday as of yesterday. If you are  an African American like me who grew up in the North with second generation or more deep southern born  parents and/ or in majority white communities or in those northern and west coast communities without deep southern African American migrants particularly from Texas, chances are you never heard about Juneteenth day while growing up. And like me you may not have even heard of the day before in much older age ranges unless you happened to be an expert in or well read in African American history, culture, and politics as an African American or Non-African American.And such  African American cultural expertise and literacy is a rarity in a nation which is routinely  ignorant of and has  denied its horrible enslaved African American history systemically ; which means most of we Americans irrespective  of our ancestries have  been victimized by systemic induced ignorance and denial by federal and state governments refusing for generations to tell us a truth which has kept us all degraded and dehumanized by a horrible racialized injustice with we  as a nation has yet to repent of and authentically do systemic penitence about. 

This systemic induced ignorance and denial about African American enslavement has gravely tainted our character as a nation since colonial times and  consistently makes our claims to be a democracy the brunt of cruel jokes globally through the generations.It  has over time constantly played effectively into the hands of our global allies and foes who then justify their own racialized and cultural prejudices and inequalities.

When not denied, the enslavement of African Americans even today has been publicly portrayed by right wing commentators as being not really all that bad or as a gift to Africans to save us through capture and enslavement  from the clutches of what they viewed and still do as the dark continent replete with what their hero formerly in the White House called sh**hole countries.

The seemingly surprising easy Congressional passing of The 2021 Juneteenth National Independence Day Act and its signing by President Biden was not so shocking given the present political climate in a guilt ridden  polarized country with a usual gridlock Congress and a President skilled at plucking off the branch low hanging apples and oranges rather than climbing the full  height of  the  tallest trees to get the even more ripe fruit. The passing and signing of the bill came off the backs of scores if not hundreds and thousands  mostly African Americans advocating for decades indeed generations  for the day to be memorialized as the  enslaved African American  day of independence from slavery already being celebrated around the country and recognized by 47 states though mostly as unpaid holidays. The problem is on the national level fresh from four years of mainstreaming of white nationalism in electoral and judiciary  appointment politics and a hysterical convoluted media about racial issues and in the aftermath of the George Floyd protest we remain  very much a rudderless nation without effective restorative justice leadership to lead us to a more just America including all of us. How can we become more just in more than symbolic ways if we allow ourselves to be subjected to the passing of  civil rights acts like this one which look good and mean good while we remain a nation in which systemic  ignorance and denial of the enslavement of African Americans and their continued enslavement after abolition though under different names and structures such as Jim Crow, chain gangs, cotton tenancy,  community massacres, mass incarceration, human trafficking, defunding public education, perpetual urban and rural poverty, street violent prone  illegal drugs dumping grounds,  loan shark predator communities, ill- health communities,and police brutalized communities with low standards of housing and quality of life services? The tossing of symbolic crumbs of racial justice progress by American governments, businesses, schools, media, faith communities, and nonprofit organizations with no sustainable advances in authentic justice has since the ending of the American Civil War in 1865  been a soroid American public tradition which keeps us twirling in a sewer of societal morass.Consequently , we continue to remain a nation in which we all grow up becoming less than what we all can be collectively and individually because we have buried this horrible crime of humanity which haunts and cripples all of us emotionally, economically, socially,and politically 

 in ways we systemically are induced to deny and ignore.We therefore  don’t have the cognitive and socioemotional tools and skills  to  bring ourselves to admit and authentically reckon with  the horrible blight of African American enslavement through genuine though painful restorative justice practices. Restorative justice practices that is   to regain our humanity through embracing truly the humanity of others we have been taught from the crib to old age are less than human or more than human due to their ancestry dangerously distorted through the myth making of ” race.” 

It is tempting to say as I started to write that well at least The 2021 Juneteenth National Independence Day Act  is a start.But the problem with that almost Freudian slip of a neo- liberal tongue is that we are always saying that about symbols of racial justice in America which usually just stay there ” as a start” which go nowhere except on the resumes of politicians and civil rights leaders while no next steps occur to assure genuine sustaining justice occurs. And when I say justice I mean for everyone since when one population is unfree we are all unfree..when one population becomes freed we all become free.

What this means in regards to The 2021 Juneteenth National Independence Day Act is that the Biden-Harris administration as the next step needs to, through Executive Order, mobilize their cabinet secretaries to do the necessary expedited policy  designs,declarations, and monitorings  to require the agencies and institutions under their jurisdictions with positive incentives to  effective policy implementers such as bonuses and promotions to spread public awareness about the atrocious history of the enslavement of African Americans , their legal abolition and their continued enslavement in these post- emancipation eras.It should be stressed that the enslavement of African Americans , legal emancipation, and the continued impacts of enslavement in its different names and structures is not just an African American experience.African American enslavement was and remains  a tragic societal experience which negatively impacts every American no matter our ancestral origin when it comes to our mental health, interpersonal relationships, our electoral and appointment politics, and the health of our  families,communities, and economies.

So as we move forward with The 2021 Juneteenth National Independence Day Act  let us not just assume it is for Black folks only though we all get the day off with pay irrespective of our ancestries and our care or awareness about the significance of the day.

Let us, we the people, insist to the Biden-Harris administration  as a means of accountability , that we  go beyond mere resume building  political posturing since they took the keys and opened a too long closed door we all need to step in as a nation and do the necessary to wake us all from the slumber of induced ignorance of this filthy little secret  -the enslavement of African Americans as a crime against humanity and its post- legal emancipation continuation  which impacts all of us in need of public exposure and resolution authentically.No  more symbolic resume building crumbs and celebrations which lead us down paths to nowhere except filled bellies and perchance hangovers once a holiday is over only to discover when sober again we are all still dehumanized by our systemic induced ignorance and denial  of a grave centuries long racialized injustice now in need of total exposure and genuine reckoning for now we can and thus we must.

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