The Infinite Insignificance of Donald J. Trump


“Life can only be understood backwards: but it must be lived forwards.”-Soren Kierkegaard

For good reason, millions of Americans remain wary of any Trump return to presidential politics. Nonetheless, though his time in office was starkly retrograde and continuously defiling – a “triumph” of gratuitous rancor – his name will inevitably mean nothing. In the always underlying scheme of things, Trump’s dark memory will come to resemble a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea.

It will be erased.

Already, grievous costs have been borne. To fully understand the force-multiplying harms[1] this president brought to the United States, informed retrospective examinations are now required. Somehow or other, America and the world will “outlive” the Trump horror and continue toward a more-or-less secure planetary life.[2]  The myriad tangible harms of Trump’s tenure will remain palpable for a long while, but the ultimate fate of Trump’s memory will resemble that of the original Fuehrer.

Today, while a small number of conspiracy-centered devotees eagerly await the leader’s “inevitable return,” others are able to acknowledge that chronology must be experienced “forwards.” Time doesn’t really have a reverse option. The past is irremediable. Period.

Only in stale and empty places can anyone uncover celebratory Trump memories of war, horror or genocide.

               “Civilization,” says Lewis Mumford, “is the never ending process of creating one world and one humanity.”[3] Donald J. Trump was an impediment to this critical prospect, just another stumbling block that history throws along the tortuous journey of humankind.[4] While such obstructions will create serious setbacks for our entire species – “Germany Over All” and “America First” are evident examples – these hindrances are always transient.

 Even now, from ashes of the Third Reich, great pain rises in smoke. Though an ineradicable and immeasurable pain, the terrible fires themselves will not be re-kindled. The responsible criminals will never be pardoned.

Like the face drawn in sand at the edge of a sea, they have been erased.

               Some truths are manifest. Everything is interconnected; unassailably, the whole world is “one body.” It represents, in one elucidating metaphor, an infinite circle, a geometry with no determinable “inside” or “outside.”

               To be sure, it represents a metaphor that was never understood by Donald J. Trump.

               Not even at its most transparent level.

One point is certain. Absolutely everything on earth is transient or impermanent. In essence, individuals can never “have” anything. We suffer largely because our imperiled species can never understand this utterly primary premise of human life’s defining boundaries.

There do exist linguistic hints, variously esoteric or obscure, but nonetheless discoverable. In Hebrew, one does not say “I have,” but rather “there is to me.” What is expressed by such seemingly awkward usage is the impermanence of everything that is apparently tangible. Everything.

 Wealth, fame and beauty – including the purported feats of history’s “great men” – are just rapidly disintegrating manifestations of a mirage. When celebrity politicians or their adherents seek to attach some authentic substance or immortality[5] to the celebrity’s personal fame, their efforts are anything but a tour de force. They are vain, ridiculous and delusionary. [6]

In the case of American “celebrity” Donald J.  Trump, these attempts are quite literally absurd.

               For the indefinite future (a problematic time concept in itself), rancor will likely remainthe dominant force of American politics. Though seemingly founded upon conspicuous partisan divides and ceaselessly inane culture wars, this bitter force is grounded in something more basic and universal. This truer foundation is the presumptively limitless unwillingness of citizens to see themselves as intersecting parts of One Body.[7] In any event, it represents an unwillingness that has markedly grave human consequences, both political and philosophical.

There is more. Some would argue that this unwillingness is simply ineradicable (e.g. Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung), but there are certain identifiable circumstances wherein the traditionally latent bonds of human empathy might be strengthened by science. More specifically, these bonds could be vitalized by deeper awareness that space and time are not discrete domains. They are interpenetrating.

Here, among other things, the overriding “message” must be the basic “oneness” of planet earth and the entire universe. National leaders like Donald J. Trump who ignore or combat this unchallengeable message only hasten their own insignificance. Everything is related to everything else, not just spatially, but also temporally. All things are constantly in flux. Nothing is forever or immortal, least of all a breathtakingly vapid former American president.[8]

In the final analysis, however, this is a “good” thing.

               There is more. Echoing a core theme of Swiss psychologist-philosopher C.G. Jung, every civilization represents the sum total of individual souls seeking redemption.[9] To plausibly calculate this “total” is beyond any scientific possibility; but, one related conclusion is inescapable: The insignificance of any single political figure in this incalculable calculus is necessarily infinite.

Ultimately, within the interminable maelstrom of planetary political life, each Fuhrer or would-be Fuhrer ultimately “makes of himself”a quantité négligeable.

 The active-voice is needed here because the so-called “great leader” doesn’t “become” unimportant. Rather, he is intimately complicit in what amounts to a purifying transformation.

               Further, there are certain jurisprudential considerations. Though rarely understood or recalled, the core foundations of US law are not of uncertain provenance. They lie anchored in Natural Law. This higher law is based upon the acceptance of certain principles of right and justice that prevail because of their own intrinsic merit.  Eternal and immutable, they are external to acts of human will and interpenetrate all human reason.  This idea and variously attendant traditions of human comity run continuously from Mosaic Law and the ancient Greeks and Romans to the present day.[10]  It seeks to ensure that peremptory “high principles” of a still-aspiring civilization (national and global) can take precedence over recurrently murderous edicts of criminals, madmen[11] and fools.[12]

               A contemporary example would be the presidential edicts and interpretations of Donald J. Trump. Prima facie, claiming that he had mysteriously reduced the risks of a nuclear war with North Korea because he and Kim Jong Un “fell in love” was unpersuasive. Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosopher Tertullian. “I believe because it is absurd.”

               During his absurd presidency, Donald J. Trump sought to undermine almost every rudimentary tenet of decent and law-abiding conduct. Assiduously, he misled his fellow citizens about Covid, and lauded bigotry in virtually every form. Ignoring the Higher Law background of his country (a background of which he remained determinedly ignorant), Trump openly urged consideration of nuclear weapons use against hurricanes and congratulated 18th century revolutionary armies for taking control of America’s “national airports.” Most egregiously, at the very end of his corrosive tenure, this president urged armed insurrection against his own government, the government of the United States. It was a dereliction so monstrous as to appear (and still appear) unimaginable. In short order, the barbarous January 6, 2021 assault on the US Capitol became Trump’s “Reichstag moment,” an apt description given by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, General Mark Milley.

               Donald J. Trump’s dictatorial dreams will end in the same unheroic fashion as nefarious dream-fantasies of the original Fuhrer. Although Trump’s unreasoning followers remain gripped by contrived illusions of his supposed “greatness,” these confused longings will remain caricature. Accordingly, it’s time for candor. Base appetites for a Fuhrer who can somehow lead citizens toward national and personal “redemption” can elicit only unappeasable desires and irreversible anguish.

For Donald J. Trump, sacrificial loss of American lives represented a small price to pay for his sought after “immortality.” This grotesque sort of thinking was linked to various policy postures of unrelenting nonsense; it represented a vain and hopeless transaction. Always, Trump’s narrowly self-focused calculations expressed visceral or seat-of-the-pants reasoning. They could never yield any sensible or defensible national policies.

In the 19th century, German-Swiss philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche counseled in Zarathustra: “One ought never seek the higher man at the marketplace.” Yet, Donald Trump represented the “mass man” incarnate. “The mass-man,” we had been warned by Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gusset in The Revolt of the Masses “has no attention to spare for reasoning; he learns only in his own flesh.” When he was asked on April 10, 2020 how he would create appropriate metrics for determining when the country could safely be “opened up again,” Trump pointed to his head and declared: “This is my only metric.”

 Once again, this former president’s overwhelmingly worthless calculations were produced not by refined intellect or analysis, but raw instinct

               For Der Fűhrer in the White House, truth was anathema; never was it considered welcome or exculpatory. For Donald Trump, all that mattered was the “truth” of Joseph Goebbels, a “truth” that valued presumed propagandistic benefit over the flesh-and-blood lives of fellow citizens. Further, in this connection, one dare not invoke the presumptively contemptible lives of “aliens,” migrants, refugees or other non-Americans.”). By unhidden Trump definition, such lives were extraneous, an annoyance. Even after the August 2021 fall of Afghanistan, a collapse that had been expressly codified by the Trump administration, deflected responsibility remained de rigeur for this previous president.

The Irish poet Yeats’ spoke obliquely of a  “rough beast”  in The Second Coming, and Der Fűhrer is a reasonable term of description for an American president who spawned or tolerated egregious crimes – against the United States and against other nations.[13] Even without mens rea, or what the jurists would call “criminal intent,”[14] Donald Trump’s vaguely casual unconcern for science-based judgments on disease, law[15] and war[16] could ultimately result in the death of millions.

Still, because of “the nature of things,”[17] he will end up forgotten and unredeemed. Donald J. Trump will become exactlywhat he deserves to become in a world that is “lived forwards.” Indeed, this former American president will be more than simply forgotten. He will become infinitely insignificant.

[1] This term is usually reserved for capable scholars of military strategy and medical pathology.

[2] This continuance will require certain antecedent modifications of Realpolitik or power politics. In his posthumously published Lecture on Politics (1896), German historian Heinrich von Treitschke observed: “Individual man sees in his own country the realization of his earthly immortality.” Earlier, German philosopher Georg Friedrich Hegel opined, in his Philosophy of Right (1820), that the state represents “the march of God in the world.” The “deification” of Realpolitik, a transformation from mere principle of action to a sacred end in itself, drew its originating strength from the doctrine of sovereignty advanced in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Initially conceived as a principle of internal order, this doctrine underwent a specific metamorphosis, whence it became the formal or justifying rationale for international anarchy –  that is, for the still present global “state of nature.” First established by Jean Bodin as a juristic concept in De Republica (1576), sovereignty came to be regarded as a power absolute and above the law. Understood in terms of modern international relations, this doctrine encouraged the notion that states lie above and beyond any form of legal regulation in their interactions with each other.

[3] We may also think here of a corresponding Talmudic observation: “The earth from which the first man was made was gathered in all the four corners of the world.”

[4] Dostoyevsky inquires: “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. MacAndrew, trans., New American Library, 1961(1862).

[5]In world politics, says philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, any deeply-felt promise of immortality is of “transcendent importance.”  See: Religion in the Making, 1927.

[6]Reminds Sigmund Freud: “Fools, visionaries, sufferers from delusions, neurotics and lunatics have played great roles at all times in the history of mankind, and not merely when the accident of birth had bequeathed them sovereignty. Usually, they have wreaked havoc.”

[7] Concerning such commonality, we may learn from Epictetus, the ancient Greek Stoic philosopher, “You are a citizen of the universe.” A still-broader idea of human “oneness” followed the death of Alexander in 322 BCE; with it came a coinciding doctrine of “universality” or interconnectedness. By the Middle Ages, this political and social doctrine had fused with the notion of a respublica Christiana, a worldwide Christian commonwealth, and Thomas, John of Salisbury and Dante were looking upon Europe as a single and unified Christian community. Below the level of God and his heavenly host, all the realm of humanity was to be considered as one. This is because all the world had been created for the same single and incontestable purpose; that is, to provide secular background for the necessary drama of human salvation. Here, only in its relationship to the universe itself, was the world considered as a part rather than a whole. Says Dante in De Monarchia: “The whole human race is a whole with reference to certain parts, and, with reference to another whole, it is a part. For it is a whole with reference to particular kingdoms and nations, as we have shown; and it is a part with reference to the whole universe, which is evident without argument.” Today, the idea of human oneness can and should be fully justified or explained in more purely historical/philosophic terms of human understanding.

[8] Even today, too little attention is directed toward Donald J. Trump’s open loathing of science and intellect and his altogether obvious unwillingness to read anything. Ironically, the Founding Fathers of the United States were intellectuals. As explained by the distinguished 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.

[9] Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung thought of “soul” (in German, Seele) as the essence of a human being. Neither Freud nor Jung ever provides a precise definition of the term, but it was not intended by either in an ordinary religious sense. For both, it was a still-recognizable and critical seat of mind and passions in this life. Interesting, too, in the present context, is that Freud explained his already-predicted decline of America by express references to “soul.” He was disgusted by a civilization so tangibly unmoved by considerations of true “consciousness” (e.g., awareness of intellect and literature); Freud even thought that the crude American commitment to a perpetually shallow optimism and material accomplishment would inevitably occasion sweeping psychological misery. Judging, among other things, by the extent of America’s opiate crisis, this prediction was right on-the-mark.

[10] See Louis René Beres, “Justice and Realpolitik: International Law and the Prevention of Genocide,” The American Journal of Jurisprudence, Vol. 33, 1988, pp. 123-159. 

[11] 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.”

[12] Is it an end that draws near,” inquired Karl Jaspers, “or a beginning?” The answer will depend, in large part, on what another major post-war German philosopher had to say about the Jungian or Freudian “mass.” In his own classic study, Being and Time (1953), Martin Heidegger laments what he calls, in German, das Mann, or “The They.”  Drawing fruitfully upon earlier core insights of Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Jung and Freud, Heidegger’s “The They” represent the ever-present herd, crowd, horde or mass, an “untruth” (the term favored by Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard) that can all-too-quickly suffocate both personal growth and legal protections.

[13] Regarding US legal obligations toward other nations, see for example, by Louis René Beres:; and

[14] Professor Louis René Beres is the author of pertinent law journal articles at Harvard National Security Journal; Yale Global Online, Oxford University Yearbook of International Law (Oxford University Press); World Politics (Princeton) and Jurist.

[15] Generally, pertinent obligations of international law are also binding obligations of US law. In the precise words of Mr. Justice Gray, delivering judgment of the US Supreme Court in Paquete Habana (1900): “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained and administered by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction….” (175 U.S. 677(1900)) See also: Opinion in Tel-Oren vs. Libyan Arab Republic (726 F. 2d 774 (1984)).Moreover, the specific incorporation of treaty law into US municipal law is expressly codified at Art. 6 of the US Constitution, the so-called “Supremacy Clause.”

[16]Under international law, which is generally part of US law, the question of whether or not a “state of war” exists between states can be ambiguous. Traditionally, it was held that a formal 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, Ch. III, IV, and XI.) By the start of the twentieth century, the position that war can obtain only after a conclusive declaration of war by one of the parties was codified by Hague Convention III. This treaty stipulated, inter alia, 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, formal declarations of war could be tantamount to admissions of international criminality because of the express criminalization of aggression by authoritative international law. It could, therefore, represent a clear jurisprudential absurdity to tie any true state of war to prior declarations of belligerency. It follows, further, that a state of war may exist without any formal declarations, but only if there should exist an actual armed conflict between two or more states, and/or at least one of these affected states considers itself “at war.”

[17] This is the title of the classic ancient poem by Roman Epicurean philosopher Lucretius. Interestingly and appropriately, Thomas Jefferson owned at least five Latin editions of On the Nature of Things and based his Declaration argument for “the pursuit of Happiness” on Lucretius. “I am,” Jefferson once wrote to a correspondent who had inquired about his philosophy of life, “an Epicurean.” Can one even imagine Donald Trump’s response to such a core question?

Prof. Louis René Beres
Prof. Louis René Beres
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) 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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