Donald Trump, "The Crowd" And A Nation’s Bitter Despair – Modern Diplomacy

Posted: June 1, 2020 at 6:42 am


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The crowd is untruth.-Soren Kierkegaaard

The crowd, cautioned Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, is untruth. Nowhere is the concise wisdom of this 19th century warning more plainly apparent than in Donald Trumps despairing United States. Even today, even after so much rancorous presidential dissemblance and chicanery, this fragmenting and unhappy nation too often accepts incoherent political dogma as proper authority and conspicuously vile political gibberish as truth.

Even now, even when a derelict president elevates his own contrived and illiterate judgments concerning epidemiology above the authoritative opinion of Americas distinguished scientists and physicians, millions of his supporters still offer a visceral amen. In essence, these obedient citizens stand in stubbornly open support of untruth or anti-Reason. Why?

How can this unchanging self-destructiveness be suitably explained?

It gets even worse. In certain refractory instances, this irrational hierarchy of US citizen preference has led hundreds (perhaps thousands) of Americans to consume potentially lethal medications against Covid-19. What are these obedient people thinking? This is a president, let us not forget, who thinks human bodies can somehow undergo beneficial anti-viral cleanings with commercially-available disinfectants. If it can kill virus on tabletops, reasons Trump openly, why not take the remediating substance internally?

Credo quia absurdum, affirmed the ancient philosophers. I believe because it is absurd. Still, this is a president of the United States in the year 2020. How can such preposterous reasoning be accepted by literally millions of Americans?

There is more. How shall such normally incomprehensible behaviors be explained more gainfully? At one level, at least, the answer is obvious. America is no longer a society that sincerely values knowledge, education or learning. Led by a retrograde man of commerce who never reads books indeed, who proudly reads nothing at all this has become a know nothing country, a nation that wittingly and shamelessly spurns both intellect and truth.[1] For whatever deeply underlying reasons, docile Trump minions seek to keep themselves anesthetized.

In this active form of complicity with self-destruction, these Americans are not passive victims. Rather, they insistently hold themselves captive by a lengthening string of embarrassingly false presidential reassurances and by clinging to endlessly mindless Trump simplifications of complex problems.[2]

In her magisterial two-volume work, The Life of the Mind (1971), political philosopher Hannah Arendt makes much of the manifest shallowness of historical evil-doers, hypothesizing that the critically underlying causes of harm are not specifically evil motives or common stupidity per se. Rather, she concludes controversially but convincingly, the root problem is thoughtlessness, a more-or-less verifiable human condition that makes a susceptible individual readily subject to the presumed wisdom of clichs, stock phrases and narrowly visceral codes of expression.

There are always a great many who will be susceptible. This does not mean only those who lack a decent formal education. Significantly, in Donald Trumps fragmenting America, just as earlier in the Third Reich, well-educated and affluent persons have joined forces with gun worshippers and street fighters to meet certain presumptively overlapping objectives. In the end, we may learn from both history and logic, each faction will suffer grievously alongside the general citizenry.

Both sides will lose.[3]

For philosopher Hannah Arendt, the core problem is this: a literal absence of thinking. In her learned and lucid assessment, evil is not calculable according to any specific purpose or ideology. Rather, it is deceptively commonplace and altogether predictable. Evil, we may learn from the philosopher, is banal.

There is more. Fundamentally, the mass man or mass woman (a Jungian term[4] that closely resembles Arendts evildoer) who cheers wildly in rancorous presidential crowds, and whatever the articulated gibberish of the moment, favors a constant flow of empty witticisms over any meaningful insights of reasoning 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 is a perfect recruit for Trumpian conversion.

This obedient citizen, after all, has absolutely no use for study, evidence or critical thinking of any kind. Why should he? Der Fuhrer will do his thinking for him.[5]

Could anything be more convenient?

With Arendt and Jung, the anti-Reason culprit is unmasked. It is the once-individual human being who has wittingly ceased to be an individual, who has effectively become the unapologetic enemy of intellect and a reliable ally of thoughtlessness. Using the succinct but incomparably expressive words of Spanish philosopher Jose Oretga yGassett, he or she thinks only in his own flesh.[6] Following any such antecedent triumphs of anti-Reason in the United States, it becomes more easy to understand the hideous rise and political survival of dissembling American President Donald J. Trump.

Americas most insidious enemy in this suffocating Trump Era should now be easier to recognize. It is an unphilosophical national spirit that knows nothing and wants to know nothing of truth.[7] Now facing unprecedented and overlapping crises of health, economics and law,[8] sizable elements of We the People feel at their best when they can chant anesthetizing gibberish in mesmerizing chorus. Were number one; were number one,these Americans still shout reflexively, even as their countrys capacity to project global power withers minute by minute, and even as the already ominous separations of rich and poor have come to mimic (and sometimes exceed) what is discoverable in the most downtrodden nations on earth.

Most alarmingly, among these manifold catastrophic American declensions, the badly-wounded American nation is still being led by an utterly ignorant pied piper, by a would-be emperor who was stunningly naked from the start and who has now managed to bring the United States to once unimaginable levels of suffering. In this connection, the Corona Virus pandemic was not of his own personal making, of course, but this relentless plague has become infinitely more injurious under Trumps unsteady dictatorial hand.

Nonetheless, the champions of anti-Reason in America will still generally rise to defend their Fuhrer. He did not create this growing plague, we are reminded. He is, therefore, just another victim of a plausibly unavoidable national circumstance. Why keep picking on this innocent and brilliant man? Instead, let us stand loyally by his inconspicuously sagacious counsel.

Sound familiar?

Recalling philosopher Hannah Arendt, such determinedly twisted loyalties stem originally from massive citizen thoughtlessness. Though Donald Trump is not in any way responsible for the actual biological menace of our current plague, he has still willingly weakened the American nations most indispensable medical and scientific defenses.[9] It is well worth mentioning too, on this particular count, that meaningful national defense always entails more than just large-scale weapons systems and infrastructures.[10] Looking ahead, moreover, this country has far more to gain from a coherent and science-based antivirus policy than from a patently preposterous Trumpian Space Force.[11]

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

Americans are 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 anathema. In irrefutable evidence, trivial or debasing entertainments remain the only expected compensation for a shallow national life of tedious obligation, financial exhaustion and premature death. This sizable portion of the populace, now kept distant from authentic personal growth by every imaginable social and economic obstacle, desperately seeks residual compensations, whether in silly slogans, status-bearing affiliations or the manifestly deranging promises of Trump Era politics.

Even at this eleventh hour, Americans must learn understand that no nation can be first[12] that does not hold the individual soul[13] sacred. At one time in our collective history, after American Transcendental philosophers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, a spirit of personal accomplishment did actually earn high marks. Then, young people especially, strove to rise interestingly, not as the embarrassingly obedient servants of destructive power and raw commerce, but as plausibly proud owners of a unique and personal Self.

Alas, today this Self lives together with increasingly unbearable material and biologically uncertain ties. Whether 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 has become the nations most unifying national religion. Regarding the pied piper in the White House, many Americans accept even the most patently preposterous Trump claims of enhanced national security. Credo quia absurdum.

Upon returning to Washington DC after the 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.[14]

Its not just America. Crowd-like sentiments like these 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 uniformly 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. It is littered with the corpses of dead civilizations.[15] Indiscriminately, the crowd defiles all that is most gracious and still-promising in society. Charles Dickens, during his first visit to America, already observed 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, at least, Americans have successfully maintained their political freedom from traditional political tyranny and oppression, but plainly this could now change at almost any moment. Already, we have come to accept in once unimaginable terms the kind of presidential manipulation and bullying that can shred and pull apart well-established constitutions. As corollary, Americans have also cravenly surrendered their liberty to become authentic persons. Openly deploring a life of meaning and sincerity, a nation stubbornly confuses wealth with success, blurting out rhythmic chants of patriotic celebration even as their cheerless democracy vanishes into meaninglessness, pandemic disease and a plausibly irremediable despair.

Whatever its origin, there is an identifiable reason lying behind this synchronized delirium. In part, at least, such orchestrated babble seeks to protect Americans from a potentially terrifying and unbearable loneliness. In the end, however, it is a contrived and inevitably lethal remedy . In the end, it offers just another Final Solution.

Still, there remain individual American citizens of integrity and courage. The fearlessly resolute individual who actively seeks an 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 Jos Ortega y Gasset in 1930, is that which splits humanity. those who make great demands on themselvesand 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 are these same questions so casually pushed aside by current American supporters of a rancorous president who opposes emancipation in any conceivable form?

There is more. It is time for camouflage and concealment in our 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 transient entertainment, and who are willing to risk social and material disapproval in exchange for exiting the crowd (emancipation), offer America its only real and lasting hope. To be sure, these rare souls can seldom be found in politics, in universities, 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. Currently, not even the flimsiest ghost of intellectual originality haunts Americas public discussions of politics and economics, even those organized by intelligent and well-meaning Trump opponents. Now that Americas largely self-deceiving citizenry has lost all residual sense of 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 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 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. Today, in foolish and prospectively fatal deference to this Mass, the intellectually un-ambitious American not only wallows lazily in nonsensical political and cultural phrases of a naked emperor, he or she also applauds a manifestly shallow national ethos of personal surrender.

America First, yes, but only in Covid-19 mortality.

By definition, the Mass, or Crowd, can never become Few. Yet, someindividual members of the Mass can make the very difficult transformation. Those who are already part of the Few must announce and maintain their determined stance. 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, in Zarathustra, who warned presciently: Never seek the Higher Man at the marketplace.

Aware that they may still comprise a core barrier to Americas spiritual, cultural, intellectual and political disintegration, the Few, resolute opponents of the Crowd, knowingly refuse to chant in chorus. Ultimately, they should remind us of something very important: It is that both individually and collectively, doggedly staying the course of self-actualization and self-renewal a lonely course of lucid consciousness rather than self-inflicted delusion is the only honest and purposeful option for an imperiled nation.

Today, unhindered in their endlessly misguided work, Trump Era cheerleaders in all walks of life draw feverishly upon the sovereignty of an unqualified Crowd. This Mass depends for its very breath of life on the relentless withering of personal dignity, and also on the continued servitude of all independent citizen consciousness. Oddly, We the people, frightfully unaware of this dangerous parasitism, are being passively converted into the fuel for the omnivorous machine of Trumpian democracy. This is a pathologic system of governance in which the American citizenry is still permitted to speak and interact freely, but which is also an anti-intellectual plutocracy.

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 Germanys captive nations. Publishing Reason and Anti-Reason in Our Time in 1952, the distinguished German philosopher explained the formidable difficulties of sustaining Reason among many who would prefer the fog of the irrational. Now, Jaspers earlier observations about Nazi Germany may apply equally well to Donald Trumps dissembling 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.

Here, in essence, Jaspers here underscores 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, moreover, the singularly arch-tyranny of anti-Reason. In earlier times, such perverse celebrations were unexceptional or even de rigeur, but they also set the stage for what Americans are experiencing so painfully at the present moment. To some extent, at least, for America to be freed from the false freedom of obedience will demand the whole society be placed in status nascens, 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 vulnerability of Reason to the mortal seductions of anti-Reason. In this case, history deserves notable pride of place. When Americans watch the evening news depicting US President Donald Trump railing thoughtlessly against well-established theories of biology and medical science, they should finally begin to appreciate something utterly primal. Such flagrant seductions of anti-Reason are not only sinister, but also lethal.

The crowd is untruth.

[1] In this regard, consider the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsches succinct warning in Zarathusrtra: Never seek the higher man at the marketplace.

[2] One may be usefully reminded of Bertrand Russells 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.

[3] 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 dont 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 hed 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 theyre in a place like this, theyd be carried out on a stretcher, Then, identifying a specific target person in the audience, Trump added: Id like to punch him in the face.

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

[5] A current example is flag-waving Trump supporters who hold signs blaming distinguished epidemiologist Dr. Anthony Fauci for tyrannical closure policies, and simultaneously urging greater medical authority for President Donald J Trump.

[6] The mass-man, we were warned earlier by Ortega in The Revolt of the Masses (1930) has no attention to spare for reasoning; he learns only in his own flesh. Nothing could be more conspicuously clarifying than this graphic metaphor.

[7] Apropos of truth in Platos The Republic: To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.

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

[9] This virus is going to disappear, said Trump, on February 27th, 2020.

[10] On this matter, of course, one ought also note this presidents withdrawal from treaties with Russia and from the United Nations World Health Organization. Credo quia absurdum.

[11] The United States Space Force was created by US President Donald Trump on December 20, 2019, under terms of the National Defense Authorization Act. Although it is intended to bolster this countrys overall military power in any expanding strategic competition with Russia, its most likely effects will be contractive, corrosive and destabilizing. The critical underlying US policy error being committed in this creation is conceptual and historic. In essence, it consists of failing to recognize that millennia of belligerent geopolitical competitions have resulted not in peace, but in assorted 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 mistaken national priorities. Of course, from what we ought already have learned about Reason and Anti-Reason, before this miscalculation can be changed, Americas leaders will have to appreciate the fundamentally intellectual antecedents of US foreign policy decision-making at every level.

[12] This presidents self-serving refrain of America First ignores an absolutely 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 is a sign of weakness. Nothing else. To wit, in the presidents currently most evident example, wearing a mask against Covid-19 infection is described as little more than political correctness.

[13] Both Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung thought of soul (in German, Seele) as the very essence of a human being. Neither Freud nor Jung ever provides a precise definition of the term, but it was not intended by either 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.

[14] 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 Ren Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis Ren Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: Americas Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1983); Louis Ren Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: U.S. Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis Ren Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israels Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1986). Most recently, by Professor Beres, see: Surviving Amid Chaos: Israels Nuclear Strategy (New York, Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd ed. 2018).

[15] Dostoyevsky reminds us soberly: And what is it in us that is mellowed by civilization? All it does, Id 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).

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Donald Trump, "The Crowd" And A Nation's Bitter Despair - Modern Diplomacy

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June 1st, 2020 at 6:42 am