TRUMP AND THE TRIUMPH OF ANTI-REASON
LOUIS RENÉ BERES
René Beres is Emeritus Professor of Political Science
and International Law (Purdue University). He is author of many
books and articles dealing with international politics. His
columns have appeared in the New York Times, Washington
Post, The Jerusalem Post and OUPblog
(Oxford University Press).
the beginning of his presidency, Donald Trump has remained determinedly
anti-intellectual. Taken by itself, such a misconceived stance
is hardly unprecedented in American politics. What is worrisome
is that despite steadily mounting evidence of far-reaching presidential
incapacity, millions of fellow citizens remain unwilling to
challenge such a wilful posture of anti-reason.
core idea of American foreign policy has literally no connection
to informed diplomacy or to legal obligation. Refusing, once
again, to be tempered by sagacity, his obsequious preference
for the approval of Russian President Vladimir Putin over the
data-based conclusions of his own intelligence community reveal
a particularly serious form of presidential dereliction.
the main point, this starkly egregious preference for popularity
has recently exposed an all-too-willing degradation of America's
have matters been helped any by the president's conspicuous
inability to hold his own among other national leaders, or even
to substitute some palpably coherent species of thought for
his always ready-to-tweet amalgam of suffocating banalities.
At the conclusion of their G-20 meeting, Trump and Putin agreed
to work together on enhancing U.S. and Russian cybersecurity.
On its face, of course, any proposed American agreement for
cooperation on cyberdefense with precisely the same adversary
responsible for recent cyberattacks on the United States is
more than bitterly ironic.
is either preposterous, or very darkly suspicious. Credo
quia absurdum. "I believe because it is absurd."
Trump, let us be candid: Intellectual impoverishment has now
been elevated to high art. Without any subtlety, it is being
worn boastfully by this accidental president – its utterly
unapologetic champion – as an enviable badge of honour.
Trump, observations on personal meetings or planned policies
have generally been restricted to such vacant verbal spasms
as "amazing," "fantastic," "incredible"
and "beautiful." Apropos of these severely limiting
forms of description, the legendary wall, we were told (remember
"the wall," the physical barrier that would make America
great again, and that Mexico was plainly anxious to fund?) will
have "a beautiful door."
anyone even know what this means? Shouldn't someone –
anyone – have already asked this elementary question?
is much more. Assorted matters of international law, many of
them overlapping or intersecting, must also be noted. Faced
with a president whose very highest notion of correct reasoning
is the argumentum ad baculum – that is, an overtly
aggressive and presumptively illegitimate reliance upon personal
defamation, shallow threats and persistent intimidation –
the American people should already understand the consequences
of such a cultivated disregard for international law. These
results will prove irremediably harmful for the United States.
law, Trump has yet to understand or observe, is an integral
part of the law of the United States. In essence, this vital
incorporation is codified at Article 6 of the Constitution (the
"Supremacy Clause"), and also at several corresponding
U.S. Supreme Court decisions (principally, the Paquete Habana,
the fashioning of national policies, evidence of intellect should
never be cause for embarrassment. Always, at least in still-civilized
nations, learning deserves its proper place. Significantly,
the very tangible nexus between national and international law
can be extrapolated from certain basic writings of the Founding
Fathers, who were, for the most part, capable thinkers themselves,
and who plainly read difficult and enduring writings of jurists
and political philosophers.
anyone seriously believe that Trump ever reads anything of importance,
let alone write? Can anyone attest that he ever reads anything
at all? Could he conceivably compose, in an entire lifetime,
what Thomas Jefferson (without any benefit of electricity, air
conditioning or computers) was able to produce on a single hot
weekend in July? Has anyone ever perused a single paragraph
of legible compositional thought by Donald Trump?
every American already knows the answer to these questions,
even his most refractory supporters, but only a tiny fraction
are apt to find this response perplexing or disturbing. The
reason is simple, but also structural. Significantly, the Trump
presidency's obvious disdain for intellect did not arise in
any sort of historical or demographic vacuum. It was made possible,
instead, by an underlying and longstanding cultural loathing
of serious education.
is more. The anti-reason problem in America is not just about
a stubbornly obsessive national preoccupation with consumption
and conformance. Karl Jaspers, the important 20th-century German
philosopher who had tried to understand and explain an unintelligible
buffoon's curious rise to power in 1933, observed correctly
in his 1952 Reason and Anti-Reason in Our Time: "There
is something inside all of us that yearns not for reason, but
for mystery – not for penetrating clear thought, but for
the whisperings of the irrational." In part, at least,
this indecipherable "something" now permits a manifestly
incapable and compromised American president to create incalculable
Americans are not likely to recognize, change or remove this
"something" in time to suitably protect the country
from this president's myriad derelictions. But we ought still
try to understand that Trump himself is not the real "pathology."
This markedly incoherent presidency is merely the most visible
and familiar symptom of a far more widespread and deeply systemic
true underlying disease here is a corrosive social and educational
structure that openly frowns upon and suppresses any residual
hint of American independent thought. Within this potentially
lethal structure, the individual citizen now counts for nothing,
absolutely nothing, literally nothing at all. When viewed against
the once hopeful background of America's founding philosophies
– especially natural rights and natural law – the
irony of this crude suppression rapidly becomes overwhelming.
crowd," observed the Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard,
"is untruth." Accordingly, Trump's undaunted minions
always insist upon chanting in chorus. For those who have had
even a minimal acquaintance with modern history, the hideously
dark tenor of any such ritualistic chanting is sorely familiar.
Above all, it expresses the readily calculable hallmark of a
frightened and lonely people, an anxious population that absolutely
craves membership in the "crowd."
this irrepressible craving points directly toward a diminished
national future without redemption. Hungrily, it speeds up the
final drowning of American individualism in a squalidly acrid
sea of so-called groupthink.
must now inquire plaintively, audibly, and no longer sotto
voce: "Is this still an excusable American presidency,
or just a badly choreographed dress rehearsal for 'Lord of the
Flies'?" Before answering, it is surely worth remembering
that mortality is our indisputably common lot, and that drowning
is always a difficult way to die.
remaining supporters (who still number in the several millions)
yearn not only for the warmth of "belonging," but
also for reassuringly simplistic explanations. The reasons behind
this abundantly strong preference for simplification are unambiguous.
Complexity, after all, is difficult and daunting; always, it
demands correspondingly painstaking thought.
bother to think, when it is much easier to numb our brains with
a steady barrage of readily available and grotesquely satisfying
cheap entertainments, distractions that may typically include
mountains of drugs, or vast oceans of alcohol.
Founding Fathers did not generally believe in democracy. Most
had agreed with Alexander Hamilton's trenchant observation that
"the people are a great beast." Jefferson, arguably
the most democratic of the Founders, had cheerlessly regarded
"the people" as "refuse" from which a small
number of gifted individuals might be culled once each year.
has been the principal irony of the 2016 presidential election
that "the people" chose that candidate who said proudly,
"I love the poorly educated," and who very inelegantly
now seeks to preside over an obligingly docile American "crowd."
Trump did not actually win the popular vote, of course, but
the Electoral College system – however much it's expected
workings might have been subverted from abroad – was a
creative democratic invention of the Founders. To be sure, the
last thing "we the people" needed last year was to
elect a president whose promised policies would intentionally
confirm the Founding Fathers' expressly worst fears about an
the matter of President Donald Trump, the pertinent ironies
continue to build inauspiciously, incrementally, one upon the
other. Alas, such ironies are now a fixed impediment to American
national progress (let alone to American "greatness");
fittingly, it is our reciprocal obligation to stand firmly for
science and truth, and against political wizardry or more doctrinal
anti-reason. The best current example of this responsibility
concerns the Trump administration's de facto and de jure war
on essential environmental protections, and on all corollary
rules of civilizational improvement. Another is its unseemly
disregard for human rights, in the United States and everywhere
quia absurdum. "I believe because it is absurd."
The alternative to acknowledging this unequivocal obligation
– especially at a perilous moment when the American president
may have to make certain momentous eleventh-hour decisions concerning
nuclear weapons and nuclear war – is infinitely intolerable.
is simply too abhorrent to be taken seriously.