a once unimaginable
THE PRESIDENT AS MONSTER
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). This essay first appeared in www.moderndiplomacy.eu
what rough beast, is hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
William Buter Yatess, The Second Coming
Americans, the incumbent Trump presidency has become existentially
worrisome. To be sure, it remains conspicuously inept and dysfunctional,
but by now it has also become intensely foreboding. Today, rife
with wilfully corrosive behaviours, Donald Trump is very literally
pushing the margins of national survival.
its core, the existential Trump problem must be faced holistically.
It is not purposeful to continue blithely with business as usual,
with the delusion that this president’s analytic and moral
shortcomings are in any way remediable. As corollary, it’s
no longer defensible to suggest that Donald Trump could somehow
be rendered “manageable” if only he would stop tweeting
or substitute science-based threat assessments for his narrowly
gratuitous rancour. Unmistakably, the “Trump Problem”
is much bigger than any superficial crisis of genteel manners
or refined policy protocols.
is exculpatory. Donald Trump is who he is, period. His darkly
pernicious condition is not subject to any feasible mitigation
or improvement. Not at all.
mass-man,” as we were warned earlier by Spanish philosopher
Jose Ortega y’ Gasset in The Revolt of the Masses
(1930) “has no attention to spare for reasoning; he learns
only in his own flesh.”
is how Trump “learns.” When asked on April 10 2020
how he would create metrics for determining when the country
could be safely “opened up again,” he pointed to
his head, and said: “This is my only metric.” Always,
his crudely primal method of understanding represents a seat-of-the-pants
reasoning, worthless calculations produced by raw instinct and
revealed with demeaning frivolity.
meeting in Singapore with Kim Jung Un in 2018, Trump dismissed
all of the usual leadership obligations to study and prepare.
Instead, he emphasized, again and again, offhandedly: “I
don’t think I have to prepare very much. It’s all
There is more. At authentically formal levels, this president
is not really a proper example of Ortega’s “mass
man.” How could he be? He is, after all, the president.
And by definition, the American president is always exceptional.
though president, Donald Trump remains the dissembling puppeteer
of an historically recurrent ‘plague,’ not a biological
pestilence, as we are experiencing at the present moment, but
one similarly catastrophic. Basically, this insidious plague
is an orchestrated Goebbels-style campaign of anti-reason and
deliberate falsehood, a cowardly effort supported and sustained
by legions of utterly shameless administration sycophants. Although
most Americans might resist any too-candid comparisons of Trump
leadership characteristics with examples from the Third Reich,
there are still (regrettably, of course) certain plausible and
incontestable points of commonality.
consequences appear. The overwhelmingly nefarious implications
of this monstrous overlap ought not be swept under the rug.
Instead, they warrant very careful and correspondingly serious
rots the brain,” shrieked Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels
at a Nuremberg rally in 1935. “I love the poorly educated”
intoned Donald Trump during his 2016 campaign for the presidency.
Inter alia, what these assertions have in common is
an utterly inexcusable disdain for science and serious education.
Derivatively, they also point to a mutually deformed and twisted
national ideal, one that favours viscerally mindless public
obedience to allegedly democratic governance.
world politics, both near and far, none of this is entirely
unprecedented. Obviously, we have seen monstrous “puppet
masters” before. But in the United States, we are presently
witnessing an especially virulent rebirth of historically lethal
bewitchments. Moreover, we are observing and suffering in real
ominously, no matter how compelling and expansive the evidence
of Trump’s myriad derelictions should become, millions
of his dedicated adherents will remain steadfastly loyal to
the master. In essence, faith, not facts, are what matter most
to these casually self-destructive Trump adherents. For them,
without any apology or obeisance to Jeffersonian democracy (because
these adherents are generally unacquainted with any verifiable
history), the phrase “I believe” is all that counts.
For them, the phrase “I think” is unknown or distinctly
the self-parodying Trump faithful caught up in endlessly empty
or contrived antimonies, the Cartesian “cogito”
might just as well have never been uttered.
Back in the eighteenth century, Thomas Jefferson, chief architect
of the Declaration of Independence and a future American
president, exclaimed with 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,” has effectively
sworn an oath of “eternal support” for such insufferable
tyranny. Earlier, he had returned from his Singapore summit
with Kim Jung Un, declaring that the calculable risks of a bilateral
nuclear war had been removed because he and Kim “fell
in love.” Today, he offers daily independent assessments
(grievously inexpert, by definition) of assorted drug efficacies
against the Corona virus.
he responds to authoritative science-based prescriptions with
either capricious doubt or an open indifference.
For the United States, these loudly incoherent stream-of-consciousness
excursions into gibberish are more than merely humiliating.
At a time of palpable biological “plague,” such
presidential declensions are starkly and immediately life-threatening.
Jurisprudentially, they come very close to being genocide-like
How pitifully inadequate are America’s political processes
and institutions in dealing with this president’s wilfully
chaotic instincts. Still, almost an entire country now displays
a near infinite forbearance for Trump’s hugely inane and
perilous commentaries. The resultant withering of a declining
nation’s heart and mind point unerringly to once-unimaginable
existential threats. While various mega-death scenarios of relentless
pandemic are currently the most far reaching and credible, the
more “normal” dangers of nuclear war and terrorism
have not magically disappeared. Indeed, in the expected worst
case narratives, war, terror and pandemic could occur more-or-less
simultaneously, and with harshly interactive results that are
not simply intersectional, but also multi-layered and ‘synergistic.’
is more. In any scenario of overwhelmingly destructive synergy,
the whole of any potential catastrophe would necessarily be
greater than the sum of its constituent parts.
this sobering connection, we may usefully recall Swiss playwright
Friedrich Durrenmatt’s seemingly obvious but enduringly
insightful remark: “The worst does sometimes happen.”
best, there is nothing expressly murderous or genocidal in Donald
Trump’s policies, whether foreign and domestic, but, unambiguously,
there is always a far-reaching indifference to basic human welfare
and well-being. Spawned by a very evident absence of ordinary
compassion, this president gives new and portentous meaning
to the core idea that pain is ultimately incommunicable from
any one human being to another. “All men have my blood
and I have all men’s,” wrote American Transcendentalist
Ralph Waldo Emerson in “Self-Reliance,” but this
cosmopolitan sentiment is altogether alien and incomprehensible
to Donald Trump. As with other challenging matters of intellectual
judgment, this president’s near-total lack of empathic
feelings reveals a stunningly frightful level of personal emptiness.
is, they reveal a grotesque American leader of breathtaking
do we go from this unbearable point? Whatever else we might
conclude, Donald Trump displays numerous and incontrovertible
clinical derangements. Nonetheless, rather than continue to
approach them as if they were somehow singularly meaningful
and correspondingly remediable, Americans must finally understand
that (1) there exists no feasible ‘fix’ for any
such complex concatenations of monstrous behaviour, and (2)
the danger posed by this president is substantively overwhelming
and ‘imminent in point of time.’
Though Trump believes that all that he does is undertaken with
absolute purity of heart, similarly felt convictions were easily
detectable among the 1930s managers of Third Reich propagandist
us be candid. In America today, there is too much 'noise.' Among
those many citizens who so strenuously loathe refined intellect
and serious thought, it is primarily a rancorous noise made
on behalf of a destructive political impresario. Moreover, these
bewitched proselytes make their unreasoning noise with enthusiasm
because they see themselves welcomed as privileged members of
a plainly valued “crowd.” Reciprocally and consistently,
their disjointed leader makes a complementary set of dissembling
noises because he has been allowed to direct this unthinking
are urgent lessons to be learned. For all Americans , the most
ruinous evasion of all will be to seek comfort and succour in
this most primordial form of political coming-together; that
is, to seek to escape moral judgment as private citizens. This
search won’t work. “In eternity,” reminds
the 19th century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, “each
shall render account as an individual."
At least there will be this residual sort of “last judgment.”
poet Yeats’ “rough beast” portends a monster,
and monster is the only correct term of judgment for an American
president who encourages manifold egregious crimes against the
United States and other nations. Even without mens rea,
or what the jurists would call ‘criminal intent,’
Trump’s vaguely casual unconcern for science-based judgments
on disease, law and war could result in the death of millions.
In effect, such presidential unconcern exhibits a uniquely hideous
species of ‘vice,’ a species so inherently riveting
that it defies any more ‘measured,’ ‘balanced,’
or ‘objective’ sorts of description.
up our declining circumstances, an overriding general obligation
arises. We must insistently inquire as follows: What precisely
has been happening? For a meaningful answer, we may consult
Alexander Pope’s “Essay on Man:”