quia absurdum, said the ancient philosopher. “I believe
because it is absurd.” Are there any rational explanations
for enduring four dissembling years of lethal Trump horror?
Though pertinent explanations are ipso facto rational, what
about the object of these required answers – that is,
a far-reaching national surrender to wholly irrational governance?
time for candor. Even on a planet so wittingly disordered,
so seemingly resigned to self-destruction, the Trump years
have been uniquely corrosive and dangerously incoherent. In
essence, where so much has been preposterous on its face,
these once unimaginable times have signaled a genuine victory
for absurdity. What else can one reasonably say after an American
president makes repeated medical claims that contradict his
own scientific advisors; asserts that Joe Biden, then his
rival, “hates and wants to hurt God…;” recommends
injecting household disinfectants as therapeutic or prophylactic
agents for Covid19 infection; insists that children are “almost
immune” to Coronavirus; and maintains that “only
1%” of those infected” suffer palpable harms?
the end of his presidency – in late December 2020 –
Donald J. Trump was cited for being “the most admired
man in America. This was at exactly the same moment that Covid19
deaths had reached a grievous record and when the federal
government openly abdicated its core responsibilities for
rational vaccine distribution. It was also at the precise
moment of Trump-Pence celebrations of “US Space Force,”
a caricatural creation that siphoned off billions of desperately-needed
health dollars to fund military operations that were quite
egregious particulars to note. Any viable democracy demands
carefully refined efforts of “mind.” This means,
in turn, variously careful applications of analytic scrutiny
and disciplined “thought.” Anything less substantial
could leave the United States unprepared for a paralyzing
“second wave” of leadership abdications.
Let us not
be unwary. America could not tolerate any Trump-like presidential
encore. Without systemic remediation, the United States could
sometime make itself existentially vulnerable again, either
incrementally, or all at once.
such vulnerability could extend to assorted nuclear harms.
And these harms could intersect or overlap with the ravaging
damages of pandemic disease. Indeed, it is not beyond plausible
probability that such intersections or overlaps would be authentically
if synergistic, the “whole” of any prospectively
negative effects would exceed the sum of its constituent “parts.”
need to learn more systematically and insightfully from the
many Trump-created declensions. This means an overarching
imperative to discover the origins of this country’s
near-fatal leadership plague . This ought not be a query of
geography, but rather one of mindset or ideology. In this
indispensable inquiry, history, science and law must be restored
to an appropriate pride of place. It must be understood that
such a manifestly unfit American president did not emerge
ex nihilo, in a vacuum, from nothing.
was the more-or-less predictable outgrowth of an American
polity and society nurtured by “bread and circus,”
the result of an amusement-based commonwealth that too often
loathes serious thought. Tens of millions of Americans were
comfortable voting for a president who openly and habitually
undermined “due processes of law,” who allowed
an unprecedented mass dying and who never read anything, ever.
are conspicuous. Any true democracy requires, inter alia
and at a minimum, a decent respect for literacy. But no such
basic regard obtains in these unhappy United States, not even
today. Instead, nurtured by a consistently callous indifference
to wisdom, Americans have generally resisted the strenuousness
of honest intellectual effort or analytic thought.
problem is not just that tens of millions of citizens know
so very little of truth. It is that they want to know so very
little. For ascertaining truth, there is “simply”
too little will.
voted for Donald J. Trump, these American s wittingly endorsed
a candidate for whom truth was not “merely” anathema.
In this president’s inverted world, authentic truth
is quite literally “against the faith.” Over the
past four years, it has effectively been transformed for millions
into a distinct form of “impiety.”
must be answered. How did we ever arrive at such a dark space
of governmental contrivance and anti-Reason? Who is America’s
the discernible core adversary of any dignified American polity
is never any one particular ideology or another. It is neither
“left-wing radicals” nor “right-wing extremists.”
It is, instead, a sustained collective citizen antipathy to
Reason and Virtue. Naturally, Americans can’t usually
be expected to recognize the philosophic (Platonic-Socratic
) origins of these coinciding objectives, but they can at
least make an effort to learn about underlying ideas.
In its basic
contours, this craven American antipathy to Reason and Virtue
is universal. It is rooted less in any specific time or place
than in a ubiquitously human horror of exercising disciplined
thought. At the same time, this species of universality in
no way diminishes anti-Reason’s durable harms to the
United States. For Americans just newly emerging from the
bruising darkness of Donald J. Trump’s crude authoritarianism,
the first order of business – the very first societal
“repairs” – must be undertaken at home.
enemy is the unphilosophical spirit which knows nothing and
wants to know nothing of truth,” clarified 20th-century
German philosopher Karl Jaspers in Reason and Anti-Reason
in Our Time (1952). It is this identical demeaning spirit
that continues to dominate the present-day United States.
Although we can take some palpable comfort from the electoral
defeat of Donald J. Trump, it is still worth noting that pundit
and academic post-mortems of this disgraced American presidency
focus on narrowly technical electoral explanations and on
identifiable defects or derelictions of the losing candidate.
it is safe to predict, will capable analysts or thinkers seek
to find coherent explanations in appropriately broader considerations
It is finally
time to ask: Wherein lie the pertinent roots of America’s
antipathy to intellect and serious learning? A generic but
pertinent answer is supplied not by political and social scientists,
but by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. In his classic Notes from Underground
(1864), the great Russian writer compares the attractions
of “reason” and “desire,” concluding
that the latter – “the manifestation of life itself”
– has the upper hand.
significant variations from country to country, and from time
to time, but history reveals that anti-Reason political leaders
are always aspiring somewhere “in the wings.”
Here, often diligently, they prepare to pounce against whatever
might support the less immediately gratifying claims of intellect
or “mind.” Or against whomever.
ought not appear new to us. We should have learned all this
from the historic end of Weimar Germany and Nazi Germany.
We should also have learn this lesson from the incrementally
calamitous Trump years here in the United States. Though America’s
four-year subjection to falsehood and doctrinal anti-Reason
has not been genocidal (the jurisprudential crime of genocide
expressly includes criminal intent, or mens rea),
the animating sentiments of the Trump White House have been
furiously opposed to universal human rights and fundamental
it was Donald J. Trump’s unabashed disregard for justness
and fairness that became its singular and signature mantra.
But why receive such wide and enthusiastic support from so
many millions of Americans? In this regard, even the final
election vote count is hardly comforting or reassuring. Even
now, tens of millions of citizens remain deeply sympathetic
to a president who could never decipher the most elementary
social problems, figure out basic elements of climate science
and disease, or deliver even the most minimally coherent logical
been a president, lest we forget, who opined that individual
injections of bleach could be an effective way of defeating
much more. In the United States, prima facie, presidential
elections represent an immutable fixture of democracy. Nonetheless,
though necessary, they are also insufficient in dealing with
this suffering country’s most seriously underlying challenges.
To deal satisfactorily with the Corona Virus pandemic (our
current worldwide “plague”) and with the corresponding
global chaos, America will first have to “fix the microcosm.”
every advancement in society and law must begin with the individual
human being. “Ultimately,” summarizes 20th-century
Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung in The Undiscovered Self
(1957),” everything depends on the quality of the
rots the mind,” warned Third Reich Propaganda Minister
Joseph Goebbels at the Nuremberg rallies of 1935. “I
love the poorly educated” said candidate Donald J. Trump
in 2016. This comparison or commonality need not suggest that
the Trump administration was in any way intentionally murderous,
but only that both regimes had received their “primal”
nurturance from the darkly-poisonous font of anti-Reason.
things, Trump rallies, in the fashion of their more seemingly
sinister Nazi antecedents, represented incoherent gatherings
of the faithful, replete with ritualistic phrases of banalities,
of gibberish, chanted in loud and atavistic chorus.
glaringly rancorous Trump Era, there obtained in the United
States not even a pretense of intellectual integrity or “Mind.”
Both thinking and dignity have been strikingly out of political
fashion. Let us cut to the chase. In the most cantankerous
public realms defined by the White House, truth has never
been regarded as worthwhile or advantageous.
now outgoing president who learned a great deal from de
facto mentor Joseph Goebbels, truth was just a regrettable
Vadis? Where do we go from here? Though not generally
understood, looking behind the news is everyone’s first
obligation of good citizenship. Only here, in the background,
in areas not immediately obvious and not being dissected on
television or online, can we still discover the meaningfully
permanent truths of American political life.
core questions must be answered. Americans should more sincerely
inquire: “How can a US president have so willfully ignored
and accepted his Russian counterpart as “puppet master?”
Even in the wholesale absence of Emersonian “high thinking”
within the Trump White House, it should have become perfectly
obvious that one superpower president became the all-too-submissive
marionette of the other. Functioning within a balance of power
or Westphalian international system, this eccentric sort of
US geopolitical subordination put the entire American nation
in existential jeopardy.
“America First” was merely the newest iteration
of a long-failed world political system of belligerent power
management. The “balance-of-power” has never actually
been more than a facile metaphor. Despite its name, it has
never had anything to do with ensuring or ascertaining equilibrium.
As such, balance has always been subjective, a matter of assorted
individual perceptions. There is more. Adversarial states
in this zero-sum “Westphalian” dynamic can never
be sufficiently confident that strategic circumstances are
suitably “balanced.” In consequence, each side
to any contest or competition must perpetually fear that it
will somehow be left behind, thus creating ever wider and
even cascading patterns of national insecurity and collective
still more serious questions to answer. As a nation, when
shall Americans finally agree to bear truthful and informed
witness on Constitutional governance? Can there remain any
doubt that there is much more to these founding principles
than robotic recitals of alleged Second Amendment rights?
Surely this country must be about much more than just the
right to bear arms, especially when this right is defined
in ways that would have been starkly incomprehensible to the
can anyone reasonably argue that the original intended rights
of gun ownership should now extend to automatic weapons?
context remains vital, even determinative, to explaining Donald
J. Trump’s ascent to the presidency. Trump did not arise
ex nihilo. What went so terribly wrong with American
“high thinking?” How, more precisely, did we allow
a once-promising and still-rising nation to slide uncontrollably
toward collective national misfortune?
seen that in the unsteady nuclear age, such misfortune could
sometime have included catastrophic human wars. With such
dreaded inclusion, we the people might sometime have needed
to witness an unprecedented fusion. This fearful coming-together
could have been an explosive alloy of banality and apocalypse.
not have been a tolerable fusion.
In the profane
melodrama and farce directed by US President Donald J. Trump,
we Americans were not authentically tragic figures. At no
time have we been just the passive victims of a disjointed
and contrived presidency. As long as we refused to speak out
at less delicate levels of truth-telling – and this
refusal meant much more than showing up to vote in 2020 –
we fully “deserved” our consequent losses.
consequential “theatrical” matters, we Americans
may have much less to learn from Plato, Aristotle or Shakespeare
than from 20th-century psychologists Sigmund Freud and Carl
Jung. Even a cursory glance at these two seminal thinkers
from Vienna and Zurich should remind us of ever-present human
dangers posed by “horde” or “mass.”Freud
and Jung were both strongly influenced by the Danish Existentialist
thinker Soren Kierkegaard (who personally preferred the term
“crowd” to “horde” or “mass”)
and by German-Swiss philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.
guile, Nietzsche had spoken woefully (and prophetically) of
term we might now decide to favor, one key point should remain
unassailable and constant: When an entire nation and society
abandon the most basic obligations of critical thinking and
“reason” (again, this observation about “reason”
should bring us back to the German post-War philosopher, Karl
Jaspers , we should expect accelerating deformity and eventual
tyranny. Nietzsche, in his masterpiece Zarathustra,
was even more specific. “Do not seek the higher-man
in the marketplace,” the philosopher- prophet had warned
In the United
States, we failed to listen. Donald J. Trump’s wholly
mundane and manipulative skill sets were acquired in the market-based
worlds of real-estate bargaining, casino gambling and “branding.”
Plainly, they did not “carry over” to intersecting
intricacies of high-politics and diplomacy. Basing his foreign
policies on an explicit rejection of intellect – a rejection
continuously affirmed by his various appointments of ill-equipped
family members and others to senior posts – we have
been left with a tortured world of disappearing friends and
with a promisingly sane new president elected, American national
leadership can begin to offer more than clichés, empty-witticisms
or delusionary “deals.” Trump’s assorted
trade wars, like his disjointed approach to pandemic disease
(“Operation Warp Speed”) became a gargantuan net-negative
for the United States. But what is most important now, after
so much damage has already been inflicted and suiffered, is
that we avoid similar presidential failings going forward.
In the end,
every society represents the sum total of its individual souls
seeking some sort or other of “redemption.” This
overriding search is never properly scientific – after
all, there can be no discernible or tangible referent for
a human “soul” – but some important answers
may still lie outside mainstream scientific investigations.
These “subjective” answers ought not be disregarded.
At times, at least, they should be consciously sought and
Donald J. Trump’s deeply fractionated American republic,
We the people have cheerlessly inhabited a stultifying “hollow
land” of unending submission, crass consumption, dreary
profanity and shallow pleasures. Bored by the suffocating
banalities of daily life and beaten down by the grinding struggle
to stay hopeful amid ever-widening polarities of health and
disease, of wealth and poverty, our weary US citizens –
people who have had every right to vote, but not to keep their
teeth – grasped anxiously for available lifelines of
this presumed lifeline was a hideously false prophet of American
legions of Americans unaccustomed to reading anything of consequence
were easily taken in by mountains of cheap red hats and by
starkly inane political slogans.
For Donald Trump, cynical simplifications represented the
planned path to electoral victory. Correspondingly, evident
anti-Reason became this president’s primary stock in
trade. Even more sinister, this nefarious posture quickly
became a hideous national “faith.”
rots the mind” said Third Reich Propaganda Minister
Joseph Goebbels in 1935.
love the poorly educated,” said US Presidential candidate
Donald Trump in 2016.
not much light between these “faith-based” statements.
In principle, at least, these hideous commonalties became
de rigueur. Misdirected by incessantly hollow claims
of “American Exceptionalism” and “America
First,” we somehow managed to forget that world politics
is first and foremost a system. It follows, going forward,
that considerations of US security and prosperity be consciously
linked to the calculable well-being of other states and other
politics, as in life generally, “We are all in the soup
more. Until now, we Americans have unceremoniously ignored
the Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s
clear warning from The Phenomenon of Man (1955):
“The egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those
who have managed to attain egoistically the extremity of `everyone
for himself’ is false and against nature. No element
can move and grow except with and by all the others with itself.”
that makes tax avoidance into a key virtue – even one
used as a primary standard of presidential selection –
is a society without adequate visions of survival, meaning
World” we have been ignoring almost everything of commendable
intellectual importance. Should there remain any sincere doubts
about this bitter indictment, one need only look at the current
state of American higher education. In many ways, this realm
is now just another defiled expression of Nietzsche’s
Trump’s America, we the people were no longer being
shaped by any suitably generalized feelings of reverence or
compassion, nor, as has already been demonstrated, by even
the tiniest hints of “mind.” Until now, America’s
oft-preferred preoccupation, encouraged by the White House
and shamelessly unhidden, was a closely- orchestrated indulgence
in other people’s lives and (with an even greater enthusiasm)
their sufferings. In German, there is even a specially-designated
word for this grim pathology of the human spirit.
It is called
schadenfreude, or taking an exquisite pleasure in
the misfortunes of others.
most part, this voyeuristic frenzy has been juxtaposed against
the comforting myths of American superiority. In the end,
however, this particular fiction, more than any other, is
apt to produce further collective declension and expanded
individual despair. This was the case even when American president
Trump chose to wrap himself in the flag, literally, a 2018
Trump embrace of rare and defiling repugnance. Later, on June
1, 2020, a similarly revolting Trump prop embrace was extended
to the Bible, this during a peaceful protest in Washington
good to have Nation on your side, Donald J. Trump had figured
out, but even better to have God on your side. Never were
the bitterly grotesque ironies of Bob Dylan’s brilliant
God on Your Side”) more clearly on display.
“I belong, therefore I am.” This is not what philosopher
René Descartes had in mind when, in the 17th century,
he urged greater thought and expanding doubt. It is also a
very sad credo. Unhesitatingly, it shrieks loudly that social
acceptance by the mass or herd or crowd is roughly equivalent
to physical survival, and that even the most sorely pretended
pleasures of inclusion are worth pursuing.
more to explain. A push-button metaphysics of “apps”
now reigns supreme in America. This immense attraction of
smartphones and correspondingly bewildering social networks
stems in large part from a barren society’s machine-like
existence. Within this increasingly robotic universe, every
hint of human passion must be shunted away from any still-caring
human emotions and then re-directed along certain uniform
and vicariously satisfying pathways.
although international law obliges the United States to oppose
all crimes of genocide and related crimes against humanity,
and despite the fact that this binding international law is
an established part of the law of the United States, Donald
J. Trump issued pardons for egregious war crimes. This issuance
included the “Blackwater Four,” criminals convicted
inter alia of murdering children in Iraq and Afghanistan.
these criminals merited the description known as hostes
humani generis, or “common enemies of humankind.”
American president first defended Russia’s Vladimir
Putin against the advice of America’s intelligence community,
we ought already to have known we were in real trouble. Significantly,
during his tenure, Donald J. Trump has never backed off this
unsupportable priority. Why hasn’t this humiliating
sycophancy not been subjected to any serious public scrutiny?
more. When Trump said of North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un
“We’re in love,” we ought have then suspected
that an American president’s alleged plan for “denuclearization”
was hopeless without merit. From the start, the plan lacked
any conceivable semblance of analytic foundation.
more pertinent detail for us to consider. Across this Trump-
beleaguered land, our once traditionally revered Western Canon
of literature and art has increasingly been replaced by more
“practical” emphases on job preparation, loyalty-building
sports, and “branding.” For most of America’s
young people, even before the pandemic, learning has become
an inconvenient and thoroughly burdensome commodity.
warns Zarathustra, of seeking virtue, fairness or justice
at the marketplace. This is a place only for commerce, for
trading, for buying and selling. It is a venue designed only
for “deals.” It is never a proper place for identifying
potentially suitable national leaders.
In an 1897
essay titled “On Being Human,” Woodrow Wilson
inquired coyly about the authenticity of America. “Is
it even open to us to choose to be genuine?” he asked.
This president (a president who actually read and wrote serious
books) answered “yes,” but only if we would first
refuse to join the misdirecting “herds” of mass
President Wilson had already understood, our entire society
would be left bloodless, a skeleton, dead with that rusty
corrosion of broken machinery, more disabling even than the
sordid decompositions of an individual human being.
In all societies,
Ralph Waldo Emerson had understood, the care of individual
“souls” should be the most insistent national
responsibility. Conceivably, there could sometimes emerge
a better“American Soul,” but not until we could
first agree to shun several inter-penetrating seductions of
mass culture. These are rank imitation; shallow thinking;
organized mediocrity; and manifestly predatory politics focused
on ethnicity, gender, race, and class.
far-reaching rejection will not be easy. It will take time.
It will take vision.
liberated from the degrading shackles of a Trump presidency,
hope may no longer have to sing softly, in a determined undertone,
sotto voce. Soon it will be able to re-emerge without
excuses, increasingly reasonable and newly purposeful.
could be unseemly and injurious. It would be for us not to
have learned something useful from the defiling Trump Era;
that is, to continuously embrace a rancorous orientation toward
intellect and politics. In broad conceptual and generic outline,
this orientation was described earlier by Sören Kierkegaard.
The 19th-century Danish philosopher invoked what he famously
called “a sickness unto death.” For the moment,
at least, “We the people” have managed to negotiate
an eleventh-hour escape from this all-consuming “sickness”
– from the enduring horror of Donald J. Trump’s
bitter presidency – but there remains one overriding
It is to
render this essential escape from darkness to enlightenment
more conspicuous, more welcome, more durable, and more permanent.
The American public’s retreat from Reason did not begin
with the bilious Trump presidency, and it will not end abruptly
with the presidency of Joe Biden. Nonetheless, we can, as
a society, take steps to get beyond the ruthless ignorance
of Trump-era governance and acknowledge the singularly incomparable
benefits of reasoned thought. With the electoral defeat of
Donald J. Trump, Americans have already made a necessary beginning,
but that is all that has been accomplished thus far.
We are still
only at “the beginning.”
Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus inquires: “Does
the Absurd dictate death?” Understood in specific context
of the recent Trump presidency, the “correct”
answer is tangible and also unassailable. At every imaginable
assessment of Trump-induced or accelerate harms – e.g.,
pandemic disease; human rights disregard; nuclear arms proliferation;
Realpolitik or global power politics; chaos –
the specter of nothingness made itself palpable. With little
basis for any disagreement, (1) death remains the glaring
prototype of absolutely all injustice; and (2) Trump-generated
absurdities produced or actively promoted a terminal outcome.
At the beginning
of a new American presidency, shall we start to imagine some
plausible “liberation” from lethal absurdity,
or ought we to resignedly accept this death-dictating ethos
as irremediably fixed and immutable? The most realistic answer,
paradoxically, may come from the absurdist playwright Samuel
Beckett, with whose Endgame dialectic this essay
time is it?” queries one character.
same as usual,” responds the other.
no “cure” for absurdity. It is a condition, a
predilection, that lies latent in the human species itself,
unchanging, most likely forever. It follows that absurdity
should be regarded as an immutable “first principle,”
an axiom or postulate that must simply be taken as given and
from which all policy prescriptions must ultimately be deduced.
need not be interpreted as either a lamentable liability or
as an existential threat. It just “sets the stage”
for future presidential policy prescriptions based upon truth,
not on contrivance. Absurdity is neither good nor bad.
It merely is.