Intellect and politics: Trumpian opposites

Intellect and politics: Trumpian opposites
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"All our dignity," observed Blaise Pascal back in the 17th century, "consists in thought... Let us labor then to think well: this is the foundation of morality." To be sure, this simple truth is being neglected by more and more Americans in the openly retrograde "Trump Era." The expected consequences are easy to identify and certain to disappoint.

The corrosive Trump presidency exhibits an almost visceral hatred of serious thinking. At one level, this hatred is easy to understand: Critical thought is the determined enemy of all anti-intellectual regimes. It is also at variance with this president's unphilosophical spirit, a shameless ethos of unreason, submission and indifference to all basic ethical considerations.

Guided by this crippling ethos, Mr. Trump's chanting followers not only know nothing of "thinking well," they want to know nothing about any such obligation.


In the end, the anti-intellectual, anti-science and anti-historical Trump ideology will run against this country's most indispensable democratic institutions. The Founding Fathers sought a republic with coequal executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, a republic that would make it especially difficult for an aberrant president to replicate European monarchical ambitions and powers.

Today, however, the American peoples' stunning unfamiliarity with the Federalist Papers and the Constitution makes it less certain that an over-reaching president can be controlled by American legal boundaries.

Let us be candid. Those Trump adherents who take such conspicuous delight in chanting empty witticisms at rallies are not going to waste time reading, thinking or learning. Moreover, in obeisance to their revered commander-in-chief, these fine citizens will never trouble themselves to study American legal documents or even glance over the Constitution they so energetically "defend."

Our most basic problems are not about Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBubba Wallace to be driver of Michael Jordan, Denny Hamlin NASCAR team Graham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Southwest Airlines, unions call for six-month extension of government aid MORE. Our national dilemma goes far beyond this thoughtless president. Even if there were a more literate occupant in the White House, absolutely no government program of alleged progress could compensate for this nation's deeply rooted antipathies to "thinking well."

Whatever else might be decided within our politics, we Americans will continue to be carried forth not by any mind-based nobilities of principle or purpose, but by an altogether predictable eruption of personal and collective rancor.

None of this was necessarily "meant to be." None of  these faults were written in the cards, the stars, or even in ourselves. Sadly, we Americans inhabit the one society that could actually have been different. We once harbored a preciously unique potential to nurture ourselves as individuals, that is, to become much more than a smugly inert (Nietzchean, Jungian, or Kierkegaardian)"herd."

Ralph Waldo Emerson optimistically described us as a people animated by industry and "self-reliance."

Emerson urged a thoughtful combination of "high thinking and plain living," but today's public citizen has little use for the former and very proudly abjures the latter. The result is an always-screaming society that confuses consumption with success and obesity with satisfaction.

Our stubborn inclination to believe that a wider societal and personal redemption must somehow lie in politics remains a potentially fatal disorder. Our deeper civilizational problems must first be solved as individuals.

Correspondingly, let us never forget that we live in a world of proliferating nuclear weapons and technologies. When such a portentous threat is coupled with presidential celebrations of blind imitation and herd-like submission, a fearful witches brew is in the making.

We ought to bear in mind the still-sobering words of Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt: "The worst does sometimes happen."

Going forward, our individual and collective dignity must reside in intellect and thought.

Louis René Beres, Ph.D. Princeton, is emeritus professor of international law at Purdue University. He is the author of 12 books and several hundred articles dealing with nuclear strategy and nuclear war. His newest book is “Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd ed. 2018)