“To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.”-Plato, The Republic
Though derelictions of an unprecedented sort, even the most evident shortcomings of Donald J. Trump’s presidency are essentially just “shadows.” To more fully understand what has brought the United States to such a once- unimaginable national declension, we must first learn to look beyond these reflections. As long as we remain focused on mere reflections of what is important, we will ensure only persistent governmental debility.
What then? Among other things, we would need to concede American democracy to the perpetual sovereignty of unqualified persons. In consequence of such plainly intolerable concessions, there could emerge no meaningful solutions to what most imperils the United States. What might then be said about American “greatness?”
For the United States, such deeply ironic surrenders should never need to be considered.
At some point, this pathological sort of surrender or debility could include not “just” nuances of national deformation, but also de facto “blueprints” for a nation’s collective disappearance.
There are better ways for a country to proceed. Americans ought not passively accept such immobilizing forms of bewilderment. This era remains, after all, the Nuclear Age. It continues to be a time for prudence and abundant caution, not visceral or reflexive response.
To better understand certain still-threatening American defilements – an obviously primary obligation for all US citizens – analysts must begin at the beginning. Recognizably, this battered country’s authentic problems are not narrowly partisan or exclusively political. No national government – no President, no Congress, no hyper-adrenalized promises of “change” from one side or another – can expect to halt the insidious trajectories of our staggering decline.
Wherever one looks, the Trump presidency has spawned a lethal assault on an already-fragile nation – a dissembling presidency that absolutely has to be removed by the country’s electorate – but even this grotesque leadership assault represents little more than a “shadow.”
Both literally and metaphorically, the United States is now caught up in a titanic struggle between life and death, between health and disease. In order to suitably “cure” the nation, not just of Covid19 but also of conspicuously corollary debilities of unqualified national governance, Americans must first correctly identify the pertinent “disease process.” Otherwise, at best, we might manage to excise certain visible pathologies, but still leave all underlying, systemic and metastasizing national “malignancies” fully intact.
By definition, that would represent a meaningless or “pyrrhic victory” for a nation at existential risk.
Always, as with identifying plausible solutions to the Corona Virus assault, pertinent analyses must be appropriately (1) systematic and (2) dialectical. Hard questions must be raised. For one, how did Americans ever manage to get to this bitterly rancorous and disjointed national place? In time, will the long-term anarchy of inter-state relations be transformed into an even less sustainable chaos?
Relevant explanations – though not genuine long-term solutions – are still substantially unhidden.
Somehow, driven by egocentric considerations of taxation, commerce and a barbarous presidential ethos of self promotion, our American system of governance has managed to create a uniquely toxic amalgam. From this palpably poisonous fusion of plutocracy and mob rule, virtually any conceivable destructions could still be born and multiplied. As we have so unhappily been witnessing, this expanding wreckage has recently been enlarged.
Where are we now? It is September 2020, and several alarming portents ought not be too-casually disregarded or thoughtlessly shrugged off. Currently, China, being diminished in increments by Donald J. Trump’s gratuitous insults and threats, is beginning to talk openly about selling off its approximately one trillion dollars of American debt (US Treasuries). During this same early September period, Trump has described US military veterans as “losers” and “suckers” (a perverse recapitulation of his prior disparaging references to American prisoner of war Senator John McCain as “no hero”); appointed a new postmaster-general in order to destroy mail-sorting equipment and slow-down the mails; and imposed bizarre sanctions on the International Criminal Court (a frontal attack upon international law in general).
There is still more. One again, this president has stood uncritically on the side of Vladimir Putin, this time regarding the latest Russian poisoning of dissidents. Trump also appointed a new and manipulable Covid19 advisor to assure America’s further subordination of science to politics, and has pushed ahead with an utterly incoherent and treasury-busting military parody known formally as “Space Force.” Similarly incomprehensible was Trump’s previous withdrawal of the United States from the World Health Organization in the midst of pandemic.
Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosophers. “I believe because it is absurd.”
If these “crazy” infringements were not enough to satisfyingly worsen life in the US and also throughout the world, Donald J. Trump’s reliably obsequious attorney general stated shamelessly during a major television interview that he “could not really be sure” that voting twice is illegal. Said William Barr, America’s senior legal officer, “It depends upon the state.” Can this conceivably be a serious official response?
Credo quia absurdum.
There is more. Americans face many interrelated obligations. One overarching duty concerns this country’s distressingly proud culture of American illiteracy. Lest such an indictment sound harsh or even silly, one need only be reminded that this US president rose to high office by exclaiming to cheering rally crowds: “I love the poorly educated.”
This 2016 campaign refrain was not just an off-the-cuff spasm of populist sentiment. Rather, it was a carefully fashioned echo of Joseph Goebbels’ 1934 Nuremberg rally shriek: “Intellect rots the brain.” It stands in starkly ironic contrast with the earlier expressed viewpoint of Thomas Jefferson. Said America’s third president: “To penetrate and dissipate the clouds of darkness, the general mind must be strengthened by education.”
Over the years, certain others have understood Jefferson’s wisdom. “The mass man,” says 20th century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gasset, “learns only in his own flesh.” This is precisely the aspiring demagogue who now sits smugly in the American White House. With such inherently distorted national leadership, the United States can never expect to distinguish correctly between truth and shadows.
None of this is mere hyperbole. After all, we continuously inhabit a feverishly anti-intellectual country, a place of consistent analytic decline, one where exemplary medical science is often anathema, where truth is often given no quarter and where virtually no one pauses to read a serious book. This worrisome demographic includes Donald J. Trump, who not only eschews the instructive written word – especially where it might sometime be elegantly fashioned or science-based – but who also draws vast political support because of his expressed loathing for literature, law and philosophy.
In the United States, this ironic loathing is not veneered or in any manner denied or disguised. Here, instead, a disfiguring American president’s consuming lack of intellectual and historical interests has actually come to represent an enviable political asset. Credo quia absurdum.
Core citizen obligations obtain. Always, We the people must remain determinedly analytic. Derivatively, we should promptly inquire: Is there any graspable evidence to support genuinely existential threats or concerns?
Incontestably, all of us are now under persistent and still-growing microbial assault from Covid19. Still worse, this biological “plague” could sometime intersect with the more “normal” geopolitical hazards of war, terrorism and/or genocide. In the imaginably worst case scenarios, this intersection would also be “synergistic;” that is, a fearful coming-together wherein the injurious “whole” would be tangibly greater than the calculable sum of injurious “parts.”
Significantly, credible explanations are unhidden. At the head of America’s government and society now sits a “mass man,” one who openly abhors intellect and simultaneously extracts correlative political benefits. This would not be the case (and also America’s potentially existential curse) if the prevailing modalities of U.S. culture and law were more closely aligned with proper standards of evidence and truth. Now, on any given day, Donald Trump (or his designated lapdog of the moment, e.g., Attorney General William Barr on voting twice, or Vice President Mike Pence, who fawns uncontrollably because he has no apparent license to think) makes statements that are preposterous prima facie.
Back home in Indiana, Mr. Pence could never even have imagined a future in which he would ever be taken seriously.
Credo quia absurdum.
There is more. Although many Americans remain content with strangely still-lingering hopes to grow personal wealth, even the richest among us are deprived. Resigned to either a dreary future of exhausting and unsatisfying work, or to a terminal prospect of war and disease, even the financially most “successful” must now live with variously intersecting kinds of death and despair. Small wonder, then, that “no vacancy” signs hang prominently outside America’s largest prisons and that a progressively immobilizing Opiate Crisis is no longer even news.
In a nation of increasingly institutionalized unhappiness, it is simply the “new normal.”
There is more. For the most part, once flaunted American “truths” are now discoverable only as myth. One prominent example can be found in our massively beleaguered universities.
For more than fifty years – the actual time I have lived in several of our most distinguished national universities – considerations of raw commerce have trumped considerations of pure learning. What is surprising these days is that dishonorable and illegal parental efforts to get their kids into college should even be considered scandalous. What were these coddled young people planning to learn?
No one seems to know, not even the prospective students.
To repair a broken country, candor and good taste – not just presidential elections – will be indispensable.For a time, We the people have no longer been motivated by any proper considerations of enduring human value. For the most part, we don’t actively seek any equanimity or “balance” as a healing counterpoint to frenetic daily lives. Distressingly, we still search anxiously for “opportunities” to buy into a life of narrow imitation, an inherently unsatisfying existence dedicated to leeringly empty pleasures and steadily-expanding mountains of pain-dulling drugs.
At almost every level, therefore, Americans “freely” choose (like the oft-flaunted “American freedom” not to wear a mask) a life of diaphanous shadows over one of tangible truth.
Not much mystery here. The relevant numbers are easily available and “beyond any reasonable doubt.” To wit, at each and every moment of the day, millions of America’s more-or-less exhausted citizens consume enough alcohol and drugs to suffocate any still-lingering residues of human wisdom. By itself, and long before Covid19, the Opiate Crisis cost the country several trillion dollars (to apply the narrowly quantifiable metric of money), and still represents wholly unfathomable levels of grievous human suffering.
Americans need to be candid. These are not superficial infirmities. Instead, what we are describing hereare deep, irremediable and inconsolable levels of collective despair.
Truth, not shadow, is exculpatory. Whatever is now being decided in our politics or in our universities, Americans are presently carried forth not by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “high thinking and plain living,” but by profoundly sorrowful eruptions of fear and agitation. At times, we the people may wish to slow down a bit and “smell the roses,” but America’s battered and battering ambience continues to impose upon its residents the ruthlessly merciless rhythms of a self-propelled machine.Left unchecked, the predictable end of all this delirium will be atrophied governance, advancing disease plagues and international war.
Donald J. Trump was not foisted upon the United States ex nihilo, out of nothing. He is, in fact, the predictable outcome of a society frequently indifferent or refractory to verifiable truth.
Americans inhabit the one society that could have been different. Once, we likely even possessed a potential to nurture individuals to become more than unthinking cogs of a compliant crowd, herd or mass. Emerson, after all, had described Americans as a people guided by industry and “self-reliance.” Now, however, we dutifully prepare to accept almost any conceivable personal infringements in order to avoid thought and cheerlessly “fit in.”
In the end, credulity remains America’s worst enemy. Our still too-willing inclination to believe that personal and societal redemption can lie in politics and elections describes a potentially fatal disorder. Of course, many critical social and economic issues do need to be addressed further by America’s government, but so too must our deeper problems be solved at the individual human level.
In the end, this is the only proper level for undertaking real change and transformation, the only stage that is not merely a reflection or shadow (what the philosophers would call “epiphenomenal”). Already back in the fourth century BCE, Plato set out to explain politics as a reflective and unstable realm of sense and matter, a second-order arena of human action formed by inconsequential half-thoughts and distorted perceptions.
For Plato, in stark contrast to the stable or primary realm of immaterial “Forms” – from which all authentic truth must ultimately be drawn – the political world must be dominated by wizardry, falsehood and “anti-reason.”
Going forward, whatever our personal political preferences, history and intellect must be given a renewed pride of place. Too often, we ought to finally know by now, a threatened civilization compromises with its afflictions, cheerlessly, and even while the “herds” (Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud) or “crowds” (Soren Kierkegaard) or “mass” (Carl G. Jung and Jose Ortega y’ Gasset) chant rhythmic nonsense in a fevered unison. To meaningfully restore us as a nation to long-term health and potential (these two objectives must always proceed together), we the peoplemust learn to lookbehind and even beyond the upcoming November elections.
For now, the shadows are poisons in their own right, but the tangible sources of these poisons must be targeted as well.
Donald J. Trump – despite the obvious perniciousness of his catastrophic presidency – was never this country’s core “disease.” Rather, he has been a pathological reflection, a darkening shadow, or what Plato would have predicted was the inevitable symptom of any society that mistakes transient half-thoughts for genuine understanding. Though the ancient Greek philosopher’s most ambitious remedy – “to make the souls of the citizens better” – is hardly a realistic goal these days, it must remain a manifestly overriding objective of decent human governance.
There is one last but still primary point. In certain all-too-frequent cases, a portion of society does not “mistake transient half-truths for genuine understanding” – that is, confuse shadow for truth – but instead, makes such dire substitutions willfully and knowingly. In these always-ominous cases, ones where certain citizens declare themselves to be “conscientiously ignorant,” there can be no calculable benefit to offering mindful clarifications or elucidations of what is real. Here, the only residually rational path to “remediation” is both conspicuous and immutable.
It is to blunt political influence of the self-deluding societal portion as much as practicable, and, simultaneously, to sharpen this influence among those who would still favor Reason over Anti-Reason.
In today’s Trump-defiled United States, this path offers a difficult but navigable route, an indispensable journey from shadows to truth. America can choose to take this correct path, but the decision time still available is not unlimited. Too long conned by a willfully self-serving president, citizens can either rise above the Trump-applauding “mass,” or feebly accept a continuous display of terminal retrogression.
For generic assessments of the probable consequences of nuclear war by this author, see: Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd. ed., 2018); Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (Lexington MA: Lexington Books, 1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington MA; Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis René Beres, ed., Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington MA: Lexington Books, 1986).
In a recently-published book, this infringement has been declared a “serious national security threat” by a former FBI agent working on such urgent matters: See, in The New York Times
 Dialectical thinking originated in Fifth Century BCE Athens, as Zeno, author of the Paradoxes, was acknowledged by Aristotle as its inventor. In the middle dialogues of Plato, dialectic emerges as the supreme form of philosophic/analytic method. The dialectician, says Plato, is the special one who knows how to ask and then answer vital questions.
 Historically and jurisprudentially, anarchy is an old-story, dating back to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Chaos, however, is “more than” anarchy, and would render all national policy decisions even more uncertain, unpredictable and problematic.
Sigmund Freud maintained a general antipathy to all things American. According to Bruno Bettelheim, he most strenuously objected to this country’s “shallow optimism” and its corollary commitment to variously crude forms of materialism. America, thought Freud, was very evidently “lacking in soul.” See: Bruno Bettelheim, Freud and Man’s Soul (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983), especially Chapter X.
The obligations of international law are generally obligations of US law. In the precise words used by the U.S. Supreme Court in The Paquete Habana, “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction, as often as questions of right depending upon it are duly presented for their determination. For this purpose, where there is no treaty, and no controlling executive or legislative act or judicial decision, resort must be had to the customs and usages of civilized nations.” See The Paquete Habana, 175 U.S. 677, 678-79 (1900). See also: The Lola, 175 U.S. 677 (1900); Tel-Oren v. Libyan Arab Republic, 726 F. 2d 774, 781, 788 (D.C. Cir. 1984)(per curiam)(Edwards, J. concurring)(dismissing the action, but making several references to domestic jurisdiction over extraterritorial offenses), cert. denied, 470 U.S. 1003 (1985)(“concept of extraordinary judicial jurisdiction over acts in violation of significant international standards…embodied in the principle of `universal violations of international law.’”).
See, by Louis René Beres.
Too often these days, this means an increasingly job-centered notion of higher education. In this unfortunate devolution, see, by this author, at Princeton
In the 17th century, the French philosopher Blaise Pascal remarked prophetically, in his justly celebrated Pensées: “All our dignity consists in thought….It is upon this that we must depend…Let us labor then to think well: this is the foundation of morality.” Similar reasoning characterizes the writings of Baruch Spinoza, Pascal’s 17th-century contemporary. In Book II of his Ethics Spinoza considers the human mind, or the intellectual attributes, and – drawing further from Descartes – strives to define an essential theory of learning and knowledge.
 For the authoritative sources of international law, see art. 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice: STATUTE OF THE INTERNATIONAL COURT OF JUSTICE, Done at San Francisco, June 26, 1945. Entered into force, Oct. 24, 1945; for the United States, Oct. 24, 1945. 59 Stat. 1031, T.S. No. 993, 3 Bevans 1153, 1976 Y.B.U.N., 1052.
 Notes Sigmund Freud: “Wars will only be prevented with certainty if mankind unites in setting up a central authority to which the right of giving judgment upon all shall be handed over. There are clearly two separate requirements involved in this: the creation of a supreme agency and its endowment with the necessary power. One without the other would be useless.” (See: Sigmund Freud, Collected Papers, cited in Louis René Beres, The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis, University of Denver, Monograph Series in World Affairs, Vol. 10 (1973-73), p, 27.)
 See, by Louis René Beres
 “The worst,” says Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt, “does sometimes happen.”
 For pertinent issues of a nuclear war, see, by this author, Louis René Beres, at The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
 See, by this writer, at Princeton
 Ironically, this expectation of international war stands in contrast to the customary legal assumption of solidarity between states. This rudimentary assumption concerns a presumptively common struggle against both anarchy and international war. Such a “peremptory” expectation, known in formal jurisprudence as a jus cogens assumption, was already mentioned in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis (533 CE); Hugo Grotius, 2 De Jure Belli ac Pacis Libri Tres, Ch. 20 (Francis W. Kesey., tr, Clarendon Press, 1925)(1690); and Emmerich de Vattel, 1 Le Droit Des Gens, Ch. 19 (1758). According to Blackstone, each state and its leaders are expected “to aid and enforce the law of nations, as part of the common law, by inflicting an adequate punishment upon offenses against that universal law . . . .” WILLIAM BLACKSTONE, PUBLIC WRONGS, in COMMENTARIES ON THE LAWS OF ENGLAND, Book 4 Ch. 1 (Philadelphia, J.B. Lippincott & Co. 1893). Though assuredly not known to US President Trump or to his most senior legal advisors, Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries represent the core foundation of all US law.
These key terms, more-or-less synonymous, were favored, respectively, by Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche and Carl G. Jung.
Accordingly, we may learn from Karl Jaspers’ Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time: (1952): “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 – and really do appear to believe.” Could any words better describe the “mass-man” (and “mass-woman”) who presently prefers Donald Trump’s medical Covid19 judgments to those of Dr. Anthony Fauci?
See, by this author, at Yale, Louis René Beres, Yale Global
“It must not be forgotten,” says Guilllaume Apollinaire in The New Spirit and the Poets (1917),”that it is perhaps more dangerous for a nation to allow itself to be conquered intellectually than by arms.” Still the best treatments of America’s long-term disinterest in things intellectual are Richard Hofstadter, Anti-intellectualism in American Life (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1964); and Jacques Barzun, The House of Intellect (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1959).
 Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung both thought of “soul” (in German, Seele) as the intangible essence of a human being. Neither Freud nor Jung ever provided any precise definition of the term, but it was not intended by either in some ordinary or familiar religious sense. For both psychologists, it represented a recognizable and critical seat of mind and passions in this life. Interesting, too, in the present analytic context, is that Freud explained his predicted decline of America by making various express references to “soul.” Freud was plainly disgusted by any civilization so apparently unmoved by considerations of true “consciousness” (e.g., awareness of intellect, literature and history); he even thought that the crude American commitment to perpetually shallow optimism and material accomplishment at any cost would occasion sweeping psychological or emotional misery.
 This is a phrase used by Jose Ortega y’Gassett in The Revolt of the Masses (1932), commencing the Spanish philosopher’s timeless chapter on “The Barbarism of `Specialisation.’”
As explained best by Friedrich Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, “What the mass once learned to believe without reasons, who could ever overthrow with reasons?”
 On this seemingly everlasting bifurcation, see especially German philosopher Karl Jaspers, Reason and Anti-Reason in Our Time (1952). Karl Jaspers is best-known to the present writer for his classic The Question of German Guilt (1947, wherein he observes with timeless prescience: “A general truth must not serve to level out the particular present truth of our own guilt.”