Donald J. Trump, rally in Bemidji, Minnesota
It should be especially difficult to hear for America’s Jews. During a campaign rally in Bemidji on 19 September 2020, US President Donald J. Trump shrieked the importance of “good genes.” Though such a seemingly banal praise could ordinarily be taken as harmless, the “Aryan” venue of this particular “dog whistle” in Minnesota and its anti-Jewish content in 20th-century political history suggest something else entirely. Because Trump’s “compliment” was cobbled together with grievously crude denunciations of immigrants and with gratuitous praise for Confederate generals, it sounded adversarial.
In essence, it sounded altogether malignant.
Just a few weeks later, hinting at dark connections between immigration and disease, Trump further lowered the number of unfortunate foreign souls who could permissibly enter the United States. In this retrograde move against even persons who could have a “well-founded fear of persecution” – the Refugee Convention standard to which this country is legally bound – an American president was now operating according to grotesque principles of “racial hygiene” in the Third Reich. In both cases, ethnic, racial, or religion-based hatreds are intentionally cultivated by a dissembling leader’s anti-science program of manipulation and deflection.
In all these cases, Trump’s denunciations and his praise for “good genes” sound exactly like one more example of this president’s attraction to Nazi philosophies. One could reasonably expect, in these matters, that if Trump could somehow transform the willing Proud-Boys into his own Sturmabteilung (SA), he would be delighted.
Is this an outrageous allegation? Is it inherently objectionable – that is, simply by definition – to link a president’s (any president’s) political rally comments to fascist eugenics? “No,” must be the answer, at least not if one accepts the core presumption that truth is always exculpatory.
It’s finally time for candor. Virtually every spasm of Donald Trump’s defiling and dissembling politics could have been taken from the playbook of Third Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels….directly from this barbarous source. It follows, inter alia, that presidential reference to “good genes” and presidential support for violent vigilante hate groups is impossible to defend. Is there any good reason to feel that virulent anti-Semitism is plainly wrong, but that white supremacy is OK?
During his first debate with Joe Biden, Trump urged his “Proud Boys” to “stand by.” Since then, they have declared their “blood loyalty” to Donald J. Trump. How much more “déjà-vu” shall we be expected to endure? To the Proud Boys, an American president is now expressly their “Fuehrer.”
There is no hyperbole here. The truth remains exculpatory. Joseph Goebbels and American neo-Nazis can hardly ever represent a proper provenance for American public philosophy. Even for steadily wilting polities, that is, for an imperiled Trump-deranged democracy on the wane, there are far more suitable sources.
None of this is indecipherable. When a sitting American president assumes that the most patently false and repugnant statements can be politically cost-effective, he is adopting the Goebbels’ posture on “big lies.” As demanded by this hideously tortured logic, the bigger the lie, the better. That is, the bigger the lie, the more likely it is to be believed.
Credo quia absurdum. “I believe because it is absurd,” said the ancient philosophers. For both Goebbels and Trump, Das Volk (“The People”) inevitably gives its blessing to falsity and discrimination, but only when the truth has first been distorted.
How shall we continue? There are almost too many Trump lies to worry about. At this point, in October 2020, the most patently injurious Trump falsifications concern the Covid19 pandemic and this president’s corrosive determinations to hide a formidable disease’s very high transmissibility. Another conspicuous example of Goebbels-style lying has been Donald Trump’s unhidden affections for murderous dictators all over the world, especially Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
By going to apparently any lengths to hold Putin harmless for assorted illegal interventions against the United States – including even Trump’s own 2016 election interference – this US president has committed multiple and mutually-reinforcing derelictions.
It’s not a reassuring picture.
There is more. In our expansively nuclear world, some of these transgressions have involved certain prospectively existential consequences. The root cause here is a fierce commitment to anti-science and anti-reason. When an American president can seriously recommend bleach injections to weaken microbial assault – and millions of Americans turn a blind eye – we know we are in deep trouble.
From the start, the Trump presidency has waged a constant, relentless, and largely incoherent war against intellect. “Intellect rots the mind,” said Dr. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda. “I love the poorly educated,” echoed then-presidential candidate Donald Trump in 2016. There is little palpable difference between these observations. The underlying sentiments are roughly identical and equally damaging.
Origins can be important. According to propagandist Joseph Goebbels, shrieking at a 1934 Nuremberg Hitler rally: “Whoever can dominate the street will one day conquer the state, for every form of power politics and any dictatorship run state has its roots in the street.” Much later, but in much the same “philosophical” spirit, Donald Trump bragged to Americans: “I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump. I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough – until they go to a certain point and then it would be very bad, very very bad.”
“Bikers for Trump?” This from a president who dares not set foot on an American university campus. Is this a source of support that was ever previously sought by a United States president?
It’s a silly question.
By their persistent magnifications of gibberish, Trump rallies explain a great deal about the United States. These debasing events are effectively self-defining. More than anything else, the screaming attendees love to chant in chorus. Always, they celebrate the abundantly grotesque ritual en masse.
It hardly matters that their rhythmically obedient chants are uniformly meaningless. All that matters here is that complicated issues of law, economics and security can be rendered less intimidating. For “Das Volk,” this means they can be reduced to a more easily managed series of demeaning clichés and thoroughly empty witticisms.
For Trump’s non-reading minions, simplicity, like illiteracy, is de rigeur.
Always, at any deliriously chanting Trump rally, the key to this rancorous leader’s “success” lies in carefully crafted simplifications. None of this chanting is mere happenstance. Rather, every imbecilic presidential observation is more-or-less meticulously choreographed. Each one-liner must first pass muster by approval from an aide who typically reads and understands even less than the president. Such Trump aides are not discovered at the top of their classes, or in any credible publications with a scintilla of intellectual integrity.
Conspicuously, such aides and subordinates are either lap dogs or fools. Or perhaps both.
What about security promises offered to allied nations? Most recently, in specific regard to Israel, Trump expressed boorish pride in offering the Jewish State safety from two states that had never been any cause for alarm. To clarify, it is as if Americans were being asked to celebrate Ronald Reagan’s October 1983 Grenada invasion by allowing that since this intervention, the United States has never been attacked by Grenada.
Credo quia absurdum. “I believe because it is absurd.” It is a fitting mantra for an absurd presidency.
These are not proper times for any celebrations of Reason in America. Surrounded by like-minded followers who have forfeited the last obligations of independent thought, and who consistently draw comfort from Trump’s visceral howls of nationalistic predation (“America First” represents a clear adaptation of “Deutschland uber alles“), each rally attendee feels able to abandon any still latent sense of personal responsibility.
Amid Der Fuhrer’s steadily escalating shrieks of execration directed against myriad “enemies,” most notably the “fake news,” the “elite” universities, the “leftist mobs,” the “Democrat anarchists” and the desperate refugees from “shithole countries,” this president would never trouble himself with science or history. Why should he? They are, after all, subject to intelligent verifications.
Every sham can have a patina. Today, Donald Trump doesn’t commit himself to even a peaceful transition of presidential power. Incomprehensible in any democracy, this refusal is a less-democratic posture than one adopted by Vladimir Putin in Russia. Also, it is distressingly close to what was heard after 1933 from the “original” Fuehrer.
Casually, in muttered and muddled increments, Trump continuously makes up his own “science” concerning the Corona Virus pandemic. In so doing, he has implicitly rehabilitated a long-discredited Nazi embrace of eugenics. Is this anything that Americans could possibly choose to commend or applaud? Applied to human beings, the Trump-advanced “racehorse theory” is patent nonsense and potentially genocidal.
A basic query now surfaces. Could it possibly get any worse?
In a 1936 work of fiction, the American writer Sinclair Lewis prophesied that it “can happen here.” Left to his own devices, and to the “insights” of his endlessly fawning personal advisors, President Trump will prod blind obedience to flagrantly vacant premises and conclusions. For the most part, these are childishly mundane observations that simply masquerade as profundities.
Now, Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here is disturbingly up-to-date. In brief, it details the not-so-fanciful story of a populist American politician who rises to the presidency upon a hazy political platform of simplistic and fraudulent promises. Following his once-improbable election, “Buzz” Windrip proceeds to impose authoritarian rule upon the now-dazed country, complete with his own Praetorian Guard. While few Americans want to imagine that such far-reaching infringements are actually possible in these United States, it remains worth noting or reminding that the German people of the 1930s were not in any calculable way deviant, different or inclined to do harms. Rather, much like the people of the United States today, these people were generally quite ordinary. Most, we may also readily assume, were perfectly “good.”
Karl Jaspers, the 20th-century Existentialist philosopher who rigorously examined questions of German guilt after World War, also studied the deeper and more generic issues involved. In his modern classic Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time (1952), Jaspers explained inter alia that authoritarian leadership must always depend upon a docile citizenry that seeks the simplest possible answers, that reassuringly blames one or several “others” (scapegoats) for certain current problems. Always, in such circumstances, the objective must be to organize the faithful, to stifle the opposition and to preserve “law and order.” As for any antecedent considerations of “justice,” these are hardly worth prominent mention. If US President Donald Trump would ever actually read something, he could find himself kin with Thrasymachus in Book1of Plato’s The Republic. “Justice,” says the Sophist speaker responding to Socrates, “is nothing else than the interest of the stronger.”
There is more. The only foreseeable end of this continuously expanding Trump delirium is to prevent Americans from substituting any still-residual thought for blind compliance and unhesitating loyalty. For this president, there can never be any defensible reason to doubt that “Intellect rots the mind.” It is a degrading position that this president has somehow held close to his heart.
All things are interconnected. The whole world, or the world in toto, is a system. “The existence of system in the world is at once obvious to every observer of nature,” says Jesuit philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in The Phenomenon of Man (1955), “no matter whom….Each element of the Cosmos is positively woven from all the others….”
Soon, this president must finally understand that the state of America’s national union can never be any better than the state of the wider and more widely intersecting world. This key truth now obtains not “only” in traditional reference to the enduring issues of war, peace and human rights, but also to certain urgently critical matters of disease avoidance. Everything is interconnected.
For the starkly imperiled United States, the overarching presidential objective must be to protect the dignity and law-based rights of every individual human being. It is this high-minded and indispensable goal that should now give policy direction to a bewildered American President. Such indisputably good counsel could represent a law-based corrective to Trump’s continuously misleading and defiling endorsements of “America First.”
It will be easy for many to dismiss such seemingly lofty recommendations for human dignity and legal obligation as silly, ethereal or “academic.” In reality, however, there could never be any greater American presidential naiveté than to champion the patently false extremities of “everyone for himself.” Nonetheless, he does not care to understand.
Among Trump’s many egregious misunderstandings and falsifications, “America First” represents a sorely blemished presidential mantra. Devoid of empathy, intellect, and absolutely all principal obligations of human legal cooperation, it can lead only toward distressingly new heights of strife, disharmony, and collective despair. Left intact and unrevised, “America First” would point us all directed toward a potentially irreversible vita minima; that is, toward badly corrupted personal lives emptied of themselves – meaningless, shattered, rancorous, unfeeling, and now radically unstable.
Here, located among so many other corollary melodramas and misfortunes, we would find it impossible to battle not just the usual adversaries involving violence, but also our increasingly fearful biological/pathogen-centered enemies.
There is more. Without suitable expansions of empathy, Americans will remain at the mercy not just of other predatory human beings, but also of certain exceedingly virulent pathogens. Progressively, the harmful synergies created by such dangerous combinations could sometime become too much to bear.
For all, at least one cumulative lesson should be clear. We are all part of the very same planetary whole. Only by placing “Humanity First” can an American president truly make “America First.” The latter placement, which must now include the capacity to combat disease pandemics as well as war, terrorism, and eugenics-directed genocide, is not possible without the former. The “cosmopolitan” reasons behind this conclusion remain entirely valid and largely unchanged.
A human being is not a racehorse. Any advocacy of “racehorse theory” by a US president is ipso facto nonsense. At best, such contrived analogies will remain just glaring examples of political unreason and evident manipulation. At worst, they will add fuel to the always-simmering fires of human fragmentation and conflict.
Left unchallenged in his partisan strategies of loathing and rank-ordered ethnicities, Donald J. Trump could quickly bring the United States to continuously expanding hatred and growing civil unrest. This should never be the preferred direction of any civilized and law-based nation. Unassailably, embracing an intellectually muddled theory of eugenics represents a path not to recognizable human progress, but to endless and grievous misfortune.
While there are certainly some plausibly “good genes in Minnesota,” the hierarchic racial inferences suggested by US President Donald J. Trump are patently erroneous and potentially murderous. At a minimum, such shameful inferences should never be given a pass by decent and still-thinking Americans. The very last thing we need now is more rancorous Trump rallies or more defiling presidential support for rabid hate groups.
If you don’t like anti-Semitism, you ought not cast your lot with white supremacy. Unsurprisingly, the late Jewish Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg had a reminding passage from Deuteronomy 16 on her Supreme Court office wall: “Justice, justice shall you pursue
Louis René Beres was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), and is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. His twelfth book, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy, was published in 2016. His other writings have been published in Harvard National Security Journal; Yale Global Online; World Politics (Princeton); Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists; Israel Defense; Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College; Special Warfare; Oxford University Press; The Jerusalem Post; Infinity Journal; BESA Perspectives; US News & World Report; The Hill; and The Atlantic.