“The goal is to dominate the street.” – US President Donald J. Trump, June 1, 2020
There are disturbing connections. Before openly embracing the “Proud Boys” during his first debate with Democrat opponent Joe Biden, Donald J. Trump praised the value of “good genes” in Minnesota. Though such a seemingly “positive” evocation might not normally be taken as anti-democratic or authoritarian, the particular “ambiance” created by this US president has displayed disturbing resonance with Third Reich eugenics. More precisely, from the particular standpoint of international law, any such murderous echoes of pseudo-science – a resonance linked here inextricably to white supremacy – must be associated with certain Nuremberg-category crimes.
It is a worrisome association; even portentous.
In formal jurisprudence, of course, proper adversarial postures are always more-or-less welcome. Still, ascertaining truth is always the ultimate legal objective. Truth, furthermore, is exculpatory. Accordingly, many identifiable elements of Donald Trump’s conspicuously defiling policies, both domestic and foreign, could have been taken from the playbook of Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels.
For Americans suitably concerned with upholding the vital legal foundations of this Trump-imperiled US republic, this extraction is starkly injurious. It hardly represents a commendable or even tolerable provenance. Presently, the most evidently harmful Trump lies concern COVID-19 and this President’s consistently corrosive manipulations of applicable fact. Another pertinent example of Goebbels-style falsification has been Donald Trump’s unhidden affections for murderous dictators all over the world, most obviously Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
To the extent that these affections have had tangible policy correlates, they have also represented violations of both national and international law. By going to almost any imaginable lengths to hold Putin harmless for multiple international crimes, including Russia’s illegal hacking interventions against the United States, this American President has committed multiple and mutually-reinforcing derelictions.
Plausibly, this negligence can’t end well.
The legal problems have important doctrinal causes. From the start, the Trump presidency has waged a constant, relentless, and 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 demeaning observations. The underlying sentiments are roughly identical and equally damaging.
Always, origins can be relevant. According to Nazi 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.”
By their persistent magnifications of gibberish, the Trump rallies explain a great deal about the present-day United States. It matters little that their rhythmically obedient chants are uniformly meaningless. All that really matters here is that various complicated issues of law, economics, and national 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 empty witticisms. At Trump rallies, the frequent calls to “Lock Her Up” (or “Lock Him Up”) are ipso facto rejections of any legitimate due processes of law.
Always, at any deliriously chanting Trump rally, the key to this rancorous American leader’s “success” lies in his carefully crafted simplifications. None of this chanting is mere happenstance. Rather, absolutely every imbecilic presidential observation has been more-or-less meticulously choreographed. Each Trump one-liner must pass prior muster of approval by an aide who likely reads and understands even less than the President himself.
What about Trump’s security promises offered to assorted allied nations? Most recently, in specific regard to Israel, Trump expressed a boorish pride in offering the Jewish State safety from two states that had never been any cause for alarm. To clarify, it was 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.”
These are not encouraging times for celebrations of Law or Reason in America. Surrounded by like-minded followers who have forfeited the last obligations of independent thought, and who consistently draw audible 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 legal responsibility.
Amid Der Fuhrer’s steadily escalating shrieks of execration, directed against myriad supposed “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 tangible science or history. Why should he? These disciplines, after all, remain subject to intelligent verifications.
There is more. Today, Donald Trump doesn’t even commit himself to a peaceful transition of presidential power, an absolutely minimal legal expectation. Incomprehensible in any democracy, this refusal is even a less-democratic posture than the one adopted by Vladimir Putin in Russia. Among other things, it is distressingly close to what was heard after 1933 from the “original” Fuhrer.
Casually, continuously, in muttered and muddled increments, Trump now concocts his own “science” concerning the coronavirus 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, Trump’s witting linkage to eugenics and white supremacy threatens well-established peremptory norms of law. The pertinent risks include war, terrorism, and genocide.
Karl Jaspers, the 20th-century Existentialist philosopher who rigorously examined questions of German guilt after World War II, 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 selected current problems. In such defiling circumstances, the government objective must be to organize the faithful, stifle the opposition and 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 would find himself kin with Thrasymachus in Book 1 of Plato’s The Republic. “Justice,” says the Sophist speaker responding to Socrates, “is nothing else than the interest of the stronger.”
The only foreseeable end of this continuously law-violating Trump delirium is to prevent Americans from substituting any still-genuine thought for 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 held close to his heart. The legal ramifications, national and international, are not inconsequential.
All things are interconnected. The whole world 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, US President Donald J. Trump must finally understand that the state of America’s national union can never be any better than the state of the much wider 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. We are all creatures of biology.
Everything is interconnected.
For the starkly imperiled United States, the overarching presidential objective remains to protect the dignity and law-based rights of every individual human being. It is this high-minded and ancient goal that should now give policy direction to a bewildered and bewildering American President. Such indisputably good counsel could represent a law-based corrective to Trump’s continuously misleading and defiling endorsements of “America First.”
For many, it will be easy 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.” Donald J. Trump still does not understand.
Details matter. 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 directly toward a potentially irreversible vita minima; that is, toward badly corrupted personal lives emptied of themselves – meaningless, shattered, rancorous, unfeeling and now also radically unstable.
Here, located among so many other corollary melodramas and misfortunes, we would find it impossible to battle not just the usual state and sub-state 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 simply become too much to bear.
At least one cumulative lesson should already be clear. We are all part of the very same planetary whole. Only by placing “Humanity First” can an American president 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. Moreover, the “cosmopolitan” reasons behind this conclusion remain entirely valid and largely unchanged.
Left unchallenged in his narrowly partisan strategies of loathing and eugenics (i.e. rank-ordered ethnicities), Donald J. Trump could sometime bring the United States to interminably expanding hatreds and irremediable civil unrest. Prima facie, 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 any recognizable national or international progress, but rather to endless and grievous human misfortune.
Now, the United States would be served by a president expressly reaffirming this nation’s core commitment to the international law of human rights, a law that takes parts of its original inspiration from America’s own Natural Law and Natural Rights philosophies. Never to be forgotten, also, is that this enduring “Law of Nations” remains part of the law of the United States, even during this anti-historical and anti-intellectual “Trump Era.” Apropos of this authoritative intersection of legal norms, willful presidential indifference to this nation’s most peremptory law-based expectations should never be overlooked or condoned. When it concerns aptly discredited theories of eugenics and white supremacy, such indifference can quickly reach a jurisprudential “tipping point.”
Let’s not go there.
Let’s not wittingly allow a US president to go over the legal edge.
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.
His Terrorism and Global Security: The Nuclear Threat (Westview, first edition, 1979) was one of the first scholarly books to deal specifically with nuclear
This article was first published in Jurist