Via Louis Rene Beres for The Hill
“The enemy is the unphilosophical spirit which knows nothing and wants to know nothing of truth.”
— Karl Jaspers, “Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time” (1952)
The starkly anti-intellectual character of President Donald Trump‘s presidency is not unique in American history. What is notable about this president’s open disregard for serious learning is not that he knows nothing of any real importance, but that he emphatically wants to know nothing.
For Donald Trump, the preferred path for American foreign policy remains fully detached from any latent hints of wisdom or responsibility. At the G20 Summit, his steadfast preference for the self-serving assessments of Russian President Vladimir Putin over those of his own country’s intelligence agencies was particularly insidious. As for his oddly-proposed cyber-defense agreement with Putin, America’s most bitter cyber-enemy, it can only be termed an incomprehensible corollary.
Indecipherable, too, are this president’s planned policies concerning Israel. Although Trump has called Israel this country’s “greatest ally” several times, virtually all of his proposed Middle East policies are patently injurious to the Jewish State.
Plainly, Israel is not apt to share any geo-strategic interests with Jihadist terrorists, Shiite Islamic militias, a still pro-terrorist Saudi Arabia being expansively re-armed with Trump-granted advanced weapons, or with a U.S.-backed Russia that remains relentlessly oriented toward strengthening Syria, Hezbollah, Iran and Palestine.
In America, intellect still deserves a valued place, especially in the White House. This place has not only social and cultural implications, but legal or juridical ones as well. A tangible relationship between national and international law can be discovered in certain basic writings of the Founding Fathers, who were, for the most part, genuine thinkers themselves, and who read difficult writings by Grotius, Vattel, Locke, Hobbes, Pufendorf and — most importantly — Blackstone.
Does Trump even know that the great Blackstone’s “Commentaries on the Laws of England” represent the jurisprudential beginnings of all U.S. domestic law?
To be sure, the Trump presidency’s overt disdain for intellect did not arise in an historical vacuum. Rather, it was made possible by an underlying and longstanding cultural loathing of “mind.” Even in our best universities, where I taught international law for almost half a century (Princeton and Purdue), the headlong abandonment of intellect for commerce has been shameless and undisguised.
We Americans are not likely to recognize, change, or remove this “something” in time to fully protect the country from this president’s myriad derelictions. But we ought at least still try to understand that Trump is not the real “pathology.” Once examined carefully, this incoherent presidency is “merely” the most visible and distressing symptom of a more widespread and systemic “malignancy.”
In essence, the underlying disease here is an American social and educational structure that suppresses any expressions of independent thought. Routinely, this structure cheerlessly accelerates the drowning of American individualism in a fetid sea of mindless conformance and “groupthink.”
For the most part, the Founding Fathers of the United States did not believe in democracy. Most agreed with Alexander Hamilton’s view that “the people are a great beast.” Thomas Jefferson, the most conspicuously democratic of the Founders, regarded “the people” as literal “refuse” from which a small number of gifted individuals might somehow be culled annually.
Jefferson urged, in his largely unremembered “Notes on Virginia,” there should be a plan of elementary schooling instituted by which “twenty of the best geniuses will be raked from the rubbish annually.”
Ironically, left unopposed in this dark presidency of Donald Trump, the Founders’ absolutely worst fears about “mass” and mob rule could actually come to pass. Fortunately, we are still generally protected by the courage of the Fourth Estate and by the Founders’ original wisdom creating a constitutional separation of powers. Hopefully, together with an incremental return of reason to America, this derelict presidency too shall pass.